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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

EDITORIAL 18.01.10

 

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Editorial

month  january 18, edition 000406, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. BHADRALOK MARXIST
  2. HOMELAND SECURITY
  3. HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN - ARUN NEHRU
  4. PAKISTAN LOSING ITS IDENTITY - M RATAN
  5. CRUCIAL ELECTION FOR SRI LANKA
  6. AMERICA STILL GROPING IN THE DARK - BARRY RUBIN
  7. THERE'S NO NEED TO RENEW STIMULUS - SHIVAJI SARKAR

MAIL TODAY

  1. PRATHAM REPORT AS A WAKE- UP CALL
  2. NO RESPITE FROM CHAOS
  3. MAYAWATI HAS A NEW GAME PLAN - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. FLYING BLIND
  2. MINE FIELD
  3. BLACK IS NOT SO BLACK - GAUTAM ADHIKARI
  4. 'YOU UNDERSTAND A PLAY ONLY WHEN YOU'VE PERFORMED' - SHREYA ROY CHOWDHURY
  5. DEEP INTO DARKNESS - K V KRISHNAN
  6. INDIA'S BRIDGE TO ASEAN - NAJIB TUN RAZAK

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. HE WAS A CLASS APART
  2. THE PUNDIT - IN THE BALANCE
  3. THE POOR RICH GIRL - VANITA-SRIVASTAVA
  4. FIRST POLITBURO'S LAST MEMBER - AVIJIT GHOSAL & TANMAY CHATTERJEE
  5. DEVE GOWDA SHOWS HIS TRUE COLOURS - PANKAJ VOHRA
  6. PATNA UNPLUGGED

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. PRAGMATIC PATRIARCH
  2. A FAIR WAY
  3. MAPPING HAITI
  4. A STATEMENT IS ONLY A START - MUSTAFIZURRAHMAN
  5. 'I STILL THINK IT WAS A HISTORIC BLUNDER. BECAUSE SUCH AN OPPORTUNITY (TO BECOME PM) DOES NOT COME OFTEN'
  6. THE TRAGEDY AND THE FARCE - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  7. REASSIGNING ROLES FOR NATIONAL SECURITY - K. SUBRAHMANYAM

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. TO THEIR CREDIT
  2. STAY LOOSE
  3. A NEW DESIGN FOR GLOBAL FINANCE - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
  4. INDUSTRY HAS TO LEAD, NOT FOLLOW - YOGINDER K ALAGH
  5. INSECURE OVER PORTABILITY - ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA

THE HINDU

  1. A GREAT LIFE (1914-2010)
  2. MAINTAINING THE MOMENTUM
  3. AL-QAEDA SPREADS ITS TENTACLES IN YEMEN - ATUL ANEJA
  4. PROTECTING HOCKEY HONOUR: MEDIA ROLE EXEMPLARY
  5. BASU'S ENDURING LEGACY - M.S. SWAMINATHAN
  6. ASTONISHING MEMORY – MADANJEET SINGH
  7. THE LEFT FRONT HAS PROVIDED AN ALTERNATIVE MODEL OF GOVERNMENT: JYOTI BASU - PARVATHI MENON

DNA

  1. END OF AN ERA
  2. PUNISH TERRORISTS
  3. FINE BALANCE FOR A SEPARATE STATE OF TELANGANA - NILOTPAL BASU
  4. POLITICIANS AND OFFICIALS STAY OUT OF SPORTS - ANIL DHARKER
  5. MAGIC AND MIRACLES

THE TRIBUNE

  1. JYOTI BASU: A TALL LEADER
  2. MURDER MOST FOUL
  3. CRIMES OF HEADLEY, RANA
  4. COURT VS COURT - BY K.N. BHAT
  5. ABOUT JUDY - BY SIMRITA DHIR
  6. RETURN OF IRON CURTAIN - BY SHELLEY WALIA
  7. HOW TO HANDLE RECESSION - BY JOHANN HARI
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. EMPLOYEES' AGITATION
  2. SEISMIC ACTIVITY
  3. A TALE OF TWO BILLS - SATANJIB DAS
  4. UNDER-NUTRITION AMONG INDIAN CHILDREN - DR ALAKANANDA GOSWAMI

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE
  2. STATE (OF) FINANCES
  3. SHOP AND SHED
  4. MOVING TO THE A OF POTA CYCLE - CHETAN AHYA
  5. NOT WHAT YOU WANT, BUT WHAT YOU NEED - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  6. BOOM KIDS TO BOOMERANG KIDS - SUDESHNA SEN
  7. DOMESTIC SAVINGS FLATTER TO DECEIVE - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  8. 'FMCG COS NEED TO UNDERSTAND NEWGEN' - ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA
  9. BUYOUT OF SUN BY ORACLE WILL BENEFIT US, SAYS NOVELL'S KOSTER OF NOVELL - HARSIMRAN SINGH
  10. OPTIMISM IS CORE VALUE OF COKE: RICARDO FORT - RATNA BHUSHAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. A COMMUNIST WHO ALMOST BECAME PM
  2. THE UNUSUAL IDEALIST - BY SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  3. CHINA IS RISING, WHERE IS AMERICA'S SPUTNIK? - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. MODI PULLS STRINGS, MAYA ALL STOPS - SHARMA'S DAS CAPITAL
  5. TO IDIOTS, WITH LOVE - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
  6. GENEROSITY IS NOT A VIRTUE - BY SADHGURU

THE STATESMAN

  1. JYOTI BASU
  2. CAMPUS CONTROL
  3. TAGORE TURNS 150 - BIBEKANANDA RAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. GENTLEMAN PREFERS ISM
  2. BORN TO CHARM - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
  3. MASTER OF THE POLITICS OF FEASIBILITY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. A PRAGMATIC DEPART
  2. TIMELY REVISION
  3. SUB-CONTINENTAL GEO-POLITICS - M J AKBAR
  4. A CHINESE PARADOX GOOGLE CHALLENGED - BY ROGER COHEN
  5. RELIVING CHILDHOOD- BY CHETHANA DINESH

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. SKEWED PRIORITIES
  2. THE REGION: YES, NO, MAYBE - BARRY RUBIN
  3. RADICAL ARAB MKS: WHAT WOULD ABRAHAM LINCOLN DO? - DAVID GLEICHER
  4. MLK HAD A DREAM: ISRAEL INCLUDED - MARC SCHNELE

HAARETZ

  1. DANGEROUS POLICE
  2. BEHIND EVERY LEADER - BY AMIR OREN
  3. MILITARY SECRETS - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
  4. FEAR LIVES HERE - BY MERAV MICHAELI

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. AFTER DUBAI
  2. A BAGRAM RECKONING
  3. HOW RETIREES SAVED THE BANKS
  4. POLITICIANS WATCH CRIMINALS PACK MORE HEAT
  5. WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. INTERNET POLITICS FROM BOTH SIDES NOW - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
  7. IRAQ'S BAN ON DEMOCRACY - BY KENNETH M. POLLACK AND MICHAEL E. O'HANLON

I.THE NEWS

  1. IT'S BACK!
  2. END TO CALM
  3. MURDER & MEDICINE
  4. ARTICLE 248: WHAT LURKS BETWEEN THE LINES - SALEEM RIZVI
  5. DEVELOPING AN EXIT STRATEGY - TALAT MASOOD
  6. INDIA'S NON-ALIGNED POLICY - PRAFUL BIDWAI
  7. US AND THE YEMENI MESS - ZEENIA SATTI
  8. ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL - ASIF EZDI
  9. QUAKES AND CRANKS - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. REGIONAL APPROACH TO AFGHAN ISSUE
  2. IMPLICATIONS OF REVIEW PETITION AGAINST NRO
  3. MUTUAL TRADE BETWEEN SAARC COUNTRIES
  4. "AMAN KI ASHA" - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. HINDU-MUSLIM ANTAGONISM - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. THE AF-PAK NEOLOGISM - MUHAMMED NAWAZ KHAN
  7. STOP POLITICAL BICKERING, WE ARE AT WAR - SHUMAILA RAJA
  8. HANDS THAT WORK MIRACLES ..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. HOMAGE TO BASU
  2. TOXIC WASTE
  3. PROFESSIONAL PARENTING..!
  4. ELECTION OF DHAKA CITY CORPORATION - DHIRAJ KUMAR NATH
  5. BCL'S VIOLENT ACTIVITIES AND GOVT'S POLICY - DR PRANAB KUMAR PANDAY
  6. INDONESIAN OIL AND GAS STALLS IN 2010 - DR. TERRY LACEY

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. POSITIVE SIGNALS
  2. NO FAIRY TALE
  3. CORRUPTION IN EDUCATION SECTOR DISGUISED, BUT APPARENT - MANA PRASAD WAGLEY
  4. POSER FOR THE ROLE MODELS - PRAKASH PAHADI
  5. HEROES CROSS SWORDS IN SRI LANKA - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
  6. STATE RESTRUCTURING A TOUGH JOB - ARJUN BHANDARI

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. THE HIGH COST OF COMPASSION
  2. THE CHALLENGE IS TO BUILD A NEW HAITI
  3. HOW TO MANAGE MORE MONEY

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. JOBS SURGE GOOD NEWS
  2. MAROONED BY A SILENT ACCUSER
  3. TIMES ARE NOT SO TOUGH THAT A FAIR DAY'S PAY IS FORFEIT
  4. GOOGLE CALLS AN END TO BUSINESS AS USUAL IN CHINA

THE GURDIAN

  1. POLITICS: THE C WORD
  2. FROM THE ARCHIVE: LOTS OF COFFEE AND NO SEXUAL CHEMISTRY
  3. MERVYN KING: PIPE DOWN, PLEASE

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. GROWTH MOMENTUM
  2. THREAT OF WAR
  3. HOW TO KEEP A NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION - PETER SINGER
  4. CHANGE IN U.S.-JAPAN MILITARY ALLIANCE - YURIKO KOIKE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. MORE TRADE 'NOODLES'
  2. EX-MINISTER MAKING WAVES
  3. EUROPE'S SURRENDER OF RESOURCES SIMILAR TO U.S. SPENDING ON WARS - BY HANS-WERNER SINN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. THANK YOU, ANGGODO
  2. ASIA REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE: PRINCIPLES AND PRIORITIES - HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
  3. PROMOTING FAITH-BASED SECULARISM - ANAND KRISHNA
  4. GROWTH AS ENDS OR MEANS? - RAZALI RITONGA
  5. LITERATURE BOOSTS GUS DUR'S SPIRIT OF PLURALISM - SETIONO SUGIHARTO

CHINA DAILY

  1. ANTI-GRAFT RULES NEED TEETH
  2. A MATTER OF BUSINESS
  3. GLOWING PERCEPTIONS OF RECOVERY FAR FROM REALITY - BY GEORGE SOROS (CHINA DAILY)
  4. HOW TO REFORM OUR MODE OF GROWTH - BY GAO SHANGQUAN (CHINA DAILY)

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. REVIVING AN OLD CUBAN LOVE AFFAIR - BY RICHARD LOURIE
  2. CHOOSING A CITY NAME CAN BE A MAJOR OFFENSE - BY MATTHEW COLLIN 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

BHADRALOK MARXIST

JYOTI BASU WAS PRAGMATIC BUT LOYAL TO IDEOLOGY


That senior politicians cutting across party lines should pay such fulsome tribute to Jyoti Basu is a measure of the high esteem in which the veteran Marxist was held. It also reflects a less appreciated fact of Indian politics: Ideological and political differences do not stand in the way of recognising an individual's contribution, nor do they diminish his or her achievements. Jyoti Basu, who died on Sunday, was no doubt an astute politician who, while being pragmatic in the world of realpolitik, never ever forgot that his primary commitment was to the CPI(M) and everything else was secondary. He was the quintessential Bengali bhadralok who went to the right school in Kolkata and then travelled to England to study law. Most others like him either joined the ICS or came home to build a huge legal practice, but not Jyoti Basu. He joined the Communist movement in his early years and since then never looked back; after the split in the CPI, he chose to remain with the CPI(M) rather than compromise on ideology. Yet, he was equally clear in his mind that while the road to revolution might lie from Moscow to Kolkata via Beijing, till such time the revolution actually happened, Marxists had no other option but to join the bourgeois parliamentary system. In his own way, he was a charismatic Marxist who could inspire both party cadre and the masses; he abhorred adulation but was adulated sufficiently to emerge as the unquestioned leader of the CPI(M) in West Bengal. Along with Promode Dasgupta, he crafted the Left's rise to power in 1967 when the United Front Government took charge of West Bengal. That Government didn't last long, nor did the second United Front regime of 1969. But Jyoti Basu, who was Deputy Chief Minister in both Governments, didn't waste the opportunity to expand his party's base. Those were different times when Governors brazenly conspired with the Centre to bring down State Governments, West Bengal was facing turbulence on account of a series of discriminatory decisions taken in New Delhi, and revolution seemed a real possibility. Had the Congress not won the post-United Front election through a sleight of hand facilitated by President's rule, the CPI(M) would perhaps not have had to wait till 1977 to capture Writers' Building. The Emergency helped the Marxists sweep that poll, but so did Jyoti Basu's towering personality.


History is full of 'ifs' and 'buts'. It is anybody's guess as to how things would have turned out for West Bengal if Jyoti Basu had not presided over the State's destiny for the next two decades and more. Or whether the United Front Government that came to power at the Centre in 1996 would have not been an unmitigated disaster had the CPI(M) Polit Bureau allowed Jyoti Basu to become Prime Minister. Lesser mortals would have defied the party or forced a reversal of that decision, which Jyoti Basu could have done, but he allowed the Polit Bureau to have its way. Tragically, the primacy he gave to the CPI(M) over everything else led to the creation of a system where the party bureaucracy became all powerful and supplanted the state; real authority was vested in the party and not the Government. This arrangement may have served him and his party well, but it did not serve West Bengal's interests. Sadly, neither he nor the CPI(M) could ever realise this simple truth.

 

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THE PIONEER

HOMELAND SECURITY

NSA MUST HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT


There is no redemption in being appointed a Governor, that too of a politically sensitive border State, after failing miserably as a Union Minister. Mr Shivraj Patil, who should have been forced into retirement after making a mess of the Home portfolio during UPA-I, would, of course, disagree. His appointment as Governor of Punjab and Administrator of the Union Territory of Chandigarh only proves the point that an out of work politician with neither political acumen nor administrative skills but loyal to his party leader only needs to patiently hang around till a gubernatorial vacancy comes up. Mr Patil can now truly indulge his passion for high fashion and nobody will bother to taunt him.


Of the new Governors appointed last weekend, the most important, no doubt, is Mr MK Narayanan. With his exit from the Prime Minister's Office, Mr Manmohan Singh will have to look for a new National Security Adviser. While it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to name whomsoever he wishes for this top job, he would do well to bear in mind that the situation has vastly changed from what it was when the NSA's post was created by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. More important, it would be absurd to expect any individual to replicate Mr Brajesh Mishra's performance which must remain unparalleled. Ever since Mr P Chidambaram has taken charge of the Home Ministry, he has redesigned the national security matrix, separating internal security from external affairs and strategic issues. This is the way it should be in the changed security environment, highlighted by the Mumbai carnage of November 26, 2008. Operational control over intelligence agencies, including IB and R&AW, must remain with the Home Minister. What we require is a homeland security apparatus comprising existing agencies with a tiered command and control structure. The proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre would be an excellent substitute for the existing system which has proved to be woefully inadequate.


Simultaneously, the Prime Minister should seriously consider winding up the National Security Council, which is really a redundant body and whose job is done by the Cabinet Committee on Security, and the Strategic Policy Group, which is not known to have produced a single strategic policy worth implementing and is no more than a talking shop for babus who wouldn't know the difference between strategy and tactics unless it was about their own career advancement. The Joint Intelligence Committee should become a part of NCTC if not be dissolved. With a hands-on Home Minister, the Prime Minister need not bother about internal security; what he should focus on is strategic policy for which a bright mind, and not a loyalist bureaucrat, is needed.

 

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            THE PIONEER

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN

ARUN NEHRU


The global economy is showing signs of recovery and 2010 may turn out to be a very good year. Instinct tells me that both India and China will produce surprising results in 2010 and we may well be heading for eight per cent-plus growth in the current year and nine per cent-plus in 2011. The challenges are many and, as I have mentioned earlier, the distribution of power, both political and economic, between the West and the East will acquire greater parity. Sadly, there is a sense of denial regarding this ground reality which is manifesting itself in the form of pressure points.


The changes will be dramatic as the GDP in India will grow at four to five per cent higher than the GDP in the West. By taking into account our saving rate of 35 to 40 per cent and the upward migration of 30 to 40 million into the middle class every year, we may be looking at a middle class market in the excess of 600 million in the next decade. This exceeds the population of the US and the Western world. The sensible and mature view is that in a globalised economy every country benefits from each other. In that sense it is heartening to see the developed world make significant cross investments. India too is making huge investments in acquiring assets abroad.

We must always keep the big picture in mind and try to understand the implications of change and not give in to arrogance. The challenges are many. A GDP growth of nine per cent over the next five years has serious implications for the future. We will witness an explosion of demand in every field and I will be surprised if this demand does not outstrip supply. Along with China, we will emerge as the biggest market for the global community. We have a favorable demographic ratio and for our youngsters the opportunities which exist today are limitless. We must take full advantage of the benefits of globalisation. The reality today is that no country can benefit by adopting protectionist policies. A global shift in political power has already taken place in many fields and economic and social change will soon follow.


The war against terror is a continuous process. Security checks at airports which include full-body scans are no quick-fix measures to protect the aviation industry from terror strikes. At this rate we will soon have to travel without luggage, leave our clothes and shoes at the airport and change into standardised, approved clothing for our flights. A much more holistic approach to security is the need of the hour.


The number of terrorist attacks is increasing with each passing day. If not impeded soon, the fall-out of terrorism on the global economy will be devastating. It is give rise to the emergence of paranoid military states that are obsessed with racial profiling.


The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is not going well and the West Asia peace talks have all but collapsed. A miracle is needed to achieve peace. For years the US, the UK and many other Western countries gave sanctuary to terrorists on 'political grounds'. Attitudes only changed after 9/11. But profiling certain countries is not the answer as many of the terrorists may well be citizens of Western countries as was the case in David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana's instance. What are required are tougher visa norms. Security will be the No 1 issue for the international community but the solution does not rest with superior weapons or moral double-standards.

The violence against Indians in Australia is truly unfortunate. The country has been following racial policies for years. All one has to do to get proof of this is go through the huge volume of articles available on the Internet on the treatment that was meted out to the native Aborigines and how their children were snatched from them and sent to England. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a remarkable man, for, it takes great courage to acknowledge the brutality and pain of the past like he has done with respect to Australia's 'lost generation'. Australia followed a 'white only' policy for many years but in recent times huge immigrations from China and India have changed the local demographic pattern. And it is the success of the migrant community that is being resented by locals.


The Australian Government is embarrassed by the violence and, therefore, is in denial over the huge number of cases of assault and battery against Indians that has been registered in the last one year. These cannot be treated as ordinary crimes. Mr Rudd is trying to change the system and hopefully he will succeed. We cannot declare war on the past and wipe out the injustices of yesteryears through violent means. We have learnt this through experience in India and it speaks well of our political leadership that after independence the public attitude has been shaped by the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and we have been able to by-and-large shed the cruel memories of the past. Australian society is going through a transformative phase and it is hoped that it will be able to discard the racist attitudes of the past.


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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

PAKISTAN LOSING ITS IDENTITY

M RATAN


For quite some time now the question of whether the 'Saudi-isation' of Pakistan is a myth or a reality has been under examination by a section of Pakistan watchers in India. However, judging from commentaries appearing in some mainstream newspapers in Pakistan, the phenomenon of 'Saudi-isation' is no more a matter of speculation. It is a visible process rapidly underway. The confirmation has come from the pen of a respected Pakistani nuclear physicist and social thinker who is teaching at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, Mr Pervez Hoodbhoy. His essay, 'Saudi-isation of Pakistan' was reproduced in the monthly Muslim India edited by Syed Shahabuddin in its December 9 issue. It was originally published in the Pakistani newspaper Newsline.


In an agonising appraisal of the increasing 'Wahaabisation' of his country, Mr Hoodbhoy observed: "The common belief that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and that madarsas are the only institutions serving as jihadi factories... is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools in Pakistan's towns and cities.... The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan's demise as a nation-state. Although, the suicide bomber and the masked abductor has crippled Pakistan's urban life and shattered its economy... and the dead bodies and shattered lives are Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities... because they believe that they (the perpetrators) are Islamic warriors fighting for Islam...."


The author is clearly saddened that "for three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian sub-continent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. The continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one... the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years."


Referring to the 'Saudi-isation' in education, Mr Hoodbhoy writes that the Government-prepared school curriculum, which all Government and private schools are required to follow, sounds "like a blueprint for a religious fascist state.... Two decades back, the fully veiled student was a rarity in Pakistani university and college campuses. Today... the female student is seeking anonymity of the burqa...." The average Pakistani's indoctrination is aimed at giving him a new Arab-Muslim identity.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

CRUCIAL ELECTION FOR SRI LANKA

NO MATTER WHICH OF THE TWO MAIN SINHALESE CANDIDATES — MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA AND SARATH FONSEKA — WINS SRI LANKA'S JANUARY 26 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, HE MUST ADDRESS THE MARGINALISATION OF TAMILS IN THE INTEREST OF PEACE AND STABILITY. A PRE-ELECTION ASSESSMENT BY THE INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP HIGHLIGHTS THE TASKS THAT LIE AHEAD


Since the decisive military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Sri Lanka has made little progress in reconstructing its battered democratic institutions or establishing conditions for a stable peace. Eight months later, the post-war policies of President Mahinda Rajapaksa have deepened rather than resolved the grievances that generated and sustained LTTE militancy. While the LTTE's defeat and the end of its control over Tamil political life are historic and welcome changes, the victory over Tamil militancy will remain fragile unless Sinhalese-dominated political parties make strong moves towards a more inclusive and democratic state. The emergence of retired Gen Sarath Fonseka to challenge Mr Rajapaksa in the January 26 presidential election has opened new space to challenge Government policies. But neither has offered credible proposals for political reforms that would address the marginalisation of Tamils and other minorities. Whoever wins, donor Governments and international institutions should use their development assistance to support reforms designed to protect the democratic rights of all of Sri Lanka's citizens and ethnic communities.


The Government's internment of more than a quarter million Tamils displaced from the Northern Province — some for more than six months — was further humiliation for a population brutalised by months of ferocious fighting. The return by the end of 2009 of most of the displaced to their home districts, and the increased freedom of movement for the nearly 100,000 still in military-run camps, are important steps forward. However, the resettlement process has failed to meet international standards for safe and dignified returns. There has been little or no consultation with the displaced and no independent monitoring; many returns have been to areas not cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance; inadequate financial resources have been provided for those returning home; and the military continues to control people's movements. These and other concerns also apply to the estimated 80,000 Muslims forcibly expelled from the north by the LTTE in 1990, some of whom have begun to return to their homes.


The UN and donor Governments should insist more strongly that all resettlement is done according to established guiding principles. Donors should end assistance to any camps where full freedom of movement is not allowed and condition additional aid on an effective monitoring role for UN agencies and NGO partners. India, Japan, Western donors, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank should tie additional development assistance to an inclusive and consultative planning process for the reconstruction of the north.

The Government's approach to the development and reconstruction of the north and east is contributing to minority fears and alienation. Government plans remain unclear, with local communities and political leaders not consulted and even donors not informed of overall reconstruction plans. Strong military influence over policies, tight military control over the population and restrictions on local and international NGOs increase the risk of land conflicts, with the strong possibility of demographic changes that would dilute the Tamil character of the north. No real space has been given to Tamil and Muslim political or community leaders in the north and very little in the east.


The Rajapaksa Government has initiated no political reforms to address Tamil and other minorities' concerns. The Government-sponsored All-Party Representative Committee designed to craft constitutional reforms has in effect ended with no sign of an alternative process. Tamil and Muslim parties remain weak and divided, although recent encouraging initiatives to develop a common platform and build trust among Tamil-speaking parties deserve support. Inside and outside Sri Lanka, many Tamils remain angry at the lack of accounting or justice for the thousands of civilians killed in the final months of the war. Most of the million-strong diaspora is still committed to a separate state and many would be willing to support renewed violence.


The campaign of retired Gen Sarath Fonseka has put the Rajapaksas on the defensive and united a long-dormant Opposition. Alleging corruption and other abuses of power by the Rajapaksa family, Gen Fonseka and the parties supporting him promise major reforms, including the end of Emergency rule and the abolition of the Executive Presidency itself. However, Gen Fonseka's candidacy suffers from contradictions and poses grave risks. Promises made to Tamil parties to restore civilian control over land policies and the resettlement process in the north threaten to put Gen Fonseka at odds with his allies in the military and run directly counter to his consistently Sinhala nationalist policies over the course of his career. The numerous allegations that Gen Fonseka was involved in attacks on journalists and other human rights violations undermine his calls for reforms and an end to impunity. It remains an open question whether the ideologically diverse set of parties that have endorsed Gen Fonseka will be able to work together or influence his policies should he win.


-- Extracted from ICG's new report, 'Sri Lanka: A Bitter Peace'.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

AMERICA STILL GROPING IN THE DARK

AS WE MOVE INTO 2010, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SHOWS NO SIGNS OF COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE WEST ASIAN REALITY. ASON AFGHANISTAN, IT CONTINUES TO FLOUNDER ON TWO KEY ISSUES THAT REQUIRE URGENT ATTENTION IN THE REGION
BARRY RUBIN


In the US, about half the population and most of the policy elite thinks that President Barack Obama's Administration is a great success internationally. The other half doesn't. A key reason for the first group's attitude is its obsession with the highly visible popularity issue, the idea that America is more liked in the world. The problem is that, at the same time, it is less respected and that is the factor that counts.


As we move into 2010, with the Administration's first, 'learning', year behind it, a turn toward learning the lessons of that experience is not yet visible. This is especially so on the two most high-profile West Asia issue.


Originally, the Administration suggested that it would raise sanctions against Iran in September 2009 if engagement yielded no fruit. Then that was pushed back to the end of 2009. Now we have a new estimate: July 2010. Maybe. And we also have the defining of those sanctions long in advance as ineffective, narrowly — and symbolically — focussed on a ruling elite which will never feel any pain as a result.


This, then, is the way the Obama Administration views threats, which will make its adversaries see them as hollow. In a Brussels speech, US Ambassador to the European Union William Kennard explained: "You'll hear over the next six months a lot more about our efforts on sanctions."


Hear about them? Haven't we been hearing about them for a year? And at the end of six months will we actually see them?


This all makes the following scenario quite imaginable: Fill in the month; fill in the day; fill in the year: Iran has nuclear weapons


Same month; same day plus one; same year: The US announces low-level, ineffective sanctions to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.


Meanwhile, a parallel scenario is affecting the Administration's 'peace process' policy. There are lots of stories in the media. Envoys zig and zag over the map. Meetings are held; plans are hinted at. But none of this matters. None of it.


Here's the only thing that matters: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas says he won't even go to talks unless Israel stops all construction right now, including the apartments being completed and the ones being built in Jerusalem. The news media likes to say that both sides are "defying" the US. But in fact what Israel is doing was approved by the US, even highly praised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


Obama's Administration is urging that negotiations restart based on the fantasy that all the tough issues will be quickly resolved. Resolve borders, security guarantees, recognition of a Jewish state of Israel, end of conflict, settlement of refugees in Palestine, status of Jerusalem, and lots of other incredibly difficult issues? The Administration can't even get the two sides to the table!


Here's a basic aspect of the problem. While Israel won't give up everything Mr Abbas demands in negotiations, Mr Abbas is unprepared to make the slightest concession on anything. First, because he doesn't want to do so; second, because he is unable to do so, since he lacks a strong base of support; third, because he is afraid to do so because he would lose power, his Fatah movement would splinter, and he might even be overthrown by Hamas.


Therefore, in July 2010, and by January 2011 for that matter, the Administration is unlikely to make any progress.

While current policies are disturbing, the alternatives being pushed within the policy establishment and promoted so often in the mass media are generally worse. Starting from the perspective that US strategies have failed, it is argued that this is because they haven't gone far enough in the wrong direction. Rather than proposing a much tougher policy toward Iran — with real sanctions at least — the proposals are for even more engagement and concessions.


Noting that Hamas is still in power, what we hear are not calls to subvert it further and bring it down but rather to give up and start negotiating with that group. The same position is being put forward about Hizbullah and Syria: To claim falsely that they are moderating and urge Western concessions. As for the 'peace process,' since the US cannot even get talks going, it is asserted that it should leap to the end of negotiations and try to impose a final, comprehensive solution right now.


Most of these bad ideas are not going to be implemented, by the US at least though they have more appeal in Europe. Yet this orientation nevertheless makes it impossible for any sensible alternatives to be presented and seriously debated. Apparently the dominant school of thought at present thinks that other than Al Qaeda, there is no revolutionary movement in the world that doesn't really prefer to be moderate, no enemy that cannot be won over through dialogue.


But why should Damascus and Tehran or Hamas and Hizbullah or Muslim brotherhood groups and the Palestinian Authority abandon what they deem to be a successful strategy of militancy and intransigence, especially if the West keeps telling them they can get concessions without making any themselves? How can so many Western analysts and journalists simply put aside virtually everything such organisations say and do in preference to their own personal interpretations of what these forces 'really' want?


Very possibly the Administration will fool the American media by constant activity and claims that it is getting somewhere; somewhat possibly it will fool a large proportion of the American population. But people in the West Asia aren't fooled at all.


-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THERE'S NO NEED TO RENEW STIMULUS

CORPORATES ARE DOING WELL AND THEIR PROFITS HAVE SHOWN A SUBSTANTIAL INCREASE

SHIVAJI SARKAR


Ours is a strange country. A night shelter for the poor is demolished in the national capital at the height of the cold wave. Subsidies of poor are considered a burden. Rising prices deprive the poor of the little food that they could have afforded. Farmers are denied prices that could help them get back their investments. Au contraire, the rich corporates demand continuance of the Rs 60,000-crore stimulus package so that they can pay unrealistically high salaries to their top executives, fleece the working class and further increase their profits.


It's time the Government rolls back the stimulus so that budgetary deficit can be utilised on projects for the needy. The Government must not succumb to the pleas of the business leaders to sell its PSU stocks to manage the 6.8 per cent budgetary deficit.


These are the same corporates who took the maximum advantage of the so-called meltdown and sacked about five lakh workers in different sectors across the country. Even the thriving Information Technology industry laid off thousands of its employees. Workers bore the maximum brunt of the 'meltdown' that is said to have hit India the least.


Even those retained have had their salaries frozen for the last two years. In effect, it means their salaries have been reduced by over 20 per cent if inflation is taken into account. Dearness has not only remained non-neutralised but in effect the workforce has been penalised so that their top bosses can earn a fatter pay packet and the companies they are serving can earn higher profits. Not even a single corporate boss has taken a voluntary pay-cut. The laying-off has helped companies cut back on costs.


No company can lay-off workers without permission of the Labour Commissioner but this law has been blatantly violated by companies of all sizes. The supposedly pro-poor Government has turned a blind eye to this violation.

The figures prove that hardly any corporate has suffered losses during the so-called meltdown. In many cases their profits have increased manifold. Direct tax collections bear testimony to this fact. It has risen 44 per cent from December 2008 to December 2009 and during April-December 2009 it rose by 14 per cent. Accruals from the corporate have jumped from Rs 37,002 crore to Rs 53,923 crore — an increase of 15 per cent.


On the other hand, personal income tax has come down by 19.7 per cent to Rs 13,117 crore from Rs 16,345 crore in the same period last year.


This demonstrates what is being feared the most. It is the working class, whose earning capacity has suffered so much that they are even unable to pay taxes. This is a warning that the country's crores of workers' happiness index is nose-diving for the benefit of few corporates.


This is a strong reason for scrapping the stimulus directed towards the corporate sector. The head of research of Motilal Oswal Securities, Rajat Rajgarhia, said that the third quarter, October-December, profit after tax for the companies registered with Bombay Stock Exchange has risen by 18 per cent. Some other estimates say PAT is much more. Metal companies' PAT rose by 38 per cent, pharmaceuticals 20 per cent, fast-moving consumer goods 26 per cent and cement 25 per cent. Textile and media stocks are expected to post strong performances at 147 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively. Even the IT sector has had at least 6.8 per cent growth.

Indeed, it is a sorry state of affairs that Indian corporates have not come out of the 1950s mindset. Then too they had refused to contribute to the growth of the country. Now they are more cartelised and unionised. They are bamboozling the Government to give them what is not due to them. The sugar lobby, for instance, pays least to the farmers but has hoarded stocks to jack up sugar prices from Rs 12 to 13 a kg 18 months ago to Rs 48 a kg. Corporate food grain dealers have more than doubled wheat and sugar prices and almost thrice the prices of pulses. Now, they are manipulating vegetable prices.


Not only this, the large corporates are lobbying against giving farm subsidies. The Government must stop this. It should ask those who want disinvestment in PSUs as to why it should do so. The disinvestment is going to further benefit the corporate as they would be buying these shares.


It's time the corporates must be sternly told not to cast their evil eyes on PSUs. The Government must consider scrapping the stimulus that is aimed at corporates.


The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

PRATHAM REPORT AS A WAKE- UP CALL

 

THE findings of the Annual Survey of Education Report ( ASER) released by Pratham, an NGO, need to be juxtaposed with the Centre's move to universalise primary education by giving education in the age group of 6- 14 the status of a fundamental right. For the ASER study points out the challenges facing the authorities if the implementation of the Right to Education Act is to benefit our children in any meaningful way. Also, its sample size of nearly seven lakh children from 575 out of the 583 rural districts in India is large enough to be considered representative of the actual situation on the ground.

 

And what the ASER tells us is what is widely known, though it may not be given paramount importance by the human resources development ministry. While the overall percentage of students who don't go to school has dropped from 4.3 per cent in 2008 to 4 per cent in 2009, the level of learning attained by children in school is poor, to say the least. The report points out that half of India's rural schoolchildren are at least three grades behind in terms of learning achievements. For instance, it was found that only 38 per cent of children in Class V could solve division problems. Proficiency in English was lamentable.

 

States like Kerala, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and those from the North- East have done well but for the large chunk of the country, the quality of education remains the biggest concern. This is also evident from the increase in the percentage of students, from both government and private schools, taking paid tuition.

 

Different states have raised questions about the fund- sharing formula devised by the Centre to implement the Right to Education Act. While money is no doubt a concern if we are to build more schools and upgrade the infrastructure in the existing ones, the Pratham report makes it clear that this alone will not be a panacea for our children. There is also a need to upgrade the skills of school teachers, ensure high attendance of both teachers and students, reduce the dropout figures and have quality checks in place for both the government and private schools. For this, states will need to overhaul their entire educational machinery.

 

 It goes without saying that a great deal rests on the need for quick decisions to remedy the situation. A f

unctionally literate or semi- literate society can hardly service an economy that is seeking to move towards manufacturing and higher level of services. On the other hand, ill- educated young people are likely to be unemployable and frustrated, and an easy target for radicalism.

 

 

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MAIL TODAY

NO RESPITE FROM CHAOS

 

BESIDES being the busiest airport in the country, the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi is also possibly the messiest.

 

Its roof comes off when there is rain, it shuts down for several hours in case there is fog, air- conditioners don't work in the peak of summer, baggage handlers routinely misplace luggage, the list goes on.

 

It seems almost as if privatisation — which was preached to the airline commuter as panacea for all civil aviation evils — has in fact created further problems thanks to mismanagement by Delhi International Airport Limited ( DIAL). Of course, in all of this, the passenger is helpless.

 

He may have paid ( and will pay for years to come) the euphemistically titled User Development Fee, a sort of tax aimed at making airport facilities better.

 

Yet, the new radar system failed last week shutting down the airport for close to two hours while the backlog of flights was piling up. It was the sheer alacrity with which the ATC responded to the crisis by invoking an outdated technology as backup that resulted in limiting the damage.

 

Earlier this month, the Runway Visual Range system failed after the lights along the runway went on the blink, thus fuelling chaos for both departures as well as landings.

 

If there is a definite case for a complete audit and overhaul of systems, it must be the Delhi airport. If the airport has to be a showpiece for the kind of technology and administrative expertise we possess, then it fails miserably. The DIAL management must be held accountable for its continuing inability to make the airport a world- class civil aviation hub.

 

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MAIL TODAY

MAYAWATI HAS A NEW GAME PLAN

BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN

 

THE 54th birthday celebrations of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh saw Mayawati showcase her achievements. But more seriously, she used both party and government fora to deliver a message. Her government was with the have- nots and would stand by them. This is no new tack for an Indian politician but it is significant for someone who is only months away from completing three years in office.

 

Even prior to this, she criticised the Union government for its policies vis- a- vis sugar. The rise in food prices was a result of what she called ' collusion with capitalists'. Her party would fight for the poor and the middle class hit by inflation. Equally and more crucially, she warned that her government would not allow the import of raw sugar into Uttar Pradesh.

 

The first is par for the course. The rise in prices has long been a major issue on which governments fall. Indira Gandhi made the price of onions an issue in the 1980 general elections as did Sonia Gandhi 18 years later in the Delhi assembly polls. Opposition leaders such as the late NTR in Andhra Pradesh and M. Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu made rice at below than market rates a votewinning slogan.

 

STRATEGY

It is but natural that Mayawati should raise the ante on food price inflation especially given the spurt in prices since May last year. But the language is very significant for she berated the Congress for standing by capitalists. In this as in much else, she is looking well beyond Dalit ranks to the underclass as a whole. This is a language of class politics, where deprivation per se matters and your caste status matters a lot less.

 

It also comes at a time when the Left parties as a whole and the CPI ( M) in particular is mired in crisis and not only in its bastion in West Bengal.

 

Over the last three decades it failed to actually spread beyond tiny toeholds in north India. In the long run it was caste- based social movements that spawned the new leaders who took power in the Ganga basin heartland.

 

Now, Mayawati is seeking to appropriate the left of centre political space. She is not and has never been a Marxist or a socialist. It is deprivation on grounds of powerlessness and not the disparity of wealth and poverty that is her main motive force.

 

Yet, right from the time when Ambedkar set up his Independent Labour Party, Dalit political leaders have tried to spearhead a larger coalition of those outside the magic circle of power.

 

Hers is another attempt in that same direction. A new programme announced on her birthday seeks a direct cash transfer of Rs 300 a month to those families not covered under the anti- poverty programme. In a state like UP this will bring under its ambit vast sections of the selfemployed and the lower middle class.

 

More than the money disbursed, it will be shown up as a sign that hers is a party that cares for the underdog.

 

But the refusal to allow sugar imports points to a larger game plan specific for now to UP. Any open import will directly undercut the livelihoods of not just those who grow cane on two million hectares of crop land. It will also affect the far larger numbers who rely on processing, manufacture and sale of sugar and its byproducts. In all, over 10 million people in the state directly or indirectly work in the sugar sector. Many though, not all, are in the more prosperous western half of the state.

 

This is a clear case of an economic platform that cuts across caste and mobilises in her favour the farmers with a surplus. Observers trace the origins of this move to advisers like Shashank Shekhar Singh who hail from the farming communities of western UP. But it is a leader who makes the choice and not the advisors and for someone who in the past had no agrarian agenda Mayawati in this her fourth turn as chief minister has shown remarkable flexibility.

 

AGRICULTURE

Strange as it may sound for the leader of a state of 170 million people with a vast labour force engaged in agriculture, much of her socio- economic agenda has been about the city not the country. This is in keeping with the older Dalit political tradition of seeing modernity as the answer to centuries of bondage.

 

Technology and science, the factory and office shop floor were seen as offering opportunity for upward mobility. It was here in the organised sector that Kanshi Ram recruited his party cadres and workers, transforming them from unseen elements to irresistible force.

 

But all this did and does little for agriculture. Nationwide it accounts for 18 per cent of the gross domestic product but for a little less than half the labour force. The proportions are even higher in Uttar Pradesh and much of the Gangetic basin in north India. Not only that, the post reform years have been difficult for Indian agriculture.

 

In fact, it was not Mayawati but her key opponents who took up the case of the sugarcane farmers in the decade just past. Rahul Gandhi made the unpaid dues from the private sugar mills the subject of his maiden speech in the previous Lok Sabha as MP for Amethi. Mulayam enabled the entry of fresh capital investment in the mills giving farmers a choice of which they would sell their cane to. It was in the winter of 2009 that the coalition in New Delhi scored a virtual own goal by reducing the price to be paid for cane in UP. This led to state wide protest and a huge rally in Delhi, leading quickly enough to a rethink. But the message sent out by the Congress was that it did not care.

 

OPPOSITION

It is still unclear if Mayawati's moves are mere political tactic or part of a longer- term strategy. On the face of it, there is a yawning political vacuum in the opposition at the all- India level. The major formation, the Bharatiya Janata Party is caught in an existential dilemma of how to ride in tandem with the sangh parivar as a whole while attracting the floating voter. The movement in Telangana has destabilised the Telugu Desam as a party making regionalism a far less potent force than in the past.

 

The premier left wing force, the Marxist party, is in the throes of crisis in its bastion and unable to recapture the imagination of the youth in a new age.

 

Yet, the world over the neo liberal project that seemed unassailable at the time of the end of the Cold War is in smithereens. The Congress' great asset was that it was in step with these times and its own history of husbanding a mixed economy stood it in good stead.

 

But there is still a vast number in India beyond the pale, exposed to the chilly winds of the market but unable to gain much from the bounties it brings. They need a platform and a voice. Does Mayawati have what it takes? The future will pronounce on that. For now, she has made some new moves on the chessboard.

 

The writer teaches history in Delhi University

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

GIVE THE YOUNG THEIR DUE

SOMEONE once said that Ministers of State were " nobodies" because their only job was to reply to questions in Parliament that did not call for a verbal answer: the " unstarred" questions which are on paper and whose answers also come written and are merely placed on the table of the house. In the good old days of single party governance and rule by a supreme leader, junior ministers, as they are called, were handed these jobs with a that's- all- you- deserve attitude.

 

Most of them took the jobs and spent the next five years doing nothing. There were exceptions of course: as minister of state for Internal Security in the Narasimha Rao government, Rajesh Pilot was the de facto Home Minister and an effective one at that.

 

Madhavrao Scindia did such an excellent job as junior minister in Railways that his elevation to cabinet status was just a matter of time and he later went on to do commendable work in the Civil Aviation and Communication portfolios.

 

The same alas cannot be said of the sons of these two Congress stars who sadly are no more with us. Sachin Pilot is MoS in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and Jyotidaritya Scindia is the MoS for Commerce and Industry.

 

Both are incredibly gifted young men but unfortunately they are not being used to their full potential.

 

Sachin and Scindia are just two of the 38 ministers of state, almost all of whom feel they are being shortchanged or not used properly by the prime minister. The Manmohan Singh council of ministers is 78 strong, the largest in the country's history.

 

There are 33 cabinet ministers including the prime minister; seven MOS hold independent charge who pretty much function as full fledged cabinet ministers and are more or less free to dictate policy in the manner they deem fit. But for the 38 ministers of state, work mostly revolves around inaugurating a youth festival that the senior minister doesn't have time for, or to be the minister in waiting when the president of Burkina Faso or some such place is on a state visit. This can be frustrating and the juniors have for long jostled for more but forever have been denied.

 

The problem is confounded in a multi party alliance like the UPA where ministers belong to different parties and the senior has such a vice like grip on the entire ministry that his junior may as well stay back at his palatial bungalow ( yes, they have that at least) in Lutyens Delhi and assist the wife in tending to the kitchen garden. That is why a lot of juniors are pinning much hope on the meeting that Manmohan Singh has convened on January 19 where all 38 junior ministers and seven ministers with independent charge have been invited. This is the first such meet- Sachin Pilot ing during UPA II and I have no doubt that some of the more ebullient juniors will have a lot to tell Manmohan Singh. Don't be surprised if some of the seniors have already asked their secretaries to invent perfect alibis to deflect all charges and accusations.

 

But what happens between the two sides is less important than the collapse of some fundamentals that have brought things to such a pass. There is the collapse of collective responsibility and the blame belongs to both.

 

At one end, a Shashi Tharoor comes along and tweets his way through office, making statements that go against established policies. On the other hand, there are ministers with nothing to say. There are ministries in which virtually no work gets done because the senior ministers are mostly absent, politicking in their home states, yet do not hand over even the smallest of responsibilities to their juniors. In this, the DMK and the Trinamool ministers are the worst offenders. Ministerial truancy has attained such heights that only 13 of the 33 senior ministers attended the last Cabinet meeting convened by the prime minister. And if ministers are truant, can MPs be expected to be any different? That explains why during the last session of Parliament, the Lok Sabha had to be adjourned twice for lack of quorum. There is a lesson in this. Give the committed and efficient junior ministers their due. Make the likes of Sachin and Scindia cabinet ministers.

 

Give them complete charge of their departments.

 

They will deliver. And inspire their seniors and fellow MPs to work harder and similarly deliver.

 

GADKARI'S WINGS COULD BE CLIPPED NEXT MONTH

NITIN Gadkari's stint as the BJP president is less than a month old, but there are already indications that things are not going exactly to the plan. The new chief had promised that his priority was to bring the BJP to a stage where it would once again be seen as a threat to the ruling Congress, but from what's going on within the party, it appears that Gadkari will, like his predecessor Rajnath Singh, be busy fobbing off enemies within leaving him little time to take on the Congress. Though settled in office, Gadkari still has not been able to name his team of office bearers.

 

And if amendments to the party constitution, recommended by the Bal Apte committee appointed by the outgoing chief Rajnath Singh are an indication, the prerogative to choose his team will no longer be his. If adopted, the amendments will drastically prune the president's powers and ensure that Gadkari does not enjoy the undiluted powers that giants like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani did. The proposed amendments include handing over powers to the party's central parliamentary board to overrule decisions made by the president and curb his powers to select his own team of office bearers and national executive.

 

And for the first time in its 28 year old history, the party has also proposed that procedures be put in place to remove the party chief midway through his term. The BJP national council meeting scheduled in Indore in February will discuss these and other amendments and if passed, Gadkari will come out of the council meeting a much sadder man than when he went in.

 

Needless to say, the cabal that has run the party for the last few years and dragged it down from its preeminent position will be very very relieved that their powers remain intact.

 

M K NARAYANAN IS THE FALL GUY

AS National Security Advisor, MK Narayanan has been one of the most powerful persons in the UPA. So what is one to make of the sudden decision of the government to move him out to the Kolkata Raj Bhavan where Gopal Gandhi has put in his papers? The governor mansions across the country, as we well know, are exclusive retiring homes for the faithful and Narayanan, dependable and devoted as he was, had a lot left in him to serve the government in the demanding job as NSA. Obviously, there are powerful lobbies who don't share the prime minister's views about Narayanan's priorities as an officer. His drives for transparency in defence deals, seeking the sources of foreign investment have earned him the wrath of the powerful defence, corporate and foreign lobbies. Diplomats have never tried to hide their animosity towards him.

 

And that's what leads me to believe that his transfer is only the first in a series of shakeups that will take place in the next few months.

 

Someone— and it's not the prime minister— is chanting the mantra ' perform or perish'. South Block is crammed with too many post- retirement appointees and a few who have been given service extensions. After more than seven months of UPA II, many of them are yet to justify their continued stay in office.

 

Food prices are zooming upwards and we have one of the prime minister's closest economic advisors comforting us every fortnight that everything will be fine within the next. The reality is different because by the next fortnight, prices have gone through the roof, yet with barefaced cheek, they assure us yet again that one more fortnight is all it will take for normalcy.

 

It's the same set of people who wax eloquent from high tables in foreign capitals about 8 percent growth when the Right to Food Act and the Right to Education Act cannot be implemented because there is no money in the treasury. Yet, they are on the lookout for fall guys. They found one in Narayanan. I see a purge happening in the near future.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

FLYING BLIND

 

It happens every year. Winter comes around, fog rolls in and airports across northern India are found lacking in almost every department when it comes to handling adverse conditions. The foul-up at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport when a critical component of the radar at the air traffic control tower went down and its backup malfunctioned as well is only the latest example. The potential for disaster was huge with a large number of flights in the air, visibility down to 75 metres and air traffic controllers forced to function by noting down critical flight information on slips of paper.


The physical infrastructure for dealing with low visibility conditions is a large part of the problem. After years of delayed and cancelled operations, two runways at Delhi's airport are now equipped with the CAT III-B Instrument Landing System (ILS). This allows flights to land and take off in visibility as low as 50 metres. But it is the only airport in the country to have received the upgrade. Operations continue to be hazardous at other airports, passengers are routinely inconvenienced and financial losses mount. And if one takes Delhi as a test case, installing the system does not seem to have solved the problem. Hundreds of flights have been delayed, diverted or cancelled since its installation because of a slew of other systems malfunctioning, from the lighting on taxiways to the Runway Visual Range measuring machines.


The problem is not confined to airport infrastructure. After several delays in upgrading their fleet to be CAT III compatible and training their pilots in the use of the system because of the financial costs involved, this year was supposed to be different with both having been mostly carried out. The reality has turned out to be different. Up until the beginning of January, only 40 flights have actually used the system this winter. Both as a failed investment in plane and pilot capability upgradation and as a question mark over the effectiveness of that upgradation, this is troubling.


The Indian aviation sector has seen impressive growth over the past few years. The global downturn was a major hurdle, but airlines are slowly turning the corner with air traffic figures picking up again. At such a time, the last thing the industry needs is the added financial burden and risks it seems to incur every winter. And that the problem is so predictable makes it even confounding that measures to tackle it have been so tardy and ineffective.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

MINE FIELD

 

The Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Bill is still being drafted. But its latest version reportedly endorses restricting mining in tribal areas to state-owned enterprises, cooperative societies and government-controlled joint ventures. Since the primary pockets of mineral wealth are in tribal-inhabited, forested regions in central, south, east and north-east India, the ostensible aim seems to be protection of tribals and habitats. The question is, can an emerging economy afford to view social goals and development as mutually exclusive?


The Bill's original purpose was to reform the mining sector, serving as a vehicle for a national mineral policy prioritising "economic efficiency" and envisaging an investment and technology friendly regulatory set-up. Its current avatar, if adopted, will achieve the opposite. It'll force private players to operate in less promising areas or get out, even as it legitimises a public sector monopoly. Apart from being regressive, this would be foolish. India's private sector a key growth driver has a competitive edge in terms of efficiency, funds and technological know-how. As for FDI, the government is set to have big plans: a near-future target of $20 billion.

It's no one's case locals should be uprooted against their will or without compensation, or that environmental concerns be ignored. But it's fallacious to argue that the public sector is necessarily more responsible and accountable than the private sector, especially given its opaque, discretionary and often high-handed methods of functioning. Any project whether to extract iron ore or to build dams or roads impacts human habitation and environment. Can we honestly say locals would get a better deal from the state or even be able to decline than when allowed to deal directly with private players on compensation packages? Again, if the well-connected Bellary brothers are a PR disaster for private sector mining, let's not overlook state mining firms fronting for businesses run by powerful politicians and babus. On both counts, politicians have some explaining to do.

 

We need to streamline the countrywide plethora of rules and regulations, states being the sole licensing authority for most minerals and with the power to impose conditions or revoke licences. Better verification of credentials of lease awardees and a clampdown on rampant illegal mining politically blessed in many cases are essential. Policymakers must shed ambiguity on relief and rehabilitation of those displaced by any development activity, not just mining. That means reform of the land acquisition framework. What we don't need is mining becoming hostage to state authority, in a throwback to the licence raj and its lethal combination of political patronage and red tape.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

BLACK IS NOT SO BLACK

GAUTAM ADHIKARI

 

Washington : Words can hurt. A clumsy word, an artless sentence or an insensitive phrase can destroy reputations, sometimes careers. Senator Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the US Senate, was singed last week by hot winds that blew when a just-published book quoted him as saying things he shouldn't have.


Was he subconsciously articulating what a lot of Americans really think? The book, Game Change by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, reports that in 2008 Reid, while assessing candidate Barack Obama's prospects of acceptance among voters as a contender for the White House, said approvingly that Obama was a "light skinned" African-American who used "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one".


The sky fell on him. Republicans wanted him to step down from his position as leader of the Senate; Democrats scrambled to rally around him; President Obama quickly issued a statement forgiving him when Reid apologised, adding: "As far as i am concerned, the book is closed." But it wasn't. An aide to Reid compounded the problem by saying that the remark was not meant for publication in the book. So, it was OK to say such things off the record, right?

Admittedly, Reid's remark pales in candour when compared to the frankness of a former prime minister of India calling his Karnataka political rival a "bloody bastard". But it was pale in another sense. It seemed to reflect a prevailing but private attitude among white people of a certain generation. Although he himself found Obama to be a good presidential candidate, his words suggested he was being supportive only because the candidate did not seem blatantly black, as for instance candidates Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson had in earlier contests. Others of Reid's shade of pale would nod in understanding. So would most Obama supporters, including savvy blacks. To win, he had to appear paler than most others of his race.


We all have our identity problems. Most of us, perhaps all, see the world divided between 'we' and 'they'. In America, they have made enormous strides since the passing of path-breaking civil rights legislation of the Lyndon Johnson era. Even the late Martin Luther King Jr, an optimistic dreamer, would probably have been astounded to see his dream realised when, in November 2008, the American people elected an African-American president with a comfortable majority. But attitudes towards the 'other' do not disappear from minds that easily. Racism exists, quietly.


As it does everywhere in the world, we could accept. In Indian society, paragon of tolerant virtue that we tend to believe it is, the mutual hatred of millions of Hindus and Muslims towards one another is only one such phenomenon. Some of us hate 'bhaiyas' of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with an intense passion; others ridicule 'chinkies' from the north-east; still others stereotype 'Tam-Brahms' or mock 'Bong' accents; and so on, in myriad forms, to say nothing of the caste contempt that permeates the land, north and south. While face creams to make you paler than you are sell well, parents advertise for 'fair' brides for their not necessarily fair sons.


Yes, some of us have become post-racial, not all. However, even those of us who believe we are beyond race use, like Harry Reid, words and phrases in private, and sometimes in the open, which are not, for want of a better term, politically correct.


Indeed, that term 'politically correct' is often used incorrectly in India. Many take it to mean an attitude of phoniness. It's particularly surprising when liberals and progressives use it in that sense. Actually, it's a right-wing epithet, harking back to the Reagan era, to denounce liberals in America. Being politically incorrect doesn't mean being bold, unless you are a conservative out to make a provocative point; it usually means being insensitive and impolite.


Thus Reid's use of the term 'Negro' is politically incorrect not because it will cost him politically or because he was being refreshingly candid, but because what he said was impolitic in circumstances in which that word is no longer a proper term to use when describing African-Americans. In the sixties, after the passage of civil rights laws and a surge in black pride, the word 'Negro' was dropped as a way to describe people who preferred to call themselves 'black Americans'. In course of time, black has largely given way to 'African-American'. But 'Negro', and its coarse cousin 'nigger', should not be uttered in civilised company unless you are, say, a rapper, white or black, deliberately wanting to use it for shock effect.


Perhaps many of us in India need to become a bit more politically correct in order to boost the cause of polite behaviour towards one another, especially towards those we consider the 'other'. Certain terms could be banished from civilised discourse altogether, terms that are regrettably common, used often by college educated, supposedly progressive young people who should know better.


But it takes time. Consider the spellcheck on Microsoft's Word programme even as we write. Every time the word 'Obama' or 'Barack' comes, a red squiggle appears asking us to check unknown words. No such mark comes when we type Harry Reid.


The writer is a former executive editor of this newspaper.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'YOU UNDERSTAND A PLAY ONLY WHEN YOU'VE PERFORMED'

SHREYA ROY CHOWDHURY

 

Zain Ahmed , 37, belongs to a family of artistes, studied theatre in Canada and currently teaches at National Academy of Performing Arts, Karachi. He directed Kalidasa's Shakuntala for the National School of Drama's theatre festival, Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Ahmed spoke to Shreya Roy Chowdhury :

Why Shakuntala?

Why not Shakuntala? Most Pakistani theatre artistes have studied abroad. You studied Greek, Latin, European theatre but not Indian or Pakistani. My undergraduate thesis at York University, Toronto, Canada, was on Pakistani theatre. I tried to take all the courses on Asian theatre that i could find. When i started teaching at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), i designed courses on Pakistani and Indian theatre. We studied Shakuntala in class. Why not perform as well? You understand a play only when you've performed.


The Urdu version is a straight translation. But we've experimented. It's a dance drama and we are not using the entire text. We have selected a few lines from each scene that convey the gist. Emotions we've tried to express through movement. The production was by the first graduating class of NAPA, in December 2007. We had three packed shows at the Karachi Arts Council auditorium which seats 450 and got great reviews.


What is the state of theatre in Pakistan?

We did not have any training institutes. There are few directors as nobody learnt. But now it's more happening. NAPA has been functional for five years, at least in Karachi there is institutional structure and support. NAPA has its own repertory company they have six-seven productions every year which keeps rehiring actors. Because of that we have students who graduated and formed their own theatre groups.


Unfortunately in the rest of the country, because of the blasts, theatre activity has really suffered especially in the last year. But before the security issue, it was growing. There was some activity in Islamabad. They were doing a play every six weeks, two months. Lahore has always been the cultural centre. There was a vibrant commercial theatre scene there. Even now, with all this chaos, commercial theatre is still doing reasonably well.


There used to be a lot of theatre at fair-type settings but that has decreased. Without any institutional support and with the state at times actively discouraging theatre in the name of religion, i think Pakistanis as individuals have made a lot of effort and have done reasonably well.


What about funds?

TV supplements all our incomes. There is corporate funding but it is mostly for English language theatre, for either musicals or comedies; popular, commercially viable theatre. Then there is Urdu and Punjabi theatre that can generate money through ticket sales. The smaller theatre-groups generate money through project-based donor funding which then helps them do other stuff as well. Most people have done this kind of ad-work at some point. They do it, try to save money and use it for other productions.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

CANVASSING CAVES

DEEP INTO DARKNESS

K V KRISHNAN

 

I don't think of myself a troglodyte or spelunker, but caves have fascinated me all my life. Visiting the ones near Mumbai like Elephanta, Ajanta or Ellora as a child, one thought of caves as museums of art where peaceful monks played with pigment and chisel transforming stones into history. I have, riding into the red deserts of Wadi Rum in Jordan, clambered into sandstone caves mottled with petroglyphs that prehistoric cultures chalked on the walls. I haven't seen the art of Dragon's Lair or Lascaux caves in Europe, but the thought of being where cavemen once breathed and slept is fascinating. Ones like the awe-inspiring Mammoth Cave hold a sinister power to completely shut out sunlight, revealing how it feels to be in total darkness. Tucked away in Kentucky, this cave system is like a bowl of spaghetti 400 miles long and counting. Caves like Carlsbad Caverns put up a spectacle for the unsuspecting adventurer. They sparkle with intricate calcite columns and stone curtains with a thousand delicate folds glimmering in the light from your headlamp.


Caves aren't always lonesome places. Unbeknownst to us they abound with a thriving ecosystem. Fruit bats that communicate through echolocation coexist with creepy crawlies like the scorpion or the wolf spider. There are eyeless species, like the blind cave fish and salamanders that have discarded useless sight in favour of other senses. Unlike hermits who used caves as canvas, some cultures thought of caves as gateways to a holy netherworld. Petra in Jordan is a necropolis riddled with hollows where ancient Nabateans buried their dead. I ventured into spectacular Actun Tunichil Muknal in Belize, which is a recently discovered Mayan sacrificial cave. Swimming upstream in the Roaring Creek, scrambling through jagged rocks and squeezing through narrow crevices, one entered an unimaginably vast chamber laden with glimmering calcite sculptures, jars and skeletal remains just as the ancient people had left them 1,200 years ago. Severe droughts had left the Mayans desperate and the gods of the underworld needed to be appeased. Muttering incantations, shamans with torches waded through these waters and clambered on the same rocks as i was struggling on, victim in tow. Such caves transform you with their dark embrace. I am simply glad to be alive, stumbling into the welcome gleam of sunlight into this century, unlike some who lost their way inside or those hapless sacrificial victims who had no choice but to be left behind.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

INDIA'S BRIDGE TO ASEAN

NAJIB TUN RAZAK

 

As the Asia-led global economic recovery begins to take hold, the dynamics of 21st century economic relations are still changing, shifting and reshaping around the world.


Yet it is already clear that Asia will play an increasing role in the global economy, and India is poised for a long run among the regional and global leaders. Asia's economic strength, its largely sound banking systems, rapid growth and increasing domestic and regional consumer demand means that a significant portion of growth in 2010 will come from intra-Asian trade as much as from our traditional relations with Europe and North America.

India has already distinguished itself at the global level as a fast-growing and extremely well-managed economy, a leading member of the G-20, and a government that recognises the importance of inclusive growth for all. But India's own entrepreneurs and political leaders are increasingly finding that outside of their own domestic market, there is also abundant opportunity for India in the nearby 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).


As a commercial and financial regional hub, an IT powerhouse, a tourist destination, and as a shipping and logistics staging point with exceptional connectivity, there can be no better gateway for India to the prospering ASEAN market than Malaysia.


This is why i am committed to working with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to improve and strengthen our trade and investment ties, as well as to furthering cooperation on issues important to both India and Malaysia, ranging from the position of developing countries on world trade talks to the search for a fair and just solution to the difficult issue of climate change.


A natural partnership between India and Malaysia already exists, with shared cultural bonds and a commitment to democracy and social equity. India and Malaysia, however, also have serious and deepening business ties.


Last year India was the ninth biggest investor in Malaysia, and annual export-import numbers show a trade volume between our two countries in excess of $10 billion. But India and Malaysia can do even more together.


The trade and investment possibilities on both sides are quite exciting. For example, we have constructed an airport in Hyderabad, and many highways in India, and we wish to offer our technology and know-how in building more infrastructure in India, from highways to airports, ports and logistics. Malaysians are good builders and India provides a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in the infrastructure sector.

Equally, in the field of IT we can strengthen ties in terms of software development. India is also a big buyer of Malaysian palm oil, and i hope we can continue to grow our trade in this important agricultural product.


Meanwhile, in Malaysia, India can enjoy the benefits of an efficient financial and logistics centre as well as new and attractive tax incentives and an open door policy in our special economic zone, Iskandar, an area three times the size of neighbouring Singapore with state-of-the-art connectivity.


With the ASEAN market of 600 million people in the heart of South East Asia, Malaysia is also the ideal business platform for this rapidly growing region. India is already part of the ASEAN process, and we look forward to strengthening that integration still further in the course of 2010.

It is against this global and regional Asian backdrop that our two nations can cooperate in several areas. India's 8 or 9 per cent prospective growth in the next few years, together with Malaysia's 5 per cent GDP growth prospects, and our location at the heart of ASEAN, mean that together we can forge a healthy and mutually prosperous partnership for our peoples and our companies.


The writer is prime minister of Malaysia. His state visit to India begins tomorrow.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HE WAS A CLASS APART

 

A  communist with haute bourgeois tastes; a bhadralok with an autocratic streak; a radical who epitomised decades-long grinding status quo, Jyoti Basu was all these things and a bit more. With his death passes an era not only in India's communist movement but also in Indian politics.

 

Long before the power of regional satraps became obvious in 'coalition politics', Basu knew the virtues of being the Big Fish in a small pond, all the while being a crack swimmer in the Big Sea of national politics. Unlike other veterans of India's communist movement, he was the master of retrofitting ideology to realpolitik rather than the other way round. If his description of his comrades' decision to hold him back from prime ministership in 1996 as a "historic blunder" was accurate (Basu as PM would have arguably made the nation address problems like Maoist extremism much before they became critical), then Basu also understood that to be seen as being bigger than the party is to expose one's hand at a table where keeping the right cards under one's sleeve is everything.

 

In a way, over the duration of his long innings, Basu encapsulated the archetypal pre-liberalisation grand politician. As a firebrand communist leader returned from Britain, he was the Nehruvian-communist, a man whom the masses pinned their hopes on even as the middle-class and intelligentsia recognised speaking in their dignified language. As Deputy Chief Minister of the United Front government in West Bengal in the late 60s, he understood that to be in power was a different ball game from being an anti-establishment dhoti-kurta-clad Che figure. Becoming the chief minister in 1977 solidified this knowledge. But the rules of the game were clear right from the start: hold on to power by whatever means and everything else can follow.

 

Very little, however, followed. For the next two decades, even as Basu rose to statesman-like status, especially as a model secular leader with a mass support base, the communist state he governed in his regime's trademark 'good cop-bad cop' style slid down the economic and development poles. Cadres were allowed to rule the state by proxy — keeping the visible capital of Calcutta under the warm, fuzzy lights of liberal and cultured socialism that kept prying eyes away from the successful experiment of making the bureaucracy, police and governance one with the party. When there were demands for change in West Bengal in the late 90s, Basu short-circuited the opposition by ushering a change himself: stepping down in 2000 as India's longest-ruling CM for "health reasons" and foisting his protégé Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as his successor.

 

Regardless of how he has left the state he was so long in charge of and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of which he remained the capo di tutti capi till his end, Jyoti Basu was much more than the sum of his parts. Even if these parts didn't always add up to form the towering leader of modern India that he undoubtedly was.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE PUNDIT - IN THE BALANCE

 BIHARI MIGRANTS AND VALENTINE'S DAY ARE PASSÉ. THE SENA CHIEF HAS MORE SERIOUS ISSUES TO FOCUS ON

 

Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray considers himself quite the brand ambassador for Mumbai. And we have much to learn from his unique diplomatic skills. The very foundation of the ageing tiger's credo rests on the `no dialogue, only diatribe' principle. So we aren't surprised that he has told the Aussie cricket team to steer clear of Mumbai until attacks on Indians in their country stop.

 

But don't judge him on this. He is an indiscriminate discriminator in most matters. For one, he will not allow cultural pollution in the city. So come Valentine's Day, the discerning Sainiks will pay tribute to our traditions of tolerance by whacking the daylights out of courting couples. But don't get the impression that Bal is against all things imported.

 

It was not so long ago that the late King of Pop Michael Jackson dropped in to discuss a few world issues with Bal. In the course of the meeting Jackson popped into the toilet, which facility Bal, with disarming childishness, later displayed to the media. From his latest on the wizards of Oz, it's clear that Bal realises he has to play a greater role on the world stage now that his nephew has taken over in dealing with dangerous threats like Bihari migrants in Mumbai. Perhaps he could also take up the erosion of our culture from anglicising homegrown names like spelling Thakre as Thackeray.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE POOR RICH GIRL

VANITA-SRIVASTAVA

 

Every morning while driving through heavy traffic near a temple, I notice a group of small children sitting across the pavement with their utensils for collecting alms. All of them, with malnourished looks and tattered clothes, start running the moment vehicles  stop and plead for money desperately.

 

Among them, I always find a charming girl, around six years, relatively better clothed. She never approaches anyone for begging. I see through her eyes that she is not doing her 'job' well. But this hardly bothers her.

 

On one such occasion, when my car was waiting at the traffic signal, I saw her in a different mood. She looked more playful and was mixing with the other children. Then, I saw her handing over some coins to another girl. This deepened my curiosity about her. I went up to her.

 

"What's your name?" I asked. She just gave me a coy smile. " Who lives with you?"

 

"No one, I live here in the temple with God."

 

"Why were you giving away money to that girl?"  I asked. The smile was back on her face. "Her mother is hospitalised and she needs the money more than I do."

 

I stood there, amazed, feeling like a pauper before her.  Here I was reasonably well off. But how often had I thought of helping the needy?

 

And look at this little girl, who earns not more than Rs15 a day, gives away her little earnings to the needy. She has no roof over her head, and has had no schooling. But rich enough to part with her daily income to help someone in need.

 

I gave her Rs 10. She took Rs 5 and returned the rest. 'I don't need more," was all she said. I felt a special kind of richness about her. A type not found even around millionaires!

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FIRST POLITBURO'S LAST MEMBER

AVIJIT GHOSAL & TANMAY CHATTERJEE


Jyoti Basu was the last of the founder-politburo members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

 

He was part of the so-called "gang of nine" senior leaders who walked out of the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1964.

 

If Basu, always a pragmatist, was disappointed at not being anointed party chief then or later, he didn't show it. But over the next four decades, he emerged as India's tallest communist leader and a much respected elder statesman, whose counsel was sought by friend and foe alike. Little wonder he became his party's chief trouble-shooter.

 

Basu, a dour and no-nonsense political leader, was known to be charming in his personal life. He counted former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, both sworn political enemies, as his personal friends.

 

Even Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, arguably the Left's Enemy No. 1, is an ardent admirer.

 

But despite his larger-than-life image and his vice-like grip over West Bengal, Basu could never really establish his writ over his party nationally.

 

This became evident in 1996 when the CPI(M) politburo vetoed, reportedly by one vote, his chances of becoming the country's first communist prime minister. Later, Basu called it a "historic blunder", but never explained what he meant or who he thought had committed that blunder.

 

His record as the country's longest serving chief minister is patchy. He presided over a state that became, in his own words, "an industrial desert".

 

He did nothing to stop his party commissars from turning the state's bureaucracy, its police force and its many centres of higher education into instruments of political patronage.

 

Then, there were allegations that his son had built a business empire on the basis of his clout. Nothing, however, was ever proved.

 

But the first half of his reign also brought unprecedented prosperity to rural Bengal courtesy a programme to faithfully implement land reforms that made tillers the owners of the land they farmed.

 

The benefits of that programme  Basu's crowning glory – are now wearing thin. The next logical step – planned industrialisation – will remain his biggest failure.

 

Retired bureaucrats say Basu was an able administrator who understood the need of the hour. His critics feel he used his leadership qualities to maintain the status quo.

 

The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DEVE GOWDA SHOWS HIS TRUE COLOURS

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

By using abusive language against Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda has shown that he has not risen above petty caste and regional politics despite the high office he once occupied. The kind of invectives used (but later denied) by Gowda reveal that he has not evolved as a politician and may well go down in history as among the most mediocre heads of government we have had.

 

Whatever be the provocation, no politician should use the kind of language Deve Gowda used against Yeddyurappa. In fact, no one in public life should be allowed to get away with such intemperate behaviour. Yeddyurappa is the chief minister of a state and deserves a modicum of respect. If there are differences, they should be expressed at an appropriate forum or through a press conference. But never by using language that's unacceptable in civilised society.

 

Senior BJP leaders, including LK Advani, had described the Prime Minister as a 'nikamma' and 'the weakest PM in history' and paid the price for using those expressions. The voters in 2009 not only rejected the BJP but also endorsed Manmohan Singh's leadership. The middle classes, in particular, steered clear of the saffron party to help the Congress win 206 seats in the Lok Sabha.

 

Deve Gowda is known for being an opportunistic politician. He has flirted with the RSS whenever it has suited him and presented himself as a secular leader in order to align with other secular parties. When his son, HD Kumaraswamy, joined hands with the BJP to become the chief minister of Karnataka, the former prime minister declared without batting an eyelid that it was the death of secularism and that the arrangement was not acceptable to him.

 

But it was well-known that it was Deve Gowda himself who had inspired his son to occupy the high office. When the time to hand over power to the BJP came, he reiterated his earnest commitment to secular values. His is a case of a small-time politician rising above his competence level.

 

Deve Gowda, as we all know, was never prime minister material. But destiny willed otherwise. Most secular leaders had got together after the Congress failed to get a majority in 1996 to find a substitute for

 

PV Narasimha Rao. The need to find a secular leader was felt by everyone given that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had become the first person from the saffron brigade to become the PM even if for only 13 days. The PM's post was then offered to Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M), but his party turned it down in what is described as a historic blunder.

 

There was an attempt to persuade an unwilling VP Singh to accept the position, but he was not inclined under any circumstances. Congress veteran

 

GK Moopanar was another name that was considered. Deve Gowda became a surprise choice as the needle in the Russian roulette being played stopped at his name even as he dozed off under the impression that he had no chance. The uncertainties and follies of coalition politics were the evidence in this case. His period was one of the worst in Indian history and then Congress president Sitaram Kesri decided to pull his government down after realising enough was enough.

 

In the latest instance, Deve Gowda also seems to have targeted Yeddyurappa hoping that it will help consolidate his position within his own caste. While Deve Gowda is a Vokkaliga, the Karnataka chief minister belongs to the Lingayat community. But no Vokkaliga is likely to endorse the use of such language. In any case, the man who claims to be a secular leader is perhaps the one his detractors hold responsible for bringing the BJP to power in the south for the first time. Between us.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PATNA UNPLUGGED

 

Is Bihar on steroids, boosted by an excessive stimulus of dramatically higher public outlays than ever in the past? Like all stimulus, does it also bear the danger of slumping back when it is withdrawn? Is the widely acclaimed growth turnaround a durable and sustainable one? These are among the many issues, which are currently being debated.

 

But first the facts.Bihar is the best turnaround story that the country has seen in recent decades. The Prime Minister has said many a time that India cannot prosper till Bihar is part of this prosperity. The latest Central Statistical Organisation data suggests that the average growth of the state's GDP between 2004-05 and 2008-09 averages 11.03 per cent, making it the second-fastest growing state, just a touch below Gujarat and significantly higher than the country's average growth of 8.45 per cent over the same period.

 

When I was the deputy chairman of the State Planning Board, while finalising Bihar's 11th Five Year Plan approach, it was my hope and optimism that in the last years of the plan Bihar's growth rate, persistently at around 4 per cent, could reach the national average. I was obviously wrong. The 11th Plan has two more years to go. Bihar has already averaged a growth rate of 3 per cent higher than the national average.

 

What is also significant is that the deconstruction of the aggregate growth rates suggests that the progress has been an all-round one.

 

Inter-sectoral growth rate suggests that on average the agricultural sector has grown at 7 per cent during this five-year period, well above the national average. The industrial sector growth rate during this period is more than 20 per cent, which seems to have contributed significantly to the double-digit growth story. Further, unlike the rest of the underdeveloped states, the growth in Bihar is not driven by the services sector alone, though the service sector has grown at an average of more than 10 per cent.

 

Within these sectors, there are some sub-sectors that have performed exceptionally well. The construction sector, for example, has grown at nearly 40 per cent during the last five years. The communication sector and the trade, hotels and restaurants sector have grown at more than 15 per cent, while the growth in the banking and insurance sector has been more than 10 per cent during this period. Few would have expected that a state deficient in energy and natural resources could see a major spurt in industry and ancillary sectors.

 

What are the factors that have contributed to this growth story? First and foremost, it is improved governance. It is most importantly the vastly improved law and order with greater commitment to enforcing the rule of law and guaranteeing the security of life and property. Statistics alone cannot capture the impact of an improved security environment on human psychology. If the future looks more predictable and optimistic, it triggers innumerable individual economic decisions. When aggregated, these micro atomistic decisions add to a large aggregate resulting in multiplier gainful activity.

 

Second, and not unrelated to the first, is the speedier construction of public projects like national and state highways, in no small measure due to a greater willingness of contractors and other stakeholders to overcome their fears and seek the profitability of such endeavours. Of course, the emphasis on improved infrastructure, in addition to central projects, by way of over 3,000 kms of state highways and over 9,000 kms of rural road network catalysed multiple economic activities. Similarly, the improved regulatory environment has given a massive impetus to housing construction and urbanisation in satellite and small towns. Not that these projects have all been in conformity with their tight targets. Pursuing their implementation creates growth multipliers.

Third, the emphasis on social sectors, particularly education and health, mitigates their past endemic neglect. Appointment of over 2 lakh primary teachers, reservation for women, encouragement to girls, increased emphasis on teaching outcomes and an increase in the number of institutes for higher and technical education have contributed to long-term development. This is equally true for the health sector with improved primary health centres, district hospitals and improvement in diagnostic facilities through public-private partnerships with better accountability.

 

Have the development challenges been successfully overcome? It would be naïve to believe that a mere five-year good performance has either solved Bihar's problems or would automatically repeat itself in the coming years. Given the adverse land-man ratio, fully harnessing the agricultural sector and improving productivity needs implementation of innovative strategies, some of which are already in place.

 

Completing the road network is not merely a matter of adequacy of resources, but sustained efficiency in their implementation. Energy deficiency cripples efforts for agro-processing, improving the shelf life of agro-products through cold chains and attracting large private investors. Training programmes for teachers, doctors, police personnel, faculty members for higher echelons of education would compel the state to become a vast training laboratory.

 

So, what does the future have in store? What is crucial is sustained action at least for a decade to enable Bihar's per capita income to approximate what would be the national average by then. It would crucially depend on its ability to attract private investments and forge public-private partnerships. It is well accepted that private investment is shy till infrastructure improves substantially and the improved business environment looks durable.

 

All these are contingent on political continuity. Elections in Bihar are less than a year away. Bihar would indeed be a test case of whether the development matrix influences electoral choice — cutting across the past divide of caste, community and class — and, more importantly, if cold statistics on development have made any real difference to the quality of life of average voters. Anti-incumbency has increasingly given way to voter preference based on a Development Report Card. Only time will tell whether this is equally true of Bihar.

 

NK Singh is a Rajya Sabha member and former Deputy Chairman, Bihar State Planning Commission. He is the author of the recently-published book Not By Reason Alone: The Politics of Change The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PRAGMATIC PATRIARCH

 

If it's sensible to talk of the completeness of a political career, Jyoti Basu — West Bengal's chief minister for 23 years, and a veteran of nearly seven decades of politics — had a complete political career. Nine years after he quit as chief minister, Basu's demise at the age of 95 is the literal end of an era in Indian politics. Much of the post-Independence history of opposition to a paramount Congress would have differed in colour and character without this figure who was initiated into Marxism in London, built a constituency for himself among the railway trade unionists in the '40s, got elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946, helped organise the leftist mass movement — gigantic rallies and fearsome strikes — that became the hallmark of the Indian Left's street-fighting decades.

 

When the Communist Party of India split in 1964, Basu left with the Marxists as a founding member of the CPM politburo. As chief minister, Basu consolidated on the initial successes of the CPM, such as Operation Barga — Bengal's phenomenal land reforms — and local government. But it's debatable if Basu, through the tumultuous '60s and '70s and even in his early years in power, wasn't more the public face of the party, while policy and politics would be determined by Pramod Dasgupta (PDG) till the latter's death in 1982. And his party, in a "historic blunder" as late as 1996, declared that he couldn't lead a multi-party Union government that wouldn't implement a Marxist programme. That might yet mitigate history's verdict on Basu for the rut West Bengal was driven into during his long tenure — the flight of capital, pervasive power outages, shuttered factories, flight of intellectual capital as the government decided English education (or "elite" education) was no longer necessary, are but the gentler aspects of Bengal's steady ruination, which a burst of reformist zeal under a new chief minister could not stem. Basu, moreover, has departed at a time when West Bengal's social indicators have slid vis-à-vis Bangladesh's and the Marxists are at their political weakest in three-plus decades.

 

But Basu will be remembered as the Left's arch-pragmatist, who realised long ago the need to move beyond a politics of disruption and unquestioning opposition to the Centre to cooperation and alliance-building. Even the Left's 2008 withdrawal of support to UPA-I — a government he had helped form — wasn't to his liking. In retrospect, there's an understandable nostalgia for the semblance of order of Basu's tenure in an increasingly imploding Bengal. After demitting office, the Marxist veteran had become Bengal's patriarch, who could question his successor's government over another bloodshed and whom the state's opposition too would approach. It's not just his party that will miss him.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A FAIR WAY

 

The impeachment process against Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran has entered its third phase, with the constitution of an inquiry committee to hear the case against the judge. Earlier, 75 Rajya Sabha members had signed on to an impeachment notice against Justice Dinakaran, and the Rajya Sabha chairperson (Vice President Hamid Ansari) had accepted the notice. The final stage would be a vote on the floor of the House — a vote that has never ever resulted in the impeachment of a judge.

 

As a new milestone in the long road to impeachment is crossed, there are two qualities that the inquiry committee must exhibit: fairness and speed. Much of the accusations against Justice Dinakaran are ad hoc and untested — a product of an opaque selection mechanism to the Supreme Court, and a tortuously slow impeachment process. This is unfair to the complainants (where is the platform to air their grievance?) and to the judge himself (how does he defend himself?). The inquiry committee offers some corrective, by providing for its members to investigate charges against Justice Dinakaran, and by giving the judge an opportunity to present his side of the story. It is critical that this be transparent, not secretive as the process has been so far. The other quality that the inquiry committee must display is speed. The public trial of the judge has been fuelled by long official silences. If there is to be some closure to this controversy, it must be a decision that is delivered quickly, rather than a long drawn out answer (like in the still pending inquiry commission report into allegations against Calcutta high court Judge Soumitra Sen) that fuels rumours and innuendos.

 

The larger question is of the impeachment process itself. The UPA government plans to replace the current Judges (Inquiry) Act with the Judges (Standards and Accountability) Bill. Whatever be the final version of the law, it is hoped that the new mechanism does four things: provides complainants with an accessible platform, gives the accused judge a chance to defend himself, makes decision-making transparent and, most important of all, mandates a quick result that clears the air — one way or another.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MAPPING HAITI

 

It was an unexpected brush with George W. Bush's trademark straight-talk. As he returned to the White House for the first time after his presidency ended to join up for US President Barack Obama's ramped up plan to collect and effectively distribute aid for quake-hit Haiti, he had a request. He knew Americans were aware of the need in the Caribbean for blankets and water, but please, he said, just send in the cash. Along with Bill Clinton, he assured them, he'd oversee the humanitarian effort to see that money was well allocated. These are occasions that American diplomacy handles extremely well.

 

Haiti has always been a test case for the commitment and assistance that the US can deploy for the greater well-being of countries and peoples in what it sees as its primary sphere of influence. And Haiti, once proud bearer of the spirit of independence that gives a sharply revolutionary edge to the post-colonial politics, art and music of the Caribbean islands, was today the most ill-equipped in the region to handle the quake that could have taken as many as a hundred thousand — perhaps even more. You just have to see satellite photographs of the island of Hispaniola that Haiti shared with the Dominican Republic: the border is immediately evident, Haiti coloured a grey-brown (the shanties that cover most of its denuded territory), and the Dominican Republic a splash of green. That picture captures its political crises and its problems of development.

 

And it is that picture that the international community, which has rushed in with diverse offers of aid and assistance for the worst natural calamity since the 2004 tsunami, must change.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

A STATEMENT IS ONLY A START

MUSTAFIZURRAHMAN

 

By any measure, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India was a watershed event that marked a significant departure from the low-level equilibrium that has characterised bilateral relations recently. The intangibles originating from this visit — greater mutual trust, renewed goodwill, a sense about the direction of the bilateral relationship and a vision about the future of the partnership — are no less, and perhaps, more important than the treaties and the MoUs on a wide range of issues emerging from the joint communiqué.

 

Indeed, the part of the communiqué that mentions that the two prime ministers have agreed to "put in place a comprehensive framework of cooperation for development between the two countries, encapsulating their mutually shared vision for the future..." succinctly captures the spirit of the talks. From this perspective, the visit's importance lies both in its outcome as well as in its promise.

 

Issues of deepening bilateral economic cooperation constitute an important part of the joint communiqué. In recent years, with imports from India rising, the growing trade deficit with India had been a cause of concern in Bangladesh. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) in India and a "negative list" of items still subject to tariffs — which included most items of export interest to Bangladesh — had fuelled these concerns. Of course, imports from India provide Bangladesh access to consumer goods, raw materials and inputs such as fabrics for export-oriented sectors, at competitive prices. Consumers, producers and exporters in Bangladesh benefit from these imports. Indeed, imports from India help Bangladesh sustain a trade surplus with the US that surpasses its bilateral deficit with India.

 

But the fact of the matter is that Bangladesh has not been able to access the growing Indian market to the degree it aspires to. True, in recent times, under the SAFTA accord and at India's unilateral initiative, some of the barriers constraining Bangladesh's exports have been reduced. The communiqué mentions reducing these barriers further: 47 items will be taken out of the negative list, and NTBs are to be reduced; India has agreed to assist in the strengthening of Bangladesh's standardisation and testing institution (the BSTI). Political commitments must percolate to bureaucratic levels so that these are implemented in good faith and swiftly. This will, hopefully, be followed up through a framework agreement of mutual recognition of certifications issued by standards institutions of the two countries.

 

The issue of connectivity has historically constrained economic ties. Recently some positive, if tentative, moves have taken place to facilitate the movement of people through bus and rail connections. The water protocol had provided only a limited facility for movement of goods from India up to certain points of call in Bangladesh and vice versa. The two countries have now decided to undertake important initiatives to expand and deepen connectivity through road, rail and water transport, including using Chittagong and Khulna sea ports. An agreement allowing transit to Nepal through Rohanpur-Singabad broad gauge rail link has also been reached with a request for rail transit to Bhutan as well. These are initiatives which will contribute importantly to trade facilitation in the sub-region.

 

These could also potentially create opportunities for export of services by Bangladesh and help reduce the trade gap with India. Indeed, the vast hinterland of Chittagong and Khulna sea-ports could create opportunities for the emergence of these ports as regional hubs, provided that adequate infrastructure is built and appropriate protocols of transport and connectivity are developed. India's announcement of a line of credit of $US 1bn to develop some of the required infrastructure will help. One hopes that the terms and conditions of this support including the rate of interest will be favourable from Bangladesh's perspective. India's agreement to supply 250 MW electricity from its grid to Bangladesh and the emphasis put on inter-grid connectivity opens a new chapter in this critical area of interest to Bangladesh, particularly in view of its energy availability situation. Whilst 250 MW may not make a big dent in Bangladesh's formidable deficit, it is a good start.

 

Realising the full potentials of the various avenues that have been identified during this visit, a comprehensive follow-up effort, will be challenging. What would be the price of electricity? What would be the terms of the credit line? Where will the infrastructure be built? How will the NTBs be reduced? How can transit be operationalised? Each will need concrete answers. One hopes that the bureaucracy entasked with the job gets on with it in the spirit of the communiqué. A good foundation has been laid, a new horizon awaits. The challenge now is to build on it.

 

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a Dhaka-based think-tank

 

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'I STILL THINK IT WAS A HISTORIC BLUNDER. BECAUSE SUCH AN OPPORTUNITY (TO BECOME PM) DOES NOT COME OFTEN'

 

Jyoti Basu, last of the long marchers in Indian politics, in an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk. Excerpts: (IE, May 3, 2004)

 

Shekhar Gupta: My guest today is the last of the long marchers in our politics, in fact, perhaps the last of the great Communists or comrades anywhere in the world. Welcome to Walk the Talk.

Nobody knows Indian politics better than you. You've been in public life for 64 years now? So today, forget exit polls, forget opinion polls, do you see a Congress-led coalition in power, three weeks from now?

Jyoti Basu: That is what we are hoping for, we are working for. But it doesn't depend on us only, but the smaller parties, and mainly on the Congress. But one good thing has happened. We've been telling the Congress that you can't have a single party majority, ever. At least in the near future, we don't see any possibility. So you must think about a coalition, which they refused last time when the BJP lost by one vote. And now it seems they've changed.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So now Indian politics is finding a direction. This is a BJP-led coalition versus a Cong-led coalition?

Jyoti Basu: That's right, correct.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And that will be the direction for some time now?

Jyoti Basu: Some time now. That's right.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Do you see some atonement, some prayashchit or some introspection, in the Congress party for what mistakes you think they've made?

Jyoti Basu: In the economic sphere, they made a lot of mistakes. And it is Dr. Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister. He started this, blindly accepting World Bank policies and IMF policies...We didn't like that. And, of course, I asked him once. He said but in my time not a single public sector undertaking was sold. Now they've modified it a bit. I see in the programme. But it will be a common minimum programme (for a coalition), it cannot be their programme.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But that is the other issue: the issue of economic reforms. Now just the exit polls have seen the markets dropping and stock markets falling. There is a lot of anxiety about economic reform and the direction of India's economy. Would you say that this is an undue concern?

Jyoti Basu: No, no, this is very much...people are concerned with the economy. And learning from the past mistakes, the mistakes of the BJP government and all that, we should work out a programme where we can stand on our own feet but also get technology, finance and other things from outside, but we must be selective. Not blindly accept whatever these people are saying. It is they who are responsible — the World Bank and IMF — for the downfall of the South-East Asian economy, which is gathering strength now. But that went down. Indonesia went down. And there's a book written by the chief economic advisor to the World Bank...

 

Shekhar Gupta: (Joseph) Stiglitz?

Jyoti Basu: Stiglitz. I read that, it's wonderful.

 

Shekhar Gupta: 'Globalisation and its Discontents'...

Jyoti Basu: Yes. He says it's not working, particularly.

Shekhar Gupta: What you are saying is that reform or globalisation or free markets may by themselves not be bad but you have to be sensible in the way you implement those policies.

Jyoti Basu: Absolutely.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And to that extent, are you happy with the way your successor is doing?

Jyoti Basu: He has also invited foreigners here. When I was the chief minister, I went abroad four or five times to address industrialists there and talk about our economic situation. And some result was there...Philips, the Siemens and some others came. Then petrochemicals...

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, you don't see MNCs by themselves as a bad thing?

Jyoti Basu: No, this is capitalist globalisation, you see. It helps only a few. I find he writes, Stiglitz, that even in America, the numbers of poor people have grown.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But when your government here or your successor invites MNCs, or getsJapanese investment, Mitsubishi...or gets DFID money to close down loss-making companies, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jyoti Basu: No, no, Mitsubishi was already there. During my time, they came. When Haldia Petrochemical (came up), I had to wait 13 years to get permission from the Central Government. Rajiv was there, he went along with me and then laid the foundation stone. So this is just one example. In Salt Lake, where you are questioning me, Bidhan Nagar we call it, there is the electronic sector where 17,000 boys and girls are working everyday. And Indira Gandhi, having promised to help me, did not help me. We helped ourselves.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But the kind of reform that your successor is now doing, you see that as good reform?

Jyoti Basu: Of course. That is within our policy. In 1994, I placed on the floor of the Assembly our industrial policy as asked by the...

 

Shekhar Gupta: Would you say that the argument in Indian politics today is not whether there should be reform or not but what kind or direction of reform should take place?

Jyoti Basu: Reform has to be there, there is no doubt about that. But the point is you must not forget 70 per cent of the people in the villages.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Your own CM in the state is selling a lot of public sector industries. In fact, he is selling a lot of public sector industries with the DFID money.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, that's right. With British aid. They have earlier also helped us in education.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you approve of that?

Jyoti Basu: I have no objection. No conditionality should be there. And they come every year to see what is happening, on the ground.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So you don't mind investment...

Jyoti Basu: If there are mutual interests, I don't mind.

 

Shekhar Gupta: The question that I know you expect to be asked everytime somebody speaks with you. The division in your party and what you described as the 'historic blunder'.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, I still think it was a historic blunder. Why historic? Because such an opportunity does not come. History does not give such opportunity. Knowing who I am — a Marxist, a Communist, in the party here, for so many years I've been in politics, they invited me because they had no other prime minister in view. So we thought that even if we last for one year in that coalition with myself as the prime minister and our party joining it, then people would understand backward sections. In many places, they don't even know what we are all about.

Shekhar Gupta: Tell me, one last word. The other senior politician in our system besides you is Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. You've known him for a long time. What is your view on him?

Jyoti Basu: I know all of them. Advani, I know. V.P. Singh sent me to him before the break-up of the government (saying) please prevent him from this rath yatra. I went to his house, I sat there, argued with him. He would not agree. And again, he's started this rath yatra. And thousands were killed at that time.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But you've said uncomplimentary things about him. I think you've called the BJP barbarians and you said you will never speak with Mr Advani again.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, yes. But he asked me. After a meeting here four years back, he called me to Raj Bhawan (and said) that 'I told the crowd that I'll ask you why you call us barbarians and uncivilised'. I said I am naming nobody but three of your ministers were there when Babri Masjid was being brought down. And I'm talking about what you've done. That time, the Christian killings had not started. Later on, that happened.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And you call Mr Vajpayee a mask in the context of Gujarat. But overall, what's your view on him, as a person, politician, statesman?

Jyoti Basu: As a person, he's quite a gentleman. An educated person, all that I knew for a long time. And when he was, I think, foreign minister, that time also he behaved. But he himself says he's RSS. He depends on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal. But that mask has now fallen, fortunately, before the elections. I am happy about that.

 

Well, Mr. Basu, I know you are beaming. I think you are looking at very interesting politics in the weeks to come. And I know no opportunity is ever lost forever. I know you are around. And you never know what may happen. Well, we are optimistic (laughs).

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE TRAGEDY AND THE FARCE

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Last week, there was a devastating tragedy. This week has begun with an irreplaceable loss. Barely an hour before this was being written, the winter of a patriarch ended on a cold and cloudy Sunday morning. Jyoti Basu's life and death was a chronicle waiting to be told ever since he was admitted to hospital on January 1. So, no sooner was his death announced, midday, that puffy-eyed TV reporters stationed outside the hospital bid him a last farewell, as if by rote.

 

The rolling coverage began with obituaries and political tributes but soon gave way to discussions on the importance of being Jyoti Basu. Meanwhile, Hindi news TV (News 24 and India TV) had returned to their Bollywood reporters within the hour.

 

Now, if only the number of commercial breaks on the news could have been reduced as a mark of respect. If only TV anchors would stop saying, "What's the atmosphere like out there?" as though they were watching a dismal India reel at 160/6 against Bangladesh. If only they would not announce, 'A Red Sun Sets' when there's no sun to speak of besides being a rather poor pun (Headlines Today). If only there could have been less confusion over Basu's final rites: at about 3 pm, CNN-IBN said no funeral for Basu, body to be donated, NDTV 24x7 said cremation on Tuesday and Headlines said final rites on Tuesday, body to be donated. And while CNN-IBN and NDTV maintained some distance from the vehicle carrying Basu's body away from the hospital, Times Now was literally in his face. Yes, it's idealistic and unrealistic to expect such things but they would have dignified Mr Basu — and the news channels.

 

Our news channels did not bother to dignify the earthquake in Haiti with the attention it deserved. While CNN and BBC had extensive live coverage of this horrifying seismic upheaval throughout the week, our news TV was too busy celebrating, amongst other things, Lohri and Makar Sankranti and the Maha Kumbh for the death of a few hundred thousand people and the suffering of thousands more to recall their primary function: the news. Haiti may have no geopolitical or economic relevance for Indians but sheer humanity demanded a sensitive response.

 

Nobody expects TV news to send out reporters (although, why not?) but at least more coverage.

 

At moments such as these, the western media triumphs, albeit in tragedy, TV news in particular. They become citizens of the world, reaching out across the globe to bring us the news (it's another matter that Haiti is only a short flight away from Miami). Thus CNN and BBC had senior reporters like Jonathan Mann out there amidst the rubble in a flash, alerting the world to the enormity of the calamity. You did wish, though, he would not smile so while describing a city in ruins or that his colleagues (Anderson Cooper for one) did not look so healthy, alive and sporty in their T-shirts as they reported for the umpteenth time on the unbearable "stench" around them.s

 

This is a danger common to reporting on tragedies and deaths: there's a fine line between the meaningful and meaningless. If you listened to what was being said about Jyoti Basu or Haiti, the descriptions began to sound like platitudes after a while, signifying nothing.

 

CNN and BBC World's fulsome coverage of the relief efforts had a significant diplomatic fallout: with America leading the way, the bad cop in Afghanistan was suddenly the all-compassionate-one in Haiti with constant visuals of American troops offering aid assistance — there, for all too see.

Before we go, here's an ironic, bittersweet coincidence. BBC Entertainment is broadcasting The State Within, a drama about a suicide bombing of a commercial flight when one passenger sets off an undetected bomb onboard. Sounds familiar?

 

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

REASSIGNING ROLES FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

K. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

Since there is to be a change in the incumbency of the post of the National Security Adviser (NSA), this is an appropriate time to review the working of the National Security Council (NSC) and the NSA in the light of the experience of the last eleven years.

 

The NSC of the NDA government was not modelled on the recommendations of the Pant Committee but was completely recast to suit the requirements of Prime Minister Vajapayee, who needed an innovator NSA who was also his personal confidante. It was a Kissinger-Brzezinski model. Though the two subsequent NSAs attempted to sustain that model, Dr. Manmohan Singh is his own innovator, and he does not have such an equation with his NSAs. In the last five years, radical changes have taken place in our national security environment. Internal security now compels far greater attention.

 

Consequently, the Ministry of Home Affairs is about to reinvent itself in the role of Ministry of Homeland Security. Total intelligence coordination encompassing internal,external, technical and satellite intelligence has become an imperative, calling for a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) reporting to both the home minister and prime Minister. 26/11 proves that it is not enough to react to a crisis, the NSC members should be regularly briefed and sensitised to security situations so that they can proactively react to anticipated crises.The challenge of China calls for coordination with regard to domestic and external economic policies, international trade, infrastructure development, expansion of higher education and technology and defence and security capabilities.The need for coordination in our internal and external security policies with other major powers of the world has also increased.

 

Today the NSC functions as an overall approval and sanctioning committee of the Cabinet for specific proposals. The NSA is cast in the role of its executive. Too many additional tasks have accumulated since the NDA regime and it is not possible for the NSA to function effectively in that role with the present areas of responsibility, though the incumbent has done as much justice to his responsibility as possible. His role should ideally be to coordinate policies of the PM relating to national security, monitor their implementation and bring the shortfalls in performance to the attention of the whole council. He should also get the council's directions for policy initiatives and monitor their implementation by the ministry concerned. While he could be an inspirer of policies and plans through the prime minister, his undertaking executive roles is at the cost of forward planning and coordination and monitoring of implementation of national security policies. Too many executive coordinating responsibilities, such as chairing the executive committee of nuclear command authority, coordinating the intelligence agencies etc. come at the high price of not being able to do full justice to them. The basic assumption underlying the NSC is that executive responsibility for policies doesn't rest only with the ministers and that they should all work together in implementing national security policy.

 

The result of the present model is that all the NSC ministers do not operate on a single assessment of threat or in full appreciation of the interlinkages of the policies of the four ministries which form the apex of national security management. Such coordination is effected in the US not only through the formal council meetings chaired by the president but through meetings of the principals (cabinet members) with the NSA coordinating. There are also meetings between deputies. Such lack of coordination in India leads to a situation when there was a National Security Guard but it did not have a dedicated airlift. There is hardly the realisation that arms purchases are not matters of selecting equipment on the basis of lowest tender but the building up of our strategic capabilities through partnerships with the major powers concerned. The role of the national security adviser is to ensure that each national security ministry is fully briefed on the overall policy and acts accordingly. If such a system had been in place there should be no further complaints about our defence procurements.

 

The present model gives too high a profile to the NSA, and impinges on the effectiveness of his role.While Kissinger and Brzezinski had high profile roles and were innovators focussing on one policy (Kissinger on China and Brzezenski on Afghanistan), they were not the ideal NSAs for the system. In India, Brajesh Mishra was resented by most Cabinet ministers. Cabinet secretaries are not resented since they play a low profile role. Condeleezza Rice was a prima donna as the Secretary of State and so was Colin Powell. But they played a low profile role as NSAs.

 

For the new NSA , much of the executive role for intelligence will shift out of his hands and so also internal security management, which will shift to the revamped home ministry.But it is necessary to ensure that all intelligence inputs of DNI are routed to the PM through him. The NSA should continue to have his coordinating role in respect of internal security in order to apprise the NSC of the continuing developments in the internal security situation. Our cabinet system functions on the basis that each minister is autonomous in respect of his own jurisdiction.The NSC concept is based on the recognition that on national security, the ministries need to be coordinated and that responsibility vests with NSA. Shedding of various executive responsibilities and assuming an expanded coordinating role will make the NSA more effective and permit the PM to implement his strategic vision better.

 

Civil servants have a preference for hands- on administrative roles.The purpose of NSC is to function as a thinktank for the strategic advancement of the nation. Such visions have to come from the political leadership.The most important challenges currently facing India are the rise of China and the new industrial revolution consequent on climate change on the external front, and terrorism and problems of left-wing extremism, ethnic sessionism and good and effective governance on the internal front. For an NSA or NSC to tackle this, India needs more thinking and planning, and a hands-on administration.

 

The writer is a senior defence analyst.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TO THEIR CREDIT


Six banks reported their results for quarter ended December on Friday. Interestingly, despite the sluggish credit growth in the quarter, net profit of all except one increased year-on-year. This is encouraging as the quarter ended December 2008 saw the worst performance of banks in India, probably a ripple effect of their peers abroad. In this quarter, the show-stopper was IndusInd Bank, which reported a 95% increase in net profit, but State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur, a subsidiary of State Bank of India, reported a decline of 32% in net profit, as compared to the same quarter in December 2008. The four others—HDFC, IDBI, Axis and UCO—reported a 30-40% growth in net profit. Much of the growth in margins came from the reduction in deposit rates, focus on the current account savings account segment and operational efficiency. Net interest margins, the spread between interest earned and interest expanded, of these banks increased sequentially as lending rates did not change, bulk deposit rates remained very low and money market liquidity remained excessive for a large part of the quarter. Thus, banks with a larger component of wholesale deposits benefited from the sharp downward re-pricing of rates. However, treasury performance of the banks remained subdued, compared with the huge profits registered in the first quarter and second quarter of FY10. Asset quality, especially from restructured portfolio was a big concern, but the results of the six banks do not point to any major anomaly as of now.

 

Going ahead, with improving headline macro numbers and companies reporting improving sales figure, credit growth is expected to pick up in the January to March quarter. Analysts say companies will drawdown on sanctions made earlier for both working capital requirements and capital expenditure. Interestingly, credit growth has seen a marginal improvement at 13.7% on January 1, 2010, against a growth of 11.26% on December 18, 2009. Though the improvement in credit offtake could be due to the quarter-end push to manage balance sheets, a strong rise is seen from all sectors led by infrastructure and micro, small and medium enterprises. This is encouraging and indicative of the fact that private investment is gradually picking up. On the other hand, deposit growth, which remained much above credit growth in the quarter ending December, is now showing signs of moderation following an improvement in the capital market conditions and unattractive interest rates. A few weeks of such sustained credit offtake will help it move closer to the central bank's target of 18% credit growth target for FY10, which would mean a stellar January-March quarter for banks.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STAY LOOSE

 

The clamour for RBI to tighten monetary policy is growing. Last week's rise in the wholesale price index to over 7% has reinforced fears of inflation. However, there are still enough reasons for RBI to be cautious about monetary tightening. For one, WPI has consistently been a somewhat flawed indicator of actual inflation. And in any case, food prices, which are pushing inflation up, are finally abating. Of course, RBI will worry about the formation of inflationary expectations in the economy at large. But it must weigh this against the reality of aggregate demand. There is more than one reason to believe that we are nowhere near overheating. Growth has registered impressive numbers but it is still well below the 9% trend in the pre-crisis period. The 7% growth expected for 2009-10 would not have happened without the stimulus, monetary stimulus in particular. No one is suggesting a return to 9% anytime soon, especially not if the stimulus is withdrawn now.

 

More revealing is a disaggregated look. Interestingly, non-oil imports have not registered impressive growth so far. Given that most of our non-oil imports consist of machinery and other raw materials for manufacturing, this is not a sign of industry readying itself for boom. Next, growth in credit offtake is still growing slowly at around 13%, below the targeted level of around 18%. Of course, firms may be borrowing from sources other than banks, but these are usually only the largest firms. Small and medium enterprises rely heavily on bank credit and clearly they are still not borrowing enough despite the apparently low rates. Of course, RBI may look at what central banks elsewhere are doing before it takes its own decision. China has hiked interest rates, mostly out of concern for asset price bubbles. RBI has also expressed concern on asset price bubbles, but perversely a hike in interest rates will lead to a flood of foreign capital inflow, which will inflate stock prices. It will also put upward pressure on the rupee, something that RBI generally frowns upon. So, unlike the Chinese who have a fixed exchange rate, RBI will have to deal with exchange rate movements if interest rates are hiked. All put together, it would seem wise for RBI to refrain from monetary tightening right now. RBI should also remember that compared with other countries, its monetary stimulus was rather cautious and unambitious in the first place. Its withdrawal, therefore, should be much slower than elsewhere.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

A NEW DESIGN FOR GLOBAL FINANCE

SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA


Multiple initiatives are due to be introduced this year to reform the international financial architecture in response to the global financial crisis that has erupted since mid-2007. Till now, statements emanating from governments, regulators and multilateral organisations detailing principles and action plans, though comprehensive, were mostly generic in nature. The current set of legislation wending its way through the US Congress, the Bank of International Settlement, the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the European Commission and other bodies will lay out detailed regulatory frameworks.

 

One of the key messages that seems to have emerged is the need for international coordination in the emerging global financial architecture. But what exactly would this entail? Based on our understanding of the risks that have emerged from the crisis, there are two issues that need greater thought and discussion. These seem to have been indirectly addressed in most official statements and documents like the communiqué from the G-20 meet earlier in 2009 and the Report of the Financial Stability Forum on Enhancing Market and Institutional Resilience.

 

The first is the need for counter-cyclicality in computing regulatory capital for banks. One of the features of the Basel II system is the pro-cyclical aspect of its capital requirements for banks. The problem is as follows. During the downswing of a business cycle, as banks' asset quality deteriorates, banks need to raise more capital at a time when financial markets are less favourable to their being able to do so. Under the Internal Ratings Based approach of Basel II, capital requirements respond to changes in credit default risks [as measured by Probabilities of Default (PD) and Loss Given Default (LGD)]. Capital requirements thus will tend to increase in an economic downturn and fall during the upcycle. This risk sensitivity is enhanced by fair value accounting practices, introduced through International Accounting Standard 39 (IAS39), particularly mark-to-market (MTM) accounting. Although the utility of IAS39 for disclosure and market discipline is undeniable, MTM does reinforce pro-cyclicality. Instead, if capital requirements were raised during the upswing, banks would be better protected during the downturn, ensuring that banks' economic capital does not fall below the requirements of regulatory capital.

 

Various measures to introduce an element of counter-cyclicality need to be considered. The simplest means of addressing this is to get financial institutions to allocate more capital during upswings, based on the usually coterminous asset price inflation. One proposal is to use the regulatory discretion under Pillar 2 of Basel II to encourage banks to provide capital in a 'through-the-cycle' manner. This was done in 2006 and 2007 by RBI, which increased risk weights for assets in certain sectors and increased provisioning requirements for standard assets. These measures, however, are somewhat arbitrary. Greater insights into economic processes will be needed to establish capital rules 'through the cycle', based on analytical models of growth and credit cycles.

 

The second is treatment of systemic risk and stress testing. The mix of Basel II, mark-to-market accounting and IAS39 has many desirable effects. They give each individual bank a much clearer and better-defined picture of its own individual risk position. Banks identify and mitigate risk by stress-testing for adverse market scenarios. The purpose of regulation should, however, also be to contain systemic risks, the possibility of contagion, and the externalities of the system as a whole. One of the lessons of the global financial turmoil is that however effective and robust the risk management systems of individual banks, they are likely to be completely subsumed by extreme systemic volatilities and risk. The systemic problem is that the action of each individual bank impinges on all other banks. It is then inadequate for banks to individually conduct stress tests. In hindsight, all assumptions of correlations and fat-tailed probability distributions that have hitherto been used for stress-testing and calibrating value-at-risk have been shown to be inadequate in estimating the extent of systemic risk. Systemic stress testing becomes more important.

 

Such systemic stress tests are best conducted by regulators and central banks. Coordination between central banks becomes important when systemic risk becomes globalised, being correlated across geographies. Systemic risk mitigation also requires a common view to emerge on desirable leverage for financial institutions and on the role of the (lightly regulated, or often unregulated) shadow banking system that grows through regulatory arbitrage. The problem thus requires international coordination. These generally are more in the domain of central banks and policy authorities of countries rather than individual banks and financial institutions. Uniformity across regulatory jurisdictions appears vital as otherwise more tightly capital-regulated banks would become uncompetitive for investors as their return-on-equity would fall.

 

The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INDUSTRY HAS TO LEAD, NOT FOLLOW

YOGINDER K ALAGH


The distinct turnaround in the manufacturing sector is the road to glory in the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan. The average monthly manufacturing growth rate of 10.4% from July to November is the success of the stimulus and must be sustained. The IIP grew by 9.4% for the six months from June to November. That it comes on the head of almost two decades of low growth must be used to put paid to the facile argument that India can grow only on the basis of services and the commodity producing sectors of agriculture, with industry in the back seat.

 

In fact, it is the manufacturing sector that gives China its edge on Indian growth. That growth took place in the stimulus reaction to a global recession is both a policy success and a lesson. It is true that the base is low but India is one of the few countries in the world where this has happened and that needs a pat on the back.

 

Interestingly, as this column has shown, the recent survey of (09/10) Central government finance shows that public capital formation has gone up after falling drastically in 07/09. The finance minister needs credit for this. The lesson is to sustain it. Government capital formation must be sustained to crowd in private, particularly, corporate investment. This will need restraint on government consumption. Second, the same RBI survey shows that the Central government's loans have not picked up. Most of the PPP arrangements essential to crowd in private investment need attractive long-term loan finance as sweeteners, and this is not happening.

 

There are huge blocks in India on this aspect. To begin with, loan finance is largely from public sector financing agencies; foreign sources are still subject to restrictions. As the Ratan Tata Commission implied, sectoral caps on investment and loan finance can cripple any ambitious investment revival.

 

I remember as power minister convincing the then finance minister that while I understood a public sector bank's prudence requirements in not exceeding a particular sector's exposure in its portfolio, in this case power, even one power project could easily exceed that cap given the thin nature of India's long-term capital markets. The kind of investments in infrastructure, which are a part of the American and Chinese stimulus, will simply not be possible with such restrictions. US long-term capital markets have depth in them even after the meltdown and Chinese public agencies couldn't be following these restrictions. If you control release of local energies, allow foreign exposure without blocks. If you don't do either, infrastructure investment will never go much beyond the present 5% of GDP and the doubling of the ratio would remain on paper.

 

China's edge on India is in infrastructure and not as we fondly believe in tariff protection or hidden pricing strategies. That may be a part of the story for some sectors, but the cost of energy and transport infrastructure that is in most cases half of the Indian levels gives them a decisive competitive edge.

 

We are doing little to support the expansion of Indian firms on a global plane. Public sector firms crow about their trivial foreign exposures. Large Indian corporate firms are still not given any assistance. There is, in fact, little understanding of this phenomenon. A recent Brookings-NBER study pointed out that the ownership structure of Indian industry has not changed much. This is reported to have led to discomfort among some in India. In my research institute, young scholars working on the global exposure of Indian firms are quoted abroad, but rarely at home. Meanwhile, foreign scholars working on Indian firms in their country come to us for collaborative arrangements and we see that they get great exposure in their home country. The Brookings-NBER study, in fact, should be seen as confirmation of the fact that large Indian companies built up their reserves of finance and skills in the earlier epochs and are now straddling the world, since these are convertible in world currencies and commercial playgrounds. This is a source of strength to sustain rather than something to brush under the carpet.

 

Policymaking has to take a call on technology policy and policy for the small-scale sector, particularly financing and market support. The road map has been given by the Krishnamurthy panel and needs quick decisions. Since we have been saying this all along, it must now be done in weeks rather than months. The manufacturing sector can most certainly play a leading and real role in the pursuit of 9% growth.

 

The author is a former Union minister

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INSECURE OVER PORTABILITY

ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA

 

Deadlines are seldom met by governments in India, so it came as no surprise to anyone when the December 31, 2009, deadline for implementing mobile number portability (MNP) in four metros was missed. Anyone tracking the pace with which decisions were being taken knew that this was going to happen. Not surprising again, a new deadline—March 31—has been fixed by the government for implementing MNP across the country. No prizes for guessing whether it will be met or not, because security agencies have once again raised the issue of compromising with national security. Our security agencies always tend to go into overdrive with several foreign investment proposals and technological innovations raising the bogey of national security. As a result, something as elementary as Internet telephony was restricted in India for long and is still not practised in its entirety. The same phobia has come to stall the implementation of MNP this time, thus depriving over 500 million mobile subscribers of a choice that technology provides in most developed nations.

 

The issue is simple: the agencies are concerned that the numbers, which are under surveillance, will be difficult to monitor as the mobile switching centres through which such an exercise is conducted would keep getting changed. The concern might not be unfounded but the issue is that a solution can be found. What it may however involve is working more innovatively and being in sync with changing technology rather than holding on to archaic ones.

 

But our security agencies don't seem to think so. For instance, they often procrastinate over foreign investment proposals of those telecom companies which have operations in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Recently, the Norwegian telecom operator Telenor had to face obstacles as the ministry of home affairs simply refused to grant it permission since the company had operations in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

 

MNP is the one area in Indian telephony which involves no auction, no large sums of money transfer or any other controversy that has plagued the telecom sector in general. It would be sad to see even this simple policy change running into delays because of security concerns.

 

anandita.mankotia@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A GREAT LIFE (1914-2010)

 

Diminutive Jyoti Basu, who outlived most of his contemporaries, was a man of immense political stature, one of India's most illustrious leaders and statesmen of the past century. His charisma was undisputed and at the mass level, he was certainly the best-known face of communism across the land — transcending the regional limitations of the Left's base and influence. Reputed for his integrity and straightforwardness, for his clear-sightedness and work ethic, and for his decisiveness in governance, he was a master of civilised — if, at the core, uncompromising — discourse. He was respected and listened to across the political and ideological spectrum on key policy matters, national and international. Mr. Basu's record as independent India's longest-serving Chief Minister (June 1977-November 2000), who led the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Front to the first five of its seven successive Assembly election triumphs, is unlikely to be bettered for a long time to come. The highlights of his legacy as Chief Minister are land reforms, which benefitted millions of sharecroppers and other peasants and helped consolidate a rural class base that proved quite unbeatable over three decades; the democratisation of panchayati raj institutions; the establishment of the Haldia petro-chemical complex; the creation of an atmosphere of communal harmony and secularism across a large State; and political stability of a new kind. There were significant under-achievements in the fields of education and public health and in terms of industrial development. But Mr. Basu was not one to cover up deficiencies or shortcomings and in the last decade of his life, he spoke candidly about what might have been achieved during his 23 years at the helm — had there been the necessary understanding backed by a concentrated effort.

 

The foundations for Mr. Basu's distinction were laid much before he became one of the country's most important Chief Ministers. An educated and sophisticated man, trained in Britain to be a barrister, he joined the Communist Party when it was illegalised, worked in the trade union movement and in mass organisations, faced state repression, and was schooled in tough struggle before emerging as one of the top leaders of the Communist movement — and after the split, as one of the founding members of the CPI(M)'s nine-member Polit Bureau. A byword for courage and steadfastness, he was also famous for his cool; he brushed off assassination attempts, which brought about no noticeable change in his style of mass politics. Some CPI(M) leaders — most importantly, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, B.T. Ranadive, and M. Basavapunniah — distinguished themselves as exponents and developers of Marxist theory. Some others — most importantly, P. Sundarayya, Promode Dasgupta, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet — contributed specially to party-building and organisational affairs. Mr. Basu's great strength was in another domain — where theory, vision, polemic, and the ideological characteristics and organisational resources of a revolutionary movement encountered the challenge of working with the masses and winning them over. His genius lay in this immensely difficult interface, where many an ideal, many a leader, and many a political ambition has failed to achieve notable success. CPI(M) general-secretary Prakash Karat was certainly not being hyperbolic when, in his tribute, he singled out Mr. Basu for teaching Communists "how to work and serve the people in parliamentary forums in order to bring about changes in public policy" and declared "there will be none like Jyoti Basu again." It is indeed the end of a heroic era and The Hindu shares the nation's grief over this great loss.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MAINTAINING THE MOMENTUM

 

The index of industrial production (IIP) figures released last week point to a continuing growth momentum. During November 2009, the annual IIP growth rate touched 11.7 per cent. The mining and manufacturing sectors grew at 10 per cent and 12.7 per cent respectively. The cumulative growth for the eight months from April to November stands at 7.6 per cent over the previous year. The numbers clearly show that the recovery is broad-based, a point more tellingly corroborated by the performance of specific industries. As many as 14 out of the 17 groups have shown positive growth in November, with "transport equipment and parts" registering a phenomenal 38.3 per cent.

 

These statistics also find support in anecdotal evidence. For instance, in passenger cars and two- and three-wheelers, India has become a significant player, which is reflected in the high growth recorded under 'transport equipment.' The turnaround in exports after a long period of decline should augur well for manufacturing. From a "use-based" standpoint, it is obvious that consumer spending on durables and non-durables is on the rise. With just over a month to go before the union budget, and less than two weeks before the usual review of the monetary policy, attention has turned on a strategy for exiting from the stimulus packages and on the question whether there will be any monetary tightening. The government and the Reserve Bank of India would do well to take the cue from countries that have been cautious about withdrawing the stimulus before the return to a robust growth path is clearly established.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

AL-QAEDA SPREADS ITS TENTACLES IN YEMEN

AFTER AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, YEMEN HAS EMERGED AS A HUB OF THE SPREAD OF GLOBAL JIHAD.

ATUL ANEJA

 

A combination of several factors has bracketed Yemen with the list of countries from where the al-Qaeda brand of terrorism, with its distinct ideology and operational style, is radiating to several parts of the globe.

 

Overnight Yemen became the target of intense media coverage and hotspot of international investigations after the failed attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, to blow up an American airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas day. The youth had apparently spent time with Islamist radicals in Yemen, before embarking on his mission, with explosives sewn in his underwear. The al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group based in Yemen, later claimed responsibility for the failed attack. The AQAP drew attention in January 2009 when its Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches merged into a single powerful unit.

 

Yemen, which grabbed international attention in 2000 with the bombing of the United States Navy ship, Cole, maintained a relatively low profile in subsequent years, despite its President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, joining the so-called war against terror as a U.S. ally following the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the Yemeni government's focus shifted inward during those years, as it battled a fierce Shia insurgency in the north and a separatist movement in the south.

 

However, several forces related to global jihad have been in operation behind the scenes, which coalesced with deadly effect and revealed themselves in bold attacks since 2008. In fact, Abdulmutallab's attempt caps a list of conceptually spectacular, though not always successful, terror attacks by the AQAP.

 

These included a September 2008 strike on the U.S. embassy in Sana'a that killed 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians along with the six attackers.

 

Al-Qaeda's regrouping in Yemen, threatening the neighbouring Gulf countries, the Horn of Africa and the U.S., can be traced to a daring prison break on February 3, 2006. That day 23 suspected al-Qaeda members escaped from a Yemeni prison, probably with the help of prison guards. Only a few were recaptured or killed. Among the escapees was Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who at one time was Osama bin Laden's personal assistant in Afghanistan. Wuhayshi subsequently emerged as a prominent leader and is believed to be the driving force behind the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi Arabian branches of the al-Qaeda. Another escapee who became part of the al-Qaeda's core leadership in Yemen is Qassim al- Raimi, a military commander of the group. The nucleus of the AQAP's leadership expanded when two freed Guantanamo Bay inmates joined the group. One of them was Said Ali al-Shihri, a Saudi Arabian national. In 2001, Shihri visited Afghanistan, where, apparently, he was wounded. The Pakistanis captured him in December that year as he attempted to cross the border. For six years he languished in the U.S. Guantanamo Bay facility before being released in a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation centre in December 2007. However, he disappeared from Saudi Arabia to emerge in Yemen at Wuayshi's side. Also to emerge from Guantanamo was Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaysh. He too was captured by the Pakistanis in 2001 and sent to Guantanamo, only to be released to the Saudi rehabilitation programme and finally to surface in Yemen as the AQAP's spiritual guide.

 

Another bigwig who apparently supports the AQAP but may not necessarily be its member is the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki. He apparently played spiritual mentor to Nidal Hasan, U.S. Army Major who, by all accounts, killed 13 people during a bizarre shooting spree at Fort Hood, a military facility in Texas. The Internet-savvy clerical figure is also suspected to have established links with Abdulmutallab. Awlaki spent 18 months in prison in Yemen over suspected links to a terror plot before his release in December 2007. He then travelled to Britain and is believed to have returned to Yemen the following spring.

 

In Yemen, as in the case of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, the al-Qaeda appears to have infiltrated some prominent tribes whose leaderships take positions that largely define rival political alignments. This became apparent in the case of Awlaki for, he is well protected by Yemen's influential Awlaki tribe, which, in all probability, extends political patronage to the al-Qaeda. It is, therefore, not surprising that the al-Qaeda has been working towards building alliances with major tribes in several provinces, including Marib, which has oil; Hadramawt, the area to which Osama bin Laden's ancestors belonged; Shabwah; and Abyan, which is closer to the the Gulf of Aden.

 

Two other factors appear to have deepened al-Qaeda's influence in Yemen. First, the substantial migration from Somalia, where a significant section of the population has been exposed to the radical Salafi Islamic tradition. More than 1,00,000 Somalis have taken refuge in Yemen, with around 50,000 crossing into the country in 2008 alone. An earlier report in The New York Times said U.S. intelligence agencies had detected an increase in communication among the jihadi groups operating in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen following attacks by U.S. drones on top al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

 

Secondly, Yemeni migrants returning from Saudi Arabia, where they were influenced by jihadi ideology. Extensive poverty, water shortages and political corruption are the other factors that appear persuading people to concur with extremist ideology and behaviour.

 

After the failed Christmas day bombing plot, President Saleh is under extreme international pressure to show results in the offensive on the al-Qaeda. However, that would not by any measure be an easy task.

 

The political circumstances are such that the President is bound to remain distracted. For instance, Mr. Saleh has to pay attention to the northern Sadaa mountains, bordering Saudi Arabia, where the Shia Zaydi community has for years been battling government forces and recently came under attack from the Saudi Arabian Air Force. Neither can Mr. Saleh neglect the Southern Mobility Movement, a secessionist campaign led by the former Vice-President, Ali Salim al-Bid. Recently, the AQAP committed its support to the southern secessionist movement. Consequently, apart from confronting the al-Qaeda, the Yemeni forces are engaged in an unsustainable combat on two separate fronts.

 

The President may be reluctant to launch a straightforward offensive on the al-Qaeda. In the past, Mr. Saleh relied on political Islamists for support, especially during the 1994 civil war. Credible reports also suggest that jihadi groups have taken on the Zaydis in the northern campaign. Besides, Mr. Saleh has to take into account the consequences of a heavy offensive on the al-Qaeda on the loyalty of his troops, some of whom are bound to be jihadi sympathisers.

 

Nevertheless, like the former Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, after 9/11, Mr. Saleh may find himself facing intense external pressure, depriving him of any significant space for manoeuvre. Apart from pressure from the Americans, without whose intelligence inputs and weapon supplies the Yemenis are unlikely to make any headway, the government in Sana'a is susceptible to pressure from Saudi Arabia. It is estimated that last year, Riyadh provided Yemen with a $2-billion aid. By all accounts, the Saudi Arabians are hell-bent on persuading Mr. Saleh's government not to slacken its counter-terror campaign. Riyadh's uncompromising position stems from a failed assassination attempt by the AQAP on its Deputy Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef. Armed with PETN, the same explosive with which Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up the American plane, the assassin came close to killing Prince Nayef, who escaped with minor injuries, during Ramzan observances in August.

 

Because of their unique geographic location — close to international shipping routes and piracy-infested waters — all oil-rich Gulf countries fear the forces of destabilisation emerging from Yemen. Apart from Saudi Arabia, from where Bahrain and Kuwait is accessible, Yemen shares a border with Oman, the gateway to the United Arab Emirates.

 

Consequently, the entire Gulf region is making serious demands on the Yemeni government to rein in the AQAP.

 

Aware of his predicament, Mr. Saleh has already taken steps to put out some of the fires. He ushered in the new year with an offer of reconciliation with the Zaydis, who also go by the name Houthis.

 

Within days of this ceasefire proposal, Mr. Saleh extended an olive branch also to the al-Qaeda with a call for talks. In an interview with Abu Dhabi television, he said: "If al-Qaeda lay down their arms, renounce violence and terrorism and return to wisdom, we are prepared to deal with them."

 

Given the string of complex challenges that Mr. Saleh faces, the stage is set in Yemen for prolonged turbulence.

 

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THE HINDU

PROTECTING HOCKEY HONOUR: MEDIA ROLE EXEMPLARY

 

That timely, sustained, proactive media intervention can do wonders in crisis management has once again been brought to the fore. Both the print and broadcast media played a very positive and commendable role in rescuing Indian hockey from a financial crisis weeks before the hockey World Cup tournament (February 28-March 13, 2010) gets under way in Delhi.

 

The successful resolution of the dispute between Hockey India (HI) and its 20 probable players for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 over the non-payment of cash incentives has lifted the spirit of hockey lovers across the country. While the players claimed about Rs. 450,000 each as arrears due to them, the organisation was not prepared to pay more than Rs. 25,000.

 

Although it was the announcement by World Cup sponsors Sahara India that they would pay Rs. one crore forthwith to help clear the dues that clinched the issue, the outcome was sweetened by liberal offers from several other benefactors, notably the governments of Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, besides corporate bodies such as Bajaj Allianz and Shree Cements, and numerous film personalities. The turnaround owed much to the efforts of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi. But no less significant was the contribution of newspapers and television channels, which did effective ground work through their powerful editorials, articles, debates, and interviews. Donor contributions are set to total several crores of rupees. This has encouraged the players to promise their best to win the World Cup and enabled the optimists among hockey lovers to look far beyond and dream of a return to the past. Calling upon the players to resume their training, Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill proclaimed that it was his objective to "lift Indian Hockey to the glorious level it has had in the past."

 

EVOLUTION OF THE GAME

Indian hockey has a long history behind it. Hockey or field hockey, as it is known in its modern form, evolved in the British Isles in the 19th Century. It was a popular school game in England. Hockey was taken to the colonised countries by the British army. The Indian hockey team was the first non-European team to become a member of the International Hockey Federation. It won its first Olympic gold in 1928 and remained unbeaten for more than three decades. Between 1928 and 1956, India won six gold medals in a row. Its total Olympic score up to now is eight gold, one silver, and two bronze medals.

 

Hockey used to be so popular that it was declared India's National Game. About 35 national tournaments were being held in different parts of the country and millions of people watched them. Many of these tournaments have disappeared from the scene now. The Partition of the country badly affected the game, with a significant number of hockey-playing people going to Pakistan. The game began losing patronage and support in the 1970s.

 

In fact, hockey began yielding its popularity to cricket much before the 1970s. Lack of government support, inadequate infrastructure, politics in the selection of players for international tournaments, and corruption and lethargy have all been cited as reasons for the game losing its lustre over the decades. The commercialisation of the game and a decline in media coverage over the long term have also been seen as possible reasons for the erosion in the game's popularity. The Premier Hockey League, launched in 2005 by the Indian Hockey Federation with exemplary support from ESPN-Star Sports, is an attempt to revive public interest and restore the game to its past glory. The League's performance over the past half-decade is generally regarded as encouraging. The hope is that the newfound enthusiasm among players and the uplifting response from hockey fans and their solidarity with the players who fought for their rights will enlarge the popularity of hockey.

 

GREAT DEAL OF WORK AHEAD

A point for the media. Their role in spotlighting the recent hockey crisis and stepping up the pressure to resolve it in a fair and decent way has indeed been exemplary. But this role must be effectively sustained after the immediate crisis has been resolved. Sports journalists and various others in the media have a great deal of work ahead of them if they are to make a real difference to the health and future of India's National Game.

 

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THE HINDU

BASU'S ENDURING LEGACY

M.S. SWAMINATHAN

 

I first met Jyoti Basu in the mid-1970s, before he became Chief Minister of West Bengal, to discuss my plans for the integrated development of the Sunderbans, with possible support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and for increasing wheat production in West Bengal during the boro season. What impressed me the most in his approach was his advice that the people of Sunderbans should be fully involved both in the development of the plan and its implementation. No wonder on becoming the Chief Minister, he gave the highest priority to land reform and Panchayati Raj system of grassroot governance leading to the achievement of Gram Swaraj, a goal which was also very dear to Mahatma Gandhi. The involvement of ordinary people in the governance system is one of his lasting contributions.

 

Jyoti Basu identified that the pathway to poverty eradication was asset-building, since the poor are poor because they have no assets such as land, livestock and a non-farm job. He addressed the fundamental issue of asset creation through land reform.

 

Even now, his basic approach to poverty eradication through asset reform and community development is the most meaningful pathway to ensuring adequate social protection. India's future has to be built on the foundation of social protection of the economically and socially handicapped sections. This is Jyoti Basu's enduring legacy.

 

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THE HINDU


ASTONISHING MEMORY

MADANJEET SINGH

 

I had the honour of first meeting Jyoti Basu in Calcutta on the eve of Partition. I had gone to the city to attend a conference of the International Student Federation. I was a student of Government College, Lahore, as I had been expelled from Uttar Pradesh on my release from the Mirzapur jail during the Quit India movement.

 

I met him again over half-a-century later — on December 22, 2004, when a political crisis was brewing due to the differences between the Congress and the CPI (M). I was afraid that should the CPI (M) withdraw its support, the secular, UPA government at the Centre would fall and the communal forces would gain in strength.

 

The 90-year-old Communist leader received us cordially at his Kolkata home. His biographer, Surabhi Banerjee, Vice-Chancellor of the Netaji Subhas Open University, and France Marquet, a South Asia Foundation trustee, accompanied me. I was astonished by Jyoti Basu's extraordinary memory when he recalled my meeting with him in 1947. He was keenly interested in the two Peace Campaign exhibitions I had organised at the Government College and the Lahore Museum then. He admired the illustrations of paintings and photographs in my UNESCO book, The Sasia Story. I told him that 'sasia' (South-Asia) was the name I had coined for a common currency, like the Euro, and as in Europe it might well become the anchor of economic stability and regional cooperation in South Asia. Then I broached the subject of the CPI(M)'s support to the Congress-led government at the Centre. The Left parties should not commit another "historic blunder," I said. Jyoti Basu paused and said: "We depend on the Congress as much as the Congress depends on us," adding: "We have been telling them that the unravelling of the UPA will inevitably bring the BJP to power, not us — the Third Front."

 

Surabhi had already cautioned us that Jyotiji received visitors for no more than 10 minutes. And as we had already spent about half-an-hour with him, I stood up to leave. He led us to a corner of the room where he unveiled a life-size statue of his, made by a young village artist. As he stood beside the sculpture, France commented that it was as good as the wax sculptures at Madame Tussauds, London. "That's right," he said with a sense of pride and added with a twinkle in his eye: "Bengalis are born artists."

 

(UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh is the founder of South Asia Foundation.)

 

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THE HINDU

THE LEFT FRONT HAS PROVIDED AN ALTERNATIVE MODEL OF GOVERNMENT: JYOTI BASU

PARVATHI MENON

 

"We adopted an economic policy in which we interacted with industrialists. We told them that it is because of the workers they are making profits."

 

Excerpts from an interview with Jyoti Basu that appeared in Frontline in December 2005 (December 03-16)

Jyoti Basu, at 93, is active and engaged with the commitments that have ruled his life — Left politics and the concerns of West Bengal whose government he has headed for more than 25 years. Although he insists that he has retired from active politics, he continues to be a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he visits the party office on Alimuddin Street in Kolkata twice a week, he addresses meetings, and continues to meet comrades, friends and colleagues. Parvathi Menon met him for an extended interview over two days in his home in Kolkata. On both occasions he was in a relaxed mood, full of humour and good cheer.

 

Your political life has spanned eight decades of momentous change. Could you begin by telling our readers something about your early political influences?

Although mine was a non-political family, I remember three events from the freedom movement that affected me and got me interested in politics. When I was sitting for the senior Cambridge examination in St. Xavier's School in Calcutta (as Kolkata was then called) in the 1930s, Gandhiji went on a fast. He called for a popular movement, and reading the papers I felt very bad. That day I told my father, who used to drop me at school every day, I did not feel like going to school. He understood without my telling him the reason. The second event was when Subhas Chandra Bose was to address a meeting in the Calcutta Maidan. A cousin and I wore khadi clothes and went for the meeting. It did not take place. Thousands of people were gathered when a lathicharge began. Subhas Bose was arrested. We thought that since we were wearing khadi we should not run away. So we walked away and got a baton charge from an Anglo Indian sergeant. The third event that influenced me was the Chittagong Armoury raid, which took place in 1930. For one or two days Chittagong was in the hands of those who were fighting for freedom with arms. They then had to retreat and fight from the hills. At that time I had a tiff with my Anglo-Indian and British friends who were studying in St. Xavier's, because the Jesuit fathers had circulated a leaflet condemning the incident in Chittagong. I was supporting the rebels. I did not realise at the time how much these events affected me.

 

Could you describe your stay in England in the 1930s as a law student — the flavour of the times and the people and events that influenced you?

I went to London in 1935, after passing my degree with honours from Presidency College. Those were stirring times of great upheaval. I got interested in politics and in the freedom movement in our country. Students in Oxford, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics were discussing all this. Communist leaders in India — Muzaffar Ahmad in particular — were in touch with the Communist Party of Great Britain, the CPGB. Later on I heard that he sent the party a message asking the CPGB not to mix with "our boys", those who wanted to come back and work for the Communist Party in India as wholetimers, because they would then be kept under police watch. Before us, people like Hiren Mukherji and Sajjad Zaheer had decided to come back and work for the party.

 

We formed the All Great Britain Indian Students Federation, and the London Majlis, of which I was elected general secretary. Our job was to hold meetings, and when people like Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhulabhai Desai, Vijaylakshmi Pandit and other leaders went to London, we held receptions in their honour. There was Krishna Menon of the India League, which we joined and became very active in.

The CPGB was small but really supported our independence. The party organised classes for us. During holidays, if we did not go abroad, students from Oxford, Cambridge and other universities used to meet. Harold Laski was there, a fine orator and speaker. So was Palme Dutt and his brother Clemens Dutt. Palme Dutt was well-informed on developments in India, and was in charge of India reporting for the Third International. It was through him that we knew what was happening there.

 

All these events influenced me.

 

You were on the frontlines of the action during those eventful years of the 1940s that saw the final push for independence. Would you describe those years and the role played by the Left in the winning of Independence, especially in Bengal?

I returned to Calcutta on January 1, 1940 and became a member of the party two days later. The Second World War had started in 1939. I had finished the first part of my law degree. I wrote the second part in December, and returned without waiting for my results. In Calcutta I heard that I had got through.

 

Our party wanted to use me to keep contact with the underground party. I used to do all kinds of work — based on the platform of the Students Federation, I used to speak at meetings, go to different places to keep contacts, and so on.

 

Our party knew that the Congress was leading the freedom movement everywhere, including Bengal. And so some of our top leaders — not me of course, but Muzaffar Ahmad and others — were also members of the Congress. Our party used to work amongst the peasants and the workers mostly.

 

When the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany in 1941, we had a lot of discussion in the party and came to the conclusion, like the CPGB, that the imperialist war had become a People's War and we would support the Allied war effort. Our poet, Rabindranath Tagore, was alive then, and he was very upset at the attack on the Soviet Union. He had been to the Soviet Union and had been welcomed there. He was almost on his death-bed, but he said that the Soviets must never lose, as without them civilisation in the world was threatened. With his support and blessings we formed the Friends of the Soviet Union of which I was the general secretary. That platform helped us.

 

The British released many of us from jail because at that time we did not support the 1942 Quit India movement. We said that fascism must be defeated and we would not engage in actions that would adversely affect the war effort. Nehru and others said that they too were anti-fascist, but without freedom they could not fight fascism. The Quit India call was given by Gandhi. Our party could fortunately work legally for three or four years.

 

Because we did not support the 1942 movement, we got completely isolated from the people. But in 1943, the Great Bengal Famine came, and with our little organisation (when I joined, the party had only 5,000 members), we worked for the famine-stricken people in the villages and towns. Thirty lakhs died because of famine. Although our work made us popular and our strength increased, we continued to be isolated politically.

 

In 1944, my party asked me to do trade union work. I first worked for the port and dock union. I then started building a railway union in the Bengal Assam Railway. We built a powerful union, the B.N. Railway Workers Union. In 1946, I got elected from the Railway Constituency to the government formed by the Muslim League under Suhrawardy.

 

The riots of 1946, the likes of which we had never seen, broke out. August 16, 1946 was Direct Action Day. In seven or eight days thousands of people — men, women and children — had been killed. I have never seen anything like that. When Suhrawardy thought it was getting out of hand, he wanted to organise a peace committee. The Communists were in the forefront of the campaign for peace.

 

Then came 1947, and Independence. We had our second party congress and B.T. Ranadive became general secretary after P.C. Joshi. Mohan Kumaramangalam was also with us and spoke at the meeting. I was against the resolution passed on the political situation, which I thought was ultra-left.

 

The Left played a very decisive role in the freedom movement. In 1946, the naval ratings in Bombay went on strike. The British Admiral said that unless the ratings joined duty within 24 hours he would bomb rebel ships from above. We had a political strike for 24 hours in the railways during this time.

 

What has been the impact of land reform on the lives of the peasantry?

The peasants had been demanding two-thirds of the share of the produce. So a very big movement took place in which we played a major role. Soon after the panchayats were formed, we could not find the land documents. The landlords (jotedars) had distributed land in various names, even to their cats and dogs! The Kisan Sabha helped us in this big struggle for land distribution. They said that if land documents could not be found, it did not matter, as they knew which land belonged to whom. By 1978, we had distributed surplus land and enforced the rule of two-thirds of the share. This was Operation Barga. It was a great success.

 

With the improvement in agricultural production, thanks to land reform and the panchayats, peasants have been getting two and three crops on their land. On single-crop land a peasant family found it difficult to manage, and the members had to find other work to supplement the family's income. This has brought a fundamental change in their situation. We were also helped by mass organisations, because we had been saying that the party alone cannot do everything, they cannot bring about change without mass organisations that we must be in contact with. So we have the biggest mass organisation of workers, peasants, middle class organisations, students and teachers.

 

How do you think the successes in agriculture and industry can be taken forward by the Left Front government?

Well, we are the first amongst the States in agricultural production, social forestry and fisheries. After Uttar Pradesh we have the highest potato production. In industrial development, most of the governments in Delhi discriminated against us. For 40 years there was freight equalisation of steel, iron and coal, the raw material for building factories. This means that States 2,000 miles away pay the same rate for iron and steel as West Bengal.

This is all right for five to ten years as other States too need industrialisation. But later on, because of our pressure the Central government did away with that. The Planning Commission concentrated on a few States for industrial development, like Karnataka, Maharasthra and Tamil Nadu, and did not look at States like West Bengal and the small States in the north-eastern region. Industrialists who wanted to set up industry in Bengal were discouraged by the Central government. They were told that the agreement would be signed only if the industry was to be located in a State other than Bengal. So that kind of thing happened for years together.

 

We adopted an economic policy in which we interacted with industrialists. We told them that it is because of the workers they are making profits. We told them not to look down on the workers, but to discuss production and the objectives of production with them. We also told workers not to give up their right to strike, but to keep that as the last option. They could discuss their problems with the management, and if that failed, the government and the Labour Minister would hear their case. So in many cases strikes were averted because the government worked out tripartite agreements. Now more investments are coming and are likely to come. Our Ministers are going abroad seeking investments.

 

Our 1994 policy on foreign capital, which we placed before the Assembly, states that if it is in our interest, we do not mind foreign capital investment. Since this is a capitalist system, the private sector has a big role to play.

What is your policy on disinvestment in West Bengal?

We have said that profitable industries should not be disinvested. We have our State sector undertakings. There are some sick industries, abandoned by the owners. Unfortunately, we had to take them over and pay the workers, and try to revive some of them. So we have not given up all the sick industries of which I think there are about 80. Our Industries Minister is trying to see how they can be revived. If they cannot be revived, we are going to sell them if we find buyers.

 

We are sure that if we come back to power again, in the next five years, we will be the leading State in industrialisation in India.

 

Would you say that the Left Front has provided an alternative model of government for India?

The Left Front government has provided an alternative model of government. We don't hide anything from the people. We tell them why we have been able to implement only part of our programme.

 

What do you see as the reasons for the relatively slow growth of the Communist movement outside of the three States of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura?

West Bengal is not India. We have three governments in the country. We lost the last elections in Kerala, but I think this time we are going to win. Tripura is a very small State of just 33 lakh people in which lots of refugees have come and the tribals have become a minority. To keep them together is a great achievement. However, in our last party congress we said that to expand we cannot depend only on these three States.

 

We first thought — at least I thought — that the experience of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura would result in the automatic expansion of the party in other States. People would be enthused by the experience of these States. But unfortunately that has not happened. So now the new Polit Bureau is chalking out a programme of where we are weak, and how we must expand.

 

The expansion of the party and of the mass organisations are both needed.

 

What explains the near total absence of women in the leadership of the Left movement, both during the freedom struggle and now? Has this historical weakness impeded the growth of the Communist movement?

Yes, that is our negative feature. We did not pay attention to that. This time in the party congress we have taken note of the importance of women not only in the panchayats but in the party leadership, and in the mass organisation leadership. In fact, our experience about their work in the panchayats is very good. They are very sincere about their work. They work at home, look after the children and then go to the office. So we should take advantage of that and see that the Women's Reservation Bill that the BJP had stalled is passed in the winter session of Parliament.

 

So you think this weakness is now being overcome.

Yes, I think so, as women are coming more and more into the mass organisations and the leadership of the party.

 

Has the communist movement in India failed to address effectively the issues of caste and caste-based oppression?

We have not paid sufficient attention to caste. Most of the working people are not organised in trade unions, not even in West Bengal. The party and trade unions together can bring about changes in the political situation and in the hold of caste. There is still untouchability in Tamil Nadu, and we have not looked into that. We are trying to correct all this. Let us see what happens in the next three years.

 

Now that you have retired from active politics are you able to do things that you did not have time for earlier? Like bringing your memoirs up to date, for example?

At this age and with my health, I cannot do much work. What I used to do earlier I cannot do now. That is why I asked the party to relieve me of all duties, but they refused. They asked me to stay on.

 

So, man is born, he grows old, he dies. I am happy about West Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura, and I hope that we shall implement the programme our party has taken up for the next three years.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

END OF AN ERA

 

The passing away of Jyoti Basu at 95 in a hospital in Kolkata is not just an end of a long and illustrious life — it is truly an end of an era. Basu, who was born in 1914, was not only a towering figure of the Communist movement but became over the years an elder statesman of Indian political life. He was chief minister of West Bengal from 1977 to 2000 which makes him India's longest serving chief minister. He stepped down in 2000 but remained a doyen of the party.

 

Basu came from a well-to-do background — so common to many of India's first Communists — and went to London to study law. While there, he also attended Harold Laski's lectures at the London School of Economics, a step towards the Left for several idealistic young students. It was in London that Basu showed interest in the Communist Party of Great Britain. Back in India, he became a member of the Communist Party of India.

 

Although he was chief minister of Bengal for 23 years, it is a chequered record he leaves behind him. His involvement with the trade union movement and the exodus of big industries from Bengal during the early part of his tenure is today seen as a major drawback for the development of the state. Yet, in his later years, various attempts were made to try and put Bengal back on the development track, an effort which shows mixed success to this day.

 

Basu is likely to be remembered in the rest of the country as a greater statesman than he will be by some detractors in his home state, inevitable in such a long political career. His sagacious and timely advice during India's political and coalition crises in the late 1990s earned him great respect. He also was a popular political choice to become prime minister, which was stymied by the all-powerful CPM politburo.

 

Later, Basu was instrumental in ensuring that the Left became part of the first United Progressive Alliance government in 2004 and did not approve of the withdrawal of support over the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008. Basu's pragmatic yet wise counsel also steered his own party through the dramatic changes that the Communist ideal saw in the last century. With his death, India has lost a significant connection to an earlier idea of politics, where principles mattered more than the pelf of power and where the concept of "greater good" still had more currency than mere expediency.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

PUNISH TERRORISTS

 

Two of the suspected terrorists — David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, both 49 — behind the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attack and on a Danish newspaper for publishing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad — have been indicted by a Chicago federal jury on Thursday. Sentencing is awaited.

 

Coleman and Hussain are of Pakistani origin and they have been arrested in October, 2009. It took less than three months to complete the case. There are two other Pakistanis as well, Ilyas Kashmiri, a Lashkar-e-Taiba activist and Abdur Rehman, a former Pakistan army officer, who have been indicted as well. They are still absconding.

 

There are some salutary lessons to be drawn from this quick disposal of this terror case by an American court. One of them is this: When you get hold of terror suspects, the matter should be dealt with promptitude. While the trial of Kasab, the arrested terror suspect involved in the November. 2008 attack is yet to be concluded in Mumbai, Headley and Rana, who were not directly involved in it, have been brought to book.

 

The terror acts for which they have been charged have been committed outside the territory of the United States — one in Denmark and the other in India. While six Americans were killed in the Mumbai attack, there were no American casualties in Denmark. What the Americans seem to have felt is the need to pursue and convict American residents and citizens involved in terrorism in other parts of the world.

 

India and Pakistan both need to take note here. The courts in the two countries should hold guilty all those citizens involved in terror acts, whether they are living in their respective countries or not. It will send out the firm and clear message that terrorists cannot get away.

 

It follows that Pakistan should pursue the case against Ajmal Kasab and his collaborators irrespective of what happens to Kasab in the Mumbai special court. Similarly, if Indian investigation agencies feel that they have a case against Dawood Ibrahim and other terrorists including Masood Azhar (the man who secured his release in the Kandahar hijack episode in 1999), they should pursue the cases and secure indictments.

 

This does not necessarily require an agreement or a memorandum of understanding between the two governments and a political initiative among leaders in the two countries. It is a matter of jurisprudence and could in fact be a positive precedent and build trust between the two countries.

 

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DNA

FINE BALANCE FOR A SEPARATE STATE OF TELANGANA

NILOTPAL BASU

 

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

 

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

 

The contention of this column is not to go into the detailed history of the evolution of the demand for a separate state of Telangana. Nor is it intended to go into the specifics of the conflicting arguments which inform the regional platforms of separate Telangana or united Andhra Pradesh. It is rather more important to identify the fault lines which got emphasised and led to the intensification of conflicting emotions.

 

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

 

The integration of India by reorganising hundreds of princely states that co-existed with large presidencies and provinces under direct British colonial rule was a complex task.It was the aspiration of the people to have a state reorganisation on a linguistic basis.Movements for Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra were massive agitations thatled to the formation of state reorganisation commission under the chairmanship of Fazal Ali.

 

The report of the commission in 1955 led to the formation of united Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In a way this was also recognition of a major thread which ran through our freedom struggle; that Indian society is composite and diverse, and therefore, rebutted the vision that was advocated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that statehood in India should be determined by administrative expediency alone.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The abrupt announcement in the midnight of December 9, 2009 by the Union home minister with obvious lack of adequate consultation — although Parliament was in session and which was pointed out by the chief minister himself — only precipitated the situation. Though belated, it is positive that the Union government has now started consultations.

 

In the consultations itself we have seen how parties have come to be divided right down the middle on regional lines. It has been accentuated by the unimaginative handling of the issue. That all the eight major parties which were part of the initial process of consultation issued a common appeal to the people to remain peaceful and restore normalcy in the state was a good starting point.

 

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

 

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DNA

POLITICIANS AND OFFICIALS STAY OUT OF SPORTS

ANIL DHARKER

 

First cricket, then hockey, now shooting. Our sports bodies have been in the news one after another. And all for the wrong reasons. The Delhi Cricket Association was shown up for its complete ineptitude when the Sri Lanka One Day international was abandoned because of a terrible pitch.

 

Hockey, was for once on the front page instead of cricket, but only because the whole Indian team (supported by the B team) went on strike. And now Abhinav Bindra, our only individual Olympic gold medalist ever, wants to quit because of the attitude of the National Rifle Association of India. This reconfirms an old truth: the trouble with Indian sports is not its sportsmen, it's the administrators.

 

Until now, cricket seemed to be the only exception to the rule. But that was only on the surface; anyone familiar with the working of the game knew that it was only the dazzle of money which blinded people to the rotten state of the game. Until now, the Indian Cricket Board made money, lots of it, and shared a tiny portion of it only with its star players. Only recently have players at a slightly lower level, the Ranji Trophy, begun to get fair reward for slogging it out on a cricket ground for hours and hours over years and years.

 

But the game of cricket, or for that matter any game, isn't just about the players who make a mark on the game. There are many other constituents which are equally important, but because they are largely in the background, they are neglected.

 

Take the amount of money spent on training in the richest sport in the country. We now have a few good cricket academies, but it took a sponsor (MRF), to support the first one, which resulted in India producing a steady stream of pace bowlers. It wasn't the Cricket Board which put in the money. Even now a miniscule amount is spent on the game's development, and it's basic commonsense that the more money you spend at the grass-roots, the better it will be for the game.

 

Speaking of grass-roots, whose responsibility is it to produce pitches which will help India raise its game so that it becomes the world number one not just in the revenues it raises, but in all forms of the game?

 

The other sports are worse off because they are much poorer. Yes you have people like the 'Loin of Punjab' KPS Gill, unwilling to give up the reins of office because they get a chance to live out childhood fantasies of taking part in the game as well as adult fantasies of wielding power over people who have more talent in their little finger than they will have all over their paunchy frame.

 

Is there a solution? There doesn't seem to be an easy one. If cricket ceded any ground to cricketers, it was only because sterling cricketers like Bishan Singh Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar had the guts to take on the administration, much like the present hockey team has done. But that's hardly a lasting solution. Prakash Padukone had started a parallel badminton body, but realised that sportsmen don't have the stomach to be sports administrators. Who can blame him?

 

The people who have the stomach for it are politicians like Gill and Jaitley and Sharad Pawar who heads our cricket board (while his own Agricultural ministry plumbs the depths). But what worked against the terrorists of Punjab doesn't necessarily work for the hockey players of India, and the gift of the gab and his lawyer's acumen might work for Jaitley in Parliament and the courts, but is it of any use in producing 22 yards of good turf?

 

Isn't it time to think long term? We have professional courses in marketing and in media. We have specialised training for hospital administrators too. Why not think of courses in sports administration where the first criterion for selection will be a love of the game and the second managerial-cum-entrepreneurial ability?

 

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DNA

 

MAGIC AND MIRACLES

 

We live among magic and miracles every day, and we all have the power to create them. If it has been awhile since you thought about magic and miracles, or if you have given up believing in them, take heart. They are not gone, we have just temporarily lost track of them. And since magic and miracles bring joy and hope and a sense of excitement to our lives, we owe it to ourselves to start recapturing them.

 

Part of what has separated us from our magic and miracles is merely a process human nature — when we see things too often, we forget how special they are. If a unicorn appeared in the yard one morning in the early light, we would feel blessed. If a herd of unicorns appeared in the yard every morning like clockwork, we would probably call Animal Control to retrieve them so they would not damage the lawn.

 

To witness live footage of The Parting of the Red Sea once would undoubtedly leave us speechless with awe. After two or three weeks in a row of the same thing, I can almost hear us yawning and reaching for our remote controls to see what else is on. So it is not that magic and miracles have disappeared from our lives. They have not. We are surrounded by them. We just need to reconnect with them and stop taking them for granted.

 

We also get blocked from life's magic and miracles by the destructive emotion of guilt. If you have said or done something you knew going in would hurt someone, step up, take responsibility, apologize, and make an active effort to undo it. If you have said or done something that hurt someone and you can honestly say that was not your intention, apologize and then let it go!

 

And do not say it is not that simple — it is if you are willing to stop embracing guilt as if it plays some positive role in your life and recognise it as the waste of energy and the enemy of the spirit it is.
Excerpted from The Other Side and Back by Sylvia Browne

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

JYOTI BASU: A TALL LEADER

VICTIM OF A 'HISTORIC' BLUNDER

 

THE death of Jyoti Basu marks the end of an era. Arguably the oldest communist leader of the world and one who served the longest as chief minister of a state in India, Basu's demise is also a big blow to the CPM before it gears up for its most crucial Assembly election in West Bengal next year. Basu had been the Chief Minister of the state for a record 23 years and five months and even after he stepped down in November 2000 because of poor health, he continued to remain fairly active and was a respected voice of the Left. After the debacle suffered by the CPM in the Lok Sabha election last year, he bluntly told his partymen to correct mistakes and reach out to the people. Even at the ripe old age of 95 he continued to attend party meetings and guide the CPM. A disciplined communist till the very end, he did not hold the party to ransom when the CPM refused him permission to accept the offer of the United Front to become the Prime Minister in 1996. But not one to mince his words, he made no secret that he thought the decision was a historic blunder.

 

Born in an upper middle class family, Jyoti Basu allowed himself to be initiated into communism while studying in London. He trained to become a barrister but chose to plunge into politics on his return to India, becoming an MLA in the year 1946. The son of a successful doctor, he twice occupied the chair of the deputy chief minister in 1967 and 1969 before becoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 1977. He was a charismatic figure in West Bengal, a mass leader and legions of his admirers swore by his political, oratorial and administrative skills. A man of few words, he, however, often came across as somewhat haughty and aloof and came to be known and feared for his acerbic tongue. His critics, and there were many, however, accused him of doing little or nothing for West Bengal in decades while at the helm. While the state's first Chief Minister Dr B C Roy was credited with industrialising the state, Basu was blamed for not doing much to take the state forward and also not doing enough to curb bullying and corruption by his partymen.

 

While Pramode Dasgupta and Harekrishna Konar are rightly credited with implementing land reforms in the state after 1977, Basu too shares the credit for steering the administration and for implementing the radical measures without much violence or bloodshed in the early days at Writers' Building. A pragmatic and flexible communist, he also helped modify the CPM's rigid opposition to foreign capital. He will be remembered among the tallest leaders of a communist party functioning in a democratic country.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MURDER MOST FOUL

STATES MUST PROTECT WHISTLEBLOWERS

 

THE manner in which Satish Shetty, a 39-year-old right to information activist, was murdered in Pune for his campaign against Maharashtra's land mafia needs to be condemned. He shot to national fame for his fight against certain corrupt land deals in the Mumbai-Pune expressway over a decade ago. Of late, he had been exposing land-grabbing by the powerful and the influential in the picturesque Talegaon-Lonavala belt, a hot tourist destination. As this region has become a favourite of realtors in the state, Shetty earned the mafia's wrath. The police did little to protect him though he had complained about threats to his life from the mafia which has a lot of political clout. Shetty's brutal killing is not an isolated incident. It is because of the authorities' failure to protect the whistleblowers that the country has lost Bihar PWD engineer Yogendra Pandey in Patna (2009), IIM alumni and Indian Oil Corporation manager Manjunath Shanmugam in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh (2005), social activists Sarita and Mahesh in Shabdo, Bihar (2004) and IIT engineer Satyendra Dubey in Gaya (2003).

 

The Bombay High Court has rightly taken suo motu cognisance of Satish Shetty's murder and directed the state government and the Director-General of Police to file an affidavit within a week on the measures taken to investigate his murder. A Division Bench consisting of Justice F.I. Rebello and Justice J.H. Bhutia has ruled that it "will not let public-spirited people who approach the high court to espouse public causes to suffer like this." Indeed, the situation in Maharashtra is grave because Home Minister R.R. Patil has himself admitted that the land mafia is "back in action".

 

Five persons have been detained in connection with Shetty's murder but there is need for a thorough probe so that the guilty can be nabbed and punished. Unfortunately, the police track record in protecting the RTI activists is very poor. The killers of Navleen Kumar who exposed Thane's land mafia are yet to be nabbed. Despite identification, H.S. D'lima's attackers in Mumbai are still roaming free. Anandini Thakoor and Navin Pandya were attacked last year, but the police is yet to take action on the FIR. What happened to Chief Minister Ashok Chavan's proposal for a special cell to probe attacks on whistleblowers?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CRIMES OF HEADLEY, RANA

PUNISH THE OTHERS ALSO FOR PLOTTING 26/11

 

WHILE indicting Pakistani-origin US citizen David Coleman Headley (previously called Dawood Gilani) and the Canadian national Tahawwur Hussain Rana for their role in 26/11, the US federal grand jury has provided graphic details about their activities. The court has established not only their deep involvement in the Lashkar-e-Toiba-planned terrorist strike in Mumbai but also the fact that it was executed by Pakistani nationals with their training camps on the other side of the Indo-Pak divide. Headley and Rana had their bases in Chicago as well as in Pakistani towns. Rana's First World Immigration Services, which opened an office in Mumbai for massacring 166 innocent persons, must have been getting assistance from the ISI. The LeT could not have succeeded in accomplishing the heinous programme without the ISI's help. The US jury has not named the ISI, but the Pakistani external intelligence agency must have been involved in what happened in Mumbai because of its close links with the LeT.

 

Much of what the US court has recorded had been reported soon after the arrest of Headley and Rana in October 2009 in Chicago. US intelligence agencies knew of their activities before 26/11 as Headley was found to be working for both the LeT and US agencies. Had the full details been shared with India, the tragedy could have been averted. Unfortunately, the US also did not allow Indian officials to interrogate Headley and Rana. This is not how terrorism can be eliminated. International cooperation is a must in successfully fighting the menace, particularly when Al-Qaida and its associates like the LeT have spread their tentacles in many corners of the world besides the Af-Pak region.

 

At least now the US should put pressure on Pakistan to bring to justice all the culprits involved in 26/11. There must be many more people besides Illiyas Kashmiri and retired major Abdur Rehman, whose names have been given as handlers of the terrorists who caused the mayhem in Mumbai. Pakistan must be made to act according to the details given in the dossiers supplied by India. Punishing only Headley, Rana, Illiyas Kashmiri and Rehman will not be enough.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

COURT VS COURT

THE SUPREME COURT NEEDS WHOLESOME ADVICE

BY K.N. BHAT

 

TWO byproducts of the recent judgment of the Delhi High Court on the Right to Information Act deserve to be preserved in the pages of history; the first is the hard proof of existence of judges in the high courts who combine character, competence and courage — thanks to the four learned judges of the Delhi High Court. They have, without fear, shown by example what ought to be the position of a high court in India as envisaged by our Constitution. The second corollary is the dubious distinction of the highest court in the land emerging as a plaintiff before a forum that is, for all practical purposes, subordinate to it.

 

When it comes to dealing with legal problems, even the Supreme Court needs wholesome advice — not just branded ones. If the Supreme Court loses, we the people of India suffer loss of face — hence the need for high content of wisdom in the advice.

 

Technically, the opinion that the CIC's decision was open to judicial review before a high court is correct, but to advise the Supreme Court to be a plaintiff before a lower forum appears odd because the highest court is driven to a no-win situation. If the high court (the single judge as well as the Bench) were to accept the contention of petitioner Supreme Court — surely that must have been the expectation of the petitioner/appellant — the whole exercise would have been termed as a drama with dialogues scripted in advance. Now that the case has been lost, things are becoming "curiouser" and "curiouser". The apex court may file an appeal before itself. If these facts were available to Lewis Carroll, the cunning old Fury would have gone beyond "I 'll be the judge — I 'll be the jury" — by inserting a line that "whenever I be the plaintiff".

 

A reference to some background facts is necessary to appreciate whether this litigation was unavoidable. A citizen petitioned the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) attached to the Supreme Court for information on any declaration of assets filed by the hon'ble judges of the Supreme Court and further whether the High Court judges were submitting declarations about their assets to respective Chief Justices in the states.

 

The CPIO in November 2007 advised the applicant citizen that the information sought for was not under the control of the registry of the court. On appeal, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) directed the CPIO to take recourse to S.6(3) of the RTI Act which expects the CPIO in such a situation to transfer the request to the other "public authority" to furnish the information — in this case "the other public authority" could only be the Chief Justice of India. The CPIO thought it fit to remain silent.

 

In the appeal before the CIC the CPIO took several defences, including this that the the information sought related to a subject matter which was "an in-house exercise" and pertained to material held by the CJI in his personal capacity. It was also submitted that the declarations made by the judges of the Supreme Court had been made over by them to the CJI on a voluntary basis in terms of the 1997 resolution in a "fiduciary relationship".

 

The Chief Information Commissioner by his order dated 6-1-2009 rejected the contentions and held that the Supreme Court was a "public authority". The CIC directed the Supreme Court to provide the information asked for — whether the declaration of assets has been filed by the judges of the Supreme Court or not.

 

Was this a grave enough intrusion into the independence of the judiciary to justify driving the apex court to become a petitioner before a high court? A wise and graceful course would have been to simply accept the truth that "we too are bound by law — not above it".

 

The issues framed for consideration by the Single Judge were as follows:

 

"Whether the CJI is a public authority;

 

"Whether the office of CPIO of the Supreme Court of India is different from the office of the CJI; and if so, whether the Act covers the office of the CJI;

 

"Whether the asset declarations by Supreme Court judges, pursuant to the 1997 Resolution is "information" under the Right to Information Act, 2005;

 

"If such asset declarations are "information" does the CJI hold them in a "fiduciary" capacity, and are they, therefore, exempt from disclosure under the Act;

 

"Whether such information is exempt from disclosure by reason of Section 8(1)(j) of the Act;

 

"Whether the lack of clarity about the details of asset declaration and about their details, as well as lack of security renders asset declarations and their disclosure, unworkable."

 

Can any of the above issues destroy judicial independence? In fact the judges have declared their assets, and heavens appear to be intact.

 

Before the learned Single Judge could deliver his judgment on July 2, 2009, the judges of the Supreme Court had decided — as is expected of the eminent men — to declare their assets without reservation. In view of this development, the judge of the High Court reportedly advised withdrawal of the writ petition — obviously to avoid any needless precedent. However, the CPIO persisted with the petition and the judgment dismissing the petition followed — another instance of missing timely sound advice.

 

Former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma publicly advised the Supreme Court not to take up the matter further in appeal and to simply obey the directions with a view to adding grace to the Supreme Court. That was ignored and an appeal was preferred to the Division Bench of the High Court — after the judges of the Supreme Court complied with the operative portion of the judgment of the Single Judge — "on the ground that fundamental questions of law with regard to scope and applicability of the RTI Act with reference to the declaration of assets by the judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court persists and need to be addressed". A normal litigant would have been admonished for the obduracy — the instant litigant was not ordinary.

 

May we ask, for whose benefit? Are we driven in to an impression that someone in charge of the Supreme Court prefers to work in the dark?

 

The Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court nominated two other judges, both highly respected for their competence and character, to join the Full Bench in view of the importance of the litigation — normally such matters are heard by a Bench of two. The Secretary-General of the Supreme Court by now got himself impleaded as appellant. The appeal was dismissed on January 12, 2010, by a unanimous verdict giving no indication of involvement of any complex question of law of earth-shaking consequences, though they on request certified that the case was a fit one to appeal to the Supreme Court. Again as a matter of grace.

 

While the appeal was pending before the Delhi High Court, another issue, another application to disclose the correspondence between the Chief Justice of India and the President/government about an alleged overlooking of some senior judges and appointing junior ones to the Supreme Court cropped up. The Information Officer attached to the Supreme Court or may be the Secretary-General himself, filed a petition — this time before the apex court itself, contending that such information is outside the purview of the RTI Act. The Supreme Court not only entertained the petition, but also stayed the demand for information. The matter is pending — hence no comments about its legitimacy. Surely, this is a more straight-forward course, but are we about to witness an unfortunate tragedy where the proponent is inviting disaster by his own folly?

 

It may be too late in the day to insist that the information relating to the actions of the Supreme Court in its administrative capacity like appointments and transfers are "confidential" — not accessible to the citizens. The public is entitled to know why and on what criteria someone is appointed and another is overlooked — to the naked eyes of laymen, often both the selections as well as the rejection look horribly wrong. The protection available to cabinet papers under S.8(1)(i ) — disclosure after the decision — may be adapted to the Supreme Court also through rules to regulate the flow of information.

 

While framing the rules, it may be remembered that "Well defined and publicly known standards and procedures complement, rather than diminish, the notion of judicial independence. -Sunlight is the best disinfectant". The quoted portion of the judgment of the Delhi High Court may not be appealed against.

 

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

ABOUT JUDY

BY SIMRITA DHIR

 

OVER the years, I have come to believe that absolutely nothing happens by chance. People come into your life for a reason – to learn something from you and to teach you a thing or two. Life as I see it is one huge metaphor for learning and teaching. In my life, Judy's place in that metaphor is unmistakable.

 

When I met Judy 10 years ago, I could never have imagined how deeply I would be impacted by that friendship. It seemed like the most beautiful happening one winter that this breezy girl moved next door. After a few brief meetings, we learned that we shared our birthday! In some inexplicable way, from that moment on, we were drawn into the most delightful friendship.

 

As a new immigrant in the US, Judy's friendship made a stupendous difference in my life. Between finishing graduate school and finding a job, my mind was inadvertently filled with an ocean of memories. Judy embarked with me on many a fascinating adventure, thereby helping me to sail through each day with a chuckle.

 

Among the first things we did together was to grow patio gardens. Judy, who is a stickler for a clean car would drive to bring the saplings even though it entailed spewing her car with dirt – that being just one instance of her imprint of affection In growing those plants, I began to grow roots in the new country.

 

While in the spring the saplings spread their roots deeper into the flower boxes, our summers were replete with pink lemonade and the smell of the sand. It was during one such summer that with a little help from me, Judy overcame her childhood fear of the water and learned to swim. We laughed about it that Judy, a girl born and raised in a coastal California town, had to take swimming lessons from me, a girl who grew up in the inner plains of North India as far away from the water as one could get!  

 

As Judy surged ahead with her swimming, the immigration ordeal seemed to ease for me. Among other things,

immigration can make a person practical to a fault. Like when I could not help being smug when on a trip to the grocery store, Judy bought pink roses on impulse and when I enquired who those were for, she replied nonchalantly, "For me." And I learned as a reflex that even though I was the one writing my dissertation on Toni Morrison, it was Judy who had had it imbibed all along that she was her own "best thing."

 

About the time that I moved into a house in the suburbs, Judy went to live by the beach where she swam through her share of anguish and elation with a quiet repose when she bravely fought and beat a life-threatening disease and smiled on to meet the love of her life! 

 

And now, on a trip to the local pharmacy if I come by a candle with the smell of the distant lilacs, I am sure to buy it and declare, "For me". And on any sunny day, you can see Judy trying to surf with a composure that is so her. Last we spoke, she said she has yet to ride the waves but she sure is getting there soon. And to that I say, "You go girl! Take on the Pacific and always keep the wind at your back."

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

RETURN OF IRON CURTAIN

US IS STILL FOLLOWING COLD WAR POLICIES

BY SHELLEY WALIA

 

THE fall of the Berlin Wall seemingly brought the cold war to an end. The early twentieth century warnings of dangers to Russia from the counter-revolutionary moves by Poland, Finland and Bulgaria sound plausible in the context of the prevailing conditions of hostility.

 

The recent cooption of Romania and Bulgaria by the US in its strategy to move eastward and establish its global hegemony is the harbinger of a new Cold War in the making.

 

Moreover, the escalation of the NATO presence on the Black Sea further enhances the US presence in the Baltic region. This move is now worrisome for the Russians owing to the uncomfortable pressure exerted on its borders with the aim of hedging it from all sides.

 

Interventionist moves by the NATO forces backed by the US indicate a plan to ensure easy access for the war machinery into South West Asia essential for gaining supremacy in the region.

 

Already, American troops have been conducting exercises in Georgia. Plans to build military defence systems within Eastern Europe are also under way. In the past Ukraine and Georgia have experienced American interference in their internal politics.

 

At the centre of this policy is the undying strategy of unilateralism and hegemony over the entire globe that America has never stopped dreaming about.

 

Although with the demise of the Soviet Union, America did begin to attain the omniscient position of the author of global politics, it has never stopped imagining the conceivable chances of an old antagonist rising from the ashes.

 

The old glory of the Soviet Union with a strong army, a strong economy and even stronger literacy rate has slowly disappeared. To come to grips with the abysmal decline and fall of Russia into a new condition of starvation, disease and poverty, the operation of the logic of the blind laws of market economy have been brought to a halt by President Putin.

 

Putin stopped the passing of the oil-rich economy into the hands of the oligarchs, a move initially made by Yeltsin, who had virtually become a lackey of the West by offering a tempting and destructive way of life, unthinkingly succumbing to the market hypnosis. His collaboration was so apparent.

 

But this downturn does not obliterate the still existing capability of the Russian war machinery and its nuclear stockpile.

 

Putin has thrown in the gauntlet by recently testing a long-distance missile and sending a message that that could be directed against Europe if the Americans continue to humiliate Russia as in the case of locating their anti-missile defence shield in Poland and Czechoslovakia, which is clearly aimed at Russia rather than a defense against North Korea as maintained by Washington.

 

It is difficult to imagine the end of belligerence to continue between the two sides with the appearance of the new Iron Curtain – the US and its NATO allies on one side and Russia on the other. Only this time, Russia is without its smaller republics that clamour for alignment with NATO.

 

Obviously, a direct military confrontation goes against the grain of contemporary American foreign policy, but the drive towards stationing large military forces in Georgia and the establishment of bases in the Caspian region is a shrewd move by Washington that intends to put the already weakened Russian nation against the wall.

This provocation has incited the people and the military forces in Russia who have now become deeply nostalgic of the socialist past and the days of plenty, a pre-Perestroika era of prosperity and power. "The U.S. forces are now stretched from Norway and several other European countries neighbouring Russia through Turkey, Georgia and three Central Asian states," according to an intelligence analyst.

 

The recent increase of the NATO forces in the Balkans further creates insecurity for the Russians on its borders, though it could be merely a psychological tactic to put Russia in its place.

 

The trial of President Slobodan Milosevic, who stood in the way of the Western advance in the Balkans, continues at The Hague, which is hardly expected to come up with a just verdict considering its allegiance to NATO. The former Yugoslavia lies in fragments with bases at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and elsewhere making the American presence deeply formidable.

 

The violence in the region makes the US more guilty of infringement of the international law than any antagonist who is set up as the guilty perpetrator of violence and death.

 

If a nation like Yugoslavia prospers with its industry and boasts of a strong military, it becomes a loud threat to the US policy of expansion and must be dealt with appropriate force ensuring its fragmentation.

 

Is it not clear that the cold war this time is being solely initiated by the US as a strategy in keeping with its policy of expansionism and unilateral dominance of the world?

 

In such a world full of ruthless economics, fanaticism, aggressive nationalism and, most of all, terrorism and state violence, the survival of peace depends on how we face the seen and unseen threats of our times.

 

Vaclav Havel warns: "I feel strongly that the reckless, unbridled course of civilization today, in which almost all of us are, to some extent, involved is one of the contributing causes of violence and oppression.

 

It is, therefore, our responsibility to improve the world, first of all in the field of the human spirit, of human conscience, of human responsibility… and thus provide some inspiration for the people of this world."

 

President Obama needs to pay heed to such wisdom and responsibility, ensuring the second Cold War does not once again become the prime factor for a new arms race.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

HOW TO HANDLE RECESSION

BY JOHANN HARI

 

ONE of the remaining real differences between Labour and the Conservatives is over how governments should behave in a recession. At first glance, Tory leader David Cameron's proposal sounds like common sense. When times are bad, you – as an individual, or a family – figure out how to cut your spending and pay down your debts. No more fancy nights out. Holiday at home. Put the stuff you don't want on eBay.

 

Cameron says the government should do the same: it should slash its debts, even if that means dramatically slashing spending. This was the view of economics that prevailed until the Great Depression – and it has only just made a comeback.

 

Gordon Brown has a different view. It has underpinned his economic decisions since the Great Crash of 2008 – but unfortunately, he is such an atrocious communicator that I will have to quote somebody else to explain it.

 

Barack Obama says: "Economists on both the left and right agree that the last thing a government should do in the middle of a recession is to cut back on spending. You see, when this recession began, many families sat around their kitchen table and tried to figure out where they could cut back. That is a completely responsible and understandable reaction. But if every family in America cuts back, then no one is spending any money, which means there are more layoffs, and the economy gets even worse. That's why the government has to step in and temporarily boost spending in order to stimulate demand." You keep stimulating until we are back on our feet – and then you pay back the debt in the good times.

 

This is, when you first hear it, counter-intuitive. It means governments have to decide to spend more when we as individuals are deciding to spend less. It can seem hard for those of us who are not economists to figure out which of these views is right. Sure, we can listen to people like the Nobel Prize winner for Economics Paul Krugman, who told me he was "shocked" by Cameron's policies and they would worsen the recession "for sure".

 

We can see that the Great Depression got much worse when governments took the Cameron route, and was ended by a giant programme of debt-funded government spending. But the best guide is to look at countries that are trying the Cameron approach and countries that are trying the opposite tactics now, and check the results.

 

Throughout the nineties and the noughties, Ireland was held up as a poster child by the right. People like John Redwood and (yes) David Cameron said its model of low taxes and almost-total deregulation showed the way forward for Britain. In fact it produced the most corrupt and over-extended banking sector outside Iceland. Just one bank – Anglo Irish – is now on course to receive a €30bn extended bailout, equivalent to every penny of tax collected in the country in 2009.

 

But the Irish government has continued to cleave to Tory solutions. After the crash, its government rejected the case for a stimulus package, and insisted its "number one priority" was to "cut the deficit and get the public finances back in order". It sawed deep into spending on teachers, pupils, the disabled, and childcare. Out of total annual spending of €60bn, they are en route to ditching €15bn. The government is paying off its debt as its first, second and third priority, just as Cameron demands.

 

So what happened? The economy has collapsed. As the economist Rob Brown writes in the latest issue of the New Statesman, the country is now embarked on "an astonishing 15 per cent shrinkage in the Irish economy overall – the sharpest contraction experienced by any advanced industrial nation in peacetime". Unemployment has soared to 12.5 per cent: it would be even higher if so many young people hadn't left the country. Only 14 per cent of Irish citizens are happy with the government's performance.

 

By contrast, the countries that have most strongly defied Cameronomics are pulling out of the recession first and fastest. China has ramped up state spending to 88 percent of GDP growth, paid for by increased government debt. This is Brown to the power of a hundred. If Cameron was right, this would be economic suicide, and they would be plummeting down. In fact, the recession there is now over. That's why even right-wing leaders that initially shared Cameron's instincts, like Angela Merkel, are reversing course.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI
IMPORTANCE OF BEING AMAR SINGH

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

AMAR Singh is at it once again. He has enough experience of throwing tantrums. Amar gets upset, sulks, makes up and then all is well.

 

Amar Singh is a tough player and is an old hand in politics today. One can either like Amar Singh or dislike him intensely but you just cannot ignore him. His hold on Bollywood, information on people useful or useless does come handy from time to time.

 

He has been a master in business propositions for the Samajwadi Party. As we all know politics is more or less run by business houses in this country now. So Amar is indispensable in more ways than one. He is a good bargainer for his master and he gets enough media attention for everything he does.

 

The younger generation of the Yadavs does not understand the usefulness of an Amar Singh on their side. Mulayam Singh Yadav is desperate to patch up with Amar Singh. Not that Amar has many choices; any other political party will have to think many times before having Amar Singh. He is, after all, unique.

 

Many have questioned Amitabh Bachchan's presence in Gujarat with Narender Modi. Was it a signal from Amar Singh here? The timing was just a day before his resignation. The Congress is keeping a safe distance and the Samajwadi Party members are now a bit tired of Amar's mood swings. But he is certainly indispensable for Mulayam. And that should all become clear now in a matter of weeks.

 

BJP's tent problem

 

The silence in the BJP is deafening. Ever since the new president Gadkari took over, everyone is waiting to see what he does next. His friends are standing by his side to protect him, while his foes are waiting to pounce on him.

 

The BJP delegates, around 5,000 or so, will stay in tents during the party national council/executive meet in Indore. Gadkari has announced that Deendayal Upadhyay and his philosophy of reaching out to the last man in the queue is the roadmap for every party leader.

 

At the BJP meets in the past the delegates had stayed in tents, including the inaugural BJP national executive meet in Mumbai in 1980, the 1995 meet in Mumbai (when Advani announced Atal Bihari Vajpayee's name as the party's Prime Ministerial candidate) and yet another meet in Mumbai in 2005.

 

The "India Shining" campaign was perceived to have a distinct pro-rich bias, and Advani once stated that it should have, instead, been called "India Rising". Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has often said in his election speeches that the Opposition's "India Shining" slogan reflected a pro-rich bias in contrast to the Congress's agenda for "aam aadmi". Staying in tents, as opposed to star hotels, is meant to send out a subtle message too.

 

This new arrangement has many cribbing too. The large number of tents for the party meet will cost a huge amount. Some are concerned about the presence of mosquitoes, while most are worried about toilets and hygiene in these tents.

 

CBI's missing files

 

The CBI has weathered many a storm – from Bofors to Ruchika – even though the rate of convictions in cases investigated by it is dismal. About the Aarushi murder case the less said the better. It is said that the CBI is an agency of the party in power. Important files go missing. Amazing!

 

The latest disappearance is of files linked to ex-RAW chief A.K.Verma, needed for interrogation about funds meant for LTTE operations. The missing files are the official alibi nowadays, the most recent instance being the Headley visa papers. Another recent admission is the case of documents pertaining to the Rs 515.5 crore disinvestment of Balco. Well, good luck if this is how records go missing from such an agency. Even though the common man still wants desperately to trust the CBI.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

EMPLOYEES' AGITATION

 

The nagging problem of pay revision of the employees of the Government of Assam (GOA) has now reached such a stage that both parties are almost on war path. The employees want GOA to agree fully to their demands while GOA has made it clear that if the employees go on strike or other agitations their leaders would face dismissal from service. The employees' associations' major demands include complete pay parity with Central Government employees, rates of increments not to be tied to performance, higher rates of house rent, medical and conveyance allowances and date of effect from January 1, 2006. Earlier, in the hope of retaining a vote bank the Chief Minister had been pampering the employees so much that he forgot to take his own Government's financial resources into consideration before promising at least one rupee more than the Central scales of pay. He was not probably advised that from April 1, 2010 it would be the Thirteenth Central Finance Commission's recommendations which will determine how much and under which heads GOA will get devolution and grants-in-aid from the Central Government during the next five years (2010-15). That Commission submitted its Report to the President of India on December 30, 2009. It is now under examination of the Central Government. The final allocations will be known probably in February, 2010. GOA has to await the outcome because by no stretch of imagination GOA can dream of meeting the increased requirements of funds for pay revision from out of its own resources. GOA has also to take note of the fact that it cannot afford to go back to the situation during the 1990s when Government Treasuries were closed for 27/28 days in each month and many employees were not getting salaries for months together. That would be disastrous for the party in power because the General Elections are due in 2011. Moreover, GOA is bound by the Fiscal Reform and Budget Management Act, 2003. It has to think about FRBMA's penal provisions before committing excess expenditure. The Chief Minister must have realised all this because he has now stopped his unnecessary pampering of the employees and instead warned them of severe consequences if they disrupt the functioning of Government.

Sensible and apolitical sections of civil society have felt outraged at the atrocious demands of the employees and particularly so in the context of the work culture that they follow. Government officials come late, play truant during office hours and waste Government time on personal business. Even some senior officers follow similar practice. GOA has to spend nearly Rs 3 lakh per month on each of its top officials' central scales of pay, allowances including those on housing, cars, servants, children education and special duty allowance (for condescending to work in the North East) as well as pensionary contributions, leave travel concessions and retention of additional accommodation in New Delhi besides other perks. Some of these officers are known to be taking advantage of Tarun Gogoi's good nature and spending more time in New Delhi with their families at GOA's expenses and neglecting their allotted duties. They seem to be performing only routine duties while a few of their own colleagues have to work much harder. They are not assisting Tarun Gogoi in his role as a pioneer of good governance and as a growth agent. Now that the Chief Minister has realised his earlier mistake and seems to be determined to put down any agitation by the employees let him also enforce work culture amongst the employees and discipline the top bureaucrats as well.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SEISMIC ACTIVITY

 

As far as seismic activities is concerned the year 2009 cannot exactly be termed as a good one for the North East. Statistical data computed during the year gone by indicate that seismic activity was increasing in the region. The North East was rocked by an earthquake on an average of every 10 days. According to records made available by the Central Seismological Observatory in Shillong 34 quakes of light and moderate intensity jolted the region with the one on September 21 last year being the biggest in the last 20 years with the magnitude of 6.2. Seismic activity has always been high in the North East. Mild to moderate quakes rock the region off and on. The region had witnessed 26 earthquakes each during 2008 and 2007 while it was 23 in 2006. With the region lying in a high seismic risk belt and being vulnerable to big quakes makes it all the more important to take this natural phenomenon into consideration before undertaking any developmental activities.


Though no one can accurately predict an earthquake adequate precaution holds the key to mitigate its destruction to some extent. With earthquakes being a reality in the region, the only way out is to learn to live with it. It's an irony that development and destruction are often co-related in any earthquake prone area. The US –based GeoHazards International in a report had warned that a magnitude of 8.3 earthquake striking Shillong might kill 60 times as many people killed during a similar size quake which claimed 1,542 lives in1897. The reason behind it is quite obvious. The single-story bamboo and wood houses have been replaced with multistoried concrete constructions on the steep slopes. The population too has gone up. To ensure that the wheels of development are not hindered in the region due to earthquake threat, strategies need to be formulated in this direction. The constructions in the region should strictly adhere to the building norms laid down by the engineers. The condition of the existing constructions needs to be evaluated. The lanes and by -lanes should be made wide enough to ensure that relief and rescue operations are not hindered. The authorities need to make the people aware about the precautions they should take to minimize the loss on the event of an earthquake. Proper precautions and adequate mitigation strategy is the only way out to cope with the destructive force of nature.


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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A TALE OF TWO BILLS

SATANJIB DAS

 

The global economic meltdown, it seems, could not provide any lesson to the present ruling dispensation of our country. They have been dogmatically pursuing the same neo-liberal policies which have failed miserably throughout the globe. Insurance sector reform is a key agenda of this policy framework. In 1999 the then BJP led NDA government initiated the reform process in the insurance with the promulgation of the IRDA Act opening up of the sector to the private sector, both indigenous and foreign. The present UPA regime has been taking steps to further widen and deepen the reform process. It brought two bills viz, LIC (Amendment) Bill and Insurance Laws (Amendment) bill in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively in 2008. In the wake of strong opposition to these bills both inside and outside Parliament the Government had to send both the Bills to the Standing Committee of the Parliament on Finance. With the dissolution of the previous 14th Lok-Sabha the LIC (Amendment) Bill lapsed and the UPA government placed it anew in the 15th Lok-Sabha. Now the Government is trying desperately to pass both the Bills in Parliament.


These two Bills lay down the roadmap towards further liberalisation of the insurance sector and disinvestment as well as eventual privatization of the public sector insurance in our country. The LIC (Amendment) Bill, 2009 seeks to increase the equity capital of LICI from Rs.5 crore to Rs. 100 crore. Apparently it may appear to be a move to strengthen LICI. But the hidden agenda of the Bill is to pave the way for disinvestment of the shares of LICI. Everybody knows that disinvestment is the first step towards privatization. LICI today is not at all in the need of any additional capital. As on 31st March, 2009 the total asset of LICI stood at about nine lakh crore rupees. Against such a huge asset base the total liability of LICI stood at only Rs.7,75,000 crore. It means, after meeting the entire liability LICI would have a surplus asset base of more than one lakh crore rupees. Where then lies the need of injecting an additional capital of meagre Rs. 95 crore.


This sinister move has only one aim and that is disinvestment of LICI. An equity capital of Rs.5 crore is not sufficient for disinvestment. Hence it is to be raised to Rs. 100 crore. Fifteen years ago, in the year 1994 a committee led by Dr. R N Malhotra made the same recommendation and asked for disinvesting fifty per cent shares of LICI. It was a prescription made at the behest of private corporate houses and foreign MNCs, for privatization of LICI. The then Congress government at the Centre of which the present Prime Minister was the Finance Minister though accepted the recommendation, could not implement it due a strong countrywide public opinion against it. Now the present UPA regime has been attempting to implement that retrograde recommendation under the cover of this Bill.


Some of the provisions of the bill which are brazenly against the interest of the policyholders, bring out clearly the real design of the Government. One of the provisions of the Bill seeks to withdraw the universal sovereign guarantee that the policies of LICI currently enjoy. The Bill says that the policies of LICI to be provided with sovereign guarantee will be determined by the Government of India from time to time. The LICI since its inception never invoked the sovereign guarantee. On the contrary it paid to the government a sum of Rs 7926.40 crore upto 31st March, 2009 as dividend only against an investment of Rs. 5 crore made by the Government, in 1956 when LICI started its journey. Neither the LICI would be required to invoke the sovereign guarantee in future as its asset base far exceeds its liability. Why then the government seeks to withdraw the sovereign guarantee ? It is the private insurance companies which has been vociferously demanding the withdrawal. Bowing to their demands and in their interest the Government has made this provision in the Bill.


Another provision of the Bill reduces the share of the policyholders in the LIC's valuation surplus from the present 95 per cent to 90 per cent while increases the share of the Government of India from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. This will force the LICI to reduce the bonus amount to the policyholders. This move is also aimed at benefiting the private insurers at the expense of LICI. At present LICI is paying the highest rate of bonus to its policyholders. No private company can compete with LICI on this count. Almost all the private companies are incurring losses and the quantum of loss has been increasing progressively. As per figures furnished by IRDA the loss of private insurance companies amounted to Rs. 1950.12 crore in 2006-07. In 2007- 08 the loss increased to Rs.4324.52 crore, a rise of 221.75 per cent. In 2008-09 the loss increased further. These companies therefore have no capability to declare bonus to the policyholders from the surplus arrived at after valuation of their business performance, as LICI does. They declare bonus from the Shareholders' Fund. Hence these private companies want LICI's capability to pay bonus at higher rate to be reduced. And the UPA Government at the Centre is obliging them at the cost of the policyholders of LICI.


In fact, the Government has initiated these moves at a time when the public sector insurance has been registering spectacular advance vis-a-vis the dismal performance of the private insurers. In the first six months of the current financial year (2009-10) LICI registered a growth rate of 35 per cent in terms of premium income against a negative growth rate 15 per cent registered by private companies. During this period the growth rate of the Life Insurance industry in India comprising both public and private sector, was only 13 per cent. Obviously LICI today is the engine of the growth of life insurance industry as a whole. Similar is the story in the general insurance sector also. Through the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill the Government seeks to increase the ceiling on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the insurance sector from the present 26 per cent to 49 per cent. This Bill also provides for disinvestment of shares of the public sector general insurance companies.


This move to further liberalise and open up the insurance sector to the foreign companies has been initiated at a time when throughout the world, particularly in developed countries of Europe, USA and Japan the foreign insurance companies in the private sector have either gone bankrupt or are in very severe crisis. These companies have ruined their own clients. Many of these foreign insurance companies have to be rescued by their respective government through nationalisation or takeover of majority of their shares. Eighty five per cent of the shares of AIG, the largest private insurance company in the whole world had to be taken over by the US Government. Our government is eager to roll out red caret to these companies, which to fulfil their insatiable greed for super profit have ruined the hard earned savings of their policyholders. These crisis-ridden foreign companies are now desperately trying to gain greater access to the emerging markets of countries like India. But this move of the Government is extremely detrimental to our national interest. The argument of the Government that further liberalisation of the insurance sector would result in greater inflow of foreign capital that can be utilised for the development of our country, has no locus standi. Such argument is totally irrelevant in the present context of global economic crisis. Indian experience of the last one decade of opening up of the insurance sector reveals that foreign partners of the private insurance companies in India have not brought a single penny from their policyholders' fund abroad. Their contribution to the Indian economy is nothing. Too much reliance on foreign capital only will not serve cause of national development.


The present UPA Government it appears, refuses to learn any lesson from the recent global economic meltdown. The financial sector in India escaped the disastrous impact of this crisis. When the insurance companies, banks and other financial intuitions in the USA, Europe and Japan had been collapsing, the insurance companies and banks in India remained unscathed. Our financial sector held its ground firmly. Consequently, the savings of our people remained safe and secure unlike the developed countries of the West. The main reason behind this is the predominance of the public sector institutions in our financial sector.


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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

UNDER-NUTRITION AMONG INDIAN CHILDREN

DR ALAKANANDA GOSWAMI

 

According to India's third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-III) of 2005-06, 20 per cent of Indian children under five years are wasted due to acute under nutrition and 48 per cent are stunted due to chronic under nutrition. Seventy per cent of children between 6 months and 59 months are anaemic. Despite a booming economy, nutrition deprivation among India's children remains widespread. In absolute numbers, an average 25 million children are wasted and 61 million are stunted. The state of child under nutrition in India is – first and foremost – a major threat to the survival, growth, and development and of great importance for India as a global player.

Children who are undernourished have substantially lower chances of survival than children who are well-nourished. Undernourished children are much more likely to suffer from serious infections and die from common children illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, and measles. More than a third of all deaths in children aged five years or younger can be attributed to under nutrition. Children who survive under nutrition do not perform as well in school as their well-nourished peers and as adults they are less productive.


Good nutrition early in life is a key input for human capital formation, a fundamental factor for sustainable and equitable economic growth. Widespread under nutrition impedes socio-economic development and poverty reduction. With persistently high levels of child under nutrition, vital opportunities to save millions of lives are being lost, and many more children are not growing to their full potential. There is a critical window of opportunity to intervene when mothers are pregnant and during children's first two years of life. After that age, the window closes, and the opportunity for the child is lost forever.


A number of emerging economies have encountered nutrition challenges similar to those currently facing India. For example, China reduced child under nutrition by more than half (from 25 per cent to 8 per cent) between 1990 and 2002. Brazil reduced child under nutrition by 60 per cent (from 18 per cent to 7 per cent) from 1975 to 1989, Thailand reduced child under nutrition by half (from 50 per cent to 25 per cent) in less than a decade (1982-1986); and Viet Nam reduced child under nutrition by 40 per cent (from 45 per cent to 27 per cent) etween 1990 and 2006.


One can learn important lessons from the experiences of these countries. Firstly, leadership at the highest level to ensure that priority is given to child nutrition outcomes across sectors and States, with large investments in nutrition interventions and successful poverty alleviation strategies. Secondly, targeted nutrition interventions to prevent mild and moderate under nutrition and treat severe under nutrition as part of a continuum of care for children, particularly among the most vulnerable ones. Thirdly, reliance on community-based primary health care to ensure high coverage through community-based workers. Lastly, strong supervision, monitoring , evaluation, and knowledge management to provide the evidence base for timely and effective policy, programme and budgetary action.


Meanwhile, child malnutrition has reached epidemic proportions in most parts of Madhya Pradesh. Over 500 children under the age of six died in the State due to acute malnutrition from May 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. More than 35 children died in Jhabua district in November 2009 alone. Agasia and Madarani villages falling in the Meghnagar block of the predominantly tribal district, registered highest number of deaths. Severe malnutrition among the Kol tribal group in Jawa block of Rewa district is also reported. Recently, a Hong Kong-based Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC) report mentions that approximately 80 per cent children are malnourished in Rewa district. The displacement of tribal groups from their traditional forest dwellings, where they had access to minor forest produce like berries and other fruits to feed their children, has made matters worse in a scenario where the Public Distribution System (PDS) shops in tribal areas often open only once a month.


Significantly, in India, food deprivation is the result more of distribution than the lack of food. Correcting this systematic inadequacy is the larger challenge, but improving the working of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), especially in the tribal dominated areas is something the State governments can do if they had the political will and vision. The World Bank's 2005 study on the working of the ICDS highlighted three important mismatches: the gap between design and implementation, the neglect of the poorest and the most vulnerable, and the poor quality of services. The National Family Health Survey-III showed that States that had well-designed health intervention schemes such as immunization programme and maternal care fared better. Making local administration accountable is a much-required first step to mainstream development issues into the political agenda.


India has the resources – financial and human-to address, once for all, the challenge of child under nutrition The prevention and treatment of child under nutrition in the first two years of life needs to be a national development priority. India's leadership is recognised globally and its economy is growing at an enviable rate. That strength and leadership can be channeled to ensure survival of India's most precious asset-its children – to thrive and survive. The nutrition targets set forth by the government in its Eleventh Plan are ambitious, more ambitious than the international commitments set forth in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now is the time to combine the existing resources with the political will to change the lives of millions of India's under-nourished children. 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE

 

The RBI is entirely right to be concerned about teaser home loans. These are loans where the interest rate is fixed at an attractive rate for an initial pre-determined period after which it ceases to be fixed and becomes a floating rate of interest. But where it is wrong is in insisting that banks should charge the same uniform rate of interest to all home loan borrowers, old as well as new. Yes, Indian banks do need to ensure that customers who borrow at special loan rates will be able to service the debt when interest rates rise, as RBI deputy governor Usha Thorat cautioned banks earlier this week. Because if they are not able to service their loans, banks will suffer. And if, as happened during the financial crisis, such losses become excessive, then at some stage, taxpayers too will suffer (when taxpayer money is used to bail out banks). So, there is a potential systemic risk the RBI is entirely right to guard against. But this is true of all loans, not only teaser loans. The only reason why extra caution is warranted in the context of teaser loans is because they entice borrowers into taking loans as they appear very cheap; never mind they might prove very costly some years hence. Consequently, there is the possibility that many borrowers who do not have the wherewithal to service their loans might nonetheless be tempted to borrow. But the same could be said about credit cards as well.


The solution, therefore, is not to interfere in pricing decisions of banks by forcing them to price loans uniformly, but to insist on a number of other things. One, urge caution in lending, as the RBI deputy governor has already done. Two, ensure more transparency so that borrowers know what they are getting into — it can tell banks to incorporate an illustrative example in the loan document so that the implications become plain to customers. Three, encourage financial literacy so that customers cannot be taken for a ride so easily. Three, keep a tab on the level of non-performing assets (NPAs) and act against those banks whose NPAs start flashing red. Four, and most important of all perhaps, address the cause rather than the symptom of the disease: excess liquidity in the system that is forcing banks to push credit by any means.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STATE (OF) FINANCES

 

With the economy showing distinct signs of recovery, states should revert to the path of fiscal discipline at the earliest, rather than seek to continue with the fiscal latitude allowed to them during the crisis. Industrial production has shown a sharp rise of 11.7% in November, putting India on track to achieving 8% growth this fiscal. The growth in industrial output will boost VAT collections by states. Companies are also reporting higher profits in the third quarter. An increase in corporate tax collections will mean more revenues for states from the divisible pool of taxes. Revenue buoyancy and tax compliance will also improve with the adoption of goods and services tax (GST). The Centre has already said that it would return to fiscal consolidation. This could mean reversing easy policies like low indirect tax rates to garner more revenues. So there is no reason why states should not put their finances in order. The Centre allowed states to raise additional market borrowings by increasing the limit of the fiscal deficit to 4% of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) this fiscal from 3.5% earlier. Such a policy intervention was needed to give states some additional fiscal space to counter the overall slowdown.


There is no such emergency now and, hence, no case to continue the relaxation in the fiscal deficit rule. A majority of the 26 states that have enacted the fiscal responsibility legislation (FRL) achieved targets ahead of the terminal year. Adherence to the fiscal policy rule during 2003-04 to 2007-08 helped as they qualified for the debt consolidation and relief facility. But the global financial crisis and economic slowdown impacted their finances, warranting countercyclical measures. A prudent fiscal policy would mean fiscal tightening during a boom and easing during a downturn. States must, therefore, reduce their indebtedness when the economy is on the upswing. This will give them elbow room to borrow more in a downturn. They should give top priority to expenditure reforms by levying appropriate user charges at least for economic services. Reprioritising expenditure for better social outcomes is also a must. The Centre should lead the way.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHOP AND SHED

 

It could be the weight-loss formula that at least the beleaguered retail industry has been waiting for these past months. A study commissioned by a major British department store chain has found that shopping can actually help shed pounds. If the pun was intended, then the company deserves to be commended with at least a smirk: what could be better for both British shopper and shop than pounds dropping — transmogrified, from the weighing scales into the till? To complement the soothing effects of retail therapy, the study found that women (they are the target group, after all) individually expend 48,000 calories a year in shopping expeditions, or the total of nearly a month's worth of meals. This shed-while-you-shop mantra apparently works even when sedately browsing shelves, at the rate of five calories per minute. Imagine the cumulative effect of the annual average of 248 km women end up covering as they hunt for bargains: it's like walking from Delhi to Agra, only much more pleasurable! No wonder shopping trips can be — or, as the study implies, should be — exhausting.


Men are clearly on the wrong side of this health curve though, for compared to the average woman's gruelling two-and-a-half hour shopping trips that see her covering some 4.8 km of mall walkways and store aisles a week, men spend a measly 50 minutes and notch up just 2.4 km a week. In fact, she easily works off that mid-spree latte with the girls by the time she finishes her purchases. Taking a look at this shopping phenomenon with the fervour of a personal trainer monitoring stomach crunches, the study avers that women take some 7,305 steps during their sprees, or three-quarters of the National Health Service's recommended daily quota of 10,000. Add to that the energy needed to lug those heavy bags, and it's almost a full-fledged workout, with gains and losses that make both sides happy. If only the money supply needed to fuel this mutually-beneficial exercise could somehow be guaranteed as well.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOVING TO THE A OF POTA CYCLE

CHETAN AHYA

 

Every major policy decision in the country goes through a one- to three-year cycle of Pota: proposition, opposition, treaty-consensus and action. The good news is that many of the key reforms are now moving towards the action phase. Five key measures that are likely to move to the 'action' stage in 2010-11 are the goods and services tax system, consolidation of public sector deficit, meaningful steps towards divestment of government stake in state-owned enterprises, acceleration in infrastructure spending, particularly in roads, and direct tax reforms.


Streamlining of indirect taxes, or GST: The government has already announced its intention to transition to a consolidated nationwide goods and services tax (GST) system from the current system of different types as well as multiple rates of indirect taxes. The new law will cover a wider base, including all goods and services. The current system taxes production whereas the GST will aim to tax consumption. Indeed, the current law levies taxes on movement of goods from one state to another — effectively creating borders within borders. It distorts the allocation of resources and inhibits productivity growth. The transition to GST will be an important milestone from a macro perspective. While the government had earlier announced its intention to implement it from April 1, 2010, it appears the new tax will likely be implemented from October 1, 2010.


Consolidation of public sector deficit: The strong growth trend from 2005-06 to 2007-08 was accompanied by an increase in the fiscal deficit to double digits as a percentage of GDP and a rise in the ratio of public debt to GDP to 76.1% as of March 2009. In 2009-10, we expect the combined central plus state government deficit — including off-Budget items — to remain high at 10.7% of GDP, with public debt to GDP increasing to 78.6% in March 2010. The current high level of unproductive government expenditure and public debt is weighing on the long-term growth potential.


We expect the government to take the first step towards reducing the deficit to more sustainable levels in Budget 2010. The recent report of the 13th Finance Commission will be a good guide for the government to move on this correction path. We see the government cutting expenditure to GDP by 1 percentage point in 2010-11. A simultaneous increase in tax to GDP should help cut the combined deficit to 9.2% of GDP in 2010-11 from 10.7% of GDP in 2009-10. We expect further reduction in the deficit to 7.7% of GDP in 2011-12.


Divestment of state-owned enterprises: The current high level of fiscal deficit will likely make it difficult for the government to increase its spending to support economic growth. We believe that in such an environment, the government will need to augment its financial resources through divestment of stakes in state-owned companies. Since the formation in May 2004 of the coalition government led by the United Progressive Alliance, the pace of divestment in state-owned enterprises has been extremely slow. The total proceeds from divestments during the five years ended March 31, 2009, were just $3.1 billion.


We estimate the value of government stake in listed state-owned enterprises at about $320 billion. If we include the unlisted companies, the total value would be about $460 billion. We believe the divestment programme can play a key role in augmenting government resources for investment in productive areas, such as rural infrastructure, without causing deterioration in government finances.

The government has already announced a plan to raise about $5.6 billion from divestment by March 2010. The government intends to bring down its stake in all listed entities to 75%. We expect a significant pick up in the government's divestment from March-April 2010. In 2011, we believe the government could collect $5-10 billion from divestments.

Acceleration in infrastructure spending: After steadily rising to 5.7% of GDP in 2007-08 from the trough of 3.7% in 2004-05, infrastructure spending has been stagnant over the last two years. We expect infrastructure spending to start rising from 2010-11 again. One of the key areas where we expect a meaningful increase in spending is the transportation sector (national highways). The ministry of transportation intends to award $20-billion worth of road contracts on an annual basis over the next three-and-a-half years. We believe that the government will be able to issue contracts worth $12-13 billion over the next 12 months (the first year) compared with $6-8 billion worth of contracts issued over the last 12 months.


Similarly, the momentum in implementation of electricity projects is also likely to pick up further. Also, with credit markets improving and capital markets normalising, private infrastructure spending in general should reaccelerate. We expect infrastructure spending to rise to 7.7% in 2012-13 from an estimated 6.1% of GDP in 2009-10.

Direct tax reforms: The ministry of finance has already put out a draft of new code for direct taxation. The thrust of the new code, as its foreword code says, "is to improve efficiency and equity in direct tax system by eliminating distortions in tax structure, introducing moderate levels of taxation and expanding the tax base". For broadening the tax base, the code will minimise exemptions. The removal of these exemptions will improve tax to GDP and improve efficiency in allocation of resources. The new code will also simplify the language and law to reduce litigation and check tax evasion.


Moreover, the new code also aims to encourage long-term savings. The tax incentives for savings will be rationalised. The code aims to follow the exempt-exempt-tax (EET) rule, under which initial savings contribution and accrual of interest are exempt but on withdrawal, it would be subject to normal taxes. The ministry of finance is likely to start implementing the new code from Budget 2010.


The bottom line is that after a long lull, we expect the government to be able to implement a number of the critical policy changes in 2010.


(The author is managing director of Morgan Stanley Research)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT WHAT YOU WANT, BUT WHAT YOU NEED

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

John Whittier's immortal lines, in his Maud Muller, on many regretting time badly spent, stirred many a thinking mind. Franklin Adams had, in his parody to these lines, also conceived of these optimistic and encouraging words to despairing minds, "And of all glad words of prose or rhyme,/ The gladdest are, "Act while there yet is time"."


For truly right and enduringly fulfilling actions in life, it is not enough to realise one's mistakes and omissions (in line with the message of Whittier), but to be effective and resourceful through timely action (as portrayed by Adams). This should also go with the needed wisdom for results that would stand the test of time. Otherwise, even those sought after objectives, obtained through well meant and timely efforts, could prove to be frustrating and lacking in fulfilment.


The message and concept, as above, has been portrayed powerfully by another parody written by Bret Harte on Whittier's poem. This conceives of a Maud Muller and the young Judge acting in time to wed, hoping to live happily thereafter. After marriage Maud bears twins. But she also grows "broad and red and stout", with the Judge now observing that "the waist that his arm once clasped about/ Was more than he now could span." The Judge grows, thus, increasingly weary of his romantic fantasies, annoyed more and more with the mannerisms of Maud and her rustic people. He regrets why he had at all condescended to wed her, wondering if "he might have wed some maiden fair and thorough bred."


As for Maud, she too begins to think the Judge "a bore, with all his learning and all his lore." In time, both Maud and the Judge tire of each other — the first stage to a wrecked companionship.


Harte concludes, in his parody, that the truly sad words are not just, "It might have been", but the ones that we daily see, "It is, but hadn't ought to be."


A simple analysis of Whittier's original poem and the parodies of Adams and Harte would thus point out not only to the need for making up for lost and ill spent time through timely action, but also divining what one truly needs, not ever drawn by his instinctive wants or infatuation, whim, passion and impulse. This is the concept behind Benjamin Franklin's lines on obtaining "that wisdom, which discovers my truest interest."


An integrated, holistic and well thought out action is thus, in essence, one which combines, within it, various virtues and blessings — Bhagawad Gita's concept (2, 50) of karmasu koushalam.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BOOM KIDS TO BOOMERANG KIDS

SUDESHNA SEN

 

Just when I think the Brits, what with all these elections and recessions, have given up being delightfully weird, they start up something that is like a double dose of chocolate for snarky columnists.


These days, everyone's talking about boomerang kids. First, what are boomerang kids? They are adult children at the university age, or even older, living at home with their parents, anywhere between the ages of 18 to 30 or more. It's rather howlarious that this pretty standard way of living in India is being treated with large doses of horror, hand-wringing, and endless navel-gazing by the British media and public alike. 'Teenagers denied rites of passage', 'Boomerang kids hit savings of pensioners', and the 'Challenge of intergenerational living" are hot topics for discussion and debate.


Perhaps the absolutely funniest bit is that Lord Peter Mandelson, through his BIS — he keeps changing its name, it's the same old trade and commerce ministry — issued an advisory leaflet to parents on how to Show your kids tough love. Essentially, telling parents of boomerang kids to make their grown-up children uncomfortable at home, not do their laundry or cooking, and generally try and push them out of the parental nest, gently, gently.


Well. I would have thought, as did a lot of suitably-outraged parents, that Lord Mandelsen, the government's business minister, really has better things to do around now than go about lecturing parents about how to bring up adults. But then, this is the Nanny state, and government tries to tell you how to do everything including eat breakfast, live, sleep. Though it is strangely silent about the things people here want and need to know, like when the jobs are coming back. That's modern Britain for you... sigh.


But first, you need the background to this peculiarly-British palaver.


This isn't bothering people so much across the channel — Italians and continental cultures, as some here note with derision, have always had the concept of intergenerational living.


At the base of every societal norm, as always, it's economics.


University is no longer free, like it used to be back when today's parents went to college, and British graduates have to take hefty loans. This year, estimates are that about 22% of undergraduates are opting to live at home and study nearby, simply because it's too expensive to pay for living away from home. Similarly, thousands of new graduates are hitting a moribund job market — no jobs, no income, student loans to pay back.


Property prices, to buy or to rent, (despite the crash) is far and away too high for new graduates, or even those in their first jobs.

 

Besides, today's parents don't have issues with girlfriends of boyfriends staying the night — some even keep their kids supplied with contraceptives — or communicating with their adult kids and their friends. Living at home helps young people starting out to save more, so well, it's should all be happy, happy Bollywood-ishtyle togetherness, you might say.


Umm no. The reaction to this trend ranges from well-concealed horror to complete confusion at having to deal with such an alien trend. The ruling societal norm is such that boomerang kids are considered something to look down on, not helped by popular culture poking fun at stay-at-home adults. Mandelson's homilies aren't helping any which way. The subtext of that advisory is obviously that boomerang kids are somehow being shiftless and lazy, and need to be encouraged togoo change their bad habits, much like eating too much candy as tiny tots.

 

Tags like boomerang kids and parent-hotels are themselves, well, somewhat derogatory.


Parental commentators are bemoaning the fact that their children don't seem to have or even want that 'freedom' they themselves valued so much. I've seen random young men, chatting up girls at the local pub, go all red in the face before admitting that they still live at home. Naturally, Indians or British Asians don't get any of this. They don't want their kids to go live in dirty, poky bedsits with grimy toilets and 10 flatmates, and they very definitely want to keep an eye on who their daughters are dating.


Of course, there are plenty who think Mandelson should keep his advisories to himself, and want their boomerang kids at home. Except, in this country, most don't do financial planning to account for supporting a grown-up family. It was always assumed that children would leave, so people tend to move into smaller houses, retire, move into shorter mortgages, that sort of thing.


I'm wondering exactly when they're going to realise the really big hurdle of intergenerational living is still to come — grandparenting and providing free childcare for their stay-at-home children. Today's graduating generation is likely to bear the burden of bailing out the last recession for years, so this change in living habits is probably here to stay for a while. Maybe we'll get a genre of K-serial type soaps on joint families, or they can change Coronation Street to Coronation House.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DOMESTIC SAVINGS FLATTER TO DECEIVE

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH

 

 India will grow strongly in the coming years and the rate of growth will soon overtake China's, said Kaushik Basu, chief economic adviser, earlier this month. Prima facie, that's great news.


But look a little closer at the main reason advanced by Basu for his gung-ho assessment — our high savings rate of close to 40% of GDP — and the prospects look distinctly less rosy.


The reason is that while our savings/GDP ratio increased dramatically (27%) during the period 2003-04 to 2007-08, the main component, household sector savings, that accounts for over 60% of domestic savings, rose much less (2%).


Add to that the fact that more than 50% of household savings continues to be in relatively unproductive assets — land, gold and silver — and, clearly, not all is well with Basu's prognosis as it is financial, not physical, savings that are the key to higher investment and growth.


Factor in the sharp deterioration in the government's financial position this year and, in all likelihood, the near future as well and the improvement in public sector savings seen since 2003-04 becomes a mirage.


As far as private corporate savings is concerned, though Indian corporates have turned in a stellar performance compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the world, this has come by paring costs rather than from expanding toplines. Hence, corporate private sector savings are also likely to plateau out in the next few years, or at least till the global recovery is complete.


The net result is that the improvement in the savings/GDP ratio witnessed during the past few years is more illusory than real. But the picture is not all bleak; there is a silver lining. The predominance of savings in physical assets, for long the bane of the Indian economy, is changing. Albeit it could be argued that it is not changing fast enough to sustain the double-digit growth necessary to power ahead of China, but more importantly, to raise millions of Indians out of poverty. Savings in physical assets accounted for about 66% of household financial assets in 1994-95. But by 2007-08, the share of such assets in total household savings had come down to 52%.


This is an improvement; but it is not good enough. In most countries, financial deepening has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in the importance of debt and equity markets compared to physical assets. But not in India!

 

On the contrary! Even within the broad spectrum of financial assets, Indian households seem to prefer safe bank deposits to shares and debentures. A detailed breakup of the components of financial savings shows that bank deposits account for a high and increasing share of financial savings of households. Indeed, even as the share of bank deposits in financial savings of households increased from 48% in 2006-07 to 58% in 2008-09, savings in shares and debentures fell from 9% to 2.6%.


What does it mean for the economy going forward? At the very least, it suggests that unless we make a concerted effort to incentivise savings in financial assets, the benefits of a higher savings rate will remain on paper.

Yet, it is not as though the average Indian is any less fond of punting compared to his counterpart elsewhere in the world. So, why is it that when it comes to savings, Indian households demonstrate such a strong aversion to risk?

Could it be that Indians, known for their strong liquidity preference — a preference that provoked Keynes to remark, 'The history of India at all times has provided an example of a country impoverished by a preference for liquidity' — have turned even more risk averse, post-reform?


Or does the fault lie elsewhere? With an incentive structure that fails to incentivise financial savings adequately and the lack of a social safety net that gives people the confidence needed to take risks? The answer is an emphatic yes. Faced with a fast-changing economic environment, the end of job security, breakup of traditional family structures and absence of any social safety net, even better-off households put a premium on safety rather than return.


Luckily for us, this is a lacuna that can be remedied by the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in his forthcoming Budget. How? By incentivising savings, particularly long-term savings, through instruments like inflation-indexed bonds, infrastructure bonds and pension products. And, most importantly, by ending all talk of EET (exempt, exempt, taxed). This penalises savers at the fag end of their lives and acts as a dampener to savings. Are you listening, Pranabda?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'FMCG COS NEED TO UNDERSTAND NEWGEN'

ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA

 

ITC entered the highly-competitive personal-care business in July 2005. Within a short span of five years, the company launched an array of brands. Each product offers a unique value proposition to the consumer, Sandeep Kaul, CEO for personal-care products business at ITC, told ET. Excerpts:


Despite being a late entrant, how did the company's personal-care products business make inroads in a short span?


Consumers have shown great acceptance to our value propositions. The personal-care market is one of the largest markets in the Indian FMCG space. There are entrenched players in this category with long international heritage. Consumer-centric insight along with our capability to develop innovative products on the basis of these insights have been the key drivers for developing a strong presence in this industry. The future strategy will be to win consumers with innovative and winning value propositions.


What is the positioning of the company's personal-care product brands?

Indian market has multiple consumers with multiple consumer needs. We developed and launched a portfolio of brands appealing to various consumer segments with their differential value propositions at appropriate price points. Essenza Di Wills, the first brand launched in 2005, targets the prestige segment of the market and offers a unique range of personal-care products manufactured in France. Fiama Di Wills is a premium range of personal-care products offering perfect balance of nature and science. Vivel caters to the mid segment of soaps and shampoos. It also offers a premium range of soaps under the brand name, Vivel Di Wills. A sub-brand of Vivel shampoos, called Vivel Ultra Pro, targets the growing anti-dandruff segment in the shampoo market. Superia brand caters to the popular segment.

How has the rollout been in the personal-care category compared to your precedents?


We have entered multiple consumer segments in multiple markets with a portfolio of products within a short span. Currently, we are working on a few categories. Brand extensions and new launches will happen as and when they are ready. In the personal-care industry, consumers are more conscious of the intrinsic value proposition. It is always a differential value proposition that drives consumer choice.

 

What attributes capture minds of consumers now-a-days?

NewGen consumers have been born in the age of 'plenty'. They have been exposed to a plethora of products in every category they have interacted with. So, they love flexibility and the freedom to choose from multiple options. They do not get bogged down by past heritage. Brands in the personal-care industry need to understand this change. One needs to invest time and resource to understand NewGen consumers and to develop new products or variants so that they can offer multiple choice. Some of the forthcoming challenges for the industry will be fast turnaround in product development, shorter product lifecycle and innovative value proposition.


How has R&D and product innovation helped growth of the industry and ITC?

Extensive R&D and consumer research are keys to develop a product portfolio with unique and differentiated offerings. Product innovation in this industry leads to addition of new features to the product and provides new and additional benefit to the consumers. We at ITC wanted to design a brand portfolio that will help us target every consumer with a unique and differentiated set of offerings. The products were developed with extensive research at ITC's R&D centre. Help of renowned industry experts was taken to ensure superior benefit delivery to the consumer. The packaging was developed in collaboration with international design houses. Every element of the mix was extensively researched with lakhs of consumers, feedback taken on board and improvements executed to offer a suitable value proposition to our customers.


What will be the advertising strategy of the personal-care products?

We engage with the consumer with a 360° approach. All relevant media are leveraged to communicate the brand message. Each media has a marketing objective to deliver. Advertising is developed, often in a media-specific context, and measured rigorously so that marketing objectives are met.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BUYOUT OF SUN BY ORACLE WILL BENEFIT US, SAYS NOVELL'S KOSTER OF NOVELL

HARSIMRAN SINGH

 

After its joint patent agreement with Microsoft in 2006, open SUSE maker Novell developed a lot of rivals in the open source community globally. Novell, which itself develops products based on the Linux kernel, now says its vision is to be a 'mixed source' company focused on core engineering products. Maarten Koster, president Asia Pacific, of Novell, talks to ET, about how rival Sun Microsystem's buyout by Oracle is going to benefit Novell and of course the future of open source software businesses. He also contradicts the strategy of major global IT vendors who are integrating verticals (like Dell buying Perot and HP buying EDS). Excerpts:


Do you think acquisitions like Oracle buying out your rival Sun Microsystems is going to impact Novell?

The buyout of Sun Microsystems by Oracle Corp is going to benefit us. Already there are several Sun Microsystems' customers that are talking to us for migration to a Novell platform. We are going to come out with an offer this year for them to migrate from Sun's Solaris to Novell's SUSE — the desktop for enterprises. Given the past history of Oracle, customers are afraid, as being a large company, they have a lot on their platter.

What's Novell's vision of open source? Is it okay to exit a business or region, if it does not suit your corporate vision?

We are a mixed source company. Though we provide open source and open platform enterprise operating systems and software, we like to call ourselves a heterogeneous company. If I gaze the crystal ball, I don't see open source software killing proprietary software business or vice versa in future. Both will continue to exist. And it's the customer who will make them work together.


Are you also interested in integrating a service component to your business a la' HP-EDS or Dell-Perot deal?

We have consciously taken a decision not to venture into a services business. We are partners with all large service players like Wipro, TCS, Infosys in India and players like IBM and Accenture, globally.


I believe that if a product company tries to diversify too much into services, it's bound to kill it's business channel. At some point in the business chain, you might come in a clash with your client, which is not going to be liked. A client would rather work with a smaller vendor than have one which creates a business conflict. So, in 2006, we consciously took a decision to stick to our core strength of being a company focused on software product engineering.

 

What is Novell's plan for India in 2010?

In 2010, we believe a new business area, is going to emerge globally — of IT workload management. Due to the emergence of new technologies like virtualisation and now cloud computing, physical servers are now going on the cloud. But some critical applications will be hosted in the physical data centres or in a virtualised environment.

Managing workload across the three areas — physical, virtualised and cloud environments, is what Novell will be focusing on in 2010. A lot of these new applications will be developed in India. We have already announced that we will be investing about $100 million in India this year and increasing our India headcount from 600 to 800 employees. We also have over a billion dollar in cash assets and are looking for acquisitions. India already has the largest development base of 800 employees out of Novell's 3500 employee base globally.

We will be playing a role for all three providers of physical data centres as a service (PAAS), software as a service (SAAS) and infrastructure as a service (IAAS). We also have over a billion dollar in cash assets and looking for acquisitions. India already has the largest development base of 800 employees out of Novell's 3500 employee base globally.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

OPTIMISM IS CORE VALUE OF COKE: RICARDO FORT

RATNA BHUSHAN

 

With beverages growing in double-digits, competition clicking at its heels and peak season round the corner, Coca-Cola has kick-started the year with a clear strategic intent, to make this summer hotter for its rivals. Ricardo Fort, Coca-Cola India vice-president marketing, shares his thoughts on portfolio expansion, the AC Nielsen controversy, bridging the gap between Thums Up and brand Coke, advertising spoofs, and more. Excerpts from a freewheeling chat with ET:


Coca-Cola India's own cola brand trails the acquired Thums Up by a wide margin. How do you plan to bridge the gap?

Yes, there's a gap and it's a challenge to grow brand Coke a lot more in this country. But it is not as if we are trying to grow one cola brand instead of the other. People tend to look at our portfolio in a disbalanced sort of way. Thums Up is a macho brand whereas brand Coke conveys optimism. Over the next couple of months, we are going to be pretty anchored on the idea of optimism, this is the core value of brand Coke, and we will be consistently reminding the consumer about it. We believe our tagline 'open happiness' captures this best.


Coca-Cola has market leadership across beverage segments according to AC Nielsen. But of late, credibility of Nielsen data is being questioned by almost all FMCG companies. What's your comment?

AC Nielsen uses a separate panel for beverage companies, as compared to other consumer products companies. Yes, sometimes there is a disconnect between their shares and our internal data, so we always ask them to make their universe better. We work very closely with Nielsen. But our internal data is more important to us, though Nielsen is an overall indicator of the market.


Considering that the beverages category is growing so rapidly in India, is portfolio expansion a priority to leverage that growth?

India is a more complex market than others. All our brands cover a lot of ground, but we need to do what the consumer wants. There are so many beverage categories Coca-Cola operates in, but we are using different lenses to evaluate what would work.


Our latest launch, Burn, is not a volumes driver, but there's room for the brand in bars, clubs and high-end restaurants. Irrespective of the state of the economy, some products are appealing – Burn is among them. Then there are some categories that are high-volume by nature – water, tea and milk.

 

How relevant is the rural growth story for beverages in India? And what's Coke doing to take advantage of that opportunity?

If you compare us to other categories, beverages are really different. But we are not going to be what we want to be if we don't take the rural consumer seriously. Presence, expanding distribution footprint, operational requirements like equipment, coolers and electricity, how to keep the products affordable, all are key.


We have, for example, coolers which operate without electricity because shortage of electricity is a reality. Communicating to the rural consumer is equally relevant. And it's not just communication for the sake of it, but communication that can be understood by the consumer. This includes local print, radio, outdoors. But the best communication tool for rural consumers is the product itself.


We hear global initiatives like ad campaigns and packaging are being rolled out across all Coca-Cola markets. Will these initiatives be seen in India as well?

This is where locality comes into play. India is a big enough market to figure out whether and how the global initiatives would be relevant here. So, for some brands we adopt global activities, for some we don't.


What's your comment on use of celebrities in cola advertising? And what about cola wars and spoofs in advertising, they seem to be a thing of the past?

In Brazil, we use celebrities to a small extent. But in this market, cricket and Bollywood really work. The strategy of using celebrities is not going to change because it's working well. As for ad spoofs, competition makes me smarter, but as a marketer I look only at my consumer. I don't take decisions based on my competitor. You're not going to see us getting distracted.


Increasingly, food and beverage companies are talking of responsible advertising/communication. That's specially relevant for a category like yours. Any plans?

Integrating messaging with product packs can cause a big impact. In Coca-Cola's case, our beverages are safe, healthy and non-addictive. So, by putting those messages on the brands, we can see the impact, since this directly reaches the consumer.

 

***************************************

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

OPTIMISM IS CORE VALUE OF COKE: RICARDO FORT

RATNA BHUSHAN

 

With beverages growing in double-digits, competition clicking at its heels and peak season round the corner, Coca-Cola has kick-started the year with a clear strategic intent, to make this summer hotter for its rivals. Ricardo Fort, Coca-Cola India vice-president marketing, shares his thoughts on portfolio expansion, the AC Nielsen controversy, bridging the gap between Thums Up and brand Coke, advertising spoofs, and more. Excerpts from a freewheeling chat with ET:


Coca-Cola India's own cola brand trails the acquired Thums Up by a wide margin. How do you plan to bridge the gap?

Yes, there's a gap and it's a challenge to grow brand Coke a lot more in this country. But it is not as if we are trying to grow one cola brand instead of the other. People tend to look at our portfolio in a disbalanced sort of way. Thums Up is a macho brand whereas brand Coke conveys optimism. Over the next couple of months, we are going to be pretty anchored on the idea of optimism, this is the core value of brand Coke, and we will be consistently reminding the consumer about it. We believe our tagline 'open happiness' captures this best.


Coca-Cola has market leadership across beverage segments according to AC Nielsen. But of late, credibility of Nielsen data is being questioned by almost all FMCG companies. What's your comment?

AC Nielsen uses a separate panel for beverage companies, as compared to other consumer products companies. Yes, sometimes there is a disconnect between their shares and our internal data, so we always ask them to make their universe better. We work very closely with Nielsen. But our internal data is more important to us, though Nielsen is an overall indicator of the market.


Considering that the beverages category is growing so rapidly in India, is portfolio expansion a priority to leverage that growth?

India is a more complex market than others. All our brands cover a lot of ground, but we need to do what the consumer wants. There are so many beverage categories Coca-Cola operates in, but we are using different lenses to evaluate what would work.


Our latest launch, Burn, is not a volumes driver, but there's room for the brand in bars, clubs and high-end restaurants. Irrespective of the state of the economy, some products are appealing – Burn is among them. Then there are some categories that are high-volume by nature – water, tea and milk.


How relevant is the rural growth story for beverages in India? And what's Coke doing to take advantage of that opportunity?

If you compare us to other categories, beverages are really different. But we are not going to be what we want to be if we don't take the rural consumer seriously. Presence, expanding distribution footprint, operational requirements like equipment, coolers and electricity, how to keep the products affordable, all are key.


We have, for example, coolers which operate without electricity because shortage of electricity is a reality. Communicating to the rural consumer is equally relevant. And it's not just communication for the sake of it, but communication that can be understood by the consumer. This includes local print, radio, outdoors. But the best communication tool for rural consumers is the product itself.


We hear global initiatives like ad campaigns and packaging are being rolled out across all Coca-Cola markets. Will these initiatives be seen in India as well?

This is where locality comes into play. India is a big enough market to figure out whether and how the global initiatives would be relevant here. So, for some brands we adopt global activities, for some we don't.


What's your comment on use of celebrities in cola advertising? And what about cola wars and spoofs in advertising, they seem to be a thing of the past?


In Brazil, we use celebrities to a small extent. But in this market, cricket and Bollywood really work. The strategy of using celebrities is not going to change because it's working well. As for ad spoofs, competition makes me smarter, but as a marketer I look only at my consumer. I don't take decisions based on my competitor. You're not going to see us getting distracted.


Increasingly, food and beverage companies are talking of responsible advertising/communication. That's specially relevant for a category like yours. Any plans?


Integrating messaging with product packs can cause a big impact. In Coca-Cola's case, our beverages are safe, healthy and non-addictive. So, by putting those messages on the brands, we can see the impact, since this directly reaches the consumer.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A COMMUNIST WHO ALMOST BECAME PM

 

The passing of Jyoti Basu removes from the scene a Communist and a gentleman, a leader of the working class to whom industrialists paid encomiums, a veteran of revolutionary thought who removed the shackles of sharecroppers in his state and was also game to offer farmers' lands for industrialisation. His is a death that has been mourned by his friends and his opponents alike, and by all strata of society in the country. It is small wonder that at a difficult moment for the country in 1996, a balancer of contradictions such as him should have been the unanimous choice for Prime Minister of a clutch of centrist "bourgeois" parties who secured a majority in Parliament, although he would be tripped up by his own party, the CPI(M), which was simply unable to understand the vision of its own great master. The veteran leader called his party's short-sighted decision a "historic blunder" and graciously allowed his name to be withdrawn from consideration. Many in his place would have schemed and plotted and persisted with their "claim". In a subsequent interview, Basu explained that many in the country would not have heard of his party and his heading the government at the Centre would have helped to spread awareness about the CPI(M). This was a valid assessment to which the majority of the party leadership, run by bookish Marxists, remained blind. The Marxist patriarch ran a stable administration in West Bengal for 23 long years (1977-2000) — no chief minister in India has stayed in the saddle so long, and Basu pulled out for reasons of health — but not an efficient one. In his conduct, he was a remote patrician, true to the stock of East Bengal zamindars he came from. It was not as an administrator that he made his mark, and his critics have grown over the years. Basu's outstanding contribution was his grasp over the political largeness and subtleties of India, and the manifestations of this in his own state. The Trinamul Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, who has baited and attacked the CPI(M) as few have, personally respected the Marxist veteran and once visited him and touched his feet. As a party, the CPI (M) has not shown the versatility of being comfortable in a governing coalition or united front comprising parties representing multiple class interests. This was apparently the reason for its opposing Basu becoming Prime Minister. But the stalwart himself came to prominence in the United Front government of Ajoy Mukherjee in West Bengal in 1967, in which his party was a junior partner. He showed in times ahead that he was au fait with coalition arrangements. This underlined his appreciation of the textured fabric of Indian society. Basu's national stature grew each time he brought his party home in West Bengal, and he won as many as five elections, more than any chief minister. In national politics, he showed his acumen in helping establish — along with the late Harkishen Singh Surjeet, his comrade-in-arms — anti-Congress and pro-Congress coalitions, a remarkable feat. In his own home state, Basu dinned in the mantra into his party's ears that forsaking the smaller formations that made up the Left Front would be a recipe for disaster, and was always available as the reconciler. The late chief minister was not a rigid Marxist, but he was nothing but a Marxist. Also, his Marxism did not preclude democracy, to the chagrin of the more sectarian elements of the CPI(M) brass who tend to equate stridency with revolutionary fervour. It may be no exaggeration to say that three stalwarts of modern Bengal who will be remembered are Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Jyoti Basu.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE UNUSUAL IDEALIST

BY SHIKHA MUKERJEE

 

Jyoti Basu was unusual in all sorts of ways; he retired, as he said, "when you fall ill, you cannot even attend office and look at things. Then why should you function?" In his worldview, that of a " Communist Marxist", there is a time when you call it quits, because if you cannot be productively engaged then it is better to exit.
In his final months, when he took to his bed, Basu was miserable because he could not function. To his way of thinking, a Marxist goes down fighting at the barricades; a prolonged fade out accompanied by hordes of people in attendance is an ignominious end of a life committed to a struggle — the objective of which was a gloriously utopian world sans oppression, exploitation, violence, greed, exhausting competition where the liberated could live as a new breed of Communists.


In his heyday, he was brisk and businesslike, yet unfailingly courteous; a bhadralok in every way from his impeccably starched dhoti and kurta to the manner in which he communicated with all and sundry. Basu rarely used the familiar while speaking to comrades, associates and subordinates. He was never addressed in quintessentially Bengali style of adding "da" to the name. He was always Jyoti Babu. Aloof, private and passionate. The public persona masked a romantic idealist who committed himself to Marxism in 1938 in London, and till the end he remained a Communist, a Marxist.


That, however, did not make him a fanatic. Nor did he ever alter his manner to mimic caricature Marxists, disguised in uniforms, abrasive in their manners and determined to "blend" in with the "great unwashed". Once at the Raj Bhavan in Darjeeling, sitting across from him on the lawn for an interview, the sun was blinding. Basu insisted on changing seats: as a gracious host he preferred to sit in the sun while his guest enjoyed the comfort of the shade. It did not matter to him that his guest was a youngster and he was already a legend.
He had a mischievous sense of humour and a dry, sharp wit, but he was miserly with words. Many years later, when Basu was hospitalised after a fall, I visited him, not without an appointment. He was frail and looked unhappy. There was a book on the table beside him. I asked if he was reading it; he glanced sideways and, with a straight face, made a very characteristic sound like a laugh choked, saying a visitor had gifted it for reading in hospital. It was a tome about Chairman Mao's excesses in China. His message was clear: he regarded the gift as inappropriate, if not bizarre, a gift to an image rather than the individual.


During the wild years when Hindutva's shrill message was inflaming passions, Jyoti Basu delivered well-aimed blows: he described the demolition of the Babri Masjid as "barbaric", for which the BJP never forgave him. He described with characteristic wry humour the frenzy to cart bricks inscribed with "Shri Ram" as "brick puja", and coldly denied that the Hindu faith had any place for fanaticism or any single interpretation.
History will judge Basu as a leader of the Communist movement in India from 1940 when he stepped off a ship in Mumbai and addressed his first public meeting. He went to London to become a barrister in 1935 and returned a Communist who told his father that he would not practice law but would live the life of a party whole-timer. His disinterest in the law was profound, and Basu recalled that he lost the case for the first brief he received. That convinced him that the law was not his calling.


From 1940 Basu was a loyal partyman. He disagreed with the party on many occasions, including his last big fight over what he described as a "historic blunder", rejection of the offer of prime ministership in 1996. His disagreements ranged from accepting the party's meddling in private matters like who he married to the need to develop an independent political line appropriate to the concrete conditions in India.


He even disagreed with the CPI(M) leadership in 2004. Having fought hard to reverse the party's line on participation in a government led by the Congress at the Centre and won his argument, he wanted to seize the second chance that history had thrown up. Basu wanted the CPI(M) to join the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, if only for a limited period of two years. His reasons were simple: it would give the CPI(M) an opportunity to establish itself as a responsible alternative and facilitate its expansion out of the three enclaves of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. "People would know that there was a difference" — that was what he wanted.


If the CPI(M)'s timid leadership had gambled as Basu wanted, it would have been easier in 2008 to sell the withdrawal of support on the nuclear deal. While Basu disagreed with the party, he never challenged its authority. He vow of discipline forbade him to do so. In negotiating the relationship between the party and the government he headed in West Bengal, in the end Basu always bowed to the higher authority.
The errors of the CPI(M) have, therefore, been heaped on his head, along with the mistakes he made. His successes have become the party's achievements, including land reforms that he pushed through in his first term as chief minister in 1977; Panchayati Raj, that became the model for the rest of the country; lowering the voting age to 18, that served as the first step for its later adoption at the all-India level, reservation for women in elected bodies, something yet to become law at the national level. While credit for the new industrialisation initiative, even though it has come a cropper after Singur, Nandigram and Vedic Village, is given to the Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, it was on September 23, 1994 that Basu pushed through the new Industrial Policy Resolution, discarding old beliefs for the new liberalised economic policy. He goofed up and admitted the mistake over not introducing computerisation in the 1970s, and built Salt Lake's Sector 5 high-tech hub to compensate and catch up.


History, however, might need to remember Basu not as the longest serving chief minister of West Bengal, a rare phenomenon of a Communist heading a democratically-elected government, but as an extraordinary leader whose imprint is evident in so many significant but ordinary ways. He converted a banned party into a parliamentary one, contesting in the 1952 general elections. He converted the promise of decentralisation and participatory government into reality through panchayats and municipal elections. He claimed respect for regional parties and leaders and established their role in contributing to the running of the government in New Delhi. He introduced a method of keeping score of government performance through the Common Minimum Programme.


Basu was an extraordinary leader and person. Despite his patrician style, he was a man the masses respected. He spoke to them in ordinary terms, delivering homely but profoundly political messages. He was prosaic. He was a dreamer. He was a man who thought with his heart and felt with his mind, enabling him to leap across cultural, social, economic and even political barriers in order to engage with the people, his people.

 

* Shikha Mukerjee is a Kolkata-based politicalcommentator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CHINA IS RISING, WHERE IS AMERICA'S SPUTNIK?

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

The Former U.S. vice-president, Mr Dick Cheney, says the US President, Mr Barack Obama, is "trying to pretend that we are not at war" with terrorists. There is only one thing I have to say about that: I sure hope so.
Frankly, if I had my wish, we (Americans) would be on our way out of Afghanistan not in, we would be letting Pakistan figure out which Taliban they want to conspire with and which ones they want to fight, we would be letting Israelis and Palestinians figure out on their own how to make peace, we would be taking $100 billion out of the Pentagon budget to make us independent of imported oil and we would be reducing the reward for killing or capturing Osama bin Laden to exactly what he's worth: 10 cents and an autographed picture of Dick Cheney.
Am I going isolationist? No, but visiting the greater China region always leaves me envious of the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, who surely get to spend more of their time focusing on how to build their nations than my President, whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.


Could we just walk away? No, but we must change our emphasis. The "war on terrorists" has to begin by our challenging the people and leaders over there. If they're not ready to take the lead, to speak out and fight the madness in their midst, for the future of their own societies, there is no way we can succeed. We'll exhaust ourselves trying. We'd be better off just building a higher wall.


As the terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman noted in an essay in the Washington Post: "In the wake of the global financial crisis, Al Qaeda has stepped up a strategy of economic warfare. 'We will bury you', Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev promised Americans 50 years ago. Today, Al Qaeda threatens: 'We will bankrupt you'".

 

And they will.

Our presence, our oil dependence, our endless foreign aid in West Asia have become huge enablers of bad governance there and massive escapes from responsibility and accountability by people who want to blame all their troubles on us. Let's get out of the way and let the moderate majorities there, if they really exist, face their own enemies on their own. It is the only way they will move. We can be the wind at their backs, but we can't be their sails. There is some hope for Iraq and Iran today because their moderates are fighting for themselves.
Has anyone noticed the most important peace breakthrough on the planet in the last two years? It's right here: the new calm in the Strait of Taiwan. For decades, this was considered the most dangerous place on earth, with Taiwan and China pointing missiles at each other on hair triggers. Well, over the past two years, China and Taiwan have reached a quiet rapprochement — on their own. They realised their own interdependence. The result: a new web of economic ties, direct flights and student exchanges.


Taiwan has no oil, no natural resources. They got rich digging inside themselves, unlocking their entrepreneurs, not digging for oil. They got rich by asking: "How do I improve myself?" Not by declaring: "It's all somebody else's fault. Give me a handout".


When I look at America from here, I worry. China is now US main economic partner and competitor. Sure, China has big problems. Nevertheless, I hope Americans see China's rise as the 21st-century equivalent of Russia launching the Sputnik satellite — a challenge to which we responded with a huge national effort that revived our education, infrastructure and science and propelled us for 50 years. Unfortunately, the Cheneyites want to make fighting Al Qaeda our Sputnik.


What is US national project going to be? Racing China, chasing Al Qaeda or parsing Harry? Of course we need to both race China and confront Al Qaeda — but which will define us?


"Our response to Sputnik made us better educated, more productive, more technologically advanced and more ingenious", said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. "Our investments in science and education spread throughout American society, producing the Internet, more students studying maths and people genuinely wanting to build the nation".


And what does the war on terror give us? Better drones and body scanners. "Sputnik spurred us to build a highway to the future", added Mandelbaum. "The war on terror is prompting us to build bridges to nowhere". We just keep thinking we can do it all. We can't. We don't have the money. We don't have the time.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MODI PULLS STRINGS, MAYA ALL STOPS

SHARMA'S DAS CAPITAL

 

Apparently, the Lefties have a friend in the commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma, but they did not know

.
In a recent conference of bankers in Mumbai, he took more than a few digs at the capitalists who say that the government shouldn't be running banks and should leave that job to the private sector.


Mr Sharma enlightened them on the 2008 financial crisis that came from the heart of the capitalist world. Then came the punch line: in 2009 India became the second fastest growing economy while the biggest US banks collapsed and its financial institutions were in tatters. SBI became bigger than Citibank.This happened because India had a framework to keep banks under control, he said, gently ridiculing some "wise men" who wanted the government to get out of banking. That was some plainspeaking.

 

>> A bellyful for BJP chief

The new BJP chief, Mr Nitin Gadkari, has not had to grapple with any big political issue after he took over, but after a few days in Delhi, he became aware that his girth might get broader.


Mr Gadkari, an avid foodie, now blames it on the "rich breakfast" including heavy paranthas eaten in Delhi in the morning.


Thanks to that, the BJP chief has gone on a diet and has become more circumspect about food. Though he used to love junk food, the BJP president now eats a spartan diet when he is in Delhi, consisting of light food, carrot and radish juice.


"You people eat aloo ka parantha in the morning", he quipped the other day. "It is too heavy for me".

 

>> Maya not in the bluesUnderstatement is certainly not the forte of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati.


Apparently to deflect criticism, she had declared that her birthday celebrations on January 15 would be low-key. But then you would have to stretch the definition of "low-key" till the phrase bursts.


The theme of the birthday was "blue" and all the parks and memorials in Lucknow were lit up with blue Chinese lights.


Hoardings, sponsored by BSP leaders, were plastered all over the state capital and all of them were in shades of blue, which happens to be the BSP's colour too.


There were also blue banners, blue balloons, blue arches and even blue elephants. Inside the auditorium where Ms Mayawati unveiled projects for the poor, blue orchids were put up on the walls. Thankfully, the chief minister did not cut the customary cake in public this year — or else enthusiastic loyalists would have painted it blue too. That would have been some sight.

 

>> To be close to power

Every top official in the national capital wants an office that is close to the minister's chamber.
The Union law ministry is now witnessing a virtual tug of war between several senior officials for perches that are close to the seat of power.


Though Mr T.K. Vishwanathan, the former law secretary, had retired from his position last year, he still continues to occupy his coveted room since he was appointed an adviser to the minister, Mr M. Veerappa Moily. This has created a problem in bureaucratic circles. Two secretary-level officials are now vying to occupy the room, which is adjacent to Mr Moily's chamber.


However, their string pulling has got them nowhere as the incumbent seems in no hurry to vacate it for them.
It might be a long wait for the frustrated officials.

 

>> Modi flies kites

Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that you cannot ignore the political acumen of Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi.


He has perfected the art of subtly making political capital out of all occasions, whether they are celebrations or moments of solemnity.


Clad in a jersey and sporting big glares, Mr Modi was out flying kites with the people on Makar Sankranti, one of Gujarat's most loved festivals. He smartly chose six locations in his constituency Maninagar in Ahmedabad where he flew kites, interacted with people and savoured the local delicacies.


It later became evident that all the six locations he chose were areas where the BJP needed to strengthen itself.
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation elections are due this year and Mr Modi knows that his flying kites on a local terrace or savouring a home-made til ka laddoo is something the locals will remember when they go to cast their vote. If your ambitions are high enough, you will even fly kites.

 

>> Buddha sees his future

Ahead of the winter session of the West Bengal Assembly, the state government renovated the chamber of the Leader of Opposition, Mr Partha Chatterjee. An LCD television set was put up there as also a plaque bearing the names of all Leaders of Opposition since Independence.


Surprisingly, the other chambers, including those of the Speaker and Left Front chief whip, were not given a similar facelift. The Trinamul Congress, which always accuses the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government of disrespecting it, was surprised at the state government's largesse and could not comprehend it.
Then Mr Chatterjee came up with this clever explanation. "Buddha babu knows that the Left Front will be defeated in the 2011 polls and he will have to occupy the chamber of the Leader of Opposition", he quipped. "He is actually making his future abode comfortable".

 

Tail piece

At the annual Delhi Police press conference held recently, police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal was asked about the crime situation in the nation's capital. To this Mr Dadwal quipped: "Yahan pe sahab crime ka scene alag hai. Ek aadmi apnay dost se biri maangta hai. Jab uska dost biri dene say mana kar ke thank you bolta hai, woh aadmi us ki thank you kar deta hai". This one defies translation.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

TO IDIOTS, WITH LOVE

BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

Those who are not writing or reading about the movie 3 Idiots are flocking in droves to movie theatres to see for themselves the film which has already broken many box office records and made, at last count, a profit of over Rs 300 crores at the box office in about 12 days. Purists will argue that ringing cash registers can never be an indication of the worth of a film, or any work of art. Others will bemoan the lack of values in filmmaking, and the dumbing down of popular culture. An over-enthusiastic culture police (aka the Shiv Sena) tried to create some violence around movie theatres showing the film, claiming that it "encouraged" ragging in colleges. Clearly they had not bothered to see even the first scene of the film, because the basic premise it starts from is that ragging is a stupid thing to do, and Aamir Khan wins the hearts of the audience with the innovative, although admittedly juvenile slapstick, way in which he stands up to the college bully.


Well, I went to see the film, and had to fight my way through huge crowds to get into the theatre, which was houseful, although it was a weekday evening. The audience clearly loved the film and enjoyed every moment of it. I myself thought it was quite a good movie, and certainly enjoyed watching it. I don't feel that it is the best film ever made nor would I even say that it moved me greatly. It is a simple film with a simple message. The actors are great, the roles well delineated and magnificently performed. Sometimes the stereotypes are very exaggerated and manage therefore to make a huge impact. The struggling middle-class family with the paralysed father, harried working mother and plain jane, unwed sister, so beloved of Hindi movies, is almost sardonically portrayed. So grotesque is the one image of the father lying paralysed and the mother scratching his eczema with the same spoon she was using to make chapatis and the sister staring out of the window that in any other context it would have been repulsive. But, in this case, the pathos of their condition — and that of hundreds of middle-class families like them — is brought forcibly home to the viewer. Anybody familiar with middle-class Indian society will empathise instantly with this family which has pinned all its hopes on the son of the family acquiring a good education and dreaming how, thereafter, he would land a wonderful job and bring all their troubles and suffering to an end. This is perhaps the one common thread that runs through middle-class families, the length and breadth of India, and I would say that this is an issue, very much a characteristic of Indian society, something many other societies especially in the West would identify with.


In Western countries, I know of wealthy professionals who tell their offspring that they will have to pay their own way through college because the parents feel that they have done their bit for their children and don't really want to shell out $50,000 a year for the child's college education and thereby sacrifice one of their three annual holidays. Most Indian middle-class families, on the other hand, would work their fingers to the bone and eat only one meal a day to put their child through college.


This is an endearing and very special characteristic of certain sections of Indian society. I would fight any attempt to homogenise our culture or society, but certainly it cannot be denied that middle-class Indians all over our country place a great premium upon educating their children. Most children too gladly accept the obligation of this education and after getting a job take over the responsibilities of the family. Or, at least, that is what they are expected to do. There are not many societies in the world where this kind of bonding happens and, to me, this message was the most poignant one in the film.


The general debate around the film has, on the other hand, been centred around Aamir Khan's message, that meaningless education by rote is unproductive and rather than chasing ritualistic success, excellence should be the goal and purpose of education. This is a message which is delivered through comedy and sometimes parody. The comedy is somewhat slapstick and obvious and does not even attempt to be subtle. The parody, especially of Professor Virus, is somewhat unfair to hundreds of wonderful and dedicated teachers who impart learning and values to our students, but Aamir Khan can easily be forgiven for that since his message really is to convey how devastating the thoughtless cruelty of an insensitive teacher can be to the fragile ego of a young student. It is also a telling comment upon the pressures our education by rote puts upon young students and the great danger to their self-esteem, even their lives, if they snap under the pressure. Our daily newspapers are filled with stories of children as young as 10 and 12 committing suicide, while the numbers of college-going youngsters who kill themselves over exam results are growing every day.


The film seeks to highlight the dangers of conflicting pressures of a rigid educational system, family expectations and a competitive job market upon the minds of young students. Madhavan plays the role of a young student who is forced into engineering studies by his father, but he really wants to be a wildlife photographer. The father comes around and Madhavan gets his way, but to my mind, this is a rare event in our society where most students are forced by circumstance to stay on the treadmill of education, job, family and achievement as perceived by society. Even fewer students can indulge themselves as Aamir Khan finally does.

 

He goes totally off the beaten track to establish a school of excellence in Ladakh, while himself becoming a successful inventor and scientist.There has been a great deal of hype about whether this film has slammed IITs and other institutions of higher learning, and how it dumbs down the values of formal education in an unacceptable way. Such criticism is unfair and unwarranted. 3 Idiots is just a good film, rather funny, no violence, with a simple message simply narrated. There is no need for us to surgically analyse every movie that comes out. Sometimes films should just be enjoyed.

 

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. Theviews expressed in this
column are her own.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GENEROSITY IS NOT A VIRTUE

BY SADHGURU

 

Right now your child is hungry. If you give food to the child, do you think you are generous? Do you feel generous? No. A child on the street is hungry, if you give something to that child, you think you are generous, isn'tit?


So your generosity is a weakness that has come from a limited identity of who you are. f your humanity functions from within, then without feeling generous or stingy you do anything that is required or expected from you. Only because you are stingy you can be generous, isn't it? If you are not stingy you don't need any generosity in life. Simply put you will do what is needed.


If I have to give food to somebody on the street, I don't think I am generous. If I have it I shall give it. It is not my generosity, it is not my virtue; it is nothing. I think it's natural. Even an animal in the forest eats what it wants and leaves the rest to the others, isn't it? It is not generous; it is just doing out of its nature.
Similarly, if you function out of your humanity it is just natural for you to feel that your heart beats for everybody and everything in the world. It is just natural. You have not allowed your humanity to function, so you need all these false virtues. You are devoid of love, that is why you take the help of all these false virtues.
For example, if you love the person who is sitting next to you, do you need to be generous with him or her? When you have love and affection for that person in your heart, you would always feel that you have not done enough for him or her.


Only a person who has no love in his or her heart feels that s/he has been too generous and has gone out of the way. These kind of people think that others have never been kind, polite and fair to them. All this negative thoughts come because there is no love in their heart. There is no humanity left in them. They are trying to conform to the standard of right. They know morality but they don't know humanity i.e the quality of being human.


With morality you become crooked. With humanity everything will be fine. If you allow your humanity to function, you will naturally witness that your heart beats for everything that exists. It is very natural for you to do what is expected out of you. Generosity is not a virtue. It's a very negative factor in your life. But all these things have been celebrated in the society because we have twisted the whole society in a certain direction. Don't be generous, just be human. That's more than enough.

 

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

JYOTI BASU

MARXIST WHO WENT BEYOND MARX


JYOTI Basu was not just the tallest leader of the CPI-M but also its mind and soul, even when he was scarcely in a position to perform. As he lay on his sick bed, Indira Bhavan became the rallying point for patriarchal intervention or moral support on matters ranging from acquisition of farmlands in Singur to the crisis of a chief minister under pressure after the party's debacle in the elections. He might not have been come up with solutions, but they all found in him a source of inspiration, a final port of call as it were - Somnath Chatterjee after he was expelled from the party, Mamata Banerjee when she found the Chief Minister intransigent or to show respect for the only Marxist she was prepared to talk to, Gopalkrishna Gandhi before he boarded the flight out of Kolkata on completing his term as Governor, and so many others. These may have been no more than courtesy calls but they reflected the trust that perhaps no one else in the CPI-M enjoyed. The confidence and respect that he commanded was in proportion to the energy and wisdom he had displayed in the early years that found the Communist Party seeking political opportunities in the huge refugee influx and in the distress of the urban middle class after Independence. Basu himself had to live down his aristocratic roots to become a mass leader. There were others; thinkers and ideologues, Communists who belonged to his generation and the next. None of them had his charisma. And not one could claim the mantle of a national leader, a position that would almost have put him in the Prime Minister's chair had it not been for what he called his party's "historic blunder''.


While he regretted that decision till his last days, he had no reason to be dissatisfied with what he achieved - not only as India's longest serving chief minister but also as a leader who sustained the Communist movement through its biggest challenges. It was a herculean task to project the party's mass credentials when Dr BC Roy was functioning – and effectively - as the architect of a new Bengal. Even then, Basu was almost the sole face of an alternative that strived for power, but seldom dreamt it could make it.


That he managed to survive the conflicts and contradictions of the party's ideological position in the wake of the war with China, the split in 1964, the distressing experience of an election in 1972 that was alleged to have been rigged and the Emergency that saw most of his comrades go into hiding was testimony to courage and single-mindedness, of a man who belonged more to the street than to the confines of an academic debate.


When he finally headed the state's government in 1977, he endorsed enthusiastically the Marxist culture that relied on destroying relics of the Raj and reaching out to peasants to create solid bastions for the party. As he set about ruling the state, Basu showed himself to be focused to the point of sometimes seeming ruthless; certainly, several of his political opponents bit the dust. It didn't take long for him to realise that he needed to go beyond socialist doctrines of state control and agrarian populism if West Bengal had to look ahead. That required a relentless battle against institutions his party had established and over which, he had only a little control in spite of having played a part in their creation. Objective analysis tells us that for a long time Basu did not realise the need for this battle, such was the euphoria that enveloped the installation of a Left Front government. A grudging realisation became manifest when he proceeded to take revolutionary steps like encouraging a new class of private developers and entrepreneurs. Such was his position that no one accused him of serving bourgeois interests, even though whispers about the influence of a favoured class continued to dog him. On the contrary, there came the belated recognition – at least among some Communists - that the party may have done better to reinvent itself much earlier. In the end though, too little was done to arrest the slide, and too late.


When Basu stepped down in 2000, it must have been with the realisation – he was far too intelligent not to introspect objectively – that while his place was assured in the Communist pantheon, his spell in power had actually seen West Bengal regress to a point that his own role would have to face history's harsh scrutiny. His may be the story of a visionary trapped by the random growth of a party that in turn was hamstrung by an ideology unable to keep pace with events around it. It was perhaps appropriate that whilst life allowed him to lead a powerful party from the front, death spared him the anguish of witnessing its darkest days.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CAMPUS CONTROL

JADAVPUR STUDENTS ON THE WRONG FOOT


THE education scene in West Bengal has been vitiated to the extent that academic decisions, which should be the concern of the authorities, have been taken with the concurrence of highly politicised student associations. It had been taken for granted that student unions were entitled to have their say on matters ranging from academic schedules to appointments. Some grievances may have been valid but what sounds reasonable is invariably the subject of a debate outside the campus as well. What is unfortunate is that students in universities such as Jadavpur have been inclined to cross the limits of discipline on issues that are far from reasonable. Whether or not the political changes which have had an impact on student unions have anything to do with it or not, there are healthy signs that discipline is being enforced regardless of the consequences. Jadavpur showed the way by refusing to bow down to demands for withdrawing the punishment imposed on a student found to have been involved in ragging. Two years down the line, the university has set another example by refusing to withdraw an order on holding cultural festivals on the campus that would violate Pollution Control Board norms. Students have been caught on the wrong foot and have lost the justification for gheraoing officers and boycotting classes on this issue. With no answer to the tough stand taken by the authorities, students have sought to divert attention to matters like scholarship and hostel facilities which had nothing to do with the present agitation that simply demanded the right to transform the atmosphere on the campus.


The university's executive council has every reason to stick to the order that cultural shows should abide by the PCB norm of keeping the decibel level below 60 and ending the programme before 10 p.m. Even this would appear to be a liberal interpretation of the rule when the university has a well-equipped auditorium for cultural events. What is particularly reprehensible is that the students have chosen strong-arm tactics against those they ought to hold in respect. They should have learnt from the aborted attempts in the past to extend puja holidays and compel the authorities to re-evaluate examination papers. But there are invariably a few who believe that indulging in such excesses is the best way of establishing control over the majority who are more concerned about their academic objectives. The executive council has done well not only to assert its authority but also to identify the culprits.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TAGORE TURNS 150

THE TASKS BEFORE UNESCO

BIBEKANANDA RAY


UNESCO announced last October that it would celebrate Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary the world over in 2010. It has honoured India's request with the observation that "the characteristic poetry of Tagore carries the essence of universal humanistic values".


The decision comes at a juncture when Tagore's popularity outside West Bengal and Bangladesh is on the decline. In North and South America, in Europe and in many countries of Asia, where he was acclaimed after the award of the Nobel prize in 1913, he is scarcely known outside the limited circle of NRIs. Unesco's initiative will be worthwhile if it can revive interest in Tagore and his works. 


Does his legacy deserve a resurgence outside India? Are his works and ideas of interest to the world seven decades after his death? He strode the literary world of undivided Bengal like a Colossus. The award of the Nobel Prize for Gitanjali made him an international literary icon. However, a revival of interest in the poet hinges on whether his personality, ideas on life, society and politics and the appeal of his literary output,  songs and paintings are still relevant.  During World War II (1939-45), Tagore had condemned the genocide, holocaust, and destruction unleashed by the Axis and Allied powers. The Crisis of Civilisation (1941) is a testament. He attributed the crisis to the desire of the super powers for domination, racial superiority and the rivalry rooted in a misunderstanding and pursuit of nationalism.  


Spiritual tension

THE scenario persists in different contexts. Unesco hopes that by observing his 150th birth anniversary globally, it will be able to "build up a conception of the universal reconciled with the particular, now that peace is being jeopardised nationally, regionally and internationally by identity-related and spiritual tension".


Tagore's birth centenary was observed in India in 1961 with considerable fanfare. Diverse evaluations of the man and his works were made in the two Bengals, some revealing, some ludicrous. As for example Buddhadeb Bose's controversial comment that he wrote European poetry in Bengali. Or Sudhindranath Datta's shocking assertion that he had to be married off, post-haste, to nip a brewing scandal in the Jorasanko house... that he was "desperately in love" with his elder brother's wife, Kadambari Devi.  Such criticism had aroused an awareness of his genius. Should Unesco celebrations be of the same variety? 
There is an abiding interest in both West Bengal and Bangladesh in his 2000-odd songs, of which no more than 1400 are generally sung in public. Barring a few exceptions, his poetry up to Sandhya Sangeet (1882) didn't  quite appeal to the masses. With Manasi (1891), his poems reflected his "true voice of feeling". Great poetry, like great lyrics, defies translations although he had translated several of his poems in Gitanjali. He had also translated TS Eliot's Journey of the Magi. During his lifetime and after, there have been numerous translations of his poems, novels, stories and plays. They  were not as moving as the original, but people outside Bengal became familiar with his creations. It is a pity that they were not universally acclaimed. Khuswant Singh, for example, saw no merit in many of them. His views shocked and angered Bengalis and he had to apologise in print and retract his statement.


Unesco, therefore, need not waste its resources on translating his works. The task has already been performed admirably by a host of scholars and writers. Pre-eminently, Krishna Kripalani, Buddhadeb Bose, Humayun Kabir, Amiya Chakravarty, Surendranath Tagore, Kshitish Roy,SasadharSinha, Shyamasree Devi, Shakuntala Rao Shastri, Monika Verma, Asok Mitra, Tarak Nath Sen, Amalendu Bose, Bhabani Bhattacharya, Chidananda Dasgupta, Samar Sen, Lila Ray, Hiren Mukerjee, Amalendu Das Gupta, Somnath Moitra, Krishna Datta, William Radice, Martin Kampchen, Ketaki Kushari Dyson and Sukanta Choudhuri. 


Unesco can bring out a "Quintessential Rabindranath" in major world languages, notably English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. It can even reproduce  a selection of his paintings in facsimile for global circulation. This will supplement Visva-Bharati's effort to bring out reprints of all his paintings and sketches in 2010. 
Unesco should focus on the relevance of Rabindranath's ideas on several other aspects of human life and society ~ on religion, nationalism, education, rural reforms, holistic development of India, and on morals chiefly for the benefit of the present generation. Rabindranath used to say that he had three aims ~ to enrich literature and other arts, to reform education and develop villages. His ideas and experiments are unique, unconventional and even revolutionary. His concept of rural development did not find favour with Nehru who was assisted by Prasanta Mahalanobis, the poet's private secretary, in the drafting of the  first Five-Year Plan (1950-55). In 1940, a year before his death, he gave Mahalanobis a resume of his ideas on planned development. But Nehru, influenced as he was by the Soviet model, ignored Tagore's blueprint. In the last 10 years of his life (1931-41), Rabindranath lost faith in organised, institutional religion and in temples, mosques and churches. He almost became an agnostic, as revealed in many of his 264 letters written to a devout Vaishnabh woman, Hemanta Bala Roy Choudhury. 


Unpublished letters

THE world has changed a great deal after Rabindranath's death in 1941. If he were to wake up like Rip Van Winkle today, he would have found India, the world at large and his dreamchild, Visva-Bharati, uniformly shocking. Unesco can bring out an omnibus collection of his works for global circulation. But  it would be more useful to publish his 200-odd unpublished letters and lectures abroad. His letters are in the possession of many who are reluctant to part with them for publication. Their copyright is held by, and will remain, with them or their legal heirs, until 50 years after their death.


Unesco can sponsor the publication of a selection of his songs in the Roman script and Western notation for non-Bengali singers. The efforts towards rural development in Sriniketan have not been effective; but with the assistance of Unesco it can adopt some villages. It can open and run cooperative banks for farmers and rural artisans in the manner of the gramin banks of Bangladesh. The Unesco's celebrations can merge or coincide with those in West Bengal and Bangladesh to mark Rabindranath's 150th birthday on 9 May 2010.  Its programme should be different from that of India and Bangladesh. Instead of generating a romantic euphoria through songs, plays, operas, and mimes, the exercise should leave a more abiding impact. Research publications on Tagore in Kolkata and Dhaka are prolific and generally of a high order. There is little that Unesco can do in this sphere; but the publications that it has on the anvil will enrich the existing corpus.  Today's disturbed world can benefit from Rabindranath Tagore's ideas. And it is here that Unesco has a critical role to play on the poet's 150th birth anniversary.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

GENTLEMAN PREFERS ISM

 

All his life Jyoti Basu had only two identities. One was that of a communist and the other that of a Bengali bhadralok. Basu took to communism in his youth in England. Before he decided to devote his life to the cause of communism, Basu's career had followed a path familiar to many sons of the bhadralok: St Xavier's School, Presidency College and Lincoln's Inn. What precisely drew him to communism was never clear, but he spoke often of the influence of Harry Pollitt and R.P. Dutt, the two leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His commitment to communism grew not from any deep understanding of the theoretical issues of Marxism and communism. His response was more emotional. He wanted, as a member of Calcutta's privileged, to do something for the downtrodden. But the stamp of privilege never left Basu. It was evident in the glistening white dhoti and panjabi he always wore, in his shoes, which were invariably polished, in his swift and confident gait, in his occasional bursts of arrogance and — dare one say it? — in his fondness for good food and the sundowner.

 

It could not have been easy for Basu to keep intact both these identities, since the ideology of one and the class content of the other inevitably pulled in opposite directions. This contradiction was most strained perhaps during Basu's days in the cold when, as a firebrand Opposition leader, Basu directed workers and West Bengal's sprawling white-collar sector to go on strikes and go-slows. On the streets of Calcutta, buses, trams and public property went up in flames in displays of mob violence that Basu and his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), led. It seemed then that beyond the destruction lay the revolution: the fire and violence were necessary purifiers. What such acts perpetrated in West Bengal were decline and decay. They thus created the perfect ambience for the bhadralok — born under the sign of decline as a class. Basu seemed, in the second half of the 20th century, the agent of that sign. Thus the contradiction appeared to be resolved, and the resolution produced Basu, the chief minister.

 

As chief minister, Basu nurtured the Left Front and so ensured that the Left votes in West Bengal were not split. This kept the Left on a winning streak. There was also the realization that the real basis of power in West Bengal lay in the countryside. The neglect of Calcutta and the agitational politics that Basu had spearheaded resulted in the flight of capital, a complete erosion of work culture and irresponsible trade unionism. The consequences of the scarcity of investments dawned on Basu as India entered the era of economic reforms and as socialism collapsed. In 1995-6, he engineered a volte face and decided to welcome capital back to West Bengal. The result was not a resounding success. Realism, Basu's principal asset, won for him the respect of politicians across the ideological spectrum. In 1996, when there was a search for a prime minister to lead a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition, Basu was the natural choice. But here the CPI(M) rendered unto Basu the most unkindest cut of all. The party refused to join the government, and that ruled out Basu's getting India's top job. Basu described his party's decision as a "historic blunder": strong words from an utter loyalist. Basu never forgot the lost opportunity. Towards the end of his life, he pleaded to be let off the harness on grounds of ill health. But he soldiered on in the politburo. He lived to see the first major electoral defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal. History will not be kind to Basu and his tenure as chief minister. He will be remembered as West Bengal's evergreen communist and bhadralok chief minister who did precious little to pull the state out of decline.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BORN TO CHARM

HE DID LITTLE WHEN HE COULD HAVE DONE SO MUCH

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

 

Manmohan Singh once adapted a famous comment about Britain's R.A. Butler to say that Jyoti Basu was the best prime minister India had never had. The prime minister may long ago have outgrown that personal view privately expressed before he held a governmental position; but there is no denying that Basu had a panache that never failed to impress. This writer too waxed eulogistic about the former chief minister in an anthology published about 15 years ago. It's only when West Bengal is compared to other states that doubts about Basu's long stewardship creep in.

 

People who worked with him in his early years in politics say he strove to model himself on Bidhan Chandra Roy, his hero. If so, the main resemblance was in his relationship with his party. Basu towered over his comrades as Roy had done over other Congressmen. He also had a broader perspective than other Bengali Marxists. Legend had it that he was on first-name terms with Indira Gandhi, whom he had known as a student in England. Others (P.N. Haksar, Bhupesh Gupta, Mohan Kumaramangalam) had also fallen under Rajani Palme Dutt's spell and returned to join either politics (Congress or communist), law or the civil service. But surrounded by sycophantic civil servants, Basu was intolerant of independent appraisals.

 

His principal asset was his personality. It followed, therefore, that his successes were largely personal. A Roman Catholic prelate told me he would "pick up the telephone and speak to Jyoti" at the least hint of labour trouble in any of their church institutions. Basu had not forgotten his childhood and adolescence at Loreto House and St Xavier's School. A former communist colleague recalls that Basu fell silent for a whole month when the undivided party resolved that public speeches would be only in the mother tongue. He was brushing up his Bengali oratory. In some ways, he was a sahib in a dhoti.

 

Given Indian class consciousness, villagers and the party's rank and file were awed by his aloof manner and unseeing, hooded gaze. He seemed born to rule. Westerners, especially the British, loved his unsmiling visage and clipped, monosyllabic replies. Society women swooned over his gallantry. One who wanted her whiskey small at a cocktail party was very taken when Basu intervened, "Don't worry, they serve it in homeopathic doses in this house!" Such repartee was not expected from an austere Marxist whose government was identified with radical social and economic measures.

 

There was a serious dimension to his pleasantries. They enabled him to enjoy convivial sessions with the captains of industry, who profited from the relationship. To my intense embarrassment, I have more than once opened a door at some large gathering and stumbled on Basu in a huddle with some of West Bengal's best-known business operators. The wintry smiles I got made it clear my presence was unwelcome. Basu could be very cold when he wanted to. He was too sophisticated to discuss land concessions, contracts, loans and licences at social occasions; but they soldered the bond that gave rise to the "Communist Party of India (Marwari)" joke about the CPI(M).

 

Ideology sat lightly on this urbane man of the world. He did not slave through the party ranks like the Cambridge-educated Indrajit Gupta, who came from a more distinguished, affluent and Westernized background but identified himself wholeheartedly with the mazdoor he represented. Snehangshu Acharya, Basu's lifelong friend and, some say, financial supporter, used to talk of taking him to Alexandra Castle, the family seat of the Maharajas of Mymensingh, after their return from England. The castle was said to boast a stairway of solid crystal and two kitchens that served lavish Bengali and European meals every day. Basu left after a week of this luxury, saying he would lose his communism if he stayed.

One of his campaign promises in the Seventies was that sub-divisional officers and district collectors were archaic institutions and that the government would find new channels of communication with the people. Having just visited Sri Lanka, I told him on the morning after the CPI(M)'s sweeping victory that Sirimavo Bandaranaike had appointed a political officer from her Sri Lanka Freedom Party in each district. The PO bypassed the established colonial era conduit. Basu was outraged. "That would mean duplication and confusion!" he expostulated. What new channels of communication did he have in mind then? He thought for a moment and said mahila samitis were very effective. The answer reminded me of the Fifties English joke, "Vote Labour to keep out the Socialists!" It is party lore that ambivalence and inconsistency also marked his stand on the revolutionary line that B.T. Ranadive advocated. To start with, he was critical of armed insurrection as in Telangana but later supported Ranadive as general secretary replacing P.C. Joshi. "Tiger" was his unlikely code name when the party went underground.

 

It would be unfair not to give Basu credit for the major changes that transformed West Bengal's landscape during his chief ministership. Operation Barga was a significant achievement. So was the tiered panchayat administration. But it seems now that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has a better appreciation of how to handle the fruits of success than Basu did. He did not seem to realize that his own reforms in the countryside had created a new breed of ambitious young Bengalis with a smattering of education, determined to break out of the peasant mould and become bhadraloks.

 

One saw the same upward mobility in Punjab after the Green Revolution. Agricultural universities like the one at Ludhiana were set up for the sons of well-to-do cultivators in the hope of turning them into modern gentlemen farmers. But those youths had no intention of demeaning themselves by going back to the land. All the boys I spoke to then on the Ludhiana campus demanded a white-collar job — in the block development office if all else failed. Luckily for them, industry mopped up Punjabi manpower and avoided the kind of discontent that manifested itself in the Naxalite movement and other forms of unrest. I found Basu singularly unsympathetic to this phenomenon when I was interviewing him in the early Seventies for a British magazine. He dismissed Naxalites as "wagon-breakers and anti-socials".

 

He sanctioned or turned a blind eye to criminally harsh repression and the use of agents provocateurs. He chose to condone police brutality, often making light of the atrocities reported in the newspaper I edited. "Editor-sahib sees torture everywhere!" he once joked. When I defended my reporter's eye-witness account he replied that he had asked the police commissioner, who had denied the story. Naturally, the police commissioner would deny a report that indicted his men. Similarly, Basu did little or nothing to prevent the CPI(M) and its allies from sponsoring illegal immigration from Bangladesh. He railed against the Anandabazar group at our last meeting, saying they invented stories about him.

 

A former governor of West Bengal would say that Basu refused to read or sign files. He preferred to discuss things over a drink in Raj Bhavan. The governor saw this as a form of escapism. That may also explain why he did not ever try to grasp the nettle of unemployment as Bhattacharjee is trying with his plans for rapid industrialization. However inept the operations may be, they represent a realistic appraisal of West Bengal's requirements.

 

Compare that with the fate that befell Roy's tangible legacy. Salt Lake has flourished because land means profiteering but Kalyani has not. And very little remains of the nurseries Roy planned for the hills, his deep-sea trawlers and the Haringhata farm. Jyoti Basu with his charm, access, privileged position, legal training and worldly outlook could have done so much. His sad epitaph is that he did so little.

 

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

MASTER OF THE POLITICS OF FEASIBILITY

 

Ashok Mitra, a younger comrade, pays homage to Jyoti Basu, a leader who died with his faith in the historical process unimpaired

 

India is to be without Jyoti Basu. The new reality will not sink easily into most minds. For most of the past half-a-century, the man had filled a crucial spot in the country's political landscape. It was a movable spot since circumstances were evolving all the time, but the picture would never be complete without this man's position and point of view. Allies, permanent or temporary, would be there to seek his counsel. Adversaries, too, would be aware of the differences and the weight of his views. The general feeling of a lack of coordinates, which has accompanied the announcement of his passing, is therefore understandable. This vacuum of feelings will, however, be different from person to person. That too owes to the magic of his persona. He had a way of interacting on the individual plane with whomever he met.

 

And this is perhaps what charisma is about. After Subhas Chandra Bose, Jyoti Basu was the next idol the Bengali masses created and clung to. The chemistry at work was almost inexplicable, for Jyoti Basu was by nature a shy and reserved individual. That apart, despite his fame as a spellbinding speaker, he abhorred histrionics; his voice never deviated from the normal pitch, the electric current nonetheless hurtled across in waves and a bond got instantly established between the person on the podium and the assembled dishevelled rows of humanity. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Front owe an immense deal to this inexplicable phenomenon.

 

The Jyoti Basu story has a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary beginning. Some three quarters of a century ago, India was still a subjugated nation. The main agenda was the struggle for freedom. But a few youngsters with a background of affluence, living and studying in India, were convinced that liberation from foreign bondage was not enough: postcolonial India must be a just India, a socialist India, an India which would be an integral part of the great proletarian revolution ushered in by the Soviet Union. Jyoti Basu joined in and found company in the imperial capital. The young cadets even redistributed their allegiance between the India League and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

 

He returned to Calcutta as a full-time party worker, learning the rudiments of trade unionism in the loco-shed at Kanchrapara, at the docks in Kidderpore, spending long hard days at the Terai as comrade-in-arms of the struggling tea-garden workers, agitating for the tenurial rights for the share-croppers and living rights for the landless workers, learning the art of public speaking at impromptu street-corner sessions in Calcutta, getting to know comrades with different backgrounds in party classes where one learnt as much as one taught, finally arriving at the exhilarating awareness of reaching emotional integration with the down-and-outs in society. Charisma develops from a modest base, but once that base was formed, there was an inevitability in the manner Jyoti Basu went to win mass adulation. His entry into the Bengal legislature was a happenstance that turned into a qualitative departure. The clipped three-fourth complete sentences that comprised his individual style of speaking to comrades, mixed with controlled passion and an added tincture of sarcasm, began to make history. The man continued to make history since.

 

The post-freedom Congress ruling the country had its own agenda. The fledgling communist party, often irrepressible, was a nuisance. Jyoti Basu was an integral part of that nuisance. Prison terms, short or long, therefore became commonplace. That further contributed to the charisma. For many from the lower echelons of society, going to his meetings or participating in a strike led by him was a privilege cum romantic adventure. But there was another side to his personality. He did not think much of the so-called intellectuals. He, however, knew that in Indian conditions a revolutionary party must strike its roots in the psyche of the middle-class. The intellectual community is an excellent intermediary. It was not difficult for Jyoti Basu to speak to them in their own lingo and tickle their ego. He, however, also knew how far to depend on them.

 

When the uprooted millions arrived from East Pakistan, his charisma worked wonders again. The great coalition formed in the Sixties and Seventies of the middle- and lower-classes, the peasants, the organized workers, the millions of unemployed and underemployed seemingly lost in the wilderness of the informal sector and, finally, the displaced persons provided the communists with its massive base of support in West Bengal, and in turn became the capital asset of the Left Front. Jyoti Basu emerged as the natural leader because of one particular personal attribute: he knew the limits of feasibility. He did not promise the moon either to the peasantry or to the workers or the destitute refugees. When he negotiated on behalf of engineering workers or college or school teachers too, he urged them to stay united, but he also warned them against indulging in excesses.

 

When he assumed office as chief minister, it was once more the same concern for feasibility. Entering government was not a giant stride towards revolution; a state administration has to respect the ambits laid down for it in the Constitution, reflecting the mindset of the feudal capitalist power structure. The opportunity still has to be availed of to prove the point that the Left was capable of combining passion with efficiency and use the limited resources and the limited authority to advance the cause of the deprived masses. It was important to succeed in this goal, for such success would increase the credibility of the Left all over the country, thereby advancing the cause of the popular democratic revolution.

 

The deep regard for him at the national level was for a similar reason. Given the multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-party chiaroscuro and the fact that the Left had to contain simultaneously the two dominant national parties, it would be necessary to combine formations that did not that easily combine. It was therefore important to harp on issues that bring disparate elements together. Jyoti Basu found a uniting theme in the early 1980s: the third alternative was a living reality. Debate continues whether the refusal of his party in 1996 to let him be prime minister was a historic blunder or not. What can, however, be asserted with a measure of confidence is that but for the historic mishap which took place in October 31, 1984 — Indira Gandhi murdered by her own bodyguards — Jyoti Basu might well have emerged as the nation's prime minister following the 1985 Lok Sabha elections. The powerful movement for restructuring Centre-state relations which Jyoti Basu initiated had gone from strength to strength and counted within its fold apart from the Left the as yet unfractured Janata Dal, the DMK, the Telugu Desam, and even the National Conference in Kashmir. Public fury at Indira Gandhi's coups in Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh — the first successful, the second a disaster — was intense and there was, of course, the standing discontent with runaway prices. It could have been a famous victory for the Opposition and the Left and its allies might have emerged as a major and decisive force in the rainbow coalition that would have come to power. Indira Gandhi's assassination overturned the pseophologic arithmetic. The coalition Jyoti Basu had put together disintegrated. The 1996 scenario was qualitatively different. After that, it was a more inward looking statesman concentrating on West Bengal and retiring with grace in the final year of the century. The last few years were sad. Unfortunately his legacy was made a hash of in the last couple of years. But he still maintained his fortitude. But he must have been an intensely lonely man missing his comrades, such as E.M.S Namboodiripad, B.T. Ranadive, P. Sundarayya and Pramode Dasgupta. And even earlier from his London days — Snehangshu Kanti Acharya and Bhupesh Gupta. The tranquillity of death could not have been altogether unwelcome to him, for he departed with his faith in the inevitability of the historical process totally unimpaired. Did he not, given his long long years in the movement, face the sequences, ups and downs? This piece is a humble homage from a comrade 13 years his younger who happened to be sworn in as minister under his leadership in the first Left Front government on that morning of June 21, 1977. Of the five sworn in that day, the rest are gone, only the junior comrade will perhaps have to survive for a while longer.

 

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

EDITORIAL

A PRAGMATIC DEPART

'BASU COULD SEE THE WORLD BEYOND HIS PARTY.'

 

Jyoti Basu, who passed away on Sunday, was among the iconic leaders of India's communist movement. He was also among the few leaders who transcended regional, organisational and ideological confines and gained national stature and acceptability. Echoing Engels, he once famously and defiantly said that he won't conform to the world and would change it. As a Marxist he believed in the inexorable movement of history and discounted the role of personalities in it. But the man's mind, style and life left a deep mark on the history of his state and gave his party an emblematic face for many decades. He was never the party's top leader at the national level. There were greater ideologists in the party, better organisers and leaders with deeper and wider roots in the rank and file. But the parts combined in the chemistry of his personality gave the sum the indefinable quality of charisma.

 

Basu has sometimes been described as among the best prime ministers the country never had. He has himself described the party's decision to reject the prime ministership that was offered to him in 1996 as a historic blunder. But possibilities don't define a person, and Basu has accomplishments that give him a place in history, beyond the would-have-been's of fickle coalitional politics. He was the longest serving chief minister in the country, held together a regional coalition from 1977 to 2000 and gave stability to West Bengal. As an administrator he had few equals. He combined aggression, authority, good sense and human concern in governance of a state known for volatility and quakes of popular moods. The organisational strength of the party certainly helped, but it was Basu's strength that he made the best use of it. He was principled but not doctrinaire, sometimes arrogant but always honest and an intrepid fighter who valued consensus.


Times have changed, the party has lost some of its sheen and standing, and there are signs of the state looking for new directions after Basu retired from government and active politics. There are even questions whether the Basu era froze Bengal in the past when the country was moving into the future. His successor and the party are grappling with the new forces. But he will be judged in sympathy, and will be remembered as one of the most remarkable politicians in the latter half of the country's last century, always the quintessential party man but, contradictorily, the man who also could see the world beyond the party.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

TIMELY REVISION

'ICT CAN INCREASE TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNANCE.'

 

The Union Cabinet has done well to give its nod to a revision of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) scheme that is being implemented currently in government and aided schools across the country. Under the revised scheme, over a lakh government schools will receive computer-aided teaching and learning facilities. This is expected to benefit nearly 1.5 crore students. The ICT scheme also aims at capacity building. A million teachers will be provided training in use of ICT tools. The scheme is aimed at injecting a new energy into efforts at bridging the urban-rural digital divide. In place since 2005, the scheme appeared to be lacking in direction. Its original deadline of bridging the digital divide by 2009 was extended to 2012. But achieving the target even by this extended deadline has not been possible.


Bridging the gap requires more than just supplying rural schools with computers. It requires supportive infrastructure, trained teachers and new mindsets, among other things. How can children learn to use computers when there is no electricity to run computers? How can students explore the unlimited information and knowledge that the internet has to offer when connectivity remains slow and expensive? What computer literacy can children hope to get when teachers in rural schools don't show up for work? The revised ICT scheme envisages dependable power supply and internet connectivity. It pledges provision of e-content in regional languages keeping in mind the challenges in English language skills that rural children might have. It also provides incentives to teachers who use ICT-enabled methods in teaching.


Experts have warned that inadequate allocation of resources for the ICT scheme is hampering its implementation. While there is some truth to this, the scheme has suffered more on account of corruption and lack of political will. ICT empowers rural communities by giving them information of vital importance to their daily activities such as weather conditions, supply-demand statistics, scientific practices in farming, land records and so on. ICT can increase transparency in governance. Providing rural children with access to ICT-enabled education is the first step towards empowering them. The government must give top priority to implementing the scheme.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SUB-CONTINENTAL GEO-POLITICS

SMOKE AND SMOKESCREENS

M J AKBAR


There was a time when to war-war was the business of generals and jaw-jaw was the responsibility of politicians.

 

One of the more curious episodes in recent weeks is the indignation with which Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor's statement that India's forces were ready to face war on two fronts simultaneously, against China and Pakistan, was received. The Islamabad establishment has treated this as a virtual declaration of war.

It is possible that the politicians of Pakistan have begun to confuse Islamabad with Delhi.Generals in Delhi do not declare war. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet do that.


Generals have only one duty. They have to reassure the government and the nation that they will be able to protect the country even in the worst possible circumstances, and deliver on the assurance. The nightmare scenario for India is a concerted, coordinated offensive by China across the main Himalayas, and by Pakistan on its Kashmir wedge. This is, conversely, the dream scenario of General Headquarters in Pakistan. General Kapoor was doing his job when he made that statement.


There was a time when, to put it in the language of the 50s, war-war was the business of generals and jaw-jaw was the responsibility of politicians. The taciturn warrior began to disappear with the British Empire and Soviet Union; and as American military power began to fill the strategic vacuum the greater individual freedoms of America began to permeate the Pentagon and its equivalents. American officers took their final orders from the White House, but they had plenty to say in-between. The most recent case was last year's debate on a troop surge in Afghanistan. The Pentagon not only told the White House, which was dithering, what it wanted, but made sure the American voter and the citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan got the message as well. The infection has reached the stiff upper lips of Britain: generals there make demands for equipment through the media. Discipline cannot completely sanitise the military brass from the influences of the democratic spirit, and its institutions.


China did not react sharply to General Kapoor's comment, although it can hold its own in any sparring match. It may be argued that it did not need to do anything but laugh. A little after General Kapoor's claim, the Government of India admitted, formally, that China had eaten away vast amounts of (presumably unpatrolled, or sparsely visited) border territory. Even more interesting than the government's admission was the fact that Indians seemed beyond caring. The Opposition parties shrugged and concentrated on screaming at one another; television, which gets hysterical when a leaf flutters, had other things to do. Clearly, media reserves its visceral reactions only for its western rather than its northern border. This is maybe because the occupation of distant, barren land cannot compare, in televisual terms, with the throbbing drama of the heights and valleys of Kashmir.

No greed

Islamabad's reaction has nothing to do with any threat from India, because there is no threat from India. India does not desire an inch of land beyond the Ceasefire Line or the international border. Equally, it will not surrender an inch of what is under its control. Pakistan, however, has built a layered case before America which boils down to this: it cannot fight all of America's enemies on the Frontier, or those who treat the Frontier as sanctuary for the conflict in Afghanistan, as long as Indian guns are pointed at its back. It needs relief in the east to fight in the west. Washington has bought this argument, and Delhi has obliged as unobtrusively as possible. Our two-front General Kapoor has quietly presided over the withdrawal of over 40,000 troops from the Kashmir valley, and their transfer to the eastern Himalayas under the cover of rising worry about China. It's very neat actually: we use China, possibly with Beijing's knowledge, to help out America in its Pakistan war.


As long as there is no change in ground realities, this game can be played to triangular, or even quadrangular, satisfaction. Alas, everyone is not playing the same game. The spurt in terrorist violence in Srinagar during the last fortnight could be aimed at disturbing this dainty strategic daisy chain. Specialists are warning of an impending attack on the Indian mainland.

 

The delicate diplomatic balance could crumble if Pakistan and America push too hard, and believe that they can manoeuvre Delhi into a final settlement on Kashmir. There is very little space for negotiations on Kashmir itself, given that Pakistan is searching a major dilution of the status quo and India, at least at the moment, will agree on only the Ceasefire Line as the solution. Is the sudden talk of National Security Advisor M K Narayanan being shifted to a powerless governor's bungalow indicative of a major change in Delhi's Kashmir policy? He was a status quoist. Manmohan Singh thinks, perhaps, that he can remobilise the constituency that cheered the nuclear deal with the United States. That may be easier in theory than practice. Pakistan, after all, is far more explosive than any number of nuclear plants.


Was General Deepak Kapoor's two-front statement part of the smoke or the smokescreen?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A CHINESE PARADOX GOOGLE CHALLENGED

AGENTS MONITORING THE INTERNET AT THE MINISTRY OF INFORMATION ARE WORKING OVERTIME.

BY ROGER COHEN


Seated in the cobwebbed little office of Liu Wei, a professor of business administration at Chongqing University, listening to him document the city's boom, I found my mind wandering as I gazed at his computer screen, open to a Google page.


From Chicago to Chongqing, Google makes the world go round. Today, there are citizens and 'netizens'. The battle is on, at least in China.


China has become a very curious case. As Liu noted, "We are included in globalisation, an American-led concept, and we have benefited immensely." Yet Beijing resists the very openness on which it depends. Openness for China is a means to an end — prosperity and development — but not a value.


This is the Chinese paradox Google now appears bent on challenging.


China is the world's manufacturer. It is America's creditor. It is using global technology and resources to fast-forward some 20 per cent of humanity to modernity. The churning landscape, of cranes and half-finished high-rises and new highways, speaks of a gargantuan national project inconceivable without the treasure globalisation has furnished.


Truly global

The imagery of this fast-forwarding is all global: The Chinese dream looks like nothing so much as the American dream.


Banner ads outside residential developments feature glittering young couples and images of golf courses. The bright young things clutching 3G phones in endless ads are chic, globalised metrosexuals.


The Communist Party has bought into the seduction of branding. It has grasped that Nokia and Uniqlo are the bread and circuses of the modern age.


I took the new high-speed train from Chongqing to Chengdu across the rolling hills of Sichuan. The distance is about the same as New York to Boston but this train service has cut travel time below two hours! Everywhere the countryside is being gouged open as workers heave some new project into being.


In its way, this hoisting of a great mass from backwardness is inspiring. Even the mind-numbing statistics elicit vague awe. Many people speak movingly of how they live better now than any previous generation. China's leaders have been astonishingly deft in delivering development from deprivation.


And yet. They seem at times to be chasing their own shadows, as if nothing is as scary as the very development they have conjured.


At a dinner party, a woman told me how her blog had been shut down. She laughed. It was so trivial! YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all blocked. The tens of thousands of government agents monitoring the internet at the ministry of information are working overtime. Western officials in Beijing told me they used to laugh at the notion of China reining in the internet — these guys actually think they can control the web, ha! — but are not laughing as much any more.

Their comment was made before Google said it had had enough. Thanks to China Mobile, it was on the Chongqing-Chengdu express that I read the Google announcement that it will cease cooperating with Chinese censorship of Google.cn and might withdraw from China. So, I thought, the behemoth of global connectedness and the behemoth of global growth confront each other.


Nobody here can be surprised that China has been trying to hack into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, among other cyberattacks. That's consistent with the prevailing mood. Google is on the money when it says China is a great nation behind much of the world's growth today but that its actions go "to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech."

 

I don't think China can forever ride globalisation, its development stallion, and deny its very essence: open systems. My sense is the Chinese government is selling itself short. Like the man who taps phones for a living and comes to believe phone tappers are everywhere, it has elevated suspicion to an obsession even as success and stability have brought a significant buy-in. Google's 'Basta!' is a welcome provocation to a critical debate.

News of Google's decision was, of course, buried. One news portal belonging to Phoenix TV carried an item beneath the games section saying Google was leaving because it found the local market too confusing and had poor leadership.


But one blogger, Xu Caixing, cut through such obfuscation, saying the issue was "censorship and human rights." He concluded: "Who is afraid? What are they afraid of?"

 

Those are good questions. Discussions between Google and the Chinese government will fail if they do not answer them.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RELIVING CHILDHOOD

I LONG FOR SUMMER HOLIDAYS, JUST AS MY DAUGHTER DOES.

BY CHETHANA DINESH


Let me confess. I am a great escapist. I love to escape into other worlds with movies, music and books. They are great stress busters. The latest in my string of escapades, and probably the longest, is into my daughter's world where life has a new meaning altogether. There's fun, frolic and the desire to savour life in its myriad hues. The days are action-packed while the nights are welcome with wondrous stories. There's not a dull moment to complain.

It all started the day my daughter entered my world. I ate, slept and played with her. I also gurgled, babbled and rolled my tongue with her. It was also time for me to brush up my knowledge of nursery rhymes. So, I dusted my old cassettes, played them and sang along with my daughter even as she learnt. I experienced the long-forgotten joy of feeling the soft petals of flowers in the garden all over again. The joy of trotting down the road to reach the park before it was sundown was unparalleled.


Years have just whizzed past me. It's nine years up and I still find myself in my little one's world. I finish my work in a hurry to be able to be with her in the evenings. Especially so on Thursdays, for she brings home Roald Dahl or Nancy Drew from school. We sit together and read them, fighting with each other all the time over our favourite characters in the books. We crack the sums together as I unlearn and relearn factors and multiples and, of course, my geography with its infinite names of countries and their capitals.


I long for summer holidays, just as she does. To laze around the house, spend the days moment by moment, take late afternoon naps, and go for long walks together with her friends. We bond quite well, me and my daughter's playmates. They love the cakes I bake and I love to feed them.


When she's around, there's an almost tangible feeling of security for me, the kind I felt during my childhood when my parents were at home while I studied. I hope the feeling is mutual. Faced with any problem, my instant reaction is no longer sulking but telling myself how lucky I am to be able to relive my childhood. Yes, I am reliving my childhood by prolonging my stay in my daughter's world. Right now, life is a big party for me.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SKEWED PRIORITIES

 

Two apparently tumultuous events shook the world last week. One, an earthquake in Haiti that left up to 200,000 dead; the other, a lawsuit filed by a former housemaid of Israel's first lady, Sara Netanyahu.

 

One caused suffering on a scale that is hard to comprehend; the other revealed accusations of hauteur and pretense - such as Mrs. Netanyahu allegedly forcing her accuser to flatter her, and to wear a different set of clothes for each chore.

 

Despite the enormity of the one event and the relative triviality of the other, they were afforded almost equal space above the fold by Israel's main circulation daily, Yediot Aharonot, on Friday. Not to be outdone, Ma'ariv, once Yediot's main rival, followed up Sunday with a front page item of its own on the Sara Netanyahu affair and four pages of coverage inside.

 

Yisrael Hayom, the upstart usurper in the tabloid ratings race, which has overtaken Ma'ariv and is challenging Yediot, left the issue untouched, but for an editorial asking: "Why the obsession with Sara Netanyahu?"

 

Yisrael Hayom's bashfulness, however, was not necessarily born of more elevated news values; it has long been accused by its adversaries of steering clear of most any topic that might generate negative publicity about the prime minister.

 

THE UNDERTONE to all three papers' approach touches on the bitter circulation war between the old guard tabloid duo and the freesheet newcomer, with the titles seeking to denigrate and marginalize each other as they struggle for market share.

 

This battle, in turn, is part of the wider challenges facing the entire newspaper industry - falling circulation as readers turn to the Internet, a collapsing profit model and dwindling public esteem. At a time when the very institute of journalism is under threat and the Fourth Estate calls out for deliverance, the pettiness and skewed news values born of circulation battles and partisan rivalries is particularly ill-afforded.

 

Skewed prioritizing in the Hebrew print media - born of the desire for a scoop, any scoop, to steal a march on a rival - is not new, unfortunately. Only a day after Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections four years ago, for instance, the Hebrew tabloids had marginalized a story that would long affect every Israeli in favor of insignificant "scoops" such as sneaking a reporter into a judge's chambers, where genuine news value was small but exclusivity was deemed paramount.

 

And the affliction is not limited to the print media. Ratings battles between the country's celebrity-culture-obsessed, corporate-serving TV stations mean that one or the other frequently opens its main nightly news broadcast with a story of paltry significance, even on days of momentous events, purely because it has an item its competitors have missed.

 

Privately, some of the more experienced correspondents in the TV news business are now often heard to complain they are not given enough screen time to tell Israelis about trends and developments that really matter.

 

INSTEAD OF print media blaming the rise of the Internet for its troubles, or for that matter looking to the Internet for its salvation, it would do well to refocus on its traditional core qualities of independence, accuracy, fairness, transparency and professional responsibility.

 

Only by returning to correctly prioritized, balanced and in-depth reporting, and by providing information that readers need and can rely upon, can newspapers, on whatever medium they may be served, compete with television and the worst excesses in all areas of the media of celebrity reporters masquerading as journalists.

 

It is by digging out the truth on matters of consequence that newspapers can secure their future, and not by pandering to a perceived public penchant for sensationalism or by pursuing private agendas.

 

All that is not to say that our politicians and their partners, whose privileges derive from their powers, should not be held to exacting moral standards. Too often of late, our lawmakers and civil servants have perverted their prerogatives.

 

But while the accusations leveled at Mrs. Netanyahu by Lillian Peretz, if they are substantiated, constitute more than a mere peccadillo, a sense of proportion is called for.

 

At a time when other items in the news have included, apart from the Haiti quake, the attempted assassination of Israel's envoy to Jordan, and the arrest of a sadistic cult leader who allegedly enslaved and abused 17 women and dozens of minors, the disproportionate focus on the case of the housemaid points to a lost understanding of journalistic obligation.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: YES, NO, MAYBE

BARRY RUBIN

 

In the United States, about half the population and most of the policy elite think that President Barack Obama's administration is a great success internationally. The other half doesn't. A key reason for the first group's attitude is its obsession with the highly visible popularity issue, the idea that America is more liked in the world. The problem is that, at the same time, it is less respected and that is the factor that counts.

 

As we move into 2010, with the administration's first "learning" year behind it, a turn toward learning the lessons of that experience is not yet visible. This is especially so on the two most high-profile Middle East issue.

 

Originally, the administration suggested that it would raise sanctions against Iran in September 2009 if engagement yielded no fruit. That was then pushed back to the end of that year. Now, we have a new estimate: July 2010. Maybe. And we also have the defining of those sanctions long in advance as ineffective, narrowly - and symbolically - focused on a ruling elite which will never feel any pain as a result.

 

This, then, is the way the Obama administration views threats, which will make its adversaries see them as hollow. In a Brussels speech, US Ambassador to the European Union William Kennard explained: "You'll hear over the next six months a lot more about our efforts on sanctions." Hear about them? Haven't we been hearing about them for a year? And at the end of six months will we actually see them?

 

This all makes the following scenario quite imaginable: Fill in the month; fill in the day; fill in the year: Iran has nuclear weapons. Same month; same day plus one; same year: US announces low-level, ineffective sanctions to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

 

MEANWHILE, a parallel scenario is affecting the administration's "peace process" policy. There are lots of stories in the media. Envoys zig and zag over the map. Meetings are held; plans are hinted at. But none of this matters. None of it.

 

Here's the only thing that matters: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas says he won't even go to talks unless Israel stops all construction tout de suite, including the apartments being completed and the ones being built in Jerusalem. The media likes to say that both sides are "defying" the US. But in fact what Israel is doing was approved by the US, and even highly praised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

 

Obama's administration is urging that negotiations restart based on the fantasy that all the tough issues would quickly be resolved. Resolve borders, security guarantees, recognition of a Jewish state of Israel, end of conflict, settlement of refugees in Palestine, status of Jerusalem and lots of other incredibly difficult issues? The administration can't even get the two sides to the table!

 

Here's a basic aspect of the problem. While Israel won't give up everything Abbas demands in negotiations, Abbas is unprepared to make the slightest concession on anything. First, because he doesn't want to do so; second, because he is unable to do so, since he lacks a strong base of support; third, because he is afraid to do so because he would lose power, his Fatah movement would splinter and he might even be overthrown by Hamas.

 

Therefore, in July 2010, and by January 2011 for that matter, the administration is unlikely to make any progress.

While current policies are disturbing, the alternatives being pushed within the policy establishment and promoted so often in the mass media are generally worse. Starting from the perspective that US strategies have failed, it is argued that this is because they haven't gone far enough in the wrong direction. Rather than proposing a much tougher policy toward Iran - with real sanctions at least - the proposals are for even more engagement and concessions.

 

Noting that Hamas is still in power, what we hear are not calls to subvert it further and bring it down but rather to give up and start negotiating with that group.

 

The same position is being put forward about Hizbullah and Syria: to claim falsely that they are moderating and urge Western concessions. As for the "peace process," since the US cannot even get talks going, it is asserted that it should leap to the end of negotiations and try to impose a final, comprehensive solution right now.

 

Most of these bad ideas are not going to be implemented, by the US at least though they have more appeal in Europe. Yet this orientation nevertheless makes it impossible for any sensible alternatives to be presented and seriously debated. Apparently the dominant school of thought at present thinks that other than al-Qaida, there is no revolutionary movement in the world that doesn't really prefer to be moderate, no enemy that cannot be won over through dialogue.

 

But why should Damascus and Teheran or Hamas and Hizbullah or the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Authority abandon what they deem to be a successful strategy of militancy and intransigence, especially if the West keeps telling them they can get concessions without making any themselves? How can so many Western analysts and journalists simply put aside virtually everything such organizations say and do to focus on their own personal interpretations of what these forces "really" want?

 

Very possibly the administration will fool the American media by constant activity and claims that it is getting somewhere; somewhat possibly this will work on a large proportion of the American population. But people in the Middle East aren't fooled at all.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

RADICAL ARAB MKS: WHAT WOULD ABRAHAM LINCOLN DO?

DAVID GLEICHER

 

Both Liat Collins and Danny Ayalon, in their recent Jerusalem Post columns "The democratic dilemma" and "Civic responsibility should not be optional" respectively, raise the issue of how the government should respond to the anti-Israel actions of our radical Arab Knesset members. As a student of history, whenever I read about this problem, I think of Abraham Lincoln, the greatest American president, and his response to the activities of Representative Clement Vallandigham (pronounced veLANdigam).

 

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Vallandigham was a Democratic congressman, representing Dayton, Ohio. Some background for non-American readers: The Civil War involved the attempt of the southern slave-holding states to secede from the Union and form their own country, the Confederate States of America. Vallandigham, though personally opposed to slavery, believed that the federal government had no constitutional right to prevent the secession of the southern states. Naturally, he was even more adamantly opposed to the use of military force to pull the South back into the Union. Vallandigham was the leader of the "Copperheads," the anti-war, pro-Confederacy Democrats of the North.

 

In 1863, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, in charge of the military district of Ohio, issued an order declaring that public declarations of sympathy for the enemy would not be tolerated. Vallandigham was not deterred, and increased the provocative language of his speeches, charging that the war was being fought to free slaves, not to save the Union, and that the president was "King Lincoln" who should be removed from the presidency. He also declared that he "did not want to belong to the United States."

 

That was too much for Burnside, who arrested Vallandigham and had him tried by a military court. He was convicted of uttering disloyal sentiments and hindering the prosecution of the war. Vallandigham was sentenced to two years in a military prison, a sentence eventually upheld by the US Supreme Court.

 

Lincoln, however, had no desire to make a Copperhead martyr out of Vallandigham. He ordered the now-former congressman (he'd lost reelection in the middle of all this) taken out of prison and exiled to the Confederacy that he so strongly supported. Federal officers sent Vallandigham through Union lines to Confederate-held territory in Tennessee. He later made his way from there to Canada, and eventually returned to the North. After the war, he resumed his law practice in Dayton.

 

IN COMPARING Vallandigham to MKs Jamal Zahalka, Taleb a-Sanaa, et al., we can see both similarities and

differences. Both Vallandigham and the Arab MKs strongly opposed their country's military actions; both Vallandigham and the Arab MKs used incendiary, provocative language in their public statements attacking their country; and both Vallandigham and the Arab MKs stated that they did not want to belong to the United States (Vallandigham) or the Jewish state (the Arab MKs).

 

Another similarity is that the congressman/MKs attacked their country during a time of war, seeking to aid the enemy. But that leads to a significant difference in the nature of the enemies to whom Vallandigham and the Arab MKs gave comfort. During the Civil War, the Confederacy never sought the destruction of the North. Rather, it wanted to go its own slave-holding way, without interference from northern abolitionists, who wanted to "ruin" its economic and social way of life. Israel's enemies, on the other hand, are dedicated to the goal of the state's destruction. Thus, the actions of the Arab MKs are far more dangerous and destructive than anything Vallandigham ever did.

 

So, should Arab MKs receive the Vallandigham treatment, exile to a country they apparently love and support more than the one they represent?

 

If we ask, "What would Lincoln do?" we have our answer, but we have no Lincolns among us today.

 

The writer is an attorney, historian and author living in Jerusalem.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

MLK HAD A DREAM: ISRAEL INCLUDED

MARC SCHNELE

 

More than four decades after his death, the lessons from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remain as telling today as they did in the days when his teachings revolutionized a nation and led to a new understanding of civil rights.

 

While his messages of hope and tolerance were clearly designed for a specific time and place, they are in many ways universal. In fact, there is little doubt that he would have taken great pride and satisfaction in looking upon Israeli society as an exemplar of what is possible when people learn to live among each other in peace and harmony.

 

While many might be shocked to hear Israel described in such terms, the facts are that despite the political and security tensions which continue to define this region, its peoples still long for the types of coexistence which King so eloquently advocated.

 

These truths were revealed as recently as last week, when a study, commissioned by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, found that 43 percent of Israelis would oppose legislation banning the construction of minarets in Israeli cities. The strongest opposition to such legislation came from the National Religious and even the haredi camps.

 

This survey's findings cannot assume that Israelis have suddenly softened their stance on issues of security or territorial concessions. In these regards we know that the National Religious camp in particular often adopts the hardest lines, and it would be ignorant to suggest that they have so dramatically changed their outlook.

 

What it does indicate, however, is that the dreams of recognizing the rights of the other and the need for tolerance of the other can shine through even in the most challenging of situations.

 

DR. MARTIN Luther King Jr. was a passionate supporter of Israel. Even while he would have taken great pride in the findings of this survey, we can be equally confident in knowing that he would not have been surprised by them.

 

His ardent solidarity with the then infant Jewish state was built upon his firm belief that peace could be reached between Israel and its neighbors. This peace, he often preached, would only be achieved if the tolerance and mutual respect which he knew existed in this society would be adequately exposed and championed.

 

On this anniversary of King's birth, it would therefore be prudent for all friends and defenders of Israel to rally behind the nation's accomplishments in promoting a more tolerant society. While Israel's detractors are always want to focus on its negatives, the reality is that this nation has a great deal for which to be proud and can aptly be described as a "light unto the nations."

 

As just one example, Israel serves as the only country to ever actively take blacks out of Africa and bring them to freedom.

 

While the United States is often described as a melting pot, Israel's diversity is another of its proudest characteristics. A modern day fulfillment of the prophetic "ingathering of the nations," peoples from all walks of life, of all ethnic and national origins and of all colors of the skin proudly call themselves Israeli and contribute equally to the national discourse.

 

King was known for a great deal of wise teachings that arguably changed the very nature of the human experience, both in America and throughout the world. But perhaps the most relevant for today's world, and for Israel in particular, centers on his contention that the greatest honor in fighting for one's own rights comes when one also fights for the rights of the other.

 

Israelis have increasingly recognized that successfully addressing the many challenges facing their society will require a heightened appreciation for the needs of the country's neighbors and even its enemies. This was a challenge that King not only recognized fully in his own quest, but is one that he knew applicable to many other causes around the globe.

 

In his very last address, just before his assassination, King recalled his trip to Israel years earlier, describing it as "one of the great outposts of democracy in the world and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy."

 

Nearly 42 years later, the world would be wise to rally behind this tremendous man's vision and appreciate that only through tolerance, respect and mutual understanding will that ever-elusive peace become attainable.

 

The writer, a rabbi, is president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and author of Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish Community.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DANGEROUS POLICE

 

The arrest of 17 civil rights activists demonstrating in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Friday and their detention by the police overnight represents another stage in the Israel Police's get-tough attitude and willingness to infringe on freedom of demonstration, protest and speech in this country. The right to demonstrate is an important component of freedom of expression, and something which Israeli courts have enshrined as a "supreme right."


The detainees, who included the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai Elad, endangered no one and broke no law; their arrest was therefore nothing less than false arrest. Moreover, the police's claim that the protesters had no license to demonstrate was rejected by a court, which declared that a protest vigil does not require a permit and there was no reason to disperse it or arrest the protesters.


The only conclusion is that the police have decided to wage war on the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and use force to end the protests, something they have neither the right nor authority to do.

 

The activists have been protesting in Sheikh Jarrah every Friday for the past three months against the takeover of Palestinians' homes by settler and far-right organizations. Not only do they have every right to do so, it is their civic duty as people concerned about events in the capital. As their protests are nonviolent, there is no reason for anyone to be detained. It's the police's duty to preserve order at demonstrations and no more, unless there is a reason to disperse protesters. But by no means should they prevent demonstrations from taking place.

The arrest of the protesters for no reason creates the suspicion that the police have had enough of these demonstrations. It also shows that the police discriminate between demonstrators from the right and left. While right-wing activists run amok in the West Bank to protest against the construction freeze and are almost never arrested, civil-rights demonstrators are being detained in increasing numbers. During Operation Cast Lead, around 800 left-wing protesters were arrested and criminal proceedings were opened against 700 of them.


The public security minister and police commissioner must stop this dangerous deterioration of their organizations. They must act immediately to closely guard freedom of demonstration and ensure that the police do not do anything to harm it. A society without protests is a sick society, afflicted by lethargy and complacency that breed evil. A police force that falsely arrests peaceful demonstrators is dangerous and harmful to democracy.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BEHIND EVERY LEADER

BY AMIR OREN

 

Is Sara Netanyahu a private individual or a public figure? What is the report in Yedioth Ahronoth, which got top play, on the civil suit filed against her by former housekeeper Lillian Peretz: a business story, a media story or a political story?


Nearly every politician has some sort of skeleton in their closet. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has Sheldon. The free daily Israel Hayom, owned by American Sheldon Adelson, one of the tycoons backing Netanyahu, is threatening the newspaper that calls itself the "nation's daily," Yedioth opened a front against the prime minister in response.


Netanyahu was startled, as he normally is, and this time perhaps justifiably so. Even Yedioth, which failed in the defense of Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon, might succeed in an offensive.

 

Peretz's claims have been countered by Sara's denials but backed by a letter of resignation which looks like it was taken from the archives of former president Moshe Katsav: Where in all of Israel is there another housekeeper who resigns with a lovingly written letter?


It may be that Peretz is a gifted author of fiction, the J.K. Rowling of the Hadera-Caesarea region, who recounts embarrassing descriptions of Sara by recycling depositions presented in court during the earlier case of the contract workers of the mover Avner Amadi, who was involved in a corruption case against the prime minister in 1999.


The stories of female soldiers in the military secretariat of Netanyahu, told to their parents, on the attitude the "lady" had toward them during her visits to her husband's office, are mostly character statements.


But in the families of leaders, from India to Texas, that are also inclined toward dynasty building, the boundary between a gossip column and front page news depends on the context.


The attitude of Bushra Assad, sister of President Bashar Assad, and wife of former intelligence chief Assif Shawkhat, is of interest to intelligence services in the West. Everything, and everyone who influences the decisions of a leader are strategically significant. It is essential to know what influences a leader operates under.

In critical times the seriousness of the depression and lack of attention of former prime minister Menachem Begin during crucial discussions - from the bombing of the reactor in Iraq to the war in Lebanon - were covered.

If there is talk about a decision to go to war with Iran within the Netanyahu government, it will be a soul-wrenching issue, and not only from a spiritual sense. Had former prime minister Golda Meir or opposition leader Tzipi Livni been prime minister and married to an odd figure like Guma Aguiar, the Beitar Jerusalem financier who was recently committed to a mental health hospital, this would have certainly been a matter for the public to know.


An outburst by the spouse of the prime minister may result in an accidental pressing of the red button. The Shin Bet, when asked, refused to say if the protection of the prime minister includes such potential threats.

The one who has insisted on nationalizing Sara Netanyahu, and to granting her official status, is her partner in Netanyahu Ltd., whose existence was exposed in the Peretz suit.


Using the Prime Minister's Bureau to battle the suit is an unacceptable use of a public asset; Sarah should have hired a spokesman, like Olmert did when he ran into the law. Benjamin Netanyahu has always had trouble distinguishing between the issues of the two in their marriage.


Once, at a beachfront hotel in Tel Aviv, he included in a discussion of state business the following surprising question: "Do you know my wife's IQ?", to which he quickly answered: "155!"


For all his cavalier attitude, Benjamin Netanyahu is first a politician in his thinking, analyzing the forces behind the attack. He may find Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a declared enemy of Edelson and his paper, in alliance with his attackers.


Cases linked to Netanyahu which have been dormant for the past two years, may reawaken. The danger is not over his spotless home in Caesarea, but over in the Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MILITARY SECRETS

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

 

The Tel Aviv District Court has racked up an important victory for the freedom of information in backing a long-standing demand by many soldiers that the army officially disclose to them their scores in evaluations carried out during the induction process: the "quality group" they are assigned to and their "initial psychotechnic" ranking.


Even though these evaluations decide the fate of many recruits and in some cases even affect their post-army careers, the Israel Defense Forces has withheld them from the very people they concern in so personal a manner. Secrecy, by its nature, suits the military authorities. It lets them retain control over the delicate matter of assigning soldiers to various posts in accordance with their skills and ability; it also thwarts potential appeals against the army's evaluations and rankings.


To justify its position, over the years the military has marshaled an abundance of arguments, some of which are patently invalid, including the familiar "danger to state security." Along with this, the military has never fought the prevalent state of affairs in which the grades and evaluations are leaked to various well-connected people and organizations, leading to unfair discrimination among inductees. Only litigation could lead to a change, on the assumption that the army will actually apply the rulings of the courts.

 

And now, the deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court, Judge Michal Rubinstein, has handed down a judgment that exposes the shaky foundations of the army's arguments . Rubinstein was ruling on a petition filed by the Movement for Freedom of Information after the IDF rejected a claim it submitted more than two years ago. Rubinstein's ruling recognized the right of individuals, based partly on the Defense of Privacy Law, to obtain information about themselves stored in official databases. In addition, the ruling bolsters the Freedom of Information Law, which obligates the authorities to disclose public information, even in cases where the person seeking that information does not have a personal interest in its disclosure.


The Freedom of Information Law, which has been on the books for just over 10 years, paradoxically provides the authorities with many reasons for not divulging information; that's why interpretation of the law by the courts is so important. A ruling handed down by the Supreme Court about a year ago mandated the publication of the names of people who pay administrative fines instead of undergoing prosecution. Justice Edna Arbel wrote that the public's right to know must be given "preferential standing" over arguments based on ostensible "infringements of the normal functioning of the civil service" that may result from such disclosures.


This was the point that guided the District Court in rejecting the IDF's claim that revealing the information about the evaluations would harm the army's efficiency - a claim that seems rather surprising since the army reveals the criteria used in its evaluations even as it refuses to tell recruits their scores. The army's claim that the information is no more than a matter of "internal administration" was rejected because, in the words of the ruling, the data "is highly significant to the way the soldier will be posted to an IDF unit and to the determination of his positions and promotions during the course of his service."


Most outrageous about the army's conduct in this affair is its reliance on "security reasons," a refrain familiar from censorship issues and other means by which the military authorities want to create a no-man's-land in which they are immune to inspection. Rubinstein was right when she rebuffed what she called "the horror scenario" that the army posited whereby the disclosure of the numerical score would cause no less than "a fatal blow to the IDF's ability to do its job and defend the security of the state." In her straightforward phrase, that argument "is not reasonable."


Also unreasonable is that Israeli public authorities are not recognizing the "transparency revolution," as indicated by researc h on the implementation of the freedom of information carried out by Tel Aviv University's School of Government and Policy and the Israel Democracy Institute. The authorities prefer a state of affairs in which whoever possesses the power posseses the information.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

FEAR LIVES HERE

BY MERAV MICHAELI

 

Two weeks ago I wrote a column here about the shocking discrepancy between the pitiful salaries the Super-Sol supermarket chain pays workers who stock shelves, most of them women, and the huge profits the company, meaning the company's owners, earn from those employees. I received ideological support in many sympathetic reactions from family and friends, especially expressions of strong identification with the employees. What does this identification really mean? Truth be told, most of the women I associate with don't stock supermarket shelves.

The answer is that the owners' message to their employees - that they are just tools, a means to accomplish an end, that they are replaceable and faceless - is a message most of us women receive today, no matter where we work and almost regardless of our salaries.


In addition, men and women who are considered high wage earners, at three or four times minimum wage, who are thought of as middle class and bourgeois, find themselves financially insecure. Most of us don't have job tenure, and there is no certainty that quality work, loyalty to the workplace, experience and seniority will generate a commitment from the owners to provide proper employment conditions.

 

In a certain respect, the opposite is true. Seniority is an indication that a woman is up in years and not attractive. Loyalty means you're taken for granted, and good work is not a sufficient reason to pay you more. It's more important today for the boss to pay less and become "more efficient." Most Israelis today, even if they are not in poverty, without denying the huge and constantly increasing number of poor, fear for their livelihoods. There is no certainty that we will be able to make a living from our work in a reasonable manner. There are two separate factors: First, that we have work, and second, that we can sufficiently support ourselves from it.


We can no longer use expressions that were common in Hebrew such as "all work honors those who perform it" and "to earn a respectable living." In an era when we are at the mercy of the bosses, we receive no respect from them and no work can honor us. Each day we are shown that declarations such as "hard work and education are the key to escaping the cycle of poverty" are nothing more than false propaganda. Most poor women in Israel are employed, and even people with a solid education are not assured a job or livelihood.


Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said: "Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul." She also said: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women." Over many years, we have witnessed privatization, the dismantling of unions and the Histadrut labor federation, the transformation of employees into outsourced workers, the exploitation of foreign men and women laborers, the embrace of neoliberal standards and the habits of the wealthy. We find ourselves in a situation in which the doctrine of divide and conquer works; it works very well indeed.


Our politicians and "leaders" exploit our economic insecurity for their own needs.


Israel is stronger than ever militarily. No existential security dangers really hover over the country. Still, they continually frighten us over Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinians. They deflect onto external enemies our justifiable existential fear from the knowledge that it is not certain we will earn a livelihood.


And it works. We're afraid. Afraid to protest. Afraid to organize, unionize and rebel. We're afraid to stand up for our right to live, work and exist in dignity. And as long as we remain afraid like this, the existential danger hovering over each Israeli woman and the State of Israel itself grows ever larger.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

AFTER DUBAI

 

When it looked as if Dubai would go bust last month, making global financial markets swoon, its wealthy neighboring emirate stepped in and bailed it out with a $10 billion loan. Unfortunately Dubai isn't the only one teetering on the brink. Greece is also in trouble; so is Ireland. Others could follow. Unless the world's richest nations come to the rescue of weakened states, the global financial crisis might sprout another leg and stop the nascent recovery in its tracks.

 

Dubai created its problems. The oil-poor emirate borrowed lavishly to pay for a construction binge, and went bust when its housing bubble imploded. Other countries, like Greece and Ireland, are also suffering a hard landing from a decade of debt-fueled profligacy. But there are also innocent bystanders who could be swept away by the financial tide. Government budgets have been battered across the board by the global recession — reducing tax revenues as unemployment insurance and fiscal stimulus measures have increased expenditures. This has reduced governments' options to fight the continued economic weakness.

 

The most immediately vulnerable countries are in the European Union. Greece's budget deficit exploded as recession took its toll, leading to a downgrade of its credit rating and a collapse in the price of its bonds. Ireland's economy is expected to contract 7.5 percent in 2009, Italy's 5.1 percent and Spain's 3.8 percent.

 

This is a compelling case for the sounder European economies to come to the rescue of their poor neighbors. Statements like the German finance minister's suggestion that Greece sink or swim alone amount to a shot in the European foot. If Greece were to default on its debts, investors would run from other European countries with low growth and big debts — pushing some of the weaker ones into a crisis of their own.

 

Growth in these countries is hindered severely by the remarkably strong euro, which has sapped their international competitiveness. With overstretched budgets taking further fiscal stimulus off the table, financial analysts have suggested that nations may be tempted to abandon the euro to achieve growth. Pain is also spreading outside Europe. Rating agencies have downgraded the credit of Mexico, whose budget deficit opened sharply as the economy contracted 7.3 percent last year.

 

These strains could have deep and lasting repercussions. A breakdown of the euro would be disastrous — sending a potent shock through already jittery financial markets — deepening and extending this worldwide recession. Some observers worry about the secularly tolerant Dubai being driven into the arms of the much more conservative Abu Dhabi. And the world economy is too fragile to withstand another round of careening markets.

 

We understand that voters in the rich, industrial world might be feeling deep bailout fatigue. Still, bailouts will be necessary. To begin with, the more powerful countries of the European Union — like Germany — must come to the rescue of their weaker neighbors. But other countries, including the United States and China, must stand ready to provide help. It might be expensive. But it would be cheaper than another round of crisis.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

A BAGRAM RECKONING

 

We keep waiting — in vain — for the Obama administration to stop trying to block judicial scrutiny of some of the Bush administration's most outrageous policies on the detention of prisoners.

 

Most recently, Neal Katyal, a deputy solicitor general, tried to persuade a three-judge federal appeals court panel to deny hearings to a group of prisoners who have been held under harsh conditions without adequate review for more than six years. Their prison — at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan — is a much larger version of the Guantánamo Bay prison that President Obama has ordered closed.

 

The appellate panel should uphold the carefully written ruling of last April, by Federal District Judge John Bates, a 2001 appointee of President George W. Bush. Judge Bates based his ruling on Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court decision in 2008 that said President Bush could not deny prisoners at Guantánamo Bay a federal court review of their detention.

 

Judge Bates essentially extended that ruling to non-Afghan detainees captured outside Afghanistan and spirited to Bagram — a small segment of the 600 or so prisoners at the base. At the hearing, the bench seemed unpersuaded by the government's claim that Boumediene was limited to Guantánamo, but reluctant to order a review of the Bagram detainees.

 

As Judge Bates noted, allowing the government to transfer prisoners to Afghanistan and claim they are beyond the jurisdiction of American courts "resurrects the same specter of limitless executive power the Supreme Court sought to guard against."

 

Unlike Guantánamo, Bagram is in an active theater of war, and habeas corpus has not applied to detainees held abroad in zones of combat. But the prisoners at issue were not captured in the war zone. The federal courts have shown themselves to be fully capable of handling similar cases from Guantánamo.

 

There is clearly a need for hearings. Judge Bates found that the screening process in Bagram was even "less sophisticated and more error-prone" than the sorting process at Guantánamo, which the Supreme Court deemed inadequate. The administration is housing Bagram prisoners in a new and physically less oppressive facility, and has given prisoners greater ability to challenge their custody without lawyers. But that does not justify stripping courts of their role.

 

The government's intimation that a few hearings would hurt the expanding war effort in Afghanistan is not credible. As President Obama himself has argued, ensuring the fair treatment of detainees advances America's national security interests by denying Al Qaeda and the Taliban an effective recruiting tool.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

HOW RETIREES SAVED THE BANKS

 

If you're a retiree who relies on interest income, you know that the tap is running dry. In fact, many investors in certificates of deposits, savings accounts and money market accounts are losing money once taxes and inflation are subtracted from today's extremely low yields.

 

Less well known is that measly savings yields are central to the government effort to buy time for the banks to earn their way back to health. It is important to rebuild the banks. But more attention must be paid to the collateral damage from that effort.

 

Here's what's happening: By lowering the short-term interest rate it controls to virtually zero and creating lending programs, the Federal Reserve has enabled banks to borrow cheaply. The banks re-lend that cheap money, but not necessarily to consumers and businesses. They can, for example, lend it to back to the federal government by buying Treasury securities, and earn a nice spread between their cost of funds and Treasury yields.

 

At the same time, banks are awash in deposits, much of it from investors who have pulled their money out of riskier investments. With money rolling in, big banks don't need to compete with one another for savers, which further depresses the interest on offer.

 

The result is presumably healthier banks and certainly poorer savers. Or, as William Gross, the legendary bond investor told The Times's Stephanie Strom: "It's capitalism, I guess, but it's not to be applauded."

 

The situation is especially tough on retirees who depend on interest income to supplement their Social Security. Some will have to spend their capital to make ends meet. Some will probably take on more risk by investing in stocks or bonds, or will have to live on less. Some, as Ms. Strom reported, have taken out reverse mortgages to increase their income — another example of how Americans' wealth is being sapped. Reverse mortgages allow people who are 62 and older to convert the equity in their homes into cash, with the loans usually repaid by selling the house after the owner dies.

 

Regulators have put safeguards in place to combat abusive lending on government-insured reverse mortgages, about 90 percent of the market. (They include prohibitions on cross-selling, whereby a lender urges borrowers to use the money from the mortgage to buy other investments from the lender.) Given the nation's recent experiences — and the vulnerability of many elderly people — regulators will have to be vigilant.

 

The effect of the financial crisis on retirees — and planning for retirement — has been largely overlooked. It deserves a high place on policy makers' agendas.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

POLITICIANS WATCH CRIMINALS PACK MORE HEAT

 

The nation's police chiefs are finding an alarming increase in criminals' use of assault weapons — the high-powered battlefield rifles that used to be banned, back when the federal government showed greater concern for public safety. The 10-year ban expired in 2004, despite the vows of presidential nominees from both parties to fight for renewal. Congress hasn't mustered the guts to try, preferring to roll over for the gun lobby.

 

A survey of more than 130 local police chiefs and officials found 37 percent reporting an increase in assault weapons in street crime. Front-line police find criminals generally packing more powerful heat, with more than half of the chiefs citing increases in large-caliber handguns and high-capacity semiautomatics — the real-life stuff of tough-guy movie fantasies. Miami police reported that four years after politicians allowed the federal ban to lapse, homicides by assault weapons increased sixfold, including the murder of two police officers.

 

The findings were part of a police brass "summit on guns and crime" in Washington last November that was studiously ignored by the capital ruling class. Meeting as members of the Police Executive Research Forum, the attendees underlined the disheartening fact that "there seems to be little or no appetite for gun control legislation in the U.S. Congress or the Obama administration."

 

In their frustration, the chiefs deserve credit for trying to come up with some local and state solutions — for example, requiring owners to immediately document lost or stolen guns as a deterrent to the current dodge of selling them as "lost" in the underground market.

 

The chiefs were collectively enlightened, discovering that in most states gun dealers are monitored not by state or local police but by federal firearm inspectors. They have a force of but 600 covering 115,000 gun dealers — who may be visited no more than once a year. Polls regularly show that the public, including most gun hobbyists, wants more realistic gun controls. But don't tell that to the timorous politicians of Washington.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Lately many people have been second-guessing the Obama administration's political strategy. The conventional wisdom seems to be that President Obama tried to do too much — in particular, that he should have put health care on one side and focused on the economy.

 

I disagree. The Obama administration's troubles are the result not of excessive ambition, but of policy and political misjudgments. The stimulus was too small; policy toward the banks wasn't tough enough; and Mr. Obama didn't do what Ronald Reagan, who also faced a poor economy early in his administration, did — namely, shelter himself from criticism with a narrative that placed the blame on previous administrations.

 

About the stimulus: it has surely helped. Without it, unemployment would be much higher than it is. But the administration's program clearly wasn't big enough to produce job gains in 2009.

 

Why was the stimulus underpowered? A number of economists (myself included) called for a stimulus substantially bigger than the one the administration ended up proposing. According to The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, however, in December 2008 Mr. Obama's top economic and political advisers concluded that a bigger stimulus was neither economically necessary nor politically feasible.

 

Their political judgment may or may not have been correct; their economic judgment obviously wasn't. Whatever led to this misjudgment, however, it wasn't failure to focus on the issue: in late 2008 and early 2009 the Obama team was focused on little else. The administration wasn't distracted; it was just wrong.

 

The same can be said about policy toward the banks. Some economists defend the administration's decision not to take a harder line on banks, arguing that the banks are earning their way back to financial health. But the light-touch approach to the financial industry further entrenched the power of the very institutions that caused the crisis, even as it failed to revive lending: bailed-out banks have been reducing, not increasing, their loan balances. And it has had disastrous political consequences: the administration has placed itself on the wrong side of popular rage over bailouts and bonuses.

 

Finally, about that narrative: It's instructive to compare Mr. Obama's rhetorical stance on the economy with that of Ronald Reagan. It's often forgotten now, but unemployment actually soared after Reagan's 1981 tax cut. Reagan, however, had a ready answer for critics: everything going wrong was the result of the failed policies of the past. In effect, Reagan spent his first few years in office continuing to run against Jimmy Carter.

 

Mr. Obama could have done the same — with, I'd argue, considerably more justice. He could have pointed out, repeatedly, that the continuing troubles of America's economy are the result of a financial crisis that developed under the Bush administration, and was at least in part the result of the Bush administration's refusal to regulate the banks.

 

But he didn't. Maybe he still dreams of bridging the partisan divide; maybe he fears the ire of pundits who consider blaming your predecessor for current problems uncouth — if you're a Democrat. (It's O.K. if you're a Republican.) Whatever the reason, Mr. Obama has allowed the public to forget, with remarkable speed, that the economy's troubles didn't start on his watch.

 

So where do complaints of an excessively broad agenda fit into all this? Could the administration have made a midcourse correction on economic policy if it hadn't been fighting battles on health care? Probably not. One key argument of those pushing for a bigger stimulus plan was that there would be no second chance: if unemployment remained high, they warned, people would conclude that stimulus doesn't work rather than that we needed a bigger dose. And so it has proved.

 

It's important to remember, also, how important health care reform is to the Democratic base. Some activists have been left disillusioned by the compromises made to get legislation through the Senate — but they would have been even more disillusioned if Democrats had simply punted on the issue.

 

And politics should be about more than winning elections. Even if health care reform loses Democrats votes (which is questionable), it's the right thing to do.

 

So what comes next?

 

At this point Mr. Obama probably can't do much about job creation. He can, however, push hard on financial reform, and seek to put himself back on the right side of public anger by portraying Republicans as the enemies of reform — which they are.

 

And meanwhile, Democrats have to do whatever it takes to enact a health care bill. Passing such a bill won't be their political salvation — but not passing a bill would surely be their political doom.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

INTERNET POLITICS FROM BOTH SIDES NOW

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

For a brief shining moment, late in the 2008 campaign, Democrats thought that they might own the Internet.

 

For decades, they had watched their Republican rivals exploit alternative media to raise money, organize voters and whip up outrage. In the 1970s, conservatives pioneered direct-mail fund-raising. In the early 1990s, they ruled the talk-radio dial. Early in the Bush era, they dominated cable news.

 

But the Internet was going to be different. Direct mail, talk radio, the cable shoutfests — these were inherently conservative technologies, pitched to senior citizens and middle-aged suburbanites. The Internet was for the young, the hip, the multicultural, the liberal. Let the G.O.P. be the party of Fox News. The Democrats would be the party of Google, YouTube and Facebook.

 

During the 2008 campaign, that's exactly what they were. In a race where the Republican nominee didn't know how to use the Internet, Barack Obama was the Internet: sleek, protean and ubiquitous. The Obama campaign dominated online fund-raising, online organizing and social media. This virtual edge translated into an enormous real-world advantage — in dollars raised, enthusiasm harnessed and Election Day boots on the ground.

 

A year later, some of the Democrats' advantage is still there. But it's been crumbling ever since Obama took office. Republican politicians have taken over Twitter. Sarah Palin has 1.2 million followers on Facebook. And in liberal Massachusetts, Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate, has used Internet fund-raising to put the fear of God into the Bay State's establishment.

 

Last Monday, Brown raised $1.3 million from an online "money bomb," and his campaign reportedly went on to raise a million dollars a day throughout the week. The race's online landscape looks like last November's in reverse: from YouTube views to Facebook fans to Twitter followers, Brown enjoys an Obama-esque edge over his Democratic rival, Martha Coakley.

 

In a recent tweet (how else?), Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas, the left-wing blogosphere's éminence grise, compared the Brown campaign to Paul Hackett's bid for an Ohio House seat in 2005. A liberal Democrat running in a conservative district, Hackett came up just short on Election Day. But his campaign offered a preview of the online surge that pushed Democrats over the top in 2006 and 2008.

 

Brown's race might actually end in triumph, rather than a close defeat. But win or lose, he's demonstrated there's no necessary connection between online organizing and liberal politics. The Web is just like every pre-Internet political arena: ideology matters less than the level of anger at the incumbent party, and the level of enthusiasm an insurgent candidate can generate.

 

It's like other arenas, too, in its capacity to disappoint idealists. Indeed, it may be crueler to dreamers, because it offers an artificial sense of intimacy with politicians, without delivering any practical results. You can be Sarah Palin's pal on Facebook, or have Barack Obama's running-mate selection text-messaged to your cellphone. But Washington is still Washington, the legislative process is still the legislative process, and the power of an online community matters less than the power of the powerful.

 

This is the bitter lesson many net-roots types have drawn from Obama's first year in office. The promises of transparency have given way to the reality of backroom deal-cutting. The attempts to turn the campaign's online community, weakly re-dubbed Organizing for America, into a permanent political force have flopped. In a recent post on the Web site Personal Democracy Forum, Micah Sifry captured the free-floating sense of anger with Obama's governance: "The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests ... sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting."

 

If liberals are feeling disillusioned, though, their right-wing imitators may be ripe for an even greater letdown. The Obama administration has at least gone some distance toward enacting an agenda that the net-roots left supports. The "right roots" activists are rallying around politicians who are promising to shrink government without offering any plausible sketch of how to do it. When Scott Brown pledges an across-the-board tax cut and sweeping deficit reduction all at once, he's setting the conservative grass roots up for a major disappointment.

 

Maybe that's for the best. The Internet breeds utopian hopes, and sometimes even fulfills them. (The incredible outpouring of financial support for Haiti would have been smaller, slower and less effective in an offline age.)

 

But where our political process is concerned, this utopianism needs to be tempered by a realism that only hard experience can teach. Better if both right and left learn their lesson quickly — that technology changes, but politics remains the same.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

IRAQ'S BAN ON DEMOCRACY

BY KENNETH M. POLLACK AND MICHAEL E. O'HANLON

 

Washington

WITH Washington's attention understandably focused on the tragedy in Haiti, Iraq has slipped onto the back burner. Yet there is a major problem brewing there — one that could jeopardize President Obama's plan to draw down American forces and even reignite sectarian conflict.

 

Last Thursday, Iraq's Independent High Election Commission upheld a ban on nearly 500 Sunni politicians handed down (possibly illegally) some days earlier by the Accountability and Justice Commission. They were accused of having had ties to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Among those proscribed from running in the nationwide elections scheduled for March 7 were Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of Iraq's most influential Sunni politicians. Although confusion reigns, it is rumored that the brief appeal process will end Tuesday and, at present, it seems unlikely to ameliorate the situation.

 

The two commissions are dominated by officials appointed by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, so it's not surprising that many Iraqis believe that the prime minister's Shiite-dominated government is disqualifying large numbers of political rivals, particularly Mr. Mutlaq, who had already allied himself with Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister widely considered Mr. Maliki's most dangerous foe. There is no evidence of this, but the perception is widespread and in Iraq, perception can do as much damage as reality. Meanwhile, many informed Americans and Iraqis are pointing to Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time political favorite of the Bush administration, as the real culprit. Mr. Chalabi, they say, is trying to manipulate the elections to become prime minister by default.

 

It's true that many of the disqualified politicians were once Baathists. But Iraq needs reconciliation, not payback. Any bans must be careful, selective and well-explained. They should not disqualify people like the defense minister — a former Baathist, but one who turned against the party in the 1990s and was imprisoned and tortured by the regime. Moreover, in recent years he has served the new Iraqi government loyally.

 

Before the surge of American troops in 2007 and the so-called Anbar Awakening, many Iraqi Sunnis boycotted Iraq's elections in the belief that the system was rigged against them. This created a self-fulfilling prophecy when the elections took place without them and the resulting government was dominated by Shiite and Kurdish groups. This vicious cycle helped fuel civil war.

 

All of that changed after 2007, when American-brokered cease-fires and political shifts convinced Sunnis that they would have a fair opportunity to elect their own leaders and participate in government at no disadvantage. In the provincial elections of January 2009, Sunnis finally voted in large numbers. Their return to the political process has been a key element in the rapid erosion of sectarianism from Iraqi politics. The end of the civil war and the need to focus on political and economic reconstruction had revealed sharp differences among the various Shiite groups, which have been heightened by the emergence of Sunni parties with similarly varied views.

 

As a result, there has been a complete reorganization of Iraqi politics over the past year, with Shiite, Sunni and even some Kurdish groups creating cross-sectarian alliances that have largely replaced the previous sectarian blocs. It was a sign of this progress that Sunni parties, particularly Mr. Mutlaq's, were being courted avidly by a number of Shiite and secular parties, including those led by Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi.

 

If the ban is allowed to stand, it will do more than just throw a wrench in the works. It will persuade a great many Iraqis that the prime minister or other Shiites, like Mr. Chalabi, are using their control over the electoral mechanics to kneecap their rivals. It may also convince many Sunnis that they will never be allowed to win if they play by the rules, and that violence is their only option.

 

That is an extraordinarily dangerous message to send right now, when the United States is trying hard to withdraw tens of thousands more American troops from Iraq and shift 50,000 or so from combat operations to advisory and training roles. If this ban remains in effect, the likelihood of electoral violence will skyrocket, and American soldiers will inevitably be called on to halt it.

 

All is not yet lost — over the past few years, Iraqi politicians have developed a penchant for last-minute compromise that has turned a number of near-catastrophes into mere close calls. In every one of those instances, however, it required rapid and determined American pressure to avert disaster.

 

The American Embassy in Baghdad is working feverishly to persuade the Iraqis to change course. Time is of the essence — especially if the Accountability and Justice Commission's appeals process ends on Tuesday. If the United States doesn't act before the deadline, the bans will become much harder to roll back.

 

The threat of crisis is real enough that Vice President Joe Biden, who has played a useful role in backing up Ambassador Christopher Hill on several occasions lately, will have to help. It even merits direct involvement by President Obama. It is just this kind of seemingly small problem that could unravel the entire political fabric of Iraq.

 

Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at Brookings.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

IT'S BACK!

 

Just when you thought we had heard the last of the Kerry-Lugar Bill here it is again; coming over the horizon grumbling and creaking and generally making a nuisance of itself. The problem this time is implementation, delays thereof. The bill was signed on September 24 last year, since when both the US and ourselves have been trying to iron out the modalities of how to disburse – and monitor – some very large sums of money. It seems that the two sides have not got much past the start line according to the usual nameless source in the finance ministry… "Basic issues like procedures for finalisation and execution of projects are still under discussion"… said Mr Nameless. He offered the further penetrating insight that the delays were both politically damaging for the government and were preventing the launch of a range of social-sector projects. The US ambassador has acknowledged the difficulties saying that there were 'misunderstandings' on both sides about how the money was to be released. Meeting reporters she said that Pakistan would get $800 million by March – whilst Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said that the US authorities had said that Pakistan expected to receive only $500 million perhaps by June. Confusion reigns.


It would appear that the principal hurdle in the way of getting the money out of Uncle Sam's pocket and into ours was a lack of coordination on the US side between officials and agencies of the American administration. Three big players have fingers in the pie — Robin Raphael, David Lipton and Richard Holbrooke, and they all have different approaches to the allocation of funds. Holbrooke favours the execution of projects through the NGO sector. Raphael wants to grant project funding through the Pakistan government. Lipton, who is the director for international economics on the National Security Council, wants to promote development projects under the Kerry-Lugar programme in areas affected by militancy. Three clearly divergent views. On our side there is as much confusion. There is no single designated agency tasked with coordination of funds from the Kerry-Lugar Bill. The finance ministry has apparently asked the Economic Affairs Division to coordinate matters, but it seems that most of the projects to be considered under KL funding are being authored by the Planning Commission without reference to any other agency or stakeholder. All in all, this is a recipe for a cock-up on a grand scale. What is at stake is about $1.5 billion a year – we would have thought that somebody somewhere would have given the matter of disbursal rather more consideration than appears to be the case. Or would that be wishing too much?

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

END TO CALM

 

Azad Kashmir, which had till recently remained relatively free from terror attacks, seems to have been increasingly drawn into the spiral of violence that has shaken Pakistan. Most recently, two security personnel were killed and three others injured in an attack on their vehicle near Rawalakot. The area till now had a reputation for immaculate law and order, with people safely leaving doors unlocked even in this day and age. There had previously been other deaths in a bombing targeting an Ashura procession in Muzaffarabad. The patterns of violence thus seen across Pakistan have quite obviously spread to Azad Kashmir. The heavy troop presence in the area of course makes it a tempting target for militants. It is indeed ironic that the issue of militancy, which began with the 'jihad' in Kashmir and the emergence of groups backed by the establishment, should have returned to us in a somewhat different form, with 'jihadi' militants seen as allies in the past having turned into foes.


The situation points to the complexities of militancy and the reason why there are no easy solutions. The problem, ideally speaking, needs to be addressed in a holistic manner, by finding some way to work towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute while also looking at the other, still more dangerous, kinds of militancy that have taken root. But this will take time. There are no immediate or easy answers. In the meanwhile it is imperative that we do all that is possible to prevent terrorism from expanding and wrapping its ugly tentacles around areas that have till now been calm. This has already been happening in Kashmir. There is a possibility too that the militants will attempt to carry out recruitment campaigns in Kashmir. They must be prevented from doing so before they add further to the miseries of people who already confront poverty and also uncertainty on a daily basis.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MURDER & MEDICINE

 

The issue of negligence or incompetence in medical practice continues to create waves in Punjab where doctors have been protesting a proposed law that they say treats death due to medical neglect as being akin to murder. Meanwhile, more and more cases of death in hospitals, allegedly due to wrongdoing by practitioners, have begun to emerge as awareness grows. The courts have been involved also in several of the cases. The issue is one close to many hearts. Almost every citizen requires medical attention at some point in their lives. It is of course the most major flaw in our system that so few receive it.


But while the issue of access to health care needs to be addressed, it is also important that those who are able to reach hospitals are properly cared for. Sadly, at present, there are few guarantees of this. Especially in the public sector, to which the poorest sections of the population turn for help, there is rampant malpractice. This is combined with mismanagement that leads to poor services or machinery which has been allowed to fall into ruin. The private sector – so often a vehicle for profit for the owners of centres and the professionals engaged by them — needs also to be monitored and regulated. These are challenges for health policy-makers. It is important that laws be carefully framed to protect both patients and doctors. The fact that this has not happened for far too long accounts for the kind of crisis that has now arisen, and the emotional outpourings we have been seeing now for weeks in the media.

 

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I. THE NEWS

ARTICLE 248: WHAT LURKS BETWEEN THE LINES

SALEEM RIZVI


Aside from the far-reaching practical implications of the presidential immunity quandary and its direct consequences for the sitting Pakistani president, there are numerous compelling reasons to explore this issue further. Without understanding its underlying theoretical framework and academic footings, it might forever remain elusive. Needless to say, the nation also needs to move past this political quagmire quickly so that it can focus its energies on other urgent matters relating to security, economy, energy, law and order, education, health care, etc.


Even when steering clear of the tone and motives of the current political bickering, and the legal posturing surrounding the presidential immunity issue, one cannot help wondering why such sweeping immunity, with its conflicting concepts and paradoxical undercurrents, was envisaged and then made part of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. One also wonders if such broad immunity can survive rigorous judicial scrutiny, in view of our needs, to build a modern, democratic and egalitarian state to face the challenges of our times. After all, the age of absolute monarchies is long gone, and the dictum, "the king can do no wrong" has been buried.


The commonly known 'presidential immunity', as debated in Pakistan, is the creation of Article 248 of the Constitution. The article with the heading, "Protection to president, governor, minister, etc" is structured into four sub-clauses, and it attempts to provide "protection" to certain big guns, belonging to those of the executive branches of the federal and provincial governments, which includes the president, prime minister, all governors, all federal and provincial ministers, all chief ministers, and ministers of state. Before addressing the immunity provided to the biggest of all guns, the president, it may be helpful to understand the legal structure of this article.

Even on a cursory reading of Article 248, it is hard to miss its strikingly faulty linguistic composition. It is not just the grammatical errors; it is in fact the use of shallow ordinary language, devoid of sound legal meanings, which are most baffling. The sub-clause (1) of Article 248, while referring to the president and other aforesaid executive officials, mandates that they "…shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performances of functions of their respective offices." It is hard to imagine any plausible rationality behind the creation of such an unjustifiably broad protection.


Moreover, how should a legal mind, or even a lay person, interpret such language? For instance, what does the word "answerable" mean in this context? In ordinary usage, its meaning might appear clear, but in a legal setting, it fails to provide any legally interpretable concept. Assuming this article is attempting to invoke the doctrine of separation of powers, it does fail to do so here in an unambiguous manner. At best, it seems to be a cheap imitation of Article 361 of the Indian constitution. What does it mean when the article refers to "the exercise of powers and performances of functions of their respective offices"? Does it protect such officials against civil damage liability only, or is it a blank cheque meant to protect all their official acts, no matter how grossly negligent?


If only the offices and not the officials in their personal capacity are protected, then why are the "proceedings" against the federation or province permitted? There are a plethora of questions, the discussion of which lies beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, it is critical to note that some fundamental interpretation challenges do exist. What was in the minds of the drafters of this article in terms of its purpose and extent? Even on the surface, signs of flimsy language are visible. Article 248(3) is one such example. Not only does it contain a glaring grammatical error, it does seem to run contrary to the basic spirit and structure of the constitution. It would certainly be a welcome step if the current Special Committee of Parliament on Constitutional Reform can focus on Article 248 as well correct the language therein at the very least.


In the entire article, sub-clause (2) is the most troubling. Does the bare language of this sub-clause make any sense in view of the broader constitutional framework and its fundamental spirit? If one reads this article in its entirety, it tends to raise more questions than it answers. How should one distinguish Article 248(2) from Article 242(4)? Shouldn't criminal conduct be confronted more seriously than mere civil misconduct? What are the jurisprudential and policy considerations for providing Article 248(2) protection in such seemingly categorical terms?


As per Article 248(2), if the president and governors cannot be brought to justice for criminal conduct while in office, then are there any other legal mechanisms available to hold them accountable if they commit a serious crime while in office? If not, why not? How must one interpret this article if the president, for example, intentionally and unjustifiably kills a person? Should he still be afforded the immunity granted by Article 248? How can the legal system hold him or her accountable in the face of serious crimes? Where should the line be drawn? How should the rights of a victim of a crime be protected if the crime is perpetrated by the president? Are there any conflicts between the language of Article 248(2) and the basic constitutional rights of a victim who wants to hold the perpetrator accountable? It is also interesting to note the article, for some reasons, does not adorn the prime minister's cap with a feather of such extraordinary protection.


About the purpose and extent of presidential immunity as exercised in the US, the Supreme Court there held that the president has the privilege of immunity from civil liability damage actions for his official conduct, but such absolute immunity is not extended to cover his unofficial conduct. Presidential immunity is not considered a special privilege enjoyed solely by one person by the nature of his office. Instead, it is an area carved out to ensure that the president can perform his public functions without the fear of unnecessary and frivolous damage liability suits. It is worth noting that the US constitution does not explicitly create presidential immunity, rather it is the creation of the US Supreme Court, partly on the basis of the doctrine of separation of powers.


It is also important to note that a US president, even while in office, does not enjoy absolute immunity for his private conduct against civil liability damage actions. There is an overwhelming consensus among jurists that a US president has no such absolute immunity when it comes to criminal prosecution, while in or out of office. Moreover, in this context, the distinction between private and public conduct is meaningless as no one in his right mind can possibly claim immunity for his criminal conduct, calling it his official function. Wouldn't it be absurd if a president claims protection for his act of murdering someone or of bribe taking as part of his official conduct? Criminal acts can never be protected as official conduct, and private criminal acts are not protected by presidential or even sovereign immunity.


The constitution is a living and organic document and it must be interpreted in the same spirit and fashion. Even when a state constitution is flawlessly drafted, conflicting views are bound to arise, and this is where the courts' role becomes critical. The courts are responsible for interpreting the constitution. For instance, the number of constitutional cases decided by the US Supreme Court is in the thousands.


Therefore, the fundamental focus of our efforts ought to be the protection of our state institutions' integrity, not the protection of individuals at the expense of institutions.


Only through robust reasoning, deep analytical analysis, and unbiased judicial interpretation, one can hope to render clear and reasonable meanings to such contentious issues. In this backdrop, one wonders if any guidance is available through the record of constitutional debates, which may have taken place during the drafting of Article 248, or did it just so happen that it was blindly or conveniently "borrowed" from the Indian constitution without any meaningful deliberation. Perhaps a still living drafter of the 1973 constitution may shed some light on this question.


The writer is a lawyer based in New York. Email: saleemsrizvi@ yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DEVELOPING AN EXIT STRATEGY

TALAT MASOOD


The United States continues to push Pakistan that it should widen the scope of its military operations against the insurgents to include North Waziristan. Our army has been resisting for good reason. First, it is already overstretched, then winter has set in and widening the operation further could galvanise all tribes to coalesce. There is a distinct possibility that a military operation in North Waziristan would trigger a fresh wave of suicide attacks throughout the country. These reservations aside, even if the Pakistan army does undertake this operation in the near future and granted it is successful at the tactical level, genuine peace in the region will only come about if there is simultaneous progress in stabilising Afghanistan. What we have seen in South Waziristan that the top militant leadership of Pakistani Taliban has moved into North Wazistan with Hafiz Gul Bhadur, despite the undertaking by these groups that they will not provide sanctuary to hostile forces. Similarly, during the North Waziristan operation, possibilities exist that militants will move into other tribal hide-outs and settled areas or slip into Afghanistan and continue to pose a threat to Pakistan.


The experience of the last nine years has shown that asymmetric balancing by the militants against Pakistan and the US in Afghanistan cannot be countered with superior conventional force alone. The other lesson is that US must avoid excessive unilateralism when formulating policies about Pakistan and the region. If it claims for a strategic and a long-term partnership, then the genuine interests of Pakistan have to be protected in its policies. It is not a question of merely consulting or informing Pakistan of its policy as it apparently has been doing in case of the Kerry- Lugar Bill and other major issues without taking its interests into account.


The United States and NATO countries should realise that root of the problem lies primarily in Afghanistan and instead of pushing Pakistan to do more, it would be advisable if Washington would use the services of the ISI to act as an interlocutor with the Afghan Taliban and other militant entities to agree to a power-sharing agreement. If there is any country that can still influence the Taliban, it is Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. Only a negotiated settlement can bring a modicum of stability in Afghanistan and provide an exit strategy to US and NATO forces. Increase in troop strength and intensification in military operations has always preceded withdrawal of forces. This was true for the Soviets in the 80s and should be applicable to the US now.


The game in the region would change if the Afghan Talibans agree to a power-sharing agreement with the Karzai government and other political forces in the country. There are already indications that Hikmat Yar is disposed towards a negotiated settlement. The question is: does the US surge of 30,000 troops plus contribution of 5,000 from ISAF countries be sufficiently compelling for the Taliban to agree to come to the negotiating table. As of now they do not appear inclined towards a settlement knowing that the US troop withdrawal will commence in the next 15 to 18 months. But if Pakistan (ISI) were to pressure them, then the attitude of Taliban could be more accommodating. Surely they would be over-rating and miscalculating if they think that they will be the only powerful entity in the post-occupation period. Several other strong entities have emerged in Afghanistan in the last decade and are in a position to challenge the Taliban once the Americans leave. And these are all well armed and well financed, besides having local support.


In addition to the Northern Alliance there is Hikmat Yar, the Haqqani group and several local warlords who will all demand their share in the power structure, even if today they are allies facing a common enemy. Then all Pashtuns are not Taliban. Considering these factors, the Afghan Taliban may well agree to a negotiated settlement in which they also de-link themselves from Al Qaeda.


Moreover, the raison det're of Taliban's insurgency is to resist American and NATO occupation. On the other hand, the rationale for American presence is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, whom they are giving sanctuary, pose a serious threat. In short, it is a meaningless and open-ended conflict with no end and the sooner the parties realise the futility of it, the better. In making both sides realise the folly of the current confrontation, the ISI can play a critical role. Once a peaceful settlement is reached in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban would then lose their legitimacy and the movement will gradually fizzle out as will external help. This would greatly contribute in stabilising the tribal belt with a positive impact on the rest of Pakistan.


In essence, the key to Afghanistan's peace lies in Pakistan and, ironically, the peace in Pakistan is dependent on the stability and peace in Afghanistan. The ISI is clearly well placed to play a crucial role of an interlocutor between the Afghan Taliban and US, between the Haqqani, Hikmat Yar and the US and work for peace in the region. Of course for this it is necessary to gain the confidence and support of the US.


This would be a far superior option to opening a new front in North Waziristan which may well unite the tribal forces with a huge blow to the rest of the country and the region.


In the event of withdrawal of US forces, after arriving at a negotiated settlement with Taliban, Pakistan's concerns over India's excessive involvement in Afghanistan are also likely to fade.


This policy approach by no means under estimates the very important role of Iran and other neighbouring countries, especially Russia and China in stabilising Afghanistan. Iran has close historical, cultural and religious ties with Afghanistan and has maintained strong economic and political links with its eastern provinces and with Northern Alliance. Iran, besides Pakistan, provides land-locked Afghanistan opening to the sea. China discreetly is developing deep commercial interests in Afghanistan and working on mining and infrastructure projects. Russia is showing renewed interest in Afghanistan. All these countries will like US to withdraw for their own reasons and are interested in the stability of Afghanistan to avoid its impact in their countries..


The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email: talat@comsats.net.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S NON-ALIGNED POLICY

PRAFUL BIDWAI


Two relatively young ministers of state (MoS) in the Manmohan Singh government have distinguished themselves by their contrarian stances and penchant for controversy. They are educated, intellectually capable, tech-savvy and articulate. They are also extremely opinionated, ambitious, narcissistic and exhibitionistic. They have tried to shape policies in their respective fields in a broadly pro-Western and pro-United States direction.


These men are environment and forests MoS Jairam Ramesh and external affairs MoS Shashi Tharoor. Ramesh has executed many policy turns to end up with pro-corporate and pro-Western results. He is responsible, with Prime Minister Singh, for India's signature of the disastrous and collusive Copenhagen Accord between the US, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) and a few other states. The Accord sets its face against fighting climate change effectively and urgently, and absolves all major emitters of their responsibility.


Tharoor was imposed on the Congress Party from on top after he lost the election for the UN secretary general's post. He has consistently courted controversy through his speeches and Twitter.com messages. Tharoor regarded the official bungalow allotted to him as a dump and checked into a 5-star hotel, at public expense. He moved out only when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee publicly reminded him of the government's commitment to austerity and said it won't foot the bill.


Tharoor complained about the rule that ministers should travel economy class in airlines—in his words, go "cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows." He challenged his own government's tougher visa regime by saying that it wouldn't improve security, and that the November 2008 Mumbai killers "had no visas."

Through his messages—designed to trigger controversy—Tharoor is cultivating a constituency to build up his political career. In doing so, he breaches the democratic principle of ministers' collective responsibility to the cabinet. Tharoor must decide whether he's a responsible politician, or will behave like a frivolous college kid.

Tharoor's latest target was Jawaharlal Nehru's non-aligned policy. He was commenting on a talk by an academic, which criticised its basis in "misplaced righteousness." Regardless of this judgement's merit, Tharoor's right to express dissident views in a semi-academic forum must be defended.


However, how valid is Tharoor's view that while Indian foreign policy, shaped by the special contribution by Gandhi and Nehru pertaining to "our civilisational heritage," enhanced India's standing, it "also earned us the negative reputation of running a moralistic commentary on world affairs"? Although Tharoor has tried to "balance" the two perceptions, he's inclined to the negative view.


In his 2007 book India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond, Tharoor disparages non-alignment and economic planning. He says Nehru "based his nationalism on a complete rejection of all things British and all their works. His letters…reveal greater sympathy for the 'extremists' in the Indian National Congress than for the 'moderates.' "


The first proposition is factually false. Nehru took a great deal from the British, including Enlightenment ideas of progress and science, modernism, political liberalism and, above all, Westminster-style democracy. The second proposition distorts reality. Congress "extremists" were not flaming radicals, but plain nationalists who wanted full independence rather than "home rule."

Tharoor is right to say that Nehru saw imperialism "as the logical extension of international capitalism, for which he therefore felt a profound mistrust." Indeed, British colonialism couldn't be separated from capitalism's predatory pursuits. Nehru was rightly "sceptical of Western claims to stand for freedom and democracy when India's historical experience of colonial oppression and exploitation appeared to bear out the opposite."

But Tharoor is wrong to say Nehru established "a moral equivalence between the two rival power blocs" into which the world split after World War II—NATO led by the US, and the socialist bloc led by the USSR. Tharoor is even more wrong to think that while non-alignment might have given India self-confidence, the Indian people "might have fared better in alliance with the West."


Tharoor's view of non-alignment — in line with what's becoming fashionable within Indian conservative opinion — is profoundly mistaken. It misrepresents the post-War world.

 

By the mid-20th century, only a handful of colonies had become independent. Much of Asia and most of Africa was still under the colonial yoke, and the imperial European influence in much of Latin America was still very powerful.

The world was extremely skewed, with income differentials of 1:30 between rich and poor countries. It was also in the grip of conflicts driven by the Cold War. Mass poverty, widespread deprivation, illiteracy and severe underdevelopment prevailed within the international order marked by unequal terms of trade and rising corporate domination.


Even international institutions were exclusionary. The United Nations was set up by just 51 countries.


Non-alignment was a logical, rational and ethical response to this polarisation and pervasive iniquity. Non-alignment didn't mean passive neutrality, but active pursuit of options which accelerate decolonisation, reduce inequality and expand the space for the self-reliant development of the former colonies.


Third World countries which chose to align with the Western bloc turned into Banana Republics, or lost out on both democratisation and development and became anaemically dependent on the West. Nehru called them "Coca-Cola countries."


India's non-aligned policy allowed it to pursue its national interest while providing moral-political leadership to the global South. Its genius lay in recognising the limitations of both the Western and Soviet models and trying to devise an independent model for India, with a different notion of global power.


India commanded prestige because it exposed the West's hypocrisy in claiming to uphold freedom and democracy while perpetuating an unjust world order. But India didn't fall into the trap of tailing the Soviet bloc. Nehru wasn't uncritical of the Soviet Union and its agenda of conventional balance-of-power politics and achieving military prowess through nuclear weapons. Nehru approached the West for help to build India's first modern steel mill. It's only after the West refused that India asked the USSR to build the Bhilai steel plant.


However, Nehru saw the value of the agenda of social and economic rights, which the socialist bloc upheld — in distinction to the West's expedient emphasis on civil and political rights.


The USSR supported development programmes in Third World countries. Despite internal problems, it acted until the late 1970s as a countervailing force to the West, taming capitalism and promoting a welfare state there.

Non-alignment was not a "moralistic running commentary" on the world. It did have a strong moral content, but it also creatively explored different economic, diplomatic and strategic options and promoted the peaceful resolution of conflicts, greater equality and more development space for the South.


This doesn't argue that Nehru was infallible. He misjudged China and the folly of the USSR's 1956 invasion of Hungary. But he had a great vision.


Non-alignment, along with the other pillars of the Nehruvian consensus — democracy, secularism and self-reliant equitable development — retains much of its relevance. Today's world is even more conflict-ridden and unequal than in 1950, with income differentials of 90:1.


If India is to do any good to the world, it must promote global equality, justice and peace, and speak for the poor and underprivileged — and not ape the West.


The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1 @yahoo.co.in

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

US AND THE YEMENI MESS

ZEENIA SATTI


The US-led occupation of Afghanistan brought a nuclear-armed Pakistan to its knees as a state. If the US follows the same policies in Yemen that it followed in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia will crack at its foundations. Just as the Pakistani nukes have no danger from Al Qaeda but plenty from Pentagon, the largest oil reserves in the world will be cited as dangerously vulnerable to Al Qaeda take-over, as the US positions to provide them security in return for purchasing oil at a discount that can be used in tough economic times. For this, all the US has to do is "sit" on the Yemeni coastline to prevent Al Qaeda incursions, as Yemen has scant coastal defence of its own.


The American presence will, of course, exacerbate the Yemeni mess and Saudi Arabia will start getting infiltrated with what the US generals will insist is Al Qaeda (they may be just a bunch of very angry armed Muslims for good reason). In a repeat performance of Afghanistan, Barack Obama will try to "conceptualise" a politico-economic solution to the Yemen problem. The ruling Arab political "thought", in turn, will fail to offer a solution to the crisis and the Arab militant nationalists will be hell-bent on US departure. The American generals, goaded by the intelligence and corporate elite, will start pressuring the oval office for a surge, raising a chorus of scary security and economic concerns. Washington's easiest option will be Saudi Arabian military, which will be given fancy counter-insurgency equipment "to do more." Riyadh suffers from the same mindset as Islamabad. Its capacity to distance itself from the US for the sake of internal stability is zero. Political instability from Yemen will start flooding into Saudi Arabia, the world's leading exporter of oil. Like Pakistan's nukes, Saudi oil fields will be presented by US-based powerful media outlets as extremely vulnerable to capture by "Al Qaeda."


To make matters worse, Bin Laden and Co will start issuing videos from an "undisclosed location." Because disruption in supply of Saudi oil to world markets will have dire consequences for western economies, the Pentagon would be "obliged" to rush in to safeguard Saudi oil fields in the interest of international economic stability." Should the US do so, its act will destabilise the entire Islamic region. Enraged Muslims, who flock to Mecca every year from all four of its corners for pilgrimage, will start lighting the fires of war north, south, east and west.

Stoking the fires further, the US will offer to train Islamic states to fight "terror." Any such cooperation will jeopardise the latter's security even more. The US will become the self-appointed gendarme of the region till such time as Al Qaeda (or some morphed version by then) is disrupted, dismantled and destroyed, that is, till an alternative to fossil fuel is discovered.


Till then, the US will entitle itself to purchasing Gulf oil at a discounted price in return for ensuring the security of Gulf states while providing arms to peripheral and more populated states in the throws of perpetual insurgency. The US arms exports will greatly benefit from an expanding theater of war of "enraged people versus confused governments". The US will be spared harm due to its geographic isolation. Britain too, is secure compared to the rest of Europe, where the fall-out could bring political harm of its own. The countries most directly endangered will be India and Israel as they lie in the midst of what could become a thoroughly destabilised region. India's economic gains and Israel's diplomatic gains in the Arab world will both be jeopardised in such a scenario.


Ever since the young man from London burned his bottom and airplane's seat after boarding a US airliner and announced he was "trained" by Al Qaeda in Yemen, the international media has started drawing analogies between Yemen and Afghanistan (tribes and arms, weak centre etc). Yemen is NOT Afghanistan. It is not peripheral. It sits atop a land whose eruption could trigger a political earthquake on a Richter scale that may blow the Pentagon's generals into far-off corners with painful landings despite their unrivalled hardware.

Japan has already foreseen this and has started to demand the closure of US bases on its soil. In a historic bid to distance itself from the US, Japan, the world's second largest fossil fuel dependent economy, has started moving closer to China. Tokyo's strategic assessment of the ultimate fate of US' resource wars seems bleak. The US is over-stretching militarily under the assumption that the majority of states will cooperate with it in what it has marketed as the war on terror. However, as the negative fate of Muslim states, which cooperate with the US, begins to materialise, (for example, Pakistan) there will be an inevitable region wide retreat from this policy. This in turn will create a strategic space for China which the US may find hard to contain.

The writer is analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington DC. Email: zeenia.satti @post.harvard.edu

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ALL

ASIF EZDI


The writer is a former member of the PakistanForeign Service


It is not often that information ministers have something to say that one can agree with wholeheartedly. Kaira's passionate speech at the inauguration of the Hafizabad Press Club on Jan 3 was one of those rare occasions. He said the PPP wanted a transparent system of accountability for all those who had plundered the national exchequer and that judges, generals and politicians should all be held accountable, not just the PPP workers and leaders.

Kaira was absolutely right in demanding accountability for everyone, without exception. The National Accountability Ordinance promulgated by Musharraf had exempted the sitting president and governors, military personnel (other than those who have held a civilian post) and judges from its ambit. The new accountability law presented to the parliament last April does the same. There was never any valid justification for letting them off in the old ordinance, and there is none for continuing this immunity in the new bill.


The ostensible reason for not making the accountability law applicable to a serving president and governor is that they enjoy immunity from criminal proceedings under Article 248 of the Constitution. But even if one accepts for a moment that this immunity – which is only for the duration of their incumbency – should be allowed to stand, it does not justify putting them above the accountability law. Because what it means is that a president or governor who misuses his office for personal profit does not commit an offence under this legislation and cannot be prosecuted even after he leaves office.


There is just as little justification for excluding military personnel and judges from the application of the anti-corruption law. The reason given for making an exception in favour of the military was that the military has its own system of accountability. But this is only half-true.


Military procurements, both within the country and abroad, provide plenty of temptations for kickbacks, but the only known recent case of a high-profile armed forces officer having been convicted is that of former admiral Mansurul Haq. His case was investigated and prosecuted by NAB, not by the naval authorities. Clearly, the navy's internal system of accountability failed to catch him. Besides, the penal law of the land must apply equally to all, whether they are civilians or from the military.


That is also true for judges of the superior judiciary. The Supreme Judicial Council can only recommend the removal of a judge. It has no powers to investigate corruption cases, to sentence the guilty or order the return of ill-gotten wealth.


After having demanded accountability for all, Kaira quickly retracted his statement the next day. This is not surprising. The government's priority is not bringing the corrupt to justice, but helping the accused, especially PPP leaders, evade justice. This is clear from the new accountability law and the government's stalling in investigating and prosecuting old and new corruption cases.

In a TV interview on Jan 8, Gilani himself tried to defend Zardari against corruption charges. It was an excruciating performance. Gilani advanced clumsy excuses of the kind one expects from Taseer and Fauzia Wahab but which are unbecoming of a prime minister. He said that since the people knew about corruption charges against Zardari when he was elected president, it would now be an insult to the public for anyone to say that their decision was wrong. Such arguments by the prime minister are actually an insult to the high office that he himself happens to be holding. If his twisted logic is accepted, it would mean that anyone who gets elected stands cleared of corruption charges against him.


Gilani did not stop there. He said also that if the demand to probe loan write-offs was accepted, no one would be spared. But that is exactly what the people of Pakistan are clamouring for, Prime Minister. What is your problem with that?


And why, Prime Minister, has your government not ordered investigation into cases of alleged kickbacks paid to Zardari in the Agosta submarine deal, as reported by a French newspaper, and the land deal in which hundreds of acres of land in Islamabad were sold to him at a fraction of the market value? The press has been reporting about many other cases of alleged corruption by the high and mighty and those who are well-connected. But, strangely, the government's own agencies are either ignorant about them or are trying to hush them up.


And will you please tell the public, Prime Minister, why documents in the Swiss money-laundering case implicating Zardari have been left in the custody of our high commissioner in London who is himself an accused in a corruption case? And what do you have to say to reports that the government is replacing NAB prosecutors with party loyalists who would be tasked to work for the acquittal of the accused, instead of their conviction?

The new accountability law that was introduced in the parliament last April is another sign that the government's policy seeks not to fight corruption but to condone it. The government has yet to explain why an entirely new law was required in place of the NAB Ordinance. True, the ordinance was misused by Musharraf, as the Charter of Democracy asserts. But the answer to that would have been to amend the law in order to strengthen the independence of NAB, not to repeal the ordinance. It should also be brought in line with the standards of the UN Convention against Corruption, to which Pakistan is a party.


The fact is that under cover of a new accountability law the government has furtively introduced many corruption-friendly clauses. Under its latest version, pending corruption cases will also be tried under the new law, which is heavily tilted in favour of the accused.


The crux of the matter is whether Zardari will stand trial for corruption. He occupies the highest office of state and the number of cases in which he stands accused, as well as the amounts involved, outstrip by far those for any other individual. He has declared that his ministers and party members will now defend themselves in the courts. But he himself refuses to face trial and is taking shelter behind the constitutional immunity enjoyed by the president.

It is clear that the accountability process will border on a farce if the star performer does not feature in the show. It will also be a travesty of justice if the small fry get caught in the net but the biggest of the big fish escape. That will only discredit the political system in the eyes of the public and invite ridicule and contempt for our institutions. With Zardari mired up to the neck in corruption cases, his presidency has become a huge liability. The country is being distracted from focusing on the many urgent external and domestic challenges left by the Musharraf dictatorship and exacerbated by mis-governance and non-governance during Zardari's time in the seat of power. But his exit must be brought about through political process, not by disqualification under some questionable constitutional clauses of dubious provenance.


Three steps are required.


First, a proposal should be tabled in the parliament – but, please, not in the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform – to limit the president's immunity from criminal proceedings to his official acts only, as under Article 213 of the 1956 Constitution.


Second, resolutions should be moved in the Senate and the National Assembly urging Zardari to give up his immunity and face the courts. No exception should be allowed to the principle that everyone is accountable under the law for their deeds and misdeeds. If Zardari is acquitted, he would be vindicated. If convicted, he would automatically lose his job.


Third, all opposition parties should give the assurance that they do not wish to topple the PPP-led coalition at the centre and do not seek mid-term elections.


Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

QUAKES AND CRANKS

CHRIS CORK


Having 'done' three earthquakes as an aid worker — Kalamata in Greece, Badakhshan in Afghanistan and the '05 'quake here — I have something of a feel for how these disasters get handled at a number of levels. One of them being the media. The Haiti quake is a real monster, and the most recent estimates are that there are over 100,000 dead and who knows how many injured. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has a ramshackle government and nothing in the way of infrastructure that would enable it to cope with an event of this magnitude.


The world's media likes nothing better than bad news, and Haiti, from a news desk point of view, was manna from heaven. Reporters were on the ground before the aid agencies and governments around the world had time to catch their breath. One global news agency even had its health correspondent, a qualified doctor, treating a new-born orphan with a head injury live on camera. Other footage was from camera phones and the social networking sites Facebook and Bebo had 'missing persons' pages up and running within hours of the event. Twitter became an information exchange for aid workers on the ground, carrying the coordinates for people trapped but alive. Little local coverage has been given to the response of the Edhi organisation, which has a branch in Cuba — but as coverage generally is rapidly falling away this is perhaps not surprising.


Outside of the disaster area the pundits were swiftly at work and as usual, there was more rubbish talked than common sense; some of it not only ill-informed but downright offensive. Of particular note was the response of the American right-wing media and at least one of the prominent Christian fundamentalist broadcasters — who in the US have considerable clout. As is usual there have been appeals for cash and relief goods, but according to Rush Limbaugh, the most popular radio talk show host and for many the spiritual leader of the Republican Party — we should not waste our time or money on the Haitians. Why? Apparently because those good Americans who give to support those in need, will have their money stolen by President Obama. How? By donating it to the American Red Cross, who might, just might, find a way of back-channeling it to some dark corner of the Obama administration. There was no substance to Limbaughs' insinuations, all he was doing was seeking to demean Obama for his own political ends — which he did much to the satisfaction of his audience.


Consider now the comments of Pat Robertson, a fundamentalist Christian televangelist who was of the opinion that the Haitians had brought this on themselves because in the historical past they had made 'a pact with the devil' in order to rid themselves of the French, at that time the colonial power. The earthquake was God's way of letting them know that he was not letting them get away with that one.


Haiti is quickly dropping down the news agenda. The electronic media has the attention-span of a demented cocker spaniel and within a week, Haiti will be history to be revisited for a six-month update, other stories permitting. We — my family — responded in the only way we could, and we gave money. Do I know if it will get there, our fifty pounds? No, and as I signed the cheques I thought of Limbaugh and Robertson and wondered to myself in an idle moment what I might do if I came across either of them trapped in a car after a crash and needing help. I came to no firm conclusion.


The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail .com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

REGIONAL APPROACH TO AFGHAN ISSUE

 

FOREIGN Ministers of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan after their meeting in Islamabad, in a joint declaration, have affirmed that their trilateral cooperation was key to peace and stability in Afghanistan. They have also emphasised that any regional or international conference should acknowledge the salience of their trilateral engagement and cooperation for achieving common objective of restoration of peace in the war torn country.


The meeting took place ahead of the London Conference being hosted by Britain and other regional meetings on Afghanistan in Istanbul and Moscow. The three countries gave a clear message to the London Conference, the objective of which appears to be to evolve an international architecture with the involvement of countries other than contiguous neighbours of Afghanistan, that they are opposed to inclusion of outsiders in the Afghan plan. No doubt the United States is a super power and has interest in the entire region but the fact is that the situation has deteriorated after the US intervention in Afghanistan. One of the most senior British Commanders in Afghanistan has admitted that fight against Taliban could not be won by military means and an end to the conflict would inevitably involve dialogue to bring the Taliban to the mainstream. The Afghan problem is very complex and any involvement of outsiders including India would further complicate the situation, as it would use the position to further its interests in the area for the attainment of its own goals. Pakistan has repeatedly voiced its opposition to any Indian role in Afghanistan because it is a reality that New Delhi is interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs from Afghan soil as well. In this context it was encouraging that the three Foreign Ministers reiterated their resolve that they would not allow their territories to be used for activities detrimental to each other's interests. We have been emphasising that peace in Afghanistan could best be achieved with the cooperation of the neighbouring countries and therefore it is time to give the regional countries a chance to make an attempt in that direction. We would propose that possibility of China's involvement in the process could be beneficial as it is a major power and respected by all the stakeholders in Afghanistan including Taliban. We hope and expect that while the London and other conferences in Istanbul and Moscow would deliberate minutely about the ground security situation and development needs, the three countries based on Islamabad declaration would adopt a united stand for a regional approach to resolve the difficult Afghan crisis.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

IMPLICATIONS OF REVIEW PETITION AGAINST NRO

 

WHILE the whole nation was awaiting for the detailed judgement on NRO, the Federation has suddenly filed a review petition against the short order of the Supreme Court declaring National Reconciliation Ordinance as void ab initio and ultra vires of the Constitution. The petition has not only surprised but also shocked the people because filing of the review petition has further established that there are certain functionaries, which are going to be guillotined.


It is a summersault on the part of the Government because earlier Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani himself had stated that they wanted across the board accountability and respects the verdict of the apex court. Right in the premises of the Supreme Court Presidential spokesman had also said that they respect the verdict on NRO. After the historic judgement of the full court, cases against NRO beneficiaries have been reopened and hearing is in progress. In our view it is one of the classic myopic decisions that would tarnish the image of the Government and deepen the perception among the masses that the NRO beneficiaries are not ready to face the courts. The politicians against whom corruption cases were instituted claim that the former head of Accountability Bureau made false cases for their victimisation and that even after the lapse of such a long time they could not be decided. After the apex court's judgement leaders of all the political parties are demanding trial of the NRO beneficiaries whether politicians or bureaucrats. Also there are demands for reopening of written-off loans of Banks. According to some rough estimates hundreds of billions of rupees have been plundered by the corrupt elements and they must be made answerable and the money recovered. This is a genuine demand and the petition would have serious implications and dent the popularity of the Government. We feel that the Prime Minister should have distanced himself from this move of filing of review petition and the courts which are totally independent should be allowed to decide the NRO cases on merit.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MUTUAL TRADE BETWEEN SAARC COUNTRIES

 

PAKISTAN based leadership of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry says that there is lot of trade potential between the member countries and that need to be exploited for the welfare and prosperity of the people and the region.


There is no doubt that regional countries have vast potential for mutual trade and with population of around 1.5 billion it is a big market for products. During the last two years the SAARC CCI under the leadership of Mr Tariq Sayeed became a very active organisation and tried to create synergies in key economic areas like trade, industry and investment. There was also greater interaction among the business leaders of the SAARC countries which led to better understanding and appreciation of legitimate concerns of business and industry in the region not only with regard to intra-SAARC trade issues but also with regard to WTO issues. Other regional organisations like the EU and ASEAN have become very active in promoting trade and strengthening of regional bonds and SAARC ICC too could be made effective. However in our view any regional arrangement cannot be dependable in South Asia because there are some issues, which have virtually hijacked promotion of relations. Kashmir issue and other irritants that members of SAARC have with India are the major impediments in the growth of trade. India and Pakistan are major economies of SAARC and resolution of disputes between them would benefit the economies of all the countries. We would therefore urge upon the collective leadership of the SAARC business community to play their role in the resolution of disputes and other irritants. The business leaders enjoy enough clout and have access to the ears of political leadership of their respective countries. If they exercise their influence we are confident core issues like Kashmir, water and transit trade could be resolved which would open up vast opportunities for the business community and improve the lives of the poverty stricken masses of the region.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

"AMAN KI ASHA"

DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI


This kite flying, under the name of Aman ki Asha , has received attention which shows that it has caused much interest particularly among the writers and intellectuals . The question to ask by those of us who know the fate of such pious hopes in the past is whether there is any possibility of this laudable initiative succeeding? Majority in Pakistan will be happy if it does but can we expect the Indians to reciprocate. This is another matter I wonder!


My doubts about the initiative succeeding are not based on any ill wishes against this initiative. I do not wish it to fail. I am a Delhi-Agra wala who still has very fond memories of the place where I grew up, went to the famous educational institutions, and I loved to walk in Jamia Masjid and monuments of Muslim history's glory. The enchanting sight of Taj Mahal in Agra from our ancestral house is still fresh in my mind despite the fact that it is now over sixty years old. The Urdu Bazar around Jamia Masjid Delhi was my haunt as a student, just as book markets in Cairo and Beirut were where I passed much of my leisure time during my Ambassadorship in Egypt and Lebanon. Although I worked for Pakistan Movement in the students' leadership days, when Pakistan came into existence, I had no intention of leaving my ancestral place but I had no alternative but to become homeless when our houses were looted, Muslims were being massacred and we had to become refugees. This is just to underline that I do not want to be misunderstood as if I am opposed to turning a new leaf of good neighbourliness with India if not of friendship. Time seems to be against a success of peaceniks of Pakistan . India does not know even the world "solution" for "the dispute" where Kashmir is concerned. It has added to the list of disputes one more cause of tension, blocking waters to Pakistan in contravention of the Sind River Tass Agreement- which Hali in his column in The Pakistan Observer called "stealing Pakistan's waters", and is heavily involved with the so-called Taleban in the Frontier, insurgency in Balochistan and seems to have suffer from an arrogance of power thinking that it has such inordinate superiority over Pakistan in conventional weapons that no one can challenge its status quo and it can continue to remain obdurant in talks with Pakistan for finding a solution of these disputes.


In India therefore peace or aman means acceptance of status quo by Pakistan on all its disputes with India. Forget about them and agree to have 'friendship' on Indian terms will be their response to Aman ki Asha. . As the saying is among the Hindus "we have learnt only lala lala and not dada dada or to give. ( la is the first alphabet in the spelling of lena or taking and da in Dena or giving) .


Even then many Indians want Pakistan to accept Indian hegemony and accept a position of a subordinate. This is just not possible. If history teaches any lesson it is that Muslims having been rulers in India for long centuries it is not in Muslim psyche to accept a subordinate position.. This has been the meaning of 18 pages of Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi's book "Understanding Muslim Mind" published in 1987 by Penguin India ) As I may say it was this search for parity or equality that we went for nuclear option after India achieved it and made Pakistan strategically on India's mercy. Honourable friendship between India and Pakistan is possible only on the basis of equality not as subordination. It would be very good if wew live as friends, but on what terms?


Even then except Vajpayee no Indian leader was sincere in attempting to make Pakistan and Pakistanis friends of India in reality. Unfortunately Kargil adventure sabotaged it. All others had paid lip service to the cause of having peace with Pakistan. Unless the hot issues are settled no aman is in sight between the two powers of South Asia.. Even Vajpayee who seemed to want peace between two countries sincerely did not indicate that he was willing to accept a solution of Kashmir dispute and Agra talks failed..

It is doubtful that that there is any enthusiasm in Indian public as such about Aman ki Asha . While we were talking of Aman ki Asha , General Kapoor made the intiative 'Aman ki Faqta or fired his first salvo by his extremely bellicose and imperialist declaration of flexing his muscles on Pakistan. Who speaks for Indian official opinion, Kapoor or Amita Bachan? I would make the same observation here that Talat Hussdain did in his TV program only two days ago. "Are there peaceniks in India?" that we have expectations of reciprocity from Indian public opinion. ? General Durrani tried to claim that there are but frankly I do not know what was his justification for this blief. I think the General was imagining and producing the polite conversations he and similar to him have had with Indians in drawing rooms. To take drawing room conversations as real professions of friendship is quite naïve. We hard eyed diplomats do not get mislead by expressions of pleasantries and do not count them as as hard facts. Look at Manmohan Singh how he somersaulted on return from Sharm el Shaikh to India. And Manmohan Singh made his statements in Sharm el Shaikh not in a polite talk in a drawing room but in public.


We had a mirage of bonehomie from India during Musharruf's visit to Agra. Red Carpet rolled out for Musharruf's welcome in India and the anti-climax on his departure.For Pakistan. When I was a Second Secretary in our Mission in India in 1956 I witnessed Raja Ghazanfer Ali Khan's peacenik mission in India during the time he was Pak High Commissioner to India. This is what I had written in my book "Diplomats & Diplomacy- Story of an Era" about Raja Saheb's failed initiative of making India our friend. The quotation follows:

" I was posted to India, when the extreme hostility between the peoples on both sides of the border had started to melt with Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan's cricket diplomacy . There have been many such experiments , this was the first one. During the match between the Indian and Pakistani teams Hindus and Sikhs were allowed to come freely to Lahore, given a rousing welcome, free food at restaurants and shops refused to accept payments for their purchases in the typical style of warm generosity of the Lahorites. A successful attempt was made to turn a new leaf in India- Pakistan relations. It proved to be one of those delusions in which we have indulged quite a few times "subsequently. ( page 52) I may remind readers that Raja Saheb had been a stalwart of Indian Congress He was genuinely committed to friendship between Hindus and Muslims. It was no gimmickery. But he must have known in his heart of hearts that it would take many , many Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan to achieve his objective


Incidentally in recent days there has been deterioration in relations with India. Communication links like telephone calls are not possible now. I am saying this while acknowledging the fact that Hindu and Muslim civilizations are two great systems and had interacted for co-existence for centuries borrowing much from each other Just to talk of Muslim contribution to Hindu vales and social system. Dress, much of the Indian food, dress, allowing Hindu women the right of divorce, permitting widows marriages, women getting right of inheritance from paremts property are Muslim gifts to Hindu society just as sanctity of marriage, liberal values for vwomen etc are Hindu societies gifts to Muslim system etc.


No body will be happier than I if I am proved wrong in my view that the present initiative will meet the same fate Raja Saheb's cricket diplomacy did. I pray that I am proved wrong. Future will unfold facts still in the womb of history.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

HINDU-MUSLIM ANTAGONISM

ASIF HAROON RAJA


The first brick of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was laid when Muhammad Bin Qasim raised the banner of Islam in Sindh in 712 AD and tens of thousands of lower caste Hindus and Buddhists suffering under the tyrannical yoke of Raja Dahir embraced Islam. Throughout 1000 years rule of India by the Muslims, Hindu cultural values and religious sentiments were respected and preserved. Benevolence of Muslim rulers of India and their patronage to high caste Hindus resulted in failure to assimilate Hinduism into fold of Islam. This can be gauged from the fact that at the time of partition of India, Muslim strength in the Indian subcontinent was mere 22%.


Hindus never reconciled to any meaningful integration with generous Muslim culture. Behind apparent public cordiality, there was deep-seated antagonism in private. Muslims were always looked down upon as defiled and polluted and treated as intruders. Hinduism reluctantly submitted to Muslim rule, but all the time it strived to weaken Islamic society by corroding it from within.


When the British captured power in India, Hindus became natural allies of the British and both went all out to destroy social, educational, cultural and religious heritage of Muslims. Hindus deep-rooted hatred got accentuated when the Muslims opted for a separate homeland. Notwithstanding the aspirations of the Muslims of India, the idea of a separate Muslim state was repugnant to Indian Congress and hence unacceptable to them. This led to a bitter and prolonged quarrel between the two communities. While it was a question of survival for the Muslims, for Hindus it was the matter of preventing vivisection of so-called Mahabharata.


Despite many hurdles created by Hindu leaders, upsurge for gaining independence was too great and beyond human control. In spite of MA Jinnah's loud protestations, provinces of Bengal and Punjab were deliberately partitioned while Kashmir was allowed to accede to India to make him change his mind. These callous acts failed to deter him but sowed seeds of permanent discord between Pakistan and India. When the Kashmiris rose up in revolt, over two-third of Kashmir was forcibly annexed by Indian forces.


Failing to reconcile to the existence of Pakistan and cherishing the fond hope of its re-absorption into Indian dominion, Indian leaders worked hard for the dismemberment of Pakistan soon after its inception. Many Indians regarded the creation of Pakistan as a tragic mistake that could still be corrected. Break up of Pakistan and its absorption within the fold of Indian Union had become the national goal of Congress leaders. To consolidate the Indian dominion, by March 1949, India had absorbed 538 princely states out of a total of 565. India's insatiable greed to gorge as many states and her menacing attitude towards Pakistan made the latter wary and worried.

Pakistan's geographical frontiers had yet to be determined. It was without a seat of government or an administrative structure to enable it to exercise its' sovereignty. It was without a constitution; its' armed forces were scattered; civil servants and other administrative and technical hands were in the midst of migrating from India; its political and economic system was completely disrupted and the communication system had broken down.

As if these settling problems and the hanging evil shadow of Mountbatten and Radcliffe were not enough, Pakistan's horizons clouded with hostile acts of its neighbors in the east and the northwest. Their hostility cast perverse shadows across its path. Hindu leaders in their quest to re-unite India continued to hurl threats and saddle Pakistan with knotty problems to prevent the toddling state from standing on its own feet. They refused to accept the creation of Pakistan with good grace, and to settle all outstanding differences on the basis of justice and fair play. In struggling to create a state structure in the chaotic environments of partition and an early war with India over Kashmir, our managers remained tied down fighting the battle of survival and identity. There was no certainty that Pakistan would survive its traumatic birth. "Very few states in the world started with greater handicaps than Pakistan did on August 14, 1947".


After a lapse of over six decades, it is rather not possible for the present younger generation to perceive the complexities faced by the pioneers of Pakistan at the time of independence. For those who lived through that trying period of history and personally experienced the turmoil, human tragedies, mass carnage of the Muslims by the Hindu-Sikh combine, and the Hindus abominable Bania mentality, it was a nightmare. Given their common past spread over centuries it was hoped that the two countries after having won their independence from the seductive tentacles of the British Raj would close the chapter of suspicion and aversion and instead strive to live as peaceful neighbors. It was expected that rather than beating war drums and sinking into the bottomless ocean of arms race, leaders of the two countries would concentrate on well being of the people through mutual cooperation. Unfortunately, those hopes remained an elusive dream.


Adversarial history of sixty-two years covering the whole existence of the two nations has in fact made the minds captive of a hate each other syndrome. Jingoistic statements are often hurled at each other to play with the emotions of the people or to satisfy sadistic instincts. After tearing Pakistan into two in 1971, Indian hawkish leaders keep scheming to fragment rest of Pakistan. 1980s saw rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India. Militant BJP government in India that captured power twice repeatedly voiced its wish to reunite the subcontinent and to annex Azad Kashmir by force and vowed to establish Hindutva. Indian Congress is no less antagonistic towards Pakistan and has taken no steps to control growth of Hindu fundamentalism which is intolerant towards all other minorities in India. Hate phobia and age-old prejudices in the two neighboring countries have not died down. Hindus continue to view the Muslims as destroyers of Hindus culture and for mutilating mother India. Their pent-up anger and hatred against Indian Muslims was physically demonstrated in 1992, when Ayodhya mosque was pulled down and it was demanded that a temple be erected at the same site. Large scale state sponsored massacre of Muslims in Gujarat took place in 2003. Muslims in occupied Kashmir are killed like stray dogs and women brazenly raped. Indian Muslims are eyed with suspicion and treated shabbily. Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray stated on 12 January that Indian Muslims are untrustworthy since they are loyal to Pakistan. On the slightest pretext Hindu scalawags fan communal riots and kill tens of Muslims. These riots in India have increased rather than lessened with the passage of time. 13% Muslim minority in India feels marooned and fearfully watch the growing Hindu fanaticism which finds no place for the Indian Muslims unless they adhere to Hindutva and agree to join the ranks of Sudras (untouchables).


Glimpse of Indian deep-seated antagonism was seen on the occasion of a terrorist attack on Indian parliament on 13 December 2001 in which not a single parliamentarian was killed, injured or even abused. While the whole nation bayed for blood of Pakistan on mere suspicion, Indian armed forces rushed towards their western border and remained in a menacing mode for ten months. This kind of frenetic fury and war mongering was again seen in the aftermath of 26/11. Over one year has lapsed but Indian leaders have not forgotten the incident and refuse to recommence composite dialogue. They do not recall the deep wounds they have consistently inflicted upon Pakistan without any sense of remorse. They ignore that thousands of innocent Pakistanis have died as a resul