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Friday, January 15, 2010

EDITORIAL 14.01.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 14, edition 000403, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







































  1. HAITI






  3. PUT ON HOLD..!

























The Delhi High Court's verdict quashing the Supreme Court's appeal in the matter pertaining to the position of the office of the Chief Justice of India vis-à-vis the RTI Act should be welcomed as a historic judgement. But that the apex court has decided to further appeal against the ruling before — as strange as it may sound — itself exemplifies how divided the judiciary is on this issue. It will be recalled that in September last year a single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court had turned down an appeal by the apex court against a January 2009 ruling of the Central Information Commission. The CIC had held that the office of the CJI did come under the purview of the RTI Act and, therefore, was liable to make public information that was its sole preserve as and when requested under the Act. Following this ruling, Supreme Court judges voluntarily published details of their personal assets on the court's official website but continued to maintain that the office of the CJI was outside the ambit of the RTI Act. Since under a 1997 Supreme Court resolution the judges of the apex court are supposed to file information regarding their personal wealth to the CJI, their assertion meant that this information too was not covered by RTI. This is what led to a second appeal by the apex court in the Delhi High Court. But as things stand, the Supreme Court appears to be in no mood to relent and is willing to fight till the very end to defend its turf.

It cannot be denied that all this is hurting the image of the judiciary. By refusing to be open and transparent under the RTI Act, the apex court is fuelling the perception that the judiciary is unwilling to be accountable to the people and that perhaps it has something to hide. Needless to say this is both dangerous and misleading. For, the role that the judiciary plays as a pillar of democracy is crucial. It is the institution that the people look up to as their guardian of democratic rights and freedom. Thus, anything that casts aspersions on the judiciary's image poses a serious threat to our democracy as a whole. Some of the observations that the full bench of the Delhi High Court made while pronouncing its verdict on Tuesday were telling. It stated that the Supreme Court was strong enough to deal with any misuse of the provisions of the RTI Act against it and that the higher judiciary had an even greater responsibility to maintain its credibility as compared to lower judicial officers. These are observations that the apex court would do well to heed. If all public institutions can be covered by the RTI Act, there is no reason why the judiciary should be treated any different. Plus, fears that public scrutiny of information pertaining to the judiciary will jeopardise the independence of the institution are totally unfounded. Section 8 of the RTI Act clearly lays down 10 categories under which disclosure of information can be refused. This, coupled with the institutional mechanism available in the form of State and Central information commissions to judge the validity of RTI applications, should be enough to allay any apprehensions about compromising judicial independence. Besides, by allowing itself to be open to public scrutiny, the judiciary will only be strengthening its own image in the eyes of the people. The postive factors far outweigh those perceived to be negative. Hence, the Supreme Court should lead the way and set an example by submitting itself to the RTI Act.





Building the world's tallest building — be it for residential or commercial purposes, or for that matter to just show off to others that you have got what they haven't — it would seem is fast becoming passé. With Dubai, which is desperately looking for money to tide over a 'minor' cash crunch of a few hundred billion dollars, inaugurating the world's tallest building and restoring to Arabs the pride they lost in 1311 when Lincoln Cathedral loomed taller than the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the race for the 'My Building Tallest' award seems to be over — or, at least, the arrival of Burj Dubai (now re-christened Burj Khalifa but the new name, like Rajiv Chowk, is yet to become popular) in the global real estate market marks a recess before the next race begins. Obviously, nobody is in a tearing hurry to build yet another marvel of engineering feat in this age of economic recession when neither Governments nor consumers are willing to spend more than they can afford to after salting away a substantial portion of their earnings. For the moment, Taiwan will have to sulk with its Taipei 101 overshadowed by Burj Dubai; since the Republic of China can't add floors to what was the world's tallest building till the Emirate came up with its fancy address for those looking for one, it will have to seek solace in the People's Republic of China across the strait coming up with the idea of building the world's highest airport in Tibet. After taking superfast trains to Lhasa, it's now the turn of landing jumbo jets at Nagqu Prefecture.

The proposed airport will be built at an altitude of 4,436 metres, which will make its location 102 metres higher than Bamda Airport in Qamdo Prefecture. The Nagqu Dagring Airport, when it is completed at an estimated cost of 1.8 billion yuan, will be 300 km from Lhasa and further facilitate the integration of Tibet with China, apart from making travel that much more easier for Hans wanting to resettle there. Most important, it will strengthen China's strategic infrastructure in the region: As Beijing prepares to spend billions, New Delhi is yet to come up with a structured plan to build roads, bridges and airports on its eastern, north-eastern and northern frontiers. The so-called strategy to deal with a twin-war waged by Pakistan and China must, therefore, remain confined to notesheets in a file marked 'Top Secret'. Meanwhile, we can delight in the fact that though Ghoom Railway Station is no longer at a height that will impress the world but the breath-taking view from Batasia Loop still remains incomparable and no amount of engineering can replicate it at any price. Building the tallest hotel and the highest airport is not that difficult provided there's money, but recreating the mystique of nature's beauty is quite another matter.



            THE PIONEER



The past decade easily marks one of the most creative, innovative, and commercially successful phases for the Hindi film industry. A decade during which formula (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) clicked as brilliantly as experiment (Rang De Basanti); small-budget multiplex movies (Khosla Ka Ghosla) marched successfully along side mega-movies (Jodhaa Akbar); stars with cult status (Khans et al) found themselves in the company of debutants (Neil Nitin Mukesh, Imraan Khan) in cine-goers' hearts; mindless comedy (Singhh is Kingg) appealed to the masses as much as serious meaningful cinema (Yuva, Black); good (Munnabhai MBBS) was as attractive as evil (Johnny Gaddar, Kaminey); the kitschy (Om Shanti Om) merrily co-existed with the classic (Devdas); the innovative (Dil Chahta Hai, Rock On, Dev D) found due space alongside the predictable (Main Hoon Naa); and, candyfloss romance (Kaho Na Pyar Hai) flourished in the company of serious explorations of human relationships (Mr & Mrs Iyer, Chameli). The films cited are only samples of the huge diversity demonstrated by our film industry in recent years.

Among the many trends that have emerged in these years, in a sense the first decade of the new millennium has been simultaneously formulaic and experimental for Hindi cinema, both keeping the cash registers ringing at the box-office. And, no one in the industry can better explain this phenomenon than Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan, one a cult figure whose demigod stature has consistently dominated the characters he has played, the other a method actor who has effortlessly blended into every role that has come his way, each in his respective way a huge commercial success.

Admittedly, the SRK phenomenon is both explicable and inexplicable. The man is an international icon today despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that his films have used the most predictable Hindi film ingredients: Romance, drama, even melodrama, emotion, sentiment, action, foreign locales, all employed in varying degrees to create stupendous box-office successes (from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Kabhi Khushi, Kal Ho Na Ho, Main Hoon Naa, Chalte Chalte and Om Shanti Om). Each one of these films has been overwhelmingly about the charisma of Shahrukh Khan, the characters played by him only incidental to SRK's brand-building. As he once famously said, "My name is enough" to sell a film. Frankly, the Raj Malhotra of Dilwale is not entirely dissimilar to the Raj Malhotra of Chalte Chalte. Because be it a Raj or a Rahul, the characters have always been subsumed by the icon called Shahrukh Khan, much like Amitabh Bachchan's Vijay, the angry young man who would repeatedly return to the screen in the 1970s only to underline the larger-than-life image of the star playing that character.

To be fair, Shahrukh is aware that his persona dominates any character he plays. In fact, this realisation informed his brilliant self-mockery in Om Shanti Om in which he plays a successful film star, Om Kapoor (OK), whose movies all sound and look alike, Switzerland/Scotland in the backdrop, chiffon-clad heroines draped on his outstretched arms, reel after reel. Today brand SRK knows he is bigger than any cinematic frame. He can, therefore, even afford to make fun of his real-life star status, complete with gun-toting bodyguards, in a film like Billu. Or let his celeb arrogance speak in a fairness cream advertisement: "Shahrukh nahin to kya, handsome koi bhi ban sakta hai." That he has not felt the need to reinvent himself yet is explained by the frenzied adulation he continues to get. True, he experimented with Chak De India, which incidentally became a commercial success, but rarely has the superstar ever stepped out of his own image. In fact, most occasions when he has done so he has tripped. Sample Paheli or Swades. Shahrukh's fan-following, therefore, is intensely personality oriented, marginally performance related.

Standing diametrically opposite this iconic star is Aamir Khan whose work pattern has been the reverse. His success in the past decade — he is one of the top box-office drawers in the industry today, rarely any of his films ever disappointing either the public or his producers, including his latest 3 Idiots which has grossed Rs 315 crore in 19 days — has largely flowed from his ability to experiment and become the character he plays, from the heartless Aakash in Dil Chahta Hai (2001) to the endearing Rancho in 3 Idiots (2009).

It all began with the trail-blazing Dil Chahta Hai which went on to redefine many clichés of Hindi cinema, the most significant being the idea of friendship. As the scheming Aakash who thinks nothing of lying to his dearest friends and treats love with utmost contempt, Aamir effortlessly metamorphosed Hindi cinema's clichéd romantic chocolate boy into a more real, human and credible hero in this film. Indeed, Aakash, and not just Aamir Khan the star, remains an abiding character in public memory. Similarly, ACP Rathore in Sarfarosh, Bhuvan in Lagaan, DJ in Rang De Basanti, Nikumbh Sir in Taare Zameen Par, Sanjay Singhania in Ghajini, Ranchoddas (Rancho) Shamaldas Chanchad in 3 Idiots are characters cinema lovers are not likely to forget any time soon. Significantly, each of these is an individual and different with no binding characteristics that would even remotely make them 'Aamir Khan' like.

Admittedly, Aamir has always known to be too much of a perfectionist, a director's nightmare given his own take on every character that he plays, and he clearly does not arouse mass hysteria the way Shahrukh does. One could easily argue that there is too much method in Aamir's performance, including his fetish about sporting a different hairstyle in every film. However, seldom does one ever forget an Aamir Khan role and his box-office records prove that his experiments with radically different characters are a commercial success. Clearly more than sex and Shahrukh sell at the box-office.

As Hindi cinema starts rolling into a fresh decade, it is evident that new talent in the industry will replace the old and audience tastes will continue to be tested and responded to. However, between the two poles that Shahrukh and Aamir Khan stand on what lies is the power of Hindi cinema to be both formulaic and innovative, the two Khans having respectively mastered the art of making masala films appealing and creative experimentation attractive. We must now wait for a whole new generation to see whether it can crack these two distinct mantras of success.







The recent news that China has grabbed a huge chunk of Indian territory in the Ladakh region over the years is truly alarming. While the ways of the Dragon remain as inscrutable as before, India's policy on China is still incoherent. The nimbleness New Delhi displays in bending over backwards in all its dealings with Beijing is humiliating. Needless to say this makes it very easy for the Chinese to get away with such shenanigans as issuing dubious stapled visas to the residents of Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, thereby, treating the States as 'disputed'.

It is absolutely baffling that Indian authorities have never been able to strongly protest against China's repeated warnings against top Indian leaders visiting Arunachal Pradesh. Neither has New Delhi been able to do anything about the periodic incursions that the Chinese Army undertakes into Indian territory.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, Beijing is engaged in major military and defence build-up activities such as construction of roads, bridges, ultra-modern airfields, intelligence and surveillance outposts, etc, accompanied with large-scale deployment of PLA troops, fighter aircraft, tanks and missiles. The Chinese have reportedly also constructed roads connecting several border outposts along the Line of Actual Control with the Chinese mainland, something that will greatly reduce troop deployment time.

The ambitious Chinese project of building a huge dam to tap the waters of the Brahmaputra near the river's source is also reported to be nearing completion. With this done it will become possible for China to parch out the fertile Brahmaputra plains on our side to the point that it will become difficult to grow even a single blade of grass. As the list of hostile Chinese activities gets longer, the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear. But is anyone listening in New Delhi?

At the Copenhagen climate change summit, China was able to derive maximum mileage for itself, mostly at our expense.

As the cat plays with the mouse before killing it, in one recent incident the Chinese authorities have arrested and jailed 21 Indian businessmen during police raids in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Beijing claims that they are diamond smugglers, a claim that appears to be extremely dubious. But it knows that India is too weak to protest.







The Jordanian suicide bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, who infiltrated the CIA's Forward Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan and killed seven CIA operatives and his Jordanian handler on December 30, last year carried out a picture-perfect strike. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on January 7 ("The Meaning of Al Qaeda's double agent"), former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht said: "Indeed, Al Qaeda did to us exactly what we intended to do to them: Use a mole for a lethal strike against high-value targets. In the case of al-Balawi, it appears the target was Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy."

It was a brilliant operation, and the Americans were sitting ducks. The question is: Why? The fact that the CIA threw normal caution to the winds indicates American incompetence, or, chillingly, desperation. They seem to be clutching at straws, desperate for some success.

On the other hand, ever since US President Barack Obama unveiled his timetable for an American pull-out from Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have gone from strength to strength: The shooting of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood (although this did happen a few weeks before Mr Obama's actual speech, the contours of the plan were known); the Christmas attempt to blow up Northwest flight 253 bound over Detroit; and then the Khost incident itself.

Aren't all of these highly demoralising for the Americans? Even the normally placid Obama is showing the strain — he is under pressure to do something.

Going back to the Khost attack, Mr Gerecht also maintains that normal operating procedure was violated under the orders of the station chief in Khost and several regional CIA staff flew in to have a face-to-face meeting with the supposed informant; he apparently was also not subjected to the usual detailed security check. The incident shows the critical dependency of the CIA on others — for reasons of lack of language skills and of length of tenure.

The fact that the CIA underestimated the enemy's resourcefulness and intelligence also bodes ill for the future. They should have learned that their enemy is capable of surprisingly good tactical operations, and they should have taken due care. There have been at least two previous instances where the jihadis demonstrated a clear grasp of tactics.

The first was the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud in his Panjshir Valley redoubt. An unquestioned military genius, Massoud had held off the formidable Soviets for years. He was assassinated in September 2001, just two days before 9/11. Massoud was the Taliban's principal foe as the military commander of the Northern Alliance. Undoubtedly a cautious and careful man, Massoud was tricked into being interviewed by two Tunisians bearing Belgian passports, who posed as journalists — they hid a bomb in the camera.

Then there was the singular incident of the siege of Kunduz in November 2001. In this 'Airlift of Evil', the US allowed Pakistan to spirit away hundreds, if not thousands, of Taliban operatives cornered by the advancing Northern Alliance in Kunduz. Most of the so-called Taliban who were evacuated were senior officers of the Pakistani Army or the ISI.

Clearly, the CIA was bamboozled by the ISI and the Pakistani Army in allowing the airlift. Left to themselves, the Northern Alliance would have overrun the fort in Kunduz and captured the insurgents, thereby breaking the back of the Taliban.


These chickens have now come home to roost. The CIA has a history of strategic blunders in Afghanistan, surely because they are misled continuously by the Pakistanis. For instance, as much as 20 per cent of all the billions of CIA dollars funneled into fighting the Soviets went to the ISI's then favourite, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is now an implacable foe of the Americans. Now the ISI are creating myths about "good Taliban" (translation: Those who help the ISI's agenda) and "bad Taliban" (all others). We can expect more American money to be funneled to those intent of killing Americans.

There is now great confusion about the motives of the double-agent al-Balawi. The most obvious hypothesis is that the Taliban/Al Qaeda wished to disrupt Predator and Reaper drone flights that are inconveniencing them by pinpointing their cadre from the air. The drones, as it were, rain down American wrath and have become the US's most successful weapon and it will not be easy to abandon them and for Mr Obama to continue with his soft approach. His Cairo and Ankara speeches, his munificence to Pakistan, etc, have caused his enemies to lose respect for him. Mr Obama, the Nobel peace-prize winner, is perforce going to be a war President.

It is necessary to acknowledge that the Taliban/Al Qaeda have demonstrated a surprisingly sophisticated grasp of both geo-politics and tactics. It is a mistake to underestimate them — they have the ISI, the kings of covert action, to help them plan their operations. In this context, I was amused to come across a report from The Economist of January 24, 2009, titled "The growing, and mysterious, irrelevance of Al Qaeda". Famous last words. A year later, it is not clear it is Al Qaeda who are irrelevant.







If there is one thing which is common to both Ms J Jayalalithaa and Mr M Karunanidhi it's their love to spend time with their 'brethren' in the film industry no matter how hectic and busy are their schedules. Given the clout enjoyed by the film industry on Tamil Nadu politics, they simply cannot afford to ignore the tinsel world. At least a 'live event' or two have been organised in Tamil Nadu to felicitate the Chief Minister of the day by the film industry on one pretext or another.

A trend is set whereby whenever a new Government is installed in the State, the film industry is usually the first one to host mega felicitation functions. Such shows provide ample opportunities for the film industry to place before the Government a new list of demands peppered with an assortment of thanksgiving speeches, expressions of gratitude for past favours and, even in some cases, forgiveness for past transgressions, as the case may be.

Like the presiding deities of the numerous temples in Tamil Nadu who are worshipped everyday by the devotees with Laksha Archanas, encomiums are showered on the Chief Minister of the day by the badshahs of Kollywood. The poets, lyricists, producers, music directors, actors and actresses sing praises to the life and work of the Chief Minister as if there is no tomorrow. In these events the Chief Minister sits gleefully, without any embarrassment, acknowledges the accolades surrounded by family members and Cabinet Ministers.

With the successful establishment of two television networks — Sun and Kalaignar — within the family and in the absence of distinction between business and politics both at the State and the national level — there is always a need to project the patriarch as the messiah of the masses. Even though it was in 2006 that the present DMK Government was re-elected, still there is no let-up in the number of such functions being organised by the film industry.

The bane of democracy, as they say, is the nexus between politics and business. Businessmen need politicians for protection, favourable laws and lucrative contracts, while politicians need the money of businessmen for themselves as well as to run their parties. It's always a quid pro quo but in Tamil Nadu it is more than evident because of the involvement of the Chief Minister's extended families both in politics and business. Anyone who dares to raise questions is branded a traitor to the Tamil cause!

It is a shame that the DMK, which was built on the self-respect movement and selfless service to Tamil society, indulges in such activities to allow a single family to become all pervasive in the State.

So, in Tamil Nadu the nexus between cinema and politics is never ending because both of them need each other for their survival. The film stars and producers shower praise on the incumbent Chief Minister which he would gratefully accept as he has to stay ahead of his political opponents. Who else other than the film industry in Tamil Nadu can do this? Equally, the film industry needs the State Government's patronage — be it tax cuts or hiking/lowering of ticket prices or anti-piracy measures, allotment of land to film associations, etc.

Recently, participating in a function to distribute the State Government's film awards for 2007 and 2008 in Chennai, Mr Karunanidhi said he attended the function, despite his ill health, as he saw the event as a cure to his illness. On this occasion, among other schemes for the film industry, he also announced the formation of a Film Welfare Board.

"The film world had always been a source of rejuvenation and inspiration whenever I was physically and mentally exhausted in public and political life. It was that affinity that made me reject my doctor's advice to participate in the function," he said.

On this occasion Mr Karunanidhi bagged the Best Dialogue Writer award for the film Uliyin Osai. The funny thing is the award was instituted by the Tamil Nadu Government and recommended by a committee appointed by the Government which is headed by none other than the Kalaignar himself!

With the sudden spurt in the number of films being produced by the Karunanidhi clan — Sun Films of the Marans and Red Giant Movies of Udhayanidhi Stalin — it won't be too difficult to predict which movies will be nominated for the 2009 awards.









As hands are wrung in the aftermath of the near-tragedy on a Northwest Airlines flight approaching Detroit, a conversation from London's Heathrow airport in 1986 comes to mind.

It consisted of an El Al security agent quizzing one Ann-Marie Doreen Murphy, a 32-year-old recent arrival in London from Sallynoggin, Ireland. While working as a chambermaid at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane Murphy met Nizar al-Hindawi, a far-leftist Palestinian who impregnated her. After instructing her to "get rid of the thing," he abruptly changed his tune and insisted on immediate marriage in "the Holy Land". He also insisted on their travelling separately.

Murphy, later described by the prosecutor as a "simple, unsophisticated Irish lass and a Catholic", accepted unquestioningly Hindawi's arrangements for her to fly to Israel on El Al on April 17. She also accepted a wheeled suitcase with, unbeknown to her, a false bottom containing nearly two kg of Semtex, a powerful plastic explosive, and she agreed to be coached by him to answer questions posed by airport security.

Murphy successfully passed through the standard Heathrow security inspection and reached the gate with her bag, where an El Al agent questioned her. As reconstructed by Neil C Livingstone and David Halevy in Washingtonian magazine, he started by asking whether she had packed her bags herself. She replied in the negative. Then:

"What is the purpose of your trip to Israel?" Recalling Hindawi's instructions, Murphy answered, "For a vacation."

"Are you married, Ms Murphy?" "No."

"Travelling alone?" "Yes."

"Is this your first trip abroad?" "Yes."

"Do you have relatives in Israel?" "No."

"Are you going to meet someone in Israel?" "No."

"Has your vacation been planned for a long time?" "No."

"Where will you stay while you're in Israel?" "The Tel Aviv Hilton."

"How much money do you have with you?" "Fifty pounds."

The Hilton at that time costing at least £70 a night, he asked: "Do you have a credit card?" "Oh, yes," she replied, showing him an ID for cashing checks.

That did it, and the agent sent her bag for additional inspection, where the bombing apparatus was discovered.

Had El Al followed the usual Western security procedures, 375 lives would surely have been lost somewhere over Austria. The bombing plot came to light, in other words, through a non-technical intervention, relying on conversation, perception, common sense, and (yes) profiling. The agent focussed on the passenger, not the weaponry. Israeli counter-terrorism takes passengers' identities into account; accordingly, Arabs endure an especially tough inspection. "In Israel, security comes first," David Harris of the American Jewish Committee explains.

Obvious as this sounds, overconfidence, political correctness, and legal liability render such an approach impossible anywhere else in the West. In the United States, for example, one month after 9/11, the Department of Transportation issued guidelines forbidding its personnel from generalising "about the propensity of members of any racial, ethnic, religious, or national origin group to engage in unlawful activity." (Wear a hijab, I semi-jokingly advise women wanting to avoid secondary screening at airport security.)

Worse yet, consider the panicky Mickey-Mouse, and embarrassing steps the US Transportation Security Administration implemented hours after the Detroit bombing attempt: No crew announcements "concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks," and disabling all passenger communications services. During a flight's final hour, passengers may not stand up, access carry-on baggage, nor "have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap".

Some crews went yet further, keeping cabin lights on throughout the night while turning off the in-flight entertainment, prohibiting all electronic devices, and, during the final hour, requiring passengers to keep hands visible and neither eat nor drink. Things got so bad, the Associated Press reports, "A demand by one attendant that no one could read anything … elicited gasps of disbelief and howls of laughter."

Widely criticised for these Clouseau-like measures, TSA eventually decided to add "enhanced screening" for travellers passing through or originating from 14 "countries of interest" — as though one's choice of departure airport indicates a propensity for suicide bombing.

The TSA engages in "security theater" — bumbling pretend-steps that treat all passengers equally rather than risk offending anyone by focusing, say, on religion. The alternative approach is Israelification, defined by Toronto's Star newspaper as "a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death". Which do we want — theatrics or safety?

The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube fellow at the Hoover Institution.







After the hugely successful exhibitions on Aurangzeb, which raised the hackles of communalists and their political mentors, and Shivaji, FACT-India has put together a fascinating exhibition on Rani Ahilyabai, the warrior queen of Indore. The show was inaugurated by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in Pune on Wednesday.

"I knew that Ahilyabai had built the Kashi Vishwanath temple," said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, "but there are many facts about her which I discovered through this exhibition, such as her being a simple girl from a village and having raised a battalion of women." Mr Prafull Goradia, a columnist with The Pioneer and sponsor of the exhibition, pointed out that "it was not men who repaired the damages done by invaders to temples, but a woman of courage dedicated to her country".

FACT-India is managed by François and Namrita Gautier. The acronym stands for Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism. FACT-India not only fights against human rights abuses in South Asia — whether of Ahmadi Muslims and Christians and Buddhists of Bangladesh or the Kashmiri Pandits of India — but also highlights the greatness of Indian culture.

François Gautier said, "In spite of the many abuses on Indian women widely reported, nowhere in the world have women been so honoured like in India. Half of the deities are feminine and the unique concept of Shakti honours the feminine element in all things. Countries such as France or the US never had a woman as their top leader, whereas India had Mrs Indira Gandhi ruling with a strong hand."

India has had many female rulers, warrior women and poet queens, but Ahilyabai Holkar commands tremendous admiration for her accomplishments during her 30-year-long reign. She was noted for her piety, for her administrative ability, for her keen interest in all her people and for an extraordinary amount of building at holy sites all over the country. Visitors to Varanasi know of the golden domed temple of Vishwanath, Lord of the World, in the heart of the city.

Ahilyabai, though a queen, led a simple life as can be seen by the recount of her daily routine: She rose an hour before daybreak to say her prayers. Then she had scriptures read to her, distributed alms and gave food to a number of poor people. Her breakfast, as indeed all her meals, was vegetarian. After breakfast, she prayed again, and then took a short rest. From two to six she was in her durbar; after religious exercises and a light meal, she again attended to business from nine to eleven. She did not neglect the defence of her motherland and employed a French officer to train four battalions of her army, so as to resist the march of the English troops in Gujarat in 1780.

Her life was marked by prayer, abstinence and work, with religious fasts, festivals and public emergencies affording the only change in this routine. Her devotion was to Shiv, although she respected all religions. "Shri Shankara" appeared on all royal proclamations along with her signature. In spite of all that is known about the warrior queen and all that she has left behind —timeless testimonies to her imagination and beneficence — she has not been given the recognition that she rightfully deserves.








THE Right to Information ( RTI) Act is possibly one of the most significant pieces of legislation that this country has put in place in the past decade, and no greater evidence of this could be provided than the Delhi High Court's decision to put the office of the Chief Justice of India under the purview of this Act.


In a historic judgment, a three- judge panel ruled that the Chief Justice of India will have to be accountable to the public and that the office does not enjoy any kind of immunity. Besides, the ruling said, the office of the Chief Justice of India cannot keep under wraps the assets declared by either the Chief Justice or other Supreme Court judges.


This is, in fact, the third such ruling — the previous two being that from the Chief Information Commissioner and a single- judge bench of the Delhi High Court — that makes the CJI publically accountable. On its own, therefore, the Supreme Court should have accepted these decisions and renewed public faith in the judiciary.


Yet, the Supreme Court has indicated that it will appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court. This is as bizarre as it can get. For one, it will erode the faith Indians have in the justice delivery system.


Two, the high degree of credibility that the office of the Chief Justice enjoys will be negatively affected with this act of one- upmanship. But most important, it reflects poorly on the Supreme Court's attitude towards the nation's high courts, no matter how wisely the judgment may have been drafted.


The office of the Chief Justice of India needs to act with greater degree of wisdom and foresight than it has shown so far in this case.






ARMY Chief Deepak Kapoor's decision to issue a show cause notice to four senior army officers, including his Military Secretary ( MS), Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, seems aimed at buying time. The period of the notice is believed to be 15 days and General Prakash retires on January 31.


The Court of Inquiry, whose report was accessed by Headlines Today , is categorical in stating that not only did General Prakash suppress information before the court of inquiry, he also tried to mislead the court.


He flatly denied dealing with the businessman to acquire defence land in a sensitive cantonment, but the inquiry revealed that he actively assisted the person.


The MS is not an ordinary officer, he is the person responsible for postings and promotions of officers above the rank of colonel in the Army. His misconduct could put a question mark over many of his decisions which have implications for the future quality of senior commanders in the Army.


This is the reason why General Kapoor needed to take a clear cut action which would send an unambiguous signal down the line that the Army would not tolerate malfeasance, regardless of the seniority of the officer in question or his proximity to the Chief.






THE Supreme Court's order asking the CBI to take over the probe into the Sohrabuddin Shaikh extra- judicial killing has not come a day too early. Eight action taken reports filed by the Gujarat government into the November 2005 killing had discrepancies.


Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauserbi and their friend Tulsi Ram Prajapati had been picked up during a joint operation of the Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh police while travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli.


Sohrabuddin was killed on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. To destroy evidence, Kauserbi and Prajapati were eliminated.


The SC order comes against the backdrop of the state government's efforts to " obfuscate" facts on the encounter deaths. One of these is the focus on Sohrabuddin's criminal links. But that does not explain Kauserbi's murder.


One way to stop extra- judicial killings is to amend the law to make an example of policemen like former Gujarat DIG D. G Vanzara and 13 other police officers involved in the case. While the government should show zero tolerance to such killings, the courts can contribute by delivering quick justice because delays could convey tacit state consent for rogue policemen.








UNLIKE his swaggering predecessor Rukmangud Katuwal, present Nepal Army chief General Chhatraman Singh Gurung is a modest man. He bears the burden of being the first commoner chief of the elite- dominated army leadership with uncharacteristic reticence and disarming humility.


Incidentally, these are the very traits that won him his position: when Maoists wanted to replace the obdurate Katuwal with accommodative Kul Bahadur Khadka to facilitate wholesale entry of their combatants into the army, Gurung quietly campaigned for his candidature with the mainstream parties.


Fresh from his trip to New Delhi, where he was ordained as the honorary general of the Indian Army, the amicable Gurung told the media that he may well remain in his post for as long as he wished because the current political drift in the country was unlikely to end soon. Since he was slightly tipsy at the time, nobody took note of his outburst. In retrospect, his remarks may have been loaded.


President Rambaran Yadav is the supreme commander- in- chief of the Nepal Army, a post earlier held by ruling monarchs who believed that their responsibilities were operational rather than merely ceremonial.


King Birendra had once pointedly told then Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai that the royal army was his to do as he wished when the then head- of- government went to the head- of- state with the request for mobilising the defence forces to contain Maoist insurgency. President Yadav acted under similar premises when he overruled the prime minister and restored the sacked army chief to his post through a midnight missive issued in secrecy. This forced Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to resign.


Since the ouster of the largest party — UCPN ( Maoists) — in parliament, from the seat of authority at Singha Durbar central secretariat, a ragtag coalition of almost all the rest has been in government for well over eight months. As the mercurial leader of Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Nepal observed, the present government has done nothing other than ensuring its own survival through politics of patronage. The fate of almost 19,000 former Maoist combatants interned at temporary camps remains undecided.


No steps have been taken to show that the government is committed to the national agenda of democratising the army, which implies bringing it unequivocally under civilian control, rightsizing the force and broadening its base of recruitment. The peace process lies abandoned as coalition partners compete with each other in deriding the Maoists. The anti- Maoist coalition seems to believe that the army rather than the people of Nepal is their last defence against an outright takeover of the state by leftwing guerrillas.




President Yadav, too, seems to be under similar impression, but with a twist: he considers himself the supreme authority in the land.


According to presidential interpretations of the Interim Constitution, the head- of- state will automatically become the head- of- government if the Constituent Assembly fails to frame a new charter within the stipulated timeframe. The President has been telling whoever cares to listen that the Constituent Assembly has no authority to extend its term.


There seems to be a tussle between the president and the premier for the leadership of anti- Maoist front in the country. In this self- defeating exercise, the government has lost the will to take the peace process to its logical conclusion and complete framing a new constitution by May 28, 2010.


Ever since the Maoists emerged as the largest group in the Constituent Assembly, there have been widespread fear about the real intentions of the party with an active militant wing — the Youth Communist League — and thousands of combatants currently interned in temporary camps. The Nepal Army has not forgotten that they failed to tame these guerrillas. The bureaucracy is apprehensive about its position in a governance structure likely to be dominated by political commissars.




The media has not forgiven communist guerrillas for their coercive methods during years of armed insurgency. The urban middleclass are fearful that they may lose their privileges if the status quo were to be disturbed. The Maoists may have their core constituency among the Dalits, janjati ethnics and rural poor intact, but these marginalised groups have low presence and little voice in affairs of the state.


Dahal knows that he needs something dramatic to stage a comeback.


He tried to sway the masses on the issue of civilian supremacy, hoping that raw memories of soldiers in newsroom during Gyanendra's dictatorship will make journalists take his side. It did not work — the middle class loves its military too much to denounce the institution. The Maoist supremo then tried taking ethnic rights activists on board by announcing autonomous states. That too failed to have the desired effect as indigenous communities have realised that their aspirations are unlikely to be addressed by a party in the clutches of Brahmans.


The new card that Dahal has pulled from under his sleeve is that of kneejerk anti- Indian rhetoric, a strategy that royalists used successfully for over three decades to maintain themselves in power.


Maoists chose Prithvi Jayanti— a day to commemorate warrior chieftain from tiny Gorkha principality who became the King of Nepal by defeating Malla rulers of Kathmandu valley in the late- eighteenth century.


The Maoist leaders have been touring disputed sites along the Indo- Nepal border and raising the issue of national sovereignty. It seems to be timed to play down the Indian external affairs minister S. M. Krishna's first official visit to Nepal.


Dahal sounds miffed at India for allegedly conspiring to oust him from power and preventing his rehabilitation.


He once censured Indian Army chief Deepak Kapoor for meddling in Nepal's internal affairs. Then he claimed that Indians wanted to see his alter ego Baburam Bhattarai as premier, something unthinkable in a hardcore communist party where the leader is always one — supreme, unchallenged and unquestioned.


Having taken on the entire Nepali establishment and the Indians, Dahal probably thinks that he has a world to win and nothing left to lose in this war of wits. The first casualty of his misadventure would probably be the new constitution.


With a restive military and an ambitious president, the future of democracy appears gloomy. The only hope on the horizon is that Nepal has come out of bigger trials and tribulations in the past relatively safe and this challenge too shall pass.


The Indian authorities guaranteed the 12- point agreement signed between parliamentary parties and Maoist insurgents in New Delhi on November 22, 2005. The main premise of the promises made by both parties in that document is that they would abide by the rule of law and give up violent politics. Part of the unwritten understanding was that the Maoists would be given a face saving device by allowing some combatants — estimates vary between 3,000 to 5,000 — to join Nepal's defence forces. Under the pressure of the army, parliamentary parties want to renege on their promise.




The Maoists had promised to give up violence and return the seized properties within an agreed timeframe.


This they do not want to do for the fear of losing their political base among the landless and the lumpen proletariat. The Maoists will have to disband their militant Young Communist League to gain the confidence of other parties. Unfortunately, even parliamentary parties have begun to form their own militant wings.


Dahal is hopeful of drawing Indian interlocutors back to the stalled peace process of Nepal. It is said that a superiority complex coupled with an inferior status is the worst psychological state — Dahal's anti- Indian outbursts are probably indicators of his deep- rooted insecurities.


The remedy lies in bringing him back to the table. He may not be a dependable politician, but his further marginalisation would undermine the peace process bringing the military brass back on top under the guise of the president's rule. To avoid that outcome, everything needs to be done to complete a new constitution and go for fresh elections, all under a Maoist- led government if need be.


The writer is a Kathmandu- based journalist and scholar








FOR ANYONE planning to fly in or out of Delhi — or any North Indian airport — the fog season is a nightmare. It was not like this always. Research shows that the occurrence of fog in Delhi has gone up by tenfold in the past half a century. Perhaps the air traffic too has multiplied by the same factor, resulting in chaos at airports every winter.


The question uppermost in everyone's mind is: what are we doing to tackle the situation.


Many studies now point out that growing fog intensity is a result of pollution from vehicles, industries, brick kilns and biomass burning as well as increased moisture due to the vast canal network in the Indo- Gangetic plain.


So, we need to crack down on all sources of air pollution and also take a hard look at the cropping patterns in the region and ensure efficient use of water. This solution is so complex that it may take years to make any headway.


The second question that crops up is: Can we at least predict fog so that we are better prepared ? Fortunately, a beginning has been made at the airport Met office in this regard.


We now have in place a " real time, round- the- clock fog monitoring, forecasting and dissemination system"— developed by a young meteorologist Rajendra Kumar Jenamani and his team.


Jenamani — a Ph. D from IIT Delhi is no arm chair meteorologist.


He has faced vagaries of weather himself — squalls, cyclonic storms, fog, cold, torrential rains, floods— while growing up in a tiny coastal Orissa village Jajpur and working with bare hands in groundnut fields.


His father was a devoted listener of weather bulletins on All India Radio and sometimes even used to forecast floods based on predictions made for areas in upper catchment of the Brahmani river which flowed through Jajpur, Jenamani recalled when I asked him why he chose to become a forecaster.


The forecasting model that Jenamani has developed has been successful for better fog prediction, though all the information generated is not being acted upon by airlines.


He says initial data from the last fog season shows that flight diversions were reduced by as much as 30 percent due to better prediction. During the current season, there were 20 flight diversions on 5- 6 January when 6 to 8 dense fog hours occurred, while only 8 diversions took place on 6- 7 January when the fog duration was 12 hours.


However, to avoid delays for passengers, he says, greater coordination is needed.


" When visibility reaches zero at mid night and when we have issued a dense fog alert for the next morning, I do not understand why airlines continue to load passengers into aircraft and make them wait for hours till the fog lifts", says Jenamani.


Now the Met department is planning to disseminate its fog forecasts to public through text messaging, though it is already available on its website. Also, Jenamani says, only CAT- IIIB Instrument Landing System compliance aircraft must be allowed to operate during peak fog period which falls in the period December 15 to January 31 every year.


Getting a measure of heart disease


INDIA has a growing burden of heart disease— part of which scientists attribute to genetic predisposition of Indians to it. But it is largely a result of our changing diets and lifestyles.


Now scientists have found a strange connection — our environment can alter our genes and this, in turn, lead to heart disease.Researchers from Cambridge have found that specific regions of the DNA in tissues of hearts from heart disease patients contained certain anomalies known as DNA methylation, whereas those from healthy hearts did not. The DNA that makes up our genes comprises four " bases" or nucleotides— cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine. DNA methylation is the addition of a methyl group ( CH3) to cytosine.


When bound to cytosine, the methyl group sticks out. This means it looks different and is recognised differently by proteins.As a result, methylation alters how genes are turned on and off. It is already known to play a key part in development of most cancers, and its role in other complex diseases such as schizophrenia and diabetes is being investigated.Now it is being linked to heart disease as well.


DNA methylation leaves ' marks' on the genome, and there is already good evidence that these marks are strongly influenced by environment and diet, says lead author Dr Roger Foo of the University of Cambridge.


The findings - published in journal PLoS ONE — deepen present understanding of genetic changes that can lead to heart disease, and how these can be caused by diet.



AN international team of astronomers — led by Puragra Guhathakurta of the University of California— has identified two new tidal streams in the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest galactic neighbour of the Milky Way.


Analysis of the stars in Andromeda's tidal streams and other components of its extended halo is yielding new insights into the processes involved in the formation and evolution of massive galaxies.


The outer halos of large galaxies are built up through the merger and dissolution of smaller " dwarf" satellite galaxies. " This process of galactic cannibalism is an integral part of the growth of galaxies," says Guhathakurta, who presented his findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting last week. The well- mixed population of halo stars in these large galaxies represents the aggregate of the dwarf galaxy victims of this cannibalism process, while the dwarf galaxies that are still intact as they orbit their large parent galaxy are the survivors of this process. The merging and dissolution of a dwarf galaxy typically lasts for a couple of billion years, so one occasionally catches a large galaxy in the act of cannibalizing one of its dwarf galaxy satellites. The characteristic signature of such an event is a tidal stream: an enhancement in the density of stars, localised in space and moving as a coherent group through the parent galaxy. Tidal streams are important because they represent a link between the victims and survivors of galactic cannibalism.


Dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in








A recent survey indicates that many Americans feel their debt-burdened economy won't be up and running anytime soon. In contrast, latest data shows China racing up the world economic ladder. Many say that, since the Soviet Union's demise, America as global top dog hasn't faced as stiff a challenge as now, with China's remarkable rise and big shadow - as the largest holder of US Treasury bonds - on the US economy. Overtaking Germany as the world's third largest economy sometime ago, China seems braced to outpace Japan soon and - some generously predict - even the US by 2030-40. For now, it's outranked Germany as the world's No. 1 exporter and outstripped car-crazy America in domestic auto sales.

Indeed, China's riding such a wave of liquidity-fuelled feelgood that its central bank has just adopted some restraints, including a surprise reserve ratio hike. Evidently, fears about its economy overheating - and creating asset bubbles - aren't groundless. But even beyond the context of the current global crisis, there are anxieties about the apparent emergence of a new bipolar order. Will China in future become a hostile Soviet-style competitor to America? Or will G2 represent a benign economic symbiosis? So far, US-China ties are marked by cooperation that can be endangered only at mutual risk. Both suggest this equilibrium will sustain, together with China saving less and consuming more and America borrowing and spending less.

Asia's dragon has done a commendable job of integrating with the global economy. But even as it pursues economic success, it must tackle two image problems. One, China's thought to be willing to use economic might to twist arms. Two, it appears unapologetic about tweaking the rules of the game of global trade. Time was when China was viewed in Asia as a welcome foil to America and US-dominated international lending institutions. Today, East and South East Asian nations feel threatened by the dollar-pegged yuan, since they rival China in home and overseas markets. Trade imbalances explain the considerable unease over China's recent free trade agreement with ASEAN.

China's inexorable rise may continue well into the future, but there are several imponderables along the way. Other nations may lose patience with current account deficits they see as owing to China's surpluses piggy-backing on currency undervaluation. Some analysts forecast an inevitable protectionist backlash which, while it won't be good for those raising barriers, will be worse for China's export-led economy. Some US voices have gone so far as to question the utility of free trade for America in the face of China's practices. With crisis-hit America on the defensive, it won't help the world - and certainly not China - if such voices are heeded.







The colour at the recently concluded Delhi auto expo - and the currently underway Detroit auto show - was green. According to a KPMG survey, auto manufacturers, both home-grown and international, are bullish on hybrid systems and battery electric power as technologies of the future. Toyota launched its best-selling hybrid model Prius in India at the Delhi expo, while the country's largest automaker, Maruti Suzuki, showcased a concept electric car. Tata Motors, Hyundai, General Motors and Renault also had electric or petrol-electric hybrid vehicles on display. But without adequate support from the government, India's green car revolution is likely to remain limited to displays in auto shows.

Manufacturers have previously expressed concerns that electric and hybrid cars would be unpopular in India, which is an extremely price-sensitive market. Because hybrid cars are imported into the country as completely built units, they are subject to a 104 per cent import duty, plus other taxes, which push up the cost of such a vehicle to more than double the standard price. The government is considering lowering the import duty on hybrids, which might make them more attractive to Indian consumers. But it needs also to introduce policies and incentives that encourage carmakers to manufacture hybrid and electric cars in India. That would not only keep costs low but also generate high-skill jobs in India.

As part of the deal, the government would need to put in place supporting infrastructure to encourage consumer adoption of these cars. At the moment, only one Indian manufacturer is working to develop hybrid cars. One problem with hybrids and electric cars is that the cost of the battery, which has to be imported, is high, driving up the overall cost of the car. Without incentives to promote their use, hybrids are unlikely to attract many customers. Electric vehicles won't become popular until the government builds or facilitates charging stations that allow users to recharge their vehicles outside of their homes.

Promoting hybrids and electrics makes sense in two crucial ways. One, given the nation's commitment to reduce carbon intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020 as well as cut dependence on imported oil, Indian policymakers should embrace every opportunity to drive adoption of green vehicles. Two, it would position India as an automotive hub for the future, which will see the adoption of more and more hybrids and electrics.








When Martin Luther King delivered his legendary speech on August 28, 1963, it would have been impossible even for the wildest dreamer to imagine that in 45 years there would be a Black president in the White House. Barack Obama's election a year ago was the crescendo of the American dream.

It is ironic that this should coincide with what is certainly the tipping point of US decline. During the presidential campaign there was a photograph of Obama holding in his hand the book entitled The Post-American World, authored by Fareed Zakaria. The photograph was used by the Right to vilify Obama and accuse him of all sorts of sins, especially of being un-American or, worse, a traitor.

In fact, it is quite a good book, which basically states the obvious: the absolute and relative power of the US will decline over time, and hence it will no longer be able to dominate the planet as it did for most of the last century. By no means does the book present an apocalyptic vision of the future of the US, nor indeed is it pessimistic.

What the author argues is that the US will need to adjust to a new plurilateral world in which it will be first among increasingly equals. As the unilateralism of the Bush years ultimately forcefully demonstrated, US military power has significant limitations; this will intensify.

Though America's soft power is likely to remain supreme - and indeed it has been rebooted by the election of Obama - its economic and military hard power will inevitably deteriorate. So American universities will remain the magnets of the global brain drain, entrepreneurs from Hyderabad, Accra and Kiev will continue to flock to Silicon Valley with their energy and innovative genius, and American arts and fashions will set global trends.

On the economic front, however, the frailties of the US will be deeply exposed. The dollar will probably remain the international currency, but only because foreign holders of US treasury bonds will wish it. Though the US can be expected to maintain its competitiveness in a reasonably broad range of hi-tech sectors, by next year China will overtake the US as the world's largest manufacturer. China's rising manufacturing competitiveness is not just in the low and medium technology products category, but increasingly in hi-tech as well, notably in a number of leading 'green technologies' where it is surpassing the US.

America's growing economic vulnerability is compounded by the erosion of its military power. And the military costs in turn exacerbate the economic situation - the Iraq invasion has been estimated so far to have cost close to $600 billion, for which there have been no positive returns. While Iraq may remain a quagmire, it is Afghanistan that is likely to end up being a graveyard. Iraq may be chaotic and fraught with the tensions between its different communities, but at least it does have the semblance of some kind of state. It has infrastructure, a middle class and some highly educated people. Afghanistan has no semblance of a state, it has no infrastructure and the female literacy rate there is 12 per cent. Afghanistan has some of the world's worst human development indicators.

Can the US win in Afghanistan? When the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, instead of consolidating its position and seeking to "accomplish its mission", it rapidly diverted energy and attention away from Afghanistan to Iraq. It has never been able to recover the ground it thus lost. Thus even if winning today means no more than getting rid of the Taliban, this is not something the US is likely to accomplish.

Quite apart from the fact that eventually it may be easier for the US to extricate itself from Iraq than Afghanistan, there is the added complication that while there is a broad consensus of opinion in the US (and internationally) that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, this is not the view with respect to Afghanistan. In choosing how to proceed with the war, Obama finds himself between a rock and a hard place; whatever decision he takes - to surge or not to surge - will almost certainly be the 'wrong' one for one reason or another.

That Obama should be presiding over the decline of the US is no fault of his own. Indeed, as noted above, his election has rebooted American soft power and if he succeeds in implementing a multilateral policy, he could considerably assuage the effects of decline. But the overall trend will not be reversed.

What happens in the US has obviously immense consequences for the rest of the world. For the last six and more decades, we (non-Americans) have been able to bask under the protective security parasol of the US and feed off the seemingly ever-expanding American consumer market. This is a situation we are unlikely ever to see again. We will need to adjust to weaker American economic and military hard power. The irony is that eventually it is perhaps non-Americans rather than Americans who may be most discomfited by a post-American world.







It is the same old tired argument trotted out once again. The UK government's adviser on childhood language development, Jean Gross, has announced - apparently, based on a study by a Lancaster University linguistics professor - that the linguistic growth of the current generation of teenagers is being stunted, limiting them to a vocabulary of 800 words a day, when a 1,000 words per day is supposed to be the minimum for adequate communication. As a result, she says, they could be making themselves unemployable. The culprit? Texting and internet chat rooms, of course. It is not an original take on the issue. This kind of conservative stand has accompanied every evolution in communication.

The only constant about language is that it changes. It has been a battleground for the cultural soul of countries through the centuries. The invention of the printing press, for instance, caused firestorms of debate, not to mention heavy-handed interference by church and state. It also democratised language, taking it out of the hands of the clergy and the feudal nobility. Of course, it was decried as perversion of religion and language itself at the time.

Over the past few years, we have been seeing similar reactions to the evolution of language as it adapts to modern modes of communication. A changing vocabulary is not the equivalent of a limited ability to express oneself. And judging employability as Gross seems to have done is logically weak as well. Workplaces are not static set-ups; they evolve as well, along with means of communication. To protest this natural process of change is to merely be atavistic.

At a time when there are general worries about the adequacy of education in UK - as indeed there are in India - it becomes easy to blame technology. However, even if one were to assume that the cognitive skills of teenagers have deteriorated in recent times - for which, one has to say, there isn't sufficient evidence - the cause could well lie elsewhere than the adoption of new technology.








For some years now, educationists have expressed concern over the diminishing language skills of school students. This concern has been heightened in societies where children are exposed to, and use, truncated word forms and spellings - the lingua franca of the virtual world. It's uncool to spell right; it's downright boring to construct complete sentences. And if you do either of the above, you are a relic of a time long past.

Well, as long as annoying babble and illegible shorthand were confined to the world of texting and chatting online - where chances are the parties involved understood what each was trying to say - one could just choose to tune out. But, the virtual world is not so far removed from the real one after all. What we do there, how we speak, the way we process information all seep into the way we conduct the business of living in the flesh. This holds true for the influence online communication trends have on our linguistic and communicative ability as well.

Reports now suggest that the average vocabulary of schoolchildren is shrinking sharply. In Britain, the government's adviser on childhood language development, Jean Gross, estimates that British teenagers, on an average, use a limited vocabulary of 800 words a day, less even than the 1,000 thought necessary for non-native English speakers to be intelligible communicators. This, she argues, would be a severe handicap for present-day students when they enter the workforce where they will have to speak normal and formal English. Coherent communication skills are, after all, among the basic prerequisites employers look for in prospective employees.

Tony McEnery, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University, who has analysed over 1,00,000 words gathered from teenagers' blogs says that the third of the words are "yeah", "no" and "but". Wow! That's rich. Sure, language evolves with the passage of time. But what's happening here is not an evolution of language. It's simply a dumbing down. And there is a difference between simplifying language and butchering it. Where do we want to go from here? Towards more banal brevity or coherent eloquence?







Laugh or you might be replaced by an icon. Or, more precisely,  by an emoticon. Or, even more precisely, by a smiley, This generic term covers a multitude of synergies. These can be summoned with the help of varying punctuation marks. A really happy one has two closed brackets instead of just one, like this :- )).  The same emoticon also denotes someone with a double chin, and if you want to show them quivering with laughter perhaps you could replace the ordinary bracket with a curly one, like this  :- }


Your friendly search engine will come up with all the possible permutations, and then some. But, today, I would like to present another use for this versatile icon. My proposal is prompted by something that's not at all funny. In fact, it is the eternal bogey of all self-styled humour writers. It starts as a nagging doubt and, before you can say 'Evil Empire' it has ballooned into a primordial fear. The end-of-our -world question is: "Is anyone out there laughing?" Or smiling? Or  -- cringe -even s much as twitching their lips ? 


You write a funny line, and then you throw it into the vast dark void. Is it greeted with a resounding roar of awe and appreciation? Or does it sink without even a little gurgle of recognition. We bravely bask in the former presumption knowing full well that the latter is the more correct assumption.


So, should the grin-and-tonic brigade be perennially condemned  to an illusory euphoria? Its labour, like the Marxist view of capitalism, carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The moving cornea reads, and having read, moves on without the teeniest indication of eye-grin coordination. People continue to react to a piece of general hilarity as if it were a physics chapter on specific gravity.


So, should we just wring our helpless hands or resolutely take matters into them?  Is there a way to throw a lifeline to the humourously challenged reader, and, in the process, save ourselves?

Yes there is. If television sitcoms can fill your drawing room with more canned laughs than there are baked beans in a tin, why shouldn't the reader of humour get a similar prompt?  Why not coopt the little yellow fellow, and insert a smiley after every clever play on ideas or words?  With the help of this visual bell, the reader will deliver the Pavlovian response, and life will again be 'all ha-ha, he-he'.

But, it could be quite crude  -- to say nothing of distracting - to be confronted by a  weekly column which looks like a condomless galaxy of  : s. It might also be insulting  to suggest that readers are as so wit-less that  they cannot recognise a joke even if it plonks itself on their lap, and offers them a pun-a colada.

So, instead, how about something a little more sophisticated such as lining up the requisite number of smileys at the bottom of the piece, like this  :::::? It may look like a star rating, but that's not the purpose. The idea is to put as many smileys as there are chuckle-points in the piece, and let the reader see how many s/he  can spot   -- and smile, grin, guffaw or roll in the aisles over.

The ploy has an added advantage. Print has been congenitally disadvantaged vis a vis the electronic media in an age when e-nabled audiences refuse to be passive consumers of news, but demand to be active participants. The smiley line-up can propitiate that deity called interactivity. You could even slip in an extra little :  and have them hooked for hours as, refusing to admit defeat and  humour-deficiency, they  keep re-re-re-reading  the article  to catch the elusive joke.








The giant red blocks lightly held together by two-inch rubber wheels have always been my favourite toy. Trains fascinated me as a child, and the thrill of taking the little object round and round the toy track gave me such satisfaction as to forget about the world entirely. That was until i saw the real version. Real trains are huge and while approaching you at night in their usual rusty maroon avatars with wide beaming lights, they almost threaten to devour you; it's enough to scare a toy train-clutching toddler. However, that day it wasn't so much the sight of the giant-on-wheels but the humans on the ground that broke my reverie. The train came to a sudden jerky halt. Sleeping beauties and beasties apart, curious passengers went out to figure out why the train had stopped. Rumour had it that there was a dharna by the people of a nearby village who were demanding the extension of the railroad network. And hapless passengers like us bore the brunt of their ire.

A similar event a few days ago brought back this memory. Though their demands were similar, the residents of Tajnagar village did not resort to bandhs or violence. Nor was public property damaged or human life threatened. Rather, the villagers peacefully built a station for themselves, all on their own. A constructive way to channel the anger, one might say. After all, they had been demanding a railway station for nearly two and a half decades now but paucity of funds prevented the authorities from granting their demands. Even after its transformation into a profit-making enterprise, Indian Railways seemed to lack funds for the very purpose of its existence, which is to expand train services. I can say, as an optimist, that the people of India have realised their hidden potential - no, it's not their ability to construct railway stations, but a deeper sense of power. The kind of power that makes people do things they never dreamt of. And it's not like the Railways didn't know about the project - they did, after all, agree to stop trains at stations built by people. This sounds like a perfect public-public partnership; if such a partnership doesn't already exist, it must start soon. Very innovative and profitable it is, and as railway officials themselves find the idea to be financially viable, the sooner we have more such collaborations, the better for all of us.








As with its invention of the zero, India maintains a strange relationship with its 'national game', hockey. It prefers to rest on Indian hockey's history and hope that somehow, sometime, our players will suddenly shrug off their torpor and become regular world-beaters again. That, alas, is never going to happen. If the actual game has changed beyond recognition from the halcyon days of Dhyan Chand and other legendary wizards with their curved wands, what has not changed utterly is the approach of Indian hockey authorities to build a national team and sustain it. The deadlock between Hockey India and striking players may have ended with the former announcing that players will be "paid at the earliest" the amounts that they had demanded, but everything seems very murky with the taint of a crisis still very much hanging over Indian hockey.


The nadir was reached in 2008 when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. Again, that shameful failure was a symptom of an ailment that was left to fester. Hockey India President A.K. Mattoo's statement on Tuesday captured this rot: "It seems for [the players] money is more important than playing for the country." The very fact that someone entrusted with the job of encouraging India's hockey players introduced an either-or into the stand-off smacks of an inability to understand not only the nature of modern professional hockey, but also modern sports in general. An ad hoc product of the Indian Olympic Association, Hockey India, was the result of a 'tear-everything-up-and-start-from-scratch' strategy after the Olympics debacle. But quite clearly, the 'start-from-scratch' part was left hanging. Hockey India has reportedly agreed to pay the agitating players the Rs 4.5 lakh they had demanded. This includes Rs 75,000 per player for the Junior Asia Cup squad, many of whom are now in the national squad, Rs 50,000 per player for the Test series against Argentina, New Zealand and Canada; and Rs 1 lakh for winning the prestigious Azlan Shah Cup after 14 years in 2009. The sports ministry will now be working out a grading system for pay. This has to be made transparent and not put on a shelf to be doled out during every crisis.


Indian hockey, as victory at the Azlan Shah pointed, is not without talent or potential. But to feed this talent, one needs to incentivise players. Corporate sponsorship works once a system is in place and when results are there to be seen. What is needed right now is a professional authority to encourage professional hockey in India. And that can't come through bits and bobs, petty haggling and silly talk about 'play for the country, not for money'.







Different things trouble different people; but when it comes to personal weight, it can almost single-handedly bother everyone. So we are not surprised to read the variety of answers that have come out of a Reader's Digest survey that looked at how different people/countries react to this loaded issue. The poll was conducted in 16 countries and 16,000 people answered the questions.


No surprises, though. The answers, in fact, were all out there, a little bit of back calculation was all we needed to do. Is it any surprise that Brazilians feel the most pressure to be thin? After all, they have the carnivals, don't they? Or take for example, Finland: its citizens are most aware of the dangers of obesity. And, they are also the happiest people on earth. Got the link? Happy hormones, of course. China, the report says, is the country that swallows the most diet pills. Aren't they always in a rush to top everything? France is the country most likely to blame the Americans for this problem too. Well, the historic dislike was always there.


Last but not the least India. The study says the country has the highest number of husbands who want wives to get slim. Of course, most themselves are not too worried about their well-endowed bellies. Since we have often talked in these editorials about the safest policy of all — eat and make merry, tomorrow is another day — our vote for the most sensible country goes to Hungary which is least bothered about such weighty matters. There you're are just loved the way you are.


Any residency permit available?








The popular impression is that the composition of Andhra Pradesh is the result of the bifurcation of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and one part merging with the princely state of Hyderabad ruled by the Nizam after 1947. This is not true. The three regions of Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema and Telangana have been under unified control from times immemorial. In fact, the construction of Hyderabad was executed with contributions from all three regions during the times of the Kutubshahi Sultans as early as 1590.


The initial setback to the unified province occurred in 1770 when Hyder Ali of Mysore took control of present day Rayalaseema largely owing to the dubious role of the then Nizam who, unable to protect the coastal areas from the attacks of Pindaris and Gajapatis, tried to play a double game with the East India Company (EIC) and the French. When the EIC, which defeated the French, found out the Nizam's game plan, the Nizam made peace with the Company by giving it the rights over the Northern Circars in 1790, along with two other districts in lieu of not paying taxes to the Company. The areas conceded to the EIC were merged with the Madras Presidency. Thus present-day Andhra Pradesh was kept separated for over 160 years.


When the EIC, with the help of the Nizam and the Marathas, defeated Tipu Sultan, son of Hyder Ali, at the battle at Srirangapatnam in 1799, Rayalaseema was returned to the Nizam. This, however, was short-lived. When the EIC forced the princely states to sign military agreements to pay the salaries of their standing armies, the Nizam returned the Rayalaseema region to the EIC, which merged it with the Madras Presidency.


While the Nizam, left with the Telangana and a few other areas, might have succeeded in not having to pay any taxes to the British, one should realise that it was this development that marked the beginning of a long period of woes for the people of Telangana. Besides Urdu becoming an official language, Muslims got preference in government jobs. Telugu was not allowed to be taught in schools and the people of the region did not have the right to land holdings. Further they were subject to a plethora of taxes: birth tax, death tax, cremation tax, marriage tax, festival tax, profession tax and even a guest tax. Some light at the end of the tunnel appeared only when they were liberated in 1948 by police action.


While the people of Telangana were denied land-holding rights, Thomas Munroe, the then Governor of Madras Presidency went to the other extreme by permitting the farmers of Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema to pay their land revenue into the district treasuries, a privilege not available to the farmers in the rest of the Madras Presidency. Arthur Cotton, by constructing two barrages across the Godavari and Krishna rivers turned the Krishna, East and West Godavari districts into fertile lands. All this accelerated the pace of development in these two regions. While Andhra and Rayalaseema were merged into one state in 1953, all the three regions were combined into the present state of composite Andhra Pradesh in 1956.


Those on both sides of the Telangana debate should be appraised of all these historical facts and be persuaded to accept Hyderabad as the common capital for both Andhra Pradesh and a future Telangana on the lines of Chandigarh that is shared as a state capital by Haryana and Punjab.


Sitharam Gurumuthi is a Member of the State Planning Commission


The views expressed by the author are personal








Teenagers thrive on half-truths and absolute realities.

India was still Indira when I first saw those army regiments marching down Rajpath. To a small-town boy who came from the baking, backward Deccan — a land of quiet desperation, black magic and lost glories — a Republic Day parade conveyed an absolute reality: That these magnificent men marching to Saare Jahan Se Achcha were a cut above, that they could do no wrong.


A half-truth mired in a perceived reality fades hard. Whatever I may write today, I guess I still like to believe that India's defence forces, and its judiciary, are the nation's last bastions of righteousness.


With the judiciary closer to our lives, the incorruptibility of judges is a weaker half-truth, but it endures. For this I blame my father's old friend, the late James Sequeira Esq., a morally upright district judge in Karnataka. In a time before self-made tycoons and powerful politicians, the judge, collector and superintendent of police were the most prominent men in town. Yet, Judge Sequeira travelled in his personal car, a white Fiat. His wife usually travelled by a tonga or cycle-rickshaw. He practised all that he often preached to wide-eyed me, about simple living and high thinking.


Understanding a teenage state of mind is important because India is younger now than ever before. More than 550 million are below 30 years of age, and in their formative years, they will form warped realities from the half-truths on offer today.


The army chief is now accused by his rank and file of being soft on some of his generals in a dubious land deal. The Chief Justice of India is not only refusing to open himself and his justices to the Right to Information Act — as politicians and bureaucrats are — but is also seen as reluctant to clean up an admittedly overburdened but increasingly dishonest and opaque system.


If these gentlemen do not act immediately, they should never blame young people in this age of media-delivered reality for instant beliefs that permanently damn both institutions and damage India's strongest foundations. General Deepak Kapoor must realise that even modest hopes of filling his 11,000 officer vacancies will quickly evaporate.


Absolute realities don't die easily. So, it is important that the truths on offer not just look, but are, complete.


Even a depressing first brush with the dark side of the defence forces eight years ago wasn't enough to scrub my reality.


In consternation, I watched a neat patch of green — called the Field Marshall Cariappa Park, no less — being demolished in Mumbai's Colaba military area in collusion with a builder. All manner of law was sidestepped and ill-considered permissions granted by an unholy confluence of army officers, bureaucrats and politicians. Not surprisingly, representatives of all three branches of government got flats. My colleague Shailesh Gaikwad (now bureau chief at the Hindustan Times, Mumbai) and I reported the dark deal as it unfolded. The apartment block was delayed, but it was built, and even as I wrote it, I kept asking myself, "Have we got it wrong? How could army and navy officers be a part of this?"


So, I was less disbelieving but still crestfallen when news broke last year that four top army generals helped reverse an army objection to the transfer of 70 acres of land near an army base in West Bengal to a dubious educational trust run by a real-estate developer called Dilip Agarwal, a friend of Military Secretary Lt. Gen. Avadhesh Prakash, an officer who the Eastern Army Commander says must be dismissed. That may still happen, but why has he been spared a court martial, under which all army officers accused of wrongdoing, except murder and rape, are tried? As embittered junior officers point out, many have been court martialled for less: fake allegations of sexual harassment and pilfering the odd shipment of supplies.
Only one of the generals, Lt. Gen. P.K. Rath (once slated to be Deputy Chief of Army Staff, now thankfully dropped from consideration), faces a general court martial. The others, Gen. Prakash, 11 Corps Commander Lt. Gen Ramesh Halgali and Major General P. Sen, have been asked to explain their actions. The Eastern Army Commander said last month in an internal inquiry that Lt. Gens. Rath and Sen should face a court martial.


It is certainly true that these officers have not been proven guilty. But the Indian Army's summary court martials, introduced after the Indian mutiny of 1856, don't require counsel, detailed judgement or evidence.


In trying to find out why their regular army units had rebelled when the Punjab Irregular Force (PIF) — its origins in the old Sikh army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh — had not, the British found that a PIF commanding officer also served as judge and civil authority, feared and respected by his men. The army chief's actions presently invoke no fear among his officers or respect in the young nation beyond the cantonments.


Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan will see a greater erosion of faith, a process accelerated in his tenure, unless he starts doing the right thing quickly. As a three-judge bench of the Delhi High Court — an institution that has been a particularly strong votary for justice and truth this past year — said on Tuesday: "A judge must keep himself absolutely above suspicion." If Justice Balakrishnan appeals this judgement in his own court, the suspicion that he has something to hide will stay.








The controversy over the mention of caste against the names of Bihar's Pradesh Congress office-bearers, and the damage control exercise that the Congress had to swing into, draw attention to the thin line between the use of politics for caste-based empowerment and the use of caste for politics. While an important aspect of the controversy will pertain to the legality of the matter — the extent to which the debated list is an "internal document" and therefore not in violation of constitutional proscription of the public use of caste names — it should be borne in mind that there's little as sensitive as the question of caste in a country with a prolonged history of untouchability, discrimination and deprivation. Therefore, every unnecessary reference to caste should be avoided.


And what is the necessary reference to caste? The answer to that question lies in India's long march, far from complete, to the empowerment and integration of backward castes, which has significantly defined our post-independence politics. Dalit empowerment, for instance, would not have been possible to attempt without honestly projecting who they are and their plight. That was the rationale of the caste-based regional parties. However, as India moves on to a political narrative of growth and development, there is a general consensus that caste-based politics should now be integrated into a wider aspirational politics. For this purpose as well, to say nothing of the more elemental and traditional reasons of humiliation, insult or injury, the less we bring up an individual's caste the better for us all.


But if that is the use of politics in addressing caste injustices, advertising caste variety of members to attract membership or adherence to an organisation could be tantamount to the exploitation of caste for political gains, which is distinct from taking stock of caste representation internally. Political parties, regardless of colour or ideology, owe it to the people of India to take cognisance of that thin line demarcating the acceptable from the unacceptable.







When the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the death of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2006, the message sent out was clear: there could be more to this "encounter" than met the eye. Some of this message seems to have percolated through: the Gujarat police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) found the encounter to be cold-blooded murder and arrested three senior police officials, including D.G. Vanzara, a deputy inspector general of police. Justice, it seemed, was finally taking its course.


Or was it? The CID officer who had arrested the police trio was soon taken off the investigation. The CID ruled out the role of any politicians. Sohrabuddin's brother holds that the chargesheet does not explain how Sohrabuddin's wife Kausar Bi went missing, and the solicitor general punched holes in the Gujarat government's version. The Supreme Court agreed. On Tuesday, more than four years after Sohrabuddin was killed, the country's highest court has stated that there seems more to the case than the Gujarat police's version of trigger-happy policemen hoping to earn "fame and name". The Supreme Court has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the killing of Sohrabuddin and his wife "including the possibility of a larger conspiracy".


Each twist in this case has been disquieting. First of course is the honour-for-killings scandal, in which police officers frame innocents as terrorists and kill them for reward. The second twist is the extent of the intimidation — Sohrabuddin's wife is missing and was allegedly killed; the lone witness was killed off in an "encounter". Third, and more worrying for the long term, is the tardy, possibly motivated investigation that has caused the Supreme Court to repeatedly intervene. With the case now being handled by the CBI, it is hoped that the court's messages are heard. The repeated iteration of no-confidence in Gujarat's state police by the country's apex court must serve as a wake-up call. And the CBI — itself under fire for low-quality work — must pull up its own socks and bring this painful case to a just end.







Google has always had a bit of internal tension making its life difficult. On the one hand, there's its idealistic engineer, "don't be evil" self-image. And, on the other, there's the phenomenally successful tech company, one which essentially dominates Internet advertising, one to which so many of us turn when we've a question to ask that its name has become a verb. Cold business sense and idealism are usually a tough mix: and, so over the past few years, Google-the-company handed out concessions to the government of the People's Republic of China in order to tap the vast Chinese markets — concessions that could be seen as contradicting the "information should be everyone's" ethic of Google-the-idea., for example, blanked out search results related to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, as well as results about a corruption investigation into a company once headed by the son of Chinese President Hu Jintao.


But it looks, this time, like things have reached breaking point. Google discovered that the infrastructure supporting its free email, Gmail, had been attacked from China; that "the primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists". They, in return, said they are reviewing their China operations: in particular, they are "no longer willing" to continue censoring search results inside China — even though they recognise it might mean the end of their China operations. Of course, that won't be more than a pin-prick for them currently: China provides a mere 1.4 per cent of Google's 2008 revenue of $21.8 billion.


This is a confrontation that bears watching. Never in recent history has China's government, and its restrictions on speech and Internet activity, been so openly challenged — at least, never by an opponent of such reach and independence. The government might not back down, feeling they have too much at stake; but what will be the reaction among the highly patriotic users of China's active Internet forums? Will this be seen as an insult to China — or a call to arms? And then there's the even bigger question. Is Google simply bowing out of the China growth story? It might be surprising that a multinational that aims to dominate information flows believes it can afford to do that. Or is it betting not against China's future — but against a future in which China stays as restricted and controlled as it does now? If that's the case, perhaps on this one, Google-the-idea and Google-the-company are acting as one.








Justice A.P. Shah's judgment in the Delhi high court on the applicability of the Right to Information (RTI) Act is as fine as any bench of the Supreme Court could deliver. This is not surprising because Justice Shah is one of the best judges in India today. What was at issue was the right to know information about "assets" officially reposed with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) pursuant to a resolution of the Supreme Court on May 7, 1997 and the chief justices conference of December 1999. If the Supreme Court needed to be reminded of the obvious, Justice Shah declared that these resolutions were binding on the judges. Not to accept their binding nature would have made a mockery of the solemnity of the resolution process. The thought that the Supreme Court and high courts are not bound by their own promise can only undermine confidence in the judiciary as an institution. Information about assets was to be placed with the CJI not in his personal capacity but in the institution of the CJI. Many CJIs have come and gone since the resolution was passed. None of them claimed the information was personal.


The Delhi high court took both a wide-angled constitutional view of the issue as well as a narrow view flowing from the RTI Act. The wide-angled constitutional view was that from 1973 the Supreme Court itself has recognised a right to know as part of free speech, election law and, indeed, in the judicial appointment case of 1982. It was on this basis that in 2002 the Supreme Court gave to the people the right to know about an MP or MLA's full background, including financial assets. How come judges were exempt from the very right to know under which parliamentarians had to make a full disclosure to the people? The right to know is a fundamental right following the free speech — Article 19(1)(a) — and life and liberty provision — Article 21 — and international conventions. The significance of this was insightfully acute in two ways. In the first place, even if there was no RTI Act, a citizen or subject could claim to know about things like the financial assets of those who rule us, including the judiciary. Second, that in interpreting the RTI Act a bold and expansive rather than a narrow interpretation would have to be given — even if it affected the judges who could not interpret themselves above the law.


As far as the RTI Act is concerned, it surely applies to all "public authorities" established or constituted under the Constitution — Section 2(h). Indeed, recognising this, the Supreme Court had appointed an Information Officer — Section 2(c). The right to information included all information right down to notes and diskettes "held under the control of any public authority" — Section 2(j). The attorney general's view that this information had to be held under some law is fallacious. Ninety nine per cent of information held by most authorities is not retained under a "law" but executive authority. The terms of the act are clear. Such an approach does a disservice to Parliament's clear intentions.


All this being settled, the next question was whether the Supreme Court could hide behind any of the ten exemptions provided by the act (Section 8). The Supreme Court's counsel concentrated on the fiduciary relationship clause — Section 8(1)(e) — and the personal information or "privacy" clause — Section 8(1)(j). Significantly the RTI Act overrode all legislations (Section 22). The "fiduciary clause" was really not relevant. Every law student knows that "fiduciary" relations have a special meaning relating to the administration of trusts including corporate management. To expand this further would swallow the act. This is equally true of the idea of "confidentiality". No authority can get out of the RTI Act simply by marking information "confidential". If so, the RTI Act would be ruined. The "privacy" exemption relates to personal information which has no relation to "public activity or interest". Tax returns, medical information, private relations would all be protected, subject to the public interest. Once the Supreme Court (for itself and MPs) had declared that information about financial assets related to public duty and accountability, this did not invade privacy. Most judges in


India accept this, why should the Supreme Court argue otherwise as a litigant?


The Delhi high court rightly emphasised that disclosures about financial assets are part of judicial accountability including norms of transparency. Ironically, when the Supreme Court judges in 2009 decided in favour of disclosure, they cautiously added possible restraints — not yet elaborated. Taking a balanced view, the high court held that a judge's notes and draft judgments not placed on record could not be disclosed. The efficient functioning of judiciary was protected but accepted international standards of information accountability were to be adhered to.


If at the attorney general's behest the secretary general of the Supreme Court was before the court, the latter cannot but have been instructed by the chief justice. Having placed itself before the high court, the Supreme Court should not exercise its right to appeal, so that it sits in judgment over itself. The chief justice has declared that the full court will decide whether to appeal. If that happens, no judge would be entitled to hear the case as they would be both litigant and judge.


The RTI Act is clear. If the Supreme Court wants the act changed, this has to be done by Parliament not by one-sided judicial law-making. Until such a law is made (and it should not be) the Supreme Court should not allow itself to twist the law in its favour. The attorney general wants to appeal. Is this his view or that of his client, the Supreme Court, and perforce, the CJI? Forbearance is an option.


The writer is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court








Deve Gowda's expletive-laden diatribe against Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa set a new low in political discourse. While our politicians do indulge in "tu-tu mein mein" abuse in public, usually it is the foot soldiers who do the name calling. But in this case it was a former prime minister who used language which would make a sailor blush. The B-word was uttered more than once, with Gowda accusing Yeddyurappa of even being ready to "eat footwear for money". Gowda also crossed another line by raking up the name of a former lady minister close to the chief minister, in a bid to embarrass him.


The issue that incensed Gowda was land acquisition by the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE). It was similarly over land acquisition that Deve Gowda's son H.D. Kumaraswamy had walked out of a coalition government with the Congress some years back. Gowda, however, maintains he reacted strongly to the "agony of the farmers". NICE wants to acquire land for the Bangalore Mysore Infrastructure Corridor at a price which the farmers feel is too low. Of course, his rivals claim that he lost his cool because it pinched his own pocket.


Gowda's outburst highlights the deterioration of public discourse in the country. The growing tendency to vilify rival parties and paint them beyond the pale has made civilised debate between rival politicians almost impossible. Reaching an understanding even on issues on which opposing sides hold a common view — for instance, the pension regulatory act or the Indo-US nuclear deal in the last Parliament — becomes difficult in a vitiated atmosphere, where each side regards the other as untouchable. The unhealthy and unnecessary antagonism between political parties is reflected in the slipping standards of debate in Parliament. Scoring debating points laced with humorous exchanges and quick repartee was the norm in Parliament in the early years of the Republic, where differences in views made for spirited discussions without malice and ill-will. MPs were ready to appreciate the good points of the other side, for instance, Pandit Nehru as prime minister was one of the first to recognise the promise of the new Jana Sangh MP A.B.


Vajpayee. Nowadays MPs try to win the argument by sheer lung power, jumping into the well of the House or, at times, getting physical — as Amar Singh did in the last Lok Sabha session, pouncing on S.S. Ahluwalia.


While May's Parliamentary Code prohibits abusive language in Parliament, in the open political arena there is no such restraining order. George Orwell once pointed out political speeches are written largely to defend the indefensible so the terms of engagement can get pretty nasty. During election time, even seasoned politicians get carried away and their attacks become personalised. L.K. Advani stumbled badly in the last Lok Sabha polls by describing the prime minister as "useless" (nikamma) and the "weakest prime minister".


Neither remark went down well with the electorate. Indeed, experience shows that the public does not approve of name-calling. When Indira Gandhi remarked angrily in an election rally in 1977 that her opponents could "go to hell" ("Jahannam mein jana") her audience was disapproving. When Rajiv Gandhi used the crude phrase "naani yaad kar doonga" it was perceived as being in bad taste.


The late Pramod Mahajan often got into hot water for his smart-alec metaphors. When George Fernandes, while campaigning in Bellary, said that Sonia Gandhi's only claim to fame was that she married Rajiv Gandhi and gave birth to two children, he was accused of mocking motherhood.


Ghulam Nabi Azad's comment wondering how Vajpayee, a bachelor, could have a son-in-law, was not well received. Sonia Gandhi's description of Narendra Modi as a "merchant of death" (maut ka saudagar) backfired in Modi's favour. Another comment by Sonia, in a speech in Assam, that Vajpayee, then prime minister, had lost his mental balance, was considered beyond the pale. So was Modi's joke comparing Sonia to a Jersey cow and her son Rahul Gandhi to a hybrid calf.


Gowda, who has now to contend with angry protests by BJP supporters throughout the state, must surely be ruing his


ill-chosen words. While withdrawing his expletives and tendering an apology, he claims in his defence a lifetime in public life where he never uttered a word of abuse previously.








Watch a clip of India's seventh goal of an 11-goal thriller against Pakistan in the Amstelveen edition of the Champions Trophy seven years ago. Dhanraj Pillay steals the ball off the opponent's stick in his own half, sprints 40 metres, draws two defenders to him and then waits till they commit to the tackle before flicking the ball left to Prabhjot Singh who's charging down the centre as if his life depended on it; Prabhjot without breaking stride pushes the ball ahead into the striking circle where Deepak Thakur, half a second before taking his first touch, drops his right shoulder forcing Pakistan's goalkeeper to dive one way and then shoots into an empty goal. The whole thing takes less than 10 seconds: India 7, Pakistan 4. The players go wild, the crowd goes wild, and back home in India, the media goes wild. Revival on.


Can you put a price tag on that burst of speed, on that skill, on that passion? Probably not. And if you did try, the valuation is unlikely to revolve around a daily allowance of US$30 a day, or less, during tournaments, and nothing else.


The Indian hockey team's strike, less than six weeks before the World Cup in Delhi, has degenerated into a bit of a circus over the last couple of days. There were allegations and counter-allegations of greed and incompetence after yet another unproductive meeting on Tuesday, and loads of reactions from all over the country (none more dramatic than former players offering to return their Olympic medals).


The players felt insulted by the Rs 25,000 incentive they were offered, and said the officials refuse to understand the issue at hand. The officials say they don't have any more money, and that the players are being unreasonable. (A television channel has completely missed the point and started a pool to save Indian hockey, where viewers can send in money for the team. They are not asking for charity, they're asking for a salary and some respect.)


That the strike has brought the issue into focus is great, but there's a danger here that it'll get lost under this mountain of emotions.


Firstly, playing hockey for India, or any sport other than cricket for that matter, doesn't equate to a steady income. Players get jobs on the sports quota that pay them a salary, but concepts such as match fees or retainers are non-existent. Briefly, in 2003-04, K.P.S. Gill's Indian Hockey Federation had started paying a core group of players a monthly stipend of Rs 25,000 but that lasted only a year. Otherwise, what they get for playing for India is a per diem when on tour. That can't be fair.


Secondly, Hockey India's defence is that they can't do any more as they're an ad-hoc body, that they can't make promises that the next elected body is expected to keep. But then why haven't the elections been held yet? There was a November deadline, which came and went. They then set January 29 as the date before postponing that to February 7. The process of handing out of fresh affiliations has taken so long that it's hard not to ask: Will they go to the polls only when they're sure they'll win?


The team's official sponsors stepped in on Wednesday and put up an extra crore to end the current impasse, and generous as that is, it doesn't change anything for the long term.


In April 2008, the hockey fraternity in India was rejoicing the fact that K.P.S. Gill's and K. Jothikumaran's IHF had been overthrown by Suresh Kalmadi and the Indian Olympic Association. Twenty one months later, it's depressingly clear that not much has changed. Yes, the ad-hoc committee has organised more international tours, and traveling teams are staying in better hotels than they used to. Little else is different.


K.P.S. Gill said on Tuesday that this kind of strike would never have happened had he been in charge. That's probably true because the team would've been sacked at the first signs of dissent. He ran the game through fear and apathy. HI's version is negligence and apathy.


It takes all kinds to make the world, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an Indian hockey player, current or former, who thinks the administrators have done well, and that should say something about how the game's run in the country.


On Tuesday afternoon, two of the three players involved in that dream goal in August 2003, Prabhjot and Deepak, were sitting alongside their team mates facing television cameras in Pune and explaining to anyone who'd hear that they were asking only for what they deserved. Dhanraj, the original rebel, was at the Bombay Hockey Association, reiterating that this was the only way players could make their point.


The least you can do is hear them out without insulting them.








My adolescent years were wasted romancing the four major racquet games. There was a time when I could, with only little difficulty, execute the top-spin drive in table-tennis, the drop from the third line in badminton, and my favourite, the wall-hugging forehand in squash.


But the one stroke that always eluded me was the single-handed backhand on the tennis court. Whenever the ball came close enough to take a swing, my confidence would shatter, and my hand would automatically head south for a weak slice rather than the full-blooded drive I'd seen Ivan Lendl hit so many times on TV.


When I went to the US Open in 1999 (as a certified failed sportsman) for my first international assignment as a sports writer, I was most excited about witnessing some of the finest backhands ever hit — Pete Sampras's down-the-line whiplash, Andre Agassi's double-handed service return and Gustavo Kuerten's jumping crosscourt.


But it was a little-known Belgian girl, playing only her second Grand Slam, who provided a vision of pure grace in a first-round defeat to Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo. Then only 17, Justine Henin lost 6-1 6-4, but those who watched her play that day could tell that the fluidity of her stroke was for the ages.


Watching her go for a backhand was a rare treat in itself. She would run with her left hand loosely holding the racquet shaft, and then, at the last instant, pull it away to unleash a surge of hidden speed as the ball flew across the net at an unbelievable angle. More than the result, what stood out was the aesthetic charm of her single-handed arc. Not in recent times had a backhand been hit with such poise. In the years to come, John McEnroe would describe it as the greatest in history.


Henin went on to win 41 titles, including seven Grand Slams. Then, at only 25 years of age, she announced her retirement in the first half of 2008 while still ranked No 1 in the world. And, just like that, her backhand was relegated to YouTube memory.


Henin's return ahead of the 2010 Australian Open starting next week is one of the sports stories of the year, not just because tennis will get its most glorious shot back but also because the women's game has somehow been lost somewhere between the 200-kmph serve of the Williams sisters and the intense rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the men's side.


That her comeback almost coincides with the reemergence of another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, is the boost her sport desperately needed going forward in an era where equal prize-money at all major events has failed to be backed up with equal interest. Men's tennis has produced a series of unforgettable matches over the last couple of years — Federer vs Nadal, Federer vs Roddick, Nadal vs Verdasco — while women's tennis has somehow been relegated to a sideshow where glamour comes before game. Ever since Anna Kournikova first transformed the sport into a series of hoardings with double-meaning taglines, the interest generated on court has paled in comparison to the buzz outside the field of play.


The poster girls — Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic — are down in the rankings. The only constants at the top, Venus and Serena Williams, are surrounded by a bunch of similar-styled youngsters from eastern Europe who are more front office than box office.


Now, in 2010, with two women in the latter half of their twenties returning to resume battle with the Williams sisters, the excitement is bound to grow exponentially. In sport, nothing sells like a comeback, and Clijsters's US Open victory in 2009 had already set the tone for what could lie ahead.


The Belgians gave tennis its first epic match of the year last week as Clijsters beat Henin in a third-set tie-break to win the title at the Brisbane International. The most important moment came midway in the second set. Clijsters hit a deep inside-out, and Henin, lunging to her left, swung her trademark backhand for a searing crosscourt winner. Twenty months away from the sport, nothing had changed. They paused to exchange knowing smiles across the net, and the capacity crowd laughed with them.


Linked together, sometimes awkwardly, right from the start of their careers, the two could well make this women's tennis's year of the un-retirees.








Reading The Herald Tribune over breakfast in Hong Kong harbour last week, my eye went to the front-page story about how James Chanos — reportedly one of America's most successful short-sellers, the man who bet that Enron was a fraud and made a fortune when that proved true and its stock collapsed — is now warning that China is "Dubai times 1,000 — or worse" and looking for ways to short that country's economy before its bubbles burst.


China's markets may be full of bubbles ripe for a short-seller, and if Chanos can find a way to make money shorting them, God bless him. But after visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan this past week and talking to many people who work and invest their own money in China, I'd offer Chanos two notes of caution.


First, a simple rule of investing that has always served me well: Never short a country with $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves.


Second, it is easy to look at China today and see its enormous problems and things that it is not getting right. For instance, low interest rates, easy credit, an undervalued currency and hot money flowing in from abroad have led to what the Chinese government Sunday called "excessively rising house prices" in major cities, or what some might call a speculative bubble ripe for the shorting. In the last few days, though, China's central bank has started edging up interest rates and raising the proportion of deposits that banks must set aside as reserves — precisely to head off inflation and take some air out of any asset bubbles.


And that's the point. I am reluctant to sell China short, not because I think it has no problems or corruption or bubbles, but because I think it has all those problems in spades — and some will blow up along the way (the most dangerous being pollution). But it also has a political class focussed on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so.


And here is the other thing to keep in mind. Think about all the hype, all the words, that have been written about China's economic development since 1979. It's a lot, right? What if I told you this: "It may be that we haven't seen anything yet."


Why do I say that? All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash programme of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you'll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.


Now take all this infrastructure and mix it together with 27 million students in technical colleges and universities — the most in the world. With just the normal distribution of brains, that's going to bring a lot of brainpower to the market, or, as Bill Gates once said to me: "In China, when you're one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you."


Equally important, more and more Chinese students educated abroad are returning home to work and start new businesses. I had lunch with a group of professors at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, or HKUST, who told me that this year they will be offering some 50 full scholarships for graduate students in science and technology. Major US universities are sharply cutting back.


Tony Chan, a Hong Kong-born mathematician, recently returned from America after 20 years to become the new president of HKUST. What was his last job in America? Assistant director of the US National Science Foundation in charge of the mathematical and physical sciences. He's one of many coming home.


One of the biggest problems for China's manufacturing and financial sectors has been finding capable middle managers. The reverse-brain drain is eliminating that problem as well.


Finally, as Liu Chao-shiuan, Taiwan's former prime minister, pointed out to me: when Taiwan moved up the value chain from low-end, labour-intensive manufacturing to higher, value-added work, its factories moved to China or Vietnam. It lost them. In China, low-end manufacturing moves from coastal China to the less developed Western part of the country and becomes an engine for development there. In Taiwan, factories go up and out. In China, they go East to West.


"China knows it has problems," said Liu. "But this is the first time it has a chance to actually solve them." Taiwanese entrepreneurs now have more than 70,000 factories in China. They know the place. So I asked several Taiwanese businessmen whether they would "short" China. They vigorously shook their heads no as if I'd asked if they'd go one on one with LeBron James.


But, hey, some people said the same about Enron. Still, I'd rather bet against the euro. Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.







The lead news item in the latest issue of the RSS journal Organiser titled "Religious reservations violate the Constitution — Mohan Bhagwat" talks about a function attended by Bhagwat. The news story begins with Bhagwat's quote: 'The reservation being granted to some sections of the society by even going against the main spirit of the Constitution will divide the society. The government should refrain from this type of reservation. The so-called minorities are being given much more benefits in the country today than that is being given to the majority community. So much so that belonging to the majority community has become a crime,' said RSS sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat. He was addressing a sangh samagam organised at Magh Mela Parade Ground in Prayag on January 3. The sarsanghachalak was referring to the UPA government's attempts to introduce reservation in education and jobs as recommended by the Ranganath Misra Commission. Prominent among those who were present on the occasion included VHP president Ashok Singhal, former Union HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former state BJP president Kesari Nath Tripathi. Coming down heavily on the political leaders who are dividing the society in the name of caste, religion, language, community and region, Bhagwat said these leaders have nothing to do with the security and main problems of the country. They want only power".


The news item in the RSS organ further adds: "Commenting on the violent agitation going on in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, Bhagwat termed it the handiwork of the political leaders who indulge in petty politics. 'It is due to this petty politics that the leaders are safe and the public property is being damaged there,' he said citing the views of Guruji who had said in 1962 that the states should not be created on the basis of language or religion. But unfortunately this type of problem is seen by all of us today. Commenting on the worldwide concern being expressed over environmental degradation and pollution Bhagwat said the problem of environmental pollution has come into being due to the exploitative western lifestyle and it could not be cured until the world accepts the lifestyle based on the Hindu view that teaches to take as much from the nature as we require. 'The only way to protect the environment is to adopt the culture that teaches sacrifice and the Hindu culture is that culture. We take from the nature only as much as we require,' he said stressing on the milking (dohan) of natural resources rather than exploiting them.


Malay discrimination


The latest issue's editorial, titled "India should be concerned about human rights issues of Pravasi Bharatiyas", says: "The Union government is very enthusiastic about holding the Pravasi Bharatiya International Conference with great fanfare as it is an occasion to canvass for increased NRI investments and win encomiums from the powerful non-resident Indian community abroad. But unfortunately, it takes little or no interest in addressing the problems of the less privileged Indian community which is looking for support and intervention in the face of near racial annihilation in countries like Malaysia. For the last many years groups of Indian origin people from Malaysia have been petitioning the Indian government of the serious racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing going on in that country. There are some two million people of Indian origin living there, majority of them are Tamil speaking Hindus. They are a proud, hard working, law abiding and tradition bound community. They look to India for cultural and spiritual inspiration. Now, they are seeking political initiatives also... This journal has on a number of earlier occasions reported state sponsored atrocities and discriminations, wanton destruction of thousands of temples, forced occupation of temple property, crematorium and religious intolerance in that country".


It adds: "India traditionally has cordial relations with the Malaysian government. India has large areas of mutual cooperation and trade relations with that country. The Indian government with its record of excessive pandering to Indian minorities can canvass and convince its counterpart in Malaysia to be more humane, at least be mindful of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which in itself will go a long way in helping the Indian community lead a life of dignity. It can also open a special wing in the Ministry of External Affairs to register and follow-up on human rights violations and religious freedom of Indian origin overseas communities. This is the least the Government of India can do as it hosts such self-serving jamborees year after year in the name of Pravasi Bharatiyas".


Compiled by Suman K. Jha







It is difficult to imagine the heavily regulated and generally sober Indian banking industry being cautioned against risky banking practices. Yet, the ever-conservative RBI has expressed concern over an apparent interest rate 'war' between banks, particularly on offers of home loans. RBI's concern is directed at what are called 'teaser offers'. These offers entail a fixed (and low) interest rate for only the first year or two of the duration of the loan—for subsequent years, the interest rate is charged on a floating basis depending on the rates prevailing at different points in time. The banking regulator is worried about a potential 'payment shock' that a borrower may receive once the loan moves to a floating rate. If many borrowers don't repay their loans, there is a threat of a substantial rise in the non-performing assets on the books of Indian banks. The extremely risk-averse RBI would rather not contemplate such an eventuality. The US subprime crisis is the obvious reference point of their argument. However, in our view, RBI is mistaken in its caution.


Competition among banks is good for average retail borrower who needs cheap loans for car and home. If banks today are offering loans at 8% interest even for two years, then borrowers are benefiting, even if they have to pay higher rates later. It is reasonable to assume that borrowers are given full information about the schemes. RBI, instead of stifling growing competition between banks—Indian banking has never been competitive enough—should allow the 'price war'. Needless to say, Indian banks are hardly likely to lend recklessly in any case—that is not the way they operate. One big difference between retail loans made in India and the US is in the way collateral is managed. In the US, banks follow asset-based financing, so they will give a home loan on the basis of what the house a person is buying is worth. The risk is that if house prices collapse, the bank cannot earn back its loan even by taking possession of the house. Indian banks, on the other hand, prefer a cash flow based financing method. More than the value of the house a person buys, they will look at income flows and other, additional, assets. This, of course, means that it's harder to get a loan as an individual but banks err on the side of caution. The reality of Indian banking means that the system is still loaded against the aam borrower. But instead of reforming the system to make it friendlier to the needs of the aam aadmi, RBI continues to obsess with safety. That will mean little if hundreds of millions are excluded from cheaper finance.







A major reason for the latest surge in retail sugar prices has been the decision of the Uttar Pradesh government—home to some of the biggest private sugar mills like Bajaj Hindusthan, Balrampur Chini and Dhampur Sugar—to ban the processing of imported raw sugar. The government claims that the decision has been taken to control law and order in the state—limited violence had flared up during the sugarcane growers' agitation on getting a better price for cane. In reality, it is simply an old-fashioned protectionist move to allegedly aid the local farmers. UP's ban has not only locked up almost 1 million tonne of raw sugar in ports, but has also discouraged private millers from entering into fresh import contracts. This is a situation the country can ill-afford, when imports are expected to set the tone for prices in the coming few months. An estimated 4-6 million tonnes of sugar will have to be supplied through imports, because the domestic crop will only produce around 16-17 million tonnes of sugar, while the demand is almost 23 million tonnes in 2009-10. Stopping the movement of raw sugar has pushed up retail prices in Uttar Pradesh, too. So, the UP government's decision is clearly not pro-people even within the state.


In the case of most goods, it would not be in the remit of state government to ban sugar imports. But then, as we have argued before, the interventionist policy framework in sugar isn't like that for any other commodity. Curiously, while the onus for framing policies on sugar rests with the Central government, the state governments take the crucial policy decisions on the raw material, that is, sugarcane. It is at this fundamental point that the tussle starts and political competition takes precedence over sensible economics. The UP government's contention that farmers will suffer if imported raw sugar is allowed into the state is dubious—supplies of just 3-4 million tonnes should not have much impact on cane prices, which are already averaging around Rs 2,400 per tonne. In a sensible move yesterday, the Central government allowed UP millers to process imported raw sugar at any location outside UP without bearing an additional excise burden. This should bring relief to consumers in the short run. But, any long-term solution needs effective loosening of controls, both by the Centre and by the states, so that sugar does not become a turf for populist political battles, where consumers pay a high price.








This New Year, plenty of eulogies have been written of the so-called Chinese decade. At its start, the US GDP was more than eight times that of China; it's barely four times larger today. By some estimates, the share of China's private consumption to GDP will overtake that of the US by 2020. An even broader historical sweep has many analysts reading the end of centuries of Western ascendancy into the new US-China relationship.


Beyond economic factors, new theses have emerged about the relevance of such sermons on democracy as America has preached through the previous century into the first. After all, the authoritarian Chinese state steered its people to great growth while the Great Recession decimated employment and markets in the US.


But there is a disturbing undertone to the China growth story that high-spirited eulogies cannot accommodate. There's a fear that, as far as political freedom and human rights are concerned, the bloody Tiananmen Square suppression of 1989 can't be buried as a footnote in history. Not yet. International businesses also sense this when they accept controls in China that they wouldn't in their home countries. The size and significance of the Chinese market means they don't want to get on the wrong side of its rulers or test their sensitivity. This explains why Google has hitherto kowtowed to Chinese censors. But, in a radical new development, the company seems ready to turn over a more aggressive leaf.


Actually, there has been speculation about Google reorienting itself in China since last September, when its country head Kai-Fu Lee resigned and set off an exodus of other local staff. There has always been a disconnect between the 'Don't be evil' motto that Sergey Brin and Larry Page proffered in their 2004 IPO document and that was launched in 2006. While their mission document read, "We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains," Brin and Page repeatedly caved in to demands for censoring search results in China. This was all about 'short-term gains' rather than doing 'good things for the world'. But industry watchers have been seeing this basic conflict coming to a head for some time now, and especially since September.


Two developments worth highlighting took place in the interim. First, Google weathered the Great Recession well. In the third quarter, its profits jumped 27% and topped Wall Street expectations. In China, however, while Lee led the company's market share to grow from 21% in 2007 to 31% in 2009, the local contender, Baidu, remained entrenched in the first spot. Whether it was offering more Mandarin-friendly searches or bucking Google at being the first to provide social media for conducting searches, Baidu has remained ahead. After years of compromising with government authorities to grow in the local market, Google's China returns remain an insignificant part of its global revenue. Conventional wisdom says the Chinese market is too big to walk away from, but Google has invested enough to really test this perception. It's actually in a position to defy it.


Second, not only have democratic reforms stalled in China, it has in fact been cracking down on dissidence with increasing intensity. Democracy advocate Liu Xiabo was jailed on Christmas Day. One of his last blog posts, before the detention, took note of how much harder it was to mobilise activists in the pre-Web days: "The Internet is God's present to China."


Google's plaint this week, posted under the title, A new approach to China, refers to highly sophisticated and targeted attacks on its corporate infrastructure whose primary goal was to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. It reads: "We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech." And goes on to say that Google is no longer willing to continue censoring results on, even if this means having to shut down the portal and the company's offices in China.


Not all companies have the luxury of sidelining the Chinese market and still continuing to grow. But we should not under-estimate the resolve Brin and Page are showing here. There are plenty of bigger and more insulated fish in the global pond, and none of them has staged as bold a confrontation with the Chinese authorities.


One must also underline that China has the largest number of Internet users in the world today. If Baidu alone rules, some fear that the Internet will deteriorate into an intranet. But in the face of the political storm gathering over China, it's more likely that consumers will drive it to a more democratic form. Just as, let's face it, they have driven Google back to its 'Don't be evil' origins.







Just when it seemed that the much-awaited and much-delayed auction of 3G spectrum would finally take place, it looks like all signs of movement forward may have turned out to be a mirage. We have been talking about 3G since 2006—models for auction have been designed, different arms of the government are apparently working (supposedly overtime) to have the desired spectrum


vacated from the defence services; now there are overriding revenue considerations for a cash-strapped government—yet some seemingly minor inter-departmental rivalry and inconsequential file notings threaten to stall everything.


The latest failure on the part of the empowered group of ministers (eGoM) to have the desired spectrum vacated by the defence forces and to come out with a time schedule to have the auctions completed on February 12 is a poor reflection of the working of the government. The differences were minor—with defence forces complaining about some interference in its signals by spectrum allocated to BSNL in some circles and the need to shift it to another band—issues that could be easily ironed out in due course rather than holding up the entire auction process. It seems that despite the eGoM, different ministries are just in no mood to listen to a single authority.


These are serious portents for the telecom sector—this auction is crucial as a firm indication of replacing the old system of administered allocation once and for all. But if the delay continues, sections of the industry can immediately put question marks on the efficacy of a system where auctions are a norm but where even a simple auction cannot be conducted in a span of three years. Since spectrum is the basic raw material for mobile operators that sustains even the normal mobile operations we have today, we can't afford a structure that breeds delays. Or else the basic survival of the 500 million-plus subscribers, growing at 10 million each month, and their economic activities that are dependent on such services would be seriously affected.


What is the basic problem, whose solution eludes the entire might of the government? Well, it's a very simple one. Before the mobile revolution took place there was spectrum in certain bands being used by a host of government departments, with the largest chunk being with the defence forces. However, with 3G services in mind, in addition to the spectacular growth in 2G mobile services, the department of telecommunications and the defence ministry entered into an MoU by which defence was to vacate 45 Mhz of spectrum (25 Mhz for 3G and 20 Mhz for 2G). In lieu of this, DoT was to make an optic fibre network for defence communications.


Now this has become a bone of contention between the two sides resulting in a series of exchanged correspondence, most of which is simple bureaucratic wrangling. The defence forces maintain that they will link vacation of spectrum with development on the construction of the promised optical fibre cable, progress on which has been quite slow. DoT reasons that spectrum was given to defence in phases and its vacation should also happen in the same phased way. Further, the Cabinet has approved the alternate network project and so the defence forces have no reason to feel that DoT is not serious about completing it in good time. More fundamentally, the two sides also disagree on who's the real owner of spectrum—defence or DoT.


It is this continuous quibbling that is leading to delays in the auction of 3G spectrum. Without the spectrum in hand, it's very difficult to conduct the auctions because the government plans to take the payment by the successful bidders after the auction while the actual allocation of spectrum would happen later—as and when the defence forces vacate the slots. But if there's protracted delay in vacation, beyond what has been promised at the time of the auction, there might be legal problems.


It's precisely to resolve such thorny issues that a plethora of committees have been set up. Sadly, despite the combined efforts of all of them in the last few months, no success has been achieved, as a result of which the first schedule of the auctions from January 14 had to be postponed and now, as reported by this newspaper, the tentative second schedule from February 12 is also highly unlikely. Any further delay would certainly make it impossible for the government to hold the auctions within the current fiscal, ending March 31.


If that were to happen, it would be a sad reflection on the policy implementation processes of the government, particularly in areas that need quick decisions and fast implementation. Perhaps what is needed now is intervention from the highest level, perhaps the PMO, which can call a meeting of all the sides and set the final agenda by which everyone has to abide.






India may have earned some goodwill from the international community by promising significant reductions in its carbon intensity of GDP at the recent Copenhagen summit. However, the real challenge lies in implementation. If India fails to meet the challenge, it might end up losing credibility. Unfortunately, the way India is implementing its planned switchover to Euro III and Euro IV norms for auto fuels does not inspire much confidence.


Significantly, the roadmap for the phased introduction of cleaner auto fuels was not an initiative of the government. It was prepared at the instruction of the Supreme Court. High content of sulphur and aromatic hydrocarbons in petrol and diesel posed a serious risk to public health. That drew the apex court's attention.


As per the national auto fuel policy put in place by the government, oil-marketing companies (OMCs) are required to comply with Euro IV fuel norms in 13 metro cities and Euro III in the rest of country from April 1, 2010. However, now it turns out that public sector OMCs are not prepared to meet the compliance deadline for Euro III norms and are seeking extension. The OMCs' argument is that their refineries might not be ready in time to deliver adequate quantity of Euro III grade auto fuels.


The government announced the auto fuel policy in 2003 and OMCs had enough time to implement their product quality upgrade projects to meet the mandatory deadline. However, they have failed to do so. It is incomprehensible why they were so casual in their preparation to comply with the schedule. Were they reluctant to make the required investment in projects not economically profitable for them, and were banking on the government to bail them out?


The petroleum ministry is supposed to ensure that OMCs comply with the deadline for the introduction of these cleaner fuels. However, it failed to crack the whip on OMCs. Now the ministry is favourably inclined to their request for extension. Unintentionally, the ministry is sending the wrong message to the international community about India's preparedness to deliver on its carbon emission reduction promise.








For most of the past four decades, India and Bangladesh have been distant neighbours, separated by distrust and suspicion despite their visceral connections of geography and ecology, language and culture, economics and politics. There have been periods of acute stasis and also moments of hope, when a basic transformation in the relationship seemed possible. But never before has the overall situation been quite as propitious as it is now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is i n his second tenure as the head of the United Progressive Alliance government and the position of India as a growth pillar in South Asia and the world means the logic of regional integration is more compelling than ever before. In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed is once again Prime Minister, this time with a majority so convincing that she need not keep looking over her shoulder to second guess what the Bangladesh National Party of Khaleda Zia might say or do in response to the improvement in bilateral ties with India. Notwithstanding the benign domestic political situation the Congress and the Awami League find themselves in, the governments have a two-year window to bring about a fundamental shift in the structure and content of the bilateral relationship before electoral compulsions kick in once again. And judging by the success of Sheikh Hasina's recent visit to Delhi, a fine start has been made.


India has promised a $1 billion line of credit to Bangladesh and a pruning of the negative list of Bangladeshi products that are denied preferential access to Indian markets. It has also agreed to push for better border connectivity so that bilateral trade can increase, and Teesta water sharing has been flagged for discussion. On its part, Bangladesh has dropped its opposition to granting India transit rights. The Agartala-Akhaura rail link will now be developed, creating the potential for railway freight to be sent from Kolkata to Tripura and thence to the rest of the North-East via Bangladesh. On the security front, Dhaka demonstrated its willingness to accommodate Indian concerns by facilitating the handover of ULFA leader Paresh Barua. All this suggests that both countries are serious about opening a new chapter. But one ought not to minimise the challenges that lie ahead. One test will be whether India is prepared to allow Bangladeshi garment manufacturers preferential market access. Another will be its willingness to craft agreements on the equitable sharing of all river waters. As the bigger economy, India needs to go the extra mile in giving a boost to its neighbour's economic potential, especially considering that Sheikh Hasina has moved so far in addressing longstanding Indian requests on transit.







The rupee touched a 16-month high of Rs.45.34 against the dollar on Monday, January 10. The trend of rupee appreciation that began in March-April 2009 has accelerated in the new year. The rupee gained almost three per cent in less than 10 working days. In the middle of the previous week, the rupee breached the Rs.46 mark. The Indian currency's strong showing is in line with the strengths exhibited by most Asian currencies recently. Between December 31 and January 6, the Korean won moved up from 1164.000 to 1136 in relation to the dollar, and the dollar also lost ground against the Malaysian ringgit and the Thai baht. The yen moved up rather sharply from 93.02 to 92.20. In a broad sense, the strength of the Asian currencies is attributable to the relatively robust turnaround of their economies in the post-recession period. In contrast, the recovery in the United States has been tepid as well as uneven. The currency markets saw a mild rally in dollar when reasonably positive employment data emerged during the first week of December. However, the unexpectedly large unemployment figures released at the end of the month accentuated the depreciation of the dollar. It is no surprise that economic news from the U.S. continue to have such a major influence on other currencies even after the global crisis. All talk of replacing the dollar as the world's reserve currency has proved to be premature and the American currency retains it pre-eminent position in international trade and currency dealing rooms.


In India, the recent gains by the rupee are attributed to a spurt in foreign institutional investment (FII). During 2009, FII flows were estimated at around $17.5 billion. The volume, below the peak in 2007, is high enough to signal a revival of interest in India. There is every likelihood that these flows will swell or at least be sustained as long as returns from India are seen to be higher than in the developed world. A recent statement by the U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman ruling out monetary tightening for now is positive news for stock markets: cheap dollar funds will continue to be available for investment abroad. The Reserve Bank of India has not intervened so far probably because a continuous mop up of dollars will mean a large accretion to reserves. Also, domestic liquidity that is already high will increase manifold, fuelling inflation expectations. The strong rupee hurts exports, now recovering after a long period of decline. The forthcoming monetary policy statement will make clear how the balance is to be struck among the conflicting objectives.









An international conference in London on January 28 will focus on the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan. Some 70 delegations, including from India, may attend the conference, co-chaired by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The challenge is daunting as the Afghan war is no more redeemable.


An international conference is always an organic entity that evolves in its run-up, especially when an old warhorse like Britain happens to be the master of ceremonies. What began as an angry demand to rationalise the waywardness of the United States strategy in Afghanistan has transformed beyond recognition. Last September, the German contingents in the Amu Darya region perpetrated a horrific war crime by ordering a NATO airstrike on an impromptu gathering of poor Afghans helping themselves to free fuel from a tanker stuck in a bend in the Kunduz river. The German psyche chaffed, having vowed never again to commit war crimes. Reacting to a public outcry on the eve of a tricky national election, Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the international community draw a clear timeline to "Afghanise" the war so that Berlin could contemplate an exit strategy.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to Ms Merkel's rescue and they addressed the U.N. to hold an international conference to set a timeline for the Afghan government to assume the responsibility of the war. It fleetingly seemed as if the tipping point had been reached. Britain promptly appeared on European mainland. Empathising with the German-French demand, it offered to host the conference. Washington seemed disinterested but observers could anticipate that the London conference would be an Anglo-American enterprise.


These footfalls must echo in the memory in order to put the conference in perspective. To be sure, Britain will host a gala event — "all 43 powers engaged in the international coalition will attend, together with other regional and Muslim partners and international organisations." Prime Minister Gordon Brown justified that it was "right" for Afghanistan's regional neighbours (such as India) to attend, since "it is very important to recognise that in the longer term, Afghanistan's future is dependent on both non-interference by its immediate neighbours and economic and cultural cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours."


Mr. Brown said the aim of the conference would be to deliver "a new compact between Afghanistan and the international community." He underscored that "the first of those priorities is security," which meant expectations that countries like Germany might actually announce "troop deployments building on the total of 1,40,000 troops promised for 2010." Yes, incredible as it sounds, Ms Merkel might actually end up pledging more deployments on top of the 4,500 troops already serving in northern Afghanistan. The German press is reporting about parleys among Berlin politicians to arrive at a consensus figure.


Indeed, U.S. Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have introduced a new subplot to Clausewitzean wars — you raise troop level and rev up the war and thereafter decide when to freeze it and on what terms ("the status of forces agreement," as in Iraq). Mr. Brown said: "I hope the London conference will also be able to set out the next stage in a longer-term plan: the changing balance between [NATO] alliance forces and the Afghan army and defence forces as the number of Afghan forces increases from 90,000 to 1,35,000 next year and possibly to 1,75,000 later." He touched, en passant, on the core issue of "Afghanisation" which, in his view, would form only the second priority — setting out an "outline programme for the transfer of the lead responsibility" to the Afghan forces, which he hoped could begin during 2010.


British diplomacy is famous for its tenacity. Mr. Brown said: "London must also encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours and, in particular, better joint working with Pakistan." Thus is born a brand new key theme of the conference — Britain will actively work on the setting up of a "regional stabilisation council." After all, as an erstwhile imperial power, that is the least Britain can do for regional stability. The energetic Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, is already trudging the long and lonely diplomatic mill towards the proposed regional council.


Meanwhile, the genie is out of the bottle: Mr. Obama's December 1 strategy never intended to focus on a U.S. withdrawal plan. The plain-speaking U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said on December 7 that Mr. Obama's mind was being widely misinterpreted, in particular the mid-2011 date in his strategy speech six weeks ago. "It's not a withdrawal, but the start of a responsible transition in which American combat troops will begin to draw down," said Mr. Holbrooke, adding another review by Mr. Obama would look at the issue again in December.


Mr. Holbrooke was shepherding an attentive gathering of American think-tankers to think straight instead of meandering into silly notions of a U.S. troop withdrawal. He underlined that the U.S. had more important issues to worry about such as promoting reconciliation between the Afghan government and the "relatively moderate" Taliban elements. Mr. Holbrooke, who is in Islamabad for consultations with the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, says the reconciliation process with the Taliban is "high on our personal priority list." Indeed, he already has an able and highly experienced deputy positioned in Islamabad to assist him — Ambassador Robin Raphel, who as Assistant Secretary of State in the Bill Clinton administration was exceptionally well regarded by the Taliban leadership in Kandahar.


In essence, the idea of the "good Taliban" refuses to go away. Mr. Holbrooke explained: "They [Taliban] fight for various reasons; they are misled about our presence there. They have a sense of injustice or personal grievances. Or they fight because it's part of the Afghan tradition that you fight outsiders and they have the NATO/U.S. presence conflated with earlier historical events, some of which [read Soviet intervention] are not too far in the past." Therefore, the U.S. strategy's priority in 2010 will be to win over the "non-ideological militants" and entice them to quit the fight and instead help the U.S. forces turn the tide of the war. "It's absolutely imperative that we deal with this issue. If we don't deal with it, success will elude us."


Some other templates have also appeared before the London conference. Washington has resumed its covert war of attrition against Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The U.S. has realised that it does not squander much smart power to persuade the inexperienced Afghan parliamentarians to reject those of Mr. Karzai's Cabinet nominees in Kabul who are not Washington's blue-eyed boys — and thereby cast the President in the bazaar as a weak leader as well as debilitate him by breaking up his pan-Afghan coalition of supporters. Washington wants the decks cleared for a "regime change" in Afghanistan as soon as the co-option of the Taliban on its terms is completed.


Conceivably, Mr. Obama cannot be a "hands-on" President as regards such political skulduggery in Kabul, but the stench of the eddy is bound to strike his nostrils some day. Mr. Karzai defiantly said last week: "With the international community, I don't need to have their favour … The international community, especially the West, they must respect Afghanistan and its government, and understand that we are a people, we are a country, we have a history, we have interests, we have pride, we have dignity. Our poverty must not become a means of ridicule and insult to us … We're not going to ask [the London conference] for more cash. We are going to ask the international community to end night-time raids on Afghan homes. We are going to ask them to stop arresting Afghans. We are going to ask them to reduce and eliminate civilian casualties … the war on terror is not in Afghan villages. It's not in the pursuit of every man that's wearing a turban and has a beard."


Mr. Karzai has reason to be indignant. He just received the report of the Afghan investigation team which looked into the massacre of civilians in two recent U.S. military operations. A statement on Mr. Karzai's website said: "The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village in Narang district of the eastern province of Kunar and took ten people from three homes, eight of them schoolchildren in grades six, nine and ten, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead." Mr. Karzai's call to the U.S. to hand over the killers has fallen on deaf ears.


The non-NATO participants at the London conference such as India will face a tough call as to how far it is in their interest to identify with the patently unilateralist Anglo-American agenda. The bottom line will always be that India should never consider deploying troops in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the U.S. will never disregard Pakistani sensitivities and invite New Delhi, either.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)








Quality of life is a relatively novel concept that dominates both medical science and health policy today and is widely accepted as the best indicator of outcome of treatment. The focus among practitioners of modern medicine, and indeed, in social consciousness, however, remains firmly on the elusive concept of "cure." The adage among medical practitioners of yore: "to cure sometimes, control often; but comfort always," hints at the importance of l ife quality, one that is forgotten, however, in the quest for miracle cures.


That the majority of chronic conditions defy cure is something doctors know, but often choose to be agnostic of. Thus apart from infections, inflammations, metabolic disturbances and transient visitations of their ilk, that respond well to drugs designed to terminate them; and indeed abnormalities of structure (organs that have lost structural integrity) that are amenable to surgical intervention, the vast majority of medical conditions while potentially controllable, are not curable. Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, ischaemic heart disease, stroke, epilepsy, dementia and a host of other conditions while "treatable" and/or "modifiable" (relief from clinical symptoms and attendant complications) are not "curable." The promise of a "cure" for many chronic diseases thus remains wishful; that rainbow with its elusive pot of gold, at the end of the dark, illness cloud.


There is no doubt we are living longer as a society, and this longevity is attributable, in great part, to advances in modern medicine; cardiac bypass procedures, joint replacements, organ transplants and such like. There is ample evidence to support our collective social longevity, the average Indian lifespan having increased by over a third, since the time of independence, the increase being greater in "advanced" societies like Japan. However, whether such longevity leads automatically to enhanced quality of life remains a conjecture. For example, the follow-up data after a cardiac bypass surgery, arguably the best known lifespan enhancing procedure, shows in many studies high rates of depression and cognitive dysfunction (memory and higher order brain function problems) 5-10 years after the procedure. It would be fallacious to blame the bypass procedure for these complications in the brain and mind; after all, had the person with ischaemic heart disease lived long enough, without the procedure, he might have developed these anyway. However, in evaluating the overall "success" of such procedures or advocating their widespread application through policy implementation, these factors must be considered carefully. In this instance, the question that begs our attention is: "while the procedure enhances lifespan, does it enhance the quality of life?" And if it does not for a select group, who constitutes the group? Why not for it? When does it enhance the quality of life, and when doesn't it? What determines the outcome in a given individual? Where and how is this outcome determined? These questions need clear answers and we do not always have them.


It is striking how both modern medicine and society are obsessed with the concept of "cure," the quest for magic pills (or, indeed, magic procedures) that will help achieve the longevity goal, being never ending. The energy, enterprise and expense invested in this quest, by affected individuals, their families, and governments are, unfortunately, not always rewarded with a good quality of life after the procedure. Our obsession with "cure" probably comes from two very different directions. The first is idealistic; the tantalising possibility that we will, through advancements in science and technology, "fix" the vast majority of problems concerning the human body. When mankind has learnt to fly, build tunnels through mountains and under the sea, and transport itself into space at will, this aspiration of curing chronic diseases and enhancing longevity does not really seem that distant a frontier.


The second, however, probably has more sinister origins that merit careful consideration. The business of curative medicine is enormously lucrative and demands the constant creation of markets that will utilise the goods and services it develops. What could interest the human race more than the possibility of a cure for illness and life-enhancement (with or without quality)? A degree of scepticism of novel, potentially curative treatments is, therefore, warranted in the modern social context, and we must examine carefully whether the promise of "a magic cure" for any chronic condition guarantees alongside an improvement in the quality of life. Thus, while we share a collective belief that people not only live longer due to advances in medical science but also live well, the presumption of a better quality of life, is sadly, in many instances, just that — a presumption!


Scientifically viewed, the proof that many modern medical treatments enhance the life quality remains tenuous, to say the least. At a recent lecture in VHS, Chennai, Shah Ebrahim, Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Chair of the South Asian Chronic Diseases Network, a renowned international expert on chronic disease epidemiology, rued our societal predilection for magic bullets (The Hindu, January 9, 2010). Talking about the "polypill" — a combination of aspirin (blood thinner), a Statin (to lower cholesterol levels), and antihypertensive agents (to lower blood pressure) — that is intended to enhance cardiovascular health, he pointed out that simple health promotion measures such as changing over to rock salt from processed salt (high in sodium) and using soya oil as opposed to palm oil (which strangely attracts a lower tax probably due to anomalies in trade policy) were just as likely to improve cardiovascular health. These are far cheaper for governments to implement, and relevant to developing nations.


Prescribing the widespread use of the polypill for the middle-aged, as opposed to implementing these simple public health interventions through changes in policy, both health and trade, will be deleterious in many ways, he opined. It will be costly to the nation and poorly sustainable, will have low penetration in society and perhaps, most importantly, take away the responsibility for our health from us, placing it firmly in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. Further, the former approach, of making people assume responsibility for their lifestyle and diet, alongside the implementation of a complementary government lead policy, is far more likely to enhance other desirable health behaviours in society and, indeed, global health outcomes.


Why do we then as a society look to the "polypill" with such enthusiasm or consider it with such seriousness? The answer probably lies in our preference for "cure" as opposed to comfort and life quality. Happily for us, improved quality of life and "wellness," a concept that has traditionally dominated eastern thought and traditional medical systems, is today receiving much global attention. Wellness encompasses both physical and mental well-being, the latter being a dynamic state of optimal functioning referring to the individual's ability to develop his or her potential, work productively, build strong and positive relationships with others and contribute to the community. We must recognise that the prevention and management of diabetes extend far beyond the popular notion of blood sugar control; that cardiac health cannot be achieved merely by unblocking blood vessels and enhancing circulation through a stent or bypass; and indeed that the drugs for dementia available today do not even guarantee slowing of disease progression, let alone cure or reversal.


Given this scenario, we as a nation and society must consider quality of life and wellness as treatment outcomes, quite seriously, and ask ourselves whether the treatments we are considering, however technologically advanced and seductive, will likely help us achieve these outcomes. We would also do well to examine closely the role of traditional and indigenous medical systems that have for centuries retained this focus on wellness and life quality through health promotion, prevention of illness, care and comfort for those affected with chronic illness; not merely curative treatments.


(Dr. Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy is Honorary Secretary, Voluntary Health Services Hospital, Chennai. The views expressed herein are his own.)








The official figures show there are 1,600 agricultural workers in Rosarno, Italy, all but 36 of them Italians. The reality, exposed by the raw and violent riots last week, was far different: some 1,200 foreigners, most of them Africans, earned about $30 a day under the table picking oranges and clementines. Now that the town is largely cleared of foreign labour, the fruit remains on the trees. In other places, $30 is not a living wage. But this is one of the poorest parts of Italy, and many local people do not earn much more, even if most will not pick fruit.


In a broad sense, the worst immigrant rioting ever seen in Italy — shocking not only because of the anger of migrants but also for the attacks on them by townspeople — cuts to the heart of the nation's difficult evolution from a place of emigrants to one of immigrants.


But it is also a story fixed to Rosarno. The economy is so weak here that locals and immigrants are competitors. In a town where people are reluctant to reveal their last names and often their first, a mysterious element complicates any full understanding of the riots: the ongoing strength of the Calabrian Mafia, or `Ndrangheta, which has deep roots in agriculture. The son of a local organised crime boss was arrested and accused of wounding a policeman in the riots, suggesting that the mafia may have orchestrated the locals' response to the immigrants' violence.


"It's a very, very complicated situation," said Francesco Campolo, a police prefect who is one of three interim commissioners appointed by the region to govern Rosarno since the arrest last year of the mayor, who was charged with having organised crime ties. This week, the absence of immigrants, 1,200 of whom were whisked by bus and train to detention centres over the weekend, was clear. On Tuesday, fire-fighters demolished a former factory that served as seasonal housing for many migrants.


Authorities are investigating these central questions: How did the protests become so violent? Who, if anyone, orchestrated the citizens' retaliation? And who benefits from the immigrants' temporary or perhaps permanent disappearance from the area? Alberto Cisterna, who oversees Calabria at Italy's National Anti-Mafia Commission in Rome, called Rosarno the Corleone of Calabria, where clans of the `Ndrangheta exert "extraordinary control."


Official estimates indicate that the `Ndrangheta did €44 billion, or more than $60 billion, in 2008, in international drug and arms trafficking, public works fraud, usury and prostitution. Many authorities say that in a town where the `Ndrangheta is strong, the presence of the immigrant workers must have been welcome or, at least, convenient. They note that agriculture is not profitable if transportation and labour costs are high and producers pay about 75 cents for a carton of fruit. In any case, most agricultural outfits may have Italians on the rolls but they pay migrant workers under the table to harvest the fruit — if it is harvested. For years, state authorities have not cracked down on the arrangement.


Calabria, like other southern Italian regions rich in agriculture, has long benefited from hefty European Union agricultural subsidies. To prevent fraud in which small acreage yielded puzzlingly large harvests, in 2007 the EU changed its rules to base subsidies on the number of hectares planted rather than the tonnes produced.


The result, some authorities hypothesise, is that it may be more lucrative for some Calabrian landowners to let their harvests rot on the tree and collect the subsidies than to pay pickers. In theory, the migrants may have become less useful and, possibly, less tolerated. Still, over nearly two decades, their presence had become part of the fabric of Rosarno.


This week some local shops were hurting for the migrants' business. "Before Christmas, I baked a whole batch of sandwich rolls just for them," said Letizia Condulucci as she worked the counter at her family's bakery.


Like many Rosarno residents, she defended what the townspeople had done over the years to help the migrant workers and was outraged that they had wounded residents. "Ninety-nine percent of us helped them," she said. And in the riots, she said, "they destroyed the town." On Monday evening, Rosarno residents held a peaceful protest, marching through the city's flat concrete grid with a sign that read: "Abandoned by the state, criminalized by the media. Twenty years of cohabitation isn't racism."


But conversations with residents revealed a more complex reality. Many used an oft-heard phrase in Italy: "We're not racist, but ..." Ultimately, they tended to say that maybe things were better without the immigrants, since it was hard enough for the Italians to make a living.


The city commissioners say the riots were fuelled by wild rumours on both sides. The immigrants had heard that local residents killed an immigrant, while local residents had heard that immigrants had wounded a pregnant woman badly. Both rumours were false, the commissioners say.


Still, the violence was dramatic. After immigrants struck residents and shops with sticks and burned and smashed cars, residents began responding with violence. By late Saturday night, most immigrants feared for their safety and voluntarily boarded buses and trains that took them to immigrant detention centres, Rosarno authorities said.


Those with residency permits, which Doctors Without Borders says could be as many as half, were free to leave. Alessandra Tramontano, the director of Doctors Without Borders' seasonal workers programme in Italy, said the group was "worried" about where the immigrants would go and "how they will manage the winter."


Meanwhile, early Tuesday morning, a special team of Italian fire-fighters was using demolition equipment to take down the factory where many had been squatting in conditions widely denounced as inhumane. Campolo, one of Rosarno's commissioners, said that even before the riots, the city had received state money to remove the immigrant encampment, which sits next to a middle school, and build a playground and sports fields. It also plans to build a meeting centre, with some health care facilities and dormitories, for the migrant workers. Campolo said the city planned to go ahead with the project. "Of course," he said, "for the immigrants, when they come back."


(Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.) — © 2010 The New York Times News Service







The earthquake that has hit Haiti, raising fears that thousands have been killed, is the latest in a long line of natural disasters to befall a country ill-equipped to deal with such events.


Hurricanes and flooding are perennial concerns for the poorest country in the western hemisphere, which has time and again been dependent on foreign aid in emergencies. In 1963 hurricane Flora, the sixth deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history, devast ated the island. The U.S. weather bureau estimated the death toll at 5,000 and the cost of damage to property and crops at between $125m and $180m.


The country was struck by two disasters in 2004. In May, heavy rains caused flooding that killed more than 2,000 people. Four months later, mudslides and flooding caused by hurricane Jeanne, the 12th deadliest Atlantic hurricane, killed more than 3,000 people, mostly in the town of Gonaives.


Tragedy struck again in 2008 when four storms — tropical storm Fay, hurricane Gustav, hurricane Hanna and hurricane Ike — dumped heavy rains on the country. Around 1,000 people died and 800,000 were left homeless. The number of people affected by the storms was put at 800,000 — almost 10 per cent of the population — with the damage estimated at $1bn.


Deforestation that allows rainwater to wash down mountain slopes is believed to have exacerbated many of the natural disasters in Haiti. Two-thirds of Haitians live off the land and the same proportion on less than $2 a day, so the impact of such tragedies has been long lasting. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










So now we know Tony Blair's former director of communications Alastair Campbell's loyalty to his former boss has limits. "If he'd asked me to jump off a building, I wouldn't," he told the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry in London on Tuesday. But even if he draws the line at suicide on command, Mr. Campbell showed he remains utterly faithful to his former master. Asked if he had any regrets about the war in which he served not merely as PR man b ut as principal adviser, he struggled to think of any.


He stood by "every single word" of the notorious September 2002 dossier, which declared "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein was building a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction — even though it turned out those WMDs did not exist. When he considered the enormous loss of life the invasion of Iraq had entailed, did he still believe it had been a success? "I do," he said, adding that far from feeling any shame for his role in the greatest foreign policy calamity since Munich, he felt "very proud of the part" he had been allowed to play. Britain too should feel proud of what it had done — ridding Iraq of a ghastly dictatorship — and stop "beating ourselves up" over it.


So Mr. Campbell established himself as the last of the true believers, still clinging to the talking points he scripted back in the first years of the last decade, even as earlier witnesses to the Chilcot inquiry have steadily sought to distance themselves from the Iraq debacle. He gave not an inch to the fainthearts who believe that going to war to disarm a nation that had already disarmed was a catastrophic error.


Still, despite himself, he let something slip. He admitted that Tony Blair had written to George W. Bush in early 2002, declaring that come what may, Saddam Hussein would be stripped of his WMDs. Ideally that would be done by diplomatic means but, if push came to shove and military action were required, "Britain will be there." That directly contradicted what Mr. Blair, Mr. Campbell and all the others said at the time, as they regularly told parliament, press and the people that "no decision has been taken." Now we have (yet more) confirmation that a decision had very much been taken — that if diplomacy failed, Britain was sworn to go to war.


Will anyone care? The five members of the inquiry team will. Their body language suggested an impatience with the alternative reality sketched by Mr. Campbell, in which he simultaneously "bombarded" the intelligence chiefs with instructions to rewrite their dossier yet insisted that they could not have felt a scintilla of even subconscious pressure to beef up their assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.


Beyond the Chilcot panellists, who but scholars and anoraks will really be bothered by what Mr. Campbell and Mr. Blair decided and when? Hasn't the Iraq war, now that the bulk of British troops have withdrawn, passed out of contemporary politics and into the realm of history?



The answer is: not quite. For the Iraq episode continues to cast a long shadow over our public life. It haunts domestic politics in the present and sets limits for what will be possible in the future.


Take one immediate consequence. Even if Labour is not ejected from power until this coming northern spring, the observers of the future will surely conclude that it was the Iraq war that broke the bond of trust between this government and the nation. True, Labour won the election of 2005, but it did so with a meagre 35.3 per cent of the vote in a verdict that was more about the unelectability of their Tory opponents than enthusiasm for Labour.


The damage extends far beyond one party. It was the widespread belief that Britons had been led falsely to war that planted the seeds of distrust which grew to full bloom in the MPs' expenses affair. After Iraq, voters believe the very worst about their politicians. There is no graver responsibility than sending men and women to face enemy fire: if our leaders can lie about that, they can surely lie about anything.


That, in turn, has fed a disenchantment with democratic politics itself. A refrain chanted with depressing regularity is: "If they can ignore two million people on the streets against the Iraq war then what's the point in ever protesting?"



There is a flaw in that logic: democracy does not mean rule by demo, in which policy is determined according to crowd size. But faith in the power of citizens to affect events was badly dented by the experience of February 15, 2003. The effect has been reinforced by the aftermath of the financial crisis. There is perhaps no one in the country — not even the parents of the RBS boss, he said — who can defend the multimillion-payouts to bankers. And yet it carries on, the shower of bonuses falling like fat drops of rain this very week. No one seems able to stop it, just as no one was able to stop that war. The result is a pervasive and corrosive sense of powerlessness.


All this is compounded by the fact that, in the Iraq case, none of the consequences one might legitimately have expected has materialised. If there had been even a modicum of accountability, one would expect the guilty men — those who led us to disaster, whether through good faith, incompetence or deception — to have paid a price. They would be consigned to the margins, shamed into a kind of exile.


So where are the guilty men of Iraq? A permatanned Tony Blair travels the world by private jet, trousering multiple salaries to pay the £40,000 a month he needs to feed the mortgages on his four homes in Britain. The Foreign Secretary of the time, Jack Straw, still has his seat at the cabinet table. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary of that era, is alive and well and plotting in curry houses.


What of those who were right about Iraq? The one-time Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is dead and one-time international development secretary Clare Short is one of the political undead, severed from her party and cast into outer darkness. There is something unsettling about this fate, in which those who took us into a needless, bloody war flourish while those who opposed it remain as unheeded as ever.


More is at stake here than a few careers. The Iraq episode has poisoned public support for any and all military action, including the wars we are still fighting. Hardening public opposition to the Afghan mission is not solely about the loss of life: it is about the loss of faith. After Iraq, whenever we hear our leaders telling us force is necessary, we start counting the spoons. This will matter, if not for this government then for the next one. Let's say a new administration concludes that Iran really is developing a nuclear arsenal, and that its regime genuinely poses a danger to the world's most unstable region. Who would believe David Cameron (the likely winner of the forthcoming U.K. elections) when he began talking about "intelligence assessments" and "credible threats?" Not only has Iraq killed off the 1990s notion of liberal intervention; it may have destroyed for a generation Britons' willingness to use force anywhere.


The Iraq poison will remain in the body politic until we have a true reckoning with that episode. The gentleness of most of the Chilcot inquiry's questioning — its reluctance to forensically nail witnesses down to specific answers — suggests that it will not provide that reckoning. But we need it. Until we get it, our system will remain hobbled and haunted by an event that refuses to be laid to rest. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









In the face of soaring food prices, government has done what it knows best. It has resorted to bureaucratic decisions.


More stocks of wheat and rice — two and one million tones each — have been released into the public distribution system (PDS) and Union food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar while announcing the Cabinet decision at a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon has also announced that zero-duty imports of wheat, sugar, oilseeds and pulses will remain open till the end of 2010.


If the price rise is due to shortfall in supply, then these decisions should set right the imbalance. But it does not seem to be a demand-supply dilemma.


Pawar did not miss the opportunity to score political points. He pointed out that state governments' off-take from the PDS has been fractional of the available stocks. The blame therefore has been pushed on to the state governments.


This has been a familiar ruse of the central governments. But apportioning blame will not help people who are feeling the pinch when the economic turnaround is yet to happen, jobs lost, salaries and wages shrunk and economic experts are bewildered as to the how and why of the price rise.


Apart from the shortfall in agricultural production, there seem to be systemic procurement problems. Central government allocating food grains to state governments is turning out to be inefficient. It may be necessary for the Centre to use the Food Corporation of India for procurement as well as distribution in response to exigencies of supply and demand.


Private corporations seem to export food grains they procure from farmers and when shortages occur they are not inclined to meet the demand through imports. The zero import duty does not seem to be a sufficient incentive to keep the prices down.


The solution of keeping out the private players altogether may not be helpful though that is what many of the communists and socialists favour for the simple reason that government remains inefficient.


What is needed is that private players should be responding to the situation, not on altruistic grounds, but from selfish motives. When food shortages and prices get out of hand, it is not just the common people who suffer.


The economy suffers too. It makes sense to meet the basic needs of the people in a reasonable fashion so that the pace of economic growth is not impeded. It does not matter whether this is done by the government or by the private players.







The weeklong strike of India's World Cup hockey squad finally came to an end on Wednesday. The players have agreed to resume training for the World Cup slated to begin next month.


The crisis has blown over and all is well it seems. However, even on Tuesday, the scene looked quite bleak with Hockey India's interim president Ashok Mattoo giving an ultimatum to the players to resume training within 48 hours or risk being replaced.


It was thanks to Indian Hockey's only major corporate sponsor, Sahara, which released Rs1 crore to the cash-strapped federation, that the crisis was averted. The money will be spent to clear the dues of the players.


The 22-man squad's demand of Rs 450,000 ($10,000) for each player for outstanding dues and performance-related bonuses had been accepted along with the proposal for graded contracts.


The Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi can heave a sigh of relief now. The stand-off had generated a lot of bad publicity for both the association and the federation following incriminating reports in the media about the hockey federation acting as a big bully and the just demands of the players not being met.


The players were riding high on the sympathy wave with UP chief minister Mayawati offering Rs 5 crore and even film stars, notably a yester-year actor, pledging to support the team and help in fund-raising.


The strike should serve as a lesson for the authorities. The situation wouldn't have snowballed, with the World Cup only a few days ahead had they taken adequate steps to resolve the crisis. It seemed that they were bent on arm-twisting the players into submission. The players, wary of being neglected for so long, had braced themselves for a long struggle.


The federation's attitude towards such a crisis doesn't augur well for Indian Hockey. Sportsmen need encouragement as well as patronage to excel. They need to be handled in a way that boosts their morale and helps them give their best for the country as well as to the sport.


In India however, such an approach has been alarmingly absent. It is clearly evident that merely according the status of the national sport to hockey will not address the ills it is plagued with. It calls for much more effort than that, which will involve charting a course for the sport to revive its former glory.


To begin with, some soul-searching for the administration is highly recommended. It's the right step on the path to resurrection, provided the men at the helm are serious about their intentions.







Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for external affairs, got it both right and wrong on Jawaharlal Nehru because he forgot a basic piece of wisdom: you don't fight foundational myths.


Myth-busting is for scholars, authors and retired politicians, whose ranks Tharoor may soon be forced to join given his controversial twittermania. It's not for active politicians who want to leave their mark on history.


His remarks on Nehru —- to the effect that he followed a wishy-washy foreign policy driven by Gandhian morality — are a case in point. If you are a Congressman, you have to believe in the Nehru myth.


The Nehru myth states, inter alia, that modern India was entirely hiscreation (only slightly true), that he was entirely secular and democratic (not always), that the Nehru family is the only one that has the whole of India's interests at heart (absolutely untrue), that non-alignment was a wonderful thing, and so on.


If you are part of a dynastic party, you cannot survive by challenging the Nehru myth. If you do, you challenge the very basis for its existence.


No Nehru myth, no dynasty. This is why the Congress cannot put any leader — Sardar Patel, Ambedkar, Jinnah, Rajagopalachari or Rajendra Prasad — on the same pedestal as Nehru despite the fact that they all contributed much to the making of India.


Besides, Nehru himself was no perennial success icon. His foreign policy blunders culminated in the humiliation of 1962. His economic policies were equally flawed, as Nehru believed in the Soviet model with minor roles for the private sector.


His daughter initially compounded his economic follies, but after the 1980s she started changing course. It took a bankruptcy in 1991 to finally abandon Nehruvian socialism.


The reason why Nehru made colossal blunders was simple: he was vain and hence sycophants could take him for a ride. This is why he persisted with VK Krishna Menon long after events proved him to be a liability; Chinese leader Zhou Enlai pulled wool over his eyes by pretending to be a novice in international affairs.


Nehru held forth about his views on the world believing Zhou to be a genuine admirer when the latter was actually playing to his ego and neutralising him on Tibet.


In course of time, the Nehru myth has been extended to the whole family, from Indira Gandhi to Rajiv to Sonia and now Rahul and Priyanka.


Thus, Indira is the social messiah (bank nationalisation, garibi hatao), Rajiv Gandhi is the moderniser and reformer (though Narasimha Rao actually did more in reality), and Rahul the new youth icon and emancipator. You question these myths at your own peril. Tharoor got a rap on the knuckles only for this.


Without myths there would be no institutions, for myths are the glue that holds disparate elements together. Whether it is a religion or a corporation, myths are essential and beyond reality.


Management writers Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (Built to Last) discovered that successful companies that have survived for over 100 years tended to have cult-like cultures that you could not question. People who questioned the corporate myths ("we are a people-oriented organisation") were ejected fast. You can't be in Wal-Mart and not participate in the company's theme song. You can't be in HP without kowtowing to the HP Way.


In Pakistan, they have a Jinnah myth — he was never a pious Muslim, but given his role in the creation of the state, you can't mention it. In India, Jinnah has been demonised (often for good reason), but a rational reassessment is not possible either by the Congress (which believes in the Nehru myth) or the BJP (which has to follow the RSS, which believes in Akhand Bharat, where Jinnah has been given the villain's role).


It doesn't matter that Partition has actually created a huge Hindu majority India, of the kind that the RSS could not have dreamed of in a united India. But myths do not need to have a rational basis.


It's the same with the major organised religions. You can't be a Christian without believing in virgin birth and resurrection, never mind that these myths are far removed from the message of Jesus Christ and invented much later.


You can't be Muslim without believing that before the prophet arrived it was all jahiliya — the age of ignorance — even though common sense tells us humanity always had its dark and bright spots in all ages. Hindus have too many myths to count, but the point is that a thought gets institutionalised only with the help of myths.


Myths work best when you pay lip service to them, but don't get hemmed in. If Tharoor wants to change Nehruvian ideas, the best way is to lionise Nehruism and then dump his ideas in practice. This is what we have done with Gandhi. So why not Nehru?







It's so unfair to have different standards for different people. In the interest of fairness, if we fear the Fuhrer of the Marathi manoos we must fear the Fuhrer of the Malayali manush too.


Prakash Karat should get the same respect as Raj Thackeray, don't you think? For years, we have been granting special status to the saffron right, making room for their fascist fundamentalism, so why not for the reds on the Left?


And why are we horrified that Paul Zacharia, influential author and candid critic of reactionary forces, has been roughed up in Kerala by CPM hooligans for speaking out against their moral policing?


And that Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala secretary of the party, justified the act with the usual spiel about the victim inviting the outburst by hurting the sentiments of the people?



We can now justify anything at all by claiming to be hurt. Goons of political parties are hurt most easily, usually on behalf of unsuspecting people. Like the dear old red riding hoodlums who accosted Zacharia.


It started earlier this month, with these left lumpens being outraged by the private friendship of two Congress leaders, a man and a woman. They accosted the duo at the Congresswoman's house late in the night, dragged them out in front of television cameras and got the two arrested as they hooted and booed.


Later, medical examinations proved no sexual contact between the two, but the lurid stamp of a sex scandal would be impossible to erase.


Last week, Zacharia spoke out against such ridiculous moral policing. What right did they have, he asked, to barge into a woman's house at midnight and drag her and her friend out to defame her?


Morally policing adult men and women was outdated and fascist, he pointed out, and showed how far the once enlightened communists had swung from their roots, how narrow their outlook had become.


The left lumpens were hurt. They collared the author on the street and expressed themselves the way they knew best. Then state CPM chief Vijayan defended their hooliganism with missionary zeal.


The attackers were hurt because Zacharia's speech showed CPM leaders in a bad light, he explained. "What would happen," he reportedly said, "if a speaker tried to cast aspersions on Christ at a meeting attended by Christians only?" Clearly, in Vijayan's world, these Christians— normally associated with turning the other cheek — would pounce upon the speaker and rough him up.


And evidently in Vijayan's communist world, CPM leaders were the new gods. Criticising them was blasphemy. Ironically enough, this is not an alien notion for communists. History is full of examples of left fundamentalism and fascism.


But in India, communism did have a human face, it had a liberal, democratic attitude, it supported free speech. At least in the cities. In rural, invisible India such liberalism is often absent, and left fascism rules in communist strongholds. Today, we are upset because that crass village reality has invaded our quaint urban space.


These lumpens were members of CPM's youth wing, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI). Smothering freedom of speech is not exactly democratic behaviour, but then political words are not expected to behave like ordinary words with mundane dictionary meanings. Like people in politics, words in
politics are untouched by ordinary rules.


Put in perspective, the Zacharia incident is hardly shocking. Mob intimidation has long been a part of power politics in our country. It's just that writers and artists are usually attacked by right fundamentalists, not left fundamentalists.


The excruciatingly slow justice system, almost crippled by a corrupt administration and crooked investigative process, encourages goonda raj.


If we value democratic freedoms, apart from opposing hooliganism we need to recognise and oppose fundamentalism whatever its colour.For freedom of speech is too precious to give up.


The writer is editor,The Little Magazine.









TUESDAY'S Delhi High Court ruling upholding its single bench order that the Chief Justice of India comes within the purview of the Right to Information Act and that details of judges' assets must be revealed under it, is welcome. In an important order, the Bench consisting of Chief Justice A.P. Shah, Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vikramjeet Sen not only rejected the apex court registry's contention that the CJI was not covered under the RTI but also emphasised that even income-tax returns and medical records of judges needed to be disclosed if these serve public interest. It observed that the CJI is a "public authority" and hence cannot claim any immunity under the RTI. As the judgement dispels all doubts about the CJI's status vis-à-vis the RTI, the CJI would do well to accept the verdict in the right spirit and refrain from going in appeal to the apex court on the ground that the issue involved interpretation of important points in law and the Constitution.


One fails to understand why Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan is rigid on the issue when he has nothing to hide as regards his assets or decisions taken on the administrative side in his capacity as the CJI. In fact, following public and media pressure, he and his colleagues declared their assets on November 2, 2009, and put the details on the official website. The argument that the independence of judiciary will be adversely affected if judges declare their assets seems specious and unconvincing. On the contrary, it will promote transparency, ensure accountability and strengthen democracy of which the judiciary is an important pillar.


The High Court ruling assumes special significance in the context of increasing cases of corruption and misconduct involving judges. As the issue revolving around Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran shows, the functioning of the collegium is shrouded in mystery and one does not know how the high court judges are appointed or elevated to the apex court, their backgrounds and the criteria for appointment. If the right to information is a fundamental right and aimed at empowering citizens, the CJI cannot remain outside the purview of the RTI Act.








Being the Finance Minister of a debt-ridden, fiscally irresponsible state like Punjab must be one of the most embarrassing jobs in India. No wonder, off and on a helpless Mr Manpreet Singh Badal erupts in exasperation. With the budget-making exercise under way, the FM is to put his figures together to understand the state of current finances and brief the Planning Commission accordingly next month. He has often spoken publicly how subsidies are bleeding the exchequer, but the other two Badals just ignore or even snub him. Yet he hangs on to power.


As successive Punjab governments have been relying on loans to meet their financial commitments, the state has accumulated a staggering debt of Rs 63,000 crore. When the Finance Commission offered last year to defer the recovery of Rs 15,000 crore and cut interest on Rs 25,000 crore of the loan amount provided the state government ends populist subsidies, levies user-charges on services and restores house tax in cities, the political leadership chose to dither instead of lapping up the offer. The Chief Minister deputed his son, Mr Sukhbir Badal, and Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia to review the subsidies.


However, since Mr Manpreet Badal, a vocal critic of the subsidies, was not included in the committee, it became clear the government's intentions were less than honest and the whole exercise was a farce. The committee was given two weeks' time to submit its report. It has taken more than three months and there is no sign of a report. None in the government feels embarrassed selling public land to raise money. Various departments face legal cases from harried citizens for payment defaults. Development has come to a halt. No one even talks about it. Infrastructure, health and education face the brunt of non-governance. The state may invite a financial emergency unless urgent steps are taken to mobilise resources. But is the Chief Minister really bothered about it at all?








The Central Government's decision to make available online in the electronic format all educational degrees and certificates from the school to the university level is a very heartening development. So serious has become the problem of fake degrees and even fake institutions that it was necessary to plug the gaping holes in the system. By setting up a suitable registered electronic depository which would dematerialise the academic degrees and certificates, the scope for fake degrees would be minimised. Not only would the depository store the new degrees that would form part of the national database by assigning individual account numbers and passwords, it would also be assigned the task of converting old degrees and certificates from physical into electronic form. That there is the benefit of experience in the demat of share certificates is a matter of relief. The National Securities Depository Limited and the Central Depository Services Limited, which currently deal in share certificates stored electronically, are well equipped to take on this role.


Considering that all degrees that are electronically converted will be preserved on the national database, the need for institutions to maintain physical degrees for years together would be obviated. That would be a big boon for institutions. The problem of replacing lost degrees and certificates would also end. The students on their part would be saved the bother of getting attestation done.


Having said all this, it is important that this plan be implemented without any dragging of feet and extended to the entire country so that vested interests do not take advantage of the areas where it is not in operation. The scale of the dematting operation would indeed be a major challenge. It is also time that all unrecognised institutions be given a specific time frame to meet the requirements for recognition so that those that remain outside the system are disallowed from continuing. As for those who continue to produce fake degrees in physical form, the punishment must be swift and stringent.









All through the recent brouhaha in the BJP, which saw a change of guard at the top, Mr Arun Jaitley's objections to the party's shrillness and the expulsion of Mr Jaswant Singh, one man maintained an enigmatic silence. Yet, he has often been mentioned as a leader who can revive the party's fortunes and whose brand of politics is seen as a more combative version of Hindutva. Even then Mr Narendra Modi chose to take a back seat while his party grappled with the aftermath of defeats in two successive general elections and an uneasy transition to GenNext.


The only event which turned the spotlight on him was his championing of a legislative measure making voting compulsory in local elections. However, the flurry of statements and counter-statements about the controversial step died down as the BJP dealt with more immediate problems such as the assumption of the office of party president by the previously virtually unknown Mr Nitin Gadkari and the government formation in Jharkhand. As a result, there has been no convincing explanation for Mr Modi's aloofness from national politics at a crucial time when the RSS was suspected to be tightening its grip on the BJP through Mr Gadkari.


Considering that Mr Modi's name was touted as a possible future Prime Minister by Mr Arun Shourie, among others, on the eve of the general elections, one might have expected the Gujarat strong man to play a more active role. Instead, he chose to behave like a typical provincial apparatchik who has only a minor say in national affairs. Of course, no one places Mr Modi in the ranks of Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan or Mr Raman Singh or Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa if only because his larger-than-life image cannot be ignored even when he remains in the background. It is also possible that because Mr Modi is aware of the influence which he exerts even when remaining quiet that he does not mind staying put in Gujarat.


However, the deliberate shunning of the limelight may not be without a purpose. If a senior police officer, one of the few who defied Mr Modi during the 2002 riots is to be believed, the Chief Minister confided after the outbreak that the violence had gone out of control. Kuchh zyada hi ho gaya, he is supposed to have said. Mr Modi's subsequent behaviour also points to a deliberate attempt to distance himself from the carnage which, he undoubtedly realises, has become a permanent stain on his reputation.


Although he has refused to apologise for the disturbances, he has also resisted all attempts to raise the issue at public forums and insisted more than once that he stands for all the people of the state, irrespective of their religion. The post-carnage emphasis on development also underlines a conscious attempt to build a new image of himself, which is different from his earlier hawkish reputation. There are occasional lapses, of course, as during the Sohrabuddin Sheikh episode when he drew cheers from the crowd over the killing of the accused in a fake encounter. But there have been no crude references to the religious backgrounds of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr James Michael Lyngdoh, as in 2002.


But even more significant than these uncharacteristic signs of sobriety is the reason which Mr Modi advanced for his preference for compulsory voting. According to him, such a focus on individuals to ensure that they will have no alternative but to cast their votes will deflect attention from treating them as vote banks. As a result, the parties will have to shed their segmented approach in terms of caste or community and accord greater importance to them as citizens. In a way, this approach of treating society as a composite whole is in tune with Mr Modi's development-oriented policies, whose rationale is that a higher growth rate will benefit everyone and not particular groups.


For a person whose dubious role during the riots is still being scanned by the Supreme Court and whose attitude towards the refugee colonies housing Muslims was callous in the extreme - he called them child-breeding factories - the turning away of his government's attention from communities to individuals is difficult to explain. What is more, since most of Mr Modi's decisions are seen by his detractors to have been inspired by a sinister motive, even the latest move will be regarded with considerable suspicion.


Some may interpret it as the kind of an unofficial census of religious minorities which the Gujarat government initiated after the anti-Christian violence in the Dangs area to identify the members of the community. Since compulsory voting entails the possession of identity cards, it will mean that no one can hide if the law comes into force. As a recent report from Surat said, many Muslims assume Hindu names there to secure employment in diamond units. Such subterfuge will no longer be possible.


Notwithstanding such misgivings, there is little doubt that the proposed law runs counter to the basic objectives of caste-based and communal parties like the BSP and the BJP, to name only two, with their targeting of certain groups and demonising of others. It is necessary to remember that even the BSP realised that concentrating only on Dalits would not take it far and that there was a need, therefore, for a rainbow coalition which included the Manuvadi Brahmins, who were previously excoriated as traditional enemies of the Dalits.


Similarly, the forced moderation of some of the BJP leaders like Mr L. K. Advani in line with the example set by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was an explicit admission that the Hindu vote was not enough for it to gain power. In some respects, Mr Modi's idea of compulsory voting endorses this inescapable fact of electoral politics where dependence only on a group of voters yields limited dividends.


It is difficult to predict the outcome of elections under the new law. Besides, whether the measure will at all be enacted is doubtful because, first, a consensus may elude the political class. Secondly, civil libertarians may see it as an infringement of basic rights since a person should have the freedom not to vote. And, thirdly, the enforcement of the law in so large a country where people are almost always on the move may be as difficult as the decision on the kind of punishment for the absentee voters. The law courts will also be clogged by petitioners challenging their punishment.


Irrespective of the fate of the proposed law, what is more relevant is Mr Modi's purpose behind the unusual initiative. It is clear that he wants to project himself as someone different from the average politician who is forever embroiled in ego hassles within his own party and in striking opportunistic deals with other individuals and parties. In contrast to them, Mr Modi apparently wants to demonstrate his intention to rise above mundane party politics and to show that he is concerned with issues which have societal implications. Development is one of them and compulsory voting another.


At a time when the BJP is entering the post-Vajpayee and post-Advani phase when it has no obviously popular front-runners among its current crop of leaders, Mr Modi does not want to be seen jostling for party positions with the Jaitleys and Sushmas and Gadkaris, or presenting different interpretations about the inclusiveness or otherwise of Hindutva, or whether December 6, 1992, was the "saddest day" or shauriya divas, as the VHP's Mr Ashok Singhal wants it to be called. Yet, as the Chief Minister tries to reinvent himself, he must be aware that the leopard is not known to change its spots. What is more, he cannot be sure that the BJP and, more importantly, the RSS will endorse his idea of reducing the importance of parties at the expense of individual voters. If his intention is to position himself in a way which will enable him to play a larger role in national affairs, he may not find the going easy.








The Editor was grim-faced as he rapped the staff meeting to order. "We're up against it in no uncertain manner, " he said, "our readers are complaining bitterly that we're driving them up the wall and inducing in them suicidal thoughts by publishing unremitting bad news — strikes, bandhs, riots, full text of the Prime Minister's speech on Panchayati Raj institutions and the women's reservation bill."


"As you know, it's our established policy only to inform and educate our readers and not instigate them to end it all by reaching for the nearest open razor."


"I've decided on a redical U-turn in our editorial policy. From tomorrow, we shall publish only good news and nothing but good news. Bad news is out and out for good. I welcome suggestions."


The paper's crime reporter —a veteran of 25 years in covering the police beat said: "I'll do an upfront story to the effect that thanks to improved policing methods and citizens' involvement, the crime graph is showing a downward trend and underline the fact that during 2008-09, there were only 8306 cases of house break-ins compared to 8309 cases during the preceding year."


He was handed an urgent note: "Come home immediately. Miscreants have broken into your house in broad daylight and they have gotten away with everything they can lay their hands on, including the imported electronic burglar alarm and the German Shepherd watch dog."


The paper's distinguished political analyst said, "I'll do a two-part oped lead article to the effect that with the formation of the Congress-led coalition government at the centre, Indian politics has entered a more mature and healthy phase and instability and fragmentation of political parties should soon be a thing of the past."


He was handed a telex message: "Lok Dal (Ajit Singh) has split into Lok Dal (Ajit) and Lok Dal (Singh).


The paper's young sports correspondent said eagerly. "I'll do an upbeat story to the effect that Indian hockey is on the comeback trail and retrieve its lost glory, highlighting the fact that in the pre Olympic quarter finals-Indian 'A' team lost by a solitary goal to Kenya 'D' team."


He was called to the telephone to take a message: "Indian 'A' team lost by a margin of 18 goals to Rwanda Burundi 'Y' team."


The editor was close to despair when the paper's press manager walked into the room.


"I'm afraid tomorrow's "Good News Only" edition can't be printed, "he announced gravely.


"Why not ? snapped the editor going red in the face.


"Because," said the manager, "the printing staff has just gone on an indefinite strike."








Out of power, the Prachanda-led Maoists in Nepal are like fish out of water. Everything was going for them but for their crossing one red line too many. Sacking the Army Chief, Gen Rukmangad Katwal, who was seen as the last obstacle to absolute power, was their undoing while enriching the Maoist lexicon with the mantra of civilian supremacy.


Overgenerous overtures to the Chinese at the party, military, government and track II levels raised hackles in Delhi. Eight months outside Singha Durbar have been a chastening experience for the Maoist grand design of "looking beyond India" — Prachanda's vision of reducing dependence on India.


The late King Birendra came to grief exploring this alternative during the economic blockade of the late 1980s, which resulted in the restoration of multi-party democracy. The battle between the old guard and the new revolutionaries over reforming Nepal is at the crossroads.


Invoking the lofty principle of civilian supremacy, the Maoists organised disruptive protest campaigns in three phases, which blocked the Constituent Assembly that doubles as Parliament, paralysing the government.


This brought no relief to the Maoists despite regular announcements that a new national unity government led by them would soon be in power.


Deception and self-delusion have become integral to their bravado illustrated famously by the ill-fated attacks at Khara in 2005 which forced hardliners into realising that the military capture of Kathmandu was not feasible.


That was when the ground reality first hit the Maoists. Once again the Maoists have learnt the hard way that they cannot be returned to power through unconstitutional means by winning street battles.


Like their leaders recognised in 2005 that India will not allow them to seize Kathmandu, they are belatedly admitting that Delhi's blessings are essential for returning to Singha Durbar.


Prachanda observed: "We will have to talk to India" with his deputy party ideologue Baburam Bhattarai adding "It is time to hold talks, not with the puppet (government) but those who run the puppet".


He added: "We will declare the constitution from the streets and capture power if the deadline (28 May 2010) to write the constitution is not met."


The Maoists are a bundle of contradictions as all the delay is on their account. Mr Bhattarai clarifies: "We know the constitution will not be written so that the Constituent Assembly can be annulled and President's rule imposed".


Except for three days the Maoists have not allowed Parliament to function. The same is the fate of the constitutional drafting process with Mr Bhattarai claiming: "Not a word will be written which is not our word".


One of the issues Prachanda wants to discuss with Delhi is reducing Nepal's trade deficit, which this year has risen by 40 per cent. Rather than blaming India, notes a Nepali journalist, "Prachanda needs to do some soul-searching to realise to what extent his party has contributed to the demise of the manufacturing sector, export-oriented production and export potential".


It is the Maoists' fault, given their pressure on an increase in wages/ allowances, strikes of trade unions, industrial complexes and the transportation sector, power shortages, road closures and excesses of the Young Communist League (YCL) — clearly "it is Prachanda's trade deficit," he adds.


Everyone realises that the current stalemate can be broken mainly with India's mediation. Delhi has been instrumental in fashioning major changes in Nepal: ouster of the Ranas in 1950, short-lived experiment with democracy in 1959, restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990 and mainstreaming the Maoists and ending the monarchy in 2005-06.


As the back channel the Delhi Agreement of November 2005 between the Maoists and the political parties was facilitated by India. Nepalis say Delhi has a moral responsibility to 'reset' the peace process.


Delhi's terms for talks with the Maoists have been communicated to them. These are not different from what Prachanda agreed to in Delhi in 2005 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006 — support for multi-party democracy, rule of law, human rights, an independent judiciary, free media and so on, all once anathema to the Maoists.


They had also agreed to return the confiscated property and disband the YCL. With Maoists in violation of these agreements, Delhi wants them to be tamed. It is precisely what the majority of the political parties, civil society and the people of Nepal want.


To its terms of engagement, Delhi has added its renewed concerns about the Maoist overreach to Beijing and the latter's over-ingress into Nepal. The Maoist response to Indian terms is not known but their call for talks was acknowledged when Ambassador Rakesh Sood met Prachanda before visiting Delhi for consultations over the new year.


The present Nepal government without Maoists on board is like a boat without oars. Foreign Minister SM Krishna will be in Kathmandu (January 15) and will meet the Leader of Opposition, Prachanda, among other leaders. They could explore ending the stalemate through the instrument of a package deal, factoring in the concerns of the immediate stakeholders, including the UN Mission in Nepal.


Underlining the package deal must be the resolve of political parties to write an inclusive constitution with a national unity government, which includes the Maoists. All previous agreements not honoured will have to be implemented. The integration of the Maoists (PLA) with the Nepal Army has to be the key driver of the compromise agreement. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, in an unprecedented step, has disowned the Indian Army Chief's statement rejecting integration.


A mechanism for disbanding and reintegrating the YCL, helping Maoists to be taken off the US terror watch list and separate economic packages for the Maoists and the peace process are other ingredients of the package, which will not stick unless there is a referee to monitor the peace process.


As the high-level political mechanism has not worked, a more robust body is required. Recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr GP Koirala, the last of the first-generation leaders, is no longer fit and able to mentor the peace process.


Meanwhile, the Maoists have announced the fourth phase of their agitational politics: Accept our leadership of a national unity government or face indefinite countrywide strikes from January 24.


They will also target Delhi for interventionist politics. Nudged from their laid-back stance, major political parties launched a show of solidarity on the birth anniversary of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who founded and united Nepal, repudiating the Maoist declaration of ethnicity-based federal state, which is regarded by most others as a sure means of splitting the country.


That the pain caused by the Maoist protest programmes has made them more unpopular than King Gyanendra after he seized power in 2005 is only a Kathmandu-centric view, say Maoist sympathisers.


With blood on their hands and power on their minds, the Maoists have one more chance of legitimately reclaiming power — during the general elections after the constitution is written. Time is running out for Nepal. Delhi cannot ignore the Maoist status as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly. Without the Maoists, there is no peace process and a new Nepal.









Interest rates are on the rise again. Not here as yet, nor in most of Europe or in the US. But looking around the world, it is clear that the tide of cheap money will turn in the next few months and the issue will be not where, whether or when, but how quickly rates will go up. And there will be little that an individual country such as our own will be able to do about it.


Actually something happened yesterday that highlights what will happen. Up to now there have been a few isolated cases of central banks increasing interest rates – Norway and Australia, for example – but there has been no general movement. But yesterday the Bank of China announced that it would increase the reserves that banks have to hold, the first such increase since June 2008. That is not a headline increase in rates as such but it is a sign of things to come.


China matters hugely. It is not only becoming the world's second-largest economy as it is now passing Japan, but it is also the world's largest source of savings. Its banks are the largest in the world: there is no talk of banks being "too big to fail" there. If you look at the world economy as a whole, as opposed to seeing it through a British, European or North American prism, the turning point in the interest rate cycle has now been reached.


In any case long-term interest rates are clearly on the rise and have been for some months. In Britain 10-year yields on government securities are over four per cent, whereas back last spring they were only about three per cent. Rates would doubtless have risen faster had it not been for the Bank of England buying so much of the Government's debt under its quantitative easing programme. That is now coming towards its end.


The Bank's Monetary Committee can decide to hold short-term interest rates down but it cannot control what happens to longer-term rates. These are determined by the supply and demand for savings around the world, and the UK Ggovernment has to compete for these savings, just like other would-be borrowers.


The effect of this is starting to be felt. It is more expensive now to get a fixed-rate mortgage than it was a few months ago. Companies seeking to reduce their bank loans by raising money with bond issues have to pay more for those funds. If there is any doubt about the security of a country's finances, its government finds it has to pay much more to cover its deficit.


That is why Ireland and Greece have recently brought in severe budget measures, with clearly more to come in the case of Greece. It is why we too will have to get our public finances under control as soon as possible after the election.


But interest rates will rise irrespective of what our next government does – the question is one of degree – and we had better get used to this. Instinctively we know this. One of the really stunning things that has happened in recent months has been the extent to which British households have started to save again.


You may recall that a couple of years ago people were actually spending more than they had in income: people borrowed against the value of their houses and used the money to hold up their consumption.


That has completely reversed, partly of course because mortgages have become much tighter. Now, savings are up to about eight per cent of income, the highest level since the early 1990s. People who are lucky enough to have mortgages linked to base rates seem to be using the extra monthly savings to pay back their mortgages more swiftly. The world has changed and we know it.


What we don't know is how quickly things get back to normal – for it is utterly abnormal to have base rates at 0.5 per cent or to deny savers any real return on their money – and what the consequences of higher interest rates will be. My own guess is that the first rise in UK interest rates will take place some time in the summer and that people will be surprised at the pace at which they subsequently climb.


That leads to the troubling possibility that rising interest rates will choke off the recovery. Even if the Bank of England manages to hold down short-term rates for a while, it cannot hold down long-term ones. And if the world is going to have more expensive money, we will too.


— By arrangement with The Independent








India consists of 28 states and eight Union Territories. Recently, the Central Government agreed to form Telangana after the passing of a resolution in the state assembly. However, this sparked a hue and cry in Andhra Pradesh.


The formation of a separate state will lead to a lot of financial implications and legislative problems for the government. It is not at all in favour of the public since India is passing through an acute financial crisis.


For the formation of a separate state there should be a variety of human and physical capital in terms of administrative capital, legislative capital, and judicial capital and infrastructure with funds from the central government.


Under the circumstances, forming smaller states is not at all good for the nation's progress. There would be utter chaos if any more splitting of states is initiated.


There are enough legislative norms in the Indian Constitution for protecting individual freedom in respect of language, culture, and other factors.


The formation of new states should not be on the basis of politics as without resources small states would face a lot of difficulties. These days the demand for new states is politically motivated with threats of agitations. The Centre should be careful in not succumbing to their ill-conceived motives.


A separate commission may be formed to scrutinise the demand for new states.


The creation of new states imposes significant administrative costs and financial burden on the exchequer. The public disenchantment in a state is basically on the efficacy of governance, not on the size.


A lot of issues associated with large states can be resolved by decentralisation and administrative reforms. This, in turn, leads to overall good governance, and better local management of divisive or contentious issues so that the federal government can handle complex national and international issues better.


Unity in diversity has been the real strength of India. When the British ruled India, women and men from different cultural, religious and regional backgrounds came together to oppose them.


India's freedom movement had thousands of people of different backgrounds in it. They worked together to decide joint actions, they went to jail together and they found different ways to oppose the British.


Interestingly, the British thought they could divide Indians because they were so different and then continue to rule them. But the people showed how they could be different and yet be united in their battle against the British.


Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity where people of different faiths and beliefs live together in peace and harmony.


India remains one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. This is the result of the freedom which every region and community has enjoyed to develop its genius through mutual interaction.








The festive season is once again upon us in the guise of Magh or Bhogali Bihu. Bhog connotes feasting and merriment, which Bhogali Bihu is all about. This harvest related festival unique to Assam is perhaps the most enjoyable of all three Bihus. During Bohag or Rongali Bihu thoughts in young minds might turn to love, but during Bhogali all thoughts, of old or young, without exception, are focussed on filling the belly! None of the two other Bihus require the kind of preparation needed for Bhogali. During earlier days, when the pace of life was slower and demands on one's time less stringent, preparations for Bhogali began at least a month in advance, even while the farmers were reaping in the paddy harvest. Granaries were full, rivers teemed with fish and other aquatic edibles, kitchen gardens or plantations glowed with the fresh green of vegetables. It had been the season of plenty and there had been plenty to cheer about. The stucco thud of the dheki was a common sound heard even in urban areas, the air was redolent with the smell of til-pitha and narikal-laddu. The men folk were busy building mejhis or bhelaghars and arranging for buffalo-fights and other games, while the women were stocking up with provisions for the mandatory visits by friends and relatives. The combined blaze from myriad mejhis was enough to drive the gloomiest fog away.

Times, alas, have changed. It might once again be the festive season, but there is not much to be festive about. Traditional celebration of Bhogali Bihu is becoming a dying culture even in rural areas, change of social mores as well as terrifying demand on every individual's time being some of the causes. After all, few urban women today would undertake the hassles associated with making pithas and laddus at home, when packeted versions of the same are available in the market! But the biggest dampener in celebrating this joyous festival in a befitting manner is, of course, the terrifying rise in prices of food items. If it is the season of plenty, it is so only for those who can afford it, with the common citizen having to make compromises on the hospitality front! However, we must bear in mind that of all festivals Bhogali Bihu is the most community-inspired one, where relatives, friends, neighbours and community members unite as one to celebrate an occasion dear to every true Assamese heart. Even if we cannot whip up the feast associated with this Bihu, it is incumbent that we reinforce the community spirit that this Bihu evokes. Bhogali Bihu too is an apt occasion to commence repairing the ruptures that have appeared in Assamese society. Let Bhogali's cheer be a unifying force; may the mejhi's blaze weld each of us into a common identity.







Indian politicians have contrived many institutions to retain power over sources of finance and influence. They have even gone around the provisions of the Indian Constitution and built up extra-statal bodies. One such example is that of the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), which is not an elected body but is appointed by the Government of Assam (GOA) with the Chief Minister as the Chairman. Over the years people have come to look at GMDA as an extra-statal body which mainly grants building permissions often in contravention of its own rules and regulations. GMDA, therefore, has become a parallel institution compared to the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) which is a duly elected body under Article 243 Q(1) (C) of the Indian Constitution. The Twelfth Schedule (Article 243W) of the Constitution defines GMC's functions. Under entry No. 1 GMC has the power for "urban planning including town planning." Under entry No. 2 GMC has the power of "regulation of land-use and construction of buildings." The Constitution does not recognise GMDA. Of course, the Constitution also provides for setting up of " Metropolitan Planning Committee to prepare a draft development plan for the Metropolitan area as a whole" under Article 243ZE. A "Metropolitan area" has been defined as " an area having a population of ten lakh or more, comprised in one or more districts and consisting of two or more municipalities or Panchayats or other contiguous areas." Again, "not less than two thirds of the members of such Committee (for Metropolitan Planning) shall be elected by, and from amongst, the elected members of the Municipalities and Chairpersons of the Panchayats in the Metropolitan area in proportion to the ratio between the population of the Municipalities and of the Panchayats in that area" under the proviso to Article 243ZE (2). There is also provision for representation in such Committee of the Government of India and GOA. No such Committee for Metrpolitatan Planning, as enjoined by the Constitution, has been set up as yet by GOA. The civil society also seems to be happily ignorant about such a provision.

But what the civil society and the various committees and commissions in the past have done is to recommend withdrawal of the power of building permission from GMDA. The most recent recommendation is that of the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) chaired by the former Chief Secretary H.N. Das. TASFC categorically recommended that "only ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) should be empowered to grant such (building) permission and to realise the laid down fees". It further stated that "GMC alone should be allowed to exercise this power (of building permission). Such a measure will help augmentation of GMC's revenues, end confusion and help systematise the procedure." GOA accepted this recommendation vide the Explanatory Memorandum on Action Taken laid on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly by the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on December 11, 2009. GOA asked the Guwahati Development Department to carry out TASFC's recommendation. This is a welcome decision. The civil society will eagerly await its implementation in the immediate future.







The Indian Constitution promised constitutional safeguards to the Assamese and economic development of Assam. But thing happened otherwise. Balkanization of Assam took place since 1963 with the creation of Nagaland. By 1972, Assam was divided into four more states. Even Shillong, the century old capital of Assam was left out with Meghalaya. From an area of 2,55,000 square kms Assam was reduced to 78,228 square kms. The division of Assam was avoidable. It went against the recommendation of the States Reorganization Commission of 1953 which recommended even unification of Manipur and Tripura with Assam. The government tried to justify the division of Assam to end armed insurgencies. After four decades of the division of Assam, the region is still disturbed.

Unlike the Nagas, who revolted against Indian domination under Phizo since 1946-47, the Assamese reposed faith on the Indian system and tried to be good Indians. But the great Indian experiment has ended in the devastation of the Assamese. The chronic neglect of Assam and ruthless exploitation of its natural resources by the Indian State pauperized the Assamese. Assam is thus deprived of its legitimate rights on its resources. Though Assam's 5 million tonnes of crude oil worth about Rs 11,000 crore is enriching India's economy every year, the economy of Assam has deteriorated since the time of India's independence. The per capita income of Assam was 4 per cent above India's national average in 1950-51. Today the per capita income of Assam is about 45 per cent below the national average.

The Central government has failed to protect the indigenous people of Assam from being swept away by foreigners from erstwhile East Pakistan and present day Bangladesh. The West Pakistan border was sealed. But the East Pakistan border was kept open. The liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 by India was the greatest foreign policy blunder. Presently the Bangladeshi nightmare is haunting the Assamese. The Assamese are marginalized on socio-economic and political fronts. A fear psychosis has gripped the Assamese. The Indian government remains insensitive to the aspirations and anxiety of the Assamese.

Slowly and steadily, the faith on the Indian system got eroded. The piled up uncertainties and multiple grievances created a congenial atmosphere for the growth of armed rebellion. There is no future and nothing happened as expected. The government also did nothing to restore the faith on the system. The Assamese people felt disillusioned. All modes of peaceful protests, be it for language, refinery, bridge or deportation of foreigners were exhausted. The Assamese were left with no other alternative. Then the protest came in a violent way. They have resorted to the last option. The Assamese have raised arms against the Indian State. Thus ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) was born on April 7, 1979 to free Assam from the clutches of the Indian colonial dominion to establish a sovereign socialist republic. ULFA's sovereign Assam was aimed at to define and assert the Assamese people's own destiny. Basically the denial of justice and the accumulated wrong that have been heaped up for years were the reasons for the birth of ULFA.

The armed liberation struggle by ULFA is based on the 'Right to self determination' of the Assamese people which is within the framework of the United Nations Charter. The armed resistance is basically against Indian colonial domination. ULFA's belief in Marxism has given a broader definition to a greater Assamese nationality. ULFA's demand for sovereign Assam has thrown an internal challenge to the Indian nation builders. The government instead of facing ULFA's ideological challenge politically, has taken to strong arms tactics to find a military solution. The government reacted in the most authoritarian way. The State empowered itself by enacting various draconian Acts. An undeclared martial law was imposed in Assam since 1990 which has institutionalized unbridled State power and subverted democracy. The Indian Armed forces were empowered extraordinarily by enacting the most anti-democratic law…the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) 1958. The Act empowers a Havildar (a non commissioned officer) to shoot to kill anyone on suspicion. On the other hand, the AFSPA acts as a protective shield from prosecuting the armed personnel even for their gross human right violations.

The Indian ruling class is trying to treat the illness without diagnosing the disease properly. The 'Sovereignty' demand of ULFA is a political concept. So, a political concept has to be treated politically. An idea can't be fought militarily. The last two decades of military exercise has proved futile. The Indian State which was itself a victim of two centuries of British colonial domination is trying an outdated colonial policy of military suppression. The Indian State which has done immense wrong to Assam is in a morally weak position. The only way for a peaceful resolution of the 30 year long conflict is by engaging ULFA in a political dialogue. Enough of blood shed has already been shed. An intelligent nation would never waste so much time in finding out a political settlement. The Indian nation builders should analyze the historiography of Assam and address the insecurity and the hurt psyche of the Assamese people.

The concept of 'sovereignty' has under gone changes with time. In the 21st century, the globalized economy has redefined the meaning of 'sovereignty'. Today the countries are inter-dependent for economic, political or military reasons. If democracy is 'by the people' so also sovereignty emerges from people's will. A diversified set of sovereign state structures (like a separate constitution or a flag) could be framed by discussion. The Indian ruling class should be aware of this changing concept of "sovereignty" and find out a non military option to end the problem. Discussing 'sovereignty of Assam' with ULFA does not necessarily mean granting outright territorial sovereignty to Assam.

On August 15, 1947, India became independent. Nehru betrayed the 1934 Congress resolution of drafting the Indian Constitution by a Constituent Assembly duly elected by adult franchise. The Constitution of India which was framed by the Constituent Assembly elected in 1946 election which was held on a limited franchise of 15 per cent of the total population. The Constitutional development in India never reflected the sovereign will of the people. The Indian Constitution was framed according to Nehru's guidelines. The Indian Constitution was an extension of the British legacy with an all powerful Central domination. Gandhi, the father of the nation wanted a loose federation of India. Nehru's strong central policy ended his vision. Like the colonial Constitution, the Indian Constitution concentrated power at the Centre. The Indian Constitution of 1949 was in fact a modified version of the Government of India Act, 1935. The sovereignty struggle of ULFA is an outcome of a people losing faith in the centralized Indian Constitutional setup.

India is a nation in the making. It is basically a subcontinent with diversified regions and peoples, each having its own peculiar national aspirations and problems. Since the Indian Constitution was framed to fulfil the Central hegemony, it has failed to fulfil the diversified aspirations of the constituent States. Out of 1.15 billion people in India, approximately 400 million people live below poverty line. Today, in India 7 States are affected by separatist movements and Maoist struggle has spread to 15 States which prove that there is serious deficiency in the Indian system. Therefore, it requires an overhauling of the Indian constitution. Already the loss in terms of money and men is tremendous. Without domestic peace, India can't move forward. The internal civil wars will drag it backward. The nation builders should leave dogmatic approach and infuse a system of understanding and equal participation. Hence, the Central Government should not waste any more time for initiating a political dialogue with ULFA.

(The writer is a member of People's Consultative Group and the views expressed in the article are his own alone)







Crime against women has become so pervasive – not just in the public place but within the household, in situations where a woman might believe she is safe – that the issue has to be kept in the public eye. A recent report titled "Gender Violence in India" prepared by the Chennai-based Prajnya Trust looks at six kinds of violence: pre-natal sex selection, child marriage and forced marriage, honour killing, dowry death, domestic violence and rape. Statistics of the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) reveals that the incidence of reported rape is steadily moving up. These are only the reported cases of rape. For every rape that shows up as statistics, there are many that remain hidden. "Cruelty by husbands and relatives" makeup 3.8 per cent of the total crimes registered under the Indian Panel Code (IPC). In fact, women are likely to face more violence in their homes than out on the streets. Furthermore, one must not forget incidents like dowry deaths that refuse to disappear, as well as'honour killings most prevalent in Punjab and Haryana but also now reported from some districts in Tamil Nadu, especially in the case between Dalits and non-Dalits.

According to a report released by the Centre for Equity and Inclusion (CEQUIN) in New Delhi recently, a vast majority of women believe that Delhi is unsafe for them. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on November 13, 2009, CEQUIN co-founder Sara Pilot said sexual harassment and assault on women in Delhi have become so common that it is generally condoned as a minor act of "eve teasing" and not a matter of grave concern. "The physical and psychological fall-out that such acts have on women and girls are rarely recognised. Their impact in terms of restricting a woman's mobility and access to public places, thereby limiting her access to goods and services, has never been measured. We will work with residents' welfare associations, market associations and schools, to break the stereotypes associated with women. At present, we are working with the Delhi police to create gender sensitisation and refine training modules from the constables to the inspector", said Pilot, who wants to involve all stakeholders in the endeavour to make Delhi a safe city for the fair sex.

The CEQUIN report, based on a survey conducted by the Centre for Media Studies, highlights the response of 630 respondents in the age group of 12-55 years living in the capital city covering educational institutions, metro railway stations, bus stops, market places, residential colonies including slums. The survey points out that Chandi Chowk, Connaught Place, Karol Bagh and Rohini are among the most unsafe localities. Alarmingly, 82 per cent of women felt that the bus is the most unsafe mode of transport in Delhi. Stating that women cutting across age, class and caste barriers were subjected to various degrees of harassment in public places, Pilot said : "What this implies is that freedom of mobility, speech and expression is not effectively applicable to half the population. Women are unsafe to achieve their full capabilities due to social and cultural constraints which often create violent barriers, thus impending their effective economic and political participation."

According to Delhi police, over 1200 women fell prey to criminals in the national capital from January to November 2009. There were 414 cases of rape, 222 eve-teasing, 492 molestation and 112 cases of murder of women. Murder of women has registered a slight increase compared to the figure of 2008. In 2008, Delhi police registered 108 murder cases of women. Out of the 414 rape cases in the city till November 2009, 57 were gang-rapes while the figure of rape committed by a single person was 357. In 2008, the number of gang-rape cases was 60 while the figure of rape committed by single person was 380.

In Assam, the police has registered a total of 4,306 cases relating to crime against women during the period from April 2009 to September 2009. Of this, cases of domestic violence tops the crime graph with 2,464 cases registered during this period. Cases of rape registered during the period stands at 979, molestation cases at 744, murder cases at 81, trafficking at 29 and eve-teasing at 9. This was revealed by the Assam Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain on December 11, 2009, in the State Assembly in reply to a question from an Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) MLA.

In Sikkim, the recently conducted National Family Health Survey-III (NFHS-II) points out that 19 per cent of women of Sikkim have experienced physical violence while 4 per cent have experienced sexual and physical violence. The survey, conducted among women aged 15-49 years, however, shows that the overall violence against women in this tiny Himalayan State is less than the national average. Significantly, five per cent of married wom- en in Sikkim reported that their husband had physically forced them to have sex. The chairperson of the Sikkim State Women Commission Subadra Rai told mediapersons in Gangtok recently that in most cases domestic violence is not reported to the Commission. Nevertheless, the Commission is actively working towards creating awareness among women especially in rural and semi-urban areas.

Meanwhile, on December 15, 2009, the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told the Lok Sabha that the police, prosecutors and judges were not following detailed guidelines issued by his Ministry on handling of cases relating to crime against women keeping in mind the sensibilities and sensitivities of the victim. "There are very strict guidelines on how a case relating to crime against women should be investigated and prosecuted. I agree that the guidelines are not followed in some cases by the police, prosecutors and even judges". Chidambaram also said: "The Centre from time to time impressed upon the State governments so that sufferings of the victim were lessened. I appeal to the police, prosecutors and judges to follow the guidelines properly so that problems of the victims are lessened. I hope that the State governments will take the advisory seriously and implement it." The guidelines in the advisory are thorough investigation and charge sheet against accused within three months from the date of occurrence, medical examination in cases of rape without delay and creation of Special Women Police cells in police stations among others.

(The writer is former Principal, Mangaldai College).









The recent arrest of a local politician for alleged immoral activities has leapfrogged into becoming one of the most talked-about events in Kerala. The person in question, Rajmohan Unnithan, a member of All India Congress Committee, has been suspended from party and barred from travelling outside Kerala by a local court since his arrest during the night of December 20. Doesn't sound all that abnormal, for India, that is. What is unusual, however, is the way this small-time Malayalam film actor was taken into police custody and charged with such a serious offence.

According to media reports, local activists of DYFI, the youth wing of the ruling CPI-M, and the People's Democratic Party of Abdul Nasser Madani, broke into a house at Manjeri in Malappuram district to find Unnithan with a woman. They accused the two of immoral activity, actually took their photographs and held a public hearing for hours before handling them over to the police.

Unnithan and his 32-year-old female companion, a former Congress Sewa Dal member, were subjected to medical tests and had to spend a night in the police station before being granted bail by the Manjeri first class judicial magistrate the next day. And all this for being in the same house.

Since that day, Unnithan has been using all his time, energy and oratorical skills to explain he was set up and that he had no sexual relationship with the woman in question. Most commentators, bloggers and the public at large are debating what the two grown-ups were doing in the house and trying to guess if any remark from this otherwise small player in local politics may have led to a possible entrapment (Unnithan is known for his sharp and often nasty remarks.

For example, when the Congress invited K Karunakaran to rejoin the party, this is how he explained why the former CM's son Muraleedharan was not invited: "Vada comes free with masala dosa in Udupi hotels, you don't need to order separately.") Meanwhile, the man's own party, Congress, has ordered a probe into the incident.

Very few in the state have come out in the open to say the real issue was about violation of privacy and that consensual sex has nothing to do with illegal trafficking. One prominent person who did say that, writer Paul Zacharia, has allegedly been roughed up by DYFI activists for doing so. That's God's own country. A paradox. It leaves the rest of the country far behind in social indicators such as literacy, healthcare and social awareness, yet Kerala remains one of the most backward when it comes to relationships between the sexes.

Sample this: at the beautiful Varkala beach in south Kerala, Indians are not allowed to bathe at the main beach. It's kept exclusively for foreigners. There's no need to argue with the security guards or local police. Just watching how sensitive sun-bathing foreigners are to local stares is good enough. At Kovalam's famed Hawah Beach too, it's hard to spot brown skin in a sea of bare-bodied sunbathers.

That may sound like other parts of conservative India. But Kerala is 'progressive'. It believes in equality. It voted the first democratically elected Communist government into power. It has implemented land reforms. Here, girl children are taken care of, they are well-educated, confident and most of them work for a living, many outside the state. It's even supposed to be a traditionally matriarchal society!

Yet, here, even young husbands and wives are reluctant to share the same seat in local buses and college boys and girls seem reluctant to mingle with each other outside campuses. It's next to impossible to find a local woman in a bar or see a woman travel alone after sunset. Despite all its progressive claims and the ability of its people to adapt to different conditions around the world — it's said that there are more Malayalis outside the state than within — Kerala remains a male-dominated society that's steeped in moral backwardness. The only probable exceptions could be found among the youth in cities like Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

In Kerala, it seems, only man is human. He errs. He drinks and robs, and sometimes kills. But a woman is beyond all that. She's a goddess, or furniture, or just a machine. She's incapable of action. She can't sin. She can't really live. Here's the most Catholic society in the world. It lives in a state of false morality that stands between man and woman, increasing their distance and distrust, and turning people into perverts. There are numerous sex scandals and cases of gang rapes. Yet, everybody is busy moral policing. Sex, thus, is one of the original sins in God's own country.







Can Sherlock Holmes ever be a cool dude? Sure, donning a deerstalker, smoking a pipe and carrying a magnifying glass on your person aren't great fashion tools. Nor are frock coats, top hats, walking sticks and a somewhat dubious sense of cleanliness. So what does a 21st century director do to render the famous detective of 221B Baker Street watchable for the Harry Potter and Da Vinci Code generation?

Why, give him a makeover, of course. So Guy Ritchie's Holmes is without the deerstalker, occasionally smoking the pipe, rarely ever playing the violin (he strums it like a guitar), donning fashionable eye wear (instead of the monocles), bickering endlessly with his 'mate' Watson and prowling London's cobbled streets raining fisticuffs and pistol shots on his adversaries.

A brawny Holmes who's also got his wits about him could have been an interesting interpretation. After all, the Holmes cult has spawned an entire pastiche industry.

Indeed, many of the assumptions about Holmes are just that. Nowhere does Doyle mention the deerstalker or the famous phrase 'elementary my dear Watson'. Many of those assumptions stem from the best-known adaptation of the stories featuring British actor Jeremy Brett in the mid-'80s.

But in his many different avatars, Holmes has never been a yob. He has always been firmly rooted in circa 1895, a gentleman who likes his collars clean and his stiff upper lip firmly in place. In his new persona, Holmes pines for Watson, eyes the fetching Irene Adler in an almost Kate Moss-ish makeover, thinks with his fists and speaks in an accent that's almost Bridget Jones.

It's perhaps a sign of the times that the two recent makeovers of cult British icons saw a more working class accent to upper class ethos. As a result Ian Fleming's one-liner happy 007 turned laconic in Martin Campbell's 2006 hit Casino Royale and the taciturn Holmes turns garrulous in Ritche's latest. Apart from earning the detective a brand new fan following Ritchie has done the impossible — turn Holmes into Spiderman. Conan Doyle couldn't have done better.







With food price inflation edging close to 20%, the government has only firefighting measures to offer, and little to address the structural issues that constrain supply. Policy interventions such as duty-free import of raw sugar till the year end, higher open market sales of foodgrains or more channels to distribute subsidised edible oils and pulses are only temporary palliatives that may or may not work.

The government must find permanent solutions to address the shortages in commodities such as pulses whose supplies are limited in the world market. A technology mission on pulses, aggressive procurement to incentivise farmers to raise output and promoting large-scale contract farming overseas would help augment supplies.

Sugar production, on the other hand, is cyclical. Farmers grow less cane if mills pay unremunerative prices, leading to a shortfall and surge in retail prices. Ideally, cane farmers should form producer companies like Amul, to produce sugar and share in the profits arising from shortage of sugar. Sugar cooperatives also seek to do this, except that cooperatives in India have been captured by politicians and bureaucrats.

The Centre should also dump faulty rules set for the sugar industry. It is indeed appalling that it sought to pin the blame on the Mayawati-led Uttar Pradesh government for banning mills from processing imported sugar. The problem was a central excise rule that prohibits an importing mill from outsourcing the processing of raw sugar to another entity.

The rule has been amended only this Wednesday. States have also been advised to remove VAT and other taxes on sugar and impose turnover limits to tame prices. There is, however, no guarantee that all states would follow this advice. Initiatives like augmenting the supply of subsidised edible oil through state-owned agencies are not out-of-the- box solutions.

But a crack down on hoarders and black marketeers is a must to prevent prices from rising further even if it does not bring prices down overnight. Hopefully, the prime minister's meeting with the chief ministers to review the food price situation would set the tone for fundamental reforms in the farm sector to raise productivity.







Tuesday's ruling by a three-member bench of the Delhi High Court is truly historic. It upheld an earlier judgment of a single judge of the same court, dismissing an appeal by the Supreme Court (SC), that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Doing so, the high court has sent a clear message: no one is above the law.

This is the most sacred principle in any democratic society and it is heartening that the high court sees no case for any exception. The prime minister and the President are already covered by RTI so why not the apex court judges? The ruling comes in a dispute over whether assets declared by SC judges to the CJI should be disclosed under the RTI Act.

In saying the CJI is a public authority and, thus, bound to provide information about the details of assets held by apex court judges and disclosed to the CJI, the Delhi High Court bench of Justices A P Shah, Vikramjit Sen and S Murlidhar has done the Indian judiciary proud. As Justice Shah puts it, "the declarations are not furnished to the CJI in a private relationship or as a trust, but in discharge of the constitutional obligation to maintain higher standards and probity of judicial life and are in the larger public interest."

We hope the apex court would accept the high court ruling with grace and desist from filing an appeal. Under the law as it stands, the appeal will also be heard by the apex court. This means the SC will hear a case to which it is a party; something that goes against all laws of natural justice.

The SC has always been held in high esteem by ordinary citizens who see it not only as the last refuge of citizens but also as the standard bearer of the highest principles of morality and integrity in the country. It should live up to that lofty ideal by accepting the high court judgment with grace. Right to information, the court has held, is the fundamental right of every citizen.

"The higher the judge is placed in the judicial hierarchy, the greater the standard of accountability and the stricter the scrutiny of accountability of such mechanism," said the Bench. We could not agree more.








The enlightened master, Buddha says, 'Destroy those envying roots and enjoy lasting peace.' Just be fully aware when the feeling of jealousy arises. And you will be surprised, it simply disappears. Jealousy cannot be overcome either by escaping from it or hating the object of jealousy.

A woman once hired a professional artist to paint her portrait. The artist carefully made a large portrait and then presented it to her saying, 'How do you like it?' The lady looked at it and said, 'Yes, very nice. But can you add a few things? I want you to add a glittering diamond necklace, a gold watch and bracelet, emerald earrings and beautiful pearl rings on the fingers. The artist was surprised and said, 'But madam, the portrait looks simple and beautiful as it is. Why do you want to add all the jewellery and clutter it?'

The woman replied, 'I want my rich neighbours to see the painting and go crazy when they see all the jewellery that they will think I have.' Understand, the way out of jealousy is not by suppressing it or denying its existence. Expressing and encouraging it is also not the way because then you are not ready to face the jealousy with awareness. Just watch how jealousy arises in you, how it develops into hatred for the object of jealousy, how it creates restlessness and frustration inside you and makes you lose all of your peace and calm.

Be aware of the jealousy instead of hating it or the object of your jealousy. Just watch, as if you have nothing to do with it. Be a scientist in your inner world and let your mind be your laboratory. Just be aware and witness without any prejudice.

Do not condemn the emotion saying it is bad because that is what you have been taught. It has not become your experience. Understand, if it is your experience that jealousy is a negative emotion you will drop it automatically. It has not become your own experience; it is only something that you have picked up from others. Unless it becomes an experiential understanding in you that jealousy and comparison are negative, it will not become a part of you.

Do not condemn the object of jealousy. The object has not generated the emotion from outside. The jealousy is happening inside you. The fire of jealousy can just consume you completely if you don't control it with the fire extinguisher of your awareness. Once you witness your jealousy with awareness, you will realise that it does not have a basis for existence at all. When this happens, jealousy will drop automatically. You won't have to drop it. Be Blissful!







Public sector enterprises are managed by their boards of directors, and not by government , according to the applicable laws and regulations for companies. Government, as the majority shareholder, has reserved some major decision-making powers for itself. The government exercises the powers of a shareholder and also has the right to issue directions to a PSU. Yet, the general perception is that the government manages — mismanages? — PSUs and interferes in their working. What is the reality?

The CEOs and board members of PSUs are appointed on contract by the government, with a tenure not exceeding five years. The renewal of contracts, promotions and transfers of the fulltime directors, including the CEO, are decided by the government . The annual assessment of their work is made by the government . This is largely on subjective considerations. The government for each PSU means the administrative ministry.

The minister and the senior bureaucrats dealing with a PSU exercise most of the powers of the government. This gives enormous control over the PSU top managers. In board meetings, the views of the ministry representative can rarely be ignored. It would be a rare PSU manager who would risk defying 'requests' coming from the ministry. To do so, the person has to be confident of getting a job in the private sector.

The working of PSUs is reviewed by several parliamentary committees. Parliament questions are also asked about various aspects of PSUs' working. The CAG audits the working of PSUs. It is the minister, or the secretary of the ministry, who has to defend the PSU against issues that may be raised by these authorities. Who would risk antagonising one's defence lawyers?

The Prevention of Corruption Act makes it possible to allege that virtually any commercial transaction constitutes criminal misconduct. To do so, the investigating authority has to allege that the transaction caused gain to the other party — which is inherent in any contract or commercial deal — and that this was without 'public interest' or was by 'abuse of position' Neither public interest nor abuse of position in commercial working has been defined. A ministry can initiate an inquiry by the CBI against any PSU top manager , and also refuse permission for their prosecution if it thinks fit to do so. Is it surprising that most CEOs and directors want to keep the ministry happy?

Though the power of control and decision-making are centred in a ministry, the good or bad performance of a PSU does not in any way impact the career of the minister or the secretary. Conversely, PSUs usually provide enormous opportunities for exercise of patronage, and for enjoying benefits and perquisites, without any accountability. It does not require a genius to work out what is likely to happen in such a situation.

The government has taken steps to give more financial and administrative powers to PSUs, especially Navratnas. However, except those lucky PSUs that have controllers who are enlightened and possessed of strong self-control , real autonomy for others remains a mirage. Such PSUs can hardly hope to compete with private companies where employees are motivated and accountable, and are trusted to take decisions and to make the occasional mistake.







Any opinion on whether the government is mismanaging public sector enterprises (PSE) needs to be evaluated on two distinct time periods: from post-Independence to 1991 and from 1992 to the present. In post-Independent India, the country adopted a centrally-planned model of mixed economy for equitable distribution of national resources and balanced economic growth. This model entrusted a critical responsibility to PSEs for achieving the goal of economic development with social justice. This was a time of extreme deprivation in Indian economy, which was predominantly agrarian and labour-intense with scarce capital resources.

As time passed post-Independence , there were instances of mismanagement , rent-seeking from various quarters. Nevertheless, it was in the post-1992 period when economic liberalisation became the locus standi of corporate PSEs and we witnessed improvement in corporate governance with nine-times growth in net profit and 35% growth in turnover.

The hidden wealth of a large number of PSEs was unlocked with listing on stock exchanges and value creation for stakeholders became a matter of paramount importance . MoU system and Navratna/miniratna and now maharatna were gradually introduced to provide greater autonomy. Today, 18 Navratna companies contribute about 15% of India's GDP. No doubt this is the result of better autonomy and a continual reforms process but, at the same time, there are cases of mismanagement.

Autonomy is a key issue in management of PSEs, but there is a need for complete separation of ownership (government) and the board-level management (PSE). Ownership should not transgress into the managerial domain. There should be a balance between autonomy and state control. The tendency to get involved in actual management of PSEs needs to be revisited by the government. It is also observed that PSEs are not utilising the full power granted to them and knock at the door of the respective ministry before arriving at a decision.

At the same time, administrative ministries interfere in the board meetings through government-nominated directors. The chairman/CEO of PSE does not have control over government director (or independent director) who becomes remote-sensing ballistic control devices on the CEOs! Notwithstanding the above, organisational inefficiencies also crept into the PSEs over a period of time. This resulted in propagation of poor work ethics and lack of managerial accountability.

Other instances of interference by government are with respect to taking government approval for creation of posts above a certain level. The board may be a superior body to decide about growth and running of the company . Creation of posts should be left to the board as it takes a long time to get the clearance of the administrative ministry.

There is also a need to reform the process of selection of directors and CEOs as it takes a long time. Several factors are responsible for such delays, including human weakness. Even the appointment of CEOs needs to be speeded up to reduce the period during which the PSE is being run an acting chief.

Thus, not only government but also the PSEs are responsible for present state of affair. Instead of accusing the government or the PSE, there is need for improvement through open-house interaction that SCOPE can provide.








NEW DELHI: Ever since Barack Obama replaced George Bush, US foreign policy has been drifting away from India and towards China and Pakistan. That drift could be reversed if Google pulls out of China because of Chinese government hacking into its sites to target human rights activists.

Cynics say that US foreign policy and business pay only lip service to human rights or democracy. It is true that if Google exits China, US-China relations will not be wrecked, and US corporates will not switch all their investment from China to India. But, make no mistake, it will hit a nerve in a Democratic administration sensitive to its human rights constituency. And foreign investors in China will start worrying that their own commercial secrets and intellectual property could be at risk because of officially-blessed hacking.

Former president Bush used his limited political capital to push through the historic nuclear deal with India. Although India is far behind China in economic and military terms today, Bush pushed for a special relationship with India as a long-term democratic partner that could counter China in Asia.

Since Obama took over, the mood in Washington has changed palpably. During his recent visit to China, Obama praised Beijing and downplayed old criticisms of China's human rights violations and currency manipulation. This fuelled US media speculation about a new G-2 consisting of just the US and China, and reversed the Bush attempt to promote India at China's expense.

Notwithstanding the nuclear deal, Obama has severely restricted US export licensing for dual-use technology to India.

He does not wish to sell India equipment for nuclear enrichment or reprocessing. An agreement on spent fuel was expected to be signed when Manmohan Singh visited Washington, but could not be finalised.

Obama and Hillary Clinton have bought Pakistan's argument that Indian activities in Afghanistan should be minimised to assuage Pakistani concerns in Baluchistan. Unlike Bush, Obama and Clinton agreed with Pakistan that Kashmir was part of the Taliban-Al Qaeda issue, and sought to appoint Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to India as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, a move India eventually stymied.


However, these changes are less fundamental than an immediate reaction to two crises: the economic crisis at home and the worsening situation in Afghanistan. Much of the US shift towards China is attributable to US economic weakness during the Great Recession, that appears to have ended recently. China has, for years, been buying US gilts, and holds over a trillion dollars of US securities in its forex reserves. If China dumps these on the market, the dollar will crash. However, in 2009 the main buyers of US gilts have been the Fed and other US banks getting Fed finance, with China's fresh purchases being minimal. A crashing dollar will mean a crash in the value of China's forex reserves, so it cannot credibly threaten to dump its US gilts.

With the end of the recession, Obama can shift from the defensive to the offensive on China, and change the emphasis from economic co-operation to human rights. Such a shift will require a topical peg. Google's exit from China could provide just that.

US corporations are not bleeding-heart liberals that spend sleepless nights worrying about human rights. They can be utterly cynical. On hearing that Google might exit China, the Nasdaq saw the share price of Baidu, Google's main competitor in China, shoot up 6.8%, while Google dropped 1.1%.

However, once the recession ends, these corporates will once again be harried by politicians and civil society to display corporate social responsibility, and at the margin this will diminish their enthusiasm to invest in China, especially for export. Besides, everybody knows that the old global imbalances — created when China used an undervalued currency to create huge export surpluses — were a cause for the Great Recession, and must be avoided in coming years. US corporations know they must diversify out of China to other investment destinations, and India is an obvious alternative.

No radical changes will occur overnight. But if indeed it is established that China has been hacking into Google to target human rights activists, US foreign policy and business will tilt away from China to India. What's bad for Google may be good for India.








Food prices are sky-high and the governments at the Centre and the states can do little more than blame one another. The present rise in food prices cannot be tackled through conventional means, because food prices are going up because of higher demand from all sections of society. In other words, high food prices represent a problem of prosperity and it will only get worse as growth accelerates. It is time to implement radical reforms in farming, to tackle the shortage of food, in relation to rising demand.

The conventional wisdom is that high food prices make the poor worse off. India's growing prosperity and welfare schemes such as the employment guarantee scheme turn conventional wisdom on its head. When people who could never afford to eat their fill suddenly get purchasing power in their hand, the first thing they buy is more food, and better kinds of food. Because the poor are better off, food prices are going up.

In the eighties, the Soviet Union had a food crisis, when their grain output was double India's, for a population that was one-third or so India's. Why did India, with a per capita grain output that was about one-sixth the Soviet Union's, not have a crisis, while the Soviet Union was pushing up world grain prices with panic buying? Because most Indians ate mostly grain, while most Soviet citizens ate mostly meat — in other words, they fed their grain to animals and ate the animals. This is how the bulk of the developed world lives.

Consumption patterns are changing in India, too, with people eating less of cereals and more of pulses, vegetables, milk, meat and eggs. Even the NSSO surveys that sadly underestimate total consumption and yield the horror tales of poverty that warm the cockles of reform critics' hearts show that consumption across the board is undergoing a shift to higher value foods and processed foods. That shift raises the total food demand, even as people consume fewer calories, thanks to ever-diminishing dependence on manual labour.

This rise in demand for food is taking place across the world, as the five years prior to the global crisis had seen growth accelerate everywhere, including in Africa. World food prices are also at a record high, making it difficult to tackle domestic food price inflation through imports. World prices, in fact, put upward pressure on Indian food prices, even as we ban exports and try to keep Indian food prices repressed.

And the trend in food output has failed to keep pace with the demand. The same green revolution of the '60s that ended India's dependence on American aid for food has plateaued productivity in Punjab and Haryana, turned the soil increasingly infertile, and stunted policymaking imagination on raising food output. That green revolution model is not what will work now. We need to think anew, in four directions.

One, the absurdity of growing sugarcane in arid regions of Maharashtra, and not in Bihar and eastern UP, must end. Perverse subsidies make Maharashtra grow cane, instead of focusing on crops suited to its agro-climate, and the pastoral potential that made the Vithoba cult as big as it was in the state. These subsidies must go. If law and order improves to a stage where it is safe to set up and operate sugar factories in Bihar, that state has the potential to be India's sugar bowl.

Two, India faces a massive shortage of water. Groundwater is nearly depleted and surface water runs off to the sea. We need an intelligent combination of large and small dams, planned on a river basin basis. Large investments are required. For them to become viable and free of conflict between upper- and lower riparian claimants on water, we also need realistic water charges, clearly defined water entitlements and democratic management of water supply.

Three, food production and procurement must be planned on a global scale, with Indian-initiated farming in Africa, Latin America and Australia to grow crops in demand mostly in India, such as pulses and oilseeds.

Four, we need a new breed of land reforms in which land is consolidated, rather than fragmented, to accommodate the indivisibility of capital and realise economies of scale and mechanised, know-how intensive farming. For this, we need a new organisational form, to replace the farmer cultivating his field with own, family and some hired labour. Farmers need to be organised into farmer companies that pool land, and acquire organised muscle while negotiating prices for inputs and their produce.

As retail gets organised and can beat farm-gate prices down with their volume purchases, it is vital that farmers achieve organised strength. Farmer companies can do some value addition before selling their produce, raising the value retained by farmers. These can farm oil seeds and pulses abroad as well.

Cooperatives have been failures, except in Amul and Amul-type initiatives. They have been hijacked by politicians, their functioning taken over by officials. Companies represent a viable alternative. Organising farmers into companies is the real challenge. Governments can only aid the process. Politicians invited. Power-brokers excuse!







Himadri Chemicals, a Kolkata-based coal tar company in which Bain Capital has made a Rs 250 crore investment, has lined up major expansion plans. Besides doubling the capacity of its existing plants, the company is also looking at a joint venture in China. In an exclusive interview to ET NOW, CEO Anurag Choudhary says revenue will grow six-fold after the first phase of expansion.

Some of your key user industries, aluminium and graphite electrodes, have been on a roll. How do you plan to meet the surge in demand? Can you give us details of capacity expansion?

The capacity of coal tar distillation plant will go up from 169,000 metric tonnes (MT) a year to 250,000 MT by March 2010. We will also be expanding our SNF (an ingredient that goes into ready-mix concrete) capacity from 8,000 MT to 18,000 MT by March 2010. After the completion of this plan, we have lined up a significant expansion plan.

We will be expanding our distillation capacity of coal tar from 250,000 MT to 400,000 MT. The carbon black, advance carbon material, power plant and SNF business are going to be expanded by more than two-fold. All this capacity will come into full operation in the next 18 months.

You are also planning to set up a greenfield project in China. Can you give us some details on the funding of the project? Also what are your revenue projections for next fiscal?

We are going ahead with a greenfield project in China where Himadri will have 94% stake in the joint venture. This project is coming up in Shandong province and we expect the operation to commence in the next 18 months. After the first phase of all the expansion, we expect our top line to be at around Rs 2,000 crore.







Bajaj FinServ, the Bajaj group's financial services arm, reported a three-fold rise in consolidated profits during the quarter ended December 2009. In an interview with ET NOW , Bajaj FinServ MD Sanjiv Bajaj sums up the performance in the last quarter and his plans for the company going forward. Excerpts:

Give us a sense of how the new business premium growth has been in the last quarter.

The new business premium is relevant for the life insurance business where we have shown a 10% increase on the new business premium and a 14% increase on growth premium. If you look at the general business, while our gross premium is flat at Rs 583 crore, profit is up from Rs 17 crore to Rs 29 crore. In the consumer finance business, we have shown a growth in gross income from Rs 158 crore to Rs 250 crore. Profit has grown handsomely from Rs 11 crore to Rs 27 crore. So across businesses, we have seen a significant growth in bottomline.

In the light of Irda norms capping those ULIP charges, what kind of impact do you see in terms of your profit margins and what kind of new products will you be focusing on now?

We have refined our products for them to fall in line with the charges of Irda but most of our products were by and large in line and as a result, we do not expect to see significant difference going forward in our particular case.

Tell us about the new segments Bajaj Auto Finance is looking at to grow the loan book because analysts feel that the lack of access to deposit base may constrain expansion of your loan book size.

We have seen significant growth both at the low and unsecured business, which is consumer durables. I believe we are one of the financiers of consumer durables across the country and we are present in 50 cities. So that portfolio grew well particularly during the festive season and has continued even through December. In addition, on our secured portfolio, which is loan against property, we have seen steady growth. We are doing almost Rs 100 crore of business in a month. We are seeing very stable growth across businesses outside of the two-wheeler business. The two-wheeler business is only captive to our own products and there again, after restructuring the internal processes and team last year, we are seeing very handsome growth in this quarter.

What are your plans for new business initiatives? You are considering entering equipment finance as well. Is that going to be largely in the construction equipment space?

Absolutely right, we see a significant opportunity overall in the construction equipment segment. We are looking forward in the first quarter of the next financial year to enter the segment and we are currently building the team on the construction equipment financing side.

In addition, we currently do loan against shares, but we only do promote our funding over here. We are building the team and the IT platform so that again in the first quarter next year, we are ready to start retail loan against shares as well. So, these are two new businesses that we expect to start in the next quarter.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In a ruling of long-term import, a three-judge bench of the Delhi high court on Tuesday rejected the contention of the Supreme Court registry and held that the office of Chief Justice of India fell within the ambit of the Right of Information Act as it was a "public authority". Essentially, this means the country's highest judge can be interrogated by any concerned citizen on any aspect of his work and personal life — such as health, and assets and liabilities — insofar as it has any bearing on the public domain. While serious charges of corruption or dereliction of duty have not generally been brought against members of the superior judiciary in this country, especially Supreme Court judges, the position taken by the Delhi high court broadens the question of openness in a democracy, maintaining that this does not come into clash with the idea of judicial independence. Through months of nationwide public debate on whether "judicial independence" could be hurt if frivolous procedures were brought against senior judges, especially over disclosure of their assets and liabilities, the Chief Justice of India maintained this was indeed the case. Parliament, however, rejected this view. In the end, Supreme Court judges who were earlier disclosing their assets only to the Chief Justice, were obliged to make the information public. The high court judgment, thus, goes much beyond the question of disclosure of assets, and by implication covers all aspects of a judge's functioning and personal life if the latter impinges on the public sphere. Laying down a principle, the bench held that "judicial independence" was not a personal privilege available to a judge but a responsibility cast upon him. The meaning of this is clear. Now any citizen, through use of the RTI Act, can question if judicial independence is being put to appropriate use in an efficient manner. Supreme Court judges will clearly be under watch. Whether this is the end of the matter is not yet clear. In a brief interaction with the media, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan said he would make a considered response to the high court ruling only after going through it. So we don't know yet if the Supreme Court registry will go in appeal against the high court judgment. If it does, the extraordinary situation is apt to arise where the Supreme Court is in a position of sitting in judgment on itself. The law minister, Mr M. Veerappa Moily, has not made his views explicit on the issue, but he appears to give the impression that he might not be wholly comfortable with the radical departure the high court is looking to make. About two months ago, the Supreme Court judges had made their assets public. It was refreshing to see that our seniormost judges are squeaky clean — that in some cases they own assets that may be less than that commanded by successful middle class professionals. SC judges thus need not be apprehensive that their integrity is being assessed. Clearly, the point made by the Delhi High Court is a point of principle really. As Justice A.P. Shah, Delhi High Court chief justice, observed: "After almost 55 years since the coming into force of the Constitution of India, a national law providing for the Right to Information was passed by both Houses of Parliament. It is undoubtedly the most significant event in the life of Indian democracy."








I visited China in mid-October 2009. The three cities (Beijing, Dalian and Qingdao) which I saw, were as modern as Washington D.C., which I subsequently visited a week later. My Chinese hosts mentioned that all the major Chinese cities are of similar standard, while Shanghai is a generation ahead. I had visited Shanghai in 2000, and had found it to be an ultra-modern city even then. A brief chat with an English speaking salesperson, at a large Beijing departmental store, was revealing. This worker got only one day leave a month, and this explains China's phenomenal economic rise, based on massive exports of practically all commodities. The pragmatic Chinese have put aside ideology, and have put energy-cum national security as the twin pillars which support mass production, export-based national prosperity. Realising that corruption, separatism and terrorism are the biggest threats to national prosperity, as also the one party rule of the Communists, the state is ruthless in dealing with these evils, which have regrettably taken firm root in India.


I had visited Tiananmen Square, where a fortnight earlier, the massive military parade had taken place, and wondered whether we in India, could learn a lesson from the Chinese, and perhaps have only one "good" Republic Day parade every 10 years. Imagine the time and money wasted in the annual month-long parade rehearsals, lost productivity, the inconvenience caused to the common working man and the tempting targets put up for the terrorists on every January 26.


I also briefly visited the Beijing Olympic village and the ultra-modern stadia where the spectacular 2008 Olympics were held, and felt saddened by the way we are preparing for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, and the recent December 27 cricket fiasco in Delhi.


Qingdao, where the Chinese Navy held its 2009, International Fleet Review is an ultra-modern port city, while the port city of Dalian has a shipyard which is possibly larger than all the eight Indian public sector shipyards combined.


The Indo-Chinese energy requirements are similar, but here too, the Chinese are taking rapid steps to boost energy security. Ten nuclear power plants will come up annually, while the planned 7,000 km Turkmenistan to China oil pipeline will add to energy security, as will the Pakistan-China Karakoram highway-cum-oil pipeline, the "string of pearls" Indian Ocean bases, which will be less vulnerable than Chinese oil imports by ships from West Asia and west Africa.


Fortunately, in a rather eventless 2009, India signed the Indo-Russian pact which ensures uranium supply in perpetuity for Russian nuclear plants and military cooperation has been extended to 2020, while media reports of India proposing to import 145 American made 155mm "Light" Howitzers is welcome. Also, fortunately, the Indian economy has grown at an impressive rate, thanks to the ingenuity of the Indian trader. Unfortunately, the problems of 700 million poor people, the Naxal insurgency, massive corruption and the external threat environment continue to pose grave problems. Unless, urgent steps are taken, food and water shortages will further aggravate the situation, since India will overtake China by 2050, as the world's most populous nation.


The Indian media needs to be congratulated for repeatedly highlighting the inadequacies in our defence preparedness. The news that lack of "environmental clearances" have resulted in only 12 roads built (out of the 73 needed "urgently") along the 4,073 km Indo-China LAC (Line of Actual Control), is only one of the numerous security worries.

The recent January 11, media report that "an official report indicates that India has lost substantial land along LAC to China in the last two decades", is shocking, though not really surprising, in this land of zero accountability.


The brief "Copenhagen India-China bonhomie", and Pakistan's present internal crisis, should not cloud our thinking about the threats from China, Pakistan and Pakistani sponsored terrorists. What will India do now that China has occupied substantial Indian land along the LAC? What will be India's response if terrorists take over a "Liquified Natural Gas" ship or a "chemical" ship and explode it in a busy harbour like Kolkata or a petroleum centre like Vadinar? Since no Indian port is Container Security Initiative (CSI) compliant, what will India do, if terrorists use a shipping container to smuggle in a "dirty radio active bomb" to Delhi, via the sea route?


It is a fact that no Army in the world gets 100 per cent of its perceived needs, but to be 50 per cent deficient, as indicated by the media reports is shocking, as are media reports that the Army will get all its requirements only by 2027. The Army's proposed doctrine of fending off a simultaneous China-Pak military adventure will need hardware and manpower to make it credible.


India's strategic posture received twin jolts from the recent publicity given to the 1998 thermo-nuclear "fizzle", and the failure of two consecutive Agni-II firings. Hopefully, the forthcoming January 2010 repeat tests of Agni-II and Agni-III are successful, and that the subsequent 5,000 km-range Agni-V ballastic missiles are sufficiently tested before being declared operational.


The December 23, 2009, announcement by the home minister to set up by end 2010, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), and a NATGRID (Unified Data Centre for seamless flow of 21 sets of data by 2011) is a welcome move. Having personally seen in 2005 how the US Coast Guard provides coastal and waterfront security to New York, it is my opinion that adequately trained, motivated manpower and modern equipment are urgently needed to combat terror.


India, cannot overtake China in the economic or military fields. We can however emulate China's pragmatic approach to national interests. We must also learn from America's ruthless approach to homeland security. The West too needs to investigate, why Muslim youth get radicalised after being educated in their "liberal" environment. 2010, promises to be complex and difficult year, and India must be prepared to meet the challenges.


* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








Reading The Herald Tribune over breakfast in Hong Kong harbour last week, my eye went to the front-page story about how James Chanos — reportedly one of America's most successful short-sellers, the man who bet that Enron was a fraud and made a fortune when that proved true and its stock collapsed — is now warning that China is "Dubai times 1,000 — or worse" and looking for ways to short that country's economy before its bubbles burst.


China's markets may be full of bubbles ripe for a short-seller, and if Mr Chanos can find a way to make money shorting them, God bless him. But after visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan this past week and talking to many people who work and invest their own money in China, I'd offer Mr Chanos two notes of caution.


First, a simple rule of investing that has always served me well: Never short a country with $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves. Second, it is easy to look at China today and see its enormous problems and things that it is not getting right. For instance, low interest rates, easy credit, an undervalued currency and hot money flowing in from abroad have led to what the Chinese government on Sunday called "excessively rising house prices" in major cities, or what some might call a speculative bubble ripe for the shorting. In the last few days, though, China's Central bank has started edging up interest rates and raising the proportion of deposits that banks must set aside as reserves — precisely to head off inflation and take some air out of any asset bubbles.


And that's the point. I am reluctant to sell China short, not because I think it has no problems or corruption or bubbles, but because I think it has all those problems in spades — and some will blow up along the way (the most dangerous being pollution). But it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).


And here is the other thing to keep in mind. Think about all the hype, all the words, that have been written about China's economic development since 1979. It's a lot, right? What if I told you this: "It may be that we haven't seen anything yet".


Why do I say that? All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot of bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash programme of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you'll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.


Now take all this infrastructure and mix it together with 27 million students in technical colleges and universities — the most in the world. With just the normal distribution of brains, that's going to bring a lot of brainpower to the market, or, as Bill Gates once said to me: "In China, when you're one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you".


Equally important, more and more Chinese students educated abroad are returning home to work and start new businesses. I had lunch with a group of professors at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), who told me that this year they will be offering some 50 full scholarships for graduate students in science and technology. Major US universities are sharply cutting back. Tony Chan, a Hong Kong-born mathematician, recently returned from America after 20 years to become the new president of HKUST. What was his last job in America? Assistant director of the US National Science Foundation in charge of the mathematical and physical sciences. He's one of many coming home.


One of the biggest problems for China's manufacturing and financial sectors has been finding capable middle managers. The reverse-brain drain is eliminating that problem as well.


Finally, as Liu Chao-shiuan, Taiwan's former Prime Minister, pointed out to me: when Taiwan moved up the value chain from low-end, labour-intensive manufacturing to higher, value-added work, its factories moved to China or Vietnam. It lost them. In China, low-end manufacturing moves from coastal China to the less developed western part of the country and becomes an engine for development there. In Taiwan, factories go up and out. In China, they go East to West.


"China knows it has problems", said Liu. "But this is the first time it has a chance to actually solve them". Taiwanese entrepreneurs now have more than 70,000 factories in China. They know the place. So I asked several Taiwanese businessmen whether they would "short" China. They vigorously shook their heads no as if I'd asked if they'd go one on one with LeBron James. But, hey, some people said the same about Enron. Still, I'd rather bet against the euro. Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.










Regaining control over Jammu and Kashmir which was lost to India after the first Kashmir War of 1947-48 remains one of the basic aims of Pakistan's national policy, in pursuance of which Pakistan has fought three unsuccessful wars and undertaken a long- running proxy war since 1989 against this country. The highly emotive issue of revenge against India for Pakistan's humiliating debacle in Bangladesh in 1971 — "Badla for Bangladesh" — has been added on to this and Pakistan has targeted Jammu and Kashmir, specifically the Kashmir Valley, to exact retribution. These intentions remain unchanged to the present day.


A section of India's leadership has romanticised the notion of "peace with Pakistan", hoping for a corresponding reciprocity from across the border. The Pakistan Army, which controls the foreign policy of that country, is rightly to be seen as the most radical of hawks that will not turn into the gentlest of doves overnight. The fidayeen attacks in Srinagar are manifestations of the Pakistan Army's policy of proxy war. In such a fight, each attack or bomb blast is an individual injury inflicted on India within Pakistan's larger proxy war aims against this country of "death by a thousand cuts". India's leadership must never seek to minimise this perspective.


Pullback, reduction, or withdrawal of forces from Jammu and Kashmir, howsoever described, must be visualised in this broader strategic context. Such moves become a cynical game of political volleyball confined to politicians and their interlocutors in Srinagar and New Delhi. The Jammu and Ladakh regions of J&K, which constitute a sizeable portion of the state, are absolutely against any such pullback. They have never been taken into account in any significant manner by the political actors in the Valley, who dominate the state's political hierarchy, and ignored even by the Government of India. The issue of "azaadi" has been built up into an intensely emotive political programme in the Kashmir Valley by politicians with strong separatist and pro-Pakistan sympathies, whose agendas find disproportionate representation and weightage in the national media. An adequate presence of security forces will always be required in Jammu and Kashmir in the foreseeable future to respond to direct and indirect aggression by Pakistan. In these circumstances, further reductions of force levels in the Valley, beyond the two divisions already withdrawn, would be an unsound decision.


Kashmir is an issue of core national security for India on which there can be no weakening or compromise.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury,

former Army Chief


An impetus to get back to normality

Arun Bhagat


The Mumbai-style terrorist attack on Lal Chowk in Srinagar, the sudden increase in the number of attempts at infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) and movement and encounters with terrorists provide firm indication of attempts at increasing the levels of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The lull of the past year, the large turnout of voters in the last general election, and the sizeable withdrawal of the Army from the state appears to have caused alarm bells to ring across the border. The handler of the Srinagar terrorist duo was candid when he referred to the militancy in the state as a "dead horse". The People's Democratic Party, the National Conference and the Congress, the three major parties in the state, had welcomed the withdrawals. Separatist groups and Pakistan expressed their misgivings, respectively referring to it as too little and "cosmetic". The United States expressed its appreciation of the move.


Troop reduction has been considered time and again for nearly a decade. The improvement in the conditions enabled the government to withdraw troops. A popularly elected government under a young leader with a clean image and the troop withdrawals will certainly enhance the process of normalisation, and propel the "quiet" talks which are proposed. The measure also reveals a willingness on the part of the government to be resilient and a willingness to take risks to reach out to the people of the state. These efforts to win the support and confidence of the people to bring permanent peace has caused dismay among the separatists and their Pakistani inspirers.

The people now need to realise who their true friends are and who merely want to use them for their own nefarious purposes. The Shopian investigations have chillingly brought out the extent and the low depths to which the separatists can stoop to exploit the sentiments and emotions of the common people. A family tragedy caused by an unfortunate drowning mishap was used to whip up emotions and orchestrate violence all over the state. They have no respect for human life.


The government must be vigilant to protect the people of Jammu and Kashmir against such persons and the jihadists who misuse and misinterpret religion.


Certainly even more troops should be withdrawn as conditions improve. The reduction, however, should not increase in any way the risk to the life and property of men, women and children of the state. The actual ground conditions and the safety of the people should be the cornerstone and the determinant factor.


Arun Bhagat is former director, Intelligence Bureau








Maybe America just didn't want to look at a redhead at that hour.


"For the record", Conan O'Brien wryly noted in a statement addressed to "People of Earth" outlining his refusal to host NBC's The Tonight Show if it was shoved back half-an-hour, "I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way".


This is the week of the television winter press tour from Pasadena, when the networks traditionally roll out their offerings for midseason replacement shows. But there's only one replacement show that anyone here is talking about: an NBC family drama bloodier than The Tudors and more inexplicable than Lost, a tragedy about comedy featuring an imperious emperor and his two duelling jesters in a once-mighty and now-blighted kingdom.


As NBC reeled from the fallout of Jeff Zucker's tacit admission that his attempt to refashion the customary way Americans watch prime time had failed, Hollywood was ablaze with baldenfreude.


In a town where nobody makes less than they're worth, and most people pull in an obscene amount more, there has been a single topic of discussion: How does Jeff Zucker keep rising and rising while the fortunes of NBC keep falling and falling?


The 44-year-old is a very smart guy who made a success as a wunderkind at The Today Show, but many in the Hollywood community have always regarded him as a condescending and arrogant East Coaster, a network Napoleon who never bothered to learn about developing shows and managing talent. At a moment when Zucker's comedy double-fault was smashing relationships in LA, he showed the talent of a Mafia boss for separating himself from the hit when he went and played in a New York City tennis tournament.


"Zucker is a case study in the most destructive media executive ever to exist", said a honcho at another network. "You'd have to tell me who else has taken a once-great network and literally destroyed it".


Zucker's critics are ranting that first he killed comedy, losing the NBC franchise of Thursday night Must See TV, where Seinfeld, Friends and Will & Grace once hilariously reigned; then he killed drama, failing to develop successors to the formidable ER, West Wing, and Law & Order; then he killed the 10 o'clock hour by putting Jay Leno on at a time when people expect to be told a story; and then he killed late night by putting on a quirky redhead who did not have the bland mass-market appeal of Leno and who couldn't compete with the peerless late-night comedian NBC had stupidly lost 16 years ago, David Letterman.


Zucker is a master at managing up with bosses and calculating cost-per-hour benefits, but even though he made money on cable shows, he could not programme network to save his life. He started by greenlighting the regrettable Emeril and ended by having the aptly titled The Biggest Loser as one of his only winners.


Certainly, Zucker greatly underestimated the deeply ingrained viewing patterns of older Americans, who have always watched the networks in a particular way. The kids come home, do their homework, the family has dinner. They're in front of the TV by eight, and 8.30 is known as the dog-walking slot. At 9, it's time for more comedy. As they get tired, they like to watch a fictional drama that leads into the real drama of the late local news. And then they like to laugh again so that those images of war or a local murder are not the last thing they see before bed. America has been watching a very specific sort of guy at 11.35 pm for half-a-century, one who chuckles as Mary Tyler Moore or Sarah Jessica Parker tells an amusing story and lets us drift off by the time some stand-up comic or blow-up starlet tells a salacious joke.


Zucker rolled the dice because he wanted to show Jeff Immelt that he could get beyond his Ben Silverman debacle and get prime time to stop bleeding money (a problem he created). But he learned the hard way that it is a lot to undo.


As Mark Harris wrote in New York magazine in November, "Zucker has often behaved like the grudging caretaker of a dying giant. ...As much as Jeff Zucker would like to cast the blame elsewhere, substituting number-crunching defensiveness for enterprise, adventure, and showmanship is what helped get NBC into this mess".


Consumed with the NBC game of musical late-night chairs, Hollywood machers play a game of trying to figure out the last time there has been a blunder of such outlandish proportions. Despite everything, Zucker just got his contract renewed for three years with the Comcast acquisition of NBC. "Not since J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has an executive failed upwards in so obvious a fashion", marvelled one TV writer.


Another called the Leno experiment the worst mistake made by anyone in television since an ABC Entertainment executive told the Chicago affiliate chief that the network didn't want to own and broadcast the new daytime talk show hosted by a young black woman. Her name: Oprah Winfrey.








Gita is universal in its appeal. Its teachings are religious and community agnostic. Recognised as one of the world's top most spiritual treatises, the Gita is a moral compass that guides mankind on the path of righteousness and truth. The serenity and magnificence of its conception is unparalleled.


A contextual reference is appropriate. Known commonly as the gospel of Lord Krishna, Gita textures the most profound discourses given by Lord Krishna to Prince Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.


As the war between the cousins — the Pandavas and the Kauravas is about to begin, Prince Arjuna of the Pandu clan, is struck with a tremendous sense of despair. This is because he realises fully well that war can only lead to destruction. And that too — the destruction of his kith and kin. He feels that war is futile. It is as this point that Lord Krishna, who acts as his charioteer, expounds various principles. The fundamental premise being that it is a war between right and wrong — "dharma and adharma". Between good and evil. Between darkness and light. Gita thus enshrines principles that are not bound by time. They have a timeless quality about them.


The Gita's spiritual wisdom has embellished the lives of millions across the globe, giving them a new perspective. Right from the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi to Aldous Huxley to Albert Einstein. Said Mahatma Gandhi — "When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagvad Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day".


Listen to what Einstein has to say — "When I read the Bhagvad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous".And comments Aldous Huxley — "Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the perennial philosophy ever to have been done. Hence, it's enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind... the Bhagvad Gita is perhaps the most systematic spiritual statement of the perennial philosophy".


On all counts, Gita is the stairway to a higher purpose in life. It teaches how to transcend oneself through contemplation, self-control, meditation and compassion as well. All of which helps quieten the chatter of the mind, which ceaselessly flips from one issue to the other. Gita teaches you how to master the mind through following the path that it enshrines. It transposes you to an entirely higher plane. Giving you inner peace and a kind of tranquillity. Today, more than ever, most people all over the world are seekers of this inner peace. People have begun to realise the need for self-control in the midst of unrelenting stress. We, as a family, look upon Gita as our spiritual guide. Our aspiration is to try and reach the exalted level of the true Karmayogi.


Karmayogi ethos says that the fruits of our efforts are not ours to aspire for. We must let them come from the Lord, whenever He wishes to bestow them upon us. This is one of the best lessons from Gita. For in a way it urges us to be totally selfless in our action, to dedicate our work as an offering to the Almighty and to enjoy this journey of life without expectations.Besides my husband Adityaji, I have found in pujya Ma — my mother-in-law, Dr Sarala Birla and pujya Kakoji, Shri B.K. Birla — true Karmayogis, who as the Gita says, "perform their duties equipoised, abandoning all attachments to success or failure".

 Rajashree Birla is the chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiativesand Rural Development









THE Ranchi roulette wheel is spinning again and there are rumblings of discord already in the chronically unstable state of Jharkhand. This time, the dissent has assumed the form of a duet within hours of the new ministry being rustled up. There are reservations within the Bharatiya Janata Party over joining the Shibu Soren government; equally is a section of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ruffled over the choice of nominees. The second is decidedly more critical as it involves the stakes of the dominant party. And perhaps it was only to be expected that the Christian segment would lend a minority twist to Soren's honeymoon with the BJP and the composition of the cabinet. This is clear from the recent articulation of the simmering angst by Simon Marandi and the resignation of Stephen Marandi, once a heavyweight, from the JMM.
  The born-again chief minister's renewed pledge on governance may flounder on the rock of in-house dissent. The timing is ominous ~ barely 24 hours after a patchwork quilt of a government was put in place. Personal prejudices and loyalties have seemingly influenced the formation of the ministry. Senior JMM leaders, not necessarily Christians, have been given a short shrift for opposing a coalition with the BJP. Whether or not the JMM will split in the fullness of time can only be speculated upon. Yet it would be no exaggeration to submit that the new ministry carries within it the seeds of instability. 

Post-election, it will not be easy for the JMM to justify its alliance with the BJP before its politically conscious cadres and constituency. The latter are bound to see through this game of opportunism. The future is hazy as the pro-RSS section of the BJP MLAs ~ notably Arjun Munda ~ have also expressed reservations over the tie-up, not least because at least five JMM legislators are said to have links with the Maoists. The formation of the government is as unconvincing as it is opportunistic. With the Congress describing the JMM-BJP engagement as "unethical", Shibu Soren's renewal of democracy appears to havebefuddled the entire political class. And it is his party that stands to lose.








At the time the Nano project in Singur was alive, the Tatas had obtained a court order on a specific matter that had prevented the state government from disclosing the terms of the agreement. Almost a year after the project was shifted to Gujarat, there should not have been any obligation on the government to keep the agreement secret, especially in the context of efforts by the Left Front and the Railways to utilise the 1,000 acres, now that agriculture on what was originally fertile land is out of the question. Letters have been exchanged between the Railway Board and the state's chief secretary on the status of the land. While the government had at one stage appeared keen on getting a contentious issue off its chest, the railways had lobbed the ball back in the state's court by suggesting that it wanted the land free from encumbrances. If the railways (read Mamata Banerjee) were to be blamed for setting up roadblocks without a cause, that would be far from convincing after what the chief secretary says about the state not being under any obligation to pay compensation under terms of the agreement, as demanded by the Tatas. The question that follows is what exactly prevents the West Bengal government now from getting the land released so that the railways can proceed with a coach factory as promised by the Union minister.

Inevitably, the matter reverts to the fundamental question of why the state government will not make the Nano agreement public so that alternative routes can be explored. The chief secretary's piecemeal disclosure on compensation only raises further questions. Mamata Banerjee may have been testing the waters. The Railway Board chairman can also quote the rulebook to say that the coach factory can be set up after the title of the land and encumbrances if any are resolved, including the question of whether some legal tangles may have survived. The chief secretary, Mr Ashok Mohan Chakraborty, may be suggesting that the government has nothing to hide but the belated disclosure on compensation indicates there are more questions that need to be answered by the government before another party can enter. Common sense would say it was the Tatas who walked out, hence they cannot possibly claim compensation. But then we don't know the terms of their agreement with the state.








STRIKES, bandhs and economic blockades of roads are nothing new in Manipur but forcibly keeping thousands of school and college students away from classes for four months was something unheard of. The 32-party Apunba Lup umbrella organisation thought it fit to involve students in its campaign to oust chief minister Ibobi Singh, holding him responsible for the killing of a former militant activist, Ch Sanjit, on 23 July by police commandos in what it described as a fake encounter and the death in the crossfire of a 23-year-old pregnant woman. Although the Apunba Lup started its campaign almost immediately, three student organisations lent support and closed all educational institutions from 9 September. Following last week's memorandum of understanding between the Apunba Lup and the government, thanks to mediation by senior citizens, students have resumed their classes from this week. To the many who had questioned the Apunba Lup's propriety in involving students, its answer was they had been "misguided with the notion that education is more important than the right to life". It counts among its successes the forging of unity within civil society, forcing the government to refer the Sanjit case to the CBI and exposing the ruling party's real character. On the face of it, the Apunba Lup gained nothing substantial in terms of its basic demand ~ Ibobi's resignation. It merely forced the government to free those agitation leaders booked under the National Security Act and this, as we are inclined to suspect, was the main reason for prolonging the agitation.

The demand for the suspension of the Additional SP of Imphal West and punishment for six commandos responsible for the killing is pending and this must await the conclusion of thejudicial probe. It would have been pragmatic for the Apunba Lup to have suspended its agitation after the government instituted this judicial inquiry. In short, both sides pulled out of a difficult situation.








A major gathering of non-official organisations from India and Pakistan has just taken place in New Delhi. The participants were drawn from more than twenty associations from both countries, representing a variety of opinions and interests, brought together by a common desire to promote peace and reconciliation. After three days of talks, they came out with a fairly elaborate Road Map for Peace. 

By now, Indo-Pak gatherings of this nature have become quite common. From small and difficult beginnings, they have developed into regular events on the calendar, bringing together an ever-increasing number of people who support their work and wish to contribute to it. The organisations and individuals who have put in voluntary effort to stage these meetings have done much to change the atmosphere in the sub-continent. Thanks in considerable measure to their efforts, talk of peace and friendship, and of common interests and purposes, has become a part of the current discourse. What had seemed impossible not so long ago now appears within grasp.

Voluntary bodies

These efforts of voluntary bodies have had their impact, yet ultimately what counts is what governments do. So those in quest of better relations have drawn encouragement over the last few years from the actions of leaders, who have made notable efforts to explore the way forward. Everyone recalls Mr Vajpayee's dramatic bus yatra to Lahore, which opened many doors. Since then, there has been plenty of quiet as well as more public dialogue between officials of the governments. 'Out-of-box' thinking at the top has helped encourage the belief that something can be done, and the two countries are not condemned to an indefinite future of mutual hostility. Talks between the two sides made some progress, somewhat erratically but yet going forward, but petered out as Gen. Musharraf lost his hold and his government faded away. The possibility of resumption was pushed aside by the impact of the 26/11 attacks, and since then the matter has remained in abeyance. Even though the two Prime Ministers agreed at Sharm el Sheikh that it was time for them to start talking again, that has not yet happened. Thus the question of dialogue hangs heavy over the relations between the two countries.
At the conference, the participants united in expressing the belief that resumption of dialogue was necessary and was by now overdue. Moreover, it was felt that once it was resumed dialogue should remain uninterrupted, no matter what attempts were made to disrupt it, for disengaging from contact brought no advantage to anyone.
The vulnerability of dialogue to disruptive acts of terrorism was underlined by the murderous incident in Srinagar even as the conference was being convened. It showed that forces hostile to peace and friendship have not lost their ability to strike. Yet as the Srinagar incident indicated, they would appear to have lost their claim to public backing, so that they are increasingly incapable of halting or deflecting the actions of the governments. Nor have they been able to impose their agenda and put a halt to reconciliation. The latest attack, heinous as it was, could not provoke hostile gestures or a buildup of tension between the two countries. It is a sign of the readiness of the people on both sides to turn away from violence and find another path.

The conference recognised that progress on combating terrorism and fundamentalism was indispensable for good relations. It called for cooperation between the two sides in setting up joint mechanisms and sharing intelligence for this purpose. Closer contact between military and security establishments was encouraged as beneficial to better understanding. Some delegates pointed to India's experience in this matter with China, where regular interaction between military representatives of the two countries had been a stabilising factor along the border. 

Kashmir was recognised as a core issue and the conference called for a genuine and urgent effort to find solutions. A number of specific measures were outlined to this end, such as demilitarisation and troop withdrawals, among others that have been often proposed in past years. It was also suggested, based on the presentation of one of the participants from Kashmir, that residents of that State should enjoy the right to live and work in Pakistan if they wish, on the parallel of Nepali citizens having similar rights in India. Protection of the rights of minorities was another of the proposals adopted at the meeting.

The 'Road Map' points to certain specific steps that are needed now. Among these is the long standing matter of Siachen. As is well known, this issue has been close to being resolved on more than one occasion in the past, only to be derailed by unrelated adverse developments. Meanwhile, concerns about environmental deterioration and high level pollution have grown; also about the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers on which depend the lean season flows of the rivers that sustain life in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Conversion of the Siachen region into a high altitude conservation area, or Peace Park, as already envisaged by leaders on both sides, needs to be undertaken as a priority. Apart from its favourable impact on the environment, this would be a major confidence building measure for peace.

Economic exchanges

Measures to permit economic exchanges to grow are part of the 'Road Map'. Experts who spoke on this subject, both academic analysts and businessmen, had a number of suggestions to offer. The imbalance between their economic stakes in each other was noted, with India as much the bigger being better placed to take meaningful initiatives. Thus there is a proposal that India should take unilateral action to open its borders to trade, in the expectation that this will lead to reciprocal action from the other side. Among various practical measures to facilitate the flow of goods, it was also suggested that there should be a joint economic partnership agreement.
The media came under scrutiny, with many participants referring to its baleful role in matters relating to the two countries. A number of steps to apply a corrective were envisaged, including periodic meetings of senior editors. The New Year's Day resolution for better relations of two major news organisations, neither of them renowned hitherto for peacemaking commitment, was taken as an encouraging sign.

This 'Road Map' is more an expression of aspirations rather than a carefully considered set of measures. It points to what would be desirable in ideal circumstances rather than to what is attainable today. It does not shy away from controversy, as for instance in what is said about Kashmir or the request for unilateral action by India on trade. But for all that, it represents the sentiments of many people on both sides who would like to encourage their governments to resume, in right earnest, the search for peace.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







Climate change may finally be receiving the attention it deserves in a policy sense, but the plight of people whose lives have already been devastated by climate change has received surprisingly little attention. Fortunately, a new exhibition of photographs from a particularly vulnerable region in India helps to redress this, says ALEXANDER COCKBURN 


WITH Copenhagen, Barak Obama's cap-and-trade bill and numerous green policy initiatives coming out of Westminster, climate change is finally receiving the attention it deserves in a policy sense. But the plight of people whose lives have already been devastated by climate change has received surprisingly little attention. Fortunately, photojournalist Peter Caton's new exhibition of photographs from the Sundarbans region in India helps to redress this.

The Sundarbans (meaning "beautiful forest" in Bengali) is a vast area in the Ganges delta comprising a network of 108 swampy, low-lying islands. The area is unique both ecologically, as the home of the Bengal tiger, and culturally — Hindus and Muslims both worship a deity called Bonbibi. The region's low elevation above sea level and proximity to the coast made it particularly vulnerable when Cyclone Aila struck in May 2009, destroying many of the inhabitants' homes.

Caton and his partner in the field, Cris Aoki Watanabe, have been working in India since 2006. Despite four years of experience witnessing the effects of climate change in the Sundarbans, Caton says the devastation caused by Aila still took him by surprise. The island's inaccessibility – it is three to four hours away from Kolkata, the nearest city, and can only be reached by boat – seriously hampered the relief effort and muted the media response.

"On one visit I met a widow who lived alone and had had to flee and set up a new home on three occasions," Caton recalls, and says the Aila cyclone is just the latest sign of the impact of climate change on the region. "I watched children play in their home neighbourhood knee-deep in water."

Rising sea levels destroy not only homes but livelihoods as well because if salt water contaminates the inhabitants' rice paddies then they become unusable for three years. "I met one family which had not slept for four nights for fear of the sea breaking the embankment protecting their rice field. They were working in shifts to repair the embankment throughout the night," says Caton.

Working in the Sundarbans also presented other technical challenges and he says he "was often working in mud not up to my knees, but up to my waist". This, and intolerable levels of heat and humidity, make the approach he took to his photographs all the more extraordinary. He used studio lighting in the middle of inaccessible swamps to give his photographs the same kind of glossy sheen that might be found in the pages of Marie Claire.
Although the people of the Sundarbans are isolated and poor, they are well aware of the causes of global warming. They are angry with the international community for having to suffer the consequences of a man-made catastrophe for which, with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, they are blameless. Caton's new exhibition vividly underscores not only the suffering caused by global warming, but the deep unfairness of it.


The Independent







Food prices have escalated and so has administrative apathy. To top it all, ministers and bureaucrats, argues BISWADEB CHATTERJEE, are talking through their collective hat 


FOOD inflation has hit the headlines again. It has reached almost 20 per cent to contribute to overall inflation which has spiralled to five per cent. Despite promises and assurances, prices have been on the rise for the last two years. But the powers that be seem to be not taking the crisis seriously.

Rather, ministers and bureaucrats are making such statements as would inspire apprehension, without cracking down on hoarders intensifying the crisis. While the Prime Minister says there is no food shortage, and hence no crisis at all, the agriculture minister says that countrywide rice production has fallen by 10 million tons. The finance minister is doubtful about achieving nine per cent growth in this fiscal year, as agricultural growth up to November last year was below one per cent while the manufacturing and service sectors have shown signs of recovery from the slump. But Pranab Mukherjee hasn't prescribed a definite policy to boost agricultural productivity.
When he suggests, for example, that food imports can defuse the crisis, the commerce minister cries foul. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission recently said that the situation would look up, assuring adequate stocks of cereals and blaming speculators for the price rise. Montek Ahluwalia has opted to not bluntly follow the government's anti-inflationary monetary policies, but the Reserve Bank differs. Since WPI-based inflation trebled in November to 4.78 per cent — mainly due to the relentless rise in the prices of potato, sugar, pulses and cereals — the central banks predicted tightening of money supply to quell it. Mukherjee, however, thinks it will augment international liquidity to further complicate the picture.

Ahluwalia says food inflation is not the same as inflation; that neither squeezing money supply by raising interest rates nor resorting to imports can drag us out of the mess. As a matter of fact, economists are not sure whether food inflation is a supply- or demand-driven affair. Supposing it has been triggered due to supply side constraints, Suresh Tendulkar, ex-chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Committee, prescribes that the RBI withdraw liquidity — a tried and tested method of quelling demand inflation.

This, however, calls for a cautious approach, as it involves impeding the process of recovery from the manufacturing slowdown. In the wake of unabated price rise the RBI is expected to review its annual credit policy in January next year, although it has already modified its inflation forecast for the current fiscal year from five per cent — projected in October last year — to 6.5 per cent. But C Rangarajan, chairman of PMEAC, suspects that inflation may even exceed seven per cent by the end of the current fiscal, as food output can even turn negative in the last quarter.

Can the poor find any solace amid such divergent perceptions with prices escalating? Aam admi was badly hit with potato prices surging by a whopping 141 per cent in the first eight months of 2009, followed by pulses (40), sugar (37), onion (20), wheat (14), milk (13.6), rice (12.7) and fruits by 11 per cent. Besides, prices of vegetables, eggs and fish have also increased.

Moreover, real wages have hardly increased pushing a majority to the brink of poverty. The present inflation rate of 4.78 per cent has been mostly contributed by food articles, the value index of which rose by 3.2 per cent in November last mainly due to the rise in prices of all types of pulses from two to 14 per cent. Prices of urad dal, rice, wheat, bajra, barley, fish, egg, mutton and poultry chicken, condiments and spices of all types are on the rise. The poor, under such circumstances, are finding it hard to make ends meet.

The opposition failed to utilise the winter session of Parliament to pressure the government into act quickly. While the government appeared desperate to divert attention from pressing matters to almost non-issues like the Liberhan Commission report, it mainly indulged in protests, counter-protests, disruptions and adjournments, thereby wasting precious time. 

The government, it seems, is trying to discharge responsibility by increasing employees' salary, allocating more money in so-called poverty alleviation projects and raising the loanable funds of banks to overcome recession. But such measures will only benefit the affluent. Given India's "organised employment", hardly 10 per cent has what it takes to fight food inflation. What about the remaining 90?

The Prime Minster believes that with economic reforms not only growth but prosperity will reach new heights. The reverse, however, has been proved to be true. As per the Planning Commission's estimates for 2004-05, India's combined poverty ratio is 27.5 per cent; rural and urban poverty 28.3 and 25.7 per cent respectively. The 1999-2000 estimates put these at 26.1, 26.8 and 24.1 per cent respectively. Therefore, in the last five years or so all these figures have spiralled with almost equal rapidity.

Further, food inflation has deteriorated the situation almost beyond repair. The Commission's estimates are based on the minimum nutrition level. If other deri vatives like education, health and sanitation, shelter, drinking water and household durables are taken into account, India's poverty ratio will likely be much higher.
Congress leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyer have realised this, which is why they can be heard saying that 80 per cent of our people can't spend even Rs 20 a day. In contrast, our per capita income is about Rs 38,000,, implying massive income inequality.

Poverty in India has two important features. First, elasticity of poverty with respect to per capita income is below 0.4. As a result, although per capita income grew by 62 per cent, poverty declined by only 22 per cent during 1993-94 and 2004-05. Again, while urban per capita consumption expenditure was 63 per cent higher than in rural areas in 1993-94, it jumped to 88 per cent in 2004-05 indicating a sharp rise in urban-rural disparity over the decade.

Poverty, moreover, is associated with food insecurity. India ranks 66 among 88 countries, according to the Global Hunger Index 2008 prepared by the International Food Research Institute. Over 200 million Indians still live under the most trying conditions. More than 230 million people are undernourished, which is 27 per cent of the global total. To tackle hunger, the government has passed the food security act for those below the poverty line, but such measures mean little or nothing. The National Rural Employment Guarantee and midday meal schemes are yet to deliver. As a matter of fact, government negligence as far as agriculture goes has vastly aggravated poverty and undernourishment. Poverty can never be successfully dealt with if investments in agriculture remain scarce.

Also, public investments account for only a fourth of the total volume of investments and irrigation happens to be the worst affected. Irrigation potential as percentage of the gross cropped area is still above 60, which has contributed to low agricultural productivity. As a result, per capita availability of cereals has fallen. But the government couldn't care less.


The writer is Associate Professor of Economics, Durgapur Government College








IN the middle of the 19th century, Lourdes was a small garrison town of 4,000-5,000 inhabitants in the foothills of the Pyrénées on the Gave river. Bernadette Soubirous was the eldest of five children of hard-working parents who had fallen on hard times, and from operating a successful mill had been reduced to living in one small room called the Cachot, which can still be seen today. Bernadette could barely read or write and suffered several illnesses that left her weak and asthmatic and small for her age. But from a very early age she showed signs of immense faith in God and when she was told she was stupid because she was unable to learn her Catechism, she whispered in a characteristic way that at least she would always know how to love God.
On 11 February 1858, when she was 14, she, along with her sister and a friend, left home to collect firewood at the foot of a hill called Massabielle where there was a small cave or grotto. To her amazement, she saw the first of q8 visions of a "small young lady" standing in a niche in the rock. The others who were with her didn't see anything. On her next visit, she said the "beautiful lady" asked her to return to the grotto every day for 15 days. At first her mother forbade her from going, but Bernadette persuaded her to allow her to go. The apparition did not identify herself until a later vision saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception", a term Bernadette did not understand then.

Hundreds of people began to gather at the grotto to see Bernadette, and the Blessed Virgin told her to drink of a spring there. Bernadette dug in the dirt for a spring and drank what bits of muddy water she could find. Several days later, water welled up from the spot and it had miraculous healing properties, with 67 "inexplicable" cures being recorded since it was first dug.

After the apparitions, Bernadette stayed away from public life, avoiding the attention her visions had brought her. She joined the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, moving into their convent in a place of the same name at age 22. She spent the rest of her brief life there working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. She contracted tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee and died of the illness in 1879. She was canonised on 8 December 1933, as the Catholic patron saint of sick persons, of the family and of poverty. Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes-Lourdes declared 2009 the "Year of Bernadette".

That year has just gone, so let us quickly review where we stand — 1.02 billion people or one in six of the world's total population are suffering from hunger and a child dies of hunger every six seconds. The recently concluded Copenhagen summit to save our earth was appropriately lambasted by Greenpeace activist Joss Garman as "a historic failure that will live in infamy". It came up with a deal that effectively condemns the African continent to a century of devastating temperature rises. Peace remains elusive as sickness prevails in the minds of some of the world's leaders and militant groups.

Thanks to the Taliban, Pakistan has become what Iraq and Afghanistan were some time ago – perpetual bomb zones, with even mosques and schools not being spared. Iran has been in violent chaos since last June with allegations of Ahmadinejad's victory in the presidential elections being rigged. In the 12 months since Israel's devastating assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, conditions in the Strip "remain wretched", to use Amnesty International's phrase. China's dubious human rights record took another beating when 53-year-old writer Liu Xiaobo was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion of state power. Last July, some 200 people died and more than 800 were injured in China's restive western region of Xinjiang after a protest in Urumqi turned violent. The BBC's Chris Hogg said the violence was some of the worst reported in the country since Tiananmen Square in 1989. These were just some of the stories of 2009.

For those who believe in righteousness and divine intervention, this is the time to pray that we be rid of devastating sickness and poverty, that we be allowed to drink from Bernadette's spring..

The writer is a social worker and poet







Both India and Bangladesh placed high hopes on Sheikh Hasina Wajed's visit to New Delhi. The agreements signed by the two sides suggest a refreshing change in attitude and political will. It is one thing that substantive steps have been taken to address some long-standing issues such as the trade imbalance, distribution of river water, road and rail transit, exchange of prisoners and the fight against terrorism. But more important was the spirit of accommodation and mutual understanding that informed the agreements and other negotiations. For quite some time, it was precisely the absence of mutual trust that was the worst problem in India-Bangladesh ties. Each side viewed the other with suspicion and allowed the suspicion to overshadow possible areas of mutual cooperation. Even when leaders and officials of the two sides engaged in dialogues, rhetoric took precedence over meaningful plans of action. Economic issues, such as the trade imbalance and transit facilities for goods through each other's territory, became embroiled in spurious political controversies. Some issues, such as the distribution of river water and the trade imbalance, will need to be discussed further. But it now seems that the two sides can engage more openly than they have done in a long time.


A qualitative difference in India-Bangladesh ties is crucial to the stability and economic well-being of South Asia. Between them, the two countries have the largest population anywhere in the world, except, of course, China. For both, reducing poverty and reaching the basic amenities of modern living to their people should be the key element of State policy. Nothing can help achieve this better than mutual economic cooperation and democratic politics. If the ties between the two neighbours were strained in recent years, it was mainly because of the rise of Islamist fundamentalism and official patronage to anti-India activities in Bangladesh. Not just New Delhi, but many other governments were worried about the drift in Bangladesh. With Pakistan presenting a dreadful picture, the failure of yet another Islamic state would have been disastrous for peace and stability both in the region and elsewhere. If economy and security are closely inter-linked everywhere, they are more so in South Asia. The India-Bangladesh agreements promise a new beginning, but only sustained engagement can fulfil the promise.







An unprecedented situation is a good way to mark new beginnings. Or conclusions. The Delhi High Court has ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India should come under the purview of the Right to Information Act. By so doing, it has arrived at the concluding stage of a tussle that was initiated in 1997 regarding the declaration of judges' assets under the RTI Act. This is also a rare case in which a high court ruling has gone against the trend favoured by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has consistently argued against judges' declaration of assets by maintaining that too much transparency would affect the independence of the judiciary. It had defined its position against the Central Information Commission's statement that the CJI's office should fall within the ambit of the RTI Act. This happened in 2009, and was followed by the Supreme Court moving the Delhi High Court against the CIC order. The central issue in the argument seems to be twofold. On a practical level, there is wariness about the misuse of the RTI Act regarding the judiciary, with concomitant hair-splitting about information that is "personal" or "held in trust". On the plane of ideas, the issue is linked to independence and dignity: the knowledge of details about judges as citizens may harm the sanctity of the institution of justice.


Yet, a possible misuse, or a potential misapplication, of the RTI Act was scotched recently by the Supreme Court when it ruled that a judge cannot be asked to reveal the reasoning behind his judgment. Misuse can be blocked if there is a will to good. Rather, as the high court judgment has pointed out, and as some judges proved by declaring their assets voluntarily, greater transparency will only lead to greater dignity and independence. The judiciary is entrusted with an onerous task by the democracy. The RTI Act, whether used to make judges' declaration of assets mandatory or to glean information about judges' appointments, would demonstrate that such trust is honoured by making the governors accountable to the governed. The aura of overall transparency that a modern democracy requires would be created from the top. In that sense, the Delhi High Court judgment could be pointing the way to a new beginning.









As I write this, the year, 2009, has just come to an end. This is the time to look back at what has happened during the last year; and also to peer forward to see what is in store for us in 2010.


At the end of 2008, every betting man would have wagered a rather large sum on 2009 turning out to be (borrowing a term from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) "annus horribilis". Indeed, the immediate future viewed from the perspective of December 2008 did look particularly dark and gloomy. The global financial crisis had engulfed much of Europe and North America, and had its almost inevitable effects on the real sectors of the world economy. Leading economies slowed down appreciably, while unemployment levels soared. Virtually every 'expert' agreed that we were heading towards the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.


Catastrophes of this magnitude need villains. Not surprisingly, the media went to town lampooning bankers and economists in equal measure. The bankers were criticized because their imprudent loans were largely responsible for the mortgage crisis in the United States of America which was the precursor to the worldwide financial disaster. What was worse was that they were singularly unwilling to wear sackcloth and ashes. In fact, they continued to award themselves huge bonuses. The economists were blamed because they failed to warn the world about the impending crisis. Questions were asked whether economic theory was barren after all, if it could not save the world from such a serious crisis. Never slow in seizing an opportunity to "look good", the Left parties in India gave themselves more than a pat or two because of their attempts to insulate the Indian economy from the rest of the world.


The first half of 2009 seemed to follow the script written by the prophets of doom. The world economy continued to sink lower and lower. Finance ministers and governors of central banks of the major economies met frequently, attempting to coordinate strategies for reviving their economies — the attempts to coordinate strategies being an important recognition of the fact that all major countries had to work together in a globalized world. Enormous, truly mind-bogglingly large stimulus packages were promised by both the US and Chinese governments in attempts to boost aggregate demand. On both sides of the Atlantic, governments also departed from a basic tenet of capitalism by propping up large banks which were on the brink of collapsing under the weight of vast sums of bad debt. The danger of systemic collapse was deemed more important than leaving the market to decide the fate of these banks.


The second half of the same year was distinctly better. The stimulus packages had their desired effect in almost every country, with the United Kingdom economy being an exception. All the other major economies have recovered and have started recording modest rates of growth. For instance, the latest figures show that the US economy recorded a growth of 2.2 per cent during the quarter, July-September. There is little doubt that the worst is behind us, and that the recession has not been as severe either in magnitude or in duration as the one in the 1930s.


Some economists I have met recently regard this almost as a triumph for economics. "Economic theory works after all," is their assertion. Perhaps this warm glow is a natural reaction, since economists have been at the receiving end for almost a year. However, some sense of balance is called for. While it is still too early to come to any firm conclusion about the reasons underlying the short duration of the global recession, economists cannot claim that they have discovered any new theories which have taken us out of the crisis. After all, the rationale underlying the stimulus packages is old-fashioned Keynesianism of 1936 vintage.

There are some important lessons to be learnt from the global meltdown. Perhaps the most important one is that the time has come to set up some kind of international regulation for financial institutions. This will be anathema to many influential economists and so, the finer details of any such regulation have to be carefully worked out. Certainly, attempts to impose strict rules are bound to be shot down. It is also tempting to suggest that banks should not be allowed to become too big. Governments are tempted to rescue large banks when they are on the verge of collapse because their sheer size implies that they would have large ripple effects on the rest of the financial sector. But, then, if large banks know that governments will bail them out, they will be tempted to undertake unduly risky projects since the downside risk is low.


Of course, no discussion of the events of 2009 can be complete without mention of the Copenhagen summit or "fiasco" — as it has come to be labelled. Practically everyone recognizes that efforts to prevent global warming must be amongst the most important priorities of the global community. Unfortunately, all countries need to make some sacrifices to ensure a meaningful solution. Since the developed and developing countries could not come to an agreement on the levels of sacrifices that the two sides would make, the final agreement is essentially a toothless document full of platitudes.


The last year has also underlined the important shift in the balance of power in the international arena. Everyone realized that the global recovery would be infinitely slower unless the Chinese economy managed to get back to the near miraculous levels of growth that it has achieved in the last 30 years. Indeed, eyes were also focused on the performance of the Indian economy. Although per capita incomes remain low in these countries, the sheer sizes of their economies contribute to their growing clout in world affairs.


What does the future hold for India? The finance minister believes that the Indian economy is poised to reach a growth rate of over eight per cent. This euphoria is not misplaced. Even in the worst of times, the economy was quite far away from any recession — we managed to grow at around five per cent. There are also clear signs that the economy has grown healthier. The only sector which is still in the doldrums is the export sector. Since the global environment can only improve over time, even Indian exports will increase, and so Pranab Mukherjee's forecast does seem to have a sound basis.


The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick








In mid-2006, no less than the present prime minister had laid the foundation stone at Ludhiana for the mother of all projects — the Dedicated Freight Corridor. With this, Indian Railways was set to embark on a multi-crore venture to set up a direct freight link from the manufacturing bases to ports on the western coast and coal fields and steel plants in the eastern sector.


A special purpose vehicle —the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited — was also created to undertake planning and development, mobilization of financial resources, construction, maintenance and operation. However, three years down the line, all it can show for progress are some earth work and bridges on the stretch between Sone Nagar and Mughalsarai, where land acquisition was not involved.


The project covers approximately 3,289 kilometres in two sectors. The eastern sector, 1,806 km long, stretches from Ludhiana to Dankuni while the 1,483 km-long western sector starts from Tughlakabad-Dadri and ends at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai. There is also a short section interlinking the two corridors at Dadri. It is certainly an ambitious attempt at a quantum leap in freight transport capability.


The DFC envisages state-of-the-art construction technology, upgrading of transportation systems, substantial increase in wagon axle load to achieve significant reduction in unit cost of rail transport, volume and speed being achieved by virtue of it being dedicated to freight trains, and not getting bogged down by having to give precedence to the super-fast ones.


Further delay


Originally scheduled to be completed in five years, the DFC would provide critical rail infrastructure that promises to benefit importers and exporters, shipping lines and container operators along the western corridor as well as coal companies, steel plants and thermal power stations on the eastern corridor. The initiative had been announced by Lalu Prasad in his rail budget speech in February 2006.


In spite of the railways possessing large chunks of land, a project of this magnitude involves the acquisition of substantial tracts, which may prove to be its Achilles heel. Mamata Banerjee's edict, requiring the DFCCIL to negotiate individually with each stake holder, is unlikely to make things easier. However, a major change has been ordered by Banerjee by bringing the new alignment closer to the existing tracks, which would enable it to be accommodated within the existing land, thereby reducing the need for land acquisition by a significant margin.


The western corridor is expected to cost Rs 23,680 crore, a hike from the earlier estimate of Rs 16,000 crore. Similarly the cost of the eastern corridor has escalated to Rs 19,613 crore. The total price of the project is now over Rs 43,000 crore, and the delays and demands for raising the price of land are likely to escalate the outlay further. Lalu Prasad had claimed that under him, the railways had earned billions. But Banerjee's recent 'white paper' has punched holes into Prasad's claims. Even then, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency and other funding institutions expressing an interest in pitching in with money, availability of funds may not prove to be much of a problem.


However, what is likely to derail the project would be the issue of land acquisition. Post-Singur, farmers are now better informed, and are prepared to fight for a bigger share of the pie. With politicians across all parties ready to fish in troubled waters at the drop of a hat, V.K. Kaul and his team at the DFCCIL will need all the luck as well as dogged determination to complete the project by 2015, the new target date that has now been set.







The prime minister is scheduled to meet the heads of a few leading cultural institutions in the city. So how are some of these iconic institutions faring?


I was dragging my feet as I entered the Indian Museum after almost three years. My experience last time of strolling round this world of shades, with its mildewed walls, heady smell of moth balls, and glass cases cloaked with dust, did not make me eager to retrace my steps. But once inside, I had the sneaky feeling that some things have changed inside the premises, and curiosity drove me on.


Most of the galleries on the ground floor looked less sooty than before. Even more surprisingly, the personnel on duty were not dozing or chatting among themselves, but were steadfastly staring ahead. Bawling children, cooing lovers, grumbling crones and rowdy young men could not disrupt their meditation. Taking a lesson from their book, I too decided to concentrate, but on the literature accompanying the exhibits rather than on nothingness. So in the Pottery section, I learnt that pots and shards were essential for "reconstructing (sic) the history of man's struggle towards civilisation". Chiding myself for picking out typos even when I was not proofing copy, I hurried to the deserted Mineral room, and found some discoloured photographs of stones from "Tamal Nadu". The reign of dust was obviously undisturbed in this place, possibly because this was one of the less-visited galleries.


Somebody must have hit upon the idea of enlivening the vault-like Geology section with gaily-painted flow charts. Whether the parti-coloured charts serve the aesthetic objective is debatable. But they certainly serve the educational purpose. They recreate the décor of state government schools down to the last detail, including the usual spelling mistakes in the texts.


Renovation work is in full swing inside the museum, probably in preparation for the forthcoming bicentenary celebrations. Masons have carelessly draped the ancient statues standing on the aisles with dirty plastic sheets, which cover nothing but their heads. Making my way underneath the bamboo scaffoldings, I found myself in the Anthropology section. That the museum authorities do not have a bright view of human progress could be guessed from the darkness inside this gallery. The ancestors of modern man hunt, gather, or cook in gloomy, dimly-lit glass-covered niches. The entire north wall of the gallery was standing empty, probably waiting for the next mutation of homo sapiens.


I entered the Zoology gallery on the first floor with trepidation. The last time I was there, I had been appalled by the declarations of love scratched on the massive bones of mammals by numerous couples who have visited the museum over the years. I searched the skeleton of the Little Piked Whale for those signs of woe, but to my relief, they were not there. The bones have been bleached clean, it seemed. My joy over the erasure of love was short-lived. The gigantic jawbones of a whale that stand on the two sides of the entrance have now become a palimpsest etched with with passionate avowals of love, even for rum, as in the case of one called Mushku.


My last stop was the Bharhut Gallery, which I had found locked on my last visit. As soon as I closed the doors of this temperature-controlled room behind me, the dust and noise of the museum were shut off. In the enveloping silence, punctuated only by the soft clicking of the AC machine, I felt afraid even to breathe. I tiptoed past the imposing pillars and railings from Bharhut with friezes depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha in red sandstone. The yaksha-yakhshinis and dwarpalas from first century BC stared out from the panels, and yet their gaze was turned curiously inwards. I shivered in spite of myself. Time stood still, until the gallery door opened again to let in a young couple with a child who hiccuped at regular intervals, shattering the stillness.


On my way out, I found an intriguing combination of motion and passivity among the museum personnel. Most of them were scurrying about, but did not seem to know what they were supposed to do. In the room with the closed-circuit television sets, the lone female attendant was in a pensive mood, her eyes not on the screens but on the throng of visitors going up and down the stairs. The sweeper at the entrance diligently wiped one particular spot below the metal detectors, making them go crazy with beeping. As I was taking back my bag, the man at the counter remarked lazily that there is this usual hullabaloo every time some event takes place in the museum. "Kichhudin porei thik hoye jabe (Things will be alright after a few days)," he assured me.









I warily peeked inside one of the galleries of the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum on Gurusaday Road. My apprehension stemmed from the low lighting and pin-drop silence inside the museum. I stepped in nonetheless, and the sight of black walls covered with white diagrams of the water cycle or the solar system eased me. I assured myself that since I remember my geography and life science lessons well, I would not feel at a loss here.


As I have a tendency to press a button whenever I see one, I was immediately drawn towards a grid that had several red and green buttons accompanying icons of animals, aircraft and the like. This board was meant to demonstrate the sounds produced by these creatures and objects. Instead of reading the text, I pressed the green button next to the picture of a hen. To my surprise, instead of the crow I had expected, I heard a loud voice welcoming me and asking if I wished to participate in the interactive learning session. There was no way I could stop the voice, although I searched frantically for the right button. I was afraid that the guard lurking around would take me to task for touching the museum's objects. As I was guiltily sneaking away from the scene of crime, a boy not more than eight years old gave me a mischievous grin. He seemed perfectly at ease with the museum, with its interactive LCD monitors and sound devices, and amused at the blunders I was making.


What I encountered during the rest of my visit was a healthy fusion of traditional science and digital technology. Since 'new age' learning is mostly about the use of multimedia to make education less intimidating, one can get to know much about the effective methods of teaching children from the museum. There were interactive demonstrations of how wind produces energy. Lifelike models showed how the muscles in the human body form the basis of the sophisticated machines we use today. A life-sized steam engine parked on the premises appeared charming to a train-lover like me. But it could also be instructive for an engineering student interested in mechanics. I was surprised at how updated everything was — there was even a panel on swine flu.


Climate change being much in the news right now, I was impressed by two models demonstrating the use of alternative energy. One was of a brightly-lit bungalow using solar power. The other was of a self-sustaining household, complete with its vegetable patch, cowshed and well, that used biofuel to meet its energy needs. As I walked out wondering if the models could be put into practice in Calcutta, a carnivalesque sight greeted me.


Preparations for the forthcoming science and engineering fair were in full swing. Students were adding final touches to their stalls. This fair is a part of the several activities, camps and workshops the BITM organizes. Here too, climate change ruled the roost. As I caught a glimpse of some unfinished hand-drawn posters that called upon visitors not to "waste the waste", I could not help wondering why these students had used new chart papers to demonstrate recycling.









What is a public library all about? It is about books, of course. But the true essence of a public library lies in the need to share books. The method of sharing has to be accompanied by the process of collecting books and caring for them. The National Library in Calcutta has the most extensive collection of books, journals and periodicals in the country. Yet a visit to the National Library may not always be pleasurable for a book-lover.


People who use the library often find it difficult to get hold of a book in the first place. Adris Biswas, a researcher in popular literature at Jadavpur University, said that the problem is not always the non-availability of books, but the ignorance of most staff members about where a particular book could be found — "It can take [them] up to two hours to find a single book." And when the reader gets the desired book at last, he may not be able to find a quiet place to read it in. Jishnu Dasgupta, a research student at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, complained that he has been disturbed more than once by staff members talking on the phone inside the library.


Handling of books, especially the rare ones, is another problem. The Rare Books section has books that are very old, and therefore fragile. Frequent visitors to this section often find these books in a bad shape. Biswas said he found the rare and valuable Battala books in the Ramdas Sen collection carelessly tied with strings. "Despite the fact that the library's collection is of international standards, it often fails to fulfil the readers' needs. Many books are already torn, some are in such a bad condition that they cannot even be photocopied," he said.


An effective way to preserve old and fragile books is to digitize them. The National Library has started the process of digitization since 1999, but according to a library employee, the process is moving at snail's pace. He said that while funding is not the issue, the absence of a clear-cut policy is. Moreover, the task of digitizing the huge number of books is being undertaken by personnel who do not have the minimum technical knowledge — "it is our handicap. There are no centralized standard procedures, no technical policies," he admitted. He also said that the library is "definitely understaffed".


Why has the library not been able to recruit properly trained personnel to handle the digitization process? Why do staff members at the library, except a few, lack the expertise to find and handle books? And why is the library understaffed, despite having sufficient funds? A library needs to be manned and run by book-lovers. This is hardly the case as far as the National Library is concerned. The reason, it seems, is the politicization of cultural institutions that has now become the hallmark of Bengal.


To be fair, some progress has been made. The library has been shifted to a new building with better infrastructure, availability of books has improved, and books are being digitized at last. But is this progress sufficient? "I wish the library is made more reader-friendly, and books are digitized faster," said Sraman Mukherjee, a post-doctoral fellow at the CSSSC. Is this too much to ask of the largest library in the country?





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





The Delhi high court's decision that the Chief Justice of India is a 'public authority' under the Right to Information Act and that the citizens have the right to obtain information provided to the CJI by the apex court judges is a landmark decision that will only enhance the status of the higher judiciary. The decision of a division bench upholds an earlier ruling by a single bench against which the supreme court had gone in appeal. It is unfortunate that the supreme court had contested the decision taken by the Central Information Commission that the court should provide information to an RTI applicant on whether the judges had filed the details of their assets before the CJI, and even gone in appeal against the single judge's ruling. The CJI and the supreme court have persistently taken a negative position on the matter which went against the norms of transparency and accountability that they prescribed for other public offices.

The high court's ruling has rightly rejected the supreme court's contention that the CJI holds the information provided by the judges in a fiduciary capacity and in confidence. The issue of trust does not arise here because the asset details are not personal information in a private relationship. The high court has also done well to clarify that the CJI is on the same plane as other judges. That there cannot be different standards for judicial officers of subordinate courts, who have to disclose their assets, and judges of the higher judiciary should have been clear to the CJI even without the high court's observation.

More importantly, the court has also seen the right to information as part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.While these are clear even to laymen, it is inadvisable for the supreme court to go to itself in appeal against the ruling. That would make the court an appellant and judge at the same time and would detract from the credibility of its decision if it overturns the high court ruling. After the controversy over the judges' assets started, supreme court judges have voluntarily publicised the details of their assets, claiming that a 1997 resolution of the judges on the matter is not binding. The supreme court should accept the high court decision and parliament should make disclosure of assets mandatory by law, if that is required even after the high court decision.








Indian hockey has the uncanny knack of staying in the news for all the wrong reasons. The trophy cupboard has few pieces of silverware of real value but off the pitch shenanigans keep hitting the headlines — be it the selection of foreign coach, the formation of a proper governing body or the naming of the national team captain. The latest, though, took the cake. For sheer timing, the payment dispute between the players and the administrators could not have come at a worse moment. Though the crisis was resolved on Wednesday with team sponsors Sahara pitching in with Rs 1 crore to be disbursed among the players immediately, the ugly situation could have been averted if the officials had shown some foresight.

The World Cup is a little over a month away and a top performance at home is imperative for the sport to survive and to show to the world that this country still has something to offer. Instead, it is the survival instinct of the players that came to the fore as they stood firm on their demand that their dues be paid forthwith. An apathetic officialdom tried everything — from conciliation to flexing its muscles — but loosen its purse strings in an attempt to end the impasse. Even the last card — playing for national pride — cut no ice with the players.

It might be easy to blame the players for showing scant regard for national interests but it is vital to see the issue from their perspective. For long, the administrators have taken them for granted, even as they jostle for power and the pelf. If India finds itself far removed from the top echelons of world hockey — it is now ranked 12 — administrators without vision have to shoulder the blame. When the Indian Hockey Federation was disbanded in the wake of the national team's failure to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games and Hockey India set up subsequently, a better dawn seemed in sight for the sport. But the interim body, still in the process of forming a democratic set up, has failed miserably on all fronts. Hockey might not be a professional sport in this country but playing for mere pride is a notion that doesn't go with the times at all. The benefits of sponsorship have to reach the players if the game is to move forward.









The situation in Andhra Pradesh is extremely fluid. Of course, the conflagrations that one witnessed earlier seems to have settled for the time being. The temperatures have calmed down to some extent but, obviously, there is a simmering undercurrent and the situation is far from normal. This was all in the wake of the demand for a separate state of Telangana.

Why did the situation come to such a flash point, in the first place? What is the way for a peaceful settlement? How to go about in dealing with the situation in the immediate term?  These are questions which need to be addressed objectively and soberly; more so, because the eruption over the question of statehood had, indeed, led to a fracturing of the political process and more importantly division of the people of the state along the regional lines.

The question of statehood has remained a contentious issue since the founding of our independent Republic. The reorganisation of the states after independence in order to achieve a better and more rational degree of integration while taking into account, the diverse, composite and plural nature of the Indian society, was always a major challenge.

In fact, the humongous magnitude of the Indian population and the extent of its diversity perhaps have no other parallel in any other part of the world. That the country has managed to stay united and integrated for more than six decades despite occasional outbursts of the nature that we have seen on the question of Telangana is a positive commentary on the eventual ability of our people and polity to work out a course of negotiated settlement on contentious issues.

It is this collective and time-tested experience that will have to be brought into play to understand and address some of the questions that we have asked ourselves. The integration of India by reorganising hundreds of princely states that co-existed with large presidencies and provinces under direct British colonial rule was a complex task. It is the aspiration of the people on a linguistic basis to have a state reorganisation on this basis.

Movements for Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra were massive popular agitations to lead to the formation of state reorganisation commission under the chairmanship of Fazal Ali. The report of the commission in 1955 led to the formation of united Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

However, it has to be recognised that in a plural and diverse society, the mechanism for administration and governance can never be settled and processes to address the changing aspirations of the people is carried out on a continuum. Since India chose a path of capitalist development, this was an urgent necessity; for such a course of development entails a degree of regional imbalance with emergence of advanced areas and backward hinterlands. To ensure that benefits accrue evenly and alienation does not get intensified along regional lines, the governments have to be always vigilant.

However, the unsettling of the states settled once on a linguistic basis is a very sensitive issue. In fact, in the absence of a consultative and comprehensive dialogue it can actually turn out to be a dangerous proposition. In the case of the present conflagration on Telangana, this is precisely what has happened. Unfortunately, the handling of the issue is symptomatic of what had happened in the past.


Little progress

Having amended the constitution and adding Article 371 D, which made special provisions with respect to Andhra Pradesh to the effect that President "may by order ... provide ... for equitable opportunities and facilities for the people belonging to different parts of the state in the matter of public employment and in the matter of education, and different provisions may be made for various parts of the state," precious little had actually been done on the ground to constantly address the sense of alienation of the people in the Telangana districts.


The abrupt announcement on the midnight of Dec 9, 2009, by the home minister outside while the parliament session was on with obvious lack of adequate consultation had only precipitated the situation. Though belated, it is positive that the Union government has now started consultations.

But we have seen how parties have come to be divided right down the middle on regional lines. It is obvious that such fissures manifest and mutually reinforce the deep division of the people themselves which has been accentuated by the unimaginative handling of the issue.

That all the eight major parties which were part of the initial process of consultation to issue a common appeal to the people to remain peaceful and restore normalcy in the state is a good starting point. It is this process which has to be carried out in the coming days more vigorously. It is only in an atmosphere of sober understanding and accommodation that the situation can be defused.

The principle to which any long-term solution can be achieved has to be free of emotive upheavals. And the Union government has to realise that no unilateral, partisan approach can produce any positive outcome. It is more so, when divisions within the Congress party has its obvious manifestations.








Hugo Chavez' assumption of power in Venezuela on Feb 2, 1999, coincided with a military development that was traumatic for the United States: the closure in November of that year of its primary military base in the region, Howard Air Force Base in Panama, as required by the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977.

The soldiers from Howard were relocated to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, but after massive protests there, the Pentagon closed  that base as well, transferring personnel to Texas and Florida and the US Southern Command to Miami.

As a replacement, the Pentagon chose four strategically-situated locations to control the region: Manta in Ecuador, Comalapa in El Salvador, and the islands of Aruba and Curacao, which belong to The Netherlands. The US added to their 'traditional' function of spying a few new official duties — combating illegal immigration to the US and monitoring drug trafficking — and various other, covert tasks: controlling the flow of petroleum and minerals, biodiversity, and fresh water. However, from the very beginning their main objectives were monitoring Venezuela and destabilising the Bolivarian Revolution.

FOLs and CSLs

After the Sept 11 attacks, US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld outlined a new military doctrine to combat 'international terrorism'. He altered the strategy of foreign deployment with massive bases and large numbers of personnel, opting instead for a far larger number of Foreign Operating Locations (FOL) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSL) with less military personnel but ultramodern detection technology, state-of-the-art radar, gigantic satellite antennas, spy planes, surveillance drones, etc.

As a result, the quantity of military installations abroad rapidly jumped to the astonishing number of 865 FOL or CSL-style bases in 46 countries. Never in history had a country so dramatically increased its military presence around the world.

In Latin America, the redeployment of bases made it possible for the Manta unit to collaborate on the failed coup against Chavez on April 11, 2002. Since then, a media campaign directed by Washington has been spreading false information about the presumed presence in that country of cells of organisations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and even al-Qaeda, which, it is claimed, "have training camps on the island of Margarita".

With the excuse of monitoring these groups, and as retribution for Caracas' termination in May 2004 of the 50-year US presence in Venezuela, in 2005 the Pentagon renewed a contract with The Netherlands to widen the use of its military bases on Curacao and Aruba, which are located close to the Venezuelan coast and where US war ships have recently increased the frequency of their visits.

In 2006, the Chavez government began to speak of a '21st century socialism', the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) was formed, and Chavez was re-elected president.

Washington reacted by imposing an embargo on arms sales to Venezuela with the pretext that Caracas was "not collaborating enough in the war on terrorism". The country's F-16 fighter jets went without replacement parts. As a result Venezuela forged an agreement with Russia to strengthen its air force with Sukhoi planes.
On March 1, 2008, with assistance from the Manta base, Colombian forces attack a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the interior of Ecuador. Quito, in retaliation, decides not to renew the agreement on the Manta base, set to expire in November 2009. A month later Washington responds by reactivating the Fourth Fleet (deactivated in 1948) the mission of which is to patrol the Atlantic Coast of South America. A month later the countries of South America meet in Brasilia and  respond by creating the Union of South American Nations and then, in March 2009,  the South American Defence Council.

A few weeks later, the US ambassador to Bogota announces that the Manta base will be relocated to Palanquero, Colombia. In June, with the backing of the US base in Soto Cano, a coup is carried out against President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, who had joined ALBA. In August, the Pentagon announces that it will open seven new military bases in Colombia. And in October, the conservative president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, admits that he granted the US use of four new military bases.

And so at present Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution find themselves surrounded by no less than 13 US military bases in Colombia, Panama, Aruba, and Curacao, as well as the aircraft carriers and warships of the 4th Fleet. President Obama seems to have given the Pentagon a free hand. Would the people of the world  allow a new crime against democracy to be carried out in Latin America?









What's in a name? For the Bard, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And trust our own CAG to smell out a scam by a bunch of senior army officers who ingenuously procured golf carts for their favourite course in Chandigarh by describing them as hospital equipment for moving invalid patients.

This reminds me of an incident very early on in my journalistic career. As a young reporter, I was deputed by my newspaper to undergo a war correspondents' course run by the ministry of defence. The idea was to get us familiarised with the army's operations in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.


Most newspapers picked their youngest reporters for the course and I was the chosen one of my newspaper. We were all required to wear a set of formal 'officers' mess-wear' — a lounge suit — for the duration of the four-week course. Now, with most of us on measly stipends/salaries, it was well nigh impossible to buy a lounge suit or get it stitched on our own. Nor did we own any lounge suit at that time. A substantial chunk of the tour advance taken from our offices, however, came in handy to fund this. While some of us got the suits stitched, yet others went to pick up readymade lounge suits.

It was when we returned after the course that we needed to account for this expenditure. I had listed it as 'lounge suit' in my tour bill along with sundry other expenses and submitted to the news editor. Next day I was called to his room and asked to explain this particular item on the bill.

On being told that the suit was a must mess-wear, he asked me to change its nomenclature to 'army regulation suit.' This, he said, would help offset any audit objections. And true enough it did. So that's how I got a lounge suit gifted to me by my first employer, a rare perk those days! But another reporter sent by a rival newspaper was not that lucky. He had gone and picked up one of the most expensive branded suits and billed the same to his newspaper.

Not known much for charity, the newspaper's management promptly asked him to return the suit to the office. This, notwithstanding the fact that it could fit only an extremely lean 6'2" tall frame. What they could've done with a lounge suit of this odd size is something we never quite figured out, despite being professional reporters. If nothing else, this at least taught us all very early in our careers that everything's in a name, despite protestations to the contrary by the all-knowing Bard!








Nature plays no favorites. It occasionally lashes out with colossal fury at rich and poor alike. On Monday a 6.5-magnitude temblor shook Northern California, delivering yet another warning to one of the world's most affluent regions.


But when disaster strikes one of the poorest nations on earth, as it did Haiti just one day later, with the awesome devastation of a 7-magnitude quake, the tragedy becomes all the more overwhelming.


Haitians, whose country is among the least developed anywhere and nearly 90% of whom endure extreme poverty, are no strangers to suffering. Their ramshackle shacks, rudimentary infrastructure and flimsy social organizations are no match for far less than the catastrophic forces unleashed upon them this week.


Their misery has been exacerbated unimaginably and their plight cannot but tug hard at our heartstrings. We hope medical and rescue teams from faraway Israel can help alleviate even a little of the pain of at least some victims.


WHETHER WE regard nature's might from a religious or secular-philosophical perspective, the inescapable conclusion is that no matter how far mankind progresses, we are inevitably reminded of what minuscule features we constitute in the greater scheme. Despite our technological bravura, we still can do little to countermand what forces beyond our control decree. Blows such as those inflicted upon Haiti appear to beg platitudes about humanity's hubris.


That said, calamities intensified by a given society's idiosyncratic circumstances mustn't breed smugness here. If anything, Haiti's acute misfortune ought to remind us that we face menaces of our own, which are by and large routinely ignored, notwithstanding political lip service - like the recent government pledge to gear up to quake hazards.


By sheer coincidence Tel Aviv this week has been hosting the International Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and Disasters (IPRED) conference under the auspices of the World Association for Disaster Medicine. IPRED aims to provide a platform for networking and sharing lessons from mass casualty events.


Col. Bella Azaria, in charge of the IDF Home Front medical preparedness on the community level, noted at the conference that in the past year no fewer than 1,500 small earth tremors were registered in northern Israel alone, and that every century or so we expect a major quake which can potentially kill hundreds and maim thousands.


She reminded us that Israel directly flanks the Afro-Syrian fault line, where two tectonic plates rub against each

other. The Dead Sea and Jordan Valley are the physical manifestations of that rift in our country.


Geologists warn us that an above-7-on-the-Richter-Scale quake is probable sometime within the next 50 years. It can happen any day and, if of a particularly destructive magnitude and lethally close, no part of the country would be safe.


Committees aplenty have been set up and compiled detailed recommendations on how to shore up existing structures and prepare for what could come again; bad though it was, the 1927 quake wasn't the "big one," the once-in-a-millennium mega-event which experts judge we are due to experience soon.


The last such massive event occurred in 1033. We are infinitely more densely populated nowadays and hence incomparably more vulnerable.


But talk and even blueprints aren't action. New building codes aren't enough, especially when we have no guarantee that they are strictly enforced. Neither is it of any use to tell the public that pre-1976 structures are riskiest.


It's another thing to survey all existing buildings and suggest to residents what can feasibly be done to quakeproof them. But obviously, even merely dispensing practical advice costs money - to say nothing of retrofitting old structures.


It's only natural for us to dwell on pressing crises - of which Israel suffers no shortage - and put off consideration of doomsday scenarios. It's the norm for elected governments to emphasize the immediately urgent and spend their finite resources on the here-and-now.


In Israel, however, frugality may not be synonymous with prudence. Even unavoidable cataclysms can be mitigated. They tend to be worst where the least care is taken a priori to preserve life. Pretending we have time won't make us safer.


. ***************************************






The Obama administration says it has a new strategy for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but it still faces the same old problems, plus a new one of its own making.


George Mitchell, the special Mideast envoy, has dropped the demand for an immediate and total construction freeze in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in favor of moving directly to the final-status issues of borders and Jerusalem. Decisions on those two questions will moot the settlement problem, he said. Mitchell also said he thinks Israeli-Syrian talks can run parallel with the Palestinian negotiations, and final agreements are possible before the end of next year.


Poor George. He's become delusional. He, his president and his secretary of state may be enthusiastic and even optimistic about reaching that goal, but the same can't be said for Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who seem more interested in talking about talking than actually talking, and more interested in casting blame than in making tough decisions.


Does the Netanyahu government expect the Palestinians to simply give up and accept the status quo, or to bring Hamas into their government and thereby relieve Israel of any pressure to agree to a Palestinian state? Does the Abbas government expect that sticking to its demands will get Washington and the international community to become fed up enough with Israel to impose a deal?


NEITHER SIDE feels intense internal pressure to make a deal.


PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately rejected the administration's new approach, renewing his insistence on a total settlement freeze, return to where talks left off with the previous Israeli government and an Israeli commitment to return to the pre-1967 border. He knows his position is a nonstarter but fears backing down now will be seen as weakness. On the other hand, he knows that if he doesn't find a face-saving path back to the bargaining table, he loses his claim to be the man who can best bring peace and statehood.


Mitchell tossed a new wrench in the works with a threat to Israel's aid during an interview with PBS's Charlie Rose show last week. It was a relatively mild warning - something both Bush presidents had done - that the US might withhold support for loan guarantees and impose unnamed other "mechanisms." Guarantees are not actual aid but US underwriting of loans to Israel so it can borrow at lower rates. There was no direct threat to cut the billions in actual grant aid plus additional benefits that Israel gets, but any talk of tampering with any part of the aid package only plays into the hands of Obama's enemies.


Look for the anti-Obama forces to swing into action. Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain quickly warned Congress wouldn't tolerate any cut in aid to Israel - even though the aid itself was not threatened. Just the inference of a threat is red meat for AIPAC and the Right; look for statements from Congress this week, maybe even some letters or resolutions pledging a fight to protect Israel from its enemies in the White House.


Various groups can be expected to weigh in along with them, starting with the Republican Jewish Coalition, citing Mitchell's comment as proof that Obama is no friend of the Jews. Watch for some to invoke the president's middle name as more evidence.


A State Department spokesman denied Mitchell was sending any signals, but it's hard to believe that was an innocent, off-the-cuff remark from such an experienced diplomat, politician and judge.


ADMINISTRATION CREDIBILITY was damaged in the eyes of many friends of Israel last year when it demanded a total settlement freeze and only later talked about Arab reciprocity - which the Arabs privately and publicly rejected. Officials privately admit they're still unable to get the Arabs to pitch in with anything more than gratuitous advice.


Mitchell is due in the region next week and is expected to deliver letters of guarantees to each side, telling Israelis the US backs border swaps to allow the retention of some major West Bank settlements, and telling the Palestinians that the June 4, 1967 lines, with slight modifications, should be the basis for any agreement.


Chances of success are low thanks to a collapse of trust between the two sides, weak leadership, deep divisions among the Palestinians and wide gaps between the two sides on fundamental issues. Some question whether the administration really is making a serious new move for peace or just marking time until both Israelis and Palestinians get leaders who are ready to make the tough decisions essential to ending the conflict.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "There is a hunger for a resolution" of the conflict and called it "an imperative goal." You couldn't tell it by listening to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.








It's nice to know that the economy's good, or relatively good, and that the hi-tech sector is a miracle, that we're the "start-up nation." There's a lot of economic opportunity in this country for well-educated, shrewd, hard-working people (or well-educated, shrewd, hard-working Jews, anyway). There's great wealth in Israel, a whole class of rich people.


That's a change, and a good one. I can't say I'm inspired by it, because there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of trickle-down from all that wealth, but prosperity, even if it's spread narrowly, is a good thing. A positive thing.


Other than the economy - the rise of the nouveau-riche and the staving off of recession - everything else in national life, everything else that comes to mind when you think "Israel" or "being Israeli" - is negative.


Being Israeli today is about being against. Against Palestinians. Against people who criticize the way we treat Palestinians. Against Muslims in general.


That's it. That's what it means to be Israeli, ever since the intifada started a decade ago and we concluded that no Arab could be trusted. Except for its hi-tech image, this is all Israel stands for anymore - being against this one, against that one and against anyone who isn't against them, too.


THAT DOESN'T leave many people whom we're with. We're with Republicans. We're with right-wing Evangelical Christians. And that's about all. Everybody else is against us, or they don't know anything about us, so they're neutral.


Like the Eskimos. And maybe those Shakers.


To be Israeli today is to organize your thinking around the enemy. Without the enemy, you can't understand the world or your place in it. Without the enemy, you don't know what you want - except more money, which is the default goal of the whole human race.


What else do Israelis want? We want security! We want those bastards to leave us alone! We want the enemy to go away! Fear and aggression toward the enemy - that's all that drives us anymore, that and the desire for more money.


And even if we make more money, what do we want to do with it? Invest it in improving the country, in improving the world? Is that what the start-up nation stands for?


When we think of the economy, we think of "me." But when we think of "us," we think first and last of "them." Of course, there are loads and loads of generous, public-spirited Israelis doing great things individually or in groups. But when we're all together as a nation, all we see is the enemy. Stopping the enemy is the only national project we have left. It's the only issue that gets people's attention for more than a day.


As for the Jewish part of being Israeli, Judaism in this country is overwhelmingly tribal, to the point of belligerency. Israeli-style Judaism feeds this us-against-them mentality like nothing else except, maybe, the national cult of the military.


NONE OF this hard-assedness is new; it was always here. But until this past decade, it had competition from a less fearful, more open-minded, positive view of what it meant to be Israeli. There were people here who talked about building something besides West Bank settlements, fundamentalist yeshivot and border walls. They wanted to stop being obsessed with the enemy, they wanted to go out into the world, and they didn't freak out every time somebody said we were treating the Palestinians badly, because they knew the critic had a point.


There were a lot of Israelis like this. They had huge demonstrations, political parties, leaders, ideas. Until this decade, there was a "peace camp," too, not just a "national camp." The two camps fought to determine this country's direction, and it made for a great deal of creative tension in national life.


Until this decade, national life was interesting. Now it's deadening. I go back to Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy's quote from a couple of years ago: "There was a time when you'd ask two Israelis a question and you'd get three opinions. Now you only get one."


When I try to explain Israel to Americans, I ask them to imagine that 80 percent of their fellow citizens were Republicans. Israel has become a one-party country - the war party.


We're at war with the Middle East, with Europe, with liberal Jews in the Diaspora and with a pathetically small handful of dissenters at home. We trust no one. We see anti-Semites everywhere. We'd like to build an Iron Dome over this whole country to keep the world out.


There's very little oxygen around here; everyone is breathing the air that everyone else has exhaled. This country has been stagnating for a decade. And we've never achieved such unity.








Since the start of the week, Israel's media have been in a tizzy. With all the frenzied fury at its disposal, the press has been relentlessly targeting Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, slamming one of the country's most talented diplomats for his handling of a meeting at the Knesset on Monday with the Turkish ambassador.


Ayalon had called in Ankara's envoy to protest a new Turkish television show called The Valley of the Wolves which seems primarily designed to foment anti-Semitism. Among other things, it depicts Israeli agents abducting Muslim children in order to convert them to Judaism against their will.


The program comes just three months after a Turkish government-run station broadcast a series, Ayrilik, which portrayed IDF soldiers as callous murderers, shooting Palestinian children at point-blank range and massacring innocents by firing squad.


Aiming to underline Israel's justifiable displeasure with this crude incitement, Ayalon sought to choreograph the meeting so that the Turkish ambassador would understand that such shenanigans cannot and will not be tolerated.


SO HE kept the envoy waiting, seated him on a lower chair and did not smile obsequiously in their meeting, as diplomats are often expected to do.


And it is precisely that choreography which has now earned Ayalon the ire of various talking-heads and pundits, many of whom cannot seem to tolerate the idea of a proud Jew standing up for this country's honor.


"Humiliation is not a policy," screamed yesterday's Haaretz, as it blasted Ayalon for what it described as his "display of scorn" and "disgraceful theatrical language" toward Turkey.


Writing on Ynet, Alon Liel asserted that, "What we have seen here is causing damage to our Foreign Ministry and turning international diplomatic rules into a laughing stock." He accused Ayalon of carrying out "a new kind of diplomacy," and wondered rhetorically, "If next week we will see another anti-Israel TV show produced in Turkey, what will we do to the ambassador then? Ask him to crawl into the room? Beat him up?"


There is something truly pitiful about such responses, which say a lot about the limited Jewish self-esteem of those who proffered them. Rather than focusing on the outrageous anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric that Turkey's Islamist-oriented regime is whipping up with increasing frequency, they prefer to turn their fire on Ayalon for deviating from what is considered standard diplomatic practice.


Frankly, I don't think Ayalon has anything to apologize for. The days when Jews must cower in fear and fawn over those who spit in our faces are over. As a sovereign state, we have the right and the obligation to berate those who sully our honor, and Ayalon should be commended for standing up and demonstrating some good, old fashioned Jewish pride.


INDEED, HIS critics are missing the mark. Like it or not, Turkey has been steadily embracing a more radical stance ever since Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rise to power earlier this decade. Under his stewardship, the once proudly secular and pro-Western country has shifted gears, cozying up to the likes of radical states such as Iran and Syria. In the past year, Turkey has openly defended Teheran's nuclear program, signed various cooperation agreements with Damascus and moved to expand trade and cultural ties with the two rogue regimes.


And in the process, it has increasingly demonstrated outright hostility and antagonism toward the Jewish state. Take, for example, Erdogan's remarks this past Monday at a joint news conference in Ankara with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.


With barely-concealed contempt, Erdogan said that Israel "threatens global peace" and enjoys "disproportionate power," and asserted that the IDF had attacked Palestinian civilians in Gaza with white phosphorus shells, which he labeled "weapons of mass destruction."


During his tirade, Erdogan also condemned Israel for defending itself by carrying out an air strike in Gaza Sunday in which three Islamic Jihad terrorists planning attacks against Israelis were killed. "What is your excuse this time?" he said, as if we owe him an explanation.


SOMEONE NEEDS to remind Erdogan that before he goes about lecturing Israel, he would do well to set his own country in order. Just ask the Kurds of southeastern Turkey, who have been targeted for decades by a policy of displacement and forced acculturation. Last month, Erdogan sent the Turkish police to arrest dozens of Kurdish political leaders and activists as part of an ongoing crackdown on the community.


He also detained Muharrem Erbey, the president of Turkey's national Human Rights Association, who has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of the Kurds. I wonder what Erdogan's "excuse" is for this.


And while the Turkish premier feels free to criticize Israel for its "occupation" of the Palestinians, he does not seem overly troubled by the fact that his own forces have been occupying part of Cyprus since July 1974. An estimated 30,000-40,000 Turkish troops are currently on the island, where they prop up the government of northern Cyprus in defiance of international law and have effectively severed the region in two.


Sure, Turkey is a powerful player in the eastern Mediterranean, and it once held out great promise as an example of a secular Muslim democracy. But those days appear to be over, as Erdogan and his Islamist colleagues are clearly leading the country in a very different, and far less friendly, direction.


For its own reasons, Turkey has gone cold on Israel, and there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it. However frustrating this might be, we must recognize the reality for what it is, rather than cling to what we might wish it to be.








In spite of Israel's ongoing dialogue with the United States to search for the right formula for the resumption of talks, the position taken by the Obama administration, and the unfair pressure exerted by the European Union, have brought down the fragile structure which had previously made negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians possible.


Though these negotiations did not bring about the desired peace, they did constitute an agreed channel for discussions between the two parties and brought about, for instance, the Olmert government's agreement to an American proposal to train Palestinian forces in Jordan under the supervision of Gen. Keith Dayton, thus paving the way for the creation of a regular Palestinian fighting force trained with Western methods.


This was a major concession and a risky one. This force is intended to keep order in Judea and Samaria, but who is to say that it would not turn against Israel under different circumstances? Israel has shown a greater willingness in the past year to meet the Palestinians halfway, as exemplified by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech recognizing the two-state principle.


Then there was the 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements.


HOWEVER, BUOYED by US President Barack Obama's intense wooing of the Muslim world, the Palestinian Authority has chosen the opposite course, refusing to come back to the negotiation table and launching an all-out diplomatic, media and legal war against the Jewish state. The EU is ratcheting up the pressure, and has issued a declaration calling for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and for Jerusalem to become the capital of both countries. This would, in effect, render negotiations useless by determining their outcome from the outset.


It is as if the world has forgotten that Israel already made the most extraordinary concessions at Camp David and in Taba. Yasser Arafat not only turned down the Israeli proposals, he did not make any counter-proposition. The same scenario played out at Annapolis in 2008. According to a lengthy Al-Jazeera interview with Saeb Erekat on March 27, prime minister Ehud Olmert made even greater concessions, but that was not enough for PA President Mahmoud Abbas: He walked out when Olmert suggested a joint administration of the Temple Mount.


Erekat also said that when US president Bill Clinton told Arafat at Camp David that he would be the first president of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, but that he had to recognize the fact that vestiges of the Temple were buried under the Aksa Mosque and there would have to be joint administration of the Temple Mount, Arafat put an end to the negotiations.


THERE WAS no Israeli denial following these revelations, and recent interviews by Abbas and Olmert support Erekat's version - though the latest round of negotiations carried out by Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni enjoyed a degree of secrecy rarely seen here. As such, the extent of the concessions the two leaders had been ready to make was kept under wraps - perhaps for fear of the impact on the coming elections.


That was a colossal miscalculation. The Knesset, the country and the world should have been told that the extremely generous terms offered to the Palestinians had been turned down, putting the blame squarely on Abbas. Such a step would have gone a long way to defuse the situation with Obama and his advisers. It seems that the new government led by Netanyahu had not been fully conversant with the details of the failed negotiations and was thus ill prepared to deal with the accusations leveled against it.


Then came the Goldstone Report. The main message there is not so much the totally unfounded accusations of war crimes but an attempt to limit the extent to which Israel is "allowed" to use force to defend itself against terrorist organizations. Such a move was not totally unexpected coming from the UN, especially from the Committee on Human Rights, where Islamic and Arab countries have a decisive voice.


What was not expected was that it would lead, for instance, to the White House asking for "clarifications" following a recent operation in Nablus. (In a confrontation with Israeli security forces, three terrorists who had murdered a father of seven were killed.) This demand, made at the request of the Palestinian Authority, constitutes a dangerous precedent. Coupled with the Goldstone Report, it tends to present a difficult dilemma to the government and to the security forces when contemplating military intervention.


AT THE same time, terrorist organizations, at the behest of some Arab countries, will be able to keep attacking our citizens while sheltering behind their civilians, in hospitals, in schools and in mosques. Hamas and Hizbullah proclaim on every available channel that they will never recognize Israel and will fight until it has disappeared - without causing an international furor. In fact, Arab organizations, supported by leftist Western groups, are busy getting arrest warrants issued in European countries having relevant legislation against Israeli leaders and army officers for "war crimes," calling for boycotting Israeli products and demonstrating their support for Gaza.


In each and every successive confrontation, Arab states and Palestinian movements have been defeated. Now they are seeking other ways to harass Israel. They are waging an all-out media war to blacken its image and ultimately delegitimize its very existence. They are helped in this endeavor by hundreds of leftist organizations and civil society movements in the West. For them Israel is a neo-colonial power, as is the US. But Israel is easier prey because of its size and isolation.


Anti-Semitism is also at work here. Palestinian and Arab media, with the full support of the Islamic establishment in Arab countries, use every anti-Semitic cliché in the book, and some of that leached into the West where it led to a renewal of classic European anti-Semitism.


Reviled, isolated, the Jewish state is thus facing what is rapidly becoming a strategic threat on its very legitimacy and existence.


Here lies the Palestinian paradox: While Israel has made great efforts to move toward a solution, Palestinian leaders, riding the crest of favorable public opinion in the West, are becoming more and more intransigent - and it is Israel which takes the blame.


The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and Sweden.








Hadassah's national board will be visiting Israel next week. Like many institutions in America, Hadassah had a tough year in 2009. But all who know its history also know that when the going gets tough, Hadassah rises to the challenge.


The women of Hadassah built their first hospital on Mount Scopus during the Great Depression. Their national convention was held here in the middle of the second intifada. They were with us in wars and times of economic stress. Others cancelled; but Hadassah came in full force. Of course, they have also come here in good times, but were never deterred by the worst of times.


For me personally, as an Israeli and as a Jerusalemite, Hadassah has a special place in my heart. One cannot think of Jerusalem without thinking of Hadassah, without thinking of its excellent health services, its training institutions, its youth programs which all ensure that our children and grandchildren stay connected.


HADASSAH IS today an organization of very dedicated and focused women headed by Nancy Falchuk. Women who serve as models of all that is beautiful and good in our Jewish ideals; women who do not just preach about what needs to be done, but get up and carry out the crucial mission they have taken on themselves. It is an organization of women who work day and night for the cause and - together with the talent and charisma of Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, as their director-general - have made Hadassah the amazing organization it is today.


When I was deputy mayor of Jerusalem, I remember the late Teddy Kollek saying that during the Sinai Campaign in 1956, it was a Hadassah mission that broke the downward spiral in tourism.


"With this kind of precedent," he wrote during his last year as Jerusalem's mayor, "I was not at all surprised 35 years later, when Hadassah moved part of its 1991 mid-winter convention to Jerusalem, arriving here even as Saddam Hussein's Scuds were falling."


FOR ALMOST a century, Hadassah has been building Israel. When we declared independence, we didn't need to establish a medical infrastructure, because Hadassah had already built it for us.


After all these generations, Hadassah's hospitals are still at the forefront of Israeli medical treatment and research. Hadassah today continues to be a vital and significant factor in our health and well-being.


Hadassah youth aliya villages, which rescued so many children from the Holocaust, continue to be pioneers in education for at-risk children. Young Judaea, the leading Diaspora Zionist youth movement, still expresses Hadassah values.


During its lifetime it has raised billions of dollars for Israel. But Hadassah's real value is incalculable. One cannot put a price tag on the dedication of an army of 300,000 volunteers in the Diaspora, defending Israel and helping us build bridges to the rest of the world. Israel will always stand by Hadassah, because Hadassah has always stood by Israel.

The writer is a Kadima MK.








There is a new biological threat to Jews around the world that has the potential for mass destruction of life. It is not in the form of a disease or mutation. This biological threat comes in the form of a theory.


This is not the first time a biological theory has threatened Jews. Eugenics was a biological theory, too, and it fueled and justified the Holocaust. History has shown that biology can be politicized and become a tool of oppression when tainted with human value judgments.


Which types of people are worthy of reproduction and which should be culled from humanity?


The Nazis had their own answer to that question. However, they also had another biological agenda related to eugenics. That agenda has survived to this day, and has become institutionalized in nations throughout the world, including in Israel.


It has to do with defining a biological world order, where every species allegedly has its place. According to this belief, "native" species originated in a certain place on the planet, and that is where they "belong." They should not be moved elsewhere. Introduced, or immigrant, species that come from other parts of the planet threaten these native species and the identity of the environment, and this must not be allowed. Immigrant species that have already become established and threaten the environmental "order" need to be eradicated or controlled, a species cleansing not unlike ethnic cleansing.


THE THEORY is called invasion biology. It started with the Nazis, and it now dominates environmentalism worldwide. It extols the "native" and exterminates the "alien." It seeks to purify the environment of the unwanted and destructive influence of "invasive species." As with eugenics, it passes judgment on the value of others and whether or not they should be allowed to live, or be eradicated. In this case, the "others" are plants and animals.


But the analogy to humans is clear. As Hitler put it in 1943, "Everywhere we encounter seeds which represent the beginnings of parasitic growths which must sooner or later be the ruin of our culture... [O]ne of the most potent principles of nature's rule: the inner segregation of the species of all living beings on this earth."


At a time when the world's environments are under threat from development, pollution and the movement of plants and animals around the globe, the idea of segregating species along nativity lines may sound desirable. Just keep plants and animals where they come from and get rid of those that "don't belong." On the surface, even eugenics sounded somewhat reasonable given the problems caused by overpopulation and the need to keep humanity evolving in a "healthy" way. The problem is these biological theories are loaded with prejudice and value judgment, and when put into practice become tools for political oppression.


THERE WAS a time not long ago when the world was seen as a melting pot, and the integration of cultures and peoples was considered desirable. As a result of contact, immigration and assimilation, cultures that once had a relatively unified sense of identity are now changing, alarming the old guard and causing a resurgence of nationalism and exclusivism, along with anti-immigrant hostility. They have gone from promoting immigration to the other extreme of xenophobia. These issues are currently challenging European nations, as Muslims from elsewhere move in, redefine these cultures, and are resisted by cultural preservationists fighting for native rights and bans on immigration.

Likewise, the environment has been treated as a melting pot, with plants and animals transported around the world to increase biodiversity and bring desirable species to new areas. And the resulting threat to the identity of the environment has led to a form of biological nationalism, with laws protecting native species and hostile to immigrant species, a form of bio-xenophobia.


Should native people (species) be given priority over immigrants? Should immigrants be controlled, deported or exterminated? Should a culture (environment) change, evolve and adapt as immigrants move in, or should immigration be allowed only if the immigrants assimilate?


Most importantly, who has a right to make these decisions? And should the decision be based on nativity, or on the nature of the species, his/her/its qualities and character, and not on its place of origin?


THE ISSUE is especially relevant to the Diaspora Jew. Jews are all around the globe, and come in all colors and races. Where are we considered "native"? More to the point, what will happen to us when the "natives" in cultures in which we live decide that we are unwanted "aliens"?


Even in Israel itself, the issue of who is native and who is alien is a key cause of political turmoil. To the Palestinians displaced by Jews, they are the natives and the Jews the invaders. The Jews claim they are the natives, displaced from their homeland for centuries. Of course, if you go back far enough, there were other cultures in what is Israel that were displaced by the Jews thousands of years ago and who themselves displaced even more historic cultures.


How far back should we go to determine who is native and who is not? This is one major problem with using nativity as a criterion for selecting who or what belongs where. All such judgments are based on a view of history, which is never perfect.


In the final analysis, it all comes down to power. When one culture invades another, the victor gets to redefine the culture. When one species invades the space of another, the fittest survives and redefines the environment. To God, and nature, it's all one planet. People, creatures and plants move around. It has been going on for millennia and will continue. It is only to man, with his desire to control and create an artificial order to the world, that nativity has any meaning.


Surely, there is a time and place for weeding, selecting and controlling species and people. But we must reject the very notion that some species should be eradicated simply because they are not "native." In human affairs we call this ethnic cleansing and genocide, and we have seen how ugly it is. It is no less ugly when unleashed on a plant or animal, its seeds of intolerance and hatred lying dormant for the next Holocaust.


The writer is a medical anthropologist, director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease, located in Hawaii, and the author of numerous books on the cultural causes of human and environmental disease, including Panic in Paradise: Invasive Species Hysteria and the Hawaiian Coqui Frog War (Environmentalism Gone Mad!).








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.

Israelis have recently been swept into a maelstrom of religious legislation and antidemocratic actions that are harmful to their liberty and way of life. The source of this dangerous upheaval is Shas, whose leaders' wanton conduct has exceeded all reasonable bounds.

Throughout its existence, Shas has never enjoyed such dizzying freedom of action. The party is using it to push a new chametz law that will prohibit the display of leavened products during Passover even in stores and restaurants in neighborhoods where the residents would normally eat chametz. Moreover, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the Shas leader, insists that the necessary reforms in business licensing be made conditional on increased enforcement of the closing of businesses on the Sabbath. A business owner who does not close that day would not get a license.

Cabinet members from Shas are doing everything they can to scatter public funds to the wind while inconveniencing the same public whose taxes are financing their profligacy. Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, who is responsible for 133 wasteful local religious councils, where redundant jobs for pals are rife, now wants even more. He is forcing a religious council on the residents of Shoham, who are perfectly happy with the religious services in their community. And there is no reason why religious services should not be supplied by the local government, in the same way as education, health and social services.


The people are paying the price of the competition between Shas' leaders, each of whom wants to show his constituents that he is doing more for them than his rivals. Therefore, not only is the Interior Ministry making life even more miserable than usual for conversion candidates and people needing visas and marriage registrations, but the Communications Ministry is busying itself with halakhic trivialities, and the Education Ministry has to handle the ceaseless demands of the deputy minister from Shas and is giving in to them. And the Religious Services Ministry, which has been reopened after it was shut a few years ago, is milking the public coffers.

Shas uses Israeli society for its own purposes and no one tries to stop it. But we should not focus our complaints on Yishai, or even the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for this destructive rampage, and it is incumbent upon him to stop it.

But this is unlikely to happen. Netanyahu owes his return to government to Shas, which prevented Kadima's Tzipi Livni from setting up a cabinet after Ehud Olmert's resignation as prime minister. The price for the political deal between Netanyahu and Yishai is now being paid by the public.








Ehud Olmert believes he has yet to have the last word and will be able to take over Kadima again within a year. Tzachi Hanegbi believes - correctly - that if he manages to evade being convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude he could become a key leader of the Israeli center. Gideon Sa'ar is recruiting masses of supporters. Silvan Shalom isn't about to forget or forgive. Gabi Ashkenazi is casting a giant shadow over the entire system. But there's also talk of a well-known television broadcaster whose father's spirit is upon him. Several other celebrities, it is also said, see the leadership vacuum and are eager to fill it.

The subterranean commotion stems from a simple fact: the present Israeli leadership is miscast. If the political system had worked properly, Netanyahu would be leading a moderate right-wing party, while Tzipi Livni would be heading a moderate left-wing party and Ehud Barak a centrist party. After a brief election campaign, the leaders would have brought all three parties into a single sane Zionist government.

But since the political system isn't functioning, all three leaders found themselves in the wrong parties after the 2009 elections. Netanyahu is trapped in the hands of the Likud's extremists, Livni is trapped by Kadima's Likudniks, and Barak is trapped in a party that loves him just as much as he loves it.


All three are unable to implement their true political worldviews. None of them can offer a clear way or decisive solutions. An irrelevant Likud, a Labor that has lost its way and a crumbling Kadima are causing the national leadership to remain stagnant. A distorted political structure is making the next big bang inevitable.

The question is what kind of big bang this will be. There's no point in another maneuver that would enable Netanyahu to get his hands on a quarter of Kadima. Nor is there any point in another shady deal that would enable Livni to get her hands on a third of Labor. The public is sick and tired of dirty tricks and cynical moves. It is demanding a root canal - a structural change of the political system, the creation of a new political situation by means of a different party lineup.

The big bang of 2005 was about dividing the country. Ariel Sharon could not have done what he did by force of personality alone. He needed an idea that would reorganize Israeli politics. So does Netanyahu. If Bibi wants to lead the big bang of 2010, he must base it on an idea. He must offer Kadima's forced converts not just jobs, but a path. If Netanyahu continues wading in the mud he will survive for a while, but will ultimately sink in it. In contrast, if he dares to go out of the box, he has a good chance of making a big comeback. If he proposes a new way of thinking, a new idea and new hope, he will be able to remold Israeli politics.

The new idea is an old one - it's the Zionist idea. At a time when the legitimacy of the Jewish state is coming under unbridled global attack, there is an urgent need to revitalize the Zionist idea. When the Israeli elites turn their backs on the national ethos, there is an immediate need to revitalize the Zionist idea. When most of the children in the first through fifth grades are ultra-Orthodox or Arab, it's a matter of survival to revitalize the Zionist idea. When the State of Israel is becoming the state of Tel Aviv, there's a strategic need to revitalize the Zionist idea. The challenge is one that Israel has not faced since its establishment: that of redefining the Israeli republic.

The silent Israeli majority feels that Zionism is under siege. The threat is posed not only by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. The threat lies within ourselves: our moral eclipse, our obtuseness, our lack of feeling, our stupidity. ur loss of faith in our rightness.

So all Zionist parties must come to their senses, come together and take action. If Netanyahu proves he can lead the Zionist coalition and unite the Israeli majority, his leadership will have meaning. But to do so he must make sure that the big bang of 2010 is a Zionist one, not a cynical one.









It was not Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who ceaselessly vilifies Israel and the Jewish People and sows anti-Semitism, whom the Israeli media lambasted. Rather, it was the man who arose, albeit clumsily, to restore the honor of the people and the state which has been raked over the coals for the past few days. The confusion in judging between the wheat and the chaff is not at all coincidental.

True, there are more respectable and efficient ways to restore national honor. But the many detractors forget that the enemies are not Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon - who admitted his mistake - and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The competition between ex-diplomats, politicians, broadcasters and pundits to be the rudest in criticizing the pair brings back memories of the times when anyone who publicly sought to restore the honor of the Jewish People was shouted down by a meek and frightened establishment for fear of angering the gentiles and bringing disaster upon the community.



The fact that the media stood up almost unanimously to avenge the national honor of the Turks while it harshly scolded those who defended Israel's honor leaves no room for doubt: Turkey's honor is more important than their own country's.

The honor of others - thus with the Palestinians, thus with the Turks - must be carefully protected. Restoring Jewish honor, upon which, among other things, the state of Israel was founded, is passe.

The extent to which national Jewish honor and the Zionist idea are in regression is illustrated by this Pavlovian response: Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar this week directed schools to play - perish the thought - Israeli music. Sa'ar is not Lieberman; he is part of all the right social circles.

Criticism of him is, therefore, gentle, often implied. But when the matter touches the most important issues of all, like the freedom to continue to keep Zionist symbols, a few elementary songs of the homeland, out of Israeli education - the silence must be broken.

There was no end to the ridicule of the initiative, especially on Army Radio. Education Ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani was grilled for daring, astonishingly, to "dictate from above," musical content to the schools.

And rightly so. After all, it was in singing classes that the pioneering and Zionist ethos was inculcated, perhaps even more than in history and literature classes (subjects that were clearly slanted toward the Zionist idea) or even Bible studies. Today, that ethos, in the view of those who were infuriated this week, is chauvinistic.

When we sang off-key the works of Nathan Alterman and Daniel Sambursky ("Anachnu Ohavim Otah Moledet," "Zemer Haplugot"), or Alexander Penn and Mordechai Zeira ("Al Givot Sheikh Abrek"), we quenched our thirst with the living waters of Zionism and love of the land.

Sa'ar will not be taken vigorously to task. His initiative, those who ridicule him prophesize, will simply dissipate. Lieberman is another story: The outsider, who represents a national agenda, is a bull in the china shop of the Foreign Ministry, the DNA of which is stamped with restraint, apologetics and lip-biting.

Therefore the most important matter in this affair is not Erdogan's assertion that Israel intentionally murders women and children and constitutes a danger to world peace (there are quite a few Israelis who believe this), but the (unnecessary) insult to the Turkish ambassador.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to build a physical barrier along the length of the Israeli border with Egypt, supported by technical means, is important, and is designed to address the problem of constant infiltration across the frontier. While these components are essential, they should be part of an overall solution, which requires a comprehensive approach to the threat and the development of an operational response to it, including what is required for its implementation. This should begin with operational doctrine and include the forces and methods to be used, as well as consideration of command and control issues.

The construction of a barrier and its accompanying technological support is a costly operation. Completion of the process through the development and implementation of a comprehensive approach, on the other hand, requires mostly thought and organizational coordination. The primary costs entailed have more to do with confronting egos at government ministries and organizations, and less with a need to find financial sources.

The principles of the approach to defense along the Israeli-Egyptian border took shape over the course of years of military confrontation as well as regular security operations conducted in between. The peace agreement has not substantially changed that approach, which continues to be based on military forces "holding a line" under the command of the military division in the area.


This operational approach has made it difficult to provide an effective response to border activity involving sophisticated smugglers who know the lay of the land and who act in cooperation with Israeli citizens. Israeli soldiers in turn have difficulties dealing with these citizens due to legal limitations. The threats are many and varied: the penetration of infiltrators and refugees on a large scale; attempts by terrorist elements to get weapons and dangerous substances through, in many instances via criminal activity involving the trafficking of women and the smuggling of goods; and finally concern over shooting attacks and sniping incidents across the border.

The State of Israel is obligated to back the decision to erect a border fence, by developing a more comprehensive response and organizational coordination, thus allowing for an overall approach to defending the border. Such an approach should be based on the understanding that the general response will combine both civilian and military capabilities. Integrated, inter-ministerial operations are necessary to provide the means required.

The capability to intercept both intelligence and operations is of the highest importance, as is the capture of smugglers and terrorist elements. Such capabilities rely on forces which are small and know the territory well. These forces will have to be given police authority so they can also deal with Israeli citizens. Such operational activity must also be supported by intelligence provided by the Shin Bet security service and, beyond that, involve the Immigration Administration, staff from the Interior Ministry and the Tax Authority, and others.

Experience shows that effective cooperation between various professionals requires an integrated operational framework. Creating a command structure with appropriate authority could run up against organizational barriers. An alternative approach could involve the establishment of a specialized authority or administration. This appears to be the best and fastest way to proceed. The body could be made up of existing personnel from the army, the Public Security Ministry and other government ministries; it could supply the necessary command structure to develop the professional know-how and increase familiarity with the territory, which is essential to the success of operations along this border.

This security network will make it possible to develop an optimal operational doctrine, train the necessary personnel and more effectively take advantage of the huge monetary outlays planned along the border. The body could also be given responsibility for the border with Jordan. It seems only the establishment of such a specialized plan can provide the best return on the investment to be undertaken in infrastructure and other means.

The writer is the head of the military research project at the Institute for National Security Studies.








Even if the farce staged by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Danny Ayalon to make the Turkish ambassador feel small is forgotten, Route 443 is a better example of the wide gap between Israelis' self-image and the value of Israel and its arguments in the eyes of the international community. No propaganda campaign based on the cry "Gevalt, they're killing us" can save the occupation from the understanding that this is not a dispute about Jewish existence. Either way, Israel does not know how to defend this existence without groaning that "the spider of the settlements is proving burdensome, please help us handle it so we can continue settling everywhere, including in East Jerusalem."

What does Israeli logic say about Route 443 and barring Palestinians from using it for years, in the best traditions of apartheid? (Which is flourishing here but which we are not permitted to call by that name.) Logic dictates that we need this road because it shortens the distance to Jerusalem and eases congestion on Highway 1. But because this efficient road passes through occupied territory, and has done so for 42 years - a temporary occupation, of course (here, in the script, the Supreme Court justices call for a wink) - it endangers the lives of Israelis. This is because the inhabitants of the occupied territory don't like the idea of their land being used without their permission.

Therefore, for our convenience, we have to prevent Palestinian drivers from using the road. Here, too, the Israeli argument ranges from arrogant fury, as in "Who are you tell us how to defend the lives of our children?" to "After all, we do want to see two states for two peoples, etc." And as always, an examination of the argument reveals that what the Israelis call security, even when they are speaking absolutely sincerely, is not security but ownership of land cleansed of Arabs.



Even when security reasons were not used in the usual demagogic manner, the removal of Arabs from territories inhabited by Israelis has always been described as "security." Anyone who carefully reads the debates about the military government in Arab-populated areas in the 1950s and '60s will see that even in the most penetrating documents written in its defense, security arguments are linked to preventing Arab farmers from entering the land in question. (This is why the military government in Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Ramle and Lod, in which Jews were settled, was abolished quickly, and the Arabs there bunched together in remote eighborhoods, whereas in the rural areas the military government was retained until 1967.)

Whatever the nature of the solution, from the Israeli point of view it always entails the removal of Arabs from areas where Jews live.

Over the years, Israelis have learned to see any territory in which there are Arabs as endangering their security. To guard against them it is permitted to remove them, or fence them in, or settle in their midst, and then to protect the settlers from the danger to their security, namely the Arabs around them. Thus the barbaric wall that runs "almost" along the Green Line is perceived by Israelis as a security need; it's there to protect the security of Hashmonaim C, Maccabim D, Modi'in Ilit or Beit El. And for their convenience why should we care about the plight of the subjects of the occupation in Bil'in, Na'alin or Bani Saleh?

As the moment of truth approaches, as Israel's role in Western politics becomes less important, Israel and its leaders are depicted as a nuisance when they maintain that this old land dispute is an issue of security. It's not a matter of security, but of a desire for convenience, for more land, more water. Our domestic consensus makes no sense to anyone outside Israel; it's seen merely as a national inability to see the sand running out in the hourglass.
This is how we have arrived at the ludicrous conduct of the Netanyahu-Barak government toward the Palestinian Authority. The two-state solution was a gift the Palestinians offered Israel in the spirit of what Israel has always demanded: "You over there, we over here." But that's not what Israel really wants. Because if you have already conceded that, why shouldn't you concede more and more until you disappear completely behind the walls of your ghetto?



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Once again, the world weeps with Haiti. The earthquake that struck on Tuesday did damage on a scale that scarcely could have been imagined had we all not seen the photos and videos and read the survivors' agonizing accounts — of the sudden crumbling of mountainside slums, schools, hospitals, even the Parliament building and presidential palace.


Whenever disaster strikes, we are reminded that Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere. And each time there is a disaster, this country and others help — for a while. This time must be different.


Haiti urgently needs relief to dig out and shelter survivors, and to nurse, feed and clothe people who had little to start with and now have nothing left. But Haiti needs more. It needs a commitment to finally move beyond the relentless poverty, despair and dysfunction that would be a disaster anywhere else but in Haiti are the norm.


President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have promised that assistance from the United States will be swift through the coordinated efforts of the military, civilian aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The administration must make sure that the upswelling of generosity turns into sustained action, replacing the confusion and chaos on the ground with a rational and effective campaign — first to rescue, then to rebuild.


Private citizens can help speed the process by giving generously to charitable organizations that have a track record in Haiti. Those groups know where to direct humanitarian aid and how to spend it prudently.


The United Nations mission in Haiti suffered a tragic blow on Tuesday when its headquarters in Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital, were destroyed. Its chief and dozens of employees remain unaccounted for. The organization must find a way to recover quickly to resume its vital mission.


Former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti, has an opportunity to bring all his skills of leadership and persuasion to bear. If ever there was a time for so gifted and trouble-prone former president to make himself useful, this is it.


The United States has a special responsibility to help its neighbor. This is an opportunity for President Obama to demonstrate how the United States shoulders its responsibilities and mobilizes other countries to do their full part as well. Even as he urges his administration and others to act, he should remind them — and himself — that this is not the work of a few months. It is a commitment of years.


On Wednesday, the Obama administration said it was halting the pending deportation of up to 30,000 Haitians who have run afoul of the immigration agency. The government should now take the next step by granting these immigrants temporary protected status — as it has to survivors of Latin American earthquakes and other disasters — so that the Haitian diaspora in the United States will be allowed to work and send vitally needed money home.


An earthquake this size would have been a catastrophe in any country. But this was only partly a natural disaster. Look at Haiti and you will see what generations of misrule, poverty and political strife will do to a country. Haiti, suffering forever, is in the direst straits. But Haitians do not need condolences. They need help and the ability to help themselves.






Google has taken a bold stand by saying that it would stop cooperating with China's online censorship and may pull out of the country entirely. Google had many reasons to reconsider its presence, but the discovery that it was a victim of a cyberattack aimed at Chinese human rights activists added a powerful one. There are limits to the price an American company should be willing to pay for access to 300 million Web users.


When Google took its Web site to China in early 2006, it argued that the positive benefit of giving the Chinese people more open access to the Internet outweighed the negative. But Google said that it would monitor the situation, including what restrictions were imposed upon its delivery of information.


The government's policies proved to be deeply troubling. In China, search requests on Google for terms that offend the government, such as "Tiananmen Square massacre," do not work. YouTube, the company's user-generated video site, has repeatedly been blocked.


Things have not gotten better. The recently discovered cyberattacks aimed at Google's computers, and those of other companies, are particularly disturbing. A prime purpose appears to have been to hack into the Gmail user accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google says it has discovered that the accounts of dozens of Gmail users who advocate for human rights in China have been accessed, apparently by deceptive software or other improper means.


Google's policies have not always won plaudits. Authors have had to battle to preserve their copyrights in the face of Google's ambitious plans to digitize books — including in China.


The company has not resolved questions about protecting users' privacy and has shown an anticompetitive bent with acquisitions like DoubleClick and AdMob. But it has often stood up to censorship, particularly on YouTube.


Google's defiance of China is winning praise from human rights groups and open-Internet advocates. The Center for Democracy and Technology said, "No company should be forced to operate under government threat to its core values or to the rights and safety of its users."


If Google pulls out of China, the biggest losers would be the Chinese people. Google's search engine provides access to vast stores of knowledge. The Chinese government, which heavily censored the news that Google was protesting its censorship, does not appear to realize that the whole nation would suffer.


The Internet is one of the great driving forces in global progress. Entrepreneurs, scientists and artists who have the most access to it will be in the best position to invent the future.






The trial that started on Monday in San Francisco over the constitutionality of California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage could have been a moment for the entire nation to witness a calm, deliberative debate on a vitally important issue in the era of instant communications. Instead, the United States Supreme Court made it a sad example of the quashing of public discourse by blocking the televising of the nonjury trial.


The court blocked the public broadcasting of the proceedings by its familiar 5-to-4 split. In a vigorous dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer correctly objected to the court's highly unusual intervention. He concluded, "The public interest weighs in favor of providing access to the courts."


The antipathy of some justices to televising Supreme Court arguments is as well known as it is wrongheaded. But the court's stance against allowing unobtrusive C-Spanlike coverage of its own proceedings should not foreclose public viewing of this case.


There have been claims that televising the courtroom proceeding would somehow be unfair to defenders of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. They are hazy and unsubstantiated and vastly outweighed by the strong public interest in the airing of a major civil-rights issue. But the Supreme Court's majority bought the false argument.


Over the next three weeks or so, the trial will test whether Proposition 8 violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. The trial already has featured emotionally charged testimony about the marriage ban. It is a chance for close cross-examination of opponents' bogus claims that permitting same-sex couples to wed would harm heterosexual marriage.


No matter how the trial turns out, the verdict is unlikely to be the final word. There are destined to be appeals, and the Supreme Court may well have the final say. There is considerable anxiety among supporters of same-sex marriage that the case may reach the Supreme Court too soon, while public opinion on same-sex marriage is evolving.


Those fears are understandable. But there is a strong legal case that California voters trespassed on the Constitution when they approved Proposition 8. The courtroom battle now unfolding bears close watching, and the Supreme Court should not stand in the way of Americans viewing it and reaching educated judgments.






The struggle for power sharing — and lasting peace — in Northern Ireland has been long and bloody. Political leaders now must make sure that a sordid crisis does not threaten the agreement or the province's future.


The government's co-leader, Peter Robinson, has temporarily stepped aside as investigators determine whether he had any role in $80,000 in loans arranged by his wife, Iris, in 2008 and given to her lover, who was a teenage pub operator at the time.


The scandal could not have come at a worse moment. Mr. Robinson, the leader of the mostly Protestant unionist political bloc, has been in delicate negotiations with leaders of the largely Catholic republican movement on the big remaining issue in the Good Friday peace agreement: the transfer of police and justice powers from Britain to the province's shaky government.


After news of the loans and the affair broke, Mrs. Robinson abandoned her seats in the Belfast Assembly and London Parliament. Critics insist that her husband should have disclosed the loans to parliamentary authorities after he learned of them.


Mr. Robinson has retained his role as negotiator on the police and justice issue. It is an open question as to whether he can make progress amid the tabloid melodrama and intraparty machinations. Most of the republican leaders remain intent on securing home-rule jurisdiction, but there are some dissident unionists who want to stay under London's authority and have no compunction about scuttling the peace deal.


It would be tragic after centuries of bloodshed to see reconciliation in Northern Ireland founder on a lurid sideshow. If the current government falls, it would be crucial for politicians to remember their obligation under the power-sharing agreement for fresh elections, new leadership and a firmer effort at progress.


There must be no turning back toward Northern Ireland's deadly troubles.







It has been dispiriting to see America's banks apparently stand for nothing more lofty than plunder. It has been demoralizing to see President Obama hiding from the Dalai Lama rather than offend China's rulers.


So all that makes Google's decision to stand up to Chinese cyberoppression positively breathtaking. By announcing that it no longer plans to censor search results in China, even if that means it must withdraw from the country, Google is showing spine — a kind that few other companies or governments have shown toward Beijing.


One result was immediate: Young Chinese have been visiting Google's headquarters in Beijing to deposit flowers and pay their respects.


China promptly tried to censor the ensuing debate about its censorship, but many Chinese Twitter users went out of their way to praise Google. One from Guangdong declared: "It's not Google that's withdrawing from China, it's China that's withdrawing from the world."


Cynics say that Google tried to turn a business setback (it lags in the Chinese market behind a local search engine, Baidu) into a bid to burnish its brand. Whatever the motivations, it marks a refreshing contrast to Yahoo assisting the Chinese government in sending four dissidents — Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun and Wang Xiaoning — to prison for terms of up to 10 years.


"In the 20 years I've been doing this work, I can't think of anything comparable," said John Kamm, the founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, which has enjoyed remarkable success in encouraging China to release dissidents. Mr. Kamm, a former business leader himself, argues that Western companies could do far more to project their values.


Google announced its decision after a sophisticated Chinese attempt to penetrate the Gmail addresses of dissidents. The episode and the resulting flap highlight two important points about China.


The first is that Beijing is increasingly devoting itself to cyberwarfare. This is a cheap way to counter American dominance in traditional military fields. If the U.S. and China ever jostle with force, Beijing may hit us not with missiles but with cyberinfiltrations that shut down the electrical grid, disrupt communications and tinker with the floodgates of dams.


Moreover, China's leaders aren't keeping their cyberarsenal in reserve. They seem to be using it aggressively already.


A major coordinated assault on computers of the Dalai Lama, foreign embassies and even foreign ministries was uncovered last year and traced to Chinese hackers. The operation targeted computers in more than 100 countries and was so widespread that Western intelligence experts believe it was organized by the Chinese government, although there is no definitive proof of that.


(If this column is replaced on with one under my byline praising the glorious courage of the Chinese Communist Party in standing up to the bourgeois imperialists of Google — well, that would make my case.)


A second point is that China is redrawing the balance between openness and economic efficiency. The architect of China's astonishingly successful economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping, clenched his teeth and accepted photocopiers, fax machines, cellphones, computers and lawyers because they were part of modernization.


Yet in the last few years, President Hu Jintao has cracked down on Internet freedoms and independent lawyers and journalists. President Hu is intellectually brilliant but seems to have no vision for China 20 years from now. He seems to be the weakest Chinese leader since Hua Guofeng was stripped of power in 1978.


Instead, vision and leadership in China have come from its Netizens, who show none of the lame sycophancy that so many foreigners do. In their Twitter photos, many display yellow ribbons to show solidarity with Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. That's guts!


China's Netizens scale the Great Firewall of China with virtual private networks and American-based proxy servers like Freegate. (The United States should support these efforts with additional server capacity as a way of promoting free information and undermining censorship by China and Iran).


Young Chinese also are infinitely creative. When the government blocks references to "June 4," the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Netizens evade the restriction by typing in "May 35."


When I lived China in the 1990s, an early computer virus would pop up on the screen and ask: Do you like Li Peng? (He was then the widely disliked hard-line prime minister.) If you said you didn't like Li Peng, the virus disappeared and did no harm. If you expressed support for him, it tried to wipe out your hard drive.


Eventually, I think, a combination of technology, education and information will end the present stasis in China. In a conflict between the Communist Party and Google, the party will win in the short run. But in the long run, I'd put my money on Google.







If Massachusetts was the Department of Homeland Security, the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's senate seat would have the Democrats about four-fifths of the way up the terror alert code.


Green: Everything is fine, and who cares if we spelled "Massachusetts" wrong in one of the ads.


Blue: Don't forget to vote. It's next Tuesday. You'll remember to vote, right?


Yellow: Bill Clinton is coming for a rally. John Kerry has got to show up, too. I don't care if he just had hip-replacement surgery.


Orange: You know, it really doesn't matter whether you win by a million votes or one vote, just so long as you win.


The campaign has not hit red yet, although, for the Democrats, the whole world has begun to look orange with dark tints. Like a decaying pumpkin. It cannot be a good sign when the Massachusetts secretary of state has to deny rumors that he plans to stall certification of the election results until after the health care bill is passed.


Of course, it's all about the health care bill. "As the 41st senator, I can stop it," Scott Brown, the Republican nominee, says frequently.


We will return to our discussion of the Massachusetts special election shortly, after the following special rant about the concept of the 41st senator.


* * * * *




There are 100 members of the Senate. But as Brown is currently reminding us, because of the filibuster rule, it takes only 41 to stop any bill from passing.


U.S. population: 307,006,550.


Population for the 20 least-populated states: 31,434,822.


That means that in the Senate, all it takes to stop legislation is one guy plus 40 senators representing 10.2 percent of the country.