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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 12, edition 000401, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











  1. WHAT THE #@&$!

























































It is no secret that the general opinion about politicians in our country is nothing to boast about. Our politicians are perpetually at the receiving end of public wrath. That few today see politics as a venerable career option — and they too are often lampooned for suggesting so — bears testimony to this fact. Indeed, this is truly unfortunate. For, tarring all politicians with the same brush is grossly unfair on the part of society. Besides, it has also become fashionable for our so-called intellectuals and the 'thinking class' to periodically criticise politicians. The negative impact that all of this has on the overall political system in the country is anything but healthy. Therefore, when former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda chose to use some obscene invectives to describe Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa in connection with the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor project, it hardly contributed to shoring up the image of our netas. In fact, it is just the kind of thing that has earned them such a bad reputation. Mr Deve Gowda can continue to plead his case that the unparliamentary language was not directed at Mr Yeddyurappa and he is extremely sorry if the latter feels offended in any way. But the damage has already been done. Not only has Mr Deve Gowda brought disrepute on himself but also helped further lower his profession in the eyes of the people.

As leaders our politicians have to necessarily subscribe to higher standards of conduct. They are supposed to lead by example. But what Mr Deve Gowda has amply demonstrated is that the level of intellectual discourse within the political class has reached an all-time low today. Mr Deve Gowda made his condemnable remarks while protesting against land acquisition for the BMIC project, which was originally his brainchild. If Mr Deve Gowda genuinely feels that land acquisition for this mega infrastructure project is being done in an unfair manner or that those whose land is being acquired are not being given proper compensation, then it is his right to bring the matter to the notice of the State Government. But there are civilised ways of doing this. The reason why we have elected legislatures is so that politicians representing different sections of our society can discuss and deliberate on policy matters in the right forum. Thus, for Mr Deve Gowda to mount a personal attack against Mr Yeddyurappa outside the legislature also amounts to neglecting his duty towards the people he is supposed to represent.

On his part, it is praiseworthy that Mr Yeddyurappa has acted with utmost restraint and dignity in his response to Mr Deve Gowda's abusive tirade. He has chosen to take the higher moral path and not stoop to his political rival's level. This shows class and maturity on the part of the Karnataka Chief Minister. If Mr Deve Gowda has provided evidence of what is wrong with politics in this country, Mr Yeddyurappa has shown that there is hope yet and that some politicians can behave like statesmen and be aware of the responsibilities that come attached with the public position they enjoy. There needs to a renaissance within Indian politics for things to change for the better. Politicians need to be aware of the high standards that are demanded of them by society and conduct themselves accordingly. Otherwise, they will be doing a disservice to the country as a whole.






Politics can indeed make bedfellows of sworn enemies. Nothing else explains the Tamil National Alliance, whose proximity to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was no secret when V Prabhakaran was leading his murderous campaign for a separate Tamil homeland, declaring its support for former Sri Lankan Army chief Sarath Fonseka who is contesting the January 26 presidential election as the joint Opposition candidate. The TNA says that Gen Fonseka is the best person to address Tamil concerns, which is of course bunkum: He led the Sri Lankan military from the front in the war on the LTTE and relentlessly pursued the goal of crushing the terrorist organisation till it was achieved with the justly deserved annihilation of the top leadership. While Gen Fonseka did what was right for his country, there are allegations of the Army committing excesses against the Tamil civilian population which cannot be brushed aside. Moreover, serious questions have surfaced about the methods adopted by the Army while dealing with the LTTE's senior leaders — apparently, many of them were shot dead after they surrendered. While allegations levelled by those still grieving over the decimation of the LTTE, especially the Tamil diaspora, need not be taken too seriously, it is a fact that Gen Fonseka nurses majoritarian biases and has rarely shown any feelings towards Sri Lanka's ethnic minority community. It is only natural that he should have been supported by the JVP; it is equally understandable that other Opposition parties, wary of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's amazing popularity, should have decided to back him. What is amazing is the support extended by the TNA.

Mr Rajapaksa realises that the election will be no cakewalk for him. The United People's Freedom Alliance does appear to have an edge, but it increasingly seems to be a close fight. He could win the election with a handsome margin if Tamils were to back him in sufficiently large numbers, which they should — their interest lies with him continuing as President and not a former soldier who pretends to be above politics but is clearly politically motivated. The sub-continent's experience with soldiers-turned-politicians-turned-rulers has been extremely traumatic and we definitely do not need a General as President in our neighbourhood, no matter what path he chooses to enter high office. Sri Lanka would do well to reject Gen Fonseka and re-elect Mr Rajapaksa, not least because the latter has demonstrated his ability to rid the country of an ailment that plagued it for a quarter century. His administrative skills are known, too, as are his credentials. To reject him at the hustings would be to ignore his huge contribution to restoring peace to the nation after prolonged civil war. He deserves to win.



            THE PIONEER



Since we are prone to appointing commissions of inquiry at the drop of a hat, political writers often have to suffer the tedium of wading through hundreds of pages of dull prose when the reports of such commissions are tabled in Parliament or State legislatures.

While many commissions are appointed with the best of intentions, the quality of their output can never be guaranteed. Some commissions, which are headed by men of stature, often do painstaking work and this diligence is obvious when one reads their reports.

Such commissions ensure a logical connect between the evidence gathered and the conclusions drawn. However, there are others which just do not measure up to the task either because the person heading it is ill-equipped for the job or is unable to gather evidence — or, worse still, allows pre-conceived notions to dictate the outcome.

The Liberhan Commission, which drained the public exchequer of Rs 8 crore and took a record 17 years to probe the destruction of the structure known as the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, most certainly falls in the latter category. Large parts of this report are so incomprehensible that if we ever institute a prize for the worst report ever produced by a commission of inquiry, the Liberhan Commission would win it hands down.

While much has been written about this commission's conclusions, not enough has been said about the unintelligible parts of this report. Since public money has gone down the drain because of the prolonged existence of this commission, it would be in public interest to reproduce excerpts from its report and ask readers if any of them has any clue about what it is trying to say!

Let us begin with para 149.13 on page 886, which is a real gem. The commission says, "No one should be allowed to recognise religion from political ends as was done in the case in hand. There is no doubt that constitutional philosophies always have political results but it is understood that they should not have political intentions." Can someone please decipher this gobbledygook?

Next, take a look at this paragraph on page 884: "At the cost of repetition it may be observed that enduring freedom is pretence for manipulating Indian affairs. Political and religious overlords attempted to rewrite the national statistics, citing the protection of Hindus or Hindu as a religion as their sole fiefdom. Political parties supported by religious parties may have secured majority in particular state legislatures… etc."

Will the commission please tell us what it means when it says that "enduring freedom is pretence for manipulating Indian affairs"? Is the commission hinting that we should not be a free nation? In which case, does it want us to do away with our hard-earned freedom? Further, will someone explain what the commission had in mind when it said that some people "attempted to rewrite national statistics"?

Finally, here is one more Liberhan 'finding' on page 20: "During inquiry, it has been rightly been impressed and patently has come on record that casteism and communalism exists in almost all organisations and institutions. Its infiltration in the community starts among the very young persons."

There are many more examples of such 'wisdom' in this report, but this newspaper will have to bring out a special edition if one ever gets down to reproducing all of them.

Further, the commission ties itself in knots when it dabbles in history and comes up with the most extraordinary formulation in regard to the country's partition. It says on page 874 that "two religious groups in a nation cannot claim a separate nation only by virtue of religious identity. Though prior to partition the two-nation theory propounded by the Muslim League was not accepted, now it has become an established fact…".

What does the commission mean when it says the two-nation theory propounded by the Muslim League was not accepted prior to partition? The statement that "two religious groups in a nation cannot claim a separate nation only by virtue of religious identity" makes no sense at all when we all know that the Muslim League did make that claim and succeeded in dividing India. Also, the Hindus did not seek partition. So where is the question of "two religious groups" claiming separate nations?

Justice MS Liberhan also tries to defend bogus historians and rewrite history on page 875: "Hindu nationalist(s) draw on Indian history to point out that the Muslim kings destroyed many Hindu temples. Most of the Muslim emperors with passage of time were Hinduised, and to cast a typical Muslim in the same mould as the Moghul emperors in India would be a travesty of history." Mr Liberhan, please make up your mind. If most of the Muslim emperors were 'Hinduised', what is the problem in casting a 'typical Muslim' in the mould of the Moghul rulers?

Finally, in its anxiety to run down the BJP, the commission goes so far as to offer a blanket 'secular' certificate to all other political parties in the country. On page 874, it says, "There is no doubt that during the elections three quarters of Hindus in India have not voted in favour of BJP rather for secular parties." How extraordinary. According to this commission, all non-BJP votes went to 'secular parties'. Therefore, it would like us to believe that Mr Ram Vilas Paswan's party that paraded a Bin Laden lookalike at public meetings is a secular party and so is the Muslim League, the Majlis Itehadul Muslimeen and the rabid PDP headed by Abdul Nasser Madani in Kerala. Needless to say, the commission has no doubt whatsoever about the 'secular' credentials of the Congress which executed a pogrom against Sikhs in 1984.

Strangely, the commission is not even aware of the detailed work done just a few years ago by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, which was headed by one of our most eminent and upright judges — Justice MN Venkatachalaiah. Justice Liberhan makes the laughable suggestion that "it is high time" we looked into the working of the Constitution. He says Parliament must constitute "an assembly" for this purpose.

We must now appeal to the Union Government to appoint yet another Commission of Inquiry to decode the report of the Liberhan Commission.







The only time we are reminded of the plight of our farmers — especially the small and marginal cultivators who toil day and night just to eke out a living — is on Kisan Divas on December 23. Worse, a large number of farmers commit suicide even though there is enough fertile land in the country to comfortably feed our population.

The unequal ownership of land, non-availability of alternative sources of income for poor farmers and landless agricultural labourers, the unscrupulous role played by moneylenders, lack of sufficient irrigation facilities, fragmentation of land-holdings and a corrupt public distribution system are just a few reasons for this miserable state of affairs.

The decline in the growth rate of agriculture and allied industries is truly worrisome. This rate was estimated to be 2.4 per cent during April-June 2009 as compared to 3 per cent during the corresponding period in 2008. The below average rainfall during the last monsoon has hardly helped matters as is evident in the sharp inflation in food prices. The Government's plan to move to a system of direct transfer of subsidy to farmers and to get farmer debts in some regions of Maharashtra studied by a task force are steps in the right direction.

Nonetheless, much more needs to be done to address the problems of small and marginal farmers and to ensure high agricultural output. Some of the measures that can be looked at are land reforms, co-operative farming, enhancement in irrigation facilities, imparting knowledge of scientific methods of agriculture to farmers, increasing agricultural subsidies for marginal farmers, facilitating the setting up of cottage industries as an alternative source of income for poor farmers and landless labourers, enhancing the coverage of micro-credit schemes and streamlining the public distribution system.

Policy-makers and planners should attach utmost importance to agriculture in the country, keeping in view the present scenario in the farm sector and the widespread malnutrition and hunger prevalent. The National Food Security Act aims at providing 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg to BPL families so that food security, one of the basic rights, can be guaranteed to the needy. This Act needs to be implemented in full.







The spectre of jihadi terror against the United States within the homeland returned with the botched Christmas bombing in a Northwest Airways flight bound for Detroit. Much has already been written on the background and circumstances leading up to the radicalisation of Nigerian born Farouk Abdulmutallab and his links with Al Qaeda in Yemen. The incident while bringing to light the continued attempts by Al Qaeda at innovation also exposed the steep challenge in pre-empting and preventing jihadi terror from striking at soft targets.

US President Barack Obama must be complimented for his purposeful and transparent response in not just taking bottomline for the lapses in the system but for also going public with the details of these lapses. We in India have not been as lucky to be blessed with a leader that has the political courage to stand up and say, 'the buck stops with me!' However, there has been a sense of purpose with which Home Minister P Chidambaram has been advocating a revamp of our internal security architecture. One such purposeful endeavour is the setting up a National Intelligence Grid combining multiple public databases. With the appointment of former head of Mahindra Special Services Group Raghu Raman as chief executive officer of the Natgrid project, it is expected this key element in our Internal Security Architecture will be put on a fast track.

As the Home Ministry sets about the consultation process on the Natgrid there are many useful lessons to be learnt from the details made public by the Americans on lapses in their ability to connect the dots on information already available across multiple intelligence databases.

The review ordered by the US President of the systemic failures leading up to the botched December 25 attack revealed the following significant lapses. First, it was revealed that there was a failure to identify, correlate and fuse into a coherent story all the pieces of intelligence inputs already available across multiple databases and systems. Second, there was a failure to assign responsibility and accountability for follow-up of high priority threats to track all available leads to completion. Last, there were shortcomings in the process by which Abdulmutallab could have been prevented from boarding the flight bound for the US.

Further expanding on the failure to connect the dots, the review provides a useful insight into the various agencies involved in analysing counter-terrorism intelligence. It describes how the National Counter-Terrorism Centre was tasked as the primary agency for bringing together and assessing all-source intelligence. It also reveals that the NCTC had the bottomline for enabling a full understanding and formulating a proper response to terror threats. The review further goes on to explain the overlapping roles between the NCTC and CIA to make the point that the intentional redundancy in functions between the two agencies ought to have provided an additional layer of security.

Highlighting how this redundancy failed to connect the dots, the review reveals that there were discrete pieces of intelligence on threats from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operating in Yemen which were not correlated with information from Abdulmutallab's father on his son's alleged radical activities in Yemen.

The other significant revelation from the review was that no single agency within the counter-terror community assumed responsibility for following up on the terror threat leading all the way to its disruption. In a very poignant remark, the review recommended that a process be put in place to track a terror threat and to ensure accountability across agencies in its follow-up.

The review concludes by observing that there was a failure to aggressively identify and correlate threat indicators using all the analytical tools and expertise at the disposal of the agencies.

Two significant technological deficiencies emerge from this review by the Americans. First has to do with faulty and incomplete databases on account of mispronunciation or multiple-pronunciations names. A more significant technological limitation had to do with the inability of technology to help correlate discrete elements of data already available.

Both of these are of immense of significance to the Natgrid project. As has been observed by this columnist previously, the Pakistan military-jihadi complex has been quite adept at operating beneath multiple layers of deceit using multiple false identities. The growing use of Internet and social networking websites by anti-India jihadis has also been highlighted by this columnist on previous occasions. The proposed Natgrid would suffer the same deficiencies and limitations as has become evident from the American experience, if it does not sufficiently address the need to correlate structured information already available in Government databases. The Natgrid must go a step further to also correlate unstructured information gleaned from the Internet and from conversations in social networking websites.

If one were to list two critical success factors for the Natgrid project. First, it would be the ability to correlate and identify emerging threats from across structured and unstructured sources of information. Second, it would be a process by which responsibility and accountability are established for following up on these emerging threats leading all the way up to their pre-emption and disruption.

India's best and brightest minds are today servicing the world's Information Technology needs. It would be a shame if the Natgrid project does not benefit from their intellectual prowess. The Home Ministry would do well to call upon the patriotism of India's best technology minds by devising innovative ways for public participation in the Natgrid project.

The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.







Minorities Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid's proposal to apply provisions of the Public Premises Act to Waqf properties is fraught with danger. An encroacher by the yardstick of the Public Premises Act can be jailed for up to 25 years. Under the Waqf rules, it is possible for an innocent person to be declared an encroacher. The principle is that anything when donated to a Waqf comes under the ownership of Allah and cannot be sold or parted with. An unknowing person can enter into a transaction with the mutawallih or the manager of a Waqf. Whether the tenancy or lease amounts to parting or not is uncertain. If it is treated as parting with, the tenant is an encroacher.

More importantly, most Waqf properties are lands confiscated by Muslim invaders from Hindus and distributed to the former's camp followers. There were no Waqfs in India until Muslim invasions took place. Nor were there any in Arabia until the advent of Islam (Encyclopaedia of Islam). At best such properties are war booty and at worst they amount to loot. In Spain, for example, as the Christians won back territories from the Moor invaders, they abolished Waqfs and so did the east Europeans when they pushed out the Turks. Why should booty or loot be treated as sacred in independent India? As per the proposal made by Mr Khurshid, are Waqfs so sanctified that they are to be equated with national or state property?

According to the Oxford History of Islam, the Ottoman sultans used the distribution of land as a way of exercising a strangle hold on the ulema. The clerics in turn donated them to their private Waqfs or Waqf-e-aulad in order to secure them for their offspring; no ruler could resume the property of Allah! Does Indian democracy of the 21st century deserve such subterfuge? According to Prof Asaf AA Fyzee, one reason for the relative backwardness of Islamic economies was the existence of Waqfs and locking up of land under the 'Dead Hand' which is what this Arabic word means. At one time, three-fourths of the arable land in Turkey was so locked up. In 1924, Ankara nationalised the Waqfs and abolished the Ministry of Waqfs. In the central Asian colonies, they were confiscated by the Soviet Union on the morrow of the Russian revolution.

In Egypt also all agricultural land under Waqfs was confiscated by the state. France had recognised the diseconomy of the institution much earlier. In 1830, the Government in Paris took over the habrous (the French for Waqfs) in Algeria and later in Morocco. As Fyzee has written in his Outlines of Muhammadan Law, the institution of Waqf was in some respects a handicap to the natural growth and development of a healthy national economy. He went on: Agricultural land deteriorates in the course of time; no one is concerned with keeping it in good trim; the yield lessens, and even perpetual leases come to be recognised. Further, he concluded: Considering all these matters, it can by no means be said that the institution of the Waqf as a whole has been an unmixed blessing to the community.

The institution of Waqf-e-aulad had come under the scrutiny of the Privy Council as long ago as the last quarter of the 19th century. In the famous Abul Fata case (1894), Lord Hobhouse had observed: In their judgement the Calcutta High Court have in the case rightly decided that there is no substantial gift to the poor. A gift may be illusory whether from its small amount or from its uncertainty and remoteness. If a man were to settle a crore of rupees, and provide ten for the poor, that would be at once recognised as illusory. It is equally illusory to make a provision for the poor under which they are not entitled to receive a rupee till after the total extinction of a family; possibly not for hundreds of years; possibly not until the property had vanished under the wasting agencies of litigation or malfeasance or misfortune; certainly not as long as there exists on the earth one of those objects whom the donors really cared to maintain in a high position. Their lordships agree that the poor have been put into this settlement merely to give it a colour of piety, and so to legalise arrangements meant to serve for the aggrandisement of a family.

How can we justify our Constitution being secular? How can we legitimise the loot perpetrated by a country's ancestors? Secularism is also a matter of pragmatism. Waqf may be only one symptom of playing the favourite but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly said "Muslims first" and has asked for preferential distribution of the country's financial resources to the community. The Haj subsidy plus all the grants for paying the Imams of masjids, to maintain madarsas as well as universities like the Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia are a big drain.









The Congress has completely messed up the situation in Andhra Pradesh on the issue of a separate Telangana State. It is a democratic right of political parties — in Government or in Opposition — to negotiate and find solutions to any complex problem. Hence, it has come as a surprise that the Congress-led Government at the Centre has not been able to tackle the agitation over Telangana.

Not only this, following Home Minister P Chidambaram's announcement that steps to form the State of Telangana will be initiated, Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K Chandrasekhar Rao called off his fast unto death in December. All hell broke loose after Mr Chidambaram's announcement as allies of the UPA Government and, other national and regional parties reacted very strongly either in favour or against Telangana. Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and Sharad Pawar's NCP, key allies of the UPA Government, strongly opposed the idea of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. The CPI(M) too echoed the same view.

While the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress are worried about the demand for a separate Gorkhaland, the NCP and the Shiva Sena are concerned about the separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra.

Moreover, the NCP also flayed the Union Government for not consulting coalition partners before making such an important policy announcement. This implicitly suggests that the Congress had not followed coalition dharma and in the process it has created confusion worse confounded.

It was expected of the Centre to take an all-India perspective while dealing with the demand of a particular region. It decided to call a meeting of all political parties on January 5 to evolve a national consensus on the issue but this belated exercise failed because neither national parties nor regional parties were ready to support the Centre's ill-considered decision on Telangana.

The Centre realised its folly when the TRS and the votaries of separate Telangana took out a victory procession which was followed by anti-Telangana processions.

Moreover, the city of Hyderabad, once an investment destination, has come to a standstill as violent demonstrations — both in favour and against of Telangana — have become a daily routine with projects, orders and investments being cancelled across sectors. Even the venue of the Confederation of Indian Industry Partnership Summit 2010, scheduled later this month, has been shifted from Hyderabad to Chennai. It is to be realised that capital investment is very mobile and if Hyderabad is not an attractive place for investors, they will move to other States the way West Bengal has lost the Tata Nano project to Gujarat.

However, the Andhra Pradesh Government is now trying for an investment summit instead.

It's the time that the Centre and the State Government take measures to check the deteriorating law and order situation in Andhra Pradesh. Besides, the UPA Government must keep in mind that governance in coalition politics is quite different from the Congress's rule 40 years ago.

It was expected that the Manmohan Singh Government would have learnt lessons from its past blunders when it unnecessarily mentioned the issue of Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement at a bilateral meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit last year.

Furthermore, the Centre should have been sensitive to the issue of regional and sub-regional sentiments which will be aroused by any decision on Telangana without national consensus.


It's time the Congress-led UPA Government asks itself: Is it governance when a solution to a problem complicates the situation instead of resolving the issues?







For a region which has a unique history and culture, a geographical location that had prevented any significant its interaction with the rest of the country, Ladakh evolved according to its own values. However, since tourism had thrown open Ladakh to a whole new world, the local people started to lose their identity, their link with what was intrinsically borne of its history and culture. It happened in small ways though perceptible. However, this phase did not last. Gradually, things began to change less in response to local sensibilities, more in tune with what tourists sought.

As tourists are interested in monasteries reflecting local history, culture and art, Alchi Monastery, known for its magnificent, and well-preserved 11th or 12th century wall paintings, has become a major tourist attraction. The infectious fascination shown by tourists compelled locals to be part of the booming tourism industry. A revisiting of their own culture and history began to happen for Ladakhis.

Almost every monastery celebrates a festival once a year. The Hemis festival is the famous one and grabs tourist attention every year. Festivals celebrating a particular tradition have led to a resurgence of local culture.

Moreover, the palaces of the Ladakhi kings, which were once neglected, are now being restored. Today the pages of history have come alive again, shaking out of its stupor to give a new lease of life to historical monuments. The nine-storeyed Leh Palace is now being restored with the help of the Union Government, while the Basgo monastery is a part of the world heritage buildings conserved by UNESCO.

Interestingly, the influence has not remained restricted to strictly 'tourist' aspects. It has permeated into the rest of society as well. In schools across Ladakh, children would find nothing about their culture in textbooks and all study materials were in Urdu and English. This left Ladakhi children alienated from their own culture.

But now plenty of books written by tourists are available. The visitors who connected in more meaningful ways with the region, its culture became also a source of immense learning for local Ladakhis. Young people now understand the value of culture and read about it more extensively. In their work as mountaineering and culture guide for tourists, their knowledge acts to their advantage.

Based on wisdom passed down the generations, Ladakh has been home to an indigenous form of medicine called the 'Amchi' system. Over time, its popularity had waned and support for sustaining this ancient form was flagging. Of late, it has invited curiosity by several tourists who study its principles and would like to bring it back into usage.

On similar lines, Ladakhi traditional songs and dance which were slipping on their popularity has been a fresh lease of life by the annual Ladakh Festival. Even the traditional cuisine, which faced a threat from canned food, is now quite a rage thanks to tourists. Besides, small shops selling local craft and clothes have mushroomed all over the trekking trails.

As a Ladakhi, I have sense of pride and joy in this resurgence of culture and tradition.








RAJENDRA K Pachauri has gained considerable renown ever since the Inter- Governmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) which he chairs became a co- winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The outfit, set up jointly by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, is the author of an influential report that says human activity has contributed to a gradual warming of the planet resulting in climate change. To check this it has called on the nations of the world to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a variety of means, the theme of the recent Copenhagen Climate Change conference. Given the enormous influence the organisation wields, it is therefore expected that the IPCC chairman will be above all controversy.


However, as M AIL T ODAY has pointed out, Mr Pachauri's activities reveal a disturbing pattern of conflict of interest. While as the director- general of the non- governmental organisation The Energy Research Institute ( TERI) he is free to associate with industrial houses and banks, questions arise when he does so also as the chairman of IPCC. The reason is obvious. If acted upon, even partially, the recommendations of the IPCC could change the energy profile of the world, creating major winners and losers in the world of corporate enterprise.


Many of the losers could be companies that the D- G of TERI is or has associated with, companies whose main business is the extraction or use of fossil fuel, such as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Indian Oil Corporation and the National Thermal Power Corporation. Indeed, Mr Pachauri has been listed as a founder and scientific adviser of GloriOil, a Houston based company whose main business is to boost the extraction of petroleum through a patented process. In the same manner, there is a problem when the IPCC advocates carbon trading as a means of controlling carbon emissions, and Mr Pachauri lends his name to the Chicago Climate Exchange, a commercial outfit aimed at trading greenhouse gases as a commodity.


In his defence, Mr Pachauri says that TERI is a not- for- profit organisation that works for the welfare of society and that all the honoraria he gets go to it. That may well be so, but the TERI annual report does not provide any detailed information on this front. Without more transparency the questions being raised will not go away in a hurry.






THE claim by a former aide of P. V. Narasimha Rao that the late prime minister had planned to build a Ram temple at the site of the razed Babri Masjid only adds to the body of evidence of the Congress party's duplicitous role on the Ayodhya issue. Retired IAS officer PVRK Prasad, who served in the Prime Minister's Office during Rao's tenure, writes in the Telugu book Asalu Emi Jarigindantey ... ( What happened, actually ) that for two years after the mosque's demolition in December 1992, the former prime minister tried to have the temple built.


A sort of special purpose vehicle was created for this in the ' non- political' Ramalayam Trust. The aim was to use friendly seers like Vishwesha Teertha Swamy of the Udupi Pejawar Math and Swami Swaroopanand of Dwarkapeeth to split the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and have the controversial godman Chandraswami break the mahants of Ayodhya.


It might seem paradoxical that while Rao's Congress- led government was accused of doing precious little to save the mosque it had, within months of the demolition, started drawing up plans to build a temple where the mosque once stood. But this becomes easier to explain against the background of the Congress party's record on the issue which is one of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.


Recall that the locks of the disputed mosque were opened in 1986, at the alleged behest of an aide of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In 1989, the Congress campaign for the general polls was initiated by the Centre permitting a shilanyas or ground- breaking ceremony for the temple to take place at the site of the razed mosque. The aim was to undermine the Sangh Parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Party's claim on the majority Hindu vote, but the consequences were disastrous for the Congress party itself and the country.







THERE IS much selfquestioning in India about our inability to forge strong and mutually responsive relationships with most of our neighbours. Our policy makers realise that India must have a peaceful and stable neighbourhood for its own good. If India is constantly distracted by problems around it, its ability to play a larger regional and international role is reduced.


India cannot be one of the future poles in a multipolar world if its leadership role in its immediate periphery is not accepted, as is today the case.


To explain the causes of the present unsatisfactory situation many in India would argue that a selfabsorbed India has neglected its neighbourhood. It has not been generous to its neighbours, as an incomparably larger country should. It should be willing to make unilateral gestures and not demand reciprocity from countries manifestly unequal in capacities. This would be particularly true for trade and economic exchanges, where India should have had the foresight to indissolubly tie the smaller economies to its much bigger market.




Others would argue that it is not axiomatic that the bigger and stronger country should feel obliged to make concessions, and that smaller countries are always right or reasonable in their demands. Reciprocity is the norm in the conduct of international relations, without it having to be symmetrical. Cognisance should be taken of the role of external powers to disturb India's relations with its neighbours so that its regional and international clout is weakened, with China's and Pakistan's role in this regard being particularly deleterious. And why ignore the normal desire of a small country to balance the weight of a bigger neighbour by building ties with an external countervailing power, and maximising its own advantage by playing the one against the other? That India is domineering, interfering or insensitive, as some of our neighbours propagate and some domestic circles endorse, can be disputed.


India, in reality, has not exerted itself enough to shape its immediate environment to suit its political, security or economic needs.


It is being bled by terrorism, the epicentre of which lies in Pakistan, but it has failed to extract the requisite degree of cooperation against its networks from its other neighbours.


India is unable to deal forcefully with the issue of large scale illegal migration into the country. India has seen itself strategically neutralised, with nuclear and missile technology transferred to a country spawning religious extremism and state sponsored terrorism.


India has not used all means at its disposal to bind its neighbours into its security fold. It has been reluctant to even sell arms to them, leaving it to its adversaries to fill the vacuum.


It does not seek to thrust democracy on them, even when genuine democracy there would be conducive to better relations with India. It has willingly done business with whatever regime is in power in neighbouring countries. It has abdicated, in the eyes of many, its primary responsibility for dealing with the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has not only tolerated the provocations of Nepal's China policies, it facilitated the rise to power in Nepal of the Maoists whose leaders are currently maligning India irresponsibly.


In reality, India's own internal weaknesses and lack of domestic consensus on sensitive issues prevent it from exerting its weight decisively in its neighbourhood. Its legal, political and administrative system hampers it from taking decisions clearly in its own interest. The neighbours know this from experience even as they are conscious of India's size and power.


India is loth to retaliate except in extreme circumstances. All in all, India is a non- threatening neighbour, with elastic red lines because of a disinclination to resort to intimidation or seek confrontation.


Sheikh Hasina's current visit to India is situated in the context of the complexities outlined above and those specific to India- Bangladesh relations. It is not sufficiently appreciated that India has reacted with great maturity and restraint to coup d'etats, military rule and the rise of Islamist forces in Bangladesh, all severely detrimental to its own interests there. Conscious of its inability to control political developments there, besides the undesirability of doing so, it has tried to maintain friendly relations with Bangladesh whatever the complexion of the government there.


Bangladesh has long denied the existence of any problem of illegal immigration into India and the presence of insurgents from north- east India on its soil. Instead of cooperating actively in fighting terrorism directed at India, elements there have connived with those from Pakistan to administer terrorist blows on India. It has stubbornly refused transit rights across Bangladesh territory to India's north- east for its own geopolitical ambitions.


On the economic front, whatever be the deficiencies of India's position, Bangladesh's obstructive posture on energy cooperation and major private sector investments from India has been costly to the bilateral relationship.


It has stood in the way of energy cooperation involving Myanmar too, which would have helped also in anchoring that country more in the subcontinent.




Can India and Sheikh Hasina change the paradigm of the bilateral relationship? Her government may feel improved India ties would help develop Bangladesh's economy and shield the country from the destructive trends of previous years; India too would see advantage in bolstering the forces of democracy and secularism there in non- intrusive ways.


Sheikh Hasina enjoys great goodwill in India, though her thin majority and the politics of Bangladesh when she was Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001 produced few bilateral breakthroughs barring the Ganga Water Treaty. Although in December 2008 her party won decisively and the right wing Jamaat- e Islami yoked BNP was decimated, forces unfriendly to India have ruled Bangladesh for 30 of the 39 years of its independent existence, and these will act as constant points of pressure on the Awami League government historically seen as pro- India.


The Bangladesh Prime Minister, warned by Begum Khaleda Zia not to yield on the country's " national interest", has therefore to cover her flanks while seeking to consolidate India- Bangladesh ties on a more forward looking basis. Her government's act in handing over Ulfa Chairman Rajkhowa to India was undoubtedly a laudable political departure from previous Bangladeshi policy.




The positive trends in Bangladesh should naturally be supported by us, integral to which would be ensuring that her visit to India is seen as a success domestically in Bangladesh.


Our decision to provide Bangladesh transit facilities to Nepal and Bhutan, without reciprocal facilities through its territory to our northeast, represents a major reversal of Indian policy in the expectation that Bangladesh will show " understanding and cooperation on our security and connectivity needs". Unilateralism is being tried again as a policy approach, hopefully with returns this time at a later date. We have already announced that in areas of railway infrastructure, transportation, dredging, power grid interconnectivity and trade etc, India would extend Bangladesh a helping hand, which is all to the good.


Of the five agreements to be signed, the one on transfer of sentenced persons may give us custody of Ulfa leader Anup Chetia, provided he has not left Bangladesh already. With challenges ahead that need hard headed solutions, reviving " emotional links which remain disrupted since independence" can be dispensed from our agenda.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)








THE Congressmen in Bihar are in an upbeat mood. Sadaquat Ashram, the party headquarters in Patna, is suddenly witnessing a flurry of activity these days. Everybody thinks that the Congress is finally on its way to revival in the state.


The Bihar Congress sincerely believes that the party is headed for better times in the next state assembly elections which are due before November this year.


In fact, one does not remember the last time partymen were so enthusiastic about their prospects in impending Constate polls.


Since losing power in the 1990 assembly polls, the Congress had remained in an almost moribund state. During the 15- yearlong Rashtriya Janata Dal ( RJD) regime, it played second fiddle to Lalu Prasad, acquiescing to his diktats. In spite of being a part of the coalition government led by Rabri Devi for several years, the Congress seemed to have lost its moorings in Bihar.


Everything seems to be changing now. All India Congress Committee ( AICC) general secretary Rahul Gandhi's ' interest' in the revival of the party has enthused Bihar Congressmen.


They think that Rahul's charisma will sway the voters in the state exactly the way it did in Uttar Pradesh. The Youth Congress is launching a massive month- long membership drive across the state from tomorrow to fine- tune the party apparatus.


The proposed visit of Rahul to the state later this month has left all Congressmen convinced that the party's fortunes can only go up from now.


The Congress has constituted the largest- ever Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee in its history under the leadership of Anil Sharma. The party has taken extra care to give representation to each and every section and caste in its newly formed jumbo committee. Sharma says that Rahul's proposed visit has rattled Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well as RJD chief Lalu Prasad. Rajesh Kumar Sinha, one of the newly appointed general secretaries, is optimistic enough to say that the Congress will bounce back into reckoning in Bihar this year.


Is such an optimism misplaced? The Congressmen have a reason to be hopeful of the party's better performance because of the Rahul factor. But there is also another reason behind it: its decision to sever ties with Lalu. The party's Bihar in- charge Jagdish Tytler's recent admission that the Congress' tie- up with Lalu in the state in the past was a mistake has vindicated the stand of those old- timers in the party who had often cautioned the high command against it. Over the years, many stalwarts had, in fact, quit the party because of this, creating a vacuum of leadership in the state organisation.


In spite of repeated pleas by the local Congressmen that the electoral alliance with Lalu would be detrimental to the party, the Congress high command had remained smug in its belief all these years that the RJD strongman was its best bet in Bihar. As a result, the Constate gress gradually started losing its ground and came to be a marginal player in state politics.


The status quo would have continued had Lalu not chosen to offend the Congress high command by offering only three Bihar seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. It forced the Congress to reassess its strength in the state by going it alone. The results in the parliamentary polls and the subsequent assembly by- elections were not dramatic in its favour but they certainly gave the party ample confidence to take on the likes of Nitish and Lalu in the next polls.


The Congress' task ahead, of course, is not easy. Nitish has consolidated his position in the past four years by virtue of his development plank while Lalu is leaving no stone unturned to regain his lost ground. But the Congress has nothing to lose. It may or may not recapture power in Bihar in the next assembly polls but it can certainly hope to emerge as a key player in state politics once again.


That will be a tremendous gain for a party often written off by many as a spent force in Bihar.


For Lalu politics comes first


BIHAR chief minister Nitish Kumar had one of his longcherished desires fulfilled when the Railways invited him to flag off a newly introduced train at Patna Junction recently. " I had been waiting for this moment for the past four years," he said while flagging off the Patna- Ranchi Janshatabdi Express the other day. Nitish said that in the past four years, he was never invited by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad to such functions. " I kept hoping against hope all these years that my bade bhai ( elder brother) would invite me to railway functions but he did not do so even once," he said.


Nitish said Lalu used to do this in scant regard for traditions.


He pointed out that when he himself was the Railway Minister, he used to make it a point to invite both Lalu and Rabri Devi to all the railway functions.


Hardly surprising then, Nitish dispatched a letter to Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, thanking her for the honour and reviving the tradition of inviting the chief minister of the state to railway functions.


But Lalu is not amused. He says Nitish was not worthy of any invitation to flag off a train while he was the railway minister in the first UPA government.



PATNA is reeling under an intense cold wave with the mercury dipping below 5 degree Celsius. The roads are deserted in the evening with the poor huddled around bonfires arranged by the district administration at different places at the directive of chief minister Nitish Kumar.


Some slum- dwellers trying to beat the chill around a bonfire at around 10 p. m. last week were pleasantly surprised when they saw a familiar figure alighting from his car in their locality. It was none other than Nitish Kumar who was on a night out to check whether the district administration had made proper arrangements for bonfires.


Accompanied by a minister and a few officials, Nitish hopped from one area to another across the state capital not only to oversee the arrangements but also enquire about the well- being of the poor.


Braving icy winds, he even walked on foot in the Jagdeo Path locality to empathise with the poor and the homeless. This gave an opportunity to many of those who had been evicted by the district administration as part of its anti- encroachment drive earlier in the day to register their complaint with the chief minister about police brutality.


They said that the police had used brute force to evict them from their roadside shops and other settlements.

Nitish concluded his nocturnal tour by giving a directive to the police to show compassion, saying that no government could afford to render impoverished people homeless in the name of any anti- encroachment drive.


Needless to say, the chief minister's words provided as much warmth to the poor as all the wood in the bonfires.


giridhar. jha@ mailtoday. in








The government is working out ways to ensure that non-resident Indians get to vote in the general elections. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hopes that legal and logistical issues will be sorted out before the next general elections to make external voting possible for NRIs.

The decision to facilitate NRI participation in the electoral process is long overdue. A Bill to this effect was cleared by the Union cabinet in 2006 and is now pending with the law ministry. More than 100 countries allow non-resident citizens to participate in the electoral process and there is no reason why the world's largest democracy should not do so. Every Indian passport holder is entitled to the right to vote by virtue of being an Indian citizen.

NRIs can't be exceptions. The main obstacle that has prevented the government from extending the right to vote to NRIs is a clause in the Representation of the People Act (RPA) that limits the scope of participation in elections to residents of India. In an increasingly globalising world, the idea of domicile has changed. The notion of permanent residence and home constituency belongs to a different age when people travelled less or did so only to return to the same place. People increasingly prefer to have multiple identities and multiple residences. The RPA must be amended to reflect this new global reality.

What is applicable to NRIs holds true for a lot of Indians within the country as well. Internal migration is on the rise and its pace is likely to increase. Employment and educational opportunities are its main drivers. Better transport and communication facilities have made migration easier and people are making the best use of the new opportunities. But the electoral process seems oblivious to these trends. Even the proposed changes to the RPA don't factor in migration within the country. Avenues like postal ballots continue to be limited to certain categories of public servants. True, duplication of voters in electoral rolls needs to be avoided. But, are we, in the process, excluding many citizens, even if inadvertently, from the electoral process?

There are, of course, logistical hurdles in doing away with the domicile clause. But surely the process of registering as a voter can be simplified and made easier. The initiative to provide all citizens with a Unique Identity number and a biometric card may help to ease the electoral process as well. There must be a renewed focus to widen participation in the electoral process. Granting voting rights to NRIs is a step in that direction.







If you thought things couldn't get any worse for Indian hockey you were mistaken. With the hockey World Cup less than two months away, Indian hockey players have decided to skip practice until their demands are met. On top of their list is payment of dues for playing in earlier matches and tournaments. It's a travesty that Hockey India, which runs the game, has not paid the players in spite of being reminded about it last November.

For some sense of perspective, let's compare the salaries of our hockey players and cricketers. While Team India cricketers get Rs 1,60,000 per ODI/T20 game and Rs 2,50,000 per Test, hockey players get a paltry Rs 25,000 every tournament plus a small daily allowance. It is nobody's case that other sports be put on par with cricket since there are good reasons why cricketers are paid such handsome salaries. But at the same time there is no reason why hockey players should be paid such measly salaries. For all the glory that hockey players have got for India in the past, the sport has unfortunately been utterly mismanaged. This has reflected in India's poor showing in international tournaments over the past decade with an all-time low in 2008 when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

There was a feeling that things would improve when Indian hockey chief K P S Gill was shown the door in 2008 after a14-year tenure following pressure from the International Hockey Federation (IHF) so as not to jeopardise India's chances of holding the 2010 World Cup. Though the Indian team has since performed creditably, including winning the prestigious Azlan Shah hockey tournament in 2009, management ofIndian hockey has not looked up. Ever since Gill was forced to leave and an ad hoc committee formed by the Indian Olympic Association to run the game, things have been fluid. A four-nation tournament to be held in India this year had to be scrapped after the IHF refused to clear it.

With the World Cup around the corner there is no time to lose. It cannot be left to hockey administrators to resolve the present crisis. The government should appoint a mediator to address the issues raised by the players and to get them back to training. In the longer run, Hockey India needs to put in place annual contracts with competitive salaries as well as incentive payouts for a roster of players. Otherwise we could see a repeat of player discontent spilling over and Indian hockey plumbing new depths.








The incipient revival of the global economy owes to the increased spending (and tax reductions) carried out by governments in both advanced and developing economies. However, the sustainability of this rebound depends not only on the volume of spending but vitally also on its quality.

Many developing nations entered the crisis with reasonably sound fiscal balances. Yet, there is a premium everywhere on ensuring that the large amounts of fiscal stimulus are spent well. Moreover, public budgets, while addressing the economic crisis, must also confront the rise in unemployment and poverty and the rapidly escalating danger of climate change.

These circumstances are crucial for high income countries such as the United States and Japan at the forefront of the fiscal stimulus as well as middle-income countries such as China and India whose economic growth is pivotal both for domestic progress and the global recovery. They suggest three priorities for action.

First, financial flows need to continue to be adequate and timely, especially in the face of growing fiscal gaps. Official flows have assumed increasing importance as international financial institutions have augmented their financial flows, especially to developing countries. World Bank lending institutions delivered a record $60 billion worldwide in 2009, with Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, India and China as the top recipients. The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) support reached $160 billion globally while the Asian, African, European and Inter-American Development Banks provided unprecedented volumes to their regions.

All this has helped but to sustain the economic revival worldwide, private capital flows must also be reinvigorated. Private financial flows to developing countries fell from$1,200 billion in 2007 to $360 billion in 2009. Reversing this trend is fundamental. The poorer developing countries still face a $12 billion gap this year, and may not be able to cover even the most essential social spending. And across the board, the extraordinary fiscal expansion needs to give way to a pick up in private consumption and investment.

Second, it is essential to manage the growing government deficits from the fiscal stimulus and the economic slowdown. Fiscal deficits in 2009are estimated to be nearly 7 percentage points of GDP higher than in 2007 in G20nations, and 5 percentage points higher in G20 emerging economies. Meanwhile, the ratio of public debt-to-GDP in the G20 could, by one estimate, rise by nearly 15 percentage points between these years. Going forward, a sharp fiscal adjustment and stronger growth will be needed to pay down the debt.

To generate economic growth, the stimulus spending needs to be directed to high-productivity areas. For example, channelling outlays to finish infrastructure projects has higher payoffs than providing untargeted subsidies, be it for energy or food. But even here, history tells us that just any spending on infrastructure would not automatically generate growth. Only a few countries have put in place mechanisms for analysing, tracking and evaluating project costs and benefits. Plans already underway in some countries such as India and South Africa to give a high and visible priority to monitoring and independent evaluation of projects and programmes are potentially a hugely important step.

Third, with nearly90 million more people pushed into poverty because of the crisis, effective social programmes (in education, health and safety nets) need to be protected. Some countries are shielding social spending and expanding safety nets. In Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Turkey, where strong institutions are in place, conditional cash transfers are effective. China has combined labour market actions and safety nets to stabilise employment, while Indonesia has combined safety nets and livelihood approaches. The World Bank has stepped up lending for social programmes, especially financing for safety nets.

Unfortunately, the financial crisis has diluted attention to climate change and the environment, even as these issues are proving to become a game changer - be it through their damaging effects on agriculture or habitats, or health and well-being. Natural disasters especially threaten South Asia. Remarkably, the fiscal stimulus presents an opportunity to shift to sustainable investments - as South Korea, China, Mexico and the US are doing to some degree. International lending institutions have increased support for renewable energy and spearheaded climate funds. The follow-up to the Copenhagen summit in December provides a chance to integrate climate change into the crisis response.

The economic crisis has brought a record fiscal expansion worldwide and the largest increase in official flows to developing economies. Since the global economic recovery is still fragile, it would be premature to retract the fiscal expansion because that in turn could stall the revival. However, rising deficits and debts across the major economies oblige us to ensure that the money is put to effective use - not only to elicit good returns on all the public spending, but also to avoid a relapse and a future crisis.

The writer is director-general, Independent Evaluation Group, World Bank, Washington DC.







India and Pakistan were separated at birth - and painfully. Since partition, there have been bilateral attempts to arrive at abiding friendship. Yet government initiatives have been hobbled by conflict deepening mutual suspicion. Sadly, each time ties have floundered, stakeholders in strife have won, and ordinary people have lost out. With 26/11, terror perpetrators and their sponsors ensured diplomatic relations hit rock bottom.

They also strengthened, as never before, warmongers on both sides of the border. That's why the need to break out of age-old cycles of bitterness and bloodshed has never been as urgent as now. That's why,also, this newspaper - through Aman Ki Asha - is committed to building cross-border understanding and people-to-people contact which we believe hold the real key to lasting amity.

At a time of heightened hostility, it's the media's duty to remind Indians and Pakistanis how much they have in common: a shared ancestry, culture and stake in economic ties. As neighbours, they also have a shared destiny. In India and Pakistan, civil society has long been asking questions about this future that the political class and men in uniform are yet to satisfactorily answer. Must we allow ties to be repeatedly hijacked by forces of fanaticism? Or should we reinforce old bonds and forge new kinships, both emotional and cultural? Should we be locked in mutual aggression, mandating ever-increasing defence spending? Or should we join hands to fight poverty and hunger, and create jobs and wealth by increased trade in goods and services?

Countless ordinary men and women in both countries wish to defeat the forces that feed off their assumed animosity. Countless sane voices oppose the relinquishing of the possibility of peace each time diplomacy gets derailed by agents of violence, the common enemies of both nations. Countless Indians and Pakistanis highlight the need to stand united, there being no better guarantee of harmony and prosperity than friendship that can't be wrecked. This popular peace constituency on the subcontinent must be encouraged and strengthened. And we hope you, our readers, will join us in this endeavour.








Any improvement in Indo-Pakistan relations is not going to come about as a result of newspaper groups from the two countries taking the initiative in drawing attention to their common heritage and providing additional channels for increased people-to-people contact. Improved relations will come about only as a result of policymakers in India and Pakistan realising the need for a fresh start.

Hence, there is a real need for greater interaction - both formal and informal - between policymakers of the two countries to explore new options for the future. Such interactions should not be confined to the narrow framework of a formal dialogue, which has been in a state of suspension since 26/11.

Regular interactions at the institutional level - both civilian and military - to understand each other's perceptions have been absent for nearly two decades. These interactions have to be resumed and expanded. Periodic visits by political leaders, military officers, security officials and other civilian functionaries would help both governments in knowing each other in person.

Had there been the practice of senior army officers of the two countries visiting each other, some of the recent comments of the Indian army chief, which have been criticised in Pakistan, could have been discussed and clarified behind the glare of publicity. New Delhi has had such interactions with Beijing, but not with Islamabad. The absence of governmental interactions between India and Pakistan has largely contributed to the failure of the two countries to move forward on any issue.

Sitting in their respective offices in New Delhi and Islamabad, policymakers have become bereft of new ideas. The initiative for restoring and expanding interpersonal interactions at leadership and institutional levels has to come from both governments. The role of non-governmental organisations should be restricted to educating public opinion on the need for such interactions so that the political leadership does not face a domestic backlash.

The writer was a senior intelligence official with the Indian government.








Working out at the gym has become serious stuff today. Fitness is in fashion, and a jog in the park is passe. You need modern equipment with blinking dashboards, a training schedule and a muscular trainer. My gym has all these essentials. I spend a good hour there every morning. I reached my gym at seven in the morning yesterday wearing my expensive, Italian-designed red jogging suit.

It is stylish and the zipped-up jacket makes a fashion statement. A couple of college students entering the gym asked me where one bought it. I hate to lose an opportunity to impress and so gave them extended details, including a guided virtual tour of Bologna's shopping areas. I met up with a lawyer who is a regular on entering the cardio section of the gym. We got talking about a few topical legal cases.

Then the conversation veered around to a new low-calorie restaurant that had opened near the high court. "Delicious seafood," he summarised, and invited me for lunch. I was just about to begin working out on a stationary bicycle when a television programme caught my eye. My gym is now equipped with several television sets, so at any time you can watch any channel. I got off the bicycle immediately, and watched with great interest the recent exploits of a famous golfer. Around me, there were two couples whose gym romances had truly blossomed in the recent past. It seemed to me their only purpose in visiting the gym was to meet each other.

I tried to get onto a treadmill for my jog towards the end of the hour, but it wasn't my fault that every single machine was fully occupied. So, i met the dietitian and asked her whether i could add on a plate of onion pakodas in the evening, since my soft drink intake had been successfully cut down from four to two per day.

It was eight o'clock by then, and one had to rush back home for a shower to even stand a chance of reaching my office in time. I picked up a bottle of energy drink to compensate for the long workout before leaving the gym. I noticed my well-toned neighbour coming back sweating from the nearby park, having jogged his usual five kilometres when letting myself into the house. I thought to myself, "What an old fashioned guy. I must convince him to work out at my gym!"






WHAT THE #@&$!


Nothing like quoting William Shakespeare to get poor Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda out of a fix. The English bard in King Lear had written with noticeable cadence, "Degenerate bastard, I'll not trouble thee." So when the bard from Hassan district erupted when journalists asked him — with their usual cattle-prongs in hand — what the Janata Dal-Secular made of Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa criticising him for joining a farmers' protest even as Mr Gowda had cleared an 'anti-farmer' project, we didn't quite see the veteran leader losing his manners. By calling Mr Yeddyurappa a "bloody bastard" and the more colourful term "bosudi maga" (that our sources say translates into "son of a bitch"), we simply feel the need to relook at our relationship with swear words.


The fact that Mr Deve Gowda's language was 'unparliamentary' on Sunday doesn't cut much ice. He wasn't in Parliament, a place where people have made a tradition of turning far more aggressive than by hurling abuse. Mr Yeddyurappa, a polite manner who probably thinks of the words 'bloody nonsense' when he is really, really angry was understandably upset. By demanding that documents be furnished that would prove that he is an 'illegitimate child' — something that he isn't — he showed how hurt he was.


The problem is that more son-of-the-soil personages like Mr Deve Gowda, Richard Nixon and us don't have qualms about using a more 'demotic' vocabulary. Like the word for intercourse that we refrain from using unless...







New Delhi should take very careful note of the visit of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. It is not merely that this is India's second largest neighbour. It is that her visit could mark a sea-change in relations between the two countries if India is prepared to think long-term and act generously. Bangladesh has never been a threat to India, but it has only intermittently been seen a friend. Sheikh Hasina has always represented the best hope for changing this in a positive way. The possibility of realising this potential now exists. One is that she comes with the strongest electoral mandate that any India-friendly government has had in Dhaka in three decades. Two, the spread of Islamicism that was seen during the last Bangladeshi regime indicates that India can no longer maintain a policy of benign neglect towards this country. Three, the two countries are now much more confident of their economic trajectories than they were in the past. Bangladesh is no basket case: It matches India's human development index and has overtaken it in apparel exports.


Though India has claimed credit, the truth is that the recent arrest of the insurgency leader, Arabinda Rajkhowa, would not have been possible without assistance from Dhaka. Bangladesh has also taken considerable action against Islamic militancy based in that country. Dhaka, in other words, has begun to fulfil the equation that India has offered to its neighbours: address India's security concerns and India will allow you to partake of its new-found economic prosperity. However, India has so far been ungenerous about opening its market to Bangladesh's exports. Nearly 50 items remain on the negative import list that is presented to Dhaka. The gains and losses, in dollar terms, are negligible for both sides but are hugely symbolic in Bangladesh and crucial to providing political cover for Sheikh Hasina as she pushes her country closer to India.


Ultimately this is about India coming to understand that if it is wishes to stabilise at least three of its four borders. In the past decade, India has been seen major shifts in attitudes in countries like the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Even Nepal is in better shape than it was before. Bangladesh is ready for a similar shift and the price it is demanding is quite minimal. New Delhi needs only to do what other great powers have done in the past, which is to make short-term economic concessions in return for long-term security gains. This is the essence of strategy and Bangladesh is among the most important tests of India's understanding of this concept.New Delhi should take very careful note of the visit of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. It is not merely that this is India's second largest neighbour. It is that her visit could mark a sea-change in relations between the two countries if India is prepared to think long-term and act generously. Bangladesh has never been a threat to India, but it has only intermittently been seen a friend. Sheikh Hasina has always represented the best hope for changing this in a positive way. The possibility of realising this potential now exists. One is that she comes with the strongest electoral mandate that any India-friendly government has had in Dhaka in three decades. Two, the spread of Islamicism that was seen during the last Bangladeshi regime indicates that India can no longer maintain a policy of benign neglect towards this country. Three, the two countries are now much more confident of their economic trajectories than they were in the past. Bangladesh is no basket case: It matches India's human development index and has overtaken it in apparel exports.


Though India has claimed credit, the truth is that the recent arrest of the insurgency leader, Arabinda Rajkhowa, would not have been possible without assistance from Dhaka. Bangladesh has also taken considerable action against Islamic militancy based in that country. Dhaka, in other words, has begun to fulfil the equation that India has offered to its neighbours: address India's security concerns and India will allow you to partake of its new-found economic prosperity. However, India has so far been ungenerous about opening its market to Bangladesh's exports. Nearly 50 items remain on the negative import list that is presented to Dhaka. The gains and losses, in dollar terms, are negligible for both sides but are hugely symbolic in Bangladesh and crucial to providing political cover for Sheikh Hasina as she pushes her country closer to India.

Ultimately this is about India coming to understand that if it is wishes to stabilise at least three of its four borders. In the past decade, India has been seen major shifts in attitudes in countries like the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Even Nepal is in better shape than it was before. Bangladesh is ready for a similar shift and the price it is demanding is quite minimal. New Delhi needs only to do what other great powers have done in the past, which is to make short-term economic concessions in return for long-term security gains. This is the essence of strategy and Bangladesh is among the most important tests of India's understanding of this concept.








There are, it must be conceded, legitimate grounds on which Shashi Tharoor may be attacked. The hair, for instance. It isn't the 1980s, dude: get it cut. The ultra-posh accent. And I'm talking here of his English accent. One shudders to think what his Malayalam must sound like. And we haven't yet started on the most sensitive issue — the novels. Has anyone managed to finish Riot?


Since the man has so many soft spots, it's puzzling that his ill-wishers are attacking him in the one place where he is invulnerable: his attitude towards Pandit Nehru's foreign policy. Some years ago, Penguin India issued a series of small, handsomely-bound biographies that re-introduced us to the nation's founding fathers. The best of this series was the one on Pandit Nehru, and it was written by Shashi Tharoor. This book, Nehru: The Invention of India, deserves to be quoted in the context of the present controversy, because it is probably the finest short book written on Nehru's legacy. (Among longer biographies, I prefer M.J. Akbar's to Stanley Wolpert's.)


In the course of analysing Nehru's long and complex political life, Tharoor does point out a few areas where history has not judged the first prime minister well, noting, for instance, that the Nehruvian socialist "command-and-control" economy may have stifled some of the country's entrepreneurial energies. Tharoor's party, which initiated the process of dismantling the socialist corsetry in 1991, can have no complaint here. While Nehru's economic record is mixed, Tharoor reminds us his record is exemplary in other, more important, areas. First, he created a democratic, secular India that has endured many crises. And secondly, at a time when foreigners saw India as a weak, impoverished place, Nehru, through his eloquence and moral vision, gave the nation a role in international affairs that far exceeded its then military or financial strength.


Tharoor's admiration for Pandit Nehru's foreign policy was in full evidence, on the only occasion when I have seen him live. A few years ago, when he was in the running for the Secretary-General's position at the United Nations, he spoke to journalists at New Delhi's Foreign Correspondents' Club. The meeting was strictly "off the record"; but as I write in his defence, the minister will surely pardon my breaking the covenant. Any of the journalists gathered there will remember that Tharoor spoke glowingly of India's influence at the UN during the Nehru years — how the country was a beacon in those years, how other nations routinely sought India's assistance in drafting their own resolutions and policies.


Tharoor did not, of course, get the top job at the United Nations. Days before the voting began, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper — a liberal voice, and not one given to anti-Indian screeds — ran an op-ed column by a retired Pakistani diplomat urging the world not to support his candidacy. Tharoor was an Indian patriot who had secretly lobbied for India in all his years at the UN, this diplomat alleged: and were he elected Secretary-General, he would continue to do the same thing, to Pakistan's detriment.


Perhaps this paranoid Pakistani diplomat was right: perhaps Tharoor has been using his genial powers for years to help his nation from behind the scenes. Now he has a chance to do so from centrestage. The challenges facing him and his boss, S.M. Krishna, are immense: terrorism, competition with China for influence, the security of Indians working and studying abroad.


Then there is the question of India's international reputation, still recovering from Slumdog Millionaire and that scrofulous novel which won a major literary prize in 2008. A full-strength Shashi Tharoor, helping his ministry tackle these issues, can only aid in India's ascent. Those who do not want him to succeed in his work can legitimately attack him on other fronts — hairstyle, accent, Riot — but not on his respect for, or deep love of, the foreign policy of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.


Aravind Adiga is the author of the Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger.The views expressed by the author are personal.








"I am grateful for all my problems. After each one was overcome, I became stronger and more able to meet those that were still to come. I grew in all my difficulties."


That is J.C. Penny, US tycoon, who overcame many problems in many of his businesses, telling us not to be cowed down by problems but to face them head on. Norman Vincent Peale, author of Power of Positive Thinking, has it in more telling words, "Problems are to the mind what exercise is to the muscles; they toughen and make you strong."


One has to take up problems as a challenge, and should vow to overcome them within a time frame.


A time frame commitment is important because otherwise one would tend to avoid tackling the problem.


That is why Henry Ford said that for one who takes up problems as a challenge, "there are no big problems, there are just a lot of little problems." And those are all within your routine problems, easy to tackle without much botheration.


Theodore Rubin, author and psychiatrist, says that problem is not that there are problems. The problem is thinking that having problem is a problem.


In other words, he too wants us to believe that a problem can be turned into a "no-problem" when one has the right attitude and strong will to surmount it.


One needs to be cool headed and clear of one's task.


At times, a problem gets settled much before you try to tackle it. You have to "talk it out" with your friends and family members. Didn't John Davy Hayward say that a problem well stated is a problem half-solved.


No wonder, all great and successful people would tell you that problems, if not tackled, will tackle you down. One would do well to remember what Albert Einstein said, "It is not that I am smart, it is that I stay with the problem longer."


One must be a firm believer that one can tackle one's problems, only then one's problems will disappear. After all, all achievers have been great believers in their own innate ability to do the impossible possible.


Say 'I can, I will.'






The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations proved to be a great leveller. The venue, Nirman Bhavan, was shrouded with a tight security cover as many top ministers and VVIPs were expected to meet the diaspora. Each attendee was issued an entry card that fell into categories such as 'official', 'media', 'delegate', or 'invitee'. But an obsessed-with-protocol bureaucracy ended up issuing a card that said 'official' to the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Vayalar Ravi, effectively equating him with the junior-most official in his ministry.


No idiocy, this

Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, a film buff himself, is particular that neither he nor his partymen misses watching what he thinks are 'good' movies. So, accompanied by his family members and a group of party leaders, Advani watched Bollywood comedy 3 Idiots at a city cinema hall. Impressed with the Aamir Khan starrer, Advani strongly recommended the film to his partymen, including new BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, as it espouses an innovative approach to problem-solving.


All dressed up but...

Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh's resignation from all party posts has triggered speculation that he might join the Congress, and there are grounds for this, it seems. Singh had lavished praise on Congress president Sonia Gandhi in his blog. But the Congress did not seem too keen to welcome him. "Amar Singh is not welcome in the Congress. The BJP would be an ideal party for him," suggested a senior Congress leader.


No lion-hearted gesture, this

This is an issue that's taking on lion-sized proportions. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wouldn't part with lions from the Gir sanctuary for the Centre's plans to set up another sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Modi thinks his government has spent money for their conservation without the Centre's help. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, however, says Modi shouldn't take the credit. "It is the Maldhari (local) community who did it. They treat them as members of their family and protect them." Ramesh says he will work on Modi to eventually agree to the big cats' relocation. "Miracles do happen," he says, with a roar.


Logged out for now

Caution on cyber security has hit a new high, as some officials in the Ministry of External Affairs are finding out now. With the Centre getting stricter about cyber security, the National Informatics Centre has banned many sites with suspicious IP addresses. Inadvertently, or otherwise, websites in Chinese that help officials track news about that country are also blocked.


Shadow sleuths

In the past few months, the Enforcement Directorate's Delhi zone has been in the limelight due to its investigations against former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, the arrest of alleged hawala dealer Naresh Jain and also for the raids on the Emaar MGF premises. Contrary to common belief that hundreds of sleuths must be working round-the-clock to dig up evidence, the reality is that all these investigations were being handled by just two assistant directors along with ten other officers under the supervision of a deputy director.


Plans cut short

With CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu in a serious condition, Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achutanandan wanted to be in Kolkata for five days. But party leaders prevailed upon the CM to abandon the idea on the ground that he should be careful about his health too, and he agreed to oblige at last.








Why is it important to mark Heritage Day and pledge to protect national monuments?

It is crucial for students to develop a sense of pride and responsibility towards their heritage. If they can develop a bond with these structures and realise their worth, students will always be sensitive and respectful towards them, whatever they grow up to do. Educating students now is important so that they don't grow up to scribble silly things on them.


What are the other ways schools can incorporate such things in the curriculum?

In school we are taught history chronologically and we tend to learn it by rote. Inculcating history through sensory perception like actually visiting monuments is a more effective way of teaching because the audiovisual experience is more memorable. Even going to a nearby fort to pick litter and make sure it's kept clean is a possible way.


Monuments might not always be close to schools. Are these measures like 'adopt a monument near your school' practical?

There are five ASI protected monuments in Mumbai, but there are several state government protected monuments. And more than that there are 632 heritage buildings in the city. There is more interface with heritage in Mumbai than elsewhere. You might study in a heritage building, your father might work in one, and you pass by them all the time. Just looking at these buildings and experiencing them is important.









By railroad, Kolkata to Agartala is a little more than Kolkata to Chennai. A rail corridor through Bangladesh, even via Dhaka, will see the Kolkata-Agartala distance shrink to approximately 550 km from the current 1700 km. That, in brief, is the significance of Bangladesh's geopolitical location, and of the hazard of India's chicken's neck (Siliguri Corridor) that links the Northeast to the mainland. Little wonder then that India has long sought rail transit rights through its eastern neighbour's territory. With India's rail access terminating at Dhaka at present, the government is set to push for the construction of a 14 km stretch between Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh — along with the additional offer of building the metre gauge line itself — that will connect Agartala with Dhaka through Akhaura. If Bangladesh has been hesitant about the stretch anticipating India's demand for transit rights, now is the time to not only reassure Dhaka but also give it transit rights for Bangladeshi goods to Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory.


Sheikh Hasina's visit is an opportunity to overhaul the misdirected, underestimated and underutilised relationship between New Delhi and Dhaka on grounds of equality and mutual interest. The bilateral relationship has its best chance now to break free of the ebb and flow that has been its bane, based on enlightened self-interest and not mere sentiment. And Bangladesh, for once, has put the ball in India's court with its stand on trade and connectivity, cross-border power trading, and cracking down on terrorists. Taking the cue, New Delhi should not only liberalise duty-free import of Bangladeshi goods — forgetting the meagre revenue loss and savouring the goodwill generated — but also look ahead and work towards integrating the two economies. Economic integration would automatically change the matrix to address security concerns (once more in mutual interest).


Kolkata and Agartala coming closer by railroad should be placed within this larger context. What we have here is the prospect of the Northeast using Chittagong as a port and optimal utilisation of the Bay of Bengal for India's maritime trade. Besides, Dhaka could position itself as a civil aviation hub. The two neighbours, till date, have failed to secure the potential benefits of their ties since cooperation has been directly proportional to politics. A reformist Dhaka has realised the need for Indian help in development. The key is to extend that help without condescension and apparent preferences in Bangladeshi politics. It's time Bangladesh's strategic location catapulted sustainable growth for the eastern reaches of the subcontinent.







The recently released figures from the Central Statistical Organisation that estimate how fast India's states have been growing have undoubtedly been the biggest economic news of the new year. There are many fascinating aspects to the new numbers: for example, that Bihar is the country's second-fastest growing state, growing at 11.03 per cent annually in the years since 2004-05 — only 0.02 per cent behind Gujarat, a more familiar success story. But not all of the erstwhile BIMARU states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the traditional heartland laggards — were so fortunate. MP performed particularly poorly, growing at less than 5 per cent; but Rajasthan, at 6.25 per cent, and UP at 6.29 per cent, weren't spectacular performers either.


Decomposing those figures further leads us to some disquieting conclusions. As The Financial Express explained recently, whatever growth that there is in India's poorest states depends a lot on the services sector. In MP, for example, the communication sector grew at 18 per cent; in Orissa, at 20 per cent; in Jharkhand, at 24 per cent. That picks up, probably, the mobile phone revolution. But here's the problem: that growth may be a one-time dividend. And that could well be the case in other states and sectors too. In Bihar, for example, growth in the construction sector jumped to nearly 40 per cent annually. That's changed the landscape visibly, transforming Bihar into a buzzing beehive of activity: but the construction sector, as many a former boomtown can tell you, is merely a signifier that great things could be afoot — and not a long-term plan in itself.


So, while we should be relieved that the long delayed catch-up may have started for some states, and we now know on which states we need to concentrate the clamour for a better, more reform-oriented politics, these figures should be viewed with caution. A four-to-five-year growth spurt driven by specific services sectors need not translate into a genuinely higher growth path. That needs us, in the end, to expand manufacturing: which means, urgently, land acquisition reform, and labour law reform. Only then will India's most backward states really get going.







The flag has always imposed certain expectations of nobility and service without considerations of self-interest. So, when members of the Indian national team put down their hockey sticks and refused to undergo training for the World Cup, a question came up. Is it acceptable for those who'd play for the country to put their self-interest above the team's? The championship is, after all, less than two months away, surely personal grievances can be subordinated to the prospects for national glory?


As Viren Rasquinha, who has captained the national hockey team, explains, it is not that simple. As the players hold out for better pay, better incentives and insurance cover, it may not be a simple case of choosing careerist demands over obligations to the team's greater interest. The two are connected. The fact that players are striking for such paltry demands shows up the governing mechanisms of our national game. That they are, instead, being told to hold out a while longer and be satisfied with the promise of Rs 1 crore for a podium finish at the World Cup indicates that the feudal mindset that's been the bane of our federations still thrives.


The bottomline is this. The way in which sport matters to a society is a comment on its priorities. There are countries which put a premium on good performance to make nationalistic points, and for this they pull in all the authority of the state. These tend to be, no surprise, countries with little democracy. Then there are those that offer sport as an avenue to assert how transparently aspirations can be met — they privilege accountability and opportunity over a carrot-and-stick approach. It is sad that India, which lays such great store by its democratic credentials, cannot yet reveal these very credentials in the way its sports are organised.







By railroad, Kolkata to Agartala is a little more than Kolkata to Chennai. A rail corridor through Bangladesh, even via Dhaka, will see the Kolkata-Agartala distance shrink to approximately 550 km from the current 1700 km. That, in brief, is the significance of Bangladesh's geopolitical location, and of the hazard of India's chicken's neck (Siliguri Corridor) that links the Northeast to the mainland. Little wonder then that India has long sought rail transit rights through its eastern neighbour's territory. With India's rail access terminating at Dhaka at present, the government is set to push for the construction of a 14 km stretch between Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh — along with the additional offer of building the metre gauge line itself — that will connect Agartala with Dhaka through Akhaura. If Bangladesh has been hesitant about the stretch anticipating India's demand for transit rights, now is the time to not only reassure Dhaka but also give it transit rights for Bangladeshi goods to Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory.


Sheikh Hasina's visit is an opportunity to overhaul the misdirected, underestimated and underutilised relationship between New Delhi and Dhaka on grounds of equality and mutual interest. The bilateral relationship has its best chance now to break free of the ebb and flow that has been its bane, based on enlightened self-interest and not mere sentiment. And Bangladesh, for once, has put the ball in India's court with its stand on trade and connectivity, cross-border power trading, and cracking down on terrorists. Taking the cue, New Delhi should not only liberalise duty-free import of Bangladeshi goods — forgetting the meagre revenue loss and savouring the goodwill generated — but also look ahead and work towards integrating the two economies. Economic integration would automatically change the matrix to address security concerns (once more in mutual interest).


Kolkata and Agartala coming closer by railroad should be placed within this larger context. What we have here is the prospect of the Northeast using Chittagong as a port and optimal utilisation of the Bay of Bengal for India's maritime trade. Besides, Dhaka could position itself as a civil aviation hub. The two neighbours, till date, have failed to secure the potential benefits of their ties since cooperation has been directly proportional to politics. A reformist Dhaka has realised the need for Indian help in development. The key is to extend that help without condescension and apparent preferences in Bangladeshi politics. It's time Bangladesh's strategic location catapulted sustainable growth for the eastern reaches of the subcontinent.







The recently released figures from the Central Statistical Organisation that estimate how fast India's states have been growing have undoubtedly been the biggest economic news of the new year. There are many fascinating aspects to the new numbers: for example, that Bihar is the country's second-fastest growing state, growing at 11.03 per cent annually in the years since 2004-05 — only 0.02 per cent behind Gujarat, a more familiar success story. But not all of the erstwhile BIMARU states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the traditional heartland laggards — were so fortunate. MP performed particularly poorly, growing at less than 5 per cent; but Rajasthan, at 6.25 per cent, and UP at 6.29 per cent, weren't spectacular performers either.


Decomposing those figures further leads us to some disquieting conclusions. As The Financial Express explained recently, whatever growth that there is in India's poorest states depends a lot on the services sector. In MP, for example, the communication sector grew at 18 per cent; in Orissa, at 20 per cent; in Jharkhand, at 24 per cent. That picks up, probably, the mobile phone revolution. But here's the problem: that growth may be a one-time dividend. And that could well be the case in other states and sectors too. In Bihar, for example, growth in the construction sector jumped to nearly 40 per cent annually. That's changed the landscape visibly, transforming Bihar into a buzzing beehive of activity: but the construction sector, as many a former boomtown can tell you, is merely a signifier that great things could be afoot — and not a long-term plan in itself.


So, while we should be relieved that the long delayed catch-up may have started for some states, and we now know on which states we need to concentrate the clamour for a better, more reform-oriented politics, these figures should be viewed with caution. A four-to-five-year growth spurt driven by specific services sectors need not translate into a genuinely higher growth path. That needs us, in the end, to expand manufacturing: which means, urgently, land acquisition reform, and labour law reform. Only then will India's most backward states really get going.









On the eve of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ongoing visit to India, the media highlighted a recent development in her country's judicial spectrum. The event was projected as "revival of secularism" in Bangladesh, which had begun as a secular country but had later proclaimed Islam as the state religion. The Constitution of the country, it was said, will now have to be cleansed of this anachronistic provision, as also of its prefatory invocation "Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim" (in the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful). Here's some historical perspective:


Sixty-three years ago, a group of politically overambitious Muslim leaders of the pre-Independence era had procured the unfortunate partition of the country, ostensibly in the name of religion. When the process of Constitution-making began, some political circles on both sides of the border looked for a special legal status for their respective majority religions. India's great leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Azad dismissed the idea with an iron hand and firmly opted for a secular polity. This was not surprising, but amazingly the founder of Pakistan too, sidestepping his political plank of two-nation theory, virtually declared that it would be a secular state. India adopted a secular Constitution but its concept of secularism was different from the western stereotype. It proclaimed equality of all citizens with no religion-based discrimination but did not erect a US-type 'wall of separation' between the state and religion so as to bar the former from intervening in the affairs of the latter. On the other side of the border, Jinnah's secular posture did not go well with his country's religious leaders who, after his demise a year later, began forcing their views on the people. When a Constitution was finally adopted in 1956, besides declaring Islam as the state religion, it also enshrined other "Islamic provisions."


India and Pakistan could scarcely make peace. Verbal tirades had been going on since the beginning; in later years there were two actual wars. As time passed, the two-nation theory fell flat in Pakistan and internal linguistic prejudices led to the division of the country in 1972. Constitution-makers of the newly created state of Bangladesh were naturally influenced by India's political ideology — the country which had been for them a morale-booster if not a proactive supporter. They built a Constitution based on the Indian pattern of secularism enveloping equality of all religions but imposing no ban on state intervention in religious affairs. Since Bangladesh had walked out of Pakistan on the issue of language — not religion — its religious leaders were not pleased with the absence of any special status for Islam under the Constitution. On the other hand, the new state had inherited Pakistan's passion for military rule. Soon the country had military rulers who began issuing martial law orders and amending the Constitution. To garner support of religious circles for their actions, they prefixed to the preamble in the Constitution the Islamic invocation 'Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim' and added that "Islam is religion of the State but other religions can be peacefully practiced."


In 1979 the 5th amendment to the Constitution safeguarded all the martial law orders issued by then, including one by which an Italian company's property in Dhaka had been forcibly acquired. The company filed a writ petition in the High Court which declared the entire 5th amendment ultra vires, but on the government's appeal the Supreme Court stayed the decision till its own verdict on the case. Recently, the court allowed the new government to withdraw the appeal, rendering the stay on the High Court decision ineffective. It is the impact of this development that the media has projected as 'revival of secularism.' But nothing of the sort is going to happen. The insertion of Bismillah and the description of Islam as state religion were not under challenge in the High Court — and the court had clarified in its judgment that "good actions" of the martial law regime need not be upturned. It has now been officially affirmed that the prefatory Bismillah and verbal allegiance to Islam both will remain in the Constitution, asserting that despite these Bangladesh will be a secular country.


I hold no brief for the practice of adopting a state religion anywhere. But if the secular character of the Indian Constitution is not tarnished by its religious concessions — a mandate to the state for the protection of cows (obviously due to the majority community's reverence for it), including Sikh kirpan-wearing as a fundamental right, and specifying state grants for the upkeep of certain denominational temples in Tamil Nadu and Kerala— Bangladesh's claim that the Islamic invocation to God and the verbal description of Islam as "religion of State" in its Constitution does not detract from secularism cannot be summarily dismissed.


The real impact of the revival of the Bangladesh High Court's decision should be that the mixing of religion with politics would no longer be permissible. But will anybody take heed? Certainly, the impact of the Indian Supreme Court's judgment in the celebrated S.R. Bommai case of 1994 should have been similar. Has anyone ever bothered?


The author is a senior professor of law & former Chair of National Minorities Commission.








Emotional Atyachaar is the rape of the lock which guards our feelings against the atrocities perpetrated by TV serials. Emotional Atyachaar is Naukusha's sorrow in Laagi Tujhse Lagan, when coated in mud by her mother to hide her prettiness, she is taunted as 'garibon ki beauty queen' by the local goondas. Emotional Atyachaar is the injustice Mahi experiences when her pals arrange two attractive dates for their fat friend, on the same day at the same time in the same hotel and she is left to pay for the food and beverages (including 5-star service tax) she didn't even consume. Emotional Atyachaar is also the name of a TV show on Bindaas.


What is it? Difficult to say. It begins as a travel show when we meet a young couple who can't keep their hands or feelings to themselves, letting them roam freely over each other. It becomes a sting operation when the young man suspects her hands of roaming a little too freely and EAT (Emotional Atyachaar Team) spycams reveal she is indeed holding hands with another man. It switches to soap TV when the young man's roving eyes roam as far as one of EAT members. It's Breaking News when the couple appears on the verge of parting ways. Finally, it's a reality show: will Emotional Atyachaar lead to Splitsvilla? Maybe, maybe not. Meanwhile, perhaps Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka can take them back to where they began with some regression therapy?


Mahi could do with some reduction therapy (Mahi's Way, Sony). The Little Lotta of TV (and equally cute) needs to shed everything — except her clothes. She fills the screen with her larger than life presence, easier than you think since everyone else is pretty and thin or just plain thin. This new show does for the overweight what Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin did for buck teeth and grandfather spectacles. It's one-hour of love, loss and longing: Mahi longs for love and fame and loss of weight — not necessarily or always in that order. She's fun without the show being very funny because actress Pushtiie has the kind of comical expressions that make you laugh. Saturday evenings just got lighter. Can Mahi retain her light touch or will she rain down heavily on us with tears? Wait and watch — or weight and watch.


Mahi's Way is different in one more way: it is set in Delhi. Will our beloved capital be part of the scene and not merely the scenery? 12/24 Karol Bagh, also set in Delhi, reduced it to a theatre prop. For some unfathomable reason, TV has not been able to capture the spirit of Delhi, not since Hum Log at least, and that was in 1984!! Everyone who travels between Mumbai and Delhi knows there is a difference in their social and cultural moorings but in our serials India Gate could be Gateway of India for all they reflect of the city.


Not sure if Laagi Tujhse Lagan (Colors) does justice to Paresh Rawal and Swaroop Sampat, its producers. Rawal is one of our more sensitive and comic actors while Sampat was a delight in the sitcom Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, still one of the best TV comedies. You'd therefore assume they would produce a gentle satire on life and times. Instead, Laagi Tujhse Lagan is the depressing tale of oppression: Naukusha is oppressed by her good looks which must be hidden from men lest they cast covetous eyes on her or lead her into temptation as her older sister was misled; Naukusha is oppressed by an alcoholic father and a possessed mother who wants to protect her daughter at all costs; Naukusha is oppressed by the poverty of her circumstances; Naukusha is oppressed by Pawan Malhotra's police officer whose covetous eyes are glazed with the desire to possess and oppress her.


Oh dear. Haven't we suffered enough emotional atyachaar already? Is there anybody who will rescue us and the tube from such outrages? Actually, there is but more about them next week.






What do the terrorists who attempted to strike US territory in 2009 have in common? What is their connection with the Arab Middle East, often presented as the cradle of Islamic radicalisation?


The answer seems to be very little.What ties together Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian-born, British-educated, trained-in-Yemen man charged in the failed Christmas Day plane bombing; Anwar al-Awlaki, the fierce radical Islamic preacher who, in fact, holds a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University rather than a master's in divinity from an Arab theological school; and Nidal Malik Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist of Palestinian descent charged in the November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas? To understand, we have to add lesser-known activists, like Daniel Patrick Boyd, a white US citizen and convert to Islam accused of leading a jihadist group in North Carolina, and Bryant Neal Vinas, an Hispanic American citizen from New York, who pled guilty last year to assisting Al Qaeda.


These men are not devout Middle Eastern Muslims who left a war-torn fundamentalist Arab society to attack the West. Most have only distant connections with the Middle East. Converts are over-represented among Al Qaeda activists, from Jose Padilla to Dhiren Barot, who was sentenced in Britain in 2006 for planning to bomb the New York Stock Exchange (and other sites).How to connect the dots?


They are first of all globalised young people identifying with a virtual and imaginary Muslim ummah. Their life is often spent along a triangle: The family comes from one country, they move to a Western country, or were born there, where they become radicalised and go to fight in a third one.In fact, neither Pakistan nor Yemen nor Afghanistan is the key place for radicalisation. These terrorists go there after being radicalised in the West or in a Western environment. And radicalisation does not occur in a concrete political praxis with real people but in a solitary experience of a virtual community: the ummah on the Web.


The Nigerian Abdulmutallab studied in an English international school in the French-speaking country of Togo, before going to Britain. Dhiren Barot came from an Africa-based Hindu family and was educated in the UK, where he converted to Islam.


English is the language of recruitment and communication. These radicals don't have any permanent link with a specific country: As with their forerunners of the 1990s, they travel from one jihad to the other, use training camps where available and have never been involved in local politics in the countries of training or residence. Their anger is not the expression of the wrath of a real community, but of a virtual one.


The generational dimension is obvious: Most of the radicals have broken with their families or become estranged, as illustrated by the puzzlement of many parents, like Abdulmutallab's father who informed the US embassy of his son's radicalisation. Their Islam is a reconstructed one, not one transmitted from the past. They act on an individual basis and outside the usual community bonds (family, mosques and Islamic associations). They are lonely travellers not involved in social or political action or even religious predication. They find socialisation in bonding with alter egos, either from a local closed group of buddies (the 9/11 pilots, the London bombers of 2005), from a training camp in a remote place of Pakistan, or just through chatting on the Web. They are uprooted individuals who can become imaginary heroes of a virtual ummah through their own deaths.


There is something puzzling in Al Qaeda: While many terrorists are just dispensable, like Jose Padilla or Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," the "one-shot" strategy deprives the organisation of probably bright people who could have been more efficient in the long run. The case of the Jordanian terrorist who blew up himself for a spectacular but short-term success in a CIA base in Afghanistan is typical. Here suicide terrorism is not a tactic; it is an end in itself, a part of the motivation.


What this says of Al Qaeda is that they do not have a political strategy of establishing an Islamic state. Al Qaeda does not play a leading role in the conflicts of the Middle East. It has a global enemy: the West, not the local regimes. Instead of promoting a territorial caliphate in the Middle East, Al Qaeda is committed to a global struggle against the world power — the United States — in the continuation of the radical anti-imperialist struggles by the likes of Che Guevara and the Baader-Meinhof gang.


Al Qaeda stresses radical but individual action and addresses a wider audience than just the Muslim community, hence the converts. Ideology plays little role in the radicalisation of the jihadist internationalist youth. They are attracted by a narrative not an ideology: that of a global, indistinct suffering ummah. And that of the lonely avenger, the hero, who can redeem a life he is not happy with by achieving fame while escaping a world where he finds no room.







Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbour, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.


That's the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticise another religion. Or champion one's own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.


A week ago, Brit Hume broke all three rules at once. Asked on a Fox News panel what advice he'd give to the embattled Tiger Woods, Hume suggested that the golfer consider converting to Christianity. "He's said to be a Buddhist," Hume noted. "I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. "


A great many people immediately declared that this comment was the most outrageous thing they'd ever heard. Hume's words were replayed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, to shocked laughter from the audience. They were denounced across the blogosphere as evidence of chauvinism, bigotry and gross stupidity. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann claimed, absurdly, that Hume had tried to "threaten Tiger Woods into becoming a Christian." His colleague David Shuster suggested that Hume had "denigrated" his own religion by discussing it on a talk show.


The Washington Post's TV critic, Tom Shales, mocked the idea that Christians should "run around trying to drum up new business" for their faith. Hume "doesn't really have the authority," Shales suggested — unless of course "one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytise." (This is, of course, exactly what Christians are supposed to believe.)


Somewhat more plausibly, a few of Hume's critics suggested that had he been a Buddhist commentator urging a Christian celebrity to convert — or more provocatively, a Muslim touting the advantages of Islam — Christians would be calling for his head. No doubt many would. The tendency to take offence at freewheeling religious debate is widespread. There are European Christians who side with Muslims in support of blasphemy laws, lest Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad have his reputation sullied. There are American Catholics who cry "bigotry" every time a newspaper columnist criticises the church's teaching on sexuality. Many Christians have decided that the best way to compete in an era of political correctness is to play the victim card.


But these believers are colluding in their own marginalisation. If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously. The idea that religion is too mysterious, too complicated or too personal to be debated on cable television just ensures that it never gets debated at all.


This doesn't mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse. But what Hume said wasn't bigoted: Indeed, his claim about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity was perfectly defensible. Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it's at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there's Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.

Or maybe not. For many people, the fact that Buddhism promotes an ethical life without recourse to Christian concepts like the Fall of Man, divine judgment and damnation is precisely what makes it so appealing. The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume's remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines — explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.


When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe's religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.


If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher — including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha — who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live? It's reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it's the most important one there is.







In December 2004, UPA-1 set up the Investment Commission under the chairmanship of Ratan Tata. Its brief was, first, to seek close interaction with Indian and international industrial groups, especially in sectors where there was dire need for investment but investment was not flowing in adequately. Second, it was to address the gap between announcements and proposals or proposals and project implementation. Third, it was to secure a certain level of investment every year. Last but not least, it was to make policy recommendations that would help facilitate greater inflows of FDI. Now that the Investment Commission has asked the government not to further extend its term, let's take stock of its performance so far and how the government has responded to its recommendations. The obvious starting point is the 100-page report that the Commission tabled in 2006. To draw up a strategy for substantially increasing investment levels in the economy, the Commission interacted with industry bodies, Central and state ministries, business delegations from abroad and over 130 companies. Further, the report was preceded by direct investor interactions with an additional 64 international and domestic investors.


Resulting recommendations were unequivocal and included the following: remove restrictions on sector caps and entry route on all sectors other than those considered strategic, provide labour flexibility by permitting contract labour in all areas, provide a level playing field in sectors with PSU dominance by establishing an Independent Central Regulatory Commission and seek effective ways to resolve Centre-state issues by establishing an Empowered Committee framework for the same. None of this has come to pass. Worse, even the biggest deals mentored by the Commission haven't gone through smoothly. The Orissa-Posco deal is one such. It's caught up in the same land acquisition, environmental clearances and red tapism vortex that the Commission was set up to help resolve. Last week, Lakshmi Mittal, whose Jharkhand steel plant has been delayed by similar factors, voiced frustration with India's inability to move fast on big projects. When the Commission suggested that a high-level committee be mandated to push through the bottlenecks for mega foreign investments, it brushed up against usual suspects like 'state subjects', and came out the worst for the encounter. Eight months into its second term, UPA-2 can no longer hide project delays and general policy inaction behind committees, commissions or advisory bodies.







2009 was a blockbuster year for emerging market equities. So, many observers are arguing that emerging markets, with China, India and Brazil as the forerunners, are going to lead the recovery from the global economic recession.


There is no doubt that recently emerging market returns have been spectacular. But this picture doesn't tell the whole story. So, it is not quite right to think that emerging markets are going to save the day. They are not.


To see why, look at the facts. The MSCI's Emerging Markets Index has delivered an overall US dollar denominated buy-and-hold return of 60% since January 1, 2008, in contrast to an average 26% return on the US and Euro zone indices. The Japan index lagged miserably with an annual return of 6.6%. Emerging equity fund inflows also surged to $80.3bn in 2009 ($60bn of which went to Bric), compared to $49.5bn of outflows in 2008 (EFPR Global).


Also, while emerging market indices showed the greatest gains in 2009, these markets also experienced the steepest fall from their five-year peak levels in 2007. The recovery in returns therefore has to be examined keeping the extent of the collapse in mind. From the most recent peak-to-trough (October 2007 to February 2009), emerging market indices fell by 98.5% with an even more astounding fall (127%) for the Bric economies. MSCI's US index and the Euro index also experienced spectacular declines.


Changes in the indices from the trough to the end of 2009 suggest that while emerging markets recovered about 70% of their value, US and European indices recovered a not so shabby 55% of their value losses. Moreover, the emerging market and Bric indices stand at about 30% off their 2007 peak, as does the US index.


Many investors expect greater returns from emerging-market stocks in 2010. To examine the prospects for continuing returns, the key drivers of emerging-market growth deserve attention. Let us look at the biggest of these emerging markets, China.


Fuelled largely by aggressive government-controlled bank lending, the surge in construction, investment and

consumer spending has raised worries of a hyper-inflated economy. Last week's Chinese rate hike is seen as a

broader move to tighten monetary policy to slow down an overheating economy. Chinese stock markets slumped after the announcement. If the trend towards higher rates continues, the prospects for continuing Chinese returns may wilt.


We must also remember that China's economic fortunes ultimately depend on the US consumer. The US and the EU together are China's largest export markets. Who will consume what the 'factory of the world' produces? It is unlikely that domestic demand in China alone will pick up the slack.


The US consumer has sharply cut back on demand for Chinese goods. Double-digit unemployment and eroded household wealth (the housing collapse, dwindling stock portfolios, and curtailed credit card access) imply that the revival in demand will depend on the recovery of the US economy.


Here there is very little to cheer about. The fact remains that the US economy is still losing jobs, albeit at a slower rate, and new job creation is feeble at best. An additional 85,000 jobs were lost in December and the unemployment rate remained at 10%, setting back hopes for a swift recovery. A point with which most economists would agree is that the US economy cannot recover without adding millions of new jobs.


In order to add new jobs the corporate sector requires unconstrained access to credit. It is disconcerting that the most current release from the Federal Reserve's Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the United States indicates that 'loans on the books' in bank credit fell by half a trillion dollars between November 2008 and December 2009.


Interbank loans also fell by 67% during this period suggesting that banks are reluctant to lend even to each other. Securitisation markets where the 'shadow banking' system of loans that are securitised and passed on have also dried up. What is particularly worrisome is that the decline continued throughout December.


Tight credit does not bode well for hopes of a sustained recovery. With banks unwilling to lend, firms cannot invest in new capital or hire new workers. As households spend longer spells in unemployment, consumer spending will be curtailed, reducing demand further.


As demand falls, the vicious cycle continues. Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in December suggest that the pickup in output and employment growth would be rather slow relative to past recoveries from deep recessions.


While emerging markets have shown remarkable resilience despite extreme fears, what will these markets have to do to manage their recoveries if the US does not bounce back quickly? The Internet revolution lifted the US economy from the recession in the early 1990s. Far-reaching corporate governance and regulatory reform helped Asia recover following the crisis in 1997. It is yet unclear what will help lift the US out of its current morass and that doesn't bode well for the rest of the world.


The author teaches international finance at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill








Following the PM's assurance at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to grant voting rights to Indians living abroad before the end of the current government's term, the diaspora's contribution to the Indian economy is back in focus. At a size of almost 25 million people spread over 110 countries, the diaspora has a sizeable global presence. The bigger group in this club is comprised of PIOs followed by NRIs. The latter include Indian emigrants as well as those who have travelled abroad for shorter durations.


The economic might of the diaspora has been responsible for its growing strategic clout. Migration of skilled Indian professionals to high-income countries has helped the latter make significant productivity gains. The West has benefited the most from such migration with the US, the UK, Canada and Europe drawing large numbers of Indian professionals. In more recent years, high-income Asian economies such as Hong Kong and Singapore have become attractive destinations for Indian professionals. The professionals have contributed handsomely to the growth of these various economies in an era of high demand for skills in knowledge-intensive occupations. In the process, the professionals themselves have climbed rungs at a rapid pace. Success stories such as Lakshmi Mittal, Indra Nooyi, Vikram Pandit, Padmasree Warrior, Arun Sarin et al are well known. There are several less-celebrated stories, all of which have contributed to the diaspora emerging as a powerful economic force in terms of financial resources, managerial expertise and entrepreneurial capacities.


Remittances have been the diaspora's biggest contributions to the Indian economy. India is one of the major recipients of migrant remittances among developing countries. In the year 2008, India topped the chart with $52 billion of remittances, followed by $49 billion in China and $26 billion in Mexico. Assuming an Indian GDP of $1.2 trillion in 2008, the remittances amount to roughly 4% of GDP. These flows have been functionally related to migration of skilled professionals from India as well as their earning capacities. The rise in both volumes of migration as well as earning capacities of migrants has positively influenced remittances. The latter have been a major source of stability for India's balance of payments. So have been the non-resident deposits in Indian banks, though many argue that high deposit inflows are merely for taking advantage of high interest rates offered by Indian banks.


Beyond remittances and non-resident deposits, the role of overseas Indians, till now, has been relatively limited as far as investments in building businesses in India are concerned. This is in sharp contrast to China. The role of the expatriate Chinese in facilitating China's ascent to economic prosperity is well known. Most of the foreign investment flowing into China in the early years of its opening up was from the expatriate Chinese. Those from neighbouring Hong Kong and Taiwan made good use of tax benefits and other facilities offered in the special economic zones of Shenzhen and other coastal areas. By setting up new production facilities in mainland China, expatriate investors ensured that China did not lose out on the opportunities created by economic reforms and also acted as a 'pull' factor for multinational investors.


India, unfortunately, has not benefited similarly. Despite creating a separate channel for non-resident investment from the early 1990s that offered greater benefits, expatriate capital inflows failed to take off and continue to remain below expectations. FIIs into India have been largely dominated by multinationals rather than the expatriate variety.


Why has the Indian diaspora not invested as much in India as the Chinese diaspora has in China? There's of course the generic discomfort of investing in a country that is a difficult place for doing business in. But a key factor is the difference in attitude between the two diasporas. The expatriate Chinese community has a strong entrepreneurial inclination and a great flair for risk-taking. This is probably because most of them migrated in the first place on entrepreneurial 'pulls' in contrast to Indians who move overseas to take up employment. As a result, successful new generations of NRIs show less inclination for setting up businesses. India's efforts in drawing expatriate investment were also constrained by the fact that none of its neighbours could perform roles similar to those played by Hong Kong and Taiwan for China.


In order to play a bigger role in India's growth, the diaspora needs to grow beyond the safer options of remittances and term deposits to riskier avenues of putting money in creation of productive assets in India. It probably needs to take a leaf out of its Chinese counterpart in this regard.


The author is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views







Buoyed by strong demand from automobile, infrastructure, consumer durables, and capital goods industries, the price of steel and profitability of steel firms are firming up. In addition to private demand, the government's stimulus packages have also helped.


Analysts expect the margins of steel companies to expand by 500 basis points in the quarter ending December last year, because of the rally in the base metal prices. Crude steel production in the quarter ended December last year grew 2.6% and prices increased by 2% in the same period.


Broadly, during April-December 2009, steel consumption grew by 8% and growth gathered momentum during the last three months partly due to the low base effect of the previous year. In fact, Indian steelmakers had reduced production by up to 40% in October-December 2008, as demand dropped significantly due to the slowdown and credit crunch. Even though fears of oversupply kept steel prices under pressure in the domestic market—globally, too, companies had reduced the price of the metal—strong demand is now pulling up prices. Long product prices increased by nearly Rs 4,000 per tonne in the second half of December and analysts expect prices to rise by another Rs 1,000 per tonne this month. Even on the bourses, Tata Steel, JSW Steel, Sterlite and SAIL have outperformed the broader markets with gains of around 55% in the quarter ended December and the BSE Metal index too outperformed the Sensex.


Despite the global slowdown, demand for steel in the domestic market remained strong due to the quick recovery in the automobile industry and government spending on infrastructure projects. In fact, a recent note from Nomura Research says that steel companies in India have enjoyed high operating rates resulting in robust performances. Even globally, the World Steel Organisation says that the slump in steel demand has bottomed out and is expected to grow by 9% (y-o-y) this year as demand rebounds in the US, Europe and Japan. The organisation expects steel prices to increase by 10% in the next three months and inventory buildup will take place in anticipation of an increase in raw material costs.








Cities, which already host half the world's population, are predicted to absorb nearly all of the growth of population over the next three decades. The concentration of humanity in relatively small spaces brings with it enormous environmental challenges, particularly in the low-income and middle-income countries. Among many factors that influence the quality of the urban environment, biodiversity is arguably the least appreciated. It is welcome, therefore, that the k ey role played by biodiversity in providing a host of ecosystem services to people is being emphasised during 2010, declared as the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations General Assembly. In the cities, green areas reduce pollution and improve the quality of air; wetlands break down waste and recycle it; and parks and woodlands with their colourful flora and fauna help city-dwellers connect with nature in their backyard. City governments must reflect on the ways in which the negative impact of urbanisation on biodiversity can be minimised, and biodiversity enhanced. As conurbations and megacities grow, nature-provided commons such as air, water, and green areas need to be zealously protected. Cities occupy less than three per cent of the world's land surface and their activities can be regulated. On the other hand, the number of cities with a population of over a million is increasing rapidly, leaving a disproportionately large ecological footprint on natural resources extracted from elsewhere.


It is interesting that several cities, including Curitiba, Nagoya, Brussels, and Paris, are testing a new framework to assess the health of their urban biodiversity. This tool, the Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity created under the Convention on Biological Diversity of the United Nations Environment Programme, should be of great interest to India. The index, which has some core indicators such as birds, butterflies, and plants, and a broader range of optional indicators, including mammals, can lead to a good assessment of the stressors that are depleting cities of biodiversity (such as unregulated building, loss of green areas, and wetlands), and thus affecting ecosystem services. Many cities in developing countries, particularly those in the tropics, can benefit from an honest appraisal of the biodiversity they retain. Such data are vital, because research shows that compensatory efforts to replace lost ecology are inferior in biodiversity terms. Artificial wetlands, for instance, cannot maintain the same level of ecological function as natural ones as they lack the full range of life forms. Cities stand greatly to benefit from enhanced biodiversity, and mayors and governments must factor that into their development plans.







The Delhi auto expo has showcased India's growing stature in the automobile industry, especially in the small car segment. The signs of growth have been clearly visible for quite some time. A year ago, the Tatas launched the Nano at the same venue in a brilliant display of value engineering and commitment to a time schedule to produce a car at below Rs.1 lakh ($2500). The Delhi fair, which attracted leading automakers globally, seems set to equal such as those held i n Frankfurt, Geneva, and Tokyo. Ten new models, including three for the first time in the world, were launched. There are at least two factors that have helped India become an attractive destination for the auto industry worldwide. The first is the growing size of the domestic market. Though the first modern passenger car, Maruti 800, came in the mid-1980s, the country had to wait for another decade and a half before it could truly enter the modern automobile age. Since the early 1990s, the world's leading automakers like Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda, apart from several others, set up manufacturing bases here. The domestic passenger car market has grown rapidly, recording a 250 per cent increase over the past decade. Significantly, exports are also rising — around 13 per cent of the domestic production is sold abroad.


The second factor behind India's rising stature is its proven manufacturing capability, especially in the small car segment. Foreign car-makers, having discovered local strengths in "frugal engineering and frugal product planning," are flocking to set up production bases here for feeding their global markets too. Simultaneously, the Tatas and the Mahindras have gone global, and not merely through acquisitions. Clearly the discerning Indian consumer is guiding important decisions in the global auto industry: for instance the shift in global preference for a small car follows the trends in India. The race to produce cheaper cars without compromising on quality and emission standards began in India and it will soon show multiple benefits. The component manufacturers who are now scaling up to meet the demands of the global markets have become quality conscious, with 21 of them winning the prestigious Deming awards. In addition, there have been a number of spin-off benefits for car dealers, car financiers, and insurance companies. It is also a visible symbol of macroeconomic resurgence. Yet for India to become a global hub for small cars, more research and development facilities, including those related to design, should be set up.









The year 2010 will see the global energy map redrawn as Russia, the world's largest producer of hydrocarbons, reorients its oil and gas flows from Europe to Asia. On the eve of the New Year, Russia launched a major oil pipeline from Eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean (ESPO). For the first time, it is able to ship oil not only westward to its traditional customers in Europe, but also to the ever-growing energy markets in Asia, which already account for a third of t he global oil consumption.


Initially, the new pipeline will move 30 million tonnes a year, but in four years the throughput is projected to increase to 50 million tonnes and then to 80 million tonnes, or about a third of Russia's current export volumes. Today, more than 90 per cent of Russian oil exports goes to Europe and only 3 per cent to Asia. Last year, Russia overtook Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer and exporter of oil. The ESPO pipeline will help Russia ramp up oil output to an all-time record of 530 million tonnes by 2030 despite declining production at the mature oilfields of Western Siberia.


So far, the first 2,757-km stretch of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) has been completed. It runs from Taishet in the Irkutsk region to Skovorodino near the Chinese border, where a 64-km spur to China has been built. The spur will carry 15 million tonnes of oil by 2012 when a 1,000-km pipeline on the Chinese side will connect it to Daging. Another 15 million tonnes will be hauled by rail from Skovorodino to the newly built Pacific terminal at Kozmino 2,100 km further east. By 2014, Russia will extend the pipeline from Skovorodino to Kozmino and build more pump stations along the 4,188-km ESPO pipeline.


It is symbolic that the first tanker loaded with Siberian oil headed for Hong Kong. China will be the main winner of the new Russian export route. Under a $100-billion contract signed last year, it will receive 300 million tonnes of oil via the ESPO pipe alone over the next 20 years. Deliveries may double as ESPO ramps up capacity.


The ESPO project will further cement strategic ties between Russia and China. But Beijing will not be able to tell Moscow what to do as the new pipeline gives the latter a choice of customers. When the project was still on the drawing board, China and Japan fiercely lobbied Russia to get exclusive access to the Siberian oil riches. The way the ESPO was eventually routed will allow Russia to sell oil to the highest bidder, be it China, Japan, South Korea or even the United States.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia looked forward to winning a much bigger share of the Asian oil market than its current 5-6 per cent compared with nearly 70 per cent for Gulf-originated crude. East Siberian crude, to be marketed under the name of ESPO, is similar or even superior to the Middle East crude and the new pipeline will take it close to Asian customers.


India also stands to benefit from the new pipeline, as it will be linked with oilfields in Western Siberia, including the Tomsk region where India's Imperial Energy has operations. Imperial Energy, bought by ONGC-Videsh from British owners a year ago, plans to quadruple the output to 25,000 bpd by the end of this year. The company, which has 13 licences in Tomsk, plans to bid for more Russian oil assets. During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's latest visit to Moscow in December 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised to grant India access to several other oil reserves, including the Trebs and the Titov fields in the Timan Pechora region in Russia's north.


The ESPO pipeline will give a powerful boost to the development of Eastern Siberia. The region is fabulously rich in hydrocarbons and other minerals, but their exploration has been hampered by a lack of infrastructure aggravated by hostile climate conditions. According to Transneft Vice-President Anatoly Bezverkhov, who oversaw the ESPO construction, practically all infrastructures for ESPO had to be built from scratch as the route passed through uninhabited territories that lacked roads, electric lines or any other communication. Hundreds of km of the new pipeline were laid across permafrost; the builders had to cross more than 500 rivers and lakes, blast their way through solid rock and work in freezing temperatures of minus 40 degrees C.


Geologists believe that only 35 per cent of Russia's oil reserves have been discovered so far. In Eastern Siberia alone, a thousand of likely oil and gas holds have been identified. The construction of the ESPO pipeline is expected to attract multibillion foreign investments in oil exploration in Eastern Siberia that will transform the region.


The ESPO pipeline is set to change the rules of the energy game in Europe as well. For years, the European Union has been trying to dictate its will to Russia taking advantage of Europe being the only market for Russian oil and gas. The EU proposes to ban Russian companies from its retail energy market and moots the setting up of an "energy NATO" to stop Russia from flexing energy muscles. Europe has been planning for years to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas supplies, but, ironically, it is Russia that has moved to diversify its energy exports away from the European market. By 2012, Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom will build a gas pipeline alongside the ESPO oil pipeline. Another gas-pipeline system, Altai, will be built to deliver gas from Western Siberia to China.


At the same time, Russia is working to consolidate its position as Europe's irreplaceable energy provider by coordinating its energy strategy with China and former Soviet states of Central Asia in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's "energy club." A gas glut on the European market provoked by the global crisis has forced Russia to scale down its plans to buy all of Turkmenistan's gas for re-export to Europe, but whatever resources have thus been freed will now go to China and Iran via newly built pipelines. There will be little left for the U.S.-lobbied Nabucco pipeline designed to bring Central Asian and Caspian gas to Europe bypassing Russia. In a further blow to Nabucco, Russia last October reached a deal to buy gas from Azerbaijan, the only gas-exporting ex-Soviet state which previously had no contract to sell the fuel to Russia. On January 1, Azerbaijan also started selling gas to Iran across a Soviet-built pipeline with a throughput capacity of 10 bcm a year.


Even as Russia undercut European efforts to build the Nabucco pipeline, it pressed forward with expanding it own pipeline network to supply gas to Europe — the Nord Stream that would connect Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea and the South Stream running across the Black Sea to south Europe. The new pipelines will bypass transit countries —– Ukraine, Poland and Belarus which have a long history of acrimonious price disputes with Russia. The same goal — to avoid the transit route — motivated Russia to build a major oil pipeline and a terminal on the Russian coast of the Baltic Sea.


Alternative export pipelines give Russia greater leverage in negotiations with the West on not only the price of its energy resources, but also the far more important issues of Russia's strategic interests in the former Soviet Union and access to the West's cutting edge technologies that Russia needs to modernise its economy.


The diversification of export routes that reached its high point with the launch of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline last month is a key part of Mr. Putin's energy strategy set in motion after he assumed Russian presidency in 2000. In the earlier phases, Mr. Putin reasserted state control over the oil and gas sector, cancelled the hugely unprofitable production-sharing arrangements with foreign majors and limited their access to major Russian oil and gas fields.


The next big goal in Mr. Putin's plan is to challenge the U.S. dollar-denominated oil trade by switching trade in Russian oil to roubles. Mr. Putin first declared Moscow's intention to use rouble in its oil and gas transactions in his 2006 state of the nation address. The following year, Russia began trading Russian oil for roubles at the Russian Fuel and Energy Exchange set up for the purpose in St. Petersburg. The scheme failed to make an impact partly because the new mix offered for rouble trade, West Siberia's REBCO (Export Blend Crude Oil), could be supplied only in small volumes.


The East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline could act as a game-changer. Tens of millions of tonnes of East Siberia's ESPO blend supplied along the pipeline to Asian markets would establish a new pricing benchmark and pave the way for large-scale oil trading in roubles. This would generate tectonic shifts in global power equations.








The proverbial cat with nine lives would appear to have found a match in British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his sheer ability to survive political assassinations. Last week, he saw off yet another plot — the third in six months — to unseat him when two former Cabinet Ministers, neither known for their political courage, shot off a letter to the Labour parliamentary party demanding that Mr. Brown seek a vote of confidence to "finally lay the [leadersh ip issue] to rest".


Surprisingly, the duo struck just when, for the first time in his crisis-prone leadership, Mr. Brown had started to get a measure of the Tories and things for the Labour Party were generally looking good with opinion polls beginning to show signs of tightening after months of consistently grim news.


However, it was not the timing alone that looked odd. Equally surprising were the identity of the "assassins"— the former Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, and the former Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt. Except that both are protégés of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, with whom Mr. Brown fought a long — and often frustrating — battle before finally toppling him in 2007, they make unlikely rebels. What, then, brought the two together?


Mr. Hoon was said to have been upset that the Prime Minister failed to keep his "promise" to accommodate him in a high-profile European Union job when he dropped him from the Cabinet last summer. Ms. Hewitt also has been sulking since she left the government in a huff after being moved from the Health Department, though she claims that she was offered another job but declined because she wanted to spend more time with her family. She also announced that she would stand down as MP at the next election.


So, it seems that contrary to the plotters' claims that they had acted in the larger interest of the party in calling for the leadership issue to be settled, their motives were rather more self-serving. The suggestion that they were doing their "puppet master" Mr. Blair's bidding is too far-fetched considering that two of his closest chums — Alistair Campbell, his former Communications chief, and Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary — are now part of Mr. Brown's inner circle.


Whatever may have prompted Mr. Hoon and Mr. Hewitt to act the way they did and despite the amateurish nature of their plot (apparently they did not properly consult other fellow-MPs before deciding to wield the dagger) they did manage to give Mr. Brown a real scare and plunge Downing Street into a crisis though, after the storm blew over, he pompously dismissed it as a "storm in a teacup".


Mr. Brown reportedly got to know of the "plot" minutes before he was to appear in the Commons for the weekly Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday but the news did not officially break until after the PMQs were over. It intensified when none of Mr. Brown's Cabinet colleagues rushed to defend him. Even when they eventually did come forward — reportedly after he spent several hours trying to persuade them — they sounded so lukewarm that nobody was left in any doubt that they were offering only token support.


Particularly significant, according to pundits, was Foreign Secretary David Miliband's belated and half-hearted backing for his boss, given that he is one of the most talked-about leadership contenders. Initially, he went to "ground" as a nervous Downing Street desperately sought to obtain loyalty pledges from senior Ministers. It was only late in the afternoon that he surfaced and then quickly disappeared again after issuing a vague statement which did not explicitly denounce the plot. A pro-Labour newspaper called it the "most equivocal statement" of the day.


The coup may have collapsed but was it really simply a "storm in a teacup"? The answer is no. The collapse of the plot is less an endorsement of Mr. Brown than a reflection of the plotters' ineptitude. For, the fact is that there still remains deep unease among large sections of Labour MPs and in the wider party ranks about his leadership. As The Economist pointed out, the fact that his Cabinet colleagues were so "lukewarm" in their support when the chips were down is "almost as extraordinary as rebellion".


Besides, it has emerged that at least six senior Cabinet Ministers had let it be known quietly that they would back a coup in the "right circumstances" but developed cold feet at the last minute. Everyone was apparently waiting for others to jump first before showing their hand. Had, for example, Mr. Miliband come out in support of the Hoon-Hewitt demand for a secret ballot to decide Mr. Brown's fate, others would have followed and it would have been the end of his leadership. They let the plot fail not because they love Mr. Brown but because they were not sure how things would pan out and did not want to end up on the wrong side.


But the threat has not gone away and another coup attempt in the run-up to the elections is not ruled out if Labour's poll ratings dip too low in the coming weeks, or there is another policy wobble, or Mr. Brown (as he often does) reneges on the promises he is said to have made to his disgruntled colleagues to buy their loyalty last Wednesday.


The coup plot was reportedly hatched at a south London Indian curry house, Gandhi's, popular with top Labour politicians.








Kerala is perhaps the "most drunken State" in India, with its per capita consumption of liquor rising by the year. The government, of course, benefits from its monopolistic business arm, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation. The governmental pursuit seems to give the beverages some level of "respectability." Of course the arrangement provides jobs to a number of people in the public sector, but it also makes more young people taste the so-called d elights of the drink than would have been the case otherwise.


To set the record straight, it must be stated at the outset that this is not to question or attack the powers vested in the state to regulate any trade in the manner it deems fit. But this is a trade where the turnover tempts the customer to take rolling trips into the realm of the jocose, the lachrymose and then the comatose. Many a fracas, felony, road accident and incident of street violence starts with alcoholism. Most rapes and sex crimes happen after intoxicating sip after sip of the liquid. Terrible crimes are committed by drunkards. The jocose first sip, the bellicose second sip, the lachrymose third sip… And with the final gulp you become comatose and lie down somewhere, often not knowing where. If this happens at home, the wife gets beaten if she protests. With much of the income spent on the stuff, the family often ends up bankrupt. Instances of hospitalisation owing to the drink evil seem to be on the rise in the State.


On whom does the blame rest? The State that grants liquor vends and bar licences rarely investigates this aspect. But liquor can be seen to violate the fundamental right of the citizen to travel around in peace, have friendly association with others, and live in fraternity.


Why do even Marxist governments make people bankrupt by granting easy licences to clubs with liquor-dispensing bars attached to them? I entreat on bended knees that the government's executive wing be rid of this alcoholic curse. And as Morarji Desai had wanted done, judges should be asked to swear not to drink and they should be dismissed summarily if found guilty of habitual alcohol consumption.


In holding almost a monopoly in the sale of these beverages, Kerala is in the company of neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which not only manufactures but vends liquor as a monopoly. The business profits from alcohol consumption belong to the State. Who will dare dismiss a government for violating Article 47 of the Constitution? For there are complicated political equations involved.


Gandhi is dead. So too is Rajaji, who as Chief Minister/Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu had implemented a prohibition policy successfully. Even now it can work a la Gujarat. Malabar under Madras had a prohibition policy.


It is fair to note that Tamil Nadu is also selling life's essentials through ration shops at a fraction of the market price effectively. Many of the poor can live on thanks to this measure. In Kerala, however, alcoholism and market prices go on without any control.


President Pratibha Patil said at a public meeting that Kerala is plagued by alcoholism. I would add this: the State will perish by alcoholism. The State is ruled by the Left Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), but only Marxism that is free from the plague of alcoholism will ultimately survive.


Alcoholism is an unmitigated evil and when it becomes a habit, multiple pathological consequences follow. Criminals and goondas with violent habits have a vested interest in liquor. It is ironic that our governments have become dealers in alcohol, handling the Big Business as a state-run enterprise.


Recently the District Collector of Kozhikode made an attempt to stop the sale of alcohol in liquor shops in the district on the eve of a major festival. It proved successful and ensured peace to the people. But he possibly fell foul with a powerful lobby, and soon found himself transferred out.


When Nehru was in power, Indian Embassies and High Commissionerates were asked not to serve liquor at Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. The Embassy officials wrote to New Delhi that many local guests may not attend if there was no liquor being served. Nehru promptly replied that if our National Days can be celebrated only if alcohol is served and people are only fascinated by the liquor that is served, then we had better not hold such celebrations.


The one politician who was above and against this vice was Morarji Desai. He introduced dry days on wage payment days and on festival days.


This terrible curse has proved ruinous, and Morarji's wisdom must be enforced as sternly as he did particularly vis-a-vis judges and higher bureaucrats. Wedding celebrations and religious festivals, Deepavali and Onam, should be declared dry days. So far as liquor consumption is concerned, the Centre, if it believes in the Constitution and in particular in Article 47, should force the States to practise prohibition. It can succeed as Rajaji and the Madras State did, and Gujarat still does. Political parties in their election manifestoes must promise dry days to save the working class and ensure domestic peace. Alcoholism is a national enemy and our import policy must ban foreign liquor.


All great men were free from alcoholism: they range from Bernard Shaw to Mahatma Gandhi. From Vedanta to Islam and every faith which is committed to dignity, decency and sobriety has advocated this, too. Some artists, like musicians and poets, have violated this virtue and drunk themselves to death. Byron, for instance, wrote: "Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;/ The best of life is but intoxication."


If the elimination of poverty and bankruptcy will constitute patriotism, the highest priority to implementing this principle should be given to an absolute ban on alcoholism.


The issue of dry days read in the light of Article 47 arose came up the Supreme Court at the instance of the liquor lobby. The case was decided by the court in support of the abolition of alcoholism, in 1978 3 SCC 558. That ruling deals exhaustively with the negative aspects of alcoholism as a national disaster.


I hold drink to be more damnable than thievery and perhaps even prostitution. Is it not often the parent to both?


Government revenue from drinking should be swept out and liquor shops should be abolished. We should re-declare our faith in undiluted prohibition. If I were appointed a dictator for an hour for all of India, the first thing I would do would be to close without compensation all liquor shops and destroy all toddy-producing palms.


This nation will perish with the drinking bowl with atrabilious liquor because the powerful lobby can purchase the politician at any price to do away with dry days and flood the youth with liquor until blood colours streets and homes red.







Rosarno in southern Italy had, by night on Sunday, been turned into what one politician termed the world's only entirely white town after a bloody ethnic cleansing that produced scenes reminiscent of the old American deep south.


As bulldozers got to work to obliterate shacks belonging to the itinerant crop-pickers who had fled, the last of more than 1,000 such workers were being removed from the area for their own protection.


After two days and nights of violence that began with the apparently motiveless shooting of two African workers, the number of injured stood at 53, comprising 18 police, 14 local people and 21 immigrants, eight of whom were in hospital.


Some of the crop-pickers had been shot; others had been beaten with metal bars or wooden clubs as local people took indiscriminate vengeance after a riot of Thursday in which more than 100 Africans caused extensive damage in the town to protest at the shootings.


Those who fled included several hundred people who had agreed to be taken to government-run centres after reportedly being given assurances they would not be deported if found to be illegally in Italy.


But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on Sunday that they would, in fact, be expelled. "The law is implemented and nothing else can be done," he told a television interviewer. A centre for asylum seekers near Bari took 324 immigrants, mostly Ghanaians. The city's prefect said that more than half of those whose cases had been examined had temporary residence permits. The others were destined for internment at a so-called centre for identification and expulsion.


In his traditional Sunday sermon to the crowd in St. Peter's square, the Pope said: "Immigrants are human beings, different in culture and traditions, but nevertheless to be respected. Violence ought never to be the way for anyone to resolve the difficulties."


Mr. Maroni criticised local authorities for turning a blind eye to the widespread, irregular use of immigrant labour, adding that they had created communities of foreigners that were "bombs primed to go off".


A junior Minister in the previous, centre-Left government, Luigi Manconi, commented ironically that Rosarno was now "the only wholly white town in the world. Not even South African apartheid obtained such a result." And he asked: "Who now will pick the oranges?"


But, perhaps explaining the crop-pickers' frustration and the eagerness of some locals to get rid of them, the Calabrian citrus industry has been in crisis due to a fall in prices, according to Antonio Lupini, vice-president of the local farmers association. He told the daily Corriere della Sera that 800 million kilograms of citrus fruit were rotting on the trees. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010






Israel has approved the construction of fences on its southern border with Egypt to prevent people from illegally crossing into the Jewish state.


Israel is a popular refuge for Africans fleeing war-torn and impoverished countries who enter through its porous, 250-km southern border with Egypt. Israeli police say 100 to 200 Africans enter illegally through Egypt each week.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the construction of two sections of fence: one opposite the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah in the southwest and another near the Red Sea. — AP









India's long border with China is 'un-demarcated' as ministry of external affairs (MEA) officials often remind us.It is also true that boundary talks are progressing at snail's pace between the two countries — there have been 13 rounds of talks — and it is well known that the Chinese are not in much of a hurry to close the issue.


This does not however mean that the matter can be pushed under the carpet and India can pretend that the problem does not exist. Apart from nudging the Chinese to engage in negotiations, there is also need to man the un-demarcated border and provide protection to our citizens in a much more intensive fashion.


It is in this context that the latest revelation that China is imperceptibly inching its way into the Indian side — which will surely be contested by Beijing — and harassing nomads in the Dokbug area of the Nyoma sector in Ladakh should be discussed.


It is interesting that the official report says that substantial loss of territory has occurred over the last 20 to 25 years. Is it a case of raising the alarm much too late? Or is it that the local officials have been constantly raising the issue but state and central governments did not take note of it?


There are several problems with regard to the border with China. Long stretches of it pass through inclement territory. The country's first prime minister Nehru was not really off the mark when he nonchalantly described the territory as a place where not a blade of grass grows.


But then territory is vital. Much harm was done even by 1962 by which time the Chinese had occupied a large tract of about 14000-square-mile Aksai Chin in Ladakh.


The second problem and the more important one is that India has not been able to station enough troops along the border. It was so in 1962 and it seems to be so nearly half-a-century later.


The latest official revelation about loss of territory should not be an occasion for raising a war cry against China because it does not achieve anything. The sensible response would be to increase troop presence in the area and protect the nomads.


There is no need to resort to the crude militaristic argument that China understands the language of force. It was the so-called forward movement that led to the outbreak of the 1962 war. What is needed is a firm stance backed by the presence of the troops.







The latest fracas over minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor and his apparent criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru's foreign policy seems to be a combination of over-sensitivity on one hand and an over-zealous, if lazy, media on the other.


It was reported that Tharoor had said that Gandhi and Nehru's foreign policy was a "moralistic running commentary". Now it turns out that Tharoor had been summing up what others had said and was not putting forward his own point of view.


The problem appears to be two-fold. Tharoor's recent run-ins with the Congress party's high command have focused media attention on him, so every pronouncement or announcement from him is deemed to be potentially controversial.


The other is that the Congress party is so steeped in its culture of worship, especially of the Nehru legacy and to a lesser extent of Mahatma Gandhi, that it cannot countenance any criticism of its greats.


In this case, however, it appears that the media has erred in that it did not completely report on what Tharoor said and just picked up what looked like a critical remark.


This is unfortunate, because it will take away from the seriousness of the discussion about India's foreign policy. It is also unfortunate that Lord Bhikhu Parekh's speech — which did look critically at the Gandhi-Nehru legacy as far as Indian foreign policy is concerned — hardly got any media space on at all.


The over-trivialisation of the media is not a new matter but is still worth examining. For all the yeoman service that the media puts in, it also tends to go overboard at times and the speed with which news and views travel in today's world, the attendant hysteria easily gets blown out of proportion.


It is of course for the Congress party to decide how much criticism it can handle. The fact is that Gandhi and Nehru are regularly criticised in the public domain — after all, their legacy belongs to the whole country. The party could just as well take a mature stance on what its members say about historical figures.


It might help most Indian political parties if they encourage a little internal debate and discussion, in the merits of democracy rather than take immediate umbrage. Party discipline need not be taken to Stalinistic heights or depths as the case may be.


In the case of Tharoor and Nehru it seems that what we have here is a "moralistic running commentary" from both the media and the Congress.







If sugar gets any costlier, tea-drinkers may have to look for sugar substitutes like Stevia, the herbal sweetener, to add taste to their cuppa.


A combination of cupidity, stupidity and bad luck has tripled retail rates in two years, without passing on benefits to the farmers.


The immediate problem arises from the well-known fact that acreage under sugarcane has shrunk in recent years, reversing a trend that saw a steady increase in area under the crop since the 1950s, peaking in 2006-07 at 5.15 million hectares.


This was compounded by last year's weak monsoon which caused a 20 per cent shortfall in production and even more by a questionable trade policy — incentives for sugar exports at a time when global prices were at rock bottom and imports when they were at a 28-year high.


Exports continued even after the shortage began to be felt and interventions that may have stabilised prices were delayed,
allegedly for political reasons.


The government's panic-mongering last year — it declared that sugar prices would increase due to lower output — sparked off furious imports at high rates and encouraged hoarding and speculation. In the process, it pushed up global prices, the stock prices of sugar manufacturers and the retail rates of sugar.


While policy failures have exacerbated the problem, the central fact is that farmers are opting out of sugarcane because it is no longer economically viable.


Currently, paddy and wheat offer better returns thanks to sharp increases in the minimum support price (MSP) over the last three years. The challenge before the central government is to ensure that farmers (rather than sugar mills) get a fair price for sugarcane.


The farmers of Uttar Pradesh brought this sharply into focus when they descended on the capital protesting the centre's very low FRP (fair and remunerative price) for sugar cane —Rs129 per quintal against the state advised price (SAP) of Rs165 per quintal.


Punjab and Haryana have hiked SAPs to Rs200 per quintal and
the Centre must follow suit. Farmers may not be content even with that. They charge sugar mills with profiteering and contend that sugar prices are all out of proportion to what the farmer receives — and the consumer pays.


Farmers preferred to sell to gur units which pay as much as Rs250 per quintal, rather than the mills, many of whom delay payments and shortchange them.


The proposal to force the farmers to sell to the mills rather than the gur units is both unconstitutional and undemocratic and is unlikely to solve the problem.


For farmers, sugarcane, being a water-intensive crop, is getting steadily harder to grow. The cost of inputs, particularly energy (for pumping water) and agro-chemicals, is going up.


At the same time, sugarcane productivity or yield per hectare is declining. From 1995 - 2000, it averaged around 700 quintals per hectare, but from 2000 to 2005, productivity was closer to 650 quintals per hectare.


A World Bank study on the impact of climate change on agriculture in India predicts a contraction in sugarcane cultivation by as much as one-third and advises a focus on drought-resistant crops.


Sorghum (jowar), for instance, takes a lot less water. Sugar can be
obtained from sweet sorghum. The National Research Centre for Sorghum has suggested use of sweet sorghum for obtaining ethanol fuel, currently extracted from sugarcane. Sugarbeet is another option.


Adoption of sensible agricultural practices, like revival of drought-resistant varieties of sugarcane, can also make a big difference. In some parts of India, farmers still successfully practice rain-fed cultivation of sugarcane (overall 92 per cent of the area under sugarcane is irrigated).


To make sugarcane cultivation more economically viable for farmers, agri-scientists suggest intercropping with pulses like a short-duration green gram (moong) crop.


Not only does the farmer benefit from the green gram, but the crop residues enhance the growth of sugarcane by improving soil fertility and moisture retention. Thus, the growing shortage of pulses can be addressed.


Organic cultivation of sugarcane is advisable in conditions of water stress, as it requires less irrigation. Interestingly, the Reserve Bank of India's College of Agricultural Banking made the following observations (based on a study by the Gokhale Institute, Pune of sugarcane farmers of Jalgaon): "Organic Agriculture will result in increased surpluses at the farmer level, more due to a better bottom line even with a reduced top line. The improved bottom line will not be from a so-called organic premium but rather from reduction in costs".


Currently, India has the world's sharpest sweet tooth. It consumes some 23 million tonnes of sugar per annum. Not surprisingly, it also leads in the number of diabetics.


There seems to be no slackening in demand, even in a time of spiralling prices. Trends indicate that production has no way of keeping pace with demand, without sweeping policy changes. Stevia, anyone?


The writer is a commentor on social affairs







Many unabashed America-cheerleaders in India — and there sure are similar voices in Japan and Europe — have argued in a jesting tone but with a subconscious serious intent that the rest of the world should have a vote in the United States' presidential election because what the American president does affects the world as such.


Then we have people from the left end of the political spectrum who sincerely believe that the US is the real rogue state, much more than Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Yemen and others.


People may want to entertain the idea of the first group and dismiss the second one. This is so because most people across the world generally love America, for naïve as well as pragmatic reasons even as people hate America from similar motives.


America has to be taken seriously and handled with care because it is a problem for everyone. It can neither be dismissed nor ignored because what it does to itself as much as what it does with the others has large-scale consequences which affect everyone else.


That is why, you have to look at America even if you are not so terribly interested in its Teflon existence and try to get a hang of what it says, what it does and what it thinks.


The pronouncements of the so-called American experts on Islamic fundamentalism, on the Palestinian crisis are as flawed as their reading of the threat of communism during the ColdWar era.


Ideally, what America does with its own economy should have been its own affair. But the fact is that the stupid things that Wall Street bankers and fund managers did with their money pushed the world into a recessionary spin.


Its impact on the world markets is because Americans buy so much from the rest of the world and they invest their dollars in the rest of the world as well. After the financial market mess of 2008 in America, the world eagerly awaits the revival of American domestic economy so that it can sell its goods and services once again in America and to America and it can expect American dollars to flow out again by way of foreign direct investments.


Similarly, America's ignorant foreign policy positions and measures should not be more than a matter of amusement to the others but its dealings with Islamic fundamentalists has become a problem for many others outside America. American blunders in bludgeoning the terror challenge ever since September 11, 2001 has only prolonged the world's agony.


Pakistan and Afghanistan are paying the price of a virtual civil war because it is the American dollars that created the jihadis who are now destroying those countries.


When America decides to go its way on the climate change issue as it did at the Kyoto climate summit in 1997 or at Copenhagen in 2009, the rest of the world has to worry as to how to get the Americans into curb-the-green-house-gas-emissions game. What America does or does not do poses a problem to everyone
outside America. So what does one do with America?


The thing to do as of now is to engage the Americans, cajole or hector them as do the NGOs of the world and where possible to arm-twist them as China tries to do where it can.


The other way is to change American opinion within America by appealing to the American people over the heads of American politicians and businessmen, create public opinion that will make American leaders more responsible.


The other long-term option is to wean the world away from America as such. This is a difficult thing to do because in the 20th century America has played an invaluable role in the reconstruction of Europe and Japan immediately after the Second World War in 1945 and in the economic boom of free markets of south-east Asia in the 1960s.


The good deeds of the past linger and American influence will persist long after it has ceased to be beneficial.






In the mind-system there are three modes of activity distinguishable: the sense-minds functioning while remaining in their original nature, the sense-minds as producing effects, and the sense-minds as evolving.


By normal functioning the sense-minds grasp appropriate elements of their external world, by which sensation and perception arise by degrees in every sense-organ and every sense-mind and even in the atoms that make up the body, by which the whole field is apprehended like a mirror reflecting objects, and not realising that the external world itself is only a manifestation of mind.


The second mode of activity produces effects by which these sensations react on the discriminating mind to produce perceptions, attractions, aversions, grasping, deed and habit.


The third mode of activity has to do with the growth, development and passing of the mind-system, that is, the mind-system is in subjection to its own habit-energy accumulated from beginningless time, as for instance: the "eyeness" in the eye that predisposes it to grasp and become attached to multiple forms and appearances.


In this way the activities of the evolving mind-system by reason of its habit-energy stirs up waves of objectivity on the face of Universal Mind which in turn conditions the activities and evolvement of the mind-system.


Appearances, perception, attraction, grasping, deed, habit, reaction, condition one another incessantly, and the functioning sense-minds, the discriminating-mind and Universal Mind are thus bound up together.


Thus, by reason of discrimination of that which by nature is maya-like and unreal false-imagination and erroneous reasoning takes place, action follows and its habit-energy accumulates thereby defiling the pure face of Universal Mind, and as a result the mind-system comes into functioning and the physical body has its genesis.


From A Buddhist Bible by Dwight Goddard









The relentless rise in the prices of food items has defied a solution. As the food inflation, now hovering at 18.22 per cent, adds to the over-all price rise, the RBI has given enough signals to raise the key rates. It wants to curtail money supply and control inflation before it goes out of hand. To address the issue of reining in inflation without hurting growth, Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla has made a sensible proposal for the Cabinet Committee on Prices to consider at its meeting later this week. He has the support of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Cabinet committee too is likely to endorse it.


Mr Chawla has made a strong plea against raising the interest rates since it may hurt growth. On the contrary, the Prime Minister's Economic Adviser, Mr C. Rangarajan, wants the apex bank to remove excess money from the system to ease prices. It will be interesting to watch which way the RBI leans. The UPA government is upbeat on growth and making all possible efforts to prop it up. To cool the prices, Mr Chawla has suggested administrative measures, which should have been by now already put in place. It is amazing that it requires a Secretary to tell the Cabinet Committee on Prices simple things like releasing more wheat and rice in the market, suspending the import duty on sugar and other "commodities of concern" or banning the export of milk products. It is plain common sense.


Why Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has reduced himself — as well as the government he represents — to being a helpless spectator as the soaring prices spoil the housewife's budget remains a mystery. The states too have shown little interest in nailing the hoarders. At least, they should follow Mr Chawla's advice on cutting commissions and duties paid by farmers in mandis, particularly fruit and vegetable growers, to reduce the pressure on prices.








Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has rightly called for expediting justice by cutting down delays so that the common litigant did not face hardship. In an interview to two newspapers, he said that the country's justice delivery system is such that litigants try every method available to avoid trial. This is particularly common in the case of the powerful and influential people. A fall-out of this tactic is that the accused invariably take advantage of the delays and get away scot free. Justice Balakrishnan has deplored this tendency on the part of the powerful and the influential to subvert the system and evade justice. They challenge the summons issued to them, appeal against framing of charges and every interim order — from the trial court up to the Supreme Court. Obviously, the trial will be delayed if the accused obtains an interim stay in any court. This is more than evident in the Ruchika molestation case where DGP S.P.S. Rathore has escaped from the clutches of law for years because of his clout in Haryana.


What Justice Balakrishnan has said is absolutely true, but something needs to be done to correct the drawbacks in the system so that justice is expedited and the accused, however high and powerful they may be, are brought to book expeditiously. The people will lose faith in the judiciary if they don't get justice within a reasonable timeframe. As the CJI has said, the prosecution must be extra careful and vigilant especially in cases where the rich and the powerful are involved as the accused.


Over the years, there is no dearth of recommendations on how to reduce delays and expedite justice. The government has taken note of these which range from filling in vacancies of judges, discouraging pleas for adjournments, reducing vacations, putting in extra work, appointing retired judges and advocates as judges, making best use of information technology for case management and using alternative dispute redressal mechanisms like the Lok Adalats, arbitration and plea bargaining. Since the UPA government is also committed to judicial reforms, the CJI needs to use his good offices in getting various recommendations implemented and speeding up justice.








It is a welcome development that the bivalent oral polio vaccine, which is being seen as a ray of hope to eradicate polio, has been launched in India. The need for the new vaccine that simultaneously tackles two types of viruses — type one and three — has been felt for some time as India remains one of the few nations in the world still fighting to eradicate polio. While the introduction of the new vaccine, to be used first in Bihar and then in UP, marks a significant move, it is not enough by itself.


Vaccination against polio was initiated way back in 1978. India launched its Pulse Polio Immunisation Programme in 1995 to cover all children below three years of age. Later the target age was raised to five years. Even though the nation spends Rs 1,200 core every year on polio control, the disease continues to cripple its children. The virus that causes polio invades the nervous system through the mouth and leads to paralysis within hours, affecting children below five years. Though India has made tremendous progress in controlling polio, it has been unable to eradicate it completely. While the nation bears nearly half the global burden of the crippling disease, UP and Bihar alone account for 97 per cent of polio cases in India. The reasons are not far to seek. Besides shortfalls in the Nation Rural Health Mission's pulse polio targets, the CAG has found glaring state-level deficiencies in the implementation of the Pulse Polio Immunisation Programme.


Polio-free India is not an impossible goal. However, a mission that had to be achieved by 2005 continues to elude the nation and will do so till the disease is fought on all fronts. Besides plugging gaps in cold chain supply, implementation of polio drives as well as awareness campaigns have to be more concerted, leaving no room for complacency or slip-ups. High-risk groups like migrants with small children and those living in unhygienic conditions need to be covered more aggressively. With global support coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, greater government will is needed to rid India of polio completely. 









Everyone is predicting the future these days-about the world and India because we are entering a new decade of this millennium. There is a lot of hype about where India will be in 2020 and 2030, and even 2050. Such long-term thinking is really quite misplaced when the ground reality is stark and not so cheery. No doubt, India and China are going to have a better future than most other countries, the government today, perhaps, ought to take stock of what is important for the happiness and security of the common person or aam admi in the year ahead. Today, it seems that food prices and job security are the most worrisome issues for aam admi. Controlling food prices is not so difficult if past experience is any guide, because the government can easily enhance and extend the public distribution system so that the poor are protected. Creating jobs is, however, difficult.


Agriculture will be a weakest area this year because there is to be a shortfall in rice production by over 13 million tonnes due to deficient rainfall to the extent of 22 per cent. Agricultural growth is crucial for GDP growth because around 60 per cent of the population lives in the rural areas. Due to the drought this year, agricultural growth is going to decline by at least 1 to 2 per cent.


Agricultural production the world over is unable to cope with the world demand for food. It started with the world's agricultural land being diverted to the production of ethanol, and global demand could not match the supply of foodgrains and prices shot up between mid-2007 and mid-2008. In India, too, from that time onwards, food prices have been rising.


World Bank President Robert Zoellick has recently said that after the global financial crisis, another factor responsible for high food prices is excess liquidity and he warned, "You could see additional moves towards the agricultural commodities sector, if there were perceptions of market shortages." This view is being aired by the Indian government also. There has been an excess of liquidity in the monetary system in India after the Reserve Bank of India eased its monetary policy following the global financial crisis. People also got extra incomes through the three stimulus packages and government salaries were hiked, tax rebates granted and dearness allowances raised. Excess liquidity has led to money being diverted for speculation and hoarding which has accentuated food price inflation. Apart from fresh fruits and green vegetables, most agricultural produce can be stored and released when the prices are higher. Hoarders have been amply rewarded by the 20 per cent food inflation.


According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN)-OECD agricultural outlook, crop prices around the world are projected to be 10 to 20 per cent higher in real terms in 2009-2018 than in 1997-2006 while the real prices (price minus inflation) for vegetable oils are expected to rise more than 30 per cent.


One way to control excess liquidity from straying into speculation is to raise interest rates, which could bring down inflation but would adversely hit investments. The government has a balancing role to play but currently it is denying that there would be a tightening of credit via higher interest rates.


The FAO says that all over the world a long-term decline in farm investment is to be blamed for food shortages and high prices and estimates that $44 billion in new investments would be needed annually to boost agriculture in developing countries. Quite clearly, India, too, will have to invest heavily in agriculture, especially in irrigation facilities, and only then can there be a rise in productivity. Food self-sufficiency is a goal that ranks high for a huge country like India. There cannot be import dependence for feeding over one billion people because of the vulnerability India would develop geopolitically. Thus, the government's stake in enhancing agricultural production is very high.


Its hands, however, are tied because of the ballooning fiscal deficit which is high at 6.8 per cent of the GDP. There has to be more money in the government's coffers in order to increase public investment in agriculture. It can do so if it consolidates its expenditure and withdraws its stimulus package. But how should it exit from its stimulus package without disturbing economic recovery? For example, car makers have been flourishing because people have been spending their extra money on cars and other consumer durables.


Similarly, if the stimulus package is withdrawn in the US too soon the repercussions will be felt in India because Americans will consume less of imported goods and save more. India's private sector, which has been thriving on the basis of its business links with industrial countries like the US and the EU , will suddenly face slack demand, lower foreign direct investment and financial institutional inflows.


After the global financial crisis, all countries which gave generous stimulus packages last year would have to face the challenge of how to withdraw these so that recovery from recession is sustained and governments are able to manage their budget deficits better.


As for creating jobs, it is only manufacturing, mining and infrastructure that can provide new jobs for the semi-skilled and semi-literate labour force. Agriculture has to be more productive so that fewer people are dependent on it. The surplus labour would then have to find jobs mainly in manufacturing. But for higher manufacturing growth and expansion, higher agricultural incomes would be needed because rural demand is very important for manufactured goods. The recent rise in manufacturing growth can only be sustained if rural population has more spending power. Remember the highest number of mobile phones and two-wheelers are sold in the rural areas. Similarly, the "fast-moving consumer goods" have found a ready market in the villages.


The growth in manufacturing also depends on the disposable incomes of people in towns and cities after meeting their food bill. But most people today, the rich and the poor, are groaning about high food prices and their demand for manufactured goods like TVs, washing machines and refrigerators is being adversely affected.


Agricultural growth of about 4 per cent and investment is thus of highest importance, but the government is in a bind because it has to find resources for a quantum increase in public investment in agriculture. It has to tax the other sectors more and transfer resources to agriculture in the form of new investment. Unless it does so in a carefully calibrated manner by raising taxes and gradually withdrawing the stimulus package, the projected 9 to 10 per cent growth for this decade may remain a pipedream.








WHEN my wife proposed a candle-light outing recently, I turned nostalgic about our romantic jaunt to Venice, the city of lovers, where we had spent several evenings to fathom its pulsating spirit, with candles flickering on wayside dinner tables overlooking an iridescent waterway.


But the present proposal was certainly not romantic. It was for a cause, to join a candle march to exhibit solidarity with Ruchika in whom every parent saw his own daughter. The famous lines of Wordsworth that "the sweet face of Lucy Gray will never more be seen" came fluttering when I recalled the tragedy of the hapless girl.


Such was the impact of candle march that an "omnipotent" cop found him baked even in chilling weather. The public outcry triggered by the "paraffin Gandhigiri" hastened the process of plugging all escape routes in Macaulay's criminal law, to avert the repeat of Ruchika's suicide or Jessica's murder.


The word "candle" owes its genesis to a Latin word "candere", which literally means "flicker". It has, however, come to symbolise a silent but steady, unyielding protest against all forms of atrocities against women and children.


Even offering of roses in "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" seems to have been inspired by "Take Back the Night" candle march held in Belgium in 1976 against all kinds of sexual abuse. Also christened as "Reclaim the Night", the feminist movement has acquired international connotation for ensuring freedom of movement to women even at the "noon of night".


As the ingredient material of candle altered from tallow in the first century to natural fat to beeswax to paraffin to gel, its usage has also kept changing over the years.


Candles and oil lamps were used for illumination in bucolic Indian milieu and elsewhere, till mid-sixties. As a schoolboy coming from a small hamlet, where electricity was then a rare commodity, I used to study under candle light and it continued playing an important role while burning mid-night oil for civil services.


Such is the significance of candles that they are integral to various religions world over. We cannot imagine Divali without candles. Candles are also used in "Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival" in Buddhism. In Christianity, candles are used for decoration, ambiance and as a symbol that represents the light of Christ.


In some Western churches, a special "Paschal" candle, an iconic symbol of Resurrected Christ, is lit at Easter, funerals and baptism ceremonies. Even in Judaism, a pair of candles is lit prior to the weekly "Sabbath" celebrations.


During India's struggle for independence, our national heroes used to swear by blazing candles. Even in the aftermath of Kargil hostilities, candle processions generated an atmosphere conducive for Indo-Pak peace initiative. A candle march has come to signify surging public sentiments, solidarity for a cause and wake-up call for hibernating establishment.


The flame of a candle may flicker but the heat it generates can surely melt even the glaciers and make grunting "human bears" run for life. The power of flickering candles is indeed deadlier than cannons and mightier than pen.









Our Northeast remains disturbed, although not like Pakistan's Northwest. The fires burning in the Indian region are mostly political. They are nowhere a conflagration in the name of religion as is the case in Pakistan.


However, both countries face a problem which cannot be resolved only with force. The beleaguered people want development and a free say. These aspirations have to be appreciated so that policies are formulated accordingly.


I have returned from Assam quite disturbed. The state has been wrecked by many agitations for a long time. I recall covering the convulsions it went through when there was a movement to oust "foreigners," illegal entrants from Bangladesh.


The All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was then leading the agitation, entered into an accord with the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who promised to detect "foreigners" and delete their names from the voters' list. They were to be ultimately ousted from the state.


Nothing like that has happened. In fact, the Assamese have been reduced to 40 per cent in the state. Even when the accord was reached, I doubted if it could be implemented. The Centre had tried to disperse the migrants among the Indian states. But none agreed to rehabilitate them.


After the lapse of some years, it is clear that there is no probability of ousting the "foreigners." New Delhi should consider issuing work permits because those who cross into India from across the border come in search of livelihood. They want to return to their homeland. Since they have no other option, they stay back and face perennial harassment.


It is the New Delhi-AASU accord which gave birth to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). The front has raised the standard of sovereign Assam state and clash with the security forces openly.


The violence has led to the killing of thousands of people both in Assam and at places where the ULFA cadre has sought refuge, particularly at the foothills of Bhutan and the border of Myanmar.


The breakthrough in the ULFA challenge came about when Bangladesh handed over to India the outfit's chairman, Archinda Rajkova, the party's ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain and a few others.


The five rebel outfits in the region have characterised Dhaka's gesture to Delhi as "betrayal" and they have vowed to take revenge. This has not deterred Bangladesh, which has declared to root out Indian militant outfits from its soil.


No doubt, the state government is trying its best to enter into a dialogue with the ULFA. But the latter's refusal to give up the sovereignty demand has posed a problem. Probably the detained ULFA leaders want their commander-in-chief Paresh Barua to join them before they hold talks.


The ULFA does not seem to realise that no Indian government can talk to them on secession because there are some other movements in the country agitating for the same demand.


What has made me more concerned after a visit to Guwahati is the attitude of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the main opposition party to the ruling Congress. The AGP is itself against the demand for sovereignty but supports the ULFA stand for no pre-conditions for talks.


The AGP obviously wants to harness the sympathy which the ULFA evokes in the state. I was surprised to see the evidence in Guwahati itself. My remark at a seminar that the ULFA leaders should not have been handcuffed was received by the audience with a resounding applause.


People in Assam or, for that matter, in South Asia, do not seem to realise that those who raise the gun against the state cannot be given any room because their success means the destruction of the polity.


The ULFA should tear a leaf out of the Nagas' book. Their leder, Phizo, made the same demand for sovereignty and went to London to direct the revolt in Nagaland. I was India's High Commissioner to the UK when Phizo died. One of his comrades, Khodao-Yanthan, met me after Phizo's death.


Since the days of the insurgency in Nagaland, Yanthan had been living in the UK. He told me he wanted to go to Nagaland to adivse his old friends to give up violence and seek a solution within the framework of united India.


Ours was a friendly meeting. I was confident that he would be a moderating influence on the extremists. I informed New Delhi about his visit which I could not follow because I had resigned by the time he met the Indian government's representatives.


Yanthan told me that Phizo had "changed" and wanted to settle the Nagaland question within the contours of India, not outside. I wish I had met him. I was told that his death had taken place long before it was announced.


My journalist friend, Harish Chandola (Phizo's niece is married to him) vainly tried in London to get the death certificate to determine the date of his demise. I also asked the High Commission officials to look into the matter but did not get any satisfactory response.


Yanthan was insistent on describing his nationality as 'Naga' in the visa application. The Consular section was bent upon rejecting it on the ground that India did not recognise Nagaland as a separate country. I intervened and wrote on his visa application that the Nagas were Indians. He got a visa.


I thought it was important that he visited Nagaland and tell the militant fringe that Phizo had himself renounced violence and had proposed talks on Nagaland's integration with India. I wonder if the northeast in India and Northwest in Pakistan can learn from Phizo.


I feel New Delhi's policy on the Northeast has not been realistic. Jawaharlal Nehru kept the area separate and secluded so as to preserve the culture of the people living there. Indeed, this is a weighty consideration for any government.


But it should ensure that the area is not cut off from the mainstream, affecting not only the emotional ties but also the economic and social development.


True, the Taliban menace which Pakistan faces has to be eliminated. But Islamabad must realise that there must have been something lacking in its rule which could not bring about the emotional integration of the territory with the rest of Pakistan.









Last week I once again condemned the burkha and will do so till the end of my days. By that time, with the unstoppable rise and rise of Wahhabi Islam, they will probably have incarcerated me in black polyester and turned off my voice.


I unconditionally hate fanatical proselytisers – male and female – what they do to my faith and the faithful. The way they ban pleasures and progress, fill young minds with strictures to paralyse the will and suppress god-given desires in lands of freedom and autonomy.


Their inner lives are stormy, psychological dramas which turn dangerously unstable. Some of the resulting turmoil and sexual unrest may be swelling the seething brain of the next terrorist manqué.


On blogs now thought to be written by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a plane over Detroit, you are given the impression from news reports that he was a lonely boy, unhappy with his peers who drank and partied.


At university he apparently cut himself off, tried to hold on to Islamic Puritanism in a country of no shame, no restraint. Millions of Britons of all backgrounds are alarmed by the dissipation and debauchery that now defines Britain.


For Umar Farouk and many other Muslim men like him, living in such a landscape is literally intolerable. He confesses that he does try to lower his gaze in front of females, wonders if he should get married because he is getting too aroused.


You could make a movie, a Taxi Driver for our times, about just such an anti-hero, the hormonal male who is expected to live a life of total abstinence in the middle of licentiousness.


The Pakistani journalist Maruf Khwaja describes this inner chaos in an Open Democracy blog. In some homes they cannot watch television, listen to music, dance or indulge in anything pleasurable: "[Muslims] want to do what their secular friends do, have nights out, go clubbing, have boyfriends and girlfriends. Many are depressed by social isolation and attempt to escape by leaving parents and Islamic legacies behind."


Others, like Asif, revert. He says he had a contact list full of willing white women whom he chatted up to "get into their knickers" and now that he is a good Muslim, he talks to covered-up ladies and can "really communicate with them". The saintly Muslim female has desexualised herself, protects herself in the polluted land she lives in full of mad, bad and dangerous sinners.

Women who are not coerced but choose to cover themselves are expressing that revulsion and fear of contamination. Their solutions are as bad as the problems they are trying to escape, sometimes worse. Sexual abuse, rape and forced homosexuality remain the dirty secrets of British Muslim communities, kept under wraps as it were, while they flap around proclamations of purity.


I cannot stand these false virtues and self-reverential pieties nor am I pleading on behalf of screwed-up men who would murder us naming Allah. I am saying that the collapse of all restraint in our societies is breeding sicknesses and madness, and may be pushing some Muslims to the edge of reason.


Non-Muslims are as concerned about social nihilism, and increasingly so. A list was sent home to the parents of girls at a middle-class school in London last week sternly reminding non-uniformed sixth-formers that there were still rules of decorum to follow. A list followed of garments henceforth disallowed: no tops that show the midriff or cleavage, no tight mini-skirts, no underwear showing, no clothes with holes in them, etc, etc.


Do parents and their teenagers think such wanton wear is OK for school? In an alarmingly short time, the nation has gone from Fifties uprightness to public striptease, even in schools.


We mothers of teenagers who can't bear this milieu are trying to do the impossible – to somehow let our born-free children find themselves and define their futures while holding them back protectively from the debauchery of modern British life.


In Natasha Walter's new book, Living Doll: the Return of Sexism, she describes the widespread self-degradation of young women and girls who wear "fuck-me" clothes, binge-drink and sleep around, all in the name of emancipation. Their heroines are Jordan and glamour models in lads' mags and what they really, really want is to be just like these big-breasted big-timers.


Teenagers told her they had had dozens of sexual partners already and some said they would happily go in for lap-dancing or porn shots "for enjoyment". The word that comes up all the time is "choice", but one has to ask what choice is there, really, when a pushy popular culture tells females as young as eight that they are creatures of the flesh which they must tame and give over to the public gaze and touch.


To me, that choice is engineered just as it is for veiled women. Both are victims of societal pressures that mould and compel certain decisions. They are perhaps twins born of the same womb.


Dr Marcus Braybrooke, a respected Anglican clergyman and theologian, has expressed his anxieties: "[All of us] face the same challenges in an increasingly alien society. Original sin and sexual inhibition has been replaced by what most Christians and Muslims would regard as undue permissiveness." Atheists too and humanists I bet, and all other sorts.


The last decade was a period of economic greed and libertine excess encouraged and reflected by magazines,

television, music, high-paid entertainers and childlike resistance to self-control. Modesty was for losers. Some of those losers turned modesty into the ultimate cause, turned themselves into morality warriors and claimed God was on their side.


With things falling apart and ethical compasses broken, you can see why so many are turning to self-discipline and certainties in an age of chaos. Islamic Stalinism is set to grow stronger. A society in a state of perpetual abandon cannot survive that onslaught. We need to sober up and see what we have become. The future is grim; it needs us to be serious.


— By arrangement with The Independent








The other day when Ravi Shankar Prasad was briefing the media about the first meeting of the office-bearers chaired by new BJP president Nitin Gadkari, he failed to mention Gopinath Munde's name as one of the task force members for the March 10 anti-price rise rally in Delhi. BJP organising secretary Ram Lal, standing at a distance, had to hurriedly send in a slip to remind him about it and an embarrassed Prasad added Munde's name as well.


The bad wibes Munde and Gadkari share is common knowledge in the BJP. Munde, at one time, had resigned all party posts, protesting Gadkari's decisions about the Maharashtra BJP.


Therefore, it is not clear whether this was an oversight on the part of Prasad or a conscious effort to get into Gadkari's good books. As it is the hunt for new office-bearers is on and it is being said that at least two spokesmen, namely Prasad and Prakash Javadekar, might be elevated to general secretaries' status.


Pakistan Speaker in Delhi


Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly Fehmida Mirza, in Delhi last week to attend the Conference of Commonwealth Speakers, reminded everyone of former Pak Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.


Similar in fashion and style to the firebrand assassinated Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader, Mirza drew everyone's attention for more reasons than one. First, she stuck to Lok Sabha TV when giving a full-length interview, leaving out a lot of media persons who were waiting to speak to her.


Later, however, she made up for her unavailability by ensuring that the detailed remarks on "Role of Speaker as a Mediator" she made in a closed-door meeting of presiding officers at Vigyan Bhavan, reached all those who were keen to know what Fehmida had to say on issues.


Copies of her speech in the workshop were distributed at Vigyan Bhavan after the session concluded.


NRIs hail PM's announcement


The Prime Minister's announcement about his government's plans to grant voting rights to NRIs was welcomed overwhelmingly by those participating in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) celebrations last week.


Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor did not want to be left behind in taking credit for it. He was heard saying that it was he who had proposed that NRIs should be allowed to participate in the electoral exercise as a "pravasi" when he had participated in the PBD celebrations in Mumbai in 2003.


His rival in Kerala politics, E Ahamed, who is the Minister of State for Railways, recalled that it was he who had introduced a Private Member's Bill in Parliament, seeking voting rights for NRIs when he was an ordinary member.

But many delegates wondered whether the announcement would be transformed into a reality.

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, Aditi Tandon and Ashok Tuteja








The revelation of senior Bangladesh minister Syed Ashraful Islam that former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had met ULFA leader Anup Chetia at a posh hotel in Dhaka when the Begum Khaleda Zia led– Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat combine was in power has vindicated the Indian charge of the close nexus between the ULFA and Pakistan's ISI. Though talk of the ULFA leadership's close ties with Pakistan's ISI had been aired earlier, this is for the first time that such a high-level meeting with no less a person than the former Pakistani President has come out in the open. The Bangladeshi minister's revelation coming on the eve of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India has also exposed the covert support of Begum Khaleda Zia regime to Pakistan's ISI to foment trouble in India's North East. The Zia government had also allowed many Mujahid leaders involved in the war in Afghanistan to facilitate the activities of the terror groups in India. The Bangla minister has also said that some of those involved in the Parliament House attack in Delhi had actually crossed over from Bangladesh. That the Pakistan government had been playing an insidious role with support from the Khaleda Zia government in Dhaka to open a second front on India's eastern border is not a new thing. Faced with a water-tight border on the western frontier, Pakistan had taken recourse to India's porous border with Bangladesh to push in terrorist elements to carry out attacks in India. It was only after the attacks carried out by terrorist elements coming from Bangladesh in mainland India that the Indian government has woken up to the threat from Bangla. So long illegal migrants crossed the borders to boost the vote banks of the political parties in India. Delhi had conveniently kept its eyes closed, however, when terrorist elements used the porous border to attack the seat of power in Delhi, things changed drastically.

Pakistan's support to the ULFA and other north-eastern rebel outfits based in Bangladesh is not surprising as it fitted in with that country's game plan to weaken India by encouraging such separatist groups. India's role in the dismemberment of East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh still rankles Pakistan and it looks for ways to settle scores with India. The seizure of 10 truckloads of weapons in 2004 in Bangladesh while on its way to ULFA hideouts in India highlights the pivotal role the ULFA was playing in the ISI game plan. That the ULFA which claimed to fight for a sovereign Assam was increasingly turning into a power of the ISI was reflected in the senseless violence that it unleashed on its own people under the directive of its Pakistani masters. Even separatist groups like the NSCN of Nagaland and the Mizo National Front of Laldenga had earlier taken the help of Pakistan to wage war against the Indian State, but they were shrewd enough to keep themselves away from getting entangled in the larger India-Pak conflict. The ULFA's failure to maintain the balance, not only alienated them from the support and goodwill of the Assamese people, it has also given a handle to the Indian government to assess its strength from a different perspective. The coming of the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in Dhaka last year has led to closer ties between the two countries. Its crackdown on the ULFA leading to arrest and handing over of top ULFA leaders including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has been welcomed by Delhi. Begum Hasina's visit should go a long way in removing the irritants that have plagued Indo-Bangla relations during the Khaleda Zia regime.







Preparedness over panic, and action over apathy, ought to be the guiding principle if any strategy to combat influenza A (H1N1) is to be effective in Assam. Unfortunately, according to recent reports in the media, the state of preparedness is questionable and action has not been comprehensive enough to create confidence in society. One cannot be certain to what extent people have been made aware of the very real threat from the pandemic, and even doctors admit that remote areas need better monitoring and support from health providers, particularly from the State Health Department. It is indeed worrying to note that many areas of the State are underserved by the Health Department, and the populations therein are at risk not just from influenza A (H1N1) but from a host of other diseases as well. With travel becoming easier nowadays, these areas no longer remain cut off from other regions which have witnessed high incidence of the infection. The State Government should have the intent and a plan to ensure that people of such localities become informed and have access to screening facilities. Equally glaring is the apathetic attitude of the authorities in screening people at various transport hubs like major train stations, bus stations and airports with footfall of inter-state travellers, which shows a disturbing disregard of public health and safety. Reports also reveal that many hotels and guest houses in the State are not adequately informed about the threat from the pandemic, implying that they could actually act as transmission points. All these areas of concern need the urgent attention of the health authorities, who have the mandate to intervene before the situation evolves into something more complicated.

The situation needs intervention in the light of recent observations made by the World Health Organization which have clearly demonstrated the impact of the virus in various parts of the world. According to it, in South Asia, pandemic influenza transmission remains "geographically widespread" in parts of the subcontinent. These include northern India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, areas where an increasing trend in respiratory diseases has been reported. This has implications for residents of Assam as people from at least two of these areas are frequent visitors to the State, and people of Assam also travel to these places. It is imperative that the State Health Department takes cognizance of the fact and embraces a comprehensive plan rather than give in to a knee-jerk reaction. 








Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863, in Calcutta. From childhood he demonstrated his intelligence in various ways. He was as much interested in physical culture as in intellectual pursuits. He not only showed his talent in literature and music, but also in riding, swimming and wrestling. He also studied Indian scriptures and got acquainted with western ideas. Initially he was a rationalist and a sceptic. In 1881 he happened to meet Ramkrishna Paramhamsa, which proved to be a turning point in his life. At the beginning he had doubts about Ramkrishna's teachings, but later on he surrendered to him and accepted him as his friend, philosopher and guide. In 1886 after the death of Ramkrishna, he took over the work of his master. To get acquainted with the social and economic conditions of the people, he toured extensively all over India. He discovered that though India had a rich spiritual and cultural heritage, yet it had not been able to remove poverty, weakness and social evils. He thought that to root out these evils, India needs a spiritual evolution and also a spiritual leader.

At that very time he came to know that a Parliament of Religion was going to be held in Chicago. He decided to go there to participate in the meeting. What happened there is now history. This conference enabled Vivekananda to assume the spiritual leadership of India. In the west also he toured extensively to learn about their customs. After returning to India he founded the Ramkrishnna Ashram in Belur near Calcutta, and started his work of social reforms and service. In 1899 he went to the West for the second time, and with his depth of knowledge and the power of oratory impressed the western world. Margaret Elizabeth Noble, became his most faithful disciple, who later on came to be known as Sister Nivedita. She helped him in every possible way and undertook the responsibility of educating girls and women.

Vivekananda's philosophy arises out of the awareness of the social, religious and economic conditions of the Indian masses. He had realized that some of the social conditions were due to the orthodoxy and superstitions prevalent in the society. He felt that this was due to the loss of faith in spiritualism and hence he aimed at a spiritual awakening of the people. His philosophy was mainly influenced by the ancient Hindu philosophy, specially by the Upanishads and Vedanta. To a great extent Vivekananda can be termed as a Vedantist. His basic belief is the unity of everything, that is the monistic nature of reality is derived from the Vedanta. His doctrine of Maya is also derived from the same source. He often made a distinction between an empirical point of view and a transcendental point of view. He tried to solve the apparent contractions, in his view with reference to Vedanta. It is true that he often emphasized the need of re – interpreting Vedanta according to the change of time and attempted to do that. But it is a fact that some of the ideas of his philosophy were derived from the ancient Hindu philosophy, specially Vedanta. The Gita also influenced him greatly and its emphasis on "selfless work" was a source of constant inspiration to Vivekananda. But the most profound influence on him was from his master Sri Ramkrishna, who brought about a spiritual transformation in the personality of Vivekananda and his mental make – up.

It is very difficult to reduce the teachings of a social reformer and a religious teacher into the technical mould of academic philosophy. Because a preacher or a religious teacher does not merely seek to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of the people, but he appeals to feelings and so he does not bother about observing the rules of logic. Moreover, he was basically interested in the practical affairs of life and so did not have the time or inclination to care for discrepancies arising in the theoretical side. In the emotional approach of the religious teacher, all discrepancies disappear. Yet we may attempt to find some metaphysical aspect in his philosophy. Vivekananda's philosophy is idealistic. Metaphysical Idealism holds that reality is spiritual in character. Vivekananda is also an idealist because he believed that the ultimate reality is essentially spiritual in character. He believed in the supremacy of certain ideals and said that continuous and persistent effort should be made for the attainment of those values. His ideal is a living ideal, capable of inspiring and attracting people.

Vivekananda's idealism is monistic. An idealistic philosophy, which is strictly monistic, becomes abstract and asserts that reality is indeterminate. Vivekananda very often described reality like an abstract monist. But at many places he offered a monotheistic description and emphatically asserted some attributes of God. Hence it is rather difficult to characterize him either as a monist or as monotheist. This confusion naturally perplexes a student of academic, but it did not present any problem to Vivekananda. He did not perceive any opposition between the two and thought that Monism and Monotheism actually refer to different attitudes of the mind, but difference in dispositions does not affect truth as such. Therefore Vivekananda freely moved between Monism and Monotheism.Usually Philosophy does not treat Reality and God as the same being. But for Vivekananda they are not distinct concepts. He combined Abstract Monism and Theism in his philosophy. He was a Pantheist, yet he believed in a Personal God. Consequently we find two lines of thought continuing side by side in Vivekananda's philosophy. One line resembles Advaita Vedanta and the other seems to indicate Bhakti - cult. He thought that the two lines of thought were not really two, but they were just two ways of looking at the Reality. Like Advaita Vedantist Vivekananda said that reality is Absolute Brahman. He emphasized the monistic character of the reality and said that reality is a perfect unity, which notion was arrived at by a process of abstraction to its maximum limit. Brahman, according to Vivekananda, is beyond space, time and causation, and as such it is changeless. It does not mean that Brahman remains the same all the time. What is meant is that the question of time is irrelevant to it. According to Vivekananda all these confusions regarding the concept of Absolute arise because of our ways of apprehending God. Actually God is neither inside nature nor outside nature, but God, nature, soul and universe are all convertible terms. In his Complete Works III, Vivekananda asserted, "you never see two things! It is your metaphorical words that have deluded you".

That is why the Absolute has been described as indeterminate. We cannot attribute characters to the Absolute. Attributing characters to the Absolute implies "Knowing the Absolute" which is a contradiction in terms. For Vivekananda the Absolute is unknowable, it does not admit even internal divisions. But still attempts have been made to give some descriptions of the Absolute. Like Sankaracharya Vivekananda also believed that Brahman could be described as Sat – Cit – Ananda. The concept of Sat (existence) and Cit (consciousness) are similar to the concept of Sat and Cit of Advaita Vedanta. Ananda is bliss according to Advaita Vedanta. Vivekananda expanded the concept by making 'love' the essentialcore of bliss. This reference to love indicates the other aspect of Vivekananda's philosophy of God, that is, to its monotheistic aspect. He said that the Absolute or the impersonal Brahman is regarded as the creator, ruler and the destroyer of the world and as its cause. Thus along with the impersonal nature of the Absolute emerged a belief in a personal God, who was viewed as supremely good and loving.Vivekananda believed that the religious aspirations of man demand some satisfaction and that demand can be met only by a personal God. In Sankaracharya's Advaita Vedanta also the concept of God has been given a place, but Sankara thought that the concept of God emerged due to ignorance and Maya and as such the personal God has no reality from the real point of view; that is, God has only vyawaharika satta and not paramarthika satta. But according to Vivekananda Absolute and God are not two entities and God is not a creation of Maya. These distinctions arise due to our misconception and limited ways of apprehension. The person, who has true knowledge, realizes that these distinctions are irrelevant. Reality is Absolute, and viewed from the religious aspect it is God. He is supremely real and also is the object of our devotion. Vivekananda emphasized the all — pervasive nature of God. He is present everywhere and in everything. Regarding God he said, "Through His control the sky expands, through His control the air breathes, through His control the sun shines, and through His control all live. He is the Reality in nature. He is the soul of your soul"

(The writer is former Head of Philosophy, Cotton College)








Assam has emerged as a potential State in the country today in respect of enhancing food production to supplement country's need. It is worth-mentioning that as the State is enriched with land and water-resource, proper attention on development of the agriculture sector certainly reduces the gap between food availability and requirement. However, the sector is still devoid of modern machineries and equipments for mechanised agriculture to the desired level. The productivity of major crops like rice, pulses and oilseeds in the State is lower as compared to that at national average. The productivity gap between Assam and the country-average is 605 kg in rice, 52 kg in pulses and 528 kg in oilseeds.

The agricultural growth rate in the State which was 1.13 per cent at the end of 8th Plan period has declined gradually over the years because of low availability of farm power, low level of irrigation, extremeness of natural calamities, low level of use of mnanure, lack of credit support from financial institution, lack of market support etc. Keeping this in view more emphasis is paid to raise the agricultural growth rate in the State to 2 per cent annually during 11th Plan period. Thrust has seen given to increase both area and productivity of essential crops. Interest has also been shown towards potential growing of horticultural crops. For that, however, one most essential aspect is the inducement of farm mechanisation and irrigation in the State in an appropriat way.

The farm power available in the State is 0.65 horse power (HP) per hectare which is very low in comparison to the national average of 1.2 HP per hectare. Out of that the machine power available in the State is 0.59 HP per hectare only. This figure proves the low level of utility of machine power in the State's farm sector. As per information available in the Department of Agriculture, about two lakh 3 to 5 HP pumpsets as minor irrigation facility, 5000 tractors, 15,000 power tillers, two lakh other small farm implements such as mould board plough, disk harrow, Wheel hoe, sprayer, garden rake, prong cultivator etc have been provided to the farmers with the provision of subsidy from the government. A number of pumpsets manufacturing companies with the brand name of Kirloskar, Greaves, Field Marshall, Usha, Comet, Indra Marshall, Honda, Topland etc are in operation in the farmers' fields. Similarly, tractor manufacturing companies with brand names Mahindra & Mahindra, Sonalika, TAFE, PowerTrac of Escorts, Eicher, John Deere, New Holand etc and power tiller companies with brand names Kamco, Shrashi, Greaves, VST , Dragon, Texmaco, Manam-Kubota etc are active in the State for distribution and operations. There is still a huge demand of such primary machineries in the State. According to Central Ground Water Board, about five lakh more Shallow Tube Well pumpsets are required to tackle the deficiency of assured irrigation in the State. About five thousand of tractors and power tillers are immediately required in the field. Other improved machineries such as planter for seeding purpose, transplanter for transplanting, reaper for harvesting, thresher for threshing purpose, sprinkler and drip irrigation equipments for micro-irrigation system, rotavator, harrow for secondary tillage operations are still to be introduced in the broad scale.

The growing demand of agricultural machineries and improved implements has already jerked the farming community of the State. They are today aware of the global competitive situation and the need; they have specific choices on the agricultural machineries and equipments suiting to the land characteristics and machine-handling. Hence the government has rightly encouraged for acceptance of farmers' choice for all categories of machineries. Accordingly, almost all manufacturing companies of these machineries are initiating their involvement in field activities in almost all districts of the State. However, the work of the industrial houses not only ends at the sale/distribution of their products as per attention paid from the government side, it has responsibility to cater the demand of machineries according to the interest of the farming community, and even monitor the time dependent effective utilisation of those for the very purpose of the agricultural activities. Generally, the health of the automotive industry in the country is good in a sense that it provides not only machineries and equipments depending upon the demand of the time, but provides service in the field for effective utilisation and an in-house progressive research.

The manufacturing companies have already geared up their business propaganda in the State and provided elaborate extension and management services to the farmers in respect of machinery maintenance, operation and handling and post-management activities. Studies have revealed that a tractor or a power tiller can provide employment to atleast seven persons directly – including sales-persons, drivers, mechanics, cleaners, servicing staff etc.

This business development initiative will hold the key to lead the agricultural mechanisation programmes in the State in a promising way. The forum will primarily formulate the strategy for an all round development of the State's agriculture with addenda of appropriate use of machineries and implements in the fields. It may provide advice and services as follows: a detail awareness on the existing and newly developed agricultural machineries and implements to the farmers and government organisations, prepare action plan in consultation with the public agencies to introduce new machineries, provide equal and justified opportunities to all manufacturing companies minimising monopoly business, generate programmes to effectively demonstrate field operations of the machineries, cater needs areawise for the farmers so that equal distribution of the items can be unfurled in the entire State, be engaged as a fruitful service oriented monitoring device and provide business extension service in the State.








The Economic Times celebrates corporate excellence every year, recognising outstanding companies and the people who run them. What made this year's awards function special was its theme: inclusive growth. It resonated well with the political leaders who gave away the awards, but what about the leaders of business? They, too, hail inclusive growth, it turns out.

To begin with, there is widespread appreciation of how India's robust domestic demand insulated the economy from the worst effects of the global crisis. Inclusive growth expands the domestic market. In addition, it makes for political stability — the million mutinies that mar and mark India's collective existence all stem from paucity of inclusive growth. This apart, the awards went to drivers, participants or facilitators of inclusive growth.

For John Dreze and Nitish Kumar, their association with inclusive growth is pretty straightforward: they are, respectively, the intellectual driving force behind the pathbreaking rural employment scheme NREGS, and the chief minister who added law and order to the social change wrought by his predecessor to accelerate growth in one of India's poorest states. Vinita Bali sells vitamin-enriched biscuits in small, affordable packets to cater to the nutrition and aspiration needs at the bottom of the pyramid.

Sanjeev Aga represents telecom, a key driver of enabling the rural population to access the multiple benefits of low-cost communications, an erstwhile privilege of urbanites. Pawan Munjal's booming motor cycle sales reflect not just urban youth lifestyle and commuting requirements but also growth in rural prosperity and rural roads and transport. Keshub and Anand Mahindra's achievements have as their basis rural prosperity, which continues to support successful diversification elsewhere.

The biggest beneficiaries of RK Pachauri's green-is-sustainable mantra are the worst victims of pollution, the poor. Ram Charan, as corporate guru, and GVK Reddy, as builder of infrastructure, create and enable growth, without which inclusion would mean little. Every award toasted the pre-requisite of lasting and growing prosperity of the Indian economy.







We welcome Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, and hope her visit would propel India-Bangladesh cooperation. The economic potential is indeed large, but cannot be tapped unless Bangladesh ends its old obstructionism.Which she did not, when in power earlier. However, hope lies in three developments. One, she now has a massive Parliamentary majority, and can more easily ignore Islamists and India-haters.

Two, Islamic extremists killed her former finance minister and tried to kill her, and this may have convinced her of the need to crack down on terrorists rather than view them as foreign policy assets — she delivered ULFA chief Rajkhowa to India. Three, Bangladesh has now overtaken India as a garment exporter, and hopefully this will end its fear of being swamped by India economically. Hasina wants Indian BPO-software firms to start operations in

India helped create Bangladesh in 1971, so the two countries were expected to become firm friends. Alas, the relationship proved rocky. Despite talk of economic cooperation, little happened because of Bangladeshi obstructionism. Dacca views its huge neighbour as its only strategic and economic threat. Deep inside, it wants to reduce rather than strengthen dependence on Indian trade and investment. After 1971, Bangladesh was expected to facilitate road and rail transit from West Bengal to Tripura, and let Chittagong port directly serve India's north-east.

This never happened, as Bangladesh counted them among the few strategic levers it had to counter its giant neighbour. It refused to allow a gas pipeline through its territory from Myanmar to West Bengal. In bilateral talks, Dacca constantly complained about India's large trade surplus. Yet Dacca itself consistently opposed opportunities to reduce that surplus: transit fees from road and rail traffic to the north-east, and fees from a gas pipeline to Myanmar.

It killed, through interminable stalling, the Tata group proposal for massive investment in steel and fertiliser plants in Bangladesh, to overcome fears of being swamped by Indian exports. It allowed the ISI and ULFA to operate out of its territory. India could be faulted for some quasi-imperial rhetoric, but the main fault lay with Dacca. Over to Hasina.







Who would imagine that teenagers, of all people, would be at a loss for words? Parents of every possible description would be the first to aver that they lose in any war of words with their adolescent offspring. By the time they reach their mid-teens, kids should have a vocabulary of 40,000 words, yet a newly-appointed advisor to the British government on children's speech has implied that the average teenager now has a vocabulary of just 800 words.

She has added that since much of it is 'teenspeak', tailored for texting and social networking websites, their lack of familiarity with 'formal language' may render them unsuitable for the job market. She was prompted to make the observation, no doubt, by the comments of two chief executives of major British retail chains that the "woefully low standards" in schools cause "problems" later on when it comes to employment.

Little wonder that alarm bells began to sound when a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University analysed 10 million words of transcribed speech and 100,000 words gathered from English-speaking teenagers' blogs and found that a mere 20 words — including 'yeah', 'no' and 'but'—comprised 30% of their communications. Other words in that list included some which may be entirely alien to the pre-texting generation: 'LOL' the popular shorthand for laugh out loud, 'spong' meaning silly, and 'chenzed' meaning angry, drunk or tired.

Of course, it can be said that even with a limited vocabulary, youngsters have been known to get by with non-linguistic add-ons such as abbreviations and emoticons when texting or online, and decibel levels and gesticulations otherwise. It is also possible that they are declaring war on English, a language whose promiscuity has spawned words whose etymologies are as difficult to track as that of 0teenspeak. If this is their way of saying 'less is more', parents may heave a sigh of relief!







The long and short

Just what is TRS chief K Chadrashekhar Rao now up to? Moves of the man who forced the Centre to enter the Telangana political minefield are being closely monitored. Truth is that there is a touch of uncharacteristic restraint in his conduct these days when many expected him to further goad the much-hassled Congress leadership. Instead, Rao, busy meeting senior Congress leaders in Delhi, is advocating 'patience' and the need to give the Centre 'enough time' to decide on the statehood issue — much to the appreciation of the other side.

Those who aver Telangana will eventually get statehood, feel Rao has two options: that of becoming the Opposition leader in Telangana for the next four years or merging his party with the Congress to become the first CM of the new state. The question is: will he opt for the endurance run of a political marathon or will he make a 'Chenna Reddy-like' sprint to the throne?

On slippery ground

Unlike KCR, however, Chandrababu Naidu's attempts to revive his fortunes in the post-YSR scenario are not proving that smooth. Babu was trying hard to ride back into the scene by harping on the "mining issue" when Telangana exploded. In the ensuing panic, he ended up surrendering the TDP's Telangana stakes by effecting a U-turn to oppose the separate state. Since then, the entire political discourse has been centred around the TRS and Congress, forcing the TDP chief to the margins.

His discomfort with the political games was evident when Chandrababu chose not to visit Delhi for the all-party meeting. Though there have been, of late, some nervous attempts by the TDP camp to play on both sides of the AP divide, the impact of his U-turn has been such that the TDP leader is finding it difficult to find firm footing in a slippery situation.

Though seasoned Congress leaders dismissed the alleged 'Amar Singh-NCP link' as a test balloon tactically floated to nudge Mulayam Singh, the possibilities such a scenario can throw up are still being looked into. The simplistic way of reading a possible Amar Singh-Sharad Pawar tango would be to visualise the SP general secretary managing, finally, to land right inside the UPA court on an NCP parachute. But,then, politicians always look at the grey areas. So, some Congress leaders were calculating how a potential Singh entry into the NCP could play out in the Maratha tent.

Unrest within the Pawar camp is no more a secret with many NCP leaders engaged in a cost-benefit analysis of working under the future leadership of Surpiya Sule or Rahul Gandhi. Given Amar Singh's profile and style, the Congress camp calculates his entry could set the cat among many NCP pigeons just as he did in the SP. Of note here would be the tussle in the NCP for the July Rajya Sabha poll to fill up the party's quota. But, once again, since he might yet make a play for Amar, Mulayam is proving to be the spoiler for Congress calculations.

Basic instincts

The 'church vs communism' discourse might have lost steam after the withering away of the Soviet bloc. Yet, an attempt is on to revive it in Kerala after the 'resignation-turned-expulsion' drama involving ex-MP K S Manoj and the CPI(M). Though the former CPI(M)-backed MP would like to market his 'exit' as a crusade for faith against Red dictates, it is more a classic case of mutual opportunism in its climax.

If Manoj, a former Catholic Youth Movement activist, preferred Marxist patronage over the Church's tutelage to bag a Lok Sabha entry, the CPI(M) overlooked ideological contradictions in using him to woo Alleppy's Latin Catholic vote-bank after expelling its original youth leader T J Anjalose. Post-poll, both seem to have rediscovered their basic instincts.







MUMBAI: The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has asked stock exchanges to consult each other on the calculation of Market Wide Position Limits (MWPL) of derivatives contracts on individual securities. The move follows a recommendation by the Secondary Market Advisory Committee (SMAC) that aims to streamline the implementation of MWPL.

Under the new rule, each exchange will have to, at 6:30 pm everyday, disseminate on its website MWPL (in terms of number of shares) and open interest (in terms of number of shares) of the security. Open interest in a security is the outstanding futures and options contracts. At 7:00 pm, the exchanges, after conferring with each other, will have to put out the aggregate open interest, and the permissible positions that can be taken up by traders the following day, without breaching the MWPL.

MWPL is calculated on 20% of the non-promoter holding in a stock and includes positions taken in both the futures and options segments. For instance, if the equity base of a company consists of one crore shares with non-promoter holding at 40% (40 lakh hares), the number of shares considered for MWPL will be 8 lakh shares (20% of the 40 lakh shares).

At the end of the day, outstanding positions in that security should not exceed 95% of this 20% limit. So, outstanding positions should not be more than 7.6 lakh shares (95% of 8 lakh shares). If that limit is exceeded, the exchange bans traders from taking fresh positions till some of the existing positions are unwound.

The issue was taken up at the last meeting of SMAC, where it was felt that the current format of MWPL calculation could cause confusion later on, if derivatives trading picked up on other exchanges, too. Till now, NSE has been calculating MWPL based on the positions taking place on its platform. Officials, who had attended the meeting, said the format was fine so far, because the entire stock futures volume was taking place on NSE alone.

In this case, if the market wide position limit in a security is eight lakh shares (and assuming that those securities are being traded on more than one exchange), then each exchange can't operate on the assumption of MWPL as eight lakh shares. This is because there would be an open interest in each of the exchanges, and lack of communication between the bourses could cause this trigger to be breached.








Leading Indian banks could see a fall in profits this quarter, as corporates and individuals borrowed less from lenders during this period, marking a three-year low in loan disbursements during a single quarter, according to top broking houses.

The banking sector has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in line with an average growth of over 8% in the economy over the past five years. However, all that could change this quarter. Profits of top eight Indian banks are expected to fall by an average 2% year-on-year in the December 2009 quarter, according to these estimates.

This comes after a YoY growth of 19% posted by these banks in the September quarter.

The expected sluggish show is due to the tepid loan growth. According to the latest data released by RBI, credit growth was 11% YoY at the end of December 2009. Kotak Securities notes in its report, "Low credit growth has come on the back of high-base effect and sluggish credit offtake by corporates, as they have various alternative sources of funds."

In the first half of the current fiscal, bond yields were lower, thanks to which most banks posted huge treasury profits. This trend has reversed in the December 2009 quarte

"During the quarter, 10-year government security yields registered an increase of 43 basis points, as the debt market started to reflect expectations of tightening by RBI on the back of rising inflation concerns," Angel Securities said in its report. Consequently, bond prices fell during the quarter, making it extremely difficult for banks to make a killing on the treasury front.

One positive thing, this time, could be an improvement in the net interest margin (NIM), which is expected to be better on a quarter-on-quarter basis. This is because most of the banks had cut their deposit rates in the December 2009 quarter while lowering their prime lending rates (PLRs). Another positive for the industry is that asset quality is not expected to deteriorate further.








Sugar manufacturer Bajaj Hindusthan came out of the red, posting a net profit of Rs 85 crore for the quarter ended December 2009, compared with the loss it posted a year ago on the back of higher sugar prices, that zoomed over 137% during the period. Sugar prices, which hit an all-time high of Rs 42/kg in the wholesale market last week, could continue to provide an upside in earnings in the current quarter, but volume sales provide a risk element to the company.

At a standalone level, Bajaj Hindusthan posted a growth of 71% in net sales to Rs 615 crore for its first quarter of 2009-10, which is largely due to an increase in sugar prices. Considering that sugar prices are likely to move up significantly from now on, its sequential sales and earnings growth will depend on volume growth.

Bajaj Hindusthan, which also has a presence in power generation and distillery, like most other sugar firms use byproducts from sugar manufacturing to generate other revenues. But its fortunes are closely linked to its sugar business that accounts for over 90% of total revenues. The company's raw material cost was up by 34% during the quarter and now accounts for half of net sales. Despite an increase in raw material cost, the firm posted an operating profit of Rs 217 crore with a margin of 35%, compared with 3% in the year-ago period, primarily due to robust sales realisation.

The bottomline was also boosted by a marginal decline in interest cost, partly due to better working capital management, besides softening interest rates in the country. But with expectations of interest rates going up in the coming quarters, this could once again have an impact on its profitability going forward. To boost its volume sales and meet the rising demand for sugar in the country, the company plans to refine imported raw sugar. Bajaj Hindusthan is likely to refine 5.64-lakh tonnes of imported sugar in the current sugar season (October 2009-September 2010) to tide over lower domestic sugarcane production.

The key problem has been the shortage of raw material, as sugarcane farmers have shifted cultivation to other more lucrative crops. But the company hopes to boost raw material procurement this year, as it expects acreage under cultivation to go up on back of higher sugarcane prices fixed by the UP government through the state administered price (SAP).


According to industry estimates, the country's sugar production for the sugar season (October 2009-September 2010) is expected to be marginally higher at 16 million tonne, compared with 14.7 million tonne in 2008-09.

This would make India a sugar-deficit country for the second successive year and could well influence the direction of prices. But whether that would mean prices holding stable at the current level or going up further is to be seen.

The key problem for the industry has been the shortage of raw material, as sugarcane farmers have shifted cultivation to other more lucrative crops. But Bajaj Hindusthan hopes to boost raw material procurement this year, as it expects acreage under cultivation to go up on back of higher sugarcane prices fixed by the UP government through the state administered price (SAP).








Towards the end of the Second World War the Germans had managed to beat all other nations in the race to develop a ballistic rocket and come up with the V-2 which was subsequently used against England with devastating results.

After the war, however, the technical documents of the V-2 were captured by the Allies, and Soviet engineers in particular were first able to reverse-engineer a clone using confiscated hardware. It gave them valuable experience which later enabled the USSR to construct its own much more capable rockets and, ultimately, led to the beginning of the space race with the United States.

Similarly, ultra-atheist Richard Dawkins of The God Delusion fame says that if extraterrestrial aliens familiar with Darwinian evolution were to visit Earth and get a sample of our DNA hardware they could, in principle, understand the end product and produce a clone of a human and perhaps even reproduce it to perfection.

But would they be able to reproduce human nature? Meaning, can a copy ever claim to be a complete original? Or as biologist Jeffrey Schloss, co-author of The Believing Primate puts it: "What can we learn about the nature of being human from an account that in principle could be developed by an alien intelligence without access to human interiority or any interest in humanity's most enduring questions?"

For example, no matter how precisely the Soviets managed to duplicate the V-2, they could never hope to replicate its conceptual substrate — the feeling and mentation which lay behind it: the grossly misplaced Teutonic urge for world dominion, the animosity directed against the British nation, the last ditch effort to salvage a war being lost horribly, the remnants of a nation's pride, an evil overlord.

Attempts at genetic explanations are still being put forward to describe sweeping cultural artefacts that represent more than mere adaptations to the environment such as art and literature, history and political thinking, economic and legal systems, philosophy, ethics, and religion. These have been only marginally successful so far because such components of human nature seem to transcend evolutionary biology.

Evolution definitely enriches our understanding of the human species profoundly, along with some aspects of its nature too; but then so does Mozart. If anything, the one aspect of us that ET will not be able to clone is the software.








Hubert Joly, president and chief executive officer of Carlson Group, on Monday announced the global hospitality chain's plans to bring its luxury hotel brand Regent into the country. He was in New Delhi to sign a memorandum of agreement with real estate firm Pioneer Urban Land and Infrastructure, which will invest Rs 230 crore for building the first Regent hotel in Gurgaon that will open in 2013. ET caught up with the lean, bespectacled Joly to talk about the Indian plans of the US hospitality group that already has brands like Radisson, Park Plaza, Country Inn and Park Inn in the country. Excerpts:

What is your plan for Regent brand in India?

We have signed a management contract with our Indian partner Pioneer Urban Land and Infrastructure, who will build this hotel in Gurgaon. It will have 160 rooms and will open in late 2013. Gurgaon has emerged on the hotel scene in terms of highest average room rates that the country is witnessing. That kind of establishes a need for luxury hotels and hence we chose this destination to launch our luxury brand.

Which are the other locations that you are looking to expand the Regent brand?

The development of the brand Regent is focused on key cities and exclusive leisure destinations around the world. Asia is a big part of the focus of Regent's expansion. Besides Gurgaon, some of the future openings would be in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok and Doha.

In India, we would be looking at cities like Bangalore and Mumbai. But the exact expansion plans are not determined at this point. We have nine operational hotels under the Regent brand and eight others are in various stages of construction globally.


What is the potential you see for luxury hotels in India?

If you look at the evolution of the consumer behaviour in terms of luxury hotel brands, this segment has taken a beating in countries such as the US. The recent global economic crisis also led to a reset of the values where lavish luxury became less trendy. Travellers are now looking at genuine, authentic and experiential service. Regent is not an overboard brand in terms of luxury and has a unique focus on service.

We believe hospitality service in India has never been minimalist. So we are confident that luxury will not remain a niche market and is an inherent part of the Indian culture, and we see a great future for the brand in the market.

Carlson Worldwide Restaurants is present in the country through a joint venture and has its brand TGIF in India? What are your future plans in the restaurant business?

TGIF is one of the iconic American brands that offers an international casual dining experience. A third of the total number of restaurants is outside the US. When I look at India with nine restaurants, we do not think we have exhausted the market and there is great potential for this brand to grow in the countries like India, China and Japan.

We are focusing on the international growth strategy and have realised that in order to be successful, we need to adapt the concept of the brand to the local market. So we are working on tweaking the concept of TGIF for the local market. But the big question remains how much and we are working on it.

How is Carlson Wagonlit, your business travel management firm, doing in India? Are you looking at any inorganic growth path in this space?

Carlson Wagonlit is the number one company in the space of business travel management and services in the country. 2009, of course, saw a slowdown in business travel as most corporations cut down on business travel spends. But now corporates have relaxed restrictions on transient travel as well as meetings and conferences and we are seeing encouraging signs and some rise in business travel globally.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





Time is a trickster, it plays pranks on you. All it needs to do is to thicken your skin, bloat your body into a puffball, and your sense of self disappears under a backstage of cosmetics.


Even Bollywood with all its magic often fails to defeat time. Icons of yesterday often fail even in terms of nostalgia. Who remembers Ranjan or Padmini or Ragini in the new generation, or even Nadira? Dev Anand appears a sad imitation of himself. Sadhana disappears seeking the aura of a Garbo-like recluse and all she receives is indifference.


A few survive by reinventing themselves. Recently one saw a Zeenat-Hema interview on TV. The dignity they conveyed was emphatic, but it was a beauty without sexuality, of two matter-of-fact mothers rather than of two famous divas. The legend of Basanti or the strains of Dum maro dum seem distant; faded daguerreotypes in the age of digital. As one looks back, few names survive. One could think of M.S. Subbulakshmi or Lata, but there is a peculiar, semi-spiritual quality to their voice and survival.


In a sense of pragmatic everydayness which recognises age and yet harmonises with it, the only name that survives is Amitabh Bachchan. The phenomenon of the man is no longer restricted to acting. It is his life as a performance and the blend of life and cinema and the world which he creates that is powerful.


To begin with, one cannot invoke the angry young man as an inauguration. Such beginnings are false. One has to begin with a young man, tall, gangly, with a marvellous voice, and an extraordinary father who was an authority on William Butler Yeats. A BA degree from Kirori Mal College and a career at Kolkata is as banal as it gets. There is a stint of mediocrity even in film till a new man and an era is born.


Bachchan creates not merely the first urban hero and the epitome of modern violence. Every invention of Amitabh is a reflection on time. Violence is speeded up time: it is impatient time, unable or unwilling to wait for process or procedure. Even the legend that is born speeds into the time of middle age, error or controversy. The hero is a reluctant politician. His other woman haunts him and his business adventure creates a gauntlet of question marks. His face thickens.


Amitabh shifts from cinema to television. It is not only a shift of mediums but of metaphors. Violence yields to information recognising that information is faster than violence and in fact embodies speeded up violence. The quiz bypasses muscle power as a paradigm as the dacoit, landlord and gangster yield to a new urbanised India of accelerated mobility. Why wait for justice to turn tiredly when mobility and information deliver with speed?


In transiting from information to speed, Amitabh challenges the myths of middle age as liminal time prone to error, where the flesh is weak and the mind weaker. His is a deft sociology which recognises that while some Indians are twice born, almost all of them retire twice. They slow down to voyeurism and nostalgia in the 40s and accept seniority and renunciation when 60. Amitabh revises both stereotypes by showing the power of alternatives and the need for error. Error, like the erotic, spells desire. This Amitabh does more than any other actor. He also does it with a native confidence. He does not need the diaspora as prosthetic or aphrodisiac. The diaspora as the more successful and more masculine double does not haunt him. The rest — from Hrithik Roshan to Shah Rukh Khan to Salman Khan — thrive on a diasporic sensitivity. This man conquers the diaspora by being indifferent to it or by reinventing it independently.


What he recovers is not just a revitalised body but a dynamic sense of desire, eros and sexuality. The body signals desires, sniffs adventure and demands more of life. It treats error as the wisdom of feedback. In Baghban, he plays out the power of love and companionship. In Nishabd, he shows that an older man can develop relationship with a younger woman. Bourgeois correctness wins but middle age begins speaking new dialects of desire.


In Cheeni Kum, he shows you can begin a new life showing the possibility that hope, conversation and mutual desire can create. Amitabh adds more to dialects of desire in middle and old age than he does to the brand called violence. What Amitabh teaches a younger or older India is that life does not end at 50, that bodily change can be met positively.


The power of Amitabh lies in the fact that he does not merely mime life. He reflects on it. He argues with the media and constructs a blog as a definitive sociological document. He challenges the press as hypocritical and shows poverty is not pathology but has its own seeds of creativity and celebration. He never sentimentalises poverty. He fights for privacy against a press which presses too hard showing an understanding of rights which could be a case study for media.


He is candid that a lot is new and that one has to learn, revealing that wisdom is possible without patriarchy. He admits that working with a generation that is technically quick adds to his quickness. A lot of obsolescence is self-inflicted and creates retirement as a mask for defeat. Finally in Paa he reverses time by playing Abhishek's son, by enacting a progeria-struck child.


Progeria is old age in childhood. By reversing and mixing signs in Paa, he declaims the vitality of any age. Amitabh's work is a salute to life in any form. His basic drama might be middle class and bourgeois, but he creates sentiments and sensitivities which reach and probe further. He salutes time and body in a way no actor has done. In fact, perennial people like Amitabh and Sachin Tendulkar can teach us more about adapting to life than many of the management and new age gurus in town. His is a toast to the future and its surprises. Wisdom comes by flowing with life but also by surfing on the flow.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist







What's up with the Congress? Ever so cautious about fielding journalists' questions that have substance, its spokesmen seem to go into overdrive when it comes to taking issue with Shashi "Tweeter" Tharoor. Time someone reined them in. A closer look at what the minister of state for external affairs said the other day about Jawaharlal Nehru's foreign policy clearly shows the minister showed no disrespect toward the first Prime Minister. But the party's spokesmen picked on one news report that didn't quite reflect what the minister had said and went to town on it, mocking Mr Tharoor's observations without verifying the authenticity of the original, issued sermons, and even urged the Prime Minister to look into the matter. The whole affair is disgraceful. The country's oldest party can surely do better than that. But there is a wider issue here. Since when has there a ban in the Congress on making a critical appraisal of Nehru or his foreign policy? If so, Jawaharlal would be mortified, were he alive. The country's first Prime Minister was a stalwart on the world stage, and a force to reckon with in the international arena. His sharpest critics don't grudge that, although some of his errors were colossal. His was a life that naturally lends itself to penetrating analysis by scholars, statesmen and admirers. This is true of other great figures as well. If Gandhi, Marx and Mao can be criticised, why not Nehru, unless we choose to subscribe to unending hypocrisy and shaming sycophancy? In both the little and the great traditions of this land, even Lord Ram is not above criticism and the "Imam-e-Hind", as the poet Iqbal called Him, has not complained. But try telling Congress spokesmen that. They seem not to know that Nehru was an object of criticism within the Congress in his own lifetime. This did not diminish his stature. Nor is Nehru in need of defence from those whose appreciation of his politics and his breadth of writing and thinking appears palpably limited. Mr Tharoor did not hide the truth when he noted that to Nehru's critics his foreign policy appeared to be a "running moral commentary". Being a Nehru scholar, he should know. A great many things Nehru did and thought are no longer a part of the Congress' mental makeup today. Will the party's spokesmen arraign their leadership for this? Or do they prefer to emulate their counterparts in Beijing who say praise-be to Mao Zedong even as they run down in practice everything the great revolutionary leader stood for. It is about time 24 Akbar Road took a hold of itself. So spineless can Congressmen be that it is a fair wager that they would have overlooked the erroneously reported observations of Mr Tharoor or Nehru had the leader of their party not held the Nehru-Gandhi lineage. Before Mr Tharoor became a Congress MP and minister, in his writings he had expressed his disapproval of Indira Gandhi's proclamation of Emergency. This did not come in the way of the Congress leadership picking him to contest a Parliament seat and make him a minister subsequently, or earlier backing his failed bid for the top executive position in the United Nations. As for Mr Tharoor, he is new to the ways of public life in India. He does need to learn not to fly at the media for some admittedly careless reporting.








Are we heading for another global primary commodity price surge?

The ancient Chinese curse says "May you live in interesting times". Certainly it is an interesting time to be an economist, because so much is going on in the world economy. But unfortunately a lot of this interest comes from economic forces that are very damaging to ordinary lives.


Take the case of price movements in world trade markets, which two decades ago would not have been such a big deal for people in most of the developing world. Now these price changes are sharper and crazier than ever before, and they are caused by forces that few people who are affected by them can hope to influence or even understand.


Well before the financial crisis broke out so violently in the US and caused ripple effects all over the world, most people in developing countries were already reeling under the effects of dramatic volatility in global food and fuel markets. In 2007 and 2008, prices of most primary commodities first increased very rapidly, to a degree that was completely unwarranted by actual changes in global demand and supply. Then they collapsed, from peaks in May-June 2008, at even more rapid rates than their previous increases. But in many countries the fall in global prices was not associated with a fall in prices paid by consumers, while the actual producers (such as farmers) rarely benefited from the price increases.


It is now quite widely accepted that financial activity — specifically the involvement of index investors — was strongly associated with these dramatic price movements. Commodities emerged as an attractive alternate investment avenue for financial investors from around 2006, when the US housing market showed the initial signs of its ultimate collapse. This was aided by financial deregulation that allowed purely financial agents to enter such markets without requirements of holding physical commodities. This generated a bubble, beginning in future markets that transmitted to spot markets as well.


Thereafter — even before the collapse of Lehman Brothers signalled the global financial crisis — commodity prices started falling as such index investors started to withdraw. The global recession that was evident from mid-2008 led to perceptions that commodity prices would not firm up any time soon. While this contributed to fears of deflation in the context of liquidity trap conditions, this was even seen to be an advantage especially for food and fuel importing developing countries, whose import bills would be reduced accordingly.


But while the collapse in commodity prices after the recent peak was sharp, it proved to be quite short-lived.

Most important commodity prices — especially food and oil prices — have been rising from early 2009, even before there was any real evidence of global "recovery".


Global food prices nearly doubled between June 2007 and June 2008 and fell very sharply back to the earlier

level by December 2008. But thereafter they have been rising once again, and in 2009 the increase has been more than 16 per cent on average across all food commodities.


Energy prices are particularly crucial. The extraordinary price increases of 2007 to mid 2008 and the subsequent fall tend to reduce the attention to more recent trends. Thus, in the 11 months of 2009 for which the data are now available, fuel prices as a whole have increased by 53 per cent and oil prices have increased by 88 per cent! In any other period such increases would be the object of widespread attention and the subject of endless commentary. But because we live in such "interesting times", with a recent history of even greater and more rapid increase and decrease, they have largely gone unnoticed.


Why is this happening? And what does it portend for the future? As was the case in the previous price surge of 2007-08, these recent price increases are unlikely to be related to any real economy changes in demand and supply. Despite some supply shocks in particular crops, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, most agricultural goods in 2009 showed approximately the same demand-supply relationships that existed in the previous years, with no force making for any significant upward or downward price trend. So if prices are increasing, it must be because of the effect of expectations combined with heightened speculative activity in commodity markets, especially in commodity futures.


Indeed, there is no reason for such speculation to be curbed at present; if anything, the low interest rates that are

being maintained by most major economies as part of the recovery package, combined with the immense moral hazard generated by the large financial bailouts, are likely to have made the appetite for risky behaviour much larger. Both gold and other primary commodities are once again emerging as prime areas of interest for financial institutions, and some of the large (and successful) financial players such as Goldman Sachs are expanding or opening new commodity investment sections.


This creates a piquant situation for economic policy. In macroeconomic terms, the global threat of deflation is still greater than that of inflation, especially because the financial crisis is far from resolved or even properly dealt with and is bound to result in new problems in real economies sooner rather than later.


However, both the nature of the recent recovery and the policy response to the crisis (which has provided more liquidity without adequate control or regulation) suggest that primary commodities may well witness a price surge once again.


Such prices surges have huge negative implications for developing countries. Because they are the result of financial activity, they typically do not benefit the direct producers who may be resident in the developing world. But they cause huge damage to consumers of food and other essential items, typically the poor in developing countries who are the worst affected as the prices of necessities increase even as their employment and wages continue to languish.


If these very adverse effects are to be avoided, financial regulation to curb speculative activity in commodity markets must become an urgent priority. It is a pity that our government, which is beginning to flex muscles at various international fora, has not pushed for such measure even though they directly impact upon most of the population.








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.


PR platoon

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.








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 [1] or visit [2]







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 disappointment.


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.








Maqbool Fida Husain, reduced to the status of a Non-Resident Indian almost permanently in exile, has once again suffered a humiliating deal. And it is concordant with the saffronite perception of the arts that this time it is the BJP government of Himachal Pradesh that has played the culture cop. Arguably, it is an instance of the RSS ombudsmen tapping the remote control in Nagpur for a target in Shimla. The administration has accorded an ugly twist to the detoxification of text, scripted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training. It isn't a painting, let alone a portrait of a Hindu goddess, that is the point at issue. Not that the text has been edited; a chapter on the artist, of tremendous academic import, has been bowdlerised from Class XI textbooks by the Himachal Pradesh Board of School Education. The argument advanced is that students need not read about the man because he hasn't "lived and worked in Himachal''. The logic of the board chairman, Chaman Lal Gupta, echoes the typical saffronite perception: "We have decided to drop the chapter as he has nothing to inspire students in Himachal." Still less will the students be inspired by the BJP's standpoint. The chapter on Husain will be replaced by one on Shobha Singh and Nicholas Roerich, because "they had great association with Himachal". The express purpose is that Singh and Roerich can "play an important role in igniting young minds". It would be no disrespect to the two ~ both no less distinguished than Husain ~ to submit that the reasoning reeks of contrived vindictiveness and is breathtaking in its vacuity, if not intensely parochial as well.

Husain's venue of activity is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that this is doctored learning on offer and in a decidedly repugnant package. Small wonder the NCERT had totally ignored the state's proposal. In the event, the BJP government has announced a unilateral decision, that ought now to be suitably trashed both by the NCERT and the HRD ministry. The predicament of Husain and Taslima Nasreen illustrate that intolerance is a common strand that binds Islamic fundamentalists, the Hindutva votaries and also, somewhat surprisingly, the professional secularists of the UPA and the Bengal Left. That precisely is the paradox that hobbles the arts and religion.






THE restructuring of sick and dying public sector units in West Bengal becomes still more uncertain with the decision not to go in for privatisation. The government has not been quite upfront on what it describes as the "changing political equations". For the moment, it is bound to suffer a major loss of face before Britain's Department For International Development (DFID) which had agreed to the pump-priming on condition that at least three units would be privatised, notably Kalyani Spinning Mills, West Dinajpur Spinning Mills and West Bengal Cooperative Spinning Mills. To cite the political uncertainty more than a year before the assembly election is only to duck and dive the reality. For it is now established that in the face of an employees' agitation, the state has neither been able to restructure nor privatise Manjusha, the trade name of the West Bengal Handicraft Development Corporation. Which is perhaps the worst of both worlds. The experience of placing the languishing units on the rails being as dismal as it is, the proposed restructuring of the three designated units remains fogbound. The exercise will entail downsizing the behemoth staff, streamlining the work ethic, cutting costs and profligacy and setting definite targets if a profit is to be earned. The parameters may not be readily endorsed by any union in Bengal, irrespective of political affiliation. Small wonder that attempts to find joint venture partners through bidding have come a cropper.

Ahead of the meeting with the DFID, the government may have attempted to reassure the unions by ruling out privatisation. Even restructuring seems destined to be consigned to the realm of the present-indefinite. The DFID can only be confused with this disconnect between intent and attitude, specially the sensitivity towards unions. If employees can so conveniently place the government on the backfoot ~ Durgapur Dairy is another example ~ the state will only reinforce its vulnerability in the perception of the foreign aid agencies. It had faced a similar predicament while restructuring the transport sector with World Bank assistance. Whether in the state secretariat or state-controlled industries, it is the unions that are set to call the shots amidst the political uncertainty.







AS a beach resort, Goa had a reputation that was different from Puri, Digha or Kovalam. There had been a substantial inflow of foreign tourists; that resulted in a candid promotion by tourist agencies which had seemed quite normal. Stray incidents of rowdyism had been tackled locally and had seldom produced a sensation. If one or two disturbing developments have now made headlines, it is because they have involved influential people who have shaken the system. That need not have justified the knee-jerk response with regard to advertisement campaigns that had images of foreign tourists in bikinis. The proposed censorship of such advertisements is evidently aimed at encouraging families to visit Goa rather than attract only a certain section of beach lovers. The hint is that Goa is finally being Indianised in the way other tourist spots are projected as being part of the country's heritage. While there are no restrictions as yet on what tourists should wear on the beach, the order would suggest that the government prefers to be more discreet in its projection of Goa's natural attractions, hoping that will bring down the level of crime ~ a wrong assumption to begin with.

While the state government does not spell out the actual reasons for this sudden reassessment of the tourism potential, the incident of rape of a Russian girl may have prompted the attempt to look for preventive measures. It may be intended to explore the potential for domestic tourism if the unfortunate events were to have a direct impact on the flow from overseas. The question remains as to whether the solution lies in a transformed image rather than increased vigilance and a more honest effort to bring offenders, whoever they may be, to book. While the state's tourism minister points to the evils of "sex tourism'' such as it exists in Goa, the reality could well be an attempt to divert attention from acts of omission and commission when it comes to dealing with an offender with political links. It may well make no difference if the image is redefined while the reality of administrative ineptitude survives.









THE 1977 Naxalbari uprising, which was crushed, had one positive result. When the Left Front came to power in 1977, with the CPI-M as the dominant partner, it introduced a series of land reforms and a three-tier panchayati raj system. This brought about significant changes in the power equations of rural Bengal. Operation Barga led to a more equitable distribution of land among the landless farmers. Their rights were also recorded. Unfortunately, however, the land reform measures ran out of steam by the end of the 1990s. The CPI-M has been plagued by rampant corruption, both at the administrative and political levels. The panchayati raj institutions have been misused by party apparatchiks to amass wealth. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Maoists are targeting the CPI-M. The palatial building of a party leader has been burnt down in Junglemahal. 

The violence unleashed by the Maoists has a much wider base. They are spearheading the protests against all sorts of oppression suffered by the poorest of the poor in India, particularly the tribal population and the landless agriculturists. In the name of development, the governments at the state level have failed to give the Adivasi people their due.

The tribal rights law enacted in 2006, to protect the land and forest-based resources of the tribal people has hardly been implemented. The Prime Minister admitted as much when he spoke of a "systemic failure" in giving the tribals a stake in the ongoing process of economic liberalisation, in his address to the chief ministers and state ministers for tribal affairs, in New Delhi on 4 November 2009.

Mineral resources

INDEED, the exploitation of mineral resources in the Adivasi belt is central to the struggle for the control of the areas. This is clear from the ongoing tribal movements in Orissa. The Maoists have exploited the issue to gain people's confidence both tribal and non-tribal. The CPI(Maoist) document of 12 June 2009 argues that the government is planning to hand over the entire region to the comprador big business: the Tatas in Lohandiguda, Essar in Dhruli, the NMDC's proposed steel plants in Nagarnaar, the Rooghat mines and the Bodhghat projects. Illegal mining in Orissa has reached such a level that in October 2009, the government decided to reward those who would provide information for detection and seizure of illegally mined goods.

It is indeed a telling commentary on India's skewed development policies that while it boasted of 7-8 per cent GDP growth rates over the past few years (prior to the global economic recession), the same period also witnessed the widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor. According to a report published in The Statesman (28 November 2009), when the UPA came to power, there were nine millionaires (in terms of dollars) in India, the number rose to 53 in 2008. During the same period, the corporate houses trebled their assets, and the number of crorepati MPs doubled in the Lok Sabha. 

The salaries earned by the CEOs of leading private sector banks and MNCs ~ anywhere between Rs 1.96 crores and Rs 2.44 crores for the three leading private sector banks ~ make them vulgarly rich when placed against the existential reality of 836 million Indians surviving on less than Rs 20 per day.
No wonder, the Maoists are spreading disaffection among the rural poor by arguing that the new economic policies initiated by the government are detrimental to their interest; and the panchayati raj institutions in states have been used by a handful of well-do-do peasants creating a new class of kulaks. When it comes to the question of exploitation of the poor, all political parties are at fault. This is evident from the Vedic Village episode. It revealed the nexus that exists between a section of political leaders ~ belonging to both the Trinamul and the CPI-M ~ and the land mafia, acting with the connivance of some officials of the state government.

Welfare activities

IN certain areas, notably Lalgarh, the Maoists have undertaken welfare activities such as digging of irrigation canals, to gain popular support. But their real aim is not to solve the problems being faced by the poor, but to use them as an instrument to turn them against the state. This, they hope, will facilitate the setting up of the Red Corridor through an armed revolution. A recent publication of the Maoists, Biplabi Yug makes it quite clear that they propose to apply the Lalgarh model to the rest of the country. But if they persist with their policy of extortion, they may lose popular support in the extremist-dominated areas.

Maoist insurgencies are no longer viewed as a mere law and order problem. Nor are they confined to any particular state. What is required, therefore, is a comprehensive policy to be developed in close cooperation between the Central and state governments, since the responsibility for implementation of these policies will devolve largely on the state governments.

Maoist insurgency in India cannot be tackled by police action alone. For a long-term solution, the basic dignity of the poor villagers, tribal and non-tribal, must be restored, and the tribal rights law, enacted in 2006, be properly implemented. India's development policy should be inclusive and more equitable; the basic needs of the people ~ food security, access to clean drinking water, minimum health care, housing and education facilities ~ must be met. The administration, above all, should be humane, impartial, and free from corruption to gain the people's confidence, which will wean them away from the Maoists.







The storm in a teacup regarding what Shashi Tharoor did or did not say about the foreign policy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru actually hides the signs of a tempest that could sweep away the well known characteristics of the Congress party. It is obvious from the reactions of some of the leaders of the Congress that they are not willing to countenance any kind of re-evaluation of past Congress leaders. Dissent, in other words, is going to be stifled within the Congress. There seems to be a tendency to make the Congress into a replica of a communist party with a 'line' on everything, and on all subjects. If this were to happen, the Congress would become a monolithic and a doctrinaire party. This has not been the Congress's character over the years; neither has it been the Congress's charter. The Congress has always had an umbrella character: under that umbrella, many have been called — from Gandhians to socialists to champions of capitalism and, even at the worst of times, opportunists. Opinions of various hues and shades are voiced within the Congress and criticisms formulated. The Congress has never been known to have a 'line'. This has been the Congress's strength, and this has added to the richness of India's political tradition and discourse. To abandon this would be to court disaster for the Congress. It would also mean the intellectual impoverishment of India.


It cannot be anybody's argument that Gandhi and Nehru — or for that matter any other major and charismatic Congress leader — are above criticism and historical re-evaluation. Such a view would be as absurd as it would be totalitarian. Every generation looks at past historical figures in its own terms. This is one of the unchanging principles of democratic discussion. The Congress, ever since its inception, has been part of such discussions and has always upheld debates in the best democratic tradition. The past must be open to interpretation: history cannot be frozen. Unfortunately, some elements within the Congress in a bid to display their loyalty are trying to overturn democratic traditions and turn the Congress into a party to which many are called and one voice is heard. It is necessary to nip these totalitarian tendencies in the bud. Otherwise, the Congress will catch a tartar. The argumentative Indian is an integral part of the Congress's past and present. Let him remain there in the future.







The recent siege of a hotel in downtown Srinagar was intended to revive an image of the valley that is slowly fading out from public memory. With a 25 per cent drop in militancy-related violence since 2008, two successful elections on its slate, a popular government in place, a steady withdrawal of armed forces and a revival of tourism, Jammu and Kashmir is beginning to resemble any other state in India. That this has caused enough worry to interested parties across India's borders is evident. Infiltration has increased alarmingly over the past year and a half, and violations across the line of control have been stepped up with impunity, as if to keep pace. The storming of the hotel in Srinagar — conducted in a style that has become familiar post-Mumbai — is a part of this pattern of cross-border activity targeted to hinder the return of normalcy. Undoubtedly, the projection of Kashmir as a war zone has innumerable benefits. Apart from undermining the political process set afoot by the Indian government, it could also get the international community to believe that it needs to refocus attention on Kashmir to solve the riddle in Afghanistan. Little wonder that intelligence intercepts along the border have picked up indications of serial infiltrations being planned.


Given the designs, the government of India should have its task cut out. It will be foolhardy to assume that the situation calls for troop redeployment in the state. The Omar Abdullah administration has stressed the need for an increased role of the police in the maintenance of law and order in the state. If the operation against the militants in the Srinagar hotel is any indication, the state police seem to be doing a laudable job. The return to normalcy also calls for a look at the Special Armed Forces Act and an acceleration of the all-inclusive political process, which India has initiated. The success of a dialogue, of course, is incumbent on the sincerity of the parties involved in the process. India cannot make any headway without the sincere participation of all parties in Kashmir, particularly the Hurriyat, which is already showing signs of fatigue. Perhaps it is also time to reopen the dialogue with Pakistan. India's intractability, so far, has been unable to reform Pakistan's habits and has given its neighbour an obvious advantage over it in the international arena.









On the morning of February 5, 1843, Lord Ellenborough buttoned his white jacket, adjusted his plumed hat, and stepped out of his tent. Outside, an elephant knelt, but it was too tall to climb on to by stepping on its bent leg. A ladder was brought, and Ellenborough climbed into the howdah. He rode to the head of the waiting columns, and they followed him on the way to Delhi. They proceeded past waving fields of wheat and arches, domes and ruins peeping through the trees.


Some miles outside Delhi, they approached a long row of richly painted and adorned elephants on which in silver howdahs sat the noblemen of Mogul empire, each bedecked with jewellery and covered with a Cashmere shawl thrown over his right shoulder. Each of them touched his forehead with the right hand as he bowed low to the Lord.


On the way to Delhi was the ridge, which today stands between the ISBT terminal and Delhi University campus. On its peak stood a flagstaff flying the Union Jack. On both sides of the kankar-made road descending from there to Cashmere Gate were beautiful villas in large parks.


Delhi was protected by a seven-mile wall of red sandstone, 30 feet high and 3-5 feet thick, surrounded by a moat 20 feet broad, and pierced by seven arched gates. It had two million inhabitants in Aurangzeb's time. By the 1750s, the population had fallen to half a million; by the time Ellenborough arrived, there were barely a quarter million — some 60,000 Muslims, the rest Hindoos.


Beyond Cashmere Gate were more walled gardens of gentry and, standing out amongst them, the spire of a Protestant church. Finally one came to Chandni Chowk, a street forty paces broad, running westwards from the palace of the Great Mogul; in its middle ran a walled canal which cooled the air in hot weather.


Next day, Lord Ellenborough received various princes. They had all pitched their camps in the surrounding wilderness — 5,000 men from Bhurtpoor, 4,000 from Alwar, 10,000 from Dhoolpur, 600 men from Shapurah etc. The Rajah of Jeypoor did not come because he considered the Mogul Badshah his inferior. Rajah Kour Rattan Singh, the Rajah of Bickaneer, came on February 8. He was preceded by his camel corps, and himself rode in a richly gilt takt-i-rawan, otherwise known as palanquin. He was accompanied by his son and heir, his brother, nephew, 22 barons, 22 ministers and several hundred lancers and swordsmen. The courtiers were dressed in long white robes and wore red conical turbans; they had sabers in their hands and shields on their backs. The Rajah, well versed in ancient Indian etiquette, entered the tent treading slowly and heavily like an elephant, and shook Ellenborough's hand. He told Ellenborough that he was from a younger branch of the house of Joudpoor, which was the oldest in India. Their tribe used to rule in the valley of the Jumna, but was driven out by the Moguls. He stayed for half an hour, and then left sprinkled with ottar and loaded with rich presents.


The Rajah of Alwar was proud of his country, which he said teemed with tigers, boars and antelopes. He had trained dogs to attack and kill tigers. He had brought along a tiger and a dog to exhibit a combat. Ellenborough refused to see it, but watched the dance of a very pretty and richly dressed bayadère. Her petticoat was full and wide, and she wore ample silk pantaloons. She was covered with jewels, and her ankles were adorned with silver rings and bells.


Captain Leopold von Orlich, who chronicled the above, was a young German nobleman who went to England, enlisted in the British army, sailed via Egypt to Karachi and joined Ellenborough's cavalcade. From Delhi he travelled to Calcutta, which "has the appearance of a city of palaces. A row of large superb buildings extend from the princely residence of the Governor General, along the Esplanade, and produce a remarkably striking effect, by their handsome verandas, supported by lofty columns."


The city extended six miles from Fort William. It consisted of two parts, divided by a line drawn from Bebee-Ross-Ghaut eastward to upper circular road, and from Hastings Bridge to Tolly's Nallah northeastwards to lower circular road. This part of the city was occupied by Christians; natives occupied the northern areas to Chitpoor Bridge and the Maharatta Ditch. In 1837, Captain Birch, the superintendent of police, counted the population of Calcutta to be 229,705 inhabitants — 3,138 British, 3,180 Portuguese, 536 Americans, 160 French, 203 Jews, 40 Parsees, 35 Arabs, 362 Moguls, 683 Mughs and Burmese, 4,748 Eurasians, 58,744 Mussulmans, 137,651 Hindoos and 19,804 of low castes.


Von Orlich stayed in Bengal Club, where he watched the Mussulman servants get together for prayer every morning and evening, kneeling on a glass plot, led by Mr Maddock's hoockaburdar. He called on Dwarkanath Tagore, who was having differences with his family and was thinking of returning to England for his son's education. His wife, however, lived in strict seclusion; and his eldest son did not share his father's Eurocentric views. Dwarkanath had become one of India's wealthiest merchants by his ability and enterprise. He invited von Orlich to a dinner at his villa, five miles outside Calcutta. It was surrounded by a lawn in a small park with a mosaic of flower beds around a pond and groves of mangoes, bananas and tamarinds; on the edges were coconut and fan palms. Dwarkanath often invited young married couples to the villa, which had two floors. He pointed out a portrait of a beautiful Indian lady, to whom he was evidently much attached. At the dinner, roast beef was served with the finest wines. After the dinner, six bayadères came in and danced. They had pretty, delicate hands and feet, and fine contours. In the end, their dance became so daring that the European guests asked that it be stopped.


Von Orlich also went to the mint on Strand, built on a plan of Major Forbes in 1824 and completed in 1830. It was the largest in the world, going down 26½ feet below the ground and rising 60 feet above it. It was built in the Doric style; its centre portico was a copy of the temple of Minerva in Athens. It employed 3,000 men, and had six steam engines. It minted 200,000 coins in seven hours; since 1831, it had turned out 200 million rupees.


In those days, a typical Calcutta European family would bathe and meet at 9 o'clock for breakfast. Then the ladies went off for visits or shopping, while the gentlemen worked in their official residences. At 2 o'clock they met for a hot tiffin, after which they went back to work. At sunset, they got on horseback or into carriages, and went to the Strand, Garden Reach or Allipoor. Dinner was served at 8 o'clock. If one was invited out to dinner, one took with one one's own kidmatgar to serve one. These are some of the things Captain von Orlich wrote in his letters to the German savants, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter.







It is common for boat-owners to overload their dinghies for money, leading to accidents like the one in Kolaghat, writes Insiya Poonawala


Alam operates his small dinghy at Outram Ghat. His home is in Diamond Harbour, but since travelling back and forth every day is both hectic and expensive, he sleeps in his boat at night with his 12-year-old helper. Indeed, this is what the 30-or- so boat-operators at Outram Ghat, most of them hailing from the suburbs, do. Some of them get together and cook their meals on the ghat itself. Alam has heard of the fishing boat that capsized on the Rupnarayan river near Kolaghat last week. Eighteen people, including eight children, are feared dead in the accident. Reacting to the incident, Alam said that he is very particular about the number of people he allows on to his boat.


The boat-operators on Outram and Princep ghats are not generally faced with the problem of overcrowding since their main customers are small families or couples. Occassionally, school or college students come in slightly larger groups of 8 to 10, and in that case, these boatmen do allow them. In the lean season, when the boats do not go for a sail even once a day, refusing any group that wishes to use a boat is impractical. The permit for running these boats is obtained from the Calcutta Port Trust, while the river police are in charge of the safety and rescue of passengers in cases of emergency. But it is difficult for the river police to keep track of the several boats that ply the river, giving the boat-owners at Outram and Princep the liberty to pick up as many passengers as they please.


The people who boarded the boat on the Rupnarayan were, in a way, different from the customers Alam caters to. The former are mainly locals for whom hiring a country boat is a cheaper option for a picnic, as opposed to the visitors to Outram Ghat who take a boat ride for the sheer novelty of it, often paying as high as Rs 250 for an hour on the river. Dinghies, used for sight-seeing, differ from fishing boats. The boat in the Kolaghat incident was a fisherman's vessel that was hired out to a group of picnickers. The ones that dot the Hooghly at Outram Ghat exist solely for the purpose of showing Calcuttans the river that flows through their city, and of giving them the opportunity to soak in the tranquility of the river.


Alam is now 22 years old. He has been working independently ever since his father passed away two years ago, but he remembers the kind of work his father did. The boat that he now uses belonged to his father, who ferried passengers and goods from the big ships that came to the Strand Road dock. It was only after the dock became unfit for big ships — the result not only of the silting up of the bank but also of the closure of industries in the 1950s and 1960s — that Alam's father started using his small boat to take people out on pleasure trips on Sunday evenings.


A carpenter back home in Diamond Harbour constructed Alam's boat. The jetties on that bank too have been affected by the silting up of the river. Diamond Harbour developed as an important stopover for big ships during the raj. Several jetties in Diamond Harbour are now broken. But those who earn their livelihood from the harbour and the river are wary of moving to the city in search of employment. Alam is one of the few people who have travelled to Calcutta for work, while the rest of the folks in his neighbourhood are uncertain about the financial prospects offered by the river in Calcutta.


Sixty-five-year-old Gourango Mondol has been a nouka-mistri for 40 years now, a craft he learnt from his father and grandfather, who were in the same profession. The day I met him, he was splitting a huge log of wood into smaller strips which would eventually form the planks of the passenger boat he and four others were working on. This incomplete boat was parked by the ghat, the finished portion propped up with pieces of wood. Nearby, his wife and daughter-in-law, along with two other women, could be seen repairing a massive fishing net for a fisherman who had hired them for such work.


Mondol explained to me the difference between the passenger boat he was making and the small country boat that has come in for repairs and was also lying by the ghat. As he told me animatedly how the dinghy boat, which is 15 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep, can hold about 10 to 12 persons, while the passenger boat twice as long and deep and thrice as wide can carry 50 persons at a time, a bemused smirk escaped his lips. He wondered what is there for people to see on the river. When I told him that those on the capsized boat in Kolaghat were on a picnic, he merely laughed. Although he can understand the need for a recreational trip on the river, what surprises him is that so many people would risk their lives to get on to a small boat meant for only 10 persons, when the perfectly utilitarian motorized passenger boat would have served the purpose.


He is unaware of the fact that the basic wooden, unpainted boat he supplies to the likes of Alam at Outram Ghat has been modified in Calcutta to a great extent to make it look pretty. Meant mainly for lovers hoping for a quiet afternoon in each other's company, the boat on the Hooghly is painted in bright colours, a little curtained enclosure is erected on one side, and seats are constructed. The idea is to make it resemble the shikaras on Dal Lake in Kashmir that have become a benchmark of river tourism.


But for those like Mondol whose days revolve around the ghat, the river does not hold as many mysteries, and is not half as alluring and exotic as we would imagine it to be. On the other hand, Alam's father, roughly Mondol's contemporary, was quick to identify the trend in Calcutta that made the river a marketable commodity. He was happy as long as he could extract a decent livelihood out of Calcuttans' penchant for 'rediscovering' their city and its heritage.








Mining licences have been the ticket to wealth, responsible for many rags-to-riches stories over the years. Politicians issue them for big businessmen who, in turn, give unquestioned support to all levels of politicians, who help clear those contracts. More often than not, these contracts breach the law. As a result, endless tracts of pristine forest cover have been raped and mutilated beyond recognition, polluting the environment, our water sources and more. You- scratch-my-back-and-I-shall-scratch-yours has been the norm for the businessmen, politicians and administration as they destroy what had been deemed 'protected' by the lawmakers of this now benighted land of ours. The greed for short-term gain has corrupted our space in many interconnected ways.


Tendencies to break the laws and indulge in a variety of illegalities usually mark alliance partners in political

coalitions, who use blackmail to put pressure on the apex decision-makers to deviate from the book, consciously commit injustice, and break their own laws. No leader has stood his ground to change the course of this machinery of corruption because every 'deal' is accompanied by unimaginable sums of money to 'maintain silence'. This corruption has seeped into every conceivable area of our lives, but is gradually being rejected by some pioneering incumbents in politics, government and civil society. The latter are showing signs of angry protest against this untenable form of governance.


Perverse oath


Senior leaders in all parties, their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, are all grabbing the spoils of mother earth. Where have all the good sense and philosophy gone? Why are our rich, educated and privileged citizens breaking laws, and consciously destroying the moral ethos of an extraordinary civilization? Is there no political commitment to order and ensure honest governance? Will no one at the helm of governance, from all across the country, from all dispensations, have the tenacity to stand up and be counted for doing what is right instead of surreptitiously condoning all that is wrong? Are we utterly bereft of good sense? Are we a truly soft, untenable State?


When the tribal rights bill was being hurriedly passed in Parliament, actively supported by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), many of us feared that the misuse of laws would allow the rape of our forests, with the tribals left with paltry sums as remuneration, after being enticed and exploited by a 'new' dispensation posing as their saviours. The process has become far more complicated now than my convoluted preceding sentence! No one has any intention of saving, restoring and nurturing our wilderness, our rivers and mountains, our habitats and living spaces. Those who have the power to grab and usurp are doing so. The agencies that are mandated to patrol such sacrosanct areas are in denial, and when not, are in cahoots with the offenders.


What is the point of declaiming from international rostrums India's commitment to curb the negatives leading to climate change? Why this posturing when constant pressure tactics win and permit projects that are detrimental to our environment and our future? It is as though the Indian State has taken a perverse oath to poison our land and space, and, therefore, our children. Money in the hands of operators and deal-makers and a good rate of growth for the government seem to be the two priorities in decision-making today. There is no debate or discourse on critical issues, and there is no ban on illegalities. Coalitions have to survive at the cost of India, her people and their future. Will the government reject the mining proposals of large multinational companies? Will the government abide by its own laws?







"The river is a strong brown god", wrote T.S. Eliot in "The Dry Salvages" of Four Quartets, "sullen, untamed and intractable". If Sudipto Dey had read Eliot, he would have agreed with the poet. Dey and his father, Dwarik,a wizened old man, run the ferry service at the Uttarpara kheyaghat. Each day, the bhutbhutis — mechanized boats that can carry 80-100 passengers — ferry men, women and children across the one-mile stretch from Uttarpara to Ariadaha. The journey across the sullen, brown waters takes not more than seven minutes and each passenger is charged two rupees for the ride. At the end of a good day — that stretches from sunrise to 10.30 at night, with a break for lunch in the afternoon — father and son take home a little over thousand rupees.


Like the gods, the river is a giver of life. (Dwarik and his young son cannot conceive of a life without it.) But, occasionally, it brings with it death and destruction. More than 20 years ago, a boat had capsized on the Hooghly near Rishra, killing 12 people. Such accidents are not infrequent by any means. Recently, in Kolaghat, lives were lost when an overcrowded boat capsized on the mighty Rupnarayan.


The human agency behind such fatalities is undeniable. Boats sink because boatmen are often allowed (or coerced, as was the case in Kolaghat) to take on passengers beyond the vessel's capacity. But the untamed waters are deceptive as well, and they often speak a language that cannot be comprehended by even experienced boatmen.


The strength of the water rises and falls with the tides. During the bhora kotal — when the currents are the strongest and the most dangerous — fishermen whisper silent prayers before they set sail on the waters touched by the silver light of the moon. If a mishap were to take place then, even a skilled swimmer would find it difficult to survive the currents. Wild waves and winds strike and drown boats during storms. Then there are the lurking sandbars. There have been incidents in which country boats and dinghies have drowned after hitting one of these sandy stretches. But equally treacherous is the mist that hangs like a cloak in the cold season. The fog on a river is a few times denser than the one on land, and can be as fatal as the tides and the storms. Collisions between boats are not unheard of at this time of the year.


But can the brown god be tamed so as to lower the number of accidents? Dwarik feels that little can be done apart from ensuring that the standard safety procedures are being implemented at the ghats. The municipality can also take greater care to ease the river's burden: dredging the accumulated silt, opening the clogged hydrants and minimizing pollution in the water can perhaps appease the temperamental deity.


But even then, a good boatman will always need to scan the seemingly calm surface. For the river god moves in mysterious ways.


Uddalak Mukherjee



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





Those fortunate to witness the early, heady days of Independent India recall the proceedings of Parliament with reverence, as much for the level of intellectual exchanges as for the abundant mutual respect across the aisle. The common purpose of struggle for Independence gave away to ideological differences and Parliament was the arena for some stirring debates on myriad issues of national significance. The hankering for power that marks today's politics with all its virulence was yet to surface, and reading them today can only make one nostalgic for the passion involved in those discourses. Hiren Mukherjee was one of the bitterest critics of Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament and yet the two shared respect for each other.

But then most of them had shared a glorious past — having participated in the freedom struggle and even having spent years in jail together. Unfortunately, this etiquette has progressively become a thing of the past. There is a commonly perceived, all-round erosion of values. It is a time of innocence lost, a time when little can shock, and nothing can surprise. It is the Vulgar Era. Today, Parliament and state legislatures no longer excel in debates; they have become venues for ugly verbal exchanges and sometimes even fisticuffs. Outside the legislative precincts, the situation is worse.

The choicest epithets hurled by H D Deve Gowda against Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa on Sunday mirrored the sad state of affairs in the country's polity. The language employed by Gowda is at odds with his stature. Arguably, he is a father figure in Karnataka politics, a former chief minister and most significantly a former prime minister. He should be setting examples in correct political conduct. With half-a-century of political life behind him, Gowda is expected to raise the bar of political decorum, not to lower it. The perceived or factual malfeasance of NICE or the chief minister can never justify his intemperate expressions. He has subsequently tried to defend his unacceptable language, saying that those were directed not against the chief minister but against Advocate General Ashok Harnahalli. No person in public life, let alone Gowda, can use such abusive language against anyone. Gowda has let himself down, badly. In the process, he has done great harm to the polity as such behaviour by people who held top positions can only strengthen public cynicism about today's political class.








The Manmohan Singh government must take effective control of India's relationship with China. Sino-Indian diplomatic affairs are too sensitive to be handled at lower levels of the government. Over the last one year or so, a number of media reports suggested serious problems on the bilateral front, particularly relating to the disputed boundary between the two neighbours. These were serious enough to prompt the Union home ministry to contemplate action against their authors. Whether any action has since been taken or not, what the ministry's reaction suggests is the government doesn't have full control over information flow on China matters. On the contrary, if that is not true, then it is open to interpretation that the government might be indulging in some diplomacy through the media.

The latest in New Delhi's messy China diplomacy is a damaging news item on Monday that, quoting a purported official report, claimed India might have lost 'substantial' land due to China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir during the past two decades. This is apparently the conclusion drawn by field officials at a meeting they held under the chairmanship of Leh commissioner A K Sahu. There is a question of credibility about this conclusion as it is pointed out that the maps of the LAC area maintained by various agencies differ from one another.

It is imperative for the government to throw light on the report's veracity. As such, the report is shocking. For, over eight years back New Delhi and Beijing had exchanged their respective maps, delineating their respective positions on the LAC's course in the northern sector, of which Ladakh is a part, of the disputed boundary. What this presupposes is that the government has no clarity about the LAC in the region. Second, if the Chinese had indeed captured territory over the last 'two decades', it must have been known to the government. What is the true picture? It is important to have clarity on these issues not only to promote peace and tranquility along the LAC, but also to create favourable conditions to eventually find an amicable and honourable settlement of the dispute. India cannot hope to find an honourable settlement if it seen as losing land to China even in times of peace.









Two centuries ago the share of India and China in the world economy was 25 and 33 per cent respectively. This declined in the colonial period and their share was reduced to about one and two per cent after the Second World War.

The last two decades have seen some improvement and presently their shares have increased to about two and six per cent, respectively. China is moving faster than us. Our laggard position is visible in the nature of our mutual trade as well. We are mainly exporting raw materials like iron ore while importing manufactured goods like toys and bulbs from China. This is the same pattern of trade that the British made with colonial India leading to our severe impoverishment: we exported raw cotton and imported finished cloth. The main reason is that we are not cooperating with each other in remolding the world economic order that is stacked against us.

Both countries are deprived of global leadership by the US but refuse to cooperate with each other. We see each other as enemies. Just as the British conquered and impoverished India — using the policy of 'divide and rule' — America is forging an anti-India, anti-China global consensus in global fora because India and China are bickering.

The share of the western countries in the world economy today is about 75 per cent while the combined share of India and China is about eight per cent. It is necessary that incomes of the developed countries should decline for us to regain our historical stature.

Some experts believe that instead of opposing the western countries we must cooperate with them and focus on increase in our incomes within the present world economic order. I am not convinced of this. We have been able to secure a paltry one per cent increase in the share of the world economy in 60 years of cooperation with the western countries.

The three power centres of the world today are India, China and America. India and China want to become No 1 while America wants to retain its position. All three see each other as competitors, if not as enemy. America is ruling the world because India and China are fighting each other.

At Copenhagen, for example, America was able to throw out the Kyoto Protocol because India and China did not make a joint strategy during the early negotiations. They can jointly try to remove the patent laws from the WTO and deprive the West of huge royalties which are a major source of their wealth and our deprivation today.
The roots of this mutual distrust appear to lie in our historical experiences. But the responsibility of crafting a new policy in this changed circumstance is with India because it is falling behind in the race for power. It is for us to take the first steps to be friends with China and jointly challenge the American might. Otherwise, America will rule the world just as the clever cat ate away the bread taking advantage of the fight between two monkeys.

The forward policy

The main impediment to such cooperation comes from the 1962 war. In his book 'India's China War', Neville Maxwell had provided a wealth of data establishing the fact that the war was triggered by then defence minister Krishna Menon's reckless 'forward policy'.

The Indian Army made various uncalled for incursions into areas traditionally controlled by China. Real Admiral (Retd) Raja Menon says: "The Chinese have a saying called 'teaching a lesson'. It is a part of their strategic vocabulary. As far as they are concerned, 1962 was not about grabbing territory but it was about teaching India a lesson." We should accept our folly of 1962 and move ahead otherwise the America-China combine will crush us. Great powers should have the humility to accept their mistakes.

This atmosphere of mutual distrust pervades the actions of both sides. China is regularly advancing help to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan with the intent to weaken India's influence in her backyard. It is opposing India's membership of the UN Security Council. China condemned India's 1998 Pokhran nuclear explosions. Ninety per cent of the arms sold by China are reportedly going to countries around the Indian Ocean. On the other hand India has consistently given protection to the Dalai Lama. She has also repeatedly broken ranks with China and other developing countries and toed American diktats as in Copenhagen. Our conflicts have provided a free run to the US to play one against the other.

We must take a lesson from the European countries. Germany had done much worse to France than China has done to India. Yet, the two countries are major players in the European Union. They have understood that holding on to old problems will impair their joint future. They have joined hands to strengthen their economic and political muscle. India and China should similarly let go of old disputes and focus on jointly defeating US machinations.

India and China should set aside their lingering border disputes when the United States is strangulating their economies. They must first together make sure that American supremacy is put to an end and then settle their claims. The US will continue to come up with new stratagems to keep us backward. The decision to kill Kyoto at Copenhagen is an indicator of the things to come. Both India and China will be deprived of their claims to global leadership and there will remain nothing much to fight about if they continue their infighting and do not rise against the United States together.








Last fall, a rare opinion poll was conducted across China. It asked a simple question: What do you perceive as the greatest threat facing China? The range of answers was interesting — but even more interesting was the way the survey was reported in India.


Among Indian newspapers, the thrust of the stories said that 40 per cent of the Chinese polled think India presents the greatest security threat after the United States. Yet Indian business journals emphasised that 60 per cent of Chinese saw no threat from India.

The contradictions come as no surprise — India is a kaleidoscope of competing realities. But as China and India begin preparations to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties, that same schizophrenia has come to characterise their bilateral relations.

Where does the heart of the relationship between the dragon and the elephant lie?

Is it in their increasingly public bickering over disputed land on the Himalayan border, where Indian officials have accused China of 270 line-of-control violations and 2,285 instances of aggressive border patrol last year?

Or is it in a burgeoning economic relationship that has seen China become India's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade leaping from $15 billion to $40 billion in the past five years — and is expected to grow to as much as $60 billion in 2010?

Spoke in the wheel

Does it rest in China's aggressive support of India's arch-rival Pakistan; Beijing's strategy of building roads and ports in countries around the Indian Ocean as a 'string of pearls' designed to choke India; and its efforts to block a $2.9 billion Asian Development Bank loan to India?

Or is it anchored in the remarkably united front India and China presented in Copenhagen, where they stood together to ensure that developed countries did not extract unilateral concessions on climate change from developing ones?


Right now, the answer seems to be both. "Indians generally agree that we must have excellent economic and diplomatic relations with China, but we must also keep our powder dry," Vice Adm A K Singh, former chief of India's Eastern Naval Command, said. "We feel our foreign policy must be backed by sufficient power — a steel fist in a velvet glove."

Whether the future of this relationship is fashioned in velvet or forged in steel, three truths are emerging.
First, China seems committed to a vision of a multipolar world, but a unipolar Asia. It is no accident that China's posture toward India hardened in 2006. Just days after the US and India unveiled a defence framework and then a nuclear agreement, China's ambassador to New Delhi began referring to Arunachal Pradesh as 'Southern Tibet', a provocation not heard since the two nations fought a 32-day war over the territory in 1962.
China's regional brinksmanship seems designed to distract India and box it in, allowing China to emerge as the voice of Asia.

Second, India seems determined not to be pushed around by China. Since 2006, India has beefed up its border security, reiterated its border claims, and deported thousands of unskilled Chinese workers. It also has deepened support for the Dalai Lama, welcoming him to an historic Buddhist monastery in Tawang last fall, despite Beijing's protests. Rather than weakening India's resolve, Chinese intransigence may be strengthening it.

Third, it is in America's interests to maintain good relations with both nations. After President Obama's travels to China and the Indian prime minister's state visit to Washington, the joke in New Delhi was that "China gets an agreement, Pakistan gets funding, and India gets a nice dinner." With China acting as America's banker, it would seem, as a prominent Indian diplomat said: "for the foreseeable future, the US is unlikely to act as a countervailing power to China, and India will have to look after its interests the best it can."

"The truth is," a high-ranking US state department official said, "both India and China have important roles to play in the emerging global architecture."


He said: "In the next decade, the US will likely be involved in a different issue on the Himalayan border — dire shortage of water in both nations, and the role Tibetan waters can play in addressing it."

Which brings us back to the opinion poll: When asked what most threatened them, a majority of Chinese cited non-traditional threats, like climate change, water and food.

China and India might yet end up in the same boat.

The New York Times









As I lifted the brand new  book to my nose to inhale deeply its smell, I heard the shout. "Hey, don't touch that book. You, Rukmini! Put it down. At once." It came out in a shrill, grating voice screeching  over my head like bullets.

I spun around. She was a pencil thin lady with egg-shaped spectacles looking every inch a teacher, with a commanding drill sergeant's voice. Rukmini, thus upbraided put that colourful book down hurriedly and withdrew behind her tall friend. There were about 30 of them — all in pink skirts and half sarees — rumbustious girls from a nearby school on a visit to the book fair.

I was bemused. A teacher admonishing the students for touching the books. Such an injunction would have made sense on Saraswathi Puja day when reading books is taboo. But to insist in a book fair? How one will judge the book? With x-ray eyes? Within minutes all the girls filed past the books in the stall as if on a march-past   through a museum.

Much later I ran into the grumpy teacher under a tree, watching the girls nibbling their snacks. "Sir, you've dropped a book," she pointed out to a volume that had fallen from my bursting plastic bag. I thanked her and ventured to ask. "I heard you ordering the girls not to touch the books. What d'you expect the children to do in a book fair? Admire the wrappers and move on? How will they get used to the feel of a new book, its smell, the visual and mental treat inside." She stared at me caught unawares by my questions. But I pressed on. "Will any lady walk past a saree display, even if she has no intention of buying? Won't she open, inspect, hold it away and judge it?"

She glared at me. "It is alright for you to preach Sir. But I am responsible for their actions. Most of them are impish. What if they tear or scribble on  the books? Who will pay for them? Me? No way. I am yet to receive my salary for the past three months. Can you advise our management? I can't live on air... Hey, Selvi. Look! Your left ear-stud is missing. My God! Your mother is going to skin me alive."








Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, is lamenting President Barack Obama's backing for the idea that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. "Worse, it seems the…administration has slowly but surely adopted [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's position on the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a 'Jewish state,' which predetermines the negotiations over the 'right of return' for Palestinian refuges... ," Bishara wrote late last week.


Abandoning the "right of return" would indeed remove the risk that Palestinian Arabs could demographically asphyxiate Israel by inundating it with millions of refugees and their descendants. But do Arab pundits really think Israel would sign a peace deal that didn't guarantee an end to irredentist claims?


It's hard to fault Bishara's analysis, which comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity. In addition to backing Israel on the "right of return," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes it a point to frequently reference the "1967-plus" formula of basing final borders on agreed land swaps. She's even implying that the settlement issue is a red-herring. "Resolving borders resolves settlements, resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements," Clinton said at the weekend. "I think we need to lift our sights and instead of looking down at the trees, we need to look at the forest."


There are also indications that peace envoy George Mitchell is pursuing a multi-pronged effort to re-start negotiations, including a security component focusing on mechanisms for a demilitarized Palestinian state.


THE administration is heavily invested in re-starting negotiations. Israel is on board. But the Palestinians appear to have adopted Syria's bargaining approach.


Just as Damascus will not come to the table until it is assured - in advance - that its maximalist demands will all be met, the Palestinians, too, have developed an ever-longer list of prerequisites that need to be accommodated before they will deign to talk.


As articulated by various Palestinian Authority spokespeople in recent months, these include: a complete construction freeze everywhere over the Green Line; talks must commence from Ehud Olmert's last generous offer (ignored by the Palestinians as unworthy of a response); Israel must commit to a pull-back to the 1949 Armistice Lines; the Palestinian "right of return" must be recognized; Israel will not be recognized as the legitimate state of the Jewish people; and, the details must be wrapped up within two years.


Under these circumstances, Mitchell's Plan B will apparently be to shuttle between Ramallah and Jerusalem

conducting "proximity talks."


Even if by some miracle Mahmoud Abbas did send his negotiators back to the table, the fragmentation within the Palestinian polity, namely Hamas's control of Gaza, limits the chances of a breakthrough.


UNDER THESE circumstances it would be nice if we could report that Egypt is trying to talk some sense into the Palestinians. No such luck. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, who was in Washington over the weekend, insisted that the Palestinians should hold firm to their demand for all territories "occupied" by Israel since 1967.


And just to throw another wrench into the works, Arab moderates have resurrected the Saudi-inspired take-it-or-leave-it peace initiative warning - for the umpteenth time - that it will not forever remain on offer. Israeli leaders have repeatedly indicated they are willing to discuss the initiative, which has some positive elements embedded in a fine print no Israeli government could ever accept. Indeed, the initiative is so potentially perilous to Israel that Hamas has yet to reject it outright.


The Syrians have meanwhile appeared on the scene to pull Hamas's chestnuts out of the fire. The negotiations over Gilad Schalit are not going well from Hamas's viewpoint; relations with Egypt are at an all-time low; smuggling conditions under the Philadelphi Corridor are deteriorating; Gazans are growing weary because Hamas's relentless belligerency has netted unremitting misery.


Enter Damascus to bridge the gap between Fatah and Hamas in a bid to create a Palestinian unity government. Rest assured that any alliance manufactured in the Syrian capital will serve Iran's interests more than those of peace.


Mitchell is due back in the region later in the month. The Palestinians say they have been placed on the defensive. Hopes that their positions would be imposed on Israel by the Obama administration have been dashed.


What should Jerusalem do? Continue to show appreciation for the administration's efforts. Because a viable two-state solution that permanently ends the conflict is in Israel's interest.









The letter sent by Knesset members to their British counterparts last week threatening to boycott British products must surely go down as one of the most absurd documents ever written in the name of Israel's legislative body. Spearheaded by Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, signed by 40 MKs from a variety of right-wing parties, and transmitted by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to Parliament Speaker John Bescoe, the letter reads more like a childish tit-for-tat game - whatever you can do, we can do better.


The letter was issued following a proposal to recommend that all products emanating from West Bank settlements be marked as such - distinguished from goods produced inside the Green Line, or from West Bank goods produced by Palestinians - so that British consumers opposed to occupation can make their own decision whether to purchase these goods or not. The correct labeling of the origin of goods is an international requirement that applies to every country in the world. The Knesset letter indicates that we want the best of both worlds - to continue to produce goods in the West Bank for the benefit of the settler population, but not to label them as such. Does this indicate that perhaps we are embarrassed by the true facts of the case?


WHILE THE correct labeling of goods is not directly a boycott, it is obvious that this is the implication of such an action. In reality, the continued discussion about boycotting Israel in the UK consists of a great deal of hot air but hardly any implementation. The continued attempt by the academic unions to have a scientific boycott have come almost to nothing, while the more serious attempts by various trade unions have not come to much, either.


No doubt about it, the atmosphere toward Israel in the UK is not positive, and this has only been exacerbated by the attempts to have leading Israeli politicians or army personnel arrested for war crimes, but the various anti-boycott lobbies have been reasonably successful in ensuring that these proposed actions remain declarative, rather than practical. And it is the British Parliament and lawmakers, to whom the Knesset letter is addressed, who have done their utmost to ensure that the more radical positions of some of the trade unions remain precisely that - proposals and no more.


Singling out the West Bank - whether it be goods produced in the settlements or academic institutions such as Ariel College - is a clever ploy on the part of the pro-boycotters. While the vast majority of UK citizens and lawmakers are opposed to any blanket boycott of Israel, there are many who are ready to differentiate between the sovereign State of Israel and the occupied territories. It is not, as the Knesset letter tries to make out, a collective boycott of Israel, nor is it vastly different to what takes place here.


Tens of thousands of Israelis do not, on principle, purchase goods produced in the settlements; others will not study at West Bank institutions, while many refuse to even travel beyond the Green Line because of the dubious political status of the region. Perhaps the Knesset should start by counter-boycotting its own citizens who don't purchase goods from the West Bank, before it turns its attention to greener pastures.


IN PARTICULAR, it is the nature and tone of the letter which makes one despair of some of our elected representatives. The language, especially the last sentence in which they state, "We hope it will not be necessary to take any further action," must surely have had the British parliamentarians and general public quaking in fear. Perhaps we will, in the best traditions of British imperialism, send gunboats to invade the shores of Britannia; maybe we will cut off all diplomatic relations; or maybe it will be sufficient just to recall our ambassador from the Court of St. James to show how dissatisfied we are with these British upstarts.


No doubt about it, a boycott of British goods in Israel would have the British economy crashing down. One can just imagine a scenario in which the Israeli consumer checks every item on the shelves of his/her local supermarket to ensure that they are not buying anything from the forbidden country.


Maybe we should really show the Brits how angry we are and retaliate by banning all British soccer from our TVs - then they'd know we mean business.


Having actively worked against the proposed academic boycott for the past three years, I am constantly amazed at just how unprofessional our own message is. Either we resort to the anti-Semitism argument because we are unable to engage in a proper discourse about the political situation and realities in Israel or, as our MKs have now demonstrated, we respond with our own version of bully boy tactics - only in this case they have no significance whatsoever. The Knesset signers should be taught a basic lesson in negotiations: There is never any point in making threats if you don't have the ability to carry them through.


ISRAEL DOES not have any professional scientific attachés who can adequately deal with the academic boycott proposals, leaving the work for unqualified personnel at the local embassies and legations who do not have any understanding of how universities operate. Nor do we have any top-notch international lawyers who can deal properly with the attempts to have our leaders arrested when they set foot in the UK. And, it appears, we don't have diplomatic representatives who can hold a serious discussion about the political realities of our continued control of the West Bank, always resorting to the simplistic position that if you criticize the occupation, you are criticizing and delegitimizing the whole of Israel, and that if you delegitimize Israel you are, by association, a rabid anti-Semite.


The only thing you achieve by taking this position is to prevent any form of proper dialogue and discussion with the thousands of people who are critical of Israel's policies (but no more than half of the Israeli population itself) but who are not anti-Semitic.


Instead of sending childish letters, perhaps the Knesset should start by funding the professional manpower necessary to deal with these issues. Perhaps they can use some of the money they have now saved by rejecting the Shas proposal for additional jobs for its boys in the guise of more deputy mayors. Perhaps the MKs who signed this letter can take a good long look in the mirror and realize what a laughingstock they have made out of our democratically elected parliament.


The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.








Congressman Steve Rothman was one of the most courageous voices in opposing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's desire to stay in Englewood. Since then, however, he seems to have made the decision to identify me - a constituent, rabbi and father of nine - as a bigger threat than Libya's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgam.


First, after I objected to my congressman's statement encouraging residents of Englewood to be "appropriately good neighbors" to the man who served as Gaddafi's foreign minister for nine years, Rothman wrote a three-page press release attacking me and defending the status quo of the representative of a terror-sponsoring government living tax-free in the midst of 30,000 hard-working New Jersey citizens who can barely afford their own property taxes amid a brutal recession.


After I published a rebuttal, I called Rothman and invited him onto my radio show in New York City. Politely explaining that the short notice made it impossible, my congressman reiterated how the law protects the ambassador's right to live next-door to me, based on an understanding Rothman had brokered between the Libyans and the State Department in 1982.


No one has seen this agreement. I told the congressman that as more concerned Englewood citizens joined the campaign to push the Libyan mission out of our city, he risked being out of step with his own constituents.


I was puzzled by his next comment: that negative information about me had been brought to his attention, and that I ought to be careful and know that I was not as popular as I might think. Okay. But life is not a popularity contest, and let's put aside New Jersey's notoriously bare-knuckle politics. As an Orthodox Jew I have always attempted to train myself to fear none but God. Being intimidated by the Libyans or allies of the congressman is just not my style.


ROTHMAN CAN emerge as a hero if he fights the Libyan mission as courageously as he did Gaddafi himself. Why indeed, after boldly labeling Gaddafi a madman with American blood on his hands, would he allow sovereign Libyan territory to flourish in his district?


In August 2009, while opening the African Union summit in Tripoli in celebration of his 40th anniversary as

dictator of Libya, Gaddafi said Israel was responsible for all the conflicts in Africa. He demanded that "all of its embassies on the continent be shut down." Just as he had issued a blood libel against Israel and trivialized the Holocaust by accusing Israel, through his UN mission, of turning Gaza into a concentration camp, Gaddafi extended the blood libel by accusing Israel of "fuelling the crisis in Darfur, southern Sudan and Chad in order to exploit the riches held by those areas."


So now Israel is responsible for the genocide not just of the Palestinians, but the Sudanese as well?
We American Jews are not asked to join the IDF; we are mostly cheerleaders of the courageous Israeli nation from the sidelines. But surely, at the very least, we can demonstrate our devotion to Israel's existential struggle by showing Gaddafi and other brutal Arab dictators that their murderous diatribes against Israel's peaceful embassies will be met with equal opposition to their own palatial diplomatic missions in Jewish communities like Englewood. To retreat from even this battle is to show cowardice and a lack of solidarity with Israel's brave citizens.


And saying that the law allows for the Libyans to reside in our community is no excuse. We were told the same thing by the officials of Englewood when Gaddafi's palace was being readied to accommodate the tyrant. But we found numerous construction violations that were used to win a court order stopping work on the Libyan mission and making it impossible for Gaddafi to inhabit the structure.


ON NEW Year's Eve, Gaddafi's son Hannibal paid Beyonce $2 million to perform at a party at St. Barts. Over Christmas he stayed at a £4,000-a-night suite at Claridge's Hotel in London where, at about 1:30 a.m., members of his security staff were arrested for obstructing police. The police had been responding to screams they had reportedly heard from his wife, model Aline Skaf, who was taken to the hospital with facial injuries.


Why wasn't Gaddafi's son arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife? Because he called the Libyan ambassador in the UK, who informed the police that he had diplomatic immunity. Gaddafi's security men were later "de-arrested" after Skaf told the police that her injuries had come from a fall, rather than from her husband.


These are the kinds of people we in Englewood are now being asked to treat as "good neighbors," even as the ambassador and his security personnel enjoy the same diplomatic immunity. While struggling to keep our own jobs, should we accept that the Libyans, who can blow millions on entertainment, not contribute a single penny toward their police protection in Englewood or toward basic services like garbage removal?


Every American in the post-9/11 world has an obligation to confront terrorism by every legal means possible. The brave passengers of Flight 253 who confronted underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab understood that it is not merely the Transportation Security Administration which is responsible for averting an airline bombing.


And what does it say to our brave men and women in the military, fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, when they see representatives of terror-sponsoring states living regally in American suburbs? If Shalgham has to represent his government at the UN - and it would be best if the entire UN, which has become a bully pulpit for rogue dictators, were moved outside the US - then let him at least be confined in close proximity to the UN.


A month ago I visited Zimbabwe and was inspired by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, who told me, after I asked him if he feared Robert Mugabe's henchmen, that he was "unintimidatable."


When it comes to confronting tyranny, we must all learn to overcome fear and pursue justice.


The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 22 books, most recently The Kosher Sutra and The Blessing of Enough.








The arrest of Nofrat Frenkel for wearing a tallit and carrying a Torah scroll (in a knapsack) at the Western Wall Plaza opened up a significant discussion about religious rights in the State of Israel in general and, more specifically, at the Western Wall.


In order to proceed, we must impress upon Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his cabinet, especially the minister of religious affairs, that the entire government must serve Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, whether they like it or not.


One of my favorite Israeli expressions is "Don't be right, be smart!" - and it's so very appropriate when discussing the rights of women and Reform and Conservative Jews to pray as they choose at the Wall. Of course I want Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state, and of course I would like to see a section of the Kotel allocated to men and women who want to pray together, or for women to pray with a women's minyan and read from the Torah. But I don't think it is going to happen in the foreseeable future.


The women are right in demanding their space at the Wall, but it is more important for them to be smart. After hearing about what happened on December 18, rosh hodesh Tevet, during the Women of the Wall's monthly service, I am convinced that we should take the "smart" path and demand that the government solve the problem.


IN OUR struggle for religious pluralism, we should look for a solution that promises no confrontation with those praying at the Wall, and a maximum of dignity, inspiration and spirituality for all. The latter three cannot be achieved today, because the Women of the Wall will always be intimidated, threatened, insulted and scorned by those who lack human decency and do not live by the words of the prophet, "The righteous shall live by his own faith" (Habakkuk 2:5). The Women of the Wall will be continually disturbed by those yelling and cursing them. The atmosphere will not be peaceful, inspirational or spiritual.


In the aftermath of the Frenkel arrest, Jerusalemites and others are demanding that the capital be a pluralistic city, free of religious coercion. To achieve this, the advocates must come forward with well-articulated plans of action, and refocus their attention on the government. They must make the leaders understand that they are ultimately responsible for what is going on due to their lack of action and their placing of coalition interests above the democratic rights of Jews.


A three-tiered plan of action is called for, which will revisit the entire Western Wall complex and redefine the modalities of each area.


1. The Western Wall Plaza should be under the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Municipality and not subject to gender segregation or the halachic rulings of the rabbi of the Wall. The area must not be defined as, and not treated as, a synagogue. No one will have the authority to operate a "modesty squad" enforcing a dress code. The plaza will be a place where all visitors can meet and congregate, and where non-secular public ceremonies can be conducted.


2. The northern section of the Western Wall (north of the Mughrabi Gate) will continue to serve those who feel that a separation between women and men is required.


3. The southern section of the Western Wall (south of the Mughrabi Gate) will be opened to all Jewish men and women who wish to pray together without separation. Here women can wear phylacteries and prayer shawls, and read from the Torah with joy and spirit and without being disturbed, insulted and yelled at.


IN ADDITION to opening the area for prayer throughout the week, the government, through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, will provide the worshipers at the southern section with the religious articles required for public prayer: arks, tables, Torahs, prayer books and Bibles.


Since 1999, it has been possible to pray at the southern section of the wall due to the work of the Masorti movement and the help of Minister Isaac Herzog, who at that time was cabinet secretary. However, the arrangement does not offer Jews the opportunity to pray every hour of the day and every day of the week, as is the practice at the northern section of the Wall. The current arrangement allows entrance for prayer at no cost only until 9:15 a.m. This was achieved only after the Masorti movement petitioned the High Court of Justice, claiming that its members had to "pay to pray" at the Western Wall's southern section.


The fact that worshipers have to pay an entrance fee to pray according to their own religious custom at the southern section of the Western Wall shows that the government is falling short of its commitment to Israelis who want to live in a Jewish and democratic state. This is a case of discrimination, where only Jewish worshipers who accept a constantly narrowing list of religious and other restrictions may access the Western Wall for free, 24/7 - while those ascribing to different rituals and beliefs must pay to exercise their democratic right of freedom to worship at the southern section of the Wall.


The above action plan is intended to end this discrimination. Our government leaders must be challenged, and held to task for their responsibility to Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state.


The writer is the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel and the rabbi of the Masorti Congregation Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem.








In the political realm, the relationship between the European Union and Israel went from bad to worse in 2009. But with the appointment of a number of new officials, as well as recognition of the costs of conflict for both Israel and Europe, there may now be an opportunity to shift gears.


The first step in this process is to recognize the extent of the problem. A new ambassador in Tel Aviv, the entry of the Spanish government into the rotating EU presidency on January 1, a recently elected parliament and new commissioners will find a history of friction and frustration. They will be unable to avoid the scars of continuous and fierce arguments from both the distant and more recent past, under Swedish leadership, including tensions over EU proclamations on issues of war and peace, and particularly regarding Jerusalem.


These European actions were seen by Israelis as signaling strong bias in support of Palestinian positions. At the same time, Israel's justified concerns were patronizingly dismissed, along with the policies of its government officials.


These tensions were exacerbated when the Swedish foreign minister, who was expected to speak for the EU, became persona non grata, in part due to the failure of his government to condemn the "organ sales" blood libel highlighted in the prominent Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.


AS SPAIN takes over the EU presidency, there is a chance to start over. Without Sweden's baggage, Madrid can begin working with Jerusalem, rather than leading the opposition. Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos has spent many years in the region, including a long stint as the EU's special peace envoy during the Oslo period, and has learned to distinguish between slogans and reality.


In Brussels, the new European commissioners can learn from the record of failure in more than 30 years of initiatives related to Israel. From the 1980 Venice Declaration, in which the EU sought to overtake America as the leading peace broker in the Middle East, and through the various programs presented in 2009, these initiatives have only added to the tensions, rather than reducing them.


A more modest and realistic approach from Brussels, and unbending condemnation of terror, would create a

greater willingness among Israelis to include Europe in peace negotiations. Unfortunately, Catherine Ashton, Europe's new foreign affairs and security head, began her tenure by attacking Israel and sounding like Chris Patten, who held a similar position 20 years ago and is remembered for his hostility toward the Jewish state. But unlike Patten, Ashton may turn out to be a quick learner who can undo this damage as she discovers the complex realities.


Assuming that Ashton and her colleagues on the commission are interested in repairing relations, Israel can reciprocate and expand the role of the EU. Both the current and previous governments have shown that they can work with individual European countries and governments - indeed, there is close cooperation with leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Italy and most of the post-communist "new Europeans."


ANOTHER SOURCE of tension that must be addressed is the massive European funding provided to a small number of Israeli political groups that exploit the language of human rights, peace and development. These government-supported "nongovernmental organizations" (NGOs) are leading the campaigns that promote demonization of Israel and boycotts, using false allegations of "war crimes," "collective punishment" and "apartheid."


The EU and its member states provide millions of taxpayer euros to B'Tselem, PCHR, Machsom Watch, Adalah, Yesh Din, Gisha and many more. In addition to organizing public rallies, newspaper ads and intense lobbying in the Knesset, these instruments of European policy are also "repeat players" in the Israeli courts. NGOs funded by Europe played a leading role in branding Route 443 an "apartheid road" and erasing Israel's legitimate security concerns. But as Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch (by no means a right-wing ideologue) emphasized in her decision in this case, the "apartheid" rhetoric is wrong and the security concerns are very real.


The changing presidency presents EU and Spanish officials with an opportunity to reevaluate the damage done

in this important dimension of relations. With Sweden, the problems were particularly pronounced, as Stockholm used the façade of "development aid" transferred via church groups like Diakonia to fund NGOs that led the "lawfare" and boycott, divestment and sanctions processes around the world. Spain's record is not nearly as bad as Sweden's, although a few particularly hostile NGOs are funded by the Spanish Cooperation Office in east Jerusalem, the central government in Madrid and regional governments such as Catalonia. An examination of funding for political NGOs and ending the lack of transparency that surrounds this process may ease friction between Israel and the EU.


After 30 years of friction on many issues, a total reversal is unrealistic, and differences over EU policy will remain. But if the tone is changed, and the new European leaders engage in dialogue among equals, rather than trying to manipulate the Israeli public, important progress can be made.


The writer heads NGO Monitor and teaches political science at Bar-Ilan University.








On November 24, I met with Justice Richard Goldstone in his office in New York. Ours was an academic discussion that at times turned to the political and the personal. During the hour of our meeting, we talked about the effect the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict - aka, the Goldstone Report - would have on Israel's ability to fight terrorism. Goldstone affirmed his belief - and the report's accusation - that Israel "acted disproportionately in its attacks on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead" and said that Israel "needs to conduct an investigation into its actions."


But the report's accusation that Israel intentionally and disproportionately targeted civilians is insufficiently substantiated, and unsupported by international legal standards. Goldstone himself has previously stated that the report would never be able to serve as evidence in a court of law. Nonetheless, the report is deeply injurious, the damage it has done is irreparable, and Goldstone will be unable to walk away with clean hands, regardless of the outcome.


Dore Gold, Israel's former UN ambassador, has called the Goldstone Report "the most serious and vicious indictment of the State of Israel... since the UN General Assembly adopted the infamous 'Zionism is racism' resolution in 1975." The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the US ambassador to the UN when that resolution was adopted. A majority of the world's nations condemned Israel, claiming there was an "unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism." Moynihan fearlessly countered their bigotry by pronouncing that "[t]he United States... does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act."


The US remains a friend to Israel, and has once again supported it with a congressional resolution urging President Barack Obama to oppose the Goldstone Report.


AS I told Goldstone, not only do I believe his report to be the worst indictment of Israel since 1975, but it far surpasses the Zionism = racism resolution in its ability to harm Israel.


While equating Israel with an apartheid regime, the Zionism = racism resolution was merely an expression of sentiment. The Goldstone Report, however, goes further by instructing the nations of the world to criminally charge Israelis via two particularly pernicious methods - universal jurisdiction and the International Criminal Court.


States exercise universal jurisdiction out of a perceived "moral obligation" to prosecute those who allegedly commit genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity outside the state's borders, even if the person has no relation to that state. In recent years, several countries have criminally charged Israelis by invoking universal jurisdiction. As part of a strategy called "lawfare," universal jurisdiction has become a means of combat against Israel that is exercised under the guise of a pursuit of justice.


The Goldstone Report also recommended that the UN Security Council "refer the situation in Gaza to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court" if Israel would not conduct its own investigation.


When the ICC was created in 2002, states were not obligated to submit to its jurisdiction. Understanding that it presented a potential for abuse, Israel deliberately rejected participating in the ICC out of fear that hostile nations would initiate politically-motivated lawsuits. However, the Security Council may request that the ICC prosecute citizens of nonparticipating countries. The Goldstone Report specifically intended to ignore Israel's concerns, circumvented its authority and disregarded the historical bias of the international community against Israel in making its recommendation.


THE LEGACY of the Goldstone Report is also far more damaging than that of the Zionism = racism resolution.

Although the resolution was repealed in 1991, Israel's enemies continue to use it to denounce the Jewish state. And while the Goldstone Report claims to provide findings of fact, and that it merely asks the parties involved to conduct their own investigations, the report also gives instruction for criminal charges and reaches several malicious and damning conclusions. Even if Israel refutes every accusation in the report, those who seek to demonize it will not care about the refutation - they will focus only on the condemnation.


The Goldstone Report, in claiming without proof that Israel deliberately targeted the civilian population of Gaza, is essentially calling the IDF a band of murderers. It is an accusation that the enemies of Israel will invoke for decades, if not for generations to come. They will be especially thrilled that the claim is made by a Jew who is also a self-proclaimed Zionist, lending even greater weight to their arguments. And their proof is not in a brief UN resolution, but in 575 pages of distortions and half-truths.


After I stressed to him the catastrophic legacy of this report that would forever carry his name, Goldstone remained firm in his belief that history would vindicate him, saying he believed "that in time it will become clear that the arguments made in the report are justified."


But the Goldstone Report may go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest acts of infamy against the State of Israel.


The writer is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in New York, and served as an intern in the office of senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1998-1999.








Former president Moshe Katsav began testifying this week in Tel Aviv District Court in his rape case. The trial is closed to the public but the start of his testimony reminded people that it is taking place and that it has entered the defense phase.

The allegations against Katsav have been served up in the media for more than three years through television "testimony" from several of his accusers, interviews by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and a press conference in which Katsav lambasted the media in general and Channel 2 television in particular. The plea bargain and Katsav's subsequent rejection of the deal received wide coverage, including interviews with the former president.

Katsav's trial for two counts of rape plus other sexual offenses reflects accusations from three women who had been in his employ as tourism minister and later as president. The trial, which began about three months ago, had seemingly disappeared from the public agenda.

The judges have a near blackout on the court sessions by virtue of their authority to conduct closed-door proceedings in cases involving sexual offenses - a departure from the basic principle that trials are open to the public.

Contrary to popular belief, closing such trials to the public is not mandatory. Society seeks confidentiality for the testimony of complainants in sexual offense cases, primarily so they may testify without fear; this does not require building a fortress around a trial involving a clear and exceptionally strong public interest.

Public coverage of the trial need only infringe in a proportionate manner, through a partial rather than a total media blackout on the proceedings: Testimony can be heard behind closed doors but the transcript of the testimony should be released within a reasonable period of time, while assuring that personal details identifying the witnesses are excluded.

The extraordinary public interest in the Katsav trial, the fact that the sexual offenses of which he is accused allegedly involved the abuse of authority and the publication in the media of conflicting accounts justify such a release of the transcripts. The High Court of Justice, in connection with a petition opposing a blackout on the Katsav case, recommended the trial judges act in this spirit, and it is difficult to accept the judges' disregard of this.

The Katsav case cannot be covered over with a blackout until the court issues its verdict, several months from now. Justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done.








We can deny it all we like, but if it looks like a threat and sounds like a threat, then it's a threat.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, who is coming to Israel next week, suggested in an interview with the U.S. public television network PBS that Washington might withhold loan guarantees to Israel.

When this was interpreted as a hint meant to pressure Israel, "clarifications" poured forth from the American capital. Mitchell wasn't threatening, he was only giving a hypothetical response to the interviewer's question about the options for pressure that were available to the administration. The White House itself sent a message to the effect of, "We didn't want to threaten, only to speed up the negotiations."


The precise words and their precise meaning do not matter. The reality is that President Barack Obama is frustrated and that threatening winds are blowing from the White House toward Israel. There is a big gap between Obama's peace speeches and his Nobel Peace Prize on one hand and his inability to produce a tangible achievement on the other. And while he speaks about peace and reconciliation, he himself is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as their fallen comrades' coffins continue to arrive back in the U.S. The question is whether they knew what they gave their lives for.

Recent talk about the Obama administration being "tired" of Israel is undoubtedly an expression of frustration with the fact that the quarter from which the Americans had expected the most has so far yielded nothing.

The threat of withholding loan guarantees recalls the commander of the British forces during the British Mandate, General Evelyn Hugh Barker, who ordered the Jews punished by "striking at their pockets." This approach did not keep the organized Jewish community from driving out the British and founding an independent state. Come what may, one thing is clear - U.S. military aid and its support of Israel in the UN Security Council will not be impaired under any circumstances.

In light of the Iranian threat we should remember how important it is to Obama to cooperate with the moderate Muslim states and to see a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to prevent another war from breaking out in the region.

Our grumbling that Obama is pro-Arab is not fair. Perhaps he doesn't admire us like some of his predecessors, but his policy does not deviate by one millimeter from theirs. The United States has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Succeeding administrations have consistently adhered to the demand for a return to the 1967 borders, with minor border adjustments related to security. They have also consistently objected to the settlements and have warned us many a time that they would not finance any settlement evacuations.

Mitchell is coming to the region to take the negotiations out of the freezer. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have made a commitment to a peace process based on two states for two peoples, but so far he has done nothing except to declare a freeze in construction in the settlements for 10 months and not a single day beyond. What that means exactly is not clear. It's neither an evacuation nor proof that the government wants and is capable of evacuating tens of thousands of settlers. As in "Saving Private Ryan," Washington, Cairo and Amman are working together to save Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is in deep now with his construction of a separation fence between his country and the Gaza Strip, which is deeply damaging to the status and power of Hamas. At a time like this Israel cannot make do with "freezing construction for 10 months." It sounds like a joke.

Mitchell's visit is extremely important for renewing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He may bring with him a plan that Israel will not be able to say no to without damaging American interests. According to one knowledgeable source Jerusalem is preparing efforts to resume the talks and understands that the government is bound to them. After all, it was Netanyahu's government that drafted the two-states-for-two-peoples promissory note.

In the current domestic political situation Netanyahu could obtain the broadest parliamentary support in Israel's history - almost 80 Knesset members will support beginning vigorous negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement and drawing permanent borders, with the active involvement and assistance of the United States.

Enough already with the shticks and the tricks, it's time to show leadership.








Rabbi David Stav did not know that he was in Shas' sights. He did know that he was doing his job in the best possible way: supplying religious services that won widespread praise, while also curbing expenses and remaining free of political influence.

But none of that matters to Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas), who recently sent a letter to the Mayor of Shoham, Gil Livneh, informing him that he must set up a religious council in his town to replace the municipal religious services department run by Stav, the community rabbi.

Livneh rebelled. In his view, a religious council would simply waste money on a plethora of political appointments and thereby increase tension and alienation within Shoham. But Margi insisted. The law allows him to demand the establishment of a religious council in every community - and there are already 133 such councils, which serve as bottomless pits of political appointments and waste. Just recently Margi appointed dozens of new members to these religious councils, including council heads who earn the same hefty salary as mayors.

Due to this extravagance, the religious councils suffer from chronic deficits. But to this, too, Shas found a solution: Last week it mobilized the governing coalition to support new regulations under which financially solid municipalities would transfer NIS 27 million to finance religious councils in less well-off communities. In other words, the nonreligious public will be forced to make do with less education, less welfare and less sanitation for the sake of further inflating the superfluous religious councils.

Nor did Shas stop there. Last week it tried to get the Knesset to pass the "Jobs Law," whose goal was to increase the number of deputy mayors in various cities so that Shas (and other parties) would be able to appoint a few dozen more political hacks to unnecessary positions. Interior Minister Eli Yishai thereby tried to correct the "injustice" done by his predecessor Avraham Poraz during Ariel Sharon's government. Poraz succeeded in getting rid of 130 unnecessary deputy mayors, but Yishai wanted to "restore the ancient glory" - at the expense of municipal taxpayers throughout the country.

In the end, the bill as initially formulated did not pass. But what remains of it is outrageous enough: The number of deputy mayors in Jerusalem will rise from six to eight, with the two new positions going to Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism. In other words, this is an overt political bribe at the expense of Jerusalem's taxpayers.

Now Shas is trying to pass an amendment to the business licensing law that would require anyone seeking to open a grocery store or restaurant, as well as movie theaters or other places of entertainment, to pledge not to open the business on Shabbat. Shas is also pushing the "Chametz Law," which would forbid the sale of chametz (leavened bread) on Pesach, even if it were displayed inconspicuously, inside the store. This is religious coercion that will generate hatred for Jewish tradition.

And not long ago, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of UTJ decided to transfer NIS 65 million from the budget for life-saving drugs to dental care for children. Here, too, we are talking about a cynical transfer of funds from the general public for the benefit of Litzman's constituents. After all, it is clear that when the "criteria" for state-funded dental care are set, most of the money will end up going to ultra-Orthodox children.

Shas' behavior was completely predictable. Just as you cannot teach a bird to fly backward, it is impossible to demand statesmanlike behavior from Shas. Shas entered politics in order to extort as much as possible for the benefit of its own elites. This is clear from the examples above, and it is also clear from the coalition agreement the party signed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is entirely focused on its own community: It mandates increased funding for ultra-Orthodox schools, yeshiva students and child allowances. It is also clear from the fact that Shas educates its elites not to serve in the army and not to work. Let the secular donkey carry the burden on its own.

Therefore, the real criticism must be aimed at the one who gave Shas this power, the one who capitulates to it on every issue, the one who gave it control over all the civilian ministries that determine the public's quality of life - the Interior Ministry, the Housing Ministry and the Religious Services Ministry (along with giving the Health Ministry to UTJ) - and thereby enabled it to extort even more, increase its power and harm the nonreligious majority. For as the Talmudic saying goes, "it's not the mouse that's the thief, but the hole [where he hides his cheese]." And Netanyahu is the one who gave Shas the biggest hole it ever had.

Now its enormous power has gone to its head. And that is why the rabbi of Shoham should be worried. He would be wise to begin looking for a new job.








It is now close to 17 years since Israel's ill-fated decision to recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the Oslo Accords. Despite the accords, or possibly because of them, during those years much blood has been shed and no significant progress was made toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

There was no absence of good intentions on the part of Israel. But as was shown repeatedly, good intentions are not enough to resolve the seemingly intractable issues that separate the parties. On the contrary, on many occasions, suggestions and proposals offered by Israel actually created obstacles to any progress in the negotiations. Far-reaching concessions offered by Israel, although rejected by the Palestinians, only served to establish what the Palestinians from then on insisted would have to be the starting point for future negotiations, actually creating a pitfall on the road map for any progress.

Ehud Barak's egregious concessions offered at the Camp David talks in 2000, and the additional farcical proposals made by the Israeli delegation at the continuation of these talks in Eilat, only served to establish a roadblock on the way to peace.

Why would an Israeli offer of concessions end up being a roadblock to further progress? For the simple reason that if these concessions are not supported by the majority of the Israeli public they cannot be implemented, while a Palestinian demand that these concessions become the starting point of any further negotiations blocks the resumption of negotiations.

The prime minister or government that offers these concession might well argue that they are the democratically elected government and have the perfect right to offer concessions that they consider appropriate. And they do have that right, but if they are aware of the fact that the Israeli public would not support these concessions they should know that they cannot be implemented, and therefore they are actually doing a disservice to the very peace process they claim to be pursuing by offering these concessions to the Palestinians.

Barak's mistake was repeated by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, who six years later offered the Palestinians concessions that did not have the support of the Israeli public, were rejected by the Palestinians, but are now holding up the beginning of negotiations because the Palestinians demand that negotiations start at the point where they left off.

Barak knew full well that his offer to the Palestinians did not have the support of the majority of the Israeli public - he had by then lost the support of his own cabinet and did not command a majority in the Knesset. The elections that followed in February 2001 left no doubt as to the opinion of the Israeli public regarding his offer to the Palestinians. Although Olmert and Livni were in a more solid position in the Knesset when they started their negotiations, by the time Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas what he claims are the most far-reaching concessions Abbas would ever receive from Israel, he was already on the way out.

And again, faced by a new Israeli government, Abbas insists that negotiations must begin where Olmert left off - a seemingly insurmountable roadblock on the way to peace.

How is an Israeli government to know that the concessions they are offering will be supported by the Israeli public, rather than just serving as another roadblock to peace? Is it sufficient that they command at the moment a majority in the Knesset, or that they believe that by using "Mitsubishi" tactics they can entice a few Knesset members to cross party lines and support their proposals? A momentary accidental majority in the Knesset for concessions offered by the government will surely not be enough to bring peace to the area.

A suggestion has been raised that large-scale territorial concession would have to be approved by a national referendum. That is the kind of support that would lend legitimacy and permanence to any offer made by the government, and would probably prevent intemperate and capricious offers, which would end up being impediments to peace. The objections raised seem specious and overly formalistic. The fact that Israel is governed by a parliamentary regime does not mean that certain important matters should not be brought directly to the people for a decision.

Parliamentary governments all over Europe have only recently brought the matter of accession to the European Union to a direct vote of their citizens. They did not consider this to be undemocratic. In any case, peace with the Palestinians will not be attained by accidental or artificially created majorities in the Knesset







The Negev osprey, Israel's largest bird, will not be with us much longer. For thousands of years, this proud raptor from the eagle family soared majestically on high, scanning the desert below for prey and nesting in cliff-top aeries. After human activities pushed the species to the brink of extinction, an attempt was made to ensure its survival by raising the raptor in captivity. But even the specimens intended to be a breeding nucleus for release into nature are dying out, according to the Nature and National Parks Authority.

Ironically, the news of the Negev osprey's sad fate comes at the start of 2010, which the United Nations has declared the International Year of Biodiversity, during which conservation organizations around the globe will act to raise awareness of the rapid disappearance of innumerable species of flora and fauna and find ways of stopping it. Wild animals need protection from the kind of thing that led to the destruction of the Negev ospreys; they were shot, poisoned and electrocuted on high-tension wires until they ceased to exist in nature, as detailed by conservationist Uzi Paz in his book "Laabda velishomra, Shmirat Hateva Beyisrael" (To cultivate it and to protect it, conservation of nature in Israel).

To this day, the Israeli environment is being contaminated by industrial pollutants, leading to the poisoning of countless wild animals, and illegal hunting is rife. A no less menacing development is the ceaseless march of concrete and asphalt as open areas become built up, destroying natural habitats or cutting across them in a manner that so restricts animals' movement, they can no longer survive.

Israel has the potential of being a true gem when it comes to biodiversity. Despite its smallness, it is immeasurably rich in flora and fauna compared to many much larger countries in the Middle East and Europe. This is due to the great variety of terrain and ecosystems, and to the great efforts of recent decades to preserve what remains after the depredations of rapid development.

Protection of the wild requires more than the declaration of nature preserves. It demands a different approach to how we plan development and construction, and strict enforcement of regulations against toxic materials and illegal hunting. It demands the allocation of resources to establish, for example, feeding stations for birds of prey, protecting them from high-tension cables, and creating new artificial ponds to replace the natural winter pools that have been built over. Paradoxically, to conserve nature today, humans must engage in actively managing it, and the more the different species begin multiplying, the easier it will be for them to survive, and we will be able to limit our intervention.

It's time the government put conservation on the national list of priorities, along with diplomatic goals, combating unemployment and improving health and education. Many other countries have done so and acted to slow down or halt the extinction of wild plants and animals. While the goal is, unfortunately, far from having been achieved, at least resources are now being allocated and many governments are committed to taking action. A worthy goal in itself, the conservation of biodiversity will also help in achieving other economic and educational goals. It means preservation of the country and its landscapes, improving the quality of life by ensuring a pollutant-free environment, clean water, better agriculture and - no less important - it provides both inspiration and a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, which have no substitutes in either computer games or Hollywood's 3-D animated blockbusters.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES






AMERICANS are scrambling to understand Yemen, where Al Qaeda has recently surged and the Christmas Day plot against Northwest Flight 253 was hatched. It's not easy. Yemen has 5,000 years of history, complicated politics and daunting economic challenges. But we've made it more difficult to understand by allowing several myths to cloud our vision. Challenging these misconceptions is a first step toward comprehending and overcoming significant threats to American, Yemeni and international security.


Myth 1: The Yemeni government's control does not extend much beyond the capital, Sana.


It's true that the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh faces several security problems. Al Qaeda has operated there since the early 1990s, with its strength waxing and waning depending on the effectiveness of the government's counterterrorism efforts. Since 2004, the government has faced an insurrection in the north from a group called the Houthis, who would restore a religious ruler. There has also been growing separatist feeling in the southern regions that tried to secede in 1994. And many of the tribes in the north are well armed and operate largely outside the government structure.


None of this, however, means that the government is confined to ruling a city-state centered on Sana. The Yemeni Army and national police exert significant day-to-day control over most of the country, and almost everywhere else on an ad hoc basis. Yemen is much like the United States in the latter half of the 19th century, when the government faced a rebellious South and a Wild West, but was hardly powerless outside the East Coast.


Myth 2: Yemen is a Qaeda haven because it is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, who is supported by tribes in Hadhramaut Province.


Osama bin Laden's father, Muhammad, was one of many Yemenis who achieved great success outside his native country. But the bin Ladens are not part of any politically significant tribe or clan, nor has the family sought to convert its wealth into power in Yemen. Osama bin Laden has some popularity, but no more so than elsewhere in the Islamic world. The Qaeda virus — which has been present in Yemen since 1992, when Qaeda members bombed a hotel in Aden where American troops had been staying on their way to Somalia — is the problem for Yemen, not Mr. bin Laden's ancestral ties.


Myth 3: Yemen is torn by Sunni-Shiite divisions, much like Iraq.


The Houthi rebellion is often described as Shiite resistance against a Sunni establishment. In fact, both the Houthis and President Saleh are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam. Generally, there is no clear divide between Sunnis and Shiites in Yemen, although the Shiites tend to live in the north and northwest while the Sunnis, mostly members of the moderate Shafii school, predominate in the south and southeast. In any case, one's sect matters far less in Yemen than in countries like Lebanon or Iraq, and it's not unknown for Yemenis to convert from Sunni to Shiite as a matter of convenience.


Myth 4: Yemeni tribes have an inherent affinity for Al Qaeda or terrorism.

In 2002, Abu Ali al-Harithi, then Al Qaeda's leader in Yemen, was killed by an American drone in a strike that was coordinated with the Yemeni government. By tribal custom, any perceived illegitimate killing would have been grounds for a claim by the tribe against the government. No such claim was made. In fact, when receiving the body for burial, one of his kinsmen noted that "he had chosen his path, and it had led to his death."


This was not an anomaly. In my experience, there is no deep-seeded affinity between Yemeni tribes and the Qaeda movement. Tribes tend to be opportunistic, not ideological, so the risk is that Al Qaeda will successfully exploit opportunities created by government neglect. There are also family affinities — cousins, linked to uncles, linked to brothers. These do matter. But what matters most is the "mujahedeen fraternity" — Yemenis with jihadist experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Finally, what would matter — and significantly — would be innocent casualties resulting from counterterrorism operations, which could well set off a tribal response.


•Forging an effective American counterterrorism policy in Yemen will be as difficult as it is necessary. But misreading Yemeni history and society can only complicate its conception and jeopardize its execution.

Edmund J. Hull was the United States ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to 2004.







The president of the American Federation of Teachers says she will urge her members to accept a form of teacher evaluation that takes student achievement into account and that the union has commissioned an independent effort to streamline disciplinary processes and make it easier to fire teachers who are guilty of misconduct.


In a speech to be delivered Tuesday in Washington, Randi Weingarten plans to call for more frequent and more rigorous evaluations of public schoolteachers, and she says she will assert that standardized test scores and other measures of student performance should be an integral part of the evaluation process. The use of student test scores to measure teacher performance has been anathema to many teachers. Ms. Weingarten is not proposing that they be the only — or even the primary — element in determining teacher quality.


But she told me in an interview over the weekend that she wants to "stop this notion" that her membership is in favor of keeping bad teachers in the classroom. "I will try to convince my members that, of course, we have to look at student test scores and student learning," she said.


The use of test scores, as Ms. Weingarten sees it, would be part of a new, enhanced process of teacher evaluation that would offer clear professional standards for teachers. It would replace current practices, which in many districts across the country are lax, haphazard and, in the words of Ms. Weingarten and others, often amount to little more than "drive-by" evaluations.


It is not uncommon for teachers to be observed in the classroom just a couple of times a year for only a few minutes each time and then get a satisfactory rating. Under those circumstances, hardly anything is learned about the quality or effectiveness of the teachers. Most teachers are routinely rated as satisfactory, and many are never evaluated at all.


Ms. Weingarten is urging school administrators to observe teachers more closely and more frequently. (The enhanced, clearly articulated professional standards she is calling for are already in use in some districts. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.) Experts trained in best practices and using a variety of objective data, including measures of student achievement, would do the evaluating. Teachers who are struggling would be given an opportunity to improve their performance. If, after remedial efforts, they still did not measure up, they would be fired, whether tenured or not.


As Ms. Weingarten put it, "We would have to say, 'Look, we helped you. We tried. You're just not cut out to be a teacher.' "


Ms. Weingarten also addresses the fact that it is sometimes scandalously difficult to remove teachers who have engaged in serious misconduct. While emphasizing the need for due process, she bluntly asserts, in a draft of her speech: "We recognize, however, that too often due process can become a glacial process. We intend to change that."


The union has asked Kenneth Feinberg, the federal government's so-called pay czar, to develop a more efficient protocol for disciplining — and when necessary, removing — teachers accused of misconduct.


This would be a big deal. Mr. Feinberg is highly respected and widely viewed as independent. He administered the government fund that compensated those who were injured and the families of those who were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. He also administered a fund set up in the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.


He is not the kind of guy to go into the tank for the teachers' union. (John Ashcroft chose him to lead the 9/11 fund.) It will be very interesting to see whether the union actually goes along if Mr. Feinberg fashions a workable plan to streamline teacher discipline that is viewed favorably by school administrators.


"We look forward," said Ms. Weingarten, "to working with Mr. Feinberg on this critical undertaking."


If the union follows through on Ms. Weingarten's proposals, it would represent a significant, good-faith effort to cooperate more fully with state officials and school administrators in the monumental job of improving public school education. More than 90 percent of American youngsters go through the public schools. The schools were struggling and failing too many youngsters even before the latest economic downturn, which is taking a terrible toll.


My view is that America's greatest national security crisis is the crisis in its schools.


Ms. Weingarten's ideas for upgrading the teacher evaluation process are good ones and should be embraced and improved upon where possible by those in charge of the nation's schools. The point is not just to get rid of failing teachers, but to improve the skills and effectiveness of the millions of teachers who show up in the classrooms every day.


If the union chooses not to follow through on these proposals, its credibility will take a punishing and well-deserved hit.






Muscling out campaign competition is undemocratic. Yet Democratic Party insiders in Washington have spent the last year trying to scare off potential challengers to Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York. The last thing voters of New York State need is a coronation instead of a choice.


That is not an attack on Ms. Gillibrand. As a former United States representative from a conservative upstate district, she is trying to become a voice for the entire state. She also is a demon fund-raiser with more than $7 million collected, so far, for this year's race.


The problem is that she was not elected to the job. She was appointed to it a year ago by Gov. David Paterson when Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to become secretary of state. (Did we mention that the White House also tried to strong-arm Mr. Paterson into giving up running for a full term, too?) Any concerns about Ms. Gillibrand's politics and her abilities at the time were supposed to have been allayed by the promise that she would face a vigorous statewide campaign for election this year.


Enter the White House, the governor and Democratic leaders like Charles Schumer, the senior senator from New York. One by one, potential party challengers were coaxed or even shoved out of Ms. Gillibrand's path. Apparently, the same forces are now at work on Harold Ford Jr., a Democrat and former congressman from Tennessee who moved to New York City shortly after he lost a United States Senate race in 2006.


The drumbeat has started: Mr. Ford's New York roots are not strong. He has yet to vote in his new state. The conservative comments he made in Tennessee are not in tune with New York. A spokesman for Mr. Ford issued a statement last week saying that he won't be "bullied or intimidated" by "party bosses." It pointedly asked, "So what are they afraid of?"


It is a good question, a veiled accusation that Ms. Gillibrand is not ready to compete. It is a point that New York Republicans will enjoy making if they can find a candidate strong enough to make it a real race in November.







Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates.


Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.


In his book, "The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement," Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.


Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendents have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant's ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.


No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievement. The odd thing is that Israel has not traditionally been strongest where the Jews in the Diaspora were strongest. Instead of research and commerce, Israelis were forced to devote their energies to fighting and politics.


Milton Friedman used to joke that Israel disproved every Jewish stereotype. People used to think Jews were good cooks, good economic managers and bad soldiers; Israel proved them wrong.


But that has changed. Benjamin Netanyahu's economic reforms, the arrival of a million Russian immigrants and the stagnation of the peace process have produced a historic shift. The most resourceful Israelis are going into technology and commerce, not politics. This has had a desultory effect on the nation's public life, but an invigorating one on its economy.


Tel Aviv has become one of the world's foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.


As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle," Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other's ideas.


Because of the strength of the economy, Israel has weathered the global recession reasonably well. The government did not have to bail out its banks or set off an explosion in short-term spending. Instead, it used the crisis to solidify the economy's long-term future by investing in research and development and infrastructure, raising some consumption taxes, promising to cut other taxes in the medium to long term. Analysts at Barclays write that Israel is "the strongest recovery story" in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


Israel's technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.


This shift in the Israeli identity has long-term implications. Netanyahu preaches the optimistic view: that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. And, in fact, there are strands of evidence to support that view in places like the West Bank and Jordan.


But it's more likely that Israel's economic leap forward will widen the gap between it and its neighbors. All the countries in the region talk about encouraging innovation. Some oil-rich states spend billions trying to build science centers. But places like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are created by a confluence of cultural forces, not money. The surrounding nations do not have the tradition of free intellectual exchange and technical creativity.


For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the U.S. Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652.


The tech boom also creates a new vulnerability. As Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has argued, these innovators are the most mobile people on earth. To destroy Israel's economy, Iran doesn't actually have to lob a nuclear weapon into the country. It just has to foment enough instability so the entrepreneurs decide they had better move to Palo Alto, where many of them already have contacts and homes. American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the U.S.


During a decade of grim foreboding, Israel has become an astonishing success story, but also a highly mobile one








The world is awash with 'what ifs' and our part of it rather more than many others. The plethora of conspiracy theories that swirl around our ankles are a subset of the 'what if' school of thought, and now we have General Petraeus diving in. He tells CNN in an interview aired on Sunday that Iran's nuclear facilities…"can be bombed." He goes on to say that it would be irresponsible of the US Central Command if it did not think about the various 'what ifs' and make contingency plans to cover them. The general does not go into any detail as the how and with what Iranian nuclear sites may be bombed; but as the US has a vast repertoire of munitions that can be air- or space-delivered they are almost spoilt for choice. They are unlikely to use nuclear weapons as even the Americans would baulk at being the first to use them aggressively since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed; but there are conventional weapons of such power that the nuclear option is almost irrelevant. Israel on the other hand may not be so reticent, and it has also said that if it decided that the threat presented by Iran was so great that it merited action, then so be it.

'What if' is not conspiracy theory, it is just a way of planning for the possible. And if there are 'what ifs' concerning an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities then it is reasonable to assume that the 'what ifs' will be asked about any number of other countries in which the US has strategic interests. This would include all the countries within this region as well as the Middle East and even, conceivably, countries in South America. We may be entering what some analysts are calling the 'post-American era' but America remains the only nation able to project its power militarily the world over and we are a couple of decades away from that balance changing. The aftershocks, were the US to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, may well trigger the definitive break between it and the Muslim world. One might wonder if the 'what ifs' of that scenario have been the subject of a table-top exercise or computer modeling.







The Interior Ministry's National Crisis Management Cell has warned that the Taliban have been angered by their depiction by the media as villains, and could be out to bomb them. The bomb hoax at the building housing this newspaper, 'Geo' TV and other publications of the 'Jang Group' in Lahore Sunday night as well as at the nearby WAPDA building could be a warning of things to come. There is indeed growing evidence that the media is becoming a key target. The attack on the press club in Peshawar late last year indicates the threat is in earnest. Tougher security measures have since been taken at all press club buildings in big cities and at many media offices, in some cases impeding the working of professionals who depend on close interaction with all kinds of people.

The anger of the militants underscores the fact that the media has done well to expose them and their deeds. It is obviously succeeding. Public opinion has swung quite sharply against the Taliban. In Swat, and elsewhere, this has played a part in their defeat. Many who saw them as heroes have changed their minds. For this the reporters, the cameramen and the newsroom personnel who brought us accounts of brutality and injustice committed in the name of religion deserve a round of applause. Their bravery has often been quite extraordinary. We know they will continue their mission and refuse to be scared off by the latest tactics of the terrorists. Indeed the growing desperation of the Taliban shows how deeply they have been wounded. It is, however, important also for the government to recognise the contribution of the media in the war on terror and do all it can to protect it. Organisations too must safeguard those in the field as well as in offices. It is vital at this juncture that the task of exposing the true faces of the Taliban continues. Much has already been done in this respect. More still needs to be done to inflict a final defeat on them.







British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has once more been and gone. He has been a frequent visitor to these shores during his tenure – but may not be for much longer as the Labour government of Gordon Brown looks set to lose the upcoming general election in the UK. So what was achieved on either side beyond symbolic handshakes? Probably very little. There was an exchange of views about the bottleneck in the visa process but there is little likelihood that the UK is going to ease its visa regime for Pakistanis any more than is the US. Indeed, if the Labour government falls to be replaced by the Conservatives we may expect the situation regarding visas to significantly worsen as their leader David Cameron has already hinted strongly at a further tightening of the rules. We will also see a new British foreign secretary, who is going to come to the job with a different eye and a very different political agenda – so this may have been Mr Miliband's farewell performance in Pakistan.


Our president talked of the need to strengthen ties, boost trade and investment and to invest in education as a means to combat militancy. The forthcoming London conference on Afghanistan was also on the agenda, and Pakistan will need to be more than a distant observer at that event as whatever happens in Afghanistan ripples quickly into Pakistan. Likewise the Pakistan-EU summit that is in the offing. There was nothing unexpected and it all passed routinely; but the matters discussed are all caught in the jaws of that hungry beast -- terrorism. Investing in education not only means that the national curriculum will have to be overhauled to drag it into the 21st century but it is also going to arouse the anger of those who daily blow up schools in NWFP. Trade and investment? Yes, but… this is a one-product nation in terms of exports – cotton, and its various manufactured by-products. Apart from this we have little that the rest of the world wants. Inwards investment is increasingly hampered by fears of terrorism and even if the 'terrorism' switch was set to 'off' tomorrow it would be a long time before venture capitalists ventured in this direction. Farewell then, Mr Miliband. Nice to see you as ever but we do sometimes wonder what, beyond an exchange of fraternal greetings and expressions of eternal partnership, all this to-ing and fro-ing actually achieves?






There are lessons to be learnt from the recent suicide bombing at the secret CIA station in Afghanistan's Khost province bordering Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region. A Jordanian medical doctor of Palestinian origin with a Turkish wife teamed up with other Arab nationals from Al Qaeda and sought the help of Pakistani, and possibly Afghan, Taliban to carry out this attack and inflict the heaviest loss to the premier US spy agency in 26 years. It showed how widespread the animosity is among Muslims against the US given its policies and explained the way Islamic militants transcending borders are increasingly joining hands to fight what they perceive as a common enemy.

One is sure no lessons will be learnt from this event. In the manner of the 9/11 attacks, the US would embark on another costly mission to hunt down the attackers. The CIA has pledged to avenge the loss of its seven agents who were killed in Khost, and the six others injured and apparently out of action for a long time. There would be more missile strikes by the CIA-operated drones in Pakistan's tribal areas and greater pressure on the Pakistan military to launch action against the militants in North Waziristan. Already, influential US Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman after recent meetings with top Pakistan government officials are saying that Pakistani security forces are preparing to undertake some action in North Waziristan. In the heat of the moment, no thought would be given to the consequences of such a militaristic approach to the already volatile situation.

Dr Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian suicide bomber came all the way from Zarqa to Waziristan to attack CIA's Khost base. It isn't clear if he came via Afghanistan or Pakistan, but the way he gained unchecked access to the CIA station was evidence enough that he already knew his Jordanian handler, Captain Ali bin Zeid, an operative of his country's intelligence agency and member of the royal family who was also killed in the suicide attack, and through him the CIA agents. It is possible he had already paid visits to the CIA base in Khost and earned the trust of his handlers. The Jordanian and American spies thought they had someone in their control who could lead them to Al Qaeda leaders, particularly Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri who has figured as the real or imagined target in most US missile strikes in Bajaur and Waziristan in recent years. The more plausible explanation is that he had been infiltrated from Afghanistan into North Waziristan, and from there to South Waziristan where his farewell video tape, while seated beside the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) head Hakimullah Mehsud, was recorded.

It was a properly done tape with Balawi first holding a weapon outside and then shown sitting in a room with Hakimullah and making his statement in Arabic and English. The young bearded man in military fatigues is seen describing the CIA and Jordanian intelligence as enemies of the Muslim nation and arguing that "God's combatant never exposes his religion to blackmail and never renounces it, even if he is offered the sun in one hand and the moon in the other." And then he describes late TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud as his amir (head) and tells him that he won't be forgotten, and his blood would be avenged in and outside America. Balawi then says that Baitullah paid with his life for offering to protect Osama bin Laden if he came to South Waziristan.

From Balawi's statement, it seems as if he was being offered money to spy on the militants and assist the CIA and Jordanian intelligence in tracking down important Al Qaeda and Taliban figures. Taliban sources are claiming that Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, the name Balawi used as a fighter, rejected Jordanian and American intelligence offers of millions of dollars for spying on the 'mujahideen.' They also insist that he shared US and Jordanian state secrets with the militants. Both the CIA and the Jordanian spy agency suffered embarrassment due to the intelligence failures and security lapses in this incident. As if trying to cover up, the CIA Director Leon Panetta claimed in a recent article that Balawi was about to be searched when he detonated his explosives.

By trying to lure or manipulate Balawi and use him to track down Al Qaeda figures, the CIA and its allied spy agencies also revealed their desperation. They haven't made any major breakthrough despite years of efforts to infiltrate the militant organisations such as Al Qaeda and Taliban. Offers of record rewards for capturing the wanted men are also not making any headway. It was thus a desperate move to trust someone like Balawi with a history of sympathising with Al Qaeda and start believing that he had changed and could be used to get the world's most wanted man bin Laden, his deputy Dr Zawahiri and others. It shows that all talk of Bin Laden or Zawahiri hiding in this or that place in the Pak-Afghan border areas is mere speculation as there has been no confirmed sighting of these individuals since December 2001 when they reportedly escaped to Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan and then vanished.

Balawi had to say what he said in his farewell video-taped message, but the statements made by his Turkish wife, Dafne Bayrak, are instructive. The young woman who married Balawi while studying in Istanbul in 2001 holds a degree in journalism and has written articles for Islamic publications and also a book entitled Osama bin Laden: Che Guevara of the East. She expressed pride in her husband's mission and recalled that he regarded the US as an enemy. Denying that Balawi was an American agent, she argued that he only could have used America and Jordan to reach his goal. However, she declined to call Balawi a martyr and instead prayed to Allah to accept his martyrdom. This is how a highly educated, scarf-wearing woman from secular and westernised Turkey, which is the only Muslim country to be a member of NATO, thinks about the US and admiringly looks at the fight being waged by militants against America and it's allies.

Balawi's father Khalil al-Balawi also said he was proud of his son even though his death broke his heart. He appeared satisfied that his son killed some of those in the intelligence agencies who manipulated him. Balawi, he reminded, was a doctor who saved lives, but was sucked into the whirlpool of the intelligence agencies instead of being able to serve his people. This was not only the anguish of a father, but also a strong indictment of the working of intelligence agencies that manipulate and blackmail people into doing unwanted spying work.

Reports in the Arab press explain how Balawi was radicalised by the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. His wife said that in particular he was disturbed by the US treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison and the destruction of Fallujah city in November 2004. The Israeli war on Palestinian territory of Gaza, often described as the biggest open air jail in the world, also upset him. He reportedly tried to go to Gaza to offer medical care to the Palestinians but was stopped by the Jordanian authorities. This is believable since his family originally belonged to Beershaba in Palestine, from where Israel under its ethnic and religious cleansing policy since 1948 has been uprooting Palestinians and annexing territory with backing from Western countries. It isn't surprising that Palestinians have been radicalised to no end and many of them have been active in hard-line organisations ranging from Fatah to Hamas and even Al Qaeda.

The Pakistani Taliban as one of their commanders Qari Hussain claimed may have facilitated Balawi in carrying out the suicide bombing at the CIA's Khost base and the video in which the bomber and Hakimullah are seated together is evidence of their close ties, but it is difficult to believe that they could have accomplished the mission without the support of Afghan Taliban, particularly the powerful Haqqani network dominant in Khost. It could have been a joint operation with Balawi having links to Al Qaeda receiving explosives and some training from the Taliban and then embarking on a mission that was primarily facilitated by the unwary Jordanian and CIA intelligence agents.

It should worry the US and its allies that Muslims the world over find it difficult to trust western nations. This is benefiting the militants and providing justification to their cause. The CIA agents were attacked because they were directing US drone attacks that kill some Al Qaeda and Taliban members and many more civilians in Pakistan's tribal areas. The fact that Islamic militants from different countries and cultures have been planning and conducting joint operations against western targets should be a matter of concern for the US and its friends. There should be some soul-searching on the part of all sides to the conflict to think of other and preferably peaceful options instead of embarking on revenge and continuing this vicious circle of death and destruction.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusufzai







The rise in the political temperature in the country after the NRO judgement and the confusing response of the president compounded by the inability of the PPP leadership to take any meaningful decisions on issues such as the abolition of the 17th Amendment has everyone on tenterhooks. In fact, this is distracting the government from attending to issues of terrorism and economic instability. . The fight against terrorism seems to have been left entirely to the army. The operation in Swat and South Waziristan is giving the government a false sense of fulfillment. There is no urgency at the political and civil front to tackle the problem. The mere announcement of the formation of the National Counter-terrorism Authority (NCA) is being considered as an achievement both by the president and prime minister.

The fact is that NCA is still looking for an office since the last eight months of its existence. The interior minister makes hard-hitting absolute claims of action he is taking when, in fact, his ministry is extremely over-rated. Unlike Iran and Turkey, the ministry of interior has no intelligence agency under it to monitor and control matters of security. It has no direct police under it except the Islamabad police. Even para military forces like the Frontier Corps (FC) and Rangers are more under the army than the ministry because the commanders of these forces are two-star generals hoping to advance their careers.

There is an urgent need to review the system if terrorism is to be dealt with on a long-term basis. The NCA is a good idea but it will not go anywhere if it is treated as an achievement and an instrument for propaganda. The PM needs to take the NCA directly under his patronage just the way Musharraf made devolution a priority and made the National Reconciliation Bureau (NRB) a part of the PM's office. Similarly, the ministry of interior needs to be completely revamped so that it can stop being used as a government mouthpiece. It can deliver results only when the government's writ is not battered the way it has been done now.

On the economic front, there is general adulation all around for the NFC Award. The Punjab government is being praised for having relented on its stand on population as a basis of resource allocation. The federal government, on the other hand, is being praised for cutting down its share in the pie: from 52 per cent to 44 per cent meaning a reduction of Rs217 billion in its resources. One wonders how the government is going to manage its affairs with this huge decrease given that its activities remain the same. There is no sign of the education, health or local government ministries being closed down. The ministry of finance's claim to bridge this gap by austerity measures and increasing revenue receipts is as old as the country itself. No austerity committee of the past has made any sustainable impact on government revenue. Even if half the ministers are sent home, it will at best save one billion rupees. What about the other Rs216 billion?

Then, there is the claim of raising more money from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). Press reports of the past few months indicate that the tax to GDP ratio has actually declined and is now somewhere between 8.5 to 9 per cent, one of the lowest in the region. So to expect the revenue receipts to suddenly jump when the reverse has happened is hoping for the impossible. Compounding the matter is the internal turmoil in the FBR in creating an inland revenue service by merging the customs and income tax service. The current legal battle between the service groups s hardly conducive to an increase in revenue.

Unless action is taken, there will be an acute lack of resource at the centre as the impact of the NFC starts to unfold, leading to decreased efficiency. Also, there will be a slashing of Public Sector Development Programmes (PSDP) and an untenable deficit caused by increased deficit financing, thus leading to further inflation. The provinces, with their current levels of capacity to utilise funds efficiently, will have surplus, thus leading to a temporary and fake euphoria of well being.

On the trade front, while other countries convert their raw produce to value added products for export, we are exporting our cotton and yarn with abandon, knowing fully well that we will have to import it soon. The farmer lobby is much stronger than the textile manufacturers lobby. So while the new textile policy envisages giving 90 per cent of Rs40 billion on the value added textile sector, the ministry is unable to stop the export of cotton and yarn. Resultantly, most of this money will go to sustain only the loss of the value added industry rather than enhancing exports. While the export of cotton went up by 107 per cent and the export of yarn by 44 per cent in July-November (2009), the export of knitwear declined by 7.5 per cent, bedware 7.2 per cent and towels 6.2 per cent in the same period.

Unless the government can gear itself to function simultaneously in all sectors , rather than get bogged down by political shenanigans, we are sure to lose on both the terrorism and economic fronts.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:







In the eyes of the world, in no other field has Pakistan achieved a pre-eminence such as it has in producing terrorists. Out of "modesty," perhaps, no government of the day has tried to usurp "credit" for this singular achievement. All incoming governments of the country have either "invited" their predecessor governments to take the bow, or conceded the "credit" to the army.

There has not been a calculated, sustained effort to crush terrorism. The present effort has come just in time. But the question is how effectively the democratic government can continue to back the army in face of its other deep concerns, such as living with a free judiciary, keeping the parliament hinged to the 17th Amendment, living with a free media.

Wherever the "credit" for the world's view of the country as the leading producer of terrorists may lie, the army is now in the serious business of clearing the terrorist-infested territory, with the people backing it fully. As the army clears the terrorists' stomping grounds, the people are bearing the brunt of desperate and barbaric last-ditch acts of the terrorists as they launch suicide bombers with indiscriminate spitefulness against men, women and children, in marketplaces, in schools, on people on duty at their posts, in offices, and wherever.

Where does the democratic, PPP-dominated government of the day, stand on all this? It is backing the army all right, as it battles the terrorists in Waziristan, and the backing has undoubtedly helped merge public opinion in favour of the army's campaign. To that extent the PPP government's backing of the army has been useful.

However, the PPP government, by its words and deeds, has shown its focus is more on elements it regards as "terrorists" in new form, and deems as dangerous for its rule as the real terrorists. The top three on the list of such "terrorists" are plainly the independent judiciary, an unencumbered sovereign parliament, and the media. Especially the "fearsome" threesome from a particular media group who, judging from the fury vented on them by the president, and the enfant terrible twosome of Qamar Zaman Kaira of the government and Fauzia Wahab of the party, must symbolise "Baitullah Mehsud," "Mullah Omar" and "Hakimullah" of the media.

The army, for now, is not seen as being high on the list, despite the reference to "tenure" positions in the appalling speech in Naudero by the co-chairman of the PPP, who also happens to be president of Pakistan, on the second anniversary of Benazir's martyrdom. The Sindh home minister's scathing rant on Pakistan having only just been saved in December 2007, seemed a menacing way to threaten that it may not survive another "conspiracy" against the PPP and its top leader, the threat could not have been conveyed, and in the manner it was, without forethought and agreement.

It is doubtful if the clumsily hidden inference, some say it is blackmail, that the country's welfare and that of the president are "indivisible" found any takers, except the known elements close to the presidency who make up the post-Benazir new-look PPP's "Arthurian Camelot," where "Arthurian" is spelled with "Z."

The PPP and its coalition partners in the government, the MQM and the ANP, probably represent the strongest political force against terrorism in the country, and this has helped rally the nation behind the army as it battles the terrorists, except the religious parties, whose support is muted, and subject to riders.

The government, however, instead of devoting its constant attention to the fight against the terrorists, elected to open a second front against the very institutions it was pledged to strengthen. Now it is the case of the army battling the terrorists, while the government is "battling" the democratic institutions to minimise their relevance.

The parliament, despite the PPP's commitment for a repeal of the 17th Amendment of the Constitution even before it formed the government nearly two years ago, continues to be encumbered with it, and which impinges on its sovereignty. Attempts were made, and continue, to "discredit" the restored chief justice, including through using the disgraced and dethroned twosome, the ex-"chief justice" and the ex-attorney general, as Don Quixotes to invent, and charge "chinks" in the restored chief justice's armour. The chief justice and the judges were restored, after every hoax used by the PPP to back-pedal on its commitment for their restoration was thwarted by the lawyers, backed by civil society and the media.

The political parties owe their leaders' return to Pakistan, from "exile" in the lap of luxury, to one man – the present chief justice, who stood up to the dictator and defied him walking alone on the street. The lawyers first, then the civil society, the media and the people, rallied around him, and the movement snowballed.

The dictator was forced to cut a deal with Benazir Bhutto for her return, hoping to use her to contain the tide against him. This he may have been able to do under the deal, and especially after Benazir's martyrdom when the PPP acquired a new look, except for the lawyers' movement, joined by the civil society, the media and the people. All the rest followed, including the present PPP government's attempt to renege on the judges' restoration until, like the dictator, it too had to throw in the towel.

The most effective contribution the democratic civil government, and the politicians, can make in the fight against terrorism is to cut the comedy, cut the high jinks, cut the shenanigans, and get down to the serious business of good governance, and to building democratic traditions and institutions, not subverting them.

They must understand that the sacrifices of soldiers and people alone, in the battle against terrorism, will not result in its enduring end. For this fight to be won as a finality, conditions nurturing terrorism have to end. That is the job of the politicians.

If the PPP government and politicians are ignorant of the conditions that nurture terrorism, as their mind-set and conduct suggests, they can read the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by member-states on Sept 8, 2006, which states:

"We resolve to undertake the following measures aimed at addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, including, but not limited to, prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanisation of victims of terrorism in all its manifestations, lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalisation, and lack of good governance, while recognising that none of these conditions excuse or justify acts of terrorism."

They will not fail to notice that the counter-terrorism strategy of the UN seems to have been formulated with Pakistan used as case study. There is not one condition "conducive to the spread of terrorism" stated in the Strategy which is not present in Pakistan.


The writer is a retired corporate executive. Email:







A country's current-account deficit may deteriorate for a variety of reasons, including an expansionary fiscal policy, deterioration in the terms of trade and higher debt servicing. A deficit in current account can only be sustained if there is a matching inflow of capital to finance it. In the event of a shortfall in capital flows, the country seeks balance of payment support from outside, including the IMF. Exchange-rate depreciation invariably has been an essential part of the IMF programme to facilitate adjustment.

Exchange-rate depreciation has been associated with deceleration in economic growth, increase in unemployment and poverty, undermining of public-sector investment and development strategies, increasing cost of living, worsening income distribution and shifting of the burden of adjustment to low-income groups.

The proponents of devaluation (the IMF and the country's central bank) argue that it improves external competitiveness, increases exports and reduces imports, and thus improves trade and current-account balances. They also argue that devaluation initially worsens but eventually improves balance of payments with a lag (the J-curve effect) which is hard to specify.

With the contraction in world trade as a result of the global economic meltdown over the past two years, and the associated rise in protectionism in industrial countries, the critics have raised questions regarding the efficacy of devaluation as an instrument to improve balance of payments. How come a developing country increases exports by changing relative price through devaluation in recession-hit industrialised markets?

The critics also argue that devaluation increases the cost of imported inputs of export-oriented industries. Hence, the larger its share in total inputs of export-oriented industries, the less the beneficial effect of devaluation on balance of payments. Furthermore, the experience of the 1990s suggests that the benefits of devaluation have always accrued to importers of Pakistani goods. The importers would force the Pakistani exporters to reduce the unit price of goods to the extent of devaluation.

Pakistan witnessed a stable exchange rate for almost eight years in the last decade. The rupee-dollar parity hovered around Rs60 and 62. Exports more than doubled during the period, rising from $8.5 billion in 1999-00 to $19 billion in 2007-08, or over 122 per cent. The exchange rate nosedived in early April 2008, and since then the Pakistani rupee has lost one-third of its value vis-à-vis the dollar. When the present government took charge on March 31, 2008, the exchange rate was Rs62.5 per dollar and today it has plunged to Rs85 per dollar – a loss of Rs22.5 per dollar in less than two years. The IMF has also asked Pakistan to pursue a "flexible" exchange-rate policy under its programme. Pakistan is religiously following the dictate of the IMF and as such allowed the rupee to lose ground with a view to improving external payments position.

Has Pakistan achieved these objectives? Have exports increased and imports reduced? Has the external payment situation improved as a result of devaluation? Exports during 2008-09 declined to $17.8 billion from $19.0 billion the previous year – a decline of 6.7 percent. Exports stood at $9.2 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year, as against $9.5 billion in the same period last year – down 3.0 per cent. Thus, exports continue to decline in the midst of fast-depreciating exchange rate. In other words, we have observed a negative relationship between devaluation and exports – quite contrary to the theory.


In my article on Dec 30, I had said that over 90 per cent improvement in external payments position during the period came from the collapse of commodity and oil prices, as well as a surge in remittances for unexplained reasons. Devaluation has certainly not helped in increasing exports or improving the current account balance.

On the other hand, devaluation has done irreparable damage to the economy. The exchange-rate depreciation has alone added Rs1,125 billion in public debt. In today's exchange rate it amounts to $13 billion. The rise in the public debt would increase interest payment, reduce fiscal space for development spending and put enormous pressure on the budget. A higher budget deficit would lead to even more accumulation of public debt.

Devaluation, by definition, is inflationary. While inflation in many developing countries was close to zero per cent, it remained at a double-digit level for quite sometime in Pakistan – thanks to the depreciation of the exchange rate. Consequently, the State Bank of Pakistan had to maintain a tight monetary policy with adverse effects on investment and growth. Depreciation of the currency is likely to play havoc with sugar prices in a few months' time. There will be a shortage of at least 1.5 million tons of sugar this year, for which the government has a plan to import. Not only will the price of sugar in international market be at its ever highest in 29 years but its landed cost at Karachi would also surge on account of a depreciation of the rupee.

Similarly, the depreciation of the currency will keep POL prices at higher level; a higher furnace-oil price will make electricity costly The SBP is requested to conduct the cost-benefit analysis of the pursuit of a "flexible" exchange-rate policy. For the IMF, the textbook approach may not work all the time. Given the current weak global market and the depressed level of economic activity at home, is this the right time to force the government to pursue a "flexible" exchange-rate policy? Please also conduct the cost-benefit analysis of such a policy for the general public of Pakistan. While doing such an analysis, please also compare the experiences of Indonesia and Malaysia in the events of the 1997 financial crisis. The people of Pakistan wait for the result of your analysis.

The writer is dean and professor at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email:







The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

Barack Obama completes his first year as president with his public approval ratings having fallen from a high of 68 per cent when he entered office to 47 per cent.

Is this common to American presidents after their first 365 days in power? Does this set a trend line that will persist? Can Obama turn this situation around? The answer to the first two questions is no, not necessarily. The first year certainly sets the momentum and direction for subsequent years, but it isn't the only determinant of the rest of the presidential term.

As for the third question, much depends on what Obama does from now on, especially how he manages the economy and handles the two conflicts that America is entangled in.

The approval ratings place Obama in the company of former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who saw public support decline at the end of their first year in the White House. The job ratings for George W Bush went up in his first year and then plunged to a historic low at the end of his presidency. In sharp contrast, Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings for any post-World War II president.

Three aspects of the Obama presidency are significant in assessing his record so far: a difficult inheritance; the unrealistic expectations raised by his historic victory; and his pursuit of a liberal agenda at home while yielding to the Right on national-security strategy and conducting a foreign policy on key geopolitical issues marked more by continuity than a break from the past.

President Obama inherited a daunting agenda from a troubled legacy that sharply constrained his room to manoeuvre: two divisive and protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the severest economic crisis since the Depression and a level of debt incompatible with America's status as the world's pre-eminent economic power.

In this backdrop, he devoted much of his attention to domestic affairs: addressing the economic crisis and trying to revive confidence. He made reasonable progress: passing a stimulus package and halting a financial free fall. But high jobless figures at yearend and a yawning fiscal deficit served as reminders of the obstacles ahead to achieving an economic recovery.

Obama is also on the verge of securing a healthcare bill – his signature reform measure that represents a significant piece of social-welfare legislation. This may not go as far as the liberal wing of his party may have wished, but will still mark an important accomplishment for Obama. All told, not a bad domestic record, given the weak hand he inherited.

Why, then, have his job approval numbers steadily dropped during the year? Part of the answer lies in the extraordinary expectations that Obama himself raised by his promise of being a "transformational president." As campaign rhetoric confronted the sobering realities of governance, the inevitable compromises that were made left many of his supporters disappointed and his critics accusing him of naiveté about statecraft.

In the transition from a powerful orator of soaring campaign rhetoric to the real world of tough policy choices, questions were raised about whether Obama had the determination to pursue the agenda he had set. And priorities there were aplenty, inviting the charge that he had scattered his focus. Critics portrayed him as a leader good at launching initiatives but inconsistent in executing or making them work.

Meanwhile, his "lenient" treatment of bankers in the financial bailout, failure to close down Guantanamo and watering down of the healthcare plan evoked dismay within the Democratic base, amid cries of betrayal of the "transformational agenda." This was exemplified by an editorial in the New Republic which said: "A presidency that was born in enthusiasm has displayed little evidence of it" in the first year.

But it was in the realm of national security and foreign policy that his first year fell woefully short of the promise. In his initial days in office President Obama offered a fresh start to America's engagement with the world, pledging to temper power by "humility and restraint," reach out to the Muslim world and place a greater emphasis on diplomacy to secure its goals.

Other than the welcome change in tone, this did not translate, in practice, into a substantially new approach. Nowhere was this more evident than in the revised strategy on Afghanistan. Obama's decision to escalate the war marked continuity rather than a break with the Bush paradigm.

Together with other decisions (Guantanamo), this suggested that on security policy Obama conceded to the Right rather than respond to the liberal base of his party. The inclination to pursue a conservative international agenda was also signalled by the lack of progress made in the Middle East peace process. Washington's unwillingness to press Israel to halt its settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank meant that the Obama administration failed the litmus test of change in relations with the Muslim world promised by his inspiring Cairo speech.

But it was on Afghanistan that President Obama made the most consequential decision of his first year. Some American historians invoked the Vietnam parallel to compare him to President Lyndon B Johnson, who set out to "remake America" by an ambitious domestic reform agenda but whose administration ended up being derailed by the Vietnam disaster.

A telling cautionary tale for Obama came in a recently published book, Lessons in Disaster, which chronicled the fateful decisions that led to the Vietnam abyss. This offered valuable lessons about how, where and when to apply American power around the world.

Its author, Gordon M Goldstein, subsequently wrote a column in which he summarised those lessons. One of them, "politics is the enemy of strategy," merits mention. In a polarised political environment, Goldstein wrote, some constituencies are left dissatisfied but presidents should base their decisions on strategic grounds and not let politics cloud military decisions.

Obama's surge-and-exit announcement on Afghanistan sought to placate divergent opinion is a remarkable display of politics determining strategy. In effectively yielding to the hawks on a strategy of military escalation in Afghanistan and ratcheting up drone attacks in Pakistan, Obama staked his political future on a perilous course that risked destabilising the region and also jeopardising his presidency.

An important factor in the way Obama responded to foreign policy challenges in his first year was the reality of functioning in a world that was markedly different from that many of his predecessors operated in. This is a world that has seen a shift in global power, the rise of China and the emergence of a more multi-polar environment.

In several speeches President Obama spoke of the need to build coalitions of consent and pursue multilateral solutions. This reflected an acknowledgement of the limits of US power and the imperative of cooperation in an interdependent world.

Noting this, a prominent American analyst, Robert Kagan remarked that Obama and his foreign policy team, instead of attempting to perpetuate US primacy, have been seeking to manage what they regard as America's navoidable decline relative to other great powers.

A global context in which the US on its own can no longer determine geopolitical outcomes helps to explain Obama's difficulties in pursuing his foreign policy goals, as, for example. in rallying international support for tougher sanctions against Iran on the nuclear issue.


It is in this complex international setting that the war in Afghanistan is expected to be the make-or-break foreign policy issue for Obama's presidency. The defining domestic issue will be his ability to engender a job-creating economic recovery and manage the deficit, which critics say he was distracted from addressing by his healthcare initiative. Dealing with the deficit may decide more than Obama's political fortunes. It could also determine America's ability to maintain its position as the world's predominant military power.







"Fighting your war is our duty. From day one, it has been our own movement," said President Zardari, while addressing a special sitting of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) legislative assembly on January 5, in his first ever presidential visit to Muzaffarabad. January 5 is celebrated as self-determination day as it was on January 5, 1949 that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution recognising the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Since the Musharraf days, our policy towards Kashmir has been desultory, even contradictory. Scores of proposals have emanated from Pakistan but none has caused a positive response. Being half baked and ill-advised, they have led to serious attrition of our historical stand on the issue. They have also encouraged others to further muddy the waters. There is discussion on a variety of models -- the Ireland formula, Swiss model and the European Union proposals. Instead of bringing these ideas to the negotiating table, they have become an issue of public discourse and have harmed the cause of Kashmir.


Pakistan's policy towards Kashmir has suffered from a lack of direction. It has neither focused on nor involved the Kashmiris in negotiations. Statements reiterating support to a solution "based on the aspirations of the Kashmiris" have not become part of the policy. All these years, we have repeated the mantra without associating Kashmiris with the peace process. There has been no mechanism their aspirations.

The sad fact is that Kashmir as a 'core' issue has lost its urgency and primacy as a determinant of peace and security in the region. India has succeeded in preserving all its positions and has shifted focus from its unlawful occupation of Kashmir to the overall objective of advancing the peace process. What is worse is that capitalising on western phobia about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, the Indian propaganda machinery has subtly but effectively exploited this feat and equated the Kashmiri struggle for self determination to terrorism supported by Pakistan. This well-orchestrated campaign has narrowed the parameters of the Kashmir issue to cross-border terrorism and Pakistan has been put in the dock, and blamed for the violation of its solemn commitment in the January 6, 2004 joint communiqué that its "soil would not be allowed to be used for any terrorist activity."

The haste and impatience to seek any solution has led to compromising our principled stand. Similarly, the tendency to offer out-of-the-box solutions needs to be curbed. Over the last 10 years, there has been no authoritative effort to seek consensus on the Kashmir issue in the context of changing international situation and geo-strategic interests.

The indomitable courage of Kashmiris, despite having lost 70,000 of its youth over the last two decades, holds the promise that ultimately their struggle will prevail. However, as a party to the UN resolution giving them the right to self-determination, Pakistan is duty-bound to seek ways to redress the ordeal of the Kashmiris and facilitate the implementation of the UNSC resolution. We need to take a hard look at the prevailing global situation and formulate a strategy of inviting and focusing international attention on the massive human rights violations by the Indian army. This alone would be a real gesture of solidarity.

In Washington, there is a feeble resonance to Zardari's assessment that just as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute cannot be resolved without accommodating the Palestinians, there cannot be regional peace in South Asia without addressing Kashmir. We need to build Kashmir's case on this principle. The US interest in the resolution of the Kashmir issue is becoming stronger not per se for the latter but in the realisation that Pakistan cannot and will not be able to play its pivotal role in the war against terror. Thus, the festering problem would counter the US agenda in the region.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








IN a serious development, the United States has warned that it has developed contingency plans to deal with Iran's nuclear facilities including option to bomb these sites. Head of the US Central Command General David Petraeus told CNN television that his country can bomb Iranian nuclear sites and has considered the impacts of any action taken there.

Though it is an open secret that the United States has serious reservations about Iranian nuclear programme but it is for the first time that a top US commander has hurled naked threat of this kind. This shocking statement clearly points out that Washington is bent upon making mischief and its misadventure could further imperil the already fragile peace in the region. Western countries have long been propagating that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme but the charge has consistently been rejected by Tehran and in fact different reports of the IAEA and Western intelligence also confirm that Iran possesses no such capability and it is only working on Uranium enrichment technology, which it has right to pursue. Iran has also shown its willingness for swap of the nuclear fuel, which is reflective of its readiness to listen to all proposals that could lead to an honourable and acceptable resolution of the issue. It, however, appears that the United States is eager to find excuses to trigger a wider and deeper conflict in the region to advance its nefarious designs. It has also been prompting Israel, which considers Iranian nuclear programme as a major threat to its security, to take military action like the one it resorted to against Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant in 1981. However, the United States must understand that Iran is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan and any attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities would have serious consequences for the aggressors. Any misadventure could cost much to the US interests in the region and beyond as Iran has considerable influence not only in the Middle East but in other regions as well. In this perspective, we will urge the United States to pay heed to the saner advice by countries like Saudi Arabia that are calling for peaceful solution of the problem. Talking to newsmen after talks with German Foreign Minister in Riyadh on Saturday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal emphasized the need for solution of the issue through diplomatic efforts. The biggest threat to the regional peace is the nuclear capability of Israel but the West has closed its eyes conveniently. This duplicity would not work.








WHILE violence in Karachi is showing no sign of abating, if one believes in the statement of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, land and drug mafias are behind killings to destabilise the situation in the city. Heavy deployment of Police and Rangers in troubled areas has failed to check the target killings and as trouble spread to more localities the death toll has crossed the figure of 40.

Karachi has a long history of ethnic conflict, sectarian violence, land and drug mafias and intra- and inter-party tensions. Violent incidents since the last week of December have confirmed that Karachi is facing a hydra-headed threat. Rather than working towards tearing apart the different types of violence and addressing each systematically and comprehensively, the authorities appear to be clueless. A similar confusion prevails regarding the actors and reasons behind the killings including workers of political parties, which we are sure is aimed at diverting the attention of the Government from criminal gangs including the land and drug mafias. In this complex and dangerous situation, there appears to be no immediate end in sight of the incidents of firing. Lyari area has long been considered as the key trouble spot where armed gangs have established their fiefdoms and operating from there to create instability and violence not only in that locality but in other parts of the city. One wonders how the land and drug mafias have assumed such a potential to dictate terms as it takes years to assemble groups capable of creating law and order situation across the city like Karachi. There are also disturbing reports that militant outfits are recruiting people in the city to create more trouble. The spate of violence in Karachi has proved that police has become hapless and there is a dire need for a short-term operation with the help of the Army on the lines of Operation Rah-e-Nijat in Swat and Malakand, to uproot the mafias and criminals from the commercial hub of the country.







THE Thar Coal and Energy Board had its 17th meeting in Karachi on Saturday with Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah in the chair. The meeting discussed fiscal incentives for investors, pricing of coal, the membership of clean coal centre of international energy agency and joint ventures.

It is regrettable that so far we have failed to prioritise the vital project of Thar Coal despite being in the midst of an acute energy crisis that is bound to swell with the passage of time. On the one hand, there is crippling shortage of power and on the other hand the power rates are going up every now and then pushing them beyond the reach of the domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. We have entered into rental power agreements that would take the power rates even more higher. In this backdrop, Thar Coal, the largest reserves on the planet, offer the easiest and affordable solution to our energy problem but unfortunately our policy-makers are unmindful of the reality. We have wasted almost a decade due to bureaucratic attitude towards a project of national importance and failed to invest money and time on different pretexts including its low quality. But across the international frontier, India is effectively exploiting the same coal for years. Now that the project has effectively been handed over to the Provincial Government for all purposes, it is the duty of the provincial leadership to develop an effective mechanism to ensure time-bound implementation of the project. Finances should be no problem as the Province would be getting substantially higher allocations under the new NFC award but even if there are some constraints then the resources should be diverted from other heads to expedite work on the project. This is because its completion would not only bring about a revolution in one of the backward regions of Sindh but would also immensely benefit the provincial and national economy. We hope that the Chief Minister would take personal interest in this mega project as its completion would also benefit the PPP politically.








False flag operations are covert operations by the states and agencies designed to deceive the public at large. In 1970, Italy's ultra-right used such methods to conduct operations against the leftists. During Algerian civil war and struggle for independence, French government had resorted to similar tactics to crush the freedom movement. Some investigating journalists and organizations had also described 9/11 attacks as false flag operation conducted by the CIA, Mossad and the RAW to take on the Muslim world. In 'Online Journal', Wayne Madsen quoting WMR's intelligence sources wrote: "The Christmas Day attempt by Farouk Abdulmuttalab, the son of a prominent Nigerian banker and business tycoon connected closely to top Nigerian leaders to detonate a chemical improvised explosive device aboard Delta Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam Schiphol to Detroit, was a false flag operation carried out by the intelligence tripartite grouping of the CIA, Mossad, and India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)".

Israel is known for such operations, as it had deliberately attacked USS Liberty with unmarked fighters and torpedo boats causing 174 American casualties in an attempt to blame Egypt and garner American support during 1967 war. It had tricked America into bombing other nations such as in the attack on Libya in 1986. One could go on and on about Israel's treachery. According to quite a few analysts, 9/11 eleven was also a 'false flag operation' carried out immaculately to incite and provoke America and the West to take on the Muslim world. Apart from America's desire to continue controlling the world resources and dominating the world, the second most important reason for turmoil, conflicts and death and destruction in most countries in the world is Israel, which was created through the intrigue of the British at the end of the First World War. After 9/11, former US president Bush had asked the question why people throughout the world hate America, though it is so obvious hat it is due to America's unconditional to support to Israel.

Reportedly, once again the CIA and Mossad are jointly planned false flag operation to expand operations against Yemen, as US President Barack Obama had vowed that the United States would not rest until all those responsible for a failed bomb attack on a US-bound plane are brought to justice.

He went on to say that America would follow those terrorists whether they are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or elsewhere. In his first public comment since the failed Christmas Day attack, Obama said he had ordered reviews of the US watch-list system and airport screening procedures. "This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends," he added. There are many questions such as the CIA did not tell the FBI about Farouk Abdulmuttalab. Secondly, the State Department had received the report about the meeting with his father but it did not revoke his visa.

It appears that the neocons in Obama administration also wanted to create fear and anger in American public so that they can extend the war on terror to Yemen and other parts of the Arab world. And it is in this backdrop that the drama of the failed terrorist attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab on the Detroit-bound plane was stage-managed.

Two passengers, Haskell and his wife, told CBS News that they witnessed a well-dressed Indian man arrange for Muttalab to board Delta 253 without a passport at the check-in desk at Schiphol. According to WMR "the Indian man is suspected by Asian intelligence services of being a RAW agent who used his influence to convince airline and airport security personnel that Umar Farouk Muttalab was a bona fide Sudanese refugee. Reportedly, the security company that cleared Umar Farouk in Schiphol is ICTS, a firm whose headquarters are in Israel and Amstelveen, Netherlands. In December 2001, the firm had also cleared attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid for a Miami-bound American Airlines flight from Paris.

On November 19, Abdulmuttalab had visited the US embassy in Nigeria and met with the CIA Station Chief at the US embassy in Abuja, He told the CIA official that his son has gone missing and may be hanging around with Yemeni-based extremists, adding he was concerned about the radicalization of his son who posed a significant security risk. But it seems that the official did not take the lead seriously. According to the Newswweek story John Brennan the president's chief counterterrorism advisor received an alarming briefing at the White House from Muhammad bin Nayef, his Saudi counterpart. Nayef had just survived an assassination attempt by an Al Qaeda operative using a novel method ie the operative: operative had flown in from the border region with a bomb hidden in his underwear". The question arises as to how Umar Farouk's got away with chemicals/explosives in his underwear? In response to the elder Abdulmuttalab's warning, the US embassy in Abuja sent a message to the State Department and NCTC on November 20. However, Muttalab's name was not added to the no-fly list. Why?

Millions in the Muslim world blamed the attacks on Lebanon, on Libya, on Iran, on Afghanistan and on Iraq as a direct result of Israel's control over America. Apart from its continuous reign of terror in Gaza Strip, Israel attacked Lebanon on the pretext that it had kidnapped two soldiers, though abduction of Lebanese and Palestinians was a matter of routine for Israel. There had been worldwide condemnation of Israel's air strike on a shelter for displaced people in Qana that killed 65 civilians including 37 children, which had fuelled world pressure for a ceasefire in Israel's war in Lebanon against Hezbollah guerillas.

As the steel was callously tearing into the hearts of the Lebanese children and civilians, people throughout the world were wondering that how human beings could descend to such depravity? Anyhow, the projection of the Israeli military might in Lebanon was described by many an analyst as demonstration of a baser bellicosity of an inebriated state that drew its strength from the world's sole super power.







Is India really heading for nuclear war? Is she trying to divert world attention from her domestic communal violence, regional terrorism and brutality against minorities? Is she making efforts to stop emerging new states of Maoists and Kashmir? Is Indian leadership have been asked to go for war against China and Pakistan by her master (USA)? Can she afford war on two fronts? Has she prepared herself for the aggression? These are those questions which are longing in our minds after reading the Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor recent statement. On last day of year 2009 he said that India is capable of fighting a two-front war with Pakistan and China. His statement came after the Manmohan Singh visits of USA and Russia. Moreover, Israel Army Chief Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi also carried out Indian visit in December 2009. He called on Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma, Air Force (IAF) Chief, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik and Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor. Israeli visit has been carried out just after one month of his counter part visit to Israel. Earlier too on November 22, 2009 General Kapoor Indian Chief warned Pakistan that a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a reality at least in the Indian sub-continent.

Pakistan's has shown serious concerns over Indian chief threat. On January 6, 2009 Pakistan political and military leadership decided not to adopt any soft posture towards India. Pakistan President, Mr. Asif ALI Zardari too earlier said that India should not underestimate Pakistan. According to an electronic channel President of Pakistan while talking to a media group revealed that Pakistan has always taken positive steps in making cordial relations with India but later always displayed negative attitude in normalization of relations.

Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) meeting has been held under the chairmanship of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. In this connection DCC decided to bring Pakistan's diplomatic and military policies in line in response to Indian aggressive stance towards the country. Earlier 125 Crops Commanders has also been held in Rawalpindi .The Corps Commander Conference has been chaired by Pakistan Army Chief of Staff Army Chief General Ashfaq Pavez Kayani. ISI chief Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha has also attended conference. The DCC and Corps Commanders Conference made a plan to strengthen Pakistan's strategic and conventional capabilities. The committee was also briefed on the latest security situation in the troubled areas by the top military officials. Sources revealed that the leadership also analyzed the likely repercussions of post suicidal blast against CIA Base at Khost (Afghanistan). The participants of the meeting agreed that the final decision regarding a military operation in North Waziristan would be taken only after assessing ground realities. The leadership has discussed the measures undertaken to eradicate the militancy and showed satisfaction over the operational preparedness of the Army.

In fact the Indian threat cannot be taken as normal and routine political statement because New Delhi is preparing and enhancing her capabilities since couple years. Her preparedness and hegemonic design can push this region in nuclear war. The world community must take notice of it and ask India to resolve regional issues and let Pakistan to pay more attention on global war against terrorism. Otherwise, Indian threat to Pakistan will force Islamabad to move her forces from western to eastern border. American leadership should know that if Pakistan decides to move her forces to western border then the move of troops would ultimately damage the war against terror. In short current prevailing security situation dictates that Pakistani civil and military leadership would not going to accept any solo USA flight on her western front in future. Anyhow , according to "The Jerusalem Post' Israel and India enjoy close defense ties and in 2008 year Israel overtook Russia as the number one supplier of military platforms to India. Now, India is interested in working with Israel on submarine-launched cruise missiles, ballistic missile defense systems, laser-guided systems, satellites as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. She is trying to enhance her nuclear capabilities despite occurrence of number of incidents at nuclear plants. The nuclear deals with Washington and India plans to increase its army from 1.13 million to 2 million in the next couple of years are clear cut examples of her war phobia. In this regards, in recent years, Indian armed forces acquired military products from Israel ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to truck-mounted cannons. According to the press reports India was amongst ten military spenders of the world and Pakistan was no where. Indian defence spending in 2008 was 30 billion of dollars which has been increased about 20% in 2009. General Kapoor is in the habit of pocking his nose in the internal problems of neighbouring countries. In this context he also said that the Maoists combatants should not be integrated in the Nepal Army. New Delhi also tried to stop Nepal from extending relations with China. Similarly her interference in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are now an open secret. Sri Lanka defeated

The Maoist chief had lashed out at Kapoor's statement, saying that his remarks were "naked" interference in Nepal's internal affairs. It is also worth mentioning here that Nepali leadership has very cordial relations with China and Pakistan. Chinese leadership has also visited Nepal recently and ensured them that India will not be allowed to use Nepali territory against Beijing. Indian always blamed China and Nepal for supporting Maoist movement. In fact Indian leadership knows that Maoists and Kashmiri movements are on its peak and soon separate state of Maoists and Kashmir on the world map. The political and security experts are in the opinion that General Kapoor statements reflect Indian hostile intent, hegemonic design and jingoistic mindset of inhaling regional states. But Indian leadership is out of step with the realities of the times. Indian government probably does not know that her Army Chief is challenging two nuclear states instead of controlling corrupt generals of his army.

Concluding, I must say that Genral Kapoor statement would be taken as serious threat to China and Pakistan. India would not be on world map, if kapoor going to implement his strategy of fighting two fronts simultaneously. Pakistan top political and military brasses have timely warned India about the perils of her planned misadventure. New Delhi must know that Pakistan cannot afford limited war. Though, she has second strike capability but not likely to wait. She will definitely go for first strike. I would be leaving the results of nuclear on the imagination of General Kapoor. At end, I suggest to Indian government to chain Gen Kapoor otherwise inhabitants of South Asia might face nuclear war because of his irresponsible statements. India rulers should sack the general since he has become wild and lost mental balance.







Over 100 people have been killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden vehicle in the middle of the playground where spectators were watching a volleyball match in the Shah Hasankhel village, about 25km off Lakki Marwat. This resulted in an eight-foot-deep crater which was created at the site of the blast. The crater could be eight feet deep but the scars and fears of the dead, injured and terrified can never be estimated. On top of that we have repeated incidents of target killings in Karachi. Why is this happening in Pakistan? Are we a nation gone murderous?

Are we completely misguided? Are we truly Muslim? The answers to these questions are yes, we are a nation gone murderous, we are completely misguided, and we are anything but Muslims. The 'War on Terror' can be viewed in this way-on one side we have people who are convinced that they are on the 'Right Path' and are determined to make any sacrifice or go to any extreme because they are convinced that what they are doing is 'Right'. No person wishes a death by hitting a plane into a World Trade Centre Tower, or blowing himself by a suicide jacket. The minds of these terrorists are perfectly coordinated and these people know exactly what they are doing and what they want to achieve. When they see people dying in drone attacks and elsewhere, they become even more convinced that they are on the right side and are being persecuted and victimized. On the other hand we have people who claim to be patrons of the religion, the nation, democracy and the civilized world. In this situation who is right and who is wrong? The answer to this is neither. There is a saying "Nobody's right when everybody's wrong." This is the situation in Pakistan.The only people who can set Pakistan straight are the Pakistani people themselves. The public opinion polls taken show that Pakistanis want a very different Pakistan to exist than the one existing today. Most Pakistanis believe that Islam is best represented and protected by an Islamic State. This contradicts the concept of the "Umma" in Islam which is not restricted geographically. Pakistanis associate 'Democracy' with "Islamic Democracy" and justice and the judicial system with "Shariah Law". A section of Pakistani people find General Kiyani the best person to rule Pakistan. General Musharraf has 83 per cent acceptability according to some polls, and then we have groups like "Friends of Musharraf" that are actively working, and of course General Musharraf is highly popular on facebook. He is as popular amongst Pakistanis as he is amongst Indians and other foreigners. The Gillani gallup poll shows that 71 per cent Pakistanis want General Musharraf to be punished. But then every poll has an agenda.

There should be a neutral poll conducted in Pakistan as to who is more popular, Musharraf or Kiyani? Some Pakistani truck drivers are painting Ayub Khan's picture on their trucks, others are painting a verse on their trucks whose translation is "Ayub we really remember you." This is showing an inclination in a section of Pakistani people that they want the military to come back into power. Others believe that democracy should be given another chance, and the favourable candidate for President is Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. Mian Shahbaz Sharif is seconding his brother in opinion polls. These sections of Pakistanis believe that a new government will perform better than the present. Pakistani people are keeping "War on terror" on the backburner; they want three basic issues to be catered, inflation, unemployment, and basic necessities such as water, wheat, sugar, other food products, electricity, gas, fuel etc. They are the least concerned with the Charter of Democracy or the 17th amendment. During the famous French Revolution when millions were protesting outside the palace of French King, Marie Antoinette asked why people were clamoring outside the palace.

Her servants responded by saying, "Your Highness, the people are hungry, they don't have bread". Marie Antoinette responded by saying, "Then give them cake." And that is exactly what the present government is doing today; they are debating Charter of Democracy, the 17th amendment, or constitutional changes which are equivalent to "cake" for the Pakistani people whereas the UN has included Pakistan in those few countries that are dealing with a serious food crisis and there is fear that there could be civil war in Pakistan as a result of this. A civil war that could lead to a bloody coup, perhaps? But Pakistan is not heading in the right direction, and public opinion polls strongly prove that. Are we heading towards a disaster or a revolution? Is there a change for us in these ashes of pain just like there was for the French in the form of the famous French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte? Leon Trotsky once said, "A Revolution is a result only of circumstances. A revolution only takes place when there is no other way out". Are we already there, or are we heading towards a point of no return.

The Pakistani people in millions have no voice, no say, not even a ripple effect in the running of the State. They must be provided that. Pakistan must be run to their wishes and not to the wishes of a political royalty. Most Pakistanis are enraged and offended by the US intervention in Pakistan. When the question was asked that will Barak Obama's election boost democracy in Pakistan? Pakistanis responded that any President means the same to them as the US threatens Pakistan's sovereignty. The "educated and moderate" class of Pakistanis said that how can the US be of any help to Pakistan when they are in debt of US $ 13 trillion and have a budget deficit of US $ 1 trillion FY 2009? However, it is essential that Pakistan act like a responsible nation and assist the US in the 'War on Terror' without compromising their sovereignty, which it is at the moment. The best and ideal democracy is a system that votes people in office and is equally powerful to vote the same people out if a situation arises. The British general, the Duke of Wellington, responded to democracy in his first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister:"An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them." Let us hope that Pakistan escapes this political system of patronage and the civil military complex, and becomes an organized and well governed State.







It is not necessary that every conflict between countries lead to disturbance of peace in the region but usually involvement of foreign nations in the inter