media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 16, edition 000405, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
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- RELIGION TRUMPS MARX
- HAITI'S WAKE-UP CALL
- HASINA'S VISIT AND AFTER - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- FORGIVENESS IS DIVINE - GANI RAJENDRA VIJAY
- THE THAROORIAN DILEMMA - UDAYAN NAMBOODIRI
- THE SONG OF DISSENT - SAUGAR SENGUPTA
- THAROORISM MODERATED BY PERSONALITY POLITICS - SWATI DAS
- WE JUST CAN'T AFFORD SUCH A GOOF- UP
- KEEP THE GUARDS UP
- TIMELY VERDICT
- AMAR SINGH AND THE DECLINE OF MULAYAM - BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
- DIGITAL INK - SACHIN KALBAG
- AUSSIE CAB ASSAULT VERDICT AN EYEWASH - BY NEHA TARA MEHTA IN NEW DELHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WEIRD KIND
- THIS MODEL HAS A SELL-BY DATE - IAN BURUMA
- HE'S GOT IT WRONG
- A LOFTIER VISION FOR INDO-PAK TIES - DILEEP PADGAONKAR
- WE NEED BETTER BOWLERS
- LET'S KEEP A SHARP FOCUS
- BREACH IN THE GREAT FIREWALL - PRATIK KANJILAL
- IDIOT IS AS IDIOT DOES - SAGARIKA GHOSE
- MYSORE PACK
- FAITH IN REALITY
- OUR HARMED FORCES - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- RETURN OF THE MAHARASHTRIANS - RAKSHIT SONAWANE
- 'LASHKAR MEMBER DISPLAYED TO HEADLEY A STYROFOAM MOCKUP OF THE TAJ MAHAL HOTEL'
- THE RIDDLE OF MUSLIM 'SLEEPERS' - MASEEH RAHMAN
- CIVIL STRIFE - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- TAXING PROBLEM
- MINISTERS IN STATE OF LIMBO
- MOVING TO SEGMENTED - SHAILESH DOBHAL
- FACILITATE BIG TICKET INVESTMENT - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- FISHY BUSINESS - JOSEPH VACKAYIL
- HAITI DEVASTATED
- INCLUSIVE HERITAGE CITIES
- FINANCING HEALTHCARE IN INDIA - N.J. KURIAN
- TELANGANA: INEVITABLE AND DESIRABLE - G. KISHAN REDDY
- A BILLION ACTS OF GREEN FOR EARTH DAY - MEENA MENON
- COLLECTIVE CONSCIENCE
- THE RELEVANCE OF CONFLICT - AMULYA GANGULI
- WITH A PINCH OF SALT - VENKATESAN VEMBU
- IT'S ALL ABOUT FOOD - JAVED GAYA
- DANGER AHEAD
- SCAM TAINT
- INFILTRATION ON THE RISE
- FOCUS ON GOOD GOVERNANCE - BY ASH NARAIN ROY
- THE FUNERAL ORATOR - BY HARISH DHILLON
- IT'S TIME TO HAVE ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET - BY PREMVIR DAS
- NO RESTING PLACE FOR HAITI VICTIMS - BY STAFF REPORTERS
- INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
- SUBBA EPISODE
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT
- JUDICIAL REFORMS - ARUP KUMAR DUTTA
- BIG DAM AND THE SMALL MAN ANUBHAV DUTTA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- THE CRISIS OF INDIAN HOCKEY
- OF WORDS AND SLIPPAGES
- TWO CHEERS FOR CHINA'S CLIMATE WALL - BJØRN LOMBORG
- THE OPEN WAY OF BEING IN THE WORLD - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- LIGHTEN SCHOOLBAGS, BUT DON'T STOP THERE
- THE SANTA CONSPIRACY - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- INDIAN HOCKEY AND THE POLITICS OF FEAR - BY VIREN RASQUINHA
- IF ONLY WE ALL WERE RANCHOS... - BY SHOBHAA'S TAKE
- INDIAN HOCKEY AND THE POLITICS OF FEAR - BY VIREN RASQUINHA
- BURQAS, BIKINIS AND BARITONES - BY KISHWAR DESAI
- PILGRIMAGE TO DEATH
- ASHES TO...
- SHAMING THE GAME
- WEALTH & HAPPINESS~II - BHARAT DOGRA
- DELHI DURBAR ~ VIRGO - WHITE PAPER FALLOUT
- THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW ~ -
- SEARCH FOR POWER
- MAN WITH A VISION - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- HARMFUL E-WASTE
- CHAMPS IN MAKING
- BETTING ON CHINA - BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NYT
- INDIA AND PAKISTAN - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- ART OF ARTICULATION - BY HEMA RAVICHANDAR
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- CADILLAC PLANS
- MAJOR HASAN'S SMOOTH ASCENSION
- LEND ME YOUR EARS - BY GAIL COLLINS
- RESOLVE AMONG THE RUINS - BY BOB HERBERT
- LADY BLAHBLAH - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- MY NIGHTS WITH ERIC - BY ANDRÉ ACIMAN
- HAKIMULLAH DEAD?
- LETHAL PATRONAGE
- PUNISHING THE SC
- THE MILITARY AND POLITICS - ARIF NIZAMI
- ROGUE GOVERNMENT - AMEER BHUTTO
- FRIENDLY OPPOSITION? - MUHAMMAD UMER
- ROADS NEED BICYCLES - NAEEM SADIQ
- OF LAND EXPROPRIATION - BABAR SATTAR
- GAZA BLOCKADE - RIZWAN ASGHAR
- PRESIDENT SHOULD OBSERVE PROPRIETY OF HIS OFFICE
- HOLBROOKE MEETS ARMY LEADERSHIP. WHY?
- DUBAI AS UN HEADQUARTERS
- SEPARATE RELIGION FROM POLITICS - NOSHEEN SAEED
- INDIA'S SHATTERED HOPE OF WAR - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
- THEY ARE ON THE SAME PAGE! - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- IS INDIA THREATENING ITS NEIGBBOURS? - AFSHAIN AFZAL
- BLESSINGS FOR A NEW CAR..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- FILM INSTITUTE
- POWER FOR IRRIGATION
- VISION AND OUR VISIONARIES..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- EDUCATION: A SHORT VIEW - YUSUF AZAD
- INSECURE SECURITIES - HANS-WERNER SINN
- HAITIA CHANCE TO START AGAIN - DR. TERRY LACEY
- LESS THAN LEGAL EAGLES
- WARMING TO THE ENVIRONMENT
- WHY ZERO TOLERANCE IS THE ONLY ANSWER TO VIOLENCE
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE PLANET, KEEP NATURE STRIPS TIDY
- LOST IN TRANSLATION, ZAT CERTAIN SOMETING
- NO ESCAPE AS QUALITY NOSEDIVES
- TRAFFIC CHIEF'S SPEEDING CONFESSION CAME TOO LATE
- CHEKHOV AT 150: STILL THE ONE TO TRUST
- INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: COMING TO THE AID OF THE PARTY
- UNTHINKABLE? CONTINUING THE COLD SNAP AT WORK
THE KOREA HERALD
- PROTECT PATENTS
- HELP FOR HAITI
- CHANGE IN U.S.-JAPAN MILITARY ALLIANCE - YURIKO KOIKE
- CHINA'S STOCK MARKET IS CHANGING - YI XIANRONG
THE JAPAN TIMES
- MR. OZAWA UNDER CLOSER SCRUTINY
- PORT-AU-PRINCE IN RUINS
- HOPE AND PERIL FOR SUDAN - BY LAKHDAR BRAHIMI AND DESMOND TUTU
RELIGION TRUMPS MARX
THE MASSES WOULD RATHER BOW TO GOD
In his A Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx had famously commented, in the context of faith in god as an expression of distress by the oppressed classes, "Die religion ist das opium des volkes ". This was later translated into "Religion is the opium of the people" or, as is more commonly known, "Religion is the opium of the masses" and since then has been quoted, more often than not entirely out of context, by latter day Marxists to extol atheism as a prerequisite to become a believer in Marxism. Marx, many would argue, never quite meant it that way, and insist that instead of quoting the sentence in isolation, it should be seen in the context of what he really said about faith: "Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people." It would, however, be instructive to remember that Marx had also called for the "abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people for their real happiness." But even this came with a rider, "The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." In brief, if the people, or the oppressed masses, were relieved of their distress, then there would be no need for an illusory relief. Marx had Christianity in mind, perhaps even Judaism; it is doubtful he thought of either Islam or Hinduism in his response to Hegel. His views found an echo in those of Charles Kingsley, a canon of the Church of England, "We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable's handbook, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order." With a man of god bearing testimony to Marx's observation, Communists could not but lay down the line: 'No faith other than Marxism, no god other than Marx'. The pantheon would later come to include Stalin and Mao for our homegrown Marxists and Maoists.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Indian Communists should have traditionally been irreverent towards both faith and the object of faith. Rejection of religion and repudiation of god were the twin passions of those who formed the Communist Party of India, although it did not prevent the Communists from supporting the creation of Pakistan. In the decades that followed the split in the CPI, the CPI(M) made a fetish of being irreligious when it came to India's Hindu majority but had no qualms about conceding the supremacy of the mullah over Marx when it came to Muslims this is best exemplified by the party's duplicitous stand on Muslim Personal Law. Nor has ideology stood in the way of the CPI(M) entering into electoral compacts with rank communalists, most noticeably in West Bengal and Kerala. Yet, the party line has been reiterated as part of the ongoing 'rectification' campaign, prompting believers in the ranks to call the Marxists' bluff, which in turn has forced CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat to beat a hasty retreat and allow his comrades to bow before god. In a sense, Mr Karat's declaration that his party is not against either religion or faith is a tacit admission, athough rather late in the day, that religion is not just an "illusory happiness of the people": Faith fetches real happiness, provided it is not vested in bigotry of the Islamist variety.
HAITI'S WAKE-UP CALL
WORLD MUST INTERVENE BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE
The magnitude of death and destruction that the catastrophic earthquake in the Caribbean nation of Haiti has caused is shocking to say the least. According to Red Cross estimates, at least 45,000 to 50,000 people have lost their lives in Tuesday's earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale the most severe in Haiti in two decades. The humanitarian crisis has been compounded by the fact that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world with fragile Government and administrative systems. It bears testimony to the scale of the catastrophe that even the presidential palace and the UN headquarters in the capital city of Port-au-Prince have been reduced to rubble. It is suspected that faulty construction standards are at the heart of the destruction. Buildings in Haiti are often made of spurious construction material to cut back on costs. This, combined with the fact that the country is plagued by rampant corruption, means that the buildings never stood a chance against a strong earthquake. Besides, disaster management efforts in Haiti are more geared towards tackling hurricanes a much more common phenomenon than earth-shaking seismic activities.
Haiti will not be able to recover from this disaster alone. The country will now need to embark on a long process of rebuilding from scratch, rehabilitating thousands who have lost everything. Most important, it will have to undertake measures aimed at minimising the impact of another earthquake, should it occur in future. Thus, it is welcome that several countries such as the US, the UK, Venezuela, France, etc, have rushed to Haiti's aid in its time of distress. Nonetheless, having said that, why is it that it took such a catastrophe for the world to remember that there is even a country called Haiti? Today, US President Barack Obama is pledging millions of dollars in aid for Haiti, but till Tuesday it is doubtful whether he had a clear policy in place for the Caribbean nation in America's backyard. The same holds true for the UN. It is true that it has a peace-keeping and a stabilisation mission in Haiti, but there is little to suggest that anything concrete was being done for the long-term development of the country. At best, Haiti has been a classic charity case for the international community. This raises some serious questions about the entire notion of timely intervention by the international community. Apart from some cosmetic measures, in most cases, countries in need of intervention have been left to their own devices, whether it is Iran, Zimbabwe or Haiti. The reasons for this are many and stem from the inability of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to agree on meaningful joint action. This merits serious introspection and soul-searching. Let Haiti be a wake-up call.
HASINA'S VISIT AND AFTER
The agreements signed during Sheikh Hasina's recent visit to India covered a wide range from cooperation in combating terrorism, the rendering of mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, exchange and deportation of prisoners who have served their sentences, removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, settlement of disputes regarding land borders, fair demarcation of maritime boundaries between the two countries to more humane and sensitive border management. The importance of the subjects is self-evident, as is that of mutually beneficial utilisation of the sub-continent's water resources, and India's decision to sell 250 MW of power to Bangladesh and extend a line of credit of $ 1 billion.
These agreements, pertaining to areas of inter-Government relations that had proved most fractious in the past, could be signed because India-Bangladesh relations at the political level has undergone a sea change from the bitter animosity that characterised these during Begum Khaleda Zia's second innings as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006, and the cold correctness of the Caretaker Government's regime from January 2007 to January 2009.
The warmth now pervading the ties between the two neighbouring countries has been growing ever since Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister for the second time in January last year. On February 10, 2009, Bangladesh signed two treaties with India during then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Dhaka. The Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement sought to promote and protect investment of one country in the territory of the other to facilitate investment flow. A bilateral trade agreement allowed each country to use the other's roadways, waterways and railways for transporting goods from one point in its territory to another. While enabling India to send its goods to its north-eastern States through Bangladesh, the treaty enabled Bangladesh to trade with Nepal and Bhutan through India.
Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Dipu Moni's visit to India from September 7 to 10, 2009 saw further progress. New Delhi agreed to facilitate the transit of Bangladeshi goods to Nepal and Bhutan, provide at least 100 MW of power on a priority basis, increase trade and resolve outstanding issues relating to enclaves and land and maritime boundaries. The use of Chittagong Port by India and the designation of Ashuganj as a new port of call under the Inland Water Transit and Trade Agreement, were discussed. Both sides recognised the need for finalising an agreement on sharing the waters of Teesta as well as agreements on mutual assistance on criminal matters, extradition of persons who had served their sentences, and combating international terrorism, organised crime and illegal drugtrafficking. India agreed in principle to provide Bangladesh with a line of credit for railway projects and the supply of locomotives, coaches and buses, assist in the construction of the Akhaura-Agartala railway link, and in dredging rivers in Bangladesh.
As can be seen, most of these decisions culminated in agreements during Sheikh Hasina's visit which, of course, achieved much more and transformed the ties between the two countries. Some idea that it would be so was provided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, while inviting Sheikh Hasina, had told Dr Dipu Moni that the visit would script a new chapter in India-Bangladesh relations and that India attached the highest priority to the latter. This has happened. Sheikh Hasina said at the Press conference in New Delhi before leaving for Dhaka on January 13, "My visit was totally successful" and added that the joint communiqué signed during her visit would "open an era of mutual cooperation and understanding."
There is, however, no room for complacence. While the large majority of people in Bangladesh want friendly and mutually beneficial relations with India, there are sections that do not, and are represented primarily by Begum Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh the latter being the fountainhead of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh with close links to Pakistan's jihadi groups and Directorate-General of Inter-Services Intelligence.
The pathological hatred both bear towards India is no secret. In the case of the BNP, this was clearly underlined by its secretary-general, Khandakar Delwar Hossain's observation on January 13, "The present Government has sacrificed national interest to India who installed them in power." He also said that Sheikh Hasina's visit proved that her regime was prepared to give everything to India and said, with reference to the agreement on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports by India, "What have we got? Everything has been given to India."
This was hardly surprising. The BNP and its allies had been making minatory noises days before Sheikh Hasina had left for her visit. At a rally at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan on January 1, Begum Zia had threatened to launch a movement if Sheikh Hasina failed to protect Bangladesh's interests and said, "If you give consent to Tipaimukh dam and transit facilities, and if the maritime boundary dispute is not resolved, then we will go for a movement. Allowing India a corridor in the name of the Asian Highway will also not be acceptable."
Reacting sharply, Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, had observed in its editorial "Begum Zia must not pre-judge Delhi outcome" published on January 3, "We are distressed by the tone and tenor of Begum Khaleda Zia's remarks at Paltan Maidan on Friday. The BNP leader has in effect held out a good number of threats and warnings at the Government with regard to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's forthcoming official visit to India."
The BNP, which has threatened to launch an agitation, will not give up easily. Nevertheless, Sheikh Hasina, who has displayed remarkable leadership capabilities, will be able to hold her own if the improvement in India-Bangladesh ties works out to the advantage of the people of Bangladesh. For that to happen, the agreements signed will have to be promptly and sincerely implemented and new agreements, fair to both sides, arrived at in critical areas like river-water sharing and the demarcation of maritime boundaries. At a time when Pakistan is in serious danger of imploding or being taken over by Islamist fundamentalists, and Nepal teeters on the brink of a political crisis, India's security and economic progress would require a stable, democratic and friendly Bangladesh which does not export terrorism, which it did during Begum Zia's second term as Prime Minister.
FORGIVENESS IS DIVINE
GANI RAJENDRA VIJAY
Whenever we get angry we become weak. We must adopt forgiveness if we want to expand our capabilities and tolerance levels. It is a common misconception that if we surrender before others, we are weak; if we agree to what others say and don't oppose them, we are unintelligent. Nothing can be further from the truth. Peaceful thinking increases our capabilities. Anger and agitation do not elevate our lives but degrade.
In spite of discipline and self-control, desires dominate and overpower us all the time. If we carry bitterness for others in our minds, how can we expect love and warmth from them in return?
An enemy is a person who nurtures enmity within himself. Nobody is a friend or a foe to begin with. If we have good feelings for others they become our friends, and if we nurture bitterness towards them they may not turn into our enemies but we will definitely become our own foe.
A man abused Buddha for half an hour but he did not utter a word. Kamath troubled Parshvanath for many days but he did not retaliate. Such is the forgiveness of saints! If someone harbours ill will against us, he will be silenced by our demeanour. Our calmness will wipe away his bitterness.
There is a story about two friends who were very affectionate towards each other. One of them ran away from home while the other went to study in another city. The latter completed his studies and later came to know that his friend had become a dacoit. One day he went to the forest and came across a horse rider. He immediately recognised his old friend who had now become a dacoit. The rider too recognised him. Having recognised his dacoit friend he said, "Brother, I want to speak to you." The rider replied, "Step aside, If you talk, I will mutilate your tongue." With this he moved away.
They met again in the same forest. This time the learned man said, "You told me that you will slit my tongue if I say something. All right then, take my life but I must say what I want to. It pains me to see you as a dacoit." This time the dacoit did not speak. He got down from his horse, bent his head and walked away. The learned man reflected, "Perhaps there are still some faults in me because of which he is ignoring what I say."
In the third meeting, the learned man did not say a word and just embraced his dacoit friend and burst into tears, voicing his pain. The dacoit touched his friend's feet and said, "It's all over now. Today, I have realised that my negative actions can give pain and suffering to others. From now on I will no longer indulge in any crime."
THE THAROORIAN DILEMMA
SHASHI THAROOR IS NOT ONLY WASTING HIMSELF AS JUNIOR MINISTER IN THE MEA, BUT BY CONFORMING TO PARTY DIKTAT ALSO SCARING AWAY FROM POLITICS A WHOLE SUB-NATION OF ENGLISH-EDUCATED, BROAD-VISIONED INDIANS
Today they are celebrating the 150th anniversary of my old school in Kolkata St. Xavier's College. And here in Delhi you have Shashi Tharoor, who shares space with Rabindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Raj Kapoor and Sourav Ganguly in a long list of distinguished alma mater,personifying the opposite of high achievement. He sits and fiddles a silly Blackberry, scuttles a historic opportunity all for want of much to do.
But there was a time when he had a spark. That I discovered on a rack of the heritage Goethals library deep inside the womb of that revered institution. "It's a very valuable almirah," said the late Father Achiles Verstraten, one of the outstanding figures in SXC's history who gave me a guided tour back in the old days. "There's a lot of early genius locked up within." Unless you are a special visitor all you get is a peek through the glass at the spines of cloth and leather bound volumes with the gold-embossed words, The Xaverian. These are the old issues of the annual magazine started by Father Eugene O'Neil in 1904 to give the boys their first platform for intellectual expression. For the boys it was a very big deal to get a picture or a composition encompassing his world view into The Xaverian. By any standard, Shashi Tharoor was the star of 1971. In that year's number, he was on pages 15, 18 and 27. Apart from two pictures in which he looked real cutiepie, the edition carried the essay which won him first prize in an inter-school competition hosted by Don Bosco. The subject: Mujibur Rahaman.
A space crunch bars me from reproducing excerpts, but without effusion I'd admit the 16-year-old was already somewhere as a writer with insight. Shashi Tharoor has never heard of me, not just because I was ten years his junior. My mother, who used to go for Calcutta Kerala Samajam events, often brought news on the progress of this doe-eyed Mallu kid. You could say he was the pride of the community. He evolved into a fine writer and combined international bureaucracy and prose making with rare élan. Yes, Shashi Tharoor kept his looks, which is important and did he come thiiiis close to becoming UN Secretary General!
After that, the downhill. Nothing more to achieve at the UN, he packed for home and for a while Shashi Tharoor kept the Kerala media guessing whether he'd join Congress (while the Delhi media speculated when he'd join Congress) and blabbered away evenings on TV channels. Entering electoral politics is a good thing; I'd recommend it to anybody looking for great material for a future book. Winning? Still better, provided you don't take it to head. But joining the MEA as MOS that was punching below weight.
The futility of having MoSes is the oldest story in Raisina Hill journalism and I've done several in my heyday. Now, the MoS of the MEA is aparticularly ridiculous figure because he spends five of the most productive years of his life expecting people to believe that the government is terribly serious about ending the tout menace in the passport offices. The entire cake is hogged by the cabinet minister, the EAM, while the two MoSes (earlier there was only one) fight over who would be 'minister-in-waiting' for the next visiting head of state. There are also junkets to South America and West Africa which Shashi Tharoor could survive without.
What outsiders don't know is that the MEA is the most bureaucratised ministry, a legacy of the first prime minister who kept this portfolio for himself because it allowed maximum breadth for grandstanding his utopian vision. Bureaucrats love these guys because they are easiest to manipulate. It didn't help that after Nehru, the Congress heavily strengthened the MEA by treating the EAM's post as a sinecure for loyalists. History will bear out that the combined contribution of Swarn Singh, PV Narasimha Rao, Madhavsinh "Bofors letter" Solanki, Pranab Mukherjee and Natwar Singh was half that of Jaswant Singh even if nobody in the BJP will agree. Whenever India under a Congress government succeeded in scoring a major international breakthrough it was in spite of its EAMs, not because of. They had Indira Gandhi who fetched us our only post-Independence glory.
After Shashi Tharoor won from Thiruvananthapuram a lot of people genuinely believed that he would be Sonia Gandhi's automatic choice for EAM in UPA-II. Not one of the others could hope to hold a candle to Shashi Tharoor for knowledge of world issues, personal friendships enjoyed at the highest level and contacts spanning the atlas. But India got SM Krishna, every IFS officer's dream. Shashi Tharoor should have walked up to Sonia Gandhi and told her "cabinet berth or nothing." But he groveled.
By choosing to become a greasy politician, Shashi Tharoor let down our entire sub-nation of English-educated, professionally talented, broad-visioned Indians. In our self-flagellating moments we may scorn ourselves as the "India shining" types, but we know India could do with guys like us in the political space. Nothing would have changed for Sashi Tharoor if Sonia turned him down, if only for appeasing her cronies. With time, Shashi Tharoor would have left a bigger mark in Indian history as a gentleman politician in the Bidhan Chandra Roy mould. Free of the unfreedoms of a MoS, he could have enriched India's foreign policy format from outside. Knowing the tastes of folks in Thiruvananthapuram, I'd say Shashi Tharoor would have made a better impression as a parliamentarian-cum-author-cum-social worker than what he has reduced himself to now.
This media mountain made out of his tweeting has within its rain shadow area the painful truth that at 53, Shashi Tharoor has no choice but fill his hours in ways not dissimilar to what was employed by his 19th century tharawad-managing ancestors in Kerala: counting the coconuts as they dropped, watching varnish wear off the solid oak door, etc. There were luscious diversions too, which, unfortunately, our sedentary MoS must do without. He is also a prisoner to his party's lowest common denominator politics; protocol and form bars him from writing or speaking his mind and, to add insult to injury, he must answer fellow MPs' banal questions twenty days in a year. So, after a hard day of standing down, he reaches for his mobile phone and finds amusement by tweets. What's most depressing to watch is that he often stoops to the level of his correspondents.Shashi Tharoor is not a professional politician, so he needn't have conformed. He faces a dilemma that is, well, Tharoorian, and the only way out is by wanting out. It's time we PLUs showed the neta types that they can't have it both ways. If they want us in their parties, they must accept us on our terms.
The Tharoorian dilemma how to avoid being a typical politician is now gripping another treasury bencher. Shashi Tharoor may not have met Kabir Suman, the Trinamool Congress member from Jadavpur, West Bengal. For altogether different reasons this pop singer has fallen foul of his party's high command. But at least he is resisting (Lookback). Tharoorism is also seen in south Indian politics (The Other Voice). Maybe things will get sorted in the 2010s.
The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer
THE SONG OF DISSENT
Saturday Special on the "Tharoorian dilemma", which seizes new entrants to politics who are forced to be less than themselves by opting for the party straitjacket and it's quite catching
Pet kati jadial mombati bogga
akashe ghurir jhak mati-tey abagya
Je cheleta praanponey rickshaw chalacchhey
Muktir ghurita takey khabor pathacchhey
. Babur khekani suney sambit phirey pai
Cheleta jekorey hok rickshaw chaliey jai
(He pulls the rickshaw with all his might,
One eye fixed on the kite up in the sky
The kites send him a message of freedom;
Freedom from humiliation, freedom from toil
The babu chides the boy. He jerks out of his kite dream
and pulls his cart on and on )
-- Kabir Suman
The Greeks say there is an oddball in every game. Singer parliamentarian Kabir Suman is the Trinamool Congress' version of Shashi Tharoor. Instead of tweeting, he has hauntingly hammered home hypothesis-laden lyrics that address the problems that have bred Maoist terror. That's not politically correct for a MP of a party that believes Maoism is the greatest enemy.
Subordinating the party line to "periodic fits of morality" (apologies to Macaulay) seems to be the flavour of the season. So, has Bengal's agni kanya Mamata Banerjee met her nemesis?
Kabir's doughty ways became apparent last November when he threw out one of Didi's chief factotums, Sovan Chatterjee, for daring to suggest that the Jadabpur MP hand over signed cheques so that 'the party' could make best use of his MPLADS funs. Prone to dramabaazi, the popular singer who had injected rare energy into Bengali popular music in the late -1980s, told reporters in verbose detail his dilemma. He had fallen into an all-too-familiar trap for non-professional politicians in Indian politics. His conscience weighed too heavily on him for putting up with the corruption and sleaze that filled the format of the Trinamool Congress post-Lok Sabha election 2009.
If internalising that flashpoint was hard enough for Didi, his second flash was simply unexpected. He recently cut a disk called Chatradharer gaan(ode to Chadradhar Mahato-the alleged Maoist now in jail under anti-terror law). The official Trinamool line, after much tightrope talking, is this: Conform to the Chidambaram line and decry Maoists in public. Gone is the old equivocation which led ultra-Leftists to believe that Mamata Banerjee could be used as a counterweight within the UPA to win the Maoists some breathing space. Kabir Suman (he was earlier Suman Chattopadhyay but converted to Islam) used to be Didi's blue-eyed boy. But while inducting him, Mamata Banerjee overlooked his old links with ultra-Leftists who make up a sizeable chunk of the Kolkata intellectual elite. These people believe that the CPI(M) was not Communist enough, and had led down the national Left movement by embracing bourgeoisie principles of development. They hated the Congress more than the CPI (M) but struck convergence with the Trinamool for its ideology-neutral support to the anti-land grab movement.Kabir Suman is from that gharana, so he was never comfortable with Mamata's joining the UPA which by extension meant upholding the Washington Consensus. Kabir Suman admitted as much in a TV interview this week to Star Ananda. Expanding his Tharoorian dilemma he said bitterly: "You think I like to share benches with the UPA? I hate myself for doing it".
Chhatradharer Gaan can't be described as Maoist liturgy, but suspicious minded party hacks could construe the songs as filled with innuendo. Kabir Suman himself has clarified that "not one-line praises Maoism or even Chhatradhar Mahato directly." But the media hype forced Mamata Banerjee to distance herself. She said: "The party does not approve of the ideas expressed by him. He is a singer and he has his own ideas. There are some guests in the party. He is one of them".
What stops Didi from expelling him is obvious. It would make him a martyr. There would also be a needless clash with intellectuals like Mahasweta Devi, who is leading a citizen's movement favouring Chhatradhar's release the Trinamool owes these people a lot for the dramatic revival of its fortunes post-Nandigram. The astute Trinamool supremo realised after seven years of unsuccessful campaign against the CPI(M) that its pointless to fight the Left without winning Leftist poets, writers and essayists over to your side. To that extent, Kabir Suman is a hot potato.
So, Mamata, for now, resists the demands of her party's leaders to make an example out of Kabir Suman. On the other hand, the singer-MP is going around collecting media points as a 'good MP'. He claims to have already sunk 24 tube wells in the arsenic belt of Jadabpur. "I can't betray those pale, hapless faces that have reposed faith in me," he says in a soulful tone. Stung by allegations of internal corruption, the Trinamool leaders demanded that he raise these issues within the party forum. But when Kabir Suman brought it to the notice of the high command, all he got was polite rebuke. The party chief showed him his place by reminding him how fond she was of his music. She even niggled him into giving her special guitar classes. Second in command Partho Chattopadhyay also did his bit. He cited the example of Krishnagar MP Sucharu Haldar, an ex-Army man, who got his identical complaints redressed by bowing to circumstances.
Much humiliated by this stand, Kabir Suman let off a poetic scream: Ki sarkari pakhsa ki birodhi paksha? Shobai sudhu khete chai. Sudhu khao are khao. Aro Khao, aro khao khao khao khao (There is no difference between ruling party and Opposition party. Every party is after the same thing money). This volatility cost him his special relationship with Mamata Banerjee. She publicly described him as a 'guest artiste', a way of reminding him of his roots.
Meanwhile, intelligence reports speak of definite signs of the "M factor" in the genetic code of Kabir Suman's former friends in the Kolkata intellectual crowd. This is leading to discomfort in the Trinamool, which has its origins in the Congress a bourgeoisie party. The honeymoon of the two streams lasted till the Lok Sabha election. At that time Mamata did not distinguish between 'visiting artistes' and her own folk. She surrounded herself with Naxalites of all shades like Dola Sen and Sujato Bhadra.
But tensions crept in after the home ministry adopted a no-nonsense stand against the Maoists operating in West Bengal's wooded jangal mahal region spread over West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts. Caught between a rock and hard place, she initially passed the buck for the Maoists' crimes to the CPI(M) cadre. The hijacking of the Rajdhani Express in October was the hair that broke the camel's back. Mamata's reluctance to call a spade a spade made it difficult for the UPA to pander to her fancies. Additionally, it harmed her own image as many people began to question her commitment to peace.
The writer is Kolkata correspondent, The Pioneer
THAROORISM MODERATED BY PERSONALITY POLITICS
THE BOTTOM LINE, AS SEEN FROM THE TAMIL NADU EXPERIENCE, IS THAT POLITICIANS FROM NON-POLITICAL BACKGROUNDS SUFFER ANYWAY THE ONLY ONES WHO SURVIVE ARE THOSE WHO STAY FAR AWAY FROM THE NERVE CENTRE
Sashi Tharoor may be tweeting away on the wrongs of government policies and getting caught in the trappings of Indian party diktats, but his dilemma is drawing attention to a whole lot of former outsiders who are now struggling to retain their old values.
These people were valued for their standings in professional life by the same political parties who have now asked them to stand down. In south India, the tradition of luring corporate professionals to party folds is quite entrenched. The political bosses hope that their party's image would improve if these 'clean-image' people join them. On the other hand, the neophytes enter politics with great illusions. They hope to deploy their professional standards to rectify the perceived indiscipline and disorder of politics, purge corruption and, generally, 'save' the nation.
In Tamil Nadu, this trend was introduced by the AIADMK, when in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, its supreme, J Jayalalithaa, fielded some IAS officers, doctors and sundry other professionals and got them to sit out five years in Parliament like so many good sheep. The trend was followed by the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), whose founder Dr S Ramadoss, was a doctor. His son, Anbumani, also a doctor, was inducted by him to handle the Delhi outreach. He also brought in R Velu, a retired IAS officer, and made him Minister of State for Railways to replace AK Moorthy, a grassroots politician who was not comfortable there. Another academician, M Ramadas, was inducted to draft the party's alternative economic policies and programmes. The PMK uses him to prepare its own version of the state budget every year. Ramadas was given the ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Puducherry in 2004 and won it with the support of the Congress and the DMK. In 2009 he lost to Congress' V Narayansamy.In the case of the DMK, it already had people like Murasoli Maran and TR Baalu, who were well versed in English and established connections at the Centre. There are enough lawyers in the party seated in both houses of Parliament. However, in recent years, the party has enticed the sons and daughters of dead leaders to enter politics. Some of them have given up attractive careers as engineers and doctors to take up politics. Current State Ministers Thangam Thennarasu (engineer), son of former Minister \Thangapandian, and Dr Poongothai Aladi Aruna, daughter of former Parliamentarian and State Minister Aladi Aruna are prime examples. But the DMK rarely favours total outsiders.
The AIADMK routinely fields fresh faces with impressive academic backgrounds and proven professional track records. Of course, the earthy, sweaty political types still form the backbone of the party. But a nice balance is struck because the hard reality is that the only person who matters is Jayalalithaa herself. The personality cult breeds unquestioning loyalty. So, very few of the numerous non-professional, elite types who fought elections actually stayed on with the party. And among those who stayed on, very few made their presence felt.
Former bureaucrat K Malaiasamy is one of the professionals Jayalalithaa chose in 1999. He went on to win the Ramanathapuram Lok Sabha seat. Following the complete defeat of the AIADMK in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, Malaisamy, who had retired as the State Home Secretary, was made a Rajya Sabha member. He has been serving as member in various parliamentary committees and also served as the party's Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha. At present he is the Deputy Leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha.
Another Rajya Sabha member for the AIADMK is Dr V Maitreyan. The son of a freedom fighter, he joined politics in 1991 as an executive member of the BJP. He is also a noted oncologist who worked at the Cancer Institute in Chennai. He joined the AIADMK soon after the party's alliance with the BJP at the Centre broke in 1999. He was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha ticket in 2002. Though he was given the Assembly ticket to contest from Mylapore in 2001, he lost to the BJP candidate. He is now in Delhi and is known to be the most media-savvy AIADMK MP.Malaisamy and Dr Maitreyan are healthy \examples of professionals getting into the grain of political life. But the rider is that they have remained far from the nerve centre. They prefer to stay most of the time in Delhi and don't care to build bridges with party supporters or serve the grass roots. What distinguishes them from Shashi Tharoor and Kabir Suman is that they cope with their Tharoorian dilemma quite well. If they suffer conscience pangs, they keep it to themselves and don't 'tweet' or compose songs. And it is not that this grin-and-bear-it policy wins them the love of their new compatriots. They are constantly suffering jealous jibes. Recently, when Dr Maitrayan's car was burnt down, the initial suspicion fell on a rival section in the party.
The bottom line is that 'clean image' new-entrants suffer either way. The only exception is the filmi crowd, which is a permanent fixtures in the politics of Tamil Nadu and its neighbours. MGR and NTR joined politics after reaching the apex in their tinsel world. Their political agenda was social change. Because of their already existing mass support base and money power, they went ahead with their agenda with a devil-may-care attitude. With time, they moulded policies and politics to suit their style and used their fans to build a cadre base.
-- The writer is the Chennai correspondent of the The Pioneer
WE JUST CAN'T AFFORD SUCH A GOOF- UP
THE regularity with which air safety slipups occur at our airports is despairing. The computer glitch at the air traffic control at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, that brought down the radar on Thursday evening even as peak traffic was picking up, is unnerving. The system enables air traffic controllers or ATCOs to monitor aircraft movement over nearly all of northern India.
The incident should figure as an air disaster even though no accident actually took place. But we can gauge how close the situation was when we consider the circumstances under which the ATCOs functioned.
For nearly two hours their screens were blank and the only way to determine flight position was through radio contact with individual aircraft. Instructions were relayed on the basis of manual computation. Some may want to commend the ATCOs because they did not lose their nerve under extreme stress, even though the number of landings and take- offs dropped sharply and flights were diverted during this time.
But, this is no solace for the affected air travellers who have reason to believe it was providential that they came away unscathed on Thursday. The radar collapse was just one instance of their travail.
As it is they have been grappling with fogrelated delays in recent weeks. Here, a great deal of blame rests with the airlines which are not cooperating with regulatory bodies and training their pilots for Cat III instrument landing systems.
Air traffic is on the upswing as the world increasingly engages with India. This has put a premium on efficiency and safety.
Plans for widening the country's network of airports will have little meaning unless air safety standards are strictly adhered to as standard procedure.
KEEP THE GUARDS UP
THE report that Chinese entities have hacked computers in the Prime Minister's Office, among other places, should not occasion surprise. Last March, a Canadian research group unearthed the activities of what is now called the Ghostnet run out of China, which had infiltrated 1295 computers in 103 countries. Earlier this week, Google threatened to pull out of China because of cyber attacks that had compromised its computers and those of some US defence companies operating in China.
Cyberspace is already a battlefield. Last June, the United States created an entirely new Cyber Security Command to take up the challenge of threats to cyberspace and American computer networks. India has been somewhat lax on this front because many of the senior functionaries lack the knowledge of the internet. But cyber attacks which can vary from simply filching information from your computers, to shutting down critical infrastructure in the form of airports and railway systems, have emerged as an alarming new vulnerability.
Given the importance of computer networking and the internet to the world economy, it is simply not possible to shut off one country or the other. There is need for active defence against a threat that operates with great agility. Unfortunately, by jailing three officers, two from the National Security Council Secretariat and one from the Research & Analysis Wing on trumped up charges, India has alienated one of the key countries in the effort the US. Now it must plough a lonely furrow in the cyber security business.
THE Patiala House court's judgement that the National Rifle Association of India's officials cannot continue in office as they have already completed two terms must be welcomed. As the apex body which controls the sport of shooting, the NRAI has been in the news for the wrong reasons.
Messrs Digvijay Singh and Baljeet Sethi, president and secretary, respectively, of the NRAI, have often taken controversial decisions, which included dropping Abhinav Bindra from the team for the Commonwealth Shooting Championship.
The court decision will in fact set the cat among the pigeons as almost every other sports federation in the country is controlled by politicians or influential men who run affairs as if the body were their personal fiefdom. Sports in the country should be run by professionals, and the court ruling is a healthy portent in the runup to the Commonwealth Games.
AMAR SINGH AND THE DECLINE OF MULAYAM
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
THE partnership between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh has been a strange one.
One a Socialist leader and the other, a budding industrialist, both have travelled a long distance from those early identities.
Together they made the Samajwadi Party a byword for opportunistic politics.
Over time, Mulayam has hobnobbed with everyone the Left parties, the Congress, Kanshi Ram's Bahujan Samaj Party ( though he stands opposed to Mayawati's BSP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in an attempt to increase his weight in national and state politics.
In Amar Singh, Mulayam found a silver- tongued spokesman who knew how to work political and corporate interests and the media in urban India. Amar Singh knew what sells in Delhi and Mulayam provided him the legitimacy and the political platform for his glib sales talk. And for a while, both benefited.
Today, however, the duo seems to be drifting apart. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who at one time could have been a contender for India's prime ministership, has been reduced to someone vulnerable to blackmail.
His friend and erstwhile general secretary of the party, Amar Singh, says Mulayam's secrets will die with him, suggesting that he knows things that Mulayam ought to be worried about.
Mulayam and Amar Singh were drawn to each other by overweening political opportunism. One with his rural background and a solid castebase desired acceptance by the urban elite and the other with overwhelming political ambition had no political base. Amar Singh brought the icons of urban India to Mulayam's doorstep and helped realise his urban fantasies.
And there was more. He facilitated hobnobbing with the captains of industry and helped cut deals with them. The party's brand ambassadors were not those leading backward caste or rural struggles but Bollywood personalities Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, Jayaprada and Sanjay Dutt. Some of them were accommodated in Parliament and others used for elections and other campaigns.
From village chaupals , the party moved to five star hotels and from Etawah to Bollywood and the corporate boardrooms of Mumbai and New Delhi.
Mulayam Singh Yadav started out as a primary school teacher who was influenced by Rammanohar Lohia and became a member of the legislative assembly from the Samyukta Socialist Party in 1967. From there he moved to Chaudhary Charan Singh's Lok Dal. Charan Singh saw himself as a leader of farmers who made up 90 per cent of the voters in UP not of castes, and Mulayam did too at the time. Charan Singh's visceral hatred of the Nehru- Gandhi family's hold over politics was also shared by him.
The politics of Uttar Pradesh however changed suddenly and unrecognisably after Ayodhya and the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. Two backward caste leaders were launched on the national stage from seemingly opposite ends of the political spectrum Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh, both from the backward castes. The former represented the Yadavs and the latter, the Lodhs.
One was projected as the champion of secularist ideals and the other was the " Hindutva" hero who helped destroy the Babri Masjid.
Mulayam's journey since then is a lesson in how narrow caste- based politics invariably leads to crass opportunism. Mulayam became the chief minister of UP for the first time in 1989 with the help of the BJP. After the fall of the V P Singh government in 1990, he continued in office with the help of the Congress. In the 1993 state assembly elections he allied with Kanshi Ram's BSP but became the chief minister with the help of the Congress and the Janata Dal. In 1995 he engineered a split in the BSP along with the BJP and in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections he forged an informal electoral alliance with the man held responsible for the Babri demolition Kalyan Singh. And once again in 2003 he split the BSP which was legitimised by the BJP speaker to enable Mulayam to form a government in UP. Mulayam Singh Yadav may claim to be at the other end of the spectrum from the BJP but clearly there is a constant attraction between the two opposing poles.
The Samajwadi Party faces a denouement today precisely because of the way it has made these moves, often facilitated by Amar Singh.
Rammanohar Lohia's socialism based on caste instead of class, could be stretched only up to a point in legitimising these political alliances; after that it became something else.
Today Mulayam Singh is so unsure of his hold over backward- caste politics that he is increasingly turning to his family to do so. This " pariwarwad" or dynasticism will only further alienate him from backward caste politicians.
The socialist aim of uplifting rural society has been converted into one of benefitting family and friends.
Mulayam's desire to see his kin control politics at all levels has propelled them to positions ranging from Block Pramukhs and district panchayat heads to MLAs and MPs.
His son Akhilesh Yadav is MP from Kannauj, his brother Shivpal Singh is MLA from Jaswant Nagar and leader of the SP legislative party, his cousin Ramgopal Yadav is an MP, his brother Abhayram's son Dharmendra Yadav is also an MP, his brother Rajpal Yadav's wife Premlata Yadav is president of a district panchayat, his brother's relative Narendra Yadav is an MLA, his cousin Ramgopal Yadav's nephew Arvind Yadav is a Block Pramukh, Ramgopal's relative through marriage alliance Sukhram Yadav is chairman of the UP Legislative Council, his relative Hariom Yadav was the former MLA from Shikohabad, another relative Ramveer Singh was the former MLA from Jasrana and his nephew Dharmendra's relative Urmila Yadav was the former MLA from Giraur ( Sirsaganj). His daughter- in- law Dimple Yadav ( Akhilesh Yadav's wife) was a candidate for the Firozabad assembly by- election and lost and another son Prateek Yadav is raring to fight an election.
While the Yadav family is now dominant in the party's legislative and organisational wings, it has slowly moved away from rural issues. Even Yadavs began to see it as representing only one section of the community the Kamariya Yadavs, to which Mulayam Singh belongs to the detriment of the rest of the Yadavs ( the Ghausi Yadavs).
Meanwhile, the rise of Amar Singh in the party has seen the marginalisation of leaders of consequence from other castes and communities whether a Janeshwar Mishra, a Beni Pradad Verma or an Azam Khan. Some were reduced to ciphers within the party organisation, others ousted.
So today Mulayam Singh Yadav finds himself politically weakened and despite having saved the Manmohan Singh government over the nuclear deal, he is virtually marginalised in national politics.
This is only partly due to Amar Singh and his immaturity in taking on the Congress by abusing Sonia Gandhi. His support to the Manmohan Singh government on the Indo- US civilian nuclear deal also did not pay rich dividends. It may have gone down well with some industrial interests identified with the Samajwadi Party and perhaps secured Mulayam's family against its mounting financial troubles but it meant precious little for the backward caste community that the party claims to represent.
The more important reasons for Mulayam Singh Yadav's decline lie in his dynastic preoccupations, his alienation from the Muslims, the divisions within the Yadav community between the Kamariyas and the Ghausis and the inherent limitations of caste- based politics which necessarily has to rely on alliances to grab power.
Amar Singh may or may not remain in the Samajwadi Party. Mulayam's future does not depend on him. What stares him in the face is the prospect of a further political setback he has lost all key seats surrounding his pocket borough of Etawah Etawah itself, Bhartana, Vidhuna, Firozabad and Shikohabad, all within a 30 km radius of his hometown. His legacy ultimately may become exactly like that of his mentor Charan Singh a family based party with a narrow caste vote base in constant search of a deal.
TWITTER HELPS RAISE MILLIONS FOR HAITI
THE Haitian earthquake on January 12 may be one of the worst in the last several decades in terms of the number of people killed, but it may also go down in history as a natural calamity where social networking played a vital role in the rescue and relief efforts. In less than 24 hours of the earthquake, Twitter and Facebook helped raise millions for the homeless and the injured people of Haiti.
The earthquake was massive 7.0 on the Richter scale, with at least three million affected and unofficial estimates placing the number of deaths at close to one lakh.
In no time, Haitians and foreigners in Haiti uploaded thousands of photographs on Twitter using third- party applications such Twitpic. com and Tweetphoto. com to raise awareness of the extent of destruction caused by the earthquake. In fact, messages on Twitter and Facebook asking people to donate to the International Red Cross Society created such a buzz that the nonprofit body raised $ 5 million ( approximately Rs 23 crore) in about 24 hours and at the time of going to press, more money was being generated.
Haitians who survived used Facebook's status updates to tell their families and friends abroad that they were safe.
Since both Facebook and Twitter are available on the cell phone, updating became so easy that Facebook had to block Haitians from repeating their status messages. On Twitter, too, the messages kept pouring in every minute, close to 1,000 messages were being posted on Friday, three days after the earthquake. Close to 5,000 messages were being posted every minute on January 13.
NGOs too got into the act both to raise awareness as well as money for rehabilitation, medicines and other essentials such as tents to build makeshift homes. CBM, the UK- based NGO which works for the disabled and is one of the largest such organisations in the world, started a Twitter campaign to treat those Haitians who were rendered disabled as well as those who already had a physical disability and therefore were unable to fend for themselves after losing their loved ones.
Google uploaded its own donation page and used its Twitter account to publicise the fact. Google currently has tieups with UNICEF and CARE where people can donate using the Google Checkout ecommerce application.
Indians on Twitter began their own hash tag T4H ( short for Twitteristan for Haiti). Led by the Mumbai- based Twitterer b50 ( who also calls himself the Bombay Addict), the T4H hash tag became a buzzword on Friday after he exhorted Indians to donate online to the relief and rehabilitation efforts. Unfortunately very few people donated using those links which took people to the American Red Cross site or the Google donation page.
New Delhi based blogger Ravi Kapoor wrote on his Twitter timeline: " I hope the rich & famous take note of Haiti & donate generously. This is the time to put your wealth to some good use. ( I) Donated for Haiti 2 days back, but never tweeted about it. When it comes to charity, I prefer keeping a low profile. ( A) Silent act." Says Delhi- based communication consultant Surekha Pillai: " The wonderful thing about such efforts on Twitter is that they truly leverage the power of collective communities without putting ' pressure' on any one single individual. Social networking need not be just about networking alone. It could also be a powerful tool of giving back to society. All it needs is a little initiative from people like @ b50." Apple began its own donation page on iTunes, the download service for the music player as well as the smartphone. An Apple fansite called iphonesavior.
com, said: " iTunes users can donate $ 5, $ 10, $ 25, $ 50, $ 100, and $ 200 increments. Funds will be deducted the same way as buying music, apps and movies.
The idea makes it simple for anyone to reach out a helping hand to the people of Haiti. I would expect " an app for that" to follow sooner than later. A free Red Cross app already exists; it's designed to inform users of International Red Cross efforts through updated news feeds, which includes Haiti."
MICROSOFT THE REASON FOR GOOGLE'S THREAT?
IT MAY well be that it was a Microsoft security flaw in its popular Internet Explorer browser that led to a chain of events that finally forced Google to threaten it will quit China unless it stops all efforts to hack into the networks of American corporations functioning there.
A few days ago, Google's computers were hacked into and its services such as Gmail and Gtalk were affected. In fact, the hack also compromised email data of top human rights activists in China. But what got the goat of the California- headquartered software firm was that though it had agreed to censorship ( and was implementing it), its network was broken into.
According to a report in PC World : " Microsoft Security Response Center director Mike Reavey said in an e- mailed statement, ' This afternoon, Microsoft issued Security Advisory 979352 to help customers mitigate a Remote Code Execution ( RCE) vulnerability in Internet Explorer. The company has determined that Internet Explorer was one of the vectors used in targeted and sophisticated attacks against Google and other corporate networks.
Microsoft continues to work with Google, other industry partners and authorities to actively investigate this issue. To date, Microsoft has not seen widespread customer impact, rather only targeted and limited attacks exploiting IE 6." Perhaps Google should tell its customers to use Chrome, its own browser, instead of the old workhorse, Internet Explorer.
MORE ' GREEN' PHONES IN OFFING
MOBILE phone companies are going green with a vengeance. After being accused of being part of a sector that perhaps creates the most amount of e- waste, cell phone manufacturers have launched schemes to let users dump their cell phones in a responsible manner ( Nokia, in fact, has ewaste dumpers in each of their Priority stores in addition to having Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan endorse the scheme).
Meanwhile, the Japanese- Swedish combine Sony Ericsson began its GreenHeart programme in which it promised to manufacture environment friendly phones. One such phone codenamed Faith will be part of its offering soon.
According to rumours doing the rounds of tech blogs around the world, the Faith handset is powered by MSM7227 600MHz Qualcomm processor running Windows Mobile 6.5 ( WM6.5) operating system.The phone ( earlier Green- Heart devices include the Elm and the Hazel) will continue to be part of the company's eco- friendly image campaign. An earlier Green- Heart release said: " The GreenHeart is a full concept with all life cycle in mind it includes features such as bioplastic housings, recycled plastic keypads, zero charger with 3.5mW standby power, HTML based e- manuals, a game style educational application ' Ecomate' and environmentally conscious packaging."
AUSSIE CAB ASSAULT VERDICT AN EYEWASH
BY NEHA TARA MEHTA IN NEW DELHI
THE sentencing of a white Australian to three months in jail within hours of being caught assaulting an Indian taxi driver in the Victorian city of Ballarat has come as little comfort to the harassed taxi drivers of Indian origin there.
The man sentenced by the local court, Paul John Brogden, 48, had abused and threatened to kill taxi driver Satheesh Thatipamula, 24.
Brogden's complaint was that Thatipamula had taken a wrong route. He was so enraged that he damaged Thatipamula's taxi and said, " When you drop me off, I will kill you, you mother f*** ing Indian; I will kill you, you f*** ing Indian b***** d." Not all taxi drivers, though, are lucky enough to get justice.
Take Amardeep Singh, a Melbourne cabbie who was attacked and verbally abused recently by some passengers at night at Eltham, a suburb.
" They smashed my cab's windscreen and told me to go back to India. I had to spend A$ 1,000 ( Rs 42,000) getting the taxi fixed," he said.
Singh claimed he had filed a police complaint but no action had been taken. " I am terrified of driving late at night now.
But have no choice," he added.
A 25- year- old cabbie, requesting anonymity, said to this correspondent on the phone from Melbourne: " It's invariably Indian taxi drivers who are targeted by passengers.
The impression here is that Indians will not fight back. After all, we do not want to report such incidents to the police and jeopardise our permanent residency." He added, " I haven't been assaulted or abused, but I have had passengers who ask me where I'm from. When they hear India, they say, ' You peo- ple live in such poverty and squalor and you kill each other over religion. Are you going to do the same in our country?'." Hate crime is still not an offence in Victoria, though there is talk of stronger legislation and tougher sentences to crack down on attacks against Indians, homosexuals and other targeted groups.
The shadow of fear also looms large over Indian students who are compelled for economic reasons to drive cabs at night.
" I feel scared because I know no action will be taken if I am attacked. I initially wanted to stay on in Melbourne after my studies but now I want to go back," said a graphic arts student from Kolkata who is a cabbie by night. He identified himself only as Bunty.
The cabbies have reason to be fearful. Last year, Essendon football star Michael Hurley assaulted an Indian taxi driver after an altercation. He was taken to Fitzroy police station but subsequently released.
Though his club described his arrest as " disappointing and unacceptable", Victoria's premier John Brumby, who was recently on a damage- control mission to India, called him a " good kid" who had had too much to drink.
Gautam Gupta, spokesperson for the Federation of Indian Students Association, who has been helping students assaulted while on cab duty, emphasised the need for a hate crime legislation.
" The sentence in the Ballarat case is welcome but we need a uniform application of the law," he said.
India on Friday once again conveyed its displeasure to Australia over the unabated attacks on Indians there and asked it to bring the perpetrators to book.
Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said: " There should be some assurance from the Australian government to victims' families that action is being taken against the attackers." Minister of state for external affairs Praneet Kaur termed the cabbie attack and the gurdwara fire incident there as " unfortunate".
PITRODA MOVES IN
AS WAS being speculated, Sam Pitroda and his men have moved to the third floor of Yojana Bhavan.
The space was vacated by Nandan Nilekani after the Unique Identity Authority of India ( UIDAI) shifted to its new office in Connaught Place.
Pitroda, who headed the National Knowledge Commission, is now adviser to the Prime Minister on public information, infrastructure and innovations.
His office falls under the Planning Commission.
The grapevine has it that Pitroda and his officers need not move out of Yojana Bhavan because his team is smaller compared to Nilekani's.
The UIDAI, meanwhile, is hunting for a sprawling office space in Hyderabad, where it wants to set up a regional office.
Over to KCR?
CONGRESS president Sonia Gandhi has discussed the Telangana situation with Manmohan Singh amid speculation that the Centre was working through the backchannel to approach Telangana Rashtra Samithi ( TRS) chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao to find a solution to the vexed issue. Sonia might summon KCR for talks next week. When KCR had come to Delhi in the first week of this month, he had separate meetings with home minister P. Chidambaram and the Prime Minister, but failed to get an appointment with Sonia. Though the parties involved agreed to wait for a mechanism that the home minister had promised to set in motion to solve the problem, a joint action committee comprising the Telangana parties has issued a January- 28 deadline for the announcement of the mechanism.
Gill is offended
A DAY after Congress spokesperson Manish Tewary rapped the Union sports ministry and sports federations for forcing national hockey players to " resort to a hartal ", an irked sports minister M. S. Gill is learnt to have taken up the matter with the Congress brass.
Gill is reportedly miffed that a " junior" Congressman from his home state Punjab was finding fault with his ministry.
He is understood to have said that the sports ministry had nothing to do with the dispute because the issue should have been earlier sorted out by the national hockey federation.
Thumbs up to Bihar
GLOBAL research agency Moody's Economy.
com feels Bihar's " stunning" economic performance is an example of how government policies help accelerate growth. " Recent gains in Bihar, traditionally one of India's poorest states, show how improved economic policy can boost growth," Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya, economist at the research arm of rating agency Moody's, said.
According to the latest Central Statistical Organisation data, Bihar clocked an astonishing 11.03 per cent growth per year during 2004-' 05 and 2008-' 09, second only to Gujarat at 11.05 per cent, when the country grew at just 8.49 per cent.
Traditionally notorious for corruption, conflict and poverty, Bihar is undergoing a transformation, Bhattacharyya said, giving credit to improved economic policies in the state. " If Bihar shows how good regulation can accelerate growth, neighbouring West Bengal highlights how bureaucratic roadblocks and firmly entrenched special interests can inhibit it," the global research firm noted.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WEIRD KIND
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? Or is it that UFO heralding star wars our parliamentarians keep quizzing a particular clueless minister about? If we knew, we'd relax. But no, it's close encounters of the weird kind. A mystery object named 2010 AL30 whirled past our planet this week. The scientific jury's still out on what it was we had a near-brush with. Is it a meteor? Is it a spent rocket booster? Is it an Indian legislator in a space suit, on a (manned) mission to expose the elusive UFO? Is it the minister-turned-astronaut, whizzing away from earth to escape parliamentary inquisitions about ET in attack mode?
Clearly, there are 2001 answers to this space odyssey. For a final word, wait for the war of the scientific worlds to end. NASA, on one side, says the 'thing' was a near-earth asteroid. Others demur: it was more likely a defunct rocket part from the swelling ranks of space muck. This kid rock vs spent rocket duel adds to our list of uncommon battles like Bond vs Bourne, Boa vs Python and Alien vs Predator. We in India will probably float better with the theory of celestial flotsam. After all, ISRO's said to be having a hard time launching new satellites. The reason? "Parking problems" in the great yonder. Far out!
If you think earth's the only place we pile up garbage and scatter road kill, think again. We've gone up there, Sputniking, Skylabbing, moon landing and Mars probing. And wherever we take giant leaps for mankind doesn't stay litter-free for long. Accordingly, satellites, spacecraft, deep-space telescopes and space stations have company, orbital trash being anything from paint flakes and nuts-n-bolts to superannuated satellites and nuclear reactor cores. The heavier-weights can collide, splinter and blow up just like drunk-driven cars and killer buses down here. Bang-ups spawn baby junk which breed tinier baby junk, all of it wheeling towards that critical density of waste that can one day make space travel & tourism as exciting as jumping off the Burj Khalifa.
So, we're on track to making twilight zone a home-away-from-home. Our men are already from Mars and women from Venus. NASA's already hunting for lunar base builders. And rumour has it Martians could be little green trees, not little green men. Now, by prefabricating a few otherworldly environmental hazards, we future star-trekkers won't feel lost in unfamiliar because dirt-free space terrain. Settled in and with improved arts of bombardment, we can always turn derelict debris into hitch-hikers in other galaxies. And we can have a real-life Wall-E reel-life trash-disposal robot clean up after us on earth. That way, we can be space colonisers and earth recolonisers, running from one safe house to the other whenever junk hits a critical mass. Earthling smart? Spaceling smarter.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THIS MODEL HAS A SELL-BY DATE
Tokyo: 2009 was a good year for China. The Chinese economy still roared ahead in the midst of a worldwide recession. American president Barack Obama visited China, more in the spirit of a supplicant to an imperial court than the leader of the world's greatest superpower. Even the Copenhagen summit on climate change ended just the way China wanted: failure in its attempt to commit China, or any other industrial nation, to making significant cuts in carbon emissions, with the United States getting the blame.
The Chinese government, under the Communist Party, has every reason to feel confident. So why did a gentle former literature professor named Liu Xiaobo have to be sentenced to 11 years in prison, just because he publicly advocated freedom of expression and an end to one-party rule?
Liu was co-author in 2008 of a petition, Charter 08, signed by thousands of Chinese, calling for basic rights to be respected. Liu is not a violent rebel. His opinions, in articles published on the internet, are entirely peaceful. Yet he was jailed for "inciting subversion of state power".
The notion that Liu might be capable of subverting the immense power of the Communist Party of China is patently absurd. And yet the authorities clearly believe that they had to make an example of him, to prevent others from expressing similar views.
Why does a regime that appears to be so secure consider mere opinions, or even peaceful petitions, so dangerous? Perhaps because the regime does not feel as secure as it looks.
Without legitimacy, no government can rule with any sense of confidence. There are many ways to legitimise political arrangements. Liberal democracy is only a recent invention. Hereditary monarchy, often backed by divine authority, has worked in the past. And some modern autocrats, such as Robert Mugabe, have been bolstered by their credentials as national freedom fighters.
China has changed a great deal in the last century, but it has remained the same in one respect: it is still ruled by a religious concept of politics. Legitimacy is not based on the give and take, the necessary compromises, and the wheeling and dealing that form the basis of an economic concept of politics such as that which underpins liberal democracy. Instead, the foundation of religious politics is a shared belief, imposed from above, in ideological orthodoxy.
In imperial China, this meant Confucian orthodoxy. The ideal of the Confucian state is "harmony". If all people conform to a particular set of beliefs, including moral codes of behaviour, conflicts will disappear. The ruled, in this ideal system, will naturally obey their rulers, just as sons obey their fathers.
After the various revolutions in the early decades of the twentieth century, Confucianism was replaced by a Chinese version of Communism. Marxism appealed to Chinese intellectuals, because it was bookish, introduced a modern moral orthodoxy, and was based, like Confucianism, on a promise of perfect harmony. Ultimately, in the Communist utopia, conflicts of interests would melt away. Chairman Mao's rule combined elements of the Chinese imperial system with Communist totalitarianism.
This orthodoxy, however, was also destined to fade away. Few Chinese, even in the top ranks of the Communist Party, are convinced Marxists anymore. This left an ideological vacuum, swiftly filled in the 1980s by greed, cynicism, and corruption. Out of this crisis came the demonstrations all over China, collectively known as "Tiananmen".
Soon after the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen, a new orthodoxy replaced Chinese Marxism: Chinese nationalism. Only one-party rule would guarantee the continuing rise of China and put an end to centuries of national humiliation. The Communist Party represented China's destiny as a great power. To doubt this was not just mistaken, but unpatriotic, even "anti-Chinese."
From this perspective, Liu's critical views were indeed subversive. They cast doubt on the official orthodoxy, and thus on the legitimacy of the state. To wonder, as many have, why the Chinese regime refused to negotiate with the students in 1989 or to find some accommodation with its critics today is to misunderstand the nature of religious politics. Negotiation, compromise, and accommodation are the marks of economic politics, where every deal has its price. By contrast, those who rule according to a shared belief cannot afford to negotiate, for that would undermine the belief itself.
This is not to say that the economic concept of politics is utterly strange to the Chinese or, for that matter, that the religious notion of politics is unknown in the democratic West. But the insistence on orthodoxy is still sufficiently strong in China to remain the default defence against political critics.
These things can change. Other Confucian societies, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, now have thriving liberal democracies, and there is no reason to believe that such a transition is impossible in China.
But external pressure is unlikely to bring it about. Until China is released from the grip of religious politics, Liu's ideals are unlikely to take root. This does not bode well for China, or, indeed, for the rest of the world.
The writer is a professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College. Copyright: Project Syndicate.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HE'S GOT IT WRONG
Ian Chappell stirred a hornet's nest when he said that India won't be able to hang on to the number one spot in ICC's Test rankings for very long. His reason: India doesn't have champion bowlers to ensure top dog status.
Chappell has got it wrong on this one. It's true that India's rise to the number one spot has been built on an extraordinary batting line-up, with an opening pair that is by some distance the best in the world today. As skipper M S Dhoni has pointed out, India's many victories would not have been possible only with solid batting. After all, 20 wickets have to be taken to ensure a win, and India has done that regularly in the past 10 years. What has made India's ascent to the very top possible are wins away from home, something that Indian teams have rarely been able to achieve in the past.
India had their first-ever series victory in Pakistan in 2003-04 followed by rare wins in West Indies, England and New Zealand. And India matched the Aussies - the top outfit since the mid-1990s - in Australia by drawing one series and narrowly losing another. India also won their first Test match in South Africa in 2006-07. This wouldn't have been possible without top bowling performances. Zaheer Khan has been the pick of the pace bowlers. He has been supported by a cast of fast bowlers, including Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma. And Harbhajan Singh has been top class in the spin department, especially at home.
Where Chappell is right is that with the form of the younger pacers being erratic, India might face problems in the future. But that is true for all other teams, including Australia. With the retirement in the past decade of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Anil Kumble, and with Muthiah Muralitharan in decline, no team really has a 'champion' bowler.
So India finds itself in a similar situation to the other top teams. But where India does have an edge is in its batting line-up which boasts of all-time greats. And the good news is that there are plenty of youngsters who can fill the breach once stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid retire in the next few years.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A LOFTIER VISION FOR INDO-PAK TIES
Any talk of peace with Pakistan raises the hackles of realpolitikers in the foreign policy and strategic affairs establishment in New Delhi. It is tantamount, in their eyes, to a naÃ¯ve and misleading emotionalism fraught with dangerous consequences if it is allowed to run amuck. Given the dominant role they play in shaping our Pakistan policy, their arguments merit close scrutiny.
These are rooted in a basic assumption: since Pakistan's creation in 1947, its political, bureaucratic and, especially, military elites have regarded India-baiting to be the only glue that can hold the country in one piece. This has involved a two-pronged strategy. One is to accelerate the Islamisation of the state and society. The other is to move heaven and earth to acquire parity with India in terms of military might. Since the army could not achieve victory in the battlefield, it sought to build up its nuclear arsenal even as it tried to bleed India through a thousand cuts.
It thus chose to fund, train and arm jihadi groups and send them across the border to mount terrorist attacks first in Kashmir and later elsewhere on Indian territory. The aim was to destabilise India by fanning the flames of communal hatred. And so, argue the realpolitikers, until and unless Pakistan ceases to indulge in these nefarious designs, it would be futile, indeed preposterous, to engage in a peace process with that country.
No one can dismiss such arguments out of hand. At the same time, the case of the realpolitikers also suffers on many counts. For instance, it does not take fully into account the need to keep our own house in order: the need to arrest the alienation of the Kashmiris and the social and economic backwardness of the Muslim community. A secure and self-confident Muslim community is the surest guarantee that the toxic jihadi ideology does not strike roots in Indian soil.
Moreover, our realpolitikers show no empathy for Pakistan's present travails. It is true that these are of its own making. It is also true that the military in Pakistan still uses jihadis to create mayhem in India, ensure that the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attacks are not brought to book and install in Kabul a regime which would provide it with 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan.
However, the realpolitikers have little to gain and much to lose if they gloat over Pakistan's domestic turmoil. Such an attitude would only serve to stifle those voices in that country pleading for a rapprochement with India. This, they believe, is an imperative to strengthen democracy and promote economic and social progress. These voices, which come down hard on the military's self-deluding ambitions, are admittedly feeble at present. But there is growing evidence to show that sections of the media and of civil society have had enough of their military's obsessive yearning for parity with India.
To be effective, such sentiments have to reach a critical mass. One way of aiding this process would be for New Delhi to follow a dual approach: leave the Pakistani rulers in no doubt that India will not countenance any threats to its vital security interests and, at the same time, take steps - bilaterally if possible, unilaterally if necessary - to promote trade and cultural ties between the people of the two countries.
Moreover, to assure the people of Pakistan that India means business, New Delhi must undertake a serious and sustained diplomatic dialogue with Islamabad on issues of interest and concern to both: Kashmir, river waters, Siachin, Sir Creek and even India's relations with Afghanistan. An engagement between their military and intelligence outfits, as has been recently suggested in these columns by B Raman, a leading security analyst, could also go some way to reduce mistrust.
The Aman Ki Asha initiative jointly started by this newspaper and the Jang group of Pakistan must be seen in this overall context. It is an endeavour to raise public consciousness in both countries that states and nations are creations of the mind. They can be, and often are, harnessed for narrow gains. But they can also be harnessed, without undermining to achieve a larger goal: the discovery, driven by compassion and understanding, of our shared humanity.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WE NEED BETTER BOWLERS
Ian Chappell makes a valid point. India is short on great bowlers and its reign at the top of Test rankings is liable to be short-lived. Chappell has said that two champion bowlers are needed in any line-up to be a long-term successful team. History indicates that great Test teams have always had great bowlers.
Take the two sides that dominated Test cricket for a significant period in recent times, Clive Lloyd's West Indies in the 1980s and the Australians in the 2000s. Waves of fast bowlers bowled West Indies to victory on pitches across continents. They hunted in packs and their leaders Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, and Curt Ambrose are among cricket's all-time greats. Similarly, Australia's supremacy was built on the prowess of Glen McGrath and Shane Warne and they were supported by good, if not great, fast bowlers.
India's ascent to the top became possible because of a curious combination of having great batsmen, luck and the decline of the Australian side that dominated Test cricket for over a decade. Never has India had such a great batting line-up. It also had a champion bowler in Anil Kumble who could spin out the best among batsmen for the best part of the 2000s. He was supported first by the likes of Javagal Srinath and later, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. But they and the Fab Four could not make Team India the top Test team because Australia and South Africa had fine bowlers who could defend small scores. It's not just a coincidence that Team India's rise in rankings came after the retirement of bowlers like McGrath, Warne, Jason Gillespie, Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock.
Team India's current spearheads, Harbhajan and Zaheer, lack the consistency which is the hallmark of great players. Yet, Team India managed not to lose any Test match last year because we didn't tour Australia or South Africa. India, for the record, has never won a series in South Africa or Australia. Unless we discover champion bowlers we are unlikely to do so in the future as well, especially since our middle-order greats are in the twilight of their careers. Kautilya Kumar
LET'S KEEP A SHARP FOCUS
India saved 1.4 per cent of its GDP less than it invested and ran up a current account deficit of 1.5 per cent in
2007-08. Neither of these gaps will close in a hurry, dependent as they are on structural factors like our propensity to save, productivity of capital, technological backwardness and energy deficiency. The savings-investment and export-import imbalances will have to be papered over by foreign capital in the foreseeable future. Routing the dollars entering India through a security sieve is not only an administrative nightmare, it could scare some of them away. This is the argument of the commerce ministry, which true to its brief on encouraging capital inflows, has cautioned against an umbrella security clause in granting clearances to foreign direct investment projects.
The country is unlikely to turn capital surplus in the medium term and the world is feting India as a frontline emerging market with steadily increasing investment. Why risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Between 2003-04 and 2007-08, foreign direct investment in the country jumped six and a half times from $2.3 billion a year to $15.4 billion while portfolio investment grew two an a half times from $11.3 billion to $29.5 billion. Over the same period, remittances by the Indian diaspora doubled from $21.6 billion to $41.7 billion. That works out to a $85 billion money trail our sleuths would have had to cover in 2007-08 alone. Discounting, of course the money that enters and exits India's sizeable parallel economy and where most of the funny stuff is likely to be parked.
Not that we do not have gatekeepers. The banking and stock market regulators have the means to track invisibles and hot money. The government, too, has shown it is sensitive to the national security implications of FDI proposals from select parts of the world. What we need is better policing, not more legislation. Legitimate business, sympathetic to security concerns of nation states, can take fright from strong laws that impede commerce. There is eminent merit in the commerce ministry's suggestion that FDI is a hugely expensive method of spreading dirty money in the country. Our security establishment could take the hint and focus its resources and energy on areas that patently hold out greater promise of harbouring drug and terror funds.
BREACH IN THE GREAT FIREWALL
Google stepped out of line on Tuesday. It unplugged itself from the Great Firewall of China and threatened to close shop rather than continue to support Beijing's censorship policies. The provocation was an intrusion of its servers, with an unhealthy interest in the mail accounts of political activists, which was traced back to China.
Google's reaction is a big deal because while MNCs everywhere rail at government restrictions, they support Beijing's policies on bended knee. In China, government censorship has kept pace with the explosion in internet usage. Every internet company is another brick in the Great Firewall, a set of filters which blocks access to content challenging the party line, which Beijing fears may confuse its innocent citizenry.
But it's a losing battle because the free speech movement has created a bouquet of internet services which bypass blockades. It would take a college kid about 15 minutes to learn the ropes and leapfrog the Great Firewall. So smart authoritarians now prefer to keep information flows open, and then tap them. The Google intrusion suggests that China is moving in this direction.
Beijing has been recruiting hackers to fight dissidents since the late 90s, when it was taken aback by their anger at the takeover of Hong Kong. In fact, one of the world's first hacktivist groups was Chinese the Hong Kong Blondes had presented their credentials to Beijing by dramatically shutting down a Chinese communications satellite.
When Google entered China in 2005, it earned brickbats for meekly supporting censorship. It even agreed to block YouTube, where videos critical of China are posted. Now, its offices are receiving bouquets, both real and virtual, for standing up to Beijing. The company's informal motto is 'Don't be Evil' and its co-founder and conscience-keeper Sergey Brin comes of Russian refugee stock. He would naturally support free speech, just as the émigré George Soros supports independent media in the former Soviet Bloc. But there were business motives at play, too. The Chinese search market is valued at about $1 billion, but Google has found it hard to compete with the local leader, Baidu. If it exits China on a free speech issue, its losses will be offset by the goodwill it earns globally.
Even so, it is quite remarkable that Google admitted to being hacked. Like rape, hacker attacks are under-reported for fear of losing face. Millions of dollars are stolen from the global banking system every year, but banks rarely report intrusions. They simply hike banking charges to cover the losses. Like China's firewall, this policy of silence is out of sync with our times, when the right to know has become central.
Knowledge is power. 'Google' is the top new word of the decade. 'Tweet' was the top word of 2009. And incidentally, Google, the world's biggest information retrieval system, could at some point acquire Twitter, the biggest real-time information exchange. These services are politically potent the US government requested a rescheduling of Twitter's maintenance downtime to keep dissidents online during the Iranian presidential elections last year. Governments, corporations and interest groups will always try to manipulate, seduce or bend them to their will. They will have to resist this, and the most powerful weapon in their hands is openness.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine.
firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed by the author are personal.
IDIOT IS AS IDIOT DOES
The movie 3 Idiots has broken all box office records. Raju Hirani, Aamir Khan and Vidhu Vinod Chopra are laughing their way to banks to encash their Rs 300 plus crore. Critics are gushing, audiences cutting across gender and age are packing into theatres in hordes, and declaring that there is no better film. The pressure to enjoy Three Idiots is almost similar to the pressure to enter the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) deviate from the orthodoxy of relentless breathless appreciation and you're likely to flunk the admission test into your family circle or group of friends.
Undoubtedly, 3 Idiots is a wonderfully made film. The superbly talented Aamir Khan always brings energy and innovation to his roles and Raju Hirani is perhaps the Hrishikesh Mukherjee of our times, a master of the art of gentle middle class comedy but told with high tech razzmatazz. Yet, the success of 3 Idiots reveals that we are on our way to becoming brain dead.
The film tells us that India's system of higher education is idiotic, teachers are lisping semi-insane brutes who drive students to suicide, rote learning is always bad and the IITs produce nothing but Lamborghini-chasing mercenaries who are only waiting to land corporate jobs in the US. Is that true? The IITs have produced among others Narayana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, Jairam Ramesh, the whistleblower Satyendra Dubey, Magsaysay Award-winner Sandeep Pandey who served on its faculty, and many among the group that created the inspiring Karadi Tales (the audio story tapes for kids). The IIT winter festival, luminously titled 'Mood Indigo' once showcased how many talented poets and musicians there were among its students!
Of course, the film is a fictionalised version of the IITs, and perhaps a better reflection of the vast number of engineering colleges mushrooming across India, which are indeed soul-less factories where real education is substituted for cramming. And, of course, we are not meant to take 3 Idiots too seriously, as it is after all just about having an escapist laugh and not thinking too much. After all, if you think too much you may discover that 3 Idiots is a dangerous, preachy and sanctimonious film that disdains all forms of hard work; that subliminally condemns studying as a pathetic exercise in rote learning and scorns the sadhna of higher education.
The film establishes that unless you are a naturally gifted scientific genius like Ranchordas Chanchad, there's no point wasting time with your books. Then you're better off singing songs or becoming a wildlife photographer. As if becoming a 'wildlife photographer' is a sweet extracurricular hobby that doesn't require hard work and determination and an equal amount of sadhna.
If we continue to lose our minds over films like 3 Idiots, we will soon become a nation of idiots and will have to hire foreign brains to do our thinking for us because we will be wallowing in hatred of the system and escapist pleasure. In the same vein as 3 Idiots, Mahesh Manjrekar has made a Marathi film titled Shikshanaaka Aicha Gho, which literally translates as 'Screw The Education System'. Do we want to bring up children on the notion that the education system is idiotic and deserves to be screwed?
Of course, there is a need for reform. Of course, there is a need to urgently relieve the pressure and strain. But where does the pressure come from? It comes from vast numbers that apply not necessarily from diabolical teachers and emotionally blackmailing parents. The pressure comes from the fact there are too few IITs, too few medical colleges and too few quality universities. For a country of our size, why is there only a single All India Institute of Medical Sciences? Why aren't there at least ten?
Sure, there are many terrible teachers at our universities. But has any Indian graduate come across a total caricature like Professor Virus? Instead, graduates in India can provide many stories of learned, and inspiring teachers who fought to keep students interest alive, that, often in criminalised and politicised campuses it is the idealistic teacher who is the victim of 'spoilt brat' students who demand high grades and favours through means fair and foul.
The Nehruvian dream which gave us centres of excellence like the IITs and Indian Institutes of Managements (IIMs) should be a source of pride for us. These are institutions that students should aspire to join, not scorn and curse simply because it is fashionable to do so. There is still no substitute for hard work, no substitute for sadhna and no short cuts to academic excellence.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's education reforms for Class 10 board exams are indeed visionary. But caution has to be exercised that urban middle class children are not pampered into thinking that anything that causes 'stress' is evil and should be attacked and, worse, not be even attempted.
Encouraging students to abuse their teachers, hate their books, throw metaphorical tomatoes at all centres of excellence is to encourage an illiterate lumpen rage against anything that isn't dumbed down to the shocking level of intellectual nothingness that we seem to be comforted by these days. If our children cannot use proper grammar, if they cannot spell, if they are unable to sit for examinations, if they are unable to speak a language correctly, if they are unable to study because they are turned off by stress, if they are led to believe that all effort is a waste of time, is this the kind of generation we want to rear as future citizens? Saraswati is a gentle goddess. Maybe we need to change our mode of worship, but let's not disrespect her.
3 Idiots is a fun caper and thoroughly enjoyable. Yet, at the core of the film is a dark and troubling cynicism about the future of India's young. The technicolour fun and games conceals a destructive anger and a condescending disdain for all those across India who may be aspiring to join centres of excellence or study or teach in them. The incredible popularity of the film shows that as a nation we are in no mood to study and are delighted that idiocy is at last legitimate.
Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal.
You only have to study the scorecard to know how thrilling the Ranji final between Karnataka and Mumbai was. Mumbai affirmed their dominance of domestic cricket by lifting the trophy for the 39th time, but they won it by just a six-run margin. And it is worth wagering that had a big international match too been in progress on Thursday, the television audience for the Ranji match would have still been substantial. So, good cricket will always get its viewership, never mind those who doubt the future of the longer forms of the game, or its domestic ties.
But the crowds that packed into the Mysore ground, with folks even finding tree branches to comfortably take in the game, points to another positive. It has been seen before too that the smaller centres respond more enthusiastically to domestic games. There is a case for the BCCI to be more attentive to its different calendars, for international and domestic cricket, for men's and women's matches. When the first season of the Indian Premier League was in progress, a new spectatorship was seen to be cultivated, those who were looking for an entertaining evening out, with good sport and importantly with the expectation that gate money would guarantee comfort. Those spectatorship figures are not to be had for even Test, let alone domestic, cricket. But instead of lingering just on possible reform to keep the spectators interested, perhaps the board needs to consider expanding the map for these matches.
Instead of saturating the big metros with all forms of the game, matches should be where their spectators are. We need more cricket in centres like Mysore, and we need to upgrade these grounds incrementally.
FAITH IN REALITY
Only in India. Those wouldn't have been Karl Marx's exact words, but nonetheless one thread of Marxism's post-independence narrative in India has been the communists' marriage of their materialistic philosophy with a "social reality" with roots stretching thousands of years. Believing Marxists, or whatever you call them, are a "synthesis" no doubt, but perhaps the dialectic in India never entailed a cataclysmic clash of opposing entities. Former Kerala MP K.S. Manoj, a practising Catholic, may have quit the CPM in protest against the directive in the rectification document impinging on religion. But does Prakash Karat's "clarification" indeed surprise? Party members, apparently, should stay away from religious programmes and rituals but they aren't being asked to jettison their faith.
It doesn't quite surprise because Indian Marxists have come a long way even from E.M.S. Namboodiripad not allowing Kerala Congress chief P.J. Joseph from joining the Left Democratic Front without publicly forsaking the clergy. In the 2006 Kerala swearing-in, two CPM MLAs took their oath in the name of god. If communists can court capital, what prevents adherence to both Marxism and religion? Little apparently. The late Subhas Chakraborty too seemed confounded by the party's rebuke over the media circus after his puja at a Birbhum temple in 2006. Yet, that was a gentle rebuke in retrospect, nothing like sure expulsion of the olden days. And yet, instances like Chakraborty and K.S. Manoj show how the Marxist demarcation of "private" faith from "public" ideology is increasingly blurred. Pragmatically, the Left is also afraid of alienating minorities and the bulk of "believing" voters.
Marxist flexibility on religion ties in also with the conversion of revolutionaries to parliamentary democrats. While debates may rage about ideological failure or political opportunism, or on compromises on religion going back to the Indian Left's long history of being led by upper-caste, Hindu men, it's undeniable that in a country with strong socio-religious identities, "borrowed" ideologies have to be recast in a uniquely Indian mould. That's how mainstream Marxism too has lingered in India a continuous, accommodating evolution. And that is why there is always exasperation with the Left's and their fellow travellers' record of obstructionism. Not every "indefensible" can be defended.
The explosion of its mobile phone market is probably the single biggest component of India's extraordinary, and continuing, transformation. Prices have come down to among the lowest in the world; previously unconnected parts of the country are now integrated into the larger economic and social life of India. But, for those benefits to endure, we need to ensure that competition takes root in this sector, not cartelisation; we need to be certain that the big players in the sector are subject to market discipline. And the only way that the market can discipline them is through the use of individual choice. A person should be able, with as little disruption as possible, to move from her current provider to another. In other words, we need number portability, and we need it yesterday.
Which is why news that the March 31 deadline for number portability to start working might not be met should rouse the government from its stupor. (The March 31 deadline was already the product of postponement the original deadline was December 31.) The delay will be caused, reportedly, by "security considerations". Apparently a suspect could "escape monitoring" by "frequently" changing his service provider. This argument, weak on the surface, gets only weaker when subjected to sustained scrutiny. The point that is made is that calls are monitored at the "switching centre" attached to a particular phone company. If the person being monitored changes his company, he changes his switching centre, and the monitoring will have to shift too. But it's not as if this will be happening at some zany, break-neck pace; a suspect won't be dashing back and forth between switching centres like the protagonist of a '40s cartoon, with law enforcement huffing and puffing behind him. No, the act of shifting operators will happen on a defined (and probably leisurely) schedule, leaving more than enough time for the monitoring agency to get its act together.
This has all the hallmarks of an ill-thought out, knee-jerk reaction by some in the security establishment who would prefer to use a slothful veto rather than update their own systems and efficiency. If that is not the case, it should be made transparent how the security agencies are working with the department of telecommunications to make this happen with minimal delay. Nobody denies that security considerations matter in decisions such as these. But the continued effectiveness of India's telecom revolution should not be stifled by state laziness.
OUR HARMED FORCES
Over the past two weeks I have had to field several calls from Pakistani TV channels seeking a comment on what they see as "provocative" statements made by the army chief, General Deepak Kapoor. I give them all one short answer: this is an Indian general thinking aloud, expressing personal views at a semi-academic discussion. The problem is, you are responding as Pakistanis listening to a general. You forget that he is an Indian general, not Pakistani.
The implication is, in one fundamental sense we do not take our generals as seriously as the Pakistanis do because, howsoever radical their views, we know that they do not control larger strategic policy. But, in another fundamental sense, while we do not at all fear our generals, we respect and love them more and that is also partly because we have no concerns over their indulging in extra-constitutional adventurism or mischief, ever. That is something India and its armed forces are so proud of. And that is why the current spectacle of the army chief answering a hall full of sceptical journalists' questions not so much about soldiering or strategy as about sleaze and scandal is so unfortunate. In fact it is doubly unfortunate that it had to happen in his Army Day-eve press conference, and India woke up to headlines of a land 'scam' at the top in the army just when it was displaying its best in ceremonial parades around the country.
I know too little about the so-called land scam in Sukna cantonment (near 33 Corps HQ) in Siliguri to have a view on it. But what I can say without any hesitation is that our system's the army and political leadership's inability to come clear on this early enough has caused enormous damage to the fair name of what still is our finest national institution.
You never want to see your military brass on the defensive, whether facing the enemy, or your own media. But that's how they have been now for several years. Either on the defensive, or complaining, even whining. Sadly, so un-soldierlike. When was the last time you saw a general and I use the words "army" and "general" generically, including all three forces and their commanding ranks talk either grand strategy, modernisation, or unveil a vision for the military? You could go right back to the mid-'80s and may discover that the last time you heard such genuinely military talk was when General Sundarji took over and, by a happy coincidence we had already, in Admiral Tahiliani, a visionary chief of the navy. The air force then had many combat veterans of the 1965-71 vintage at top levels and together the three forces inducted new weapon systems, wrote new doctrines and built confidence, morale and, above all, the sense of dash, adventure and excitement that attracts the finest young people to join the forces.
In recent years, on the other hand, you have seen the top brass complaining in public about pay commission injustices which were mostly justified complaints or about other assorted un-soldierlike inanities or, now, land scams. Frankly, the last time I saw an Indian soldier talk like a soldier was when General Padmanabhan talked to the media at the peak of tension during Operation Parakram.
If, over these past two decades, the armed forces have begun to look and sound like just any other "department" of the government, the fault lies with their own leadership, the civil servants who "control" them, and mostly with the politicians who lead them. Grievances over the pay commission should never have been allowed to fester and the political leadership should not have waited till the brass led by the then navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta had begun washing that dirty linen in public. If you ask them, they will tell you they had good reason to do so, and if they hadn't, obvious, hurtful injustices would not have been reversed. I disagreed with their method, but in substance they are mostly right.
But why did the political leadership let it drift? The last thing you want to do is distract your soldiers by open, bureaucratic-style spats, or force them to take their grievances public, like any other exploited section of our society. Nobody moved in time to comfort them, to even give them cover when ex-servicemen took the grievances public. The generals, not clever enough and not expected to be so to fight a war through the media, were hung out to dry by the political leadership while the bureaucracy quietly sniggered on the sidelines.
This is exactly what is happening now with the Sukna "scandal". This is just the kind of situation where the defence minister, secretary, somebody should have taken charge and convinced the nation that its army and its defence ministry had the institutional strength, ethos and a strong enough ethical foundation to deal with the issue rather than, once again, leaving it to the chief himself. India has had a healthy tradition of keeping the institution of the chief above public controversy. Even when problems arose, these were sorted out internally, without making an ugly public spectacle, except in the Krishna Menon phase of skulduggery which lost us the 1962 war. We have forgotten that. But the larger state of our armed forces has begun to resemble 1962.
Of course, some of the more garrulous recent chiefs have not helped. But where is the political leadership? Missing in action? I am sorry if that sounds like a cheap shot. But what is one to say when this country has had such uninspiring political leadership for its armed forces for so long, starting with George Fernandes who saw himself as more a senapati by himself and Siachen Glacier as his only charge and a permanent photo-op. Or now A.K. Antony under whose leadership the brass has got caught in ugly public situations twice already, over the pay commission and Sukna. Or, under whom almost all major acquisitions have got delayed by half to a full decade.
And these are things we need desperately, desperately: new guns for an artillery which has not ordered one since 1987, air-defence missiles without which the navy's newest, finest capital assets are left naked to air attacks, new fighters for an air force which is down to 32 squadrons from 45. The defence minister's, and probably even the UPA's, primary objective is to complete yet another tenure without any arms purchase scandal. That is why the tiniest whiff of a controversy leads to cancellation of trials and even tenders. If you are as old as I am, or a pucca cricket enthusiast, you will know Bapu Nadkarni, an all-rounder who became famous setting a record with his gentle left-arm spin that will now never be broken: 29 overs, 26 maidens, and no wickets for three runs. Even when he batted, he scored at a somewhat similar pace. Perhaps in the spirit of those times for Indian cricket, he always played for a draw. Antony has now become the Bapu Nadkarni of Indian politics, and certainly so in his tenure as Raksha Mantri. It is causing a drift, jeopardising India's military strength and, institutionally, undermining the armed forces.
Our serving generals will never question the political leadership. But deep down when they see their leaders waffle, play safe and distant, it feeds right into their soldiers' disdain for the lazy, cowardly civilian. And then they begin to make mistakes. We still have one of the finest, most loyal, disciplined armies in the world, willing to follow its orders and, most important of all, take casualties. They deserve better leadership, both from within, and definitely from the political class.
RETURN OF THE MAHARASHTRIANS
A few months ago, when some Marathi newspapers began speculating that Maharashtra BJP President Nitin Gadkari was tipped to become the national president of the party, political circles in the state found it amusing, and most dismissed it as another instance of media kite-flying. It was considered wishful thinking by Gadkari's supporters, who were thought to be trying to boost his image vis-à-vis Gopinath Munde. The two groups had been at loggerheads in the state unit of the party and Munde had even quit in 2008 saying he had been sidelined, but was dissuaded from doing so.
Munde had been elected to the Lok Sabha and seemed to be gaining clout, being the most successful mass leader of the BJP in the state. So the speculation about Gadkari being made the national chief of the party was obviously hard to digest then. How can it be Gadkari, they asked. He had no mass base, had never won any election, lacked a pan-India appeal and in the 2009 state assembly polls contested under his leadership, the BJP had won only 46 seats, down from 54 in 2004.
Eventually, it became clear that there were other things that the party considered more important. The party apparently wanted a young leader with strong RSS grooming to lead it. And Gadkari a Brahmin from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra became the first person from the state to head the BJP. But his elevation from the post of the Maharashtra president to national president may not have gone down well with a section of party leaders from the Hindi-speaking belt who have largely been dominating party affairs and consider it their privilege to provide leadership.
On the other hand, Gadkari's promotion has delighted a large section of partymen in the state as he is the first person from Maharashtra to head the party, which is expected to increase their proximity to the powers that be. Several of them, who are in the BJP and the RSS, are already nursing ambitions of playing a larger role in national politics. Another reason for the jubilation is that with both party stalwarts from the state Gadkari and Munde in national politics, there would be little time for squabbles back home.
Some observers also feel that Gadkari's choice would not only provide a younger face to the party, but also increase the importance of Maharashtrian Brahmins in national politics. The RSS has its origins and headquarters in Maharashtra. Its founder, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, was vice-president of the Hindu Mahasabha founded by freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. After being run by leaders from the northern states, the BJP hopes that it would have more strategists (including official and private advisors) from Maharashtra to rejuvenate the party as well as the RSS.
While Gadkari may not have won an election or attracted large crowds, his reputation of being a hardcore RSS man who has succeeded in setting up successful business ventures and changed the face of Mumbai by constructing flyovers to ease traffic congestion is being cited within party circles to indicate that the BJP may just have found its man of the moment.
They also expect that choosing Gadkari would attract young volunteers to the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP. Being a successful businessman, he is expected to tackle issues dear to the heart of the younger generation, like education and employment.
In Maharashtra, the BJP's alliance with the Shiv Sena, that ruled the state from 1995 to 1999, was mainly run in its years of success by its primary architect, Pramod Mahajan, who had direct access to Bal Thackeray.
After Mahajan's murder, the BJP and Sena relations have been strained on several occasions. The allies have squabbled over sharing of seats and policy issues such as whether Maharashtra should be split to create a separate Vidarbha the BJP is in favour, the Sena isn't. With Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) emerging as a formidable rival by breaking the monopoly of the Sena, the BJP is expected to have one more option in future polls. And Gadkari could find himself at the centre of this process as well.
'LASHKAR MEMBER DISPLAYED TO HEADLEY A STYROFOAM MOCKUP OF THE TAJ MAHAL HOTEL'
The indictment refers to some LeT terrorists whose names have been with-held. "Lashkar Member A" was a resident of Pakistan associated with Lashkar who supervised others associated with Lashkar and served as a "handler" for defendant HEADLEY and others who were directed to carry out actions relating to planning, preparing for, and carrying out terrorist attacks on behalf of Lashkar. "Lashkar Member B" was a resident of Pakistan associated with Lashkar who trained others in combat techniques for use in terrorist attacks. "Lashkar Member C" was a resident of Pakistan and one of Lashkar's commanders. "Lashkar Member D" was a resident of Pakistan and one of Lashkar's commanders. "Person A" was a resident of Pakistan who participated in planning and funding attacks carried out by Lashkar.
Preparation for the Surveillance Trips
.... in or about late 2005, Lashkar Member A, Lashkar Member B, and Lashkar Member D advised defendant DAVID COLEMAN HEADLEY that HEADLEY would be travelling to India to perform surveillance of potential targets for attack by Lashkar, and recommended that HEADLEY take steps to conceal his association with Pakistan and his Muslim religion during his travels in India... in or about February 2006, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, defendant HEADLEY changed his given name of "Daood Gilani" to "David Coleman Headley" in order to facilitate his activities on behalf of Lashkar by enabling him to present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani... in or about the spring of 2006, Lashkar Member A and Lashkar Member D discussed with defendant HEADLEY the idea that HEADLEY could open an immigration office in Mumbai, India, as a cover for his surveillance activities in India... in or about June 2006, defendant HEADLEY travelled to Chicago, Illinois, advised Tahawwur Hussain Rana of his assignment to perform surveillance for potential targets in India, and obtained Rana's approval for opening a First World office in Mumbai, India, as cover for these activities. Rana directed an individual associated with First World to prepare documents to support HEADLEY's cover story with respect to the opening of a First World office in Mumbai, and advised HEADLEY regarding how to obtain a visa for travel to India. In applying for his visa for travel to India, HEADLEY misrepresented his birth name, father's true name, and the purpose for his travel ...in or about July 2006, Person A provided to defendant HEADLEY approximately $25,000 to, among other purposes, establish and operate the Mumbai office of First World and pay for living expenses while defendant HEADLEY carried out his assignments for Lashkar.
The Surveillance Trips
...in or about September 2006, February 2007, September 2007, April 2008, and July 2008, defendant HEADLEY traveled to Mumbai, India for extended periods for the purpose of conducting surveillance of possible targets of attacks by Lashkar, using his association with First World as cover for his travels. Prior to HEADLEY's departure for each of these trips, Lashkar Member A, Person A and others, instructed HEADLEY regarding locations where he was to conduct video surveillance in and around Mumbai, India, as well as other locations in India. After each trip, HEADLEY travelled to Pakistan, where he met with Lashkar Member A, Person A and persons associated with Lashkar to report on the results of his surveillance, and provided Lashkar Member A and Person A with photographs and videos from the surveillance.
The September 2006 Surveillance in India
...prior to defendant HEADLEY's surveillance activities in India starting in or about September 2006, Lashkar Member A and Person A instructed HEADLEY to get settled in India, including by opening the business and obtaining an apartment, and to take photographs and make videos of various locations of public significance in India, including but not limited to, the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai ...It was further part of the conspiracy that in or about November 2006, defendant HEADLEY opened the Mumbai office of First World for the purpose of providing cover for his travel and activities in India on behalf of Lashkar ...
The February 2007 Surveillance in India
... prior to defendant HEADLEY's surveillance activities in India starting in or about February 2007, Lashkar Member A and Person A separately instructed HEADLEY to conduct surveillance of the second floor of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, specifically including the conference rooms and ballrooms ...in or about February 2007, defendant HEADLEY conducted surveillance on behalf of Lashkar, including taking pictures and making videotapes, of various targets in India, including but not limited to the Taj Mahal hotel (where he made detailed videos of the second floor conference rooms and ballrooms), and the Oberoi hotel, both in Mumbai...
The September 2007 Surveillance in India
...prior to defendant HEADLEY's surveillance activities in India starting in or about September 2007, Lashkar Member A and Person A separately instructed HEADLEY to conduct further surveillance of the second floor of the Taj Mahal hotel, specifically including the conference rooms, and to obtain schedules of future conferences at the hotel ...starting in or about September 2007, defendant HEADLEY conducted surveillance, including taking pictures and making videotapes, of various targets in India, including but not limited to the Taj Mahal hotel. In addition, HEADLEY attempted to obtain a schedule of conferences to be held at the Taj Mahal hotel ...following these surveillance activities, defendant HEADLEY traveled to Pakistan, where he met with Lashkar Member A and Person A, and provided them with accounts of his surveillance. HEADLEY provided photographs and videos taken during the surveillance to Lashkar Member A and Person A. During one of HEADLEY's meetings with persons associated with Lashkar, Lashkar Member A displayed to HEADLEY a styrofoam mockup of the Taj Mahal hotel. During a meeting with Person A, HEADLEY was provided with approximately $2,000 worth of Indian currency for expenses in connection with HEADLEY's activities in India.
The April 2008 Surveillance in India
...in or about March 2008, defendant HEADLEY met with Lashkar Members A and B and other persons associated with Lashkar, and discussed potential landing sites for a team of attackers who would arrive in Mumbai by sea. In or about March 2008, Lashkar Member A and other persons associated with Lashkar instructed HEADLEY to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbour and to take surveillance video of various locations. Lashkar Member A also provided HEADLEY with approximately $1000 worth of Indian currency to use for his expenses in Mumbai ...in or about March or April 2008, Lashkar Members A and B provided defendant HEADLEY with a global positioning system (GPS) device. Lashkar Members A and B showed HEADLEY how to enter locations into the GPS device and instructed him to use it to record the locations of possible landing sites...
The July 2008 Surveillance in India
...prior to defendant HEADLEY's surveillance activities in India starting in or about July 2008, Lashkar Member A instructed HEADLEY to conduct further surveillance of various locations in Mumbai using the GPS device, which was returned to HEADLEY. Lashkar Members A and B discussed with HEADLEY the need to do further surveillance of the Taj Mahal hotel and landing points for the attackers, including videotaping the route from a police station to the Taj Mahal hotel. Both Lashkar Member A and Person A separately instructed HEADLEY to conduct videotape surveillance of the Chabad House, a Jewish community centre located in Mumbai ...in or about June 2008, Person A provided to defendant HEADLEY additional funds in the amount of approximately $1,500 worth of Indian currency to keep open the First World office in Mumbai, but approved closing that office in the future and opening a new business in Delhi, India, to be used as cover for future activities by HEADLEY ...in or about July 2008, defendant HEADLEY conducted surveillance, including taking pictures and making videotapes, of various targets, including but not limited to, the Taj Mahal hotel, the Chabad House, the Chhatarapati Shivaji Terminus train station, the Leopold Café and various landing sites, and entered various locations into the GPS device ...while defendant HEADLEY was in India for the purpose of conducting surveillance starting in or about July 2008, Person A communicated with HEADLEY by passing messages to HEADLEY through Tahawwur Hussain Rana...
The Training of the Attackers
...in or about July and August 2008, Lashkar Member B and others were training a number of young men in Pakistan in various skills and tactics to be used in carrying out terrorist attacks in Mumbai, including combat tactics, room entry, hostage rescue, nautical training and swimming.
The November 2008 Attacks
...during the course of attacks in Mumbai, the attackers were in telephonic contact with Lashkar Members A, B and C, all of whom were then located in Pakistan. More specifically, during the course of the attacks, the attackers were advised to, among other actions, kill hostages and throw grenades. Lashkar Member A also sought to arrange the release of a hostage in exchange for the release of a captured attacker ...following the November 2008 attacks, Person A advised HEADLEY to avoid contact with him until further notice and to remove any incriminating materials from his home in Pakistan ...in or about March 2009, defendant HEADLEY conducted surveillance of various targets in India, including but not limited to, the National Defence College in Delhi and Chabad Houses in several cities in India ...the members of the conspiracy concealed, misrepresented and hid, and caused to be concealed, misrepresented, and hidden, the existence and purpose of the conspiracy and the acts done in furtherance of the conspiracy."
THE RIDDLE OF MUSLIM 'SLEEPERS'
Despite the total absence of evidence, the belief persists that the sea-borne Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 could not have been executed without a group of Indian Muslims guiding and assisting the Pakistani terrorists.
Until now this was mere speculation in gyms and coffee houses, or the subject of tendentious reports in the foreign media. But in New Delhi this week at an India-Pakistan peace conference, the eminent Lahore lawyer and politician Aitzaz Ahsan emphatically propounded the view that the 10 Lashkar terrorists were helped by several local facilitators. "It's very hard to make a Pakistani believe that the plan could have been executed without local help," Ahsan said. "You're trying just one (Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving Lashkar gunman), but there were 20, 40, 50 handlers and facilitators over here and none have been arrested." I put it to Ahsan that as a distinguished lawyer he would not make such an assertion without evidence. So where was it? "I'm sure there's evidence," he responded. "I'm positive. I can't believe 10 aliens can take over a city without local support. If Indians are buying this, I'm a little surprised."
It's a strange argument coming from a sophisticated legal mind. What Ahsan is saying is: "I have no evidence of a local hand behind Mumbai 26/11. But since I believe there was a local hand, the evidence has got to be there."
Well, it's not there. On the contrary, there is clear circumstantial evidence to indicate that after landing at the Badhwar Park fishing village, the 10 Pakistani gunmen acted entirely on their own.
It was very easy for them to access four target locations, by boat or taxi the Oberoi and Taj hotels, Leopold restaurant and CST train station. The difficult one was the Chabad Jewish centre tucked inside Colaba village. This is where the reconnaissance by the clever David Headley proved critical. The selection of the landing site was a masterstroke. Even a Saraiki Punjab peasant would've been able to follow the directions to Chabad House from there after landing, cross the main road, turn right, look for a gap in the wall, enter the narrow passage and walk straight until you reach the Jewish centre.
Where Headley failed was in imagining that the CST had an accessible upper floor after office hours. Since Kasab and his cohort had instructions to kill people on the train concourse and retreat to a higher floor, they were lost. This is when assistance from local "sleepers" would have been critical. The Lashkar duo could have easily been whisked away by a local handler to the congested Muslim locality nearby, never to be seen again. Or they could have been guided to one of the hotels to join their fellow jihadis. Instead, they knocked around dark alleys and terrorised women and children at a maternity hospital. And drove frantically around the city in hijacked vehicles until Kasab was nabbed.
It is Kasab's capture that complicated matters. He is a flesh-and-blood Pakistani, not a frayed document that could be refuted as fake. After the initial denial, intelligent opinion-makers like Ahsan had to accept that a Pakistani was the aggressor. But the dominant narrative for Pakistanis is the idea of being victims of the wily Hindus before and after Partition, and increasingly now of the unreliable and evil Americans.
Coupled with this deep-rooted belief is an even more fundamental conviction that Pakistan was created as a homeland and refuge for the subcontinent's Muslims. It follows from this that the Muslims left behind in India are a disinherited and perennially persecuted minority, indiscriminately slaughtered, their mosques destroyed, their women raped. Enough has happened after Partition to sustain the idea that Pakistanis and the larger South Asian Muslim ummah are the historic victims. Bangladesh 1971 and Gujarat 2002 came as seminal events. And both have helped justify violence as retribution. I remember the stupefied look of a foreign ministry official in Islamabad in December 1988 when over a drink I mischievously asked, "So when are you guys going to take revenge for Bangladesh in Kashmir?" How was I to know that plans for the armed Kashmir insurgency were already underway?
Yale University's Khurram Hussain argues that the "primary reference" for Pakistanis today is not the 1947 Partition but Bangladesh and "the traumatic vivisection of the country" in 1971. Indians misconstrue Pakistan's national ethos by their failure to recognise this essential truth, he says. But how has Bangladesh changed the template? Even Hussain seems to go along with the acceptance by "the intellectual classes in Pakistan" of the violence in Kashmir as retribution.
But the bloodshed is getting worse. And more hazardous. Hussain continues with his eloquent defence in Outlook weekly: "It is for this same reason (the psychic fallout of Bangladesh) that there was no great outcry about the ISI's supposed involvement in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The general sense among the educated elites was that India deserved it for trying to "encircle" Pakistan through Afghanistan."
With Mumbai 26/11, the jihadis have taken the idea of defending an Islamic state and extracting historic vengeance several notches higher. But since New Delhi did not react with a military offensive, this has created a moral vacuum for Pakistan's "education elites". Initial attempts to cast the Mumbai atrocity as the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen bomber group out to further avenge the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom led to a dead end. How then to condemn it while at the same time evading responsibility and guilt? By insisting, as Ahsan does, that there were "20, 40, 50 local handlers and facilitators" who are not being arrested. In other words, since Mumbai 26/11, unlike the Kashmir violence, cannot be rationalised within Hussain's Bangladesh 1971 paradigm, then try and link it to Gujarat 2002 and the thirst for revenge by Indian Muslim extremists.
But why would the Mumbai Police, who bravely nabbed Kasab, not arrest these local facilitators? After all, barely two months before 26/11 they had cracked the Indian Mujahideen, some of whose members were trained by the LeT in Pakistan.
I breached Indo-Pak etiquette and harassed Ahsan for an answer while he was at a private dinner, since his perceptions are an important window into the thinking of the Pakistani elite. "It's baffling. There's a lot of cynicism with the way things have been done," is all he said.
But one can try and guess the answer: the Mumbai Police is covering up the involvement of Indian Muslims in 26/11 in order to put all the blame on Pakistanis. What's truly worrisome is Ahsan using the "local facilitators" theory to justify Islamabad's inertia in quickly and effectively dealing with the LeT handlers back home. Pakistanis still fail to recognise that there's no going back from Mumbai 26/11. If relations between India and Pakistan are to move forward, there has to be some minimum accountability. Otherwise, only the violent religious fanatics on both sides of the border will prosper. To quote a line from Ahsan's rousing poem that ended the peace conference, "Saari duniya poochch rahi thi, Bolo ab tum saath ho kiske"
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist
target killings and arson, which dominated the headlines. Violence between the nationally dominant Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the locally vocal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), also an ally of PPP, caused the highest offices of the country to step in and call for peace.
Daily Times reported on January 11: "PPP and MQM... agreed on a future course of action against 'common enemies' in Karachi, in a bid to defuse tensions between the two parties...'Our friends agreed with us that the nature of the ongoing violence is not religious, political or ethnic,' Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said after a meeting between PPP and MQM He said some gangs wanted to destabilise Karachi because it was the hub of Pakistan's economic activities. 'It is our resolve to uncover the enemies by ... mutual coordination... Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the 'drug mafia, land grabbers, illegal immigrants, gangsters and criminals' were involved in the violence. He said these were 'not isolated incidents ... they are an extension of terrorism in Waziristan, Swat and other parts of Pakistan." Dawn added: "By the time the meeting ended, at least 10 people had been gunned down in the city, taking the death toll in four days of violence to more than 35."
Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan reached Islamabad to face a volley of questions on Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor's "war threat" against Pakistan and America's new policy to separately examine travellers of Pakistani origin at American airports.
Daily Times quoted Holbrooke: "What [Indian Army chief] General Kapoor said does not reflect the Indian national policy...He acknowledged Pakistan's security concerns were legitimate." The other reply was reported by The News: "I am sorry for this. I am sorry this is causing concerns, but these (enhanced security screenings) are not discriminatory against Pakistanis. Pakistan is not being singled out. Even I am subjected to screening when I travel in my personal capacity."
In what may turn out to be the first significant punitive action against the largest American financial institutions (top 50), US President Barack Obama has proposed a new tax to be levied on the liabilities held by banks (except FDIC-assessed deposits). The tax is proposed to be levied at a rate of 0.15% with the twin aim of recouping some of the government-financed bailout packages and preventing excessive leverage by the largest financial institutions. Of course, there is no guarantee that the US Congress, particularly the Senate, will allow such a tax. Several legitimate questions can indeed be asked about this proposal, which while satisfying the needs of populist politics (bankers must be punished) may not at best achieve the financial and regulatory goals it is supposed to. For one, the proposed tax will impose a heavy cost on major banksit is, for example, expected to cost JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America $1.5 billion each. While the biggest banks and financial institutions have made a comeback, it is far from clear if they are anywhere near the kind of profitability and strength that they had before the crisis. Imposing a tax on them now may set back the financial system's recovery process. Also, a tax on liabilities may force banks to rein in lending, something the US economy can ill-afford as it limps back to recovery. Needless to say, the tax will ensure that banking stocks take a beating, not an ideal scenario for a period when confidence is a precious commodity.
The government, of course, hopes to collect around $90 billion over 10 years with this levy. But if banks lose profitability over that period, the government stands to lose some amount in general taxation. There is also the danger that banks and financial institutions will resort to methods to evade the levy, thereby defeating the government's aim. It is also highly debatable whether a tax on liabilities is the best way to ensure less risk taking. Less distortionary methods like ensuring higher capital adequacy ratios, and creating transparency in the working of derivative financial instruments, would be superior alternatives. In fact, if the tax is seen as an alternative to these options, risk will not be mitigated. The problem, of course, is politicalObama is under pressure to do something about bankers who are still making 'obscene' bonuses. Here, too, things may be changing without the heavy hand of the government. A number of prominent investment banks, including Goldman Sachs are voluntarily moving to give a greater proportion of bonus in either stock options or cash over longer time horizons than just a year. That may satisfy some of the populist thirst.
MINISTERS IN STATE OF LIMBO
PM Manmohan Singh has called a meeting with ministers of state on January 19. In UPA's second term, this will be the first occasion for the PM to focus on the work of his junior ministers. There are 38 of them in the 78-strong council of ministers. There are also seven ministers of state with independent charge who are expected to attend the meeting with Singh as well. A news story in The Indian Express on Friday brought to the forefront the plight of junior ministers in UPA-2. Whatever the work assigned to them may be on paper, the fact of the matter is that they have little functional autonomy. Even most of the 'young Turks' that have been in the limelight are serving up little more than photo-ops. Cabinet ministers usually retain exclusive control over both policymaking and financial powers. For example, take Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is into his second stint as minister of state. He works in a high-profile ministry and with a high-profile Cabinet minister. But even in the case of the subjects that have been specifically allocated to Scindia, an official circular reads that all issues relating to policy, the Cabinet, Cabinet committees and consultative committees (that is practically everything) shall be submitted to the Cabinet minister by the minister of state. The fact of the matter is that in most important ministries the Cabinet minister cannot possibly give adequate attention to all the matters, and so it should also be in the senior minister's interest to devolve worksome senior ministers may have indeed done so, but it's far from a general trend.
A brief flashback to May 2009 when the council of ministers was announced reminds us how, despite the fact that the electorate appeared to have delivered a decisive mandate in its favour, UPA-2 took an inordinately long time to announce the final list. What we got then was India's biggest Cabinet in 10 years, which didn't send out an especially muscular signal about the government meaning business on the expenditure front. The only thing that justifies such munificence in lean times is that all ministers put in a lot of worksenior ministers devolving power to junior ones who, in turn, deliver focused and valuable innovations. Otherwise, you end up with a cheerless subversion of good governance. It's such a sub-optimal situation that the council of ministers finds itself in today. One can only hope that, after the January 19 meeting, the PM will persuade his Cabinet colleagues to give their junior ministers more meaningful roles.
MOVING TO SEGMENTED
Some time ago I met the head of a food multinational, which shall not be named for obvious reasons. After the regular questions, I veered to a less-trodden territorywhy is the brand ignoring a huge segment of India's population, the 160 million Muslims, with the apparent lack of any kosher products in its portfolio? To my surprise, the chief was candid enough to admit that all of the company's products were indeed kosher! Apparently, they weren't advertising the fact due to the fear of any backlash from the rabble-rousers from other 'religions'.
Now the market for kosher food is worth hundreds of billions, over $20 billion in the US alone. Marketers in the US revel in the country's diversity, with products and communication directed at ethnic groups. In India, isn't it strange that there is not even a single local kosher food brand of note? Though the fear of divisive politics is responsible for the lack of community-based marketing segmentation, Indian marketers' lack of application on new segments stems from other reasons, too.
Marketers, of anything from soaps, shampoos, food to durables, have all this while relied on virtually century-old segments in usage, education, income, occasion, awareness etc, to target consumers. Some brave ones got into psychographic segmentation, constructing elaborate models of consumer behaviour, and basing their marketing efforts on it. But with the potential of easy picks in urban elite consumer over, and competition fierce, the sales pitch based on these constructed segments will begin to ring hollow.
In their attempt to grow, marketers will perforce push the segmentation envelope, and hopefully, in the process reflect and leverage the demographic reality of the country better than they have in the past. It's not just community-based segmentation that has been ignored, but even gender and ethnic groups have got the short shrift as big naturally existing segments. In the name of region-based segmentation, all one had till now was a sporadic attempt in a Punjabi aata or vegetarian toothpaste targeted at Gujaratis.
Take working women as a segment, for instance. Now there are over 2.7 million educated working women in urban India, those belonging to the top-most socio-economic class (SEC) A, according to analysis done for this paper by New Delhi-based analytics firm Indicus Analytics. Though India, with all its age-old gender-led prejudices, is far off from say the US, where last year women outnumbered men at the workplace for the first time, the narrative of the educated working women with all its concomitant symbolismfemale empowerment, gender equalityhas been a strong cultural narrative for Indians across cities and villages.
But sadly, most consumer goods marketers have reduced this powerful narrative to 'rushing to office' and/or 'juggling home-and-office' stereotype of the working woman in their advertising to hawk anything from appliances to food brands. Surely, a segment of 2.7 million working women in urban India, over 8 lakh in four metros and Bangalore alone, with money to back her consumption-led desires deserves better treatment than meted out presently by marketers in India.
Ditto with teenagers. For all the talk of India being a young country with a sizeable population under 18 years of age, one would be hard pressed to name even a handful of Indian youth brands. No prizes for guessing why, for marketers never saw the logic of separately addressing this segmentbarring an exception or twowhen everyone can be painted with the same brush, and the only criteria that mattered were income and locationmetro, town or village.
The stirrings of an epochal change though are becoming visible. Caught between the pincer of fast saturating urban markets and a bare-bone tariff war, telecom operators are beginning to push the envelope on segmentation, with migrants becoming a big target for most, what with their typical need for calling up their folks back in the villages, 'corridor calling' in industry lingo. In fact migrantswhose numbers run into millions, a huge segment in a country like India that is moving from its agrarian roots to urbanisationare becoming big market for everyone from telcos to real-estate players. Tata Housing's Shubh Griha low-cost urban housing project counts migrants as its key segment.
Indicus lists 33 relatively unexplored ones just based on SEC and lifestage in urban India. And we haven't even started taking ethnicity into consideration here. Though rural India remains a growth beacon for a host of products or services, rising consumption here too will demand a finer slicing soon. True, some new segments will come unstuck, like the much-talked Rurbanurban dwellers with rural mindsetsand we may be some time away before marketers start attempting any overt community-based segmentation. But surely, a country and market as diverse as India deserves a much more nuanced segmentation approach.
FACILITATE BIG TICKET INVESTMENT
The very first statement from the industry as 2010 rolled in was from LN Mittal, who questioned India's ability to handle big projects. The second was a non-statement: both The Financial Express and The Indian
Express reported the Ratan Tata-led Investment Commission's plan to shut shop.
There is another set of news this week. The latest data on US residential and shopping mall occupancy shows a 30-year low. Simultaneously, the US Bureau of Labour Statistics has shown a dip in creation of new jobs. How does it affect India? Numbers of those magnitude can only mean a renewed weakening of the recovery in the US equity markets and of the US dollar.
The corollary is a fresh surge of inflow of funds into the Indian market. As January opened, the total inflow of foreign funds into India reached $1.04 billion, coming on top of a record $17.4 billion in calendar year 2009. India will not, of course, be the only emerging market to benefit, but numbers like a projected 7.75% growth rate of GDP for 2009-10 and a billion-plus population with an average age of 23 years are difficult to match.
These are the very notes the government will play on, especially during January, and at the mecca of investors, the World Economic Forum in Davos. One is inclined to agree with the story.
If you want to know why the India story is playing out so well, the best one can do is take a ride to the most backward district of Haryana, Jhajjar. The town, an expected backwater, has developed a peculiar problem of lateshortage of residential accommodation.
The reasons are two power projects coming up around the town. One is a 1,500-MW plant being built as a three-way venture between NTPC, the state power utility and the Delhi government. The other one is spearheaded by China Light Power for a 1,320-MW plant. The town is flooded with employees of the companies, including several Chinese workers who need places to stay. It is a remarkable sight. Obviously the rub-on impact on the other sectors makes all this a welcome development for the area.
This is also the reason why the India story often goes sour. Investments of this scale mean massive changes on the ground as in case of Jhajjar. The contours of the town are already melting into a new city. So are identities, land rights and often culture. Such developments create tension along with opportunities. The state has to manage these tensions and create a way out for the money to flow in. A civil dispute can easily morph into a general conflict.
These are the reasons why Mittal makes the point that other large investors want to make as well. Tata said almost the same thing in an interview with FE. The main mandate for the Investment Commission was to be the facilitator for FDI in and out of India. But with a problem like Singur running in the backyard, Tata must have often found it hard to convince the investors that their money was safe in the land.
So, here is the problem. For the political establishment, portfolio investments are fine as they happen in the entrails of the NSE and BSE. But here the regulators get concerned at the fast pace of inflows, as happened in 2009 and threatens to happen in 2010. They have gone on record saying FDI is preferable.
But when FDI comes, it will transform villages and towns. Those developments in turn are anathema to politicians and segments of the civil society. So, it seems that Mittal does have a point. India has to make up its mind if it wants investments of the sort that big projects entail. The companies and promoters can only bring in the money and technology. Preparing society for changes in lifestyle is a very important component of making the investments work. And this is something only the government can do. In 2010, conservative estimates have pitched the possible FDI coming into India at over $30 billion. The sum is more than what India has raised as FDI in more than a decade. Managing the fortunes of so much investment has to be the government's priority for quite some years now. For instance, we had set up a Foreign Investment Implementation Authority to network with state governments to get clearances. It is necessary to change its mandate to get these problems sorted out as they arise. To get an idea of how significant the benefits are, just consider that the combined power capacity of the two Jhajjar projects is almost double what Haryana currently produces.
Ministers and their friends, in meetings with business journalists, often accuse us of being soft on industry and picking on the government's misdeeds. The government is a soft target, is the general complaint. What they overlook is that problems like these are squarely in the domain of the government. Industry is part of the solution and not the problem in the first place.
Lovers of mythology believe that the world's first aquarium was made in India. But India lays claim to less than 1% of the global trade in ornamental fish worth around $20 billion. Indian policymakers and fish export organisations, led by the Union commerce ministry's Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), want to convert this growing, job-oriented, small investment, and export-oriented business into a livelihood security enterprise through a 'revolution'. The plan is to cash in on India's rich diversity of ornamental fish and varied agro-climatic conditions suitable for their captive breeding, building these into a sustainable export business. Ornamental fish-keeping is the second biggest hobby in the world after photography. The market for it is vast in India and in West Asia, Europe, US and Japan.
MPEDA's effort to fast track exports by setting up a network of 7,200 ornamental fish breeding farms, including both native and imported stocks, across India is to gain momentum. So far it has been able to set up about 300 units to breed 70 million fish. Exports in 2008-09 have been only worth $1.2 million. KV Thomas, the Union minister of state for agriculture, whose ministry also covers fisheries, said in Chennai recently that exports of ornamental fish could reach $50 million by 2012 and $100 million by 2016with a slew of development plans initiated by MPEDA, the National Fisheries Development Board, private entrepreneurs and FDI.
The first significant FDI in the ornamental fish sector has been by Jodi Fisheries, a joint venture between Joseph Itzkovich, an Israeli consultant who knows the ornamental fish potential in India, and Didier Gendre, a French investor. Itzkovich says ornamental fish breeding and exports, though an immensely high potential business, need patience and perseverance. It cannot be fast tracked or revolutionised. Jodi aims to make Chennai an export hub of ornamental fish varieties bred in units all over India.
Liberal bank finance and other infrastructure support for breeders and exporters need to be ensured.
Haiti, a small, impoverished Caribbean nation, is slowly coming to terms with the calamitous earthquake of January 12, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale and was followed by several powerful aftershocks. The toll on human life is estimated at 45,000-50,000 by the Red Cross. With reports of hundreds of bodies piled high outside mortuaries and hospitals, and survivors sleeping among the dead for a fourth successive night, rescue efforts face a big challenge. Most heart- rending is the plight of children, who comprise over 40 per cent of the population of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Haitian President René Préval described the loss of life and the near-total infrastructural damage as "unimaginable," adding that parliament, the national palace, the tax office, schools, hospitals, and the main prison had collapsed. The damage was heightened by the fact that the quake struck the densely populated area around the capital, comprising nearly three million people in rudimentary slum dwellings that entirely lacked earthquake-resistant construction.
The response of the international community to the terrible humanitarian crisis has been empathetic: the United States has promised $100m, 3,500 troops, and 2,200 marines to help with relief efforts; Britain has pledged £6.15m; France, Spain, and China have joined the effort, sending funds, supplies, and manpower. India must do its part, coming up with a generous assistance package. Yet there are severe problems in reaching aid to the people. While relief efforts are focussed on the immediate tasks of rescuing trapped survivors and providing them with the basics, the post-disaster agenda in the months ahead will be about helping them piece together their shattered lives. The recovery plan must also address the larger challenge of institution-building in one of the most misgoverned and politically volatile nations in the western hemisphere. External, especially U.S., involvement must not exacerbate instability in the coup-laden, dictatorship-prone politics of Haiti. If this troubled nation is to cope better with natural disasters an imperative given its proximity to the Pacific Ring of Fire democracy and responsive governance must take root. Only then will it be possible to lift Haitians out of crippling poverty and rebuild the country's wrecked infrastructure. In particular, it is vital that future housing construction is in line with best practice in earthquake-proofing for example using the lessons on retrofitting structures that came out of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and Haiti's institutional capacity for disaster response is upgraded.
INCLUSIVE HERITAGE CITIES
There is a lesson or two for Indian cities in the United Nations Development Programme's initiative to conserve the Rimac neighbourhood, a World Heritage site, of Lima in Peru. This is perhaps the first time a conservation project is attempting to improve, in a major way, the "precarious conditions" of the poor who inhabit a historical area. Continuous neglect has turned the two-century-old core of Lima, known as the 'City of Kings,' into a bl ighted area. The challenge was to preserve the historical character without displacing the poor migrant residents. Consistent pro-poor efforts have paid off and legislation was recently adopted to confer property rights on the residents of Rimac. This UNDP initiative has the potential to change entrenched opinion that views heritage as an elite preserve and approaches conservation as a way of gentrifying a place. Conservation is problematic when the sole and obsessive concern is to keep the buildings in museum conditions and 'beautify' the area. It turns worse when the poor are either directly evicted or the value of the site is so enhanced that the rentals and property prices increase manifold, forcing the residents to leave. Rimac, which demonstrates that conservation can be made inclusive, is a worthy development alternative.
Much like Rimac, old cities in India suffer from crumbling infrastructure, poor housing conditions, and inadequate investment. Delhi's Shahjahanabad, the 'Walled City,' is a case in point. Most parts of this once-celebrated Mughal city are now notified slums and about 570,000 (2001) people live in appalling conditions. The focus must be on improving the living conditions of the inhabitants and helping them make the place their own. As efforts at places such as Rimac and Luang Prabang (in Laos) show, this can be achieved by conferring property rights on long-term poor residents, providing targeted credit with affordable interest rates, and extending free technical services to restore houses. Where needed, limited modification of structures can be permitted to accommodate small commercial enterprises, since heritage areas cannot be isolated from employment-generating activities and opportunities to improve income levels. Ferrare in Italy, which has about 140,000 inhabitants and 100,000 bicycles, demonstrates that a conscious attempt to develop non-motorised transport infrastructure within historical cores can be successful. When such measures are supported by an equitable transport policy, the connectivity with the rest of the city improves and heritage cities become better places to live in.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
FINANCING HEALTHCARE IN INDIA
THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO ALLOCATE MORE FUNDS FOR PUBLIC HEALTH. THE MISMATCH BETWEEN THE DECLARED OBJECTIVE OF UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE THROUGH THE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM AND THE ACTUAL LEVEL OF EXPENDITURE REMAINS SERIOUS.
One of the three most important planks on which Barak Obama won the U.S. presidential election was the country's healthcare system, which he promised to fix. Indeed, the most important legislative measure initiated by Mr. Obama so far is the health reform legislation, titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was reported that the U.S. pharmaceutical lobby has spent an average of $600,000 a day over the last six months lobbying against the Bill, mostl y seeking to curry favour with Congressmen and Senators. The main reason for healthcare in the U.S. receiving so much attention is its political and economic costs. The new U.S. legislation involves nearly $1 trillion over a 10-year period.
In India, meanwhile, problems related to the financing of healthcare continue to be politically insignificant and publicly invisible. Healthcare has not been an important election campaign issue except in 2004 when the United Progressive Alliance promised to raise expenditure on healthcare to 2 to 3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. According to recently released National Health Accounts (NHA) statistics, public health expenditure as a share of GDP increased from 0.96 per cent in 2004-05 to just 1.01 per cent in 2008-09.
Broadly, there are three patterns of healthcare financing across the world. The National Health Service (NHS) of the U.K. is a stark example of a state-run and publicly-funded system. As in the case of the Scandinavian countries, the U.K. uses tax finances to pay for 80 per cent of its healthcare spending. Elsewhere in Europe, social insurance schemes bear most of the financial burden. The U.S. relies on private insurance, paid for mostly by employers: almost half of the supersized health spending (16 per cent of GDP) is financed by tax money for the care of the old and the very poor.
The NHS is relatively inexpensive, accounting for 8 per cent of GDP, even below the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average of 9 per cent. The U.K. and other OECD countries have better health indicators than the U.S., although they spend less on it. The contrast between the health indicators of Cuba vis-À-vis the U.S. health expenditure is even more striking. Cuba, with a per capita income that is less than a fifth of that of the U.S., has a publicly funded system that yields better health outcomes than the U.S.
The William Beveridge Committee report (1944) formed the basis of the NHS. Beveridge designed the NHS when Winston Churchill was in power, and there was little hope in hell of his government ever implementing a National Health Service fully funded by tax money. But after the War, the Labour Party headed by Clement Attlee came to power, and one of the first major welfare schemes his government took up was the NHS. In the 1980s, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher stripped the NHS of much of the funds and manpower. The 'New Labour' government of Tony Blair, however, restored the finances and infused new life into it. The NHS today remains one of the world's best healthcare models.
Parallel to the developments in the U.K., India had the Joseph Bhore Committee report which came up with somewhat similar recommendations. The Government of India's acceptance of its major recommendations resulted in a nationwide healthcare machinery with reasonable norms in terms of coverage, availability of personnel and institutional linkages. The Indian public health system never reached NHS standards in terms of universality and access. But following the Alma Ata Declaration and the first National Health Policy in the 1980s, an attempt was made to strengthen it. This enthusiasm, however, was short-lived. Since the start of the economic reforms in the early-1990s, systematic efforts have been made to weaken India's public healthcare system.
The share of health expenditure in total public expenditure peaked in the Indian States in 1987, but it has been more or less secularly declining thereafter. According to the constitutional division of expenditure responsibilities, the principal burden of health expenditure has to be borne by the States. In recent years, the Centre has stepped up healthcare expenditure through various schemes. Nevertheless, the States' share in health expenditure remains above 70 per cent.
The Central theme of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan is to deepen the role of the market in healthcare. The principal instrument suggested is Public-Private Partnership (PPP). Though the professed objective of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is to strengthen primary healthcare infrastructure, in practice it has been pandering to the private sector. Reviews of the NRHM indicate that its intended objectives are not being achieved.
An admired aspect of the U.K.'s NHS and European healthcare models is the presence of the General Practitioner (GP), who acts as a gatekeeper for more expensive hospital treatment. Though one of the main recommendations of Bhore Committee was the creation of a 'Basic Doctor', Indian policy-planners did not carry it forward. The basic weakness of the Indian system is the absence of an accessible basic doctor. Even today, 70 per cent of primary healthcare is provided by unqualified practitioners.
Over 80 per cent of the health expenditure in India is in the private sector, while in most developed societies more than 80 per cent of health expenditure is borne by the exchequer. Our public sector share is around one per cent of GDP: in this respect India's peers are Burundi, Myanmar and Sudan. Among the countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), all except Pakistan have a higher proportion of health expenditure in the public domain. India does not shine among its neighbours in terms of health outcomes. India's infant mortality rate at 56 per 1,000 live births in 2005 is better than that of only Pakistan. It is a far cry from 12 in Sri Lanka. Similarly, life expectancy at birth of 64 years in India compares favourably only with that of 63 in Nepal. Again, it is a far cry from Sri Lanka's 75.
One of the reasons for cost escalation in the U.S. system is the nexus between private health insurance companies and healthcare providers. The performance incentives in the private sector boosts the expenditure in a commercialised context. Invariably expensive drugs and procedures are prescribed. Insurance companies provide health cover to the young, the employed and the rich, and avoid those who are elderly, unemployed and poor. There is a cozy relationship between the insured, the insurance company and the healthcare provider.
In India, the share of healthcare expenditure borne by insurance companies is now less than 3 per cent. But there is a build-up for a significant expansion of the health insurance business. Those think-tanks and economists who support this, forget certain facts. Most important, insurance covers only the cost of hospitalisation and not expenditure on outpatient care. NHA statistics show that close to 70 per cent of the out-of-pocket expenditure of the household is for outpatient care, which will not be covered by insurance. Secondly, even in the U.S. about 50 million persons (over 15 per cent of the population) do not have any health insurance cover as they do not have employers to pay their premium. In the Indian situation where a majority of the people are self-employed, universal coverage will remain a mirage. Thirdly, many villages in India do not have a hospital worth the name within accessible distance. What use would insurance cover be for people living there?
For the same reason, even the publicly funded Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) meant for the poor is unlikely to serve its purpose. Further, the present level of funding is sufficient to provide insurance to only a small proportion of those who need it.
After 60 years of planned development, there is a serious mismatch in India between the declared objective of universal healthcare through the public health system on the one hand, and the actual level of public health expenditure on the other. This mismatch between objectives and resources is at the heart of the inadequacies and inequities of the health system.
(Dr. Kurian is Visiting Professor at Council for Social Development, New Delhi and the Institute of Public
Enterprise, Hyderabad. He is at email@example.com)
TELANGANA: INEVITABLE AND DESIRABLE
THE HINDU HAS ARGUED EDITORIALLY THAT A JUST AND SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION TO THE TELANGANA ISSUE CAN BE FOUND WITHIN AN UNDIVIDED ANDHRA PRADESH. HERE IS AN OP-ED ARTICLE BY A BJP LEGISLATOR THAT PRESENTS A CONTRA-ARGUMENT.
G. KISHAN REDDY
In the winter of 1953, the Fazal Ali Commission was set up to reorganise the States of the Indian Republic. Its recommendation to go about creating States on linguistic lines, indirectly paved the way for the creation of Andhra Pradesh. Andhra was formed from the northern districts of the erstwhile Madras state and the southern districts of the erstwhile Hyderabad state though the committee itself did not advocate such a merger and was against it.
Fifty-six winters later, the very concept of the creation of States based on linguistic lines has become passé. We need to look for fresh parameters for the creation of States, and that has to be based on holistic development on economic and social lines for better administration and management. This fact has been proven with the creation of Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand from Bihar and Uttaranchal from Uttar Pradesh.
Two issues that seem to be at the centre of the contention between the two regions of Andhra Pradesh is the future of Hyderabad and the repercussions in terms of the sharing of river waters from the completed and planned irrigation projects after the division of the State. Any entity, political or otherwise, that is able to find pragmatic solutions to this conundrum would not only earn the respect of the people of the State but also help set a precedent in the matter of contentious State divisions in the future.
ECONOMICS OF SMALL STATES
The case for small States can be argued with two parameters of macroeconomic statistics from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The first parameter is the percentage increase in Gross Domestic Product for States between 1999-2000, when the smaller States were created, and 2007-2008. India's overall GDP increased by 75 per cent during this time period. During the same period, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal recorded more than 100 per cent, 150 per cent and 180 per cent increase respectively. These rates were much above the rate at which national GDP increased. This clearly indicates that the recent creation of smaller States was a step in the right direction.
Experts have often argued that the creation of smaller States has been at the expense of the States they were created from. For all its lack of governance, Uttar Pradesh grew by more than 21 per cent of the national average during this time period.
The second parameter, the percentage contribution of States to national GDP, helps negate the myth of smaller States growing at the expense of the States they are created from. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh each contributed the same amount to national GDP. While the contributions of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh increased by 0.01 per cent and 0.06 per cent respectively, Uttar Pradesh's contribution to national GDP increased by 1.2 per cent during the same time period. This is more than Chhattisgarh's percentage increase in the contribution of 0.64 per cent to national GDP, the highest increase among the three newly created smaller States.
Hyderabad is an integral part of Telangana and a Telangana State without Hyderabad as the capital is inconceivable. However, the militant rhetoric of some political parties has made people of other areas feel unwelcome, creating an air of mistrust among the Telugu-speaking people of various regions. This is not only constitutionally illegal but also extremely foolish as it affects the image of Brand Hyderabad. Everybody who has come to Hyderabad in search of a better quality of life must be protected. Rhetorical slogans such as Telangana waalon jaago, Andhra waalon bhago gives the impression of an exclusionist movement that forces people of the non-Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh out of Hyderabad rather than a movement where the people of Telangana want greater autonomy for their region. Significantly, when Maharashtra and Gujarat were created from the then Bombay state on the recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission, there was fear about Mumbai losing its importance as a financial nerve-centre as a lot of investment in Mumbai had been made by Gujarati business people. The creation of two separate States did not halt Mumbai's rapid development. In fact, it additionally paved the way for the development of Ahmedabad and Surat as alternative financial centres. Hyderabad can emulate the same model. As in the past 400 years, the city can continue to welcome people with open arms rather than close its gates to fresh talent and creative ideas.
The people of the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions feel that the benefits reaped from Hyderabad must be accessible to all those who have been equal stakeholders in the city's development. The solution to this is not alternative models such as according Hyderabad the status of a Union Territory or making Hyderabad a joint capital for the States carved out of present-day Andhra Pradesh. These solutions are just not practical. A better approach would be to plan a special financial package for the development of a new State capital for the non-Telangana region. Pragmatism would dictate that the special package be funded through some form of cess on the city of Hyderabad for a limited period rather than running to large financial institutions for loans, as has been proposed by some political entities.
SOCIAL DYNAMICS OF WATER
About 70 per cent of the catchment area of the Krishna and close to 80 per cent of the catchment area of the Godavari is located in the Telangana region. Across the world, water distribution and sharing schemes between two areas is calculated on the basis of the percentage of the catchment area that lies in the region. Other factors that influence water-sharing accords is the population of a given region, the projected usage of water for industry and the domestic population, and the physical contours of the region through which the river flows.
Take the instance of the Godavari, where the areas planned for large dams in the Telangana have not been found feasible for various reasons. As the Sriramsagar project on the Godavari already exists, it is not feasible to build another large dam on the Godavari until after the Pranahitha tributary joins the Godavari. There is not enough water to be harnessed on a continuous basis for the project to be economically feasible if the dam is built before the Pranahitha joins the main river. The Inchampally project, a national project whose benefits are to be shared between the States of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, was one such large project that was proposed. Though the project was conceived a long time ago, it has run into typical issues that are usually associated with projects that have multiple States as stakeholders. Though Andhra Pradesh, by large, is the main beneficiary of the project, the project plan estimates more forest land being submerged in Maharashtra (47.7 per cent) than in Andhra Pradesh (29.9 per cent; all land in Telangana). An equal amount of cultivable land will be submerged in Chhattisgarh (41.8 per cent) and Andhra Pradesh (42.2 per cent; all land in Telangana). And, more villages that belong to Maharashtra (100) will be submerged as compared to Andhra Pradesh (65). This has obviously made the other States reluctant to move as quickly as Andhra Pradesh on this project.
The link canal that has been planned between Inchampally and Nagarjuna Sagar that is proposed to irrigate the regions of Telangana in between also involves prohibitive costs as a result of the 107-metre lift that is required for the water to reach the Nagarjuna Sagar. The lift itself will require a separate hydro-electric power project for the project to be feasible. Commonsense and pragmatism would have ensured that a project in Kanthamapalli or Kaleswaram be pursued. Additionally, three smaller step- dams between Yellampalli and Sriramsagar must be devised with a realistic State-level river-interlinking plan. Inchampally is not an exception, but the trend in how political leaders across the aisle in Telangana have been caught up in the big-projects-to-line-my-pockets mentality at the cost of the development of the region by looking at smaller, realistic projects to execute.
The Telangana agitation is the only such movement in India that involves a capital city located in the region that is fighting for separation from the main State. This clearly reflects on the lack of governance and civic administration in this area as the benefits of having a State capital in the hinterland have not trickled down to other areas in that region.
Smaller States still need a good and vibrant administration to be recipes for success. Chhattisgarh is a fine example of how an effective administration could turn around a State in all aspects of development. The development that has happened in the Chhattisgarh region from Independence till 2000 has in fact been less than the development that has taken place from the time a new State was created in 2000 till now. The first Telangana Chief Minister would have done a great service to the infant State should he take a prescription from Chhattisgarh's most famous Ayurvedic doctor.
(G. Kishan Reddy is the floor leader of the BJP in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The data and statistical inputs in this article are from Yudofud Public Strategies, www.yudofud.com.)
A BILLION ACTS OF GREEN FOR EARTH DAY
THE EARTH DAY NETWORK'S CAMPAIGN IS ABOUT FAST FORWARDING GREEN ECONOMICS, GREEN JOBS, AND INDUSTRIAL INFRASTRUCTURE.
Kathleen Rogers , president of Earth Day Network, has worked more than 20 years as an environmental attorney and advocate, focusing on public policy, international law, litigation and community development. She was Chief Wildlife Counsel for National Audubon Society and has held senior positions with the Environmental Law Institute, Piedmont Environmental Council and the United Nations Conference on Women.
Earth Day on April 22 marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Since then a billion people all over the world take part in activities related to that day. After the failure of Copenhagen, the challenge is to push for a fair and legally binding climate agreement at Mexico. In an interview to The Hindu, Ms Rogers who is touring India to mobilise support for this year's Earth Day activities, speaks about her optimism for the future but is clear that local initiatives are no substitute for far reaching policy changes that are needed to combat climate change. Excerpts:
WHAT ARE YOUR ACTIVITIES THIS YEAR FOR EARTH DAY'S 40TH ANNIVERSARY ON APRIL 22?
The Earth Day Network is in 192 countries now and the events range from global days of service and we are hoping to have a "billion acts of green" by Earth Day if we can a billion actions. Companies are doing company-wide events, individuals, teachers, schoolchildren and school districts are involved and we have 16 million people committed so far. We are hoping to reach a billion by Earth Day but otherwise we'll keep going. And those actions range from registering the vote, and that's an act of green as far as we are concerned, changing your light bulbs or planting a tree, making substantial commitments, weatherising your houses and signing petitions. But we feel that a billion people will join together the world over and the governments can't help but be impressed. We also have a global day of action and we are working with lots of NGOs around the world on meetings between governments. We are hoping that at least a 1,000 mayors [including Delhi and Kolkata] from medium size and large cities hold global days of conversations. We are asking world governments, including our own, to adjourn for the day. It's to talk to people not about environmental degradation, though that's an issue, but this campaign is very forward thinking and it's about fast forwarding green economics, green jobs, and industrial infrastructure.
HAS THE OUTCOME OF COPENHAGEN CHANGED YOUR PLANS?
Originally, when we started planning Earth Day a year and a half ago, we thought it would be about implementing Copenhagen. Everybody was extremely optimistic believe it or not, but we now have to change our course and tactics to respond to the political reality that we don't have an international agreement. A lot of NGOs want to talk to their governments about what do they do next. The vast majority of governments are not culpable. It's not as if citizens can go and demand a climate agreement they were ready to do it. Instead those countries and their NGOs are plotting, if you will, on how to convince the rest of the world to get it together. And the final part is to observe Earth Day generally and we are hoping to have an event in Mumbai, in Rabat, in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Hawaii, in Obama's home state, and other cities around the world like Tokyo, Shanghai, apart from the U.S.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE WORLD MOVING AHEAD IN THE ABSENCE OF AN ACCORD AT COPENHAGEN? THESE EARTH DAY ACTIONS ARE SIGNIFICANT BUT HOW WILL THEY LEAD TO A CONCERTED POLITICAL POLICY?
Yes, I mean there was a real fight at the end of Copenhagen, whether cuts will be mandatory or voluntary or do we just shoot for targets and whether you can verify them. There was a big China problem when it said no to independent verification which is really silly. These days if you hang something out of your window you can figure out the pollution impacts in any city. We have the technology. On the other hand we really need implementing legislations in the U.S. too. In that void, mayors and governors have been doing an extraordinary amount of work. I saw an article about the impact of the Obama presidency which, even though we don't have implementing legislation, he's invested under his leadership billions of dollars in weatherising houses, and new money into green jobs and better standards. Lisa P. Jackson who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that she's going to control greenhouse gases as a threat to human health, which the Supreme Court, as conservative as it is, says you have the power. So that's what she did. About 70 per cent of the world's population lives or will live in cities so what will mayors do? In the absence of federal plans in the U.S., there are cities like New York or LA [that] are making rules.
FINALLY, DO YOU THINK INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS WILL CONTRIBUTE MORE TO A GREEN FUTURE RATHER THAN BIG POLICY CHANGES?
They are doing it to fill in the void. That void is getting bigger and bigger. And they can't possibly keep up with the climate emissions nor can they be responsible for it. We elect the federal government to protect the whole country we don't depend on mayors that are thousand miles away to do the job for us. Will it be Mexico City, will it be Earth Day that will lead the way?
I am hoping there will be real progress in Mexico City [the venue of the Conference of Parties (COP) 16] and we'll not just tread water.
The Bombay High Court directive to the Maharashtra government to provide protection to social activists points to changes in Indian democracy.
As it matures and grows, the space for public voices must also grow. Society is an interactive process and government must be made aware of people's needs rather than dictate terms from on high.
One sure way of having that constant dialogue is through the social activist-non-governmental organisation route. Of course, by their very nature, such activists will not be popular with vested interests as they might at times, it seems, be opposed to development, big business, some laws, the underdog and underprivileged, the voiceless and disenfranchised and so on.
Yet their nature as irritants is what makes them so vital. By raising uncomfortable issues and asking uncomfortable questions, they act as a sort of public conscience.
The recent attack on a prominent city activist in Mumbai and the death of another in Pune are serious enough to have been taken suo moto notice of by the high court. Nayana Kathpalia of Citispace has been fighting relentlessly against the unbridled development taking place in Mumbai and with some success.
Satish Shetty used the Right to Information to expose irregularities in land use in the area around Pune. Both, like several others, have received various kinds of threats to dissuade them from filing PILs and making their findings public.
The court has asked the state government to protect such activists. That is one side of the story because it may be neither possible nor feasible to protect every activist. But it would help if the atmosphere in which they operate is made secure.
In an ideal world, the state government would make it clear to those nefarious and guilty elements that threats to activists will be dealt with swiftly and sternly. Sadly, this is easier said than done as most of the threats emanate from those who have paid money to ensure political and police support. This tragedy of our society is being played out again in this instance.
As we have pointed out repeatedly in these columns and as various courts have reiterated, the RTI is an invaluable weapon in the hands of the citizen.
All attempts to limit that right which is akin to limiting a fundamental right by intimidation and similar tactics, have to be countered by the law, by the police, by the political class and by the voice of the people.
For now, the government of Maharashtra and the Bombay High Court have reacted promptly and it could even be said with propriety. The struggle however must continue at the individual level as well, so that our collective conscience neverloses its voice.
THE RELEVANCE OF CONFLICT
Mumbai: It has taken more than a year after the Mumbai massacres for the peaceniks to crawl out of the woodworks.
Had the outrage been no more than a bomb blast at a market place or a train, they would not have waited for so long because of their naïve, wish-fulfilling assumptions about India-Pakistan relations. But the jehadi onslaught on Mumbai was a far more chilling affair.
Hence, the delay on the part of the peacemakers to get their act together.But now that they have embarked on their mission, the pace is likely to pick up. A formal appeal has already been issued by a New Delhi seminar to resume the stalled dialogue.
Among those present were members of the group who are fond of holding candlelight vigils at the Wagah border. Earlier, there were newspaper articles bemoaning the absence of negotiations.
The background, however, to all these efforts was less than propitious. First, there were gun battles between the security forces and the mercenaries in Srinagar.
Then, there were reports of hundreds of militants waiting to cross into India from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. And, to cap it all, Asif Ali Zardari sounded the bugle for a thousand-year war, recalling his late wife's shrill "azadi, azadi, azadi" call in her heyday.
In addition, there was a report in America that the jehadis were itching to create conditions for a war so that the Pakistan army can call off its reluctant offensive in the north-west.
It will not be surprising if there is a conspiratorial nudge and a wink from the army and the ISI to the jehadis in this context.
There is little doubt that even as New Delhi remains firm in its insistence on Pakistan first providing credible evidence of action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage before the talks can began, the renewed pressure from the peaceniks, the left-leaning media, including a major Chennai-based newspaper, and perhaps the Americans as well cannot but chip away at India's resistance.
A few acts of tokenism by Pakistan can also prove to be the last straw.Yet, even if the talks do begin, the likelihood of the dialogue preparing the ground for a durable peace will remain as elusive as ever for two reasons. The first and foremost is that real power in Pakistan the army may have an agenda of its own.
Even if the civilian rulers tone down their thousand-year war rhetoric, their friendly gestures are unlikely to receive the army's hearty endorsement. For the latter, a reconciliation with India will mean the shattering of its longstanding dream of dismembering India at a time when it may feel that it is nearing success.
It has to be remembered that the Pakistan army cannot be compared to any other such force which are all under civilian and political control, even in a totalitarian country like North Korea. Instead, the military in Pakistan is an entity which owes only formal allegiance to the government, but has a mind of its own.
What is more, the ease with which the military has grabbed power in the past must have inculcated the belief that it can do so again if it feels that the civilians are making a mistake.
There is a second reason why the army will be unhappy about any genuine prospect of peace. The Chinese seem to believe that the events in South Asia are moving in a direction which will be favourable for their hegemonic ambitions.
Their creeping encroachments on Indian territory, which have been acknowledged by New Delhi, and aggressive postures on Arunachal Pradesh along with the earlier unfriendly attitudes at the Asian Development Bank and Nuclear Suppliers Group meetings demonstrate an unmistakable intent to balkanise India, as an article by a Chinese analyst suggested.
It may have been in this context that the Indian army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, had spoken of the country's preparedness to fight on two fronts.
The Pakistan army is undoubtedly waiting for a time when the Americans will leave Afghanistan and it is able to redirect the energies of its longstanding strategic assets, the Taliban, against India. This may also be the time when the Chinese will up the ante in the north-east.
For any strategic planner in the Pakistan army, it will be absurd for Islamabad to opt for peace when its chances of success in a confrontation or at least via the threat of a confrontation with India are high since the nuclear angle will compel Americans to wrest concessions from India.
Pakistan army may allow a dialogue to begin and even lead to tentative agreements. But its interests and objectives are different from those of the civilians.
The writer is a Delhi-based commentator on political affairs
WITH A PINCH OF SALT
Aociologists and economists predict that 2010 will be a "Goldilocks year" that is (as in the children's story of the little girl and the Three Bears), unexceptional, 'neither too hot nor too cold' and therefore 'just right'.
It's probably meant to reassure people that we won't see major political disruptions or economic meltdowns, but it's also short-hand for 'plain boring'. After a rollicking year like we've had, it doesn't seem right to have a boring year. What we really need is a wacky year, filled with wild, madcap events. Here's my list of 10 wacky things I wish would happen in 2010.
1. Shashi Tharoor rules on Twitter
After being cautioned for Tweeting about the Indian government's visa policy and for posting politically incorrect jokes about flying 'cattle class', Shashi Tharoor is finally sacked as minister and expelled from the Congress. Tired of being picked on by Luddites in politics but energised by the support from his followers on Twitter more than half a million by last count Tharoor sets up a 'virtual government' on Twitter.
2. Obama falls for Pratibha Patil
On his first state visit to India, Barack Obama goes beyond the dictates of protocol by falling at Pratibha Patil's feet during a Rashtrapati Bhavan courtesy call. US protocol officers had evidently convinced Obama that this was the correct way to show respect to elders in India. As happened when Obama bowed deep before the Japanese Emperor, right-wing commentators in the US go ballistic, ranting that Obama is signalling an enfeebled America with his excessive shows of courtesy.
3. Mallya floats 'fly naked' airline
Following security fears arising from the thwarted terrorist attack in the US on Christmas day (where a young Nigerian had a bomb sewed into his underpants), tycoon Vijay Mallya dreams up a business plan and launches the world's first 'fly naked' airline, where both passengers and crew will be stark naked. "Anyone who's seen our Kingfisher calendars knows that the idea of flying naked builds on our brand equity," Mallya tells a news conference at the launch. Preferential ticketing is to be offered for supermodels.
4. Delhi C'wealth Games a hit
The Delhi Commonwealth Games stadiums could not be constructed in time, and participating athletes are put up in tent cities in the absence of hotel accommodation. But the Games are nevertheless a big hit because the sportspersons are so moved at seeing emaciated street children begging at traffic lights that they spend their entire time doing voluntary work at slums instead. "I came here to win a gold medal, but I realise how selfish and materialistic that is," says a British athlete. "But thanks to Delhi, I've found a higher calling in life."
5. TV shows lose to real life
Television reality shows are pulled from all channels since viewers find them lacking in the sensational drama of real life. "Smirking sexual predators who go unpunished for two decades, geriatric governors sexually disporting with three young women How can we ever hope to match that kind of drama?" wails the producer of a TV channel.
6. Mayawati is a statue
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is revealed to be not a living, breathing Dalit politician, but a statue one of many built across the state in her honour. Officials say it's not clear if "Behenji" was always a statue or whether there was a mix-up on some occasion when she was unveiling one of her statues. But since no one seems to be missing her (if she ever existed), no search has been initiated.
7. Techies shed geeky image
Tired of being asked by strangers in foreign airports to help fix their laptops, geeky Bangalore techies give up their careers to take up stand-up comedy. They become an international sensation and nowadays Indians at foreign airports are swamped for autographs by fans who mistake them for stand-up comedians.
8. Telangana to be broken up
Within hours of a new Telangana state being formed, leaders of sub-regional political parties begin a fast-unto-death demanding that the newly formed state be carved up into four new states. "The demand for new states is like a nuclear reaction, and we've reached critical mass," reckons a sociologist. "It's now unstoppable."
9. Shanghai wants to be like Mumbai
Having built a gleaming world-class city with the best of infrastructure and most fashionable brand stores, Shanghai's residents validate psychologist Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs by collectively embracing Buddhism and a simpler life. "Why can't we slow things down and enjoy the non-material things in life? Why can't we be more like Mumbai and have slums like them?" they ask befuddled Communist Party officials.
10. Savita Bhabhi joins politics
Cartoon porn character Savita Bhabhi enters politics, and is inducted into the Congress. "The Congress needs a new sex symbol, now that N.D. Tiwari has crawled quietly back into his old-age home," says Savita. "I can particularly help with the Congress erection - I mean, election - campaign."
IT'S ALL ABOUT FOOD
One of the most irritating parts of writing this column is reacting to people who are obsessed as to whether you are known to restaurateurs when dining.
Something which brings memories of that delightful book by Ruth Reichl, Garlic and Sapphires in which she explains how she avoids being recognised in restaurants and is able to write an honest review, even to the extent of wearing wigs.
There is in India a tradition of freebies given to people who write on food. It is for this reason that food writing, by and large, has got a bad name.
This is unfortunate, as today there is much greater interest in exploring new cuisines as well as in the culture behind food than before. If 10 years ago the foodie kept his interests under wraps rather like someone with a pornography fetish, it is now the fashionable thing.
People want to seem confident in restaurants, to understand menus with strange foreign dishes and names, wine lists, to know what goes well with what, and to give off a whiff of hauteur.
Increasingly, an interest in haute cuisine has become a hallmark of sophistication in society, rather like reading books was once upon a time.
For this reason the term gastronome is all encompassing it covers a variety of topics, food, a discussion of different foods, farming, the organic debate, styles of cooking and cultural phenomenon associated with food.
This is not a restaurant review column: although restaurants are occasionally discussed. In fact in my view there are very few real restaurant critics in India. I recall, there was a discussion about restaurant criticism in general.
One of the leading food writers commented that people who claim to be restaurant critics should following the Michelin guideline and visit a restaurant a minimum of five times to properly judge it. I think this may be taking matters too far.
Often when I used to review restaurants I could make out the quality of the restaurant by the way the table was set, at least at the more pretentious varieties. There are, let's face it, very few restaurants you would want to visit more than two or three times or which have any complexity in their menus which deserve these repeated visits.
In fact the really successful restaurants today are ones where food is marginal to the enjoyment; it is atmosphere, the crowd, the bar and the music which predominate..
There is an increasing tendency on the part of certain publications to announce with the review that the person reviewing has gone to the restaurant anonymously and has paid for his or her meal.
This trend is promising as previously media publications never thought of financing such meals. However, it is not a question of honesty that is at stake.It is rather the quality of the review.
At the risk of sounding like a snob, food criticism rather like any other form of art criticism like theatre or cinema, is not and cannot be judged by the principle of honesty alone: not only is the ability to write an important factor, but so is a background and experience of food culture which many young journalists do not have.
Perhaps they may acquire these skills over time, but in many cases they fall prey to the wiles of restaurateurs who treat them as people who know no better, in many cases that is unfortunately true.
RISING INFLATION CAN THREATEN RECOVERY
As if the soaring food prices were not bad enough for the government, the global metal and oil prices too have started rising as demand picks up with the US and Europe emerging from recession. The only good news on the domestic price front is that the food inflation has eased to 17.28 per cent from a recent high of about 20 per cent. However, the wholesale inflation jumped to a 12-month high of 7.31 per cent in December. Clearly, the RBI went wrong in estimating inflation at 6.5 per cent by March. The fears of inflation touching double digit by the fiscal year-end no longer seem misplaced.
Apart from contributing to the public outcry against the rising prices with opposition parties trying to cash in on the difficult situation, the rising inflation can threaten the nascent industrial recovery. To tackle the double-digit inflation, the RBI is widely expected to tighten the monetary policy either before or at its quarterly review on January 29. The industry would like the apex bank to follow China's example and raise only the cash-reserve ratio (CRR) to curtail money supply. The government too has given enough hints that it would frown upon any fresh hurdles that could slow down growth.
On its part, the government has chosen to defer an oil price hike despite the global rate ruling at $80 a barrel. This is to avoid negative fallout on the economy, particularly on the prices of essential commodities. But its capacity to absorb the oil shock is limited as the fiscal deficit is worryingly high and a rollback of the financial stimulus could send a wrong signal. It has offered only partial relief to the public sector oil marketing companies suffering increased losses on account of selling petro products at subsidised rates. It is not an easy situation even for a government led by a renowned economist. The situation will remain uncertain until the RBI intervention.
ARMY CHIEF MUST TAKE RESOLUTE ACTION
Army chief General Deepak Kapoor has admitted, belatedly though, that the Sukna land scam in West Bengal has hurt the image of his fighting force. The only way to redeem the image is by taking resolute action against all those found to be involved in the transfer of 70 acres of prime land to a dubious developer. Four generals have been indicted in the case by an army court of inquiry. General Kapoor has ordered disciplinary action against Lieut-Gen P.K. Rath and served show-cause notices on two other generals, but Army Headquarters is considered to be going soft on Lieut-Gen Avadhesh Prakash, who is a close aide of the Army chief as the Military Secretary, and faces only 'administrative action' instead of the harsher court-martial. No wonder, during the chief's customary annual press conference ahead of Army Day on January 15, most of the questions were related to this raging controversy.
General Kapoor's promise that justice will be done is reassuring, but it would be worthwhile only if actual action is taken against everyone blamed for a string of lapses in the case. This has become all the more necessary since the Eastern Army Commander, Lieut-Gen V. K. Singh, who is tipped to be the army chief when General Kapoor retires on March 31 this year, had recommended that Lieut-Gen Avadhesh Prakash be sacked. Yet, he was only served a show-cause notice for administrative action.
In fact, General Kapoor has added another entirely avoidable sub-text to the whole controversy. When asked whether there was a rift between him and Lieut-Gen V K Singh, he commented that "in armed forces, there can't be a rift between a senior (himself) and a junior officer (General Singh) This is the ethos and the hierarchy they follow". Such fault lines in the top brass are hardly good for the 1.13-million strong Indian Army.
INFILTRATION ON THE RISE
NEED FOR GREATER VIGIL AND DETERRENT PUNISHMENT
The nabbing of a teenaged Pakistani 'suicide bomber' from the Indian side of the Indo-Pak border while he was on a mission to study patrolling patterns of BSF jawans so as to identify a time and place where seven associates of his could slip into India reflects the seriousness of the infiltration problem in Kashmir. That this young man was at the age of 18 already a recruit of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Tehrik-e-Taliban and in the team for which he was preparing the ground there were three women shows that the terror outfits of Pakistan are looking for newer ways to catch the Indian security agencies off guard. The terrorist-infiltrator Namun Arshad was not only trained in handling pistols and revolvers but also taught to wear and blast a suicide jacket, a clear indication that he was a potential fidayeen. Namun's confession to the media that he did not like the jehadi ideology but was forced to obey the terror outfits' orders under the threat that he and his family would be eliminated if they did not comply confirms suspicions that impressionable young men are being blackmailed into submission.
Clearly, as both Defence Minister Antony and Home Minister Chidambaram have claimed from different platforms recently, infiltration attempts from Pakistan which showed a decline last year are on the rise this year. Evidently, the Pakistanis are alarmed at the pace at which Jammu and Kashmir is approaching normalcy. By fomenting fresh trouble, the enemy wants to keep the pot boiling.
All this underlines the need for the Indian security forces to step up vigil both on the border and in terror-prone areas. At the same time, it is important that exemplary punishment be meted out to those who are nabbed for working for terror outfits to create an effective deterrent. Much as Pakistan may deny before the international community, terror outfits in that country are alive and kicking and terrorism is being fuelled with the complicity of 'state actors.' Consequently, India's diplomatic offensive must continue without let-up.
FOCUS ON GOOD GOVERNANCE
NORTH-EAST DOESN'T NEED MORE STATES
BY ASH NARAIN ROY
There are no million mutinies in India. But there are billion aspirations some of which find outlets in the form of a plethora of statehood demands. The North-East, the microcosm of India, best typifies this phenomenon.
Demands for separate statehood in the region are like the Russian babushka dolls. Like these dolls, also known as Matryoshka dolls, in which a set of dolls of decreasing sizes is placed one inside the other, the more India has created new states in the North-East, the more such demands have gathered momentum.
No other state in the country has seen the kind of vivisection as Assam has. And yet, Assam faces the prospects of further fragmentation. Demands for Bodoland, Karbiland, Dimaraji and Kamtapur have acquired stridency over the years. Some movements are even seeking homelands outside the Indian Union.
New states, created in the North-East as part of federal reorganisation of India, had the intended objective of primarily pacifying the secessionist and autonomist demands of various groups. Nagaland became a state in 1963 followed by Meghalaya and Manipur in 1972 and Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh in 1987.
The state formation in the North-East was not linked with economic viability; it was guided primarily by security considerations. It was also intended to snap the existing and potential linkages among various insurgent/militant groups fighting the Indian state. The Naga, Mizo and Bodo movements began as "freedom" movements, but ended up accepting statehood or cohabitation with others. Willy-nilly, they accepted integration within the Indian Union.
When some ethno-linguistic groups raised the banner of independence and others made demands bordering on secessionism, the Indian state offered a mix of carrots and sticks. The statehood made the diverse people of the region important stakeholders in the polity. Indian federalism, which in its initial years was heavily centralised, devised, over the years, a formula to combine self-rule with shared rule.
Today, when we look back, statehood proved to be an antidote to insurgency and militancy. Layered sovereignty may not have worked wonders, but it has greatly doused the fire of insurgent violence in the North-East. No doubt, insurgency in the North-East is still thriving. But it has become a cottage industry, in some cases, the only growth industry. It has lost the fire and the bite.
Youth and student leaders as also others use militancy to build their political career. Extortion is rampant. Having attained power, leaders who once swore by independence, sovereignty, right to self-determination, are content with Central grants. The Centre's attempt to persuade, cajole, inveigle or trick such leaders has weakened such movements.
The militants in the North-East were never strong on ideology. Today, when wars of ideology at the global level have been replaced by wars of identity or what Leslie Gelb calls "wars of national debilitation", they are even less ideological. The various militant groups and others demanding statehood may still mouth revolutionary slogans and clichés to stir up popular sentiments to the gullible people, but they are hardly fired by apocalyptic visions. And yet, since they draw on some reservoir of public support and sympathy, they have shown more staying power.
A sense of pan-Indian identity is missing in the North-East for historical reasons. Some areas were never part of pre-colonial India. They remained for centuries outside large centralised empires like the Maurya, Gupta and Moghul during the ancient and medieval periods of Indian history. Various ethnic groups like Nagas, Mizos, Meiteis, Garos, Khasis, Ahoms and others lived either in splendid isolation or under some kingdoms.
The British incorporation of the region also came about much later than the Indian sub-continent (Assam in 1826, Khasi and Jaintia Hills in the 1830s, Naga Hills between 1966 and 1904 and the Lushais (Mizo Hills) in 1971-79).
The "inner line" system introduced by the British kept the populace isolated. The colonial government used the region's dualistic composition (tribals, non-tribals, hill people, plains people) and its cultural diversities as a convenient line of division to rule the region.
Integration of the North-East with the rest of India was by no means easy. It is still at best tenuous. The peace accords signed by the Indian government with various groups had many loopholes and yet they did institutionalise some form of self-governance. Statehood not only put a check on Indian federalism's over-centralising tendencies, it made the North-East stakeholders in the Indian polity. It gave the people a sense of identity and also a sense of sub-nationhood.
Various ethnic groups claim they have their own narratives on statehood with some wanting to build "nation from below". Ethnic cauldron and the spatial isolation as also economic marginalisation of some ethnic groups have been at the root of the proliferating statehood demands. To a large extent, the ever-growing demands are a result of accumulated grievances and anxieties in respect of identity, ethnicity, conflict and development. But such demands can also be explained as a result of the demonstration effect of the success of other such demands in the region or elsewhere in the country.
This is where the Telangana mess created by the Centre seems to have stirred up hornets' nest in the North-East. In the immediate aftermath of the Telangana crisis, various Dimasa organisations, Karbi bodies, Bodos and Koch Rajbongshis have intensified their agitations.
In the last couple of weeks, Assam witnessed bandhs in various parts of the state, called by the All Dimasa Students' Union, Dimasa People's Council, the Autonomous State Demand Committee, the Karbi Students' Association and nine Koch Rajbongshi organisations in support of their respective statehood demands.
The outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland is seeking a separate Bodoland. Several other rag-tag groups are raising similar demands. In the neighbouring Meghalaya, a separate Garoland for the Garos and Hmar in Mizoram may also gain some momentum.
Close on the heels of the Telangana announcement, Bodoland People's Front MLAs raised the demand for a separate Bodoland state in the State Assembly. No one knows when certain ethnic groups like Ahoms, Chutias, Morans, Motoks who are currently asking for the Scheduled Tribe status may raise a pitch for statehood.
Despite some of the smaller states in the region not necessarily providing good governance, the ethno-linguistic principle for state creation has worked well as most of these communities are territorially-rooted. But this principle has been stretched to its limits. Hence, new states in the North-East may not be viable in the near future.
Post-globalisation, post-reform statehood demands pose new challenges to the Indian state. What worked in the past may not work now. Must development be contingent on separate statehood? Effective democratic decentralisation and good governance will go a long way in addressing some of the concerns of smaller groups.
The Panchayati raj, if implemented in letter and spirit, has the potential to make the polity more wholesome, accountable and less venal. It can thus blunt the edge of statehood demands. The new state reorganisation commission, whenever it comes up will have a tough job on hand. There is no magic formula to address all these demands. People will have to learn to live peacefully with a difference. Diversity can be an asset. Diversity can be unity.
The author is Associate Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
THE FUNERAL ORATOR
BY HARISH DHILLON
It began about 15 years ago. One of my favourite teachers passed away and I felt compelled to pen a tribute to him, which The Tribune was kind enough to publish. Over the years I found that whenever I was traumatised by the death of someone very dear to me, this was one definite way of achieving a catharsis of my emotions.
Some years ago my predecessor at YPS Patiala, the legendary Mr HN Kashyap, passed away and a board member asked me to write a piece on him. As always, The Tribune published the piece. That same evening, Mr Kashyap's son visited me and asked me to speak at the prayer ceremony. I felt awkward, but reluctantly agreed it was, perhaps, in the fitness of things that I should speak.
Then one of my former students, who had, in spite of the difference in age, always been a true and loyal friend, passed away. I wrote about her. Her family, having read my piece, asked me to speak at the prayer ceremony. I was still awkward and this time even more hesitant to say yes: I was, afraid that I would make a fool of myself by breaking down. I overcame my reluctance and spoke and, I am glad to report, I did not break down.
Recently my friend Iqbal lost his grandfather. He had, from all accounts, been a remarkable man. I had met him but I did not really know him. At the prayer ceremony Iqbal came over to me, thrust a slip of paper into my hands and whispered: "You will be asked to speak". Before I could even register his words he had sped away.
I glanced down at the paper there were a few details about the deceased. I felt a wave of panic. There was only one way out, I must make a hurried exit. But when I got to my feet I saw Iqbal looking anxiously at me: no I couldn't abandon him. Though I say it myself, I came out of the ordeal rather well.
How surprisingly well was confirmed a few months later, when I received a telephone call from someone called Jatinder. "We met at Iqbal's daughter's birthday. Do you remember?"
I didn't, but like most other people under similar circumstances I could not admit it.
"Yes. Yes, of course," I said with forced cheerfulness.
"My grandfather passed away and I would like you to speak at the prayer ceremony. It's on the twenty seventh."
"But, but .."I wanted to protest at the ridiculousness of the situation but I couldn't find the words.
He misunderstood my silence. "Of course, we will be more than willing to pay you your usual fees."
For once I was at a total loss for words and for once I did what, I had never done before I hung up on my caller. But now, having got over the initial shock, I feel I may have found another viable option for a post- retirement career.
IT'S TIME TO HAVE ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET
BY PREMVIR DAS
In a piece published in a national daily recently, Lt Gen SK Sinha (retd), a former Governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, has written of how on January 1, 1973, Gen SHFK (Sam) Manekshaw was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.
It is now known that this proposal, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's very own, came to fruition in the face of heavy opposition from a united civil bureaucracy which could not stall the PM's decision but did everything in its power to oppose almost every measure that would give dignity to the rank, even putting the FM below the Cabinet Secretary in protocol, all acts petty beyond compare.
It took many decades and a visit from the President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, to a terminally ill 90-year-old Manekshaw at his house in the Nilgiris for the Field Marshal to get even his arrears of pay, not a meager amount at Rs 1.3 crore.
Nearly three decades later, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh of the Air Force was made Marshal of the Air Force, a position on a par with Field Marshal. If Sam was the hero of the 1971 war which led to victory over Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, Arjan Singh had led the IAF with great distinction in the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and was widely respected.
Clearly, both elevations were very well deserved and, in a tangible way, were in recognition of the roles that their respective Services had played in making the country stand tall.
For some reason the government has not considered it necessary until now to honour the Navy in the same way. This cannot be because its exploits in war have not been extraordinary.
While, the hostilities in 1965 did not see the Navy coming into play in any significant way, the conflict in 1971 saw its exploits receiving admiration in military circles around the world, not just in India.
The two raids on Karachi, the citadel of the adversary, one on December 4 followed by another on 8th, resulting in the sinking of several ships and destruction of oil fuel storage facilities there, wreaked havoc and traumatised the people to an extent that few other military actions until or since then have done.
In the East, the Indian Navy played a significant role in sealing all escape routes for the beleaguered adversary, which was crucial to obtaining the surrender of nearly 90,000 officers and men of the Pakistan Army/Navy/Air Force. Surely, these achievements called for some recognition by the government.
The architect of the naval raids and actions in the war of the 1971 was the then Navy Chief, Admiral SM Nanda. It was his brilliant approach and decisive leadership recall that his own Commander-in-Chief was shying away from the offensives against Karachi fearing the possibility of severe losses that led to the successes described earlier.
By any reasoning, he merited elevation to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, if not immediately after the war then at least along with Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh.
This did not happen. It is, of course, well known that by this time Admiral Nanda was reeling under a spate of innuendoes as an "arms dealer" because a company formed by him after his retirement, and later taken over by his son, was engaged in the supply of spare parts and maintenance support, partly to the Navy but largely to the Coast Guard.
Allegations of malfeasance against the Admiral have never been proved but the defamation stuck. No charges were ever preferred in any court of law.
In this background, the government, probably to avoid controversy, chose to let the 'old man' wither away, which he did. When he died at the ripe old age of 94, he continued to stand erect, disdainful of the efforts to sully his name.
Thus, recognition of his service through the creation of the rank of Admiral of the Fleet was held back, not so much an affront to him than to the Navy that he loved and had commanded with such great skill and leadership and which, in every way, had performed on a par with the other two.
Yet let bygones be bygones. "Charles" Nanda, as he was fondly called by all those who knew him, has made his tryst with the Almighty. But the Navy remains, the nation's guardian at sea and one of the guarantors of our territorial integrity. To treat the Navy as a sort of step child considering that the other two Services have on their Army and Air Force Lists a Field Marshal and a Marshal of the Air Force, respectively, is patently unfair, even unkind.
This scenario is not only demoralising to those who serve their country at sea but also speaks poorly of a government that is not sufficiently grateful.
Clearly, it needs to move because as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said more than once, there are things whose time has come. Creating an Admiral of the Fleet is one such.
Who is this person to be is the question. Obviously, he should have headed the Navy at some time in the rank of Admiral. He should have a reputation which would make his elevation welcomed and be free from any controversy. Even in retired life he should be widely admired and respected by the serving community.
In short, he should be a true leader, not only in times when he wore uniform but equally in times that he does not. Is there such a person, is the next question that can be asked.
This is where the Prime Minister comes in. No Departmental Promotion Committee recommended the upgradation of Sam Manekshaw to Field Marshal. The decision was that of the Prime Minister.
Presumably, the same route was followed in the case of Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. So, there are precedents. Let Dr Manmohan Singh first reassure himself that the country's Navy must have an Admiral of the Fleet in the Navy List and then decide who would be the most suitable for wearing the braids of that rank. The task should not be too difficult.
As the Navy prepares to meet the complex challenges that will confront it in the years ahead, it should know that it stands right up front in the peoples' consciousness. As the repository of their confidence, the government needs to do things to show that we care.
The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command
NO RESTING PLACE FOR HAITI VICTIMS
BY STAFF REPORTERS
The bodies kept coming. By yesterday afternoon, the Port-au-Prince morgue was full, but still the corpses arrived. They came stacked high in pick-up trucks, they came in piles in police vehicles, and when the mortuary at the hospital could take no more, police and their helpers simply began piling them up outside. Guy Laroche, the hospital director, said he had no idea how many more would come, but he had already received about 1,500.
They were thrown together like commodities with nothing like a shroud or a covering garment, as the Haitian Red Cross had run out of body bags. The Red Cross International Committee said 3,000 more were on the way, but it will take a far bigger number than that to accommodate Port-au-Prince's dead 40,000? 50,000? with countless more corpses, stiff and starting to decompose, still visible or half-visible yesterday under the rubble of the wrecked city, or piled into vehicles, or lying scattered by the side of the road.
They ranged from tiny children next to schools, to women in rubble-strewn streets with stunned expressions frozen on their faces. Some were covered by a white cloth or a tarpaulin. Some were covered by nothing, in the sweltering tropical heat. "Things are usually not as bad as the news says. Sincerely, this is worse," a Port-au-Prince resident posted on Twitter. "Dead bodies everywhere. City starting to smell like rotting flesh."
Dust-covered bodies were being dragged along the roads by people trying at least to find somewhere they might decently leave them, while the question of burial or the lack of burial was adding to the anguish. "I just want my wife's corpse," said Lionnel Dervil, 38, a money-changer and father of four children who was trying to get in to the Medecins Sans Frontieres compound to examine a pile of bodies, and was being ignored as doctors frantically tended to those still living who had streamed in. "I just want my wife's corpse," he repeated. "I know they are busy tending to the survivors, but there is a room full of bodies that I cannot get to."
Some survivors were attempting to carry dead family members to nearby hills for impromptu burials, prompting Brazil's military, the biggest contingent among UN peacekeepers, to warn the practice could lead to an epidemic. That was the scale of Port-au-Prince's distress last night: it needed not just emergency shelter, food, water, electricity and medical supplies, it needed emergency cemetery capacity.
Many of the living were faring scarcely better, as the first signs of the massive international relief operation began to dribble in to Haiti's capital infinitely slowly, it seemed to the beleaguered citizens.
There were still no signs of organised rescue operations, and 48 hours after the earthquake had struck, Haitians themselves, desperate fathers, neighbours, volunteers, were still clawing at chunks of concrete with bare hands and battering it with sledgehammers, trying to free those buried alive.
What most of the surviving able-bodied citizens of Port-au-Prince seemed to be doing yesterday was wandering, wandering shellshocked through the shattered town, looking for food, water or medical supplies. "The streets are crowded," said another Twitter post. "Hundreds of thousands of people without homes. People walking everywhere."
And then a few minutes later: "Many people praying as they walk." The citizens were fearful of going near quake-damaged buildings so stayed in the middle of the road and their very act of doing so was slowing the transport of food and other aid, worsening what the UN was already calling "a logistical nightmare".
Yet from the point of view of people with broken arms and legs and fractured skulls and crushed bodies, it was a continuing medical nightmare yesterday. Severe damage to at least eight Port-au-Prince hospitals made it nearly impossible to treat the thousands of injured, or prevent outbreaks of disease, and at Port-au-Prince's Hotel Villa Creole, furniture was used as stretchers and hotel guests with no medical training worked as paramedics.
By arrangement with The Independent
GROWING ECONOMIC WOES
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
Life is becoming more and more miserable in Pakistan as the necessaries of life are either scarcely available or going beyond the reach of the common man. According to The Nation, the IMF has raised its projection of inflation for 2009-2010 from 9 per cent to 11 per cent. The scenario looks more frightening with barely 3 per cent GDP growth and the same percentage of increase in the country's population.
The government cannot be expected to reverse the situation in the near future as it has a very poor performance record.
The vast majority of people have to struggle for survival with atta prices having gone up to Rs 567 for a 20 kg bag. The story of sugar is getting bitter with every passing day. Sugar, selling at Rs 60 or more for a kg, continues to remain in short supply. Electricity and gas charges are already too high. Even the egg prices are ruling around Rs120 per dozen. There is no respite in sight. The taxes, too, are likely to be raised further as the government is faced with considerable revenue shortfalls.
Sugar getting bitter
In every household budgets are increasingly strained. Sugar is an essential item that few can do without", as The News commented on January 14.
The government has decided to allow duty-free import of sugar to contain the price rise. Efforts are on to import 500,000 tonnes of sugar through the Trading Corporation of Pakistan by March 31. Another 500,000 tonnes of white sugar will be imported later this year. The private sector is expected to import 700,000 tonnes of sugar. Yet it is doubtful if the situation will improve.
According to a report in The Nation, the private sector is not very enthusiastic about importing sugar because of two basic reasons. One, sugar prices are ruling high in the international market owing to the increased demand from various countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. Two, millers believe that the imported sugar cannot be made available to consumers at less than Rs 70 a kg. The government's intervention to help the consumers will go against the traders' interest. The situation is, therefore, quite complicated.
Ethnic crisis in Karachi again?
Ten persons lost their lives last Thursday in a gang war in Lyari and the surrounding areas in Karachi. Among those killed were Mohajirs and Baloch nationalists. There is the fear of the ethnic crisis witnessed in the past re-erupting again. It is not without reason that Daily Times says that the "attempts to give the conflict an ethnic colour should be strongly resisted."
"Over the last few decades, the city has been subjected to criminal neglect by the ruling elite, both civilian and military, with the result that violence of all sorts, caused by different motivations, continues to erupt and disturb its peace, sometimes leading to violent protests, shutter-down or wheel-jam strikes that abruptly bring to a halt the metropolis' social and economic activity." This is how Business Recorder reacted to the emerging situation in Karachi.
Only recently, during the observance of Moharram, 43 people were killed in a terrorist attack, which followed large-scale looting and arson.
The Liyari incident occurred following the recovery of a headless body of a man claimed by the MQM as its activist. According to the Recorder, "This revived the nightmarish memories of an era when the discovery of bodies in gunny bags had become almost a daily routine. The PPP had claimed that six of the 10 persons subsequently killed by gunmen were its workers or sympathisers. Unless things are urgently brought under control, the fire ignited in and around Lyari could engulf the entire city. Any worsening of the situation would have an economic fallout."
Interestingly, Sindh has a coalition government run by the PPP, the MQM and the ANP representing all the major segments of Karachi's population. After the government formation in 2008 it was expected that Karachi would promote a culture of tolerance, but in vain. Business Recorder has given figures showing that in 2008 as many as 76 political workers lost their lives in target killings. The figure was 100 for the first six months of 2009. The maximum number of casualties belonged to the two factions of the MQM. Almost all the political groups have been involved in target murders. Karachi may be back to the days when media carried reports of ethnic killings almost everyday if no concrete measures are taken soon.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
With the Supreme Court taking serious note of former MP and lottery baron Mani Kumar Subba's nationality and asking him to produce within six weeks documents in support of his claim of being an Indian citizen, the controversy over the credentials of Subba could be nearing a logical conclusion sooner than later. The apex court, while disposing of a PIL challenging Subba's Indian nationality, has termed the latter's credentials as 'highly suspicious' and given him a chance to defend himself, as under the Citizenship Act it is for the person accused of being a foreign national to prove otherwise. The court also pulled up the investigating agency, the CBI, for failing to give a clear finding on Subba's nationality. The CBI's investigations have been tardy and this has unduly prolonged the controversy over Subba's nationality. For over a decade, serious doubts had been cast by various quarters on the controversial politician's Indian citizenship, which now seem vindicated by the observations of the apex court. Legal aspects apart, the fact that all along the Congress chose to brush aside the serious allegations is a clear indication how criminal elements have come to dominate today's politics. Apparently, Subba, an alleged convict from a neighbouring country who has several criminal charges against him has been wielding considerable clout over party affairs something that explains the Congress' reluctance to entertain any question over his alleged criminal antecedents.
Irrespective of the final verdict on Subba's nationality, the developments concerning this controversial politician have implications that are ominous for democracy. Persons with criminal antecedents are increasingly riding roughshod over the democratic process. Criminalization of politics has assumed sinister dimensions in the country, and is hitting at the very core of the democratic foundation. Even more disturbing is the fact that despite mounting public opinion, political parties invariably seek to shield the criminal elements rather than dissociating with those. Things have reached such a stage that there is nothing surreptitious about the criminal-politician nexus, with more and more criminal acts of politicians coming to the fore. Growing criminalization of politics apart, Assam faces another disturbing threat in that infiltrators from Bangladesh who have easy access to solemn documents such as passports now stand a good chance of wresting political power. The Gauhati High Court, in a recent verdict, had exposed how a Bangladeshi national even managed to contest an Assembly election. Such a situation could lead to catastrophic consequences for not just the State's socio-political spheres but the unity and integrity of the nation as well.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The Third Assam State Finance Commission ( TASFC ), chaired by former Chief Secretary, H.N.Das, made certain valuable suggestions regarding strengthening of local government. It is common knowledge that Panchayati Raj Institutions(PRI) and Urban Local Bodies(ULB), including the Guwahati Municipal Corporation(GMC), are unable to deliver even minimum services to the citizens because they do not have the proper infrastructure in terms of manpower, gadgets and equipments. TASFC has made quite a number of recommendations in this behalf. Among these are the ones for revamping PRIs. TASFC pointed out that at the grass roots level of the Goan Panchayats(GP), for example, there is hardly any staff to carry out the normal functions and the work allocated under various rural development schemes and programmes. The only sanctioned post, that of Panchayat Secretary, is not filled up in many GPs. There are no posts of Tax Collectors and Peons in most GPs. Where these posts exist people are recruited on commission or part time basis. Such arrangements do not work. TASFC, therefore, consulted the State Institute of Rural Development(SIRD) and recommended a new staffing pattern for all PRIs including GPs. According to this the vacant posts, numbering 855, out of the already sanctioned posts are to be filled up. Similarly, there are 3446 posts which are yet to be sanctioned in accordance with an outdated staffing pattern adopted long ago by the Government of Assam(GOA). These posts are also to be filled up. GOA accepted both these recommendations. But it did not accept the recommendation to fill up the 13,470 "additional posts required to be created and filled up in accordance with the staffing pattern as worked out by SIRD." This rejection was done inspite of TASFC having pointed out that "funds for payment of salaries for all these posts will be available from(1) devolution ; and (2) revenues."
This is unfortunate. GOA cannot deny that implementation of rural development work has been slow in Assam. While other states like West Bengal and Karnataka are going full steam ahead backward States like Assam and Bihar are falling far behind. The tall claim of Assam having reduced the below poverty line(BPL) population by an impossible 21 percentage points in five years has been rejected by all sensible people. In the last session of the Assam Assembly members, irrespective of party affiliation, deprecated the fact that the public distribution system was not getting adequate supplies. This has happened because of showing BPL population as much less than the actual number. It may be reiterated that without the full complement of employees PRIs cannot run the delivery system properly. GOA must revise the decision and allow PRIs to function properly in the interest of rural development.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
ARUP KUMAR DUTTA
It is a sad but true commentary on the socio-cultural scenario of contemporary India that, to the common man, the Judiciary is the only wing of the Indian democratic mechanism to have retained a semblance of integrity and social concern. With the very foundations of the Legislative and Bureaucratic wings being eroded by self-serving corruption, nepotism and lack of idealism, the Judiciary time and again has had to intervene in spheres not strictly within the ambit of its concern and pass judgements on issues such as environmental degradation, consumer protection, bandh-culture et al, simply because our legislators and bureaucrats have been lax in performing their assigned duties.
How progressive the Judiciary has been is reflected by the fact that higher functionaries have not chosen to shut themselves up within the confines of their chambers, but have kept themselves in touch with contemporary social realities. One sterling example of his was the ruling of the Delhi High Court which brought relief to India's gay community. It may be recalled that the Court had declared Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, one which prescribes up to a life term for "whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature", in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, as violating Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution relating to individual rights. Befittingly, this order nullified an act enacted by the British a century and half ago, one which the legislature, fearing backlash from religious groups, had been afraid to remove from the statute books.
The Court on this occasion observed that moral indignation of the majority cannot be a valid basis for overriding an individual's fundamental rights or dignity and privacy. In the Court's words, "Constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality." Its judgement had struck at the very foundation of the Government's position that gay sex was "immoral". The significance of the ruling lies in that, in the initial stage, even the courts had refused to entertainment complaints on the issue, and the matter had been taken up only after a directive of the Supreme Court. Thus the Judiciary has by such an observation shown that not only is it aware of prevalent social realities and changing mores, but also that it is ready to accept the challenge of being a custodian of that indefinable and controversial entity called public 'morality', no matter how palatable such a role might be to certain orthodox segments of society.
The diverse judgements of various courts in the country with regards to issues such as bandhs, women empowerment, rights of the disabled et al testifies to the fact that the common man still retains faith in the judicial system, and has not cloaked himself with the cynicism he betrays towards other institutions of democracy. The instrument of Public Interest Litigation, despite being occasionally misused, has served to lay disparate matters of societal concern at the feet of the dispensers of law and justice, occasionally bringing forth remarkable judgements.
More important, the Judiciary has become the last recourse for individuals victimised by those who, their egos bloated by being in positions of power, seek to subvert the process of law. The intervention of no less an institution than the Supreme Court in the tragic case of Ruchika Girhotra reinforces public perceptions that even the humblest citizen can seek and get justice when confronting the rich and the powerful. It may be recalled that young Ruchika had the gumption to accuse the Haryana Director General of Police, S P S Rathore, of molesting her. The latter had so viciously used the power he wielded to harass Ruchika and her family that she was driven to commit suicide. That Rathore, though finally found guilty of abetting suicide, was let off with a ridiculously light sentence had horrified the nation, resulting in the Supreme Court taking up the case.
It has been episodes such as the one quoted above that have enabled the Judiciary to retain the confidence of the general public. Given such a positive perception, it is imperative that the Judiciary sustain the faith reposed by the people through transparency in its functioning, as well as devising ways in which the canker of corruption can be kept at bay. In recent days the image of the Judiciary has been taking a beating, primarily due to corruption seeping its way into the system. Sadly, not only corruption among the lower echelons of the judicial hierarchy has become a harsh reality, but also there have been media reports of judges of higher courts accepting bribes or possessing assets disproportionate to their incomes.
The second aspect that is serving to dilute the authority of the Judiciary and tarnishing its image is the abnormal delay in cases coming up for trial. The various courts of the land, from the lowest to the highest, are overwhelmed with enormous backlogs of pending cases, so much so that the Prime Minister has had to urge the judiciary to initiate reforms before the state of affairs become unmanageable, which in fact it already has. The most pathetic scenario is in civil lawsuits, which take decades to be disposed off, and often original litigants do not get a verdict during their lifetime. Such a state of affairs serves as inducement to tenants to default on their rent well knowing that it would be many years before a lawsuit against them would be disposed off.
Delayed justice also encourages illegal encroachment of land and misappropriation of property, the reason why many owners prefer to keep property under lock and key rather than give it on rent. Though criminal cases are disposed off more quickly than their civil counterparts, the speed is not quick enough. There have been numerous well publicised cases where the accused, due to inordinate delay in the judicial process, had been provided with ample time to bribe or coerce witnesses into retracting statements, leaving the prosecution in the lurch and giving the presiding judges no option but to set them free.
The phrase, Physician heal thyself, may well be applicable to the Judiciary, the way things are shaping up to threaten its image before the public. But there have been no perceptible signs that action is being taken to stem the rot by those concerned. The role of lawyers in any attempt to initiate reforms into the system has been pathetic, reinforcing the suspicion that it is in their interest that the status quo be maintained! The need of the hour is the exertion of public and media pressure on the Judiciary to bring about far-reaching changes into the judicial mechanism, starting from the bottom of the ladder.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
BIG DAM AND THE SMALL MAN
A PIL was filed in Guwahati High Court objecting against construction of a big dam at Gerukamikh undertaken by National Hydro-Electric Power Corporation (NHPC. However the honourable High Court after hearing the litigant parties rejected it on the ground that as per Article 262 of the Constitution a hearing on such a dispute related to the water of a interstate river is beyond the scope of any court. On the other hand resolving of such a dispute is being governed by Interstate Water Dispute Act of 1956, under Clause 4C of the relevant Act only a Tribunal / Special Court formed at the behest of the Central Government could take hearing on such matters. Further it was stated that only the victimised state government has the legal sanction to vouch for the people's cause before such a Tribunal and an dividual or an organization has right no right to file even their complaint in it. In the meantime the ambitious Central Plan to harness about 50,000 MW of hydel energy hidden in various south flowing tributaries of the Brahmaputra with sources at Arunachal has stirred the hornet's nest in Assam. Naturally the cause of apprehension of the people needs to be unearthed and fathomed by our policy makers with particular reference to the logic put forward by various mass organizations of the state opposing the Central plan. We feel that when the Constitution was enacted, the havoc likely to be created by a hydal project constructed without any holistic and transparent policy encompassing aspects of ecology earthquake and flood control (whose natural balance may be upset by a hydro-electric project) could hardly be foreseen by our wise forefathers also. Moreover, the topic like effect of global warming did not occupy any prominence as of now, because its effects could hardly be perceived in the then reality. Yet, today all these matters are of paramount importance and any developmental process which could upset the balance of nature or could create a social disequilibrium is termed as unsustainable development. Therefore, it is felt that our executive as well as our Judiciary too shall take the matter a bit differently and should extricate themselves from the routine process they have become habituated to. Otherwise people's genuine grievances too might go unheard or misrepresented. The existing system of law does not permit anybody other than the state government even to raise the issue. Naturally people are left with no other alternative than to voice their protest through agitation or 'Bandh', abhorred by the Court of law nowadays; notwithstanding the reality that such modes of protest were practiced by the Father of the Nation against colonial exploiters with success when the collective and logical protest of the people in dilute form went unheeded.
It is needless to mention that the terms such as big dam or small dam are misleading. Depending upon the quantum of hydro-potential to be harnessed, seismic characteristics of the location of the dam, the soil characteristics, and ecology of the resign, a design of the dam is initiated. Ideally the water resource management of the related river at the peak flow period too needs to be taken into consideration. Nowadays there seems to be an aberration factor connected with the discharge of the rivers which refuses to tally with the past 32 years' hydrological data the very basis of a hydal plant construction. From economic consideration at times 'run off' the river scheme becomes more viable for which no extra water conservation reservoir with cushioning for flood control is provided. A dam is constructed across the river and up-stream of the river itself holds the water volume required to be flown to the turbine for generating electricity. In fact most of the projects of the region including Ranganadi are run off the river type with little flood control measures. As to the hydel projects included in the aforesaid ambitious plan, the Central government should have encompassed all the above mentioned aspects indispensable for sustainable development yet people are in dark about it. In fact in the absence of a holistic and transparent policy on hydel power harnessing, the issue of public interest is often ignored by the promoters to save the cost of the project. Now after having acerbic experience of unprecedented flood caused by the Ranganadi river, people's apprehension against any hydel project have been mounting. If the discharge from a mere 200 MW capacity plant during summer could create such a deluge, what would be the future plight of the people living in downstream when discharge commensurating with 50,000 MW hydro power is left through the gates of the concerned dams? Such a spectre of thought is haunting the minds of the small man. The executive as well as the judiciary must find out the ways and means to exercise the spectre first of all.
In the pre-globalization period an exploration of hydro-electric power was vested with the government but the new era of globalization made a sea change in the policy. Now onwards any promoter can invest in setting up of a hydro-electric plant against government approval. They can generate power and can sell the same at a commercial price with a statutory minimum return on equity. On the other hand the demand for power has been rising rapidly not only in the national market but in the South East Asian market also. Moreover, NE region has an economic advantage as a strategic location for mega hydro-electric project for transmitting power at an optimum price to the National Grid as well as well asto any Trans-national Grid of the neighbouring power deficit nations like Bangladesh, Myanmar etc. In the meantime Bangladesh is about to sign a pact with India for import of power.
Power sector reforms in the country indicated a clear policy shift transforming the status of electricity service from an essential one to commercial. In fact international financial institutions have laid down some conditions of structural changes in the power policy of the country and assured to advance fund in lieu of the same. Naturally both the private and the public sector managed to get enough fund for investment in the power sector. The hydro potential of the NE region drew their attention. Till the other day due to fund crunch public sector promoters of hydro projects in the region was forced to limit the plant size to 50 MW and 100 MW. But today in the new situation public and private sector together has targeted some 50,000 MW of power to be generated from hydel sources of the region against an astronomical amount of investment It is apparent from the discharge data of Ranganadi during successive floods faced by the habitants living in the down stream that an aberration took place.
It is not a question of big dam or a small dam at all. One must realise that the dam across Ranganadi could never be defined as a big dam. Yet the power generating capacity could definitely be a point for discussion. If the design of the dam is scientific from the seismic consideration and other related factors there could hardly be any reason against it. But the moot question is flood control measures for each and every hydel project of the region. Moreover, monitoring of the water volume containing capacity of the river right from the start of the project to all through the production stage throughout its lifetime along with monitoring of its upstream discharge and control should be made compulsory for the project promoters. Such additional responsibilities entrusted with would involve scientific ingenuity and cost which would enhance the cost of production. But we have little alternative to break the present impasse than adopting such measures. The Central government should be ready to come forward with a policy paper on it to soothe the people's ire against so called development all at once, otherwise the spectre haunting the small man would remain unexorcised.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE CRISIS OF INDIAN HOCKEY
The crisis that gripped Indian hockey after the entire national team went on strike might have been averted for now, but the whole shoddy episode reflects the malaise that afflicts Indian sports bodies. The latest fracas was again indicative of the larger shortcomings of democratic functioning in such institutions and bodies in India, spurred not least by the system of political appointees. Indian hockey, in particular, given that almost all our Olympic golds were won in the sport, has been an exemplary case of misgovernance. Indeed, the problem is so systemic that the corporate handout that has taken care of the player's immediate demands is hardly a lasting solution. That the team was being paid a pittance, with players forced to take such drastic steps, is just one part of the problem.
Corruption within the erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) had reached such levels that a couple of years ago, the world hockey body, the FIH, actually warned that India could not only lose the right to host the 2010 World Cup, but also funding for the promotion of hockey. This prompted the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to suspend the IHF, ending the 15-year tenure of K P S Gill as its chief. That this was a token gesture to ostensibly end the president-for-life culture that pervades Indian sports bodies was evident given that Suresh Kalmadi, who has seemingly for ever been the chief of the IOA, was involved in the suspension, as he was in the 'resolution' of the current imbroglio. And it seems rather assured that the new administration, Hockey India, is still representative of much the same problem.
The larger issue is the lack of democratic functioning of sports bodies and the attendant absence of structures that can ensure accountability. There could be a case for the state to oversee functioning, within permissible limits, while remaining aware of the need of federation autonomy. But the disjunct between the administrators, players and the public only breeds a culture of a lack of accountability. The latter, thus, is an issue of public, democratic participation within sports bodies. It is the absence of that genuine democratic culture that leads to such unseemly situations.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
OF WORDS AND SLIPPAGES
The army chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, at a recent instance, did think loud about scenarios and happenstance, and the mavens have since been taking note of it. Our first army chief, Field Marshal K M Cariappa, also had a way of speaking his mind, say people in the know. As author Manohar Malgaonkar recalls in his memoirs, Field Marshal Cariappa started the practice of addressing all ranks, now and then, in what he called his darbars. It's a related matter that in the barracks, the talk was that while the chief spoke the Queen's tongue like a well-educated Englishman, he also spoke Hindustani with similar aplomb! The story goes that after one such high-voltage speechifying in Hindustani in the Capital, the chief wanted to know just how well his message had been received no Barak-Obama-style teleprompters then. So, Cariappa had the Subedar-Major summoned and asked him how the jawans had liked his address. "Bahut, bahut achha, saab (excellent)," he was assured. "But it would have been even better had you spoken in Hindustani!" The medium had clearly not been the message! But no matter. The chief had a reputation for uprightness.
Statements can fall flat though. The story goes that Raj Narain, maverick politico and Union health minister during the Janata regime in the 1970s, had the brainwave to make a political statement by choosing to ride a bicycle for a surprise inspection of Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the Capital. The gameplan was that the health minister would be photographed proudly identifying with the aam aadmi and cycling off to Parliament after his errand, for the next day's papers. But Raj Narain, in his haste, left the cycle bang in front of the hospital portico, and both its tyres were promptly deflated by the unsuspecting beat policeman, for wrong parking. It led to a scene later; but it was a flop show! The minister had to blurt something about having to rush to the House, from the back seat of his official car!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TWO CHEERS FOR CHINA'S CLIMATE WALL
Since the Copenhagen climate summit's failure, many politicians and pundits have pointed the finger at China's leaders for blocking a binding, global carbon-mitigation treaty. But the Chinese government's resistance was both understandable and inevitable. Rather than mustering indignation, decision-makers would do well to use this as a wake-up call: it is time to consider a smarter climate policy.
China is unwilling to do anything that might curtail the economic growth that has enabled millions of Chinese to clamber out of poverty. This development can be seen in the ever-expanding Chinese domestic market.
In the next six months, a quarter of young Chinese consumers intend to buy new cars the main source of urban air pollution up an astonishing 65% from a year ago. A poll by China Youth Daily revealed that eight out of 10 young Chinese are aware of climate change, but are prepared to support environmental policies only if they can continue to improve their living standards including acquiring new cars.
The cost of drastic, short-term carbon cuts is too high. The results of all major economic models reveal that the much-discussed goal of keeping temperature increases below 2° C would require a global tax of e71 per tonne to start or about e0.12 per litre of gasoline increasing to e2,800 per tonne or e6.62 per litre of gasoline by the end of the century.
In all, the actual cost to the economy would be a phenomenal e28 trillion a year. According to most mainstream calculations, this is 50 times more expensive than the climate damage it would likely prevent.
Trying to cut carbon emissions drastically in the short term would be particularly damaging, because it would not be possible for industry and consumers to replace carbon-burning fossil fuels with cheap, green energy. Renewable energy alternatives are simply far from ready to take over.
Consider the fact that 97% of China's energy comes from fossil fuels and burning waste and biomass. Renewable sources such as wind and solar meet just 0.2% of the China's energy needs, according to the most recent International Energy Agency (IEA) figures. The IEA estimates that on its current path, China will get a mere 1.2% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
As if these reasons were not enough to explain the Chinese government's opposition to an expensive global carbon deal, economic-impact models show that for at least the rest of this century, China will actually benefit from global warming. Warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production and improve health. While heat-related deaths in summer will increase, this will be more than offset by a significant reduction in cold-related deaths in winter.
In short, China is aggressively protecting the economic growth that is transforming the lives of its citizens, instead of spending a fortune battling a problem that is unlikely to affect it negatively until next century. Little wonder, then, that Ed Miliband, Britain's secretary for energy and climate change, found 'impossible resistance' from China to a global carbon mitigation deal.
Trying to force China into line would be impractical and foolhardy. The inescapable but inconvenient truth is that the response to global warming that we have single-mindedly pursued for nearly 20 years since the leaders of rich countries first vowed to cut carbon is simply not going to work.
It is time to recognise the impracticality of trying to force developing countries to agree to make fossil fuel ever more expensive. Instead, we need to make a greater effort to produce cheaper, more widely-used green energy. And to do this, we must dramatically increase the amount of money we spend on research and development.
A global deal in which countries committed to spending 0.2% of GDP to develop non-carbon-emitting energy technologies would increase current spending 50-fold, and it would still be many times cheaper than a global carbon deal. It would also ensure that richer nations pay more, taking much of the political heat out of the debate.
Most importantly, such an approach would bring about the transformational technological breakthroughs that are required to make green energy sources cheap and effective enough to fuel a carbon-free future.
We cannot browbeat China and other developing nations into embracing hugely expensive, ineffective global carbon cuts. Rather than hoping that we can overcome their 'impossible resistance' with political maneuvering, leaders of developed countries need to shift their focus to a strategy that is both feasible and effective.
(The author is head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School)
© Project Syndicate, 2010
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE OPEN WAY OF BEING IN THE WORLD
VITHAL C NADKARNI
Robert Thurman was changing a flat tyre when the rim flipped the tyre iron into his eye. He went into coma for three days. When he woke up, the renowned translator of Tibetan and Sanskrit, who was also leading a double life as a wealthy Harvard playboy, found that the doctors had taken the eye out.
"It was kind of a mess," he reminisces. "But it became a great benefit to me. Losing my eye made me realise that everything is impermanent. As my teacher later said, I lost one but gained a thousand more. I gained a thousand eyes into the deep visceral value of impermanence, what we call in Tibet the immediacy of death, meaning that death is right here with us now." That insight shaped all his subsequent experiences. Giving up his life of ease, he trekked off to India, became the first American to be ordained as a Buddhist monk, initiated by none other than Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama.
Four years later, he was back in America, giving up his robes and begging bowl and putting on a coat and tie. "I decided to follow the Bodhisattva path (although I do not consider myself a Bodhisattva), which is to seek enlightenment for the sake of others, to serve others," he explains. "But being a Buddhist monk was not a suitable position, at that time, from which to command people's respect, to engage them intellectually, or teach them, because everyone thought that an American Buddhist monk was somehow defective. There wasn't a real social understanding of the place of a monk in western society. The academy is the monastery, if you will, of modern secular society, so my return to academia was a natural adaptation to America's social reality."
Shortly after his return, he was hired to translate the ancient Tibetan text, Vimalakirti Sutra. Vimalakirti was not a monk, but an enlightened layperson who emphasised the notion of "non-duality," which means that one doesn't create artificial distinctions between the everyday world and some exalted state. "In other words, you try to live out your Nirvana in the world, not in the monastery," Thurman avers.
He was deeply moved by the Zen-like idea that Nirvana was not a place but an open way of being in the world. "This isn't the same as nihilism," he says. "The Buddha's teaching simply says that nothing exists independently; that everything depends on everything else. Rather than being a danger, it is the one hope and a cure for today's nihilism."
LIGHTEN SCHOOLBAGS, BUT DON'T STOP THERE
The issue of heavy schoolbags has been with us for many years. It came to public attention when some years ago educational experts and parents began to wonder aloud if bag heft bore any correspondence with the quality of education, and whether carrying heavy satchels did not in the long run cause injury to children's spines. In another era, Indian students were not beasts of burden, either in terms of the homework load or the book load they carried. There is as yet no study to suggest that schoolgoers then were any less bright or capable. But so much has changed over the years with misplaced emphasis on numerous books for every course which are little more than compilation of cram capsules, and multiple notebooks that go with each course. Needless to say, publication and printing of these books and notebooks is a roaring business. The Centre's Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, which runs over a thousand schools in the country, has therefore done well to take a relook at the loads its students carry. It needs to be said, however, that its focus is too narrow. The KVS can seize the opportunity it has created for itself by opening up the debate on education and curriculum-design. These are at the heart of the discussion on weight children must carry. In an effort to be helpful, the KVS has apparently laid down stringent weight norms for the children who attend its schools. This is a good start. But the new norms do not appear to go far enough. Experts available to the KVS for consultation need to ask themselves if it is fair to make five or six or seven-year-olds, who are typically the right age for Class 1 or 2, carry an average weight of up to two kg of classroom accessories to school daily. It should be kept in mind that large numbers of children walk to school, given our socio-economic conditions. The KVS will be acting in an enlightened way if it also kept in view that the decisions it takes will be emulated by thousands of schools that cater to poorer students who almost invariably walk a fair distance between home and school. The question is: should little children be carrying any load at all? Especially at that age, is there a positive correlation between creative learning and book load? Unfortunately, that is currently the favoured assumption made by our educational factories. But it is not a question of small children alone. The class angle cannot be pushed away in any serious discussion of the school milieu. The point is this: if lots of books and notebooks were not mandatory, more children from poor homes will find a key obstacle removed from the road to education. In the end, no matter which end of the problem one cares to attack first, the primary issue is one of designing the content of school education. In many leading public schools, pupils virtually carry no books. This is also true of several other innovative institutions whose children shine at school-leaving examinations. In such situations, it is the quality of teachers that becomes trail-blazing. The essence of education is to arouse the sense of curiosity and wonder in children. A basic number of books retained at school can do the trick if this has been accomplished. Without knowing it, KVS may have begun an important discussion. It will be terrific if private and state schools enrich the debate with their experience.
One thing is certain we cannot become a knowledge society if our children are exhausted carrying a burden in their bags.
THE SANTA CONSPIRACY
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"Let there be light
And the darkness answered
Let there be life
The skull chuckled
Let there be the w-w-wo-wor- w...
Eternity stuttered "
From Gidhdud ki Boli by Bachchoo
If everything acts as though it were a conspiracy, you don't need a conspiracy. As every smug physics teacher knows, s/he can startle young minds by demonstrating that the patterns, when the magnet is placed under the piece of card, are pre-ordained. Magic.
The sick blessing of our age has given us the Internet which has brought infinity closer but has also bred several species of pernicious and vain idleness called blogging and tweeting indulging in which produces Frankenstein monsters of nonsense. These creations stride the ether with monstrous impudence but are only alive because diseased minds have wound them up and set them loose.
There are people I've actually met them who conspire to believe that no Islamicists hi-jacked American passenger planes on September 11, 2001, and flew them into the World Trade Centre's twin towers in New York. No, this was all a plot by the American Air Force and the "world Jewish lobby". The same people commemorate "9/11" each year because several thousand Americans were murdered that day. The conspiracy is momentarily forgotten this was the heroic act of martyrs of the nihilistic revolution.
Consistency and conspiracy are chalk and cheese. Conspiracists will use any pseudo-science about explosives blowing things inwards rather than outward, fantasies about drone planes, Jewish people receiving emails ordering them to stay away from the WTC on the day, Miss Piggy seen floating over the skies of Washington etc to justify an act which they characterise on the one hand as the great strike of Islamicism against the Great Satan and on the other as the self-harming Americo-Jewish conspiracy to justify an attack on Muslims.
And why? So that George W. Bush and Tony Blair and the lobby they work for can construct a phantom oil pipeline through the impossible terrain of that country to pump oil from somewhere to somewhere else and make a profit.
I can now confirm, have indeed seen with my own eyes, a blog which reports that Santa Claus and his reindeer are already hard at work digging the trenches for this pipeline, which is why so many Muslim children have not received their Christmas presents commemorating the gifts the Magi brought to Issa-al-e-salam (PBUH) in the year dot. The soldiers deployed by the US and British governments in Afghanistan are there to shield Santa and the digging reindeer from attacks by Mickey Mouse and his valiant associates. But they are being killed in the process.
This week the corpses of two young men from the British regiments deployed in Helmand province were flown back to the UK and carried from the military aircraft in flag-draped coffins by their regimental comrades in view of the TV cameras which have taken to transmitting these scenes to the world without once mentioning the Jewish wickedness and greed for pipelines that sent them there and claimed these young lives. The airbase to which the bodies are brought from Afghanistan is near a town in Wiltshire called Wootton Bassett. The ceremonial that has evolved around the delivery of these soldiers killed in action entails their bodies being led through the main streets of the town with the population thronging the pavements to honour the men they think of as the valiant dead. The scenes, of respectfully mourning citizens, who now attend the ceremonials from far and wide and throw flowers on the military cortege and on the coffins as they pass, is inevitably televised.
At the time of writing, 108 dead soldiers have been afforded these last rites with their families prominent in the crowds that receive the British war dead. And as the numbers mount the population of the British Isles begins to wonder whether the war in Afghanistan is worth the sacrifice of their sons, husbands, brothers and others. The funeral processions of Wootton Basett have fuelled the debate and doubts about this war and Britain's purpose in being in Afghanistan.
The mourners of Wiltshire are not the first to advocate a withdrawal from the war. Britain has a volunteer Army and its soldiers and their families are aware of the hazards of enlisting. The relatives of living and of dead soldiers are often interviewed and make courageous patriotic statements about the hazards of service. Their very unquestioning sacrifice stimulates the serious debate in the country and though both government and Opposition support the British presence in the Afghan war, serious doubts were beginning to take shape led by commentators of various persuasions.
The old equation of weighing body-bags against national purpose was being scrutinised for balance.
Enter Mickey Mouse and his merry men in this instance calling himself Islam4UK, a name calculated to attract cartoon half-witted ideologues to its banner. Their leader, an Anjem Choudary, born and brought up in Kent, proposes that his organisation mount a procession in Wootton Bassett carrying 200 empty coffins through the streets to protest against the "murder of Muslims" by the British troops in Afghanistan.
Whether one supports the war in Afghanistan or the laying of the oil pipeline through the country by Santa Claus, it ought to be clear that Mr Choudary cannot muster the 800 people it would take to carry a corner each of the 200 empty coffins. They would have to make do with three or four coffins and they would look ludicrous in their mock-Arabian pantomime costumes with round caps and long beards walking through the little Wiltshire town.
They would, of course, be protected by the Wiltshire constabulary, as they have regularly been when they turn out, 25 strong, to carry placards and chant slogans against the coffins and dead soldiers being carried through the town. But for such protection, they would probably be subject to some good Old Testament/Sharia treatment from the angry British crowds who think they know the difference between free speech, the expression of dissenting opinion and cowardly insults to their dead relatives.
The antics of these merry men will without a doubt increase support for the British soldiers in Afghanistan and for the war for pipelines or against whatever it is that Mr Choudary and his merry men support.
Is Gordon Brown paying these fellows to restore confidence in his war? Do they have shares in Santa Claus's oil pipeline? I think we should be told.
INDIAN HOCKEY AND THE POLITICS OF FEAR
BY VIREN RASQUINHA
The crisis in Indian hockey seems to be over for the time being. The Indian hockey players are back on the playing field, where they belong, with smiles back on their faces. Nevertheless, there are many problems and issues that need to be sorted out with all parties involved in the sport.
The main issue that led to the crisis was not that Hockey India did not want to pay the players. The issue was the lack of funds available to pay the players and where those funds would come from.
I firmly believe that it's high time that all the activities of Hockey India be handled by paid professionals led by a CEO who would be accountable for the planning and execution of all activities under the mandate of the organisation.
And like any organisation, this CEO would need a support team in place to look into the various aspects of marketing, sponsorship, finance, legal, PR and, of course, the coaching and development programmes for the players
Hockey India should follow processes like any other corporate organisation with each department having its own KRAs (Key Result Areas) and KPAs (Key Performance Areas) with no room for slackers. Transparency of accounts and activities should be the mantra. If Hockey India shows that it can run like any other professional corporate set-up, I don't see any reason why corporates would not be falling all over themselves to sponsor Indian hockey and the problem of paucity of funds would never arise.
The salaries that we pay the CEO and his entire team should be looked upon as an investment and not an expense. Hockey in India will flourish but we have to have professional experts running the show.
An organisation is only as good as its people and productivity can only be achieved if there exists a good working relationship internally and mutual respect for each other while working towards a common goal.
The relationship between the players, administrators and officials is definitely strained and this was obvious at the recent press conference in Pune. It was extremely disheartening to see a very condescending attitude towards the players at the Hockey India press conference.
It seemed that the welfare of the players was last on the list of priorities of those in charge. As a former player with the national team, it was hurtful and sad to watch officials allege on television that players put money before pride and passion in playing for the country.
Whereas the truth is that Indian hockey players put their bodies on the line every single time they take the field, knowing full well that if they do get injured there won't be too many people to even ask how they are doing, let alone foot their medical bills.
There is too much of a fear factor in this player-administrator or player-official relationship. Most players are too scared to pick up the phone and call the officials in charge even if they have a serious family or a personal problem or can't train for some reason. Sports administrators are usually inaccessible and there is really no one present to listen to the grievances of the players.
At most national camps that I have attended, I have noticed that players just blindly follow what their coaches and trainers tell them to do. No player would dare question the tactics, strategies or training methods.
Any player who does that is branded as "indisciplined" and a "bad" influence on the rest of the players. Dhanraj Pillay and Ashish Ballal, both excellent players in their own right, were always branded as problem players and every coach was supposed to be wary of them. Why? Just because they spoke their minds.
There is too much of a gulf between the administrators and the officials on one side, and the players on the other. If we don't encourage our national team players to share their problems, to speak out at least within the team when they feel something is going wrong in training or in planning a strategy, then we are doing a grave disservice to the sport.
The time has come for this fear to end. We are stifling the creativity and killer instinct of our players in the guise of maintaining discipline.
I would like to see administrators and officials encouraging the development of a more "peer to peer" relationship between players and coaches and players and administrators.
The players are our national treasure. Let them be at the centre of all plans for the future of Indian hockey. Without them, hockey cannot go on. Listen to their problems, guide them and treat them with the respect they deserve.
Don't threaten them; trust them. Don't be afraid to give them responsibility. They will not let you down
IF ONLY WE ALL WERE RANCHOS...
BY SHOBHAA'S TAKE
I am writing this on one of the most auspicious day of the Hindu calendar Makar Sankranti. While there are countless, carefree teenagers flying kites across India, there are also those traumatised and troubled kids who feel life is no longer worth living. Something weird is going on in our society and "Aall is NOT welll", I'm afraid. On the contrary, all is falling apart, going by the scary statistics. Just this morning I received a call from a senior psychologist who counsels teenagers. She talked about her daughter's friend, an Indian student at a top American university, who has written a book about his own suicidal feelings. The young man's life was saved by his caring and sensitive grandfather in Ahmedabad with whom the student spent time when he was at his lowest. It was entirely through his grandfather's efforts that his young life got saved. The psy-chologist wanted me to guide this student and help get his book published. I thought to myself, this boy is blessed he had a loving person in his life who didn't give up on him. What of the others who feel isolated and desperate to kill themselves? And how can one explain this phenomenon which is seeing a spate of suicides?
In Mumbai, the Municipal Corporation has roped in Aamir Khan for an awareness campaign ("Life is Beautiful") which is aimed at making children feel more positive about themselves. Several workshops are in the pipeline, which are also designed to train teachers to look out for telltale signs of depression and suicidal tendencies. Aamir has been picked after much thought, since students like his personality and it is believed that if he appeals to the young to "appreciate the beauty of life", his message will get through.
In Pune, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker talked about the power of Indian classical music and spirituality to heal the wounded souls of our teens. He also talked about the power of yoga and praised the government's agenda to teach yoga in schools. Some would say, there is nothing new in any of this. But at this desperate point in time whatever we think can work has to be given a chance. Whatever.
Perhaps, the key to solving the current sad situation lies in this we no longer know who we are. People take "identity" for granted, even though it is at the core of our lives. If we don't know who the hell we are, it is safe to assume we are lost emotionally and spiritually. What the young in India are facing today is a loss of identity (42 per cent of India is under 18). Since we are such a young nation, where we have failed is to connect with our own youth. Even Aamir is 44-years-old, and we consider him "young". Rahul Gandhi is the youngest politician to reach out to this segment and he is 40-plus as well. Our other netas are geriatrics whose mindsets are stuck in another century. In any case, their priorities never did include the young till statistics caught up with them. Today we are dealing with an emergency-like situation that has to be tackled on a war footing if we are to pre-empt and prevent further deaths. Are we upto it? There is a silly attempt to link recent student suicides to the 3 Idiots and put the whole thing down to a "trend" ("Babes, suicides are just so 'in' this season think I'm going to try it. Just for fun!") with a cascading effect. There is no denying the overwhelming effect of popular Bollywood movies on audiences, but that is not the solo factor responsible for the suicides.
Whether in love or academics, today's young are unhealthily obsessed with success and winning. The pressures on them are so unrealistically steep, that unless we modify those outdated school/college systems and get them more in tune with today's requirements, we will be mute witnesses to more such tragedies.
The reason why Rancho (Aamir Khan's charismatic character in 3 Idiots) connected with audiences is because there is a Rancho in all our lives.
Think back on your own school and college days and you will recall a character like Rancho someone who challenged the system, subverted authority, was hated and persecuted by teachers, and yet managed to emerge a topper, a winner. Such a character is not mythical at all every generation has a Rancho which is precisely why the movie has done brilliantly across generations. The trouble is, everyone wants to be Rancho these days!
If only every classroom in India could be filled with Ranchos, then we'd not have to face the grim reality of yet another youth found hanging from the ceiling fan. The Rancho effect has only just begun to seep into our consciousness. Now, with Aamir spearheading a multimedia campaign , there is some hope.
- Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com 
INDIAN HOCKEY AND THE POLITICS OF FEAR
BY VIREN RASQUINHA
The crisis in Indian hockey seems to be over for the time being. The Indian hockey players are back on the playing field, where they belong, with smiles back on their faces. Nevertheless, there are many problems and issues that need to be sorted out with all parties involved in the sport.
The main issue that led to the crisis was not that Hockey India did not want to pay the players. The issue was the lack of funds available to pay the players and where those funds would come from.
I firmly believe that it's high time that all the activities of Hockey India be handled by paid professionals led by a CEO who would be accountable for the planning and execution of all activities under the mandate of the organisation. And like any organisation, this CEO would need a support team in place to look into the various aspects of marketing, sponsorship, finance, legal, PR and, of course, the coaching and development programmes for the players
Hockey India should follow processes like any other corporate organisation with each department having its own KRAs (Key Result Areas) and KPAs (Key Performance Areas) with no room for slackers. Transparency of accounts and activities should be the mantra. If Hockey India shows that it can run like any other professional corporate set-up, I don't see any reason why corporates would not be falling all over themselves to sponsor Indian hockey and the problem of paucity of funds would never arise.
The salaries that we pay the CEO and his entire team should be looked upon as an investment and not an expense. Hockey in India will flourish but we have to have professional experts running the show.
An organisation is only as good as its people and productivity can only be achieved if there exists a good working relationship internally and mutual respect for each other while working towards a common goal.
The relationship between the players, administrators and officials is definitely strained and this was obvious at the recent press conference in Pune. It was extremely disheartening to see a very condescending attitude towards the players at the Hockey India press conference.
It seemed that the welfare of the players was last on the list of priorities of those in charge. As a former player with the national team, it was hurtful and sad to watch officials allege on television that players put money before pride and passion in playing for the country.
Whereas the truth is that Indian hockey players put their bodies on the line every single time they take the field, knowing full well that if they do get injured there won't be too many people to even ask how they are doing, let alone foot their medical bills.
There is too much of a fear factor in this player-administrator or player-official relationship. Most players are too scared to pick up the phone and call the officials in charge even if they have a serious family or a personal problem or can't train for some reason. Sports administrators are usually inaccessible and there is really no one present to listen to the grievances of the players.
At most national camps that I have attended, I have noticed that players just blindly follow what their coaches and trainers tell them to do. No player would dare question the tactics, strategies or training methods.
Any player who does that is branded as "indisciplined" and a "bad" influence on the rest of the players. Dhanraj Pillay and Ashish Ballal, both excellent players in their own right, were always branded as problem players and every coach was supposed to be wary of them. Why? Just because they spoke their minds.
There is too much of a gulf between the administrators and the officials on one side, and the players on the other. If we don't encourage our national team players to share their problems, to speak out at least within the team when they feel something is going wrong in training or in planning a strategy, then we are doing a grave disservice to the sport.
The time has come for this fear to end. We are stifling the creativity and killer instinct of our players in the guise of maintaining discipline.
I would like to see administrators and officials encouraging the development of a more "peer to peer" relationship between players and coaches and players and administrators.
The players are our national treasure. Let them be at the centre of all plans for the future of Indian hockey. Without them, hockey cannot go on. Listen to their problems, guide them and treat them with the respect they deserve. Don't threaten them; trust them. Don't be afraid to give them responsibility. They will not let you down
Viren Rasquinha is a former Indian hockey player and currently COO of Olympic Gold Quest
BURQAS, BIKINIS AND BARITONES
BY KISHWAR DESAI
Ironically, both the French and the Indian government seem to know (better than the women) what women should wear. So while the French government wants to ban the burqa, the Goa government would have us believe that bikinis are bad and have no place in government advertisements. Welcome to the great Burkini debate, where one can't help thinking that the French would be happier with all women in bikinis and the Indian government would love us all to wear burqas.
In India, the battle is firmly over the middle ground: the Goa government has announced that families are no longer safe if they view exposed midriffs. Where does this leave the waistlines of Shilpa Shetty and company whose saris are tied so dangerously low that one wonders if the description of "hipster" should be redefined? But because Shilpa & Co are clad in saris and wear the full regalia of bindis and bangles, no questions or eyebrows are raised. And then there are the usual double standards to define the bottom (!) line.
Every time we move a step towards modernity and equal rights for women, there is a subversive attempt to somehow push us back. If the Sarkozy government decides to fine those women who want to wear a burqa, the Congress government in Goa thinks that by removing women in bikinis from public view we are going to control the morals of wayward men.
Both arguments are equally vile, as they propagate the myth that women have no idea what to wear and they must be told to do so for the larger public good.
Regardless of what the government decides, of course, women must continue to wear what they want on the hot Goan beaches. I still remember years ago in Goa finding that we had stumbled upon a nudist beach. Looking around at the skinny bodies of the flower children, my son (then just seven-year-old) remarked that it was a good idea since he was able to tell the men from the women. He was completely unfazed as he quickly lost interest in the tanned flesh dotting the sands.
Of course, in those days most Indian women were decorously covered in saris and salwar-kameez as they walked into the waves. Now the happy trend is that while they do not bare all they at least wear swimsuits. My hope is that one day we will all behave like the Russians do on the beach the lobster red oversized men are in fluorescent thongs, while their equally enormous partners are in Swarovski-embedded bikinis. There is something actually comforting in the ease with which they wear their (often wrinkled) flesh. There is no shyness and the normalcy of it all is to be admired. Instead of banning the bikini-clad women from government ads, the government should run ads on rules of behaviour on public beaches. It is, in fact, the fully-clad Indian men lecherously eyeing the women, and others who try to sidle up to women bathing in the sea or still others who spend their time taking unasked for pictures on their mobile phones who should be named and shamed. It is they who are ruining the image of Goa as the "family" destination, not the clothes that the women wear.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, I saw the light-hearted and totally delightful opera If I were King, coincidentally also set in Goa. Written in the mid-19th century by the French composer Adolphe Adam, the opera has been transformed into complete Bollywood kitsch with pulsating hearts, mafia-type gangsters in dark glasses and a king who appears in a golf cart wearing gold coloured Nike shoes and a Lacrosse T-shirt. Adam has been credited with the development of the "opera comique". The adaptation of the opera (which has a fairly thin story of a fisherman who is made king for one day, during which he is able to declare his love for the princess he had always longed for) for the Indian stage by Jean Francois Vinciguerra is both witty and warm-hearted. Even when he borrows elements from Hindi cinema especially the choreography and the costumes it is done with impeccable precision so that the basic concept, the music, and the French lyrics remain untouched. Perhaps, the only part which could have done with some editing were the dialogue as, with such a simple story, many things need not have been said at all. The acting and the music made it all self-explanatory.
Among a talented cast, including the coquettish soprano Aude Priya, particularly noteworthy is Vikrant Subramanian who plays Moussoul, the King of Goa. Not only does he display outstanding talent for a 20-year-old baritone, he has received several scholarships to pursue his music training in France, including those from Neemrana Foundation and the Inlaks Foundation. Subramanian's father is in the Army and his mother sat next to us during the performance. It was obvious that his parents are deservedly proud of their son who has had such an amazing journey. Opera training requires special oral skills and also excellent acting both of which Subramanian appears to possess apart from a terrific comic timing that made his scenes specially amusing.
It was an exhilarating experience put together by Francis Wacziarg, who had launched the Neemrana Music Foundation a few years ago along with his equally talented partner, Aman Nath. It is no doubt an uphill and difficult task to make the Dilli culture-vultures fall in love with opera but Wacziarg seems to have succeeded.
* The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 
PILGRIMAGE TO DEATH
THE STAMPEDE AT GANGASAGAR
Coinciding with the Maha Kumbh, that comes but once in 12 years, the annual Gangasagar congregation of 2010 must rank as one of the worst managed fairs in recent years. And the culpability is as administrative as it is political. Though mercifully the toll has been much, much less, the stampede at Namkhana on the morning of sankranti recalls a similar tragedy at Hardwar in the mid-eighties. Destiny be damned; the seven who perished on Thursday, while on their way to pilgrimage and the auspicious dip, would not have died had they reached their destination on schedule. And the ruling party must take responsibility for the fact that they couldn't. Palpably enough, the sponsors of the previous day's 12-hour bandh in South 24-Parganas had reneged on their assurances. Just as they reneged on keeping certain areas within the city beyond the purview of the disruption. Granted that they are not expected to be as faithful as the pilgrims if they are to abide by Prakash Karat's latest diktat on the faith-and-party construct. But having pledged not to bar vehicles headed for Gangasagar, both the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its government owe an explanation as to why vehicles and trains carrying the pilgrims were blocked in trying to enforce a bandh by the agnostic. The result was a mad rush after 6 p.m, when the bandh ended and ferry services had stopped for the day.
A stampede of the devout was only to be anticipated at dawn, most importantly to keep to the auspicious deadline. The administration was aware that the pilgrims had missed the last vessel; a fanatical rush for the first boat next morning was almost inevitable. The nature of the stampede and the manner in which the pilgrims slipped while trying to board the day's first vessel, bound for Sagar Island, suggests that even the minimal security and precaution were not in place. Not to mention additional vessels to cope with the rush. With the cadres having stopped the perceived pilgrimage to paradise for 12 hours, the chaos was total on the morning after. There has at least been an oblique admission of the mismanagement with Mr Kanti Ganguly, minister for Sundarban development, hinting that the fair might be discontinued next year owing to "prevailing conditions". An understatement, if ever there was one. A final word: on the criminal insensitivity of a senior police officer who told journalists the victims weren't from Bengal! No, they weren't, those hapless people were merely Indian.
AFTER THE FIRE, THE LAND OWNERSHIP
Remarkably swift has been the response of both the government and the Trinamul Congress to come to the aid of the dispossessed in the wake of Tuesday's fire near Kolkata's Bidhannagar station. Several thousands have lost their hearth and home in the midst of an unusually cold winter. The offers of relief, advanced both by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and matched by Mamata Banerjee, are well taken. Yet there is no mistaking the competitive urge to help out the victims, recalling the response in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila last May. But when political considerations get the better of humanitarian assistance, the intent on either side of the divide is vulnerable to suspicions. And that trend was manifest barely 24 hours after the tragedy.
The state has been swift in announcing compensation to the lone victim's family, with the assurance that a rehabilitation package was being worked out for those affected. Equally, must the government get to the bottom of the spark that ignited so devastating a fire. And this inquiry ought logically to lead to the proliferation of shanties alongside the railway tracks in flagrant violation of safety norms. Till such time as a comprehensive report is made transparent, the current wave of speculation ~ even the possible involvement of the real estate lobby ~ will persist. And it shall persist even at the level of the Railway minister, who has hinted at sabotage. She has promised to construct 650 homes on the land she claims belongs to the Railways. Which begs the question why the Railways have allowed such encroachments to come up adjacent to the suburban tracks over time. Nor for that matter does the minister appear to be on firm ground on her claims of Railway ownership, let alone the size of the devastated tract. At first sight, there seems to be a claimant too many, and the size varies from two to five acres. The Railway minister tempers her announcement of a housing scheme with the admission that the state government had allotted the land to the film star Mithun Chakraborty, who was supposed to have set up a hospital, but hasn't. And the overwhelming confusion is made worse confounded with the Mayor asserting that the title vests with the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority. This discord over the gutted tract is no less tragic than the accident itself. The dispossessed deserves better than a kerfuffle over property rights. They may have to contend with the worst of both worlds if in the fullness of time there is neither fulsome compensation nor rehabilitation, but another swanky urban monstrosity, call it a high-rise complex if you will.
SHAMING THE GAME
A SAD CHAPTER IN INDIAN HOCKEY
THE most distasteful part of the drama involving the Indian hockey team was that players were driven into what was virtually a strike until they were promised their dues. There have been several complaints of injustice to players who have brought honour to their country. But seldom has this escalated into full-fledged war. That this happened with a game that once brought glory to India, and offers hope of more laurels, should cause serious concern to the government, which is expected to play the role of overseer. The events that unfolded in recent weeks suggest that sports organisations are virtually answerable to no one but can hold out threats to players who in their judgment have crossed the line. Fortunately, the conflict has been resolved after the intervention of the Indian Olympic Association but after a lot of dirty linen had been washed in public. If Suresh Kalmadi as IOA chief can express his "agreement'' with the agitating players and promise them their dues before the World Cup, the question is why he allowed tensions to escalate to a level where there was virtually no meeting point between the team and the management.
Tensions will survive the truce; more important, will the wounds have an impact on the team's performance? Mr Kalmadi's belated intervention may have been due partly to the fact that the IOA itself faces embarrassing questions on its preparations for the Commonwealth games in Delhi. As the supreme authority, IOA had every reason to pull up Hockey India which has not come up with a convincing explanation on the face-off. That one of the sponsors has offered a bail-out may not provide a permanent solution when trust between players and management has eroded. Mr Kalmadi performs a rescue job not only with financial settlements as in the case of the Indian cricket team, but also with safeguards against any victimisation while Dhanraj Pillay's involvement in the negotiations may be reassuring to the players. But will the promises hold under a management that has allowed the reputation of a game to be left in tatters?
WEALTH & HAPPINESS~II
EXCESSIVE CONSUMERISM AND CONSUMPTION MUST BE REDUCED
Among the developing countries, China is generally believed to be the great new land of opportunities. But unfortunately here too, depression levels are reaching an all-time high. Beijing's Youth Daily reported recently that 560 Chinese end their lives every day. The number of suicides in the country makes up a third of the world's total, the paper reported. A 1997 study by the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and Harvard University put the suicide rate in China at 30.3 per 100000 population, compared with 10.7 for the rest of the world. The report noted that China has 21.5 per cent of the world's population but accounts for 43.6 per cent of the world's suicides. More than 3,00,000 Chinese kill themselves every year. The suicide rate among women is even higher. An estimated 55.8 per cent of the women, who commit suicide worldwide, are Chinese.
In an article in The Daily Telegraph, Nicola Tyrer writes, "Among the sons and daughters of the war generation, there is a creeping suspicion that many of the inventions acclaimed as lightening life's burdens may not be quite what they seem; that, paradoxically, they could be adding to our workload or subtly destroying things we hold dear. Take the washing machine, now a fixture in more than eight out of 10 British households. How many women find themselves filling and emptying it every day as fashion-conscious children change from one clean outfit into another on a whim? Emptying the dishwasher now falls solely on the woman in most households, while 50 years ago, washing up was a chore shared among the family. Meanwhile, television and the microwave have joined forces in many homes to drive out the family meal as each member eats when he or she likes. Children who have television sets and personal computers in their bedrooms may indeed fight less, but in their isolation are possibly forgoing vital lessons in tolerance and play."
Nine TV sets
This article gives the example of a six-member British family which has nine TV sets and was asked to switch off all of them for three days. The 17-year-old daughter was so appalled at the suggestion that she simply refused to comply. However, a distinct improvement in behaviour was noticed in the three other children. Far from squabbling, they seemed to seek out and enjoy each other's company ~ although they believed that they were suffering. Their mother Carol said, "All sorts of things we had kept putting off doing, got done. Bikes got mended, book shelves sorted, rooms tidied, hamsters cleaned out. Tanya and Ashley started to play things together, like scrabble and sevens, they even read stories." Their father, David, was most impressed by the peace. He felt that having to plan their own entertainment did the children good. "If it weren't for the fact that I'd be lynched, I'd throw all the televisions away."
There is a general belief that it will be difficult to convince people to consume less. Actually the desire to lead a simpler, less consumerist lifestyle is often grossly underrated. Even in the USA, many are questioning the values of consumerism. The Merck Family Fund commissioned a nationwide public opinion survey on consumption, materialism and the environment. It found Americans questioning such seemingly entrenched values as financial security and career success. Ninety-one per cent of those interviewed agreed that "the 'buy now, pay later' attitude causes many of us to consume more than we need." More significantly, they were somewhat uneasy with over-consumption. At least 28 per cent affirmed that during the last five years they had voluntarily taken steps to make less money. "We were shocked at this particular finding", the fund's executive director, Betsy Taylor said. "In the focus groups, people displayed a real hunger to simplify their lives. Once they started talking, many didn't want to stop." The major reason they advanced was the desire for a more balanced life.
IN a survey conducted in the early Seventies by the British Social Research Council, a congenial home life and contentment were rated as important by more people than the quantity of consumer goods they had.
These examples indicate that if an earnest effort is made, it should be possible to convince many people to reduce their consumption voluntarily. As we move away from the greed for more material acquisitions, we have time, resources and opportunities for more meaningful pursuits ~ creative activity and above all an improvement in human relationships, with special emphasis on reducing distress all around us.
The role of the government is to extend a helping hand in spreading this value system, ensuring the availability of basic needs to all and then using its power to restrain individuals from excessive consumption as well as excessive wealth accumulation.
Excessive consumption can harm one's health. More generally, a life obsessed with a single-minded pursuit of money and material comforts can be extremely boring, pushing some to seek escape in dangerous thrills, intoxication and misadventure. As soon as we free ourselves from the destructive quest for more money and consumption, we begin to find more time and opportunity for a variety of experiences and interactions which are capable of bringing so much happiness in our daily lives. As we are drawn to the delightful gifts of Nature, our protective instincts also grow. We begin to discover the happiness of protecting the forests in which birds can live happily. We learn that nothing can provide greater happiness than protecting others, reducing the distress of others ~ whether of fellow human beings or other forms of life.
DELHI DURBAR ~ VIRGO
WHITE PAPER FALLOUT
Mamata Banerjee's White Paper might have left Lalu squirming and his Sancho Panza dazed, but there is one who is in the grip of fear over its possible consequences. It is Sudhir Kumar, an IAS officer from the Bihar cadre, who was the all-powerful OSD to Lalu at Rail Bhawan. He ran the Ministry with a strong hand, almost like a bull in a China shop. His word was law. Railway Board officials accepted his dictates with trepidation, knowing he was the master's voice. He scripted the so-called turnaround and his book on the subject was released by no less a personage than the President. There were straws in the wind, but they remained whispers.
But the tables have turned with the poll debacle. Now with the revelations, he needs cover wherever he is. His erstwhile colleagues in Rail Bhawan are eagerly sharpening their knives. Will Lalu be able to shield his aide from the onslaught? Only time will tell.
Steeling all the way
Boom or bust, the steel majors have their way. Not just the trade chambers, but also officialdom seem to orchestrate their grievances. Now when steel prices are looking up, the Government has decided to extend a helping hand to the "forlorn"' steel barons who keep crying for sugar like Oliver Twist "asking for more". It is no surprise, therefore, that the Finance Ministry raised the export duty on iron lumps from five to 10 per cent at the behest of the Steel Ministry.
But when steel prices go through the ceiling, the barons change tack and talk of a market-driven economy.
And then audaciously demand protection in the form of a hike in import duty on finished steel as a precondition for price rationalisation. Are other industry lobbyists taking the cue?
Too many hats in the ring
The selection process for PSU chiefs nay, of many important slots remains an enigma despite all the transparency injected into the process by a fledgling RTI. An instance in point is the filling up of the top post in a Maharatna which is due to fall vacant in early 2010. Any post which sits over humongous resources is eyed by many, not excluding the babus eager to retain a foothold in the Rajdhani. So a lot of influential hats are in the ring. Candidates with steel experience seem to be of insignificance. Other PSU chiefs and an adroit mandarin who presided over an airline are also in the fray. All have their benefactors to plead their case. Significantly, the dark horse is an ex-SAILman who worked in the world's biggest steel company and is back in India with a private steel major. Credited with sound metallurgical expertise and global experience, he has the backing of the second most powerful person in Government from whose state he hails from.
But is this not all a futile process? Because the powers-that-be are keen to extend the term of the incumbent by two years on two valid grounds first, he has to complete the ongoing Rs 70,000-crore modernisation programme. And, second and more importantly, Maharatna chiefs will only retire at 62.
PSUs more sinned against
Will the clamour for privatisation finally die down? It had almost become a fashion to pillory the PSUs as inefficient behemoths. Being gagged by the administrative ministries, they cannot not speak up in defence. Now there is evidence that the public sector undertakings managed the slowdown better than their private sector peers in spite of a spike in their employees' expenditure in the wake of Pay Commission hikes. Their profits rose by 3.2 per cent compared with a 12.4 per cent drop of private sector companies in 2008-09. They outperformed in several other areas. And eight PSUs were among the top 10 advance taxpayers' list for the period upto 15 December 2009.
PSUs don't need bailouts at taxpayers' costs. And despite the inherent warts, they could not be accused of siphoning funds, splurging money or falsifying records. Jai ho!
Myanmar gas ~ China's gain
Is a private sector oil major responsible for scuttling the bid to revive the tri-nation Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas deal, to the advantage of China? Well, even without any clinching evidence, one cannot put it beyond them. But it is believed that Dhaka was influenced to torpedo the proposal by placing impossible conditions before India even though Bangladesh is facing an acute gas shortage which may turn into a crisis.
Why? Myanmar gas would have reduced gas prices in India and the Mumbai-based oil company would not have had the gumption to charge an atrocious $4.2 per mmbtu. Yes, the price was set by the Group of Ministers, but again it's not a secret that the price was "dictated" in the absence of any competing price point.
Poll figures dance
Is veracity never an issue among public figures? Or is it that public figures have realised the value of money and have tightened their purse strings? It has been revealed that many contestants to the last Lok Sabha polls spent less than 55 per cent of the limit. Leaders like Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad could only afford to spend Rs 1.8 lakh and Rs 1.4 lakh respectively. Juxtaposed with this revelation is the fact that the maximum number of candidates who won were from the category that had the highest declared assets of Rs 45 crore and above that is, 35 per cent of the victorious candidates were from this category. When elephants dance, figures, too, can.
Heralding a great event
The 125th anniversary of the Indian National Congress could not have been heralded in a more sleazy manner than it was a sex scandal involving one of the oldest living Congressman occupying a constitutional post as Governor. But this charge, sadly, could be hurled at many cutting across party lines. Is this symptomatic of the times in which we live?
Be that as it may, we seem to have taken a leaf from the USA where female skeletons are tumbling out of cupboards of celebrities with regular frequency. That's not all. After more than four decades of John F Kennedy's demise, photographs have now surfaced to show JFK on a boat surrounded by naked women. With no evidence of Photoshopping, it was supposedly taken during his Senate days but was kept under wraps since it could have torpedoed his presidential candidacy and changed world history.
Certainly, the Raj Bhawan episode will not change Indian history or even the sensuous proclivities of our netas. But it will definitely make them more circumspect about their clandestine activities.
Heard on the street
Is the economist Prime Minister trying to economise on his attendance in Parliament? During the month-long session, Dr Manmohan Singh was recently away for a total of 13 days, comprising three foreign visits. Undoubtedly, diplomacy is important but so is democracy, of which Parliament is a symbol. Or is this a good man's style of snubbing the perennially agitating MPs?
THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW ~
A BELIEVER in politics for social development, 52-year-old new BJP president Nitin Gadkari is a staunch follower of RSS ideology and the teachings of Deendayal Upadhyaya. He is trying to initiate a new work culture in the party by stressing on performance-audit and development-oriented politics. As a PWD minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra, he earned the nickname "flyover man" for constructing 55 flyovers in Mumbai. In an interview with DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTY, he said he expected party workers to go to the remotest villages and serve the marginalised in consonance with the principles of antodaya.
How are you going to address problems related to party leadership and the organisation that have surfaced after the Lok Sabha elections?
The BJP is different from the Congress. It allows an ordinary cadre like me, who did wall writing and pasted posters, to become party president which is unthinkable in the Congress. The party has many good things inherent in it. Though with its expansion many shortcomings have crept in. We will now try and address some of these by strengthening the organisation.
What do you have to say about the role of the BJP as an opposition party?
I keep saying that the word "opposition" should rather be replaced by "vigilance". The meaning of opposition is plain hostility for the sake of it. The government should rather emphasise on vigilance to discuss development issues like power, infrastructure, communications and work jointly for the country's progress. Opposition for the sake of opposition does more harm than good.
What plans do you have to expand the party's base in the country?
We have to work to add a 10 per cent vote share to our existing kitty. We have to focus our efforts towards that goal by working among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, minorities and labourers in the unorganised sector. A plan of action is being prepared. I am going to depute our most capable leaders to take up responsibilities in states where we haven't been faring too well. I am going to tour these states. We are keen to expand our presence in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. These are some of my priorities. In the third week of this month I will be meeting party leaders from Uttar Pradesh. We will focus on how to strengthen the party's presence in the state.
What plans do you have for West Bengal?
We recently held a successful programme on price rise in the state. Our cadres are working overtime to improve the party's prospects. Our leaders should concentrate on expanding the organisational base. We have to develop a statewide network. I am planning to go to Kolkata for working out a plan of action. I will hold discussions with the state office-bearers.
What role will the RSS play in restructuring the organisation in the coming days?
The RSS has no role in the BJP. The RSS does not interfere in the working of the party. Media is confused about BJP-RSS relations. Whenever the BJP needs help the RSS jumps in. There are many RSS swayamsevaks in the party. The BJP will have to work on its own.
How are you planning to make your concept of "performance audit" work for the BJP?
Office-bearers should work for at least 10 days out of their offices. Nobody can work sitting from Delhi or Mumbai. New office-bearers will have to go to villages. My team will be ready by the end of February and after that they will get down to work. I have collected Rs 4,000 crore from the capital market. Rs 5 crore worth of equity work has been undertaken for infrastructural development. I believe I have the experience needed to chalk out a development agenda for the country.
You have been involved in various projects and also run an industrial empire in Maharashtra
It should not be termed a business empire. I am involved in social projects. I seek to find solutions to social problems. I give power to Mumbai by generating power from biomass under my pet scheme "Purti". I keep telling young cadres that fame is valueless and getting carried away by the lure of it in no way helps build a political worker's image. Cadres should work at the grassroots. People vote for the work cadres do. Serving eople is the only route to political eminence.
What do you have to say about the turmoil over the demand for Telangana?
The Vajpayee government successfully created the states of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. The Congress has mishandled the Telangana issue. We passed a resolution on a separate state of Vidharbha about 10 years ago. We support the formation of new states, including Telangana. If the Congress brings a resolution on Vidharbha in Parliament we will support it.
Does the BJP intend to induct a young leader like Rahul Gandhi to attract youth to its fold?
First of all, I think Rahul Gandhi is doing good work. I believe I have the skills to give employment to 100,000 people with just one rupee. If the BJP comes to power we will surely have the ability to provide employment to about 10 million people. Problems like hunger, poverty and farmers' suicides emanate from the wrong economic policies of the Manmohan Singh dispensation.
What is your "Vision India 2025"' document all about?
I am meeting experts and holding discussions in this regard. In tribal areas, children are dying of malnutrition in large numbers. I am going to call a meeting of BJP state ministers of tribal affairs. I will undertake a sector-by-sector study and with the help of experts come out with a plan of action for good governance. I have already begun moving towards this objective. It will take some time. But I know I have the expertise to work for development sans funds.
SEARCH FOR POWER
A search for images of Tiananmen Square on Google's English-language website throws up iconic photographs of the 1989 massacre. The same query, typed on Google's Chinese site, shows smiling tourists in present-day China promenading along that infamous square. In the eyes of a generation of internet-users unfamiliar with the sordid history of China, the scene could look like a postcard sent from a modern wonderland. This is the sort of filtering that Google abetted for four years since it entered a censorship agreement with China in 2006 as a precondition for setting up its operations there. Some of the Silicon Valley giants Yahoo!, Cisco and Microsoft had already joined the devil's party. It is too well known that money and morals do not make the best bedfellows. So, some of the best brains in the West came together to create that magic key called Deep Packet Inspection, which became the cornerstone of the Great Firewall of China.
Perhaps it would be best to consider Google's exit from China with a pinch of salt rather than by heaping unqualified praise on it. Evidently, Google's decision to withdraw from China is not quite motivated by the goodness of its heart. It is largely a strategic move, dictated by exigency posing as conscientiousness. Google's share of the Chinese market, in spite of the staggering number of internet-users in that country (380 million, according to the latest estimates), was a mere 29 per cent which pales into insignificance next to the towering presence of Baidu, Google's top rival in China. Shutting shop in China does not augur any major disaster for Google (except perhaps for its 800 employees who may have to go). In fact, the impact on the firm's global revenue is going to be a mere 1-2 per cent of the total. On its part, China, having amassed trillions of dollars in foreign exchange, is not exactly anxious about losing the goodwill of the United States of America. And China also hardly cares if its goodbye to Google appears less than ceremonious. The true winner, in this situation, is Google. By categorically dissociating itself from the tyranny of the Chinese State, it will earn a great many brownie points in the West, over which its control is far more extensive and financially crucial. Google will now also be able to ride a moral high horse over all its Western competitors which would continue doing business with China even after this fiasco.
Human rights activists have long accused the Chinese State of hacking into their email accounts (tapping telephones and checking bank accounts are familiar aspects of such State surveillance). It is odd that an IT legend like Google took so long to raise similar allegations: infiltration into gmail accounts by third parties, which is yet to be proven, sounds like a useful alibi to justify Google's belated do-gooding. With its pithy motto, "Don't be evil", Google knows best what an ethically slippery terrain the vast cyberworld can be. As the ban on Twitter in Iran showed last year, information technology often leads to the empowerment of a few at the expense of a great many.
MAN WITH A VISION
WHAT GANDHI MEANT TO THE PARTY AND THE NATION
POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
This year features a spate of anniversaries highly relevant to the multiple pasts (and possible futures) of Indian democracy. In the first month of 2010, the Indian Republic completes sixty years; in the last month of 2010, the Indian National Congress will mark one-hundred-and-twenty-five years of continuous existence. A third relevant date is January 15, 2010, the day on which, ninety-five years ago, that Congressman and patriot, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, came back to his homeland after two decades of life and struggle overseas.
The challenge that confronted Gandhi on his return was to convert a campaign of urban elites into a mass movement. Till then, it was easy for the British to dismiss the Congress as a front for lawyers and other English-speaking professionals seeking the loaves and fishes of office. Gandhi felt this criticism keenly, and sought to refute it. First, he encouraged the Congress to function in the vernacular, building up provincial committees that operated in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Oriya and in other languages of the people. Next, he brought in peasants and women, two groups that had previously been excluded from the proceedings. Third, he campaigned to abolish untouchability and to promote Hindu-Muslim harmony, seeking to answer the charge that the Congress was a party of banias and Brahmins. Fourth, he worked to nurture a second rung of political leadership that would work with him in deepening the social base of the Congress and make it truly representative of the nation-in-the-making.
In the short-and-medium term, Gandhi was successful in all but the third ambition. The rejection of colonial provincial categories the Madras Presidency, the Bengal Presidency, and so on through the creation of local Congresses based on language proved to be a superbly effective link between the metropolis and the periphery. Through the 1920s and 1930s, the nationalist message was conveyed through the medium of newspapers and magazines printed in languages other than English. The flow was not unidirectional; rather, the concerns of the different linguistic communities were also brought to the attention of the All India Congress Committee. Long before Amartya Sen, Gandhi had concluded that a person had multiple identities and that it was perfectly consistent to be both Bengali and Indian, or Kannadiga and Indian.
It was also Gandhi who brought the rural masses into the freedom struggle. Operating in the vernacular helped here; as did his dress and lifestyle, which resonated far more with the peasantry than the turbans and suits of an earlier generation of Congress leaders. Peasants played a notable part in the Non-cooperation movement of the 1920s and the Civil Disobedience movement of the 1930s, although, as historians such as Shahid Amin and David Hardiman have demonstrated, they were motivated more by their own livelihood concerns lower taxes, higher wages, freer access to forest and grazing resources and so on than by abstract political categories such as 'nationalism' and 'anti-colonialism'.
From the perspective of the modern feminist, some of Gandhi's statements about women appear to be less than emancipatory. He was opposed to contraception, for example, and decidedly ambivalent about the role of women in the workplace. At the same time, he extolled their character and goodness, and considered them more courageous than men. At first, he was hesitant to allow them to offer satyagraha, but his reservations were overcome by his independent-minded colleagues, such as Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Sarojini Naidu. In the end, thousands of women courted arrest during the salt satyagraha of 1930 and the Quit India movement of 1942. Thus, as Madhu Kishwar once pointed out, more women participated in Gandhi's campaigns than in movements led by any other man in modern history. In this respect, he was conspicuously more successful than ostensibly more 'modern' and less 'chauvinist' leaders such as Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and even Nelson Mandela.
One of Gandhi's less-noticed achievements was his making leaders of followers. Vallabhbhai Patel was given charge of building the Congress party; Jawaharlal Nehru of reaching out to the youth and to the West; C. Rajagopalachari with taking the nationalist message to south India; Maulana Abul Kalam Azad with taking this message to Muslims. The delegation of responsibility was also followed with regard to the constructive programme; thus J.B. Kripalani was asked to set up khadi centres, J.C. Kumarappa set to work on reviving the agrarian economy, Zakir Hussain was charged with designing an educational curriculum. In later years, the trust reposed in them by Gandhi helped these men make substantial contributions to the political and cultural life of the nation.
However, Gandhi's activities were not quite as successful with regard to the Dalits and Muslims. One major political rival of the Mahatma was B.R. Ambedkar, who insisted that Gandhi's attitude towards the lower castes was patronizing rather than wholly sincere. A second and even more substantial rival was M.A. Jinnah, who argued that Gandhi's Congress was merely a vehicle for the interests of the Hindu majority. The latter claim gathered so much force that in the endgame of Empire, the Congress could not hold on to its vision of a single and united India.
It is a mark of Gandhi's greatness that these rivalries made him redouble his efforts to make Dalits and Muslims feel being part of India. Although he had been at the receiving end of much bitter polemic from Ambedkar, Gandhi persuaded Nehru and Patel to appoint him law minister in the first cabinet of independent India. The special provisions for Dalits and adivasis in the Indian Constitution also owe much to Gandhi's concerns.
Gandhi saw Partition as a colossal defeat for his ideas. Yet, in many ways, it was the period after Partition that saw him at his most noble, as he sought, by personal example, to stem the religious rioting. He succeeded in bringing some sanity back to Calcutta, and was at work on the same mission in New Delhi when he was murdered by a Hindu fanatic. After his assassination, the governor of West Bengal, C. Rajagopalachari, wrote: "May the blood that flowed from Gandhiji's wounds and the tears that flowed from the eyes of the women of India everywhere they learnt of his death serve to lay the curse of 1947, and may the grisly tragedy of that year sleep in history and not colour present passions."
Rajaji's prayers were answered in good measure. The rioting stopped, as the rioters, shamed and embarrassed by the death of Gandhi, put away their weapons. Meanwhile, Gandhi's follower, the prime minister of India, urged his colleagues not to make this country a "Hindu Pakistan", to ensure that Muslims and other minorities were granted, in theory as well as in practice, the rights of equal citizenship.
The Republic of India came into being through the patient work of countless men and women. The Congress party was likewise a collective enterprise. That said, it was one Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who did most to ensure that our political system would be based on democracy and pluralism. It was the same man who did most to make the Congress party a truly national institution. Later this month, the citizens of India will be called upon to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Republic. Later this year, members of the Congress party will be asked to celebrate the one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of their party. Had Gandhi chosen to stay on in South Africa, however, the Republic would have taken a different, that is to say, less democratic, shape. As for the Congress, had Gandhi not returned home, it may still have been a club for English-speaking gentlemen.
''THERE'S NEED TO REGULATE DISPOSAL OF E-WASTE.''
With the increasing use of electrical and electronic gadgets in our lives the disposal of the equipment after their life span is posing increasing environmental and health problems. Computers, television sets, refrigerators, mobiles and many other devices are thrown away or taken apart to be dumped as scrap and there is hardly a thought about where they end up or how they are handled. Some of them contain valuable materials like gold, silver and copper and it is to extract them that these are made to go through the scrap channel. But they also contain harmful substances like lead, cadmium, mercury and beryllium. The toxic emissions from these substances pollute air, water and soil and once contamination takes place it is almost impossible to undo the damage.
E-waste generally goes into the recycling industry which thrives in every city with a chain of dealers, agents and rag pickers. Though the reuse or recycling of electrical or electronic parts fetches some income to those who are engaged in the activity, the gains are outweighed by the harmful effects. It is estimated that four lakh tonnes of e-waste was generated in India in 2007. This is expected to double by 2012. It is handled without any expertise, protective measures and necessary techniques. As a result only less than five per cent of the recycling is done properly. The proposed legislation obligating the manufacturers of electronic goods to buy back their products from the buyers and recycle them properly needs to be hastened.
It is not just e-waste from the country that is causing the problem. Thousands of tonnes of waste are illegally brought into the country from the US, Europe and other countries for disposal, because laws in those countries are very strict and disposal is costly. They are handled in scrap yards by workers who have no training. The exposure to toxic chemicals causes serious health problems. A large number of workers are women and children. It is not only the workers and others who handle the waste that are affected. The harm done to the environment affects everyone. The situation is especially alarming in cities like Bangalore which are driven by the electronics industry. Local civic bodies have a major responsibility to ensure that e-waste is handled properly in their areas.
CHAMPS IN MAKING
''THE YOUNG BRIGADE HAS SHOWN A LOT OF PROMISE.''
There was no fairytale ending to a dream run, but once the dust settles and the bitter disappointment dissipates, Karnataka will look back on a wonderful Ranji Trophy campaign with justifiable pride. To have unseated multiple-time champions and domestic powerhouse Mumbai, and wrested the crown for the first time in 11 years would have been the icing on the cake for a young side that made the men who matter sit up and take notice with its exceptional performances as the season unfolded. The die was cast when Rahul Dravid agreed to lead Karnataka whenever free from national duties, and while the inspirational skipper wasn't around to marshall his young charges in an emotional and heart-breaking title clash, his deeds have clearly rubbed off on a squad not short on hunger and ambition.
A pair of 20-year-olds best illustrated the brand of cricket Karnataka have displayed all season. The season's leading run-scorer, Manish Pandey, and the country's highest wicket-taker, Abhimanyu Mithun, will don national colours sooner rather than later. Pandey brought flair and entertainment in equal measure, thrilling fans across the country with his unique style of batsmanship which yielded him an astonishing 882 runs. Mithun, in his first first-class season and relatively unknown even within the state some three months back, terrorised batsmen and wowed audiences with sheer pace, picking up 47 wickets to finish just ahead of his mentor R Vinay Kumar.
Remarkable as individual performances have been, Karnataka's campaign has been noteworthy for how well the individuals have jelled as a unit, and how members of that unit have learnt to enjoy each other's success. Dravid's contribution was undoubtedly enormous, but no less influential was the selectors' decision to plump for youth, and first-season coach K Sanath Kumar's man-management skills and tactical nous. The plethora of youngsters, several in their first full season, was made to feel secure and comfortable. The likes of Ganesh Satish and Amit Verma with the bat and S Arvind with the ball responded admirably, helped along by the greater experience of Robin Uthappa and Sunil Joshi, as Karnataka ticked along like a well-oiled machine until they ran into Mumbai. The signs are most promising, and if Karnataka build on their gains and successes of this season, it won't be long before they begin to stack up titles, again.
BETTING ON CHINA
MORE AND MORE CHINESE STUDENTS EDUCATED ABROAD ARE RETURNING HOME TO WORK AND START NEW BUSINESSES.
BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NYT
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 would 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. For instance, low interest rates, easy credit, an undervalued currency and hot money flowing in from abroad have led to what the Chinese government has 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.
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.
Planning for the future
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, 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.
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 had asked if they would 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, Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.
INDIA AND PAKISTAN
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
When I read news of bomb explosions, clashes between protesters and the police and new cases of corruption among our politicians, judges and civil servants, I go into deep depression and ask myself: ''How can this wretched country move forward, banish poverty and ignorance with so many people in the top layer of our society engaged in filling their pockets with other peoples' money?''
My only anti-date is to read news coming from Pakistan. On incidence of violence and corruption they score over us as they often do in cricket matches. We are the same people and gained independence the same time. We succeeded in establishing democracy in India; they failed miserably to do so.
For most years of their existence they were ruled by military dictators. Our democratically-elected leaders at the helm of affairs were immune to corruption. Not one of our Presidents or prime ministers was ever accused of making illicit money. In Pakistan it was the other way round. Their military dictators, however ruthless they may have been in dealing with their detractors, were never found guilty of filling their own pockets, while their democratically-elected leaders from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir, her husband Asif Ali Zardari as well as his principal opponent Nawaz Sharif made vast fortunes and put them in Swiss banks or buying real estate in Europe, America or the Emirates.
The recent decision to annual the amnesty granted by General Pervez Musharraf to Zardari and two co-horts reads like crime fiction. It opens up a vast network of corrupt elite of the country: it is not eight, or 80, or 800 but 80,000 who are to answer charges of corruption while holding office. President Zardari, commonly known as 'Mr 10%' is known to have stacked away billions of dollars and bought huge estates to add to his late wife's unearned wealth. Amongst the accused is Pakistani defence minister and a few others.
We may well wonder what has gone wrong with our Pakistani cousins? What happened to the dreams of making the Garden of Eden (Chaman-e-Pakistan) and the land of the Pure?
To hear or not to hear
That was the question facing me. I was losing hearing steadily over the last few years one after the other sounds I could hear clearly faded out: Calling of birds, soft music and finally human voices. I made light of it and when asked why I did not get a hearing aid, shrugged off the suggestion by replying "saves me from a lot of bullshit".
It got worse and worse. One evening an old friend A R Kidwai, who has retired after 17 years governorship, dropped in. He has a very soft voice. I could not hear what he was saying. And told him so. "Why don't you get a hearing aid?" he asked plucking them out of his ears. "It would only cost you three lakhs with rebate a little less. I can arrange it all in your home."
After he had left, I thought over the matter. Three lakhs was a tidy sum and I was not even sure I would last that long. I put the matter out of my mind.
I was bullied by Harjeet Kaur, owner of Hotel Le Meridien to allow myself to be cross-examined by Koel Purie for her TV channel. She is the daughter of Arun Purie, owner of India Today, Harper Collins and much else. I went reluctantly. There was a sizeable audience the elite of the city including the prime minister's wife Gursharan Kaur. I saw my daughter go up to Koel who was on the stage giving directions to the camera crew and told her that I was hard of hearing. She nodded her head.
Koel had done her homework: read some of my books, asked my friends what kind of a person I was. I was impressed: ravishingly beautiful, beautifully turned out, animated, oozing with self-confidence and professional competence. It lasted little over half an hour.
I got home totally exhausted and swore I'd never again appear on TV. However, I was anxious to know how it had gone. A month after the recording it was shown on her channel. A day before I asked Kidwai to arrange a hearing aids for me.
He brought Dr Aditi Shekhar, audeologist and her sales manager Deepak Pareek. She peered into my ears with a torch, pumped some kind of wax in them to take impressions of the inner labyrinth of both ears. They were back again with the hearing aids and literature how to use them. It was a near miracle. Sounds I had not heard for years came back louder than ever before. I heard a barbet call. People I could not hear earlier in the day yelled at the top of their voices. But I was able to hear every word that Koel said and every sentence I spoke.
All said and done, it was personal vanity and desire to get an ego-massage that made me shell out so much money on the eve of my life. My answer to the question to have a hearing aid or not is a compromise: put in your ear plugs when you want to hear; pluck them out when you have had enough.
An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. He went to the doctor who was able to have him fitted with a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear 100 per cent. The gentleman went back in a month to the doctor. The doctor remarked, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again." The gentleman replied, "Oh, I haven't told them. I just sit around and listen to their conversation. I've changed my will three times."
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey)
ART OF ARTICULATION
SO MANY BRILLIANT MINDS FALTER AT THE SACRED ALTAR OF ARTICULATION.
BY HEMA RAVICHANDAR
One of the key differentiators of success, through life, is the ability to articulate to state your point of view clearly and assertively. This ability is seen to have a high correlation with the kind of leadership roles one picks up both in the academic and work worlds and also with the performance ratings that bosses, peer group and subordinates hand out to you. And yet, so many brilliant minds falter at the sacred altar of articulation.
My mother's maternal wisdom taught her that she needed to cultivate this ability very early in her offspring. The well promoted Toastmasters' clubs and summer coaching camps were not in vogue in the then slumberous Trivandrum where my brother and I spent our summer vacations.
So my mother had a simple plan. Every night around dinner time, actually half hour before dinner, she handed us both two small slips of paper. Each contained the all important topic for the day. We had a precious 10 minutes to think through the topic and get our thoughts all sorted out before we came up before the family audience for a grand 3 minutes each to give the 'Talk of the Day'.
Initial giggles dissolved into serious preparation, the delivery of the speech and then discussion around the dinner table on what went right and what could have been improved in our little diatribes.
Those little impromptu speeches looked like a good way to liven up an evening spent at home when the only alternative on television was Krishi Darshan. But as I stand back and think on what actually transpired, I realise that slowly but surely my mother was giving us under-tens the skill to collect, organise and deliver a message in a calm and collected manner. She was actually helping us avoid the panic of stage fright or the diffidence of standing up before an audience, making the expression of thoughts actually second nature.
Not just little speeches, encouragement to youngsters to put up impromptu skits all by themselves is another way to get them to informally start expressing themselves. As a child, one heard legendary tales of venerable ICS officers who encouraged lively discussions around the dining table on current affairs. Their offspring in the civil services scorecard was a testimony to the success of these dining table initiatives.
So push aside your TV remote, give the soap operas a go-by some evenings and liven up a discussion around your own dining tables with a speech or two while quietly and subtly developing your progeny's all important ability to articulate.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
The agreement between the White House, Congressional leaders and labor unions over taxing high-priced health insurance policies is a reasonable solution to an issue that was threatening to derail health care reform. The agreement treats unionized workers far more favorably than nonunion workers, the price for the support of important Democratic constituencies. But it would preserve the tax's crucial role in slowing the rise in health care costs for decades to come.
When the Senate voted for the tax on high-priced employer-sponsored health insurance policies "Cadillac plans" labor leaders and many House Democrats complained that the tax would penalize middle-class people who had plans that were hardly lavish. They much preferred the House approach: a so-called millionaire's tax, a surcharge on earnings above $1 million a year for couples.
A millionaire's tax may not survive the negotiations on a final bill, but Congress has to find money to pay for health insurance for millions of Americans. The agreement makes that more difficult because it is expected to reduce the money generated by the excise tax substantially from the original Senate bill. Rich Americans and the industries involved in health care should pick up much of the added burden.
The proposed excise tax on high-cost plans is the most significant measure in either bill to slow the relentless rise in health care spending.
HOW IT WORKS Many employers pay most of the premium for health coverage. Workers pick up the rest but pay no taxes on the employer's often-substantial contribution. That's why many unions have bargained hard for generous health coverage over the years, even if that meant forgoing a bigger pay raise.
The new agreement would take away the tax advantage for a small portion of the health benefit by imposing a 40 percent tax on the amount by which the premiums for employer-sponsored health coverage exceed specified thresholds. That would be $24,000 a year for a family, starting in 2013. The tax on a $26,000 plan would be $800, or 40 percent of $2,000. The insurance company would pay the tax but would almost certainly pass it along to the employer and its employees.
That $24,000 threshold, which was raised by $1,000 from the original Senate proposal, is well above the current average of $13,400 for a family plan. By 2013, more than 90 percent of all family plans are projected to still fall below the threshold. In the following years, the tax threshold would rise more slowly than the likely rate of inflation in medical costs, which could mean the plans of millions of workers a small minority of the work force would be subject to the tax in theory.
Most likely, insurers will drop their premiums just below the threshold. They could do that by setting higher deductibles and co-payments, managing access to care more tightly, or reducing benefits.
WHY IT'S GOOD A vast majority of economists agree that the tax would be a valuable cost-control feature. In our largely fee-for-service system, doctors have an economic incentive to provide more services. With insurance covering most of the bill, neither patients nor doctors worry much about costs. Requiring workers to pay more out of pocket would force them and their doctors to think a lot more carefully about whether an expensive test or treatment is really necessary.
Because the excise tax would be imposed on insurance companies within the health care system, the revenues it generates would grow at the rate of medical inflation; revenues from an income tax on the wealthy would probably grow more slowly.
POTENTIAL HARM There is some risk nobody knows how large that higher deductibles and co-payments would discourage some people, especially the chronically ill, from seeking medical care that they need. Congress can avoid this tragic outcome by setting up a monitoring system to detect any emergence of harm and making a midcourse correction to protect the health of any groups that suffer adverse consequences.
WILL EMPLOYEES RECOUP? Eminent economists and the official scorers at the Joint Committee on Taxation believe that as employers spend less on health benefits they will increase wages to continue to attract high-quality workers. Indeed, most of the money the tax is projected to generate would come from an anticipated increase in wages, rather than the tax itself. The theory is that employers don't care much whether they provide compensation in the form of health benefits or wages.
There is reason to worry that in a troubled economy, with unemployment high and employers scrambling to reduce costs, employers will simply pocket the savings. The new agreement protects unionized workers and state and local government employees by exempting their health plans from the tax for five years, until 2018. That gives the unions plenty of time probably more time than justified to negotiate new contracts and demand a rise in wages commensurate with any decline in health benefits.
The much larger number of nonunion workers would get no comparable protection. In fashioning a final bill, Congress should seek some way to pressure companies to convert their savings on health benefits into higher wages and monitor whether they do so.
MORE SENSIBLE TARGETING Many of the policies described as Cadillac plans are not costly because they provide lavish benefits but rather because they cover workers who are older and sicker than most, or who work in high-cost areas or in high-risk industries.
The agreement would raise the thresholds for plans covering workers who are disproportionately old or female or employed in a wide range of high-risk jobs. There would be a transition period for states where medical costs are high. These look like reasonable exceptions to ensure that the tax falls on truly generous plans.
A vast majority of workers would not be affected by the proposed excise tax. Those that are hit should remember that the bulk of their health benefits would remain exempt from taxes an enormous subsidy from the taxpayer. For the sake of reining in costs and helping to pay for covering the uninsured, taxing high-priced plans is the right thing to do.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MAJOR HASAN'S SMOOTH ASCENSION
Pentagon officials are taking a sobering look at the career of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who has been charged with murder in a shooting spree in November that left 13 people dead in Fort Hood, Tex. Investigators have found that Major Hasan moved smoothly up the ladder despite early signs of an erratic temperament and instances of questionable behavior, all obvious to his superiors.
Citing failures in supervision and the sharing of information, Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday called for widespread reforms to deal with "the evolving domestic internal security threat" now confronting the military. It will be no easy task to weed out extremists in the ranks. But Mr. Gates is right to update protective measures that have been geared toward traditional cold war concerns like internal espionage rather than extremists with a tendency for violence.
Mr. Gates cited missed opportunities to cut short Major Hasan's rise. More broadly, he promised better communications between the Pentagon and federal intelligence agencies to explore potential links between extremist groups and members of the military seeking "self-radicalization."
(Major Hasan's reported communications with the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki are part of a separate criminal investigation by the Army.)
The Pentagon investigation found that Major Hasan's odd behavior, subpar performance, poor medical school grades and fascination with jihadist rhetoric were flagged at various stages. But they were not enough to cause a negative recommendation for promotion. Instead, Mr. Hasan's value as a psychiatrist, much-needed in the infantry, and as a knowledgeable Muslim officer overcame any concerns. His evaluations contained words like "satisfactory" and "outstanding." Mr. Gates said that several officers may face reprimands.
The Hasan report raises other intriguing questions, including why he kept his security clearance after openly criticizing the military's role in Iraq and Afghanistan as anti-Muslim. Of no less concern is whether a stronger Army policy is needed to deal with the major's easy access to handguns because he resided off post.
But the underlying problem in this tragedy, as Mr. Gates described it, is that the system cloaked Major Hasan's clear deficiencies in favor of the military's tradition of "kicking the problem" forward to his next posting.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LEND ME YOUR EARS
BY GAIL COLLINS
This just in from the Christian Broadcasting Network: The Rev. Pat Robertson did not say that the earthquake in Haiti was the result of God's wrath at the Haitians for making a pact with the devil to get out from under French colonial rule.
A spokesman, Chris Roslan explained that all Mr. Robertson was saying is that Haiti is cursed. I hope that clears everything up.
By the way, our topic for today is failure to communicate.
This weekend, all eyes are on Massachusetts, where voters appear to be trying to send a message, although we're not quite clear on what it is.
President Obama is on his way, hoping to salvage the foundering campaign of Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in Tuesday's special election for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.
Looking on the bright side, Coakley said that all the bad poll numbers have "energized a lot of people in the state." This is certainly true. If the Democrats were any more energized, they would be jumping off a cliff.
The best news for the Coakley campaign may have been the arrival of Rudy Giuliani to stump with her opponent, Scott Brown. Even back in the days when he was popular, Giuliani's endorsement was the kiss of death.
And the new decade is beginning badly in Rudyland. Howard Safir, his former police commissioner, is being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney's office for backing his Cadillac S.U.V. into a pregnant woman and then leaving the scene. (Safir says he didn't see her.) He is not to be confused with Bernie Kerik, the Giuliani police commissioner who is already in jail.
And Giuliani is not so great on the message front these days. Lately, he's busy trying to explain his recent appearance on Fox News, when he became so engaged in trashing Obama that he said there were never any domestic terror attacks under former President George W. Bush.
In Boston, the former New York City mayor predicted that if Brown is elected to the Senate, it "will send a signal, and a very dramatic one, that we are going in the wrong direction on terrorism."
However, since Brown spent the day attacking Coakley for her opposition to Obama's Afghanistan policy, the signal would seem to be that we are going the right direction.
Not so easy to send a message in these troubled times. There's a third-party candidate in the race named Joseph Kennedy, or as he is referred to in shorthand, No Relation To. If Kennedy does well, perhaps it will send a message that Massachusetts residents nurture a hitherto undiscovered love affair with libertarianism. Or perhaps it will be a reminder that in the past, voters once inadvertently elected an assembly-line worker named John Kennedy to be state treasurer.
We seem to be living in a time of intense but inchoate communication. What better symbol than the official joining of Sarah Palin and Fox News? This week, Fox's new commentator got a typical welcome for a serious journalistic enterprise. Glenn Beck read her an entry from his diary that began: "Tomorrow, I meet Sarah Palin and family for the first time. I'm actually a little nervous, as she is one of the only people that I can see that can possibly lead us out of where we are."
When it comes to Palin's own defining remark, the national consensus seems to have hit upon her initial response to Beck's question about who was her favorite founding father. ("Well, all of them.")
We digress. About Massachusetts. The polls there are all over the place. Perhaps people are sending a message that they are getting tired of being polled. There are certainly a heck of a lot of surveyors out there trawling for opinions. Just this week I got a press release announcing that 74 percent of Americans polled felt that Brit Hume urging Tiger Woods to convert to Christianity probably would not work.
It's pretty clear that no matter what happens, the voters are sending a message that they are in a bad mood. You cannot fail to notice that people are ticked off. The economy feels awful. The weather feels awful. Did you know that the cold snap in Florida hit the people who breed tropical fish so hard that there is a national guppy shortage? Things are bad, bad, bad.
If Coakley loses, the inevitable conclusion will be that the message was a repudiation of Obama. My own theory is that the national angst is causing people to ignore the issues and just react to candidates' personalities.
If forced to choose a Senate candidate to be stranded with on a desert island, most voters would probably pick Brown over Coakley. Possibly even if the question was who they wanted to sit next to on a short bus ride.
But didn't we get over the idea of voting for the person you'd most like to have a beer with after George W. Bush?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RESOLVE AMONG THE RUINS
BY BOB HERBERT
In Haiti, the apocalypse wears the trappings of the norm. It's a place where heartbreak never seems to end.
One evening many years ago, when I was on assignment in Haiti for The Daily News, a man took me to the back of a pickup truck and pointed to his two small children. It was obvious they were ill. Both were shivering, although the evening was quite warm.
The man pleaded with me to take the youngsters and smuggle them into the United States. "They will die here," he said, whereas in America they would be safe and "grow strong."
I tried to explain why that was impossible, that I could not take his children. The man listened politely, then quietly said thank you, and with an expression of the deepest despair climbed into the cab of his truck and drove off.
Enslavement, murderous colonial oppression, invasions by powerful foreign armies, grotesque homegrown tyrants, natural disasters all you have to do is wait a while in Haiti for the next catastrophe to strike. On Tuesday, it was an earthquake that crushed the capital city of Port-au-Prince and much of its surroundings and raised the level of suffering and death to heights that defied comprehension.
"The world is coming to an end," cried a woman in the midst of the carnage.
Pooja Bhatia, a journalist who lives in Haiti, told The Times, "I was here during the 2008 hurricanes that left thousands dead, and thousands and thousands homeless, and that felt like the apocalypse. But that pales in comparison to this."
Just when you think the ultimate has happened, the absolute worst, something even more dire, comes along.
And yet. No matter how overwhelming the tragedy, how bleak the outlook, no matter what malevolent forces the fates see fit to hurl at this tiny, beleaguered, mountainous, sun-splashed portion of the planet, there is no quit in the Haitian people.
They rose up against the French and defeated the forces of Napoleon to become the only nation to grow out of a slave revolt. They rose up against the despotic Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier and sent him packing. Despite ruthless exploitation by more powerful nations, including the United States, and many long years of crippling civil strife, corruption, terror and chronic poverty, the Haitian people have endured.
They will not be defeated by this earthquake.
I spoke on Friday with Ruthzee Louijeune, who works at the Posse Foundation here in New York and had waited like so many others for word about her extended family in Haiti. Eventually, she learned that her uncle, 43-year-old Michelet Philippe, had been killed and that several relatives, including her grandparents, were living in a car in Port-au-Prince.
She wept as she talked. "We're grateful that we have a body to bury," she said. "So many people don't even have that. But right now there is no transportation to take him back to the village where he is from, so they are looking for a respectable place to bury him. It's so hard. He had a wife and three children."
But even in her grief, Ms. Louijeune spoke forcefully about the resilience of her family and what she referred to as "her people."
"My family always taught me to be proud of Haiti," she said, "whatever anybody else might say about it. They taught me to read on my own and to learn the true history of the country. We're strong, and despite the hunger, despite the poverty, despite all the problems, we'll make it through."
If there is any upside to such an enormous tragedy, it is to be found in the spirit of the people clawing, in some cases with their bare and bleeding hands, through concrete and filth and metal to comfort and rescue survivors and reclaim the dead. And it's to be found in the powerfully humane way in which so many people, in Haiti and outside of the country, have responded to this shattering disaster spontaneously, generously and in many, many cases, heroically.
There are no satisfactory explanations for why this kind of event should have occurred. But we can control the way we respond. Faulkner tells us: "I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."
In the darkest of moments, Plutarch is also a comfort. "Good fortune," he said, "will elevate even petty minds, and give them the appearance of a certain greatness and stateliness, as from their high place they look down upon the world; but the truly noble and resolved spirit raises itself, and becomes more conspicuous in times of disaster and ill fortune."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
I have often accused Sarah Palin of having more fight than strategy in her. But I must concede that her decision to become a contributor to Fox News is a shrewd one. Touché, Barracuda.
1. She's made for television.
She's telegenic. She's never speechless. She has a gift for talking a lot while saying nothing. And, she has one of the best poker faces in the game smiling and winking while bobbing and weaving, spouting all manner of nonsense to conceal when she's nonplussed.
2. There's no better fit than Fox.
It's a friendly forum in which to hone her sound bites, learn to parry tough questions and answer easy ones, and to bone up on, well, pretty much everything. Sure, she'll flub some facts, and she'll take a drubbing for it. But beating up on her often backfires. The more she takes a punch and cheerfully recovers, the stronger she appears.
And, if she decides to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, and all indications are that she will, this perch will give her another leg up on her Republican rivals. She continues to command the spotlight while they dance in the dark.
3. The timing is impeccable.
There is now a bubbling discontent on the right and, in particular, among whites, which is aimed at President Obama.
According to an analysis of New York Times and CBS News polls, Obama has the lowest approval rating among whites at the end of his first year in office than any president in the 30 years that The Times and CBS News have collected such data. And the gap between Obama and the others is significant, ranging from 10 to 36 percentage points.
Furthermore, a Quinnipiac University poll, released on Wednesday, found that most whites think that Obama's first year as president has been mainly a failure. A plurality of whites even said that Obama has been a worse president than George W. Bush.
If indeed being Negro-lite made Obama palatable to white voters, as Senator Harry Reid was spanked for saying, that charm has worn off. Whites are now fuming at him.
Palin's chipper visage, baseless certitude, utter obliviousness and unwavering belief in her own destiny make her an ideal vessel for this mounting white discontent. It's perfect: blind faith meets blinding frustration. For an image of what this looks like, simply recall her rallies from the previous election.
(For the record, according to the Nielsen Company, more than 95 percent of the viewers of the Fox News Channel are white.)
This move could put Palin in a much better position to become the Republican nominee. The race for the nomination may not be given to the slick or to the strong, but to this fame monster who seems to have the stamina to endure until the end. (Sigh.)
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MY NIGHTS WITH ERIC
BY ANDRÉ ACIMAN
TO those of us who have seen all of Eric Rohmer's films it is impossible not to remember when, where, with whom we saw each one. I even remember the second and third time I saw his films. "My Night at Maud's," "Claire's Knee," "Chloe in the Afternoon" are grafted onto my life. Something happened between me and these films at the Thalia, at the Brattle, at the old Cinémathèque, or at the old Olympia Theater on the Upper West Side. But I can no longer isolate what that something is. I don't even care to know what was exclusively Eric Rohmer's and what was mine, what he was ever so cautious to convey and what I most likely misunderstood completely. The mix, as sometimes happens, becomes the work of art.
But then with Mr. Rohmer, who died this week at the age of 89, the mix is not incidental; it is essential. To see an Eric Rohmer film is not to escape from the drudgery of our daily lives; it is to sit quietly and have someone show us lives that are not entirely different from ours but different enough, situations we've all been in and couldn't wait to get out of but could have learned from, if only we'd had the patience and the courage to sit through them.
Mr. Rohmer was the master of tact tact in the way his characters behave with one another, tact in the way he himself, as a director, spun his tales, and ultimately tact with truth and fiction. In his hands, sex could be suspended, and passion, without ever boiling over, seldom went cold.
I can't forget the scene in "My Night at Maud's" when the very pious engineer in the business suit decides to sit on Maud's bed while she is lying under the covers with only a T-shirt on, determined to seduce him. They stare at each other, and they talk, and she tells him things, and he tells her things, and still they talk, and it's clear to everyone, including the characters themselves, that though this strange couple has just met hours earlier and may not share a sliver of love between them, what we've just witnessed is one of the most intimate scenes in movie history.
It is impossible to watch this scene or certain moments in "Tale of Autumn," "A Good Marriage" or "Full Moon in Paris" and not envy the candor of Eric Rohmer's men and women, their impulse to dissect each nuance of desire and then turn around and confide it right away to those who'd aroused them.
With my friends we used to call these situations Rohmerian. You meet A, you are drawn to A, but neither you nor A wish to rush things. You simply want to stop time a bit, and because neither of you cares to hide what you're really doing, you decide to confess your maneuvers and are wildly grateful when told they were by no means unknown to the other. Rohmerian. What comes after this is seldom the business of art; it is the stuff of humdrum prose.
Since his death, the usual clichés about Eric Rohmer are once again pullulating on the Internet. He was talky. He was a mannerist. He was a classicist. Eric Rohmer whose men are more into themselves than the women they are allegedly trying to seduce. Eric Rohmer whose films, in the words of the character played by Gene Hackman in "Night Moves," are like "watching paint dry." Eric Rohmer for whom courtship is a conceit for how people jockey into position vis-à-vis the things they want and seldom believe they'll get.
What the commentary has missed is that Eric Rohmer was above all things a "moraliste." The word is difficult to translate. All the men in his "Six Moral Tales" are either married or engaged to be married but, through a series of accidents, find themselves tempted to betray their beloveds. Each therefore is faced with a "moral" quandary.
It's worth remembering that Mr. Rohmer was playing with words, using the word "moral" in a way that harks back to the French Moralists of the 17th century. Despite their emphasis on morality, men like Pascal, La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère were urbane and disabused analysts of manners, mores and the human psyche. They were perpetually on the lookout for every insidious motivation in others and every instance of self-delusion in themselves. In the hands of a moralist, even sex becomes a conceit.
For all their self-analysis, Eric Rohmer's men and women are not as penetrating as they wish to be. No one is evil, no one is too good either, and no one suffers, or at least not for long. They all muddle through courtship, never get their hands dirty; and the hard truths they must face are always given obliquely enough and never hurt. There are ugly facts enough on the outside.
With Eric Rohmer, as with Mozart, Austen, James and Proust, we need to remember that art is seldom about life, or not quite about life. Art is about discovery and design and reasoning with chaos. If there is one thing I will miss with Eric Rohmer's death, it is the clarity, the candor and the pleasure with which one human can sit with another and reason about love and not forget, in Pascal's words, that "the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of."
André Aciman, a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center, is the author of the forthcoming novel "Eight White Nights."
I. THE NEWS
There is uncertainty over the question of whether Hakimullah Mehsud is dead or alive. There is conjecture that a drone strike on a large complex on the South-North Waziristan border may have resulted in his death. The strike, of course, was backed by immaculate intelligence as is evidenced by the fact that at least ten Taliban died in it, including Uzbek guards reportedly used by Hakimullah. If indeed the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is dead, the manner of his fall would be identical to that in which his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud was killed. Confusion over the fate of the flamboyant Hakimullah Mehsud is likely to persist for some time. The Taliban deny he is dead. It is virtually impossible to extract accurate information from South Waziristan. The real issue is whether the death or injury of their chief will impact the TTP or stop the reign of terror that has already crippled Pakistan. There had indeed been hope that this would happen with the death of Baitullah and that the TTP would indeed fall apart. This did not come about, but the disputes that arose over the nomination of Hakimullah suggested conflict and divide within TTP ranks.
The problem, however, is that today it is hard to define the TTP. Various splinter groups and organisations affiliated to it have emerged; most have imbibed the mindset of the Taliban. It is thus hard to say if the death of any single man will have much impact on the way the TTP functions or on its ruthless policies of destruction. It will take more than the targeted killing of one man to alter this. But at the same time it is true that the decimation of the TTP leadership could act to weaken the central organisation. Hakimullah had embarked on an especially daring campaign of bombings, in part because he needed to build support within the organisation. The intensity of terror attacks had increased after he took over. There is therefore some possibility that his death could bring a temporary lull in the bloodshed. But to expect anything beyond that would be unrealistic. The weapons needed to defeat the Taliban must include development and democracy for the people of the tribal areas. These must be deployed if there is to be any hope of lasting change.
I. THE NEWS
What is the point of having firearms legislation if the prime minister and the minister of state for the interior drive a coach and horses through it merely to gratify the wishes of their political cronies? Since the last week of March 2008 more than 38,800 people have been issued with licences for prohibited bore weapons Kalashnikovs and Uzis, for instance mostly on the direct order of these two office-holders. There has been no police check or any sort of verification of the necessity for the issuance of the licences to the applicants. To further add to the pool of unmonitored weapons in the country, at least 100,000 licences for non-prohibited bore weapons were issued in the same period. You want to (legally) get yourself a weapon? No problem. Find a member of the National Assembly or the Senate with connections to the prime minister or the minister of state for the interior, grease some palms with silver and quick as a flash a gun licence. Not only is this good news for the applicant, it is even better news for the gun traders. Sources within the small-arms traders group suggest that they have benefited to the tune of Rs20bn since March 2008; the product of the profligate issuance of licences.
Taking the figures together we get at least 138,800 new weapons legally in circulation courtesy of the current government in the 21 months since it took office. This raises questions not only about where these guns come from as they are not all the product of the armourers in NWFP, but the wisdom of using weapons licences as a means of political patronage. Does it really make any kind of sense to allow 25 licences per year of prohibited weapons and 20 licences per month for non-prohibited bores to every single member of the National Assembly? The prime minister has further broadened his patronage of the arms industry by extending the permission to members of provincial assemblies who have a miserly five prohibited bore licenses at their discretion every year. Extrapolating the figures only for the National Assembly to the five-year life of a government we see that 41,875 prohibited bore weapons licences may be issued; and 403,200 non-prohibited bore licences. What a magnificent achievement. The government is apparently unable to heat, light, water or otherwise maintain the infrastructure of the nation, but it will have weaponised it to the tune of at least another half-million guns by the time of the next election. Why bother with licensing anyway just give everybody a gun, dispense with a judicial process and the police force and let's just shoot it out on a daily basis. It would solve the population control problem at a stroke. Your call, Mr Prime Minister.
I. THE NEWS
PUNISHING THE SC
In a policy apparently designed by the government to 'punish' the SC for its verdict on the NRO, the appointment of judges to the Lahore High Court and indeed also the Sindh and Peshawar high courts is being delayed. As a consequence the LHC is suffering a severe shortage of judges. According to a report in this newspaper, the vindictive strategy aimed at creating hurdles in the way of the courts has been initiated by the presidency. It is sad that in our country such pettiness is put before the primary interest of the people. The delays in the hearing of cases affect citizens. It is they who are then being punished. Vacancies in the Supreme Court and other provincial courts have also been left unfilledThe recent comments from the information minister about a an alleged meeting between the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the Punjab chief minister mark of course another attempt to discredit the court and damage the CJ's image. What the presidency does not seem to realise is that today people cannot be fooled all that easily and will see through these moves. Indeed this has already happened. There is realisation too that today, the courts, which have taken up issues such as inflation, rape, the fate of missing persons and much more, represent the only real hope for people. The attempts by the presidency will only increase anger and add to the tensions that are already crippling our country and threatening to create within it a clash between institutions which can do no good at all.
I. THE NEWS
THE MILITARY AND POLITICS
Civilian control over the armed forces is a sacrosanct principle of democracy but has never been practiced in Pakistan. Even When Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over in the aftermath of the military debacle in East Pakistan he could not rein in the army. He first succumbed to its demand that a film showing the surrender of Pakistani forces to India be withdrawn from PTV. Later, keeping the sensitivities of the army in mind, he decided to put the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report in cold storage. Ultimately he was ousted and hanged on trumped up charges by his handpicked army chief, Gen Zia-ul-Haq.
Much later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, heady with a heavy mandate, tried to emasculate all institutions, one after another. He got away with sacking Gen Jehangir Karmat just a few months before his term was to expire as army chief. But when Nawaz tried to sack Gen Karamat's successor, Gen Musharraf, he had to pay the price by being ousted by the army. Had his American and Arab mentors not pleaded with Musharraf to send him into permanent exile, he would have met the same fate as Mr Bhutto.
Under the Constitution Nawaz Sharif was perfectly within his rights as prime minister to sack Gen Musharraf. He made Gen Karmat resign for issuing a statement critical of his "insecurity ridden policies." But this time the army was well prepared against the prospect of another army chief facing this kind of humiliation. It is indeed ironical, coming from Mian Shahbaz Sharif now, that the nation is fortunate to have a pro-democracy army chief in the form of Gen Kayani, after Gen Jehangir Karamat.
In the past few months a perception has developed that the present military setup is bent upon getting rid of President Zardari. Despite protestations to the contrary by the military high command that it has no such intentions, rumours about Mr Zardari's imminent departure refuse to die down. In fact, after the Supreme Court's unanimous verdict declaring the NRO ultra vires of the Constitution, they have gained further currency. Some circles insist that the army and its intelligence apparatus are trying to undermine Mr Zardari and force him to quit the presidency.
The military, through its spokesmen in-off-the record conversations, insists that it is too bogged down in dealing with the existential threat within from the Taliban and the external threat from India to engage in an exercise to destabilise the government. Nor is it working towards the so-called Bangladeshi model that, apart from being extra-constitutional, has not even worked in Bangladesh.
They also make it plain that the army chief and his intelligence apparatus are on the same page and that there is not a single instance where the ISI director general could be accused of destabilising the government. Neither is there a trust deficit between the military and the government, as the military fully believes in supporting democracy. Despite such clarifications, rumours that started a few months ago with the corps commanders issuing a statement critical of some clauses of the Kerry Lugar Bill, refuse to die down. Military spokesmen claim the army was forced to take the unusual step of going public about its reservations about the bill when certain security clauses were added without consultations with it, the ISI or the Foreign Office. The government, on the other hand, insists that the military was fully on board on the matter. In fact, it claims the Kerry Lugar Bill was posted on the web for all to examine.
In order to defuse the situation and clear the present air of uncertainty, the ISPR could go public by issuing a statement reiterating the army's firm belief in the democratic system and that it has no trust deficit with the present government. Although Gen Kayani has reportedly assured both President Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani that nothing is amiss, such a statement is not forthcoming from the army. Perhaps it has its own reasons for not doing so, primarily because it wants to be seen above the political fray.
Pakistan has remained a national-security state since its inception. Hence, it is not surprising the army has its own worldview and strategic thinking, not necessarily the same as that of the civilians, who are its masters only in theory. Left on their own, perhaps the politicians would by and large like to move away from the confrontationist mode with India. Some of the statements of President Zardari soon after assuming power did not endear him to the army top brass.
A relationship too close to the USA is another irritant not only with the army but also with a majority of the people of Pakistan. Tales of corruption of the present leadership, poor governance and a lacklustre economic performance have not earned the present ruling lot any brownie points.
Strictly speaking, in an ideal democratic system, such matters do not fall in the purview of the armed forces. However, where other democratic institutions are weak and military rule has been the norm, an awkward relationship exists between the civilians and the military. The army can argue that the performance of the government directly impinges upon its defence capabilities, especially when it is fully engaged in fighting an internal insurgency.
In a situation where everything is in a flux, the ideal thing would be for the politicians to close ranks to strengthen the system. According to a spokesman of the army, it would have liked the PPP and the PML-N to work together in a coalition to strengthen the system. Unfortunately, this has not happened; confrontation and incremental trust deficit between the two major parties have reached a critical stage.
By declaring in an interview with Geo that the PML-N does not trust the president, Mian Shahbaz Sharif has joined the fray by saying publicly what he and his brother have long expressed in private. Similarly, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, otherwise a balanced person, has repeated this ludicrous media report denied by all parties concerned that Shahbaz Sharif had surreptitiously met the chief justice of Pakistan.
While President Zardari is ensconced in the Governor's House in Lahore on a long overdue visit to Punjab, the Sharif brothers are away from the country. Although this absence could be purely coincidental, it harks back to the political polarisation of the nineties when Mian Nawaz Sharif, as chief minister of Punjab, would be reluctant to receive Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has openly shown his reluctance to support a resolution in the Punjab Assembly expressing confidence in Mr Zardari's leadership.
According to military sources, no political issues were discussed in the recent meeting between Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Chaudhry Nisar, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and the COAS. It is claimed that the meeting related purely to the current wave of militancy and terrorism in the country, with special reference to its resurgence in southern Punjab. The Zardari camp, however, is deeply suspicious of these contacts, and Mian Shahbaz Sharif has not cleared the air by stating recently that such meetings are not forbidden.
The onus of bringing the situation back from the brink primarily is on President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani as they have more to lose in the present state of confrontation. A concerted effort should be made to bring the Sharifs on board, and demands such as the repeal of the 17th Amendment should be met without further procrastination.
Mian Nawaz Sharif has time and again reiterated his support for a democratic system. But words should be matched with deeds. Both sides will have to rein in their hawks, whether it is Mr Salmaan Taseer or Mian Shahbaz Sharif. Mian Nawaz Sharif, as a leader in waiting, has everything to lose if extra-constitutional forces move in. Hence, he has to tread carefully.
Issues relating to governance and transparency should be resolved without further foot-dragging, as not only the army but the media and the public at large have strong reservations about the manner in which things are being run by the present rulers. The dream of even a modicum of civilian control over the armed forces can be realised only if our politicians set their house in order instead of refusing to look beyond self-interests and power-grabbing games. If the squabbling protagonists yet again fail to learn from past blunders they will have no one to blame but themselves for their being judged harshly by history.
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
Pakistan is in the grip of a rogue government that is hell-bent on inviting trouble by testing the limits of the law and patience of the judiciary. It is pushing the nation into a calamitous clash of vital organs of state. The ill-omened portents were clear from day one announcing that democracy was adequate revenge for Benazir Bhutto's murder and allowing her killers to roam free, dragging their feet in the implementation of the Charter of Democracy, repeal of the 17th Amendment and Article 58-2(B), not restoring the judges until being forced to do so, suspending the elected Punjab government and imposing governor's Rule, repeatedly and unremorsefully breaking commitments made on oath were unmistakable harbingers of their unholy intentions. The modus operandi this government has evolved is to make the least possible concessions towards strengthening democracy only as a last resort in order to buy time. Lacking vision and without sound ideological foundations, it is now stalked by demons that are its own creations.
Given the dearth of triumphs, the government is peddling the NFC Award and the Balochistan Package as great achievements, whereas both are actually white-wash jobs. Tampered figures have been used to portray the NFC Award as a watershed. For the sake of brevity, two points expose the lie: firstly, it is claimed that a greater share has been allocated for the provinces in the vertical distribution of funds. This is so only because federal grants have been abolished and those funds have been included in the divisible pool. One way or another, the provinces would have received these funds. Secondly, it is claimed that the multi-faceted formula for the horizontal distribution of funds between the provinces has enhanced the share of the smaller provinces. Actually, Sindh's 23.7 per cent share is even less than it would have been had the formula been based solely on population.
Also, the government did the Balochs no favours by releasing a few of the 'missing persons'. This much is the sworn duty of any government worth its salt claiming to represent the people. But many more still remain missing. The Balochs did not ask for hand-outs but equality and mastery over their resources, which is still denied to them. Why not give Balochistan the royalties for Sui gas and control over the port at Gwadar? Why have Nawab Akbar Bugti's murderers not been arrested when the court has ordered action against them? Conspicuously missing from this package is the one thing the Balochs, along with Sindhis and Pakhtoons, want more than anything else; autonomy and sovereignty.
The success this government has had, to some extent, is in getting some people to take seriously its Sindh card threat and the contention that the current set up is indispensable for democracy. There is no such thing as a Sindh card. The result of the February 2008 elections bore a direct and exclusive nexus with the murder of Benazir Bhutto rather than the public's devotion to the new People's Party leadership. In any case, expecting Sindhis to pour out into the streets to save this failed government that promised them roti, kapra aur makan but has instead deprived them of power, gas, flour and sugar is stretching the bounds of optimism. PPP'sposition in Sindh will become abundantly clear when their days of power are over. The fact is that people, particularly ministers, assembly members and their fellow beneficiaries, remain latched on to the PPP for personal benefits.
The party is composed of many bigwigs, held together by the strong leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Without the same degree of deference for the new leadership, the party is highly vulnerable to centrifugal forces that are bound to be unleashed once power is gone and there remains no compelling reason for anyone to follow or submit to unworthy leaders. The only factor that prevented a mass exodus from the PPP in the wake of BB's assassination was the imminent prospect of the immediate acquisition of power, which is why the party was anxious for elections to be held without any delay so that they could capitalise on peoples' inflamed emotions before they cooled, instead of pursuing the killers of their slain leader and mourning her loss, as propriety demanded.
As far as being indispensable is concerned, it is shocking that some people can even consider a government that could never have crept into power without cover of the NRO to be indispensable to the survival of the system. Make no mistake about it, the democratic system is surviving not because of these rulers but in spite of them. Just as a body benefits from the extrication of a malignant tumor while leaving it in can only do serious harm, removing a tainted dispensation to explore better alternatives will strengthen democracy whereas sustaining the status quo is bound to do damage. What makes this government so indispensable and worth saving? What are its credentials, apart from the fact that they have inherited the mantle from a very popular leader who was tragically assassinated? What great strides has it made in restoring the rule of law and supremacy of parliament? If anything, its narrow political interests have made it the main obstacle in achieving such objectives. Urgently needed constitutional reforms are rotting in a parliamentary committee since this government came to power. When governments wish not to act, they bury issues in committees. This government procrastinated similarly in the restoration of the judges, but as soon as the long march got under way, the judges were miraculously restored by one stroke of the pen. The Charter of Democracy, including repealing the Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58-2(B), can also easily be implemented with similar urgency if the government were so inclined.
Far from serving national interests, this government has acceded to even those demands of their foreign overlords that even Musharraf did not accept, as a consequence of which we are fighting a civil war up north that is not ours to fight and comprehensive submission to vested western interests in this region have severely compromised our national sovereignty. The government has lost all control in home affairs as well. The Sindh chief minister has said that the Lyari operation was ordered not by him but someone else. Is he not the chief minister then? If he is not running the show in Sindh then who is, and what is the CM there for? One day the government initiates the Lyari operation under pressure from the MQM, but the next day, it comes to a halt under pressure from its own party members. They have reduced the art of governance to a joke.
So let us stop pretending that we have achieved nirvana under this government and that there will be diminishment from the utopian ideal if it goes. There is much that is rotten here and it needs to be set right, beginning with jettisoning the corrupt and incompetent and recovering looted national wealth in accordance with the Supreme Court's verdict in the NRO case.
Knowing well that this is likely to be their last ride on the gravy train, the PPP is trying to cling on to power by blackmailing the nation and threatening to bring down the whole system if their boat is rocked. It amounts to holding a gun to the nation's head. How can a government such as this claim to represent national interests? How can it be deemed fit to govern?
The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.
I. THE NEWS
The departure of former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf from the political scene of the country two years back resurrected hopes for the birth of an environment essential for nurturing democracy, which has hitherto been a victim of infanticide in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But all those hopes died off sooner than most of us had thought.
Now almost two years into a so-called democratic dispensation, the system is stuck in a rut raised by inaction on the part of the PPP-led government that is suffering from siege mentality and struggling to survive. The result is that key national issues are yet to be resolved and good governance continues to remain alien to Pakistani society. Public good, the upshot of democracy, remains as elusive as ever.
Much blame for this sorry state of affairs goes to the ruling party, which seems to have excelled in the art of taking wrong decisions on critical issues. Its reluctance to repeal the 17th Amendment and restore the 1973 Constitution to its original form, the imposition of governor's rule in Punjab, its dithering over the implementation of the Charter of Democracy signed by its slain leader Benazir Bhutto, its shameless protection of the sugar and cement cartels and land mafias, and its failure to end corruption and power cuts and provide employment are but some of the many reasons for the ills befalling this nation. But what about the role of the opposition, whose equal responsibility it is to ensure public good by keeping a watchful eye on whatever the ruling party does in the name of national interest?
The opposition is one of the prerequisites for democracy. It holds the executive to account for its faults and failings through constructive criticism. Without it, democracy would be like a sailor without their compass, or a body without its soul, for dissent emanating from a yearning for public good is the driving force behind democratic societies. It then holds out little hope that the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the main opposition party of the country, has restricted its role to making demands for the repeal of the 17th Amendment and the implementation of the Charter of Democracy. Its leadership has chosen not to focus its criticism on the government's criminal neglect of the poor as well as on its failure to resolve urgent issues such as inflation, unemployment, corruption, cartelisation and lawlessness.
Nawaz Sharif and other senior leaders of the PML-N have criticised the government for these problems but only in passing. Their criticism lacks the kind of sharpness and seriousness warranted by these problems so much so that they are having to clarify that the PML-N is not a friendly opposition -- a euphemism by which the party is now known.
Let's try to understand why the PML-N is behaving the way it has over the past two years. Sharif says he does not want to derail democracy and would want the PPP to complete its mandated five-year term in government. But the question is: where in the world is constructive criticism considered an attempt, let alone a conspiracy, to dislodge a democratic government?
While George W. Bush of the Republican Party was in office, his policies including the invasion of Iraq and the lies he had spun for that war came under attack from the Democrats but no-one in the United States described the democrats' onslaught a conspiracy against democracy. Likewise, President Barack Obama has had a tough time convincing the Congress of the viability of his administration's healthcare insurance reform aimed at providing the Americans with quality and affordable health care whether they lose their jobs, change jobs or get sick. The Republicans have opposed Obama's health care approach, calling it a government takeover of the system and too costly. But neither side has gone to the extreme of accusing its opponent of working against the national interest.
In the United Kingdom, the MPs' expenses scandal brought the ruling Labour Party into disrepute. Many heads rolled and Prime Minister Gordon Brown had to apologise to the nation as the Conservatives came down hard on his government. This would make it harder for British law makers to misuse public money. Nobody called the Conservatives anti-democracy for doing the job they were supposed to do.
But here in Pakistan, one sees no such focused debate on important public issues. On the first day of the new year, the government gifted the people a big increase in the gas tariff followed by a similar increase in the electricity rates. There was no debate in parliament before these utilities were made costlier. Some criticism has come from the PML-N but it has, like the PPP, largely blamed the Musharraf regime for the most of current problems. The IMF has now estimated that Pakistan's total external debt stocks will increase by more than 43 per cent over the next five years to $73 billion from just below $51 billion to meet its financial needs. Heavens! Having no clue about how it can fix the economy, the government has taken to borrowing money repayment of which will consume many future generations. Does the opposition have any remedy to offer?
Could it be that the PML-N is short on ideas and long on rhetoric? During the campaign for the February 2008 general election, the party leadership had hardly had any concrete economic policy to sell other than the promises that it would bring about a radical change in the country and put it on the path of progress and prosperity. And how did the party propose to achieve all that? It had a simple solution; it promised to reverse the policies introduced by Musharraf and remove the amendments he made to the constitution. Who says running a state is difficult?
If the PPP government repealed the 17th Amendment and restored important powers to the prime minister, would that resolve the problems facing the country? Would that make the 'empowered' prime minister wiser, create jobs and end energy crisis, corruption and nepotism? Would the country be then able to combat the menace of terrorism and militancy?
The PML-N currently enjoys a unique position; it is not only the main opposition party, it is also the ruling party in Punjab, the largest province of the country. What its government in Punjab did to deal with the sugar crisis was no better than what the PPP government did. Both benefited from the crisis while the people suffered.
The fact is that all these issues are real and will require solid solutions found through thorough thinking, not the constant repetition of rhetoric. Making a difference requires setting well thought out principles and preparing policies consistent with them. In politics, perceptions are important. How a political party deals with issues helps create a public perception favourable to
The writer is resident editor, The News, London edition. Email: mumersami@yahoo .com
I. THE NEWS
ROADS NEED BICYCLES
Bicycle, the most energy-efficient form of transport ever devised. It doesn't emit pollution, it runs on renewable energy, it makes its user healthier, it's easy to repair, it requires little in the way of pavement or parking, and 80 percent of the world's people can afford one. -- Donella H Meadows, environmental scientist and author, founder of the Sustainability Institute (1941-2001)
Amsterdam, the bike capital of the world, has 40 per cent of all traffic movement by bicycle. In the next few years the city will spend 100 million euros to further improve its cycle network and reduce car use. The promotion of cycling includes a network of safe, fast and comfortable bicycle routes, improving road safety for cyclists and building a 10,000-bike parking garage.
Copenhagen plans to double its spending on biking infrastructure over the next three years. Thirty-two per cent of its workforce bicycles to work. The city's bicycle paths are extensive, often separated from the main traffic lanes and sometimes having their own signal systems. The city provides public bicycles which can be found throughout the downtown area and used with a small returnable deposit.
Paris, which has a total ban on cars along stretches of the Seine River on Sundays and holidays, has created a three-phase programme to make much of the central city traffic-free in the next few years, except for cyclists. In July 2007, in a span of 36 hours, Paris placed over 10,000 bicycles on its streets, launching an ambitious bike-sharing system that is meant to lead a revolution in the way Parisians move around in the city. The programme aims to help reduce pollution and keep the people of Paris physically fit. The British government has allocated an unprecedented £140 million to "Cycling England" over the next three years. This funding is intended to increase the cycling levels by creating a "Cycling Demonstration Towns Programme." The new investment means that selected "Cycling Cities" will now have a cycling budget of around £16 per citizen per year.
The town of Davis in California, 17 per cent of whose residents commute to work on bicycles, is about to build a $1.7 million bikes-only tunnel under a major road. Boulder, Colorado, spends 15 per cent of its transportation budget on building and maintaining bicycle traffic. As well as London itself, New York, Stockholm, Vienna, Prague and Rome are among scores of other cities that are increasingly switching over to the concept of car-free zones. City planners the world over are beginning to rethink the role of the car in urban transport systems. Humans were not designed around cities, after all. It is cities that need to be designed around humans.
In Karachi, on the other hand, there is not a single bicycle path. Nor is there a plan to make one. The 2020 Karachi Strategic Development Plan has billions earmarked for roads, flyovers and underpasses, but not a penny for the construction of bicycle paths. It seems the city is stuck on the "signal-free corridor" concept of development aimed at serving a small minority, those who drive gas-guzzling vehicles, with no consideration for ordinary citizens.
There are many ways to restructure the transportation system of Karachi so that it satisfies the needs of all its people, not just the affluent. What can Karachi do to become a clean, peaceful and noise- and pollution-free city, one which is friendly to cyclists and pedestrians? It could start by providing simple facilities to its citizens. Every road could have walkways for pedestrians (with ramps for wheelchairs) and pathways for cyclists. People should be able to walk or cycle comfortably and safely. The city centres should be declared no-vehicle zones.
If Karachi were to stop being so impressed by the façade of Dubai, it could learn that Dubai is already correcting its mistakes and is now planning to build 900 kilometres of bicycle and pedestrian tracks all around the city. In China, meanwhile, a group of eminent scientists has challenged Beijing's decision to promote an automobile-centred transport system. Cycling and public transport should form the core of Karachi's transportation system. A network of safe bicycle paths needs to be developed, coupled with an efficient public transport system, so as to encourage and enable everyone to travel as equal citizens, helping to reduce the noise and the carbon footprint of the much polluted city.
A cycling group called "Critical Mass" (firstname.lastname@example.org) gathers to cycle every other Sunday in Karachi, to bring back the old cycling tradition and to raise awareness of the need for a cycle-friendly city. In Lahore, "Critical Mass" takes place on the last Sunday of the month, with enthusiasts cycling in a group on the remaining Sundays. The mayor would do well to revisit the Karachi 2020 Strategic Development Plan, knock out a couple of flyovers and underpasses and ask for bicycle and pedestrian paths to be made along all roads, where the car-less ordinary citizens could safely walk or ride a bicycle, without the fear of being knocked down by a weapon-brandishing Prado.
The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance contributor. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
OF LAND EXPROPRIATION
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
In declaring illegal the purported transfer of public land by the Ministry of Defence to the Army Welfare Trust at nominal prices, the Supreme Court in its recent Makro-Habib ruling elucidated the doctrine of public ownership of land pursuant to our Constitution. Rejecting the arguments of the AWT, the apex court held that "the submission on behalf of AWT based on legal title, is founded on private law concepts of right to property but ignores completely the notion of public ownership of the land, stemming from the Constitution. It also overlooks the fiduciary nature of the responsibilities of the government and its functionaries while dealing with valuable assets Land which is privately owned can be dealt with by the owner in any manner he chooses... However, where land is owned publicly, that is, by the people of Pakistan, legal title may vest in the government, but such title, and the exercise of the power based thereon, are to be exercised in the public interest, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws framed there under."
Land as everyone understands is a limited resource and non-fungible. The paramount proprietary right in relation to land and property is one's ability to exclude others from using and exploiting it. Grant of rights in relation to public land collectively owned by the citizens of Pakistan to private interests or foreign powers without regard to public benefit or legal process amounts to the usurpation of our fundamental right to access and benefit from public property. If the people of Pakistan indeed have a collective right to protect, utilise and benefit from our public land assets, the following three instances establish that such right is being molested with impunity: the grant of use of airbases to the US forces by General Musharraf and the non-suspension of such permission by the ruling government; the decision of the Musharraf regime to lease or sell over 1.2 million acres of land to gulf countries in pursuance of its Corporate Farming Policy, which is now being implemented by the PPP-led government; and the decision to convert the Army Welfare Housing Authority into Defence Housing Authority Islamabad through an ordinance, which the PPP wishes to convert into permanent law.
In a report published on the US Central Command website in 2003 entitled "Effects of Operation Enduring Freedom on Economy of Pakistan", Centcom had revealed that General Musharraf had provided five airbases to US forces for purposes of Operation Enduring Freedom. Responding to the furore over US drone attacks in FATA (which included their denunciation by Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari) the US Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Senator Diana Feinstein, blurted that she couldn't comprehend such criticism given that drones were being flown from bases within Pakistan. In response our Defence Minister clarified that while drones might be utilising fuelling facilities in Pakistan, the attacks were certainly not being carried out of our soil. In early December, General Shahid Aziz disclosed that Musharraf had handed over airbases to the Americans even without consulting his corps commanders, and as CGS of the Pakistan army he found this out when Pakistani troops weren't being allowed into one such base by US forces.
This time our Defence Minister coyly acknowledged that the US forces continue to use airbases at Jacobabad and Pasni. In his defence he explained that the PPP-led government was not guilty of entering into any new agreement with the Americans. Theirs was the lesser crime of omission as the Americans were merely being allowed continuing enjoyment of prerogatives granted by General Musharraf. There is an entire framework of laws, rules and regulations in place in Pakistan that applies to the management and administration of military lands, properties and accommodations. Is it not incredible that General Musharraf as army chief or president, in utter disregard of all legal formalities and institutional norms, unilaterally decided to grant the armed troops of a foreign country the right and licence to be stationed in and operate from our soil? In which civilised country would a lone individual be able to pull off such an illegal and treacherous act and then get away with it? How can the present civilian government acquiesce in such blatant illegality? And are such crimes of commission and omission more shocking or the fact that despite their revelation we as a nation are not sufficiently outraged?
The Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy pursuant to which Pakistan government has decided to lease or sell at least 1.2 million acres of lush land to the UAE and Saudi Arabia is equally damning. Forget for a minute the injurious effect of foreign-owned high-tech, tax-exempt and subsidised large corporate farming estates on our small-time farmers. Amongst the 148 countries included in the Food Security Risk Index, Pakistan is the 11th most vulnerable state likely to be confronted with extreme food scarcity in the near future. Over the last year and a half we have already borne the brunt of sugar and wheat shortages. Is it not astounding then that the fiduciaries responsible for the life and food security of a steadily growing population (already touching the 180 million mark) are all eager to sell out fertile land for the exclusive use of much-smaller populations of oil-rich foreign countries in blithering disregard of domestic needs? In being blinded by the appeal of transient financial inflows is the government not encumbering our fundamental right to food and life together with our land assets?
As if enabling foreign interests to exploit public property rights was not enough, the PPP-led government seems hell-bent to further entrench the monopoly already enjoyed by the military in controlling public land and the real-estate sector. By proposing and supporting the Defence Housing Authority Ordinance, 2007 (DHAI Ordinance) the ruling government is in fact stepping into the shoes of General Musharraf who first promulgated this ordinance in 2007 pursuant to which the Army Welfare Housing Scheme was transformed into a statutory authority the Defence Housing Authority Islamabad. The DHAI Ordinance vests in the management of a housing scheme the legal authority of the state to undertake municipal functions of government, apart from delegating to it the legislative authority to draft and impose its own rules and regulations. In other words, through this law parliament would be transforming a housing scheme into a local authority with all attendant legal rights and privileges.
Creating a statutory entitlement for a housing scheme managed by army personnel and not for those managed by other departments and institutions of the state or private citizens is thus discriminatory in essence. Pakistan has not raised armed forces to run housing schemes and other commercial enterprises. This is neither the core function of the military nor an ancillary responsibility. The grave internal and external security challenges confronting Pakistan are testing our resolve and capacity to protect the life and security of citizens. This is the core role of the military that needs to be supported and strengthened. Even otherwise the long and murky history of military rule in Pakistan has extended the interests of armed forces into areas that fall beyond their domain and competence. We must celebrate our law enforcement personnel and provide for their wellbeing through exclusive welfare schemes that are not conducive to abuse by vested interests. Let us not shame ourselves by indulging in histrionics and hypocrisy by developing money-minting private businesses under the garb of promoting the interests of our ghazis and shaheeds.
Instead of haggling over the no-good DHAI Ordinance, parliament should focus on drafting a Public Land Protection and Control law to thwart the ongoing abuse of our collective right to land and the defence committees of parliament should ask our defence minister if US forces still occupy airbases in Pakistan and under what authority.
I. THE NEWS
It is more than a year since Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" against the unarmed and besieged population of the Gaza Strip. The utter destruction resulting from the Gaza operation, which started with an air attack killing at least 120 people the day it was, remains. After the three-week operation which ended in late January 2009, the fear of death remains in Gaza. With each passing day, the hopelessness of Gaza's population is only increasing, because Gazans remain as vulnerable to Israeli attacks as they were a year ago.
The operation resulted in the death of almost 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 400 children, to refer to a single group of civilians butchered. According to UN figures some 6,400 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli offensive, in which white phosphorous was used against the civilian population. This war of aggression was premeditated genocide against the people of Gaza. "Those were dark days. There was killing in every street and alley," Dr Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza's emergency services, recalls.
Article 2 of the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious, as such: killing members of a group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, the ultimate cause of the crisis which led to the war, continues with the collaboration of Egypt. The territory's land borders, air space and coast are controlled by Israel. Since the reconstruction of the thousands of buildings destroyed is made impossible by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory, the people of Gaza are spending the winter under the open sky.
In June 2006 Hamas-allied soldiers captured an Israeli soldier in reaction to Israel's frequent bloody attacks on Gaza. The assumption of power by Hamas in the beginning of 2006, after the party had swept free and fair and globally monitored elections in Gaza and the West Bank, was actively opposed by Israel and its western allies, including the Bush administration. In September 2007, the Israeli newspaper Ha'artez reported that the Israeli military was planning to limit services to the civilian population in Gaza in order to "compromise" the ability of Hamas to govern the territory, where it is the dominant party.
The Gaza Strip, the world's most densely population piece of land, lies between Israel and Egypt. It is roughly twice the size of Washington, DC, and its population of 1.5 million is being denied basic necessities of life. Gaza's economy is in a state of deep crisis because of the illegal Israeli blockade. The purpose of the blockade is to punish the civilian population of Gaza in the hope of turning Gazans against the Hamas administration.
In a recent statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, asked Israel to lift the blockade, calling it "unacceptable and counterproductive." He appealed to both sides to stop violence. He further said that the aftermath of the war showed that "there is, and can be, no military solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The only feasible solution appears to be for the international community to put pressure on Israel to change its policies. The world must make Israel realise that nothing short of implementation of UN resolutions on the Middle East, beginning with the termination of the Gaza blockade, can end the crisis.
There had been hopes that President Obama would do so. But they have been dashed by his utter failure to deal with the conflict in the region.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: rizwanasghar firstname.lastname@example.org
PRESIDENT SHOULD OBSERVE PROPRIETY OF HIS OFFICE
IN an apparent attempt to remove the growing perception of his detachment from the people, President Asif Ali Zardari has decided to embark on a sort of mass contact campaign. Earlier, he visited Balochistan and Sindh and nowadays he is on a week-long tour of Punjab where he is having interaction with a cross-section of the people.
On the first day of his Punjab visit, the President confined himself to the Governor House, Lahore, which is more known as abode of a 'Jiyala' than the respect-evoking residence of a state functionary. And there are reports that the activities of the President would mostly be restricted to the company of Governor Salman Taseer and he will be having functions and ceremonies at the Governor House. The President must have charmed Lahorites by addressing party workers in Punjabi but his references to the serious issues confronting the masses and the country were devoid of any substance. He talked about the serious shortage of water, which is bound to complicate further because of the drought-like conditions, but failed to mention what his Government could and should do to address this problem of far-reaching implications. No doubt, he has performed ground-breaking of one dam each in Balochistan and Sindh and is going to Chakwal during the next few days for a similar purpose but the magnitude of the problem demands revolutionary approach to address it squarely. There is almost negligible progress towards construction of major dams and one of the most viable reservoirs ie Kalabagh Dam has unilaterally been shelved by his party which would be seen by historians as betrayal with the future generation of Pakistan. Similarly, he failed to mention what his Government is doing to respond to the challenge posed by persistent violation of Indus Water Treaty by India as a result of which our rivers are converting into dry nullahs. We are sorry to point out that the President is more interested in reestablishing contacts with the party cadres than demonstrating vision as head of the state to resolve problems of the country on a long-term basis. The pandemonium witnessed at the Governor House was yet another typical example of PPP's undisciplined posture and lack of organizing skills, casting doubts about its ability to manage affairs of the country in a systematic manner. Of course, Asif Ali Zardari is Co-Chairman of the PPP but the decision to visit Punjab for a week every month to meet party workers is devoid of sagacity. Being symbol of the federation, he should, instead, concentrate on moves to promote national unity and cohesion and for this purpose he should meet politicians from different parties and people representing different walks of life to listen to their point of view. This would help him rectify weaknesses of the party and move towards the goal of good governance.
HOLBROOKE MEETS ARMY LEADERSHIP. WHY?
THERE is a beeline of visitors from the United States for the last several months and Americans are justifying these visits in the backdrop of the increased focus on war on terror and enhanced assistance for Pakistan. Apart from General Mullen, McChrystal and Holbrooke, low level officials frequently visit Islamabad, Rawalpindi and other parts of the country and hold formal and informal meetings with not only officials but also with political leaders and members of the business community both with and without knowledge of the Foreign Office and Interior Ministry.
Though people of Pakistan have long been objecting to the un-understandable policy of arranging meeting of every Tom, Dick, and Harry with the President and the Prime Minister, which amounts to degrading the country's prestige, it has also become a norm that these officials are given free hand to call on the Army leadership at will. Holbrooke has been designated as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and, therefore, he is more often seen in Pakistan than in the United States but it is equally strange that he meets more often with our top Army brass than occasional meetings of the services chiefs with the President and the Prime Minister. Can our Ministers or special envoys visiting abroad meet with the same ease the military leadership of the host country? Certainly not. We vividly remember that a Western country had turned down request of the then President Pervez Musharraf with the army chief of that country despite the fact that Musharraf was also Chief of the Army Staff. Of course, Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against terror and there has to be consultations between the army leadership of the two countries on operational aspects of the campaign but what was justification to allow frequent meetings of Holbrooke and American Ambassador with military leaders including chief of the elite intelligence agency. If there are some issues then these should be discussed at the appropriate level of the civilian Government and decisions taken or conclusions drawn passed on to the military authorities. We believe that these frequent meetings not only amount to compromising national interests but also amount to adding salt to the injuries if viewed in the backdrop of drone attacks that kill dozens of people so frequently, making mockery of the national sovereignty of Pakistan.
DUBAI AS UN HEADQUARTERS
DUBAI has welcomed a proposal for shifting of the UN Headquarters from New York saying it was fully prepared to host the world body. Reacting to the idea floated by US magazine Forbes, an official statement issued by Dubai on Thursday said it was ready to open dialogue with UN officials on the potential benefits in terms of geographic location, communications and infrastructure that the Emirate could provide.
Though it is not a serious proposal from official quarters, the idea of the Forbes is worth consideration and represents, in a sense, feelings of the overwhelming majority of the international community that wants the UN headquarters out of New York or for that matter influence of the United States. The US has blatantly been meddling into affairs of the UN, widespread practice of bugging of the foreign visitors and lately the derogatory treatment meted out to the incoming passengers in the name of security measures. It was because of the US meddling that the then Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev had proposed shifting of the UN from New York to a neutral place like Geneva. But the idea to shift it to Dubai merits consideration because of various reasons including availability of necessary infrastructure, application of latest technology in different fields and communication developments. Dubai is also an unquestionably neutral state and the idea has the potential to help improve the lost image and glory of the UN. Therefore, pros and cons of shifting the UN Headquarters to that place should be seriously looked into by all concerned.
SEPARATE RELIGION FROM POLITICS
Hats off to Bangladesh's Supreme Court! Banning politics on the basis of religion was a giant leap, which will no doubt make Bangladesh a modern, prosperous, secular, democratic country. Will Pakistan follow Bangladesh and end decades of exploitation in the name of religion? Will it take into account the fact that resistance offered by cross-sections of Pakistani society to extremists and the people's resolve to fight the Taliban-led terrorists, showed clearly that the majority of the people, though religious, openly condemned being exploited on the basis of religion.
Perhaps, its time for Pakistan to renounce the last three decades of Islamization and return to the original vision of its founding fathers; it's time, for the nation to put a more distinct differentiation between politics and religion. I support the separation of the two not to protect politics from religion but to protect religion from politics. By dragging religion through the dirt of politics, we are doing great disservice to Islam and Pakistan. It's an idea that should be respected and contemplated upon. Religion and politics will exist in great purity, disengaged. Politics is corrupt by its very nature. Intertwining religion with politics makes religion look corrupt. Whenever religion and state interlace, it creates turmoil, intolerance, violence and collision. In today's multicultural and multi-religious society, no religion should be able to control and dominate law and the Government.
States cannot be based on their personal religious beliefs it would be the downfall of society. One cannot force ones belief on others. Religion is a matter that solely lies between man and his God; man owes account to none other for his faith but God. I disagree with those who say that religion is a central issue in Pakistan; the real issue is the manner in which religion is being exploited to gain political advantages. The clergy uses religion to obtain political power; our politicians use religion to entice voters and justify pseudo politics; successive governments that have grabbed power illegally, used religion to gain political legitimacy. Religion has been used as a crutch by opportunists; a supporting device to remain in power. Not realizing that crutches render one completely powerless, ineffective or inert. If religion and caste is removed from the public sphere then most worthless politicians will have nothing to present for acceptance.
Religion and national identity are vital for ones sense of pride and recognition; both being the fountainhead of ones strength and the raison d'etre of ones very existence. Like fish out of water, I twist and turn, when extremism and Islam; terrorism and Pakistan are used side by side. Critics of Islam have raised alarm, by proclaiming Islam an "evil wicked religion" and claiming Quran promotes violence. Much more is repeated gazillion times in several publications, making it impossible to give a "soft image" to Islam and Pakistan. This slander is affecting our youth and will influence our future generations too. They will perceive Islam through the eyes of the West and will be "swayed" by its version. Their argument will be based on the fact that, if the West is exploiting religion so are we. Why curse the West, why not ourselves, for coquetting with religious groups, to gather support. We are solely responsible for the transition of religion, as a source of values and wisdom, to religion as a strategy for passing legislation or winning elections. Its easy to blame the West for its ignorance and prejudice against the fastest growing religion in the world Islam and the Western media for carrying out a concerted misleading campaign of distortion but then we can't throw all the blame on others; we must share some too. Our religious Jamats have contributed in strengthening this false impression with their fiery rhetoric, extremism, intolerance and misinterpretation of Islam. By allowing them to exploit Islam, we have done great "disservice" to the "supremacy of Islam" and to our "motherland." Beware Frankenstein "destroyed" his own creator!
A vibrant society should be based on the rights of individuals as human beings, not on rights granted by the clergy. Today all politics is hostage to religion. The Jamats seek to convert Pakistan into their personal fiefdom and want to enslave the minds of the Pakistani people to "religious priests" The clergy have become the "agents of Islam" Every "uneducated low IQ mullah" feels entitled to acting like a scholar and gives sermons on what God said and what he meant; define who is a Muslim and who isn't; decide what is Islamic and un Islamic; declare whose a good Muslim and whose bad; run our lives by interfering in harmless activities, such as marathons and musical concerts. They have been responsible for derailing democracy and in preventing the emergence of political institutions in Pakistan. In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty, he is always in alliance with the despot abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
Unfortunately Islam is held "accountable" for actions, which are committed in its name, by people claiming to "represent" it. The erroneous ideas about Islam are largely linked to the actions of Mullahs and their actions are not in conformity, with what they claim to preach and practice. Tragically the mullah is identified with Islam and the criticism of the Mullah is understood as a criticism of Islam itself. An absolutely incorrect way of judging Islam! If the Mullahs are willing to use religion for political ends, then they should be held politically responsible for their actions and face accountability.
The pre- Partition generation is a witness to how the Mazhabie Jamats, both Hindus and Muslims hated Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Pakistan Movement. These sects by fomenting sectarianism, creating divisions, preaching violence, intolerance and spreading "Desi Islam" are busy undoing what Jinnah achieved. These religious Jamats never quote Quaid-i-Azam or even mention him because they oppose his philosophy, even today. Jinnah cautioned the people to be vigilant against quislings, fifth-columnists, clichés and mobs. These people opposed the great struggle and raised obstacles with insidious false propaganda and pose as saviors of the people's just rights; they incite people to defy the government and threaten to commit acts of lawlessness. Their object is to undermine the solidarity of the Muslims, by creating a split amongst brother Muslims and finding ways and means to weaken and destroy the State. These people have been financed by foreign agencies; their purpose is to disrupt and sabotage Pakistan and to destroy what we have achieved. Its time to dig deep into our souls and take a bold stand that might be startling for a hand full of people but will be beneficial for the country. Its time to get rid of the crutches of theocracy and mullahcracy!
To clear the image of Islam and to revitalize Pakistan, there is a pressing need to divorce religion from politics. We need to develop institutional safeguards against religious extremism. Pakistanis must wake-up to the threat of extremism and the exploitation of Islam. The nation must join hands on a common platform to restore pluralism and tolerance. We must revert to Jinnah's liberal, anti ethnic, secular and democratic Pakistan. Our founding fathers drew their basic moral concepts from secular laws with freedom of religion for all belief systems, in favor of the rights of mankind.
INDIA'S SHATTERED HOPE OF WAR
Confused in achieving its secret designs to become a super power of Asia, now India has started intimidating declared nuclear powers like Pakistan and China through threat of open war. In this regard, Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor vocally revealed on December 29, 2009 that Indian Army "is now revising its five-year-old doctrine" and is preparing for a "possible two-front war with China and Pakistan."
India has received a matching response from Islamabad. Responding to New Delhi's open threat, on January 1, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani warned that the situation would get out of control in case of any dangerous adventurism of New Delhi. A day after, Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) Chairman Gen. Tariq Majid stated, "The Indian Army Chief's statement exhibits a lack of strategic acumen. He further said that such a path could "fix India on a self-destructive mechanism." In this connection, taking cognizance of Indian new war-mongering style, on January 6, Gen. Kayani also chaired the meeting of corps commanders, and showed satisfaction over the operational preparedness of the Pakistan Army. Meanwhile, Pakistan's military and the political leadership has decided to be in active contact and to chalk out an effective strategy to counter hostile approach of India.
While taking notice of India's tactics to disturb the regional balance of power in South Asia, the cabinet's defence committee underscored that Pakistan would never allow its security to be jeopardised at any cost. It was decided in the meeting that until and unless South Waziristan operation and rehabilitation of war torn areas in Swat is not completed, no new military front would be opened and no foreign pressure would be tolerated in that respect. As regards New Delhi's belligerent approach, it is the result of Indian shattered hope to intimidate other regional countries especially Pakistan whom the former considers a continuous obstacle in the way of its ambitious policy. In fact, both the neighbouring adversaries are nuclear powers, Indians cannot ignore the principles of deterrence, popularly known as balance of terror.
In 1945, America dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Tokyo had no such devices to retaliate. After the World War 11, nuclear weapons were never used. These were only employed as a strategic threat. During the heightened days of the Cold War, many crises arose in Suez Canal, Korea, Cuba and Vietnam when the US and the former Soviet Union were willing to use atomic weapons, but they stopped due to the fear of nuclear war which could culminate in the elimination of both the super powers. It was due to the concept of 'mutually assured destruction' that the two rivals preferred to resolve their differences through diplomacy. Political strategists agree that deterrence is a psychological concept that aims to affect an opponent's perceptions. In nuclear deterrence weapons are less usable as their threat is enough in deterring an enemy that intends to use its armed might.
A renowned scholar, Hotzendorf remarks that nuclear force best serves the interests of a state when it deters an attack. It is mentionable that a few days after the November 26 tragedy of Mumbai, New Delhi, while embarking upon a hot pursuit policy towards Islamabad, under the pretext of that carnage, endeavoured to isolate Pakistan diplomatically in the comity of nations. For this purpose, India sent a number of diplomatic missions to various western capitals to convince them that Pakistan is officially behind Mumbai terror events, emphasising them to pressurize Islamabad in handing over the militants, responsible for the catastrophe. By exploiting its self-contradictory evidence, full of loopholes, Indian rulers had also rejected Pakistan's offer for joint investigation, and left no stone unturned in threatening Pakistan with an allout war including 'surgical strikes.' It was owing to our nuclear weapons that despite creating war-hysteria inside its country, New Delhi did not dare to attack Pakistan as any aggressive attempt could result in the national suicide of India.
Moreover, Pakistan's successful military operations have surprised the international community as our armed forces dismantled the command and control system of the Taliban militants within a few months. They did in eight months what the US-led NATO forces could not do in Afghanistan in eight years. In this context, while praising Pakistan's security forces, western high officials insisted upon New Delhi to observe restraint. It is due to these developments that the US and European countries have donated million of dollars for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Regarding Indian blame game against Pakistan, the US and UK have already refused official involvement of Islamabad in the Mumbai carnage. Besides, in the recent past, a team of Indian intelligence officials left the US disappointed after a week-long stay as they were not allowed interrogating a Pakistan-born American national David Coleman Headley, arrested by the FBI on charges of plotting a major terror attack in India, lodged in a Chicago jail. Failed in their efforts to implicate Islamabad, Indian officials termed "bureaucratic" and "procedural" hurdles as the main obstacle in their way.
On the other side, with the realistic approach, America officials and media have started focusing on Hindu fundamentalism in face of leakage of the Justice Liberation Commisssion, admitting the official involvement of the leadership of the BJP in connection with the destruction of the Babri Masjidand over other developments like human violations in the Indian-held Kashmir including violence against the Muslim and Christian communities.Presently the positive image of Pakistan has irked the eyes of New Delhi. Despite their diplomatic defeat, Indian leaders have still been blackmailing Islamabad through threats of war. Depressed in their anti-Pakistan aims, Indian lobbies are also making strenuous efforts in maligning Islamabad in the western countries. It could be judged from a recent attempt. The Australian government has played down a travel advisory issued by Indian warning in relation to risk of violence against Indian students in Melbourneafter an Indian graduate, Nitin Garg, was stabbed to death in the city, and New Delhi pointed finger at Pakistanis indirectly. But acting Australian Foreign Minister Simon Crean urged Indian leaders to avoid fuelling hysteria and said that Melbourne was safe for visitors.
Nevertheless, Indian rulers should keep it in mind that no war is limited. When started, course of war is expanded by the circumstances just like the water of flood. For example, in the beginning, World War 1 was a local conflict between the two tiny states of Balkan, but within a few days, it involved the major countries.In the present circumstances, India is badly mistaken if it overestimates its own power and underestimates Pakistan's power. As our country lacks conventional forces and weapons vis-à-vis India, so it will have to use atomic devices during a prolonged conflict.
Nonetheless, 'nuclearized' India may apply its coercive diplomacy and threat of war against the non-nuclear states of South Asia in exerting psychological pressure, but it will prove India's shattered hope in case of Pakistan whose deterrence is credible. While taking lesson from the recent history, the best way for New Delhi is that instead of raising war hysteria, present issue of Mumbai terror attack could be resolved through joint investigation which Islamabad has repeatedly offered. And India must better pay attention to her home-grown Hindu terrorists by abandoning irrational allegations. In wake of its shattered hope of war, India should better return to negotiating table to resolve all issues with Pakistan including the core dispute of Kashmir. Otherwise, war-mongering pose is likely to prove self-destructive for the Indian union, where separatist movements have already reached their climax in most of its states.
THEY ARE ON THE SAME PAGE!
There could be differences over the style of governance but ruling party leadership and military leadership seem to be on the same page so far as security, stability and sovereignty of the country is concerned. President Asif Ali Zardari's statements regarding respect of state institutions, his stance on stopping drone attacks and Kashmir are encouraging. This is reflective of a change from his earlier position when to appease America he had said that there was no threat from India; Pakistan would not resort to first-use of nukes and had expressed his gratitude on passage of the Kerry-Lugar law with ignominious conditions. Addressing PPP workers at Governor's House in Lahore, Zardari said a clash among state institutions would not only be detrimental for the government but also for democracy. The president described the water crisis as the "biggest challenges" facing the country, and said efforts for the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir were not just aimed at acquiring land, they rather went "far beyond this". This is all very encouraging but he has yet to declare that he will not tolerate corruption from any member of his party; and once he does it he will improve his image. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi have also picked up the courage to tell the Americans that they cannot have their own way and continue insulting and bullying Pakistan. The government has realized that armed forces have given tremendous sacrifices during operation in SWAT, Malakand and now in South Waziristan, but Americans' demands are increasing. Now they want the army to conduct operation in North Waziristan. They have already started talking about Quetta Shura and would ask Pakistan to start operation there as well. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the American envoy had been told in no uncertain terms that continuing or escalating drone attacks and ground operations inside Pakistan by US forces would hurt mutual ties. He protested on the enhanced discriminatory security measures at US and European airports against Pakistanis, which he thought tantamount to racial profiling. He is absolutely right because America has done nothing to address the security concerns of Pakistan, as India is fully entrenched in Afghanistan and continues using its consulates to destabilize Pakistan. Realizing Pakistan's strategic location and importance, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on the floor of the parliament that America cannot win the war in Afghanistan without Pakistan's support. In his meeting with Holbrook, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani grilled him on the issue of delayed Coalition Support Fund payments - the figure of which is well over $ 2 billion. On the contentious issue of delayed visas for American officials and others, the prime minister promised quick redress but he would not cave into pressure and let Americans go around armed with prohibited-bore arms and move around in vehicles without number plates or with fake number-plates. They should realize that Pakistan is not colony. Holbrooke in effort to calm Pakistanis disclosed about US aid for the energy sector, which would amount to $ 4 billion over four years, starting with the $ 16.5 million aid for Tarbela's power generation enhancement. But Pakistani leadership seems to have made up its mind that for the sake of aid, Pakistan's sovereignty would not be bartered away. The prime minister and foreign minister are bitter because despite Pakistan's loss of $35 billion in cost, in loss of production and revenue, and destruction caused by the terrorists, Americans continue with the litany of doing more.
Though Admiral Mike Mullen and the NATO Stanley McChrystal in their recent statements had acknowledged the fact of India's undue influence in Afghanistan but they could not persuade their government to take practical measures to address Pakistan's concerns. Recently there were conjectures that the US could expand drone attacks beyond the Tribal Areas and Special Forces raids in Pakistan against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but Pakistan made it clear that it will embitter the relations between the US and Pakistan. In 2005 also America had created a task force and with the help of Special Forces the CIA had planned to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive, who was purported to be in Pakistan side of the border. Later the plan was dropped, as the US realized that Pakistan may withdraw from the war on terror and things will spin out of control. The US military leadership and CIA know full well that Pakistan's armed forces have the capacity and capability to meet the challenges posed by the terrorists and could deal with the shenanigans of the CIA. They do know that Pakistan army has been fighting without the protective gear and night-vision goggles, which reportedly were given after the military operation was launched in South Waziristan.
Historian Mack Moyer in his book titled 'Triumph Forsaken e: The Vietnam War 1954-65' opined that to win the war it was necessary to go all out. He wrote: "An all-out war would have meant a massive bombing campaign, mining Hanoi's port and sending troops in the Laos and Cambodia to cut off the North's all-important sanctuaries and re-supply routs, the Ho Chi Minh Trail". However, Lyndon Johnson's advisors were reluctant and fearful in part of dragging China and Russia into a larger war. Today, President Obama seems to be convinced that America and its allies are losing the war in Afghanistan, which is why he has planned an exit strategy. With additional boots in Afghanistan, they would do their best for turnaround and in case they fail they are likely make Pakistan a scapegoat to cover up their failures. One should recall 1970s, when America was losing war in Vietnam and its leadership was forced by American public and the world to withdraw from Vietnam. The US then started propaganda against Cambodia and Laos for providing sanctuaries to Viet Cong guerrillas. They bombed Cambodia flat and also destroyed infrastructure of Laos and reportedly dropped napalm bombs and used chemical weapons.
Today, Afghanistan war has become a very unpopular war and there is a pressure from American public to withdraw from Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the majority Pushtuns were pushed against the wall and the result was that after eight years the US, NATO and Afghan forces could not control more than 30 per cent of Afghanistan, whereas 70 per cent of Afghanistan is still beyond the writ of Kabul. Though during the last surge of 21000 troops the US had increased its forces bringing the coalition total to 110,000 yet they failed to rein in the Taliban. Some analysts are of the view that American troops would try to take control of a few big cities, build military bases their and increase Afghan army's strength. Then the US would say that it has secured Afghanistan and it is ready to withdraw from Afghanistan. In fact, it would be better for the US and its allied forces to quit Afghanistan right now because ultimately people of Afghanistan have to decide about their destiny, as the US and its allies have not only failed to protect life and property of the citizens but also could not make any headway in the nation-building process. In September 2009 as many as 56 bipartisan members of US Congress moved a bill seeking an exit-strategy from Afghanistan.
IS INDIA THREATENING ITS NEIGBBOURS?
Indian Air Force chief publicly admitted that his country faces a greater threat from China than Pakistan because New Delhi knows little about Beijing's combat capabilities. The US and western world is taking advantage of the situation and creating war like situation between the two countries to fight out Tibet from China. India and China fought a brief war over their 3,500 km Himalayan border in 1962, both sides claim the other is occupying their territory. Despite growing business ties between the two countries, the western world in not interested to see the two neighbours live in peace. In the recent years, India seems much confident due to backing its backing by countries like US, Israel and Britain. US and Israel have taken quick moves to sell their outdated weapons and equipment to India to counter threat from China.
Last year, India deployed around forty thousands of additional troops to start building airstrips along its remote northeastern border with China. Indian army had always complaint about Chinese soldiers crossing the border in Arunachal Pradesh state illegally. The tension between the two states heightened after Indian intelligence sponsored controversial visit of Dalia Lama in the disputed territory. Chinese media published articles claiming that Arunachal Pradesh was integral part of China. Although there are no latest move as only last years plans are being implemented by decorating light 155mm guns, helicopters and some unmanned aerial vehicles near the Chinese border. Since mid last year, India also started stationing its Sukhoi Su-30MKI jets in Tezpur and recently another squadron was posted to Indian Air Force Base at Chabua. The sole aim of Indian moves is to monitor the Chimese reaction and calculate their war preparedness.
In fact, India is much perturbed over Chinese growing influence in India's neighbours especially Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and Sri Lanka. Stratigests have warned New Delhi that India is gradually being surrounded by China through its neighbourhood. The Chinese interests in Jammu and Kashmir state has also alarmed India as Chinese Visia.India is trying its level best to operationalize its airfield at Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh, which carry intense strategic importance due to mere eight kilometers from Aksai Chin. It overlooks Karakoram Highway that links China with Pakistan and is located east of the Siachen Glacier. Daulat Beg Oldi airfield, at a height of 4,960 meters (16,200 feet) is the world's highest, will improve India's logistical support to its troops deployed along its 4,057-kilometer disputed frontier with China. It is pertinent to mention here that during Sino-Indian war in 1962, US helped India to fight against China but miserably failed. US supplied Fairchild Packets which were operated from this airfield between 1962 and 1965. Then in 1966 an earthquake in the region loosened the surface soil, making it unsuitable for fixed-wing aircrafts. Presently, the airfield is not suitable for forward operations but can be utilized for dropping or picking up troops and supplies. Indian Air Force is also trying to reopen its airfields at Chushul, located south of Pangong Lake and Fukche in eastern Ladakh along the Chinese border. If India is able to operationalize these airfields, Indian troops stationed near the Chinese border, which previously depended largely on air-dropped supplies, will not be facing much problems in continuity in troops' movement and supplies. In addition, it will allow India to monitor the activities in the border areas in China and Pakistan.
India on the instigation of western governments is trying to create trouble in China's Xinjiang province especially Aksai Chin to cutoff Chinese land link with Tibet. Chinese have three approaches to Tibet namely northern via Qinghai, eastern route via Sichuan and via Aksai Chin. Of the three routes, it is the route via Aksai Chin that is open throughout the, even in winter and monsoon seasons. From the strategic point of view, for China, for which Aksai Chin is a vital lifeline to ensure uninterrupted move of troops and supplies in order to consolidate control over Tibet. India's latest effort aims to improve war preparedness against China and Pakistan but one wonders if New Delhi really thinks that its adversaries would be sitting idle waiting for India to grow bigger than its size and strike. India's sentimental approach against China and Pakistan would lead New Delhi nowhere but would earn economic and political disaster. The obsolete weapons that India is piling up in its borders would be of no use unless it has a strong centre. The country where more than 29 states are in open revolt with Indian union should shed such an ambitious plans, especially on the instigation of aliens who had have always betrayed the eastern nations and communities.
If we recall, Lieutenant General Peter Wall, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, and Adam Thomson, Director, South Asia and Afghanistan while taking part in the discussion "UK Military Operations in Afghanistan: A Coherent Government wide approach" at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) praised the efforts of the Pakistan government to eliminate the threat of Taliban from Swat and other areas of NWFP. The latest statement of Indian Army chief about New Delhi ambitious expansionist plans in the region has forced the strategists in Islamabad to fortress against its Eastern neighbour.
BLESSINGS FOR A NEW CAR..!
We were standing next to the church, the young priest and I, when his cell phone rang. I watched curiously as he listened intently, then replied he would be with the caller within an hour. "Emergency?" I asked curiously.
"Yes," he replied a little hesitantly. "Somebody dying?" "Somebody buying a new car.""So where's the emergency?" "He wants me to bless it before he drives." "May I come along?" "Sure," he said and then as an afterthought asked, "Why?" "So that I can hear what kind of blessing you give the car." "I pray," said the priest, "that the car will take him safely everywhere. That he and his family never meet with an accident in it."
"That it won't ever break down or ever have punctures on highways," I added. "Yes, yes, I must include that in my blessing," said the priest happily. "And till he gets you to give all these blessings, he won't drive?"
I asked. "I guess it makes sense," said the priest. "He wants the car to be safe before getting behind the wheel." "What about him?" I asked."What about whom?" "The man who's buying the car, isn't he the fellow who should be prayed for? That he may drive this new car of his without being under the influence of liquor.." "I don't know " said the priest uncomfortably. "That he obeys all traffic rules; doesn't try to bribe policemen when he gets caught? That those on the road outside will know that a godly man is sitting at the wheel?"
"This is a blessing for the car not the driver," said the priest sharply, looking at his watch. "Sure," I said, "Would you bless my shoes?"
"Your shoes?" "That these shoes will not lead me to wrong places, that they will always take me down the paths of right living and not into the broadways of wickedness?" "It all depends on you," said the priest simply. "Not on your shoes!" "Maybe the new owner of the car you are going to bless needs to be told the same," I said, "that he will drive without an arm around his secretary or mistress. That he will be able to fill the car with the laughter and happy voices of his family, including the barking of his pet dog in the rear seat.."
"You've got a point," said the priest looking down at my shoes, "but " "But what?" I asked."I wouldn't want you to come along!" "Why not?" I asked pained. "I just want to hear you bless a car!" "Your kind of blessing," said the priest as he hurried away, "Would see me out of business..!"
Inaugurating the nine-day 11th Dhaka International Film Festival 2010 on Thursday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that a modern film institute would be set up and a national film policy would be formulated for the aesthetic development of the film industry. It is rather surprising that the country has neither of these much-needed prerequisites, a film institute in particular, for producing standard films of enduring qualities. True, where most things turn archaic with bureaucratic interference, a national policy has every chance of being counter-productive. Where creativity is at its magnificent best, such official control is least welcome. But then it is too dangerous to leave the film industry at the hands of people with no talent and artistic taste. And this is exactly what happened to our films mostly. Happily, a handful of young and promising filmmakers have, of late, come forward with excellent creations to indicate that all is not lost on this front.
The prime minister's assurance of setting up a film institute will make such offbeat filmmakers happier than others, because it is they who know how arduous the process is to have the orientation of what is generally known as art film. Mere technical know-how is not enough, although it can be of great help for translating an idea into a visual image. One has to remember that the language of the celluloid is different from the written language. The more important thing is to capture passion, emotion, conflict and the myriad feelings through a well-told story of universal appeal on celluloid. Filmmakers need institutional study and training, before they know how to reach their product to viewers of diverse tastes.
Admittedly, we cannot compete with the big budget films of Hollywood or Bollywood in areas of technical and visual effect or impact. Our forte, of necessity, must be life-like realism based on human relations. Bangalee novelists have proved they can delve deep into human heart as well as present stark reality of our society most authentically. And we all know such masterpieces need master strokes from genuine talents for their filming. One sure way is to turn to such novels and short stories for capturing them on celluloid. The challenge is daunting because people have long turned their back to the big screen and the spectators' taste has been defiled by the cut-and-paste techniques of the 'illiterates' of Dhallywood.
POWER FOR IRRIGATION
The government has decided to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of power for irrigation from 11:00 pm to 5:00 am each day. A parliamentary body has, therefore, asked the power, energy and mineral resources ministry to ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of power for irrigation. The parliamentary standing committee on power, energy and mineral resources ministry has also asked the ministry to engage lawmakers and upazila parishad chairmen to monitor the supply of power for this purpose.
The current demand of power for irrigation in the country is 2,100 MW, but the country has a shortage of 1,200 MW power. As such the parliamentary standing committee is laying emphasis on load management in order to ensure the supply of power for irrigation. But in order to do this, there will of necessity be more power outages in the cities and towns even if the farmers do not run their water pumps at daytime.
After a meeting at the energy ministry, the prime minister's energy and mineral resources advisor told journalists that, in order to ensure an uninterrupted power supply to rural areas, city dwellers will suffer a bit, but they will have to bear with it for the greater interest of the country. Yet another parliamentary body on finance ministry observed that farmers are facing difficulties to run pumps for irrigation, but as the Boro crop will help reduce the country's overall food grain deficit and ease prices to some extent, this sacrifice must be made. Meanwhile, the government has also taken steps to ensure uninterrupted supplies of diesel for irrigation purposes during the Boro season. Hopefully, this pro-farmer policy will help the cause.
VISION AND OUR VISIONARIES..!
Was invited for the first anniversary of an up and coming TV channel in the city and was delighted when I saw the theme, it was tv9Vision 2010-2020! The invitation went on to say that there would be a seminar of four major groups comprising decision makers, opinion builders, money movers and city icons.
"Right up your street Bob!" I told myself, "You're going to hear visionaries talk about their vision for the next decade," and I settled myself down in 5 star luxury and waited for visions to unfold: It didn't, the deputy chief minister spoke of the history of the city, how it was once seven islands, then became one and with it came an influx of people, hundreds and thousands who were just jamming the infrastructure and laying havoc with the system.
After him came a former Chief Minister, more articulate, more vocal, who spoke same thing using better vocabulary, stronger words, "Stop the Influx!" he roared and I wondered whether I had mistaken the theme when I'd entered. "Maybe they changed the theme and didn't have time to let me know!" I thought till I looked behind roaring speaker and found that the banner spelled same theme that had been on my invite, no it wasn't about 'influx' it was about 'vision'!
It was only later that I was given a chance to speak for a few minutes, but what I wanted to say was more, much more; 'My Dear Visionaries, where is your so called vision? You were not called to give history lessons, nor was it called for to talk against the constitution of our country, which gives every citizen the right to travel and settle anywhere in this country! You were invited to share your vision!"
"Vision sir, is to visualize the problems of tomorrow and find solutions for them today!"
"How do you do that?"
"Did you come to this venue in a chauffeur driven car sir?"
"I am a minister, of course!"
"Sir vision is when your driver looks not at the car in front but ten cars ahead, and drives his vehicle accordingly. He sees a jam forming and decides to shift lane, he sees a pattern of a road block and takes another route, whereas the driver who looks just at the car ahead is "
"Why you sir!"
I congratulate the TV channel for a brilliant theme and wish them well as they move into the future, I also congratulate them for showing me the kind of vision our visionaries have, just enough to see the car in front after the jam is formed..!
EDUCATION: A SHORT VIEW
Education being the top priority and a common goal like acquisition of wealth has triggered an unprecedented mad rush worldwide. Never before has this race been so intense as it appears today. Despite lacking an instant utility value like currency notes it has almost certainly leapfrogged to a convertible condition with money as if one is falling in to the other. Globalisation has also served for its rising demand both internally and externally. In comparison to it supply source for quality education looks steadily tightened. I mean to say domestically mainstream institutions, despite expanding their back up support capacity are still failing to cope with the growing demand for new entrants every year. Externally the situation is no brighter either. The key providers are strained heavily. Pressures of overseas admission seekers bring to bear on their security concerns. As quick a fix selective entries are permitted so as not to overwhelm their capacities. To fend off extra pressure of the waves of admission seekers as well as to reduce costs to beneficiaries, reputed universities of developed countries like USA, Britain, France, Japan, Germany etc. are also outsourcing their system along with the entire paraphernalia to substitute their own model of studies in the recipient countries. This often comes about under bilateral deals between governments like that of opening up subsidiary branches of giant industrial plants. To make the device doubly convenient and cost effective on line expertise support comes in handy. From a tradesman point of view education sector has become the most lucrative commodities making flourishing business globally. It finds no recession even amid stiff economic downturn. Education as it is, serving a one way track firmly pegged to the magic key for success, power, glory as well as money. Any country failing to acquire education is fated to a fall back position in this fiercely competitive world. The government is therefore obligated to create equal opportunities for all its citizens for education and make sure that none is falling behind, either willfully or reluctantly. If the government fails to meet its obligation then it cannot escape the guilt of incompetence and callousness.
Judging from the overall import education is regarded a fundamental right of every citizen of a free society. In the same token it is defined as a human right too. Because to live in a civilised society one has to be introduced to the values of social ethos, rights and duties of a social being. To add to it culture, manners and customs that evolved through the course of social changes and historical developments are vitally important for grooming worthy citizens of a sovereign nation. There is therefore no substitute for education. And this is an area where a government has to play paramount role in a democratic set up to ensure education for all. In a democratic dispensation freedom of choice is sacrosanct. But that freedom must not come into conflict with that of the freedom of action of the government in the greater national interest. Particularly in this area the government can override and infringe with the personal freedom of a citizen. It even can deny him the right to choose illiteracy in preference to literacy should he allows himself the liberty of such a weird choice. All over the civilised world education has been declared compulsory. None can bypass it without the peril of prosecution in a manner a draft dodger courts his prosecution.
Hobbes (1588-1679) who, as a royalist, believed that the right to determine the kind of education fit for his subjects is one of the absolute rights of the sovereign power of ruler. Taking a queue from Hobbes, Hegel's (1770-1831) interest in the education of the general public motivates his concern that the society provide public education to as great a degree as possible, as well as his argument that the general social interest in education overrides the rights of parents who might otherwise choose to deny their children an education. Well, there is no dispute about the state's right to enforce education on every citizen.
But how the education should be imparted and what should be the education policy of a state is always a debatable issue. Say for instance the current education policy has drawn flack from a section of the civil society who is wary of the government's intentions. On the other hand, it earned admiration from a wide spectrum of decision-makers and policy planners, thinkers and intellectuals and stakeholders. Divergence of opinion for and against such a vital issue is very normal and natural. In this case also it is no different. But I personally find no justification to be on a collision course over an unresolved issue as the final decision is still awaited. But a healthy debate is always welcome leading to the consensus of both sides of the divide. Without getting embroiled into any polemics let us confine ourselves within the area of learning process that the students must follow before being launched into the world of knowledge. Let us begin from the start as precisely as possible with a few questions--what to learn and how to learn and what should be the mode of learning and what drives the youngsters from their lessons and what stimulates their creative potentials and power for original thinking? We must take these features into a single focus in our attempts at a holistic approach to education. As without tempering the learning process as a basic stepping stone or a launch pad to the world of knowledge the promise to raise the level of mass education will remain a self-fulfilling prophesy. Should the learning process be framed into a rigid fold or should it be sprawling and easy going with enough space for improvisation and innovation? Whether we should assess individual aptitude and capacity for input before imparting education? The latter proposition is always supposed to cater to a joyous pursuit and not a binding compulsion for the beginners. The principle art of the teacher is to awaken the joy in creation and knowledge. In fact, at rudimentary stages the idea is to wean a young mind from their playful waywardness to some sort of bindings which a young one should not detect and find unappetising at the first encounter. Things should be framed in a manner that he may react with favourable impression. Like first love the first hatred may have a profound and far-reaching impact on a man's life. "The driving force in education should be the pupil's wish to learn, not the master's authority. Because children learn at their own pace, and it is a mistake to try to force them. So thinks Bertrand Russell. Taking this into account the strategy of learning process should be designed in such a way that the kids cannot discern any difference between their play ground and classroom, between their reading materials and play objects. They should take their lesson as part of another game with a little variation though, but hugely funny and playfully more thrilling. The purpose of this paper is to delve into this vital aspect as a precursor to the world of education. For in it lies the source of cognitive development of a young learner's creative faculty and originality. This is observed to yield favourable results in the latter stages of the career beyond the student life. One learns to think creatively in the original plane. Pupils should be molded outside the system of parroting and cramming and disgorging from memorized scripts. The nineteenth century Italian educationist Dr. Maria Montessori expounded her method of education for pre-school child. The main features of the Montessori method are the development of the child's initiative through individual freedom of action, improvement of sense perception. This provides for the development of coordination among the children through exercises and games. The teacher provides didactic material and acts as a supervisor and guide. The idea is to organise children's play instinct constructively and make the transition from home to school less formidable. The method has been widely used in Europe and America. Three other educationists of the modern period who have influenced us in the direction of freedom and revolutionised the infant teaching were Johann Pestalozzi of Switzerland (1746-1827) who by trying to understand children, taught the natural, progressive and harmonious development of all the powers and capacities of the human being; Friedriuch Froebel (1782-1852) of Germany, the founder of the Kindergarten and John Dewey (1858-1952) who held that the best interest of the group are severed when the individual develops his own particular talents and nature. More than a couple of a millennia before Montessori and others, Plato said if a man is to be good at anything, he must practice it from early childhood, and spend his playing time as well as his learning time in pursuit suitable to the subject.
As for example: he who is to become a good farmer or a good architect must play at building some toy edifices or with a toy farm. And the person who brings up children must provide them with the tools of their trade in miniature copies of the real things and they must learn early essential teachings of their trade....We must try in play to direct the pleasures and desires of the children toward what they must ultimately attain."
(The writer is at Education Board Office, Rajshahi)
Once upon a time, stocks were risky and collateralised securities were safe. That time is over, as the breakdown of the American mortgage securitisation market has shown.
For years, hundreds of billions of new mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) and collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) generated from them were sold to the world to compensate for the lack of savings in the United States and to finance American housing investment. Now virtually the entire market for new issues of such securities all but 3% of the original market volume has vanished.
To compensate for the disappearance of that market, and for the simultaneous disappearance of non-securitised bank lending to American homeowners, 95% of US mortgages today are channeled through the state institutions Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. Just as there was a time when collateralised securities were safe, there was also a time when economies with so much state intervention were called socialist. Most of these private securities were sold to oil-exporting countries and Europe, in particular Germany, Britain, the Benelux countries (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg), Switzerland, and Ireland. China and Japan shied away from buying such paper.
As a result, European banks have suffered from massive write-offs on toxic American securities. According to the International Monetary Fund, more than 50% of the pre-crisis equity capital of Western Europe's national banking systems, or $1.6 trillion, will have been destroyed by the end of 2010, with the lion's share of losses being of US origin. Thus, the resource transfer from Europe to the US is similar in size to what the US has spent on the Iraq war ($750 billion) and the Afghanistan war ($300 billion) together.
Americans now claim caveat emptor: Europeans should have known how risky these securities were when they bought them. But even AAA-rated CDOs, which the US ratings agencies had called equivalent in safety to government bonds, are now only worth one-third of their nominal value. Europeans trusted a system that was untrustworthy.
Two years ago, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, argued that foreigners were buying US securities because they trusted America's financial supervisory system and wanted to participate in the dynamism of its economy. Now we know that this was propaganda intended to keep the foreign money flowing, so that US households could continue to finance their lifestyles. The propaganda was successful. Even in 2008, the US was able to attract net capital inflows of $808 billion. Preliminary statistics suggest that this figure has now fallen by half.
For years, the US had a so-called return privilege. It earned a rate of return on its foreign assets that was nearly twice as high as the rate it paid foreigners on US assets. One hypothesis is that this reflected better choices by US investment bankers. Another is that US ratings agencies helped fool the world by giving triple-A ratings to their American clients, while aggressively downgrading foreign borrowers. This enabled US banks to profit by offering low rates of return to foreign lenders while forcing foreign borrowers to accept high interest rates.
Indeed, it is clear that ratings were ridiculously distorted. While a big US rating agency gave European companies, on average, only a triple-B rating in recent years, CDOs based on MBSs easily obtained triple A-ratings. According to the IMF, 80% of CDOs were in this category. And according to an NBER working paper by Efraim Benmelech and Jennifer Dlugosz, 70% of the CDOs received a triple-A rating even though the MBSs from which they were constructed had just a B+ rating, on average, which would have made them unmarketable. The authors therefore called the process of constructing CDOs alchemy, the art of turning lead into gold. The main problem with US mortgage-based securities is that they are non-recourse. A CDO is a claim against a chain of claims that ends at US homeowners. None of the financial institutions that structure CDOs is directly liable for the repayments they promise; nor are the banks and brokers that originate the mortgages or create MBSs based on them.
Only the homeowners are liable. However, the holder of a CDO or MBS would be unable to take these homeowners to court. And even if he succeeded, homeowners could simply return their house keys, as they, too, enjoy the protection of non-recourse. As home prices declined and one-third of US mortgage loans went under water that is, the property's market value sank below the amount of the loan three million US homeowners lost their homes, unable to meet their payment obligations, making the CDOs and MBSs empty shells.
The problem was exacerbated by fraudulent, or at least dubious, evaluation practices. For example, homeowners signed cash-back contracts with builders to feign a higher home value and receive bigger loans, and brokers' fees were added to mortgages and the reported values of homes. Low-income people who could not be expected ever to repay their loans were given so-called NINJA credits: No income, no job, no assets. Such reckless and irresponsible behaviour abounded. The US will have to reinvent its system of mortgage finance in order to escape the socialist trap into which it has fallen. A minimal reform would be to force banks to retain on their balance sheets a certain proportion of the securities that they issue. That way, they would share the pain if the securities are not serviced and thus gain a powerful incentive to maintain tight mortgage-lending standards.
An even better solution would be to go the European way: get rid of non-recourse loans and develop a system of finance based on covered bonds, such as the German Pfandbriefe. If a Pfandbrief is not serviced, one can take the issuing bank to court. If the bank goes bankrupt, the holder of the covered bond has a direct claim against the homeowner, who cannot escape payment by simply returning his house key. And if the homeowner goes bankrupt, the home can be sold to service the debt. Since their creation in Prussia in 1769 under Frederick the Great, not a single Pfandbrief has defaulted.
Unlike the financial junk pouring out of the US in recent years, covered bonds are a security that is worthy of the name.
(The writer is a Professor of Economics and Public Finance, University of Munich, and President of the Ifo Institute)
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.
HAITIA CHANCE TO START AGAIN
DR. TERRY LACEY
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia was overseeing the training of the new 3000-strong Indonesian Rapid Reaction Team for Disaster Handling at a local airbase when the Haitian earthquake struck and he immediately ordered an Indonesian team to fly to Port-au-Prince.
"I have ordered an Indonesian contingent to be sent to help the people of Haiti who are victims of this massive natural disaster". (The Jakarta Post 15.01.10).
Indonesia remembers with gratitude the enormous response of the world community to the devastating tsunami disaster in Aceh.
When the tsunami hit Aceh the province was wracked by a longstanding civil war, social and economic life was severely restricted. There were troops everywhere and the local resistance movement was very strong, and could have kept fighting for years.
The tsunami was a giant catastrophe throwing sea-going ships miles inland. The people of Aceh looked at the power of nature, stopped fighting each other and central government, and started to struggle in a common cause to save lives, and to rebuild.
Much has been achieved in Aceh. There are still big problems including increased religious extremism and some attacks on foreign aid workers, alongside a failure to satisfy some economic aspirations, and these issues are linked.
But important lessons emerged. In the transition from disaster to development in Haiti the local civic and municipal organisations, although weak, should be incorporated to help take the lead from the start, and not colonized as sub-contractors and petty consultants by hugely more powerful international organizations.
In Aceh we did not get this quite right, and we did not move to rectify local redistribution issues early enough, and now we are paying for it. Hillary Clinton showed true political instinct when she cancelled a trip to the South Pacific, although we regret her not coming to Asia-Pacific, so that she could address this, the hugest catastrophe to hit the Western hemisphere in a long time.
Haiti will have to be rebuilt from top to bottom. But Haiti, the land of Graham Greene and The Comedians, was already devastated by environmental degradation, desperate poverty and political incapacity, which could not be addressed without giant efforts.
When I first went there, the plane from Kingston Jamaica could not land in Port-au-Prince in a storm.
Then we flew to Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico and Antigua and then all the way back, and on the second attempt we landed.
Then the power system failed in the airport but intermittently.
The lights flashed on and off every 30 seconds. When they were on you smiled at the immigration official and gave your passport.
The lights went off and there was a row of white teeth in the moonlight. They flashed on again and he stamped your passport. We performed a bizarre son et lumiere ballet to the hypnotic rhythm of the flashing fluorescent lights. Bienvenue a Haiti!
The only other rhythms that worked were with the girls in Petionville under the strobe lights of the discotheques. Everything else was bizarre, distorted and devastated by a history that went back to the heroic, utopian Black Jacobins who tried to replicate the French revolution in Haiti in 1789 to liberate themselves from slavery.
They failed in their almost total incapacity, relapsing into a bizarre fortress of premature black liberation, proud, poverty-stricken, aspiring, hopelessly corrupt and incapable, while the imperial powers danced upon the grave of their failed revolution.
White supremacists in the Southern states of the US, Western Europe and colonial Africa used Haiti to argue black liberation could never work, which many believed until Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King and Huey Newton inspired American and Caribbean blacks, and Aime Cesaire, Franz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Sam Njomo and Nelson Mandela, and many others, showed that Africa should be run by Africans.
Now is the time for the US, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, of Africa and especially the francophone world, but also the Middle Eastern and Muslim countries and of far-off Asia, to pull together to make a giant effort to rebuild Haiti, and to put this legacy behind us. This disaster is so huge that we can start again.
But this time build a Haiti of people, and not just of buildings and bridges, from the bottom up. Build local civic organisations, capacities and administration.
Build a new political structure as the Western allies did in Germany in 1945-1950. Find Haitians to lead all this and to rebuild Haiti with a society and an infrastructure that Toussaint L'Ouverture would have been proud of.
(The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist of The Independent)
LESS THAN LEGAL EAGLES
YES, SOMEONE SHOULD HAVE DISCOVERED THIS GLITCH
THERE is a touch of Alice in Wonderland in news the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority spent five years fighting a case it didn't need to. Chortling aside, the case involving Rural & General Insurance Broking shows an extraordinary level of carelessness on the part of lawyers and government officials alike. The insurance broker sued APRA over a press release that turned out not to have been published - a discovery that exploded the legal action, but only after years of court appearances. No one, it seems, noticed the defect in the case. It is the sort of bungle that gives public servants and lawyers a bad name and suggests a culture where there is little imperative to find answers, settle problems or avoid costs, because someone else is paying. Why dig deep when you are either funded by public service budgets or you can write it off as a business expense? Hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended - nice for lawyers but no joke for the taxpayers who will foot part of the bill, given that the broker has been ordered to cover only 75 per cent of APRA's costs. ACT Supreme Court judge Hilary Penfold said in her determination: "Both parties have been remarkably careless in their conduct of the litigation." There is not much to say to the broker, but the message for publicly funded APRA is clear - lift your game.
WARMING TO THE ENVIRONMENT
BUT THE OPPOSITION LEADER STILL NEEDS AN ETS ALTERNATIVE
FOR all Tony Abbott's blokey bonhomie the Opposition Leader is a smooth political operator, demonstrated by his speech on the environment on Thursday night. It offered just enough ideas to save Mr Abbott from being branded as a nay-sayer and made it harder for his critics to claim the conservatives do not care about the environment. Presenting a plan to save the Murray-Darling river system while greening the landscape armours Mr Abbott against the inevitable attack from the government and the Greens when he releases his plan to cut greenhouse gas as an alternative to the Prime Minister's proposed emissions trading scheme. Mr Abbott has reversed his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull's small target strategy of offering tacit support for the ETS. This has created a contrast with the Prime Minister, who Mr Abbott accuses of grandstanding on global climate change, while ignoring the uniquely Australian environmental issues he can actually do something about.
However, Mr Abbott's ideas are not especially innovative or easily applied. Certainly much of what he said about the Murray-Darling river basin made sense, especially the way state control of its waters has made a mess of the Howard and Rudd governments' attempts to reform the way the resource is shared. The Opposition Leader rightly notes the nonsense of states slugging it out over who can do what with water in the courts. But Mr Abbott's argument that we need improved irrigation infrastructure to make the most efficient use of water ignores the obvious- that farmers will make use of all that is available. In contrast, Canberra's current plan, which buys back water entitlements, is intended to reduce demands on the rivers. And the Opposition Leader's call for a referendum to empower the commonwealth to take control of the Murray-Darling from the states ignores the power of the purse that the national government can already use to impose a national approach. There is another problem with referenda - without bipartisan support they almost certainly fail and it is hard to see federal Labor, or enough premiers of either party, supporting the proposal. Like Mr Rudd's promise to hold a referendum on control of public hospitals, this proposal would be harder to implement than it is to announce. Mr Abbott's other idea, for a green army to restore ravaged landscapes, will also appeal to people who wonder why we cannot protect the bush from introduced species. But what this conservation corps would cost and how it would work is unknown and without further and better particulars it remains a good idea to float in a speech.
But Thursday's address did put Mr Abbott back in the game on environmental issues, something he needed to do after the Liberal Party's pre-Christmas chaos, when Malcolm Turnbull was removed as leader because of his endorsement of the ETS. While the green extreme, who assume the environment and socialism are synonyms, will never vote for Mr Abbott, swinging voters will, if they feel he has sensible solutions on environmental issues. Mr Abbott's is a sound strategy, as far as it goes - which is not far enough. The real test of how he will handle the environment in the lead up to the election will be his alternative to the ETS and coming up with a convincing case will require a great deal more detail than the level on offer in this speech.
WHY ZERO TOLERANCE IS THE ONLY ANSWER TO VIOLENCE
THE MELBOURNE ATTACKS REQUIRE AN URGENT RESPONSE
THE Weekend Australian has been reluctant to join those claiming that racism lies behind the violence against Indians in Melbourne. But the fire at a Sikh temple this week has added to the urgent questions of how to respond to a situation where - as Victorian Deputy Police Commissioner Ken Jones says - Indians are bearing the brunt of attacks. Whether racist or random, these attacks demand a strong response from police and politicians, both in rhetoric and in action. There can be no tolerance for such behaviour, and no resiling from the need to assure the safety and security of all citizens.
Our politicians and law-enforcement officers alike must be unequivocal in their rejection of racism and their commitment to protecting the Indian students who come here to study and work. These young people must feel safe to catch a train, walk across a park and go to work at Hungry Jacks - as Nitin Garg attempted to do before he was so brutally knifed in Yarraville a fortnight ago. To tolerate anything less is to threaten not just the personal safety of individuals but to place in jeopardy the excellent relationship Australia enjoys with India. This robust and open society must remain central to Australia's thinking on foreign policy and trade.
India's press has been relentless in criticising Australia's response to the attacks: the Delhi-based Mail Today's cartoon of a Victorian police officer dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan pulled no punches. But however offensive, the press freedom to publish such material is one of the reasons why Australia must continue to nurture close ties with India. There can be few better friends for us in Asia than this democratic nation. For this reason, it is heartening to see Sir Ken addressing the issue of racism more directly than has his boss, Chief Commissioner Simon Overland, in recent days. At times the police chief's rhetoric has lacked urgency and has sent confusing signals to Australians appalled by the attacks and concerned that their real context - however unpalatable - should be openly discussed. Australians are proud of a society built on immigration from many countries. But they are not naive about the pockets of ignorance and enmity that exist, nor of the disaffected and dysfunctional people who at times engage in antisocial or criminal behaviour against others, based on nothing more than their ethnicity. To underplay these realities is as potentially harmful as summarily applying the racist tag. A sense of perspective is important, but so too is a clear rejection of racism and an unequivocal statement that it will not be tolerated. Austalia has shaken off the institutionalised racism of the White Australia policy which dogged its past. But there should be no room for complacency or for political correctness that inhibits us from calling a spade a spade. The history of the 20th century shows the dangers of racially based attitudes and the need to be eternally vigilant in shining a light into such dark corners. Politicians and police leaders alike must make it clear racism is deplored by all Australians and that any allegations of race-based crime will be vigorously pursued. Clearly, police must take care in ascribing racial motivations to individual crimes, but they must be unequivocal in applying a zero-tolerance approach to violence.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE PLANET, KEEP NATURE STRIPS TIDY
AND SO IT WAS THAT THE PROPHET ABBOTT EMERGED FROM THE WILDERNESS BEARING A NEW COVENANT WITH THE WILDERNESS?
WHILE the rest of us have been doing our Aussie national service, lazing on the beaches or pursuing long-neglected hobbies, the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has been racking his brain trying to unpick the Gordian knot of a climate-change policy that gave him his leadership but which could also destroy him if he cannot resolve its contradictions.
The result of the former seminarian's reflections is a plan to raise a national corps of 15,000 paid employees charged with rehabilitating damaged eco-systems. Land care volunteers who have been toiling selflessly at this task for decades will like the sound of that. So, too, will those who believe there is not a problem that cannot be solved by throwing good men and women in shorts and bush shirts at it.
The Federal Government needs to stop all that elevated talk about climate change, so the argument goes, and get its hands dirty digging holes and planting saplings. It's all yours, taxpayers, for a mere $750 million a year (plus deployment expenses).
It would, perhaps, be a small price to pay for saving a sunburn-, drought- and erosion-ravaged country. Alas, Abbott's plan bears the hallmarks of a stunt designed to save not the environment, but his own political skin.
This is, after all, the man who described climate change as ''crap'' and brought down his own party leader by rallying sceptics who do not believe the scientific consensus that the problem is real. Only this week, Abbott vowed to stymie Queensland Government legislation protecting the state's diminishing number of wild rivers because some indigenous leaders reckon they will be banned from fishing and eco-tourism. No need to save our existing natural wonders, though. Let development takes its course then send in Abbott's army to ''remediate'' them.
With his own party hopelessly divided over climate change, Abbott has turned to the political songbook of his mentor, the former prime minister John Howard, for answers. It's all there: the populist wedge for Greens' preferences, the sniggering at so-called elitists such as the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, the bold threat of a federal takeover if the states do not save the iconic Murray-Darling Basin, and the trademark distrust of international attempts at anything other than regime change. All pretty jaded and cynical. Meanwhile, the European Union has a functioning emissions trading scheme and a developing nation such as India is establishing a trade in energy-efficiency credits aimed at curbing emissions growth and developing a $17.5 billion market by 2015.
A proposal for 15,000 more people on the public payroll is not what we would expect from a self-declared conservative and free-marketeer. Nor can many business leaders understand why the Liberal Party continues to ignore their appeals for it to stop playing politics and help create a favourable and secure environment for future investment. In New York this week, global pension funds and investors representing $14,000 billion in assets urged governments to put a price on carbon and adopt ambitious emissions reduction targets. Abbott says that would constitute a new and (he hopes) unpopular tax. In the absence of global agreement, he would commit Australia only to a modest 5 per cent reduction in emissions, and he will fight the Government's emissions trading scheme when it is reintroduced in Parliament for a third time this year.
If and when Australia's greatest natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef disappears under rising sea levels some time this century we can hardly expect Abbott's ''standing green army'' to be of any use.
The truth he denies is not so much the validity of scientific evidence of climate change, as the undeniable fact that Australia's interests are best served by making an early transition to a less carbon-dependent economy. By doing so we also maximise our chances of avoiding economic chaos when, as expected, the world's oil supplies fall drastically short of demand some time in the first half of this century.
The Abbott policy is built on the fallacy that Australia must choose between acting locally or globally. We can do both. All the rest is politicking. We can only hope he does a better job detailing how he will achieve his promised emissions cuts than he has regarding environment policy so far. If he fails, the rivers and forests won't be the only wildernesses that beckon him.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
LOST IN TRANSLATION, ZAT CERTAIN SOMETING
THESE days texts can be translated into many languages at the press of a computer key, with approximate but still time-saving results for a linguist who can clean up the snafus. Not so the spoken testimony of the witness in court. This week, thanks to research by Sandra Hale at the University of Western Sydney, we learnt about the plight of the court interpreter, wedged between the forensic virtuosity of barristers and the stumbling witness. An interpreter who hesitates too much for the right word or introduces ''ums'' and ''ahs'' can damage the credibility of a witness. But if the interpreter renders an answer into polished English without an accent, jurors will regard it as less credible, honest or persuasive. In other words, a really good interpreter may have to ham it up a bit. Those old movies where the foreigners speak in accented English have a lot to answer for.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NO ESCAPE AS QUALITY NOSEDIVES
IN THE 1988 film Rain Man, Australia's international airline was immortalised in this exchange between Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) and his autistic savant brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who has a fear of flying:
Charlie: ''All airlines have crashed at one time or another. That doesn't mean that they are not safe.''
Raymond: ''Qantas never crashed.''
Twenty-two years later, Raymond Babbit's reference still holds. Qantas' safety record, despite a few relatively minor incidents, remains unblemished by loss of life or aircraft. The carrier's millions of passengers have every right to feel confident in Qantas' reputation embodied in the announcement made at the start of every flight: ''Your safety is our priority.''
Imagine, then, if these standards were allowed to slip. Imagine if Australia's aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, found Qantas' safety practices to be ''very poor and ineffective'' and riddled with ''many mistakes and violations''. Imagine if it was found that safety defects had been concealed from supervisors and that the airline had illegally sacked one of its engineers who, having failed in attempts to convince his managers of the seriousness of the problems, leaked information to the regulator. There would be, rightly, public outrage and significant loss of confidence that would take years to remedy.
The above scenario did not occur in this country, but in Vietnam. This week, its civil aviation authority released damning findings from an inquiry held last November into the maintenance practices of the Vietnam-based carrier Jetstar Pacific Airlines (JPA). Following the inquiry, two of the airline's senior management have been removed from their positions. In addition, its former chief executive, Luong Hoi Nam, is in prison, accused of ''lack of responsibility causing serious consequences'' in a related investigation into JPA's financial dealings. This investigation also involves two Australian JPA executives, Daniela Marsilli and Tristan Freeman, who were prevented from leaving the country at Christmas. Ms Marsilli, as The Age reports today, says there is nothing to hide.
Since 2007 JPA (formerly Pacific Airways) has been a joint venture between Qantas (owners of Jetstar), which has increased its stake from 18 to 27 per cent, and the Vietnamese Government's investment arm, the State Capital Investment Corporation. In other words, Qantas owns more than a quarter of an airline with an officially dubious safety record and whose financial affairs are under investigation. While the results of these investigations have yet to be determined, and while there is no suggestion of impropriety on the part of the two Australians involved, the safety issue is of deeper and possibly more damaging concern - not only to the airline itself but to those who control it and, more particularly, those who use it.
Every passenger has the right to expect scrupulous attention to aircraft maintenance and proper safety procedures. Cover-ups, dangerous practices and management indifference have no place in any airline anywhere. Aircraft, by their very function, carry passengers of every nationality and, therefore, must subscribe to international health and safety requirements: this is non-discretionary. This makes it all the more surprising that Qantas continues to express confidence in what its chief executive, Alan Joyce, calls JPA's ''total commitment to safety'', instead of showing some concern that an airline in which Qantas has a significant share might affect its own long-standing reputation as the world's safest airline.
Moreover, Jetstar's chief executive in Australia, Bruce Buchanan, who is also on JPA's board, has chosen to shoot the messengers - whistleblowers Digger King and Bernard McCune, both former JPA engineers - by personal insinuation and by saying the two men had not submitted safety reports to the airline before contacting the regulator. As The Age reported yesterday, both men presented written and verbal reports on various JPA safety flaws, including a lengthy email, to a senior Qantas manager in Australia. Mr McCune, who first raised these issues almost three years ago, and Mr King have withstood threats of violence and personal abuse to ensure the truth be told. They should earn gratitude, not derision.
Some urgent maintenance is required to repair what is, in terms of image, a near miss for Qantas. Its stringent safety standards should apply to all of its interests.
Source: The Age
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TRAFFIC CHIEF'S SPEEDING CONFESSION CAME TOO LATE
MISTAKES, like so many other things in life, come in sizes. When Victoria's most senior traffic policeman, Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay, slowed to only 80 kilometres an hour in a country town with a limit of 70 kilometres per hour, it was a small mistake.
A speed camera snapped him but, as he now admits, he was lucky: no accident resulted and so neither he nor anyone else was hurt by his lapse in concentration at the wheel. Mr Lay gained three demerit points and was fined $245.
It was a mistake that could not but embarrass Mr Lay, who is the face of road safety campaigns in this state. Earlier this month, for example, he said the number of speeding vehicles recorded over the Christmas holiday period was outrageous. He might have found it harder to stand on the high moral ground to deliver that message if his offence had become public soon after it was committed, on October 1 last year.
But there have been two subsequent errors of judgment that dwarf the original offence. Mr Lay's speeding was not revealed until yesterday, a mystifying delay. Secondly, the information was released in the form of a newspaper column, in which Mr Lay apologised to the community, that ran in only one media outlet.
This strategy can only be interpreted as an attempt to minimise damaging publicity.
Spin is a tiresome fact of modern political life. The anxiety to massage the message received by the public permeates all levels of government and bureaucracy. Here it has gone too far. Any offence, however small, by a senior police officer in the area of his own bailiwick should be publicly aired as quickly and as cleanly as possible.
Deputy Commissioner Lay is passionately committed to road safety and can draw credit and satisfaction from the fact that last year's road toll fell to a record low of 295.
But his significant public standing, and that of Victoria Police, would have been better served by an early and open confession of his minor fall from grace.
Source: The Age
CHEKHOV AT 150: STILL THE ONE TO TRUST
Of the many major European playwrights of the late 19th century, Anton Chekhov has lasted best of all. Of Chekhov's contemporaries, Shaw is in eclipse, Ibsen somewhat becalmed, Maeterlinck almost forgotten. Strindberg and Wilde still cut it in their different ways. None of them, though, connects as directly with such a large 21st-century public as Chekhov, born 150 years ago this month, still does. His short stories, his most important works, are revered. His four mature plays are rarely absent from the stage. From Monday, at London's Hampstead theatre, writers, actors and enthusiasts will gather to mark his birthday with a week of events celebrating Chekhov's plays, short stories and vaudevilles, his doctors and his women. Shakespeare excepted, it is hard to imagine any other dramatist who inspires such loyalty.
What is his secret? It sometimes feels as if Chekhov's personality, or at least the charming one he cultivated, so well captured in the photographs and in the letters to his wife (out of which Peter Brook crafted a marvellous play), is central. "I think that in Anton Chekhov's presence everyone involuntarily felt in himself a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more oneself," Maxim Gorky (another writer in eclipse) recalled. Read more about Chekhov, though, and he is both approachable and unknowable. Like Gorky, the British have constructed a Chekhov in our own image, a man of no fixed beliefs, suspicious of certainty, ironically detached from his own era.
With Chekhov it is better to rely on the works we have than the man we imagine. Chekhov insisted that his writings were comedies. He is in many ways the father of the theatre of the absurd. But his comedy is double-edged and all his characters live in the world. In Chekhov we laugh with the characters as well as at them. There is often something arbitrary, almost uncaring, about the fate of his characters, like poor Firs, left behind at the end of the Cherry Orchard. And yet, as Brian Friel proved in his theatrical act of homage Afterplay in which, 30 years on, Sonya from Uncle Vanya meets Andrey from The Three Sisters audiences relate to these random people with their dreams, foolishness and disappointments.
Is he angry at his characters or understanding or maybe both? Few have summed Chekhov up better than Vasily Grossman: "He said, let's put God and all those grand progressive ideas to one side. Let's begin with man. Let's be kind and attentive to the individual man whether he's a bishop, a peasant, an industrial magnate, a convict in the Sakhalin islands or a waiter in a restaurant. Let's begin with respect, compassion and love for the individual or we'll get nowhere." True then. Still true now.