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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

EDITORIAL 19.01.10



media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 19, edition 000407, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































































In asking all Union Government Ministries to declassify and transfer to the National Archives of India 90,000 old documents and records by the middle of 2010, the Cabinet Secretary has taken only a first step. When the Right to Information Act came into being, it was expected that the Government, which has stubbornly refused to abide by the rules regarding declassification of records, would be expeditious in placing its contemporary files as well as archives in the public domain. This would allow scholars and researchers access to valuable material. It would facilitate the work of journalists and ordinary citizens. Most important, it would enhance the credibility of Indian democracy. To a large degree, the RTI legislation has been successful. It has made civic bodies more responsive and key departments and Ministries, particularly at the local level, have been forced to open up. However, in the upper echelons of the Indian state, obfuscation remains. For example, the Ministry of Defence has been very slothful when it comes to releasing information, hiding behind the mask of 'national security'. In three years, the Prime Minister's Office has declassified only 62 files. As a result, the country knows as little about its wars and their history as it did in the pre-RTI age. It is likely the Cabinet Secretary's recent orders will also meet the same fate. Documents on rate of utilisation of irrigation funds in the 1950s will be released by the Ministry of Agriculture but not, for example, details of specific tax write-offs and which individual companies they benefited in, say, the 1970s. An information order is a reflection of the value of the information it releases. Inundating websites with reams of useless data will not serve the purpose of an RTI culture.

Indeed, the Central Information Commission and the Prime Minister need to sit down and reappraise the lessons learnt from the RTI Act and its application in the past few years. From the Government to the higher judiciary, so much that was earlier hidden is now out for the public to read and absorb. Yet, RTI provisions have also been misused for what can only politely be called corporate espionage and settling scores. In December 2009, an Information Commission gave a shocking verdict in which it ruled that an individual's income tax returns constituted a public document and could be released to a third party and perhaps be uploaded on the IT Department's website. This was a ridiculous ruling, in breach of the right to privacy and of specific clauses in the IT Act. The Delhi High Court has placed a stay on this verdict. Yet, it is worth noting the mindset behind such a decision. Right to information must begin with the Government opening its doors and de-cluttering itself of a culture of secrecy. It is necessary to study and abolish those laws and rules that come in the way of the broader free access to information environment — including regulations going back to World War II that prevent photography at several public locations. It is equally necessary to make declassification the norm, the regular thing to happen after a certain number of years have passed, rather than the exception. Most important, the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Home Affairs, too, have to embrace the cause of open Government. Without old documents being declassified by them, declassification would be meaningless.






Monday's daring attack in the heart of Kabul by the Taliban once again underscores the fact that the war in Afghanistan is far from going according to plan. The Taliban have claimed that 20 of its fidayeen were involved in the strike which took place in a high-security zone in the Afghan capital that includes several important Government buildings as well as the presidential palace, and the city's only luxury five-star hotel, Serena. The attack took place around the time several Cabinet Ministers were being administered the oath of office, a fact some say is no coincidence. It's also noteworthy that the incident comes 10 days before a key conference on Afghanistan in London. The deadly strike demonstrates that the Taliban are still very much capable of launching suicide attacks in the centre of Kabul in spite of the heavy security presence comprising Afghan and international security forces. It is clear that Monday's attack was carried out as much to inflict a psychological wound on the Afghan Government and the troops of the International Security Assistance Force as to spread terror through the killing of innocent civilians. The message that the Taliban are trying to send out is: We are not going anywhere.

The situation in Afghanistan shows no sign of improving in the near future. US President Barack Obama might have announced an increase in the number of combat troops to provide a much-needed boost to the war effort. But the ground situation has hardly changed over the last few months. US Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is reported to have said on his latest visit to Kabul that peace and stability in Afghanistan are not possible without the support of Pakistan. What this essentially means is that the US is yet to grasp the fact that Pakistan is part of the problem and not the solution. It is no secret that an unstable Afghanistan serves Pakistan's interest; Islamabad wants the US to accept the installation of a proxy Taliban regime to restore stability, as that alone would mean regaining strategic depth. Given Pakistan's 'assets' in Afghanistan, as long as Kabul remains crippled, Islamabad will have to be appeased for any initiative to succeed. The Obama Administration had held out the promise of a new, pragmatic approach to the AfPak region when it had assumed charge. But that is now fast unravelling. As a result, Islamabad has been able to successfully carry out its duplicitous policy: Feign action against terrorists while asking for more US aid. Unless and until stricter action is taken against Pakistan for its complicity in Talibani terrorism, nothing will come out of Mr Obama's promised surge. The US is chasing a chimera.



            THE PIONEER



Afourth generation descendant of Tamil indentured labour, P Uthayakumar, HINDRAF legal adviser and secretary-general, Human Rights Party of Malaysia, has returned from New Delhi's Pravasi Bharatiya Divas jamboree to face trial for 'sedition', a charge made by the ruling United Malay National Organisation regime.

Advocates Uthayakumar and M Manoharan spent 514 days in Kamunting Jail under the draconian Internal Security Act for leading the spectacular one-lakh-strong HINDRAF rally of 2008, which demanded equal citizenship rights for Malaysian Hindus and opposed the ethnic cleansing of Tamil Hindus in that Islamic country. If convicted, the duo could face a three-year prison term, a real possibility given the nature of the Malaysian judiciary and the studied indifference of the token creamy layer of establishment Hindus.

The Hindu organisation has been banned since, though it poses no threat to Malaysian social or political stability. As India's human rights 'industry' only serves Western geo-political interests, it cannot be expected to speak up for suffering Malay Hindus. Hence New Delhi should take up the matter with Kuala Lumpur and urge it to permit HINDRAF to work as a non-governmental minorities and human rights organisation.

Sadly, the HINDRAF leaders who came here to present the Malaysian Indian Minority & Human Rights Violations Annual Report 2009, Malaysia Truly Racist, received only a perfunctory hearing by official New Delhi.

The HINDRAF & HRP leaders urged Foreign Minister SM Krishna to diplomatically espouse the cause of the Indian minority which the Malaysian Government is subjecting to systemic racist, religious extremist, and supremist policies that keep 70 per cent of Indians desperately poor and outside the national mainstream development. As Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak is coming to India with a trade mission on January 19, a firm word from New Delhi could have a timely impact.

Mr Uthayakumar laments that Indians are denied equality and equal opportunities in direct contravention of Articles 8 and 12 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, created by the founding fathers. Today, the state has denied birth certificates and citizenship documents to nearly 300,000 minority Indians; hence they cannot secure admission to kindergarten and primary schools, deserving students are denied places in elite schools and institutions of higher learning, loans and scholarships, and licences to do trades and related occupations.

He informed the Foreign Minister that Hindu temples, schools, burial grounds, or settlements are regularly demolished or relocated arbitrarily; poor and landless Indians excluded from agricultural land schemes; Indians denied top jobs in Government, corporate and business sectors.

So horrendous is the discrimination that Indians are arrested without cause and released only when no charges can be framed against them; over 90 per cent deaths in police custody are of Hindus. Every week, 1.3 persons on average are shot by the police; 95 per cent are Hindus. A staggering 70 per cent of Indian Malaysians have been reduced to hardcore poor, poor or working class, with 90 per cent being in the daily or monthly wage-earning category. As the racism and religious persecution is all state-sponsored — ordinary Hindus have no problems with ordinary Malay Muslims — there is a strong case for the Government of India to take up the human rights violations and religious freedoms of these besieged Hindus.

One of the worst problems is forced conversions to Islam, which has become particularly acute since 2001, despite the provision for freedom of religion entrenched in Article 11 in the Malaysian Constitution. A recent case that has shaken the country involves a 27-year-old Tamil Hindu, Bangaramma, who was converted as a minor in a Government orphanage and registered as a Muslim without her knowledge. She continued to regard herself as a Hindu, worshipping and marrying a Hindu in a temple, according to Vedic rites.

Bangaramma is now fighting for her religious freedom in order to live as a Hindu with her Hindu husband and two children, as the Government is refusing to register her marriage and to acknowledge her husband as father of her children. Worse, she is being threatened with the charge of apostasy, which in Islamic Malaysia means she can be forcibly separated from her husband and children (aged two and seven). It is obvious that the whole controversy is aimed at forcing the entire family to accept Islam.

Another acute problem is the deliberate attempt to reduce the number of Hindu professionals in the country. At independence, innumerable top Government jobs were held by education Hindus, but gradually Hindus are being frustrated in their quest for higher education. Some of the reputed, and relatively cheaper, medical institutions in Russia, China and East Asia have been de-recognised by the Government so that Hindus cannot practice medicine when they return to the country. The number of medical seats for Hindus was reduced from 16 to one in 2004 (out of 2,000).

Students also need a Government no-objection certificate to study overseas, and this is another obstacle. Leaders of HINDRAF have urged the Government of India to stop offering medical seats to Malaysia on a Government-to-Government basis, and to grant the seats directly to Malaysian Indian students alone. This is a legitimate request, and the task can be easily executed via the Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. India could also consider scholarships for Malaysian Indian students wishing to pursue other professional courses such as pharmacy, IT, and such.

More direct pressure can be exerted by sourcing India's imports of palm oil from Indonesia instead of Malaysia; curbing further Indian investments and discouraging Indian IT professionals from working in Malaysia; and, choosing to work with Malaysian corporations with a decent Indian Malaysian equity participation or employment of Indian Malaysians, especially at the top level.

Meanwhile, the BJP has a long way to go in its quest to rediscover traditional political values. Mr Uthayakumar unhappily observed that New Delhi only cares for the rich diaspora, from whom it solicits investments. Thus, it came as no surprise to learn that while the savvy Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi assured HINDRAF he was aware of the plight of poor and working class Malaysian Indians and would champion their cause in India and with Kuala Lumpur, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, expressed astonishment at their plight, though HINDRAF had come to India with a human rights violations report in 2008 as well.






The three-day international seminar at Vadodara on 'Buddhist Heritage in Gujarat' afforded the Dalai Lama another opportunity to reaffirm that the spiritual roots of Tibet lie in India. The Tibetan spiritual leader reiterated what he said at Bodh Gaya during his recent visit, "India is the spiritual guru of Tibetans who are disciples or spiritual children of this ancient land." Although the Dalai Lama is apt to trace this spiritual lineage from Buddhism, there are reasons to believe that India's connection with Tibet ante-dated Buddhism. The reason why the Tibetan connection with India is at a more mystic level than say with Sri Lanka, which is also the repository of Theravada (Hinayana), the earliest form of Buddhism, is explained as follows:

It's noteworthy that Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand — all officially Buddhist countries — support China's one-nation policy. They are, therefore, guilty of turning not only a blind eye to the ordeal of fellow Buddhists viz Tibetans but also supporting the aggressive policies of a godless nation. Sri Lanka, which is home to puritan Buddhism, Theravada, has been a lackey of China since the 1950s. Moreover, the Sri Lankan Government has in the past denied visa to the Dalai Lama, which means that the Tibetan leader cannot pay obeisance at Buddhist sites like Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Some in India, however, are impressed by the Buddhist credentials of Sri Lanka even though the latter has no special reverence towards India as being the birthplace of Buddha. CW Thondaman, a leader of Tamils in Sri Lanka, had a humorous way of expressing this with respect to the 'exclusivist citizenship policy' for his community. He said, "Gautam Buddha would be deported to India if he were to come to Ceylon now."

A reading of Rahul Sankrityayana's travelogue Fifteen Months in Tibet may provide the answer to why Tibetans and Sinhalese respond differently to Buddhism's Indian heritage. Tibetans follow a form of Buddhism called Tantrayana or Vajrayana, which developed through an intermediate variety called Mahayana, followed in Japan, Korea, etc. The first Buddhist preacher from India in Tibet, Acharya Shantarakshit, is held in high reverence. But his name is not a household name like that of Acharya Padmasambhav (8th century) or Atish Dipankar (11th century) who were adept in Tantra. Buddhism in Tibet is a superimposition on Tantra, which was derived from India. The Tibetan pantheon is like the Hindu pantheon. But the situation is different in Sri Lanka.






It is not easy to write about a leader who became a legend in his lifetime. His charisma comes in the way, as much as his celebrity status and the often contradictory popular representations of an extraordinary person. These cast into the shade the great qualities of heart and mind of which he was possessed. Writing about Jyoti Basu is, therefore, a formidable task. First because he was a colossus who strode the Indian political scene from the moment he landed ashore in Mumbai on January 1, 1940; second because he would have considered it trespass.

For, Basu was a quintessential Communist and gentleman of the old school, preferring to be recognised as part of the collective accomplishments and failures of the 'Party' rather than the personal. His courtesy encased in a certain fastidious aloofness set boundaries. He had never indulged in a style that can be best described as comradely bonhomie, for he was not a boisterous man. His impeccable ways set him apart; he never sported the crumpled look, he never spoke of his personal struggles of living as a wholetime party worker on almost nothing. He never flaunted either his education or his ignorance.

For all his stoutly practical ways, Basu was the ultimate incurable romantic. The intensity of his passion for Communism and the ideology of Marxism, if it were not controlled by a mind exercising indomitable will and extraordinary discipline, would have seared on contact. Others have romanced the idea of Communism and flamboyantly lived out their lives as Marxists. Basu was different.

When he retired from the job of Chief minister in 2000, he was quite open about it. What he said was straightforward: "I am a Marxist." He added that he would continue to serve his party, even though he had retired from the task allocated by the party. It was not clear to many of us what he had set himself to do. It was revealed through his actions.

His health was a problem; he hated being ill. He would complain if asked and he seemed puzzled that his body would refuse to do as it was required to enable him to serve the cause he lived. As many would recall, he was deeply apologetic every time he addressed a public meeting sitting down. He believed that a Marxist could display no infirmity of body and certainly not of mind.

The will from which he derived his strength, defying for as long as he could the natural ravages of time, to serve the purpose that he initially set for himself is hidden within that terse declaration: "I am a Marxist." For Mr Basu, being a Marxist meant committing himself to perform all the tasks that the party would require of him. The transcript of the oral history recording by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in December 2001 is a ringing declaration: "I am a Communist, a Marxist. I have been given a responsibility by my party, and the people. I carried that on as best as I could. . . I am not in politics just to become a Minister in a bourgeois system."

It was this bourgeois system that he used and manipulated to serve the Marxist cause. He was deft and he was clever. In the popular imagination his bhadralok style seemed to contradict his ideological position. In his mind and those who knew him, the style was individual and he disdained converting to a caricature of a comrade; his passion was the political ideas that inspired him as a student in London. Till his end, he believed that participation in parliamentary politics was an interim stage, for the ultimate objective was to build a brave new world.

Basu had a mind and he had guts, which he used in battle with formidable strength, within and outside his party. His commitment was not merely to the party, but to his ideology, which he believed would usher in the new age and give life to the idea of the new man. It was an intensely romantic and utterly utopian vision, but that was Basu.

The combination of passion and pragmatism, the romantic and the level headed is unusual. It was only after Basu began ailing that the question arose, what drives him on? His simple, unequivocal statement that responsibility to the party and the people gave him the strength to carry on was the key to understanding his 70 years of public life.

His motto could be: "There should be no complacency." Because after retiring, Basu did not turn into a pitiable figure. He did not become ridiculous either. He gracefully segued into the role that he felt would serve the 'Party' best; conscience-keeper, mentor, fire-fighter and the unattainably wise old man.

Four years after retiring, Basu witnessed a miracle; history had repeated itself and presented the CPI(M) with an opportunity to occupy centrestage in national politics. Having been denied the prime ministership by a majority of his comrades in 1996, Basu had been critical describing the decision as a "historic blunder". By doing so and going public over it, he breached party rules. He knew he was doing it and having learnt to cope within the rigidities of the organisation and its bureaucratic adherence to and application of rules, he pushed the envelope and succeeded spectacularly in his effort, backed by the late Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who despite declaring "it is a closed chapter" encouraged the internal debate.

It was a magnificent demonstration of the essence of Basu's beliefs. He came back from New Delhi, having lost the vote in the Central Committee over the offer of prime ministership, which he had wanted to accept, "not because I am god's son", but because personally, he had the experience of managing a coalition Government and because "we thought politically it would be an excellent thing and the right thing to do to join this Government and head it, try to lead it. Even though it may be for a few months, it would be politically advantageous".

By denouncing the decision as a "historic blunder", Basu discarded inhibitions, his own and of the party, knowing full well that he was crossing the line: "This I have not said publicly in my life about party differences though I have differed with my Party on many occasions." His reason, it can be inferred, was "because history does not give such opportunities to the Communists". It was also a classic application of the science of Marxism, following from Marx's injunction to comrades: Philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it. If Basu was asked to provide a theoretical interpretation, it is doubtful if he would; but it is possible that he would quote Marx: "The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity, or self-changing, can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."

Therefore, as a lifelong revolutionary Basu was clear where his duty lay to fight on; "on an all-India scale it will help our party, it will help the Left forces, the democratic forces". Given that he believed the "Prime Minister is unlike what we have in West Bengal and Kerala. In the Centre, the Prime Minister wields a lot of influence and we can for the time being influence them... The people will have a new experience. Within these limitations many things can be done. Then if we are thrown out we shall leave a new experience for the people".

Leaving his imprint on the sands of time is not an idea that Basu found acceptable. For him, the party had to prosper and the individual actor was only a bit part player. Humility and monumental patience were his greatest qualities. Once when I asked him whether the individual had no role at all, he first dodged and then explained, "The individual has to act and through his actions plays a part in shaping history. The individual's contribution is limited by the need to convince others of the necessity of certain decisions and actions." The 'others' for Basu was never limited to the majority of party apparatchiks or even the larger body of comrades; they included that great and varied mass: The people.

Regardless of where West Bengal's policy of industrialisation has led the State to, Basu rushed its passage through the State Assembly on September 23, 1994 which was the last day of the Monsoon Session. At a time when even Congress State Governments were wary of adopting it, at a time when senior Congressmen were known to have questioned, criticised and opposed economic reforms, for Basu to adopt it, with the caveat that it would be a modified version of the original PV Narasimha Rao policy, was surprising. It is a different matter that the legislators on that day were not really conscious of what they had adopted. It took Basu months and months of sometimes weekly, sometimes more than once a week, meetings with different sections of his party leaders and workers to get them to grudgingly accept the inevitability of change and to gingerly explore the opportunities that it would open up and the obstacles that would equally certainly crop up.

For Basu the exercise in persuasion was a necessary first step; he had to carry the party and the people with him in this new adventure. He realised that given the orthodoxies within the party he would face 'difficulties', a word that he would use with astonishing skill to describe a variety of circumstances. The persistence with which he spent hours arguing the point is rarely considered, because it did not attract a lot of attention. Many would talk of Basu "taking classes", as if it were a routine exercise.

Many complained that he was holding back the tide just when it had begun to turn, the tide of opportunity that economic reforms had set off by formally declaring that the licence-permit-quota raj had ended. Businessmen, investors, the middleclass constantly and often bitterly complained: "He is doing nothing" or "He cannot deliver" or "He should yield place to the new generation that has the energy and the mind-set to transform West Bengal." The contrast between Basu's cautious seduction of the market vis-à-vis the headlong plunge in other States irked public opinion. They thought the bus was charging past and Basu was unwilling to halt it for them to clamber on board. They were irritated by his constant reference to 'labour' — both unions and workers. A lesser soul may have faltered, but Basu did not. He grimly soldiered on, ignoring the brickbats.

Being Chief Minister was always secondary to Basu's primary task of being a party leader. He understood the order in which things worked politically. That this understanding was superior is evident from the manner in which the Congress split the jobs of Prime Minister and party leader, giving to the executive a man who was comfortable and accustomed to doing so, while reserving residue control over decisions by the party's boss.

Events confirm that Basu was correct in being cautious. Events confirm that he was right in assessing that 'people' came in many shapes and sizes and the 'public' had the liberty to give its opinions, however contradictory and inconsistent those may be. Events confirm that his tireless effort to persuade and convince sections of comrades, sections of party leadership was the correct thing to do. Through that exercise, he sought to allay internal anxiety, he calibrated the pace of change to the speed of change of public opinion, and he avoided delivering a vision that only he and a cohort of the select could see. A businessman regretfully recalls the days when it was possible to float possible and absurd ideas at informal sessions where Basu was present. Since nobody could tell if he had heard what was being floated, there were no inhibitions. It was only when Basu's office would call to follow up on the idea that the person would know it had been taken note of.

Basu became Chief Minister at almost 63. By then he should have lost the suppleness that is required to move with the times. By then he should have also become annoyingly knowing. It is true that he never changed his sartorial style, wearing the spotless, starched and gracefully draped dhoti and kurta that were de rigueur. But he did make tiny adjustments — his footwear. Instead of wearing 'pump shoes' that took ages to break into, he switched over to moccasins.

It is not easy to guess whether Basu clinically dissected 'concrete conditions' or whether he was a compassionate and empathetic person, because the person was always so heavily guarded from intrusive examination. It could be that he used both qualities, of mind and heart, achieving the near impossible: Of listening with the heart and feeling with the mind. Politically, he was always mortally afraid of the 'Party', becoming ossified and consequently alienated from the ways in which people set their priorities. He was also afraid of the 'Party' dominating the 'whole thing', because it meant 'alienation' from the people.


At every public meeting he addressed, the word 'manush' — people — underlay whatever Basu said. Meticulously following a script that must have been crafted when he first joined the party and which remained his guide, he began by thanking the people for attending the meeting, braving sun and rain. He then explained, like a family elder, the issues that were of current and future concern. He shifted between the history of events and issues to current concerns and then spoke of alternative future scenarios. The speech, which was not in the least like the classic fiery deliveries of old time Marxists and other revolutionaries and political leaders of all shades in India, was invariably simple. He used no rhetorical flourishes. Nor did he launch into verse. He never stuttered and even if he left his sentences incomplete, they never lacked substance. He did not speak for great lengths of time. In brief, he did not come across as a magnetic personality mesmerising the masses by his performance. He seemed utterly ordinary, almost prosaic.

It could be argued that he adapted his style as a default, because his contemporaries in the undivided Communist Party of India and later still the CPI(M) were excellent public speakers. It could also be also argued that Basu was deliberate in speaking in a manner that was normal for him. His style, like his clothes never changed. Somewhere between the time that Basu was a powerful leader of the Opposition and the time he retired from the chief ministership, his audience appreciated his unemphatic, unfussy, measured and meaningful deliveries, explaining and then explaining again. They also began to appreciate that he was connected to them, instead of taking it for granted.

Like a liturgy, Basu would repeatedly say: "We must go to the people. We must explain to them. It is the people who have given us this responsibility. It is with their support that we must work to fulfil their aspirations." It must be said that people also appreciated his laconic descriptions that deflated things and reduced them to their right proportions. Basu reduced the excessive and the exaggerated to the ordinary, for he seemed to have a fastidious dislike of the pompous and the humbug.

When everything is put together, Basu emerges as an unassuming but extraordinary political leader of an era that came to an end on Sunday, with emphasis on his superb political understanding and skills and his great quality of leadership.

 The views expressed in this article are those of the writer.








JYOTI Basu became West Bengal chief minister in his early sixties and continued for the next 23 years. He was not one to set the house on fire with his oratory. His calling card was his conservative approach, gravitas and reticence. As a person, we remember him for his upright, dignified carriage.


There have been divergent opinions on his long stint as chief minister. Credited with presiding over revolutionary land reforms and the creation of Haldia Petrochemicals, he is criticised in equal measure for over- politicising the bureaucracy and retrograde steps such as abolishing the teaching of English at the primary level.


But none can question Comrade Basu's stout commitment to secular values. A master of coalition politics, he brought stability to Bengal despite being at the helm of a nine- party Left Front formation.


His well- to- do ancestry notwithstanding, Basu rose from the grassroots. He organised a series of strikes upholding the rights of teachers and railway workers.


Only after having worked extensively among people did Basu make it to chief ministership in 1977 — a post no electoral contest could dislodge him from.


A man whose grip over West Bengal was unquestioned, his was an influential voice in national politics. Whenever non- Congress secular forces coalesced in their bid to form governments at the Centre, Basu's services were called upon. During one such churn in 1996 he was set to be the consensus United Front leader for the post of Prime Minister.


His party came in the way. Basu the man missed out on the dream opportunity but he hardly betrayed bitterness. Basu the communist called it a Himalayan blunder, because his party had slipped up on an opportunity to spread its wings across the country. After stepping down from chief ministership, he had famously said he wasn't retiring as a communist. A communist never retires. He didn't till his last breath.







CELEBRATIONS among Mulayam Singh Yadav acolytes for his letting go of Amar Singh may be premature because the Samajwadi Party chief has a long distance to cover before his party can be the political force it once was. From a farmers' leader with a wide constituency, he can no longer claim to represent even his Muslim- Yadav vote bank. His partymen acknowledge that the SP chief views the world through the narrow prism of his family. In short, regardless of the funds that Singh may have brought, SP's political capital is shrinking.


Regional parties like the BSP and SP were once cautious of electoral alliances in states with the Congress and the BJP because while the latter gained from the vote base of the smaller parties, they gave back little in terms of votes. If the SP must now desperately look around for profitable allies once again in order to stay relevant, it has itself to blame for not reinventing itself.


Recall what Mayawati's BSP did in the meantime. It wooed the Brahmins under its ' sarvajan' strategy and gained from it in the 2007 UP polls. It then turned to other castes. But, Dalit voters didn't desert the party. It may be too harsh to blame Singh for all of SP's ills. Yet, his political prospects match the SP's fortunes. His best bet could be to split the SP for a better bargaining position with a political party he might want to join.






SO the big secret behind the NHPC Limited being conferred award after award is out. As MAIL TODAY has revealed, the public sector company has been literally buying them from the awarding organisations by offering them sponsorships, advertisements and large projects in return. In the case of the environment award by TERI, the company was actually found to have done shoddy work and a former chief justice of India who headed the jury panel wanted the award withdrawn. When this did not happen, he quit in protest.


This quid pro quo arrangement could also involve grave financial implications.


The company cited these ' honours' in the run- up to its public issue last year, meaning that these could have made a dent in the sums it mopped up from the market. Critics say the case is reason enough to bring corporate awards in general under the scanner for they often have little to do with excellence.







THERE is a lively debate a film has generated in the country regarding the worth and value of our education system. Elsewhere, in the corridors of Shastri Bhavan, much is being talked about improving the quality of higher education. There is, however, a reality that has little to do with real students and teachers that universities and colleges face on a daily basis.


This is a reality which refuses to recognise that the system is dysfunctional at one level, and wasteful at another level. There are three elements that seem to be working at cross purposes in making the quest for higher education redundant. The democratic right to education and its desirability has not kept pace with either quality or resources, and teachers and students often do not know what they are doing as parts of this grand and clumsy edifice of education.


The first of these factors is the school education system. Except for a few enclaves of privilege among schools, the schools in India shortchange students in ways that would elsewhere be a scandal. A student emerging out of the school system is largely unlettered, lacks the capacity for critical self- reflection, and is incapable of handling the pressures of higher education. The information that they are imparted in the name of knowledge is most times irrelevant, often obsolete, and more often than not unconnected. The higher education that colleges and universities seek to offer is most times only a replication of the faults and follies of the school system. But the pressures of providing access to education as part of the larger democratisation process drives thousands of students into a delusional world of higher education, where the only thing that they have is a piece of parchment that certifies their having earned a degree.




A large part of the problem lies with those who teach these students. For far too long, the system, whatever that holy abstraction may mean, has insisted on a certain basis minimum qualification for an individual to enter a college or university as a teacher. But once he she is in, there is no tangible way to monitor the growth of an individual. There is a fictional notion of equality that has rendered an appraisal of teachers almost impossible.


There is a system in some institutions of students' evaluation of teachers, but even this is often manipulated by those who are populists, or those who are generous with grades, but not necessarily those who stress on content or rigour. Recent moves to make promotion based on research output has also not been thought through: it does not raise the question of quality of research but stresses on merely the quantum of research. The system of citations related to a piece of research has been adopted thoughtlessly in some instances as an indicator of quality.


There is even a suggestion that administration and institution building be a part of the consideration for promoting teachers.


A way out of this is to enhance the amount of money that goes into primary research in any field. The tendency these days is to the contrary. Everything seems to be tied to pragmatic considerations and a bureaucratic preoccupation with relevance. The truth is that higher education in India has hardly defined the problems it ought to pose for itself, for Indian society in general and the country specifically.


Those with a technocratic- managerial bent of mind scoff at the continued expenditure on first-order research in pure sciences and the humanities and social sciences. In ways often not noticed, the guardians of the Indian education system are often smugly satisfied with second rate stuff produced in Europe and America reexported back to India as first- rate knowledge and gospel truth. Any criticism is met with the rhetoric of a soul- sapping nationalism that argues that Indians have the best minds, attested by legions of NRI scientists, economists and philosophers, but are deficient in resources.




While the resource argument has some validity, it has more to do with redtape and the labyrinthine mysteries of the Indian educational bureaucracy.


Anyone who works in a university knows that the battle with the bureaucracy, whether at the level of one's own institution or at higher levels, is lost even before it has begun in favour of the victory of the bureaucracy. When Kapil Sibal thinks of disbanding the UGC, he must also take into account the fact that the UGC, given its constraints, has functioned in a far more responsible fashion than local bureaucracies at the level of colleges and universities.


The reason for this is simple. There is a huge emphasis on accountability and transparency of things, of objects and of resources, and not enough in the arena of the primary purpose of these institutions, namely, teaching, content of courses, and serious research.


While it is all very well to talk about research now being a benchmark for promotions, there is little thought expended on ways in which a professor, who has turned into deadwood, can be made accountable.


A differential salary for those who write and publish is hardly a deterrent.


Peer review of research is even now something that most teachers resent and resist.


But more than anything else, the so- called system has no means by which to invite into its midst creative minds and eccentric geniuses to enhance the quality of thought. This is the same system that could not retain the philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi within the academic fold.




He once resigned from his professorship at the University of Hyderabad because a tree was being cut in order to construct a classroom. The lesson from this story is that the inner forest, the aranyaka , of education system, if ever there was one, has been destroyed for good.


Instead, there is just a concrete jungle, ugly and uninviting, constructed by the engineers of the PWD, themselves a part and product of the same system.


It is a system that prevents dancers, theatre artists, painters and creative writers from being fully- paid members of the faculty because of their lack of a doctorate — they can only be employed as guest faculty on what is called pro- rata payment.


In the final analysis, we will be left with producing mimic men on a large scale, adept at simulation, but deficient in creativity.

And the inability to produce original ideas is the death of a civilisation.

The writer teaches politics at University of Hyderabad








TO QUIT or not to quit is the dilemma facing Congress leaders from the Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh. An uneasy calm is prevailing in Telangana after the allparty meeting convened by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram at New Delhi on January 5 to resolve the contentious separate Telangana issue.


The Home Minister told the political parties categorically that it would not be possible to go ahead with the consultation process on Telangana, unless peace prevailed in the state. This has pushed the Telangana leaders in a state of confusion, as Chidambaram gave neither positive nor negative signals on the separate statehood issue.


The Telangana Joint Action Committee of political parties, which waited for a week after the New Delhi meeting, has come to the conclusion that the Centre is adopting delaying tactics and trying to push the Telangana issue into cold storage. Therefore, it has given a call to all political parties, students and the people to continue the movement till a Telangana state is achieved. At a crucial meeting held in Hyderabad on January 12, the JAC resolved that all Telangana MLAs, MLCs and MPs, cutting across party lines, would quit their posts en masse to create a sort of constitutional crisis in the state and pressure the Centre to expedite the Telangana creation process. The JAC gave a fresh deadline of January 28 to the Centre to come out with a clear statement in this regard.


The JAC resolution has left the Congress MLAs in a quandary, as the Congress high command had sent a clear direction to them through Pradesh Congress Committee president D Srinivas that they withdraw their resignations, which they had submitted after the second statement from Chidambaram on December 23. Out of 119 MLAs from Telangana, 77 MLAs had submitted their resignations.


Of them, only 22 are from the Congress. BESIDES, 13 ministers in the Rosaiah cabinet also put in their papers, but they withdrew their letters following the high command's directive.


The Congress has, in all, 50 MLAs from the Telangana region, and if all of them resign as per the decision taken by the JAC, the 157- member Congress government would collapse, which might force the Centre to impose President's Rule in the state. Similarly, the Congress has 12 Lok Sabha members from Telangana and if they, too, resign, the UPA government would be in trouble.


The Congress leaders are, thus, in a Catch 22 situation. If they don't stick to their resignations, it would give a weapon to the opposition parties like the Telugu Desam Party and Telangana Rashtra Samithi to run them down, stating that the Congress leaders were more interested in their posts than the creation of Telangana state. If they follow the JAC resolution, it would lead to the collapse of the Congress government in the state and a major embarrassment for Sonia Gandhi and the UPA government.


Most of the Congress leaders are opposing the January 28 deadline and the idea of resignations.


" This is nothing but a conspiracy hatched by our rivals to pull down the Rosaiah government in the state. Why should we fall in their trap in the name of a JAC resolution? There is no need to blackmail the high command, since Chidambaram had never said a Telangana state would not be formed. We need to give him some more time to complete the consultation process," Chief Whip Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka said.


A couple of MPs like Madhu Yashki Goud and G Vivekanand initially supported the resignation idea, but later all the Congress MPs decided to follow the high command's diktat. Among the MLAs, too, a majority want to take back their resignation letters, stating that they have faith in the high command. Still, there are a few MLAs like R Damodar Reddy, who are firm on quitting the assembly membership.


According to sources, the Congress members are now planning to leave the JAC and float their own Telangana Congress Forum to fight for Telangana independently.


A clear picture is likely to emerge after January 28, sources said.


The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which was spearheading the Telangana agitation all these days, is sitting pretty on the resignation issue, as it feels that it would expose the commitment of political parties for Telangana.


" Doodh ka doodh, paani ka pani ( milk and water will be separated)," says KCR, referring to the deadline. " Those who are beating a retreat over resignations would stand exposed after January 28. The people will see through their drama," he said.



IT LOOKS like as if Kadapa MP Y S Jaganmohan Reddy is being counselled by the wrong kind of advisors.


His latest move, albeit an indirect one, of raking up a conspiracy theory on the September 2 helicopter crash in which his father YSR died, is being viewed as a suicidal step. On January 7, a local television channel aired a story, based on a report hosted on a Russian website four months ago, alleging that the Ambani brothers had hatched a conspiracy to kill YSR. Within a few hours, Congress workers under the banner of Jagan Yuva Sena, resorted to vandalism, causing extensive damage to Reliance properties across the state.


The Ambanis reacted swiftly and brought pressure on the Congress high command to bring the brain behind these rumours to book. The police arrested Jagan's close follower and former NSUI president Ch Vamsichand Reddy, who had allegedly sent hundreds of SMSes to Jagan supporters and YSR fans across the state to attack Reliance properties.


Within a couple of days, Vamsichand was expelled from the primary membership of the party.

No prizes for guessing that Jagan's stock with the high command is now at its lowest.



THE moral police are back to the fore again; this time, attacking former Rajya Sabha member and wellknown Telugu scholar Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad.


Lakshmi Prasad won the latest Sahitya Akademi award for his book Draupadi based on the character in

Mahabharata . The book, which has been translated into several languages, has incurred the wrath of the Sangh Parivar, which has alleged that it had depicted Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, as a sex- starved woman with an unchaste character. The Bajrang Dal filed a criminal case against the author at the Abids police station.


Former IT advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government Tripuraneni Hanuman Chowdary, who heads Pragnya Bharati, an organisation owing allegiance to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ( RSS) filed a petition before the Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission seeking a ban on the book. The commission has asked the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry to submit a report on the selection of Draupadi for the Sahitya Akademi award and ordered a stay on the presentation of the award in New Delhi on February 16.


According to Chowdary, the book had portrayed Draupadi as a " sex maniac". It also says Draupadi had a desire to marry and have sex with Karna.


Prasad, however, rubbishes the allegations. He said Draupadi had unfulfilled sexual desires in her two previous births and she had to marry the five Pandavas following a boon granted by Lord Siva.


He had been inspired by several books which had depicted Draupadi in different ways. " I only tried to give an interpretation to their works," he said.








Over the last two days, newspapers and television channels have left little unsaid about Jyoti Basu, CPM patriarch from West Bengal and the world's first democratically elected communist. Some of the praise heaped on Basu is justified. After all, no chief minister has governed a state for 23 years. But he was much more than just India's longest-serving CM.

To Basu goes much of the credit for Indian communists joining parliamentary politics. Pragmatism was his middle name, and he was one of the first leaders to realise the need for coalition politics. In 1967, Basu joined the United Front ministry in West Bengal as deputy chief minister, going on to become CM when the Left Front swept to power in 1977. Later, he was a key figure, along with Harkishen Singh Surjeet, in the CPM's policy at the national level of reaching out to non-Left parties. This led to a situation in 1996 when the prime minister's post was there for Basu's taking, but his party comrades voted against it.

Basu's record in Bengal where he was the undisputed leader for over two decades was mixed. Basu began his tenure with a bang by ushering in land reforms under Operation Barga. Though this led to substantial land redistribution and rights for sharecroppers, the spin-offs tapered from the mid-1980s. His tenure also saw an empowerment of panchayats, which very few states had managed to achieve at the time. Another remarkable achievement was the Left Front's success in keeping West Bengal traditionally a communal tinderbox free from riots during the Basu years.

However, Basu's report card had plenty of black marks too. It was during his tenure that industry fled from Bengal in a big way, scared by the prospect of labour trouble and lockouts. By the time he realised that investors needed to be wooed back, the state had been in a state of industrial stagnation for far too long. What was even more disquieting was the vice-like grip that Left parties exercised over institutions in the state. Schools and colleges were firmly under the control of Left comrades, as were the state's babus and police. Again it was under Basu's watch that English was scrapped at the primary level in government schools, which handicapped a generation of students. Worse, education, health and infrastructure languished under Basu.

Basu's death leaves a void in the CPM and the Left movement, which makes it a good time for introspection. Under his successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Left has unravelled in Bengal, riven by factional conflicts and an indecisive leadership. Basu presided over his party like a patriarch, but did not prepare it for the challenges of a new era. It is time to confront those challenges head-on.







Another massive defence deal with Russia has the potential to be good news for both the armed forces and the Indian defence industry. In case of the former, the $1.2 billion deal for 29 MiG-29K fighter jets - in the offing at the moment - would be a welcome boost to the navy's force projection capabilities. This, of course, must be tempered with the knowledge that the much-delayed Admiral Gorshkov carrier contract is not signed and sealed yet. The deal's benefit for the Indian defence industry comes with even more caveats. While it is a symbol of the domestic arms market's financial potential, the government has been less than effective in exploiting this potential.

The new procurement policy to be implemented by the ministry of defence this year purports to change this. One cause of the tortuous procurement process as it stands now is the constrained nature of the defence market. A Confederation of Indian Industry-sponsored report points out that currently only 14 per cent of the government's arms business goes to the domestic private sector. Seventy per cent is taken by foreign corporations and the remainder by public sector undertakings.

Three changes are essential here. The first is the evolution of a comprehensive, long-term appraisal of the country's defence requirements. The current ad hoc mechanism leaves both buyers and sellers without clarity. If domestic corporations are to compete, they must be able to decide how to maximise their financial resources. Secondly, the FDI cap must be raised if the private sector is to acquire those resources. A foreign entity having a controlling stake in a domestic arms production company need not compromise national security. A host of other measures have been tried and succeeded in other countries in working around this problem. And lastly, the heavy tilt towards the lowest bidder model must be corrected. Fetishising economy in big-ticket expenditures can be counterproductive in the long run.

PSUs in the defence industry have had successes in certain areas, such as missile technology. But in others, like developing battle tanks and combat aircraft, their record is less than stellar. Constrained by financial logic and spurred by competition, domestic private players would be well placed to provide better results. And ensuring a healthy stake in the industry for them instead of farming out the bulk of the business to foreign corporations would have its economic benefits as well. These are issues the new policy must keep in mind.








On February 28, 2007, Barkat Bi, 70, living in Jammu & Kashmir was united with her husband, Niaz Mohammad, 72, after a gap of 42 years. Her husband had crossed over to Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and could never return.

Notwithstanding the constraints that bind the policymaking elite in New Delhi and Islamabad, there had been tangible progress since 2004. The Line of Control (LoC) points were opened and a process initiated to end the pain of divided families living on both sides. Last year, trade began between the two sides creating an economic stake for the peace process.

The mistrust which developed between the two countries after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 reversed some of these gains. The number of passengers travelling through the various LoC points is consistently coming down. Traders are demanding flexible rules of engagement and calling for an end to the barter system.

Despite these setbacks, there are some recent significant political developments on both sides of the LoC, which if understood and facilitated can go a long way in evolving an amicable solution. A working group appointed by the Indian prime minister and headed by former Supreme Court justice Saghir Ahmed recently issued a report. The operative portion of the report was a suggestion to restore autonomy to J&K.

The report to address the political dimension of the issue was delayed owing to major differences within the group. The autonomy debate revolves around the July 24, 1952 Delhi agreement between Jawaharlal Nehru, then India's prime minister, and J&K prime minister Sheikh Abdullah which meant "the matters in the Union List not connected with the three subjects of Defence, External Affairs and Communications and/or Ancillary thereto but made applicable should be excluded from their application to the State".

Kashmir desk handlers would just have to reopen the old records to understand the complexity of the issue. In 1974-75, talks between Indira Gandhi, then Indian prime minister, and Abdullah reached a dead end. Ultimately, a mediator saved the situation by suggesting a via media - that is, the two sides "agree to disagree" - paving the way for Abdullah to assume power in the state. He constituted a committee to discuss the issue. The whole exercise had to be called off after committee members developed differences.

In the past, opposition to the federal autonomy proposal has come from within the state. Therefore, the feasibility of the idea of federal autonomy depends on how far the state is able to satisfy diverse political, regional, ethnic and religious groups within J&K.

There are already enough feasible proposals within the state to give a practical shape to the principle of federalism. The idea of regional autonomy is one which seeks to give political powers to the three regions with legislative and executive powers and grant political reservation to scheduled tribes such as the Bakerwals. Further decentralisation of power at the district and village levels is also possible. The idea can be stretched by incorporating Pakistan-administered J&K (PAJK) into this formulation.

Interestingly, the debate on federal autonomy has been reopened in PAJK as well. In a recent interview, PAJK prime minister Farooq Haider stated that there is no need for the Islamabad-based Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council as it is an extra-constitutional body. The council was established under Section 21 of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act, 1974. The council has seven members from Pakistan government, including its prime minister, who is also chairman of the council, the federal minister for Kashmir affairs, and five members of the Pakistan National Assembly, nominated by the prime minister. Other members of the council include the PAJK prime minister, who is vice-chairman, and six elected members. Decisions can only be approved by the council with a majority vote.

Powers of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council are absolute. Article 35 of the PAJK constitution states that a Bill passed by the council shall not require the assent of the president and shall upon its authentication by the chairman of the council become law and be called an Act of the council. This means that the council is empowered to legislate on some subjects without the direct involvement of the PAJK legislative assembly, an elected body of the belt.

To take the debate over federal autonomy in J&K on either side of the LoC to some concrete form will require political imagination and pragmatism. The colonial practice of appointing retired judges to handle complex political issues has to be dispensed with. A person trying to mediate or evolve a solution should have the understanding of the complex political history of the region as well as the patience to listen to diverse political opinions within the state. The success of this delicate process holds the key to some of the problems that the subcontinent is facing at this moment.

The writer is a Fulbright fellow at New York University.







Ministers of state in the central government are apparently underemployed. Many of the junior ministers in this cabinet are young first-timers who were inducted with the intention of infusing the government with fresh ideas. Indeed, it was a conscious decision of the Congress party high command and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to pick bright young MPs while constituting the current cabinet. That was a good move, as it is undeniable that every government needs a good balance of experienced hands and the dynamism of youth.

Young ministers when chosen on the basis of their merit have much to offer in terms of policymaking and administration in India. They could offer fresh perspectives as well as articulate the concerns and aspirations of a population that is getting younger. It is therefore disappointing to learn that senior ministers aren't giving junior ministers substantial responsibilities. The disgruntled juniors have made their frustration known. To be fair, this is not a problem specific to this government alone. Junior ministers in past governments have made similar complaints.

This has led some to argue, in the past and now, that the office of the minister of state is redundant and must be done away with. That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The office of the junior minister provides the government opportunity to blood first-timers who have a lot to gain by working with seasoned ministers. On-the-job learning is vital in governance, as in other areas of work. The challenges of governance in a country as vast as India cannot be overemphasised. If senior ministers delegated judiciously, it could go a long way in making the business of administration more efficient.

The prime minister is reportedly meeting junior ministers this week. There are indications that a system will be put in place where ministers of state would be able to actively participate in decision-making. The problem is not in the concept of having junior ministers. It lies in the way the system operates. That is what needs fixing.








So, once again, our junior ministers have nothing to do. Ministers of state like Preneet Kaur and Jyotirditya Scindia, who have ill-defined administrative roles to play at the central government level, have complained that their cabinet ministers do not give them any real responsibility. Now that we have this from the horse's mouth, it's time to abolish the posts entirely.

It's not like this is a new development. Ministers of state have had nothing to do almost since the inception of the post. A majority of ministers of state have had only a marginal role to play in their ministries, no matter how qualified they are. They have little autonomy, be it to make decisions or financially. In theory it may be a good way to blood young politicians into the slice and dice of cabinet politics, but in practice it amounts to a waste of money for the exchequer.

Cabinet ministers routinely ignore their charges and give them little to do apart from flitting around making speeches and cutting ribbons. For instance, Anand Sharma, the commerce minister, has on paper allocated Scindia, the MoS assigned to him, a number of tasks. But the way it plays out is that Scindia forwards files on the subjects to Sharma. Preneet Kaur, an MoS for external affairs, spends most of her time meeting and greeting foreign dignitaries and entertaining their spouses.

What good is such an office when it fails to give these politicians any actual, relevant experience? It's not enough to say that the junior ministers should take the initiative, or that cabinet ministers should give their charges enough to do. That won't happen, as past experience has proven. What then is the justification to persist with this practice? The junior ministers' talents would be better utilised elsewhere if the office was abolished. And taxpayers would be saved no small amount of money. The biggest problem of most governments is bureaucratic flab, here's a golden opportunity to cut it.








It's early morning on Blvd St-Germaine. I am searching for a newspaper kiosk. I get the only available English paper after crossing a cobblestone street. A small drizzle falls. I run to the nearest shelter. It's a McDonald's outlet. I am doing the unthinkable in the city of croissant, baguette and brioche. I point to a McMuffin and a hot chocolate. I realise i haven't uttered a word since the night before as the babble of French in the crowded café intensifies. I now get change for the Euro note and bravely try the local lingo. I say Merc(thank you) and for good measure, add Merci, beaucoup (thank you very much). The lady behind the counter smiles, "Wasn't nothin'. You have a fine day, you hear." It's a Texas drawl and sounds like an order. Outside the café, small children hurry to school with mothers holding umbrellas. Inside, an old couple in long coats chats and giggles as the old boy offers a stalk of a deep pink rose with a flourish. Near me, students are spiritedly discussing movies, literature and sex. On the roadside, under the awning, uniformed teenagers gather as the rain pelts their backpacks.

By the time one reaches the sports page, the rain stops and the outdoor café across the road is filling up with customers. I remember then that French men don't simply sit mulling over drinks. With their perfected elegant slouch and pretense of casual indifference, they check out the chicks going by. The pretty things either walking dogs or hurrying to catch the metro are smart and wear high heels. As i step out, joie de vivre is in the air. A lady with flowers in her straw hat and an accordion, belts out Eartha Kitt, How would you like to be; Down by the Seine with me. I join my companions at the B&B, and we take off for Eiffel Tower. It strikes me how the icon got hard-wired in my head at age six. Years ago, a teacher, showing the class a kiddy's world map, had the pointer resting on the structure. "The capital of France is Paris", Ms Hart had said. I think of her as the double-decker elevator whisked us up. At the second level, people by our side excitedly whip out cameras and go ga-ga over the breathtaking views. I wonder, were they also reliving an early geography lesson?







Two years ago, during my first visit to India as the United States secretary of defence, i was struck by how much our relationship had improved since i was last in government in the early 1990s. With its dynamic free market and thriving democracy, India has emerged as a world power - one of the greatest shifts in the strategic landscape in recent memory. Our shared values and convergent interests form the foundation of our relationship - and have drawn us together even as governments have changed in our respective countries. At the same time, the security threats and challenges of the 21st century present new opportunities for our nations and militaries to work together in unprecedented ways.

I arrive in New Delhi today believing firmly that we must seize these opportunities because the peace and security of South Asia is critical not just to this region, but also to the entire international community. India can be a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond - making valuable contributions to stability operations across the globe. In many respects, that belief is at the heart of the 2005 defence framework agreement, which, five years in, has amply demonstrated how much our countries have to gain from a long-term, reliable defence relationship.

One of the great successes in recent years has been the increase in the number and complexity of joint training exercises between our militaries - exercises that not only increase trust and confidence, but also prepare our armed forces to confront security challenges that can only be solved by many nations working in concert. One example is the counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, where India is working alongside the multinational naval task force.

We have also made significant strides in developing a stable defence trade, most recently with India's decision to buy American transport aircraft and other military equipment. The US defence industry produces the best products in the world, and using the same platforms also enhances our militaries' ability to interact and communicate more effectively.

That said, there are still more opportunities for closer cooperation that will allow us to share technology and increase the flow of information and expertise. In particular, we both have to re-examine policies dealing with exchanging technology. Moving forward together on certain regulatory measures in this area - especially those dictated by United States law - will enable greater levels of cooperation and provide tangible benefits for both governments and economies.

Perhaps the greatest common challenge India and the United States face is terrorism. Both of our countries know all too well the terrible human cost of terrorist attacks. To confront this threat, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have reaffirmed our shared determination to cooperate in unprecedented ways - from sharing best practices on mass transit and rail security; to combating terrorist finance networks; to increasing exchanges between our coast guards and navies.

Beyond India's borders, regional stability and security is a goal shared by all states in Asia. The international community welcomes India's many contributions to disaster-relief operations and peacekeeping missions. In particular, India has made a significant pledge for development in Afghanistan - $1.3 billion. Going forward, support like this will be critical to achieve our goal of a fully independent Afghanistan that can support and defend itself.

Two months ago, Singh arrived in Washington for the first official state visit of the new US administration. In his welcoming remarks, Obama referred to the relationship between our countries as a defining partnership of the 21st century - a union between two of the world's great democracies. During my meetings with India's leaders this week, i look forward to solidifying these pillars - and strengthening a relationship indispensable to both of our nations' future peace and prosperity.

The writer is US secretary of defence.








It's not been a week since the frustrations of India's hockey players made the front page. A scampering bid to contain the embarrassment was made by the national sporting body, Hockey India. That the very people entrusted with the job of ensuring that our hockey players were provided the right incentives — both professional and remunerative, something that sporting bodies in any other country consider to be fundamentally entwined — had done just the opposite, was for all to see. A quick-fix band-aid was applied to make the humiliated hockey players parade with smiles before the media, with Hockey India chief


A.K. Mattoo quitting a few days later. With that chapter not closed, on Saturday, India's Olympic gold medal-winning shooter told this newspaper how sporting authorities in this country really look at their sportspeople: with contempt.


Sports in India is overwhelmingly administered by a bevy of officials who don't understand sports in general or the particular sport they are in charge of fostering and encouraging. Barring the anomaly of cricket, these mandarins have the mindset of professional file-pushers who perpetuate a philosophy that has held the country back far beyond the sporting arena for decades. Just when we thought that India was becoming more professional, looking for results rather than remaining a slave to regulations and petty powerplay,


Mr Bindra has highlighted this potent mix of bureaucratic tyranny and apathy. This potent cocktail has killed off far too many sporting talents — both those who were yet to reach  their potential and those already having made their mark.


Mr Bindra knows a thing or two about training to win international medals. So to pull him out mid-training for attending trials is bureaucratic behaviour at its worst. To add insult to injury, the trials were summarily postponed without him being informed about when he needs to be present again.


Mr Bindra has been lucky. Despite — rather than because of — governmental efforts, he has managed to be a world-winner, having been able to support his passion and discipline to maximise his innate skills. But he is the rare exception. People like markswoman Suma Shirur, left out of the squad despite being a world champion, need answers. Other shooters who were selected some six months before the final selection process point to the flip side of the same story. As do four wrestlers — G.S. Dhillon, Ronjan Sodhi, R.V.S. Rathore and Mansher Singh — who have been training for the Commonwealth Games by turning out money from their own pockets. India does not value sports. And by 'India' we mean the entity that spreads its many tentacles in all those sporting bodies for the sole purpose of keeping so many, too many, of our sportspeople down, and out.







There was always something Hispanic about Osama bin Laden. Now our hunch has been confirmed. America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — or should we say 'Departamento Federal de Investigaciones' (DFI) — used an online photograph of Gaspar Llamazares, a Spanish politician, to create an image of what al-Qaeda's top leader may now look like. Take Mr bin Laden's beard and turban off and he does look remarkably like Mr Llamazares. Both have two deep-set eyes, one large nose, and if the elusive terrorist puckers his lips, the same kind of mouth. That the Spaniard's picture appeared on a US government 'Wanted' poster should hardly mean that the two 52-year-old gentlemen don't look remarkably similar.


There's nothing that stops bad guys from looking like other people. Depending on your politics (and eyesight) Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar can be considered a dead ringer for Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Also, to unacquainted eyes, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can be mistaken for Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia if both of them are viewed from behind.


Mr Llamazares has now stated that he won't feel safe travelling to the US as he may be jumped on by American law-enforcers. That may provide the ultimate clue about the al-Qaeda chief's current whereabouts. Osama bin Laden may be sitting right now at the Congreso de los Diputados in Madrid.








In theatre producer Bratya Basu's much applauded Bengali political play, Ruddhasangeet (Muted Music), the life story of singer Debabrata Biswas who was a misfit in leftist circles, there is a scene in which Jyoti Basu appears as a character on stage. By his side sits Pramod Dasgupta, the Stalinist boss of the CPI(M) in Bengal, who held intellectuals as his enemy, much like his dictator hero.


The two are shown to preside over the in-house 'trial' of filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, a friend of the singer, leading to his expulsion. Basu leaves the stage with the words, "It is unfortunate that our party is unable to hold back educated and cultured people," but then turns back in his usual abrupt manner to say, "of course I am no connoisseur of culture and such stuff."


In real life, though, Basu was one of the vanishing tribes of Indian politicians who believed it was possible to fight for the issues that affected the masses, and, at the same time, be respectful of individual excellence. The feat was Herculean indeed in the context of Basu's party, the CPI(M), which has, since its 1964 break-off with the parent CPI, founded by "gentlemen communists" educated in Britain in the pre-World War II years, become increasingly hostile to those capable of independent thinking. So, after the split, why did the 'cultured' Basu prefer to go with the philistines? The play attempts to provide the answer in the last line.


Culture is dispensable even for a cultured man, if that's what the 'party line' is. Sure it defies logic. But communist parties do not follow logic. In the play, as in life, Basu was therefore an oddity. He loved freedom of ideas but more he loved to stay in the party which he thought was his life.


Basu was born in an aspiring middle-class family and went to schools run by Christian missionaries. Later on he graduated from Presidency College and could afford to spend four years in England till he was called to the bar from one of the temples of law.


His father, Nishikanta, learnt homoeopathy in the US and had a flourishing practice. Much like his contemporaries — Mohan Kumaramangalam, Nikhil Chakraborty, or Indrajit Gupta — Basu's baptism in the communist faith took place in the 'red' England of the day. These boys (and a few 'girls', like Renu Chakravarty and Parvathi Kumaramangalam) returned home, stuck to their faith and tried their best to 'identify' with the proletariat. Basu was sent by the Indian party to work with railway gangmen and porters. Indrajit Gupta, who was in Cambridge


and was perhaps the most Anglicised of the lot, was sent to organise tramway employees. His university friend Eric Hobsbawm, the eminent historian, has reminisced in his memoir that, in that role, poor "Sunny" (Gupta's pet name) "had as much to learn about the Calcutta working class as any foreigner". To that generation of enlightened Indians, communism was self-discovery!


Basu started being a prisoner of his faith as he came in contact with Pramod Dasgupta, the Bengal party commissar, and eventually became a part of the system that Dasgupta had pieced together. After the CPI(M) came to power in Calcutta in 1977, it was Dasgupta who pulled the strings, and Basu was the puppet. It unleashed a philistinism that would have made a Kim Il-Sung blush, and inhumanity that could compete with Stalin's if only the party's Alimuddin Street office had enjoyed his absolute power. In the 30s, Basu had carried out the British Communist Party's order to teach English to uneducated Indian sailors in East London's docklands. After becoming West Bengal chief minister, the same Basu kowtowed to Dasgupta's chauvinist whims as he ordered a ban on teaching English in the primary classes of State-funded schools.


The Dasgupta clique found in him an agent most pliable to its command, someone like Marshal Petain, who

would help it commit hideous blunders: like allowing trade unions in uniformed services, recruiting party cadres as school teachers paid by the government and thus bankrupting the State exchequer, banning computers lest they kill the jobs of lazy and loyal babus, making universities subservient to the party, picking up rotten eggs as the next line of leaders (they are in power now), and generally turning the state into a nightmare for its most deserving citizens. Calcutta has since then acquired the reputation of being the best Indian metropolis to get away from.


Dasgupta died 28 years ago but his ghost haunted Basu all his life. It is the Marxist intolerance of non-mediocrity, embodied in Dasgupta, that prevented Basu from becoming Prime Minister in 1996. He called it later a "historic blunder", but could not help losing his first and last chance to rise above the confines of his narrow and sectarian party, and address, among others, "the educated and cultured people". He wrote an autobiography, but the party made sure it had nothing to say. He prompted an authorised biography, but did not have the courage to insist on it being an honest reflection of his feelings. When he handed over office in 2000 due to ill health, the moment, if not the excuse, was chosen by the junior incumbents of Alimuddin.


At 96, with his wife dead some years ago, the man lived a lonely life in a large but cold house at Salt Lake, a suburb too new for him, with nothing around him to which he could relate, except an odd-looking bust of Karl Marx sticking out in the middle of a nearby park. The world had changed but not his faith. In 1996, after his party's "historic blunder", and seven years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he told this correspondent that socialism would return as the "guiding philosophy" of the world "in 50 years" at most, but with a difference. "It will come with democracy". It is this innocent optimism that will give Basu's memory a longer lease than it would perhaps have otherwise deserved.


Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer








Manipur is so piteously invisible to the rest of India that it takes a procession of naked women protesting the brutality of security forces to draw the national gaze, momentarily, to its plight. A few months back, 27-year-old Chongkham Sanjit, a former militant, was shot dead by Manipur police commandos in the middle of Imphal, and the killing recorded frame by frame by an observing camera. Rabina Devi, a pregnant woman who happened to be in the vicinity, was collateral damage. The killing is only one of many in Manipur's cruel history of insurgency and clampdown, but the ground has not stopped shaking in the state since. The government ordered a feeble departmental inquiry, but protesting groups rose up in anger and 4190 schools were forced to close their gates, and several were damaged in the "class boycott" that began on September 9.

Now, finally, the state government and Apunba Lup, an umbrella body of 23 organisations, have hammered out a deal. The agitation is off, and normal life is set to resume as children pick up their satchels and head back to school. Educational institutions have announced special coaching to make the annual exams and the Boards. Other issues are more fraught, like schools' refusal to waive fees for the period they were locked and barred. But who can make up for the four months of tense, empty time for these Manipuri families, wondering what was to become of their children, their precious school year and their larger future? It was parental agitation and civil society indignation that finally forced an end to the face-off. But they know that this hard-won truce is fragile, and likely to come undone in the next incidence of violence. Anyone who can scrape the money together sends their children to schools outside Manipur — anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 students leave every year.


How can the state justify itself in Manipur in a situation like this, when everyday living is plunged in crisis? If nothing else, to maintain its own authority, it needs to turn the searchlight on incidents like this. After all, a child measures her life in the comforting swing between school and home — to abruptly suspend that rhythm is to make sure that another generation in Manipur grows up fearful, and resentful.







Jyoti Basu has lived up to his frequent refrain that communists "serve the people" till death. Basu may be doing so even after death, as other long marchers already have or intend to. Pledging one's body and organs for patients in need, as well as for medical research, is a fine instance of leadership by example. If there's more of that from our top public figures — in a country with a sordid history of organ-smuggling rackets and an insensible proscription on a donor market that only aggravates illegal organ trade by driving the market underground — perhaps some day soon, more and more Indians will come round to donating their organs and cadavers.


Some day soon, "presumed consent", whereby one's willingness for organ transplant is assumed unless one or one's family categorically opts out, will smoothly become a part of everyday life (and death). Till the early '90s, India led the world as an illegal organ market. The poor would sell vital organs for a paltry sum to desperate, and rich, patients while middlemen grew fat on the disparity between the money paid by the recipient and that received by the donor. Such transactions will persist, as long as the gap between demand and legal supply remains. And harvesting healthy organs from cadavers is far from enough.


Transplants spell the difference between life and death for many, while medical science profits from research on available bodies. Countries which legalised presumed consent saw multiple percentage point jumps in the volume of donors. The global model, of course, is Spain, which galloped to the highest donor rate in the world at about 35 donors per million citizens from a critical shortage of organs for transplant. Belgium and Singapore, for instance, saw donation rates rise by apporximately 180 and 120 per cent, respectively. In sum, not only does organ transplant need free market operations but an environment has to be created for public awareness about the value of transplant and the dangers of organ rackets. Jyoti Basu's own organs, barring his eyes, may not be of use for transplants anymore, but the departed leader's last public gesture is a cue for a medical revolution.







Every now and then the Indian government promulgates something so laden with command-economy let-it-be-so wishful thinking that it makes anyone wonder the last 20 years were a dream. One such measure is in the labour ministry's recently released guideline: that no power or steel project can have more than 20 skilled foreign workers. Remember, this is not about foreigners working with the wrong visas. It is about legal workers, doing jobs that we simply may not have enough people to do.


This is, of course, retrograde. It hampers India's openness, and will inevitably lead to rule breaking, as all rules do which ignore basic ground realities. But it also betrays an ignorance of what India's priorities should be that is as shocking as it is profound. India is, to put it bluntly, short of everything. This country is short of skills; the number of engineers graduating per capita is abysmally low — and too few choose to become civil engineers anyway, leading to a severe shortage. Perhaps we have been so brainwashed into believing that India is an endless pool of skilled manpower to think that any project has enough to draw upon. But surely the labour ministry reads its own statistics?


This short-sightedness will hit hardest at what India is most short of: reasonable infrastructure. Here, once you've already handed out contracts to foreign companies, choosing to cripple their productivity is an absurd, self-defeating measure. There's more: for steel, for example, the backbone of any infrastructure push, India recognises that a 120 million tonnes will be needed per year in 2020, up from 54 million tonnes today. But even eight years from now, with a capacity required of 80 million tonnes per annum, Tata Steel estimates that more than 8,00,000 skilled people will be required to work in the sector. Does anyone think that we are producing enough skilled people to fill that need? These guidelines merely ensure that we will not meet our targets — and keep millions in poverty.








The Indian economy has been showing strong growth in production. Both industrial production and non-agricultural GDP growth have exceeded expectations. Yet, there are reasons for concern. Apart from the runaway food price inflation, other leading indicators of the business cycle do not appear to be strong. These include growth in non-oil import, bank credit and investment projects. These suggest that policy-makers should not become complacent yet, despite the high production figures. In other words, when food becomes too expensive and consumers are buying too many cars, it is not a time to say all is well.


November 2009 witnessed strong growth in industrial production, especially in manufacturing. This high growth was driven by strong automobile production in particular and consumer durables in general. The data for industrial production in December 2009 may be even better as shown by high car sales. High car sales were prompted by year-end discounts, tax incentives to producers, low interest rates, improved consumer sentiment and the effect of higher salaries for government employees. Month on month export growth (seasonally adjusted and averaged over three months) has picked up after the shock last year so the level of exports is now back to where it was last year. High import growth in the US, an unprecedented 33 per cent monthly average, is no doubt contributing to the good performance of exports. Corporate profits also came back on track returning to near 20 per cent growth rates. Equity markets and capital flows responded both to the return of the India growth story and the recovery in emerging markets.


Some observers argue that all is well and the government and the RBI can now start withdrawing both the fiscal and the monetary stimulus. Considering the high level of fiscal deficit, there is, of course, a good case for a reduction in government expenditure. High inflation in food prices has been largely attributed to shortages owing to the drought and increase in demand as a result of public spending on programmes such as the NREGA that puts income in the hands of the poor who demand more food. Still there is a case for tightening monetary policy to control excess liquidity in the system and manage inflationary expectations.


While both fiscal and monetary policy have been easy for the whole year, and despite the fact that some governments around the world, such as China's, have started tightening, in India the government and the RBI have been cautious, and have not particularly withdrawn the stimulus or suggested that they would do so in a very strong way in the near future. The reasons for this caution become apparent when we look at some of the other macroeconomic indicators of the Indian economy.


Inflation is, in general, a very difficult phenomenon to understand, as it is caused by both supply and demand side factors. Tightening policy is a good idea when inflation appears to be caused primarily by excess demand. This is because the monetary or fiscal tightening reduces demand which then reduces prices. Today it is not clear that price rise is caused by excess demand. Indeed, it is possible that the improvement in production is temporary, caused by the stimulus, and could peter out soon.


What are the causes for concern? First, growth in non-oil imports has been weak. Since India primarily imports capital goods and basic raw materials, non-oil imports are in general an indication of production a few months later and longer-term capacity creation in the economy. If firms are not increasing their imports, it is a reason for concern. Second, bank credit growth has slowed down significantly. Non-food credit growth has fallen to barely 10 per cent. This is caused by a number of factors. One, expansion plans of most companies, which came to a halt a year ago, are still not back on track. Two, price of inputs for production, and thus working capital requirements, has come down with lower commodity prices. These two factors have resulted in a decline in demand for credit in nominal terms. To some extent the situation may not be as worrisome as it appears at first blush, since firms are borrowing from non-bank sources — by borrowing through commercial paper, rather than through banks, as they get cheaper credit. Still, if capacity creation has slowed down it does not augur well for growth.


Considering the above, no doubt, the withdrawal of stimulus has been limited. In the coming weeks there will be two occasions for the government to signal its policy of exiting from its expansionary policies. First, in January end, the RBI governor will present his credit policy. It is expected that in this he will raise the cash reserve ratio, thus withdrawing some of the excess liquidity from the banking sector, but not significantly raising interest rates or leading to serious demand contraction. Serious tightening of monetary policy is also difficult because of the impact it will have on the rupee. Higher interest rates will attract higher capital inflows leading to rupee appreciation. The government has already announced one incentive package for exporters; it is unlikely to want to counter the impact of this by giving them both higher interest rates and a stronger rupee. In other words, the RBI will have a difficult job of managing the rupee and pressures from the exporter lobby, were it to raise interest rates.


Second, in February end, the finance minister will announce the Union Budget. In this he is unlikely to take any serious steps towards contraction of demand. He could approach the budget in two ways. Either he could leave the estimated budget deficit high and at the end of the year have a smaller deficit if he can earn some revenue from disinvestment, or he could show a smaller budgeted deficit, factoring in disinvestment. In either case the government is unlikely to take strong measures to reduce demand. Today politicians all over the world are afraid of rocking the boat by withdrawing the stimulus given after the crisis. Fear of the impact on growth and the reaction of the electorate will no doubt continue to constrain them till they can be sure that all is really well.


The writer is professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi







President Asif Ali Zardari arrived January 13 in Lahore on a week-long visit of Punjab. The Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who had gone to Turkey, has extended his stay there for a day to avoid meeting with Zardari. And while the CM is in Turkey, his elder brother and party leader, Nawaz Sharif, is in China.


Zardari's whistle-stop is owed to his decision to go on the offensive shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance on December 16, 2009, declaring the instrument void ab initio and ultra vires of the Constitution.


The Ordinance was promulgated in 2007 by Pervez Musharraf to allow the return to Pakistan of slain former PM and leader of the Pakistan People's Party, Benazir Bhutto, by quashing all court cases against her and spouse Zardari. But the NRO also benefited, as we now know, over 8000 other persons, mostly bureaucrats.


The government's offensive is two-pronged: fight the legal battle and back it with political thrust.


On the legal side, the government has filed a review petition challenging the SC verdict on at least three counts. The petition says the ruling that convictions in absentia were applicable goes against the SC's own earlier rulings. The petition also contends that the SC cannot claim, as it did in its short order, that it could issue directions to the government to review requests, claims and status of cases outside Pakistan since such powers are the exclusive preserve of the executive.


Similarly, the review petition says the SC has overstepped its bounds by directing the National Accountability Bureau to present periodic reports of actions taken by NAB to the SC's monitoring cell. The problem is the government has changed its counsel, and that could potentially allow the SC to throw out the petition.


Yet the real counter-offensive by the government (read: Zardari) is political.


Zardari has managed to get votes of confidence from three provincial assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and the North West Frontier. He hopes thereby to not only reduce space for the SC to take a decision in isolation from political realities but also cut off the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz from other political forces in the country — especially, if the Punjab Assembly does not give him a vote of confidence.


That vote of confidence remains stillborn. Raja Riaz, the PPP senior minister in Punjab, where the party is a junior coalition partner of the PMLN, was quite excited about a joint draft he was working on with the PMLN's provincial law minister which was supposed to clinch the deal on the basis of a quid pro quo. But the Punjab CM seems to have thrown a spanner in the works, and the two sides haven't moved on it despite earlier reports that it just awaited signatures.


An added problem seems to be the fact that Zardari, who is lodged in the Governor's House, is acting both as the president as well as co-chairman of the PPP. However, constitutionally, he can't be seen to promote the interests of one party, being the symbol of the federation. But this is a minor technical irritant because Zardari is convinced that the SC, while relying on the letter of the law, enjoys the PMLN's backing.


For the PPP, since Zardari has made the original mistake of standing for president, his loss would be politically a heavy price even if the PMLN did not push hard after that for mid-term elections. Here Zardari's future and that of the PPP converge irredeemably — hence, the statement by Prime Minister Gilani, after the NRO verdict, that if the president was pushed out, he would leave with him.


The PMLN claims it does not want mid-term elections. But all its effort is geared towards deepening the crisis to that end. The Punjab government is running the province on a huge overdraft because it spent its kitty on winning people through ill-advised "people-centric" spending while hoping it would force mid-term elections.


The battle-lines are therefore drawn yet again. Zardari has been lashing out in his public speeches at "conspirators". He has also been playing a tricky signalling game with the army. While in Sindh he hinted at playing the Sindh card if he was pushed to the wall, and also rallied the three smaller provinces behind him; he then went on and praised sacrifices by the army. Now he is in Lahore to make an impact in Punjab, especially central Punjab.


Zardari has decided to fight back and fight dirty if need be. He seems to hope that by putting political heat on the court he would be able to force the judges into lateral thinking about the political consequences for the country of an unfavourable verdict. It won't be easy.


The writer is a consulting editor at 'The Friday Times', Lahore







The tombstones loomed in the dusk, some of them rising more than 25 feet, each telling a forgotten story of China's troubled history. I had come to find them because, for the first time, China has sanctioned the preservation here of a site commemorating the numberless victims of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.


That's a hopeful sign. I spent too long covering the bloody wars in the Balkans not to believe that history denied can devour you.


But until now, the Communist rulers of China have been relentless in suppressing the history of their worst

errors, not least the frenzied attempt of Mao Zedong in the decade before his death to revitalise his rule by spreading terror.


So the decision, made last month by authorities in this gritty central Chinese city, to designate a cemetery containing the remains of 573 people slaughtered during the Cultural Revolution as an official relic worthy of maintenance is a significant opening.


That, it seems to me, is modern China: two steps forward, one back. For every new repression there is some relaxation, for every new abuse some advance. Few things have made the capitalist-communist overseers of China's frenzied thrust for modernity as nervous as history. On the one hand, it's a source of pride. On the other, it's a fount of fear.


When an American working in China met a Party cadre recently, he was greeted by a backhanded compliment: "With our 5,000 years of history, we in China think you Americans are doing pretty well for your brief history of about 230 years." To which the American, alluding to the six decades of the People's Republic, responded: "Well, we in the US think China's not doing badly for its mere 60 years of history!"


The remark did not do a lot for Chinese-American relations, but it has to be said that history is a malleable thing here. China finds comfort in a past whose immensity contains many dynasties that lasted longer than all US history. Posters exalting the Party show the Great Wall, the better to link its rule with immovable authority and nationalist grandeur.


At the same time, China's modern rulers like nothing so much as reducing history to a blank sheet. Everywhere the past — temples, ancient walls, sinuous alleys — is being swept away. Disastrous periods of Mao's rule, including the famine of 1959-61 and the Cultural Revolution, have been airbrushed from history. Like "June 4" — shorthand for the crushing of the Tiananmen uprising in 1989 — they are taboo.


Here in Chongqing, the Cultural Revolution took particularly devastating form as rival factions bent on demonstrating their devotion to Mao's wild anti-capitalist, anti-rightist, anti-cadre purge battled each other. The local arms industry fed the frenzy: mass murder in the name of a personality cult.


Outside the walled cemetery in Shaping Park, as I waited for hours to be admitted into the overgrown sanctuary with its whispering of these terrible deeds, a man approached me: "Everyone was shooting in 1967 to protect Mao! I don't know why. Even now I don't know why. I just followed my school with a gun." He shook his head. "We're not interested in any of that now. All we do is talk of development."


But a few people, like a scholar named Chen Xiaowen, were interested. Now 54, Chen became concerned over the fate of the cemetery in the 1980s and has since campaigned to block the ever-ready bulldozers of real estate developers. He was part of a group of scholars who submitted a petition to the Chongqing authorities requesting the safeguarding of the cemetery as a "cultural preservation site." On December 25, 2009, the request was approved, allowing the eventual devotion of city funds to restoration. "It's progress!" Chen said.


The cemetery, with its 131 graves containing multiple victims, many of them young Red Guards, is a place of hushed mystery. A faded photograph of a young man, his features blurred, is propped against one tombstone. Ferns grow from the stones, weeds advance. Chinese characters peel away. "We can be beaten, struggled against, but we will never bow our revolutionary heads," says one inscription. Another lists the ages of the dead: 49, 29, 45, 26, 51, 26.


I asked Chen why this past still haunts a party that has hoisted China from destructive folly. "It's a form of rule based on results, efficacy, not on democratic legitimacy," he said. "So if you dig too deeply into the mistakes of the past, you make yourself vulnerable."


Still, here in Chongqing, China has taken a small step toward a genuine history, an honest accounting, and away from history as merely a vehicle for the consolidation of power. I applaud that. The Chinese people, their wounds assuaged by time, are ready for more openness.


In the fading light old men come out with their birds, hang the cages on trees, and let the birds sing to each other as they gossip. Some say history is for the birds. I say it needs to be aired or it will turn on you.








The unimaginable is happening in Bangalore. The city once famous for chilly winter morning walks in the luxuriant Cubbon Park and languorous daytime routines is now moving to a compact lifestyle. Bangalore used to be dismissed as a pensioners' retreat. Spacious colonial bungalows with 'monkey top' windows dotted tree-lined avenues, where champak and gooseberry trees flourished in the double-yard gardens. Even today, the city does not have a distinguishing skyscape to speak of.


Conservative Bangaloreans tended to sniff at apartment blocks. Two bedroom or 2BR apartments were for the budget-constrained, and only if they couldn't afford more spacious 3BRs or larger. If a Mumbai builder can carve out a 3BR out of 800 sqft of space, Bangalore's 2BRs tend to be 1200 to 1400 sqft.


But times are changing. In a definite departure from old-style Bangalore living, the city is now spouting high-rises. And many of the new high-rises are 1BHK or studio apartments, an unheard of phenomenon until recently. The 1BHK and studios portray a wave of change in the demographic of the city, say real estate companies. Bangalore's population consists of many young working professionals or even newly-wed working couples. Nearly all of them have migrated to the city chasing career opportunities. They tend to aggregate in newer suburbs such as Electronics City, Whitefield and Bannerghatta Road, close to work locations.


Bangalore's attitude and weather are conducive to good living. So many of these young people want to grow roots here, explains Jitu Virwani, CEO of the Embassy Group. Owning a home also fits into the aspirations and wallet power of young professionals and offers a convenient option to retired couples. But it also boils down to affordability. Many of the suburban 1BHK and studios are priced below 20 lakh rupees, putting them within the reach of young professionals. Additionally, over this decade, land prices have risen to new heights, putting large plots and houses out of the reach of most young professionals. Additionally, the home-owning segment of the population is getting younger each decade, says Ramesh Kothari who runs a city-based real estate consultancy. These days, Kothari finds that many first-time home owners are in their twenties. "Younger buyers are more adventurous and want apartment sizes that fit their bank balances," he says.


Running contrary to past trends, studio apartments and 1BHK by a builder in the Electronics City suburb, within easy distance of Infosys Technologies and Wipro's large outsourcing facilities are said to be selling fast. 1BHKs launched in large residential projects in the four corners of the city by another leading Bangalore developer are also bucking the market drift.


One recent convert is Feroz Zaveri, 29, who heads sales at a technology firm in the city. Zaveri describes himself as an old-time Bangalorean and currently lives in a house in Banaswadi, one of the city's newer neighborhoods. Zaveri booked a 1BHK last month and looks upon it as a very practical option for young professionals. Zaveri learnt that many homeowners balk at renting to single working women or professionals who keep erratic working hours. "These 1BHKs will save many young people the trouble of getting stuck with fussy old landlords," he says. Still, ground level or two-storey homes are still coveted by older Bangalore residents. Rocketing prices, though, force them into far-flung suburbs where 'barfi-cut' plots are sold in unauthorised layouts.


At the other end of the spectrum, opulence appears to be arriving at the apartment scene in Bangalore, sending

even the super-rich packing from their sprawling homes and super-luxurious villas. At least one multinational company chief is said to pay close to $30,000 a month as villa rental.

Now, Vijay Mallya's soon-to-launch lavish residences in the city's most coveted address, Vittal Mallya Road, where his ancestral mansion currently stands, may offer the wealthy an alternative.


The 33-storey apartment block will abut the high-rise UB City buildings, home to several multinationals and high-end retail stores. The building will have six floors of parking and the base price of the smallest-sized apartment will be upwards of 6 crore rupees.


Donald Trump Jr. planned to launch a super-luxurious downtown apartment high-rise. That plan was shelved last year following the economic downturn. But Virwani of Embassy Constructions, who was known for upper-end apartments until now, forecasts that affordability is the key to the Indian market. He says 1BHKs and studios in high-rises will become increasingly common in the biggest Indian cities.


"Dubai was built for the rich and where is it going? India is a market for the masses," says Virwani.







If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."


A sound piece of advice or a quirky Chinese proverb? It's neither. In fact, the phrase has a much more intriguing provenance: Those very words were uttered by Eric Schmidt, the always earnest CEO of Google, in a recent interview with a business channel.


Back in early December when Schmidt shared this insight with the wider audience, Google was forcefully marching toward world domination. Fast forward just a few weeks — and its seemingly unstoppable quest has been unexpectedly stalled in what appears to be the world's most promising advertising market: China.


How did this come about? Google's own version of events sounds like an overwrought case study from Harvard Business School: A series of devastating cyberattacks on email accounts of critics of the Chinese government made Google executives painfully aware of the risks of operating in China.


The executives were nothing but furious — so furious that they awoke from their ethical coma, broke their earlier agreement with the Chinese government and stopped censoring search results for controversial political queries.


If Google's explanations and actions seem to be lacking in logic and coherence, it's because they are.


By pulling out of China — a prospect that now looks inevitable, as Chinese authorities are not likely to change their laws to acquiesce a foreign company — Google would not make itself any safer from future cyberattacks.


Short of purging its servers of all accounts of Chinese human rights activists, or folks who talk and look like them, Google would continue bearing many of the costs of operating in China even if no longer there physically.


So if the sudden change of mind on the issue of censorship was not driven by cybersecurity, what could explain Google's appetite for self-destruction?


The most plausible explanation seems to be that this is Google's own, uber-geeky way of doing penance for the evil bargain that it struck with the Chinese government in 2005. In retrospect, it's easy to see where Google's purely utilitarian calculations went wrong. In addition to their "do no evil" motto, Googlers have always been guided by another, much less explicit philosophy: "computational arrogance."


A company started by talented computer scientists and engineers, Google carefully applied its scientific, heavily quantitative methods to every single business decision and quandary, from book digitisation to freedom of expression. This is how they came to reason that having more books online — even if distributed under an inferior copyright regime — is better than having none. Similarly, this is how they reasoned that having more information online in China — even if some of it is mediocre or censored — is better than none. Reasoning by common sense or intuition is not really an option here: Googlers seem to check all hunches, no matter how good, by their cubicles, for spreadsheets never lie.


But China, too, has plenty of engineers, especially in the Party leadership. The Chinese leaders may lag behind Google in matters of computer science, but they are surely ahead in the art of Machiavellian politics.


It wouldn't be surprising if they followed a very similar thought process: Having mediocre information about human rights activists is better than no information. And who would be better suited to organise it all — to be hacked by China's own hackers at some point in the future — than the overly ambitious Google engineers?


Guided mostly by its spreadsheets, not historical analysis, Google took the bait and struck a deal with the government, a deal of which very little is known. We do know that Google agreed to censor certain search results. But was there also something else that Google never told us about? The presence of, perhaps, a backdoor to user data — which may have been abused by the third-parties — could explain Google's near certainty that Chinese authorities are behind the cyberattacks.


Of course, had Googlers paused to look up from their monitors and learn more about China and its leaders, they would have discovered that the government's demands for more censorship — not to mention cyberattacks on Google's own users — would only be getting stronger and more frequent. But Google was too arrogant to notice that. What, after all, could have possibly gone wrong?


At worst, it was expecting the new censorship regime to produce a harmless Baby Frankenstein. Instead, it is now dealing with an out-of-control full-fledged cybermonster that only obeys its Chinese overlords.


Still, the truth remains that Google failed to do due diligence on China and should bear full responsibility for it. It is unlikely to succeed in whitewashing its business blunders by trumpeting its newly acquired respect for human rights and freedom of expression.


The lesson that other Internet companies should draw from Google's painful and mysterious compromises with authoritarian governments is rather simple: If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. Now, if only someone would tell that to Eric Schmidt.








When was the last time you heard the word "sisterhood"? Perhaps while brushing up on some history of feminism, reading about those heady 1970s when white women marched in western cities, campaigning for abortion rights or equal pay. Or if you risked disapproval to listen to all-girl bands like Spice Girls and the concept of "girl power" they briefly promoted in the late 1990s, before the band fizzled out, along with the power.


In all likeliness, it did not come up in the course of the tale of the two young Chandigarh girls, Ruchika and Aradhana — one a victim of molestation, the other its sole witness, one hapless and lonely and driven to death, the other engaged since then in looking for justice in the cold and unfriendly corridors of power, to restore some dignity to her dead friend. Ruchika Girhotra and Aradhna Parkash's tale of tribulation is now well-worn; far less celebrated is their tale of friendship and camaraderie, which could have served to inspire a new generation of girls and young women. No one, even after this, talks/or makes an exemplar of the edifying, empowering attributes of female bonding.


Women are taught to fixate on men, American feminist Janice Raymond had written in her 1986 book A Passion for Friends: a Philosophy of Female Friendship. They are also expected to, and end up fixating on the notions of friendship and bonhomie from a male perspective, celebrating the obvious robustness of male bonding, whether among boarding school boys or boardroom brethren. Following Raymond's advice, women might be tempted to try out being less invisible vis-à-vis their own selves, and choose to see each other. But such efforts necessarily play second fiddle to the demands of the heterosexual contract, of which the family and children are an essential component. As Kristin Aune wrote in a 2003 post in The F-Word(a blog on contemporary UK feminism), "the main reason for the demise of sisterhood is men".


In much of western thought and literature, the noble, pure and inspirational has always been located in the domain of male friendship, with or without the attendant association of homoeroticism. For the Greeks, Achilles' love for Patroclus in Iliad was the gold standard, male bonding unifying the military where heterosexual desire (Achilles' for Briseis) had proved divisive. Even the fount of their wisdom, Socrates, basked in the warmth of male companionship, dispensing wisdom in his dialogues with Alcibiades or Ion. Christian monasticism kept the cult of same-sex friendship alive through the Middle Ages, with the concept getting a boost during the Renaissance in Montaigne's essay "De l'amitié", the ultimate gospel of misogynistic male friendship. Literature celebrates such life affirming friendships between men, wondering at Antonio's devotion to Bassanio, laughing at the jejune naiveté of Huck and Jim rafting down the Mississippi, mourning the death of Arthur Hallam with Tennyson, marvelling at the enigmatic bond between Ishmael and Queequeg. Hollywood provides its own archetype in "buddy films" like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


Sisterhood is largely absent from this roll of honour, ashamed almost of its painful incapability to live out such a high-minded, virtuous notion of friendship. Women do befriend each other, but always in the shadow of impending separation, always circumscribed by the more important calling of family so necessary to maintain the male world order. And so when we stand face to face with an Aradhana and her dogged pursuit of justice for a dead female friend, we are left speechless, because our cultural discourse has not given us the tools by which to evaluate woman-woman friendship (an imperfect coupledom, according to feminist literature), because we are not equipped to understand a woman's sacrifice that is directed outside the familial circle of her father, brother, husband or son.


There are several questions unanswered in this poignant narrative of our times. How, for example, do Aradhana's husband and the family she married into look at her? Do they look upon her as a lone crusader, proud of her unwavering quest for justice? Or do they secretly (or not so) sigh at her obstinate refusal to buckle under such extreme duress, at her refusal to let bygones be bygones? If the former, then there is indeed a wellspring reaffirming humanist ideals, hope that human beings might yet end up nurturing values that the dull word of legislation failed to enforce.








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.






By going public about highly sophisticated and targeted attacks on its corporate computer systems that originated in China, Google has drawn concerted attention to a narrative that has been building up for a decade in which incidents of hacking originating from China have been consistently increasing. When hackers successfully broke into Pentagon computers in 2007, there were accusations that the assailants were connected with the Chinese army. But, in what has proved to be par for the course, there were no corroborations on record. Last year, a group of Canadian researchers identified a vast surveillance system called GhostNet also originating in China and compromising computers in hundreds of governmental organisations across the world. More recently, when US companies reported cyber attacks from China in mid-December, it appears that Indian government departments were also targeted—including the offices of the National Security Advisor. The Chinese government has always maintained that it is not involved in cyber espionage. And there has never been any concrete evidence to the contrary. Be that as it may, the question is what India has been doing to battle cyber security threats.


A lot of defensive manoeuvres are under way, for sure. Central security agencies have apparently cautioned the government against the use of hand-held devices in sensitive ministries, as well as against the practice of connecting official computers and laptops with unsecured Internet connections. The recently passed Information Technology (amendment) Act 2008 also gives the government the power to tackle data theft. But can such initiatives measure up to the task of protecting India against a cyber challenge to its national security agenda? Frequent defacements of government Web sites suggest there is considerable room for improvement. Consider that it has been more than a decade since India announced a shift in military doctrine to embrace electronic warfare and information operations. In the interim, reports suggest, China has actively developed superior operational capacity in cyberspace, which it has identified as a domain in which strategic parity can be achieved with the military establishments of the US. Such strategy is in a different league from banning the use of Internet or hand-held devices. Building Web shields and developing cyber security capacities is a deeper game that also requires deep funding. Today, the official mission of the US Air Force, for example, is to fly and fight in air, space, and cyberspace. But there is little to show that the Indian security establishment is paying the threat of cyber intrusions a similar heed.








There is a pre-1977 Jyoti Basu, a Jyoti Basu from 1977 to 2000, and a Jyoti Basu from 2000 to 2010, though one naturally leads to the other. Had events unfurled otherwise and had there not been a 'historic blunder' in 1996, India might have had the first 'communist' as PM.


Since his death, most commentators have focused on the man who was West Bengal's CM for 23 years from 1977 to 2000 and the legacy he left for West Bengal. Since 2005, and more formally since 2008, Jyoti Basu hasn't been that important in national politics. Pre-1977, there was the influence of Harold Laski and Rajani Palme Dutt, the Communist Party of Great Britain, trade unions and railway workers, the Tebhaga movement, the formation of CPM in 1964 and the siding with China in 1962, deputy chief ministership in 1967 and 1969 under United Front governments and boycotting of assembly elections between 1972 and 1977. These are legacies Jyoti Basu distanced himself from, post-1977.


Most people have forgotten that then-CM Ajoy Mukherjee of Bangla Congress undertook a public hunger strike in protest against his communist cabinet colleagues and issued a press statement: "This left Communist and its associate parties should not be given the opportunity of ruling the country even for another day by being in the ministry."


But that's not quite what happened in 1977. Somewhat against the tide of a priori expectations, the Left Front came to power in 1977 and Jyoti Basu became the CM. In the turbulent Naxalite days of the early 1970s, the Left Front wouldn't have won had rural voters not turned against the Congress, a phenomenon that would drive much of the CPM's subsequent politics. Kerala in 1959 and West Bengal in both 1967 and 1969 also made CPM distrustful of the democratic inclinations of both the Congress and Indira Gandhi.


These days, most people have forgotten the hard-line ideology of Pramod Das Gupta. It wasn't easy to bring in outside expertise and those who weren't mass leaders as finance ministers (Ashok Mitra, Asim Dasgupta). In pre-1991 (pre-reform) days, most people would have described Jyoti Basu the CM as a pragmatist and capable administrator.


Here was a person who, as transport minister in the United Front government, had pushed for the nationalisation of the Calcutta Tramways Corporation. Before he opted out, in 1995-96, he pushed for privatisation of the Great Eastern Hotel. And there were others, like Lily Biscuits and West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation. Operation Barga, panchayats, Centre-state relations, social empowerment, the insulation of West Bengal (until recently) from caste and religion-based politics—all these are part of the Basu legacy.


The Marxist downgrades the role of individuals in history. But in these, much credit accrues to Jyoti Basu.


West Bengal doesn't score well on several economic indicators and it is unnecessary to catalogue that litany of woes. By the same token, much culpability also accrues to Jyoti Basu. (It is a separate matter that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee found it difficult to fill those shoes.) Agricultural transformation didn't extend beyond low-productivity small-holder agriculture. There was no industrialisation. Work ethics were ruined. And the flight of financial capital was reinforced by the flight of human capital. As one who had obtained the best of education (St Xavier's School, Presidency College, Middle Temple), Jyoti Basu ought to have appreciated that the party's conscious attempt to control education and 'culture' would ruin West Bengal's strength in human resources.

West Bengal might have trundled along had it not been for 1991 and reform-orientation in several states, Bihar included. It is undoubtedly true that West Bengal, even before Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, found it impossible to handle this. Especially since 2003, it wasn't only western and northern India that outstripped West Bengal, but also southern and parts of eastern India.


Taken uncharitably out of context, "Though we did not have any clear idea about what was happening around us, one feature stood out; we did not like it at all." This is a quote from Jyoti Basu's memoirs With the People. But that's essentially what's happened to the Left Front in West Bengal, with violence under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee not being something 'bhadralok' Jyoti Basu would have liked. Ashok Mitra once said he (Mitra) was a communist and not a gentleman. Jyoti Basu was both and more the gentleman than the communist.


A CM for five consecutive terms (a record) hasn't had to witness certain demise of the CPM in Legislative Assembly elections of 2011. But he has seen the writing on the wall, even if he hasn't presided over it, and he has also witnessed marginalisation of the Left and demise of the Third Front in national politics. A far cry from the days of Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu. And one can't help feeling that Jyoti Basu would have been a happier man had he passed away in 2008. But the atheist is unlikely to have prayed to God for that.


The author is a noted economist







There has been a lot of self-congratulation in India about the country's escape from the financial crisis. It is claimed that our financial system is sound because it is not allowed to indulge in the sorts of things American and British banks do. Indeed, the Congress president was even quoted as crediting the miracle to Indira Gandhi and the nationalisation of banks in 1969. The PSU banks are no doubt happy and smug as they sit on vast deposits and no serious business except doling out consumer loans and buying government debts when required.


Yet, the news last week of global ranking of banks should be a sobering one. In 2000, most of the top 10 banks in the world were American or British. In 2009, they are Chinese or Brazilian with only one American bank in the top 10. No Indian bank is in the top 20, let alone the top 10. Indeed, there is no Indian bank in the top 50. Chinese and Brazilian banks do not exist in environments all that different from the Indian one. Some of the ranks will slip when the Western banks recover their strength as they seem to be doing already, looking at the size of the bonuses they are giving out. Yet the changing global balance of banking from the West/ North to the East/South finds India absent at the top table.


This weakening of the Indian banking industry has been a matter of policy. While India escaped the worst of the 2008-09 crisis, there has been a huge cost paid along the way over the last 40 years. The entire debate about financial exclusion is there because the PSU banks failed to implement the very purpose for which they were nationalised. The real reason for the nationalisation was, of course, that Indira Gandhi wanted to provoke the resignation of Morarji Desai and split the Congress. The evidence for this is in the memoirs of IG Patel who was in the finance ministry at the time and had to draft the legislation within 24 hours, as I have cited in The Rediscovery of India.


In that way the move was a success. The Congress did split and India had a banking system that is a captive of the party political system. But the idea that banks had to be nationalised so that they could serve the rural economy has been honoured merely in the breach. Banks, I am told, manipulate their targets for agricultural lending by loaning to fertiliser corporations! The lack of credit for farmers and for small businesses has been shown by many reports. Farmer suicides in the middle of the last decade were caused by the high cost of credit, among other reasons. These farmers were still relying on moneylenders.


Thus, it is not that the rural area is excluded unless you define inclusion as having a PSU bank account. The rural area is served but by the private informal sector, that is, moneylenders who have been villains in Bollywood movies for decades. The moneylender is the champion of know-your-customer since he adapts the terms and conditions of the loan to each customer's circumstances, something which the banks requiring horrendous form-filling cannot do. (This phenomenon has been analysed in economic theory by Stiglitz, Maskin and others whereby the less creditworthy get served by the Mafia or the extortionate moneylenders.) The bankers in shirts and ties cannot reach the farmers in their dhotis, but the moneylender is not only in a dhoti but also knows the village well.


Of course, lately microfinance institutions have intermediated in this respect and they are growing at a huge rate—somewhere between 75-90% per annum, I heard quoted recently. They get accommodation from the banks so this may be a belated response to the problem. But it is clear that innovations have to come from outside the PSU banks. It may be that a way should be found for 'barefoot moneylenders' who can be itinerant from village to village and lend money on the spot. Perhaps some foreign-owned bank will implement this since I doubt that the PSU banks will do so.

I also doubt that there will be any move to pursue the global ranking race so that by 2019 India could have a bank or two in the top 20. Not unless there is a massive divestiture or even bold consolidation. But even the modest proposals for consolidation being debated now face so many bureaucratic hurdles—ministerial committees and what not—that I would not hold my breath. The banks were nationalised not to serve the people but to serve the politicians, and this they do very well.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








In the next few weeks, sowing of rabi crops in many parts of India will come to an end. The latest agriculture ministry estimates show that barring oilseeds, acreage for most rabi crops has been better than last year, a direct fallout of the higher price that they have commanded and favourable weather in the later half of 2009. Though a significant increase in rabi output won't be enough to wipe out the deficiency in kharif production, it will go a long way in ensuring that immediate supply shortages are pushed to the backburner.


Wheat, the largest foodgrain grown during the rabi season, has been planted in around 26.85 million hectares until the first week of January, just around 4,00,000 hectares less than last year. Some believe that this drop has largely been in Punjab and Haryana, traditionally among India's biggest producers of the grain, though officials believe that this won't have much of an impact on the final output, as the weather has been benign till now. Moreover, the shortage can be made up by the time sowing ends.


But the fall points to a more endemic problem faced by agriculture in Punjab and Haryana, which contribute almost 80% to the Centre's annual foodgrain procurement. Steps should be taken to ensure that agriculture remains profitable for farmers in Punjab and Haryana.


Increasing MSP of foodgrains solves just a part of the problem. A more holistic approach should be adopted to solve the agrarian crisis facing the state. A recent study done by Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communication showed that during the period 1997-2008, farm debt in Punjab increased by 5 times. Ironically, commission agents and moneylenders are the largest players in the farm credit market of the state, followed by commercial banks—a sad commentary on the collapsing institutional credit system. Farm debt has grown from Rs 5,700.91 crore in 1997 to Rs 30,394.12 crore in 2008, the study shows. This, along with falling water tables and nutritional levels, is reason enough for an urgent response to save farming and agriculture in Punjab and Haryana.


Among other rabi crops, oilseeds' sowing has dropped by around 6,00,000 hectares to 8.59 million hectares till last week, while the area under rabi pulses is almost 7,35,000 hectares more than last year. A higher pulses crop coupled with government's efforts to boost supplies through imports should ease price pressure in the next few months.








For over a year, the bodies of nine men have been lying in a mortuary next to Mumbai's Sir Jamshetjee Jejeebhoy Hospital — just a short walk from the buildings and streets where they killed 166 women, men, and children on November 26, 2008. The bodies are a ghoulish reminder that the whole truth about who was responsible for the horrors of that night is still elusive. Pakistani investigators, dossiers they submitted to India make clear, have been unable to establish the identity of the men who controlled the assault team, using satellite phones and voice-over-internet protocol connections — one of whom, an investigation by this newspaper revealed last week, was probably an Indian. Key suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders Sajid Mir and Muzammil Bhat, are still at large. We do not know who selected the facilities to be attacked, although evidence gathered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation suggests the targets were identified well before Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley was despatched to garner the videotape to familiarise the members of the assault-team with their targets. We do not know why the attack was delayed beyond September 2008, when the Central Intelligence Agency first passed on warnings to India of an imminent attack. We do not even know the names of seven of the nine men whose bodies lie in the morgue.


There are many reasons why we must have answers to these questions. Justice for the victims, of course, is the first reason. But there is also a larger issue. India-Pakistan dialogue ought not to be held hostage to the fate of the Mumbai investigation, yet unless New Delhi is persuaded that Islamabad is serious about acting against terrorist groups targeting India from its soil, the odds are that any dialogue will be scarred by suspicion. Further, the process is likely to be undermined by future terrorist attacks. Pakistani investigators have had in their custody for a year three men they say played a key role in planning the attacks — Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, his deputy Mazhar Iqbal, and electronics expert Abdul Wajid. Yet they do not seem to have discovered that Headley had carried out reconnaissance in Mumbai and was in the process of planning further strikes in New Delhi and Pune. Investigations by journalists suggest that Lashkar camps are up and running in Pakistan. All this has fuelled suspicion that such jihadist groups enjoy the support not just of rogue elements in the state, but of the institution of Pakistan's armed forces. India must do all it can to initiate meaningful dialogue and thus strengthen democratic forces in Pakistan. But any peace process will rest on sand unless Pakistan finds the will and the resolve to act against the enemies of peace operating from its soil.







Over millennia, humans have woven myths, legends, and superstitions around solar eclipses. But this phenomenon occurs only because the moon is just the right size and far enough from earth to block out the sun when all three bodies are appropriately aligned. All solar eclipses are, however, not the same. Since the moon's orbit is elliptical, not circular, its distance from earth varies, apparently changing its size in the sky. So while people in northern India witnessed a total solar eclipse in July 2009, this time it was an annular eclipse. The moon did not cover the entire disc of the sun and it did not get as dark as during a total solar eclipse. In India, the eclipse could be seen by people in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. An annular eclipse was last seen from this country in November 1965. If the plane of the moon's orbit were not slightly tilted, solar eclipses would be occurring at every new moon. There are, in fact, between two and five solar eclipses in any given year but these are visible from different parts of the globe.


But that was not good enough for scientists. In 1715, the British astronomer Edmond Halley published the first prediction of the path of a total eclipse. Since then, scientists have been travelling to the far corners of the world, telescopes and other equipment in tow, to take advantage of the natural phenomenon. Their work has resulted in some major advances. In August 1868, the French astronomer Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen camped in tobacco fields in Guntur in coastal Andhra Pradesh to make his observations. His work led to the discovery of an entirely new element, helium, which derives its name from the Greek word for the sun. Data from a 1919 eclipse validated a prediction of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity that the sun would bend the light from stars. A total solar eclipse remains a major opportunity for studying the sun's corona, its outer atmosphere that is ordinarily not visible. Such investigations are not possible during an annular eclipse. The Indian Space Research Organisation is, however, using sounding rockets fired from Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram and Sriharikota as well as balloons and ground-based equipment to look at changes that could occur high up in the atmosphere during the eclipse. Most important of all, the eclipse is a rare opportunity for millions of people to behold a grand spectacle and learn some science in the process.









By launching "a grand nation-wide debate" on what constitutes French national identity last November, President Nicolas Sarkozy has opened up a veritable Pandora's box of ill-feelings and hatred bordering on xenophobia.


The move was prompted by purely electoral calculations. Regional elections are to be held in March and the Socialists and their Left-wing allies control all but two of France's regions. Mr. Sarkozy was hoping to widen his electoral base, wooing backers of the extreme Right, anti-immigrant National Front which, polls indicate, has recently rebounded after its last election defeat. By enlarging his constituency in the first round of the two-round vote, Mr. Sarkozy hopes to give his candidates a better chance of carrying off the second round run-off.


Ironically, by accident or design, the debate was launched with great fanfare on November 1, the 55th anniversary of the outbreak of the Algerian war of independence which kicked off on Toussaint Rouge (Red All Saints Day) in 1954 and lasted till 1962, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. The Algerian community in France saw this lack of sensitivity as being in poor taste.


France is home to Europe's largest community of Muslims, an estimated five million, most of whom come from former French colonies and protectorates in Africa such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.


At the behest of Mr. Sarkozy, the debate was initiated by Eric Besson, Minister for Immigration, Integration and National Identity, a former Socialist who changed sides to become the President's hatchet man in all matters concerning immigration and the crackdown on asylum-seekers and economic migrants. Most of his former Socialist colleagues understandably disapprove of Mr. Besson and even new fellow travellers from the President's Right-wing UMP party look upon his gung-ho attitude to expulsions (including those of Afghan asylum-seekers whose country is currently under occupation by French soldiers as part of the international coalition) as truly distasteful.


The Ministry's website has received several hundred thousand hits and many of the messages are shocking in their virulence. The debates are organised by prefects in public places such as town halls and schools, and have, more often than not, produced an outpouring of xenophobic hate and anti-Islamic sentiment. Over 80 per cent of those expressing themselves say they feel that the French national identity is "weakening" or being "diluted" by foreigners and foreign influences including "alien religions."


The question whether or not to ban the burqa, now under discussion in Parliament, has added another ugly dimension of Islamophobia to the already strident debate. Undoubtedly, Europe is going through a phase of xenophobia as is evident from the outlawing of construction of minarets in Switzerland and the repeated attacks on foreigners in Spain, Italy, Denmark and other nations. France, it appears, is no different, although one has always hoped it would be the one exception, given its revolutionary past and strong republican values.


The debate has come in for such zealous criticism from academics, thinkers, social activists, and members of the Left-wing Opposition as well as a few members of the President's own governing coalition, including the former Prime Ministers Alain Juppe and Dominique de Villepin, and caused such an upheaval that it was hoped Mr. Sarkozy would allow the matter to die a quiet, natural death. But the President, whose personal political ambition is total and unbounded, recently declared that he had every intention of continuing the debate.


Several groups of academics have signed petitions calling for the scrapping of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration and National Identity, saying it brings back shameful memories of the persecution of Jews during various periods of French history, including the sordid episode of Dreyfus and the hounding of Jews during World War II. Other groups of academics and thinkers have published articles and pamphlets against what they see as the stigmatisation of foreigners and French citizens of non-white origin.


In an article, a group of researchers calling themselves The Collective For a Real Debate says: "No references are included [on the Ministry website] to those communities residing in French overseas departments or territories or in underprivileged suburban housing estates … Hidden behind this "debate on national identity" lies another one that has to do with France's colonial history and its legacy, and the unspoken question is not "What is it to be French?" but rather: "Can one be black, Arab, Asian, or from a French overseas department or territory and be French?" … And we're not just talking about any immigrant here; the most "coloured," the "inheritors" of colonies, the most fervent advocates of "ethnic factionalism," and those who refuse to assimilate. In other words, "those who don't love France," who are heard booing the national anthem or who demonstrate in the streets when Algeria qualifies for the World Cup, cause havoc in the suburbs, destroy the economy in "our" exotic overseas paradises, and seek to diversify the "ethnic" and religious profile of the republic. The same people who are weakening "our" soul, our "essence" and who force their women to wear the burqa…


"Ignoring, worse, even stigmatising these components of French society means that the debate on identity is flawed from the outset. Rather than advancing thinking, Eric Besson's initiative offers an opportunity to steal the thunder from a shaky extreme right on the eve of a strategic election, at the midway point of the President's term in office …"


Historian and political scientist Patrick Weil, author of the award-winning study France And Her Foreigners, is an authority on questions of immigration and identity, and has served on the commission that recommended a ban on the "ostentatious" wearing of religious symbols in state schools. He is a signatory to a petition that calls for the dismantling of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration and National Identity. Signed by several prominent public personalities, the petition states: "It is time to publicly take a stand on this nationalistic grabbing of the idea of the nation, of our universal ideals which are the foundation of our republic." Posted on the web on January 7, it has already attracted over 25,000 signatures and won the backing of leftist and centrist parties.


Mr. Weil, who is speaking on national identity at a seminar in New Delhi today told The Hindu in an exclusive interview: "This debate was a presidential initiative. By nature the question of identity is a complex issue anywhere and immediately becomes controversial. Why did the government and the President of France launch that debate? The main reason is clearly linked to immigration with an implicit prejudice that French citizens whose roots are in Africa or in North Africa, whose parents, grandparents have come from these foreign countries, might represent and I quote "a problem because they don't adapt very well." It is a way of marginalising the minorities and the government's calculation is that by stigmatising the minorities it will get the majority vote. This is a manufactured debate in order to shift the focus from questions such as unemployment, taxes, the economic crisis or inequality."


National identity should never be the business of governments, Mr. Weil said. "It can be a topic of academic research, of discussion in civil society. It is not a matter for governments because a nation's identity is a social and historical construct that cannot be defined by law or decree."


Most of the so-called "foreigners" (read 'coloured' and Muslim) are, in fact, second or third generation French citizens, who have been relegated to the margins of society. Their marginalisation and ghettoisation in underprivileged semi-urban housing estates often lead them to crime, gang warfare, social failure and, more recently, religious extremism, especially Islamic fundamentalism. Statistics show an over-representation of these populations in the country's prisons. They show unemployment rates that are three times the national average.


"The majority of the French "issued from immigration" [as the rather distasteful term goes] are, in effect, French in the sense they have a French nationality. So if these French persons are in fact French, why pose the question of French identity? It presupposes that there is something called "Frenchness" that lies in certain predetermined behaviour patterns, mores (dress, food, religion, culture) and customs and that a person can claim to be French only if he has submitted to these cultural dictates," explains philosopher Constance Beth.


President Sarkozy's grand national debate has given the genie the freedom to come out of the bottle. His narrow political ambitions have unleashed long bottled feelings of insecurity and hatred. And a certain section of society, with the highest political unction, is giving free rein to sentiments and acts that diminish France and the universal ideals of fraternity and brotherhood it has striven to defend.







The Hindu requested Navin B. Chawla, Chief Election Commissioner of India and Mother Teresa's biographer, to share his insights into the remarkable friendship between Jyoti Basu and the founder of the Missionaries of Charity:


During the course of writing a biography on Mother Teresa, I asked Chief Minister Jyoti Basu what he, a Communist and atheist, could possibly have in common with Mother Teresa for whom God was everything. With a smile that reached his eyes, he said: "We both share a love for the poor." For her part, Mother Teresa invariably prefixed the words "My friend" before she took his name.


From the legendary Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. B.C. Roy, who first recognised her work, to the equally legendary Jyoti Basu who was always available to her when she needed him, Mother Teresa's work in the city that was beloved of her, could not have been possible to the extent it was without their understanding and their support. It is not that the Missionaries of Charity did not spread their wings to almost 600 centres in 123 countries around the world. It is that Kolkata was her epicentre, the city she identified as her home.


On one occasion when Mother Teresa was visiting Delhi, she fell ill and had to be admitted to a city hospital. For a week that she was there, I was at her bedside and also became her link to the besieged hospital switchboard; there were no mobile phones in those days. With unfailing regularity, Jyoti Basu rang each day to enquire after her health. When I once told him that she repetitively said to me, "Let me go back to Kolkata, I will be all right there," he laughed understandingly.


On another occasion, when she was admitted to the Woodlands Nursing Home in Kolkata, I saw him enter without fuss, meet Doctor Bardhan and the Sisters, make an enquiry and quietly leave. One of Mother Teresa's senior-most companions, Sister Gertrude, said to me: "He does not miss a single day."

In turn, whenever he was unwell, she would visit him in the nursing home or at his house, say a prayer and leave. The good wishes of the one and the prayers of the other complemented each other both in sickness and in health.


On one of my visits to Kolkata, Mother Teresa asked me whether I had been to Tengra. She explained that the Chief Minister had asked her to take charge of about 400 women inmates of the Kolkata jail, many of whom had been undertrials for long years; others were mentally ill. In her practical way, she asked him for some land. He gave her about 11 acres in Tengra, near the leather tanneries.


When I visited it, she had already created a haven of peace and tranquillity. Just four of her Sisters had taken

charge. The women were finally at peace. Tengra was a visible demonstration that both spoke the same language.


In July of 1997, when I was a mere Joint Secretary in the government, I sought an appointment with the then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister; I do not know what made me do it. I told him that Mother Teresa was very sick and did not have much time left to live. Having nursed her once in Delhi, I had also become distantly acquainted with the halls of power that called with unfailing regularity seeking a health bulletin.


I knew that many of these callers would come to her funeral, and there could be a protocol nightmare. I added that no matter where she passed away, the Sisters would bring her to Kolkata for her burial there. "Leave it with me," he said adding that he would need to be in touch with Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, as he would need to look into all the arrangements.


She died about two months later on September 5 that year. I was told later that Jyoti Basu had been alerted some weeks earlier. When my family and I attended the memorial service and the funeral in Kolkata, everything went off like clock work.


Later on, my batchmate and friend S.N. Menon, Secretary to the Chief Minister, told me of the correspondence and work that began at the West Bengal end. During the first part of the actual ceremony, where religious rites were also being administered, Jyoti Basu chose not to be present. Like a good communist, he entered at exactly the moment when these ended, and the civic part of the ceremony began. But I saw his imprint in every last detail.


And when at the very last, the Missionaries of Charity Sisters asked for special permission to bury Mother Teresa at Motherhouse, her headquarters at Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road, that permission too he accorded.


He gave his friend Mother Teresa a befitting farewell.








The triple Montesquieuan instrumentalities of state power have been created by the Constitution and they should necessarily function under it. Any legislation that creates a contradiction should stand invalidated.


The provisions in the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, 2009 that seek to give special and fast-track treatment to a certain class of cases has first to be examined to see whether it violates the fundamental principle of suprema lex. The Bill has as its foundation a special provision to establish commercial divisions in courts with the objective of achieving quicker disposal by expert tribunals of commercial disputes that involve a sum of Rs.5 crore or more. The idea is to facilitate their early disposal so that the rich who are involved in such disputes do not have to wait for too long for a final adjudication.


The Bill is based on this principle of facilitation in favour of the richer among litigants who through a special body of the High Court and other relative clauses can get their disputes adjudicated and quickly disposed of. The number of appeals will be reduced to one, in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the poor person whose litigation mostly involves a value that is below Rs.5 crore has to wait for the outcome at the Munsiff's Court, the District Court, the High Court, the Letters Patent Appeal and the Supreme Court. In India these proceedings, tier upon tier, take decades before a final judgment comes. Often it takes more than a generation.


It is obvious that there is discrimination writ large here between two classes of litigants. This will also reduce the number of judges available to hear ordinary items of litigation, commercial, labour and land disputes that involve a jurisdictional value that is less than Rs. 5 crore. This will necessarily mean a longer time-span for the conduct of proceedings and final disposal by fewer judges who will be left to handle them. Obviously the rich are favoured by helping them achieve early finality. Meanwhile the poor and the middle classes have to hang on often for a life-time for an outcome. Trade union litigation where workers are involved, peasant-widows seeking maintenance, common land disputes and so on will be discriminated against and suffer inordinate delays.


Equality is a fundamental right under Article 14. Social justice really means that justice, justices and justicing have an equal obligation to render early justice. To divide social justice into two categories, the rich being given special facilities for early justice and the not-so-rich being forced to wait, is violative of Article 14. It also constitutes breach of social and economic clauses.


Justice-delivery should involve an integrated system; it cannot be dichotomised. A division that is based largely on the monetary dimension of litigation is obnoxious, all the more so because this is a socialist-democratic Republic. To provide special facilities for the rich and to pejoratively assign the weaker sections in another category constitutes an irrational differentiation. Democracy is fundamentally equality of the judicial process. To make the monetary value of a commercial dispute the basis of classification is undemocratic.


The different chapters of the Bill merely seek to implement this discriminatory classification. There is no reason why workers and peasants, women and children, with their claims for maintenance and right to life, should not be given similar justice in the forensic process. The truth is evident. The richer the litigant, the earlier the law secures justice. All the rest, namely the weak, the downtrodden and the penurious, should undergo considerable delay in getting ultimate justice from the courts.


Such a distinction will be arbitrary and bad in law. The Bill is vitiated by this pro-plutocratic clause. The dichotomy is irrational and invalid. The only justification given is that the richer investor must be given fairer treatment. Will the rest have to be content, then, with protracted adjudication?


Socialism, democracy, equality and economic justice with a sense of speed and early finality are requirements that are being denied to the majority of litigants. This fundamental flaw against the little Indian is too obvious. The law grinds the poor and the rich govern the law. The richer classes cannot rob the court's time for their benefit, leaving the poor with their little money wasted across more tribunals before they can ever hope to see the end of the case.


Indian socialism and democracy are the victims of feudalism, capitalism and corporate control, even as the courts enjoy longevity without accountability. The objects and reasons of the Bill explain the untenable reason for a separate class of tribunals, or Divisions, of the High Court. The original jurisdiction itself is given to the Commercial Division of the High Court designed to reduce the length of the litigation. Judgments have to be delivered within a month of the conclusion of arguments.


All the reasons given for the creation of such a special facility apply with equal force to other types of litigation. Why should only big commercial firms or corporations enjoy the luxury of early disposal? This discrimination argues its own unconstitutionality. The Minister for Law and Justice is quite competent to see the flaw, but the bureaucracy often covers up this weakness.


Of course, equality under Article 14 is not totally allergic to classification of cases, provided there is a clear differentiation between the classes and provided such differentiation has a rational relation to the object of the legislation which sanctions a classification.


What is the object of the legislation here? Early disposal, swift dispatch and quick disposal at less cost of

litigation in cases that involve a value of Rs.5 crore and above. The objectives do not make any differentiation except that the rich man must have his cases decided with early finality while the poorer man may have his cases pending till he perishes. This differentiation is irrational and outrageous in a socialist-democratic state. This is a classic instance of irrational egalite under Article 14.


The legislation classifies litigation into two categories. The poor litigant will wait for the somnolescent process and leisurely pronouncement and the wealthy litigant will have his case speedily terminated. If this be the differentiation, it is horrendous and outrageous in a socialist democracy.


Perhaps William Goldsmith was right when he said: "Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law."







The U.S. military's takeover of emergency operations in Haiti has triggered a diplomatic row with countries and aid agencies furious at having flights redirected. Brazil and France lodged an official protest with Washington after U.S. military aircraft were given priority at Port-au-Prince's congested airport, forcing many non-U.S. flights to divert to the Dominican Republic.


Brasilia warned it would not relinquish command of United Nations forces in Haiti and Paris complained the airport had become a U.S. "annexe," exposing a brewing power struggle amid the global relief effort. The Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres also complained about diverted flights. The row prompted Haiti's President, Rene Preval, to call for calm.


The squabbling came amid signs that aid was reaching some of the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of water, food and medicine six days after a magnitude 7 earthquake levelled the capital, killing more than 100,000, according to Haitian authorities.


The U.N. was feeding 40,000 and hoped to increase that to 1 million within a fortnight, said the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, as he boarded a flight for Port-au-Prince on Sunday. "I'm going there with a very heavy heart. The damage, destruction, loss of life is just overwhelming." The challenge was to co-ordinate relief efforts, he said. "We should not waste a single item, a single dollar, just to wait in a warehouse."


The plight of 80 elderly people at a partially collapsed municipal hospice just a mile from the airport, now a huge aid hub, showed the desperate need. The body of a dead 70-year-old man rotted on a mattress, nearly indistinguishable from the exhausted, hungry and thirsty people around him.


The Haitian government has established 14 food distribution points and aid groups have opened five emergency health centres. Water-purification units — a priority to avert disease and dehydration — were arriving. But with aftershocks jolting the ruins, bloated bodies in the street and severe shortages of water and food many survivors had had enough: an exodus trekked on foot out of the city to rural areas.


The security situation worsened, with some looters fighting with rocks and clubs for rice, clothing and other goods scavenged from debris. In places the embryonic aid machine did not even try to organise distribution. Aid workers tossed out food packets to crowds and U.S. helicopters took off as soon as they offloaded supplies, prompting scrambles in which the fittest prevailed.


Frustration over aid bottlenecks among donors became tinged by national rivalry as it became clear the U.S. was taking ownership of the crisis. A vanguard of more than 1,000 U.S. troops was on the ground and 12,000 were expected in the region by Monday, including marines aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson which anchored offshore as a "floating airport."


The Haitian government, paralysed by the destruction of the presidential palace and ministries, signed a Memorandum of Understanding transferring control of Toussaint L'Ouverture airport to the U.S. Hillary Clinton flew in on Saturday and met Mr. Preval near the airport. "We will be here today, tomorrow and for the time ahead," she said.


The U.N. mission, which had a 9,000-strong peacekeeping force in Haiti before the quake, seemed too stunned by its own losses to take control. Its dead include its Tunisian head, Hedi Annabi, his Brazilian deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, and the acting Police Commissioner, Doug Coates. The Obama administration has enlisted former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to spearhead relief efforts.


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








By launching "a grand nation-wide debate" on what constitutes French national identity last November, President Nicolas Sarkozy has opened up a veritable Pandora's box of ill-feelings and hatred bordering on xenophobia.


The move was prompted by purely electoral calculations. Regional elections are to be held in March and the Socialists and their Left-wing allies control all but two of France's regions. Mr. Sarkozy was hoping to widen his electoral base, wooing backers of the extreme Right, anti-immigrant National Front which, polls indicate, has recently rebounded after its last election defeat. By enlarging his constituency in the first round of the two-round vote, Mr. Sarkozy hopes to give his candidates a better chance of carrying off the second round run-off.


Ironically, by accident or design, the debate was launched with great fanfare on November 1, the 55th anniversary of the outbreak of the Algerian war of independence which kicked off on Toussaint Rouge (Red All Saints Day) in 1954 and lasted till 1962, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. The Algerian community in France saw this lack of sensitivity as being in poor taste.


France is home to Europe's largest community of Muslims, an estimated five million, most of whom come from former French colonies and protectorates in Africa such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.


At the behest of Mr. Sarkozy, the debate was initiated by Eric Besson, Minister for Immigration, Integration and National Identity, a former Socialist who changed sides to become the President's hatchet man in all matters concerning immigration and the crackdown on asylum-seekers and economic migrants. Most of his former Socialist colleagues understandably disapprove of Mr. Besson and even new fellow travellers from the President's Right-wing UMP party look upon his gung-ho attitude to expulsions (including those of Afghan asylum-seekers whose country is currently under occupation by French soldiers as part of the international coalition) as truly distasteful.


The Ministry's website has received several hundred thousand hits and many of the messages are shocking in their virulence. The debates are organised by prefects in public places such as town halls and schools, and have, more often than not, produced an outpouring of xenophobic hate and anti-Islamic sentiment. Over 80 per cent of those expressing themselves say they feel that the French national identity is "weakening" or being "diluted" by foreigners and foreign influences including "alien religions."


The question whether or not to ban the burqa, now under discussion in Parliament, has added another ugly dimension of Islamophobia to the already strident debate. Undoubtedly, Europe is going through a phase of xenophobia as is evident from the outlawing of construction of minarets in Switzerland and the repeated attacks on foreigners in Spain, Italy, Denmark and other nations. France, it appears, is no different, although one has always hoped it would be the one exception, given its revolutionary past and strong republican values.


The debate has come in for such zealous criticism from academics, thinkers, social activists, and members of the Left-wing Opposition as well as a few members of the President's own governing coalition, including the former Prime Ministers Alain Juppe and Dominique de Villepin, and caused such an upheaval that it was hoped Mr. Sarkozy would allow the matter to die a quiet, natural death. But the President, whose personal political ambition is total and unbounded, recently declared that he had every intention of continuing the debate.


Several groups of academics have signed petitions calling for the scrapping of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration and National Identity, saying it brings back shameful memories of the persecution of Jews during various periods of French history, including the sordid episode of Dreyfus and the hounding of Jews during World War II. Other groups of academics and thinkers have published articles and pamphlets against what they see as the stigmatisation of foreigners and French citizens of non-white origin.


In an article, a group of researchers calling themselves The Collective For a Real Debate says: "No references are included [on the Ministry website] to those communities residing in French overseas departments or territories or in underprivileged suburban housing estates … Hidden behind this "debate on national identity" lies another one that has to do with France's colonial history and its legacy, and the unspoken question is not "What is it to be French?" but rather: "Can one be black, Arab, Asian, or from a French overseas department or territory and be French?" … And we're not just talking about any immigrant here; the most "coloured," the "inheritors" of colonies, the most fervent advocates of "ethnic factionalism," and those who refuse to assimilate. In other words, "those who don't love France," who are heard booing the national anthem or who demonstrate in the streets when Algeria qualifies for the World Cup, cause havoc in the suburbs, destroy the economy in "our" exotic overseas paradises, and seek to diversify the "ethnic" and religious profile of the republic. The same people who are weakening "our" soul, our "essence" and who force their women to wear the burqa…


"Ignoring, worse, even stigmatising these components of French society means that the debate on identity is flawed from the outset. Rather than advancing thinking, Eric Besson's initiative offers an opportunity to steal the thunder from a shaky extreme right on the eve of a strategic election, at the midway point of the President's term in office …"


Historian and political scientist Patrick Weil, author of the award-winning study France And Her Foreigners, is an authority on questions of immigration and identity, and has served on the commission that recommended a ban on the "ostentatious" wearing of religious symbols in state schools. He is a signatory to a petition that calls for the dismantling of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration and National Identity. Signed by several prominent public personalities, the petition states: "It is time to publicly take a stand on this nationalistic grabbing of the idea of the nation, of our universal ideals which are the foundation of our republic." Posted on the web on January 7, it has already attracted over 25,000 signatures and won the backing of leftist and centrist parties.


Mr. Weil, who is speaking on national identity at a seminar in New Delhi today told The Hindu in an exclusive interview: "This debate was a presidential initiative. By nature the question of identity is a complex issue anywhere and immediately becomes controversial. Why did the government and the President of France launch that debate? The main reason is clearly linked to immigration with an implicit prejudice that French citizens whose roots are in Africa or in North Africa, whose parents, grandparents have come from these foreign countries, might represent and I quote "a problem because they don't adapt very well." It is a way of marginalising the minorities and the government's calculation is that by stigmatising the minorities it will get the majority vote. This is a manufactured debate in order to shift the focus from questions such as unemployment, taxes, the economic crisis or inequality."


National identity should never be the business of governments, Mr. Weil said. "It can be a topic of academic research, of discussion in civil society. It is not a matter for governments because a nation's identity is a social and historical construct that cannot be defined by law or decree."


Most of the so-called "foreigners" (read 'coloured' and Muslim) are, in fact, second or third generation French citizens, who have been relegated to the margins of society. Their marginalisation and ghettoisation in underprivileged semi-urban housing estates often lead them to crime, gang warfare, social failure and, more recently, religious extremism, especially Islamic fundamentalism. Statistics show an over-representation of these populations in the country's prisons. They show unemployment rates that are three times the national average.


"The majority of the French "issued from immigration" [as the rather distasteful term goes] are, in effect, French in the sense they have a French nationality. So if these French persons are in fact French, why pose the question of French identity? It presupposes that there is something called "Frenchness" that lies in certain predetermined behaviour patterns, mores (dress, food, religion, culture) and customs and that a person can claim to be French only if he has submitted to these cultural dictates," explains philosopher Constance Beth.


President Sarkozy's grand national debate has given the genie the freedom to come out of the bottle. His narrow political ambitions have unleashed long bottled feelings of insecurity and hatred. And a certain section of society, with the highest political unction, is giving free rein to sentiments and acts that diminish France and the universal ideals of fraternity and brotherhood it has striven to defend.









The latest round of the appointment of governors does not raise fundamental questions about the office as such, something that politicians and political experts have been debating continuously, but about the merit of the rewards system that is at work.


It is now axiomatic that the assignment is for super-superannuated bureaucrats and out-of-office and fallen-from-grace politicians.


In the present instance, this is evident in the appointments of national security adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan as governor of West Bengal and former Union home minister Shivraj Patil as governor of Punjab.


The compulsions involved in the decision are palpable. It is curious that both Narayanan and Patil are connected with the issue of internal security.


Union home minister P Chidambaram has been arguing forcefully for a unified command structure, which raises questions about the role played by Narayanan, a former IB chief, as NSA.


The problem could have been solved in a straightforward fashion by defining the role of the NSA as an expert rather than an internal security overseer. To the extent that he has to offer inputs in the matter he should in fact report to the home minister.


As of now, the NSA is part of the prime minister's office (PMO) and he must confine himself to offering the prime minister his expert adviser as required by his job. It would seem that instead of addressing the issue head on, the political establishment, which in effect is the ruling party, has found an easy way out.


This might appear to be a deft handling of the issue but it is not. It is plain ducking the issue. The appointment of Patil raises another set of questions.


Does Patil, who has been found wanting in a moment of crisis during the Mumbai terror attack on November 26, 2008, deserve to be rewarded with a governorship? Is the office of the governor a balm for those who have retired hurt in the political fray? Does this amount to rewarding failure rather than success?


These concerns should lead to a more general consideration of the issue of appointment of governors. Is it a sinecure which the ruling party can distribute at its own pleasure?


Is the office of the governor of such constitutional insignificance — the polite way of describing this is to say that it is a ceremonial post and nothing more — that it does not matter who is appointed as one? These are not easy questions but they need to be asked, and even more important they need to be answered.







The argument for changing our profligate lifestyles to combat the dire consequences of global warming becomes severely compromised when it turns out that the so-called consequences are based on speculation rather than solid scientific research.


Consider the case of melting glaciers which has exercised many since United Nations-founded and Nobel Prize-winning the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035.


It now turns out that this statement was based on a speculative remark made by an Indian scientist to a journalist. It had no basis in any research at all. Still, it was picked by the IPCC and made part of its report on the impact of global warming released two years ago.


The report went so far as to say that the probability of the glaciers melting was as high as 90 per cent. As it now turns out, glaciologists feel that this is practically impossible at current rates of temperature rise.


The Himalayan glaciers, at the most, are declining very slowly and in some parts of the world — notably the Swiss Alps — are actually increasing. Surely, the lie and the explanation are both unacceptable.


Late last year the IPCC has been shown to have fudged its facts to prove its contention about global warming — internal emails revealed that some scientists admitted to exaggerating its ill-effects.


For the common person, this only gives further power to those who feel that vested interests have made global warming and climate change much worse than they appear.


It also shows that due diligence and scientific rigour are not being practised at the highest levels and sadly, within the various departments of the United Nations — which is at the forefront of the climate change claims.


The question remains on how seriously to take global warming. It is possible that the planet has suffered some environmental damage because of rapid industrialisation and destruction of natural resources.


But it also seems possible that there is some truth in the argument that the Earth goes through periodic climatic changes and we are now approaching one of them. This may seem cataclysmic to us now, but humans and other life forms have survived several so far.


While it may seem wise to prepare for all eventualities, it seems equally sensible to take the claims of our so-called climate change scientists with a few pinches of salt. Otherwise, we may just be dancing to the tune of some other group with vested interests and selfish designs.







There is a feeling of economic euphoria in the country today with even economists talking of 8 per cent growth in GDP, double digit industrial growth rate, soaring Sensex, and a revival in exports.


The gushing in of foreign investment has added to this optimism. Inflation surely is spoiling the party but then after a point it is beyond our control when there is crop failure.


Against this backdrop, there is talk about whether the government is going to pursue an exit policy. What exactly are we talking of?


It may be recollected that when there was an economic slump in the last quarter of 2008 following Lehman, the entire world went into a stimulus mode. What governments essentially did was to pump-prime their economies.


Central banks lowered interest rates while the Fed and US Treasury provided capital and guarantees to various financial institutions to restore confidence.


Governments went soft on their deficits and began cutting tax rates and increasing their spending so that their economies were on their feet. They supported financial institutions through recapitalisation and direct funding measures.


In fact, UK, USA, Japan and the Euro zone all have fiscal deficit ratios that are higher than that of India. The basic idea was to eschew the possibility of a full-scale recession as was the case in 1930 when the Depression ostensibly was aggrandised because governments did nothing.


Therefore, the booster shots were all encompassing. The significance of this approach is that it was pursued by all leading economies almost in cohesion; and more importantly they worked.


Almost all countries are showing positive growth, and have come out of the low phase and are seriously thinking about rolling back some of these measures.


For us in India, it is necessary to debate this issue because we have two critical policies coming up — the RBI credit policy towards the end of January and the Budget towards the end of February.


While the first will give us an idea of the official view of the state of affairs, the second will provide a definite direction. So, we can see these two statements actually putting in perspective the confidence that we have in our economy.


Now, the high growth witnessed in the country has come mainly from the services sector, where the social and community services segment, which means the government, has played a critical part.


The sharp duty cuts reckoned in 2008 have also helped to stabilise industry which is displaying a steady growth rate for the period September-November 2009.


A reduction in such expenditure would be justified provided we are sure that the other sectors would be able to provide the necessary bulk to keep the economy on the upswing.


For the current financial year, agriculture has been a failure and a negative growth rate is expected, which means that unless we are sure of this growth in future, any withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus would affect overall growth.


Or there has to be compensation from some other sector. Assuming high industrial growth this year of say 8-9 per cent, sustaining the same over a high base could be a challenge.


As far as tax rates go, while we have accepted a Goods and Services Tax (GST), its implementation is still a distance away and presently we will have to toss whether or not we go back to the pre-2008 duty structure.


While industrial growth has been steady, are we prepared to disturb the applecart at this stage? Probably not, because industrial growth has been supported substantially by fiscal action in the last nine months or so and it may be prudent to persevere with the same until we are certain the growth is self sustaining.


Industries like capital goods, cement, construction, intermediates and so on have definitely benefited from such action. A roll-back
today could be counter-productive.


How about inflation? Inflation is a grave concern here and should provoke affirmative action from the RBI on January 29. The value of growth is eroded substantially when inflation, especially food inflation is of the order of 15 per cent or so.


This has been caused by compression in supplies on the agriculture side and rising demand as evidenced by rapid growth in industry, which has pushed up prices. In fact, if we believe the high growth story, which most do, then there is reason to curb the demand forces and hence tighten the belt.


Also it is said that monetary policy has to be forward looking as central banks have to target potential inflation rather than current inflation.


There is hence strong economic rationale for monetary action to control inflation while keeping the fiscal window still open for some more time. We should hopefully be within the 6.8 per cent fiscal deficit targeted for this year and there is no hurry to improve on it presently until growth stabilises.


Monetary tightening is certainly needed more through rate hikes than reserves pre-emption to control potential inflation. This would be a pragmatic approach.

The writer is chiefeconomist, NCDEX Limited.The views expressedare personal







The year that Jyoti Basu became chief minister of West Bengal was the year my family moved to Calcutta from Bombay (both cities were thus called in 1977). It was a strange time for India.


The Emergency had just been lifted and the great Indira Gandhi, grand empress of India, had been defeated in a general election.


There was excitement about the change everywhere and the triumph of democracy against authoritarianism. In Bengal, the election of the first full-fledged Communist government was also in some sense a triumph for democracy, odd though that may sound.


Of course, at that time no one could have foretold that Basu would go on to be the country's longest serving chief minister nor that the Left front would rule Bengal, seemingly in perpetuity.


As Basu and his government concentrated on much-needed land reforms and bolstering the trade unions, Calcutta — recovering from the aftermath of Naxal violence and the Bangladesh war — was no city of joy.


Power cuts that lasted 14 hours, endless "michhils" or processions which meant traffic jams could last up to five hours and the feeling of being crushed under the weight of an imploding civic system made for mixed feelings as far as the middle class were concerned.


As for Basu, he did not fit the conventional model of an Indian Communist. His family was well-off, his son was in business and he, it is said, liked a whiskey or two at the Calcutta Club.


Plus, his car was a Toyota — at any rate he did not ride into the Calcutta Club in a rickety Fiat or even a Calcutta transport bus carrying a mandatory jhola. He was a figure who was made for legend and myth as he stood apart from and above his colleagues and his peers.


But it was many years later that I got to meet him, under unusual circumstances. As it happened, two of my grand uncles had been Communists in their youth — as was customary —and spent some years underground with Basu.


Both relatives went on to become complete capitalists — also the norm — but maintained a close relationship with Basu and his family. On two occasions in the 1990s — when I coincidentally happened to be in Kolkata (as it was by then) some family members were invited to dinner with him at a Calcutta five star hotel.


By this time, Basu was clearly contemplating retirement — the historic blunder had already been made and Prakash Karat and the politburo had denied him the chance to become prime minister.


He sat spryly and wisely on one side of a sofa and refused to be drawn into conversations about politics, the recent spurt of industrialisation in Bengal or even the future of the state and the country. Instead, he was content to listen and let others do the talking. But there were some exceptions.


Every now and then, he would speak, but mainly to the women of the party. He just asked a few questions —

about themselves, their lives, what they were doing. He listened and laughed and made a few dry wisecracks. He was arrogant with the men but all charm with the women — the ages of whom ranged from 70 to 14 and all of whom were given the same special treatment.


It was an intriguing view of a powerful man or perhaps it was an expression of that power. He was content not to grab the spotlight — under which he had lived for so long — but apparently would rather do some very mild flirting and effectively use the twinkle in his eye. He showed the sophistication which he was known for.


The evening provided a glimpse into the other side of power. All too often, our politicians do not come across as human but Basu was all that and more.


He was known then and is admired today for his sagacity, his pragmatism and his good counsel in times of trouble. He was, as a result, held up to a higher standard for most of his public life and castigated when he failed — as we all inevitably do.







God sees things by the whole. Man sees things by parts. God sees happenings over the three periods of time. Man sees events only in the present, isolated from the past and the future.


That is why man sees discord where God sees harmony. Man sees lack of logic where God finds perfect logic. Put yourself in the place of God. Feel you are God.


Feel that the entire universe is your creation and operates by your will. At once you will feel tremendous peace and strength surging within you.


You say others insult you without reason. Even if that is true, do not get agitated. Face the situation calmly. You will find that calmness can be a powerful weapon to overcome difficult situations. Shut your eyes to insults. Let others think what they like, say what they like. This is a world of ignorant people. You be wise. Be humble before everybody. Be humble in every situation.


This will be possible if you give up the idea of inferiority and superiority and learn to see God in everything. If you put up with insults, you will grow in humility and purity. You will grow spiritually rich.


Do not develop ill-feeling for the man who has insulted you or injured you. This is worse than open anger. Do not nourish grievances. Forget and forgive. This is not just an idealistic maxim. This is the only way to retain your peace. The habit of nurturing grievances is highly injurious to one's own self.


After all, the injury or insult was done to you once. Now it is past. It is all over. It is spilt milk. Why do you want to perpetuate the misery of that injury or insult by constantly remembering it? The span of human life is so short that you cannot afford to waste time in such trifles.


Keep yourself ever busy in any work which absorbs your interest. You can gain peace of mind if you actively follow a calling or even hobby, which holds your interest. You will then have a sense of fulfilment, of achievement.


Sri N Ananthanarayanan









Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has only highlighted the ugly reality by stating in the course of a TV interview that terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan remains intact despite Islamabad's claim of fighting the menace. The two recent fidayeen attacks in Kashmir could not have been possible without the terrorist training facilities in Pakistan. Recently, External Affairs Minister A. K. Antony also told journalists at the Indian Coast Guard headquarters in Kochi that anti-India terrorist outfits still remained active in Pakistan. This obviously means that Islamabad continues to pursue the policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. That it has not abandoned this dangerous policy is also proved by its lacklustre style of fighting to finish the Taliban in Pakistan, who have close links with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan's strategy appears to be to re-establish its pre-eminent position in Afghanistan once the US-led multinational forces leave the war-ravaged country. Islamabad hopes to realise its dream of having strategic depth by getting a proxy government in Afghanistan.


There is little difference in the ideology of the Taliban and the militant outfits engaged in anti-India activities. Only their targets are different. Both get their recruits from the same kind of religious educational institutions (madarsas) and poverty-stricken sections of the population. Both kinds of terrorists are considered "strategic assets by Pakistan, though Islamabad continues to pose that it has launched a serious anti-terrorism drive. It is surprising how the world community has become blind to this dangerous reality. So much harm has been caused by terrorist outfits so far, yet they are being allowed to survive!


This unfortunate situation prevails despite the fact that Pakistan is committed to not allowing any territory under its control to be used for promoting terrorism. The international community must force Islamabad to honour the word it has given to the world. Pakistan must be forced to take concrete and effective steps to eliminate all kinds of terrorist outfits and their infrastructure. Terrorism continues to remain the most potent threat to stability in South Asia as well as the rest of the world.








Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily's communication to all chief justices of high courts to take measures by July 31 to obtain the release of 1.25 lakh undertrials languishing in various jails in the country for petty offences is welcome. If his advice is implemented in toto, it will not only provide justifiable relief to many undertrials but also ease congestion in the jails. Of the 3.5 lakh prisoners in the country's 1500 jails today, 2.45 lakh are undertrials. Surprisingly, 1.7 lakh of them, booked for petty offences, have already undergone the maximum punishment they would have got if convicted or served most of their sentence. Clearly, keeping them in jail without trial is not only unjustified but also a violation of their constitutional right to life and liberty.


Significantly, Mr Moily, in his communication, has suggested various methods by which the undertrials could be released within six months. These include the introduction of plea bargaining and holding day-to-day trial in the jail premises and video-conferencing. There is a need to introduce plea bargaining in all the states because of its advantages. Under this system, the undertrial accepts guilt and the court records conviction and releases him/her by sentencing him/her to the period of imprisonment already undergone.


Unfortunately, though these measures were proposed earlier, the authorities concerned have done little to implement them. The result: the number of undertrials has been increasing with no hope of freedom in the already packed jails. A few years back, former Chief Justice of India Justice A.S. Anand had ruled that special courts must be set up in all district jails so that the prisoners involved in petty offences and willing to confess could be tried expeditiously. Why has this order not been implemented? Overcrowding has led to many problems including lack of basic amenities and sanitation. There is a need to ease congestion in jails by implementing various alternatives to imprisonment like making certain offences bailable under the IPC and the Cr PC, releasing undertrials on probation and increasing the number of judges and magistrates in reasonable proportion to the general population.








All governments swear by accountability, transparency and efficiency. But when it comes to putting these ideas into practice, they are found to be wanting. Take the case of the Public Record Rules 1997 which specifically mention that records that are 25 years or older must be declassified and preserved in the National Archives of India. Yet, there is extreme reluctance to declassify even those records that date back to 1947. This veil of secrecy has become so pervasive that Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar has been forced to write to all ministries pulling them up for not initiating steps in this direction and asking to transfer about 90,000 old records to the NAI by May. According to him, approximately five lakh records are lying with various ministries and should be declassified by the end of 2010.


Although it is a time-bound action plan, and the Cabinet Secretary will take a monthly progress report, the vested interests can be depended upon to drag their feet, considering that even the PMO, the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs have not been forthcoming in declassification. There is particular resistance to declassify the 47-year-old Henderson-Brook committee report that looked into the debacle of the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Even the PMO has declassified only 62 files in the past three years.


Such secrecy is totally out of place in the era of the Right to Information Act. What the government must realise is that by denying access, it is giving rise to unsubstantiated rumours about history. In fact, good lessons need to be learnt from mistakes and that can be done only if the documents are put in the public domain. It is paradoxical that except for the official history of the 1947-48 Kashmir war with Pakistan and the Kargil Review Committee report on the 1999 Kargil war, all the other official war histories – of the 1962 war and the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971– have never been officially released. It is another matter that they are freely available on the Net because of exposes by the media.









The Pakistani leadership, liberals, civil society organizations and influential media personnel on both sides of the border have been urging India to recommence the composite dialogue process snapped after 26/11. Many of them, particularly the Pakistani leadership, never tire of pointing out that the refusal to restart the dialogue amounts to playing into the hands of terrorist elements, and commencement of the dialogue will strengthen the hands of the democratic government in Pakistan.


Others argue that there is no alternative to dialogue and the Government of India will have to reopen the process sooner or later and, therefore, why not do it earlier. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that once the state of Pakistan gives up the use of terrorism as state policy, India will start the dialogue. His statement implies that he is not persuaded that Islamabad has given up its policy of using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. The Prime Minister has also added that he receives intelligence regularly about the plots to unleash terrorist attacks on India. Home Minister Chidambaram has disclosed that with the help of US intelligence, many possible terrorist attacks have been foiled in the last one year.


An American analyst, Daniel Markey of the Council of Foreign Relations, has raised a very pertinent point not figuring in the debate in the subcontinent. He argues that any resumption of the dialogue between India and Pakistan increases the risk of terrorist attacks on India and has made a number of policy recommendations to the US government in regard to the policies to be pursued by Washington. There can be no doubt that this will be a very relevant consideration for Delhi in considering the reopening of the dialogue, how much the risk of terrorist attack will be raised by that move. This should, in fact, be a valid consideration for Pakistan as well.


Daniel Markey has dealt with the consequences of such a terrorist attack, the likely Indian and Pakistani responses and Washington's options.


In the light of this, will it not make sense for Delhi to discuss with Pakistan the risks of threats likely to arise if talks are to be resumed and the joint action that Pakistan is willing to undertake with India in that event? These talks can be at the level of the NSA of India and his analogue in Pakistan. Pakistanis argue that they themselves are victims of terrorism and they have initiated military action against the Pakistani Taliban and, therefore, their bona fides should not be doubted. Obviously, the Pakistani actions so far have not created adequate credibility in Delhi. For this, there are very valid reasons, and it is a pity that these are not discussed in the media debates of either country.


The best-known victim of terrorism in Pakistan was former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan People's Party Benazir Bhutto. The elected Pakistani Government approached the United Nations to appoint an enquiry panel to go into the circumstances of her assassination. The UN has appointed a panel with Ambassador Haraldo Munoz of Chile, Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney-General of Indonesia, and Peter Fitzgerald, an Irish police officer. The panel is now in Pakistan. While President Zardari and General Musharraf (retd), among others, appeared before the panel and gave their depositions, it has been refused access to Army officers and those belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).


Here is a government which moves the UN to set up a panel to enquire into the assassination, as it believed that the country's own enquiries earlier conducted were not credible. And when the panel arrives in Pakistan it is unable to order its Army and intelligence officers to depose before it. This happens in respect of the terrorist assassination of the tallest leader of the ruling party and the wife of the present President. According to the earlier versions, the assassination was carried out on the orders of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who has since been killed in a US drone strike.


Pakistanis highlight that their Army is fighting the terrorist Pakistani Taliban. Why then are the Pakistan Army and the intelligence network fighting shy of deposing before the UN panel? If the Pakistan Government cannot discipline the Army to depose in a case of assassination of the ruling party's leader what credibility does that government has in fighting terrorism?


While Pakistan is maintaining that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was banned in 2002, the FBI of the US has filed its indictments against David Headley and Tahawwur Rana that they were financed by the LeT to carry out the reconnaissance which ended in the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. The US President has named the LeT as one of the five organizations which have to be disrupted, dismantled and defeated. While Pakistanis talk of the Army's campaign against the Pakistani Taliban, one does not hear anything about its actions against the LeT. Nor has Pakistan reacted to David Headley being brought into the 26/11 case and the US court indictment of co-conspirators who are LeT members resident in Pakistan


These issues relate to the basic credibility of the Pakistani claim that they are fighting terrorism, and the relationship between the elected government and the Army. The inability of the Pakistan government to make available witnesses from the Army and the intelligence network to the UN panel would indicate that the Government of Pakistan had been overruled by the Army. Such an action humiliates the Pakistan government before the UN and the international community. Presumably, that is not a major concern for the Army nor could it care less that its refusal to appear before the UN panel will lead to adverse inferences in view of the letter written by Benazir Bhutto before her death that she feared for her life due to the likely actions of certain individuals associated with the intelligence network and named in her letter.


The Army went on public record on its dissatisfaction with the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act extending aid to Pakistan, though the US legislation was finalised after elaborate discussions with the Pakistan government with the Army being kept informed fully. Washington had to dispatch Senator John Kerry to meet the Army Chief and mollify him. The US Secretary of State held her longest discussion in Islamabad not with the President, the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister but with the Army Chief and his Intelligence Chief. It is in the light of this reality the US Congress has asked for half-yearly certification from the US Secretary of State on the Army-government relationship in Pakistan.


In a country where the Army can overrule the government, with whom should another sovereign government conduct negotiations? This is the problem facing the Indian Prime Minister. In any case, before recommencing the composite dialogue let us start with the joint assessment of the increased risks of terrorist attacks that will arise for India if the dialogue is restarted. India should invite Pakistan for such a discussion.








It was late 1946 when I went to Calcutta for the first time as a guest of my friend and naval colleague Bhabesh Roy Choudhery near western end of the Howrah bridge. My friend's father was a Superintendent of Police in the Calcutta administration. He was an unassuming, quiet and efficient officer whom I had not met before.


The residence had four bedrooms, including two on the first floor. I was to stay in a ground floor room with my friend for four days and leave for Punjab after visiting the famous botanical garden, Victoria Memorial, Birla Museum and the planetarium.


I entered the residence of my friend in the evening and soon got engrossed in endless talks on various matters. During dinner tasty dishes were served.


After dinner my friend showed me the house and the rear garden facing the Hooghly river. A cool breeze from the river front made me wish to go on the first floor too and enjoy the view from there. After a slight initial reluctance the SP father of my friend gave a nod and we proceeded to the first floor.


While advancing towards the large terrace I noticed two bedrooms on my left. The first bedroom was closed but the door of the second bedroom was wide open. I could see an almost 30-year-old man sitting on a chair and having his meal. I came near and insisted to be introduced to this gentleman. My friend told me that he was his daddy's friend Jyoti Basu who was a social worker.


Mr Basu appeared to be a lively and well-read personality and had about dozen books on Karl Marx and Ravindra Nath Tagore on his bookshelf. Clad in white kurta-dhoti he asked me to come in and sit on his bed. Meal over, he started talking about my friend and his will to lead an adventures life in the Navy.


Soon he started to talk about the pathetic plight to common man who worked and toiled in streets of Kolkata. During those days it was quite common to see barefoot humans manually puling hand-driven rickshaws at a fraction of the price of a motor-driven rickshaw. He appeared to be a quick witted, kind-hearted person who could speak readily on most subjects. We became good friends despite ideological differences. Then we parted. I noticed that he avoided coming out of his room.


While accompanying me to Howrah station to see me off next evening my friend revealed that Mr Basu was an active communist fugitive from the police. He was hiding in his father's police residence itself, being his childhood friend! He forbade me to tell anybody about this, and I never did.









Sheikh Hasina's visit to Delhi marks the opening of a new chapter in cooperative relations between two close South Asian neighbours. Long separated by an avoidable degree of mistrust, these mutually hurtful stances, partly a product of internal political compulsions, have given way to a new spirit of accommodation.


This has largely been brought about by the posture of the current administration in Dhaka after the Awami League's massive electoral victory just a year ago.


Prime evidence of this are the steps being taken to restore the secular, democratic character of the original Bangladesh constitution. The distortions woven into the country's post-liberation history are being sought to be removed by taking action against those responsible and bringing to trial those charged with war crimes.


The earlier visit of the Bangladesh Foreign Minister to India a couple of months ago set the stage for a broad understanding on a number of long outstanding issues. Some of these were firmed up, most recently on water resources cooperation, and have now been signed by the two prime ministers.


A Teesta-sharing agreement is to be expedited on the basis of accepted river discharge readings and India has given assurances of no harm to its neighbour from the proposed Tipaimukh dam, which, on the contrary, would confer substantial benefits on Bangladesh in terms of flood moderation, upgraded navigation and fisheries, and lean season salinity control.


Climate change concerns in fact demand greater cross border and indeed basin-wide cooperation in the management of disasters from aberrant and extreme events.


India is to supply 250 MW of power to Bangladesh with technical studies to points and alignments of proposed interconnections. This could signal the beginning of an eastern SAARC energy exchange, including hydrocarbons and coal.


India is also to give Bangladesh transit rights for land and power connectivity with Bhutan and Nepal through its own territory, thus paving the way for a new transit regime between the two countries without demanding reciprocity as a prior condition.


This is wise and harks back to the once-criticised and mistakenly abandoned so-called Gujral doctrine. Once India takes the lead, Bangladesh is bound to follow and permit transit, including passage to Chittagong port, all of which would earn it valuable transit and service charges.


A flyover or underpass is also to be constructed by India across Tin Bigha to give Bangladesh 24x7 access to these enclaves in fulfillment of an agreement signed as far back as 1958.


The final demarcation of the remaining 6.5 km of land boundary and exchange of other enclaves in adverse position of either side also needs to be speedily completed so that this petty irritant is removed and the underlying human problem is resolved.


India has submitted its claim on the maritime boundary to the UN agency concerned and Bangladesh is to do so this year.

But irrespective of international law, there is every reason for India to offer Bangladesh a compromise settlement which will mean a lot to the latter in terms of an accretion of its limited EEZ without much loss to India, with the condition that fishing rights and any undersea mineral discoveries in this area will be jointly exploited.


Bangladesh has at long last barred its territory as a sanctuary for Northeast insurgent groups and has delivered Arbinda Rajkhowa, the ULFA chief, and some of his aides to India. An extradition agreement has now followed.


The influx of migrants into India from across the border has not been specifically mentioned.


But the answer to this is not border fencing but larger market opportunities for Bangladesh in India and more Indian investments in that country so as to stimulate employment and income generation that will diminish the reasons for out-migration.


In this context, the substantial grant in aid made by India to Bangladesh could set the process in motion.


On the western front, India continues to face the fallout of Pakistan's fragile and confused political situation. The overturning by the Supreme Court of the national reconciliation ordinance has exposed Zardari and some central ministers to pressure with the prospect of criminal prosecution causing them to fight back.


Just weeks ago, a government lawyer told the Supreme Court that the army and the CIA posed a threat to the country's democracy.


Addressing the PAK Assembly and Council in Muzaffarabad more recently, Zardari harked back to Kashmir's right to self determination and its being Pakistan's "jugular vein", reiterating Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's flamboyant rhetoric of waging a 1,000-year war in this cause, though this time by means of peaceful struggle rather than war.


However, jihadi infiltration and encounters across the LOC have increased and the militants killed include Pakistani nationals whose intercepted communications revealed that they were receiving instructions and encouragement from Pakistani handlers during these engagements.


Obviously there are elements spoiling to sabotage the internal peace process in J&K and block further withdrawals of Indian troops in J&K as is under way. Neither process should be stopped.


On a different plane, however, there is reason to be disappointed by the report submitted by the PM's long-dormant task force on autonomy led by Justice Shaghir Ahmed which is not only well behind developments that have taken place while he was strangely in hibernation but appears to have been drafted unilaterally behind the backs of the other members. The blundering around the bush of Indian justices is fast becoming proverbial.


In the light of all of this, Pakistan appears to be protesting too much about the Indian Army Chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor's remarks at a seminar of India's need to prepare to fight a two-front war on the west and north even under a nuclear hangover.


This is not belligerence but a defensive statement in the context of much hidden and open belligerence, double talk and military cooperation by Pakistan and China.








A large number of deaths have been reported in the recent cold wave sweeping North India. One important reason for these deaths is that the number of homeless people in India is quite high and there is a glaring shortage of night shelters for both the local homeless people and travellers who have come to the city for a short while. India badly needs a cooperative effort of the government and the civil society to meet the basic needs of homeless people, particularly to provide them permanent and well-equipped night shelters.


So far the scheme for night shelters has made very tardy progress reaching less than 10 per cent of the homeless people in the country. What is more, some of the existing night shelters are so dirty and insecure that people prefer to shiver under the open sky instead of spending their nights in these shelters.


In fact, at present even reliable estimates of homeless people in different cities do not exist on the basis of which planning of night shelters can proceed. As census estimates have not been able to count homeless people (without any address) property, special efforts need to be made to prepare more accurate estimates of homeless people.


Till such reliable estimates become available, we can proceed on the basis of a rough estimate that the homeless constitute about 1 to 2 per cent of the total urban population in India. This implies that night shelters which can accommodate about 3 to 5 million homeless persons have to be provided in the near future. A time-bound programme of about five years should be prepared to provide access to shelters to all homeless persons.


Speeding up the work of creating night shelters does not mean that quality aspects can be neglected. In fact, past experience has shown that unless certain minimum norms of hygiene and security are met, people do not come forward to make use of night shelters.


Special needs of groups like rickshaw-pullers and handcart pullers should be kept in mind. They are unlikely to use night shelters unless safe parking of their livelihood-earning assets is provided. Special needs of homeless women and children should also be kept in mind.


To overcome financial constraints in speeding up this work, the government can consider, at least on a temporary basis, the night-time use of existing government owned buildings for providing shelter to homeless people. Those government-owned buildings which can be used as night-time shelters can be carefully identified using certain criteria. Tents can be also be provided as a temporary shelter, particularly during winter, till such time that permanent shelters are not created.


Some shelters which can function during day as well as night are also needed. These will be particularly useful for homeless workers who are employed in night shifts and so badly need rest during the day time. The usefulness of night shelters will be increased if canteens which serve cheap but nutritious food on a no-profit, no-loss basis can be added to them.


Homeless people do not have an address and they face difficulty in getting treatment at government hospitals. Therefore, visits by doctors to night shelters will be very useful for them. These doctors can give them papers recommending further treatment in government hospitals which should be honoured in government hospitals.


The distribution of sweaters and blankets among the homeless and the poor is a good first step; it is the most obvious way of saying we care but clearly something more is also needed. After all, we do not even know whether the child to whom we give a blanket will be able to retain it or whether it will be snatched away from him.


The homeless badly need more secure conditions of shelter in which they can face weather extremes, but as they live on the margins of society they are at present not in a strong position to assert their right to shelter. So other citizens should help them to secure their shelter rights. Apart from exerting pressure on the government for proving shelter to the homeless people, citizens can also help provide some badly needed services.


Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, a Delhi-based organisation, has successfully tried to obtain the involvement of citizens and citizens' groups in diverse activities relating to the welfare of homeless people. It has approached schools and colleges to get volunteers for this effort, it has approached doctors and health organisations for medicare and de-addiction work, it has approached media organisations repeatedly to highlight the genuine problems of homeless people.


When it was necessary to oppose the injustice of some government actions, Ashray Adhikar did so, but on other occasions it also tried to get the broad-based support of government departments and organisation for many sided welfare of homeless people. Ashray Adhikar also knocked at the doors of courts, and tried to protect the human rights of homeless people, particularly those who were arbitrarily arrested under unfair laws.


By involving several sections of citizens and civil society in diverse welfare activities of homeless people, Ashray Adhikar has established a model of helping homeless people in Delhi which can be replicated in other cities. An important component of this model is that homeless people should themselves be encouraged to assert their rights.


Thus several activists are emerging from among the homeless people, helped by a training programme arranged by Ashray Adhikar. This effort has received financial assistance from Action Aid. However, it should be possible to start such efforts also on the basis of local donations.








Ever since filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra released his film "3 Idiots", he and his crew have been concerned about whether the film has been viewed in the right circles.


That explains the persistence with which actor Aamir Khan, the protagonist in the blockbuster, has been following up the issue with Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal. Since the film is about undue pressures which the education system exerts on students, Aamir wants policymakers to see it.


It is learnt that he even sent across a DVD to Sibal, who was very clear where he would watch the film. "I will watch it in the theatre after I return from my UK trip," he said last week.


'Parcha, churcha aur kharcha'


After conquering the world of commerce, industry, glamour and politics, Amar Singh seems determined now to capture the world of prose and literary writing.

Since initially there may not be many takers for his variety of literature, he has found an easy way out by starting his own blog. And the blog is increasingly read by people across the world. In his blog, Amar Singh has disdainfully mentioned how the SP socialists were cringing before him for a few crumbs off his plentiful plate.


There is some truth in his claims that the SP suffered him this long because of easy availability of finances through the Thakur.

In fact, the other day a fellow politician asked Mulayam Singh Yadav what was the secret of Amar Singh and a relaxed Mulayam told him: "Parcha, charcha aur kharcha."


"Parcha", he elaborated, meant the newspapers or rather Amar Singh's ability to manage the media, "charcha", was Mulayam's appreciation of how Amar handled all the TV debates and scored a point over his rivals and naturally "Kharcha" was his ability to raise finances for the party whenever need be.


Chinese find Indian food too spicy


Amid the hullabaloo over India's complex ties with China, a delegation of senior journalists from China was in India last week on a familiarisation tour. Members of the delegation met many of those who matter in the corridors of power in Delhi.


It was not difficult for them to answer probing questions from Indian journalists on Sino-Indian ties at a lunch hosted for them by Unity International, an organisation devoted to promoting India's ties with other nations. However, it was the spicy Indian food they found too difficult to digest.


The common refrain among them was that the Indian media goes overboard in reporting even a small problem that arises between India and China. "India is too big a country for any other nation to pose a threat to it," said one young journalist as he proposed regular exchange of media personnel between the two nations to know about each other's sensitivities and difficulties.


And to emphasise that relations are only improving, a Chinese official said the Deputy Chairman of China's National Commission on Development and Reforms would be in Delhi later this month for a meeting of the BASIC group on climate change. President Pratibha Patil and Foreign Minister SM Krishna will also visit Beijing later this year.


Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja 








It is a historical reality that, in ideologies such as communism, though everybody no matter how high in the hierarchy is expected to be subservient to the requirements of dogma, certain individuals in certain eras transcend its confining restrictions and become bigger than the ideology itself. Lenin and Mao were illustrations of this contradiction in other climes; Jyoti Basu, who died last Sunday in Kolkata at the age of ninety five, was in India. No doubt he carried on his political activities in a less authoritarian regime and, with the Indian National Congress having laid claims to an anti-imperialistic stance and grabbed political power at the all-India level, never really had the opportunity to reach the heights achieved by them. Ironically, it was a segment of his own party which thwarted his chances of becoming India's Prime Minister in 1966; that Basu termed it a "historic blunder" shows he was not averse to playing a bigger role. Thus his was a far smaller arena and an enactment in miniature. Moreover, with Marxism having suffered a major body-blow in the collapse of the USSR, and the Bamboo Curtain unfurling itself before the winds of Capitalism, the Left movement in India was on a down swing. If despite such negative aspects Jyoti Basu had been able to emerge as a patriarchal figure among Indian Leftists, it had been due to his qualities as a leader.

An individual of exceptional organising capacity and administrative skill, Jyoti Basu's legacy would have been much more significant had he been provided with a bigger stage. By the time coalition politics had dislodged Congress hegemony and the Leftists had had their brief moment of glory at the national level, Basu's days of active politics had reached its twilight phase. Thus his impact lies primarily with the Indian Leftist Movement in general and politics in Bengal in particular. Like a majority of Indian leftists, Basu was of middle class origin and gifted his ideological spurs by British intellectuals. This perhaps explained not merely his liberal leftist attitude, but also his ability to work within the framework of a democratic mechanism. He was eminently successful in this, having won ten out of the eleven elections he contested even as he went into the record books as the longest serving Chief Minister of a State. As a founding member of the Communist party in India, his role in shaping its direction and structure was second to none. In Bengal his signal contribution was to democratise the CPM's organisational structure and transfer more power to the party workers at the grass-roots level. If such democratisation is today proving to be an anathema to his successors and becoming a hurdle on the path to economic liberalisation, it is only because they possess neither Jyoti Basu's charisma nor his iconic stature.






Several recommendations have been made regarding the service conditions and pay and pension of employees of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and Urban Local Bodies (ULB) by the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) chaired by the former Chief Secretary H N Das. These recommendations are aimed at reorganisation and revamping of the service delivery systems of these institutions. The Government of Assam (GOA) has accepted the recommendations regarding management studies on staffing pattern of ULBs and also for filling up of posts of PRIs which are vacant at present. GOA has not however accepted the suggestions for creating new posts. GOA has accepted the recommendations for capacity building in both ULBs and PRIs including the one for setting up of a satellite communication (SATCOM) system for training in PRIs. All the recommendations for payment of arrears and current salaries to employees of PRIs and ULBs and for protection of emoluments and deputation terms to employees including those of Panchayat Secretaries and the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) employees have also been accepted. But GOA has taken the following decision in respect pay and pension of GMC employees with effect from January 1, 1996 : "As per norms of Government employees this matter may be referred to the Cabinet." Again, TASFC had categorically recommended that "PRI employees should be given the same pay and pensionary benefits as GOA employees of comparable categories.... All arrears should be cleared." GOA accepted this with a rider that "this should be guided as suggested" in another context. That context related to TASFC's long recommendations under the omnibus heading of "Staff Salaries" which included a total of six categories of employees of PRIs. In that context GOA's decision is as follows : "Posts in respect of PRIs and filled up by the PRIs and ULBs with prior approval of the Government."

By this decision the power of post creation was reserved by GOA. By another decision the the Finance, Personnel, Panchayat and Rural Development and Urban Development Departments have been directed to prepare the relevant service rules and detailed guidelines within a period of six months. Meanwhile, Central Government scales of pay have been adopted in respect of GOA employees. As per past practice and inference drawn from TASFC's recommendations the new scales should also be applicable to PRI and ULB employees. The public expectation is that all local governments should provide appropriate service to the people including clean and surfaced roads, adequate water, street lights, solid garbage removal, enforcement of building rules, proper sewerage system, public toilets and other conveniences. For that to happen it is imperative that the employees are well looked after and are satisfied. It is in this context that TASFC's recommendations are relevant and important. 








Of late, there has been a good deal of welcome attention paid to the development of Bharat or rural India. Recently we even had the Friends of Assam and the Seven Sisters (FASS) – an organization of the Assamese Diaspora – conducting a two-day seminar in Guwahati. The main focus of the seminar was on rural development The funds allocated in successive budgets for rural development and rural employment guarantee schemes are astronomical in comparison to budgets (percentage wise) that we had three or four decades ago. Interestingly enough, when we had the interim Union budget just before the elections for the 15th Lok Sabha, there were no changes made to the allocations in the earlier budget under any head except Rural Employment which had an 87 per cent increase. It is very well known to everyone how allocations under this head have been systematically siphoned out for election expenses. So this steep increase in the allocation under just one head did not really surprise anyone. What has long astonished people is that while there have been very substantial increases of allocations to the rural sector, there has been negligible rural development be it in education, health care, infrastructure development or industries. It is time we took a closer look at what is really happening and what is holding up development in our villages where the majority of Indians live. And we would do better to confine our attention to the Northeast, considering the significant lack of rural development in this region. As such, initiatives from organizations either in India or abroad are most welcome, and all help ought to be extended to such Good Samaritans. However, the first act of assistance ought to be help to such organizations in becoming aware of the problems they would inevitably face in striving to do anything in our villages. This would be in the nature of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis that any management expert would normally undertake before embarking on any project.

The first thing to bear in mind is that development is not just a matter of money. It is much more a matter of political will, attitudes and ideas. The lack of funds for development is more of a myth than a genuine excuse. There are two aspects of this so-called lack of funds that we must look at a little later. But first things first. The first unpleasant truth is that the political executive and the bureaucrats really have no time for Bharat or rural India. They are somehow convinced that the development of the rural areas in India is an impossible task. But they keep on talking about rural development because it is very important for them (not for rural India) to ensure that budget allocations for rural employment should keep getting bigger every year. Otherwise how would political parties have the money for the kind of elections that keep out non-professional politicians. Ministers and bureaucrats have no real political will to do anything for the villages. Their idea of development is creating more buildings in the urban areas and adding to the concrete jungle. Any activity that does not involve concrete and steel and contractors is no development at all in their thinking. So both political will and the right attitude for rural development is lacking in our ministers and bureaucrats. No wonder, most bureaucrats never bother to actually inspect and monitor rural projects. Many of them don't even know where the projects are located. They exist only in files and the budget allocations. With such attitudes there can be no development.

Secondly, the Northeast has gone too long without industries worth talking about. For instance, Assam has had no industry worth talking about in the last 30 years except the Numaligarh Refinery. Think of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Punjab or Goa being content with just one major industrial unit added in 30 years. So the Northeast has turned terrorism itself into an industry. Unfortunately, this is an industry that has only destruction, death, loot and hatred as its end products. But because it is closely linked to the siphoning of public money from development projects there is a vested interest in the Northeast that does not want terrorism to end. And this vested interest has people from all walks of life – politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, government employees, traders, businessmen and even student leaders. So there is a powerful lobby that does not want talks with terrorist groups (the word insurgent here is a misnomer) to succeed.

Thirdly, the rural populace has been tutored to believe that development is possible only through money and the kind of money that politicians and bureaucrats (the establishment, in other words) decide to put in their hands. They are thinking of the money that comes through gimmicks like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Authority (NREGA) through a few days of work in a year with wages like Rs 60 or Rs 70 a day, when NREGA guarantees a minimum of 100 days of work in a year with Rs 100 a day as wages. Villagers are induced to believe that this is the only way money can flow to a village at the will or whim or fancy of political bosses. They are discouraged from thinking that they can be the creators of wealth if they have the requisite skills to earn a good living on their own. Even the existing skills are dying out, and we have reasons to believe that the politicians are happy about this because this makes villagers totally dependent on them. They would prefer villagers not to remember the Amul example of Gujarat where the will to create wealth through co-operation and the requisite skills proved to be the greatest asset of the dairy farmers of Anand.One of the best remedies for the present large-scale misuse of the Centre's development funds is a somewhat painful bit of social surgery. We need the Centre to stop all development funds to Assam for a couple of years until a far greater degree of accountability is ensured and all pending reports of completed projects and the related utilization certificates are received by the Centre. No one will really suffer from such a drastic measure except those who are siphoning away government funds intended for development. Everyone can see how little of real development has actually taken during the last few years. Such a measure will also help to liquidate the myth that the thing called 'easy money' without work can go on for some people indefinitely while the majority are made to suffer. During the years when the Centre's development funds are suspended, the Centre should initiate measures for imparting skills to our village folk that will enable them to earn steady incomes year after year instead of some selected people alone getting easy money with the help of politicians. During this austerity period, acquiring new skills must be made compulsory for all villagers. In fact, at the end of the year, those who monitor these activities must ask every village community if they have their own cobblers, barbers, carpenters, masons, bakers, dhobis, sweet-makers, tailors and so on from among the villagers themselves. The Centre's development grants should be resumed only when a village has managed to create people with these skills within a year or two. The reason for such stringent action is simple: one cannot have development in any society

with doles; true development can come about only when people are earning their money.

The other wholesome outcome for a government that has turned corruption into big business is that it always claims it has no funds for development and that it has to keep begging the Centre for funds. This is not true. Just think of the State's tax revenues. Today, the value of goods coming into the State from the rest of the country is about 1,000 times what it was in 1971. The tax structure having remained more or less the same, the tax revenue on what comes in today should also be about 1,000 times what it was in 1971. But from all available information the tax revenue has not gone up even to about 30 times. The State cannot afford to permit the present high level of leakage of its tax revenue to go on at the present level (some of it to militant groups as well!) once the Centre's bounteous grants are suspended. And that is when the media should start publishing details about how many truckloads of goods come in every day, how long they have to wait at the tax gates and so on. People are smart enough to make their own calculations. This would also be time for people to start asking a barrage of searching and awkward questions on tax revenues through the Right to Information channel. People will soon begin to see how much money there is and how much of it has leaked out to private pockets over the years.Rural development on a huge scale is the need of the hour to make up for what was not done over the past decades. A great deal of real development is possible once we can do away with rituals and concentrate on skills and earned money instead of doles that the government pays selectively to a small fraction of the rural populace rather than working on the kind of infrastructure development that will benefit everyone.







Since time immemorial people were quite at dark about the impact of savings. The matter that made them more interested is consumption of bare necessities coupled with enjoying a smooth carefree life. But gradually multidimensional complexities shadowed the society, being endangered by over whelming growth of population. Deficit of resources is visualized all throughout the country. Prosperity of future has been clouded with lots of restraints and uncertainties. This finally led to developing the habit of saving of valuable resources, through the balanced use of the same and curtailment of unnecessary wastages. An idea clicked the mind to save money through minimizing the overall expenditure. The underlined principle that touched the heart is "If I can save a pie. I am comparatively safe". The idea gradually channelised to a larger dimension and generated the interest of more and more saving when people could realise that saving is only means that can transform dream into reality and it is a treasure in distress, hope in despair and security in threat. The upcoming trends of challenging attitude thus lead them to a brighter tomorrow. People are now striving to maintain the day-to-day work adjusting to challenging time and environment.

Inculcation of the habit of savings leads in satisfying many hopes and aspiration. Increment in real income is possible through the saving of money by offering lower price in purchase. Experiencing a healthy or prospective future is not at all a problem if the significance of savings is realized in the real sense. A dream of constructing house or to open the window of business or to strive for self employment is not at all a big challenge if one can sail in the sea of savings. Existence of country's 26 per cent people at below poverty level as well as a noticeable down turn of percapita income stands in the way of exhibiting a healthy scenario of small savings. In the midst of all such peculiar adversisties the clarion call of the hour is to create an atmosphere where not a single individual is confronted economically in course of savings in reality. This is possible only through improving their socio economic condition by way of strengthening the credit delivery system in terms of advancing loan and subsidies. Despite availability of high rate of interest, short term liquidity and maximum security, the small savings scheme could not gather momentum yet, due to illiteracy of 35 per cent people of the country. So this group of society needs to be inspired through motivation in a dynamic and revolutionary approach.

The growth in the tendency of savings is also hampered a lot due to the onslaught of inflation. Savings in banks or in insurance company or the postal department which are considered adequate to meet the rainy day contingencies or to provide for a comfortable of retirement declined significantly due to soaring prices of consumer goods.

A man experiencing a deficit in income must manage to save even a small fraction of his income on daily basis so as to visualize a prosperous tomorrow. A lavish expenditure bothering a little to save need to be discouraged as it reflects a dismal scenario during life time or post death period of an individual for enveloping the family with a cloud of miseries. An employee, how low paid he is, whatever rank he holds must develop a habit of small savings for not being constrained by an evil force of disaster after his superannuation when it becomes unmanagable to afford with a meagre pension. Small savings open up the windows of opportunities in the moment of financial crisis. Savings facilitate in increasing the purchasing power and economic condition of an individual. Savings also entail a curtailment in expenditure. So eagerness in saving more through reduction in expenditure of bare neessities is also not always encouraged, because that leads to minimizing consumption of nutritious food resulting in loss of health. Lavish expenditure in daughter's marriage or in a ritual without an inducement to savings is to be discouraged. The message of savings is to be focussed on the new generation as a child of today is the hope of future. Allowing a child to utilize the big money lavishly without having a control on it is not at all desirable.

Efforts are now underway to create a favouable environment of small saving for accelearing the growth momentum. Much attention is laid on displaying the hoarding and creating awareness among the masses. Government's interest in popularizing the small savings scheme through salary saving policy is also a revolutionary of approach nodoubt. The services rendered by the Postal Department need to be strengthened enough to bring it to the doorstep of subscribers for better market penetration. Insignificant improvement in small savings is noticed in rural areas of our State mostly due to the people's dependency on day to day earning. Perennial flood or drought also poses a threat in raising the level of output and to create an interest in savings. So agriculturists need to be supported with credit facilities for enhancing productivity and to have a major face-lift in savings. An undeveloped system of savings is not only an index of economic backwardness of a country, it is also an important cause of it.

The position of Assam in respect of small savings is not much discouraging as the volume of gross savings collection in the State over the years was found to be increasing by 50 per cent from the level of Rs 2489.82 crore to Rs 3727.50 crore. But more and more effort, more and more motivation or awareness need to be channelised to make a major breakthrough in this direction. A slogan need to be propagated all around the country.

(The writer is former Director of Economics and Statisties).








SEBI and the Reserve Bank want to stop companies and banks from putting their money in mutual funds (MFs). They prefer to invest through MFs because of a tax arbitrage: dividends distributed by debt MFs attract a lower rate of tax as compared to income generated by direct participation in the market. This tax arbitrage is irrational and must go. The government should scrap dividend distribution tax (DDT) levied on companies and instead tax dividends in the hands of shareholders. The original rationale for a DDT to replace tax on dividends was administrative ease and evasion of tax by a variety of investors. A practical way out is to mandate electronic crediting of all dividend payments and presumptive deduction of 30% tax at source. This was not possible in 1997 when DDT was first introduced and when bank computerisation was still patchy. Investors who fall in the lower tax brackets of 10% and 20% can claim refunds. Income-tax authorities must, of course, streamline refunds, in tandem.

In effect, dividend income should be taxed according to the individual shareholder's tax slab. A change in the tax treatment on dividends will have multiple benefits. It would boost the government's revenues, as promoters, who have been paying themselves hefty, tax-free dividends, pay 30% tax on their income. It would end the tax arbitrage on investments in MFs and, thereby, remove the artificial incentive companies have for carrying out their treasury deployments through MFs. Similarly, it would remove a large part of the incentive that banks have for lending to one another and to companies via MFs. There would be greater transparency on bank lending. Such a move would, in addition, restore salience to the role of MFs as vehicles for retail investors to invest in securities. And all MFs can have tax pass-through status.

The short point is the superiority and administrative ease of taxing dividends in the hands of shareholders as compared to taxing companies for the dividends they distribute. In the long run, as and when all tax exemptions are removed, and tax revenues rise to required levels, dividends could be exempt from tax altogether.







There's merit in transport minister Kamal Nath's call to explore the concrete option for expressways. At present, most of our road network is bitumen. But given that cemented roads can be virtually maintenance-free for 20-30 years, with a useful life of 40 years or more, they can be a viable proposition, especially in high-density traffic corridors. In comparison, bituminous roads require frequent repairs, and last for only about 10 years. Now, concrete roads can cost up to three times more, but it is not just lower operational expenses that make them attractive. Research studies show that vehicles require less energy when traversing on concrete roads due to better grip, with the result that there's 15-20% economy in fuel consumption and 10-15% reduction in overall running costs compared to bitumen roads. However, it's an accepted fact that bitumen roads offer better driving comfort. Also, the noise pollution on concrete roads is far higher, which is why in places of heavy urban concentration, like the US, bitumen is the norm.

Yet, concrete can often be the ideal solution. Note that concrete roads can utilise fly ash, a polluting byproduct of thermal power plants. The addition of fly ash to concrete actually increases its density as well as resistance to corrosion. Besides, concrete roads are not softened and distorted by tropical heat. They also do not lose their binder due to leakage of oil from vehicles. Which is why they can remain damage-free for long periods. Further, to bear similar traffic load, a thinner layer of concrete is needed than of bitumen. And where the load-bearing capacity of the soil is poor, bituminous roads may have to be made more than one-and-a-half times thicker than concrete surfaces. The point is that concrete roads use less aggregates and so can be economical, relatively speaking. In any case, a steady hardening of crude oil prices can reasonably be expected as a secular trend, which means that dearer bitumen costs would follow as well. Hence, the increasing need to consider concrete. The way ahead is to optimise the use of fly ash — available freely from thermal plants — in the concrete mix for roads, so as to bring down costs.







Could Google do what activists and sundry governments have failed to do in China? The question might sound a tad bemusing. But it does seem to aver the influence access to the internet, and its denial, has in our world. They might not be allowed to march, but people do seem to mind what they are not allowed to google. The search engine, almost a way of life for most netizens, has, of course, been criticised before. From school teachers complaining about plagiarism, to journalists who have conveniently replaced the field trip with the internet field search, Google has been blamed for a dumbing down of research. Then again, it is also indubitably a vehicle for making information infinitely more accessible. Not for nothing, then, do regimes like Iran and China pay great attention to regularly filtering what appears on computer screens. Thus, the latest fracas over Google threatening to pull out of China over restrictions to what its search engine can display. Which, predictably, includes searches for Falun Gong, human rights, freechina, Tibet, communism, Tiananmen massacre, Radio Free Asia, and, well, Playboy and a common four-letter word also used as an expression of utter frustration.


Quite a few refer to the search engine in superlative terms. With a particular stand-up comedian calling it St Google. The know-all, all-but-sentient being, panacea for a thousand queries of every imaginable sort. And the company seems to suddenly be playing the role. No one quite in their right mind leaves the lucrative Chinese market. After all, business is money. But did one, for the first time, witness some sort of wilting from the normally inscrutable Chinese regime? Perhaps keen to avoid embarrassment, the communist bosses actually went to the length of explaining themselves, saying China would remain good for foreign investors, while asking them to respect local law. But could this result in a different kind of internet revolution in China? "All desktops unite, you have nothing to lose except your filters." Perhaps...








The shunting out of NSA M K Narayanan to the West Bengal Raj Bhavan has jolted home minister P Chidambaram's Congress/ BJP detractors. For, Narayanan's exit signals the total backing of the Congress president and the PM for PC's new vision for internal security. And it came right when PC's critics had been running a whispering campaign, trying to put the entire blame for the "political mishandling of the Telangana issue" on his doorstep. It is no secret that some Congress leaders just can't stomach the rise and rise of PC on the administrative and political ladder, and they fear he might end up with bigger future roles. For the BJP, PC has been an object of discomfort ever since he replaced Shivraj Patil and tightened national security loopholes. That effectively ended the BJP's "political feasting" on frequent blasts and terror strikes seen during the Patil era. And Since PC is holding firm, his critics are now mourning Narayanan.



M K Narayanan ending up as Bengal governor has also smashed CPI-M calculations. Party sections yet to be rid of the hangover of 'the Left-controlled UPA-1', were boasting that they, not the Centre, would choose the new governor. While these leaders insisted on their state government having the 'final say', the Centre/Congress leaders said the new governor would be decided in consultation with Kolkata. But wiser elements in the Bengal CPI-M already knew the limitations of these 'consultations' and agreed to the inevitable. While Delhi's AKG Bhavan vaguely "protested' Narayanan's choice, the Congress camp says given the CPI-M's track record of maligning even Gopal Gandhi, the earlier governor chosen on the Marxists' special request, it would be impossible for anybody to find a satisfactory choice for them. Another notch down for the Left?



New BJP president Nitin Gadkari made a loaded statement during a meeting with senior party leaders recently by asking all to avoid politicking through the media. His advice to colleagues was to avoid talking to the media frequently or talk only when absolutely necessary. In short, Gadkari wants his partymen to do their talking through their work than their tongues. But, within days, Gadkari found himself in a tricky tangle after his tongue-lashing against migrant labourers which made poll-bound saffron ally JD(U) livid. As Nitish Kumar's boys burnt Gadkari's effigy followed by, of course, the politically correct expression of dismay by Sharad Yadav, some BJP leaders are hoping their new 'Adhyakshji' will himself get his tongue-work right.


So what will happen to the government bungalow 'Indira Bhavan', where Jyoti Basu lived from 1989 till the end. When Basu became CM in 1977, he was staying at his four-storeyed ancestral house at Hindustan Park. In the mid '80s, he shifted to Raj Bhavan after doctors told him to avoid climbing stairs. And in 1989, he moved to Indira Bhavan, named after the former PM as she stayed at the place during an AICC session in Calcutta. Even after he resigned as CM in 2000, Basu stayed on here as his successor Buddha continues to live in his own two bedroom apartment. So it remains to be seen whether Buddha — or the next CM — will move into Indira Bhavan where Basu lived for 21 long years. Or, perhaps, the place would be turned into a memorial for Basu, much as Delhi's Teen Murti Bhavan was for Nehru after the death of the first, and longest serving PM.








The Indian investor is faced with a peculiar problem today: if she wants any returns that beat inflation, there's no way she can do that without taking risks. And the risks look significant.

Let me explain what I mean. Bank deposits are the safest place to park funds, but interest rates, even if you agree to lock up your money for about a year or more are around 6% or so. Savings account deposits make about half that. Traditional small saving instruments typically offer less than 9% returns.

Meanwhile Lalitaji sees prices of everything from aloo to cars galloping. Headline inflation numbers are shooting up and can cross 10% soon. Consumer inflation is nearly 15% or more depending on which index you look at.

Gold was supposed to be the one thing that could never let you down. But one ounce of the yellow metal now costs over $1,130, a price that's attractive for sellers, but could wipe out buyers if there's a dip in the market. Indians know this in their guts, so in the year that ended on December 31, 2009 our total gold imports fell by nearly a quarter, compared to last year.

Indeed in gold-crazy India, things have come to such a pass that newspapers report brisk sales of imitation jewellery at traditional gold markets like Mumbai's Zaveri Bazaar. Can Lalitaji — or a seasoned bullion trader – confidently take a bet that gold will appreciate another 15%, say, in another year's time?

Earlier, Lalitaji had a person who'd call and visit regularly to encourage and help her invest in mutual funds, and indeed she profited from those investments, especially when they were made in equal, regular instalments across the market cycle. Trouble is the fellow doesn't turn up any more and, in recent months, has stopped taking Lalitaji's calls. The reason for this very capricious behaviour, Lalitaji found, was that the companies which operate the funds had been banned from paying commissions to agents. Without any commissions, why would anyone take the trouble of calling or travelling to meet clients?

Unlike Lalitaji, you might be an investor in stock markets. If so, you'd be pleasantly surprised to see that all those blue chips that you hold, and despaired about till March last year, have come up smartly in the subsequent months. Governments and central banks around the world, including our own, have pumped in lots of money to prop up their economies and banks, and much of that money has found its way into various markets, like Lalitaji, hungry for returns.

Has that driven India's top-end equities to stratospheric levels? A simple way to answer that question is to look at what the price of a blue chip share is, compared to the profits that the company made on that share. This is called the price-earnings multiple and it does nicely to compare valuation.

A good proxy for blue chip stocks is the 30 most valuable stocks in various sectors that make up India's iconic Sensex index. Bloomberg data shows that today the 30 shares on the Sensex are priced more than 26 times their underlying earnings. By itself, that's a meaningless number. But you have to remember that this is the highest price-earnings multiple for the Sensex in five years. Even in the bubble market of January 2008, the multiple was 25.

Of course, one way the PE ratio can cool down is if companies start reporting big jumps in profits. And numbers that have come in so far – we're in the middle of an earnings reporting season – look better than expected. In the quarter that ended in December, a survey of 100 companies shows that net profit jumped a healthy 42%. This is far in excess of the 29% jump in profits for Asian companies forecast by an overseas brokerage. Indian companies seem to be scorching their way out of a global recession.

Grizzled market pundits will point out that there are pockets in the market that look lucrative. The macho engineering, heavy machinery and construction companies that make up the BSE capital goods index trade at a mere 36 times their earnings, compared to a 2007 high of 50-plus. If the government keeps pumping money into infrastructure, won't that keep these companies humming along nicely?

It might, provided the government has the money to keep spending those vast amounts. And provided that prices of things like metals and cement, now very high, cool down to keep project costs in check. Beyond a point any project can become financially unviable if costs keep piling up.

At a PE ratio of 20, midsize companies in the BSE midcap index also seem to be priced at a discount to their January, 2008 high of 28. But these are the same companies whose valuations fall like a stone when markets wobble: for potential high rewards, investors take very high risks.

A look at the numbers show that the banking index, with a PE ratio of 15, is valued at nearly half its January, 2008 high of 29. Before you run out and snap up every bank stock in sight, remember that there are several risks lurking behind that number.

First, many banks will see an increase in bad debt, an overhang from last year's slowdown. Today, it's reckoned that even staid government owned banks will see their bad debts double to 4% of all lending. If the recovery continues their finances will look up, but it won't happen overnight.

Second, the government will have to change its spendthrift, easy money ways sometime. This could start, in a small way from January 29, when the Reserve Bank will take a call on key policy rates. Bankers and industry want low rates to continue for much, much longer, but elected governments have to look at Lalitaji and her problems with rising prices. Possibly more than ever before in the last 10 years, the answer to where Lalitaji will invest depends on what the government will do.

Media chatter says policymakers have to choose between growth and inflation. Lalitaji, much wiser, knows that holding interest rates and assured returns down when prices are surging, force her to take more and more risky bets with hard earned money, or watch her savings being gnawed away by inflation. That's the most important message from the global blowout. The folks at Raisina Hill and Mint Street need to wake up to it.








The government has got going on food prices, with the prime minister calling upon states to raid hoarders and rein in speculative futures trading. The farm minister has promised to bring down prices within 10-15 days! If this were so easy, why did it take so long?

We are trying to beat food inflation with the old rusty tools of 1950s, targeting 'speculators and hoarders'. This strategy is not going to succeed, given weak governance, and in any case, that is not how market economies work. Indian policymakers need to re-tool themselves with a new policy box, where future markets and quick responding trade policy are an integral part and complement timely action whenever domestic supplies fall short. And encouraging direct buying by organised retailers from farmer groups, thereby compressing the value chain, can rein in prices. This will need reforming the APMC (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act) and loosening the Essential Commodities Act, and encouraging (not strangulating) futures markets and dovetailing it with trade policy.

Here are a few specific suggestions to policymakers to tame food prices.

Cereal prices are easiest to roll back. On January 1, 2010, India had 48 million tonnes (mt) of foodgrains with public agencies as against the buffer stock norm of 20 mt. India's total storage capacity in silos and under proper roof is not more than 27 mt, and all that is kept in the open under a tarpaulin suffers a damage of 10-15%. We can easily off-load 5-10 MT of wheat and rice in the next two-three months at prices paid to farmers, say, Rs 11/kg., without any state-level taxes or cesses. This will easily bring down atta prices to Rs 13/kg, from the current Rs 17-20/kg, as also the price of rice. If the government wants to bring the prices down further, it can offload stocks at APL prices.

For pulses —tur prices have crossed anyone's imagination and touched Rs 90 per kg — one will have to look for innovative alternatives. We had earlier suggested importing and distributing through Mother Dairy network or the public distribution system (PDS) yellow peas, which should cost Rs 25 per kg at retail level. Happily, this has started. The other innovative way we had suggested to the agriculture minister and secretary was to distribute reconstituted soya dal, pioneered by Mother Dairy.

This reconstituted soya dal looks like split chana, and contains soya flour mixed with wheat flour or rice flour or both. This too should cost less than Rs 30 per kg, and should contain more protein than the average dal. It is ironic that India exports protein inherent in soya meal and consumes fat (oils). Soya meals can be put under 10% export tax to encourage product innovation at home for soya products. East and south-east Asia, especially China, Korea, Japan, consume lots of soya as tofu, which costs half as much as paneer and is healthier. This is the time to scale up soya consumption in India through mass media campaigns.


Fruit and vegetable prices are typically high due to weak and fragmented value chains. Farmers get less than one-third, and often one-fourth, the price that consumers pay. Consumer prices can be lowered and farmers prices raised, if we reform APMC, and encourage direct buying by organised retailers from farmer groups, removing all taxes and fees. The prices of most of the vegetables at Mother Dairy's Safal outlets are lower than those of vendors, and at Big Apple (a private retailer in Delhi) lower than those of Safal in Delhi.

We need to encourage organised retailers, domestic and foreign, if we want efficiency in our value chains. Vendors need to be mainstreamed through government policy with organised retailers through the franchise route or direct employment. Import duties on fruits and vegetables typically hover between 30-50%, which can be lowered to 5-10%. We have ample foreign exchange to afford such imports.

Sugar tastes bitter at Rs 50/kg, primarily due to slow and complicated policy response in importing sugar, when it was known at least six months back that India would face a shortage of 6-7 million tons of sugar this year as farmers had shifted away from cane to grains due to lower returns in 2007-08 and 2008-09. The global prices of sugar are at historic high today, and domestic prices can be lowered only if government gives a subsidy and brings all taxes to zero. Deflecting the sugar price problem to a particular state, as is being attempted now with respect to raw sugar, is of little use. The Centre needs a bolder import policy.

Reform has neglected agriculture. And of whatever resources have gone to agriculture, almost 80% has gone to subsidies (fertilisers, food, power, credit, etc.) and only 20% as investment. This needs to be reversed. We need to raise investments and target, rationalise and contain these subsidies. Only then Indian agriculture can grow at 4% rate of growth, and only then food production can go up in a sustained manner and food prices can be reined-in the long run.

(Authors Ashok Gulati & Kavery Ganguly are with IFPRI)









Okay, so it all began some 13.7 billion years ago when there was this Big Bang that started the whole show. An infinitesimally small point of something that was almost infinitely dense and unimaginably hot fractured to create the large and small-scale structures observable around us today. We are told it was also responsible for the creation of space and time. But what we are not told — because the answers are not known — is what was there before it. To the majority of scientists, however, the question makes no sense because how can there be a "before" before time existed and how can anything be anywhere if there was nowhere for it to be in.

Then there's the problem of things that live. Like us and sharks and roses (along with viruses that almost do). For if there was one thing the original explosion didn't bring forth immediately, it was life. That sort of event had to wait — as far as our planet is concerned at least — another 10 billion years to happen. How does a bunch of inorganic stuff lying around doing nothing for so long suddenly get a life and start evolving furiously? Again, we hear conditions must have been just right for vitalis to eke itself gradually out of dead matter. What we don't hear too well is how the inanimate became organised into being alive.

And, finally, there's consciousness. Don't even bother asking anyone in the know if they know what this few-million-year-old phenomenon means because even though they can tell they're not unconscious they have no idea what it actually means to experience mental states; what it is, that is, to be aware of being aware. In fact, in the frustration of such impotence some philosophical schools have even gone to the extent of denying the complete existence of minds — other than their own of course — without realising that if everyone did the same thing all of us would still be conscious and no one would ever have any explanation for it either!

Do these exhaust the major unknowns of science? Not really. While it's easy to posit the original cosmic eruption gave rise to matters of energy, space and time and probably, too, the latency for life and sentience, some of our spiritual experiences, religiosity and mystical domains remain more difficult to dodge. If and when science does manage to pull that stunt off, it would be forced to look at the Big Bang and what was there before it in a different light altogether.








BANGALORE: Bihar, till recently the perpetual back-bencher of India when it came to development, has recently spun a success story by clocking a growth rate of 11.03% in 2008-09. Biharis, who had left their state are walking back home as job prospects turn promising and the IT sector there offers them just what they are at present enjoying elsewhere in the country, deputy chief minister of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi told ET in an interview. Excerpts:

How will Bihar sustain its growth momentum?

We have received proposals worth Rs 1,33,000 crore from a number of industries, which we hope will take shape in the next one year. For the current fiscal, we have targeted a plan expenditure of over Rs 16,000 crore. We will focus on the IT sector as soon as our IT policy which offers a number of incentives to entrepreneurs, is implemented. There are a large number of IT professionals from Bihar working all over the world.

Bangalore alone has some 1.25 lakh engineers from Bihar. As the cost of living is rising in cities like Bangalore , IT companies are now looking to tier-1 and tier-2 cities such as Patna and Jaipur. Because Bihar has a large IT manpower, we are making efforts to make it the second IT destination after Bangalore. We are already in discussions with many IT companies to start their offices in the state.

What about the availability of skilled labour in Bihar?

There was a severe shortage of engineers , doctors and other professionals , as many of them had drifted to other states or abroad in search of jobs. The scenario is changing now as hundreds of these professionals are coming back and new jobs are opening up. Migration of labourers has also come down drastically, due to which states like Punjab, Haryana and Mumbai are feeling the heat because reverse migration is impacting their agriculture sector.

These labourers are getting jobs in Bihar as sectors like construction, tourism, hospitality and retail are expanding. Earlier, jobs had disappeared, infrastructure was chaotic and lawlessness was widespread. Some 10,000 businessmen left Bihar in the last 15 years. Now, businessmen are not leaving the state and many are returning.

What are the steps being taken to make Bihar tech-savvy ?

We are at present computerising all the government departments which will make processes like e-filing and e-returns more easy. Various e-governance initiatives starting from the panchayat level to state government headquarters are taking shape and it will take another six months to be completed. Now, an inter-tax payment system is being introduced by the sales tax and excise departments. And thousands of centres will be available through this.

What are the investments being planned for education sector?

There are proposals to build 19 superspeciality medical colleges, 23 engineering colleges and a couple of management institutes in five years. The government has recruited around 2 lakh teachers and plans to invest around Rs 10,000 crore in education.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The continuing and worsening attacks on Indians in Australia is becoming a serious worry, even if the incidents appear scattered and affect only a miniscule proportion of Indians living in that country. The reason for worry is that the authorities in Australia remain in denial mode — they are not even willing to acknowledge the possibility that these could be racially-motivated hate crimes, and instead choose to describe them as "opportune" crimes. One Australian official went as far as to claim that Indians were safer in Australia than they were in India! The Indian government has so far soft-pedalled the matter and couched its protests to the government in Canberra in diplomatically polite language, but it is time to consider if something stronger is not called for. Understandably, the Indian government — which is trying to strengthen the "Look East" focus in its foreign policy — does not want to take any step which could in the long run damage its relations with Australia. While, apart from matters relating to cricket (where Aussies have been idolised in India since the days of the great Sir Don Bradman), there is no special warmth or bond in relations between the two countries, they have been partners in the Commonwealth of long standing. The nuclear relationship has been frosty at times: Australia is one of the largest producers of uranium, which India needs to keep its nuclear plants running, but this has been declared out of bounds for India — something that was made clear on a recent visit to this country by the Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, who sought refuge under the wide umbrella of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which India is not a signatory to. But given that India is now the world's second largest growing economy, Australia is opening its doors to Indian investment and seeking to invest in a country which has the potential to be a huge market for its exports. And one of the biggest of these is education: next only to people of Chinese origin, Indians form the second largest group of students in Australian universities and institutions of higher learning. It is time that this country, like the United States and China in similar situations, learns how to leverage whatever economic strength that it possesses and factors that into its foreign policy, sending out a clear message to Australia that the safety of Indian citizens overseas is non-negotiable. The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs should send out clear guidelines to all sections of the government how this should be done to ensure that the interests of Indian citizens are protected. If this country and its government is to be taken seriously around the world, it will have to learn to play hardball when the situation so demands. The Australian government will have to be told in very clear terms that a price will have to be paid if the perception persists in this country that it was less than serious in protecting Indian citizens on its soil. The Australian bank ANZ, for instance, has been trying to buy the distressed assets of the ailing Royal Bank of Scotland in India for the last one year, and the Reserve Bank of India is yet to grant approval. Both the government and the RBI needs to think more carefully as there is a lot of money to be made in the banking sector in India, which is witnessing growth of 7-8 per cent annually.








Today is January 19, exactly a month since the conclusion of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Copenhagen. Beginning with the 13th COP, which was held in Bali in 2007, expectations had been raised that by the time the Copenhagen meeting was to take place, the world would have a firm and binding agreement on climate change — one that would effectively meet the global challenge being faced today — as it is an issue that will certainly get much more serious in the future.


However, with the slow pace of negotiations and the prospects of a binding agreement becoming increasingly elusive, this outcome seemed very distant a few months before Copenhagen.


During the meeting itself, the divergent stands of different countries and a lack of flexibility on the part of some key countries seemed to indicate that there would be no agreement at the end of COP15.


At the invitation of Denmark's Prime Minister Mr Lars Lokke Rasmussen, it is estimated that over a hundred heads of state and heads of government actually converged in Copenhagen, which created an air of vague optimism that these leaders would perhaps be able to put the finishing touches to an agreement after all, and would not in any case go back to their countries empty-handed. However, the speeches delivered by most of the leaders on the scheduled final day of the summit i.e. on December 18, clearly brought out into the open the sharp divisions that still existed at that late hour of the conference. It was for a small group of countries to then huddle together and come up with an accord which at least created a semblance of an output from a meeting that had generated so much hope and high expectations.


Copenhagen is now behind us, and the next COP is due to be held in Mexico City at the end of this year. Despite the fatigue, and some level of despair generated by Copenhagen, those who are committed to effective and forward-looking action in this arena are still hoping that in the next few months an agreement would be reached for signing by all the countries of the world in Mexico City. This is going to be an extremely difficult outcome to achieve, and would require major efforts by some key countries. One important nation in this regard is the United States where, unfortunately, legislation introduced by Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer is yet to be acted on.


The US President, Mr Barack Obama, has already put forward the commitment of the US to reduce emissions by 17 per cent over 2005 levels by 2020. However, this would depend critically on legislation which would allow the US to accept legally-binding reductions at this level in Mexico City. At any rate, the statement of President Obama falls short of commitments declared by the European Union (EU) and more recently by Japan. The EU has stood by its commitment of 2008, popularly known as the "20-20-20 commitment", which implies a 20 per cent reduction by 2020 with 20 per cent of its electricity to be produced from renewable sources by 2020. The Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Yukio Hatoyama, has gone even further and committed his country to a reduction of 25 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020.


The US Senate, even at the time of the Kyoto Protocol, had clearly signified its intention to see that there is meaningful participation by key developing countries. Since then the growth of China and India has only intensified the demand of legislators in the US to require some commitment on the part of the emerging market economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa. In order to forestall this pressure, China, ahead of the Copenhagen COP, announced its intention of reducing emissions intensity by 40-45 per cent over 2005 levels by 2020. India followed by coming up with its own target of 20-25 per cent over the same base year by 2020.


In Copenhagen there was a great deal of pressure on China and India to accept monitoring, reporting and verification of compliance with these voluntary targets, which was resisted stoutly by the BASIC nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). It was only past the scheduled hour of the closure of the Copenhagen COP, through the active engagement of President Obama, that the BASIC group and the US agreed on an accord, the major features of which are:


* Recognition that the world must not exceed a 2° Celsius warming above pre-industrial level.


* Calls for Annex I (developed) countries to formalise their reduction pledges and for non-Annex I (developing) countries to state their proposed efforts by February 1, 2010.


* Provision for the mitigation actions to be monitored nationally and reported in line with guidelines to be worked out.


* An assessment of the implementation of the accord to be completed by 2015.


* Establishment of a new Copenhagen Green Climate Fund — to be set up by Annex I countries by 2012 for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries (EU pledged $10.6 billion, Japan $11 billion and the US $3.6 billion), and for $100 billion a year to be made available by 2020.


* Authorises the long awaited forest protection mechanism (referred to as REDD+).


We are still, therefore, without an agreement but only an accord between 29 countries, and there is, therefore, a substantial amount of work to be done for a comprehensive and all-inclusive agreement to be arrived at by the time the next COP takes place. The real question, therefore, is whether the world will be able to provide the strength of leadership that is required to meet the enormous challenge that the world faces on account of human-induced climate change. The overwhelming scientific assessment of this problem requires urgent and effective action.


Dr R.K. Pachauri is the director-general of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), chairman of the Intergovernmental Panelon Climate Change and director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute








Lately many people have been second-guessing the Obama administration's political strategy. The conventional wisdom seems to be that the United States President, Mr Barack Obama, tried to do too much — in particular, that he should have put healthcare 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 programme 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 OK 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 healthcare? 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 healthcare 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 healthcare 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 healthcare bill. Passing such a bill won't be their political salvation — but not passing a bill would surely be their political doom.








That he was the tallest leader of the Indian Left is but a truism. That he was more of a pragmatist than an ideologue is also commonly conceded. But Jyoti Basu was more than all that. Despite the fact that he was based out of Kolkata for much of his life that spanned five years short of a century, including the 23-plus years that he was India's longest-serving chief minister, Jyoti Basu wielded considerable influence on the working of the nation's polity and, equally importantly, on shaping the contours of the country's economic policies.


Not only did he display a remarkable capability of working with his ideological opponents, he actually respected them — and earned more than commensurately, their respect and admiration as well. He disparaged a lady hagiographer who, he felt, had virtually ignored his close "friendship" with Indira Gandhi. Yet, during the time she was alive and also during her son's tenure as Prime Minister, Jyoti Babu never minced his words while disparaging New Delhi's stepmotherly treatment towards West Bengal.


It was not just the freight equalisation of coal and steel that robbed the country's east of its locational advantage, he kept harping on the fact that the Union government took 13 years to clear the establishment of a petrochemicals complex at Haldia during the heydays of the licence-control raj. Although he never spared Indira Gandhi the bite of his sharp tongue, he saw no reason to change the name of the house where he spent the last two decades of his life — Indira Bhavan, named after one of his staunchest political opponents.


The son of an affluent physician father — who sent him to study law in England — the few years between 1935 and 1940 that he spent outside India clearly proved to be instrumental in shaping his political future. Attending lectures by Harold Laski at the London School of Economics and reading the writings of Rajani Palme Dutt, it is said that he was dissuaded by Harry Pollitt from joining the Communist Party of Great Britain because he would have been arrested on his return to India since the party had been banned by the colonial rulers at that juncture.


Few remember that his first wife Basanti, also called Chabi, who he married in January 1940 before his 26th birthday, passed away less than two-and-a-half years later. Or that the first child his second wife Kamal bore, a daughter, did not live for more than a few months. Did that make him more of a doting father to Chandan, much as he was derisively sought to be described as the capitalist son of a Communist father?


In England, he played an active role in arranging meetings between Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose with Left leaders of the Labour Party and it is believed that together with his friend in England, Bhupesh Gupta, he actively advocated the position that Indian Communists should abjure "revolutionary violence" and actively participate in parliamentary democracy despite its limitations.


Humility, it is often argued, is a hallmark of the great. To that extent, he acknowledged the mistake his government made when it stopped the teaching of English in primary schools in West Bengal. He also conceded that after a point the opposition of Left unions to computerisation of banking operations was a wrong strategy.


For a number of years he would ruefully admit that his party had been "infiltrated" by corrupt and criminal elements. Unfortunately for the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the legacy of the past is cruel. Historians have selective memories. Who cares today about Operation Barga or the empowerment of panchayats? Or, for that matter, the need for inclusive, job-creating economic growth that has become a fashionable phrase among all Indian politicians these days?


On the different occasions that I had the privilege of interviewing Jyoti Babu, he invariably displayed remarkable candour. He spoke in his characteristic blunt style, whether responding to questions about his health or on his political positions. The last time I spoke to him, I spared what I thought would be a nasty question till the fag end of the conversation. But he was unfazed. Why, as a Communist whose heart bled for the impoverished masses, did he have to live in such a large house, I asked. His reply was matter of fact. He had grown old; it had become difficult for him to climb stairs; hence the move from his ancestral home in south Kolkata to Indira Bhavan in tony Salt Lake. He then indicated gently that my time was over.


Jyoti Babu was more than just a father figure to an entire generation. What is often not remembered is the fact that he could have been a father to his designated successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for three decades chronologically separated them. But there was indeed a difference between the two and the current chief minister of West Bengal would be the first to concede this.


Mr Bhattacharjee apologised for his political and administrative failures that could have prevented what took place in Singur, Nandigram or even, at Vedic Village. One has a sneaking suspicion that had Jyoti Babu been sitting in the most spacious room in Writers' Building, Singur and Nandigram might never have happened, despite the fact that it was indeed under his tutelage that the Left Front government sought to — largely unsuccessfully — woo capitalists to invest in West Bengal.


However, this is a hypothesis whose veracity can never ever be tested, like another unanswered question: How would the trajectory of Indian politics have changed had the CPI(M), instead of committing a "historic blunder", allowed Jyoti Babu to become the Prime Minister of India in May 1996?


-- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








Want to be happier in 2010? Then try this simple experiment, inspired by recent scholarship in psychology and neurology. Which person would you rather be: Richard is an ambitious 36-year-old white commodities trader in Florida. He's healthy and drop-dead handsome, lives alone in a house with a pool, and has worked his way through a series of gorgeous women. Richard's job is stressful, but he spent Christmas in Tahiti. Unencumbered, he also has time to indulge passions like reading (right now he's finishing a book called Half the Sky), marathon running and writing poetry. In the last few days, he has been composing an elegy about the Haiti earthquake.


Lorna is a 64-year-old black woman in Boston. She's overweight and unattractive, even after a recent nose job. Lorna is on regular dialysis, but that doesn't impede her active social life or babysitting her grandchildren. A retired school assistant, she is close to her 67-year-old husband and is much respected in her church for directing the music committee and the semi-annual blood drive. Lorna believes in tithing (giving 10 per cent of her income to charity or the church) and in the last few days has organised a church drive to raise $10,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti.


I adapted those examples from ones that Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, develops in his fascinating book, The Happiness Hypothesis. His point is that while most of us might prefer to trade places with Richard, Lorna is probably happier.


Men are no happier than women. The evidence on health is complex, but even chronic health problems (like those requiring dialysis) may have surprisingly little long-term effect on happiness, because we adjust to them. And young people are actually a bit less happy than older folks, at least up to age 65.


Brain scans by neuroscientists confirm that altruism carries its own rewards. A team including Dr Jorge Moll of the National Institutes of Health found that when a research subject was encouraged to think of giving money to a charity, parts of the brain lit up that are normally associated with selfish pleasures like eating or sex. The implication is that we are hardwired to be altruistic. To put it another way, it's difficult for humans to be truly selfless, for generosity feels so good.


"The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people", says Brian Mullaney, co-founder of Smile Train, which helps tens of thousands of children each year who are born with cleft lips and cleft palates.


Let's remember that while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves. Helping others may be as primal a human pleasure as food or sex.








A bus stop. Passengers and vehicles move along incessantly. Vehicles screech past, evoking fear in the passers-by and pedestrians. A small bird is pecking at the corns scattered about on that busy road. Those who looked at the bird thought it would be run over by the mighty wheels of those speeding vehicles. But that tiny bird seemed to have no fear or care. Miraculously, it flew up whenever a vehicle came very close to it. It was quite surprising to observe the power nature had given it — to fly off when great peril was about to pounce on it, every single time.


Birds flying about and pecking at their food amidst dangers point towards a reality of life. God has given everyone enough power — even to that tiny creature.


We all long for a life devoid of dangers and crises. But we can live amidst the most risky situations, fearlessly and calmly. Our wings have the power to fly over every problem.


Whenever we face a crisis, we should tap the endurance that God has given us. It is not a life free of risks and challenges that we should pursue. Instead, we should develop the moral courage and mental stability to face them as they spring in the normal course of the game.


A ship was moving along the Mediterranean Sea. Its destination is the United States. The blue sky above and the calm surface of the sea suggested a comfortable, undisturbed voyage.


A passenger talking to the captain expressed the hope that the weather would be the same till they reached their destination.


The captain took out a chart, unrolled it and told the passenger: "Look, as the ship reaches this point, we will have to fight a storm called Flora. Now our ship is moving at a speed of 22 knots. Flora is blowing at a speed of eight knots. Hence we'll have to go face-to-face with it".


As the news spread, everyone on the ship got frightened. They wanted the captain to divert the ship so as to avoid the storm. But the captain remained cool.


He said, "If we try to avoid Flora, we will lose two days. But if we face it boldly, with our prayers, power and will power, we can go past the storm-affected area safely and reach on time. Our ship is strong enough to face any raging gale".


So saying, he silenced the passengers and went ahead.


Soon the ship encountered Flora. Giant waves tossed it. The captain, who had seen many storms before, steered the ship cleverly and went past the dangerous zone. Full moon was shining and everything was quite again.


When the passengers came to applaud him for his endurance, the captain said, "If the sea is calm today, it'll be rough tomorrow. If it is violent today, soon it will turn calm as well".


Our life is quite similar to this voyage. We too can survive storms that erupt during life's journey. Like the ship, we too are built strong to resist any crises. Hence, we need not get frightened or think of ways to avoid challenges. Believe in God, the captain of our ship, who can cleverly take us along to our destination in time, and along the proposed route.


Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at [1]









WITH the elevation (kick upstairs?) of MK Narayanan to gubernatorial status there should be no major impediment to taking a hard re-look at the role and utility of the National Security Adviser and assess if that appointee and the body he heads has served much purpose. Sure Narayanan's proximity to the Prime Minister ensured he maintained a high profile, controversial all too often since he offered much of his advice via the electronic media, but did the inputs he provide the government actually enhance national security? The non-preparedness for 26/11 and the "sell out" at Sharm-el-Sheikh are just two pointers in a negative direction. Neither the foreign office, nor the internal security wing of the home ministry were comfortable with his tall talk, the defence ministry/military hardly bothered about him. Yet it must be stressed that his predecessors fared no better ~ at least when wearing the NSA hat ~ and it is apparent that the Cabinet Committee on Security and the various agencies tasked with such responsibilities have not come to terms with the comparatively recent addition to the apparatus that deals with high-level security issues. There is ever so much resistance within the establishment to "single-point" advice (else the Chief of Defence Staff system would have been in place by now), and as far as playing the role of effective coordinator goes the NSA has been a non-starter. What is also very evident is that the NSA has accorded only token value to the multi-layered think-tank he supposedly heads. The appointment has been too personality-driven to "deliver".

Now that the home minister is taking virtually all aspects of internal security under his wing, the utility of the NSA is further limited. The buzz is that former MEA bigwigs are in the running to replace Narayanan, so a new set of rivalries will emerge with the police and military nursing suspicions that they are being undervalued. In theory the NSA system has merit, but when it was being set up by the NDA government senior Congress leaders had expressed reservations: Maybe they were correct ~ the traditional centres of power have not taken kindly to another "authority", and Brajesh Mishra and MK Narayanan (JN Dixit's tenure was rather brief) did little to assuage apprehensions. Hence the issue at hand calls for more than appointing the next NSA but giving the system a complete overhaul. 








IT is clear that though Mamata Banerjee and six of her party MPs occupy ministerial positions in the UPA government, she has been by and large following a Trinamul agenda even in official engagements. While this keeps her in West Bengal to prepare the ground for the coming elections, it is unreasonable on her part to take offence at the protocol observed by the Prime Minister during his visits to West Bengal. This relates most recently to a stopover in the city to visit the ailing Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu in hospital during which he was greeted by the chief minister. That Dr Manmohan Singh returned the compliment and invited Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to accompany him in his car to the airport may be ascribed to the human qualities that rise above political rivalries for which the Prime Minister has endeared himself even to the opposition. That the Trinamul leader sees this as another sign of "softness'' towards the CPI-M is typical of the impetuosity that had prompted her to quit the NDA government when she was railway minister on the last occasion. That it had disastrous results should have taught her the right lessons. Yet it seems that an almost pathological hatred for the CPI-M and particularly its senior leaders is pulling her along the same self-destructive path. Most important, it is steadily drawing her away from her alliance partner every time there is an indication of a formal encounter between the Congress and the CPI-M despite evidence that the alliance is the only means of dislodging the Left. 

There would have been no questions raised if this amounted only to a signal that Trinamul would have no truck with its principal rival. However, it is surprising that Miss Banerjee goes further expecting the Prime Minister to dispense not just with common courtesies but also with protocol in his relations with the ruling party in Bengal. It now seems that she is no mood to conceal her displeasure to the extent of staying away from Dr Manmohan Singh's functions in Kolkata on account of the chief minister's presence. While the CPI-M makes it a point to be politically correct, Miss Banerjee remains true to style in expecting the Prime Minister to fall in line not just on policy issues like central intervention on the question of law and order and withdrawal of joint forces in Junglemahal but even in matters involving protocol. Even the Congress concedes that recent election successes have added to her bargaining power. It would be disastrous for Trinamul if it again prompts her to fall prey to her own whims. 








THE wings of the All-India Council for Technical Education have been clipped. And the new inspection mechanism ought to curb the extent of corruption that has plagued technical institutions for as long as it has. Intrinsically, there will be a one-time inspection at the time of foundation; further inspections are ruled out unless there are specific complaints. The extent of corruption can be gauged from the HRD minister's justification of the revised charter. The malaise of what Kapil Sibal calls the "inspector raj" must have permeated the system to a considerable extent. The express purpose is to "minimise human intervention" and put things in place with the aid of technology, in particular to monitor the movement of files and the action taken by the regulatory authority. If the human factor has to be held at a discount, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the "inspector raj" had spawned an almost institutionalised corruption within the AICTE. One could even argue that the ripple effect may have corrupted quite a few of these technical institutions as well. 
The minister has stopped short of spelling out the murky details, but the public is entitled to be acquainted with the functioning of a public-funded entity. Chief among the charges, as is generally known, is that the AICTE, as often as not, sends inspection teams on the recommendation of the institute to ensure a favourable report. What these experts, so-called, receive in return must remain a matter of embarrassing conjecture. No less an issue of concern is the other allegation, of which the HRD ministry is aware, that the AICTE is known to file adverse reports if the institute doesn't cooperate. All in all, it has been a farcical exercise that over time has masqueraded as a system of inspection, as pliant as it has been unscrupulous. The major cause for surprise must be that the national government has stepped in after considerable damage has been done. An inspection per se is intended to streamline the system and plug the loopholes... not to render that system still more suspect. 








New York, 18 JAN: Nearly 90 per cent of world's 7,000 oral languages will disappear within the next 100 years, according to a UN report.

"There are around 6,000 to 7,000 oral languages in the world today, a great majority of which are spoken by indigenous people and many (if not most) of them are in danger of becoming extinct," said the first-ever UN report on State of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

According to the report, which was released globally recently, "most of these languages are spoken by very few people, while a handful of them are spoken by an overwhelming majority of the world".

"Roughly 90 per cent of all existing languages may become extinct within the next 100 years as about 97 per cent of the world's population speaks only 4 per cent of its languages, while only 3 per cent speaks 96 per cent of them".







A year and a half since it captured power in Midnapore East's panchayat set-up, where does the Trinamul Congress stand on the issue of local governance? It may be a less regimented party than the CPI-M, says DEBRAJ BHATTACHARYA, and while there is likely to be an increase in management problems there will be less 'remote control' from headquarters

IN what signified a historic shift in West Bengal's power structure, the Trinamul Congress captured power for the first time, in 2008, in Midnapore East's zilla parishad and a majority of the panchayat samities and gram panchayats. A year and a half later, where does the Trinamul Congress stand on the issue of local governance? I recently made a short field trip to Midnapore East, where the agitation against land acquisition at Nandigram took place, the purpose being to try and understand what Trinamul leaders and representatives thought about the panchayats, what rhetoric they were using and how they were distinguishing themselves from the Left Front on the issue of local governance.

My first stop was Amdabad II gram panchayat of Nandigram II block. The place had witnessed massive violence during the agitation and police camps are still based in the panchayat office. There is no trouble now, in fact an interesting transformation has taken place. In 2008, the CPI-M won eight seats and Trinamul three, with the pradhan being from the CPI-M. It is alleged that he was corrupt and misappropriated a substantial amount of panchayat funds. Since the last Lok Sabha election, in which local CPI-M member of Parliament Laxman Seth lost significantly, he and four other members have been absconding. This created a political impasse in the gram panchayat. As a result, four CPI-M members and three from TMC came together to create a new board. Trinamul's Malini Debi was chosen pradhan and a CPI-M member was made her deputy.
As this is quite extraordinary in the context of political rivalry in Bengal, we wanted to know how something like this could have happened. Debi and her party colleagues told me that village development work was being halted and the need to rectify this situation was more important than party rivalry. To determine whether this was just Trinamul spiel, we checked with a CPI-M member. The young man, a schoolteacher, said Debi had been chosen pradhan because she was the most competent, apart from having been the president of the panchayat samity. Asked in what way her gram panchayat was different from the CPI-M panchayats, Debi thought for a while and said the central command of her party would not make any distinction between the supporters of various parties. This would make them different from the CPI-M.

Mahadeb Bagh, one of the leaders of the movement in Nandigram, is now the operating officer of the panchayat samity. Asked what happened in Nandigram, he said the CPI-M made the mistake of not consulting the people. As a result, they revolted against that party's high-handed style of implementation. Led by Subhendu Adhikari, the TMC was able to mobilise the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee and the result was a massive electoral victory for Trinamul, an oloukik ghotona (fantastic event). So what would the TMC do with the panchayats if it came to power in 2011? Like Debi, he thought for a while and then said, "First, power has to be returned to the elected representatives and TMC will have to rethink the gram unnayan samity, especially the system of open-voting by raising hands in public."Asit Banerjee, president of the Kolaghat panchayat samity, to some extent reiterated the points made by Bagh. He said the TMC's goal would be to bring people at the grassroots to the mainstream and try to ensure there was a transparent and fair panchayat where party colours would not decide who would get the benefits of panchayat funds. Most importantly, TMC panchayats would not be run by the party thorough "remote control" — power would be in the hands of the representatives and not the pradhan chalak sitting in the party office.

Similar views were expressed by Subha Dutta, pradhan of Gopal Nagar gram panchayat. She said that the difference between the CPI-M and the Trinamul central command was that while the former spoke, the latter delivered by implementing schemes. The CPI-M, she said, made plans in the party office while the TMC ensured plans were made by the village development committee.

Bimal Krishna Nandy, agricultural officer of the zilla parishad, said that during the CPI-M era the panchayats were controlled by the party and were closed to the people and they were not in a position to know what was happening. The TMC, on the other hand, aimed to create an open and transparent panchayat and share information with the people. He also reiterated the desire for a panchayat for the poor, irrespective of any particular party colour. He said he was trying to introduce sustainable agriculture techniques and reduce consumption of ground water – namely, the use of vermicompost and the need for rainwater harvesting and soil testing. The introduction of such methods, according to him, would make Trinamul panchayats different from the CPI-M ones.

Trinamul's most articulate leader in the zilla parishad is vice-president Mahmud Hossain, a former schoolteacher. His room is always full of people and getting an audience is a problem. Even while talking, he continuously attended to phone calls and his three mobile phones were always busy. Asked what the problems of the CPI-M era panchayats were, he said these had become dependent on the bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the party, on the other. The bureaucracy had also become politicised. As a result, there was no cooperation with Trinamul representatives and this explained the tardy implementation of schemes.

So what would happen if Trinamul came to power? What changes would it bring about? He paused and then replied that the Trinamul Congress would like to have a separate cadre of employees for the panchayats, a kind of panchayat service. Second, the party would like to separate the posts of district magistrate and executive officer of the zilla parishad, with the latter being very much in control. Third, according to him, during the CPI-M period actual devolution had not taken place. The TMC would like to devolve power, especially in education, agriculture and irrigation. Fourth, the current below poverty line  list was faulty and would have to be changed. Finally, he reiterated what others had said: that the panchayat would be for the poor, irrespective of party affiliation.

I got the impression that Trinamul leaders did not have a readymade answer to the question of why their panchayats were different from CPI-M's. In other words, its leaders at the highest level had not as yet created a party line that everybody would reproduce verbatim. The ideas expressed were not radical, in the sense that there was no fundamental theoretical rethinking of the institution but, rather, an expression of a vision that perhaps the CPI-M would also share minus the aberrations of its era.

Was what we heard from the Trinamul Congress far removed from reality in the field? To find out, we had a group discussion with some development professionals who have been working in the district for the past two years. On the issue of party control, they said it was true for both parties, but in case of the TMC the control was less. One reason could be that the TMC is less organised and, therefore, political representatives have more power than the party. One example being that in order to fix a meeting in a CPI-M panchayat it was necessary to contact the party's man, whereas it was enough to contact the pradhan in the case of a Trinamul gram panchayat.
Trinamul has more or less followed the Congress pattern in developing the organisation in the district — a zilla committee at the district level followed by a block committee, an anchal committee at the gram panchayat level and a booth committee at the assembly level. There is also a three-member zilla grievance cell to sort out differences and hear complaints against the party. The crucial difference with the CPI-M is the absence of a hegemonic structure like the local committee. The group felt that although it was possible that the TMC would in future also develop an iron grip on rural society like the CPI-M, at the moment there is less control over the people and the representatives. When asked about the social background of the leaders of the two parties, the group said that they were more or less the same. In other words, Trinamul was not representing a new social class as such. As far as performance was concerned, in expenditure terms Trinamul gram panchayats were not doing as well as the CPI-M ones, with the exception of Egra subdivision. This was because Trinamul members were still trying to understand how the system worked. The group felt both parties were enthusiastic about planning from scratch, that neither was trying to stall the process initiated two years ago.

I did not get the impression that the institution of panchayats was in peril as a result of the political changes the district has witnessed in recent times. Under Trinamul, a less regimented party than the CPI-M, we are likely to see an increase in management problems but less "remote control" from the party office. Efficiency is currently low but is likely to increase with more training, provided management problems do not run out of control in the meantime. Whether in course of time Trinamul's style of operation becomes the same as that of CPI-M remains to be seen. Meanwhile, there is also a chance that the "development is more important than party colours" line of thinking may become more widespread.

The writer is with the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi







Disappointment was inevitable. Barack Obama is not divine. Yet even a strenuous God would have had difficulty in coping with the weight of expectations which descended on him. Even in human terms, there was nothing in his background to suggest he possessed exceptional ability.


A first-term senator, he had made no significant legislative contribution. He had become well-known because of his colour and because he was just about the most left-wing member of the Senate. But he was one of the least experienced Presidents of all time.

   There was a further difficulty. No one knew what he stood for. The left-wingery was quickly dumped when he hit the presidential hustings, without being replaced by anything coherent. Candidate Obama behaved like a British Liberal candidate. He invited voters to write letters to Santa Claus, and promised to deliver the presents. So was he still a closet Leftie? Or was he the equivalent of the young Tony Blair: a left-winger in order to commend himself to the party activists, who moved to the centre as soon as politics became serious? Or was there a third alternative: that Barrack Obama did not really know what he believed? That seems much the most likely.

his creates a problem. Politics is hard enough for those who do know what they believe. Without a political and moral compass, it is impossible to navigate a passage through the wild seas and the wrecking rocks. The keynote of the Obama presidency has been tentativeness. It is as if he were working as an electrician without knowing much about electronics: sneaking a squint at the textbook whenever the householder was not looking.

The health reforms are an obvious example. I have never understood why it is impossible to devise a universal system of insurance-based health care for all Americans. The current arrangements, which effectively force those without cover to use accident and emergency departments, are not as inhumane as European liberals allege. But they are inefficient and wasteful. It ought to be possible to devise something like the French model. Not that much more expensive than the UK one, it more or less satisfies those notoriously hard-to-please French.

Whatever the answer, it would require a great deal of hard thinking. There should be an attempt to reach a consensus. If that proved impossible, the effort would not have been wasted. The issues and alternatives would have been clarified in a rigorous debate.


There was none of that. Instead, partisanship and thoughtlessness prevailed. The result? No one knows. Although a bill will be passed, there is widespread dissatisfaction. That could be a good sign, if it indicated a closely-argued, hard-fought compromise between idealists and sceptics. But there has been none of that. The Democrats used their majority to force through rather think through. Increasingly, a number of Democrats became doubtful as their constituents protested. This explains the confusion, tentativeness and complexity of the current draft. It also helps to explain its likely cost. In the words of American journalist PJ O'Rourke, "If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free."

An American President will only be strong if he can use the White House as a bully pulpit, in Theodore Roosevelt's phrase. Obama has been unable to do this, because he is not good enough in the pulpit. This is not only due to lack of political conviction; the man is not that good a speaker. Last year's Inaugural Address was hailed as a blend of "I have a dream", the Gettysburg Address and the Sermon on the Mount. Yet the delivery was uninspired and there was not a single memorable phrase. On the big occasions, George Bush was a much better speaker.

A year ago, we should have all taken the odds against Obama winning a second term. Now, they too will be much shorter. If the Republicans could find a decent candidate, the President would be beatable. But that is still a big "if". Sarah Palin is the feminists' nightmare. If Lefties believed in scaring naughty children, they would use her name to do so. God knows what they say about her in the Quai d'Orsay. Even so, that does not qualify her to be President of the United States. One suspects that she would be Barack Obama's preferred candidate.


For that reason alone, Republicans should look elsewhere.

Barack Obama is not a bad man. But he is not a good President. He will not deserve to be re-elected.

The Independent







LIKE Chinese dissident and democracy advocate Liu Xiabao who, on Christmas Day, was jailed for 11 years for "incitement to subvert state power", many Chinese intellectuals must wonder, perhaps like TS Eliot's J Alfred Prufrock, "Do I dare… Do I dare disturb the universe?" Most would rather make money than risk their lives for political freedom.

But those who dare must keep in mind that whoever disturbs social harmony and the peaceful rise of China's becoming a dominant global super power with his seditious and insidious ideas must be silenced. China has little tolerance for the noise and chaos of democracy. Last year, human rights activist and environmentalist Hu Jia was sent to prison for three-and-a-half years for his subversive writing. In 2005, another writer, Shi Tao, was convicted and sentenced to a 10-year jail term for leaking a Communist Party internal memo to an outside non-Chinese website.

And foreigners must behave if they want to do business with China, or borrow from its trillion-dollar kitty, or want to use its diplomatic leverage with North Korea and Iran, or plan to do something about global climate. China can do all this and much more. In fact, whatever China does or does not do at home or abroad impacts the rest of the world. Many countries in Asia and Africa envy China and would like to emulate its freedom-neutral, export-based model of rapid economic growth.

But in spite of this, China is terribly afraid of upsetting its delicate applecart, afraid of the power of ideas of men like Liu, who refuse to bend and bow before the might of the one-party authoritarian rule. It has been much easier for China to condemn the Dalai Lama, a "splitter" of the motherland and a "devil in a monk's robe"; but is undecided on what to do with Liu who, at the time of 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned post-haste to China to participate in the protest, for which he had to spend 20 months in prison.

While the rest of China has been going from economic peak to economic peak to dazzling Olympian heights, it must be puzzling for Beijing to understand why the 54-year-old Liu still talks of human rights and democracy. For his persistent writing about socio-political conditions in China and his contribution to Charter 08, Liu was held in custody for more than a year before a formal indictment.

Charter 08 asks for fundamental rights, the rights to which people in Europe, the USA, India and other liberal democracies have become so accustomed to that they seem so natural, including, for example, separation of legislative, judicial and executive power, legislative democracy, an independent judiciary, freedom to assemble and form groups, freedom of expression and religion, civic education, protection of private property and, most of all, a federated republic. Ten thousand Chinese who are reported to have signed the document since its inception on 18 December 2008 form only the tip of the iceberg.

In December 2009, Liu was subjected to a hasty trial from which not only his wife was excluded but also the news media. Liu, who has received international accolades for his fearless human rights advocacy, will not be allowed to write anything during his prison term because under current Chinese law he will lose all his political rights.

International protests do not matter to Chinese authorities, who are determined to maintain their hold on power in the name of social harmony and economic growth. Since Liu's arrest in early January last year, several organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Poets, Essayists and Novelists as well as many prominent writers (Salman Rushdie among them) and Nobel laureates have appealed to Chinese President Hu Jintao, but to no avail.

Even President Barak Obama raised the issue during his meeting with President Hu Jintao in Beijing last year. But having declined to meet with the Dalai Lama, Obama's commitment to human rights in China seems rather dubious in comparison with his predecessor, George W Bush's call for democracy and human rights.
Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, thanks to her new found political pragmatism, seldom talks about Chinese human rights, though as First Lady, when she visited Beijing in 1995 to attend the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, she forthrightly told her Chinese audience, "Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organise and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their governments." Liu Xiabao and the Charter 08 signatories are asking for the same thing; and they won't go away. The biggest challenge to China's one-party authoritarian rule comes not from its peripheral regions, Tibet or Xingjian-Uygur, but from its heartland, from people like Liu Xiabao.

The writer teaches communication, media law and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is also author of Digital Freedom and is working on a new book, This is the American Way







There will always be a debate about Jyoti Basu's greatest gift to West Bengal. Some would argue that he made none. What is beyond dispute is the almost unbelievable, but very apt, present he has made to the people of the state he laid to waste by dying on Sunday morning. Monday was declared a holiday; today large parts of the city, most certainly all government offices, for all practical purposes will not be working; and Wednesday is a holiday because of Saraswati Puja. Basu has thus given to the people of West Bengal four consecutive days on which they do not have to work. What better gift could a chief minister whose politics destroyed the work culture of the state give to its people? The inexplicable part is the decision of the government of West Bengal to declare Monday a holiday. Basu is a former chief minister, why should his death merit a holiday? There is another former chief minister alive; will there be a holiday when the maker also gathers him in? It is telling that the one way the government of West Bengal can think of honouring Basu is by declaring a holiday on the day after his death. This is an indicator of this government's attitude to work. It is a mindset that Basu helped to perpetuate by doing nothing to stem the rot of decline that had been started by his party's agitational politics and proneness to street violence and terror.


There are some difficult questions that the people of West Bengal will have to face regarding Basu. One of these is whether Basu deserves to be honoured in any way at the expense of the taxpayer. His party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is free to honour him in any way it likes from its own coffers. Basu's contribution to the development of West Bengal makes a sad catalogue. Under his chief ministership capital fled; at least two generations had their futures jeopardized because they were not allowed to learn English; health services plummeted; and muscle power of the cadre thrived. The CPI(M) and the Left Front flourished, but always at the cost of the state. Unless the extreme hypothesis, that the people of Bengal love the process of decline, is accepted, there is no reason why Basu should be loved and honoured. The people of West Bengal treated Basu as a hero, first when he was an Opposition leader, then as chief minister, and now in the aftermath of his death. They should be aware of what this hero worship says about them.







To be under trial in India can become a nightmare. At present, this is true of around 1.7 lakh people, either charged with petty crimes for which they have paid their debt to society many times over, or incarcerated for a period that is already more than, or almost equivalent to, the length of the maximum prescribed jail-time for the crime with which they have been charged. They represent one of the most shaming aspects of the Indian justice system, for their presence within confining walls is a persistent reminder of the violation of the rule of law by the justice system itself. The United Progressive Alliance government has decided to make sure that 1.25 lakh of these undertrial prisoners are freed in six months' time starting January 26. Limitless detention without trial is illegal; no one has the authority to hold human beings if they are not going to be tried in court. Judicial delays for a variety of reasons, indifferent or undutiful lawyers and State representatives, an oblivious police, all contribute to this unbearable state of affairs. But what is implicit in this situation is the prisoners' helplessness. They can be forgotten by the State precisely because they have no social, economic or political clout — which makes a mockery of the principle that all are equal before the law.


The Union law minister has in hand a structured plan that courts might like to look at in the process of freeing the prisoners. One of the chief features of the process needs to be daily hearings for each prisoner so that the sentence in each case, in line with the requirements of the criminal procedure code, can be passed faster. In many cases, prisoners have already lived out most of the prescribed maximum penalty. The law ministry has also divided the country into zones and appointed an additional solicitor general for each zone to oversee the freeing of undertrial prisoners. Apart from the chief justice of India, the head of the National Legal Services Authority, which ensures aid for poor litigants through the medium of the states, has also been made aware of the plan. This is the first notable step in the reform of the justice system that the UPA government had expressed itself keen to carry out. The necessary framework is gradually being put in place. Whether that will encourage action in the courts and among law-keepers is yet to be seen.









Come then, companions. This is the spring of blood,heart's hey-day, movement of masses, beginning of good.

— Rex Warner, "Hymn''


Jyoti Basu was the last of a generation. He was best described — for lack of a better description — as a sahib communist. That epithet referred to those sons of affluent families, many of them Westernized, who went to Great Britain, either for higher studies or to the Inns of Court to qualify as barristers-at-law, and then converted to communism. Many of these were from Calcutta: Sushobhan Sarkar, Hiren Mukherjee, Nikhil Chakravarty, Indrajit Gupta, Bhupesh Gupta, Arun Bose, Basu, of course, and others.


Kuruvilla Zachariah, who taught history in Presidency College, once asked Sushobhan Sarkar, one of his dear students, if it was true that Hiren and Nikhil had become communists and that Sarkar too was inclined in that ideological direction. A devout Syrian Christian, Zachariah was pained and bewildered at this ideological turn in the lives of three of his favourite students. He had good reasons to feel that way since there was nothing in the family and educational background of these people to quite explain their attraction to communism and Marxism. Basu's teacher, the legendary professor of English in Presidency College, Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, would probably have echoed his colleague Zachariah's sentiments.


One way to clear up the bewilderment is to try and comprehend the international context that drew many members of a generation to communism. It is especially important to do so at this juncture, when the local achievements (or their absence) of Basu are under the scanner. Except for Sushobhan Sarkar, all those who have been mentioned above took to communism in England while they were students there in the late 1920s and the 1930s. The timing is significant.


The entire world, following the Great Depression of 1929, was in a severe economic crisis. To many it seemed that this signalled the end of capitalism. There were millions of people unemployed. Inflation was soaring and there was widespread social unrest. One manifestation of this unrest was the rise to power of fascist parties, first in Italy and then in Germany. In other parts of Europe, too, the spectre of fascism loomed large. In England, which is where most Bengali students went to study, there was a very strong belief among the gentry and the upper classes that Hitler should be appeased and used as a bulwark against Soviet Russia and communism. The Labour government of 1929-31 had collapsed. There were dramatic Hunger Marches against poverty and mass unemployment caused by the closing down of industrial units. Many radical students from Oxbridge participated in these marches and demonstrations. In the second half of the 1930s came the Spanish Civil War, and exceptionally bright young men from privileged backgrounds — Julian Bell, Christopher St John Sprigg and John Cornford to name a few — went out to Spain to fight and die for the cause of liberty.


Indian students from Calcutta and elsewhere in India, when they arrived in London, Oxford or Cambridge, encountered, willy-nilly, this charged atmosphere. In India, they had been exposed to the national movement and, as intelligent young men and women, had realized their own and their country's subjugated status. In England, they imbibed the promise not only of political freedom but also perceived that there was a world beyond the independence of India.


That world was represented to the youth of the 1930s in England by the ideology of communism. With the onset of the crisis of capitalism, communism appeared to offer an alternative that promised justice and equality. Communism, as one Frenchman, Gabriel Péri, who died in the hands of the fascists, put it, seemed to represent "our singing tomorrows". Communism in the eyes of the young idealists was synonymous with freedom. In hindsight, it might be convenient to sneer at these ideas, but at that time in the 1930s, in the given context, communism was the only ideology that consistently opposed Hitler and fascism.


Thus, men like Jyoti Basu were drawn to communism and to the Communist Party of Great Britain. The conversion was a product of the context, their own awareness of it and of the influence of certain individuals that they met. Foremost among such individuals was Rajani Palme Dutt (popularly known in communist circles in India and England as RPD), the powerful general secretary of the CPGB. Dutt had a special claim on students coming from India and moving towards communism. He hailed from the famous family of Dutts in Rambagan in north Calcutta. His grand uncle was R.C. Dutt, a member of the Indian Civil Service and author of The Economic History of India Under British Rule. RPD was a formidable intellectual with a first in Greats (as the Classics BA is known in Oxford) from Balliol College. All the young Bengalis who converted to communism in England spoke of the formative influence of RPD. The other communist leaders whose influence the Thirties' brigade acknowledged were Ben Bradley, Harry Pollitt and James Klugman.


There was thus a combination of factors that affected Basu and his friends and produced their conversion: a particular historical conjuncture, awareness of the international situation and, finally, the influence of particular individuals. There was another factor that is hardly ever spoken about: this was guilt. Their awareness of poverty and inequality ran counter to their own privileged backgrounds. Being a communist and working for the downtrodden was a salve to their conscience.


The conversion brought with it a price tag and this was unquestioning loyalty to the cause of communism (read the Soviet Union) and blind obedience to the party line as laid down by RPD, who ran the Indian communist party sitting in London. The implication of this needs to be spelt out bluntly and without any qualifications. It meant that these men — some of the best and the brightest of their generation — surrendered their minds to the party. They allowed the party to do their thinking for them. If they had doubts they suppressed them. They refused to accept the many brutalities and horrors that communist regimes across the globe unleashed on the poor. Even in the 1930s, they refused to accept that the Moscow Trials were a sham. They embraced communism, like many others across the world, as a new and secular religion with the party as god.


The sacrifice of the self at the altar of the party was not an easy one for some of the young men. It meant that when they came back to India and joined the Communist Party of India — as indeed, Indrajit Gupta, Bhupesh Gupta, Basu and Arun Bose did — they abandoned their life of privilege. They lived among the workers or in party communes or in accommodation provided by the party. Stints in jail were not uncommon. The material suffering was all too evident. Most significantly, what none of them ever spoke about is what it meant for them mentally and psychologically to have surrendered their minds to the party and then suffer an intellectual imprisonment. Jyoti Basu suffered this imprisonment, bursting out only when his party stopped him from becoming the prime minister of India.


What is difficult to understand is not what bewildered Zachariah but why bright minds suffered for so long the illusion of their epoch. Karl Marx declared that his life's motto had been "doubt everything". His followers abandoned their privileges and their doubts. Those among his followers who gained access to power and position reclaimed the privileges but not their doubts.








Many eulogies have been spoken and written about the life, times and persona of Jyoti Basu. He was of the old and gracious school of intellectuals — educated men and women who entered public life, committed to their ideology and beliefs, lived by their values, and served the nation. You could agree, or agree to disagree with their positions, but you could always engage with them within the democratic processes and norms set by the Constitution. With his passing, the number of respect-worthy politicians has diminished further. Amongst the first tributes, Prakash and Brinda Karat's voice and words were missing. Mamata Banerjee's voice was there.


When I asked a friend why this was so with the Karats, I was told that the politburo would make the rigid, turgid and emotionless condolence statement. Trying to make sense of the sensibilities of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from the outside, it seemed clear that the days of liberal communists, engaged with a changing world, have nearly ended. An open-minded but committed Jyoti Basu represented that very important ingredient, essential for a healthy democracy. His rhetoric was never abusive or demeaning. Differences were clear, discourse was civilized, and so was the method of opposition to policies, directives and realities on the ground.


Unfortunately, there is an in-between generation that has managed to reduce the level of political and social discourse to depths that make one uneasy and uncomfortable. The greed and intellectual weakness that have overwhelmed our political class have become a matter of much shame. They have suffocated the growth and development of India as a progressive, modern nation.


Accursed nation


The next generation holds promise, and the younger elected representatives appear to be in the mould of the earlier, first lot of post-Independence leaders. This may be wishful thinking but equally, it better be true. India cannot be exploited anymore by its small coterie of politicians and bureaucrats. Their closed ranks have destroyed governance and the rule of law. They must be made accountable, and the top leadership must be made responsible for ensuring that. To dilute the essence and spirit of India and then hand it over to the next in line are unforgivable. Therefore, correctives need to be put in place urgently.Symbols are very important. The one symbol that defines the breaking of the law is the white ambassador car that says 'government of India', has a beacon on its head, and a driver whose arrogance is worse than that of his master. The driver breaks every road rule, parks where it says 'no parking', does U-turns where they are banned, drives on the wrong side of the road on a one-way street and gets away with 'murder'. He then pees on a wall and gambles with other drivers while waiting for saab or memsaab who pretends to be oblivious to every contravention of the law. Traffic policemen allow these 'special' cars to break all rules and wave them on — a blatant dereliction of their official duties. But India bungles on, with its top brass breaking the rules, regulations and norms. The curse of one billion people, who have been assaulted by this horrific 'corruption' of the mind, body and soul, is bound to take its toll sooner than later.Our growth trajectory has been good in spite of the faulty policies, the bureaucratic stranglehold, the frightening deterioration of honest governance and the open insult to integrity. We have failed to give ordinary, law-abiding, good citizens a life of dignity. We have been unable to protect the good from the bad, the right from the wrong. We have lost the moral ground as a result. It is for this reason that India does not command respect in the region. This is why Chinese influence is dominating in all our neighbouring countries. This is shameful.








Many eulogies have been spoken and written about the life, times and persona of Jyoti Basu. He was of the old and gracious school of intellectuals — educated men and women who entered public life, committed to their ideology and beliefs, lived by their values, and served the nation. You could agree, or agree to disagree with their positions, but you could always engage with them within the democratic processes and norms set by the Constitution. With his passing, the number of respect-worthy politicians has diminished further. Amongst the first tributes, Prakash and Brinda Karat's voice and words were missing. Mamata Banerjee's voice was there.


When I asked a friend why this was so with the Karats, I was told that the politburo would make the rigid, turgid and emotionless condolence statement. Trying to make sense of the sensibilities of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from the outside, it seemed clear that the days of liberal communists, engaged with a changing world, have nearly ended. An open-minded but committed Jyoti Basu represented that very important ingredient, essential for a healthy democracy. His rhetoric was never abusive or demeaning. Differences were clear, discourse was civilized, and so was the method of opposition to policies, directives and realities on the ground.


Unfortunately, there is an in-between generation that has managed to reduce the level of political and social discourse to depths that make one uneasy and uncomfortable. The greed and intellectual weakness that have overwhelmed our political class have become a matter of much shame. They have suffocated the growth and development of India as a progressive, modern nation.


Accursed nation


The next generation holds promise, and the younger elected representatives appear to be in the mould of the earlier, first lot of post-Independence leaders. This may be wishful thinking but equally, it better be true. India cannot be exploited anymore by its small coterie of politicians and bureaucrats. Their closed ranks have destroyed governance and the rule of law. They must be made accountable, and the top leadership must be made responsible for ensuring that. To dilute the essence and spirit of India and then hand it over to the next in line are unforgivable. Therefore, correctives need to be put in place urgently.

Symbols are very important. The one symbol that defines the breaking of the law is the white ambassador car that says 'government of India', has a beacon on its head, and a driver whose arrogance is worse than that of his master. The driver breaks every road rule, parks where it says 'no parking', does U-turns where they are banned, drives on the wrong side of the road on a one-way street and gets away with 'murder'. He then pees on a wall and gambles with other drivers while waiting for saab or memsaab who pretends to be oblivious to every contravention of the law. Traffic policemen allow these 'special' cars to break all rules and wave them on — a blatant dereliction of their official duties. But India bungles on, with its top brass breaking the rules, regulations and norms. The curse of one billion people, who have been assaulted by this horrific 'corruption' of the mind, body and soul, is bound to take its toll sooner than later.Our growth trajectory has been good in spite of the faulty policies, the bureaucratic stranglehold, the frightening deterioration of honest governance and the open insult to integrity. We have failed to give ordinary, law-abiding, good citizens a life of dignity. We have been unable to protect the good from the bad, the right from the wrong. We have lost the moral ground as a result. It is for this reason that India does not command respect in the region. This is why Chinese influence is dominating in all our neighbouring countries. This is shameful.







Language arouses such passion in Tamil Nadu that dissenters baulk at running down Karunanidhi's Tamil conference directly, writes Chirosree Basu


The official logo for the World Classical Tamil Conference, scheduled to be held in June in Coimbatore, shows the gigantic statue of Thiruvalluvar. Behind it are the towering waves of the tsunami. Tamil language and culture, which the statue of the Tamil poet symbolizes, are supposed to have stood as rock-solid as Thiruvalluvar in the face of upsurges no less devastating than the tsunami.


Like the statue, the logo is the brainchild of the Tamil Nadu chief minister, M. Karunanidhi. He is personally monitoring every aspect of the conference. Right from the designing of the logo, the opening of the official website, the anointing of the committees, the receiving of the daily progress reports, Karunanidhi is in it all. Ever since the conference bug bit him, he has been unstoppable. He has steamrolled the opposition of the International Association of Tamil Research — under whose aegis Tamil conferences have so far been held — that said it could not organize the event at such short notice (within a year of announcement). He has dissociated the conference from the IATR and chosen a new name — the World Classical Tamil Conference.


It is not the circumstances of its birth alone that have marked this conference out for intense speculation, but also the possible "political motive" behind it. World Tamil conferences, since they first began to be held in Tamil Nadu in 1968, have spoken more about the glory of political leaders than that of Tamil. The 1968 conference eulogized C.N. Annadurai, the 1981 conference M.G. Ramachandran and the 1995 conference in Thanjavur, the most infamous one, J. Jayalalithaa. Given that legacy, Karunanidhi's desire to hold a Tamil conference should have been accepted as part of this political tradition. Instead, he is being blamed for harbouring a political motive — to regain his reputation as a world leader of the Tamil community which he lost because of his inaction during the war in Sri Lanka.


The Federation of Tamil Creative Writers and Tamil Lovers is a group of dissenting intellectuals among whom are several well-known writers and poets, such as Jeya Pirakasam, Inquilab, Suriyadeepan, Jayabaskaran and others. Both Pirakasam and Inquilab, apart from reminding me of Karunanidhi's insensitivity to the condition of the Sri Lankan Tamils, point to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's failure to make Tamil compulsory at the primary level. Pirakasam agrees that the failure is not the DMK's alone, but it is Karunanidhi's posturing as the supreme benefactor of Tamil that makes him insufferable. The group insists that dissenters are increasing although there is not enough media attention. Many literary figures, including Puviarasu, the recipient of the Sahitya Akademi award this year, have dissociated themselves from the conference.


Even the intellectuals roped into the jamboree are not entirely comfortable with Karunanidhi's evident flip-flop on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. But they put it down to his political compulsions — the party needs to retain its men at the Centre. One of them, who does not want to be named for the fear of being dragged into a controversy, even emphasizes that the DMK's attitude has been the result of a possible disjunction between the chief minister, who correctly gauged the groundswell of support for the issue, and his partymen. For a leader-centric party like the DMK, where every word of its patriarch is carried out as a command, that is perhaps pushing things a bit too far. As for Tamil not being made the medium of instruction at the primary level, the party argues that the government's two-language policy is in keeping with people's "preferences".


Clearly, many in Tamil Nadu's intelligentsia find it difficult to reconcile their romantic notions of the Dravidian ideology with the current political avatars of the movement. On the ground, it is biriyani, bribes and booze that bring votes, and no longer self-respect or linguistic pride. But, as A.R. Venkatachalapathy of the Madras Institute of Development Studies and member of the seminar committee at the conference, says, "It is important to keep the veneer on for the ideology to be passed on historically."


The emotions that language can rake up are astonishing. Venkatachalapathy tells me how insulted he felt when, at a meeting attended by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam soon after he became president of India, Pramod Mahajan had stopped him from responding to a request for a few words in Tamil by saying, "He is the president of India. He cannot speak in Tamil." Tamil has got its status as a classical language, but it is still denied its rightful place in India's literary tradition, he argues. Tamil is not an official language in India although in Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka, which have Tamil minorities, it is. Venkatachalapathy thinks it important to revisit these issues, and a Tamil conference of this scale, which may do so "is not possible without state patronage". Encouraging soundbites from scholars seem expected as much as their unquestioning participation.


Language in Tamil Nadu still carries so much sentimental currency that neither the intelligentsia nor the Opposition can directly run down the DMK's effort to organize a language conference. It is this sentiment, or the fear of hurting it, that stops the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam spokesman, G. Nanmaran, from disagreeing with the idea of the conference. Nanmaran emphasizes that he "is not saying that it [the conference] is not necessary". His party is against the fact that it is being held by a person who has done nothing for the Sri Lankan Tamils. "Let the people judge," says Nanmaran.


But the people have already judged the DMK and the MDMK on this issue in the last general elections. And despite the sham fast, Karunanidhi's blow-hot-blow-cold on the fate of the Tamil Tigers, the DMK has romped home. Notwithstanding the subsequent revelations about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the DMK has returned a thumping majority in three byelections. So will the people remember the issue when they judge the language conference?


There is little chance of that. No one knows this better than Karunanidhi. Apart from personally overseeing that none of the mistakes of the previous conferences are repeated (about inviting the Opposition, or securing the participation of the Sri Lankan scholars), he has enough up his sleeve for the 'people'. About a hundred crore rupees have been sanctioned for the event, Rs 23 crore to spruce up the water supply schemes in seven panchayats, Rs 80 crore for upgrading roads, Rs 118 crore to build around 3,800 mutli-storeyed apartments for delegates (to be sold off eventually to middle-income groups). There are also, reportedly, plans to develop Coimbatore as an information hub.


Whether the Tamil language is served or not, the show will ensure, as Nanmaran points out, a six-month-long publicity campaign for the DMK before the assembly elections in 2011. It will entice western Tamil Nadu — particularly the Coimbatore-Erode-Karur-Salem belt, where the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam teamed up with Gounders to wrest power in the last general elections — to consider a shift in loyalty. Like other Dravidian parties, the DMK looks at the caste issue dispassionately. It knows that caste loyalties can be bought with reservations (say for the Arundathiyars), with free televisions, gas connections, rice at one rupee a kilogram or housing and health schemes.


There is also the question of image. With his kind of political career and literary achievements, Karunanidhi cannot be expected to disappear into the sunset. As Cho Ramaswamy says, "Karunanidhi is an ego purush.... He wants to be hailed as a Tamil scholar, a leader of the Tamil community," never mind that it could be an exercise in self-delusion. "Only 30 per cent of the people support him. He is here because of the PMK."


But where is the Pattali Makkal Katchi? It is beginning from scratch, wooing back its caste bank, the Vanniyars, after its electoral drubbing. As for the AIADMK, it is besieged by desertions and rebellion within. For the DMK, worries are never far away. The PMK is rebuilding its boats, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam has decided to go for alliances and Amma is daily getting shriller in her criticism. That is probably why Karunanidhi wants to enjoy his moment in the sunshine while his doting family and worshipping partymen fawn over him.



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





The Bombay High Court has done well to call on the Maharashtra government to take steps to protect social activists. The order has come in the wake of a spate of attacks on activists over the past week. Last Wednesday, an activist in Pune, who has been using the Right to Information (RTI) Act to draw attention to land scams, irregularities in the public distribution system and so on, was hacked to death.

eatened. All three have been speaking up and exposing irregularities in land deals. Those who attacked the RTI activists aimed to not only eliminate them but also to intimidate and silence others, who are keen to dig up the truth. This is not the first time that RTI activists working in the public interest to draw attention to the land mafia have been targeted, neither is this a problem that is confined to Maharashtra. A year ago, an RTI activist in Bangalore who was campaigning against encroachments by land sharks into government land was killed. There have been umpteen instances of RTI activists in the City receiving threatening calls warning them of physical harm if they did not withdraw applications for information.

RTI activists in Pune have come together to form an RTI council, which will act as a repository for information obtained by activists and put it up on the internet. The logic behind the move is that once the information is in the public domain individuals will not be targeted. This is a welcome move, which activists in other cities might consider replicating.

There is no doubt that citizens have been empowered by the RTI Act. But many are inhibited to use this powerful tool as they fear pressure from vested interests. If the full potential of the RTI should be realised it is important that citizens are provided with an enabling environment to exercise it, an atmosphere free from fear. The Bombay High Court's intervention will force the Maharashtra government to investigate the Pune killing and to announce steps it is taking to protect activists. But this is not enough.  Activists need to be protected. The Maharashtra government, indeed governments in other states too, should take steps to protect the activists. They need not wait for a rap on the knuckles from the courts to take action.








After the Copenhagen climate summit, another global meeting of importance to the whole world, especially to the developing countries, is being held in October this year in Nagoya in Japan. The Nagoya summit on bio-diversity, under the auspices of the UN, is expected to arrive at a legally binding deal on the use of biological resources by all countries. It has to find a new and better agreement in place of the existing Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which 193 countries are parties, or at least strengthen it. India has an important stake in the success of the summit because it is very rich in bio-diversity and needs to protect it. It also has to prevent exploitation and unauthorised use of its resources by other countries. The CBD gives sovereign rights to countries over their biological resources but the developed countries have often succeeded in taking the best commercial advantage of them even in dishonest ways.

Biological resources cover traditional knowledge about their uses also. The importance of protecting such knowledge becomes clear from the fact that patents are sought in other countries on practices and items of India's traditional systems of medicine, and even on yoga postures. India had to fight a protracted international legal battle to get the patents issued for basmati, neem and turmeric revoked. After that experience the country has taken some precautions like setting up a traditional knowledge digital library and making it available to patent offices abroad in order to prevent false patenting. A legally binding treaty on use of biological resources and traditional knowledge will make piracy and exploitation by companies like pharmaceutical firms or even individuals in developed countries difficult. That is perhaps the reason why developed countries are against a legally binding treaty.

Like Copenhagen, Nagoya also may not yield an agreement. There are hundreds of points of discord in the draft text under negotiation. An early and fair agreement is necessary to conserve and enhance the earth's natural resources. The steady loss of biodiversity has to be stopped or reduced significantly to ensure a healthy future for the planet and its inhabitants. The UN has declared this year as the International Year of Biodiversity. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has called upon the international community to make the summit a success.








A year into his office, Barack Obama is facing a possible tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. This Tuesday, Massachusetts will hold a special election to fill the Senate seat that belonged to Senator Edward M Kennedy before he succumbed to cancer last August. Massachusetts is an overwhelmingly Democratic state, but the party's heir apparent, attorney general Martha Coakley, appears at best tied with her little-known Republican challenger, state Senator Scott Brown.

A Coakley loss would be a nightmare for Democrats, not only for its symbolism, but because it would imperil the passage at long last of Obama's signature health care reform bill. Hence the potential tragedy: the death of health care champion Ted Kennedy could conceivably lead to the historic measure's bizarre demise.

Some of the blame lies with Coakley: she was slow to campaign in earnest. But her woes also have to do with the deeper forces bedevilling Barack Obama as he completes his first year in office. Like Obama, Coakley finds herself caught between conservative anger and liberal disillusionment.

As a result, it appears possible that a strong Republican turnout and a weak Democratic one will combine to hand Coakley — and, by extension, Obama himself — a reeling blow. Which is why Obama is making last-ditch campaign stop in Boston.

Even if a health care debacle is averted, Obama won't be in the clear. The national political currents that have shaped the Massachusetts showdown are sure to carry on well into 2010. Take the right wing: after health care, Obama's upcoming agenda items seem sure to further inflame such populist-conservative passions.

Next up could be a bill to address global warming, something the right denies is even a problem. There's also been talk of a new push to reform the country's immigration laws, a move that could grant amnesty to some illegal immigrants — political nitroglycerine on the nativist right.

But Obama can't simply take shelter under his party's left wing. There is no room for him at that inn. The health care bill's passage will come with outraged cries that Obama sold out his core supporters. Liberals like the former Democratic party chairman Howard Dean have argued that a health bill with no public option provision which forces private insurers to compete with the government is worse than no bill at all.

As for Obama's surge of 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, the powerful Democratic appropriations committee chairman David Obey speaks for many a liberal when he calls it 'a fool's errand.' It's a stunning turn of events for a president who many progressives believed was their saviour and would usher in a new era of bold liberal activism.


Treacherous grip

At the moment, this grip appears treacherous indeed for Obama. The latest polling from Gallup shows him with a meagre 49 per cent approval rating, with 45 per cent of Americans disapproving of his performance, down from a 66-27 split in early May. But the middle can be a good place to be and Obama may yet escape the dreaded left-right pincer.

Consider the example of Bill Clinton. Two years into his presidency, Clinton appeared ruined. Republicans stampeded in the 1994 midterm elections to capture the House and Senate, leaving Clinton to argue for his own relevance. But Clinton understood that the Republicans had benefited from a public perception that he had lurched to the left on health care and gays in the military.

Clinton began his comeback by forcefully taking on unsympathetic Republican rivals such as Newt Gingrich. But he also 'triangulated,' to use the word made famous by his adviser, Dick Morris, against his party's left wing. Clinton balanced the federal budget, signed a welfare reform bill and even famously declared in his 1995 State of the Union speech that "the era of big government is over."

The more liberals brayed about these moves, the more Clinton's popularity seemed to grow. Clinton came to understand that a quarrelsome left can be a Democratic president's friend. It can insulate him from the conservative charge that he was in the left's hip pocket and pushing the margins of political debate leftward, thereby expanding the centre in which a president can operate.

There's reason to believe Obama agrees with this. In 2008, Obama swept liberals off their feet with his oratory, but he has always been a moderate pragmatist. He campaigned on a pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan, put forth a less ambitious health care plan than did Hillary Clinton and declined to support repealing all of Bush's tax cuts.

This is, in essence, triangulation. And there are already new signs of it in talk of a potentially scaled-back approach to climate change and Obama's new proposal for a special tax on the profits of big banks, an idea that frustrates House liberals pushing a plan to tax at 50 per cent the bonuses of employees at banks that took federal bailout money last year.

If triangulation is so brilliant, why isn't it delivering Obama to popularity the way it did for Clinton? The reason lies beyond the parameters of political strategy. No president confronted with 10 per cent unemployment, plus a bloody war in a faraway land, can expect to defy the laws of political gravity. But should the economy turn around, Obama may find that by drawing noisy critics on both the left and right he will, as they say in the movies, have them just where he wants them.









Iraq's US-sponsored post-war regime shed its democratic pretentions by banning more than 500 candidates belonging to 15 political entities from standing in the country's March 7 parliamentary poll. If the leader of a party is banned, its entire slate is barred. The banning order has been endorsed by Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, ensuring that most of the names on the list will be excluded from the race. Among the political figures barred from standing are Defence Minister Abdel Qadr Jassem Obaidi, Deputy Prime Minister Rafi Issawi, and Saleh  Mutlaq, head of the National Dialogue Front. All are secular Sunnis. Maliki's spokesman Ali Dabbagh, a Shia, was reportedly on the list but there is great confusion since names on the list have been leaked not formally announced.

There is no legal basis for such action in the country's 2005 constitution or in the amendments to the election law enacted last fall. Most of the banned candidates and parties were set to attract the votes of Sunnis, secularists and disaffected Shias.

Reidar Visser, an expert on Iraq, described this development as a "complete system failure in the new democracy in Iraq". A seven-judge appeal panel is supposed to review the list, but three judges may be disqualified because they served under the ousted Baath party regime.

Iranian practice

While the body charged with purging members of the Baath was responsible for drawing up the list, the banning order issued by the election commission appears to be based on the  Iranian practice of excluding the opposition from public office.

Ahmad Chalabi and Ali Lami, prime movers of the de-Baath-ification panel, have a personal interest in removing rivals.

They are both standing for election. They are on the list put forward by the Shia Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC). Chalabi, once the darling of the Bush administration, and Lami, suspected of involvement in a 2008 militia attack that killed two US troops, enjoy close relations with Tehran. It is significant that the ban on Mutlaq was revealed the day after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki visited Baghdad. Iran, made paranoid by continuing protests over its own controversial presidential election, is keen to ensure that there is no challenge to its Iraqi allies, the Shia religious and Kurdish separatist parties currently ruling Iraq.

An Iraqi source said the aim of the ban is to restrict the field to parties rooted in religion.
The key Shia sectarian factions, Maliki's Dawa, SIIC, and the movement loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, are prepared to permit the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party to function because "it is a religious party, has no credibility and will lose votes".

He said the ban is a 'pre-emptive strike' designed to 'finish off' secular nationalists. The sectarian parties, secessionist Kurds and Iran 'fear their resurgence', particularly in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, and the north and west where nationalists defeated Kurdish and Shia candidates in last year's provincial polls.

Last October, Mutlaq's National Dialogue Front formed an electoral bloc with another secular party, al-Iraqiya List, headed by interim premier Ayad Allawi, a Shia who had recruited two prominent Sunnis, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and Vice Premier Issawi. The bloc denounces Kurdish claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.

This bloc had been expected to secure more seats than the Kurdish bloc and become the king maker between the feuding Shia blocs, Maliki's 'State of Law' coalition and the United Iraqi Alliance formed by SCIRI and the Sadrists.

Joost Hilterman, an Iraq specialist at the International Crisis Group, observed that the ban "is a terrible move... The elections are for Sunnis the make-or-break event for their participation in the state of Iraq".

Raed Jarrar, a political analyst, said the ban "will have catastrophic results" because it will force those excluded from politics to fight "outside the system".

He warned that the election has the "potential to ignite a new civil conflict." This would be disastrous, he said, because Iraq does not have the institutions capable of surviving fresh civil warfare. He pointed out that its security forces are divided by sectarian and ethnic loyalties.

The real problem is that the Shia and Kurdish politicians and parties empowered by the US are loyal only to themselves  and tied to Iran.









Until recently I was usefully employed and had 14 hours a day routine. Life was one mad rush. I have now retired from work and I am at wits' end as to how to spend my time. Imagine getting up in the morning with no aim in life. One fine morning, I got up from sleep and had this brilliant idea staring at me, brilliant only if the government accepts it.


That is to offer my services as minister for inaugurations. I can then relieve the ministers of the drudgery of low value addition jobs like inaugurating a modern laundry to replace an existing dhobi ghaat. I can inaugurate all the flyovers which are ready after years of overshooting deadlines, but they haven't found time.

The other day, I saw a one room building near a school entrance and it had a big inauguration board. The building had been inaugurated by a Central minister. I could easily do that in the future. Then there are new petrol pumps to be inaugurated or a new wing in a government hospital to be opened or a newly imported ECG machine to be installed. There is one too many marches to be flagged off.

A Union minister had to run for cover to escape the wrath of the local MLA's followers because the minister had not invited the MLA while he was inaugurating a ticket counter, yes, a ticket counter, at a tertiary station. I could have easily taken that heavy responsibility.

There are a host of other duties I could perform. My professional work took me to a number of countries a number of times and I began to understand those subtle nuances that separate the Japanese from the Spaniards or the Germans from the Americans. I could be the minister-in-charge for receiving the visiting dignitaries keeping the contextual protocol in mind. I know how to propose a toast in a formal dining setting. I could be the official toastmaster for all these occasions and additionally be the minister in waiting when we have a royal visiting us.

I have another irresistible offer to make. I will do this and more, expecting no monetary compensation in return, except an official car with red beacon light on top with a siren blowing so that while performing my duties I don't get stuck in the crawling traffic.

I do hope that the powers that be will give me the golden opportunity to serve the nation.








Since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, and violently seized power in Gaza a year later, Israel has been seeking to expedite the Islamist group's demise without resorting to an all-out effort at military victory. The hope is that Hamas will continue to be denied international legitimacy and will gradually lose its capacity to run Gaza, and that an organization overtly committed to Israel's destruction will be replaced by more moderate leadership.


Hence the Israeli government chose not to order the IDF to oust Hamas from Gaza during Operation Cast Lead a year ago, and is instead maintaining an economic blockade on the Strip.


Now, on its side of the border, Egypt is tightening its siege on Hamas, constructing an underground barrier that aims to cut off the arms- and goods-smuggling tunnels that serve as a lifeline for the Hamas quasi-state.


Plainly, Hamas is worried by the potential impact on its capacity to proceed with its campaign of jihad against Israel, and its capacity to meet the needs of the Gaza populace. It orchestrated violent protests at the border earlier this month, including a gunfight in which an Egyptian soldier was killed, betraying the depth of its concern.


But despite protests against the Egyptian barrier elsewhere in the region too, Egypt has remained unmoved. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a perennial threat to the Mubarak government, and Cairo has evidently decided that Hamas's smuggling activities and the threat of increased Hamas influence in the Sinai Peninsula represent a challenge to Egyptian sovereignty.


At this point, there are few signs that the Hamas regime in Gaza is truly shaking. Indeed, Hamas proved all-too capable of restoring its rule even in the aftermath of the devastating impact of Cast Lead.


But were Hamas to begin to lose its grip, it is far from clear that the joint Israeli and Egyptian hope, of the return of secular Fatah rule to Gaza, enabling a new stability, is well-founded.


AMONG THE alternative Gaza succession scenarios, indeed, is the prospect of the flourishing of the Al-Qaida-inspired global jihadi camp.


This camp has been trying to establish a foothold in Gaza for years, so far with only limited success. It learned the hard way last year that its presence may be tolerated by Hamas only if it does not pose an open challenge.


Thus, when Sheikh Abdel-Latif Moussa used a Friday afternoon sermon at his Rafah mosque last August to declare southern Gaza to be an Islamic emirate - a first step in the process toward the al-Qaida goal of an Islamic caliphate - the Hamas response was brutal. Hundreds of Hamas gunmen stormed the mosque, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the building, killing or injuring nearly everyone inside.


Global jihadis in Gaza have been licking their wounds ever since, trying to rebuild their forces without aggravating Hamas again.


According to one recent study, they have also attempted to solicit the support and recognition of the "official" al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden.


The study, carried out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and co-authored by former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) deputy director-general Yoram Cohen, said al-Qaida is proving reluctant to provide the would-be holy warriors in Gaza with its seal of approval… for the time being.


Although al-Qaida has long chastised Hamas for failing to look beyond Israel and link up with bin Laden's global war, it is also skeptical over the survivability and ideological commitment of global jihadis in Gaza, the study said. The jihadis remain hopeful, however, and claim to be plotting large-scale attacks in a bid to earn al-Qaida's approval.


Al-Qaida has proven its ability to move into the vacuum left behind by failed states, and convert territories with no sovereignty into bases for global jihad. For now, Hamas retains a firm grip on Gaza, and the prospect of its replacement by an even more radical entity, made up of a coalition of al-Qaida-affiliated organizations dedicated to bin Laden's global war, is remote.


But the ambition is certainly there. And the existence of so dark a scenario only underlines the escalated complexity of attempting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the Palestinian people are divided into two distinct, mutually hostile, geographic and political entities.


. ***************************************






Humanitarian disasters around the world bring out the best in Israel and in Israelis. The horrific devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti and the scenes of unbearable human suffering brought about an immediate enlistment of both civilian and public efforts to come to the aid of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.


The sight of the El Al jet laden with medical aid and almost 200 IDF and civilian personnel brought pride to each and every Israeli and to Jews all over the world. Israel is on the ground in the heart of the disaster and we are making a difference. Our experience and capabilities in providing the world's best humanitarian aid in times of real crisis is something that we can certainly be proud of.


Unfortunately our skills and expertise were gained in having to rescue the casualties of terrorism in our own streets and homes. But from that need and from the darkness of those experiences, we spread our goodwill to thousands of innocent victims of nature's mysteries in lands far away where we have no military, strategic or economic interest.


This is truly tikkun olam in its purest form. We are there because we are Jews, we are there because we are human beings and we are there because we are a responsible member of the community of nations.


But what about the humanitarian disaster in our own backyard caused in a large part by our own doing? What about Gaza? More than 1.5 million people are living in total poverty, without sanitary drinking water, under an economic and physical siege, locked in what could easily be called the world's largest prison. While we ask to see in all of the gory details, all of the destruction including hundreds of corpses on the streets of Port-au-Prince, we wish to see none of the human suffering of our Palestinian neighbors in Gaza where we literally hold the keys to the end of their suffering.


Not only don't we see their suffering, we simply don't care. Doesn't the concept of tikkun olam extend to our enemies? (Not all of Gaza's 1.5 million people are enemies; many of them, perhaps even most of them would like to live in peace with us.)


THIS PHENOMENON of extending our generous and talented hands to places far away with such positive results is simply not understood by the international community when it sees the suffering we are partially responsible for not even looked at with the minimum sense of humanity. Our efforts in Haiti are so highly appreciated and evaluated by the international community - one UN worker commented that the Israeli teams on the ground are the best, most efficient and most successful of all international efforts to save lives.


Despite what many Israelis think and what our foreign minister and his dubious deputy may practice, the entire world is not automatically against us. The world simply does not understand our completely irrational behavior and policies that don't even seem to serve our own interests.


I had the privilege of witnessing former UN ambassador Dore Gold debate Justice Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University in October 2009. Goldstone was very impressive and made an impassioned and intelligent case backing the findings of his commission. Gold presented an extremely professional and flashy fact-filled PowerPoint presentation making Israel's case against the Goldstone Report. It was a remarkable debate with an impressive degree of academic tolerance and inquiry.


I am one of the many people who were interviewed about the Goldstone Report dozens of times, but one of the few who actually took the trouble to read it. One of the claims of the report which stands out in my mind is the constant reference to the fact that there was no cooperation from the government of Israel.


There were many explanations and excuses given by the government for refusing to cooperate. But the report repeatedly states: We asked the government of Israel for information about this incident or that incident but received no information. We requested from the government to go to Sderot to meet with the victims of Hamas rockets, but we were denied the right to enter Israel.


Following the debate I spoke with Gold and asked him: Why didn't you or the government submit your evidence to the Goldstone mission? If our case is so good, why only make it after the report was issued? Why not remove the claim of noncooperation with the mission?


His answer was "because they wouldn't have listened anyway." He said that a former IDF attorney went to Geneva to give testimony to the Goldstone mission, but that his testimony did not find its way into the final report (except for a footnote reference to it). I asked Gold, in providing the evidence post facto and not to the mission, will the world listen to us now?


When the Goldstone report was issued it demanded Israel do one thing - conduct an independent investigation of what it is accused of doing in the report. As an Israeli citizen, I legitimately demand that the government do what the report demands. I want to know whether or not my leaders and the officers of my army are guilty as charged, and I want an independent commission of inquiry to produce the results.


THIS DEMAND should be made by all Israelis. We want to know the truth based on a full independent Israeli investigation. No army, not even the most moral army, can investigate itself (except for operational purposes). It is in the interest of the people of Israel to comply with this demand of the Goldstone report.


All of our moralizing about the world being against us, and how the Goldstone mission drew its conclusions before its investigation, or how the UN Human Rights Commission has an automatic majority against Israel, or even how UN bodies always focus a disproportionate amount of attention on Israel will not make the Goldstone Report evaporate. This report is not going away, no matter how hard we ignore it.


The whole world is not automatically against us. When we are right and we do the right things, like demonstrating our global responsibility in the professional way we know as verified in Haiti, the entire world recognizes and appreciates Israel. There is no doubt that when a democratic state fights terrorism, especially against nonstate actors like Hamas, there are many moral grey areas that are confronted. Keeping an entire civilian population under siege is not a grey area, it is morally wrong and it is also against Israel's interests.


Our high level of morality demonstrated in Haiti will not cover up our immorality in Gaza nor will it postpone the collision course that we are on with the rest of the world. Only real movement toward real peace, which is the morally right thing to do and also serves our interests, will place Israel where it needs to be and where it can easily be - as a welcome member of the community of nations and even perhaps, as a light unto nations.


The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.








The Jewish community in the United States has an opportunity to lead the country in a true values renewal by shifting the focus away from the country's obsession over gay marriage and onto marital decline and divorce.


Whatever your views on gay marriage - whether you are a supporter who believes that gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals or whether you are more religiously inclined and object to gay marriage on biblical grounds - one things is for sure: This has absolutely nothing to do with rescuing the institution of marriage.


We straight people don't need help from gays in destroying marriage, having a done an admirable


job of it ourselves, thank you very much. And the reason that marriages continue to decline in the United States is that rather than discussing how we can shore up this most vital of all social institutions, we have instead chosen to focus on a convenient scapegoat: gays.


The facts are straightforward. Not even 10 percent of the American population is gay, but more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. And this was happening years before gays came out in significant numbers, let alone demanded the right to marry. In fact, the only men who seem to still want to get married in America are gays. While they are petitioning the Supreme Court to tie the knot, the straight guys are breaking into a rash and running to the hills every time their live-in girlfriends of five years push for a ring on their finger.


THE REAL cause of marital breakdown in our time is the redefinition of success to encompass only the professional and almost never the personal sphere. We Americans are an ambitious lot. We want to succeed in everything we do. What we fear most in this country is being a failure, a loser. But being a winner has come to mean having money, power and being famous.


In Hollywood, you can be on your fourth marriage and have all your kids in rehab. But so long as people are still paying 10 bucks to see your movies, you're a success. On Wall Street, you can be a 30-something trader who takes the American taxpayer to the cleaners and pursues a life of endless womanizing, all fueled by gargantuan, government facilitated bonuses. But as long as you still drive a Ferrari and live in that $25 million Hampton estate, you'll be invited to every cocktail party around.


Who then has a real incentive to be a good man? We are all encouraged today to have a career rather than a calling, a focus on our own ambition rather than a cultivation of gifts for the benefit of others. And success is defined not by quality of your relationships but by the quantity in your bank accounts.


Marital decay these days begins with the easy hook-up culture of teen-hood where young people are trained to see the opposite sex as a commodity to be exploited. It reaches dizzying heights with the positively rancid culture of male womanizing and female drunkenness that has become so common on the American university campus.


In essence young men and women learn how to master business and how to write a legal brief. But the only thing they learn about selfless love is that it is subordinate to selfish sexual pleasure and is an old-fashioned idea strangely out of place in a culture where you are always number one.


Is it really surprising, then, that the youth have delayed marriage well into their 30s and even then marry only when forced to "settle down." They see nothing exciting in the domestication of marriage or the energy it takes to raise children. And living in a disposable society, as soon as marriage hits a snag or two, it is so much easier to discard the institution than work to save the relationship.


Donald Trump summed it up best when he said of his current marriage that it's happy because, unlike his previous attempts, this one requires no work. The poor man works at the office, where the real success is found. Why would he want to work at home? And who says that any woman is worth the effort?


NOW, ARE we really going to blame all this rot on gays? And if we stopped gay men and women from even having civil unions, would the astronomical American divorce rate suddenly drop?


Here is where Jewish values and a Jewish voice can come to the rescue. As many of our Christian evangelical brothers and sisters have largely led the California effort on behalf of Proposition 8 and have, for 20 years, identified opposition to gay marriage as the foremost American family value, how many rabbis - even the most Orthodox - have followed suit? How many Jewish leaders have given sermons saying that gays, rather than divorce, are the real culprit behind the disintegration of the American family?


While the Torah's teachings on homosexuality are clear, the Jewish community has wisely told gay men and women to come to synagogue, keep a kosher home, honor the Sabbath, affix a mezuza and come to classes on Judaism as clear equals to everyone else. Even if we cannot agree with the lifestyle choices of every member of our community, we do not make this a laser-like focus to the exclusion of overall Jewish responsibility, inclusion and commitment.


My parents divorced when I was eight. I feel the pain of every divorced man and woman which Judaism, unlike Catholicism, allows because, though we always try to save a marriage, the institution is not a prison. I know that the men and women who divorce are good people, loving parents, and would have wished the marriage to have continued. But they are immersed in a culture where the lie of professional achievement as more important than personal success is beamed at them from every broadcast medium 24 hours a day.


But more than the parents, my heart goes out to children of divorce who are deeply affected by the turbulence of two parents who no longer love each other. And if we really cared about the American family, we would cease talking about gays and instead push a measure through Congress making marital counseling tax-deductible so that families who are hard-pressed can get the help they need to try to keep the family intact.


I run an organization devoted entirely toward the dissemination of Jewish values in the culture. You can assist us by signing up for our "Turn Friday Night Family Night" campaign ( and by getting in touch to offer your support ( Together we can show our children that love is not fiction but something tangible and real.


The writer is the author of more than 20 books on relationships, the most recent being The Kosher Sutra, which has just been released by HarperOne in paperback.








Since the Netanyahu government was elected in late March 2009, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen. It looks like the two sides prefer it that way. Of course in addressing the international community, and particularly the United States, each side has to pretend to be interested in renewing talks. But beneath the surface, both are afraid to proceed.


The government of Israel fears the moment when the core issues are put on the table since it is incapable of selling its constituents any concessions concerning Jerusalem, settlements and borders. In this sense, merely commencing negotiations is liable to end the government's term. PM Binyamin Netanyahu apparently does not want to follow in Ariel Sharon's footsteps: the latter will be remembered in the national consciousness as the leader who gave the Palestinians the Katif bloc, removed the Jews from Gaza and got Kassam rocket attacks in return.


Netanyahu knows that any concession in east Jerusalem is unacceptable to his voters and that he would forever be remembered as the man who gave Israel's enemies the holy city. Another concern for Netanyahu is his inability to ensure that a Palestinian state would not at some point become a Hamas state. For all these reasons, he prefers not to even enter into discussions with the Palestinians regarding core issues.


The Palestinians have also become enamored with the status quo, particularly insofar as they can obtain without negotiations what they cannot obtain by talking. The president of the United States repeatedly pronounces on the need to establish a Palestinian state with territorial continuity. The Europeans - and perhaps a few State Department and White House officials as well - support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence, without negotiations, with borders along the green line and territory that includes the areas Israel annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, even those that have become Jewish neighborhoods. So why would the Palestinians need negotiations if they can get what they want without them?


ANOTHER PROBLEM the Palestinians can avoid by evading negotiations is the quarrel between the PLO/Ramallah and Hamas/Gaza. There is no certainty that Palestinian peace negotiators can prove that they control what goes on in Gaza or could compel the Haniyeh government there to honor whatever agreement Israel and the Palestinians reach. Negotiations held in the shadow of the Palestinian schism are liable to perpetuate a situation of two Palestinian entities: Ramallah, by negotiating, might advance toward a solution, whereas Gaza would remain willfully stuck with positions that cannot possibly enable negotiations to begin.


Palestinians are not yet prepared emotionally, publicly and politically to admit that the split is permanent, hence they cannot commence negotiations on final status in which Ramallah participates without Gaza.


Worse, the very fact of negotiations would provide Hamas with ammunition against the Palestinian Authority. Hamas could spread rumors regarding Palestinian concessions; even if the rumors are baseless, they could deprive the PA leaders of what little public legitimacy they currently enjoy. Besides, the Ramallah leadership knows that through negotiations it cannot obtain all its demands, particularly regarding the refugee issue, insofar as the refusal to permit refugee return is supported by a broad consensus of the Israeli public. Hence it doesn't want to enter into a negotiating situation in which it will have to offer concessions. Better to let the world pressure Israel to make more and more concessions even before talks have commenced.


The perception that negotiations are not worthwhile and that if entered into will not yield significant achievements has been spreading of late among Palestinian intellectuals. Again and again, the one-state alternative is broached. This solution seeks to perpetuate the existing situation by means of Palestinian withdrawal from the concept of an independent state, coupled with the demand for citizenship and voting rights in a single state.


Let demography win: Palestinian birth rates would rise and there might be a certain return of refugees, as against widespread Jewish emigration reflecting Jewish refusal to live in a bi-national state that comprises a large proportion of Arabs. Thus, through demographic changes, the single state would within a few years become a Palestinian state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. So why should Palestinians enter into negotiations over a state in only part of the land? This approach is supported by a growing number of Israelis who fear that even a final status agreement won't end the conflict because many Palestinians here and abroad would not settle for a Palestinian state only in the West Bank and Gaza.


Therefore, I don't think serious negotiations will be resumed in the near future. There might be a photo-op or two, primarily for the White House picture album - but little more.


The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University. This article originally appeared in and is reprinted with permission.








Pope Benedict's recent decree advancing the sainthood of Pope Pius XII is another serious blow to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. The record of Pius XII during the Holocaust is still a subject of legitimate historical question and a longtime point of emotional disagreement between some in the Vatican and Jewish leaders.


Consideration of Pius's sainthood should be reserved for a time when the complete Vatican archives of the Holocaust period are released and historians can objectively evaluate Pius's efforts to save Europe's Jews from extermination. Any rush to judgment before the record is clarified will only give a larger forum to Pius's critics, undermine Vatican credibility in the eyes of the world and cause deep hurt to Jews whose families and loved ones were murdered during the Shoah.


While the Vatican has its own reasons for accelerating Pius's canonization now, it is the fourth recent troubling development in Catholic-Jewish relations, coming after the Vatican's July 2007 authorization of wider use of the Tridentine Mass with its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews; its January 2009 lifting of the excommunication of four bishops of the anti-Semitic Society of Pope Pius X, including the Holocaust-denying Richard Williamson; and the June 2009 (but later retracted) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops statement that Catholics in interfaith dialogue are obligated to evangelize to Jews and extend to them an implicit invitation to the Church.


These developments have left many Jews and Catholics alike to worry about the future of Catholic-Jewish relations. Indeed, some professionals now question whether the salutary achievements of the Second Vatican Council toward reconciliation are still operative Catholic teaching.


FOR 50 years after Vatican II, Catholics and Jews well informed about Nostra Aetate and official Catholic post-conciliar documents regarding Catholic-Jewish relations were enormously impressed by the Church's spiritual strength to revise its theology regarding its elder brothers and permanently rid itself of replacement theology and its concomitant Adversus Judeaos teachings. Buoyed by the leadership of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, they were convinced of the sincerity of the Church's determination to reconcile with the Jewish people.


If this is now being questioned, the uncertainty can - and should - be laid easily to rest. It is time for the Church to reassert loudly and clearly that Nostra Aetate and the Catholic post-conciliar documents are still the guiding principles for the Vatican, and that the warm friendship extended to the Jewish people by the saintly Pope John Paul II still characterizes the current policies of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican.


This can be achieved powerfully in deed. Catholic and Jewish distress regarding the future of Catholic-Jewish relations would be significantly alleviated by positive Vatican steps, such as authorizing the mandatory teaching of Nostra Aetate to Catholic worshipers and seminarians, promoting the study of Pope John Paul II's teachings about the Jewish people and Judaism and instituting a prayer for Jewish people and Israel on the Feast of St. James, the patron saint of Jerusalem.


The reconciliation of the Church with the Jewish people is one of God's great blessings, one that inspires all people around the world. If the Church and the Jewish people can make peace with each other after nearly 2,000 of enmity, then peace is possible between any two peoples anywhere. Recognizing that Catholics and Jews are brothers and sisters deeply bound by their fervent belief in the one creator of heaven and earth who revealed Himself to the people Israel is one of the miracles of the last century - and it is too important for Jews, for Catholics and for the world to allow to lapse.


Jews and Catholics share a common spiritual patrimony and all people of good will should pray that both the Church and the Jewish people continue to work for this historic reconciliation grounded in mutual understanding, respect and equality.


Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn is the North American Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin is the Chancellor.








Many are still wondering about the root causes of the recent spat between Jerusalem and Ankara. On the Turkish side, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's disrespectful behavior toward President Shimon Peres at last year's Davos conference played a significant role in the commencement of the recent quarrel. During a heated discussion, on a public stage, Erdogan stormed off because he didn't like Peres's response to his provocative statements regarding Israel's actions in Gaza.


In Turkish and Israeli culture - in fact in almost every culture - this is plainly rude. Some would even consider it humiliating, as it conveys the message that "you are not worth speaking to."


On the Turkish side, the situation was made worst by a number of TV programs which portrayed IDF soldiers as nothing more than child murderers. Had Israel made similar inaccurate and sensationalized programs about Turkey's treatment of Kurds or Armenians, the reaction from Turkey would have been as strong, if not worse.


The State of Israel had every right to protest Turkey's recent actions, and it could have done so effectively. Unfortunately this was not the case. The Foreign Ministry is staffed by many brilliant qualified professionals. However, it is currently headed by politicians in the form of Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon, who, judging by their recent actions, know very little about diplomacy.


After the recent provocations from Ankara, instead of conveying Israel's concerns and protestations professionally and effectively, Ayalon decided to try to humiliate the Turkish ambassador by seating him on a lower chair during their meeting and by not having the Turkish flag displayed on the table. Once the Israeli press exposed the affair, Ayalon decided to apologize. His apology was timely, but by that stage it basically meant that Israel, which was the victim of offensive Turkish behavior, now had to apologize as well.



who pay Ayalon's salary, would be forgiven for hoping that this is the end of such incompetent behavior by the deputy foreign minister. They may be disappointed to know that, in fact, more of the same theatrics may soon follow . Why? Because people who work with Ayalon are in fact proud of his behavior. In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, a source close to Ayalon stated that "Israel will benefit from the way in which Ayalon managed the crisis."


To err is human, says the famous proverb. Ayalon erred once. The people who work with him could have advised him to act otherwise, but it seems they were unsuccessful or simply did not know any better.


However, if after the enormous damage caused by the deputy foreign minister to the diplomatic standing of this country, his advisers are still feebleminded enough to say that his actions are going to benefit the state, it shows that this issue has still not been understood properly by Ayalon's team. Or that they simply don't care about the damage they have caused.


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must address this level of professional deficiency shown by Israel Beiteinu in the Foreign Ministry. With the issue of Iran becoming even more sensitive, Israel needs competent hands at its diplomatic wheels. Every statement could impact Israel's regional and international position and leverage, both positively and negatively.


With the regime of Ali Khamenei becoming weaker every day at home, he will increasingly be looking outside his borders for ways to strengthen his government's standing. Just as Syria's Hafez Assad used his influence in Lebanon as a pillar to maintain his regime, Khamenei will now be relying more on Iran's influence in the region to shore up his position. This could include the use of Hizbullah hitmen to attack protesters in Iran, and the use of Hamas, Hizbullah and Syria to create instability around Israel's borders. This is in addition to Khamenei's so far successful plans to forge a close alliance with Turkey.


The supreme leader's ultimate goal is to diplomatically outmaneuver and isolate Israel. This means that Israel needs its diplomats to be as competent as its soldiers who defend its borders. Just as Netanyahu takes Israel's security and defense seriously, he must pay similar attention to this country's diplomatic capabilities.


The recent episode with the Turkish ambassador has made Israel into a laughing stock around the world, including among Iran's intellectual elite, a majority of whom oppose Khamenei. Failure to address Israel's diplomatic failures may mean that Iran's supreme leader, despite his country's military inferiority, may actually win the diplomatic battle.


The writer is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Teheran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.







The cabinet is scheduled to vote today on a planning and zoning reform aimed at streamlining the long and tortuous process that every individual and every contractor must weather to receive a construction permit - whether to renovate an existing home or to build a high-rise apartment building.

Implementing the reform would open up one of the worst bottlenecks in the Israeli economy. Speeding up the procedure and reducing the uncertainty involved would lead to a drop in costs, and as a result in prices as well.

The main idea of the reform is for building plans to be approved rapidly. Toward that end, all construction programs are to be discussed and approved by a single council. At present, after major construction programs are approved by the local planning and building council - a process during which objections may be submitted - they go on to the relevant district council, where the appeals process begins once more.


Under the proposed reform, the local council will issue a decision within 10 months, instead of the current two years, while plans on the district and national levels will be approved within two years rather than seven. To ensure that the local councils' work is carried out properly, experts in relevant fields, as well as two nonpartisan representatives of the public, will be added to the councils. Deliberations will be open to the public and will also be broadcast over the Internet, in order to increase transparency.

The building permit process will also be expedited. Small changes, such as building a fence, will no longer require a permit. Permits for closing in a balcony, adding an elevator or building an addition of up to 25 square meters will be issued within 45 days. The entire process of obtaining permits for constructing new buildings will take 90 days - a significant improvement over the current state of affairs.

The Minister for Environmental Protection, Gilad Erdan, is critical of the proposal, on the grounds that it could lead to the destruction of open spaces and impinge on Israelis' quality of life. Environmental and social-welfare organizations claim that the proposal was put together on the sly, without due consideration of its implications.

The reform should nevertheless be approved today, because it will increase the supply of available homes and reduce housing prices. That said, however, criticism of the proposal should be taken seriously and discussed in detail during the legislative process in the Knesset.

It is essential to maintain the delicate balance between the interests of growth and development, on one hand, and nature and the environment, on the other.








Every time disaster strikes anywhere in the world, I am filled anew with admiration at how ready and willing we are to assist, and how speedy, effective, organized and wholehearted that assistance is.

We did not rush aid to Haiti because there is a Jewish community there. We went there for humanitarian reasons. As a nation that has experienced disasters and bereavement for generations, other nations' disasters do not leave us indifferent. Our photographers and reporters hurried over there not to humiliate some Turkish ambassador, but because they want to show - and rightly so - an attractive side of Israel, for a change.

It is easier for us to organize rescue operations outside Israel than do all that is necessary to advance peace inside it and thus prevent deadly attacks on our home front. There is no need to wait for an "earthquake," as the Yom Kippur War was dubbed, to achieve a "peace of the brave." Anyone who remembers the Scud missiles from Iraq, the 34 days of missiles and Katyusha rockets on the north during the Second Lebanon War and the eight years of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip must do everything possible to prevent any excuse for a new war that could strike our civilian population.


U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who returned to Israel this week, has not achieved anything in his visits so far. Despite the halo he won by his successful mediation in Northern Ireland, he is no James Baker. Nor is he Henry Kissinger. Baker was tough and didn't like our tricks. Kissinger, who was closer to his president, knew how to turn algebra into arithmetic, as Zalman Aran once reportedly said.

Mitchell's views on solving the conflict, as he outlined them back when he chaired a presidential commission in 2001, may have been reasonable, but they were unfeasible at that time. He believed Israel had to freeze settlement construction and the Palestinians had to stop the terror attacks. Yet Mitchell's visit this week could be very important, if he abandons his slow mediation and instead puts a more definite and effective presidential plan on the table.

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed publicly to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' response was peculiar. Instead of agreeing to begin negotiations, he demanded that Israel first freeze construction in the settlements and added several other conditions. This refusal appeared on the face of it like a continuation of the Palestinian tradition of not missing any opportunity that could be missed. For Netanyahu's approach, at least in theory, marked a dramatic turnabout that put his stand in line with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's formula - the 1967 lines plus territorial swaps.

Mitchell said in a television interview that he believed it was possible to reach an agreement within two years. But the truth is that the chances of an agreement are getting smaller - not least due to the settlement-freeze policy adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama, on one hand, and Netanyahu's condition - that the Iranian nuclear issue must be solved first - on the other.

In any case, Obama's first year as president was lost as far as a peace settlement is concerned. Obama aspired to obtain too much, too quickly: namely, the pan-Islamic arrangement he presented in his Cairo University speech. Another reason was the administration's loss of confidence in Netanyahu.

Netanyahu may have agreed to a solution in principle, but in reality, he is continuing to lead us astray, one Middle East expert said. Yitzhak Rabin had a 15-year time-out between his first term as prime minister and his second, when he returned as a man of peace. Bibi is in no hurry to make peace. He returned to power for the purpose of returning to power.

Mitchell has so far been convenient for Netanyahu, as he has focused mainly on being present. This does not stem from Mitchell's weakness, but from Obama's. It is not clear why Obama has not forced Abbas to respond to Bibi's two-state proposal. And it is not clear why Mitchell keeps coming and going but has not yet presented an operative plan for an agreement authorized and sponsored by the president.

It is very important that on this visit, Mitchell twist Abbas' arm and put the credibility of Bibi's speech at Bar-Ilan University to the test. No agreement will be reached without a plan, and without starting negotiations. It is important that this time, Mitchell not leave before the white smoke is visible - i.e., without a plan and a timetable both for beginning negotiations and for reaching an agreement.

This is essential to keep Iran from getting the bomb, and us from being forced, heaven forbid, to hold onto our disaster survival kits in order to save ourselves.








Knesset members are worried. They fear that well-known personages, people with opinions and status, will slyly penetrate the Knesset fortress and lower its lofty standards. That's why this weekend they floated a bill that would obligate journalists to undergo a cooling-off period should they dare enter politics.


MK Carmel Shama (Likud) is seeking a one-year waiting period, Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) wants a year and a half. On the surface, it seems they are most concerned about the possible entry of TV host Yair Lapid into politics, that he may reduce the parliament's "standards" the way other journalists-turned-lawmakers Shelly Yachimovich, Daniel Ben Simon, Uri Orbach and Nitzan Horowitz did.

The truth is that MKs are worried about the crisis affecting the big parties.

They fear that the coming elections will bring a new party, a la Shinui (the secular, anti-clerical party headed by Lapid's father, a former television personality), led by or including Lapid that will draw in large segments of voters.

As such, the MKs - who essentially represent the strongest workers' committee in the country - are seeking to limit competition and ensure their place in the next Knesset.

Shama and Tirosh are ignoring the fact that the profession of journalism is actually the most appropriate for a transition to politics. Columnists attempt to influence affairs through the written and spoken word, and the work of a Knesset member is the direct extension of such public service by other means.

The two parliamentarians want no competitors - hence they seek cooling-off periods of 12 to 18 months.

After all, elections in Israel generally do not take place as scheduled, and it is difficult to know just when they will be held.

The last elections were moved forward and scheduled for October 27, 2008, then back to February 10 of last year. How could journalists resign a year and a half before the elections, when only three and a half months remained between the scheduling of the elections and the polls opening?

This is not the first time MKs have tried to perpetuate their hold on a Knesset seat. The same happened three years ago, in March 2007, when Yuval Steinitz (Likud) and Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) passed a draconian law for a cooling-off period for top military officers. That legislation stipulated that officers holding the rank of lieutenant general in the army - and their equivalents in the Shin Bet security service, Mossad, police and Prison Service - would have to endure a six-month waiting period.

Steinitz and Vilan were also attempting to limit competition, and ultimately extended the cooling-off period to three years.

How can we know that the MKs' motives are impure? Because they always neglect to include anything relating to themselves in the bills. They consistently forget to include a section subjecting lawmakers and ministers to that same cooling-off period following their government service, even though that period offers the most opportunities for corruption and conflicts of interest.

MKs vote in Knesset committees on matters determining the fate and income of the wealthy, and ministers decide on reforms and regulations of the utmost importance to business tycoons.

How can it be that the day they leave office, MKs and ministers can work in any business position, while employees of the Finance and Industry Ministries must undergo a yearlong cooling-off period?

Take, for example, the recent transitions of former prime minister Ehud Olmert to a senior position with the Livnat Group, of Haim Ramon to Keter Plastic and of fellow former MK Dan Naveh - who was also health minister - to a managerial position of a health care investment firm with Nochi Dankner's IDB Holdings. Are these appropriate? And let's not forget the current justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, who began representing the Eisenberg family in its sale of the Israel Corporation a week (!) after completing his work as finance minister in December 1998.

Knesset members are unperturbed. After successfully filtering out top army officers and preventing competition on the part of journalists, they will doubtless try to pass a similar law aimed at writers - those who dare spout their opinions in books and in interviews - and academics, who brazenly express their own views in the media.

After all, the Knesset needs only hacks and populists, whose very existence depends on incessantly playing to the lowest common denominator of public opinion.








A brief presentation, accompanied by much self-congratulatory verbiage from the prime minister and senior cabinet members, was the manner in which the public was informed on Sunday of the proposed reforms in planning and construction laws, reforms that could have a major impact on the future of Israeli society and the quality of life in this country.

No presentation, however, could hide the false pretenses of the proposed reforms.

This is no overthrow of the "bureaucratic monster," in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's phrasing, to achieve efficiency and transparency. There are many flaws in the planning system that could be tackled with intelligent changes and concessions, especially when it comes to licensing and the link between the planning authorities and social and environmental policies.


But the moves announced on Sunday, combined with the recent land privatization reforms, amount to the abolition of the control mechanisms and balances that exist in the current system.

What this means is that private real estate firms and local interests will gain control over our most precious public resource. Netanyahu is ideologically convinced that the privatization of land, and the watering down of the planning infrastructure to almost nothing, will achieve the social goals that he believes in.

Although he claims that the outcome of the reform will be greater transparency of the proceedings in planning committees, what he presented was a move that was conceived in almost total secrecy, without allowing the public, or even some ministers, to influence or change it.

He spoke of the inefficiency of the committees, but abolished the one that is tasked with preserving the coastal environment and that has proved efficient and has approved plans faster than required by law.

The reforms are purportedly to create an accessible supply of land for construction, but the heads of the planning system have repeatedly demonstrated that this supply has existed for years. Almost nothing was said about what the latest moves will do to the environment and the landscape.

Netanyahu may not have used the phrase "a robe of concrete and cement," that poet Nathan Alterman once wished upon an underdeveloped Israel, but there's no doubt that this is a plan for real estate developments and asphalt.

The new reforms will greatly expand the powers of local planning committees, practically permitting them to reshape most of the country's lands.

The reforms provide for public representatives on these panels and promises controls that will prevent corruption. However, these committees will be able to perpetuate uncontrolled suburbanization and commercial growth on agricultural land, in a democratic and perfectly legal manner.

They will not increase the planned supply of apartments for students and young couples, but mainly the supply for well-off families who will get yet another country home.

On the one hand, real estate interests and local planning bodies are being allowed to maximize the profits from the sale of land by means of privatization and authorization, and on the other hand there are those who claim that this will lead to reductions in housing prices.

The abolition of the committee for the preservation of coastal areas is more than a symbolic move. It entails the removal of protection over the most desirable tracts of land, and to a large extent takes the teeth out of the law for the protection of coastal areas, which are facing a grave threat of construction encroachment.

The proposal that is being submitted today to the cabinet committee on legislation in the form of amendments to the Planning and Construction Law states that this committee's planning powers are to be transferred to other planning institutions, but what Israel's seashore needs is not to be placed in the hands of bodies whose job it is to speed up the issuing of building permits. It needs uncompromising and total protection so that at least some of it will remain accessible to the public at large.








Now that the melodrama of insults and apologies has passed, the government of Israel should seriously tackle the challenge of its relations with Turkey - one of the most important elements of our national security. What's needed is a departure from routines, and primarily the engagement of the prime minister in managing the crisis.

The strained relations between Ankara and Jerusalem affect the balance of power in the entire region. A decade ago, Turkey was an ally of the United States and maintained varied and extensive relations with Israel. In recent years, it has been sliding toward Syria and Iran and away from America, and has become a venomous critic of Israel. If it slides any further, Turkey could become part of an Iranian-Syrian-Turkish triangle that would be a key element in Middle Eastern politics - to the detriment of Washington, Israel and the moderate Arab states.

Turkey's foreign and domestic policies have undergone a transformation in the wake of developments upon which outside forces, including Israel, have no influence. The end of the Cold War eliminated Ankara's dependence on Washington as a shield against the Soviet Union, and the European Union's de facto refusal to take Turkey in has weakened the part of the country that advocate a secular, modernist and pro-Western orientation. Most importantly, the Islamist party, which has gradually shed the moderate cloak it started out with, has been taking over the country's power centers.


The secular parties are weak, while the military is paralyzed by a dilemma: Grabbing power in a military coup, as has occurred in the past, would finally slam the door on the European dreams harbored by the secular modernist camp the army represents. Meanwhile, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been systematically wiping out the opposition's remaining power centers. A similar pattern has emerged in relations with Israel: estrangement accompanied by calming rhetoric, followed by hostile rhetoric and actions. Turkey's role as mediator between Israel and Syria served to cover up the course of these developments, but it has ended in a breakdown.

There is not much Israel can do under these circumstances. The sources that yielded the collaboration have for the most part dried up. The Soviet Union is no more and Turkey has joined the radical camp in the Arab world. The influence held by Washington and Europe has diminished. The main assets Israel still wields in its ties with Turkey are mutual economic and security interests, the need of the Turkish ruling party to take into account the opinion of the army and pro-Israeli elements, and the country's goal of playing a central role in regional politics. The Turkish leadership realizes that to mediate between Syria and Israel, or to help the Palestinians, it must maintain a dialogue with Israel.

To take advantage of its assets, Israel has to make a concerted effort, managed by the top governmental echelon. A considerable part of the damage caused last week would have been averted if the prime minister had intervened earlier. He must ensure coordinated action and division of responsibilities. The embassy and consulates in Turkey must also be strengthened. Turkey is still a democratic country with a developed economy and infrastructure, and with which Israel should engage. Moreover, "Jewish diplomacy" - to which the Turks tend to ascribe great importance - should be put into effect. Having already made bitter enemies of the Greeks and the Armenians, they certainly don't want to do the same with the Jewish people. It is a difficult and complex task, whose fruits will not be immediately evident. The prime minister must place it high on his agenda.









New York legislators proposed an ethics reform package last week that would definitely improve the miserable status quo in Albany. But the plan is not the full-fledged housecleaning necessary for a place that has gone too long without the slightest dusting of reform.


The reforms proposed by Senator John Sampson, the Democratic leader in the State Senate, and the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, would inevitably get the best-we-can-do-at-the-moment label. That's not good enough. Here's how the proposals stack up against the need for real reform:


OUTSIDE INCOME The proposal would mandate more disclosure, including requirements that lawmakers list income ranges to $1 million or more. That is a clear improvement, but there is a big hole: exemptions for the Legislature's lawyers, including Mr. Silver, who would not be required to list clients. That is wrong. A lawmaker's first obligation is to the public, not the clients.


The package does require lobbyists to disclose any business dealings with public officials, including legislators who are lawyers. Another section would explicitly ban the private use of public resources. Joseph Bruno, the former Republican leader who was convicted recently of two felony counts, was accused of running his private business out of his state offices.


THE FRAMEWORK Gov. David Paterson recently proposed a single independent ethics commission to oversee everybody in state government. It is a clean, straightforward approach, but the Legislature's bill would set up three commissions. One would oversee lobbyists, another the governor and the executive branch. Both of those would operate independently. But the third commission, overseeing the Legislature, would be appointed by legislative leaders. That's the sort of feeble oversight lawmakers enjoy now.


To some good-government advocates, the best thing in the package is a muscular new office that would have real powers to investigate complaints of ethical violations by legislators and to make complaints public. That seems to be an improvement.


CAMPAIGN FINANCE The proposed bill does not seek broad reforms in the state's abysmal campaign finance system. But it would give the Board of Elections new clout by empowering it to investigate and fine lawmakers who violate the few campaign laws that do exist. Some legislators have failed for years to report campaign donations; the board can, at worst, fine them about $500 per failure. The new proposal would allow fines of up to $10,000 for repeated failures to file.


Even some lawmakers who support the legislative package acknowledge that some of Governor Paterson's reform proposals are more thorough. His independent ethics commission is a better fix. His attack on Albany's pay-to-play culture requires more disclosure of outside income (including lawyers), drastically reforms the campaign finance rules and establishes a financial board to oversee the state comptroller.


The lawmakers' proposal is an important step forward for a Legislature that has become a national embarrassment. As State Senator Daniel Squadron, a New York City Democrat, put it, "It is better to have a good bill than a perfect press release." But it is only the beginning, however useful, of what must be a sustained, cathartic effort to restore the public trust.






Senator Lisa Murkowski's home state of Alaska is ever so slowly melting away, courtesy of a warming planet. Yet few elected officials seem more determined than she to throw sand in the Obama administration's efforts to do something about climate change.


As part of an agreement that allowed the Senate to get out of town before Christmas, Democratic leaders gave Ms. Murkowski and several other Republicans the chance to offer amendments to a must-pass bill lifting the debt ceiling. Voting on that bill begins this week. Although she has not showed her hand, Ms. Murkowski has been considering various proposals related to climate change — all mischievous.


One would block for one year any effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. This would prevent the administration from finalizing its new and much-needed standards for cars and light trucks and prevent it from regulating greenhouse gases from stationary sources.


Ms. Murkowski also is mulling a "resolution of disapproval" that would ask the Senate to overturn the E.P.A.'s recent "endangerment finding" that carbon dioxide and other global warming gases threaten human health and the environment. This finding flowed from a 2007 Supreme Court decision and is an essential precondition to any regulation governing greenhouse gases. Rescinding the finding would repudiate years of work by America's scientists and public health experts.


Ms. Murkowski says she's concerned about global warming but worries even more about what she fears would be a bureaucratic nightmare if the E.P.A. were allowed to regulate greenhouse gases. She says she would prefer a broad legislative solution. So would President Obama. But unlike Ms. Murkowski, he would not unilaterally disarm the E.P.A. before Congress has passed a bill.


Judging by the latest and daffiest idea to waft from Ms. Murkowski's office, she may not want a bill at all. Last fall, the Senate environment committee approved a cap-and-trade scheme that seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on them. The Democratic leadership's plan is to combine the bill with other energy-related measures to broaden the base of support; by itself, it cannot pass.


Knowing that the bill is not ripe, Ms. Murkowski may bring it up for a vote anyway as an amendment to the debt bill. Why? To shoot it down. The tactic would give us a "barometric reading" of where the Senate stands on cap-and-trade, one Murkowski staffer said recently. What it really gives us is a reading on how little the senator — or for that matter, her party — has to offer.






Among the leading causes of recidivism are employment policies in the private and public sectors that discriminate against former offenders and too often drive them back to jail. New York State first addressed this problem more than 30 years ago with laws protecting the employment rights of people with criminal convictions. But two investigations by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suggest that some companies are finding ways around these laws.


Employers in New York can, of course, review an applicant's history. But they cannot deny an applicant a job on the basis of a conviction without considering whether the offense bears a relationship to the job being sought. New York law also forbids employers from shutting out qualified applicants because of convictions that are sealed or dismissed, minor infractions like speeding tickets or for arrests that do not lead to conviction.


In a recently completed investigation, the attorney general found that ChoicePoint, a nationally known employee screening company, was involved in creating an online job application system for employers that automatically disqualified thousands of applicants who disclosed criminal convictions. Moreover, investigators found that the company had recommended to employers that they disqualify applicants based on sealed or dismissed convictions and legal outcomes that are regarded as violations — not crimes — under New York law. One ChoicePoint client violated state law by withdrawing conditional job offers after information that should not have been taken into account turned up in background checks.


In a separate investigation, the attorney general found that RadioShack also had ignored the law by rejecting job applicants whose violations had been sealed, set aside or deemed to be minor. Both companies have agreed to pay financial penalties and to obey the law, without admitting or denying wrongdoing. But the cases raise the disturbing possibility that the practices they engaged in may be more widespread than supposed in a state that has been a national model in giving former prisoners a chance at honest work.


***************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



It takes a strange frame of mind to believe that demolishing a wooded encampment of homeless immigrant men and evicting them onto the streets during one of the coldest weeks of winter can be an act of prudence and compassion. But that is how the town of Huntington, in Suffolk County on Long Island, describes it.


It looks more like something else: an exercise in needless cruelty, in wishing a problem away.


This month, the town decided to clean up a large, privately owned lot where a few dozen Latino day laborers had found shelter. The lot, which is behind railroad tracks, is densely overgrown and well suited for an invisible encampment. It was an open secret for years, the laborers occasionally but only half-heartedly rousted.


This time was different. The owners were ordered to dismantle and clear out the debris, and a crew went in with chainsaws on Jan. 11.


Some men lost all they owned. Now they have no job, no bed, no place to stay all day, no way to get home. But it is not the town's problem. It has no homeless shelter, and is not about to open one. Suffolk County has a shelter, but it doesn't let in immigrants without papers. There is a hiring site with a trailer, but it closes at night.


These self-reliant men have been driven into the arms of kind strangers — volunteers who offer sleeping bags and warm meals in church meeting halls each night during the coldest months. They do it quietly; some in their congregations disapprove of giving help to the "wrong kind of poor."


The town sees itself as blameless, as having acted for reasons of safety and building codes. No one is to blame, it seems, but the men who came without papers and sought shelter where they weren't supposed to.


As for the possibility of other kinds of blame — of homeowners and contractors who exploit and discard cheap immigrant labor, of politicians who feed a climate of resentment that has given Suffolk County a grim reputation for intolerance — no one has owned up to any of it.


Here is what a volunteer said: "People say, 'Well, it's a complicated problem,' but it really isn't. What is so complicated about giving people a place to get warm when it's below freezing outside? Some people around here would have more outrage about a dog being left outside than a group of hungry, homeless human beings."







It has been easy for people to forget in the decades since we lost the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he was a passionate fighter for economic justice as well as civil rights. The two goals were as closely linked as the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water.


The historic gathering in 1963 at which Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech was officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


And when Dr. King was murdered in Memphis in 1968, he had gone there to support sanitation workers who were striking for higher wages and better working conditions.


Jobs and freedom. In America, you can't have one without the other. Democrats are in deep trouble right now — just a year after their giddy celebration of Barack Obama's ascendance to the presidency — because so many millions of Americans are out of work, unable to find the gainful employment that would unlock the door to a stable future for themselves and their families.


The president and his party may be obsessed with health care, but unemployed and underemployed Americans want a job. Why this has been so hard for the Democrats to realize, I can't say.


As the nation continues to wallow in the trough of widespread unemployment, black Americans are bearing a disproportionate burden of the joblessness. The election of a black president may have been important to African-Americans for myriad reasons, but it hasn't done much for their bottom line, which continues to deteriorate.


For example, without a dramatic new intervention by the federal government, the poverty rate for African-American children could eventually approach a heart-stopping 50 percent, according to analysts at the Economic Policy Institute. Already more than a third of black children are living in poverty.


Present trends are not good. Communities of color are being crushed economically and the national news media have not fully focused on the carnage. The official unemployment rate for blacks is 16.2 percent and could well pass 17 percent before the year is out. The real jobless rate is far more ghastly. The Boston-based group United for a Fair Economy noted that even "college-educated black men are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their white, college-educated counterparts."


In some poor neighborhoods, a man or woman with a traditional full-time job is the exception, not the rule. In five Midwestern states — Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Oklahoma — the jobless rate for blacks is at least three times as high as that for whites.


Some decades ago, you would have heard a sustained outcry against such dire conditions among blacks, and there would have been loud demands for policy changes designed to bring more black Americans into the economic mainstream. You don't hear much of that now. Too many so-called black leaders are much more interested in invitations to the White House and positive profiles in mainstream publications than in raising any kind of ruckus that might benefit people in real trouble.


What the politicians and today's civil rights types won't tell you is that we're looking ahead to many long decades of grief and strife in America's black communities because of our failure to respond effectively to the horrendous impact of the Great Recession and the policies that led up to it. Black Americans are going backward economically, and right now no one is stepping up to stop the retreat.


United for a Fair Economy, in its latest "State of the Dream" report, which is released annually around the time of Dr. King's birthday, is urging Congress and the president to identify communities with the highest unemployment rates and develop specific job-creation initiatives for them.


That kind of targeted effort is desperately needed, but don't hold your breath. There is precious little sentiment for programs that would provide real help to communities trapped in the nightmarish depths of this downturn, whether the residents are mostly black, mostly white, mostly Hispanic, or whatever.


Speaking about one of his many antipoverty initiatives, Dr. King told Look magazine in 1968: "We called our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we felt that the economic question was the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, were confronting."


That was then. The loudest voices against poverty and economic injustice of all kinds have long since faded. The government, reclining comfortably on a vast cushion of campaign contributions, has allied itself with big business and the big banks against the interests of ordinary Americans. Millions upon millions of families are suffering, but mostly in silence.


We honor Dr. King with a national holiday, but his long campaign for economic justice has been all but forgotten.







When I was in college, I was assigned "Leviathan," by Thomas Hobbes. On the cover was an image from the first edition of the book, published in 1651. It shows the British nation as a large man. The people make up the muscles and flesh. Then at the top, there is the king, who is the head and the mind.


When the Pilgrims left Britain to come to America, they left behind that metaphor as well. For these settlers, and the immigrants who have come since, the American nation is not a body with the government as the brain. Instead, America has been defined by its vast landscape and the sprawling energy of its entrepreneurs, scientists and community-builders.


In times of crisis, Americans rally around their government, but most of the time they have treated it as a supporting actor in national life. Americans are an unusual people, with less deference to central authority and an unparalleled faith in themselves. They seem to want a government that is helpful but not imperious, strong but subordinate.


Over the years, American voters have reacted against any party that threatens that basic sense of proportion. They have reacted against a liberalism that sought an enlarged and corrosive government and a conservatism that threatened to dismantle the government's supportive role.


A year ago, the country rallied behind a new president who promised to end the pendulumlike swings, who seemed likely to restore equilibrium with his moderate temper and pragmatic mind.


In many ways, Barack Obama has lived up to his promise. He has created a thoughtful, pragmatic administration marked by a culture of honest and vigorous debate. When Obama makes a decision, you can be sure that he has heard and accounted for every opposing argument. If he senses an important viewpoint is not represented at a meeting, he will stop the proceedings and demand that it gets included.


If the evidence leads him in directions he finds uncomfortable, he will still follow the evidence. He is beholden to no ideological camp, and there is no group in his political base that he has not angered at some point in his first year.


But his has become a voracious pragmatism. Driven by circumstances and self-confidence, the president has made himself the star performer in the national drama. He has been ubiquitous, appearing everywhere, trying to overhaul most sectors of national life: finance, health, energy, automobiles and transportation, housing, and education, among others.


He is no ideologue, but over the past year he has come to seem like the sovereign on the cover of "Leviathan" — the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer.


Americans, with their deep, vestigial sense of proportion, have reacted. The crucial movement came between April and June, when the president's approval rating among independents fell by 15 percentage points and the percentage of independents who regarded him as liberal or very liberal rose by 18 points. Since then, the public has rejected any effort to centralize authority or increase the role of government.


Trust in government has fallen. The share of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track has risen. The share who call themselves conservative has risen. The share who believe government is "doing too many things better left to business" has risen.


The country is now split on Obama, because he is temperate, thoughtful and pragmatic, but his policies are almost all unpopular. If you aggregate the last seven polls on health care reform, 41 percent support it and 51 percent oppose.


Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop. They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren't sophisticated enough to understand it. Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.


That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern. Marie Antoinette would applaud, but voters would rage.


The American people are not always right, but their basic sense of equilibrium is worthy of the profoundest respect. President Obama has shown himself to be a fine administrator, but he erred in trying to make himself the irreplaceable man in nearly ever sphere of public life. He erred in not sensing that even a pragmatic government could seem imperious and alarming.


If I were President Obama, I would spend the next year showing how government can serve a humble, helpful and supportive role to the central institutions of American life. Even in blue states like Massachusetts, voters want a government that is energetic but limited — a servant, not a leviathan.







Cambridge, Mass.

LAST week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, found himself in trouble for once suggesting that Barack Obama had a political edge over other African-American candidates because he was "light-skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Mr. Reid was not expressing sadness but a gleeful opportunism that Americans were still judging one another by the color of their skin, rather than — as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy we commemorated on Monday, dreamed — by the content of their character.


The Senate leader's choice of words was flawed, but positing that black candidates who look "less black" have a leg up is hardly more controversial than saying wealthy people have an advantage in elections. Dozens of research studies have shown that skin tone and other racial features play powerful roles in who gets ahead and who does not. These factors regularly determine who gets hired, who gets convicted and who gets elected.


Consider: Lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos. The education test-score gap between light-skinned and dark-skinned African-Americans is nearly as large as the gap between whites and blacks.


The Harvard neuroscientist Allen Counter has found that in Arizona, California and Texas, hundreds of Mexican-American women have suffered mercury poisoning as a result of the use of skin-whitening creams. In India, where I was born, a best-selling line of women's cosmetics called Fair and Lovely has recently been supplemented by a product aimed at men called Fair and Handsome.


This isn't racism, per se: it's colorism, an unconscious prejudice that isn't focused on a single group like blacks so much as on blackness itself. Our brains, shaped by culture and history, create intricate caste hierarchies that privilege those who are physically and culturally whiter and punish those who are darker.


Colorism is an intraracial problem as well as an interracial problem. Racial minorities who are alert to white-black or white-brown issues often remain silent about a colorism that asks "how black" or "how brown" someone is within their own communities.


If colorism lives underground, its effects are very real. Darker-skinned African-American defendants are more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned African-American defendants for crimes of equivalent seriousness involving white victims. This was proven in rigorous, peer-reviewed research into hundreds of capital punishment-worthy cases by the Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt.


Take, for instance, two of Dr. Eberhadt's murder cases, in Philadelphia, involving black defendants — one light-skinned, the other dark. The lighter-skinned defendant, Arthur Hawthorne, ransacked a drug store for money and narcotics. The pharmacist had complied with every demand, yet Mr. Hawthorne shot him when he was lying face down. Mr. Hawthorne was independently identified as the killer by multiple witnesses, a family member and an accomplice.


The darker-skinned defendant, Ernest Porter, pleaded not guilty to the murder of a beautician, a crime that he was linked to only through a circuitous chain of evidence. A central witness later said that prosecutors forced him to finger Mr. Porter even though he was sure that he was the wrong man. Two people who provided an alibi for Mr. Porter were mysteriously never called to testify. During his trial, Mr. Porter revealed that the police had even gotten his name wrong — his real name was Theodore Wilson — but the court stuck to the wrong name in the interest of convenience.


Both men were convicted. But the lighter-skinned Mr. Hawthorne was given a life sentence, while the dark-skinned Mr. Porter has spent more than a quarter-century on Pennsylvania's death row.


Colorism also influenced the 2008 presidential race. In an experiment that fall, Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory, and other researchers shot different versions of a political advertisement in support of Mr. Obama. One version showed a light-skinned black family. Another version had the same script, but used a darker-skinned black family. Voters, at an unconscious level, were less inclined to support Mr. Obama after watching the ad featuring the darker-skinned family than were those who watched the ad with the lighter-skinned family.


Political operatives are certainly aware of this dynamic. During the campaign, a conservative group created attack ads linking Mr. Obama with Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, which darkened Mr. Kilpatrick's skin to have a more persuasive effect. Though there can be little doubt that as a candidate Mr. Obama faced voters' conscious and unconscious prejudices, it is simultaneously true that unconscious colorism subtly advantaged him over darker-skinned politicians.


In highlighting how Mr. Obama benefited from his links to whiteness, Harry Reid punctured the myth that Mr. Obama's election signaled the completion of the Rev. King's dream. Americans may like to believe that we are now color-blind, that we can consciously choose not to use race when making judgments about other people. It remains a worthy aspiration. But this belief rests on a profound misunderstanding about how our minds work and perversely limits our ability to discuss prejudice honestly.


Shankar Vedantam, a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a reporter for The Washington Post, is the author of the book "The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives."








Almost precisely a month after the Supreme Court declared the NRO null and void the federal government has filed a review petition against the verdict. Its move suggests complete desperation given that the government had opted not to defend the controversial law in the court when the case first came up for hearing. It now claims, rather lamely, that the short order delivered by the apex court on December 16 goes against previous rulings in the matter and that various mistakes were made. Constitutional experts seem to agree that the chances that the petition will be accepted look, from the government's point of view, rather bleak. No definite error in the SC verdict has been pointed out while the government's change of lawyer is also a violation of SC rules which lay down that the same lawyer presenting the case should file the review petition.

No doubt these issues will be taken up by the court. But there are matters that lie quite beyond legalities. The SC verdict in the NRO case had been greeted almost universally with euphoria. Indeed the decision taken at the time not to defend the ordinance suggested the PPP government was indeed aware that it was indefensible. Its author, former president Pervez Musharraf, has since said it was a mistake. Given these circumstances the filing of the review petition simply puts the government another beat out of step with the people and adds to the perceptions regarding corruption that have now taken a place as the key issue atop the political pinnacle. The review petition thus seems, on the surface, to be an act of quite monumental folly. While we are all aware that rationality and good sense do not figure prominently on the national agenda, actions such as these act still to shock and dismay. They suggest the government is indeed ready to do all it can to try and justify corruption. It is easy to believe that key beneficiaries of the NRO may have persuaded the president to put his weight behind the petition. The fact that decision-making is in the hands of such men says a great deal about our plight and explains why so many citizens now see the Supreme Court as the only means of salvation.







In revelations that leave even the stronger-hearted amongst us shocked, the Asian Development Bank, appointed as third-party evaluator by the federal cabinet to assess agreements with Rental Power Projects, has declined to approve them as they would entail a power-rate rise of between 31 and 45 per cent for consumers. In addition Rs420 billion in foreign exchanges would be needed to fund them. The ADP has suggested that only eight, rather than 14 RPPs, be set up. Even this could entail a power-price hike of 24 per cent, in addition to the 30 per cent increase resulting from deals with the IMF. Perhaps all but the most privileged should then begin stocking up on candles, lanterns and hand-held fans. Even without 14 RPPs the anticipated tariff increases are shattering. We can only wonder what government decision-makers are thinking. There seems to be no sense at all in producing electricity no one can afford. But then if we think again – there is sense after all. The approval of the RPPs, producing power at rates even steeper than the IPPs, would undoubtedly help purchase yet more luxurious mansions for certain persons on foreign shores and pour yet more dollars into over-flowing accounts. We all know to whom such riches belong.

It is telling too that even within its typically technical report, the ADP could not restrain itself from making certain insinuations about possible motives behind the RPPs. The ADP remarks expose much of the evil behind such ways of thinking. The comments from its resident chief cast doubts about whether the whole exercise is a ruse to make as much money as possible. Avarice, it seems, has no limits at all. The suspicions that the current power crisis is deliberately created to make us believe we have no option but to opt for the short-term fix offered by the RPPs and that hydel-power projects that would produce power cheaply are simply not conceivable are heightened by this latest expose. The time has truly come to consider how long we can continue to live with decision makers who inflict terrible wrong on all of us.







Pakistan's defeat at the hands of Australia in the third and final Test at Bellerive Oval in Hobart finally put an end to the misery of the tourists, who struggled throughout the series. The resounding win earned the Aussies their fourth consecutive 3-0 whitewash and a record 12th straight win over Pakistan . Test cricket followers back home are bitterly disappointed -- not that they had expected the national team to win the series. They had not expected a surrender either. The tourists were meek and mild in their first encounter at Melbourne where they remained defensive throughout. They were shockingly sluggish in Sydney where they fought triumph tooth and nail after three days of hard battle put victory within their reach. And in Hobart they were so hopeless they made torturous mistakes. So what went wrong? Pakistani players performed badly in all three departments; their bowling was patchy, their batting below par and their fielding atrocious. Senior players failed to play big innings and threw away their wickets. But it was the chronic problem of poor fielding that cost the Pakistani side dearly. They dropped 15 catches in the Test series.

The truth is that Pakistan lack the mettle to take on opponents as worthy as the Australians. The players huddle at the start of every session and after taking wickets, but they hardly seem to be a unit playing with intensity and single-mindedness. Then there is the perennial problem of poor selection. Powerful lobbies within the team and the Pakistan Cricket Board are also to blame. Snags have hit the PCB's new draft constitution with Chairman Ijaz Butt writing to the president of Pakistan, who happens to be the chief patron of the board, to intervene and revisit the draft. We sincerely hope a solution will soon be found, but in a country where everything is politicised and institutions are held hostage to personal gains, curing cricket will be an uphill task.






Imagine a most-wanted man listening to the radio carrying reports of his death and hearing not very well-informed analysts talking about its consequences. All this sounds bizarre, but this is what seems to have happened on Jan 14 when the CIA fired its drones to kill Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mahsud in the remote Shaktoi area in South Waziristan.

Hakimullah survived, claiming that he wasn't even there at the time of the attack and contradicting his spokesman, Azam Tariq, who had earlier said that the "ameer," or head, was in Shaktoi but had left before the pilotless US spy planes struck the mountainous village.

In an audiotape released later to the media, Hakimullah made fun of reporters and analysts who reported and analysed his death. He didn't realise that the media, hungry for news but lacking access to the military-controlled theatre of war, was merely reporting the claim of unnamed Pakistani security officials who were confidently saying that Hakimullah had been killed. It was strange that the US authorities weren't ready to make any such claim, but Pakistani officials, apparently not even taken into confidence about the attack, were excitedly announcing Hakimullah's death.

This wasn't the first time that wrong claims were made about the death of some most-wanted militants, such as Baitullah Mahsud, Qari Hussain, Maulana Fazlullah, Shah Dauran and Faqir Mohammad. Such claims are still being made and the media duly reports whatever it is told, without bothering, or being able, to check and crosscheck facts. The handicapped media sometimes also reports the wild claims made by the militants. Journalism has been in most cases reduced to reporting from a safe distance the claims and counter-claims of parties to the conflict.

In Hakimullah's case, Interior Minister Rahman Malik repeatedly claimed last year that he had been killed in a shootout with supporters of another Taliban commander, Waliur Rahman, following a dispute over the succession of Baitullah. Even when it became obvious that Hakimullah was alive and that no clash had even taken place between his men and Waliur Rahman's after Baitullah's death in a US drone strike on Aug 5, the minister kept insisting that Hakimullah's brother, having a close resemblance with him, had taken his place and was giving interviews to the media.

As far as Hakimullah is concerned, he escaped the attack in question, and he may have survived strikes in the past. So he remains a major target, both for the US and Pakistani armies. He was already public enemy number one of the Pakistani government after claims of responsibility by his Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for most of the suicide attacks and bombings against security forces and law-enforcement agencies in the country.

The military operation in South Waziristan last October was specifically launched against his group to wrest control of the Mahsud tribal territory and deny sanctuaries to local and foreign militants and terrorists aligned to it.

Hakimullah is also on the hit-list of the US, but he earned further American wrath when he was seen recently in a videotape with Jordanian suicide bomber Dr Humam Khalil al-Balawi, who killed seven CIA agents and caused injuries to another six in a suicide attack in late December in a secret base in Afghanistan's Khost province. The dramatic increase in US missile strikes in the aftermath of the suicide bombing at the CIA station, first in North and then South Waziristan, is evidence enough that revenge is the major motive for these attacks.

The CIA, which primarily operates the missile-fitted spy planes, will continue to hunt Hakimullah, using every resource at its disposal, because it must avenge the loss of its seven agents to raise the morale of its employees. Both the CIA and the US army are convinced that the Khost suicide bombing was planned in Waziristan with assistance from Taliban militants.

Hakimullah may not have played any significant role in planning the suicide bombing, but he provided evidence of his involvement by agreeing to appear in the video with Dr al-Balawi. The Jordanian in his farewell statement also made it clear that he was undertaking the suicide mission to avenge the death of the late TTP head Baitullah and the suicide attack was thus seen as a joint operation.

Twice in three days recently, US drones attacked suspected hideouts of militants in Shaktoi in the hope of eliminating Hakimullah. More than 30 people were killed in these attacks, apparently mostly Pakistani tribal militants, but the prime target managed to get away. Taliban sources conceded that improved intelligence about the whereabouts of their ranking figures was due to infiltration of their ranks by US and Pakistani government spies.

In a situation when Taliban fighters start suspecting their own colleagues, one could expect reprisals and beheadings of those accused of spying. Such a situation could sap the militants' morale, which already was low after their having lost strongholds in South Waziristan, the birthplace of the Pakistani Taliban, and in Bajaur, Mohmand, Swat and the rest of Malakand Division.

The TTP has also suffered setbacks in Orakzai Agency, which is critical for its operations in Peshawar, Kohat, Hangu and other place due to its central location. In fact, the decrease in the number of acts of terrorism in Peshawar and its surroundings is attributed to the military's advance into the Ferozkhel Mela area in Orakzai Agency and control of the approach roads to Peshawar and Kohat. The improved security, as a result of police sacrifices and vigilance in and around Peshawar, has also made it difficult for vehicle-borne suicide bombers to enter the city to attack targets.

Shaktoi's emergence as a new TTP sanctuary will force the security forces to try and seize its control. The military is claiming control of 80 per cent territory in the Mahsud-populated territory in South Waziristan, but its operations would be incomplete if it is unable to capture the remaining, and far tougher, mountainous and forested area where the militants have converged.

Shaktoi is near the boundary with North Waziristan, where the presence of Pakistani and foreign militants has become a bone of contention between the US and Pakistan as Washington is pushing Islamabad to start military action against the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban and their tribal allies. Until then, the US will continue drone attacks against all those tribal territories that are beyond the control of the Pakistani security forces.

The mild, and at times hollow, protests by Pakistan leaders and government functionaries including the president and the prime minister, won't change the US determination to go after the Pakistan-based militants who kill American and Nato soldiers and threaten to inflict defeat on the world's only superpower in Afghanistan.

Rather, the US policy to uses drones in Pakistan will continue as long as the Obama administration considers it an effective and essential part of its strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. It would be another matter that if the drone attacks kill far more other people than the few who are targeted, thereby further radicalising the population and contributing to the anti-US sentiment in Pakistan and the Muslim world.

Pakistan's stated policy opposing the US drone strikes is also hard to believe, considering the fact that these missile attacks have facilitated its own task by eliminating some of its most dangerous enemies, such as Baitullah and Haji Omar. Since the government itself was unable to get these militants, Islamabad would be pleased if Hakimullah and the other militants too were taken out by the American drones. This is one reason why many Pakistanis are convinced that the authorities are secretly cooperating with the US in carrying out the drone strikes, even though they publicly complain about it in a bid to calm down resentment among people.

It also explains the government and military's reluctance to follow the parliament's unanimous resolution against the US drone attacks and its recommendation for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the NWFP and its tribal areas. That resolution wasn't meant to be implemented and the government's meaningless protests on this count shouldn't be taken seriously. And thus, for the foreseeable future, the US drone attacks and Pakistan's military operations in the tribal areas will continue, in the hope that the militants, after having lost all public support, will be eventually defeated.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim







In my last article (September 15, 2009) on the subject, I had warned that the then sugar crisis was simply a trailer and the action movie would be screened in the next sugar season (November 2009-October 2010). Knowing very well that sugarcane crop would be less in 2009-10, I had suggested the timely import of raw sugar -- a close substitute for sugarcane in the range of 1.5-1.7 million tons.

Like last year, the government did not allow the import of raw sugar and as such has committed the same mistake. The government or the nation who fails to learn from past mistakes pays a heavy price for their inactions. Sugar is an essential commodity and any increase in its price for whatever reason is bound to affect the common man. Urban population is more sensitive to the rise in the price of sugar than their rural counterpart. The long queues outside the utility stores and their agitation would attract the attention of both print and electronic media with damaging political consequences for the government. The chances are the government would react, as it did earlier, and take administrative measures including raids in sugar mills, wholesale and retail traders' warehouses and shops, respectively.

Why are sugar prices racing to a historic high? Both domestic and international factors are contributing to the unprecedented surge in sugar prices at home and abroad. Let me discuss the domestic factor first. The production of sugarcane is on the decline for the last two years in a row, against a historic high of 63.9 million tons in 2007-08. The sugarcane crop was down by almost 22 per cent to 50 million tons in 2008-09 with sugar production down to 3.2 million tons as against the consumption requirement of 4.2 million tons. The government failed to take right decision at right time and the country witnessed a serious sugar crisis. The rising gap between the demand and supply pushed forward the price of sugar in the range of Rs.48-55 per kg during 2008-09, compared with Rs.28-30 per kg in 2007-08 -- an increase of 70 to 80 per cent in just one year.

The sugarcane crop in the current season (2009-10) is even less than last year. As against the production of 50 million tons, the sugarcane crop is estimated to be less by six per cent to 47 million tons with sugar production further down to 3 million tons against the consumption requirement of 4.2 million tons (0.350 million per month). Assuming that the country would enter into the next sugar season (2010-11) with at least one month of consumption requirement, the current year's demand-supply gap is estimated to be 1.5 million tons.

Against the gap of 1.5 million tons, the government has decided to import 0.7 million tons of refined sugar. Such an insufficient quantity of import is not going to bridge the demand-supply gap and as such the price of sugar would continue to rise. Furthermore, whether the import of sugar is going to stabilise the domestic price of sugar will critically depend on the schedule and quantity of imports. It has been observed in the past that the TCP or the private sector would import such a quantity of sugar which would continue to keep upward pressure on domestic sugar prices. The monthly shortfall is estimated to be 100,000 tons and if the government fails to maintain the schedule of imported sugar to bridge this gap, the imported sugar would not bring any relief to domestic consumers. Managing import in a timely manner requires good governance. In the midst of lack of governance, should we expect that the import of sugar will be managed properly to achieve the desired result? I leave it to the readers to make a judgment.

External factors are also contributing to the extraordinary surge in sugar prices domestically and abroad. India, the largest consumer and the second-largest producer of sugar in the world after Brazil is facing a decline in the production of sugarcane for two years in a row. Accordingly, the sugar production is also down in India, forcing her to buy from the international market. India's sugar production is down to 14.7 million tons as against 26 million tons last year -- a decline of almost 44 per cent. A production of 14.7 million tons against the consumption requirement of 24 million tons has forced India to enter the international market in a big way, thus pushing the sugar price to a lifetime high of $748 per ton on January 7, 2010. Currently, it is hovering around $735-748 per ton.

The landed cost of imported sugar at Karachi with zero custom duty but with 16 per cent sales tax and other incidental charges is estimated to be in the range of Rs80-83 per kg. When up-country transport charges are added, the price would be around Rs83-86 per kg. Furthermore, the domestic price of sugarcane has been in the range of Rs150-200 per 40 kg. Therefore, the sugar price in the country would be more or less at par with imported price. Adding the cost of misgovernance, the sugar would be sold in the country at Rs100-110 per kg by May/June 2010.

Pakistan would have to pay at least $1.2 billion for the import of refined sugar. Had the government allowed the import of raw sugar, the country could have saved $360 million in foreign exchange. This is the price the country would pay for not taking right decisions at the right time. How serious the sugar crisis would become in the coming months would critically depend on how the government manages the demand-supply gap. If resorted to administrative measures like last year, it would create a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

The writer is dean and professor at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan







On Dec 11, 2009, the twin towers of conventional Pakistani economic genius, Mr Shaukat Tarin and Syed Salim Raza, wrote a love letter to their boss in Washington DC, a certain Mr Dominique Strauss-Kahn, asking for a favour.

Both the finance minister and the State Bank governor will object to this trivialisation of their relationship with the Pakistani state, and romanticisation of their relationship with the IMF. They shouldn't. They have been the architects of Pakistan's deal with the IMF. Pakistan signed up to a stand-by agreement with the IMF in November 2008 for $7.6 billion. That amount was revised to $11.3 billion in August 2009. If the finance minister and State Bank governor don't work for Mr Strauss-Kahn, then nobody does. Mr Strauss-Kahn is the executive director of the IMF. Once you take money from the IMF, you don't get to shape public policy. You get to announce what the IMF wants from your country.

Advocates of the perpetuation of Pakistani state's addiction to borrowed money claim Pakistan will fall to pieces without the IMF's money. Those advocates must be on hallucinogens. The country's electricity grid, its domestic commerce, its public administration, law and order, national security and its internal cohesiveness are the subject of daily hand-wringing. This economy isn't exactly the Starship Enterprise. It is the Titanic, without all the fancy James Cameron frills. No gallant four-piece band. No tragic Leo DiCaprio-esque hero. No electrifying Kate Winslet starlet. Just a lot of arrogant and shiny metal with no buoyancy.

Before this stand-by agreement was signed, a small minority (including yours truly) had argued that Pakistan should be actively pursuing a strategic default on its loans, rather than taking on new ones. What has happened since this loan was taken not only affirms that position, and the need to default. It also demonstrates that having Citibank executives negotiate loans, and formulate public policy, is suicidal for Pakistani democracy.

The favour that Mr Tarin and Mr Raza ask of the IMF executive director is a little leniency with the benchmarks for spending restraint they were supposed to make Pakistan meet in September 2009. While they mask their problems in all kinds of complicated lingo, they basically say that Pakistan keeps spending more money than it is supposed to, because of two things -- its military and its bureaucracy. Advance salary payments because of Eid and the Pakistani military's bombing of its own territory can be rationalised quite well. But the resemblance between this latest set of national priorities and necessities is so hauntingly similar to all past versions that someone, somewhere must be laughing out loud.

Not the poor and vulnerable of this country, for sure. Back in 2004, while Kaiser Bengali was screaming hoarse from his perch at the SPDC about the growing vulnerability of the poor -- despite the amazing smoke-and-mirrors growth narrative of then-finance minister, and later prime minister, Shaukat Aziz -- nobody listened. Now, with a government that was supposed to be listening intently to what Bengali and others have to say, the poor are being bulldozed by inflation and snail's-pace growth. This year's revised projections have the inflation rate running at 11 per cent and real growth at nearly zero per cent (3 per cent nominal).

All the while, both the IMF and the finance ministry make lots of noises about how the IMF loan, and everything else the government is doing, is in service of the poor. Yet, a cursory examination of the IMF's latest judgements of what is going on in Pakistan reflects poorly on how seriously these people take poverty -- the Citibankers that pretend to be running Pakistan's economy, and their less wealthy professional cousins at the IMF that are actually running Pakistan's economy.

The word "poor" is mentioned in three places, not counting a reference to the Standard&Poor's credit-rating agency on Page 6.

In the IMF's description of the "structural reforms" it has seen taking place in Pakistan, the report refers to the delays in the rollout of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) on page 11, where it mentions poor families.

As part of the annexes, the World Bank and the government of Pakistan each separately provide their own descriptions of future plans. The government of Pakistan annex is particularly amusing in its reference to the poor (in passing). In one of the most comedic and self-contradictory paragraphs I've ever come across in any serious document, Shaukat Tarin and Salim Raza state that:

"We will continue our efforts to consolidate macroeconomic stability, reduce poverty, and lay the basis for high and sustained growth. A principal challenge for this year will be to consolidate macroeconomic stability in the context of an increasingly difficult security situation. We will also continue to provide social safety nets for the poor. At the same time, we will press ahead with the implementation of tax reform, including a broad-based VAT."

Pakistan will be the first country in human history to manage to help the poor through macroeconomic stability, social safety nets and tax reforms featuring a VAT at the same time.

At the very minimum, the IMF's release of the Tarin/Raza love letters to Dominique Strauss-Kahn expose the government's plan to impose yet another regressive tax. VATs, or value-added taxes, are notoriously regressive, penalising the poor for their consumption, while protecting the incomes and the wealth of the rich. Of course, if Pakistani voters understood why the military and political elite keep running to Citibank for their economic management, the country would not be saddled with the debt and baggage that it is. The IMF programme reeks of a diet specifically designed to extract nutrients from the poor and middle classes, and fatten the rich.

If any further proof of the starkly elitist framework of the IMF and its approach to Pakistan was needed, it is amply demonstrated in the treatment of fiscal issues. The discussions between the IMF and the government of Pakistan focus almost exclusively on generation of more revenue, rather than a discussion of where this revenue comes from.

Agricultural land taxes and capital gains taxes do not figure anywhere in the discussion between the government and the IMF. Instead, paragraphs upon paragraphs are dedicated to tax administration. Of course, the World Bank and other donors, including the British government, have traversed down this meaningless path for the better part of a decade. Pakistani tax collectors don't need computers and training sessions. They need the mandate and jurisdiction to collect taxes from everybody, and not just the clerks and shehri babus that finance the Pakistani state's dysfunction.

The largest drain on Pakistan's resources is the financing of its debts. The second-largest is the financing of its military. The third-largest is the running of government.

Pakistan taking on more debt, with a promise to cut back spending, is counterintuitive to begin with. If Pakistan was willing or able to cut back spending, it would not need the IMF. So Pakistan taking on more debt, with a promise to cut back spending and then not living up to its promise, is exactly what we should expect. And the fact that it is not living up to its promises because the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government need more and more money is also exactly what we should expect.

The IMF will grant the leniency that Messrs Tarin and Raza requested, because Pakistan is the gift that keeps giving. Bonuses all around.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website