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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

EDITORIAL 20.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 20, edition 000408, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




































































The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has no doubt been embarrassed by the disclosure that one of its key findings about Himalayan glaciers disappearing on account of global warming has no scientific basis. The IPCC, which is the designated UN body to collate scientific evidence of global warming for action on climate change, had said in its Fourth Assessment Report that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035, "if not earlier". The Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, is used as the main reference point for climate change science. The IPCC could argue that it had cited a World Wildlife Fund report of 2005 to make its point on Himalayan glaciers, but that would convince few. For, the WWF had based its report on an interview with the Indian researcher, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, published in the New Scientist in 1999 — he is now associated with The Energy and Resources Institute, headed by Mr RK Pachauri and intimately linked to work done by IPCC. The WWF, in a clarification issued on Monday, has said that its 2005 report was based on "erroneous information" and that the prediction about Himalayan glaciers disappearing altogether in less than a quarter century has been "proved to be incorrect". Apparently, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, whose assertion was taken more seriously than vigorous denials by scientists working for the Government of India, had made an exaggerated claim without adequate scientific proof to back it up. As much was said in a Government document prepared before the Copenhagen climate change conference. Strangely though, it required the WWF to disown its own finding for the truth to sink in. Worse, now that a key assertion of the IPCC has been found to be based on unsubstantiated 'evidence', allegations by certain individuals working with the UN body about 'fixing' of evidence related to climate change issues are likely to gain credence. Needless to say, that would serve nobody's purpose.

While it would be foolish to ignore facts and legitimise alarmism by acting on cockamamie theories on global warming, we would do well to bear in mind that the other extreme — to be in denial — serve's no one's interest, least of all India's. The fact remains that climate change is undeniable and global warming is happening: Its effects can be felt in more ways than one. It is also true that with enhanced tools of research and analysis, many of the 'findings' which were believed to be correct will require to be recalibrated. Nobody is denying that Himalayan glaciers are retreating; what remains unresolved is the reason causing the retraction. These are still early days for climate change science and it is entirely possible that much of what is known today will stand repudiated in the coming days; today's facts will be replaced by new evidence. However, that is not going to change the process of global warming; at best, the sums will need to be redone. It would, therefore, be wise not to launch a witch-hunt and target individuals, but call for greater application of diligence while processing data and looking for causes. Indeed, Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh should desist from gloating over IPCC's 'lapse' or over-glorifying official findings which more often than not have been found to be erroneous, over-stated or under-stated. A case in point is the stock-taking of our wildlife: Official statistics on the country's tiger population have turned out to be entirely spurious. If babudom can err, so can an institution of repute.







As US President Barack Obama completes one year in the White House, his job approval rating seems to be dipping. According to a January 16 Gallup poll, only 50 per cent of Americans approve of Mr Obama's innings so far, down by 18 per cent from the day he assumed office. All talk about 'hope' and 'change' which had become synonymous with Mr Obama's election has disappeared. What is left is a man who is struggling to come to terms with the realities of his job. For, Mr Obama is fast realising that the fantastic promises that he had held out to the people of America during his election campaign sound much more achievable when made in a speech before party supporters. In fact, most of the policies that he had promised are yet to materialise. To be honest, barring the freak Nobel Prize for Peace, Mr Obama has little to show for his first year in office. The American economy, though better off than what it was when he took charge, is far from robust and healthy. The unemployment rate has decline but is still hovering around 10 per cent. Healthcare reform, one of Mr Obama's major pre-election promises, is yet to be implemented. The one-year deadline for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camps will be missed. The war in Afghanistan, in spite the announced surge in troops, is not going well. Mr Obama's AfPak policy has proven to be a disaster. It is a measure of things that the US President's best performance has actually come on the climate change front where he has at least managed to change the direction of American policy on the issue. But apart from this, Mr Obama's towering image of a man who was to rewrite American history is severely bruised and dented. The Americans are realising he is just a mortal.

It would be fair to say that for Mr Obama the honeymoon period is over. What lies ahead is the treacherous road of political survival. If the falling approval ratings are a true reflection of the American mood, then Mr Obama better watch his step. The mid-term elections in November might prove to be a good opportunity for his detractors to punish him. On the other hand, this might force Mr Obama to delay pushing through some tough but much-needed policies in order to shore up his public standing. This can hardly be positive in the long run. All said and done, the US President might be a good orator, but he will find it difficult to talk his way out of the predicament that he presently finds himself in. With the first year over the tough phase of the presidency begins.



            THE PIONEER




The idea of a trilateral dialogue between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan has been on the cards much before the US came up with its AfPak policy. The bold and, some would say, unlikely to take off initiative figured on the Track II circuit in 2007 when the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line began stepping up their offensive, especially after the Lal Masjid episode in Islamabad. What has held back the trilateral dialogue is the stalemate over the India-Pakistan composite dialogue, Pakistani concern of India increasing its footprint in Afghanistan, and the Indian fear that it would get sucked into the Richard Holbrooke AfPak strategy from which it had extricated itself.

Despite these misgivings, the trialogue has made progress with meetings held at Delhi and Kabul last year and more proposed in Berlin-Brussels and possibly Islamabad this year. Increasingly, policy-and-opinion-makers and civil society in the three countries are beginning to realise the common challenge posed by the Taliban and the need to collectively combat them. What has changed is that Pakistan is no longer in denial and its people, especially, are unashamedly admitting that "our pets have begun biting us". It will take much more than the wave of Taliban suicide attacks which has reached PoK and had consumed 3000 people in 2009 for the Pakistani military establishment to abandon its pets.

From the trialogue it was clear that none of the three wants to see the return of the Taliban in Kabul. Yet, no one objects to the Taliban if they give up the gun and accept the Afghan Constitution to democratically fight for Government. Is the rejection of the hardcore Taliban and its brand of terrorism a sufficiently strong glue to make the three stick together? A more potent motivation for the combined war against the Taliban is the economic spinoffs — cooperation in trade and investment is seen as the key driver of peace and stability in the region.

Last May, US President Barack Obama hosted in Washington a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to hammer out by the end of 2009 a trade and transit treaty with a clause for movement of goods from Afghanistan to India and vice-versa. The bilateral discussion has spilled over as Pakistan is unwilling to allow Afghan trucks to Pakistan and on to the Indian border. Instead, it has offered to transfer at the Afghan border cargo into its own trucks but disallow transit of goods to and from India.

There are intellectual differences too. Besides deep distrust and suspicion, Afghans take serious issue with Pakistan over the Durand Line and Taliban sanctuaries on its soil against whom it is loath to act. Pakistanis have long held that the US-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, reinforced by the recent troop surge, has spilled over and catalysed the war on their side of the Durand Line.

They are also convinced that Indians and Afghans who enjoy good relations are colluding against them. Unfortunately, as there is no Track II between Pakistan and Afghanistan and nothing like an official composite dialogue (the Americans take care of that), they are mutually oblivious of issues and sentiments that divide them. The Afghans are very appreciative of New Delhi's work in the socio-economic development of their country which, surprisingly, Islamabad endorses. Further, many Pakistanis now acknowledge that as a regional power, India has legitimate interests and goals in Afghanistan even though some worry over India's 'over-ingress' into their strategic backyard.

The Afghans express dismay over India and Pakistan squabbling over their strategic goals in their country. Rather, the two should engage in joint projects in IT, health, education, power and communications. But central to implementing these ideas is New Delhi and Islamabad allaying mutual concerns in Afghanistan.

An India-Pakistan dialogue on Afghanistan (with Baluchistan appended after Sharm-el Sheikh) has been considered for at least two years and at one stage was planned as the ninth item in the composite dialogue. But 26/11 spiked the conversations altogether. Pakistan's security concerns in Afghanistan are ably managed by Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, and US overall force commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal. Both have been pumping for an early resolution of the Kashmir dispute which they see as the problem distracting Pakistan from its fight against the Taliban.

Pakistani Senator Afrasaib Khattack who is a key member of the trialogue has urged that India resume the composite dialogue so as to allow it to focus on its fight against the Taliban. The Senator believes that "forces of peace must cooperate as forces of terror have done". "There is no alternative to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan uniting to fight terrorism," he adds.

Bilateral dialogues have enough problems, so what are the chances of walking the talk in a trialogue? Very little, it would first appear. But shifting attitudes in Pakistan on the Taliban since the flogging of a young girl in Swat and the attack on the GHQ mosque in Rawalpindi has made the difference. The composite dialogue should and could be resumed in weeks in India's self-interest, probably in a new format focussed on terrorism, Kashmir and engagement between the two militaries.

Elsewhere, India-Pakistan cooperation is abundant. They have cooperated in multilateral fora, UNPKO and bilaterally too. The Indus Water Treaty and the new year exchange of lists of nuclear facilities, renewing the pledge not to attack them, are sterling examples. Recently, other taboos were broken in Kabul when Pakistani delegates were smuggled by their Indian counterparts into the popular Gandermack pub, posing as Indian kafirs. Siachen, Sir Creek and Tulbul were solved in half an hour. Single Malt whisky is good substitute for political will.






The sentiments in Maharashtra against north Indian job-seekers need serious introspection as they have significant implications for the unity and integrity of the country. They hint at bad economic policies adopted by successive Governments.

It is noteworthy that 43 per cent of the people in Bihar live below the poverty line while the figure is 47 per cent for Orissa. In such a scenario, migration from economically backward States to prosperous ones is only natural. The second reason for migration is disparity in wage rates. In States like West Bengal an unskilled worker gets paid Rs 40 per day while working in the agriculture sector or in a factory, whereas his counterpart gets paid more than Rs 100 per day in States like Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan. The third reason for migration is better facilities in urban areas.

Over the years, the problem of regional disparity has not been properly addressed, leading to patches of prosperity in certain areas and pathetic conditions in others. The antipathy towards economically weaker sections of the society stands exposed by the fact that even though the economic growth rate has increased from 4.5 per cent in the pre-liberalisation era to 7 per cent now, the rate of employment has not grown at the same pace. In the post-liberalisation era, competition has lead to labour-saving techniques. In specific terms, employment elasticity in 1980 and in the early 1990s was 0.5 per cent but decreased to 0.16 per cent in late-1990s.

There has been no coordination between population growth and employment growth. Our population increased from 84.63 crore in 1991 to 102.88 crore in 2001, an increase of over 21.56 per cent. Contrary to this, the percentage of workers in the total population increased from 37.12 per cent to 39.11 per cent over the same period.

It is tragic that 60 per cent of our cultivable farms depend on rainfall and not irrigation systems. There has been a deceleration in the expansion of irrigation infrastructure, especially since 1980. The rate of increase in gross irrigated area dropped from two million hectare a year to below 0.5 million hectare by the late-1980s and early-1990s.The average irrigation potential came down from 3 per cent per annum during 1950-51 to 1.2 per cent in 1989-90.

The above figures indicate the failure of the Government to include everyone in the economic growth of the country. Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.








Does China allow free Internet access to its citizens? The operative word in that question is 'free'. With Internet giant Google publicly announcing its displeasure about cyber attacks on its account holders and threatening to shut down its Chinese operations, the question of Internet freedom and, by association, general freedom of expression in China is once again in the limelight. There is little evidence to prove, contrary to what the Chinese would have us believe, that the Internet in China is 'free'. Most Internet companies like Google will confirm that doing business in China can be a bit of a headache. Anything to do with access to or publishing of information is subject to strict scrutiny. China is said to have in place the largest Internet censorship programme in the world and content on the World Wide Web is strictly monitored. As a result, access to certain websites — especially those relating to Tibetan separatism and the 1989 Tiananmen massacre — and material deemed 'sensitive' is prohibited in case you happen to be a Chinese citizen.

So why do Internet companies still want to do business in China? The answer to that is simple: Greed. For, the allure of the Chinese Internet market with its huge number of Internet users — 350 million is the estimated figure — is too strong to resist. The only reason why Internet companies such as Google chose to subject themselves to Chinese censorship is because profit, or at least the notion of it, outweighed the costs.

Nonetheless, that understanding is fast changing. Although Google is the first company of its kind that has publicly accused the Chinese authorities of excessive censorship and alluded to an organised spying programme, there are many that would second the Internet giant's contention. For long now Beijing has been suspected of running an elaborate cyber hacking set-up to illicitly gain access to confidential information across a wide range of fields. Reportedly, servers and computer networks of several Government institutions of different countries — including that of India's — have been at the receiving end of Chinese cyber attacks. In a recent interview, former National Security Adviser MK Narayanan asserted that his office was targeted by Chinese hackers in mid-December, the same time the cyber attacks on Google took place. If these charges against Beijing are true, and there is a strong possibility that they are, it is definitely a cause for concern for anyone doing business with China.

At the heart of the issue is the idea of freedom of information, a concept that is fundamental to the democratic way of life. And the Internet is perhaps the purest embodiment of that idea. But to the Chinese Government, the Internet is the antithesis of what it represents. Thus, it views the Internet as a handy tool to further its agenda and uses it to curb dissent and opposition. In that sense, the Chinese Government has managed to effectively use the Internet to do exactly the opposite of what the medium was meant to achieve and create barriers for its people instead of breaking them down.

In fact what the Chinese have managed to do with the Internet is symbolic of Beijing's handling of globalisation. For years China had remained behind the bamboo curtain, isolated from the rest of the world. But in the late-1980s and through the 1990s, the Chinese leadership realised that globalisation was fast becoming a reality and could not be ignored. What followed appeared to be the 'opening up' of China. But in reality Beijing was able to mould the forces of globalisation to its advantage and do business with the outside world on its own terms. The West was so upbeat about China's 'opening up', thinking that democracy would follow globalisation, that it completely overlooked the fact that the Chinese were actually consolidating and strengthening their position. Thus, China was left to transform itself into a robust democracy, even though it was doing exactly the opposite.

There is no denying that Beijing's curbs on the Internet and associated nefarious cyber activities are condemnable. But things have come to this pass because of years of wrong thinking. The Internet has simply given the Communist regime in China extra ammunition to not only firmly enforce its diktat on its people but also use it to open up another front in the war against the democratic world.

The US State Department is contemplating issuing a démarche to the Chinese Government to add strength to Google's protest. But this could very well play into the hands of the Chinese. It is true that the last thing that Beijing wants is for the international business community to view China as a hostile place for investments. In fact, it maintains that China is welcoming of foreign companies that want to do business according to its rules. But if the US Government is to openly get involved and appear to be batting for companies like Google, the Chinese will simply portray the issue as a case of American imperialism. This defensive position will not only give Beijing an advantage but also do nothing to erode away the allure of the huge Chinese market.

The only way to corner the Chinese on this is if the international business community is able to put principles before greed and refuse to do business with China unless and until it guarantees certain basic standards of human rights and ethics. Perhaps then Beijing might be willing to negotiate.







Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych were once called the 'eternal triangle' of Ukrainian politics, and it was not a compliment. But eternity is not what it used to be: One side of the triangle is about to disappear.

Five years ago, when the 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine turned Mr Viktor Yushchenko (now President) and Ms Yulia Tymoshenko (now Prime Minister) into democratic heroes, the villain of the piece was Mr Viktor Yanukovych, the former Communist apparatchik who tried to steal the 2004 election. But it hasn't been a happy five years in Ukraine since then, and it's even possible that Mr Yanukovych will win the presidency fair and square this time.

It's certain that Mr Yushchenko will lose it, and in the most humiliating manner imaginable: He persists in running for re-election, but he is unlikely to get more than two or three per cent of the vote. He has been a very weak President except in one area: His obsessive feud with his former ally, Ms Yulia Tymoshenko, which has all but paralysed the Government of Ukraine for five wasted years.

It's likely that she bears as much of the blame as he does for this disastrous clash of personalities, but she is a much more vivid personality and an adroit politician, so the public has turned against Mr Yushchenko. He will all but vanish from the political scene after the election on January 17, while 'Yulia' (as she is known to everyone in Ukraine) will slug it out with her old enemy Mr Viktor Yanukovych in the second round of voting on February 7.

Last time round, this was a confrontation that seemed to matter. It was a great story: The young democratic heroine Tymoshenko in her trademark braid, committed to modernising Ukraine and bringing it into the European Union and the Nato military alliance, versus the corrupt and colourless Yanukovych, who wanted to drag Ukraine back into collectivist poverty and political subjugation to Russia. But things look different this time.

The greatest difference is that there no longer seems to be such a difference between their policies. It's now clear that Ukraine will never join Nato: The alliance does not seek a confrontation with Russia, and only 20 per cent of Ukrainians would support membership in Nato anyway.

It is equally obvious that the EU has no intention of expanding this far east. It is already suffering severe indigestion from its last round of expansion in eastern Europe, and taking in an even poorer country with a population of 46 million people would not rank very high on the EU's list of priorities even if it were not also reluctant to annoy the Russians. So Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yanukovych no longer have much to disagree about in foreign policy.

Whether Mr Yanukovych or Ms Tymoshenko wins hardly matters economically. Only massive loans from the International Monetary Fund are keeping the economy afloat at the moment, and for some time to come it will be the IMF, not the new Government, that makes the key economic decisions. So what's left? Well, they could fight over national identity.

The west of the country is Ukrainian-speaking, and deeply nationalistic; the east is mostly Russian-speaking, heavily industrialised, and would welcome closer ties with Russia. So this is the ground on which the two leading presidential candidates have chosen to fight, with Ms Tymoshenko promising to keep Ukrainian as the sole official language and Mr Yanukovych promising equal status for the Russian language.

Given the demography of Ukraine, this probably means that Ms Tymoshenko wins the presidency in the second round of voting. (The nationalist vote is split too many ways in the first round, with a total of 18 candidates running.) But who cares, apart from Ukrainians?

With so little room for manoeuvre abroad, and such rampant corruption at home (it is said that 400 of the 450 members of Parliament are millionaires), Ukrainians have grown very cynical about democracy. Indeed, a recent poll disclosed that only 30 per cent of Ukrainians think that the change to democracy has been good for their country, whereas 50 per cent of Russians think so.

And only 26 per cent of Ukrainians say that they are satisfied with their lives. Democracy does not cure all wounds.






She Hope Disability Centre, run by Mr Sami Wani since 2001, is not just a centre for disability but a centre of hope for many differently-abled persons who have either limited or no access to healthcare facilities.


The centre offers physiotherapy and corrective surgery and provides hearing aids and low-cost prosthetic legs to patients. The latter has been pioneered by Mobility Equipment Needs of the Displaced, a New Zealand-based organisation. Housed in a single-storey, four-room brick building, the centre has treated more than 700 people in last two years.

In 2008, She Hope had its own reasons to hope. It was among 12 finalists shortlisted from 1,200 nominees in the BBC World Challenge, a global competition organised by BBC and Newsweek which selects the best projects and small businesses demonstrating innovation and enterprise at the grassroots level and awards them with financial aid.

Though it gave a tough competition, it lost out on the number of votes. Mr Wani was counting on the $ 20,000 prize money to set up a hostel for patients in remote areas and to pay his staff salaries, which have now gone unpaid for the last three months.

"The cost of treatment is prohibitive," he explains. "We provide hearing aids free of cost and also take on the post-operative care of our patients. Their rehabilitation is also our responsibility."

In the post-operative care ward of the centre, 14-year-old Rihana, whose left leg was shorter than her right one, smiles happily at the idea of returning to school without any embarrassment and prospect of being taunted by other children. The number of disabled persons in Kashmir has sharply increased over the last two decades, further overstretching the already-inadequate healthcare facilities offered in the region.

According to an article published by Combat Law in 2008, there are 302,670 persons with disabilities, constituting about three per cent of the total population of the State, as per the Census of 2001. Unofficial estimates overtake that figure, as it only takes into account persons that are registered as differently-abled. Based on its own calculations and numbers served, She Hope estimates that 20,000 people urgently await basic assessment.

Since childhood, Mr Wani nurtured a deep desire to do something for the disabled. After training to be a physiotherapist at a college in Manglore, Mr Wani returned to Kashmir in 2001. With the help of Mr Rob Buchanan, director of MEND, he opened a single-room community-based rehabilitation programme in his hometown Vyail, around 20 km from Srinagar. Every week he visits a new village with his staff and creates awareness about various disabilities. This is followed by identification, assessment and referral of disabled people to his centre.

"I was really pained to see the lack of awareness, especially among people in remote areas. Poverty and the high cost of treatment made things even more difficult for them," says Mr Wani. The social stigma attached to disability, particularly among women adds to the complexity of the problem. Wani recalls an incident where villagers told him about a family with a deaf girl. "We approached her parents to help her, but they refused to admit that she had a hearing problem. After a few days, her mother came to our centre for help."

In the summer, the centre is converted into a special school for the disabled where every child is given individual attention and taught as per his or her specific requirements.








THE Union Human Resources Ministry's decision to withdraw ' deemed university' status from 44 institutions validates public skepticism over the mushrooming of such institutions across the country. By accepting the recommendations of a review committee constituted by it after a sting scandal involving one such institution last year, the HRD ministry has implicitly agreed that the ' deemed university' status was literally up for grabs during the tenure of the first United Progressive Alliance government which cleared 85 such institutions. There are enough grounds to presume that money and political influence — some of them are indeed run by politicians — was what worked in their favour. The role of the University Grants Commission is also under a cloud because this could not have come about without its concurrence.


The scale of wheeling- dealing is evident from the fact that out of the 126 deemed universities examined by the

HRD committee, only 36 could wholly justify their continuance. Many of the 44 derecognised institutions were found to be run by ' families' rather than academics, with norms being flouted by them in vital aspects like functioning and infrastructure.


There are three challenges facing the Union government and the Supreme Court which is hearing the case. First, the future of the over 2 lakh students enrolled in the derecognised institutions — a good many of whom, there is reason to believe, paid capitation fees under the table to get admission — has to be secured. The HRD ministry has set up a task force for the purpose which has mandated affiliation of the institutions to state universities, so that the degrees obtained by their students enjoy recognition. But since this involves state governments, the responsibility to carry the process through rests on the HRD ministry.


Second, the HRD ministry must lay down strict guidelines for the grant of ' deemed varsity' status in the future so that the farce before us is not enacted again. Third, and this will require serious commitment since the last HRD dispensation was also run by a Congress leader, accountability must be fixed for the scandal that has been unearthed in Mr Sibal's watch. Those who sold the country's higher education sector must be punished and if this includes political bigwigs, so be it.







INDIA'S conventional diesel- electric submarine programme has been jinxed from the mid- 1980s when in a fit of misplaced morality, the Rajiv Gandhi government banned agents in defence deals. This led to the cancellation of the German HDW Class 209 Type 1500 submarine project in which India had already invested a great deal of money. A decade and a half later, the East Yard at Mazgaon Docks in Mumbai set up to build this submarine was rusting and the special skills its personnel had acquired, especially in the area of welding, atrophied.


Things haven't gone right since. The plan to produce two new types led to the selection of the French Scorpene, but the second stream, which was originally expected to be the Russian Amur class, has yet to take off. Unfortunately, the Scorpene project has also been in trouble from the beginning. As the Comptroller & Auditor General pointed out in his report for 2008- 2009, " Despite the Indian Navy's depleting force level, Ministry [ of Defence] took nine years to conclude a contract for the construction of six ( Scorpene) submarines." Thereafter the project has been plagued by poor management resulting in serious delays in its delivery schedule.


It is certain, therefore, that the Indian conventional submarine fleet will shrink in the coming decade. This is bad news because that is the period in which the Navy's challenges are going to increase.


More than that, the lack of diesel- electric submarines will seriously imbalance a fleet which will otherwise be adding nuclear propelled ballistic missile vessels, as well as new aircraft carriers.


Submarines are vital for the protection of a fleet at sea, as well as for their ability to deny a stronger enemy the free use of the oceans. A depleted fleet will seriously hamper the Indian Navy's operational profile.








IT IS hardly a month that the Copenhagen Accord was unveiled at the United Nations Conference on climate change in the Danish capital. India was a key player in the midnight drama that gave birth to the Accord, much to the chagrin of poor and least developed countries.


It is now slowly becoming clear that the Accord is not an innocuous piece of paper — as it was being made out to be by its promoters — but a divisive attempt to tie up the world's poor into an unfair and inequitable development regime for all times to come. Far from being a harmless ' political statement' of intent to fight climate change, the Accord has turned out to be a new instrument to achieve what the world's biggest polluters want — a licence to further pollute the atmosphere. True, it is not a legal treaty or protocol like the Montreal Protocol or TRIPS. It is worse. It is an operational document, which seeks to force all countries to quickly fix their emission reduction targets and submit them to an international register, make them available for verification and subject the targets to a review at a later date.


Space Above all, by fixing the limit to temperature rise at 2 degrees the Accord has sought to cap greenhouse gas emissions to a certain level without any commitment on fixing responsibilities for such reduction or the timeframe to do so.


At the crux of the global climate debate is the issue of access and rightful use of atmospheric space which is a limited resource.


Science tells us that it is the cumulative global emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide that drive atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and global temperatures, and it will be our total emissions of these gases between now and 2050 that will determine our success in limiting warming to below two degrees so as to avoid catastrophic impacts. The overall atmospheric capacity for carbon dioxide and its equivalent greenhouse gases has been estimated to be between 1356 and 1500 billion tonnes for the first half of this century ( 2000- 2050). This may seem like a lot, but a quarter of this budget has already been used in the last nine years alone. This means we are actually left with 1017 to 1125 billion tonnes for the next 40 years. So, the atmospheric space is a finite resource if we wish to avoid climate catastrophes in the future.


The climate change regime that the world has been discussing for the past two decades was supposed to decide how much will be the share of each country in using up atmospheric space. While devising rules and fixing targets for using this atmospheric space, let's bear in mind that much of this space has already been consumed or occupied by the industrialised world in the past century. That's where the principle of historical emissions comes in. On the other hand, poor countries of the world have not used even a part of their legitimate share of the atmospheric space. Some 400 million people in India do not have access to electricity as yet. Any treaty to cut down emissions, in other words regulate access to the atmospheric space, therefore, should be based on the principle of ' common but differentiated responsibility'. The Kyoto Protocol recognised both the principles of historical emissions as well as ' common but differentiated responsibility.' Emission reduction by industrialised countries by 2020 as an interim measure and long term goals for reducing emissions by 2050 by all were the twin objectives of the climate negotiations till the midnight of December 19 when the Copenhagen Accord was born.




The Accord, in one shot, replaced this architecture with an unjust and weak system of ' pledge and review' — putting all countries in the same basket irrespective of their level of development or their ' quota' of atmospheric space. It is amazing how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who swore by the Kyoto architecture in the afternoon became a party to a paper that killed that very architecture by midnight.


The somersault done by Singh in Copenhagen is, in fact, reflective of our shoddy approach to climate change. Just before leaving for Copenhagen, environment minister Jairam Ramesh announced emission intensity cuts of 20 to 25 per cent by 2020, and proclaimed that this was a purely voluntary measure not subject to any international framework. Now, it would seem this was done with a purpose. The target — along with the one announced by China — was touted by the US as ' positive action', prodding other developing countries to do the same. Significantly, the Indian target also finds a mention in the papers attached with the Copenhagen Accord, effectively translating a domestic policy measure into a subject of an international accord.


Ramesh's announcement itself was knee- jerk and done without any homework.


It was only after returning from Copenhagen did Ramesh announce that a panel of the Planning Commission would work out how to achieve the cuts.


Clearly, Ramesh has committed the country to a certain way of economic growth and development without any basis, roadmap or blueprint. This also shows that the issue of climate change is not getting the attention it deserves from policy makers and the top leadership.


They are not realising that climate change is directly linked to India's future and that it is not a trivial matter to be left to bureaucrats at Paryavaran Bhawan.


Having brokered the Accord, along with China, Brazil and South Africa, India is now in a fix. It has become the proverbial gale ki haddi which you can neither swallow nor spit.


Accepting the accord, as Denmark and the UN would like India to do as one of its sponsors, would be like signing the death warrant for India's development and economic growth. India will be giving up rights to its share of the atmospheric space, by foregoing the principles of historical emissions as well as ' common but differentiated responsibility'. Instead of demanding payment of ' climate debt' from the industrialised world for its undue usage of the atmospheric space so far, we will be allowing them continued, unbridled access and will be agreeing to a minor share of the same. India must demand vacating and redistributing the remaining atmospheric space by those who have been occupying it — the US, Europe and other developed countries.


The only option left for India now is to reject the Copenhagen Accord, in toto. Any response short of this would be meaningless.


This would also help India regain some of its lost credibility among the world's poor and developing countries, and gain leadership in future climate talks.




This is not something on which we should think in terms of gaining some diplomatic or strategic brownie points. It is too serious a matter to be left to strategists or a handful of bureaucrats. In any case, Prime Minister Singh or Minister Ramesh have no moral authority to mortgage the atmospheric rights of one billion people to gain favours from the world's largest polluters.


By all means, India should do its bit to save the planet, but it should be the result of a well thought out, debated and discussed plan. " This piece of paper is going to decide whether India will grow at 8 percent in future or not" — this is what India's top negotiator told me waving the negotiating draft in Copenhagen.


I think this is the bottom line. Unfortunately, this level of understanding seems to be missing in the top echelons of the government.


If India accepts the Accord — or any other framework not based on Kyoto principles — it would amount to — to borrow the phrase used by Republican Congressman Charles Boustany — " unilateral economic disarmament".


Dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in








THE Centre's move to pull the plug on 44 deemed universities is sending shivers down the spines of thousands of students here. Six institutions in Karnataka, including Bangalore's prestigious Christ University, have been derecognised.


Thank God, these institutions can get affiliation with local universities and students will not lose precious time.


At the same time, the issue brings to light standards in higher education in several fields — to be precise, entry norms. Bangalore being the capital of professional education in the private sector, students from all over the world come here for medical, paramedical, engineering and other technical degrees. While institutions here and their products are reputed internationally, there are also groups that offer admissions just for a price.


There is often an agent who you can meet and fix a deal with and the next day you become a professional student. This may sound a little too simple — but you can actually get in if you have passed your plus two in science from anywhere in the world with a specified minimum grade and can spare a few lakhs.


About four years of rigorous work can instill some sense of professionalism into any student. But the medical courses are no cakewalk.


While in college as a life sciences undergraduate, this reporter once attended a class at a medical college through an exposure programme — and failed to understand a single line that was taught.


It is not that grades are everything — but there is this notion of minimum qualification fixed by experts. We now find that entry barriers are being lowered consistently in professional education.


Whatever may be our criticism of the education system, its norms, once fixed, should be followed. Or as a society we must take the trouble to change the norms and make them better. Won't you be scared to think that your doctor is actually someone who would have fitted in the cast of the film 3 Idiots . ( The movie 3 Idiots is the story of three engineering students — a satire on Indian education. On a stormy night, they turn a college hall into a labour room with improvised equipment and help a professor's daughter deliver her baby.) However creative and resourceful he or she may be, won't you rather go to someone who has studied it all more conventionally? This is not to suggest that Bangalore has a lot of quacks. No. Our professionals here are brilliant and many move in and out of the international circuit with ease. But then, disturbingly, we also hear stories about the other lot. A neighbour who went to a doctor to treat a fever simply fainted after a dose of pills. Another got a puffed face for several days after a tooth extraction. This reporter also heard firsthand the experience of this young lady who went to a medical college hospital after a minor accident — while cleaning and treating her wounds, the young lady doctor ran out to consult her colleagues on each step. It is not a nice feeling to see that your doctor needs a second opinion while cleaning a cut. It can be painful.


Institutions that thrive merely on capitation fees also produce engineers, technicians and aeronautical crew. So, logically, many unqualified people come out after getting admission merely on the basis of wads of currency and somehow going through the motions of professional education.


One wonders how they pass the exams and, even if they do, whether they will remember anything that was taught at all.

Scary indeed.



VETERAN Kannada actor Ashwath, 85, passed away in a Mysore hospital on Monday. Karaganahalli Subbaraya Ashwathanarayan had also been a freedom fighter. He entered the film industry as a hero and specialised in roles of exemplary men, becoming a ' character' actor.


One of his great roles was that of Chamaiah Meshtru ( master) in the famous film Nagarahavu . The master is a father figure who tries to give a good life to the anti- hero, Ramachari, played by Vishnuvardhan.


He often acted as the father of the star, Rajkumar too. All the three great actors have left the scene now.


Industry veterans say roles like that of Chamaiah Meshtru clicked as Ashwath was a disciplined and modest gentleman in real life too.


" For us actors, he was a mentor," said the actor, Ramesh Bhat.


Mysoreans have a lot of stories to tell about his modesty.


For a long time he insisted on travelling in a ' tonga' ( horse cart) in Mysore. After over 600 films in six decades, it is curtains for the master.


Scientists bust eclipse myth on food


THE recent annular solar eclipse showed how fearful many of us are about natural phenomena. Several schools in this tech hub declared a holiday and some small restaurants remained closed. There was even pressure on the government to declare a public holiday. For, some people believe it is not a good idea to go out and that food gets spoilt during an eclipse.


One ' expert' on a local television channel told people not to keep food over the duration of the eclipse.


To dispel the myth, scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium here made it a point to distribute free lunch and snacks to volunteers and visitors even as the sun was shadowed.


The scientists disproved the theory that there is no free lunch. Just that it happens once in many years.




A POSSIBLY careless statement made by a scientist while talking on telephone with a British reporter ten years ago has snowballed into a controversy that questions the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC), the UN panel. Erstwhile JNU professor Dr Syed Iqbal Hasnain's claim that all glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035 was picked up by The New Scientist , a WWF report and, in turn, IPPC. Later Hasnain reportedly said the date was " speculative" and he had never published it.


While the controversy rages, Hasnain remains a very active researcher, climbing high mountains with colleagues. This reporter met him in Leh last year. He got off a plane from Delhi and drove to Khardung La, a snowy pass 18,380 feet above the sea level, with a team of reporters.


It took more than a day for the rest of us, who had reached earlier, to get acclimatised and move out of the hotel.


Hasnain was very considerate to the journalists, telling the whole story of glacier melting and what he thought about it all. He was frank enough to say that he was still collecting evidence and politely refused to part with his presentation, saying it still had to be published. Now people, including those who wrote and published the IPCC report, are blaming him for his 10- year- old media statement. But one wonders if it was proper for a scientific body to pick up a snatch of a telephone conversation reported in a popular magazine.


On the flip side, the whole episode humbles our tribe, who get to talk to people who do important work, and report it, contributing to policies that shape our world. So this reporter's belated New Year resolution is to ask all sources this basic question very emphatically: " Are you sure?" former


max. martin@ mailtoday. in







It appears now that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) grossly exaggerated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting, striking a blow to the credibility of climate change science. In a much-publicised 2007 report, the IPCC had claimed that if current warming trends continued, the glaciers would be gone by 2035. It now transpires that the estimate was based on a 10-year-old interview with one climate scientist and that there is no actual scientific data to back the claim.

An Indian governmental report released late last year - rubbished at the time by R K Pachauri, the IPCC head - had in fact suggested that the retreat of Himalayan glaciers had slowed, describing the IPCC estimate as alarmist. The IPCC is the world's premier body for the study of climate change, and its reports are the basis for formulating global policy. This makes its loss of credibility troubling, especially when there's no reason to doubt its overall conclusion that the planet is warming and urgent action is necessary to forestall this.

In a similar incident, recent reports revealed the World Health Organisation (WHO) might have overstated the threat posed by the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, tracing links between members of WHO's vaccine board and big pharmaceutical companies. The ties between the members of the board and pharma majors have prompted speculation that the WHO colluded with drug manufacturers to panic governments into buying vaccines. While that may not necessarily be true, at the very least such ties do amount to a significant conflict of interest.

While these cases prove that supranational agencies are not without flaws, science itself is not the villain. Most scientists accept that Himalayan glaciers are melting. It is only the degree of the recession that is under dispute. The flawed estimate raises questions about the IPCC's review processes, and there is certainly room for improvement on that front. Whenever scientific studies have massive policy implications, it is necessary for them to be absolutely above board. Any taint of ideological or monetary motivation will render them suspect. For that reason, members of WHO's board need to be transparent about their links with big pharma. Not all science is exact. To retain the public's trust, scientists must be careful to separate hype from fact.







Two years ago, presidential hopeful Barack Obama made a pitch for change. So when Obama was elected by a decisive margin and inaugurated as the 44{+t}{+h} US president this day last year, expectations of him - from Americans and global citizens - were stratospheric. Since then his ratings have dipped dramatically, from 80 per cent ayes he had at this time last year, to less than 50 per cent now. But any assessment of Obama's first year in office must be placed within the context of the circumstances in which he inherited the mantle. The financial crisis had become a full-blown disaster, while America was enmeshed in a quagmire created by itself - Iraq. The Obama administration has been able to extricate America somewhat from the legacy of the Bush years, although more needs to be done.

By embracing a multilateral approach while dealing with the world, Obama has restored some of the shine to America's tarnished image. He has reached out to countries with which the US has had testy relationships - from Russia to Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. He made a historic speech in Cairo to the Muslim world and pledged to fight the negative stereotyping of Islam. Importantly, Obama has shifted US focus and resources from the Iraq war to the Af-Pak region, the epicentre of global terror. By making US military aid to Pakistan conditional to Islamabad's record in taking on the Taliban, he signalled a crucial shift in Washington's policy towards Islamabad. From India's perspective, the Obama presidency has not given any reason for concern yet and he seems committed to nurturing bilateral ties, which hit the high notes during Bush's regime. Obama now has to ensure that America stays the course in the Af-Pak region.

Obama's foreign policy record is not without glitches. No concrete West Asia initiatives have been forthcoming and the Middle East remains violently deadlocked. Obama's approach to the climate change issue has also been disappointing. When he assumed presidency, he pledged that America would lead the way in working out a responsible deal in Copenhagen. That did not happen and the US continues to shirk its responsibilities.

On the domestic front, Obama's challenges keep mounting. Though the US economy has stabilised somewhat, unemployment remains high and the budget deficit is growing. Global recovery hopes depend on how quickly he can restore the US economy to health. From New Delhi's point of view it's important that his administration should continue engagement with it, hold the line against populist protectionism at home, and not cut and run from the Af-Pak theatre. Domestically, he can restore his cachet by improving the economy and transforming health care, for which there's hope yet. He has three more years in his term, in which he could still surprise his critics.







Only a hard heart would not have been moved by the idea of a proud, imperious man on a hospital bed, valiantly fighting all that nature threw at him. Jyoti Basu was chief minister of West Bengal for 23 years. In 1996, he almost made it to 7 Racecourse Road. In the eyes of his devotees, he remains the finest prime minister India never had.

In the past few weeks, these devotees were very visible. Some wrote maudlin articles. Others, such as H D Deve Gowda - who got the job Basu's party forced him to turn down in 1996 - made the pilgrimage to Kolkata. Ironically, the most fervent praise came from outsiders. Those who experienced Basu's Bengal, as opposed to those who idealised it from afar, would prefer a more cold-blooded assessment.

Many of these people don't live in Kolkata, or West Bengal, anymore. A contraction of opportunities, educational and economic, and a closing of the Bengali mind have long forced them to relocate. From Bangalore to Boston, about every buzzing city has its share of refugees from Bengal. Perhaps posterity will call them "Basu's children", a once-great state's lost generation(s).

West Bengal is not a location of contemporary relevance; it is the place time forgot. Kolkata is a museum piece; somebody cruel once called it "the world's largest old people's home". You go there if you're a heritage tourist, a nostalgia junkie or have a particularly beloved patriarch to visit one final time. As Basu's health deteriorated, this harsh verity made itself apparent. In his twilight hours, he began to resemble his terrifying legacy.

Sympathetic fellow travellers tend to dismiss criticism of Basu as limited to a small Kolkata elite he disempowered. He is worshipped by millions in Bengal's rural heartland, they argue. How true is this?

Certainly, the worst of the CPM's 'cadre-cracy' was reserved for the city. In the 1970s and 1980s, the world gradually began to turn. The Asian tigers began to embrace technology and trade and move out of misery. They gave a slumbering continent a new economic model. This was precisely the time Basu chose to finally bury the Bengal renaissance. Business was hounded out, computers were resisted. English was abolished in government primary schools, depriving young Bengalis of a massive comparative advantage.

What was the result? As an early industrial state, West Bengal should have led the march into post-industrialisation. With its educational institutions and its middle class, it should have been a services sector natural. The first IT companies and the IT-enabled services boom should have started in Kolkata. Basu didn't allow this. History will never forgive him.

The point is Basu should have known better. Even before he became chief minister in 1977, he was a well-travelled man. He knew the global currents. He understood the implications of driving out technology and English, all in the name of anti-elitism. In contrast, his successor had a provincial background. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way, lessons that came easily to Basu. Yet, to be fair to Bhattacharjee, he tried. Basu didn't bother.

How successful was Basu in village Bengal? The state has 18 districts; 14 of these are among India's 100 poorest. Inequality - the gap between supposedly pampered Kolkata and the hungry hinterland - was the Left's war cry. As economists Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari emphasised in their paper 'A Story of Falling Behind'(2009), "Uttar Dinajpur, which is West Bengal's poorest district, has a per capita SDP that is only 33.6 per cent that of Kolkata [the richest district]. For all its talk about equity and removal of inequalities, the West Bengal government hasn't been able to improve the lot of the people in the worst-off and backward districts."

Basu's biggest failing was lack of conviction. He mocked those he opposed as well as those he led. In the late 1960s, the CPM entered government in alliance with Congress rebels. Basu was deputy chief minister and in-house saboteur. Almost every day, his party would lampoon the governor, Dharma Vira, as a reactionary agent of Delhi. Almost every evening, after the slogans were done, Basu would reportedly turn up at Raj Bhavan for a drink with Dharma Vira and their common friend Ranjit Gupta, former chief secretary and the brother of CPI leader Indrajit Gupta. Was this a careful separation of the personal from the political - or was it plain hypocrisy? How would you describe Basu's visits every summer to London, ostensibly to "seek investment", visits so important that he often missed August 15 in India?

The most illuminating story comes from the day of the funeral of Pramod Dasgupta, CPM strongman, in 1982. According to an eyewitness account, immediately afterwards a tired Basu went to a certain relative's house and, there, he sat down with a book: George Mikes' How to be an Alien. Considering how he looked at Bengal, and what he had reduced it to, that's rather telling.

The writer is a political commentator.








Friends call him a Green Monk. An engineer by training, John Seed got interested in Buddhism and Advaita philosophy and, these, according to him, gave new insights into nature and human relations and the first lessons in "Deep Ecology". Soon he was fighting for rainforests in Australia and rolling out songs in celebration of nature. Seed is the founder of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia.

What brought you into nature conservation?

I've been involved with this since 1979 when in Terania Creek in New South Wales, close to where i lived, there was a protest to stop rainforest logging and i somehow found myself there. It changed my life.

How do you see today's environmental campaigns?

I would say they have run out of steam in Australia. The environmental movement has become more professional, but it has lost its passion. It's not enthusiastic and visionary. We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction that has taken place on this planet since life began. Five times before, we lost at least half of the species. Unless some miracle happens, i think that's going to repeat.

How do we stop this?

We will have to change everything about our lives. I truly don't believe that this culture of consumption or greed is actually making anyone happier. Advertising has lied to us to make us think that we will be happier only if we had this or that thing. How happy we are depends much more on the quality of our relationship with out friends, our partner, our children, whether we are satisfied with the work we are doing or whether we are doing a meaningless thing, but becoming richer doesn't make any difference whatsoever.

Only a revolution in consciousness can save us from this catastrophe that we have initiated. The kind of things people are doing to protect that environment is definitely a way to change consciousness. That's how my consciousness changed. I was moving in a totally different direction in 1979. I somehow became involved in a project for the protection of nature and my whole life changed direction.

Deep Ecology deals with the illusion that nature and we are different. This illusion is the underlying cause of all environmental problems. We need to understand that the nature out there and the nature inside us is one and the same. The reason for this illusion of separation is anthropocentrism or human-centredness. Human beings think they are at the centre of everything. But what the science of ecology says and what indigenous people have always understood is that the world is not a pyramid but a web and human beings are only a strand in that web. If we destroy one strand, we destroy the other strands and thus destroy ourselves.







Though we never met, I have much to thank Jyoti Basu for. Had it not been for him or rather, for the party that he so eminently represented for so many years, even before he became Bengal's chief minister in 1977 I may not have been in Delhi, working for the TOI, and writing this column. It was thanks to Jyotida, and the policies of the party that he stood for, that I like many middle-class professionals had to leave what was then called Calcutta as an economic refugee and try and make a new life for myself in distant and alien Delhi.


I was brought up in Calcutta, and I never wanted to leave. In a way, I never did leave Calcutta; it left me, and many others like me, like an ebbing tide leaving us stranded on whatever shore we could find to call home. In my case, this was to be Delhi, a place which, in the 23 years that i've been here, has got inured to me, as I have to it.


Delhi is so different from the Calcutta that was, and from the Kolkata that is. The Calcutta or at least, the middle-class central Calcutta that I grew up in was a gracious, civilised city, in many ways the leading city of India. It was a safe and clean city. Every afternoon, the streets would be washed down with hosed water to settle the dust. Along public footpaths, flower beds bloomed and children walked unescorted to schools. The best educational institutions both schools and colleges were in Calcutta. Calcutta University was the foremost university in the land, and the jewel in its crown was Presidency College. I couldn't get into Presidency, my school-leaving marks (from La Martiniere) weren't good enough but I did make it into St Xavier's, where Jyoti Basu had himself studied as a schoolboy more than 30 years before me.


Jyotida was very much a product of the cultural sense and sensibility that was fostered not only by St Xavier's but by the city as a whole: urbane, cosmopolitan and liberal-minded. In some ways, Calcutta wasn't just a city but a world view, a perspective that Jyoti Basu reflected so well, the quintessential Calcuttan equally at home with Shakespeare and Tagore, the pucca sahib in an elegantly pleated bhadralok dhoti.


How did Calcutta become a Cinderella in reverse, the glittering belle of the ball turn into a provincial drab? The CPM had a stock reply to that question: stepmotherly treatment by the Centre. By this simple formula the party absolved itself of all responsibility for Calcutta's growing ills that saw the city transform itself from a hub of industrial and intellectual activity into an economic and professional backwater whose stagnancy bred little other than the mosquito bites of daily frustrations.


Jyotida was chief minister for 23 years; his party has ruled Bengal uninterruptedly for over 30 years. During this time it presided over the so-called flight of capital from Calcutta, as industry and business sought safe havens far from Bengal's increasingly intractable labour unions.


The CPM did undertake one of the most successful rural land reform movements in the country. But Operation Barga came at a price: neglected Calcutta sank into a quagmire of despair. And in the countryside, those who dared to vote against the Marxists were in danger of having their hands chopped off; a macabre reminder not to vote for the Congress's hand symbol. Absolute power had corrupted absolutely.


I was first offered a job in TOI in Delhi in early 1986. It took me till July 1987 to accept the offer; I didn't want to leave Calcutta. When I did leave, people accused me: How can you betray Calcutta like this? A little later the same people asked me if I could find them a job in Delhi. Who had betrayed whom? Had we betrayed Calcutta, or had Jyotida's Calcutta betrayed us?


Delhi, for all the savagery of its climate and its denizens, has been good to me, as has the TOI. I'm grateful to both. And to Jyotida, for having forced me to fly the nest of Calcutta and find a new home elsewhere. I'm also grateful to his politburo, who didn't let him become PM. Because if he had, where would I have fled to then?







Until one turned 21, the closest one came to an airplane was when watching Hollywood action movies. I couldn't wait to embark on my first flight as the scenes whetted my curiosity. I had to go for my MBA interview, and luckily, had the chance to fly. My mother and me were agog with excitement. A bright spring morning saw us standing outside Delhi's glittering airport clutching our ticket printouts, like two school kids on the threshold of an amusement park. I spotted a sparkling array of luggage trolleys and ran to get one. I managed to disentangle it with a little difficulty and then, face shining with pride, started to push it towards my mother. It didn't budge. My smile faltered a bit. I rolled up imaginary sleeves and gave a massive shove. It remained motionless. It was then that a passer-by dryly remarked that the handle had to be pushed down to make it go forward. Who would have thought of that?

Once inside, we made our way to the 'womanned' ticket counters. I handed over the tickets and the girl at the counter looked up. "Ghost!" i shrieked, causing a neighbouring passenger to drop her heavy suitcase on her husband's foot. "Psst, it's just make-up, son," whispered my mother giving an apologetic smile to the apparition behind the counter. I calmed down slightly and digested the sight of a pound of dark eye shadow on each eyelid, half a tin of rouge on each cheek and an inch-thick layer of lipstick. And to think my friends had said that stewardesses were supposed to be attractive! To whom? Vampires? Finally, after having overpriced coffee in the lobby, we boarded the cute little bus that would take us to the airplane. The driver had obviously not heard that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He insisted on lumbering along a highly circuitous route and took a full 10 minutes to reach the plane. Which just happened to be standing a hundred metres away from where we had boarded the bus in the first place. The flight was terrific, of course. Rising above the clouds and soaring in the sky was sheer bliss. I was miffed, though, that they didn't allow me to put my hand out of the window. Maybe next time?








Real estate in the country's capital enters the realm of the surreal when an apothecary offers to pay a million rupees a month for the privilege of dispensing medicines at the doorstep of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Drugs constitute nearly three-fourths of an Indian's healthcare expenditure, an opportunity no self-respecting pharmacist will miss. Even if it means paying Rs 7,120 per square foot every month to store a box of cough syrup. Organised retailers in India spend between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of their operating expenses on real estate and earn profits in the region of 25 per cent. The undisclosed bidder for the glorified telephone booth outside AIIMS will obviously make serious money.


AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital, with a combined budget of Rs 900 crore (4.26 per cent of the central government's expenditure on health this year), are even more obviously not bothered when business walks out of the door. A UN study finds that every second patient reports prescribed medicines are not available in India's state-run hospitals. The taxpayer ought to be relived that his taxes are at least paying for cheap diagnosis, if not treatment. One in five respondents in the UN study, however, said they had to pay bribes for services at government hospitals.


All this is not to take away from the entrepreneurship of the drug dispenser who will walk into the renters' hall of fame. London's West End cannot match this rate, nor can Tokyo's Ginza strip. And they ought not to. For the boutiques on Fifth Avenue are merely selling lifestyles. The poky shop outside two of the best hospitals in the country is dispensing something far more precious — life.







Like the Lord, the government giveth and the government taketh away. The latest example of this is the decision to de-recognise 44 deemed universities, which have around two lakh students on their rolls. A review committee of the human resource development ministry has recommended revocation of deemed status to 44 universities and given 44 others three years to correct their anomalies. The government has put the onus on the affected institutions to get affiliations with other universities to ensure that the students don't suffer. In case the institution is unable to secure an affiliation, the government airily recommends that students can opt to migrate to other institutions. And as for the costs involved, the de-recognised institution is expected to pay up.


Predictably a task force has been set up to look into all these complications. This is cold comfort to the students who have been hit by the directive since it is no secret that task forces have rarely come up with any worthwhile suggestions in time to salvage any situation like this. The government's promise, that it will ensure that the students don't suffer, sounds like noble philosophy but without any workable plan of implementation. Whatever the outcome of this present crisis, it is time to seriously re-examine the criteria for deemed university status.


It is passing strange that the very government that grants deemed university status to institutions finds them wanting later. This means that the criteria are elastic and that there is no feasible regulator to ensure that these outfits stick to the straight and narrow. Such problems only serve to erode faith in the higher education system. Given the painfully slow pace at which things move, it is unlikely that the students affected will be holding their breath for redressal from the government.


It is quite possible that the road ahead will be marred by litigation and further chaos and confusion. The government admits it has no power to ensure that deemed universities must secure affiliation with other universities. Which makes it all the more inexplicable as to why they were granted this status without far more rigorous scrutiny in the first place. It is no secret that many such institutions belong to politicians, a fact that no doubt made it easier to bend the rules. The last priority for the government seems to be the students with whose lives it is playing ducks and drakes. They are the fulcrum of the education system, not an incidental or dispensable part of it. It is little wonder then that many are willing to literally risk their lives to go abroad and earn degrees in dodgy educational institutions.








During last year's G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, US President Barack Obama said that "global fiscal imbalances" had to be addressed for the world to get over its economic hangover. This wasn't a Madison Avenue turn of phrase. But in its nerdiness was embedded a big geopolitical subtext. This manifest itself in the next few months as the US and China go for each other's jugular. Godzilla versus Destoroyah. It doesn't get bigger than this.


The origin of what one Washington lobbyist called "a tectonic shift regarding China in the US" is a consensus within the Obama administration that the source of the financial crisis, the reason the recovery has been jobless, and the primary reason why the crisis may happen again, is "fiscal imbalance".


This school of thinking argues that during the Lehman Brothers Era the world was economically divided between those with China-like qualities and those with US-like ways and means. The China camp exported like crazy and used the resulting currency reserves to subsidise consumption in the American-style countries. The Americans lived off the cheap credit, imported like crazy but also used the money to blow up asset bubbles. Such imbalances are not unknown. In a market environment, however, the resulting imbalance corrects itself through exchange rates. But in one where the Chinese government pre-empts the market and deliberately keeps the yuan low, the result is crisis.


Washington pundits say the US has concluded that putting the Great Recession out of the way, once and for all, means putting the Great Currency Fix out of the way as well. The Democrats' favourite Nobel economist Paul Krugman has calculated that Chinese 'mercantilism' will cost America 1.4 million jobs over the next few years.


China must export less if the US is to save more. That means the yuan must rise. This, not love, will make the world spin this year.


Obama held his fire earlier because he needed Chinese assistance on a host of other international issues. Beijing was less than helpful on Iran and North Korea. It humiliated Obama during his November visit to Beijing, though he angered many in the US by refusing to meet the Dalai Lama beforehand. Insiders say Obama described the atmosphere of his meeting with Hu Jintao as "frigid".


The straw that broke Obama's patience was Copenhagen. The US believes it had a pre-summit deal with China on climate change. But Beijing reneged and dumped the US. It then rubbed salt in the backstab. It sent low-level officials to meetings with Obama and prepared the ground for the US president to go back home empty-handed.


The Danish caper proved a step too far. The Democrats, remember, include human rights activists, green types, labour unions, Free Tibet people and a lot of people uncomfortable with the Chinese government. Their congressional supporters have been restrained from taking action against Beijing only because the Obama administration would whisper the words 'climate change' and 'T-bills' to them.


Copenhagen removed the first inhibition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a known Sinophobe in the US system. But she kept quiet during her visit to China last year. "You know why? Because climate change was more important to her," said a former member of the US climate change negotiating team. "Now she sees no reason to hold back."


The second inhibitor, the T-bill issue, refers to the fact that China holds a quarter of the US public debt in the form of some $800 billion worth of US Treasury bills. The standard view is that China is now 'the US's banker' and has the sole superpower by the short and curlies.


This was always exaggerated. The present view in Washington is that it doesn't matter. If China dumps Treasury bills, it will stab itself because the value of its holdings will fall and US consumers will buy less Chinese stuff. More to the point is that the world is knee-deep in capital right now and there are enough alternative buyers of T-bills. Krugman is one of those who argue the T-bill threat is a bluff. "It would probably weaken the dollar against other currencies — but that would be good, not bad, for US competitiveness and employment. So if the Chinese do dump dollars, we should send them a thank you note."


The US is preparing to fire broadsides into the Chinese economy. The ebb of any political support to at least keep Beijing cooperative was evident when the US imposed tariffs on imported China tyres and steel. It was overt during the recent contretemps between Google and the Chinese authorities over internet censorship. The White House publicly supported the US search engine company. The lobbyist explained the significance: "Recall that along with labour unions, Hollywood, the Jewish community and trial lawyers, Silicon Valley — and Google specifically — is one of the financial pillars of the Democratic Party." China is responding in kind. "Note that China is not sending anyone senior to the latest Permanent 5+1 meeting on Iran."


A senior US multinational executive said that the Obama administration has warned US companies to "button down" their investments in China by April. "That's when the fur is going to fly."


When others close to the Obama administration were asked whether the US president would try to restrain the momentum against China. They said, "He believes Beijing has done nothing but kick him in the teeth since he became president."








Ever since the Copenhagen climate summit, I've been very worried about climate change. I check my car's Pollution Under Control certificate every day, walk to the grocer's, and generally make little sacrifices to make the world a better place.


I was starting to think all my efforts — and those of countless unsung others — are beginning to pay off. I've been feeling rather cold for the past month. In fact, very cold. My legs are often frozen all the way up to my unmentionables. I have to drink a stiff vodka before I can work up the courage to enter the bathroom in the morning. In other words, the part of the globe I live in — Delhi — has not exactly been hot.


However I am only a layman, and I believe in experts, so I didn't buy a heater. In fact, I even postponed buying a new sweater. Surely global warming can't have turned tail already, I kept telling myself. The Himalayan glaciers are melting. Soon, it will be warm. Next year, Delhi will probably have no winter, and I will have to walk to office to reduce my carbon footprint and bring the fog back. The year after that, we may even celebrate New Year's by the beach in Gurgaon, since as you know, sea levels are rising alarmingly.


Now I'm a little mortified to read that the glaciers may not be melting after all. What's more, a bunch of scientists I had not heard of before are saying an ice age could be on its way. This winter has been bitterly cold across the northern hemisphere, and the hitherto unheard of gurus of climate change are saying it's only the start of a cooling trend.


A Russian astronomer named Khabibullo Abdusamatov from St Petersburg has predicted the next ice age will start between 2035 and 2045 due to a decline in solar activity. He also says the warming trend in recent years was simply because the sun was pumping out more heat. Apparently, the sun has its hot and cold periods. Abdusamatov's not a fan of carbon trading, I think.


Less Russian sources — like, for example, the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado — have reported a jump in the Arctic summer sea ice by 26 per cent over the past two years. It had hit a low in 2007, but has recovered spectacularly since. And this was before Copenhagen, before I even started walking to the grocer's.


"Just months — that's how long it took for Europe to be engulfed by an ice age. The scenario, which comes straight out of Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, was revealed by the most precise record of the climate from palaeohistory ever generated," said New Scientist last November.


The most precise record of the climate showed that 12,800 years ago there was an ice age funky scientists call the Big Freeze. It froze up most of the northern hemisphere in less than a year. The scientists from Canada who carried out the study said the effect would be like "taking Ireland and moving it up to Svalbard in the Arctic". I guess if we moved Delhi by a few notches less than that, we'd end up in cool, scenic Ladakh.


Thing is, now I'm no longer sure what I should do for the planet. How do I make the world a better place today? Should I try to warm it because an ice age is coming, or cool it because global warming is upon us?

I think for starters I will throw an uttapam at a scientist today.








Ruchika Girhotra did not die in vain. She has energised the moral imagination of a new and assertive India, disproving the lazy, unthinking belief that our middle class is purely self-absorbed, consumerist and callous. It says something about our changing society that an event that took place 19 years ago has become the source of outrage today and has provided the nation with intense emotional release and catharsis. Oddly enough, dharma may be rising rather than falling in our country.


It began on December 22 when I read about a police official sentenced to six months in jail for molesting a 14-year-old girl. That evening I remarked cynically to a friend that this was just one of those stories that would soon die. He shook his head sadly and asked, "What will it take to improve governance? A Kurukshetra-like war?"


But the story did not die. An ugly tale emerged on how the highest police official in Haryana, the Director-General of Police Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore, molested Ruchika Girhotra, arrested her brother falsely, had him tortured in jail, sent her courageous family into hiding, and forced her to commit suicide.


Just when we had begun to believe that India was a rising, vibrant democracy and a fast growing economic power, we were crudely reminded that at least in parts of the nation we may be closer to a tinpot dictatorship in Africa or Latin America. When my friend suggested if it would take a 'Kurukshetra' to fix the system, he was reminding us that the Mahabharata also had a problem with the self-destructive kshatriya institutions of its time. It had to wage a war to cleanse them.


When Draupadi was molested in the Sabhaparvan, she challenged the rulers in Hastinapur and called for accountability in public life. She asked about the dharma of the ruler. Draupadi and, in this case, Ruchika's friend Aradhana Prakash, who has fought relentlessly for justice for 19 years, ought to be our inspiration.


New trials are going to take place and laws may be amended. Now the law must take its course. The media may be guilty of having gone overboard, but think of it as democracy's way of waging a war at Kurukshetra.


Does this mean that we are making moral progress? The idea of dharma sounds quaint. Many people shy away from 'morality' because moral certitude reeks of intolerance and bigotry. The middle class  still yearns for a sense of dharma and a life of dignity. People want civic life to be shaped not


by who is powerful, or by who stands to lose and gain, but by what is right.


People can distinguish between what is and what ought to be. Torture, bonded labour, brutality against women and Dalits were common-place once, but they are not acceptable anymore. To be a Dalit or even an OBC was to be condemned. Now a Dalit woman rules our largest state. Although the gap between the 'is' and the 'ought' will never close, Ruchika's story shows that imperceptibly and imperfectly we may be moving towards a more attainable dharma.


Gurcharan Das is the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma








Even if you haven't visited five-room deemed universities or read glossy college catalogues in fiction, here are statistics that say all. In the 35 years between 1956 and 1990, only 29 institutions were "deemed-to-be universities" by the Central government. In comparison, in the last five years, as many as 36 institutions have been granted this status. The spate of hasty approvals sparked accusations that Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal sought to address last year, when he ordered a review of all deemed-to-be universities. When this three-member review committee recommended 44 deemed-to-be universities for derecognition, the writing was on the wall. The Centre's affidavit to the Supreme Court on Monday, accepting that recommendation, is both welcome and necessary.


Looking forward, the immediate concern is about the estimated two lakh students who will be affected by this step. In its affidavit, the Centre states that these below par institutions can continue as "affiliated colleges" to a state university, so that students can complete ongoing courses and exit with a degree. The HRD minister has also assured that no student will suffer. The "task force" preparing a plan to "safeguard" these students must be careful not to punish them for the follies of others. The other concern is for action on those responsible for this impasse. Who in the UGC and the HRD ministry gave the approvals that are now shown to be faulty, with stipulations clearly not followed? It is important that a thorough inquiry names the guilty and that they are punished.


Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act permits the Centre to grant "deemed-to-be university" status for educational institutions on the recommendation of the UGC. The Centre's decision to derecognise will hopefully result in the sparing use of this section. But to prevent its use altogether might be self-defeating. The original purpose of this provision was to reward well-performing colleges with the autonomy that university status brings. Top-class deemed universities like Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani or Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai must be distinguished from more recent fly-by-night operators. It is hoped that the Centre accompanies this bold decision with a comprehensive overhaul.







The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds itself embarrassed and undermined, as its landmark 2007 report, which claimed that the chances of Himalayan glaciers "disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high", was revealed as a transparent fib that had wriggled its way in there via an old and speculative news report. This is not a minor error — the 2007 document is the foundation underpinning climate change negotiations that will determine how countries act, allocate their resources and map out their futures. The IPCC would have been expected to only include peer-reviewed information that has already been thoroughly vetted by scientific journals — so these revelations puncture the climate scientists' central conceit, that they have rigour on their side. So far, the IPCC has been thought to take a highly considered, even conservative view of events — in the way it under-reported rise in sea-levels in the same report, for instance. The review community's failure is manifest, and it must be urgently fixed. This comes close on the heels of another scandal, when leaked e-mails from the East Anglia's climate research unit revealed the slapdash methods and arrogance of a section of climate scientists.


However, this episode should not effectively tar all climate science with the same brush, but remind us to refocus on the integrity of the science. The coordination between regional chapters and the entire spectrum of scientific specialities must be perfected, and the peer-review process itself should be faultless. However, that the glacial melt is proceeding at a more glacial pace than we were led to believe (in fact, is off by a few hundred years from IPCC's stopwatch) should not end up feeding the climate change sceptics, because that would be all-round destructive. If this incident has highlighted the chance of human error, it should only be to galvanise effort towards minimising mistakes.


And, in that sense, maybe it's a good thing that the world's attention has been drawn to the science behind our most pressing policy issue. In coming decades, climate change action will make enormous demands of us. Inevitably, lobbies and pressure groups of every kind and scale will try and tinker with data, and telling the science and skulduggery apart will be the challenge of our times. We need the IPCC, as the only body of its kind, to live up to these great expectations and make its claims unassailable.








Far to the south, in New Zealand's Southern Alps, glacier-abutting tourist towns that once made a living selling equipment to alpine climbers are adjusting to a new, slightly different life: as destinations for sailors on the giant new lake that has replaced their glacier. Farther south, scientists confirmed this week that one of Antarctica's largest glaciers will irreversibly lose half its ice this century.


But, in Delhi, we're more busy scoring political points over precisely when our own will disappear.


Remember this: nobody really wants to act on climate change. It will cost money. It will cost political capital. It will require new regulations. None of these are welcome. So, of course, people will look for reasons not to act. And the easiest is to claim the "science is not conclusive". But then, science never is, or it ceases to be science. Yet when there's as much of a consensus in any field as there is in climate science, you'd better have a pretty good reason to ignore it.


Is one massively stupid error in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, enough? For those who want to throw stones at the gloomy prophets of doom, much less would have been enough. After all, the absurd little syllogism would run: something in the report is wrong. But then anything could be wrong. The scientists are lying to us! Now can we have our cheap petrol, please?


This tendency will be compounded by the silliness of the error itself. One scientist, in a phone interview with a journalist, may or may not have come up with an (absurdly close) date at which Himalayan glaciers vanish. That journalist writes a story, gets it published. The story gets noted in the IPCC report. And eventually people get round to noticing that Tibet definitely won't be ice-free by 2035, and the stone-throwing sets in.


And it gets worse: that scientist now heads the team spending $500,000 to investigate vanishing Himalayan glaciers in TERI, the institute that IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri calls home.


But stories that imply corruption in climate science always run up against one big logical error. There's simply so much more money in saying that things are OK as they are.


So, even if the date was ludicrous, the concern might not be. Are the Himalayan glaciers shrinking? Well, many are far enough above the zero-degree line that they're relatively safe. But others aren't. And there's no scientific doubt that they are, indeed, losing increasing amounts of ice on average. (The scientist who publicised the error: "There is no room for reasonable doubt that glaciers in the Himalayas and Karakoram are losing mass.") Where's the debate? On whether that is happening faster in the Himalayas or at the same rate as in the Arctic — or New Zealand.


So let's place the 2035 date in perspective as an error. It appeared only in the 1000-page full IPCC report in 2007; it was eliminated from the much smaller official briefs that were actually used to attempt to influence policy. Here's the other thing that's important to mention: the main movers in a (long-standing) attempt to fix the date are scientists who are in many cases major contributors to the IPCC reports. In August last year, for example, Al Gore advisor and glaciologist Richard Armstrong publicly told the Nepal government that the IPCC had incorporated "misleading quotes" on glaciers receding, that they weren't sure how the quotes got in, and that


they would be taken out of the next report.


That being said, there's no excuse for it being in the text at all. Science works like this, yes — something is published, it is reviewed, it is falsified, and we progress — but the IPCC report is not supposed to contribute to the scientific debate, but instead to summarise it, to collate already reviewed information. The IPCC, and Rajendra Pachauri, have a lot of explaining to do. Several big names in glacier science publicly attacked the Himalayas section last year, saying it contained a "catalogue of errors" because of insufficient due diligence. (These activist scientists out to mislead the world have pretty sneaky methods.)


And errors like this offer ammunition to those we don't want too empowered.


One such person is Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. The moment last year people started talking

particularly loudly about the 2035 error, Ramesh happily added his voice to the chorus. Understandable, even perhaps laudable. But he, of course, overextended himself. Going a lot further than the error warranted, he announced that a one-man report (based on only two years of data) that his ministry released "proved" that not only was the projected date incorrect — but that climate change may not be affecting Himalayan glaciers at all. That spin, both unnecessary and unjustified, caused an avalanche of mockery to descend on India's environment ministry, and severely hampered India's credibility and perceptions of its seriousness heading into Copenhagen. (Chinese authorities, in contrast, accept that Tibet has shown particular vulnerability to warming.)


That lack of credibility attaches too, therefore, to Ramesh's latest attack on the IPCC. The problem is that it is clear that the constituent governments of the IPCC should definitely ask for a review of what else got into the full review that was problematic — but asking in a way that actually questions the report's methodology as a whole, as Ramesh did, lays one open to ridicule.


Climate change science is somewhere no science has been before. On the one hand, absolutely everybody with an interest in the status quo desperately wants it to be wrong. On the other, it simply can't take ages to reach conclusions to be at all effective in framing policy.


So, here and there in a 1000-page report, someone will cut corners. And when errors are discovered, the deniers will explode in happy self-justification. Now, as ever, we need to ignore them.


There will be errors. It might even be the case that there is some groupthink, or that the occasional person is corrupt. But, because of these, not acting with urgency, the urgency that the entire scientific community is pleading with us to show? That is simply unconscionable.








The mutual fund industry may have seen its assets under management (AUM) nudge Rs 8 trillion in 2009, double of what it was at the end of 2008, but much of this, as CRISIL points out, was because banks did not know else what to do with their deposits. And of course, with the stock market on a roll — the BSE Sensex returned 80 per cent during the year — the rise in share values helped. The bad news is that from August onwards, every single month saw money moving out of equity schemes. It's true that only for a very short period in the history of mutual funds has the ratio of money in equity and debt schemes been less skewed than the current ratio of 2:5 in favour of debt. But the fact that people are not keen to buy into equity schemes, at a time when the markets have been hitting new highs, is somewhat surprising.


Or maybe not. After all, mutual-fund schemes' sales in India have always been driven by distribution. But distributors have lost out their fees since the capital market regulator decided in July that buyers would not be charged the 2.25 per cent of the value of the purchase. It was this entry load that used to be passed on by the fund houses to distributors as commissions. In the good days the top seven or eight banks earned Rs 150-200 crore apiece every year. The recent exodus of a wealth management team, from a foreign bank, shows how bad things are. Even before the entry loads were done away with though, life insurance companies were walking away with the bulk of equity investments. Over the past four years, investments into Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIPs), premiums of which are typically invested in equities, have dwarfed those into mutual funds. That happened because distributors were able to earn commissions, of anywhere between 20 and 40 per cent of the premium paid. All at the cost of the investor of course. Also, many investors believe that parking their savings in an ULIP is almost like saving for their retirement and the protection element brings added comfort. Even in big markets like the US, more than two-thirds of investments in equities are channelled through retirement plans such as the 401K.


The ban of entry loads and the new regime of allowing investors to decide how much they want to pay agents for advice and services may be a good idea conceptually. After all, an investor should decide how much he would like to pay for any advice and service. But in the near term, it's a nightmare for fund houses, with equity money barely trickling in and only fund houses that have a banking channel to


back them are able to reach out to customers.


High-end and premium customers may not mind paying for advice but the smaller investors might. Consultancy firm McKinsey estimates that, under a certain commission structure, the profitability of mutual funds could drop to as low as one basis point this year, improving only gradually to 13 bps in 2011-12. Or it could range between 7 bps and 12 bps over the same period in a somewhat more affordable commission structure. That cannot be encouraging for an industry which is already in bad shape. Of the 37 AMCs in the market, about half are expected to post losses for 2008-09. And by a rough reckoning, there could be at least three or four that have been around for 10 years — a fair length of time to be able to get one's act together — and are still struggling. Given this, it's not surprising that players like Bharti want out.


According to McKinsey, industry profitability, measured as basis points (bps) of the average AUM, dropped from approximately 22 bps to approximately 14 bps last year. Obviously, most funds haven't been able to build corpuses that are large enough for them to be able to defray the expenses which can be high in an industry that has traditionally been driven by distributor commissions. To be able to cover expenses and come up with a surplus, a fund should have a minimum corpus of around Rs 10,000 crore, say experts, but barely half the funds can boast that kind of size. Now with the regulator doing away with entry loads, it will be harder to build scale. The bulk of the money, especially in the fixed income piece, is sourced from corporates, who are making the most of tax sops. Should the government decide that these large institutional investors need not be pampered, fund houses will be in even bigger trouble.


Duplicating a network of brick and mortar offices across the country is unlikely to be cost effective; somehow fund houses must team up to support smaller distributors. As it is, there are fewer dollars left now to spend on distribution. The Internet will become an important channel but only over time; right now, it's the independent financial agents alone who can drive sales. Fund companies in Australia and parts of Europe have had great success with this model and seen disproportionately high flows from these platforms. It can't hurt for Indian fund houses to try.


The writer is resident editor, 'The Financial Express', Mumbai









Three months after the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) entrusted key ideologue Baburam Bhattarai to lead the 'decisive people's movement' that may even overthrow the current government, the party chief has suddenly turned on him. "India keeps pressurising us to make Bhattarai the prime minister", he said publicly.


For a party still going through the hangover of its revolutionary years, which lasted almost a decade, and one which joined the democratic process at India's mediation in November 2005, anti-Indianism is a way of preserving its legacy. Even during the last four years of peace, the Maoists had enmities — perceived or real —that solely dictated political outcomes in the country.


First it was the king that the Maoists projected as the 'enemy', and nearly all the signatories to the New Delhi agreement shared this belief. But that didn't stop the Maoists from inventing more. Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the two biggest democratic parties, became the next target. And now it's Bhattarai — 'India's man' — who is being cast as the enemy within.


The relationship between Bhattarai and Prachanda now spans more than 15 years, and has seen many ups and downs. The fluctuations have at times confused even party rank and file. This is not the first time that Bhattarai has been branded an 'Indian agent' by Prachanda. Way back in late 2004, Bhattarai was put in a labour camp as his political line — that Maoists must join hands with pro-democracy forces in the country and secure international support for its transformation into a peaceful party — was defeated in the party around then. Prachanda, who had the backing of the majority then was in favour of the Maoists and the monarchy joining hands against the forces of imperialist hegemony. But with King Gyanendra's takeover in February 2005 with the avowed objective of fighting and defeating 'terrorism', Prachanda was left with no option than to toe the Bhattarai line. This made the anti-monarchy front possible, which the Delhi agreement formalised. Naturally, Bhattarai and not Prachanda was the spokesperson of the new alliance and the pivot of Nepal's emerging politics.


The Maoists then monopolised the right to influence the political course, warning other parties — mainly the Congress and the UML — that they would meet the king's fate if they did not fall in with the Maoists' 'progressive' politics. They also emerged as the biggest party in the constituent assembly election and Bhattarai, a quiet aspirant for the PM's post, gave way to Prachanda's ambition. But in the days that followed, Bhattarai tried to project himself as the most radical 'revolutionary' and indicated that the party's joining the peace process was just tactical. In his writings and speeches in the party forum, he said the party was determined to ultimately establish the people's republic. On May 4, when Prachanda resigned as prime minister in protest against the president reinstating army chief Rookmangud Katawal within hours of his being sacked by the PM, Bhattarai lambasted India for supposedly instigating the army and president against the Maoist-led government.


Many thought Bhattarai wanted to be in Prachanda's good books and become prime minister as the UCPN-M was still the biggest party in the constituent assembly. Prachanda helped Bhattarai nurture that ambition up to a point by stating that somebody else from the party, not Prachanda himself, would be PM once 'India's puppet regime' led by Madhav Nepal was ousted. Entrusting the movement's leadership to Bhattarai was the party's endorsement of that message.


But in Nepal's politics, Prachanda is now seen to be as megalomaniacal as G.P. Koirala. Ever since a secret understanding between Prachanda and Koirala in Singapore — when the latter was admitted to a hospital there — that the 86-year old Koirala will be president and someone from the Maoist party would be prime minister, Prachanda's lust for power was on display again. The best way to achieve that was to deliver a politically mortal blow to Bhattarai, and what could be more effective than branding him an Indian agent?


In fact, Prachanda used Bhattarai very cleverly in the last few months in the renewed anti-India politics that the Maoists call a 'struggle for freedom'. Prachanda even told India's Minister for Exernal Affairs S.M. Krishna how betrayed he feels by India after 'it supported the regressive forces represented by the president's army and Madhav Nepal'. That was a clear message that in the days to come, the Maoists would pursue anti-India politics, perhaps pro-China by extension. Krishna may have guessed that Prachanda still calls the shot in the Maoist Party, if not in the country. Nepal will enter a new phase of trouble if it fails to promulgate its new constitution by the May 28 deadline. Bhattarai and his comrades have said that in that eventuality, the Maoists would capture power — an unacceptable situation to other players inside and outside the country. India's response will be crucial.


The fact that Bhattarai has not yet given up and challenged Prachanda means that he is prepared to take on a political and ideological fight within the party. The message that he is likely to be trying to convey is that he commands enough clout in the party to not have to go to the labour camp this time round. But in the past four years, in the politics of power and deceit, Bhattarai has lost much more. In the intertim, he has reduced himself to the status of Prachanda's sidekick. He surrendered too much to appease Prachanda. He refused to recognise the fact that as someone who played a crucial role in bringing Maoists and democratic parties together on the anti-monarchy platform, such servility would leave his fate solely to Prachanda's whims. And Prachanda has spoken — almost decisively.







When watching a Hollywood movie that has robed itself in the themes and paraphernalia of science, a scientist expects to feel anything from annoyance to infuriation at facts misconstrued or processes misrepresented. What a scientist does not expect is to enter into a state of ecstatic wonderment, to have the urge to leap up and shout: "Yes! That's exactly what it's like!"


So it is time for all the biologists who have not yet done so to shut their laptops and run to the movie theatres, put on 3-D glasses and watch the film Avatar. In fact, anyone who loves a biologist or may want to be one, or better yet, anyone who hates a biologist — and certainly everyone who has ever sneered at a tree-hugger — should do the same. Because the director James Cameron's otherworldly tale of romance and battle, aliens and armadas, has somehow managed to do what no other film has done. It has recreated what is the heart of biology: the naked, heart-stopping wonder of really seeing the living world.


Avatar is well within reach of becoming the highest-grossing film of all time. There have, of course, been many films that have depicted the excitement of scientists during discovery (think of Laura Dern in Jurassic Park, gleefully sticking her hand into a pile of dinosaur dung), and, from Lord of the Rings to Star Trek, there has been no shortage of on-screen fantastical floras and faunas.


But Cameron somehow has the audience seeing organisms in the tropical-forest-gone-mad of the planet Pandora just the way a biologist sees them. We are reminded of organisms we already know, while marvelling over the new and trying to put this novelty into some kind of sensible place in the mind. It is a mental tickle, and wonderful confusion sparks the thought, "Oh, that looks like a horse, but wait, it has six legs and it's blue, and whoa, that looks like a jellyfish but it's floating in the air and glowing."


The clues that we are "not in Kansas anymore," can be seen in every aspect of the life of Pandora. If there is one color that is most decidedly not a classic Earth tone, it might just be neon blue. Another thing we do not expect from most living things is light. Yet on Pandora, life glows everywhere in the night, including the long, pulsating Spanish-moss-like strands elegantly dangling off branches and the brightly glowing green and purple ferns. And touching closest to home, Cameron has put a version of ourselves on Pandora, the Na'vi people.


To so strongly experience these kinds of wonderfully shocking similarities and dissimilarities among living things is the kind of experience that has largely been the prerogative of biologists — especially those known as taxonomists, who spend their days ordering and naming the living things on Earth. But now, thanks to Cameron, the entire world is not only experiencing this but also revelling in it.


Maybe it takes a dreamlike ecstasy to break through to a world so jaded, to reach people who have seen David Attenborough here, there and everywhere, who have clicked — bored — past the Animal Planet channel hundreds of times without ever really seeing the animals. Maybe it takes a lizard that can glow like fire and hover like a helicopter and a staring troop of iridescent blue lemurs to wake us up. Maybe Avatar is what we need to bring our inner taxonomist back to life, to get us to really see.


And waking up and seeing is what Avatar is about, as its characters tell us repeatedly, as when the marine hero, Jake Sully, struggles to make sense of his love interest's passion for life on Pandora."Try to see the forest through her eyes," urges Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver, head of the Avatar project.


And here we have yet another reason for scientists to love this movie. Who has not tired of seeing scientists portrayed as either grant-greedy maniacs or naïve dangers to humanity? In films, scientists are often assumed to be inhuman to some degree, and if they become more human as a film proceeds, it is by becoming less of a scientist.


Instead, in Avatar, Dr. Augustine begins as usual, abrasive and obsessed with her own project. But the audience begins to like her more and more, not because she becomes less involved with the life on Pandora, but because we become more involved with it. And — spoiler alert! — that is why when she arrives at the most sacred and most biologically important site on Pandora, it is with a sympathy and respect that we laugh when her first thought is that she really needs to take some samples. There is no line between her wonder, her love of the living world and her science.








On September 1 2009, Neeraj Kishan Kaul stepped down as a judge of the Delhi High Court — a mere four months after being sworn into that coveted office. Exactly two months later, Justice V. Giri of the Kerala High Court followed suit, being the first permanent judge of that court to do so. At a time when brickbats are cast on the courts by social activists and judge-baiters, it is a matter of concern that some of the finest judicial talent decline the gavel. Some reflections on the life of a judge in India, could perhaps explain why the Bench is losing its allure.


Overworked: Every week, the average superior court judge is expected to peruse a hundred paperbooks — tightly stitched files containing the fate of the litigant — some of which run into thousands of pages. Coupled with this are the actual court hearings from 10 am to 4:30 pm every weekday, many of which require elaborate, well-reasoned judgments, citing appropriate precedent, culled out through meticulous research. After all, the law of the land is being laid down. In addition are various social engagements, lectures, committee meetings and teaching assignments. Such being the lot of a judge's life, little time is available for self and family.


Outcast: Thanks to an ill-conceived and overly moralistic resolution passed by the Supreme Court in 1997, those elevated to man the courts are advised to "eschew" contact with members of the Bar and to "practice a degree of aloofness". Spare a thought for one who has spent the past 20 years in the lap of a convivial Bar with fellow lawyers, only to now be asked to isolate oneself from those very companions of many a tea-room chat.


Obsolescent: In a tongue-in-cheek remark that formed a part of one of his judgments, the English judge, Lord Bridge had said "the populist image of the geriatric judge, out of touch with the real world, is now reflected in the statutory presumption of judicial incompetence at the age of 75". In India, with Constitutionally prescribed retirement ages of only 65 for the Supreme Court and 62 for the High Courts, judges are presumed to be past their "sell by" date when that golden birthday arrives, even if all their contemporaries at the Bar are still at the peak of their powers. Simply put, if Ram Jethmalani had accepted judicial office, he would have retired 22 years ago.


Impoverished: While a judge in Singapore earns a million dollars a year and his British counterpart makes almost half that amount, as per the recently enacted High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Act, 2009, the Chief Justice of India sits pretty at the top of the Indian judicial ladder with about $ 26,000. That amount is just a little less than what the nation's reputed corporate firms offer graduating law students. For a more direct perspective, the top 20 lawyers in the country earn that amount in a single day's hearings. It is little wonder then, that each of them had declined judgeship when offered.


Accused: Enough homilies have been delivered, especially in the recent past, on the conduct of the judiciary. Some arguments have had merit, while others have been plainly motivated. Yet, in all of this, when the integrity of judges have been questioned and the institution's lack of transparency attacked, little thought is given to the vast majority of honest and industrious members of the Bench who have sacrificed much to be of service to the nation. To weather all of this in the grim knowledge that only silence is permitted requires rare mettle.


Kaul and Giri have returned to enrich the Bar, both commencing practice at the Supreme Court. Their reasons for demitting office remain personal. Yet, one cannot help but wonder that if the factors enumerated above had been different, the result might have been otherwise. Unfortunately, in today's India, a judge's chamber no longer possesses the warm hearth on which justice curls up to rest for the night. It is a cold, wet floor, where the silence is only broken by the ticking of a relentless clock.


The writer practices law at the Supreme Court of India








Spread the dream

Marxist legend Jyoti Basu's most cherished dream was to see the CPM spread its wings outside Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. In his lifetime, he could not see the party achieve this goal.


Recalling Basu's contributions in an article appeared in party dailies, General Secretary Prakash Karat exhorted comrades to work towards realising Basu's dream and consider it his last wish. Basu used to point to the need for strengthening the party outside the three traditional strongholds. "It is our responsibility to make his dream come true," Karat said.


All the five dailies of the CPM carried articles by senior leaders recollecting the contributions made by the former West Bengal chief minister. In Deshabhimani, the CPM's Malayalam daily, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said Basu was always an inspiration for comrades in Kerala. He also recounted his long association with Basu — starting from his first meeting with him in 1958 when the two were members of the undivided Communist party's National Council — while state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said Basu's memories would inspire the CPM to fight the all-round attack against it in Bengal.


Ritual purging

In the latest issue of party mouthpiece People's Democracy, Karat tries to bring some clarity on the party's position on its cadre practicing religion. One of its former MPs recently resigned from the party opposing a diktat barring leaders from organising religious ceremonies or personally conducting rituals.


Karat says the CPM does not bar persons who have religious faith from joining the party and many of its members do go to temples, mosques or churches. But party members should eschew all social, caste and religious practices that are alien to Communist norms.

"Party members are not being asked to give up their religious faith or practice. But if there is any religious custom or practice which goes against Communist norms such as practice of untouchability, depriving women of equal rights or obscurantist customs such as preventing widows from remarriage etc. which are given religious sanction — these are to be given up," he says.


As far asleaders are concerned, they have been asked not to organise religious ceremonies or personally conduct religious rituals. "Leading party cadres such as leaders of state committee, district committee, zonal or area committees etc are expected to uphold progressive values in their personal and social lives. They should not organise religious ceremonies, or, personally conduct rituals...Communist Party leaders cannot profess something in public and do something else in their personal life."


Frontier logic

For once, the CPI has given a thumbs up to New Delhi's foreign policy. In an editorial in party weekly organ New Age, the CPI says India's effort to improve its ties with Bangladesh including the one billion dollar line of credit augurs well for relations between the two countries.


The editorial talks extensively about the joint communiqué issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajed and treaties inked by the two countries during her visit and sarcastically remarks that these positive reports were pushed to the inside pages by leading dailies for obvious reasons.

"A section of the Indian media is once again playing the old dirty game on foreign policy matters", it says pointing out that while the media treated the attacks on Indians in Australia as a "routine matter", the happenings on the Indo-China and Indo-Pak border is reported out of proportion. It says the tirade against China is not much different from what was witnessed a couple of months back when stories about Chinese intrusion published and relayed in Indian media were so unfounded and cooked up that the foreign ministry officially snubbed these stories and threatened the journalists with legal action.


On improving Indo-Bangla ties, it says "from the point of view of New Delhi, softening at least one source of trouble in our neighbourhood will allow the government to take up issues with our other neighbours."








Three months after the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) entrusted key ideologue Baburam Bhattarai to lead the 'decisive people's movement' that may even overthrow the current government, the party chief has suddenly turned on him. "India keeps pressurising us to make Bhattarai the prime minister", he said publicly.


For a party still going through the hangover of its revolutionary years, which lasted almost a decade, and one which joined the democratic process at India's mediation in November 2005, anti-Indianism is a way of preserving its legacy. Even during the last four years of peace, the Maoists had enmities — perceived or real —that solely dictated political outcomes in the country.


First it was the king that the Maoists projected as the 'enemy', and nearly all the signatories to the New Delhi agreement shared this belief. But that didn't stop the Maoists from inventing more. Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the two biggest democratic parties, became the next target. And now it's Bhattarai — 'India's man' — who is being cast as the enemy within.


The relationship between Bhattarai and Prachanda now spans more than 15 years, and has seen many ups and downs. The fluctuations have at times confused even party rank and file. This is not the first time that Bhattarai has been branded an 'Indian agent' by Prachanda. Way back in late 2004, Bhattarai was put in a labour camp as his political line — that Maoists must join hands with pro-democracy forces in the country and secure international support for its transformation into a peaceful party — was defeated in the party around then. Prachanda, who had the backing of the majority then was in favour of the Maoists and the monarchy joining hands against the forces of imperialist hegemony. But with King Gyanendra's takeover in February 2005 with the avowed objective of fighting and defeating 'terrorism', Prachanda was left with no option than to toe the Bhattarai line. This made the anti-monarchy front possible, which the Delhi agreement formalised. Naturally, Bhattarai and not Prachanda was the spokesperson of the new alliance and the pivot of Nepal's emerging politics.


The Maoists then monopolised the right to influence the political course, warning other parties — mainly the Congress and the UML — that they would meet the king's fate if they did not fall in with the Maoists' 'progressive' politics. They also emerged as the biggest party in the constituent assembly election and Bhattarai, a quiet aspirant for the PM's post, gave way to Prachanda's ambition. But in the days that followed, Bhattarai tried to project himself as the most radical 'revolutionary' and indicated that the party's joining the peace process was just tactical. In his writings and speeches in the party forum, he said the party was determined to ultimately establish the people's republic. On May 4, when Prachanda resigned as prime minister in protest against the president reinstating army chief Rookmangud Katawal within hours of his being sacked by the PM, Bhattarai lambasted India for supposedly instigating the army and president against the Maoist-led government.


Many thought Bhattarai wanted to be in Prachanda's good books and become prime minister as the UCPN-M was still the biggest party in the constituent assembly. Prachanda helped Bhattarai nurture that ambition up to a point by stating that somebody else from the party, not Prachanda himself, would be PM once 'India's puppet regime' led by Madhav Nepal was ousted. Entrusting the movement's leadership to Bhattarai was the party's endorsement of that message.


But in Nepal's politics, Prachanda is now seen to be as megalomaniacal as G.P. Koirala. Ever since a secret understanding between Prachanda and Koirala in Singapore — when the latter was admitted to a hospital there — that the 86-year old Koirala will be president and someone from the Maoist party would be prime minister, Prachanda's lust for power was on display again. The best way to achieve that was to deliver a politically mortal blow to Bhattarai, and what could be more effective than branding him an Indian agent?


In fact, Prachanda used Bhattarai very cleverly in the last few months in the renewed anti-India politics that the Maoists call a 'struggle for freedom'. Prachanda even told India's Minister for Exernal Affairs S.M. Krishna how betrayed he feels by India after 'it supported the regressive forces represented by the president's army and Madhav Nepal'. That was a clear message that in the days to come, the Maoists would pursue anti-India politics, perhaps pro-China by extension. Krishna may have guessed that Prachanda still calls the shot in the Maoist Party, if not in the country. Nepal will enter a new phase of trouble if it fails to promulgate its new constitution by the May 28 deadline. Bhattarai and his comrades have said that in that eventuality, the Maoists would capture power — an unacceptable situation to other players inside and outside the country. India's response will be crucial.


The fact that Bhattarai has not yet given up and challenged Prachanda means that he is prepared to take on a political and ideological fight within the party. The message that he is likely to be trying to convey is that he commands enough clout in the party to not have to go to the labour camp this time round. But in the past four years, in the politics of power and deceit, Bhattarai has lost much more. In the intertim, he has reduced himself to the status of Prachanda's sidekick. He surrendered too much to appease Prachanda. He refused to recognise the fact that as someone who played a crucial role in bringing Maoists and democratic parties together on the anti-monarchy platform, such servility would leave his fate solely to Prachanda's whims. And Prachanda has spoken — almost decisively.








On September 1 2009, Neeraj Kishan Kaul stepped down as a judge of the Delhi High Court — a mere four months after being sworn into that coveted office. Exactly two months later, Justice V. Giri of the Kerala High Court followed suit, being the first permanent judge of that court to do so. At a time when brickbats are cast on the courts by social activists and judge-baiters, it is a matter of concern that some of the finest judicial talent decline the gavel. Some reflections on the life of a judge in India, could perhaps explain why the Bench is losing its allure.


Overworked: Every week, the average superior court judge is expected to peruse a hundred paperbooks — tightly stitched files containing the fate of the litigant — some of which run into thousands of pages. Coupled with this are the actual court hearings from 10 am to 4:30 pm every weekday, many of which require elaborate, well-reasoned judgments, citing appropriate precedent, culled out through meticulous research. After all, the law of the land is being laid down. In addition are various social engagements, lectures, committee meetings and teaching assignments. Such being the lot of a judge's life, little time is available for self and family.


Outcast: Thanks to an ill-conceived and overly moralistic resolution passed by the Supreme Court in 1997, those elevated to man the courts are advised to "eschew" contact with members of the Bar and to "practice a degree of aloofness". Spare a thought for one who has spent the past 20 years in the lap of a convivial Bar with fellow lawyers, only to now be asked to isolate oneself from those very companions of many a tea-room chat.

Obsolescent: In a tongue-in-cheek remark that formed a part of one of his judgments, the English judge, Lord Bridge had said "the populist image of the geriatric judge, out of touch with the real world, is now reflected in the statutory presumption of judicial incompetence at the age of 75". In India, with Constitutionally prescribed retirement ages of only 65 for the Supreme Court and 62 for the High Courts, judges are presumed to be past their "sell by" date when that golden birthday arrives, even if all their contemporaries at the Bar are still at the peak of their powers. Simply put, if Ram Jethmalani had accepted judicial office, he would have retired 22 years ago.


Impoverished: While a judge in Singapore earns a million dollars a year and his British counterpart makes almost half that amount, as per the recently enacted High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Act, 2009, the Chief Justice of India sits pretty at the top of the Indian judicial ladder with about $ 26,000. That amount is just a little less than what the nation's reputed corporate firms offer graduating law students. For a more direct perspective, the top 20 lawyers in the country earn that amount in a single day's hearings. It is little wonder then, that each of them had declined judgeship when offered.


Accused: Enough homilies have been delivered, especially in the recent past, on the conduct of the judiciary. Some arguments have had merit, while others have been plainly motivated. Yet, in all of this, when the integrity of judges have been questioned and the institution's lack of transparency attacked, little thought is given to the vast majority of honest and industrious members of the Bench who have sacrificed much to be of service to the nation. To weather all of this in the grim knowledge that only silence is permitted requires rare mettle.


Kaul and Giri have returned to enrich the Bar, both commencing practice at the Supreme Court. Their reasons for demitting office remain personal. Yet, one cannot help but wonder that if the factors enumerated above had been different, the result might have been otherwise. Unfortunately, in today's India, a judge's chamber no longer possesses the warm hearth on which justice curls up to rest for the night. It is a cold, wet floor, where the silence is only broken by the ticking of a relentless clock.


The writer practices law at the Supreme Court of India







Marxist legend Jyoti Basu's most cherished dream was to see the CPM spread its wings outside Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. In his lifetime, he could not see the party achieve this goal.


Recalling Basu's contributions in an article appeared in party dailies, General Secretary Prakash Karat exhorted comrades to work towards realising Basu's dream and consider it his last wish. Basu used to point to the need for strengthening the party outside the three traditional strongholds. "It is our responsibility to make his dream come true," Karat said.


All the five dailies of the CPM carried articles by senior leaders recollecting the contributions made by the former West Bengal chief minister. In Deshabhimani, the CPM's Malayalam daily, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said Basu was always an inspiration for comrades in Kerala. He also recounted his long association with Basu — starting from his first meeting with him in 1958 when the two were members of the undivided Communist party's National Council — while state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said Basu's memories would inspire the CPM to fight the all-round attack against it in Bengal.


Ritual purging


In the latest issue of party mouthpiece People's Democracy, Karat tries to bring some clarity on the party's position on its cadre practicing religion. One of its former MPs recently resigned from the party opposing a diktat barring leaders from organising religious ceremonies or personally conducting rituals.


Karat says the CPM does not bar persons who have religious faith from joining the party and many of its members do go to temples, mosques or churches. But party members should eschew all social, caste and religious practices that are alien to Communist norms.


"Party members are not being asked to give up their religious faith or practice. But if there is any religious custom or practice which goes against Communist norms such as practice of untouchability, depriving women of equal rights or obscurantist customs such as preventing widows from remarriage etc. which are given religious sanction — these are to be given up," he says.


As far asleaders are concerned, they have been asked not to organise religious ceremonies or personally conduct religious rituals. "Leading party cadres such as leaders of state committee, district committee, zonal or area committees etc are expected to uphold progressive values in their personal and social lives. They should not organise religious ceremonies, or, personally conduct rituals...Communist Party leaders cannot profess something in public and do something else in their personal life."


Frontier logic


For once, the CPI has given a thumbs up to New Delhi's foreign policy. In an editorial in party weekly organ New Age, the CPI says India's effort to improve its ties with Bangladesh including the one billion dollar line of credit augurs well for relations between the two countries.


The editorial talks extensively about the joint communiqué issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajed and treaties inked by the two countries during her visit and sarcastically remarks that these positive reports were pushed to the inside pages by leading dailies for obvious reasons.


"A section of the Indian media is once again playing the old dirty game on foreign policy matters", it says pointing out that while the media treated the attacks on Indians in Australia as a "routine matter", the happenings on the Indo-China and Indo-Pak border is reported out of proportion. It says the tirade against China is not much different from what was witnessed a couple of months back when stories about Chinese intrusion published and relayed in Indian media were so unfounded and cooked up that the foreign ministry officially snubbed these stories and threatened the journalists with legal action.


On improving Indo-Bangla ties, it says "from the point of view of New Delhi, softening at least one source of trouble in our neighbourhood will allow the government to take up issues with our other neighbours."


Compiled by Manoj C.G








The stand taken by the commerce & industry minister against an export tax on iron ore is spot on, based on the first principles of international trade. Soft duties have fuelled a massive boom in iron ore exports, which have grown more than threefold during the current decade, encouraging a massive growth in mining. Reforms in the sector have goaded private sector investments, because of which there are now 265 mines with assorted companies, compared with just 35 mines with the public sector. The process should be further accelerated. But at the same time as iron ore exports have boomed in this decade, the downstream steel industry has run a complete business cycle. One of the steel industry's chief complaints during the downturn is the stickiness of ore prices downwards, which clips its profit margins. This position was articulated by the steel minister, too, but it has been rebutted now. Ore export prices have remained sticky because of the growing demand from China. The nervousness of steel companies can be understood given that iron ore exports have shot up from 38 million tonne at the start of the decade to 106 million tonne in the last fiscal. And iron ore exports can only add to the price pressures, especially since the domestic steel production capacity is expected to go up sharply from 124 million tonne in 2011-12 to 296 million tonne by 2019-20.


While there is a case that Indian steel producers must compete for iron ore with global players—the known resources would last between 150 and 200 years—there is a need to create a level playing field between the two sectors. The steel industry invests in a lot of value addition, which has both investment and employment potential for the economy, just as the mining industry too offers a strong employment potential. In fact, the logic for an export tax on iron ore is that excavation of ore from the mines to the pit heads only accounts for a part of the value addition in the mining sector. A large part of the value of the excavated minerals gets created only when they are transported from the mines to the exporting points. So it is only fair that exporters meet at least a part of this burden by paying export taxes, as the need for additional resources to balance the budget is really acute by all standards.








Such are the systemic deficiencies in the Indian training system that only 5% of the workforce has some kind of certification as compared with over 85% in developed countries. Clearly, India's much-anticipated demographic dividend is in real danger of turning rancid unless it is fertilised with a concerted outlay on skills enhancement. Such a programme has complicated requirements, including more short-duration technical courses and increased interaction between industry and academic institutes. But, first the foundations of existing systems need to be fortified. Deemed universities, or at least the mockery into which they have mutated in recent years, represent a major blight on these foundations. During 1956-95, only 36 such entities came into being. But by February 2008, their number had risen to 103. Why were as many institutions anointed as deemed universities in the preceding four years as had been granted similar status in the preceding five decades? Anecdotal evidence of big bribes having changed hands has remained heavy on the ground. Anyway, the Yashpal committee showed the way forward by recommending the scrapping of a status that had allowed below-par institutions to increase fees without provisioning for a commensurate increase in faculty strength and other academic infrastructure. When UPA-2 handed over the HRD ministry to Kapil Sibal, sorting out the deemed university mess was one of his first promises. The minister wisely ordered a review eschewing precipitate action as there were issues concerning objectivity and the fate of the affected students. What the mess also shows is how the wreckage of a wrong policy take ages to clear up, even with determined intentions to do so.


The review committee of experts has recommended 44 deemed universities for derecognition, based on an analysis of both their past performance and their promise for the future. Affected institutions are spread across 13 states and union territories. And as The Indian Express reported yesterday, they are being unprofessionally managed by families rather than professionals, violating the principles of teaching and research excellence, abusing the rights to admit and command fees, and so on. Based on these findings, the HRD ministry has filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court, and the government must not show any laxity in ensuring that the said underperforming institutes no longer boast of being deemed universities. If India really means to move up the global value chain, it simply cannot afford to play footsie with education.








How well-run is the typical family-run business in India? While divergences from scientific management methods are obviously present, do these reflect the native genius of the entrepreneur responding in iconoclastic ways to a unique set of problems? Or would the typical family-run business in India benefit greatly by bringing in scientific management methods? A recent experimental study that examined Indian textile companies finds big gains by bringing in top-end consulting inputs.


There is a certain unmistakable native genius in Indian entrepreneurs. The traditional CEO operates in a very difficult environment: limited financing, a hostile government, difficulties in labour law etc. To survive in this environment requires remarkable capabilities. This leads us to think that the decisions of the traditional CEO are on the right track.


Some think otherwise. It is argued that traditional family-run Indian business is often incompetent. Excessive centralisation goes with a weak HR process comprising hiring, training, evaluating and firing. Second-rate people recruit third-rate people, so gaps in staff quality become endemic. Technological capabilities lag the frontier by a decade or more. There is insularity bordering on arrogance, where there should instead be an attitude of constant learning, self-criticism and self-improvement. Such firms survive in competition against imports, or in the export market, owing to the labour cost advantage that outweighs mismanagement.


This quarrel between the present and the past perennially rages in India. Some argue that the traditional family business knows what it is doing, and denigrate the fancy-pants MBAs and consultants. Others argue that the state of the art in scientific management has a lot to offer. In a remarkable recent paper, a team of five economists (Bloom, Eifert, Mahajan, McKenzie, Roberts) brought new evidence to the table.


The authors set up a free consulting programme for 17 randomly chosen textile weaving firms in Umbergaon and Tarapur. These were large firms with an average of 270 employees, 1.6 plants and Rs 34 crore in sales. Each of these firms was given consulting inputs from a top-end global consulting firm. One month of diagnostic work was followed by four months of intensive implementation support for recommendations. The market price of these consulting services is Rs 2 crore. The consulting inputs were 'the treatment' that was applied to 17 companies. In parallel, a set of six firms were 'the control sample': their outcomes were measured in the absence of consulting inputs.


The results were impressive. There was a rise in profit of the treated companies by Rs 1 crore a year. Even if the market price—of Rs 2 crore—were paid for the consulting, it would pay for itself within two years.


There is selection bias at the outset. Of the 66 firms that were offered this free consulting, only 17 signed up for it. It is likely that these 17 firms were more open-minded about change.


The remaining 49 firms—who turned down free consulting inputs worth Rs 2 crore—are probably in even more dire need of a management transformation.


How much can these results be generalised? We can now say with confidence that consulting inputs worth Rs 2 crore from a global consulting firm are well justified for a 270-man family-run textile company. But we do not have a comparable ability to make statements about 135-man or 540-man firms, about other industries, and about other kinds of consulting inputs.

We can, however, venture into some interesting speculation. These results support the idea that there are serious deficiencies in management by traditional family-run companies in India. The wily old-school CEO is not actually doing such a great job. More openness to modern management ideas would help.


Translating this into action is, of course, not easy. New ideas can be put into business in a few different ways. It can be done by recruiting better people—but it is not easy for family-run companies to identify the right people and to empower them. This can be done by bringing in consultants—but it is not easy to choose the right consultant with the right mandate. There is huge heterogeneity in quality and price among MBAs and among consultants—choosing the right inputs is not easy.


This evidence encourages a style of private equity investing where the investor gets a controlling stake in the firm and brings in the necessary knowledge and human resources to achieve business transformation. This is a lot of work when compared with an investor who only puts in capital. But if the core impediment to progress is the stasis of a family-run company, then this could be of essence.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








Wall Street banks are set to do it again. It's bonus time. The top 5 banks of the Magnificent Seven (US investment banks that got TARP money) have parked $90 billion for compensation. Almost half of it will be paid as bonuses in the current year, with the rest going to salaries and other benefits. Reportedly, Goldman Sachs will pay $5,95,000 on average and JPMorgan Chase, $4,63,000. AIG is said to have paid $3 million to consultants to justify inflated compensation and lacklustre performance.


Last year, Citi paid $5.33 billion in bonuses while losing $27 billion with plummeting stock and receiving $45 billion from TARP. Bank of America paid $3.3 billion in bonuses and received the same figure from TARP.


All this is happening as the US economy reels from 10% unemployment. Fearing public outcry, some investment banks reduced the percentage of revenue reserved for bonuses. Goldman Sachs reduced that percentage from 50% in the first quarter to 43% in the last quarter of 2009. However, many investment banks did extremely well in 2009 with record-breaking revenues, hence the magnitude of compensation will soar even if the percentage itself is lower.


This raises a host of questions. First, how was it possible for these banks to make huge sums of money as businesses on Main Street languished, inventories piled up and net lending to businesses exhibited negative growth? The second question is, if a private bank pays its employees out of money it made, why should that be a concern for others? Doesn't it amount to gross interference in the basic freedom granted to institutions to make decisions about paying their employees? True, it looks a bit odd when lavishes are showered upon a few chosen people at a time when many others are without jobs, but that happens at other times to other people and nobody makes a fuss about it.


The real question is how much of current revenue generated by Wall Street banks comes from investing their own hard-earned money. Many of these institutions, including Goldman Sachs, have been converted to bank holding companies, enabling them to access the Fed's discount window. On top of it, they also received TARP money, subsidised loans, loan guarantees and other sources of cheap funding. In addition, they can assume shareholder debt on a tax-free basis, enjoy easy borrowing and execute mergers with ease. Of course, these advantages are conferred on bank holding companies for their enormous importance to the banking system. Such policies are meant to bolster the rest of the economy via injection of credit and liquidity when necessary. However, given that net business lending decreased in 2009, where did they earn this huge bonus generating revenue? Instead of injecting credit with these subsidised loans, most of the banks reaped profits from trading in foreign exchange and other securities and conducting business for the government that could have been allotted to others. For example, much of Citibank's profit from its Global Transaction System depends partly on the Fed and the US government for activities such as passport processing, fund transfers and currency conversion, and the group received an additional government subsidised loan of $20 billion during this time.


Hence, quite a big part of the revenue earned by these banks and the percentage allocated for bonuses originates in part from a huge direct government subsidy, partly due to conversion to bank holding status, and the rest due to the banks' own value-adding activities. This has two broad implications. First, getting access to funds as a bank holding company and then using a part of the funds for trading and not for lending betrays the original purpose of these subsidies. Second, diversion of subsidised loans to riskless activities like trading in securities or transfer of funds implies that banks are devoting their resources to low-risk activities by switching away from relatively more productive activities like extending and ploughing back loans to businesses that deserve loans. That is, if prior to the financial crisis, investment banks 'overpushed' loans to riskier mortgage business, in the post-crisis era, they are doing the opposite by rationing loans to better projects and channeling funds towards low-risk (trading) activities while enjoying all the benefits of a bank holding company.


Of course, these banks have expertise in earning money by trading various securities, but the point is that they should finance such operations either from their own internal resources or from funds obtained from the market, not from subsidies from the Fed meant for doing something else. At the least, then, they should refrain from paying large bonuses and add this money to their capital base. However, blaming these banks for this is futile. This sad state of things rather reflects the poor design of bailout plans, absence of a regulatory structure for effective monitoring and lobbying power, as well as the political clout of Wall Street banks.


The author is reader in finance at Essex University








Exactly a year into the US presidency, Barack Obama has invited a wide range of opinions on his job performance. Some criticise him for taking on too much ("now's not the time for healthcare reform"), others for doing too little ("why hasn't he done more about climate change?"). Conservatives deride him as too liberal ("he's socialising healthcare!"), yet many liberals feel abandoned (more troops in Afghanistan instead of pulling out). Some think he's too idealistic (he favours diplomacy and dialogue), whereas others claim he's not idealistic enough (declining to meet the Dalai Lama before visiting China). One way or another, he has disappointed everyone.


That's not surprising. After a campaign full of soaring rhetoric, Obama the President had to face reality, and he's turned out to be a centrist and a pragmatist. He claims to be pretty pleased with his first year in office, giving himself a B+, and even an A- if healthcare passes. The fairest assessment is that it has been a year of partial victories for the US President.


Partial victory is particularly true of the economy, the most pressing issue when Obama entered the White House. Obama succeeded where it was most important—preventing a financial collapse. His stimulus package had moderate success, and the most recent reports claim that it saved or created up to 2 million jobs. Most economists agree that the US is in recovery. However, unemployment is at 10%, small businesses can't get loans and families are still losing their homes. And let's not even talk about the deficit.


The economy is just one part of Obama's domestic agenda, which has been shockingly successful by some assessments. According to the 56-year-old Congressional Quarterly's analysis, when Obama expressed a clear opinion on a piece of legislation, Congress went along with him 96.7% of the time—beating Lyndon Johnson's first-year record of 93%—despite Republicans' staunch opposition and extensive use of the filibuster. One of these votes, healthcare, will be the most important piece of legislation in a generation if it passes. His remaining three years will undoubtedly have fewer successes given the pre-election paralysis that is sure to set in this year and the undoubted loss of his filibuster-proof majority in November's mid-term elections.


Obama has been less successful, however, in foreign policy. The wisdom or folly of his war leadership remains to be seen, but Obama has come off as weak on all other fronts. Diplomacy has failed to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Russia 'reset' button reset nothing at all, China called the shots during Obama's November visit, the Secretary of State botched the setup for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and Obama was saddled with too much blame and not enough credit after the Copenhagen climate talks.


The one global front on which Obama has succeeded is in restoring America's reputation, which had been greatly tarnished by Bush's mismanagement. The US has reclaimed its status as the most admired country in the world, climbing up from 7th place in 2008 in the Nation Brand Index. Even this victory is nuanced. Obama has been less arrogant and more willing to reach out to others than his predecessor, certainly. But his attempts to reclaim the nation's moral high ground are compromised by missing the deadline for closing Guantanamo and backtracking on torture memos. Given Obama's mixed record, it's not hard to see why he's the subject of so much criticism and why his approval rating has been hovering around 50%. But all said, he's done surprisingly well as President. Let's take Bill Clinton's old measure: is America better off now than it was a year ago? The answer is an unequivocal yes.







Monday's brazen attack by the Taliban in the heart of Kabul and the manner in which they were repulsed underline two contradictory aspects of the present state of affairs in Afghanistan. First, Islamist extremists maintain the capacity to mount major operations against the Hamid Karzai government not just in outlying areas of the country but in the capital city too. Second, the Afghan security forces are more than capable of defending themselves against the Taliban provided they have the necessary training, equipment and leadership. While supporting the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan, India has always held that the only force capable of stabilising the situation and maintaining peace and stability over the long haul is the Afghan National Army (ANA) and police. The Indian government is one of the largest providers of civilian assistance to Afghanistan and is also involved in training the Afghan police. A limited number of ANA officers have come to India for training but the United States has baulked at New Delhi doing more with the Afghan army for fear of inviting a Pakistani backlash. Yet, the U.S. and its allies have done little so far to bring the ANA up to the level required to deal with the challenge posed by the Taliban, and the bulk of combat operations is left to the western coalition.


In the run-up to next week's Afghanistan conference in London, there has been a lot of discussion on what the beleaguered nation's neighbours can do to help. A few days ago, the foreign ministers of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan met to try and forge a common position. India, too, has been in consultation with all players, including the U.S., whose AfPak envoy, Richard Holbrooke, met with External Affairs minister S.M. Krishna on Monday. Barring Pakistan, virtually everyone believes Islamabad's twin-track policy towards terrorism is at least partly to blame for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The U.S. is acutely aware of the subterranean links of the Pakistani military with the Afghan Taliban, the Hizb-e-Islami and the Haqqani network but seems unwilling to do anything about this. To the extent to which Islamabad is motivated by strategic competition with India over Afghanistan, the Indian leadership should make it clear that it seeks nothing but peace and tranquillity across the Durand Line. India's interests are three-fold: trade, transit, and security. Afghan territory should never again become a safe haven for anti-India elements. None of these concerns is incompatible with Pakistan's legitimate interests, which India recognises. In London, the international community should tell Pakistan to stop looking at Afghanistan as a zero-sum game with India.







Our understanding of when fishes evolved into tetrapods — animals with a backbone and four limbs — and began to walk on land needs radical revision. A study published recently in the journal Nature provides convincing evidence that the first vertebrates started walking nearly 385 million years ago — about 18 million years earlier than previously thought. There is already sufficient evidence that land vertebrates evolved from fish when the fins first became lobe-shaped without digits. Fishes with lobe-fins are considered transitional forms that gradually developed into vertebrates with limbs. The latest discovery — footprints of unknown creatures that were as long as 2.5 metres — from rocks in a disused quarry in southeast Poland confirms the fish-tetrapod transition theory. The footprint tracks resemble the early tetrapod fossils.


The discovery has resulted in two major scientific reassessments of the transition. First, the age of the footprint tracks is ten million years earlier than the oldest known transitional fishes called elpistostegalians (such as tiktaalik roseae). This would mean that transitional fish forms and those with limbs coexisted for a certain period of time. The discovery highlights the fact that elpistostegalians were neither the early transitional forms of fish-vertebrates nor a short-lived 'transitional grade' between fish and tetrapods. They were at best "late-surviving relics rather than direct transitional forms," to quote the editorial summary in Nature. Secondly, the discovery builds a strong case for reassessing the environmental setting of the transition. The impression that the transition took place in seasonally flooded environments of rivers is no longer valid. The footmark tracks studied in Poland are from rocks formed in a marine environment — a tidal flat environment and/or a lagoon. According to the authors of the study published in Nature, an intertidal environment would have provided a ready food source twice a day. Although no body fossils of the tetrapods are seen in the quarry rocks, the discovery suggests that any further search for body fossils should be in such marine environments; footprint tracks in the absence of body fossils are difficult to interpret with full confidence. The footprint tracks highlight the fact that fossils recording the early stages of vertebrate evolution (predating both the elpistostegids and those seen in Poland) are missing. The study cautions that "the timing of the fish-tetrapod transition is best regarded as uncertain." The evolutionary tree of early tetrapods will be sketchy as long as this gap remains unfilled.









The practice of paid news is not a recent phenomenon. It was blatantly evident in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections. It has been there all along in the coverage of corporates also. Earlier, it was limited to a few journalists, and covertly. It has now become an overt and institutionalised affair, as if there was nothing unusual or deviant about this. It has now reached the proportion of being described as "fourth estate on sale" (EPW). This practice is no longer limited to smaller or regional language news media. It is happening all across the news media. Like 'overzealous ad managers,' there are overzealous journalists. This practice, if not addressed now, will become formally overt as a normal course of the news media's function.


It is difficult to define paid news. It could also be described as quid pro quo news, it may even be better described as unfair or camouflaged news or advertising. It may not always be possible to establish something as unfair or camouflaged. But it should be possible to develop a methodology even without circumstantial evidence. There could be an independent monitoring and analysis arrangement in a transparent way for a six-month period before a Legislative Assembly election. An ASCI-like arrangement could be mobilised by the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Election Commission of India (ECI) together. Various bodies like the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) should also be involved in formulating guidelines. But they should not wait for a consensus.


Much-talked-about political reforms, particularly electoral reforms, are yet to see the light. In the meanwhile, everyone knows how money and media power in India's electoral politics has been on the increase. The 'note for vote' phenomenon nationwide is hardly a secret. Transparency by way of disclosures both by political parties and contesting candidates is vital. The ECI's measures to restrain money power and media power should be viewed as well within its purview. In a democracy, free and fair elections and a free press are equally important. Each should sustain the vibrancy of the other.


The situation calls for protective measures and corrective initiatives by news media themselves in their own interest and by other stakeholders in civil society. No single initiative or measure can curb such deviant behaviour; a combination is required in the spirit of "checks and balance." The best bet, of course, is a more active audience and citizenry. But in the absence of such sustained activism, three-pronged efforts are needed. First, from within news media, individually, and as a Fourth Estate institution. Secondly, from professional bodies like academics, independent research and civil society groups. Lastly, from regulatory agencies like the PCI, the ECI, the Information Commission, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).



1. Dependence on ratings/ranking: There are by corporate instruments, not editorial ones. Discussions on the pros and cons of this syndrome need to be encouraged and promoted so that more reliable and relevant criteria can be evolved in such a way that the credibility of the news media is retained.


2. Disclosure practice: This should happen at two levels. One, news media must state any conflict of interests in the course of news coverage and presentation. The media should also disclose their own ethical code or standards. They should indicate the responsible person for such disclosures periodically, like the readers' editor, ombudsman or a panel of internal and external experts. The disclosure should also be of revenues, linkages with other industries and corporates, and shareholding in other media. Disclosure should be built into the reporting pattern as well, as Mint has been doing for a couple of years. The news media, for example, should report on their own how much space and time they have devoted to commercials in the previous quarter or six months. Editors too could disclose their assets voluntarily and periodically in their own interest.


3. Redressal arrangements: Complaints about any aspect of media operations have positive implications — for content. There should be some provision for readers and viewers to "write back" or "talk back" and for an explanation in turn by the person responsible in the news media. The Readers Editor of The Hindu has set a good precedent in taking note of complaints and explaining wherever necessary, as he did in the case of the paid news phenomenon. News media should promote such arrangement so that readers and viewers are aware of it. This is over and above what the state agencies are expected to do. In the more specific context of paid news during elections, the Election Commission should be both proactive and also take on measures to curb such practices on its own and preferably with the Press Council of India.


4. Media watch: Academic bodies, independent research agencies, and civil society groups should be encouraged to monitor media contents and articulate their views from time to time. Several such independent media watch groups are needed in the country. Basic data based on trends of space and time for advertisements and analysis of ad content is essential for preventive initiatives. The Centre for Media Studies (CMS) has been doing this. In fact, way back in 1995, it came up with the description, "marketing media not mass media." And in 2001 it brought out a publication for the first time, "Paradigm shifts in media operations."


5. Professional bodies engaged or associated with news media in various capacities like the Editors Guild, the Advertising Standards Council of India, journalists associations, and the Indian Broadcasters Foundation, should take the initiative towards a more responsible and accountable news media. This can be done by setting up their own panel, as the Editors Guild did in the case of paid news and codes or guidelines for their members, particularly on conflict of interest.


6. State bodies like the Press Council of India, the Information Commissions, TRAI, and the Election Commission of India need to be proactive. Only then can they play their role. But their taking up deviations by individual news media organisations is equally important. The Press Council should come up with guidelines after involving the media across the country (even if a consensus is not possible) and the Election Commission should take the responsibility to implement the guidelines.


7. The media should be brought under the Right to Information Act (RTI) so that some accountability comes into media operations and managements.


8. Government media campaigns, other than on specific occasions, should be discouraged six months before elections.


9. Real-time counselling services should be provided to individual journalists, political leaders, and candidates in specific situations on how they should go about their tasks in a given context. Such counselling can be by an independent body but specialised.


10. Guidelines, however broad, for the news media on poll coverage should be formulated. Television channels and newspapers should be viewed together in relation to their coverage of candidates, parties, issues, and campaigns.


11. Limits on ads either in terms of percentage of space or time or in terms of percentage of revenue from commercials can be considered. Such limits may not be legally sustainable but could come through a voluntary industrial effort. Apart from this, advertisements of all kinds should be positioned distinctly to demarcate them from the edited space and time the same way as facts and comments are demarcated from news reporting.


The practice of paid news or camouflaged news or advertising is not limited to election times. It was not something new, which was encountered for the first time, during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The practice has been there in many different contexts and for much longer. It is not always possible to isolate such coverage. Circumstantial evidence may not always be available. Nevertheless, guidelines can be worked out for an independent monitoring and analysis arrangement in a transparent way. By not taking cognisance even when the practice has been brought to public notice, the concerned agencies have failed and professional bodies have gone along. The malaise lies much deeper. As free and fair elections are as important as a free and independent press, correctives are needed in our electoral process too. The issues involved need to be addressed comprehensively and the 'cleaning wounds' approach will have only a temporary effect.


(Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao is founder Chairman of CMS Academy of Communication & Convergence Studies; Email:








The disaster in Haiti shows once again something that we, as human beings, have always known: that even amid the worst devastation, there is always hope.


I saw that for myself this week in Port au Prince. The United Nations suffered its single greatest loss in history. Our headquarters in the Haitian capital was a mass of crushed concrete and tangled steel. How could anyone survive? I thought. Yet, moments after I departed with a heavy heart, rescue teams pulled out a survivor — alive, after five days without food or water. I think of it as a small miracle, a sign of hope.


Disasters such as that in Haiti remind us of the fragility of life, but they also reaffirm our strength. We have seen horrific images on television: collapsed buildings, bodies in the streets, and people in dire need of food, water and shelter. I saw all this, and more, as I moved around the stricken city. But I also saw something else — a remarkable expression of human spirit; people suffering the heaviest blows yet demonstrating extraordinary resilience.


During my brief visit, I met many ordinary people. A group of young men near the ruins of the presidential palace told me of wanting to help rebuild Haiti. Beyond the immediate crisis, they hope for jobs and a future with dignity. Across the street, I met a young mother and her children living in a tent in a public park, with little food. There were thousands like her, patiently enduring, helping one another as best they could. She had faith that help would soon come, as did others. "I came to offer hope," I told them. "Do not despair." In return she, too, asked the international community to help Haiti rebuild — for her children, for the generations of tomorrow.


For those who have lost everything, help cannot come soon enough. But it is coming, and in growing amounts despite very difficult logistical challenges in a capital city where all services and capacity are gone. As of Monday morning, more than 40 international search and rescue teams with more than 1,700 staff were at work. Water supplies are increasing; tents and temporary shelters are arriving in larger numbers. Badly damaged hospitals are beginning to function again, aided by international medical teams. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is working with the U.S. Army to distribute daily food rations to nearly 2,00,000 people. The agency expects to reach as many as one million people within the coming weeks.


We have seen an outpouring of international aid, commensurate with the scale of this disaster. Every nation, every international aid organisation in the world, has mobilised for Haiti's relief. Our job is to channel that assistance. We need to make sure our help gets to the people who need it, as fast as possible. We cannot have essential supplies sitting in warehouses. We have no time to lose, nor money to waste. This requires strong and effective coordination — the international community working together, as one, with the U.N. in the lead.


This critical work began from the first day, both among U.N. and international aid agencies as well as among key players — the United Nations working closely with the United States and the countries of Europe, Latin America and many others to identify the most pressing humanitarian needs and deliver what is required. These needs must be grouped into well-defined "clusters", so that the efforts of all the various organisations complement rather than duplicate one another. A health cluster run by the World Health Organisation, for example, is already organising medical assistance among 21 international agencies.


The urgency of the moment will naturally dominate our planning. But it is not too early to begin thinking about tomorrow, a point that President Rene Preval emphasised when we met. Though desperately poor, Haiti had been making progress. It was enjoying a new stability; investors had returned. It will not be enough to rebuild the country as it was, nor is there any place for cosmetic improvements. We must help Haiti build back better, working side by side with the government, so that the money and aid invested today will have lasting benefit, creating jobs and freeing it from dependence on the world's generosity.


In this sense, Haiti's plight is a reminder of our wider responsibilities. A decade ago, the international community began a new century by agreeing to act to eliminate extreme poverty by the year 2015. Great strides have been made towards some of these ambitious "Millennium Development Goals", variously targeting core sources of global poverty and obstacles to development — from maternal health and education to managing infectious disease. Yet progress in other critical areas lags badly. The bottom line: we are very far from delivering on our promises of a better future for the world's poor.


As we rush to Haiti's immediate aid, let us keep in mind this larger picture. That was the message I received, loud and clear, from those people on the streets of Port au Prince. They asked for jobs, dignity and a better future. That is the hope of the world's poor, wherever they might live. Doing the right thing for Haiti, in its hour of need, will be a powerful message of hope for them as well.


Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre for India and Bhutan



(Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations.)








India is unique in combining a parliamentary system with the institution of a National Security Adviser who has wide-ranging executive responsibilities in the areas of foreign policy, intelligence, nuclear command and control as well as long-term strategic planning.


Created in 1998 following a series of high-level committees that studied the management of national security and intelligence, the NSA was intended to be the prime mover of a multi-tiered planning structure with the National Security Council (NSC) headed by the Prime Minister at the apex. An NSC Secretariat (NSCS) was created to service the Council, which subsumed the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and its staff within it. Finally, a National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) of outside experts was set up to generate independent inputs to the NSC.


A decade later, it is logical that the functioning of these structures be reviewed to see how effective the system has been.


In a series of on-the-record and background interviews with key participants in the NSC system over the past decade — including Brajesh Mishra, who was NSA from 1998 to 2004, and half-a-dozen former chiefs of India's internal and external intelligence agencies — the picture that emerges is one of a system that has delivered mixed results and is in need of refinement, enhanced staffing and a clearer delineation of tasks.


If the institution of the NSA proved to be an unqualified success in dealing with complex foreign policy issues with national security implications such as the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 highlighted the absence of focussed intelligence coordination. As for long-term national security assessment and planning — the original raison d'etre of the NSCS — most of the former officials interviewed by The Hindu believe this is the weakest link in the system, a view disputed by those who are currently on the inside.


As matters stand, the NSA today formally wears three broad hats. First, as coordinator of complex foreign policy initiatives and interlocutor with the big powers on strategic matters, he is diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister. Second, as head of the NSCS, he is a long-term planner, anticipating new threats and challenges to national security. Third, as chair of the Executive Council of the Nuclear Command Authority, he is the overseer of India's nuclear weapons programme and doctrine. Due to the legacy of weak leadership in the Ministry of Home Affairs during Shivraj Patil's years, the NSA's job under M.K. Narayanan slowly expanded to take on a fourth role — internal security issues like Kashmir, the North-East and Naxalism. Intelligence coordination and tasking, particularly in counter-terrorism, also became part of his turf, mainly because of his own background.


This was not how things were meant to be. The NSA, whether in presidential systems like the U.S. or Russia or parliamentary systems like Britain, where he is a diplomatic adviser, only deals with international issues, said Mr. Mishra.


While the main turf battle his predecessors waged was with the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Narayanan's role as the country's de facto internal security czar opened a second potential front of conflict. Intelligence chiefs reported to him, and his office became the clearing house for the collation, processing and tasking of intelligence. As long as the power vacuum created by a weak Ministry of Home Affairs remained, this front would remain dormant. But when P. Chidambaram moved into the Home Ministry in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, things changed. Soon after that, Mr. Narayanan found himself joining the intelligence chiefs in a daily meeting chaired by the Home Minister in North Block. But he remained in charge of other bits of the intelligence set-up.


As was to be expected of an institution that was not only new but also alien to the existing patterns of bureaucracy, the NSC structure has evolved in a way that closely mirrors the priorities and focus of the NSA. Under Brajesh Mishra, who held the post from 1998 to 2004 concurrent with his job as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the NSCS was run by the Deputy to the NSA (DNSA), Satish Chandra, at the time a serving Secretary-level Foreign Service officer. Intelligence tasking was carried out by the Intelligence Coordination Group (ICG), which brought the consumers of intelligence products together with the producers under the chairmanship of the NSA, and the NSCS staff conducted research and produced papers on the long-term challenges to India's security. "The NSCS had anticipated many of the threats we see now," said Mr. Chandra in an interview. "For example, awareness about pandemics and their implications was discussed by us in 2000-2002 and pushed into the system". As for the NSA himself, Mr. Mishra devoted most of his energy to foreign policy and did not involve himself too closely in intelligence matters


Though Mr. Mishra was considered effective and influential, he was not without his critics at the time. K. Subrahmanyam, doyen of India's strategic thinkers and in many ways the prime mover of the NSA/NSC concept within the country, repeatedly argued in favour of a full-time NSA unencumbered by the task of running the PMO. But in an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Subrahmanyam now acknowledges that Mr. Mishra's political proximity to Prime Minister Vajpayee was an effective diplomatic instrument that allowed India to emerge as a global player. "By combining the jobs of Principal Secretary and NSA, Brajesh was able to interact with the big powers and very effectively projected India's image as a major power," he said. "Even though I was a critic, I don't think he would have been able to play that role without combining the two jobs."


When the United Progressive Alliance government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came to power in 2004, J.N. Dixit, another former diplomat, was appointed NSA. At the same time, a new post of Special Advisor for Internal Security was created and Mr. Narayanan, a former Director of the IB, named to the job. Contrary to public impression, however, the new post was not intended to dilute the NSA's mandate in any way. "An order was issued in June 2004 that the NSA will be responsible for intelligence and coordination and that the Internal Security Advisor 'may also be marked' on intelligence matters," C.D. Sahay, who was head of RAW at the time, said in an interview. Other officials familiar with internal deliberations within the PMO said Mr. Narayanan was, in fact, Dr. Singh's first choice for NSA but was unable to accept the position because of an illness. Upon Mr. Dixit's sudden demise in January 2005, however, the job landed on to his plate after the Prime Minister first considered naming either Ronen Sen or S.K. Lambah, both former diplomats, to the job.


As NSA, Mr. Narayanan's biggest achievement was managing the inter-agency process that fed into the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. In January 2005, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, then the French President's Diplomatic Adviser, arrived in New Delhi with a non-paper spelling out a broad proposal on behalf of the U.S., France and Britain for the resumption of nuclear commerce with India. The July 2005 Indo-U.S. agreement grew out of that visit, with both Mr. Narayanan and the MEA playing key roles in framing the nature of the bargain. Negotiations with the U.S. over the separation of civil and military nuclear facilities, the nature of safeguards and fuel assurances, reprocessing and other issues were difficult and often saw the MEA, the Indian Embassy in Washington and the Department of Atomic Energy at logger-heads with each other. As head of the 'apex group' overseeing the negotiations, the NSA had to reconcile these positions. Later, he had to directly step in at the highest levels to get the U.S. to stick to its commitments.


Speaking of American NSAs, on whom the Indian equivalent was modelled, Ivo Daalder and I.M. Destler wrote: "They must provide confidential advice to the President yet establish a reputation as an honest broker between the conflicting officials and interests across the government." The nuclear deal was, in many ways, tailor-made for the Indian NSA's office because at an institutional level there was nobody else who could play that kind of co-ordinating role. The Prime Minister was committed to the nuclear deal but his officials were divided on its details. Forging a common position, mostly, as it turned out, on the basis of the DAE's arguments, was Mr. Narayanan's big contribution.


Mr. Narayanan also emerged as a key player in India's renewed engagement with other big powers, especially Russia, France, China and Japan. Most of this never made the headlines. The NSA's is by definition a plodding job in which he has to put lots of small things together, especially in order to cover for the inadequacies of the Indian bureaucratic system. Even the diplomatic adviser part is not just about having bright ideas but about installing the machinery to make things happen. And his importance internationally stems from the authority he carries as the Prime Minister's representative.


When it came to Pakistan, however, the NSA's multiple roles came into conflict with each other, especially in recent months. As diplomatic adviser, Mr. Narayanan should have found ways of pressing ahead with the kind of engagement the Prime Minister repeatedly said he favoured. But as an internal security czar who had fought off calls for his resignation after 26/11, he knew another terrorist strike would cost him his job — especially if he was seen as backing the idea of dialogue with Islamabad. Slowly but surely, the adviser had fallen out of step with the agenda of his principal.








  • Malaysia is open to cooperation with India in the maintenance of security along the Straits of Malacca
  • The issue of overstaying Indian nationals is likely to figure in talks with India


As a major player in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia is beginning to look upon India as a potentially indispensable partner. The political message is implicit in comments that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak made prior to his five-day visit to India at this time. And, the message is that Malaysia sees India as a potential partner of the 10-member ASEAN itself in reshaping the existing East Asian economic order.


Quite revealing was his answer to a question about the possibility of a new concert of Asian powers consisting of China, India, Japan, and the ASEAN. In an interactive session at his office at Putrajaya, Malaysia's administrative capital, on January 11, Mr. Najib said: "If you extrapolate [the current trends], I think, the first part of the 21st century will be essentially [one] uni-polar [global order]. But, gradually, people will see it as a multi-polar kind of world, in which the growing influence of China obviously [is felt]. The projection is that by 2050 China would be the biggest economy in terms of the size of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] and that India would be following not too far behind. And, we will see the integration of the ASEAN as an economic community with East Asia and also with India. So, I see that kind of a nexus developing as we move on in the 21st century."


The uni-polar order is, of course, shorthand for the primacy of the United States — regardless of how debatable are the views about its current economic decline. And, a multi-polar dispensation is shorthand for a plurality of powers with the perceived strengths to balance each other or act together on a variety of issues.


On India's future role in Malaysia's neighbourhood, Mr. Najib has had this say: "You cannot deny the growing strategic importance of India. I think India will be a major player in strategic terms — all-encompassing [in scope], not only as a fast-growing economy. India will play a very important part in international affairs in the region and beyond. And, that is why I [have] made India as one of the countries that I will be visiting quite early on after I have taken over [as Prime Minister a few months ago]."


Mr. Najib avoided portraying his vision of a new nexus of economic linkages as a prophecy about the formation of an Asian concert of powers. However, the ongoing global economic crisis has raised the possibility of a new political order in East Asia, home to several players with worldwide interests. Fully cognisant of this, Mr. Najib chose to be cautious about the ideas that might reduce the importance of the U.S. and some of its long-standing allies. Asked whether Malaysia would support the formation of an Asian Monetary Fund (AMF), Mr. Najib said: "We have not made any firm decision yet."


The Chiang Mai Initiative, which he cited in the same breath, is a currency pool of the ASEAN+3 entity, the +3 countries being China, Japan, and South Korea. In a sense, the pool, which is being enlarged this year to help the members face foreign exchange contingencies, can become the nucleus of an AMF. The unrealised Japanese proposal of an AMF, by this or any other name, is a potential alternative to the West-dominated International Monetary Fund. Aware of such nuances, Mr. Najib spoke about a current move by Malaysia and China to use their national currencies for some aspects of bilateral trade.


However, Malaysia's central bank officials cautioned against seeing this as a ploy to stop using the U.S. dollar for settling Malaysia's transactions with China.


These and other niceties of Malaysia's current world-view reflect the emerging possibilities of a new inter-state order in East Asia that might include India. Any such future order will not be the same as the existing East Asia Summit; just a forum of leaders of the ASEAN and six countries including India. There is a caveat, too, about the potential extent of India's relevance to and role in East Asian affairs. The behind-the-scenes view in Malaysia's official circles is that much will depend on whether the ASEAN+3 entity can or will be enlarged to include India. Relevant to this puzzle is also a debate on the long-term capabilities of the U.S. to stay its current course as a global power with a "resident" status in East Asia.


A Harvard professor may have written about the possibility of Americans seeing, at some stage, their Hollywood as a word-play on India's Bollywood. But India does not equal China in the larger international opinion circles. Indeed, a 2009 treatise from the West traces a scenario of "when China rules the world." In such a broad sweep of futurology, Mr. Najib's perspective on the possibility of a new East Asian economic nexus inclusive of India is surely novel.


On the Malaysia-India bilateral front itself, Mr. Najib has given himself space to raise the exiting benchmarks in a measured fashion. He does not see the current level of defence-related cooperation as being sub-optimal in scope. And, he draws a line for possible cooperation with India in the maintenance of security along the Straits of Malacca. Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are the acknowledged littoral states along this intensely-used international waterway. The protection of this sea lane is the "main responsibility [of] the littoral states," Mr. Najib has emphasised. And, they "are open to any kind of cooperation, as long as it does not undermine the Number One principle" of the littoral states' responsibility.


Malaysia is yet to set its own national goals firmly for space exploration and civil nuclear energy, two possible areas of cooperation with India. In broader economic terms, Malaysia will now seek to "reactivate" the talks on a comprehensive pact with India.


On the whole, Malaysia tends to see its ties with India as being virtually irritant-free. Some in India do, of course, regard the "concerns" of the Malaysian Indians and the issue of some "missing" Indian nationals in Malaysia as possible irritants. Mr. Najib's answer is that his government is indeed "responsive" to the sensitivities of the Malaysian Indians.


His government is also addressing the issue of the overstaying Indian nationals in Malaysia, "principally from Chennai." They are reckoned to stay on in Malaysia for "whatever reason." And, Mr. Najib has indicated that he would "probably mention" this issue during his prospective talks in India.


On the presence of "illegal Indian workers in Malaysia," S. Subramaniam, a prominent ethnic-Indian Minister in Mr. Najib's Cabinet, has cited a figure of 1,50,000. He said: "At one stage, we were giving visa on arrival. But we [have] had to stop it, because too many people were coming in and not going back. That was a facility given to genuine tourists. The number, I am told, is [now] coming down, as wages and opportunities increase in India."









US special envoy to Af-Pak Richard Holbrooke caused much uneasiness in New Delhi foreign policy circles because of the apprehension that president Barack Obama would look to India through the Pakistani prism.


It was even suspected that the Kashmir question would be raked up on the pretext of helping Pakistan fight al Qaeda and the Taliban on the Afghanistan front. It has even been speculated that Holbrooke was named special envoy for the Afghanistan and Pakistan and not south Asia taking into consideration India's sensitivities.


Whatever may have been the diplomatic and political calibrations, Holbrooke on his first visit to New Delhi nearly a year after he took up his assignment appears to have partly cleared the air.


In his meetings with minister for external affairs SM Krishna, national security advisor MK Narayanan and foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, he seems to have shared his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.


It implies that the Obama administration is aware of India's position and stature in south Asia and in the emerging world. It was more than diplomatic rhetoric when Holbrooke observed that India's importance was not confined to south Asia but stretched from the Pacific to the Mediterranean.


Americans recognise that a democratic India with a free market is a key ally in a troubled region. This may not translate into immediate and concrete benefits but it certainly leverages India's position.


The other fear that India may be dragged into the Afghan war even as the American and Nato forces are only too keen to exit, may be misplaced simply because Pakistan would oppose deployment of Indian forces on its western frontier. Whatever else Washington may overrule, this is one Pakistan concern it will not brush aside.


Americans would want an Indian presence in Afghanistan to strengthen political, civic and economic institutions there. Islamabad is sure to resent Indian influence in Kabul but Indian expertise in civilian administration is something that Pakistan cannot claim to have and thus offer to Afghanistan.


India on its part must do all it can to support Afghanistan in the political and administrative spheres as well. Holbrooke's visit is an indirect affirmation that the US looks to India's cooperation in making the world safe for freedom and democracy.







The statement by Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal that the concept of deemed universities will be abolished, which comes on the heels of his ministry's decision to derecognise 44 deemed universities all over the country, puts some sketchy perspective on a difficult issue.


Sibal has assured the 2 lakh students affected by this that they will be looked after, which can only be hoped will involve more than mere promises.


However, there are some questions to be answered. Of the 44 institutions — which now will most likely go back to being colleges — one is promoted by information and broadcasting minister of state S Jagathrakshakan and three are government-sponsored.


Many were given this status during the regime of Arjun Singh as HRD minister during UPA I. These universities were found lacking on many counts by a review committee, which includes infrastructure and lack of expertise in disciplines they claim to specialise in.


How did they then get permission to exist or even aspire to university status? Noble as the intention is, in that it reflects the government's commitment to get higher education in the country back in shape, the waters look very murky.


First, there are the 2 lakh students whose parents have invested money in these institutions for their children's careers. There are also clear signs of nepotism and corruption in these "deemed" universities. It is well known that educational institutions are seen as big money spinners and politicians often jump in to cash in.


The system must be cleaned up, but it cannot be at the expense of students and of good sense. The HRD ministry has to work out what happens to those who are already enrolled.


It also needs to look at the system of increasing private participation in higher education and work out how these institutions will be regulated in the future. The question also arises then of government participation in higher education.


In other countries, universities are not necessarily controlled or run by government and yet they can extremely prestigious and trustworthy. The USA and the UK abound in these. At best, we can look at a screening and monitoring process for private institutions.


It is also true that in India, the core issue is at the demand-supply level -- there are more students than there are colleges. This leads to a sense of desperation in the student community and given that India is growing younger and younger, the current crisis only magnifies the problems of the future. Sibal has his work cut out for him.







A year ago today, Barack Obama made history when he was sworn in as America's first black president, with the promise of wholesale political change and a John Lennon-esque heal-the-world message.


Today, however, much of his political goodwill at home, as reflected in opinion polls that capture the mood of the moment, appears to have been expended.


It's a fair bet that were he to run for office today, on the strength of what the world has seen of him in the year gone by, he probably wouldn't be elected.


It's not that Obama has been a disastrous president. In fact, given the enormity of the problems on his in-desk on his first day at work, and despite the hyper partisan political environment in the US, there is a perceptible sense of forward movement, however gradual, on the range of issues that his administration is grappling with.


Yet, if Obama has lost political ground and appears a mere shadow of the inspirational man the world saw on the campaign trail, it's more because of his style of statecraft on the international stage.


On virtually every issue, Obama has abided by an ancient Sanskritic scriptural statecraft regimen recommended for kings — the sama-dana-bheda-danda approach — which may have worked well in an earlier (and simpler) era of governance, but which is ill-suited for more contemporary times.


In spirit, the approach emphasises gradualism when dealing with other states or parties, starting from sama (political conciliation). If that doesn't yield results, the successive stages are dana (offering incentives or rewards), bheda (using dissent) and, finally, danda (punishment). It's pretty much the carrot-and-stick approach, with additionally nuanced variations.


On practically every heavyweight policy initiative — from the Af-Pak war to negotiating with China to dealing with the Iranian nuclear dilemma — Obama went to extraordinary lengths to signal, at the first level, that unlike his predecessor, he was prepared to be conciliatory.


That isn't in itself a flawed approach, but given that in almost all these cases, he's had to revert from sama and gana to bheda and danda only shows up his initial approach to have been borderline naïve.


When Obama took office, for instance, he perhaps genuinely believed that given that he was "un-Bush", and given that the historic nature of his presidency projected a new social face of America, his personal charm and conciliatory approach would be sufficient to get other countries to do business with the US.


But strategic affairs are driven by an institutional memory of countries, which individual personalities can alter only up to a point.


With China, Pakistan and Iran, for instance, Obama's conciliatory approach has yielded no results. Early on, Obama signalled as part of his sama approach that his administration did not believe in "containing" China's rise: towards that end, he even downgraded, in a nuanced way, US relations with India, which had been elevated to a "strategic" level under Bush. Likewise, before his China trip, he declined to meet the Dalai Lama as a concession to Chinese sensibilities.


Yet, it wasn't until the Chinese stonewalled him on every major issue on which he sought their support — and an apoplectic Chinese diplomat even jabbed a disrespectful finger at Obama at the Copenhagen climate change summit — that Obama got the message that perhaps the Chinese were immune to his charm.


His sama diplomatic approach with Pakistan and Iran has had similar results, or lack thereof, and he's had to gravitate to a more hardline position.


That Obama has finally had to arrive at aposition that would have come to him instinctively if he had had a less benign view of a world persuaded by sama and dana only shows up the limitations of his statecraft approach. Given this learning experience, the only way ahead for Obama is, perhaps, to be more "un-Obama".






What is meant by "making the thoughts sincere" is the allowing no self-deception, as when we hate a bad smell and as when we love what is beautiful. This is called self-enjoyment.


Therefore, the superior man must be watchful over himself when he is alone. There is no evil to which the mean man, dwelling retired, will not proceed, but when he sees a superior man, he instantly tries to disguise himself, concealing his evil, and displaying what is good.


The other beholds him, as if he saw his heart and reins;-of what use is his disguise? This is an instance of the saying — "What truly is within will be manifested without." Therefore, the superior man must be watchful over himself when he is alone.


The disciple Tsang said, "What ten eyes behold, what ten hands point to, is to be regarded with reverence!"Riches adorn a house, and virtue adorns the person. The mind is expanded, and the body is at ease. Therefore, the superior man must make his thoughts sincere.


What is meant by, "The cultivation of the person depends on rectifying the mind may be thus illustrated: If a man be under the influence of passion he will be incorrect in his conduct. He will be the same, if he is under the influence of terror or fond regard or sorrow and distress.


When the mind is not present, we look and do not see; we hear and do not understand. This is what is meant by saying that the cultivation of the person depends on rectifying the mind.


What is meant by "the regulation of one's family depends on the cultivation of his person is this: men are partial where they feel affection and love and dislike. Thus it is that there are few men in the world who love and at the same time know the bad qualities of the object of their love, or who hate and yet know the excellences of the object of their hatred.

From The Great Learning by Confucius, translated by James Legge








On October 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It's a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: "You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten." If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He's going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.

The first of those truths is that we don't know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.

In the recent anthology What Works in Development?, a group of economists try to sort out what we've learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn't seem to produce the expected results. The chastened tone of these essays is captured by the economist Abhijit Banerjee: "It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control."

The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organisations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organisations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organisations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord's work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.

Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the centre of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the DR is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.

As Lawrence E Harrison explained in his book The Central Liberal Truth, Haiti, like most of the world's poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalised. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We're all supposed to politely respect each other's cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

Fourth, it's time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it. Then we tried microcommunity efforts. But what really works involve intrusive paternalism.

These programmes, like the Harlem Children's Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don't understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don't care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement, involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.

It's time to take that approach abroad, too. It's time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighbourhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

The late political scientist Samuel P Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old. —NYT









The functioning of deemed universities has in recent times cast a shadow over the quality of higher education. Finally, the axe may fall on some of them. The HRD Ministry's decision to de-recognise 44 out of 130 universities enjoying the deemed status cannot be faulted in principle. These institutions have been found lacking on several grounds. Besides deficiencies in infrastructure, as well as lack of expertise, many are being run as family fiefdoms. While the final decision will be taken after the Supreme Court looks into the matter, care has to be exercised to safeguard the future of nearly 2 lakh students pursuing courses in these institutions.

Deemed universities have sprung up all over the country, especially in recent years. Lately, these have been coming under fire. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal had ordered a review of the deemed universities. Even the Prof Yashpal Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education and the National Knowledge Commission had recommended scrapping of the deemed-to-be-university system altogether. Institutions are declared deemed-to-be universities on the UGC recommendations. Under section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956, the provision for deemed university was made. The intention to bring under the commission's purview institutions "which for historical reasons or for any other circumstances are not universities but doing work of high standard" is indeed well-founded. Yet over the years, often the deemed university status was granted to institutions in violation of the UGC guidelines. Undoubtedly, irregularities had come to plague the system of granting the deemed status.


The government cannot allow those who accorded the below par institutions the deemed status go scot-free. It must fix responsibility as well as evolve a foolproof mechanism for both inspection and disaffiliation. Those institutions that have been given three-year time-frame for making up on lost ground need to be monitored and reviewed on the basis of such a system. Besides, the Centre's commitment to "take appropriate steps for securing the future of the students enrolled in the 44 institutions in accordance with the recommendations of the Task Force" should not remain mere rhetoric. While the present government's initiative to ensure the quality of higher education is laudable, students' future cannot be compromised. 








The Taliban attack on the "heart of Kabul" on Monday has provided fresh proof, if it was needed, that the extremist elements in Afghanistan remain even today capable of striking anywhere in the war-torn country. They carried out a series of blasts targeting the buildings housing several ministries and a shopping mall in Kabul's high-security area, resulting in the death of 12 persons, including seven Taliban activists. Perhaps, the Taliban intends to convey the message that US President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to wrap up the multinational drive against the militant forces there cannot lead him to win the "war on terror". The use of force alone is not sufficient to achieve the objective in Afghanistan. What course the coming international conference on Afghanistan, to be held in London, suggests remains to be seen.


Depending on the Afghanistan Army at this stage for mauling the Taliban, comprising highly motivated groups of insurgents, appears to be risky. Anti-US and pro-Taliban elements seem to have found entry into the ranks of the armed forces. The suicide bomber who killed eight American civilians, most of them CIA officers, in Khost province, bordering Pakistan, on December 31, 2009, was an Afghanistan Army officer. While the army needs to be cleared of elements of doubtful integrity, efforts are also needed to prevent the occurrence of incidents like the killing of civilians in anti-Taliban operations which strengthen anti-American sentiments among the people. Last year alone 600 civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces were reported from various parts of Afghanistan.


What helps the Taliban more than anything else in breaking all security barriers is the widespread corruption in the government. The Taliban's destructive designs cannot be defeated so long as the extremists are able to use bribes to send their suicide bombers into the areas having even the tightest security. In the villages, people no longer depend on the government's security arrangements. They have started forming their own anti-Taliban fighter squads, of course, with official encouragement. The villagers' initiative is a sad commentary on the capacity of the Afghanistan government and the multinational forces to make the people's lives safe. 








The Punjab Chief Minister's immediate response to CPM leader Jyoti Baus's death was to declare a holiday in the state on Monday. This is the usual way he and his government convey the depth of loss whenever a leader passes away. Far from being in mourning, employees rejoice at the idea of spending the day with their loved ones instead of venturing out on an extremely cold, foggy day to do the usual boring work. There are better ways of mourning the death of a beloved leader. Working hard to serve the people with renewed zeal is one sensible way of paying tributes to a departed leader.


A leader like Jyoti Basu, who donated his body for medical research, would not, perhaps, have appreciated a paid holiday on his death. Besides, a sudden, unannounced closure of offices inconveniences people, some of whom have to travel long distances to reach an office for some urgent work. Their disappointment on finding the office not officially working is understandable. Nobody in the government regrets the loss of their time and money. Even when in office, babus are not exactly known for helping out the needy. Office procedures are so complicated, paper work is so extensive and corruption so rampant that an ordinary citizen shudders whenever forced to deal with a government office.


Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, the odd man out in the Punjab team, last year suggested curtailing the number of holidays. But his sensible ideas have few takers in the present dispensation. As Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh had reduced the holidays significantly, but a please-all Mr Parkash Singh Badal has gone back to the previous list. Maybe, he thinks it better to keep employees at home for the maximum number of days to save office electricity, petrol and other expenses apart from keeping the roads less congested and the environment less polluted.









More than anything else, Jyoti Basu will be remembered for his contribution to the emergence of communists as a significant presence in India's parliamentary politics. Central to the tortuous process leading to this were debates over their attitude toward parliamentary democracy, the national bourgeoisie and the Indian National Congress, initially under the ideological hegemony of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and then under the shadow of the Chinese revolution and the Sino-Soviet split.


Shortly after the suppression of the revolt of 1857, Frederick Engels wrote in the New York Daily Tribune of October 1, 1858, "the time may not be so very distant when 'the sepoy and the cossak will meet in the plains of Oxus,' and if that meeting takes place, the anti-British passion of 150,000 native Indians (an obvious mistake) will be a matter of serious consideration." That did not quite happen though the CPSU began taking an interest in India after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 installed it in power.


At the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern), Lenin advocated alliance with the section of the national bourgeoisie fighting imperialism. M.N.Roy opposed him, arguing that the national bourgeoisie was reactionary and prone to compromising with imperialists. Lenin's view prevailed, though, at his instance, Roy's thesis was also included in the records.


The Comintern's Sixth Congress in 1929 abandoned the strategy. The new line of opposition to the national bourgeoisie and the pursuit of an extreme revolutionary line, however, changed with the rise of Hitler to power in Germany in 1933, which followed the earlier triumph of the Fascists in Italy. The new United Front line, articulated at the Comintern's Seventh Congress in 1935, provided for cooperation with bourgeoisie parties. In Europe this led, among other things, to the formation of France's Popular Front Government.


Significantly, Jyoti Basu arrived in Britain in 1935 and was drawn to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the second half of the 1930s when the United Front line was ascendant. Hence, subject to further research, one can argue that this conditioned his basic approach to politics which was one of consensus building and pragmatism-qualities on full display in the tumultuous years that followed his joining the Communist Party of India (CPI) two days after his return to India on January 1, 1940.


By then, the new line was in disarray. The communists' attempt to take over the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) failed by a whisker in 1939. Their ties with the CSP soured, and there was an open and acrimonious breach with the Congress when their party, which had switched from opposing to supporting Britain during World War II after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, opposed the Quit India Movement launched in 1942.


As World War II approached its end, an isolated CPI began reaching out to the Congress under P.C. Joshi's leadership. Rajani Palme Dutt, a frequent mentor to it on behalf of the CPGB, endorsed the line which referred approvingly to Jawaharlal Nehru, and described the Congress as a party of a wide cross section and not just the bourgeoisie. Radical elements led at the time by B.T. Ranadive, G.M. Adhikari and Ajoy Ghosh disagreed, arguing that the party must oppose the bourgeoisie which was willing to compromise with imperialism to preserve its vested interests.


After much debate, the Soviet Union signalled support for the radical line at the Cominform's first conference in September 1947. The CPI's reversal of its own course, adoption of an uncompromising line toward the Congress, and denunciation of Joshi and Dutt, followed at a meeting of its central committee in December 1947. The party's Second Congress in Kolkata in 1948 formalised the new line. Its Political Thesis declared that a "revolutionary upsurge" was under way in India, and that the final phase of the "people's democratic revolution", that of "armed clashes", had arrived. The repression that followed crippled the CPI, which abandoned armed struggle and indicated its intention to contest the general elections in 1952, by adopting a new programme and A Statement of Policy in October 1951. Votaries of revolutionary violence, however, remained.


Meanwhile, Jyoti Basu was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946. Returned to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1952, he remained its member continuously till 1972 when he was defeated in a controversial election. Re-elected in 1977 when he became Chief Minister of the state's Left Front government, he remained in office until November 2000, winning every assembly election by a huge margin.


The bitter price that the CPI paid for its adventurist line of 1952, and the vicissitudes it underwent since then, however, must have reinforced his consensual and pragmatist approach. The vicissitudes were many. The party's return to parliamentary politics, confirmed at its Third Congress in Madurai from December 27, 1953, to January 4, 1954, led to steady growth. Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin at the CPSU's 20th Congress in 1956, however, devastated it and, shortly thereafter, it was torn by the Sino-Soviet split which became manifest in 1957. The formation of the first Communist state government in India in 1957 with E.M.S Namboodiripad as Chief Minister came as a shot in the arm and the Fifth Congress at Amritsar in 1958 seemed finally to confirm the adoption of a parliamentary line. Tensions over the dismissal of the Namboodiripad government in 1959, the Sino-Soviet schism and the strategy of peaceful transition to socialism, propagated by the CPSU, however, continued to haunt the party, which narrowly averted a split at its Sixth Congress in Vijayawada in 1961.


The 1962 conflict with China led to a formal split when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was born at what it called the party's Seventh Congress in 1964. Jyoti Basu did not play a leading role in the tense debates that raged over various issues then and earlier. The ranks of the ideologues included Namboodiripad, Ranadive, Bhawani Sen, Ajoy Ghosh, P.C. Joshi, P. Sundarayya, A.K. Gopalan, P. Ramamurthi and others. Nor did he play a leading role in the polemic over participation in elections that raged in the party in 1965-66. The formation of the United Front governments in West Bengal and Kerala, the latter with Namboodiripad as Chief Minister and the former with Ajoy Mukherjee at its helm and Basu as Deputy Chief Minister in 1967, was followed by the launching of a peasant struggle in the Naxalbari area of North Bengal by the opponents of the parliamentary path within the CPM. Thus was born the Naxalite movement.


Naxalite violence, coalescing with violent clashes between constituents of the United Front and the CPM and the Congress, brought West Bengal's two United Front governments down. Rout in the 1972 Assembly elections led to five years in political wilderness and, almost certainly, introspection, resulting in deep political maturity, rooted in pragmatic wisdom, which made him oppose the CPM's withdrawal of support to the Morarji Desai's government in 1979, as that would bring Indira Gandhi back to power (which it did!), and which has been a crucial factor in the survival of the Left Front government for more than 33 years now. A political architect rather than a philosopher, he had a close colleague in Harkishan Singh Surjeet. The two built up the CPM into a significant political force, which would have become even more significant had the party not scuttled the move to make Basu Prime Minister in 1996.








My father, 81, is a simple man and has been so as far as my memory goes. He was a lecturer of English first at Faridkot, then in Malerkotla, an oasis of Muslim culture in Punjab. And then at Patiala, I remember a change he had not found worth the effort but had given in to my mother's constant nagging for the sake of our education.


Having found a house at some distance from Mahindra College, where his distant cousin, a police officer, had managed a posting for him using his influence with the then Education Minister, he dusted the saddle of the Hercules ladies cycle that my mother had carried along, but not used for long.


An archetype forgetful and respected professor, he would many times paddle to the college and walk back home with books held against his chest. Then as we would laugh and point out the missing bicycle, he would wipe his broad forehead with the left hand and say "I did feel I was missing something!"


His weekends were reserved for cycling to the university library that was 10 km away, to return the books that he had read and arrive home with a stack of fresh books pressed under the spring-loaded latch of the cycle's carrier.


The realisation of the "cycling genes" having gathered momentum over a generation dawned upon me when at 14, I felt compelled to pick up my bicycle and paddle the 65 km between Patiala and Malerkotla to meet 'old friends'. The fact that my father did not stop me and stopped my mother from stopping me raises suspicion in my mind, even today, that an agnostic apparently, he is a believer deep down.


My love affair with cycling has continued since then. As I grew up, pedalling 35, 70, 100 and 140 km in a day occasionally, I found cycling a meditative exercise. You can pedal long only if you attain the rhythm, letting your 'dhyana' percolate your leg, arm and chest muscles, the hip and the knee joints and maintain the pace that your lungs are good enough for. With practice body's efficiency does go up naturally and you can keep increasing the speed and the range till a point.


The combination of fresh air, the close-to-ground feeling and the slowly shifting scenery, that gives you time to absorb that you desire, is a tranquiliser that is healthful too.


The roads are a piece of life more on a bicycle than in a car. On bicycle you meet the generous farmer sitting proud on his tractor-trolley, who seeing your sweat-soaked shirt, offers a free ride for the next 10 km where his village road branches out, and a neo-rich ordering you with a honk from behind or a flashing headlight from the front, to shift to the berms lest you want to be his next victim, and a rugged villager pedalling 20-plus 20 km every day not as meditation but to save on bus fare to balance the budget.








Ever since the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was created as a separate and full-fledged ministry in 2004, there has been a slew of initiatives to engage the ubiquitous Indian diaspora in the development and political processes of the country in a meaningful manner.


The decision to observe three-day "Pravasi Bharatiya Divas", concluding on January 9, the date on which Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, is indeed a befitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, who espoused the cause of Indian immigrants abroad, particularly in South Africa.


Yet another major initiative in this regard is the scheme of overseas citizenship of India (OCI) in 2006 by amending the Citizenship Act, 1955. The scheme provides for the registration as overseas citizens of India (OCI) of all Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) who were citizens of India on or after January 26, 1950, or were eligible to become citizens of India and who are citizens of other countries, except Pakistan and Bangladesh.


A registered overseas citizen of India is granted multiple entry, multi- purpose, life-long visa for visiting India and is exempted from registration with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office for any length of stay in India.


Dr Manmohan Singh's statement at this year's Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that the non-resident Indians abroad would be able to exercise their franchise has raised a fresh hope for voting rights to Indian citizens living abroad.


The issue of granting voting rights to the non-resident Indians has engaged the attention of Parliament, the media and the judiciary for quite some time. As a matter of fact, as early as in 1998, a private members' Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha securing voting rights for its non-resident Indians. However, the Bill never came up for discussion since the Lok Sabha was dissolved.


It is pertinent to mention in this concern that under Article 326 of the Constitution of India the right to vote has been accorded a constitutional status. Article 326 stipulated that every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than eighteen years of age and is not otherwise disqualified under the Constitution or any law made by the appropriate legislature, is entitled to be registered as a voter.


As per the provisions of the Constitution, non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practices have been listed as disqualifications for restriction as a voter.


While Article 326 of the Constitution entitles the voting right to the citizens which is, in fact, one of the most basic democratic rights, Article 327 of the Constitution empowers Parliament to make provisions by law with respect to all matters relating to, or in connection with, elections to either House of Parliament or to the House or either House of the Legislature of a state, including the preparation of electoral rolls.


In exercise of such power, Parliament had enacted the Representation of the People Act, 1950. Section 28 of the Act has conferred the power to make rules on the Union Government after consulting the Election Commission for carrying the purpose of the Act. In exercise of such power, the Union Government has promulgated the Registration of Election Rules, 1960.


Section 19 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, prescribes the conditions of registration viz. (a) not less than eighteen years of age on the qualifying date; and (b) ordinary resident in a constituency.


Section 20 the Act deals with the term 'ordinary resident'. A sub-section thereof stipulates that a person absenting himself temporarily from his place of ordinary residence shall not by reason thereof cease to be ordinarily a resident therein.


Thus the Act only refers to the term "ordinarily resident" and exceptions thereto but it does not exactly define the term. The definition of the term has been left to be decided by the Central Government in consultation with the Election Commission of India through a notification in the official gazette.


Under the directions of the Election Commission of India, it has been left to the decision of the electoral registration officers to decide about the ordinary resident status of a person desiring to get his name included in the electoral rolls.


It was against this background that with the objective of giving voting rights to the non-resident Indians, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2006 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on February 17, 2006. Conferring such rights will enable them to participate in the elections and boost their involvement in nation-building. Accordingly, the government proposed to make a provision through legislation to enable the Indian citizens, absenting from their place of ordinary residence in India owing to their employment, education or otherwise, to get their names registered in the electoral rolls of the constituency concerned.


The Bill sought to amend Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950. As per the parliamentary

practice, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievance, Law and Justice by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha, on March 14, 2006. The committee submitted its report in August, 2006.


After taking into consideration the views and suggestions received from various quarters the committee recognised the fact that Indians living abroad take keen interest in the affairs of the country. The report mentioned that the estimated number of persons abroad outside India due to employment is five millions and the grant of voting rights will boost their involvement in nation-building.


However, the committee felt that the proposed amendment in its present form has got far-reaching consequences and may create some problems for a conservative society like India. It further observed that the term NRI has not statutorily been defined anywhere. The committee noted that Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, already contained a number of exemptions to the term 'ordinary resident' and felt that it would have been more appropriate if all the exemptions were provided in a single exemption clause.


After Dr Manmohan Singh's announcement regarding the voting rights for non-resident Indians, it is hoped that the government will amend the legislation providing for voting rights to the non-resident Indians.








How many demons must President Obama exorcise as he leads the US response to the catastrophe in Haiti? Demons, to be sure, of past neglect alternated with bouts of heavy-handed intervention. And there is a view that another demon belongs in the pack as well: that of his predecessor's response to hurricane Katrina.


To lay the ghosts of New Orleans, Mr Obama has to show himself concerned, up-to-date with what is happening on the ground, competent, and in command. Everything that George Bush so patently was not.


Yet, except in the broadest category of competence, Katrina is a distraction here. It is not just that an earthquake and a hurricane are different things, or that New Orleans was a first-world city in an advanced country, while Port-au-Prince most definitely was not. It is that New Orleans was unambiguously a US responsibility.


Part of the delay in co-ordinating emergency help might have stemmed from disagreements and misunderstandings between the state and federal authorities. But Katrina presented the distressing spectacle of a national government comprehensively failing its own citizens in their hour of need in the most elementary way.


Not only the logistics were at fault, but the appraisal of what was required; indeed, the understanding that there were any people, let alone tens of thousands, in desperate need at all. This was an emergency response that seemed to sum up in all sorts of ways the failings of George Bush's presidency. If a state cannot provide the most basic assistance to its own disaster-victims not two hours' flying time from the capital, what use is the state at all?


The task facing Mr Obama and his administration in dispatching aid to Haiti, beyond trying to project concern and competence, is quite different. In some ways, it is almost the opposite. In New Orleans, the US administration had a responsibility to take charge – and for too long, lamentably, did not do so. In Haiti – unless Mr Obama's United States wants to be in the business of colonisation and coups – it must avoid conspicuously throwing its weight about, or any appearance of trying to grab control.


The US administration's words and deeds since the earthquake, and most particularly Hillary Clinton's brief trip to Port-au-Prince, have provided a compelling study in post-Bush US diplomacy. The US may be sending troops – 3,000 initially, with another 7,000 committed, which makes the total akin to the whole British contingent in Basra – but this is an exercise that tests the practical limits of the sort of "soft" power Mr Obama favours.


First, the US is stressing that this is an emergency relief operation, not a move with any ulterior motive, such as extending US political or military sway. Mrs Clinton's official plane doubled as an aid-transport; on its return journey it evacuated US nationals.


Second, there has been a deliberate attempt to avoid any proprietorial inferences. The President, his spokespeople and above all his Secretary of State have been at pains to treat Haiti as a sovereign state, albeit one desperately weakened by catastrophe. Mrs Clinton made a point of meeting President Preval and his Prime Minister, in line with diplomatic protocol.


And there was a joint US-Haiti communiqué. The message was that the US wanted to support what remained of Haiti's always fragile state structures, not to undermine them. Both Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton have also used every opportunity to state their respect for the leading role of the United Nations in the relief operation. They appreciate, and are careful of, international precedence.


The difficulty is that appearance and reality conflict. The US is not only the closest developed state to Haiti, but probably the only one anywhere with the capacity to deliver relief on the scale required here. One of its first moves was to take control of the airport – prompting charges that US flights were being given precedence.


But few countries have the capacity to move so quickly, and the airport had to be secured and made operational as an absolute priority. As its troop numbers increases, the US will find it ever harder to claim that it is just another benevolent contributor.


What the US does or does not do in Haiti will not determine the reputation of Barack Obama's presidency at home, as Katrina coloured the second term of George Bush. But it will directly affect US relations with Haiti in coming years and convey a message about US intentions around the world. So far, Mr Obama, with the able support of Mrs Clinton, has tiptoed as delicately around the eggshells as it was possible to do. It will only become more difficult from now on.


By arrangement with The Independent








People don't normally associate politicians with happiness. Most hope that they'll keep public services ticking over and the economy on track but see happiness as something we struggle with in our private life.


That could be changing. This year's election could be the first when party policies are interrogated not just for their effects on economic growth or the NHS but also for their effects on happiness.


The main reason is a flood of evidence now available – from psychology and behavioural economics, neuroscience and sociology – about what does and doesn't make people happy.


It shows that although there is a strong genetic influence on wellbeing, people tend to be happier in democracies than dictatorships, with competent governments than incompetent ones and with equal societies rather than unequal ones.


Some evidence confirms common sense: for example, Henry James's comment that "true happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one's self. But the point is not only to get out, you must stay out.


And to stay out, you must have some absorbing errand". Some is surprising: most people have a stable level of happiness, bouncing back from setbacks (like a disability or divorce) and lucky breaks (like a lottery win).


Over the past five years such evidence has started to directly influence public policy. Dozens of schools in Tyneside, Manchester and Hertfordshire are teaching children how to be resilient and showing measurable results; lower depression, antisocial behaviour and better academic results.


Some journalists mocked the idea of "happiness classes" – before meeting teachers and children who'd experienced it and became converts. Many cities are encouraging neighbours to talk to each other – responding to evidence that, on balance, we're happier when we know our neighbours.


Much of this work is being led from the ground up, by imaginative local authorities. But it's also seeping into national argument and policy. The Department of Health has steadily expanded investment in mental health services, last year announcing plans for counselling in response to evidence that two in five people made unemployed over the last year have experienced mental ill-health.


President Sarkozy is the only international leader who feels at home in this space – last year commissioning a group of Nobel Prize winners to advise on how France should measure its progress.


But no British politician has seriously engaged with this field. David Cameron briefly toyed with it, suggesting two years ago that "it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general wellbeing". He soon got cold feet.


As the manifestos come out we should be asking whether politicians have considered the effects of their policies on wellbeing. It's not the only thing that matters. But it's a very odd political culture that sees spending on alcopops and cars, flat screen TVs and Channel perfumes, as somehow more real than human fulfilment.n


The writer is the co-author of The State of Happiness report, launched on Monday by the Young Foundation and the Improvement and Development Agency and is available at








Of late there has been a laudable attempt by India to mend fences with immediate neighbours, the 'success' of the visit by Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh being an example. Nepal has been another instance of a traditional ally threatening to drift away. The erstwhile Himalayan kingdom had historically enjoyed close rapport with India, being dependent on her to ward off any threats posed by expansionist entities such as China. In return India had been able to exploit Nepal's natural resources even as the latter provided an almost captive market for Indian products. Nepal has proved to be a happy hunting ground for Indian entrepreneurs with even multinational companies considering her to be merely an extension of their Indian operations. The Indian rupee circulates as freely in Nepal as its local counterpart while there has been free movement of workforces between the two countries. The monarchs who had earlier ruled the tiny kingdom had familial ties with princely Indian dynasties which furthered bonds that continued to strengthen after Nepal's shift towards democracy. However, with the entry of the Maoists, a thorn in the flesh of monarchical democracy, into the political mainstream, and their relatively strong showing in subsequent elections, relationship between Nepal and India has begun to sour. The very elements that had earlier ensured camaraderie are currently being touted by the Maoists as illustrative of an unequal partnership.

It is in this context that the recently concluded three-day visit to Nepal by India's External Affairs Minister, S. K. Krishna, assumed importance. As conceded by him one of the primary bones of contention between India and Nepal in general, and the Nepalese Maoists in particular, has been the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty, and this needs to be "re-visited" because sixty years have passed since it was signed, circumstances having changed both globally and regionally. Coming as it does in the face of increasingly hostile anti-Indian tirade, particularly by Maoist chief Prachanda, such a concession is not merely a significant, but also a rational one. Ideological affinities have made the Maoists look towards China rather than India as Nepal's logical partner, thereby undermining age-old affinities enjoyed by the two nations. China is doing its best to take advantage of the changed political scenario in Nepal, with Prachanda being welcomed with open arms when he made his maiden State-visit to that country. No doubt, currently deep fissures are visible in Nepal's political landscape and not all parties have adopted a virulently anti-Indian stance as the Maoists. Nor is there a ground-swell of anti-Indian feelings amongst the public in general. However, the Maoists today have become a key factor and needs to be assuaged if India-Nepal relations are to be kept on an even keel. Obduracy on the part of India might well drive Nepal into Chinese arms in the future.






Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar recently stated that insurgency in Tripura declined significantly with the setting in of the development process in the State. Sarkar, one of the longest serving Chief Ministers of the country, is correct in his assessment of the situation. The pace of development in Tripura has been visible, and has contributed largely to the decline of insurgency in the restive State. Sarkar also stated that even as the State was expediting the development process, it had an unflinching stand vis-à-vis maintenance of law and order and protecting the civilians from militant violence. This is an unambiguous stand, as the State is duty bound to protect the lives and property of the people. Irrespective of the merit in the grievances that an insurgent group might have, no Government can allow shedding of innocent blood. The Government has to be uncompromising when it comes to protecting its citizens even while pressing for a negotiated settlement of the issues raised by militant outfits.

While insurgent activities generally have their roots in some sort of ideology, it is often sustained by underdevelopment, unemployment and poverty. The situation in the insurgency-plagued North-East corroborates this. Insurgency has fed off the region's perennial backwardness. Lack of development had disillusioned a section of the populace in the existing system, and given the alarmingly high incidence of unemployment, it is hardly surprising that banned outfits are having a sustained flow of recruits. Decades of insurgency have led to such a situation that militant outfits now have little in the name of ideology, with minting money being the sole driving force. But again, it is the absence of development that is perpetuating this phenomenon. All this makes it clear that a holistic and long-term approach to counter insurgency has to address the issue of underdevelopment. The North-East continues to lag behind most other States of the country in terms of development and poverty-alleviation even after six decades of independence. Infrastructure bottlenecks, widespread poverty, restricted access to basic needs such as health care, sanitation, education, etc., and burgeoning unemployment have combined to make the region a breeding ground for insurgency. Regrettably, the liberal Central assistance that is coming of late has not been able to make any visible impact. Large-scale corruption has ensured that the backwardness continues to perpetuate with only a small percentage of the sanctioned funds actually reaching the beneficiaries. Only good governance with accountability can bring about a change in the situation.








Everyone in trouble torn Assam saw hope on the momentum of peace talks with ULFA following the arrest of its Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and other top leaders. But the high drama and confusion created by the stand of New Delhi and Dispur concerning the arrest and surrender culminating in the production of the detained leaders with handcuffs before the court have spoiled the peace initiative. The chances of redeeming the two decade old violence and terror in Assam are fast getting dimmer as all the political parties have shown their lack of any policy on peace talks and the non-representation of the voices of the masses. Moreover the verbal duel between the pro-talk faction of the outfit and C-in-C, Paresh Baruah in the media concerning the infamous Dhemaji blast has also affecting the public mind presently. Some sections are demanding immediate action against the Bangladeshis in Assam as a vendetta for the removal of safe haven of the ULFA leadership by Dhaka. This issue of Bangladesh tag needs to be highlighted again during the present juncture of the journey of ULFA.

ULFA shifted its bases to Bangladesh following Operation Bajrang launched by Indian Army in December, 1990. It started armed activities inside Assam from the Bangladeshi bases from 1991-92 onwards. Prior to these developments, during the initial rise of the outfit in 1987-90 there was no discussion or importance given to the issue of expelling illegal infiltrators of Bangladesh from Assam, the core demand of the Assam Agitation of 1979-95. During that period the euphoric regionalist camp like the AASU and AGP and the majority Assamese speaking supporters, media persons and intelligentsia were busy arguing about ULFAs demand of independent Assam and sovereignty forgetting the foreigner's issue that had charred the State only few years ago. That means a concept of independent Assam with millions of foreigners within its geographical boundary was romanticized or popularized.

That euphoria or obsession made us unaware of the fact that the Bangladesh National Party led by Begum Khaleda Zia formed a government in Bangladesh after winning the election in late 1991 ending the decade long dictatorial rule of Gen. Ershad. The founders of Khaleda's BNP were those ex-military officials who conspired the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975 and wanted to turn Bangladesh to an Islamist country from a secular democracy. Khaleda was and still known for her ultra anti-Indian stand who made close contacts with Pakistan and China to pressurize New Delhi besides crushing the opposition secular Awami League of Sheikh Hasina. She also invited the US Marine in the pretext of rescue operation following a cyclone. The Marines during Operation Sea Angel took many photographs of Indian positions inside Tripura which was exposed by scribe Subir Bhowmik. Kahaleda's anti India position enabled fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami, the army, Bangladesh Rifles and DGFI form a united stand along with pro-Pakistani organizations and establishments to emerge strongly in Bangladesh. During that time some ex-Afghan Mujahideens from Bangladesh returned home in 1994 and formed Huji. The massive rally to cross India by the Jamat members in protest against the demolition of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on 6th December, 1992 also took place during Khaleda's tenure along with the death fatwa on Taslima Nasrin by one cleric. It was very significant that ULFA took shelter in Bangladesh when the militant neo-Islamists blossomed and its political patronages were institutionalized in that country.


Since then reports of ULFA's involvement with anti-Indian forces of Bangladesh, Islamist groups, Pakistani intelligence and international Jehadi organizations have been flashed in the media. The outfit's silence on the illegal infiltration issue and killing spree on Hindi speaking people were attributed to their alleged bonhomie with such forces in Bangladesh. ULFA also did not change its position during the term of Sheikh Hasina's government in 1996-2441 and maintained its close ties with BNP It was benefited when Khaleda returned to power in 2001. It was reported that ULFA was involved in various attacks on Hasina and her party during that period while at the same time the hostilities by anti-Indian and Islamist groups were at their peak in Bangladesh. However ULFA did not learn any lesson from the post 9/11 strike when the entire world's viewpoint on terrorism has changed One of those changes was the rejection of Islamist ideology on State matters by common Muslims. ULFA failed to read the change of mood of voters in Bangladesh.

As there is no permanent friends and foes in politics. ULFA should have established links with Awami League while enjoying a safe haven in Bangladesh. Hasina is a liberal, secular, progressive leader whose government is a key element in eradicating religious terrorism and instability in South Asia. ULFA leadership is not oblivious of Hasina's pro-India stand and the fact that her government is also very crucial for entire North East Only her government can effectively handle the illegal infiltration to North East and spread of Jehadi forces and bring economic cooperation with trade and transit. A large chunk of the population in Assam is also very xenophobic about Bangladeshi presence. Therefore the ULFA leadership should have sensed the outcome of the overwhelming 95 victory of Awami League in Bangladesh's parliamentary elections early this year. Hasina's secular government is very important for India and Assam to wipe out anti-Indian activities of LeT, HuJI etc. Had ULFA made some gestures with Awami League Arabinda Rajkhowa would not have been arrested so easily and the outfit could have started a dialogue with India brokered by Dhaka in the coming days. India and Assam wish the secular government in Dhaka to act against the illegal infiltration and expansion of religious terrorism. Therefore the threat given by UEFA to the popular government in Dhaka for handing over its chairman to Indian authorities sounds ominous both for the outfit and Assam. It is equally paradoxical for ULFA to talk about the foreigners and illegal infiltration from Bangladesh now after these developments. We must resist the temptation of equating the ULFA problem with that of foreigner's issue at this time. Instead we must focus our attention to the ways and opportunities that can be availed from the progressive, secular, democratic government in Dhaka for the greater benefit of India and Assam.

(The writer teaches English at Lakhimpur Commerce College).  








Disaster mitigation involves adopting scientific and reliable measures to reduce the destructive effects of disaster on people, property, structures, economic and social fabric and environment. Natural disaster, in particular earthquake, may cause huge destruction of human property and life besides causing harmful effect which' may persist for several years after its occurrence. Such natural disaster cannot be stopped and therefore it is essential to take preventive measures at different levels in order to make the impact of such hazards as harmless as possible. In this context the UN General Assembly resolution 236 of 1989 is worth-mentioning. Accordingly the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR-1990-2000) was launched to reduce through concerted international action the loss of life, property damage, social and economic disruption caused by natural disaster. This effectively had set the trend in shifting the focus of attention from rescue and relief to preparedness and mitigation. Mitigation measures can reduce the destructive effects of our property in these days of rising economic and social cost. Developing technical know-how to reduce the impact of disaster is becoming important and there is need for realisation that the mitigation should be taken as an integral part of sustainable development. For example, better reinforcement of structures of a building to make it more resistant to earthquake damage are in-effect a preventive measure. On the other side, preparation measures are those which enable our society, government, organisation and individual to respond correctly and rapidly in. disaster situation. Both these two activities are important components of disaster mitigation. Preparation activities involve two types of activities – structural and non-structural. Structural activities include taking action to prepare ourselves for immediate arrival of a disaster and non-structural activities involve taking steps to minimize damage to property. It pertains to constructing disaster resistance structures of buildings, bridges etc and retrofitting existing structures to withstand the effect of earthquake. In case of an imminent flood, we can anchor boat and store our belongings in shades prior to the arrival of flood which will lessen the damage to personal property. On the other hand structural activities will include design and installation of warning system, adoption of emergency rescue system, zoning ordinance, land use planning and discouraging development in certain high hazard areas. A comprehensive emergency system includes response and recovery activity. Response activity occurs during or immediately after the earthquake which includes search and rescue operation, evacuation. emergency, medical care, food and shelter etc. Recovery activity designed to put the community back together and includes repair of roads, bridges and other public facilities, power, water and other municipal services and other activities that help normal operation of a community.

Mitigration helps to recognise and adopt ourselves to natural forces and evolving systematic action taken to reduce long-term vulnerability of human life and property. Mitigation activity has the potential to produce repetitive benefit over time and should concern events that may occur in future. Mitigation provides plans with guidelines for reducing vulnerability to future disaster damage. A fundamental premise of mitigation strategy is that financial aspect involved in mitigation significantly reduces the demand for any such future investment by reducing the amount needed for recovery, repair and reconstruction following a disaster.

Earthquakes are considered as one of the most dangerous and destructive natural hazards. The impact of this phenomenon is sudden with little or no warning. Therefore, we must evolve long-term as well as short-term measures to reduce the effects of earthquake on our property. It should be kept in mind that the damages of property and loss of lives are mainly due to lapse in the construction practices and lack of knowledge of public about what to do during and after earthquake. More people die because of collapse of walls, roofs, falling objects and debris not from direct shaking of the ground during an earthquake. It is very important to identify potential dangerous areas, take proper construction practices and implement BIS code for design and construction. Poor quality of construction, inadequate reinforcement, particularly in joints and column, use of heavy roof, unsymmetrical plan of building or with too many projections, very big room having long walls, unsupported by cross walls are some of the weaknesses for which measures are to be taken, particularly in seismically active areas. The short term measures include preparing emergency plan, creating public opinion, establishing contingency plan etc.

In orienting mitigation measures in big cities proper assessment of vulnerability of different electoral wards is necessary. Hazard mapping is to be undertaken for causative source area. The Geographic Information System (GIS) can also play a crucial role in the process of gathering and analysing information needed for disaster management. One of the critical components of the mitigation strategy is the training to be given to the officials and staff of various government departments. But it is necessary to back the government effort at community level. Programmes are to be undertaken to encourage public-private partnership to educate people to face disasters and their likely effects. The emergency programmes to be undertaken in case of a disaster, particularly earthquake are to be demonstrated in schools so that younger sections of our society in the event of an earthquake can take the emergency measures. There should be arrangement for organising publicity and education session through use of mass media like TV, Press and Radio.

Disaster vulnerability assessment should be incorporated in the development process at all levels so that future investment could reduce rather than increase vulnerability. Emphasis must be provided on proactive and pre-disaster measures rather than post disaster response. Rapid urbanisation has led to large concentration of people living in high apartment buildings which are liable to bear more risk in case a disaster like earthquake, occurs. Identification of hazard less areas in the city will help in location of industrial and urban development. Introduction of the legal enforcement of property insurance against damages as a result of earthquake, floods may be considered as one of the ways to ensure that building codes are followed properly.

The north-eastern region is one of the most hazardous earthquake prone areas. The two great earthquakes of 1897 and 1950 had very destructive effects in the region. Besides as many as twenty large earthquakes of magnitude 6 occurred in the area during the last 100 years. The long interval between the two great earthquakes may indicate progressively storing strain energy, which when exceeded the limit of endurance, may release energy suddenly and violently. Long interval of time of occurrence of two great earthquakes may create complacent feeling among the people of the region, but the danger is more serious because of rapid urban development, industry, hydroelectric project etc. Loss of life and property will be far more compared to the earlier two great earthquakes. The destruction of building, utility, structures and lines of communication, water supply, gas and electricity will be more. Traditional Assam type houses are replaced by high rise buildings and other structures and the loss will be more if a great earthquake occurs. It will be an enormous task to rebuild the cities and the need of the hour is to educate people by various means so that the destructive effect can be reduced to a minimum level.

(The writer is former Keshav Dev Malaviya Chair Profesor of DU and now emeritus fellow of GU)








Another British icon nears meltdown? If fears of the pungent smell of curry wafting around the factories of Jaguar and Land Rover were not enough — not to mention the masala in Tetley and Typhoo chai — now the Brits are waking up to the whiff of krafty goings-on around their favourite Cadbury chocolates.

Let's face it, they love the stuff: they gobbled up around £3.5-billion worth of those toothsome delights last year, even as they scoffed at the idea of Cadbury succumbing to amorous bids by its chocolatey American suitor, Hershey. Now, they have to face a cheesy future thanks to another, apparently successful, advance by Kraft Foods.

Of course, the American food conglomerate had already made its first British chocolate conquest when it acquired Terry's of York, but the overtures to Cadbury's had annoyed quite a few Britons over the past few months. After all, what do the Americans know about making chocolates?

The British, in fact, are eager to point out that even at mass-market level, their chocolates are better than the Americans', as they contain at least 20% cocoa solids by law, in comparison to the trans-Atlantic variants' 10% stipulation. Snooty European chocolatiers, however, are of a different calibre altogether as their products can contain over 40% cocoa solids. Be that as it may, the British aver that their taste differences go even deeper than the fact that Americans tend to use South American beans, while the British prefer West African cocoa. No, now they are citing fundamental ideological schisms. What's ideology got to do with a Creme Egg or a Dairy Milk bar, some may well ask.

The Brits will tell you that the sale of Cadbury will close a unique chapter of the chocolate story. By a quirk of fate, and a British rule that prevented Quaker Christians from going to university or holding public office until the 19th century, many turned to medicine and commerce. With chocolate being favoured by 18th century physicians for their medicinal qualities, it was a match made in heaven for canny Quakers like Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry, all of whose companies will now be part of non-denominational MNCs. No wonder the British are cheesed off.







The government's decision to withdraw recognition of as many as 44 deemed or autonomous universities suggests it is, at last, getting serious about cleaning up the mess in higher education. The 44 deemed universities, identified by a committee set up under the chairmanship of Dr P N Tandon, suffer from a host of ills, ranging from family rather than professional management to arbitrariness in admission and levy of exorbitant fees.

Even assuming there will be no legal challenges and government will be able to close these universities, given the extent of rot in the system — poor quality education, inadequate facilities, lack of accountability and poor quality outcome — it is a long haul yet. Nonetheless, initiation of corrective action is welcome.

The government already has a blueprint in the June 2009 report of the Yashpal Committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education. Indeed, the committee had urged a temporary halt to granting deemed university status, for much the same reasons identified by the Tandon committee. It had also recommended that all private institutions seeking university status submit to a national accreditation system.

Given the rampant corruption in professional councils that confer recognition on various professional courses, it suggested a new apex higher education authority that would subsume all such councils and the University Grants Commission. Instead of being a licensing-cum-approval body, this apex body would be charged with ensuring the fitness of those who wish to practice in their respective fields. From the current inspection-approval method, it would move to a verification and authentication system. It would conduct regular qualifying tests for professionals in their respective fields with the role of professional councils limited to prescribing the syllabi for such exams and universities free to design their own curriculum keeping the syllabi in mind. Can we hope to see some more action to take this forward?







The widely-reported hacking of a series of important websites in mid-December, including that of Google and India's National Security Advisor, serve to focus attention on yet another vulnerable frontier. These attacks are believed to have originated in China, but such attacks can be launched from locations quite different from the one from where they are orchestrated.

The hacking, in the present case, did not do much damage, according to the outgoing NSA, Mr M K Narayanan. Was that luck or by design? Do we have in place the needed systems to counter cyber attacks? The US created, in 2003, a set up called US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a public-private partnership venture that educates the public and large organisations in particular on passive and active resistance to possible cyber attacks. This model makes eminent sense. It is not just computers in the prime minister's office or the defence ministry that need protection. Given the increasing use of Scada systems that use computers to monitor and control industrial operations, the nation can be brought to a halt by terrorists or hostile powers taking control of computers in what are normally considered civilian installations.

From power stations to sugar factories, dam sluice gates to suburban train signalling systems, banks to stock exchanges, most large complex systems are controlled by computers. If hostile elements gain control of these decidedly-civilian establishments, they can create havoc. Therefore, cyber security has to go beyond securing overtly sensitive systems such as in the government and the defence network. And securing all enterprises dispersed across the nation cannot be undertaken by a single agency. The lay users of computers, and not just information officers, need to be trained to be on guard against potential threats.

The internet, by definition, is a collection of networks interlinked by common technical protocols that allow someone on one network to use another network. Its architecture does not guard against malice. Additional safety protocols, covering technology, laws, behaviour, training and personnel verification, will have to be deployed, to guard against cyber attacks. We need a national mission on it.








Just four years ago, the thought that an Afro-American with the middle name of Hussein could be elected to the top political job in the US in the wake of 9/11 would have been regarded as stretching the bounds of fantasy. Today, it will be exactly a year since Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the US.

Obama was undoubtedly helped by the fact that the US economy was on the skids, that thousands of sub-prime mortgage loans went into default as did the banks which packaged and sold them and that a double whammy of people losing their homes and jobs would almost cripple the credit-card culture which had become a way of life in America. It was inevitable that the Republicans would be routed no matter whom they nominated in the 2008 elections to the White House.

Obama's real achievement was winning the Democratic presidential nomination by defeating the odds-on favourite Hillary Clinton. In his biography, Renegade (named after the US Secret Service codename for Obama), Newsweek's senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe narrates how President Bush was convinced in February 2007 that Hillary would be the Democratic presidential nominee even though he rated Obama as "a phenomenon and very attractive".

In retrospect, it seemed a masterstroke that Obama financed his campaign through internet-contributions by millions of small donors unlike Hillary whose affluent backers were circumscribed by the individual cap on funding. Obama's reliance on fieldwork by thousands of youth volunteers, who were inspired by the freshness of his message of "Yes we can" (bring about change), helped him win the first caucus in Iowa, and after that there was no looking back. Being an Afro-American helped him since there was a committed vote to which he added on.

Wolffe, who travelled with the Illinois senator from the moment he launched his campaign to the day he was elected to the White House, describes the seemingly contradictory qualities which took Obama to the US top political job: "He was highly disciplined, supremely self-confident, and he possessed the rare ability to act both as a team-player and a star athlete." Wolffe's book stops with the election. President Obama has brought the same disciplined focus to bear on the major challenges he faced in his first year in office. His first task was to manage the level of expectations aroused by his election, especially on the two fronts of health-care (where the reforms were modified to get bipartisan support) and the economy (where he kept reminding the American people that it would take years to recover from the recession despite the stimulus packages). Vis-a-vis the two wars he inherited, he scaled down the level of commitment in Iraq on which Bush had been focused for almost six years.

However, even while switching troops to Afghanistan, Obama sought to ensure that the Karzai government would get its act together by announcing that US soldiers would withdraw in 2011.

The year 2011 is when Obama has to focus on getting re-elected in the presidential polls of November 2012. His approval ratings are dropping and he will have to run on his own record but Obama could surprise us again in the future just as he did by first winning the Democratic presidential nomination. Yet, as Wolffe notes, even during the most intensely scrutinised presidential campaign in history, "something remained hidden about his character, suppressed about his moods, something remained unsettling for many pundits and voters who couldn't quite pin him down as a black leader or pop celebrity, as a fiery preacher or closet radical". Just when the Norwegian parliamentary panel had decided to award him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for taking an unequivocal stand on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Obama dwelt in his acceptance speech at Oslo not on the NPT but on the necessity of conflict to keep the forces of evil at bay even while protesters outside the venue kept chanting, "Yes we can, yes we can/End the war in Afghanistan"!

Great presidents grow in the job like another Illinois senator called Abraham Lincoln did after getting elected to the White House. The US first Afro-American president stands on the threshold of greatness, something he himself is well aware of. Wolffe notes that when Barack's basketball buddy Marty Nesbitt asked him "What makes a great president?" during a Hawaiian holiday when he finally decided to run for the top job, Obama's reasoned reply was that "what makes a great president, as opposed to a great person, is the juxtaposition of that president's personal characteristics and strengths with the needs of the American people and country." Early in the campaign when his wife asked him what he thought he could accomplish as president, he replied, "the day I take the oath of office, the world will look at us differently. And millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently. That alone is something."








What should people desire in life? The answer would depend on who is doing the desiring, and at what stage of life, and under what sort of circumstances. In Mahabharata, for example, King Yayati, who became prematurely old due to a curse from his father-in-law, desperately desired renewal of his lost youthfulness.

The man who put the hex, Sage Shukracharya, merely wanted to teach King Yayati a lesson for having cheated on his daughter, Devyani. On her part, Devyani was mightily peeved at this sudden disruption of her marital happiness. She was also more concerned about having borne fewer children than her rival Sharmishta (the daughter of Davana King Vrishaparva, who was the patron of Sage Shukracharya)!

So when Devayani begged her father to grant a reprieve to her chastened husband, the Sage relented to say that the King may exchange his advanced years but only with a willing youth and if he were to re-exchange his newly acquired youth, he would die at once.

None of Devayani's sons was willing to take part in the bizarre exchange with their pleasure-loving father who ultimately got his youth from Puru, his righteous son from Sharmishta.

The moral of the story deals with the futility of trying to attain salvation by appeasing the bodily pleasures because these, by their very nature, are insatiable. One resolution to the dilemma comes from the other end of the world, from the poet Juvenal, who in his Satire X, opines that it is infinitely better to ask for "a sound mind in a healthy body (Sit mens sana in corpore sano)."

The poet also exhorts humans to "ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death, which places the length of life last among nature's blessings, which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings, and which does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes the hardships and savage labours of Hercules better than the satisfactions, feasts, and feather bed of an Eastern King (such as Yayati)."

But this just seems like a Utopian poetic fantasy. After all, who, except a chronic workaholic, would trade the pleasures of a sumptuous silken bed to the proverbially horrid task of cleaning the Augean stables? Better to eschew extremes and to opt for the middle way between the poles. A classic example is that of the Buddhist Middle Way, which steps away both from sensual indulgence and self-mortification, towards a new synthesis of enlightenment or bodhi.








A Partial rollout of the goods and services tax (GST) is possible only if major states agree to a transition from the value added tax (VAT) regime to GST. This requires the states to be fully prepared in terms of the basic infrastructure to track transactions of all goods and services. However, it would be far more desirable to have a full rollout of GST. There will be two distinct advantages when all states, major and minor, come on board. Firstly, it will remove the cascading effect of multiple taxes at the central and state levels. Sec-ondly, it will enable a seamless flow of goods and services across the country.

This will not be possible in a partial rollout that will also dilute the objective of having a unified common market. Besides, it will also hin-der the movement of goods and services across state borders and checkposts, adversely impacting supply chains in the industry. Deliveries could be delayed and, hence, there won't be a significant reduction in transaction costs. This, in turn, would mean that retail prices would not witness a steep decline.

A partial rollout of GST could also pose the danger of creating distortions for some businesses. Hence, it would be better to postpone the rollout rather than have a partial one. An ad-hoc system will dilute the ad-vantages of a full-fledged GST over the existing VAT regime. GST will be a game-changer when all states participate in the transition because it would be the most significant economic reform in recent times. A full-fledged GST, when implemented, will radically alter the way tax is levied and this will have a positive impact on businesses and their operations. It will increase economic activity and bolster tax collections in the long run, improving the tax-GDP ratio.

GST will be a win-win situation for all stakeholders: businesses, government and consumers. All these will remain hypothetical in a partial rollout. In sum, a partial rollout will not be as beneficial as a full rollout and will, perhaps, lead to distortions and confusion for business and industry.








Climategate-I was the revelation that climate scientists crusading over global warming at East Anglia University had tried to censor inconvenient data and shut dissenters out of academic journals. Climategate-II is the revelation that the 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change, saying Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035, was not science at all but idle, unsubstantiated speculation.

It speaks volumes for the huge biases within IPCC that it took two years for this hoax to be exposed. Any hoax opposing the global warming thesis would be exposed in ten seconds flat. The IPCC is willing to swallow unexamined what it finds convenient, while raising a thousand technical objections to anything inconvenient. This is religious crusading, not objective science. The tactics being used to discredit and destroy heretics is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.

Climategate-II is also a sad example of green imperialism. Rather than accept the findings of foreign scientists alone, Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, appointed a panel of Indian scientists on Himalayan melting. "My concern is that this comes from western scientists ... it is high time India makes an investment in understanding what is happening in the Himalayan ecosystem."

The Indian panel, headed by V K Raina, looked at 150 years of data gathered by the Geological Survey of India from 25 Himalayan glaciers. It was the first comprehensive study of the region. It concluded that while Himalayan glaciers had long been retreating, there was no recent acceleration of the trend, and nothing to suggest that the glaciers would disappear. In short, the IPCC had perpetrated an alarmist hoax without scientific foundation.

Scotching IPCC claims that the Gangotri glacier was retreating at an alarming rate, the Raina Panel said this glacier, the main source of the Ganges, actually receded fastest in 1977, and "is today practically at a standstill".

Raina said that the mistake made by western scientists "was to apply the rate of glacial loss from other parts of the world to the Himalayas... In the United States the highest glaciers in Alaska are still below the lowest level of Himalayan glaciers. Our 9,500 glaciers are located at very high altitudes. It is a completely different system."
Justifiably, Jairam Ramesh felt vindicated. But the Raina report threatened the claim of IPCC scientists to omniscience and Nobel Prize status. Rajendra Pachauri, President of the IPCC, told The Guardian newspaper, "We have a very clear idea of what is happening. I don't know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement." He dismissed the Raina report saying it was not "peer reviewed" and had few "scientific citations". He even went to the extent of calling it "schoolboy science."

Well it takes a schoolboy to reveal that the Emperor has no clothes. We now know that the IPCC claim on glaciers was a hoax. It was based on a speculative comment made in 1999 to a reporter by Syed Hasnain, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. This was then repeated by several green publications, without further verification.

Goebbels once said that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will think it is the truth. The glacier fiasco is the latest example of this. Scientists are supposed to ask hard questions about spectacular new claims. Instead, the IPCC simply accepted without verification the reports of Himalayan glacial melting, and prominently highlighting this in its 2007 report.

Pachauri appointed Hasnain as a senior fellow at Teri. Together, they raised millions from international donors for research on glaciers at Teri. But when Climategate-II came to light, Pachauri declared that he had no responsibility for what Hasnain may have said! And Hasnain said, rather cheekily, that the IPCC had no business to cite his comments!

Pachauri is reported to have said in a telephonic interview, "We are looking at the issue and will be able to comment on the report after examining the facts. The science doesn't change: Glaciers are melting across the globe and those in the Himalayas are no different. We're not changing anything till we make an assessment."

Clearly the true climate denier is Pachauri: he swears by glacial apocalypse even after its exposure as a hoax. When the Raina panel produced solid scientific evidence challenging the glacier melting thesis. Pachauri instantly decried it as schoolboy science and said condescendingly that it was not peer-reviewed. Yet he was happily willing to sanctify schoolboy speculation on glacial melting, and so were other members of the IPCC. All their high-faulting talk of peer-reviewed science proved to be just a tactic to keep out inconvenient views.
IPCC scientists responsible for this fiasco must resign. The 2007 IPCC report must be amended, preferably with an apology.

Various green NGOs — including one I respect, the Centre for Science and Environment — backed the IPCC against the Raina Panel. They blindly echoed western scientists with less intimate knowledge of the Himalayas than our own scientists. Stalin would have called this a case of Indian compradors acting as the lackeys of western imperialists, and on this occasion I would find it hard to disagree with him.

These green groups claim to be watchdogs for civil society, and often do a good job. But in this case they blithely allowed a hoax to go unchallenged for two years.

Glacier alarmism is not new. Greenpeace once published photos showing the rapid retreat of the Uppsala Glacier in Argentina, ascribing this to global warming. But when I visited the glacier, I was told that global warming was too gradual to account for the dramatic retreat of the glacier, and clearly powerful local causes were responsible. Of several glaciers descending from the South Andean Icefield, Uppsala was retreating, Perrito Moreno was advancing, and several others were stable. Such varying outcomes obviously reflected local geoclimatic variations, not global climate at all.

Will Greenpeace admit it? Not a chance. But if the IPCC wants to make amends for Climategate-II, perhaps it can start by apologising for glacier alarmism. That will help restore its scientific credibility.








Don't be surprised if you see brightly painted T- shirts and sarees around North Block. It's just a harbinger of changes to be brought in by Kaushik Basu, the Cornell economist who has taken over as the chief economic advisor to the finance ministry. Mr Basu enlists his plans to attain double-digit growth rates in an interview with ET NOW's Abha Bakaya. Excerpts:

Bureaucracy can frustrate best of men in India. For an academicturned-advisor , it might be difficult to push through implementation ?

I know there will be severe restrictions compared with the theoretical world. I am a theorist, but I do have enough common sense to know that the government is bureaucratic. I'm learning the ropes and the insights I'm gaining are extremely useful. I now know exactly where restructuring is required. I'm also surprised at the high level of hard work being put in. It's one of the best and most capable governments we've had in recent times. It's the procedures that are wrangled up and need modifying. I had been warned of an insider lobby and an outsider lobby at play. Maybe I'm being naïve , but I have not sensed any such thing as yet.

How would you define your role?

There is a need to think out of the box and I am an outsider. I've worked in many different contexts. For instance, inflation control is a political import and it has people concerned. There are 3 standard solutions to the problem, but there are 5-6 new things we can try.

And what chance do these have of being implemented?

People are open to listening and that's important. Hopefully some of these suggestions will translate into action.

How soon do you think we'll see food prices cooling off?

The measures have been put into place. They will cool off in 1-2 months.

What's your GDP number?

It's 7.5%. We've got a great stimulus package. Better than many of the international ones. It's a question of sustenance . The entire Indian growth story is not on the back of stimulus measures. From 2003 to 2007, we saw 9% growth. Recession came in last year and we needed rescuing. We're already back to 7.5% and am sure we can end next year at 9% once again. I'm confident we'll be breaking 10% growth in 4-5 years, unless there's another unforeseen event like another US recession, which is unlikely.

Your approach to reforms?

Expect good reforms that will last 20 years. That will establish the new government . Some of the issues that need to be addressed include speeding up the bureaucracy . It should take less time to start up a business and it should also be quicker to wrap up. It should be quicker and cheaper to enforce a contract. Bureaucracy can grow, but it needs to be more effective. The US has more laws than us. The number of laws is not the problem, but it's how you administer them.

And on the economic agenda?

India will be a bigger exporter. This needs strategising. We've done well when it comes to IT, pharma and auto. Now, we need to focus on textiles and garments. We have natural strengths which we can use to grow rapidly. An export thrust is on the cards. The government has been spending on social progress, but there are still leakages. If we plug these then we can get twice the bang for the buck. A good identification system, like the UID, can be the crux of a good anti-poverty programme . Once we have the system by 2012 we can backpack on that. That's the third agenda.

The government will have to take a call on the rollback of stimulus measures sooner or later? What's your take on this issue?

The question is when? Rollback stages need to be decided, that's all. Stimulus measures have been put in place globally so there is a need for global coordination . China is not transparent enough. The US began the rollback process, but then realised it was too soon so has stepped back. And unemployment continues to be a huge issue in the US.

Any rate tightening expected in the monetary policy?

A wait and watch approach is being followed . I am confident that inflation will turn around. So hopefully we'll get around without needing to tamper with the rates.

How are you adapting to the new role?

It's the start of a good run for India. I sense winds of change and that's why I'm here. Otherwise I love my academic life. Though I could say I'm busier than would have cared for! And yes, I hardly get time now for my various hobbies --one of which is to paint. And why paint on paper when you have something more permanent and usable like a Tshirt or a saree. That's something I enjoy doing in my spare time.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Some of the finest educational institutions in the country are "deemed universities". In recent decades, however, a proliferation of so-called educational centres has taken place whose existence has little to do with the pursuit of excellence. The government has, therefore, correctly decided to eliminate those that do not make the grade. The HRD minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, is even said to be contemplating doing away with the concept of "deemed universities" altogether. Should he choose to go that far, he will of course be called upon to find ways to preserve and protect those centres of excellence that have earned fame for themselves and have served a national cause by producing first-rate professionals. The government-appointed Tandon Committee, in a recent report, has determined that only 38 of the 130 "deemed universities" that exist justify the confidence placed in them. It is these that will have to be nurtured even if such a category eliminated. This tag goes back to British India, when newly emerging centres of study were given a special status so that they might further their search for excellence with a minimum of fuss in an atmosphere of academic autonomy. Several of these institutions were in the field of engineering and applied science and had come up on account of philanthropic interest that were far removed from the commercial crassness that has come to inform the purpose and motivation behind the setting up of professional colleges and "deemed universities" in our own times. Since the first modern-style colleges and universities established by the colonial rulers aimed at creating a pool of educated Indians who could fill subordinate positions in the administration, under the influence of Lord Macaulay's minutes, it was left to wealthy and philanthropic Indians themselves to create educational centres that dealt with science and engineering, a fine example of which is the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, established at the behest of the Tatas around a hundred years ago. Institutions of such pedigree were made "deemed universities". In independent India, too, many fine centres of learning came up and given the same status. Often they grew out of government initiative, and many others received government aid. But in due course the concept came to be degraded. Today the situation is such that the HRD ministry has decided to close down as many as 44 "deemed universities". It is a matter of concern that several of these are government-run. Another 44 are on a watch list and have been given three years to correct deficiencies and distortions. In effect, what the Tandon Committee has revealed is that only a quarter of the existing deemed universities make the cut. The reason is that politicians and local thugs took over the education business in India, and used their clout with government to secure "deemed university" status. No one should be surprised if research reveals that the recognition was purchased in a large number of cases. Such recognition was required to attract unsuspecting students who would agree to pay hefty fees, given that the demand for university education has exploded in the country. A nation seeking to expand the frontiers of knowledge is better off without the "deemed universities" controlled often by family-run concerns whose interest in education is not genuine.








On completing his first year in the White House, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, has lost some of the shine he had exuded during the campaign trail and, even more, at his inauguration where nearly two million people crowding Washington's mall had cheered him to the skies. If the mood has changed materially since then, in both his country and the outside world, it is because of the gap between his promises, made in bracing rhetoric, and his performance. He had aroused great expectations of a revival of economy and restoration of self-confidence nationally and an era of peace and cooperation globally. On both counts there have been serious shortcomings.


To say this is not to suggest that America's 44th President has achieved nothing. On the contrary, there is little doubt that after the worst recession in 80 years, the American economy has begun to stabilise. But what his countrymen are incensed about is a whopping increase in unemployment. It is much higher today than the President had said it would be at its peak. Again, it is to his credit that he has, for the first time in a generation, devised a law that now looks like being adopted and under which affordable healthcare would hopefully be available to virtually every American citizen. Yet, there are admittedly serious flaws in the scheme, the biggest of these being its stupendous costs which, combined with the mind-boggling national debt (likely to soar to $12 trillion by 2015), can bankrupt the federal government. Nothing has been done about this problem throughout 2009.


Mr Obama's latest strategy on the war in Afghanistan — announced after protracted dithering because of differences within the team of his advisers and his propensity to stay above the fray — has also drawn flak. In his attempt to please all he seems to have displeased both the supporters and opponents of the "surge". His decision to send 30,000 more troops to the rugged country in the Hindu Kush has dismayed many of its supporters because of his simultaneous declaration that withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would begin in 18 months. His critics scoff that all the Taliban need to do is to be patient and wait until the Americans pack up and go.


Though Mr Obama has taken some action against torture, he has singularly failed to live up to his promise to shut down the monstrous Guantanamo prison. A lot more can be said about broken promises and half-hearted new moves but that is not necessary. The revealing reality is that his approval ratings have fallen sharply from 70 per cent to below 50 per cent. The proportion of the Americans that strongly disapprove of the job he is doing has risen from 12 per cent to 44 per cent in just 12 months. No wonder the Republicans are heartened. They believe they would re-win the House of Representatives and cut to size the Democratic "supermajority" in the Senate later this year.


Mr Obama's international agenda is also in a tattered state. His determination to press the "reset button" on relations with Russia, say his critics, has turned out to be "nothing more than a click".


There is no sign of a new START agreement. Even more conspicuously, his two major and much welcomed initiatives — for resolving the Palestine issue and for total elimination of nuclear weapons — have fallen flat. Israel has disdainfully rejected even his appeal to end the construction of settlements on Palestinian territory. Nor is there any hope of universal nuclear disarmament, notwithstanding the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to him. On the vital climate change issue also his record is dismal. Having failed to persuade the US Congress to endorse the Kyoto Protocol, whereupon he demanded of developing countries to accept legally binding cuts in emissions of carbon, he got some credit at the Copenhagen conference. He managed to get 26 nations, including India and China, to accept the only feasible deal.


The rub, however, is that even this deal is unlikely to be adopted by Congress. The President's exertions are therefore in danger of becoming a fiasco. The problems of North Korea's nuclear missiles and Iran's nuclear ambitions remain as intractable as they were.


Arguably the most worrisome element in Mr Obama's foreign policy has been his embrace of China. He has his compulsions of course, most notably the economic clout China wields over the recession-hit US, especially because of its holdings of $2 trillion. Even so, many Americans felt offended when, on the eve of his visit to Beijing in November, the President refused to receive the Dalai Lama and downgraded the human rights issue. From this country's point of view, the Obama visit to China was disquieting because he gave China a role in maintaining peace and stability in South Asia by promoting a dialogue between India and Pakistan. Later, however, during the Prime, Dr Minister Manmohan Singh's state visit to Washington, Mr Obama was reassuring about his China policy vis-à-vis India. On his part Dr Singh made no bones about what he feels about China in the East and about terrorism in "AfPak" in the West. When Japan's new Prime Minister, Mr Yukio Hatoyama, was in New Delhi recently, it transpired that Tokyo is even more concerned about America's China policy than New Delhi is. Evidently, what irritates the Obama administration is Mr Hatoyama's insistence on making Japan-US relations more equal than so far and his more radical policy on American bases in Okinawa than was the case under the previous Japanese government. There is a lot of resentment in Japan over America's attempt to "browbeat" it over the Okinawa issue, as became evident at a meeting in Hawaii last week between the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton, and her Japanese opposite number, Mr Katsuya Okada.


All things considered, Mr Obama still has a better image than his predecessor, Mr George W. Bush, who proved to be the most unpopular President in recent American history. It is a different matter, however, that no American President has been friendlier to India than Mr Bush.









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 Communist 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 United States 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 Communist 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 a 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.








In Romeo and Juliet, when Shakespeare said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, perhaps he did not realise that centuries later God by any other name could not be called Allah by all.


Even as the New Year began the world over, there were a series of attacks on churches in Malaysia leaving the country in a state of uneasy calm. In recent times, hate attacks on religious centres of the minority Hindu and Christian community in Malaysia have been on the rise. For a country that prided itself on its multiculturalism and plurality, Malaysia today stands at a crossroads — trying to get a grip, first on the divergent views of Islam that exist within the country, and also for accommodating open and frank dialogue between various religious groups within the state, in which the government remains a non-partisan player.


The current controversy results from the use of the word Allah by a Christian journal, Herald. A Catholic journal that has been in publication for several years is now facing threat of religious attacks because of its use of the word "Allah" which in Arabic means God. From December 31, 2009, the raging religious tirade in Malaysia has grown stronger against the use by non-Muslims of the word Allah.


According to the Islamic community, Allah is a word that is integral to Islamic faith and represents God in the Islamic world. The use of Allah in Christian journals is seen by many as an attempt to undermine Islamic faith and the status that the word "Allah" has within that faith. It is also being seen as a manipulative measure by which several people may be confused with the term Allah and may seek refuge in Christianity in the belief that Allah is the same as understood within the Islamic faith.


Even as incidents unfold, it needs to be mentioned that racial and religious tensions have not been extreme in Malaysia, though there have been fissures of late. While for much of its history Malaysia has remained a peaceful and plural society, there has been a spurt in both religious and racial violence over the past decade.


The racial riots of 1969 were the first of its kind and led to a change in government policy. Indigenous Malay community was given the privilege of "Bhumiputera", or sons of the soil benefits. Following this there have been development programmes and educational measures that specifically target the Malay community — ethnically the Malays constitute nearly 60 per cent of the population.


The New Economic Policy sought to alleviate the Malay community from its backwardness and allow for its

economic and social development but it simultaneously alienated the other ethnic minorities. Ethnic Chinese had the control of the economic platform and so managed to do relatively better as compared to the ethnic Indian community.


The politics of Islam also entered this as the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) began to court Islam in an effort to undermine the growing popularity of the Malaysian Islamic Party. This growing attempt to draw the Islamic community into its support base led to greater leveraging by Islamic groups attempting to foster a sense of identity based on religion within Malaysia.


This controversy predates the current incident. As early as 1986, the Malaysian interior ministry had banned the use of the word Allah to represent God in Christian publications. This was done on the grounds that the proselytisation activities, especially in remote areas, targeted several uneducated groups and the use of the word Allah would create confusion and lead to national unrest. Even though this ruling was in place it was never enforced.


Interestingly, the word predates the Islamic faith itself. In fact, in many Arabic countries the word Allah has been used by minority Christian groups, especially in Egypt and Syria. In Bahasa, a regional language which is common to Indonesia and Malaysia, Tuhan or God is also generally known as Allah by people of both the Islamic and Christian faith. In Indonesia, both Tuhan and Allah refer to God.


In December 2007, the Malay Chinese Islamic Association and several other Islamic councils filed a case against the Malay language Christian weekly Herald for its use of the word Allah. This petition was supported by the UMNO government since it felt that the usage would lead to communal tensions and subsequently undermine national and religious harmony. The Opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, led by Anwar Ibrahim supported the use of Allah for God.


On December 31, 2009, a high court decision backed the Herald's usage of Allah for God as a constitutional right. However, the decision was later stayed when the verdict was appealed. The appellate court is yet to give its opinion on the matter.


In the meantime, the violence that has rocked the churches in Malaysia in protest of this once again brings to light the tenuous nature of the inter-religious ties within this country. Till date nine churches have been attacked with Molotov cocktails. The legal firm representing the Herald has also been attacked. And there have been attempts to hack the website of the journal which has been stalled as well.


During Friday prayers the Islamic community has been called upon to carry out protests against this issue. While the government has been able to forestall the protests on the grounds that it is against the law, there is an uneasy tension that pervades till the appellate court's decision is made.


The Malay government under Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to quell the issue in order to ensure that

there is no religious unrest. But the manner in which it is pandering to a minority opinion on what constitutes

Malay Islam is leading to a more rigid and intolerant community. It needs to instead look at the various interpretations of Islam and allow for greater dialogue and exchange of views. This will broaden the process in which several versions of Islam need to be accommodated.


Inter-faith dialogue also needs to be encouraged as a means of practice towards more inclusive approaches which is currently not there. Unless these matters are addressed the goal of "One Malaysia", which has been Mr Razak's slogan for a country that has equal respect for all races, will remain merely rhetorical.


-- Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts

Last week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, found himself in trouble for once suggesting that US President 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". Reid was not expressing sadness but a gleeful opportunism that Americans were still judging one another by the colour 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.


This isn't racism, per se — it's colourism, an unconscious prejudice that isn't focused on a single group like blacks so much as on blackness itself. Take, for instance, two of 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 Hawthorne shot him when he was lying face down. 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 Porter even though he was sure that he was the wrong man. Two people who provided an alibi for Porter were mysteriously never called to testify. During his trial, 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 Hawthorne was given a life sentence, while the dark-skinned Porter has spent more than a quarter-century on Pennsylvania's death row.


Colourism also influenced the 2008 presidential campaign. Political operatives are certainly aware of this dynamic. During the campaign, a conservative group created attack ads linking Obama with Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, which darkened Kilpatrick's skin to have a more persuasive effect.


In highlighting how Obama benefited from his links to whiteness, Harry Reid punctured the myth that Obama's election signalled the completion of the Rev. King's dream. Americans may like to believe that we are now colour-blind, that we can consciously choose not to use race when making judgments about other people. 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 HarvardUniversity and a reporter for the Washington Post, is the author of the forthcoming book The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives








One of my favourite Sufis is Baba Farid Ganje-e-Shakar, the disciple of Kwhaja Qutub who established the first Sufi centre in Delhi, which became the heart of the Sufi movement during the 13th century. This December ushers in the 1431st year of the Islamic calendar that begins with Prophet Mohammad's hijrah, migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. It consists of 12 months with 354-55 days with 29 or 30 days, depending on the sighting of the new moon. The 10th of Muharram marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the Prophet's grandson at Kerbala and the fifth, the death anniversary of Baba Farid.


It is believed that overpowered by hunger after three days of incessant fasting, Baba Farid had put some pebbles in his mouth, which turned into shakkar (sugar). Another popular anecdote explaining the Sufi's title, Ganj-e-Shakar meaning treasury of sugar, emanates from an event in his childhood: To encourage the habit of offering mandatory prayers, his mother routinely rewarded her son by placing some sugar under his prayer carpet. One day at the early morning prayer, although she forgot to place the sugar, the child found it under the carpet. Sufi piety attributes this miracle to divine intervention.


Baba Farid, the first Sufi poet of Punjab settled on the banks of the Sutlej, and his village Ajodhan came to be called Pakpattan, "the ferry of the pure". He lived a life of contemplation and poverty advising: "If you desire greatness, associate with the downtrodden". Baba Farid's assemblies attracted scholars, merchants, government servants, artisans and mystics from all sections of the society. A broad range of discussions were held and the visitors included countless yogis who shared their philosophies and breathing techniques with the khanqah inmates.


Baba Farid composed meditation prayers in Punjabi for his disciples, many of which are still recited by devotees from the Chishti discipline. His poetry had a deep impact on Guru Nanak and 134 of the Sufi poet's hymns are also included in the Sikh holy scriptures. It is said that Guru Nanak composed the famed Asa ki var, a morning hymn sung by Sikhs, at the khanqah of the Baba upon a request by one of his successors Shaykh Ibrahim known as Farid, the second.


Baba Farid taught that knowledge of the religious laws should bring humility and one should act upon it rather than harass people with it. He preached that a true mystic aroused love and affection in people's hearts. Baba Farid remained devoted to God reciting:


I love thee: I love thee, Is all that I can say,


It is my vision in the night, My dreaming in the day:


The blessings when I pray, I love thee: I love thee: Is all that I can say.


— Sadia Dehalvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam









Shashi Tharoor may have reason to react not just with dismay but with disgust at reports that he has used his position to compel his ministry to purchase 150 copies each of three of his books to be kept in missions abroad. More than the financial gains, which in any case would largely go to the publisher, the insinuation is that he influenced the selection of titles. Indian ministers have been known to claim benefits by virtue of their positions far in excess of those that will accrue to the minister of state for external affairs. If the spotlight is on Tharoor, it is because his habit of tweeting and his public statements have ruffled quite a few feathers. He had to come up with a hasty denial of his remarks on Nehru's foreign policy, which he claimed were simply a quote from another source. Why he had to pull it out considering the potential for raising dust is a question that he may not like to answer. Nor does he clarify that he values freedom of speech more than the admittedly hypocritical code of conduct that applies to positions such as his.

In the latest case, it may have been at worst an act of omission. His three books were among 108 titles selected for foreign missions before he assumed charge in the ministry. If Tharoor had known about the purchases, he may have issued instructions to remove his books from the list, although why this should have been so isn't quite clear to us. A rare outburst, which many may consider natural, is based on the argument that there is a dividing line between minister and author and that this is, by all accounts, a non-issue. Having been groomed in an open climate, he may feel stifled by the attention showered on marginal or routine matters.
At the same time, his experiences with tweets should have taught him that colourful quotes (like whether the Mahatma would have endorsed a holiday on his birthday) are apt to be misconstrued. His heart and mind may be in the right place, which is why his party seems to have chosen to ignore the headlines. There may also be grudging admiration in some circles for the fact that he saves his juiciest quotes for an Internet audience, and not for itinerant television anchors. Some will say Tharoor is an iconoclast, others will argue he is a misfit; the minister might consider the benefits of charting a course somewhere in between.








ESSENTIALLY only a possibility at this stage, yet there is reason to welcome the president of the International Cricket Council thinking aloud about scrapping the system of only neutral umpires ~ actually umpires from non-playing countries since all sporting arbiters are presumed neutral ~ officiating in Test matches. Even if it boils down to doing the right thing for reasons more practical than principled, it would restore to the highest level of the game one of its singular qualities. The gradual, if somewhat reluctant acceptance of the technology-driven Decision Review System, and the fact the top umpires are not thrilled at having to serve long stints away from home have influenced the re-think: but if accepted the revised system will end the ridiculous situation in which the world's most accomplished "men in white coats" were denied opportunity to perform before home crowds. A poor return for the domestic game in which they had acquired and honed their skills, gained experience and expertise. Hopefully the shorter versions of the game will follow suit ~ was it not a shame that the legendary Dickie Bird was not posted for a World Cup final because England were one of the contestants?
It would not be irrelevant to ask if the level of decision-making had improved with neutral umpiring. Technology has pointed to many a mistake having been made, that is only human. Batsmen play inappropriate shots, bowlers fail to maintain line and length, fielders drop catches ~ why should accusing fingers be pointed at umpires only? To be fair to cricketers, few of them accused umpires of being motivated even as they legitimately questioned their competence: the allegations flowed from the hysteric hordes and commercial interests that so influence contemporary sport. However, even as the genuine cricket lover will appreciate the possibility under focus, there is need for the ICC and member boards to establish facilities to train umpires and upgrade their skills, as is done at the various academies from which players benefit. The aim must be quality supervision. Reverting to "home" umpires would be more than sentimental nostalgia, it would help revive the trust and faith that had once elevated cricket matches far above sporting contests.








ALL is not well with the Nagaland Congress that ruled the state for many years until it was eased out by the regional Nagaland People's Front in the 2003 Assembly elections. Bowing to dissident pressure ~ not a new phenomenon in the party ~ the central leadership appointed Tokeho Yepthomi, a former minister, as legislature party chief in place of the veteran Chingwang Konyak. Former CLP chief I Imkong is now the Pradesh Congress chief, having taken over from KV Pusa. Interestingly, this was the second time in 19 months that the high command was forced to effect changes at the top. In June 2008, Chingwang was entrusted with the CLP leadership. When former Congress chief minister SC Jamir was in power, he also faced dissident pressure but he had the knack of keeping the flock together and ruled for many years. The trouble in the party started after four of its MLAs resigned before the 2009 parliamentary election and joined the ruling NPF. That it was masterminded by chief minister Neiphiu Rio was never in doubt, because the four were given NPF tickets to contest by-elections simultaneously with the Lok Sabha poll, and they won comfortably.

The next Assembly election is due in 2013 and if the Nagaland Congress is to improve its position it has to come to grips with the dissident menace. But even as it sets its house in order it will be hardpressed to turn the tables on Rio who has the support of the NSCN(IM) and recently strengthened his position by inducting two BJP legislators into the party. As a matter of fact, the NC in 2003 lost power to the NSCN(IM) which played an important role ~ proxy support to regional parties ~ in defeating the ministry headed by Jamir, whom it sees as a hindrance to the Naga solution. Rio echoed as much. And who knows, there could be a drastic change in Nagaland's political scenario in the next four years with both the Congress and regional parties watching from the sidelines.







Washington, 19 JAN: In a trend that can be said as "gender role reversals", women have outpaced men in education and emerged as the dominant income-provider for the family over the past few decades in the USA, a report said today.

Looking at the significant changes the institution of marriage has undergone in these period, the report by the Pew Research Center showed that men who married to relatively educated women have witnessed a significant economic boost.

"A larger share of men in 2007, compared with their 1970 counterparts, are married to women whose education and income exceed their own," according to the analysis.

"From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage. In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men," it said.

"In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men than for women."

Mr Richard Fry, co-author of the report, said: "What's radically changed is that marriage now is a better deal for men. Now when men marry, often their spouse works quite a bit. Often she is better-educated than the guy." ;PTI 







Shashi Tharoor gets ticked off for speaking against government policies yet many Congress and BJP leaders use social networking media platforms. SANGHAMITRA RAI VERMAN is convinced of there being a distinct disconnect between the IT 'visions' of such leaders and their own parties' actual utterances EVERY time minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor "sticks his neck out" and tweets, he seems to go from trouble to more trouble. Thus, when he tweeted his "cattle class" comment while referring to the austerity drive directed at ministers and members of Parliament, inviting howls of protest from many in the Congress itself, the Prime Minister tried to play it down, saying it was just a "joke", a remark made in light vein, and the matter should be left to rest at that. Many suggested the Congress should acquire a sense of humour.
But more Tharoor tweets were on the way, questioning the logic of tightening visa rules. This time it wasn't a "joke", he was told. He was speaking against government policies. The business of government was "much too serious" to be tweeted on, his senior, Union external affairs minister SM Krishna, reminded him.
Well, wasn't it the same Congress that had welcomed Tharoor after his UN Secretary-General bid did not succeed? And what has the BJP done? Like many in the Congress, it has resorted to berating Tharoor. The BJP has even demanded his resignation.

On the "cattle class" remark, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said Tharoor did not know India well and had no respect for Indians. On the current visa rules issue, BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy termed Tharoor's remark "callous" and accused the government of taking a "contradictory stand" on visa norms.

Like Tharoor, many Congress and BJP leaders use social networking media platforms. But the real point is that there is a distinct disconnect between the IT "visions" of such leaders and their own parties' actual utterances vis-a-vis Tharoor's tweets.

Rewind to the scenario leading up to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and we can all recall how LK Advani launched several aggressive ad campaigns across 2,000 websites, including those of the US, British and Pakistani media, which are frequented by Indians. Borrowing heavily from US President Barack Obama's style, the aim of the "Advani for Prime Minister' online campaign was to target potential Indian voters who are mostly young and technology-savvy. In a blog titled "Electioneering: From Handbill to the Internet" on 7 January 2009, Advani said, "My young colleagues who have created this website ( told me that a political portal without a blog is like a letter without a signature. I quickly accepted this compelling logic. I am excited by the idea of using the Internet as a platform for political communication and, especially, for election campaign."

Significantly, Advani went on to add, "The Internet has many attractive attributes, but the best perhaps is that it is owned neither by the government nor by any private media group. It is open to all and in this sense it is the most democratic of all the communication platforms invented by mankind so far. Censorship of political communication on the Internet is... unthinkable — except in communist and other dictatorships."

Apparently, that is not the way Advani's party thinks vis-a-vis Tharoor's remarks. Note the phrases "most democratic of all the communication platforms" and "censorship of political communication" in Advani's blog. If you don't allow someone to indulge in any critical comment on social media platforms, you are actually "censoring" such remarks on "democratic" media tools.

Apart from Advani, several prominent BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi (http://, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ( and VK Malhotra (, have well-designed websites.


Modi is also on Twitter and at the time of writing this he had 8,805 followers. Chouhan has a Hindi blog ( on his website, and VK Malhotra is also on Facebook.

Sample these prominent quotes from Narendra Modi's website: "CT is not just about communication technology, it is also about Civilisation and Traditions to create CT — Citizens of Tomorrow", and "IT+IT=IT Indian talent + Information technology=India Tomorrow". Definitely, the BJP's reaction as a party to Tharoor's remarks is at odds with the essence of these Modi quotes. Neither does it seem to be a "civilised" reaction to the right use of communication technology, nor does it promote any healthy "IT" environment for building a better "India Tomorrow".

Modi's website also has a feature called Swagat (, an innovative concept that enables direct communication between citizens and the chief minister. According to the website, "In Gandhinagar, the fourth Thursday of every month is a SWAGAT day wherein the highest office in administration attends to the grievances of the man on the street. Grievances are logged in, transmitted and made available online to the officers concerned who have to reply within 3 to 4 hours.

"The departments concerned then have to be ready with the replies before 3 pm, when the chief minister holds video conferences with all the districts concerned. Applicants are called one by one and the chief minister examines each complaint in detail. The information sent by the department is also reviewed online in the presence of the complainant and the Collector/District Development Officer/Superintendent of Police and other officials concerned. Attempts are made to offer a fair and acceptable solution on the same day and no applicant has ever left without any firm reply to his grievance. The record is then preserved in the 'SWAGAT' database and a separate log is maintained for each case," according to the website.

Modi's website further states, "Owing to the innovative use of technology that injects accountability in government machinery, international institutions such as the Commonwealth Telecom Organisation and the University of Manchester have considered SWAGAT as an excellent model of e-transparency."

Now, does the BJP's reaction vis-à-vis Tharoor contribute in any degree towards "e-transparency"?

Like Tharoor, some of the younger Congress personalities are apparently "tech enlightened". For instance, Milind Deora (http:// and Priya Dutt (www. have well-designed websites.


Deora is also on Facebook and Dutt has a blog in her website.

On returning from studies abroad, Milind, who has a BA from Boston University in Business and Political Science, founded Sparsh, a social initiative which aims at educating students in computer and IT proficiency. His social work through this initiative has apparently given him a "clear direction on what he wanted to do in his life". The programme, Milind's website claims, has led to the "computerisation of 110 primary and secondary economically backward schools, across all linguistic mediums".

Milind's website also claims that the programme "has helped over one lakh students and is now being replicated in many other parts of the country".

Do all these enlightened "IT-enabling initiatives" gel with the "narrow" attitude that the Congress as a party has displayed vis-vis the Tharoor tweets?

Kamal Nath is considered a whizkid in Congress circles. He once gifted a palmtop to Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who reportedly carries it everywhere. Sandeep Dikshit, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit's son, contesting from East Delhi, had once said, "You have to convince voters with solid facts; the figures in the laptop come handy."

What all of the above goes to show is that there is a distinct disconnect between the IT "visions" of prominent Congress and BJP leaders and their own parties' actual utterances vis-a-vis Tharoor's tweets.
Recently, speaking in an online radio show in New York, Tharoor said Twitter was a useful way to get a peek into the work-life of an elected leader, and added that he would like to see more Indians tweeting. But he expressed a genuine concern as well. "My only regret is that this whole unseemly controversy (cattle class remark) might dissuade a number of politicians who are otherwise curious or interested in emulating me from doing so, because they fear they somehow may be doing something that will get them into the kind of trouble that I got into," he told the show.

One only hopes more and more Indian politicians, across party lines, rise above such "fear" and give citizens greater opportunities to interact with them.Directly.

The writer is a Research and Teaching Assistant (History), School of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi







THOUGH tragic, the news of Jyoti Basu's demise on Sunday was expected, considering his serious ailments and advanced age. Be it the print or electronic media, every newspaper and television channel was replete with tributes to this legendary political leader. While reading several of these, I came across one article on his earlier life which had a picture of Jyoti Basu and his wife Kamal when they were married in 1948.

I then remembered that I had once interviewed her many years ago. This had happened when Kamal Basu had visited our colony, located in a well known "railway town" of West Bengal that is  also reputed for its engineering institute. We lived there for some years and I had started a house journal for the private company that ran the factory and also our rather nice residential colony, complete with club, library, swimming pool, tennis court, et al.

Anyway, Mrs Basu was to spend the weekend at the company guesthouse on the invitation of her cousin who worked in the company. It seemed a nice chance to talk to her and I could include it as an interview in my magazine. We were introduced and she gracefully agreed to being "interviewed". And so began our somewhat unique tete-a-tete.

Mrs Basu seemed well informed about world affairs, but naturally, and was surprisingly candid in her answers. The difficulty began when she insisted that whatever she shared with me was personal and confidential, and hence would I please not include it as part of the interview. It was a peculiar yet endearing request and I still remember some of the amusing anecdotes she narrated regarding her husband, then chief minister of West Bengal, and herself. She was often nostalgic and spoke of the difficult times they went through when he was imprisoned. When he was home after a very long stressful period, how she guarded the telephone like a "tiger" while he slept so that he would not get disturbed if it rang. She described with vivid imagination her visits to countries like China and the USSR when she had accompanied her husband. She was tremendously impressed by their highly advanced technology, and remember this was many years ago.

We continued talking, for that's what it was, not the least like a typical interview with questions and answers. And she, too, was curious to know me better and asked about my family and other details.
And yet, most strangely, she did not want to end the session. So we met for two consecutive days in the evenings. It would last till night fell, when I would have to return home from the company guesthouse she was staying in. Mrs Basu was extremely cordial and insisted on accompanying me home, walking the short distance to my residence. She would whisper with a smile, "I will never be able to do this in Calcutta, but here it's very safe."

The two bodyguards wanting to trail behind her would discreetly be dismissed with a wave of her hand and a "Go back. I'll be all right." They would nonetheless remain well within earshot.

Today, I look back fondly on that weekend spent in the company of the spouse of none other that the larger-than-life Jyoti Basu. Despite being a journalist, I somehow never got to meet him. For me, Kamal Basu will always remain, in every aspect, his "better half".







WHEN heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers's travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends. "Robin Hood airport is closed," he wrote. "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Unfortunately for him, the police did not see the funny side. A week after posting the message on the social networking site he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat. After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life.

"I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post," said the 26-year-old Chambers. "I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine."
   While it has happened in the USA, Chambers is thought to be the first person in the UK to be arrested for comments posted on Twitter. His ordeal began on 6 January when, after hearing that extreme weather had forced the closure of Robin Hood airport, he posted the ill-advised message – frustrated because he was to fly to Ireland from that airport on 15 January.

   On 13 January, after apparently receiving a tip-off from a member of the public, police arrived at Chambers's office. "My first thought upon hearing it was the police was that perhaps a member of my family had been in an accident," he said. "Then they said I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act and produced a piece of paper. It was a printout of my Twitter page. That was when it dawned on me.""

 Chambers said the police seemed unable to comprehend the intended humour in his online comment. "I had to explain Twitter to them in its entirety because they'd never heard of it," he said. "Then they asked all about my home life, and how work was going, and other personal things. The lead investigator kept asking, 'Do you understand why this is happening?' and adding, 'It is the world we live in.'"

 After the interview, Chambers was returned to a cell for an hour then released. But, he said, not before the police deleted the post from his Twitter page. He has been bailed until 11 February, when he will be told whether or not he will be charged with conspiring to create a bomb hoax. In the interim, detectives have confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer.

Tessa Mayes, a civil libertarian and an expert on privacy law and free speech issues, said, "Making jokes about terrorism is considered a thought crime, mistakenly seen as a real act of harm or intention to commit harm. The police's actions seem laughable and suggest desperation in their efforts to combat terrorism, yet they have serious repercussions for all of us. In a democracy, our right to say what we please to each other should be non-negotiable, even on Twitter."

 A spokesman for the South Yorkshire Police confirmed the arrest and said, "A male was arrested on 13 January for comments made on a social networking site. He has been bailed pending further investigations." Nobody from Robin Hood airport could be contacted.







Perhaps because comrades believe in the historical inevitability of the coming of communism, they can always be relied upon to be predictable. The first responses to the death of the patriarch, Jyoti Basu, include proposals to memorialize him. Fortunately, comrades here, unlike their counterparts in erstwhile Soviet Russia and China, do not believe in embalming leaders, so Basu has escaped that fate. But communists in Calcutta have mastered the art of renaming roads and erecting ugly statues that only attract pigeons. The search is already on to find a suitable stretch of tarmac to name after Basu. This is, of course, a much easier thing to do than to make a realistic reckoning of Basu's lamentable legacy to the people of West Bengal. Unfortunately, there is no road in and around Calcutta that leads nowhere: that would have been the most appropriate road to name after Basu. He took West Bengal nowhere. There is another proposal on the table, and this needs to be resisted. This is the idea to convert Indira Bhavan, where Basu lived for many years, into a museum in honour of him. Indira Bhavan is a government building, which was not built to house a museum. It should go back to being used for what it was originally constructed. A museum to honour Basu may be needed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to create an aura around Basu, but that need cannot be met from the taxpayers' money.


The attempt to make a myth out of Basu is manifest in the pomp and pageantry surrounding his funeral. Even Basu's critics admit that he dedicated his life to communism, which he saw as an ideology to make the world a better place for the poor. Basu believed in changing society, and for the better part of his life he criticized and fought the Indian State. Yet, on his last journey, the Indian national flag was more visible than his beloved red flag; the State ritual of gun salute was more prominent than his comrades' red salute. In the process of making a myth out of Basu, his career as a chief minister prevailed over his life as a communist. Between his commitment and his career fell the shadow of his party's desire to fix for Basu a place in history. Nothing in Basu's life was more incongruous than his last journey with the Indian army as the escort. What could be more ironic than a communist party wanting its leader to be celebrated in his death by the pomp and circumstance of the Indian State?







The string of suicide-bombings in Kabul may have been one of the most audacious so far planned by the Taliban, but its message was no different from that of the previous attacks. By simultaneously targeting places frequented by the public — shopping centre, bank, cinema, hotel — the bombings sought to rip the veneer of security and normalcy and expose the failings of a government which is already suffering from a credibility crunch. It is not without reason that the first thing the president, Hamid Karzai, thought necessary to announce after the attack had been neutralized is that Kabul was "under control". The coordinated mayhem was intended to create a sense of total chaos, and the president's desperation to counter it shows that the Taliban have largely succeeded in their primary aim. Notwithstanding the heightened security, Kabul, like all seats of government, remains vulnerable to terror attacks that are also smear campaigns of a sort. Since the Karzai government has been contemplating a re-integration plan for the Taliban which is supposed to go under the spotlight in the London conference on Afghanistan next week, it was important for the Taliban to indicate to the world that they remain an integrated force that cannot be splintered by the lure of money, employment or education. In other words, they remain as invincible as before.


The suicide attack has undoubtedly humiliated the Karzai government. But a ray of hope in this insurmountable tragedy lies in the fact that the Afghan army, which led the counter-terror operation, found its feet on the ground for the first time. The feat has not gone unnoticed by the allied forces, which have been pinning their hopes of an early withdrawal on the Afghan army's coming of age. This, together with the recent developments in the Afghanistan parliament, creates a picture very different from what the Taliban are hell-bent on painting. Twice in a row, Afghan legislators have forced their president to revise his list of candidates to be included in the cabinet in keeping with his promise of a corruption-free government. The Karzai government is yet to come up with a roadmap on ridding the administration of corruption. But neither this failure nor the frequency of terror attacks should blind the world to Afghanistan's signs of recovery, if not good health.









Indian diplomacy is turning domestic. The sweeping passport reforms to be introduced in phases by the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, from February 1, have the potential of completely transforming the way Indians look at their government.

The changes, through which Krishna hopes to replicate what he did to Bangalore as Karnataka's reformist chief minister, will touch the lives of eight million Indians: for most of them, easy access to a passport is a means to improve their lives by going abroad on jobs, which will earn them more money. In many cases, such as information technology workers, nurses and teachers taking up jobs in the United States of America or Europe, a passport offers passage to a better standard of life as well.


Eight million applications is the figure representing demand for passport services that the ministry of external affairs will have to cope with in the current year. The ministry simply does not have either the infrastructure or the manpower to cope with demands from the public on this scale. A fall-out of India's growing globalization and increasing prosperity — albeit among sections of the people — is the soaring demand for passport services. Compared to 1959, when the Central Passport Organisation was created as a small subordinate office of the MEA, its volume of work increased phenomenally by 132 times by 2007. This increase has been more rapid in recent years: since the start of this millennium, applications for passport services have seen a whopping jump of 89 per cent. Since 2005, it has seen a further rise of 32 per cent.


When Krishna started looking at his ministry's performance in meeting public expectations on services six months ago, one question he asked was why the increase in staffing at passport offices had not even remotely kept pace with this increase in demand for services from the public. A woeful staff shortage has led to cumulative delays in the delivery of passports at every issuing office, at every stage of public dealings — from the acceptance of applications to the making of travel documents.


He did not need an answer. Having run a large state government as chief minister, managed ministries and a state legislature in various capacities during the last several decades, Krishna knew how difficult it would be to obtain sanction for new government posts. But having presided over the impressive growth of Bangalore as India's Silicon Valley — as the outside world sees it — Krishna also knew how to overcome this handicap.


In the mould of the multinationals which have transformed Bangalore, Krishna's thinking was that adding to the already large bureaucracy in passport offices was not the solution, although passport officers and their subordinates would have liked nothing better than to actually expand their existing empires.


The changes that the external affairs minister plans to put into effect from February 1, starting on a trial basis in Bangalore and in Chandigarh, have already been described in the news pages of this newspaper. To recap very briefly, the new system hopes to deliver passports to applicants within three days of receipt of police verification reports. 'Tatkal' or expedited requests for travel documents — for which applicants shell out more money — will be delivered the same day. Passport offices will be digitally linked to nodal points in the police system in every district in the country to speed up the process of police verification.


Krishna's real success in reforming government in this context, though, has been beyond his own ministry. It is truly remarkable that during a phase in Indian statecraft when a life-long and consummate intelligence man like the national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, had to give in to the security apparatus of the State and exit office, the external affairs minister was able to get the better of the system.


As a result of Krishna's reforms, a key change will be that the existing passport offices will become passport back-offices: each of them will print the passports they need to deliver to applicants in their jurisdiction and dispatch them. At present, printing and transportation of passports are a huge bureaucratic operation because they are made at the India Security Press in Nashik and moved under tight security, which inevitably causes big delays.


Occasionally, passport offices across the country and Indian missions abroad run out of passport booklets because this process takes a toll on efficiency and turns its back on systems of the 21st century which developed countries practise in similar services for their people.


Krishna has decided to overcome the perennial staff shortage at every passport office by outsourcing activities that do not compromise security. This was decided after a study he ordered established that the bulk of the working hours of the existing staff at passport offices was being taken up in routine physical work that can be outsourced without affecting security.


The external affairs minister also realized that this was the only way he could open 28 new 'passport seva kendras' all over the country with the existing manpower. As a result of these changes, every passport office will now become a 'passport seva kendra'.


This may well turn out to be a clever politician's smart public relations exercise, but at New Delhi's Patiala House, the seat of the chief passport officer, officials acknowledge that regional passport offices could do well with some good public relations such as claiming to be seva kendras, literally in the service of the people, overcoming their present reputation as offices of extortion, teeming with agents, touts and fixers.


The seva kendras will now be responsible for chores like data entry, scanning of documents, collection of fees, digitally capturing signatures and photographs, leaving the limited number of officials to handle the actual issuing of passports, dealing with local problems and effectively implementing passport norms and policies.


When Krishna first proposed these changes, there were howls of protest from the same security establishment that has now proved to be Narayanan's undoing. The bureaucracy — least of all the national security bureaucracy — will never willingly give up any of its awesome powers, and Krishna was told in North Block's typical fear-mongering style from across his office in South Block that loosening the vice-like security grip over the passport system will be exploited by terrorists.


But Krishna had done his homework. At one inter-departmental meeting, he cited instance after instance where the existing checks in the passport system had failed to meet the requirements of counter-terrorism and national security. One such case was two years ago, when 500 blank passport booklets meant for the Indian consulate in Dubai went missing on their way from the Security Press in Nashik.


At first, it was feared that agents of the mafia don, Dawood Ibrahim, had managed to get hold of these booklets. But eventually, the booklets were said to have been found on a railway track on their way from Nashik to Mumbai for onward dispatch to Dubai. Krishna argued that his plans to print passports using modern technology at the premises of every issuing office would be far more secure, efficient and speedy than the existing practice.


Ever since P.V. Narasimha Rao set in motion the process of reforming the State, various ministries have tried to demystify the process of governance and make it more people-friendly and efficient. Partly because these efforts were ham-handed, partly because of resistance from the bureaucracy, which stands to lose from such changes, much of the government has failed in such missions. On a limited scale, the chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, was able to change Andhra Pradesh with his e-governance, which won praise, among others, from Bill Clinton when he visited Hyderabad as US president.


Krishna believes what he started in Bangalore was not followed up, and that a second wave of follow-up changes that he had in store for the Karnataka capital were not implemented by successive governments in his home state. With his passport reforms, Krishna is hoping to prove once again that reforming government and creating efficiency are possible within the existing parameters of statecraft. If he succeeds, long-suffering passport applicants in this country will come to believe that a government can deliver, after all.








Few Britons these days doubt that Tony Blair and his hired bagman Alastair Campbell lied like troopers to drag Britain into Bush's war against Iraq. An official committee of enquiry is now asking just what went on. Its report will no doubt be a fudge; that's what governments set up enquiries to produce. I'd prefer facts. Yet watching Campbell last week defy the committee's pussyfooting questions, I had to admire the brass neck with which he did it.


He and Blair stand accused of sexing up fuzzy intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein's mythical weapons of mass destruction into the hard-edged claptrap that was fed to the British parliament and people. Sexing up? No way, said Campbell flatly, and I even managed a moment's sympathy as he rejected not just that charge but the very phrase itself.


Why do we employ so many metaphors and similes? I've peppered the paragraphs above with them, though, with some difficulty, I kept my fingers off poodle. Look hard at the ones I did use, and just how much do they convey.


Take the metaphors. Campbell, after all, was not hired to carry bags into 10 Downing Street, but half-truths — I'm being generous — to the media out of it. Pussyfoot, in contrast, is nicely precise: the committee did indeed slide delicately round awkward points like a cat round a chair-leg. But what has one's neck, brass or not, to do with impudence? Can intelligence reports truly grow fuzz? How does one add sex to them? Can claptrap, a theatre term originally, really have hard edges? And then be fed to people?


Next the simile. Why say a man lies like a trooper? Or, in another formula, swears like one? Are or were such soldiers especially prone to falsehood or bad language? I don't know. So what do I add by dragging them in? English abounds with such phrases. I readily admit to being bald as a coot — a waterbird whose head is indeed short of some plumage, though far less so than mine. Readily, maybe, but informatively? No.


And more


One can be blind as a bat, dead as a doornail (or the dodo), deaf as a post (or doorpost), dumb as an ox, fat as butter, thin as a rake, fit as a fiddle, smart as paint, strong as a horse, weak as water, bold as brass (hence perhaps Mr Campbell's neck), brave as a lion (they aren't very), bright as a button, clean as a whistle, cool as a cucumber, drunk as a lord, sober as a judge, dull as ditchwater, good as gold, mad as a hatter, merry as a cricket, poor as a church mouse, rich as Croesus, pretty as a picture, quick as a flash, right as rain, dry as dust (or a bone), free as the wind, brown as a berry (few British berries are), green as grass, black as night (or pitch — the old word for tar — or sin or the ace of spades), white as a sheet with fright, or as the driven snow in one's innocence. And a pair can be like as two pins.


And more. But what's gained by using such comparisons? When the late Princess Diana charmingly once admitted that she wasn't very clever, did she add any more than charm by calling herself, in a newer phrase, thick as two planks?


Some of these similes are out-of-date: church mice, Croesus and crickets — an insect commoner in Italy than Britain — are not much met these days. Of the rest, one or two are truly apt: pins really are more alike than most things. Some are odd, many obvious, a few inexplicable. Most, by now, are clichés.

So why do I enjoy and use them, albeit seldom in writing? You may think the reason is plain as a pikestaff and clear as crystal: I'm lazy. Clear as mud, I'd say, a modern irony rare among such phrases, and I won't say more: a full explanation would be long as a piece of string — any length that I chose, that is. Or that The Telegraph would allow me.





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The Central government's decision to derecognise 44 deemed universities is an acceptance of the fact that conferment of this status on these institutions was a subversion of the aims of higher education in the country. The list of 44 contains six from Karnataka and 16 from Tamil Nadu. The wholesale creation of deemed universities by the UPA-I government when Arjun Singh was heading the HRD ministry was scandalous and had invited criticism from educationists, parents of students, media and others. The norms and guidelines were rarely followed and 126 institutions managed to acquire the status. With more than one-third of them now found to be unfit for the status it is clear that the whole process was marked by irregularities. The revocation decision is on the basis of a review of the working of these institutions and the facilities offered by them to students. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal now says the Centre is ready to abolish the concept of deemed university itself.

What has come to light is shocking. These institutions considered the deemed tag as only a licence to turn themselves into commercial educational shops, profiteering by the sale of education. The student intake and fees were increased astronomically without providing the necessary facilities for the students. Physical infrastructure was inadequate and teaching facilities poor. There was no professionalism in the management of the institutions with individuals, families or a closed circle of persons with no background or expertise in education controlling the affairs. Courses with fanciful names, which did not help students, were offered and there was no attempt to promote excellence and research which was an important aim of the plan to create these universities.

The decision has created a sense of uncertainty and worry for lakhs of students and their parents. The government has instructed that the institutions should revert to their earlier status of university affiliation so that the students can continue their studies and get their degrees. It must be ensured that the interests of students and their future are not adversely affected. It is a shame that a country that wants to improve the standards of higher education and become a knowledge superpower has found itself in such a mess. The present decision should mark the beginning of the cleansing of the system, and those responsible for the irregularities should be brought to book.








The total lack of interest in Pakistani players at Tuesday's auction for the third edition of the Indian Premier League was on expected lines, given the fluidity surrounding political ties between the two countries. Pakistan's Twenty20 skipper Shahid Afridi, the flamboyant all-rounder, and left-arm medium-pacer Sohail Tanvir, the top wicket-taker in the inaugural edition of the 20-over bash, were among star attractions from across the border, but with franchises not convinced that Pakistani players would be available for IPL III, it came as no real surprise that not one of the 11 in the auction fray was picked up. IPL is entertainment combined with business and business knows no prejudice, but the eight franchise owners would have been acutely aware of the existing political climate in India's neighbourhood.

Certainly, the auction in Mumbai wasn't without its fair share of fireworks. With $7,50,000 each at their disposal and needing to fill no more than two slots, at best, the teams had clearly identified the personnel they coveted. Kieron Pollard and Shane Bond were the hottest draws, both attracting multiple bids at the maximum amount available and necessitating the 'silent tie-breaker', a new introduction, to break the deadlock. Pollard, the Trinidad & Tobago all-rounder who took the Champions League by storm with his blistering batting that took his team to the title round, was snapped up by the Mumbai Indians. Bond, back in the official fold after severing his ties with the 'rebel' Indian Cricket League and recently retired from Test cricket, went to the Kolkata Knight Riders, short on fast bowling resources without Umar Gul and the unpredictable Shoaib Akhtar.

Big spending was extremely selective, only South African left-arm quick Wayne Parnell and West Indian tearaway Kemar Roach of the rest attracting numbers way above modest base prices. Bangalore's Royal Challengers went for diminutive England batsman Eoin Morgan, a busy left-hander who can quickly switch gears, in a clear bid to provide more meat to their middle-order. Interestingly, wicket-keeper Brad Haddin and left-arm quick Doug Bollinger found no takers, perhaps because teams already had enough personnel plying the same trade as the Aussie duo, but also because fresh auctions will be held for IPL IV when the original three-year contracts of a majority of the players come to an end.







The US office of naval intelligence report of August 2009, titled 'The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics,' reveals that China is close to developing the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) system. If China succeeds, it could alter the military equation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Development of ASBM systems is particularly significant given that it will have the capability to defeat US carrier strike groups operating in the region, making it a 'no-go-zone' for the US and other advanced navies. 

The anti-ship missile systems are believed to be using the modified DF-21 missile that has better accuracy and can carry nuclear warheads big enough to inflict damage on large naval vessels. The missiles, reportedly with a range of 2,000 km, covering the second chain of islands, are aided by a network of satellites, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles that can locate US ships and then guide the weapon, enabling it to hit moving targets.

The employment of a complex guidance system, low radar signature and maneuverability makes its flight path unpredictable, thereby making the tracking systems ineffective.

While there may be scepticism among analysts as to whether China has advanced to such a high level of sophistication, Dai Xu, a Chinese military expert, who spoke to 'Global Times' (China) said, "China is indeed developing anti-ship ballistic missiles. It is not a secret. During the 60th anniversary National Day military parade, China exhibited such missiles."

He however added that these systems need not necessarily have a 'killer' effect, capable of defeating the US fleet, as has been made out in several reports. While one may agree with such an argument, what has been worrying is Beijing's increasingly aggressive behaviour in the seas even against the US and Japanese naval vessels and thereby the potential of these missile systems to create difficult situations in the future. 

One of the latest instances of such aggressive behaviour is that of the March 2009 incident in which US Navy reported that five Chinese ships harassed the US submarine surveillance vessel 'USNS Impeccable' in the south China area.

Pentagon reports suggests that there were at least half a dozen such incidents in the very same week, where US surveillance vessels were "subjected to aggressive behaviour, including dozens of fly-bys by Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft."

Chinese assertiveness, based on China's claim to the entire South China Sea as its territory and creating conflictual situations with several countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, could lead to increasing tensions and possible accidents in the seas.

Need for agreement

Although there is scope for these discussions in the 1998 US-Chinese military maritime safety agreement, the two sides have not been able to address these incidents in a useful manner. The US has been seeking an incidents at sea agreement, similar to the 1972 US-Russian Incidents at Sea Agreement.

The trend in Chinese military strategy is worrisome. One of the key areas that China has focused on in the last few years relates to the area denial strategy. Such a strategy, restraining the ability of another country to use a particular space or facility, will allow China to create a buffer zone around its land and maritime periphery which in turn will increase the difficulty for other states to operate close to Chinese mainland.

Chinese sea denial capability is essentially enforced through its growing submarine force. China has a force of 62 submarines, including 12 new and advanced Kilo-class Russian submarines, in addition to different classes of domestically-developed diesel submarines and several nuclear-powered attack boats.

It also has a significant number of surface combatants, including air-defence guided missile destroyers such as Luyang-II and Luzhou class vessels, several powerful multi-role vessels (Sovremenny class destroyers) like Hangzhou, and a large number of different anti-ship missiles that can be launched from submarines, surface ships and airplanes and even shore-based launchers, such as the SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-N-27 Sizzler systems procured from Russia.

The US Navy does not yet have an effective way of defending their aircraft carriers against these missiles. In a potential conflict on the Taiwan Straits, the PLAN could possibly destroy some ships of the US carrier battlegroups, including US aircraft carriers.

Development of these weapon systems has upped the ante in the region and beyond. First, development of such capabilities by China could potentially lead to arms race in Asia, with countries wanting to develop systems that can counter Beijing's ASBM capabilities.

The US Navy is already looking at responses, in terms of building deep water ballistic defence destroyers. It is moving away from a strategy of building a fleet that would operate in shallow waters near coastlines to developing capabilities for deep sea anti-ballistic defences.

Similarly, Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region, its increasing presence in all the littoral states, could create tensions with India. Additionally, the Chinese approach to finding techno-military solutions to these problems can lead to a destabilising situation emerging in Asia.

(The writer is a senior research fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)








Reading between lines gives us a lot of insights, hidden meanings and a totally different perspective of the printed word. What if one starts reading between events or activities? That's precisely what I did the other day when I sat through a circus. While the grandson in tow was busy watching the proceedings under the big top, I was preoccupied with the 'reading between' process. What else one can do at the age of 63? More fascinating for me were not the events on the ring but the meticulous way they were unfolding. Not a minute was wasted and even as one act was on, the next one was being lined up.

While the appreciative crowd clapped and whistled as the stunt (wo)men showed their skills I was watching how the staff was getting ready for the show to unfold next. The flow was like an assembly line production although those involved were humans and not machines. But the artistes were going through the motions like machines.

No artiste had to wait even for a second extra and all his needs were being lined up and even as he finished the event the peripherals used were going back with punctilious efficiency. Even if the tusker emptied its huge bowels on the ring while in action, the staff would appear from nowhere with bucket and broom and clear off the warm dung. Everything was anticipated and taken care of.

While the spectators from far and near cheered the acrobats, jugglers, unicyclists and other performers I was trying to fathom the ordeals they must have gone through to achieve perfection in what they were doing. One small slip could cripple them for life but they exhibited no such tension on the stage and wore a smile throughout.

The big tent echoed to an elephantine roar when the tuskers ambled their way into the ring and performed their assigned tasks flawlessly but I was busy trying to gauge the efforts the mahout must have put in to make them behave as ordained. Who deserves more compliments — the tusker or the trainer?

Spare a thought for the owner, too. Just imagine how big his kitchen would be to feed all his men and women who comprise his troupe. Come what may, collection or no, the kitchen fire has to be lit to keep the circus army trim and in good spirits. Hungry stomachs have to be fed and the boss cannot offer any excuse to the performing staff. The food bill may be lighter now as the beasts are not part of the circus ensemble anymore and the owner can thank Menaka Gandhi for this gesture. And he should thank the almighty for keeping the tusker a vegetarian!









The sights that characterise cities today are the hordes arriving at our train stations with vessels and other belongings tied in cement bags and the ever-growing plastic tent shelters by the road-side. At the same time happen the merciless shunting of slum and pavement dwellers hither and thither and the mindless chasing of pavement vendors off the streets.

The sounds we hear in cities are the cacophony of shrieking vehicles wanting to monopolise road-space, the destructive rumble of JCBs demolishing homes and shops for mega projects and the angry whirr of mechanical saws as they ruthlessly axe stately and serene shade-giving avenue trees.

Driving all this, behind the scenes, are the sly lobbying by powerful vested interests, the covert shenanigans of the land mafias and the wheeling and dealing of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors over cut-backs on ever-costlier mega-infrastructure projects. Though the draft Urban Development Policy unveiled for Karnataka has several positive points, none of this 'hustle and bustle' marking city life today is reflected in it. A deceptively sober and soporific shroud seems to have been drawn over all these frenzied and cut-throat contestations over urban land, assets and resources by it.

Why this divide?

This was a good opportunity to re-think, in depth, what "functions, funds and functionaries" need to be devolved to make cities truly fulfil the goal of "planning for economic development and social justice" set out for them in the 74th Constitutional Amendment (CA).  If rural panchayats can be asked to ensure food security, employment guarantee, primary health and primary education, why can't cities do the same?

The draft estimates that a total of Rs 90,000 crore is required for the whole state to provide water, sewerage, solid waste management, etc, to all urban households, out of which Rs 27,825 crore is required for Bangalore alone. But unless expenditure on these basic needs is made a mandatory first charge on cities' resources, amounts of almost Rs 40,000 crore will continue to get earmarked for Bangalore alone — for its Metro and its ever-widening concentric circles of ring-roads, and for pampering its private vehicle lobby with signal-free roads, expressways, and flyovers.

The policy needs to not only make earmarking of budgets for basic needs mandatory, but spending these has to be also binding on officials, with their salaries linked to performance on this front, in the form of Service Level Agreements (SLA) as proposed by the PM recently. Otherwise, instances, such as that of BBMP earmarking more than Rs 500 crore in 2009-10 for the development of SC/STs and spending a mere Rs 50 crore of it to date, will abound.


Though the draft speaks of directly elected ward committees, which would widen participatory democracy, the urban development minister has expressed reservations over his own draft by stating that "voters (in urban areas) are not sophisticated enough" to participate in such elections. If voters in rural areas have been considered smart enough to elect their own grama panchayat members since several decades, why can't the more educated urban voters be considered capable of the same? The policy also says nothing  about urban 'ward sabhas', though the rural population have the privilege of participating in grama sabhas, which are the fundamental institutions for bringing in transparency, accountability and participatory democracy.

The draft policy also speaks of the need to amend the Land Acquisition Act to "simplify the procedures for acquisition/purchase of land", possibly for powerful land purchasers. The  same concern is not evident for the proper resettlement and rehabilitation of the non-land-owning and powerless poor, such as slum-dwellers, small traders, vendors and wage-workers, being displaced with total abandon by projects like the Metro and road-widening schemes. It is tragic that neither the National Resettlement & Rehabilitation Policy of 2007 nor the Karnataka Rehabilitation Act of 1987 have ever been invoked for any urban project so far, as they are applicable only when the government thinks it fit to apply them to a particular project through a gazette notification.

The policy needs to proactively tilt the contestations in favour of the weak and powerless, if cities are to stem the growing disparities within them and become inclusive and equitable.

(The writer is executive trustee, CIVIC Bangalore)








A year ago today, Israelis watched US President Barack Obama deliver his inaugural address on the West Front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC., as Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip was - not coincidentally - concluding.


Regardless of their political views, they looked to the new leader of the free world with a healthy mix of dread and hope, knowing that some of what he would say and do could have as much impact on Israel and other Middle Eastern nations as on America.


Obama did not mention Israel in his address, but he did devote a good portion of the speech to matters that concern us. Notably, he offered an outstretched hand to the Muslim world, accompanied by a warning.


The stick was delivered eloquently: "For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, 'Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.'"


He promised that "With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat."


For the carrot, he said: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."


And he summarized his doctrine of engagement by saying: "To all other peoples and governments
who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more."


ONE YEAR later, the great expectations that Obama set for himself in this sphere, and that others placed in him, lie largely unfulfilled.


America has not defeated terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even in its own airspace. While the Christmas Day bomber aboard a flight to Detroit was unsuccessful, the ease with which the attacker evaded security precautions certainly weakened America's spirit, and the consequences for national morale had he succeeded do not bear imagining. The US would have been pitched back into the dark days following September 11, 2001, when the terrorist murders of thousands of innocents served as a wake-up call the last time America had a new president.


Obama's diplomatic approach to preventing Iran's nuclearization has borne no fruit; his delays in applying sufficiently biting sanctions risk giving the Iranian leadership the impression that it won't be held accountable. Meanwhile, the Iranian people, who may have been inspired by Obama's election, were denied his robust support when they risked their lives - and in some cases lost their lives - to protest the theft of a free election of their own.


Obama admirably sought a new way forward in his relations with the Muslim world, which he elucidated in his June 4 speech in Cairo. The response to date has been a cold shoulder, including the rejection of the positive gestures he sought from Arab leaders to give Israelis hope of reciprocity in the peace process.


Notwithstanding his outreach, an International Peace Institute poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza taken after the Cairo speech found that only 27 percent viewed Obama positively; just 16% had a favorable view of the US.


Meanwhile, Obama's call for a halt to all Israeli building beyond the 1967 lines - a demand no Israeli prime

minister could meet in full - needlessly radicalized the Palestinian leadership, for how could Mahmoud Abbas consent to resumed talks with Israel when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not even doing what his American allies required him to do? That pressure to halt building even in east Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs also reduced the president's credibility among Israelis.


UNDER THE headline "Time to get tough," The Economist's current cover portrays Obama sitting at his desk with the Nobel Peace Prize on the wall as boxing gloves are handed to him through the window. The magazine expresses hope that, after his goodwill tour of the world produced nothing but "a series of slaps in the face," the president would now be able to apply the stick to Iran, rather than persist with the carrot.


This is our hope as well: A strong Israel requires a strong America that is respected by the world.


That was prominent among the expectations Americans and Israelis harbored on that wintry day in Washington a year ago. And that is what they need still more urgently in President Obama's second year.


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






Who is the most important European alive today? I nominate the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I do so because he is best placed to deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent. He has the potential to emerge as a world-historical figure.


That Islamic challenge consists of two components: on the one hand, an indigenous population's withering Christian faith, inadequate birthrate and cultural diffidence, and on the other an influx of devout, prolific and culturally assertive Muslim immigrants. This fast-moving situation raises profound questions about Europe: Will it retain its historic civilization or become a majority-Muslim continent living under Islamic law (Shari'a)?


Wilders, 46, founder and head of the Party for Freedom (PVV), is the unrivaled leader of those Europeans who wish to retain their historic identity. That's because he and the PVV differ from most of Europe's other nationalist, anti-immigrant parties.


The PVV is libertarian and mainstream conservative, without roots in neo-Fascism, nativism, conspiricism, anti-Semitism or other forms of extremism. (Wilders publicly emulates Ronald Reagan.) Indicative of this moderation is Wilders's long-standing affection for Israel that includes two years' residence in the Jewish state, dozens of visits and his advocating the transfer of the Dutch embassy to Jerusalem.


In addition, Wilders is a charismatic, savvy, principled and outspoken leader who has rapidly become the most dynamic political force in the Netherlands. While he opines on the full range of topics, Islam and Muslims constitute his signature issue. Overcoming the tendency of Dutch politicians to play it safe, he calls Muhammad a devil and demands that Muslims "tear out half of the Koran if they wish to stay in the Netherlands." More broadly, he sees Islam itself as the problem, not just a virulent version of it called Islamism.


Finally, the PVV benefits from the fact that, uniquely in Europe, the Dutch are receptive to a non-nativist rejection of Shari'a. This first became apparent a decade ago, when Pim Fortuyn, a left-leaning, former communist, homosexual professor, began arguing that his values and lifestyle were irrevocably threatened by Shari'a. Fortuyn anticipated Wilders in founding his own political party and calling for a halt to Muslim immigration to the Netherlands. Following Fortuyn's 2002 assassination by a leftist, Wilders effectively inherited his mantle and his constituency.


THE PVV has done well electorally, winning 6 percent of the seats in the November 2006 national parliamentary elections and 16 percent of Dutch seats in the June 2009 European Union elections. Polls now generally show the PVV winning a plurality of votes and becoming the country's largest party. Were Wilders to become prime minister, he could take on a leadership role for all Europe.


But he faces daunting challenges.


The Netherlands' fractured political scene means the PVV must either find willing partners to form a governing coalition (a difficult task, given how leftists and Muslims have demonized Wilders as a "right-wing extremist") or win a majority of the seats in parliament (a distant prospect).


Wilders must also overcome his opponents' dirty tactics. Most notably, they have finally, after years of preliminary skirmishes, succeeded in dragging him to court on charges of hate speech and incitement to hatred. The public prosecutor's case against Wilders opens in Amsterdam on January 20; if convicted, Wilders faces a fine of up to $14,000 or as many as 16 months in jail.


Remember, he is his country's leading politician. Plus, due to threats against his life, he always travels with bodyguards and incessantly changes safe houses. Who exactly, one wonders, is the victim of incitement?


Although I disagree with Wilders about Islam (I respect the religion but fight Islamists with all I have), we stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the lawsuit. I reject the criminalization of political differences, particularly attempts to thwart a grassroots political movement via the courts. Accordingly, the Middle East Forum's Legal Project has worked on Wilders' behalf, raising substantial funds for his defense and helping in other ways. We do so convinced of the paramount importance to talk freely in public during time of war about the nature of the enemy.


Ironically, were Wilders fined or jailed, it would probably enhance his chances of becoming prime minister. But principle outweighs political tactics here. He represents all Westerners who cherish their civilization. The outcome of his trial and his freedom to speak has implications for us all.


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








In the waning months of 1775 an elderly imam named Sayf ibn Ahmed al-Atiqi lay dying in Sudayr, a region north of Riyadh. Atiqi was a well known imam of the Nejd and he had spent his dying days opposing a new religious movement named Wahhabism. Two years before his death, this movement, led by the tribal sheikh Muhammad Ibn Saud, had conquered Riyadh, a sleepy desert oasis, and turned it into the capital of a new Islamic fundamentalist state.


In April 1775, on the other side of the world, American colonists were rousted from their beds in communities west of Boston by the cries of Paul Revere. The lonely rider warned them that the British had set out that very night to destroy their stockpiles of arms. The resulting conflagration was known as the "shot heard round the world" and would result in creation of the United States.


Although many have written about American involvement in the Middle East, few have realized that the eruption of Wahhabism and the founding of America were contemporary events. Those who cover US-Saudi relations usually date their beginnings to 1931 when the US recognized the government of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. Further important events occurred when Standard Oil was given a concession in the kingdom in 1933 and when Franklin D. Roosevelt met the king in 1945. However that meeting merely represents one milestone in the history of two states whose ideologies have come to dominate the modern world.


Wahhabism is usually thought to have vanished into the desert after it was defeated by Ottoman punitive expeditions in the early 19th century. It didn't reemerge until the Saudi family and its Beduin army fully conquered modern Saudi Arabia in the 1920s.


However, author Charles Allen has recently uncovered a sort of secret history which illustrates that Wahhabism influenced Indian Muslim fundamentalists in the early 19th century. Allen illustrates in God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad that these "Hindustani fanatics" founded camps in Swat in what is now northern Pakistan.


These camps posed a perennial problem to British colonial officers and although they were destroyed several times, they continued to survive until the modern day when their ideology formed the basis of the modern Taliban. Allen claims that the arrival of Osama bin Laden and his Arab fighters in the region in the 1980s was merely a coming together of the worldwide Wahhabi movement. By 2009 that movement has spread far and wide, influencing Islamist fighters from the Philippines to Bosnia, Chechnya, Gaza and Somalia.


WHAT OF the US in the same period? Like the Wahhabi movement, the US after independence was not a major player on the international scene. It too spent much of the 19th century consolidating its power and waging wars for territory and among its own citizens. World War I resulted in the emergence of the US as a world power and Saudi Arabia as an independent state. Neither country was imperialistic in the European or Ottoman model, pursuing instead a sort of cultural imperialism. The defeat of communism augmented US hegemony, but it had the corollary of increasing the power of Saudi Arabia, whose legions of Wahhabi fighters poured out of Afghanistan, fresh from victory over the Soviets, to spawn terrorist movements throughout the world.


September 11 should have served as a wake up call to the US that the Saudi ideology was the next great threat to civilization. It seems that George W. Bush's plan for the Iraq war was designed, at least in part, to undermine Saudi Arabia. Most analysts have misunderstood this side to the war. By attempting to bring democracy to Iraq and by establishing American bases there, the US could wean itself of reliance on Saudi oil and create an "American" cultural center in Iraq that would offset Saudi power.


The existence of American bases in the kingdom had been one of the major excuses for Bin Laden's decision to wage war on America. Removing them to Iraq might stem the tide of radicalism. However the failure in Iraq and the election of Barack Obama rolled back that initiative and placed America back in the arms of the Saudis, a position illustrated by the controversy over Obama's bowing to the Saudi king in April 2009.


Americanism has been a major influence in many parts of the world. Many anticolonial leaders modeled their movements and their ideas on the American example, from the liberation of Haiti in 1802 to Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh. However it appears that Wahhabism, with its Saudi funding, has come to view America and its allies, rather than China or Europe, as the greatest threat to its continuing expansion. Wahhabism understands that individual states such as Russia or India do not pose it an existential threat. Europe no longer represents a source of ideas but more a source of rhetoric that also does not pose this ideology a threat, especially as it gains quiet inroads in that continent.


Islamic jurists such as Sayf ibn Ahmed al-Atiqi have viewed Wahhabism as a revolutionary movement that may, in fact, not be Islamic at all. Wahhabism has spent as much time slaughtering fellow Muslims, who it has termed "pagans," as it has "infidels." America derived its intellectual foundations from Europe's values but recrafted them in a radical new ideology. The war that is being fought in many places, from Somalia to Kashmir, is not so much a war between Islam and the West but a war between two ideologies that derived from the former, namely Wahhabism and Americanism. The current war being fought between the fanatics in Afghanistan and the Americans will show who has the test of wills to win this round.


The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.








The abuse of human rights and international law as weapons to demonize Israel spread rapidly following the infamous 2001 NGO Forum of the Durban Conference. From the Jenin "massacre" myth to the Goldstone war crimes accusations, these attacks, which are often led by government-funded groups, have mushroomed.


Indeed, in a recent Knesset speech, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognized the extent of the threat, comparing it to the Iranian nuclear program.


But in sharp contrast to many other countries involved in this process, particularly in Europe, Canada has reversed course. The government in Ottawa has sought to end the flow of taxpayer funds, recently cutting funds for a group known as KAIROS that played a central role in the BDS - boycott, divestment, and sanctions - dimension of demonization.


In parallel, the current Canadian leadership also appointed new members to the board of a government organization known as Rights and Democracy. This group receives an annual taxpayer stipend of more than $11 million, ostensibly "to encourage and support the universal values of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions and practices around the world."


However, for many years, on the issue of Israel, this group discarded these principles by supporting the anti-Israel demonization process, including providing funds to radical Palestinian NGOs whose work demonizes and delegitimizes Israel. Two recipients, Al-Haq and Al Mezan, are among the leaders of the BDS and "lawfare" campaigns.


In sharp contrast to the pretense of defending human rights, Al Mezan repeats the Palestinian rhetoric of violence, including labeling attacks on Israeli civilians as "resistance." During last year's Operation Cast Lead, Al Mezan also accused Israel of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity." Other allegations included "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," "massacres," and "slaughtering civilians." The organization employs highly offensive rhetoric, referring to Israeli "incit[ement]" to "holocaust (genocide)."


Al-Haq is led by Shawan Jabarin. The Israeli Supreme Court referred to Jabarin as a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," whose alleged senior role in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group stand in stark contrast to his human rights claims. In Canada, Al-Haq pursued a lawfare case in Quebec against Canadian corporations, claiming that they were "aiding, abetting, assisting and conspiring with Israel" to violate the Geneva Conventions. This NGO also partnered with Al Mezan in seeking to have Defense Minister Ehud Barak investigated for war crimes in the UK, and they are preparing additional "war crimes" cases.


WHILE FUNDING for such groups under the facade of "Rights and Democracy" is bad enough, this governmental organization did so in secret, without providing any mention in its publications or activities reports. When the new board members uncovered this information, they were warned against revealing it by Remy Beauregard, the President of the organization. Beauregard and his allies refused to abide by the requirements of transparency and accountability.


According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, "the agency's board voted to 'repudiate'" the grants to Al-Haq and Al Mezan, which Beauregard resisted.


But when he suddenly died last month, the illicit funding for groups like Al Mezan and Al-Haq got out. (Reflecting the close relationship, Al-Haq head Jabarin's condolence note is featured on the Rights and Democracy website.) Another issue to emerge is Beauregard's November 2008 trip to Cairo, for which he spent $9,431.99 in taxpayer funds (including $6,562.79 for airfare to Cairo - costly even for first class). There he participated in a regional dialogue on "Freedom of Association," along with representatives from the Arab League and the Syrian regime, among others.


These revelations have triggered a sharp debate and growing criticism, and in response, Beauregard's allies resorted to bitter personal attacks. Reportedly, "[s]taffers wrote a letter demanding three board members resign, saying they had mistreated Mr. Beauregard." Ed Broadbent, a former Rights and Democracy president from the New Democratic Party, has taken the lead in rejecting calls for transparency and accountability.


In contrast, the board members who are not part of the old guard, and the government officials that refuse to bow to threats, have set an important example, which goes beyond the Canadian case.


Beyond the revelations to date, the next step would be the appointment of professional and independent auditors

to prepare a full public accounting of all past activities, in order to clear the air and prevent future abuses. Additionally, NGO accountability must not be subject to partisan politics. Government officials and opposition leaders alike should ensure that the rhetoric of morality and human rights is not exploited for immoral political agendas.


In the past, Canada had followed Europe in allowing government-supported human rights and humanitarian aid organizations to be exploited for political warfare, including the demonization of Israel. Now, Canada has the opportunity to set an important example for Europe in reversing this process, and ending the damage that has been done. The developments at Rights and Democracy highlight the need for a sweeping review of all NGO funding provided under the banner of human rights.


The writer heads NGO Monitor and is a professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University.








Israeli-Palestinian final status talks will be renewed because the international community -particularly the United States but also the moderate Arab states - wants this to happen. Probably sooner rather than later a formula will be found for sitting the two sides' negotiating teams down with US envoy George Mitchell.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, currently the reluctant partner, will bow to the American and Arab will once he has extracted maximum preliminary concessions from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. And Netanyahu obviously concluded some time ago that entering final status negotiations was the best way to avoid isolation: to maintain close Israeli-American strategic coordination regarding Iran as well as a modicum of coordination with Egypt and the moderate Arab bloc while keeping most of the Israeli public behind him.


The real question should not be whether the talks will be renewed, but rather, why? Why do the US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia want negotiations to resume when they are doomed to failure and when failure, meaning a new crisis, could significantly worsen the situation? Why insist on negotiations rather than face up to the strategic realities?


THE FIRST and most obvious of these is the three-state reality. There is little near-term prospect that Abbas will succeed in bringing Gaza and Hamas back into the fold of a single Palestinian partner for Israel. Hence he can negotiate only on behalf of the West Bank. But Gaza won't go away: Hamas can easily sabotage an Abbas-Netanyahu peace process with a few sustained rocket barrages, while neither Egypt nor Israel appears to have a viable strategy for dealing with it.


The second reality is that, when he does negotiate, Abbas is certain to table a set of demands on issues like refugees, Jerusalem and borders that Netanyahu cannot and will not meet. Back in late 2008, then-PM Ehud Olmert's very far-reaching proposals for final status were turned down by Abbas; Netanyahu is hardly likely to match even that abortive peace plan.


The third reality is that the Palestinians are currently embarked on their most, indeed only, successful state-building enterprise since the Oslo process began in 1993, and it is largely a unilateral process: building, with international help, security, economic and governance institutions on the West Bank. In the course of the past year, we have seen that negotiations - particularly frustrating and fruitless negotiations - are not necessary to sustain a positive state-building process that in fact dovetails to some extent with Netanyahu's "economic peace" approach. This is especially so, given that the state-building process is spearheaded by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent, while negotiations would be with the PLO, which doesn't represent Fayyad.


The fourth reality is that Netanyahu is hardly an enthusiastic candidate for negotiating a two-state solution. Ehud Olmert was eager and generous in his proposals, for all the good it did him.


Netanyahu has grudgingly embraced the two-state solution and will offer no concessions on Jerusalem. His governing coalition has numerous strong ties to the settler movement. And he is offering little of substance to persuade Kadima to join him in a more moderate coalition. He seems to be counting on the Palestinians to disappoint everyone; or on the Americans to become so deeply embroiled elsewhere in the region that they'll abandon the process; or on his own limitless aspiration to manipulate everyone all of the time.

Netanyahu is the quintessential politician who lives from day to day: every day celebrated without getting hopelessly entangled in a peace process that damages his welcome in Washington and with his own constituency is a victory; nothing else is important.


So if final status talks, once renewed, have little prospect of success, where might the efforts of supporters of the process be invested with a better chance of success? Certainly, backing the state-building efforts of Fayyad is one area of endeavor.


Regardless of whether the end-result is a unilateral, bilateral or multilateral process, without a functioning

Palestinian state apparatus there can be no two-state solution.


ANOTHER WORTHWHILE direction is to work out a better form of coexistence between Gaza and its neighbors, Egypt and Israel, one that generates enough stability to reduce the likelihood that Hamas will spoil the emergence of a state on the West Bank.


Finally, renewal of the peace process between Israel and Syria deserves more and better attention from the US and the moderate Arab states. Unlike in the Palestinian arena, here the parameters of a process are clear, most of the negotiating has already been done and Syrian President Bashar Assad is able to deliver. Obviously, success in the Israeli-Syrian arena is not guaranteed. But if achieved it would reduce Iran's regional influence and weaken Hamas, thereby improving the chances for fruitful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations - when circumstances are more favorable than today.


The writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. This article was originally published by and is reprinted with permission.








Though far apart, Israel and my country are not so different. Nauru is a small, isolated island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Israel is an island in its own right, surrounded by a sea of unfriendly neighbors. Nauru lacks a diversity or abundance of natural resources, especially water and energy. Israel also grapples with a scarcity of these critical resources.


And both Nauru and Israel face threats to their very existence. Nauru's great challenge comes in the shape of climate change. Scientists warn that within our children's lifetimes, sea levels may rise by more than a meter. This would wipe out low-lying coastal areas, making many Pacific islands a distant memory. Israel is confronted by those who would deny its right to exist and attempt to relegate it to the history books.


The threats facing Nauru and Israel both have a human genesis. With Nauru, it comes from people's disregard for the consequences of their actions and the efforts of a few powerful interests to protect their destructive business practices. With Israel, the threat comes from overt aggression. In both cases, though, others are attempting to dictate our fates. Whether overtly or indirectly, others are depriving our communities of the peace and security that are the natural rights of all human beings.


When confronted by these powerful forces, it is important to have friends on whom you can rely. Nauru is proud of its record of supporting Israel at the United Nations. We have stood by Israel at times when other countries have not and we will continue to do so. A recent report by the American Jewish Committee,"One Sided: The relentless campaign against Israel in the United Nations," identified 19 resolutions introduced during the 2008 to 2009 session of the UN that targeted Israel. On those resolutions for which Nauru was eligible to vote, it sided with Israel 80 percent of the time and abstained from the rest.


I AM sometimes asked why we vote the way we do and if we suffer any negative repercussions. Without question, the pressure to vote against Israel is great, and we do not have the luxury of hiding behind a secret ballot at the UN. I am quite sure that many countries fail to vote their conscience for fear of seeing their vote posted on the public tally. Nauru, with a long tradition of independence and voting our conscience, has no such qualms. In fact, we are often stunned by the cowardice demonstrated by countries far larger and more powerful than our own.


Many assume our votes are nothing more than the result of checkbook diplomacy or close ties to the US. That is simply not true. We receive not a single dollar in development aid from the US. Nauru votes with Israel because of its strong conviction that Israel has a right to exist. Together with the US, Israel and Nauru are united by a commitment to democracy and human rights. We recognize Israel's unique status in a region where these principles are not found in abundance.


I visited Israel personally in 2008 through Project Interchange, an institute of the American Jewish Committee. During my visit, I walked through the streets of Ashkelon and Sderot. I saw the menace to innocent civilians posed by the Kassam rockets. For me, the visit confirmed just how one-sided the UN has become. Why must Israel defend itself from political attacks at the UN every time it defends itself from violent attacks at home? I sincerely hope there comes a day when the international community stands behind the nation of Israel rather than behind the countries who deny the Holocaust and preach intolerance and hatred.


This week, I am honored to again visit Israel through Project Interchange and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the esteemed company of the President of Nauru, Marcus Stephen, the Naurun Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Kieren Keke as well as the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, Emanuel Mori and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lorin Robert to further enhance and expand the important ties between our countries.


Why does Nauru vote with Israel? Because Israel is the lone democracy in its neighborhood and therefore, it is the right thing to do. And doing the right thing is its own reward.


The writer is ambassador of Nauru to the United Nations.








Over the past year, Jerusalem has become the capital of controversy between Israel and the Palestinians and the focus of tensions with the Muslim world. In addition to the crises surrounding the expansion of the Jewish presence in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, we now have the plan by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to establish a museum of tolerance in the Mamilla area on the grounds of an old Muslim cemetery.

The planning and building council approved the project despite protests by Muslim and human rights groups. Appeals by the Jordanian government to reconsider the building's location have been turned down. The High Court of Justice rejected an appeal by opponents of the plan and gave it its seal of approval, but High Court President Dorit Beinisch canceled a plan to build Jerusalem's new district and magistrate's courts near the site.

On Friday, Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz that architect Frank Gehry was withdrawing from the museum's planning process following a decision by the Wiesenthal Center to limit the project. Nevertheless, leaders of the Wiesenthal Center say they are determined to set up the museum on the site of the old cemetery. They said in a statement that the museum was of great importance to the future of Jerusalem and the Israel people, and its size would reflect the global economic situation.

The peace of Jerusalem and the future of the Israeli people are to be found in the Jewish state's willingness to be considerate to its minorities.

First and foremost, the new plan must reflect Jerusalem's complex cultural, religious and political reality. Gehry's departure from the project gives its initiators, donors and the planning authorities a chance to correct the Orwellian distortion of a Jewish organization establishing a museum of tolerance while showing a lack of tolerance toward another faith.

If the project's initiators insist on their right to show intolerance, the Jerusalem municipality must state that the new plan for the museum requires a new discussion by planning bodies. Mayor Nir Barkat can offer the center sites more suitable for a building that is supposed to promote tolerance in a city sacred to three religions.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a significant brouhaha over the housekeeper his wife employed. First, there's the image issue: The suit filed by Lillian Peretz and the furious response from the Prime Minister's Bureau have destroyed the "New Bibi" brand that Netanyahu built up so carefully on the road to his political comeback. The media's preoccupation with Sara Netanyahu's behavior, and her husband's countercharges about media persecution, marked the epitome of the "Old Bibi" - from his last term as premier.

And indeed, the negative stereotypes are returning: mistreatment of employees, attempted cover-ups, stinginess, hurting the poor. Regardless of whether such allegations are accurate or exaggerated, they tend to stick, even if the courts later throw out the lawsuits.

It doesn't matter whether Peretz called her employer "Mrs. Netanyahu" or "darling" or whatever else. Nor does it matter whether the story was played up by Yedioth Ahronoth as a result of its battle with rival daily Israel Hayom. The problem is the content. This is not a story about the Iranian threat, a complex diplomatic formula or the 90 articles in the intended reform of the Planning and Building Law. This is about the relationship between the master of the house and his housekeeper. And it's a situation that is familiar to and easily understood by everyone.


The preoccupation with Peretz signifies the end of the calm Netanyahu has enjoyed since returning to power. Nine months went by pleasantly without him having to make a single fateful decision that would have an effect on reality or lead the state in a new direction, but also naturally entail political conflict. Cabinet meetings have been confined to lengthy announcements about reforms and legislative amendments, but when and if they will ever be passed remains unclear. The public is also apathetic to the prime minister's vision of Israel becoming an economic superpower and developing an alternative to oil.

Netanyahu's adoption of the "two states for two peoples" slogan was an act of political genius that precisely met the public's expectations, positioned him in the political center and neutralized opposition leader Tzipi Livni. But since then, nothing has happened. The freeze on settlement construction changed nothing for most Israelis, while the foot-dragging in securing the release of Gilad Shalit has simply continued.

Netanyahu is simply waiting. Waiting for Barack Obama, waiting for Mahmoud Abbas, waiting for "the fateful decision on Iran." The overdose of anticipation is blurring his message to the point where it's unclear why he worked so hard to return to power.

American author Daniel Pink proposes summarizing every leader in a single sentence. Were we to reproduce this model in Israel, we could describe David Ben-Gurion as "the father of his country." Menachem Begin would be the man of contradictions: He returned the Sinai to Egypt for peace, yet also built 100 settlements in the West Bank, bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor and invaded Lebanon. Yitzhak Rabin would be "the warrior for peace who was murdered in office." Ehud Olmert became embroiled in a failed war, drafted a peace proposal that was rejected and had to resign due to allegations of corruption. That is not exactly how he wanted to be remembered. Ehud Barak began as "the warrior hero, the genius who would save the country," then became "the sucker who offered everything to Yasser Arafat and got the intifada in exchange," and is now "the essential expert heading the Defense Ministry, with problematic personal behavior."


And Netanyahu? He has also developed over time - from the "public relations star of American television" to "leader of the struggle against the Oslo Accords" to "the divisive prime minister who fought the elites and lost." As finance minister, he was seen as a determined reformer who fought the strong unions and banks, but also destroyed the welfare state and hurt the poor.

But what does Benjamin Netanyahu represent in 2010? The polls say he is admired as a "strong leader," and he markets himself as a Jewish patriot trying to advance peace while preserving national assets. But with his lack of action, he could be summed up in this way: "A hesitant politician trying to please everyone in order to survive."

In the absence of any initiative or significant action, Netanyahu's agenda has been devoted to trivialities. Israel's foreign relations have shrunk to an idiotic rebuke of the Turkish ambassador, while management of the country has shrunk to the management of Bibi and Sara's household. This is precisely what happened to Ariel Sharon, who was drowning in scandals and investigations - that is, until he announced the disengagement from Gaza and once again took command. Netanyahu is becoming mired in similar distress: The headlines about his state visit to Germany dealt with his housekeeper.

Only a display of leadership, of seizing initiative, can extricate the prime minister from this corner. If he continues sitting on the fence, the minor incidents will accumulate and the big decisions will slip away. The "housekeeper scandal" gives him an opportunity to reboot his second chance in office. Peretz may yet wind up being more effective than Obama in finally getting Netanyahu to move.








The affair of Goel Ratzon - the man whom so many women have obeyed and borne scores of children - is putting the authorities to a difficult test. The populist complaints about the welfare authorities such as "Where have you been all these years?" are baseless. Infiltrating a cult is a nearly impossible mission, and Ratzon's homes were apparently run according to rules followed by cults in a well-known and destructive process.

It starts with identifying suitable women as candidates (by their degree of weakness, crisis and dependency). It proceeds when the joiners receive a "barrage of love" and the warmth and security they so sorely lack. It moves on to total control of their minds, the point of no return. All this is conducted by a dominant and charismatic spiritual father, a guru with supposed hidden powers.

This process, outrageous though it may be, is not illegal, and it is not by chance that the police and social services intervened only when one of the women decided to reveal details of what went on behind the locked doors. Undoubtedly, the media's inquisitive presence, and especially the documentary broadcast on Channel 10, helped widen the crack through which the investigation began. Exposure is the greatest threat to any cult.

However, herein lies the difficulty, as well as the danger. In Israel, as in most countries of the world, there is no law against cults. Even in France, the only country where such legislation has been passed (the 2001 About-Picard law), the prohibition is restricted to "registered organizations that violate human rights and the principle of freedom." A number of provisos were softened in the wake of harsh criticism from politicians and observers both in France and abroad, among them former U.S. president Bill Clinton. They argue that the French law itself violates the principle of freedom.

This law lets a court dismantle a cult and arrest its heads within 15 days. It has so far been enforced in only one case, which is not controversial: against the leader of an apocalyptic cult who ordered his disciples to commit suicide. The Church of Scientology, whose leaders were convicted four months ago of fraud and embezzling money from their followers, has not been banned even though the judges noted explicitly that it is a cult.

Such a law is not possible in Israel. The very fact of discussing it would force lawmakers to deal with religious organizations, New Age groups and mutually hostile nonprofit organizations in a traditional, multicultural society where awareness about cults is entirely dormant. (For example, the 1994 incident in which Rabbi Uzi Meshulam barricaded himself and his followers in his Yehud home over the issue of vanished Yemenite children. This was not interpreted as a cult but rather as religious-messianic activity.)

Ratzon's arrest was based, therefore, on a new law, which on the surface is only tangentially relevant to the affair - the Slavery Law. This law was passed with the aim of stopping trafficking of women. Its advantage is that it also incriminates anyone who has had "consensual intercourse" if it is proved that the denial of free will led to the sexual relations. If the indictment against Ratzon will indeed be based on the Slavery Law, this will be the first time this law is tested in any country. Presumably the prosecution will find it difficult to prove rape, incest and abuse of minors because it is rare and almost impossible to elicit reliable testimony from members of a cult, even former members.

Thus the court deliberations will take on the confusing guise of a debate on values. (Such as what's wrong with a set of laws in a house? What do Ratzon's children lack? They are always clean and tidy; they have never been physically punished.) The authorities will also have to be precise and excellently prepared. In addition, the prosecution should base its work on another provision in different legislation (the law on the abuse of minors and the helpless), which has also not been put to the test - the legislation on mental abuse. This, too, is hard to prove, but it exists in the law and the reality that spawned it. The time has come to take it out of the drawer.

Hopefully the police are relying on solid facts in their frequent statements to the media and the children of the Ratzon commune will receive a meticulous and diligent prosecutor and a courageous and wise judge who know how to handle the challenge. If they fail, Ratzon will be free again. If this happens, it's hard to imagine the damage to the children, who have already been placed with foster families, and to their mothers, who have been wrenched from the cult's iron embrace. In the meantime, they are walking a tightrope over a gaping abyss.








The Americans are coming. The U.S. national security adviser, Jim Jones, visited Israel last week, and Mideast envoy George Mitchell landed in the country yesterday. But without a dramatic change in both Washington's and Jerusalem's positions, talks on a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not be relaunched even after Mitchell leaves.

Much has been said about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' imminent surrender to U.S. and Arab pressure to return to the negotiating table. But it seems both the Netanyahu and Obama administrations are missing part of the picture.

Abbas is far from eager to return to final-status talks without a construction freeze in East Jerusalem. It's true that Israel's government either cannot or does not want to stop building there. But with Washington's help, Abbas has conditioned the renewal of talks on ending such construction and can hardly back off that position now. An Israeli gesture like freeing prisoners or even transferring Area B of the West Bank to full Palestinian control are, in his view, simply insufficient.

A number of news outlets have reported in recent weeks of Arab pressure on Abbas to resume negotiations. This pressure, however, is being applied behind closed doors. Explicit declarations, such as those by the Saudi foreign minister and Arab League secretary general, have instead generally endorsed Abbas' opposition to renewing talks without a complete West Bank construction freeze. And as we have already learned, in the Middle East, remarks made on the record are worth more than those made in secret.

It's possible that American and international pressure will one day reap rewards, but in the meantime, Abbas can be expected to stand firm in his resistance to resuming talks. After all, he is more worried about Palestinian public opinion, for which continued building in Jerusalem represents a red line.

After the storm caused by the delay in the United Nations vote over the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict, and Washington's about-face in its policy on a construction freeze, Abbas began listening much more closely to public opinion in the West Bank and Gaza than to the U.S. president's envoys.

In both the Palestinian street and Abbas' Muqata compound, the U.S. change of heart was perceived as a betrayal. Consequently, Abbas' relinquishing the demand to freeze building in East Jerusalem would be perceived as surrender over "al-Quds" as a whole.

Abbas knows that in such a scenario (as in the case of the Goldstone report) not only Hamas, but also top Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization figures will be ready to undermine his position. Even the Arab press seems to be an albatross around his neck.

In any case, Abbas' people believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a return to talks merely to win points internationally, not to reach a genuine final-status agreement. The Palestinian president, who has already announced his plans to retire, does not want to be perceived as an obsequious leader whose only legacy is surrender to U.S. demands.

Israeli officials will naturally celebrate the significant "achievement" of the non-renewal of negotiations and deepening relations with Washington, while Abbas will be viewed as a spoilsport, refusing every Israeli or American proposal. Netanyahu will be able to sell his colleagues in the Labor Party - and domestic public opinion - the claim that he is at least trying.

After all, who cares if there is no diplomatic horizon if the West Bank is quiet? But without a final-status agreement, this quiet will ultimately be revealed as more fragile than it seems.

Before the champagne is popped in the offices of the prime, foreign and defense ministers, let's remember that the absence of diplomatic prospects hardly represents a foreign policy achievement. Perhaps the time has come for Netanyahu to simply tell the Israeli public the truth: There will be no peace agreement with the PA without Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem, that building there does not help reach such an agreement, and that maybe we need a building freeze, even a short one, to save the moribund peace process from an untimely death.







The State of Israel conducted two complex aid operations in developing countries this week. But while the rescue mission to Haiti was accompanied by a big publicity campaign, the arrival in Israel of 144 new immigrants from Ethiopia hardly warranted a mention. The operation in Haiti is one of limited duration. On the other hand, the two planes carrying immigrants from Addis Ababa are merely first installments. Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared this week that he planned to approve the arrival of another 8,000 immigrants from Ethiopia.

In this way, without an orderly decision-making process, the Israeli government is committing to absorb at least 10,000 poverty-stricken Ethiopians with all the economic and social implications this entails. The government is once again bowing to a bizarre coalition made up of messianic rabbis, settlers, respected public figures with good intentions (like former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar), American Jewish organizations, and first and foremost, Shas. The move ignores the positions of former interior and absorption ministers, experts from the Jewish Agency, and a series of decisions made by Ariel Sharon's government to stop bringing the Falashmura to Israel.

This is not a matter of applying the Law of Return. Even the ruling by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar stating that the Falashmura are "from the seeds of Israel" required them to undergo a full conversion to Judaism. Some of the Falashmura are the descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity at the beginning of the 20th century and even before that; they are not included in any category of the Law of Return. On arrival, they receive temporary residency cards and get full citizenship only after completing their conversion.

The Falashmura issue was already raised during the preparations for Operation Solomon in 1991 when 14,000 Ethiopians were brought here - the last Jews who remained there. It was decided not to take in the Falashmura, but nevertheless several thousand managed to arrive and were absorbed as new immigrants in every sense. Ever since, every government has come under tremendous pressure to allow "family reunions."

A coalition of interests represents them in the media with great success as Jews in every respect whom the state is abusing because of the color of their skin. This coalition includes the Shas leaders, who are true to the rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Amar that recognized the Beta Israel community and the Falashmura as Jews, right-wing rabbis who dream of mass immigration that will make it possible to beat the Palestinians on the demographic front, and liberal Jews from America who seek tikkun olam - to repair the world. The Americans support this lobby's activities and the operation of the compound in Gondar where thousands of Falashmura have gathered. The price of bringing them to Israel and their absorption over the years - which adds up to hundreds of millions of shekels - will have to be borne by the state.

The media and most of the public are being deceived by the false picture painted by the Falashmura lobby. The voice of experts in the Jewish Agency and government is not heard at all - they say these people have no connection whatsoever to the Jewish nation, that their only wish is to escape from a life of destitution in Ethiopia, and that each of them who is absorbed in Israel has dozens of relatives who will become candidates for family reunions.

It's simple to accuse these experts of racism especially because "white" non-Jewish new immigrants continue to come here from the former Soviet Union. But as long as the Law of Return remains in effect, those people have the right to immigrate here, while the Falashmura come as the result of political machinations. At the very least, a public debate must be held on the issue before Israel imports another social time bomb that will add to its plethora of problems.




******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




A few years ago, Cher, the entertainer, and Nicole Richie, the television personality, uttered brief expletives on separate music awards shows on Fox. The Federal Communications Commission ruled that the comments were indecent. A federal appeals court in New York is now considering the case. The court should rule that the F.C.C.'s decision violates the First Amendment.


At the Billboard Music Awards in 2002, Cher directed a four-letter word at her critics. A year later, on the same show, Ms. Richie uttered two brief expletives while talking about a television series she was appearing on.


In 2006, the F.C.C. declared the two broadcasts legally indecent, though it did not impose sanctions — in line with an indecency policy adopted in 2004 when the commission abandoned its longstanding practice of giving legal immunity to so-called fleeting expletives.


Fox challenged the ruling, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, found that the commission's reasoning was legally inadequate. The United States Supreme Court reversed that decision by a 5-to-4 vote last year. But it left open the possibility that the F.C.C.'s ruling may have been unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the appellate court heard oral arguments in Fox's First Amendment challenge last week.


The F.C.C.'s indecency policy is hopelessly vague. Indecency was once limited to forms of expression that were truly outrageous. Now the commission considers itself free to pick and choose among not particularly shocking content based on its opinion about the words and the context.


The same epithet that the commission regards as indecent when Cher says it on an awards show may not be considered indecent when showing the movie "Saving Private Ryan." Broadcasters have no way of knowing in advance what sort of content will upset the F.C.C.'s indecency police — and possibly subject them to enormous financial penalties. When the government punishes speech with vague rules, it has a chilling effect on expression of all kinds. Speakers, unclear on where the lines are, and fearing sanctions, have a strong incentive to avoid engaging in speech that is legally protected.


It is always risky to try to predict a case's outcome from oral argument. But it appears that the judges who heard this case understood that the commission's highly subjective standard violates the Constitution.






Just more than a year ago, one billion tons of toxic coal sludge broke loose from a containment pond belonging to the Tennessee Valley Authority, burying hundreds of acres of Roane County in eastern Tennessee and threatening local water supplies and air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency immediately promised new national standards governing the disposal of coal ash to replace a patchwork of uneven — and in many cases weak — state regulations.


The agency's recommendations, which have not been made public, are now the focus of a huge dispute inside the Obama administration, with industry lobbying hard for changes that would essentially preserve the status quo. The dispute should be resolved in favor of the environment and public safety.


America's power plants produce 130 million tons of coal ash a year, enough to fill a train of boxcars stretching from the District of Columbia to Australia. Some of this is usefully, safely and profitably recycled to make concrete and other construction materials. Much of it winds up in lightly regulated landfills, some as big as 1,500 acres, where toxic pollutants like arsenic and lead can leach into the water table.


One internal E.P.A. proposal suggested reclassifying coal ash as a hazardous material subject to federal regulation. It also recommended national standards requiring safe, sturdy disposal facilities. Industry counterattacked, arguing that the hazardous designation would ruin the recycling market and could trigger burdensome new investments. It also argued for continued state control, with the federal government providing "guidance."


These arguments do not hold up. The recycling market will not disappear. Materials that are responsibly recycled are not, typically, designated as hazardous. The real problem is the 60 percent or so of the coal ash that winds up in porous landfills. Evidence suggests that tough but carefully tailored rules could encourage even more recycling, protecting the environment while yielding income to help pay for more secure landfills.


This debate is being conducted behind closed doors, mainly at the Office of Management and Budget, where industry usually takes its complaints and horror stories. A better course would be to let the E.P.A. draft a proposal, get it out in the open and offer it for comment from all sides. The Obama administration promised that transparency and good science would govern decisions like these.






Gov. David Paterson of New York presented a lean budget on Tuesday that is a necessarily austere response to the state's financial crisis. It is certain to make almost everybody unhappy.


The overall budget would grow by 0.6 percent, a miniscule increase by Albany's standards, to about $134 billion. Though the governor has promised (unwisely) that there will be no significant cuts to the state's work force, he would trim budgets for schools, health care, the environment and most other sectors of government. He asks for about $1 billion in new taxes.


Now comes the hard part: persuading the State Legislature to go along. Between now and the April 1 deadline for enacting the 2010-11 budget, legislators will be bombarded by complaints, and, if history holds, they will slip back into their old ways of adding a little here, a lot there and producing an unsustainably large budget. Mr. Paterson's biggest task will be to keep them in check.


Facing an estimated $7.4 billion deficit for the upcoming budget year, the governor proposes cutting $1.1 billion in school aid — a 5 percent reduction that is the largest proposed cut in education in two decades. The cuts are, properly, concentrated in richer, suburban areas, which means they will be vigorously opposed by state senators from Long Island.


He also proposes to slow the growth in Medicaid costs and to decrease spending for state agencies, including the poorly run youth prison system that is now facing a court challenge and federal investigation.


The new taxes would include a $1-per-pack addition to the $3.75 state tax on cigarettes and a penny-an-ounce levy on colas and other sugared beverages. The revenue from the cigarette tax is expected to collect $218 million a year, but the far more controversial soda tax could bring in as much as $465 million a year.


Both are useful ways to raise money, especially since the governor has promised to use the proceeds for health care. But he has proposed a soda tax before, then caved, after orchestrated industry protests across the state. This time, he should resist and keep the tax.


Other proposals seem marginal and, indeed, could sidetrack the governor and Legislature from their primary mission, which is to pass a sensible budget. For example, Mr. Paterson wants to legalize mixed martial arts, popularly known as ultimate fighting, which he says would add $2.1 million to state accounts. That's peanuts, and hardly worth the legalization of a controversial "sport." It should be debated as a separate issue.


The governor also announced important reforms in higher education, giving state and city institutions much-needed authority to set their own tuition. That could be a hard sell with legislators who resist giving up control of any fund-raising mechanism.


Still, Mr. Paterson's budget makes sense and, for the most part, asks for shared sacrifice. That is a reasonable approach even though this is an election year, when reason does not routinely prevail. The governor has set himself a difficult but necessary task.






Americans have long known that the government has been running secretive immigration prisons into which detainees have frequently disappeared, their grave illnesses and injuries untreated, their fates undisclosed until well after early and unnecessary deaths.


What we did not know, until a recent article in The Times by Nina Bernstein, was how strenuously the government has tried to cover up those failings — keeping relatives and lawyers in the dark, deflecting blame, fighting rigorous quality standards, outside oversight and transparency. These deficiencies endure today.


It took digging by The Times and the American Civil Liberties Union to unearth the evidence. A detainee with a broken leg killed himself; his pain had been unbearable but never treated, and someone later faked a medication log to show that he had been given Motrin. A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement told a reporter asking after a mortally injured African detainee that nothing could be learned, even though the spokesman and top managers already knew the man had fallen, fractured his skull, lain untreated for more than 13 hours, was comatose and dying. The officials fretted by phone over how to avoid unflattering publicity.


Here, as evidence of the agency mind-set, is a spokesman's warning to his supervisors about a Washington Post reporter who was looking into detention deaths and the story of a man whose fatal cancer had been ignored and untreated:


"These are quite horrible medical stories, and I think we'll need to have a pretty strong response to keep this from becoming a very damaging national story that takes on long legs."


The strong response? A misleading public-relations offensive designed to show that mortality in detention was less serious than it really was.


The Obama administration has since promised a top-to-bottom reform of the immense detention system, which was erected in sloppy haste during the Bush years, largely by private contractors that had dim regard for oversight and standards. John Morton, the leader of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has promised to create a system of civil detention suitable for inmates who are mostly not criminals.


But his agency has a long way to go. And it still is resisting adequate outside oversight and the adoption of legally binding detention standards, insisting instead that it can best change its own rules and police itself. The new disclosures about the agency's deep-set culture of shameful secrecy do not inspire confidence.








WHILE supply-side catechism insists that lower taxes are a growth tonic, the theory also argues that if you want less of something, tax it more. The economy desperately needs less of our bloated, unproductive and increasingly parasitic banking system. In this respect, the White House appears to have gone over to the supply side with its proposed tax on big banks, as it scores populist points against the banksters, too.


Not surprisingly, the bankers are already whining, even though the tax would amount to a financial pinprick — a levy of only 0.15 percent on the debts (other than deposits) of the big financial conglomerates. Their objections are evidence that the administration is on the right track.


Make no mistake. The banking system has become an agent of destruction for the gross domestic product and of impoverishment for the middle class. To be sure, it was lured into these unsavory missions by a truly insane monetary policy under which, most recently, the Federal Reserve purchased $1.5 trillion of longer-dated Treasury bonds and housing agency securities in less than a year. It was an unprecedented exercise in market-rigging with printing-press money, and it gave a sharp boost to the price of bonds and other securities held by banks, permitting them to book huge revenues from trading and bookkeeping gains.


Meanwhile, by fixing short-term interest rates at near zero, the Fed planted its heavy boot squarely in the face of depositors, as it shrank the banks' cost of production — their interest expense on depositor funds — to the vanishing point.


The resulting ultrasteep yield curve for banks is heralded, by a certain breed of Wall Street tout, as a financial miracle cure. Soon, it is claimed, a prodigious upwelling of profitability will repair bank balance sheets and bury toxic waste from the last bubble's collapse. But will it?


In supplying the banks with free deposit money (effectively, zero-interest loans), the savers of America are taking a $250 billion annual haircut in lost interest income. And the banks, after reaping this ill-deserved windfall, are pleased to pronounce themselves solvent, ignoring the bad loans still on their books. This kind of Robin Hood redistribution in reverse is not sustainable. It requires permanently flooding world markets with cheap dollars — a recipe for the next bubble and financial crisis.


Moreover, rescuing the banks yet again, this time with a steeply sloped yield curve (that is, cheap short-term money and more expensive long-term rates), is not even a proper monetary policy action. It is a vast and capricious reallocation of national income, which would be hooted down in the halls of Congress, were it properly brought to a vote.


National economic policy has come to this absurd pass because for decades the Fed has juiced the banking system with excessive reserves. With this monetary fuel, the banks manufactured, aggressively at first and then recklessly, a tide of new loans and deposits. When Wall Street's "heart attack" struck in September 2008, bank liabilities had reached 100 percent of gross domestic product — double the ratio of a few decades earlier.


This was a measurement of the perilous extent to which bad investments, financed by debt, had come to distort the warp and woof of the economy. Behind the worthless loans stands a vast assemblage of redundant housing units, shopping malls, office buildings, warehouses, tanning salons and fast food restaurants. These superfluous fixed assets had, over the past decade, given rise to a hothouse economy of jobs that have now vanished. Obviously, the legions of brokers, developers, appraisers, contractors, tradesmen and decorators who created the bad investments are long gone. But now the waitresses, yoga instructors, gardeners, repairmen, sales clerks, inventory managers, office workers and lift-truck drivers once thought needed to work at these places are disappearing into the unemployment statistics, as well.


The baleful reality is that the big banks, the freakish offspring of the Fed's easy money, are dangerous institutions, deeply embedded in a bull market culture of entitlement and greed. This is why the Obama tax is welcome: its underlying policy message is that big banking must get smaller because it does too little that is useful, productive or efficient.


To argue, as some conservatives surely will, that a policy-directed shrinking of big banking is an inappropriate interference in the marketplace is to miss a crucial point: the big Wall Street banks are wards of the state, not private enterprises. During recent quarters, for instance, the preponderant share of Goldman Sachs' revenues came from trading in bonds, currencies and commodities.


But these profits were not evidence of Mr. Market doing God's work, greasing the wheels of commerce and trade by facilitating productive financial transactions. In fact, they represented the fruits of hyperactive gambling in the Fed's monetary casino — a place where the inside players obtain their chips at no cost from the Fed-controlled money markets, and are warned well in advance, by obscure wording changes in the Fed's policy statements, about any pending shift in the gambling odds.


To be sure, the most direct way to cure the banking system's ills would be to return to a rational monetary policy based on sensible interest rates, an end to frantic monetization of federal debt and a stable exchange value for the dollar. But Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, and his posse are not likely to go there, believing as they do that central banking is about micromanaging aggregate demand — asset bubbles and a flagging dollar be damned. Still, there can be no doubt that taxing big bank liabilities will cause there to be less of them. And that's a start.


David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, is working on a book about the financial crisis.








WALL STREET is considering legal action to prevent President Obama from imposing a new tax on bailed-out financial institutions. Because the law that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program compels the government to recoup the bailout money, it's unlikely that banks will succeed in avoiding recompense. So rather than debate the constitutionality of the proposed tax, it is far more productive to design the best possible repayment plan.


The consequences of getting this right are huge: with a new tax, the administration aims to raise $90 billion over the next 10 years, which would do much to offset TARP's estimated $117 billion losses. We therefore suggest taxing banks based on the difference between their assets at the end of August 2008 and their current level of capital. After all, the support these firms received was based on the size of assets before the financial panic began, not the size of those assets today.


With the bailout money, the government wound up insuring the bondholders and other creditors of the financial institutions. The tax we propose would allow the government to effectively collect insurance premiums now that should have been charged ahead of time. (Thus it exempts insurance companies and others that were not bailed out.)


Commercial banks might complain that they already pay a fee to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, making the new fee a double tax. That is partly correct, but the deposit insurance they paid for was underpriced. As a compromise, however, we suggest that the current year's deposit insurance payments be deducted from the new tax payments.


Because our version of the tax would require each firm to pay a tax proportionate to the size of its bailout, it would fall hardest on the former investment banks whose very survival was in doubt before the government stepped in. These firms are now making eye-popping profits and are on a path to pay record bonuses, but more importantly they had the most borrowed money that wound up being unexpectedly insured. This is why they ought to pay more.


Even TARP recipients that have repaid the bailout funds benefited from the stability the government provided, so they too would have to pay some portion of the tax. But our formula would lower the tax for organizations that have raised capital after August 2008 and would lower it further if they raise more. Regulators around the world have announced a preference for having banks raise more capital, and our tax has the advantage of reinforcing this goal.


By focusing on each institution's assets before the fall of Lehman Brothers almost brought down the system, our plan would make it impossible for banks to shrink their way out of the tax. Since the crisis, banks have been reluctant to take on more risk and lend; some have responded to losses by selling assets and not renewing loans, which has only exacerbated the economic downturn. Our approach would remove the incentive for such behavior because it ties the tax to the size of the firms when the government guarantees were so valuable.


Likewise, by focusing on the historical size of a bank, our plan would allow little room to engage in sham accounting transactions to sidestep the tax. As we saw in the time leading up to the crisis, banks created many legally separate companies — the infamous "special purpose vehicles" — to buy certain assets without having to put up the bank's capital to support them. If the banks had bought the assets directly they would have been required to hold more capital.

By August 2008, these tricks had been exposed; financial institutions can't retroactively cover such vehicles back up, or make themselves seem smaller than we know they were. Nor should they be able to avoid the tax by inventing any new tricks to change the appearance of their current size.


It is generally a bad idea to enact after-the-fact penalties. But giving away free insurance, as the government did during the bailout, is also bad. Our tax would merely ask financial institutions to finally pay for the insurance policy that kept them afloat.


Douglas W. Diamond is a professor of finance and Anil K Kashyap is a professor of economics and finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.







Last week, I wrote a column suggesting that while some overheated Chinese markets, like real estate, may offer shorting opportunities, I'd be wary of the argument that China's economy today is just one big short-inviting bubble, à la Dubai. Your honor, I'd like to now revise and amend my remarks.


There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I'd like to short the Chinese Communist Party.


Here is why: Chinese companies today are both more backward and more advanced than most Americans realize. There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let's call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.


Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.


What is so important about knowledge flows? This, for me, is the key to understanding the Google story and why one might decide to short the Chinese Communist Party.


John Hagel, the noted business writer and management consultant argues in his recently released "Shift Index" that we're in the midst of "The Big Shift." We are shifting from a world where the key source of strategic advantage was in protecting and extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks — the sum total of what we know at any point in time, which is now depreciating at an accelerating pace — into a world in which the focus of value creation is effective participation in knowledge flows, which are constantly being renewed.


"Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important," says Hagel. "Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside." And in today's flat world, you can now access them all. Therefore, the more your company or country can connect with relevant and diverse sources to create new knowledge, the more it will thrive. And if you don't, others will.


I would argue that Command China, in its efforts to suppress, curtail and channel knowledge flows into politically acceptable domains that will indefinitely sustain the control of the Communist Party — i.e., censoring Google — is increasingly at odds with Network China, which is thriving by participating in global knowledge flows. That is what the war over Google is really all about: It is a proxy and a symbol for whether the Chinese will be able to freely search and connect wherever their imaginations and creative impulses take them, which is critical for the future of Network China.


Have no doubt, China has some world-class networked companies that are "in the flow" already, such as Li & Fung, a $14 billion apparel company with a network of 10,000 specialized business partners, and Dachangjiang, the motorcycle maker. The flows occurring on a daily basis in the networks of these Chinese companies to do design, product innovation and supply-chain management and to pool the best global expertise "are unlike anything that U.S. companies have figured out," said Hagel.


The orchestrators of these networks, he added, "encourage participants to gather among themselves in an ad hoc fashion to address unexpected performance challenges, learn from each other and pull in outsiders as they need them. More traditional companies driven by a desire to protect and exploit knowledge stocks carefully limit the partners they deal with."


Command China has thrived up to now largely by perfecting the 20th-century model for low-cost manufacturing based on mining knowledge stocks and limiting flows. But China will only thrive in the 21st century — and the Communist Party survive in power — if it can get more of its firms to shift to the 21st-century model of Network China. That means enabling more and more Chinese people, universities and companies to participate in the world's great knowledge flows, especially ones that connect well beyond the established industry and market boundaries.


Alas, though, China seems to be betting that it can straddle three impulses — control flows for political reasons, maintain 20th-century Command Chinese factories for employment reasons and expand 21st-century Network China for growth reasons. But the contradictions within this straddle could undermine all three. The 20th-century Command model will be under pressure. The future belongs to those who promote richer and ever more diverse knowledge flows and develop the institutions and practices required to harness them.


So there you have it: Command China, which wants to censor Google, is working against Network China, which thrives on Google. For now, it looks as if Command China will have its way. If that turns out to be the case, then I'd like to short the Communist Party.








Gavin Newsom still looks glossy, like someone who'd play J.F.K. in a Lifetime original movie.


But the 42-year-old mayor of San Francisco sees his once glowing political future in less glamorous terms.


"I mean, oh, God," he said, sipping green tea in his elegant office. "In a couple of years, you'll see me as the clerk of a wine store."


It's easy to picture the lithe and charming Newsom — with the well-cut suits, the electric Tesla, the beautiful blonde wife and baby — advising a Pacific Heights couple on a cabernet with aromas of eucalyptus and mint. Before he got into politics, after all, he started a boutique wine shop in Napa Valley that blossomed into a multimillion-dollar business.


So how did this onetime poster boy for the new face of the Democratic Party get to the point where he couldn't raise the money to compete with the old-school Jerry Brown in the governor's race, and why is he leaving politics just when he feels as though he's getting better at it?


"This is it. God bless. It was fun while it lasted," he said of his career, with a rueful smile. "Guys like me don't necessarily progress very far, which is fine."


If Newsom feels a little sorry for himself these days, it's perfectly understandable.


In a courthouse a few blocks from City Hall, Ted Olson and David Boies are defending same-sex marriage in a landmark case substantially financed so far by David Geffen and Steve Bing. While the mayor contemplates life as a wine clerk, the two lawyers are becoming bipartisan folk heroes to gays and lesbians and were lionized in a Newsweek cover story and a Diana Walker photo spread in Time.


Boies told The New Yorker that the "powerful images" of gay couples flocking to San Francisco to tie the knot had helped move him to get involved in the case to overturn Proposition 8.


Like many pioneers who go first — from the "Ellen" sitcom to the Hillary drama — the mayor who staked his career on giving equal rights to gays may have to settle for paving the way. The lawyers get praised, but he got pilloried?


"Grand understatement," he said dryly, noting that he still remembers press coverage from before the 2004 same-sex marriage eruption about shooting stars of the Democratic Party.


"There were five of us," he said, with a teasing nostalgia. "A guy named Obama. I'm like 'Why is he in here? This is ridiculous. I mean, he's a state senator. I'm kind of insulted.' Life was really good, and then it came crashing down. 'You're not going to be speaking at the convention. We overbooked.' And then it becomes the house of cards with the Democrats excusing themselves from visits to this city and being in the same room with me.


"I went in with the beginner's mind. I didn't know what I didn't know. I never imagined 4,036 couples getting married over a month. And this is by no means an excuse for the governor's race. But you just couldn't escape from the perception 'he's just a single-issue person.' I remember standing there at the window, and I swear to you, I resigned myself to not even being re-elected mayor. This is a much more conservative town than people give it credit for."


And now Jerry Brown might be governor redux?


"It's frustrating," Newsom admitted. "It's not a critique, but he wasn't particularly helpful at the time. I think he came around very recently, and I think there was some pragmatism to that as well, candidly."


I asked whether President Obama, who said at a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration that the civil rights movement was partly about "changing people's hearts and minds and breaking out of old customs and old habits," had disappointed him given that the president is a triumph of civil rights himself.


"Oh, I can't get in trouble here," Newsom said with a playful wince. "I want him to succeed. But I am very upset by what he's not done in terms of rights of gays and lesbians. I understand it tactically in a campaign, but at this point I don't know. There is some belief that he actually doesn't believe in same-sex marriage. But it's fundamentally inexcusable for a member of the Democratic Party to stand on the principle that separate is now equal, but only on the basis of sexual orientation. We've always fought for the rights of minorities and against the whims of majorities."


He said the promise of Obama sparking an "organic movement" has faded and "there's a growing discontent and lack of enthusiasm that I worry about. He should just stand on principle, put this behind him and move on."


The mayor, who met with Olson and Boies the day after we talked, said he wanted to go to court and see them in action. After all, they're the local heroes.








The Supreme Court has made known the reasoning behind the short ruling it had passed on the NRO. It will take sometime to unfold fully and be absorbed. The rudiments of it are sufficiently clear though. What we have come to know about the judgement already reveals it to be a severe document penned down by those who mean business. It effectively calls into question the legitimacy of the president as holder of office of state and lays him open to a potentially damaging series of questions and court cases. The Honourable Justices have chosen to cite two instances in which the notably reticent Swiss were eventually persuaded to both open their banks to investigation and the eventual repatriation of very large sums of money to the governments of the Philippines and Nigeria. It will be recalled that President Marcos of the Philippines and President Abacha of Nigeria had had salted away their ill-gotten gains but were eventually brought to book — and their pockets emptied. The references to the two would not be music to President Zardari's ears. A Pandora's box of challenges to his credibility and qualification to hold office now lies open. The track record of legal advice given to the president can be described as dismal at best, starting from the legal mishandling of the NRO case, amazingly ridiculous utterings by the president's man, Kamal Azfar, and then the hastily drafted petition seeking a review of the NRO verdict. It would therefore be safe to assume that this latest development is not going to make him any more sagacious. If securing support resolutions from three provincial assemblies and the open show of defiance through the decision to ignore the recommendation of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for his nominee's elevation to the Supreme Court were calculated moves to put the apex judiciary on the back foot and to tone down the expected bite in the detailed judgement, they didnít work. They couldn't have. And if we are to draw any lessen from his past record, we can certainly expect things to get worse.

Are we now seeing the beginning of a clash between the judiciary and the presidency? There is a lot more at stake here than the mere personal fortunes of an increasingly beleaguered president. We are a country at war with enemies within and across our frontiers. Our economy is in a shambles and cannot afford any more instability. The country and the system cannot be allowed to go down because of the maverick and ultimately self-defeating and self-destructive desperate actions of a few individual. On Monday last Prime Minister Gilani stood before parliament and declared in ringing tones that there were no differences between the government and the judiciary, and that the government respected the courts. As the old saying goes 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating'. This is in legal terms a defining moment in the history of the nation. How the government and the president himself conduct their business in the coming days as they respond to the judgment will perhaps determine their fall or continuity. The judiciary today shines as a light in a country blighted by darkness, and the rule of law and equality before the law may be the light at the end of the tunnel that we have so long sought. Let us hope that it is a light that burns ever brighter in the coming weeks and months.






Weather comes in a multitude of flavours and is something that all of us everywhere are subject to. We have extremes of heat and cold and are currently experiencing one of the driest winters we have seen for many years – which is going to have serious negative effects further into the year. The Pakistan Meteorological Office forecasts light rain in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and there was a little rain in south Punjab but not enough to break the long dry spell that has prevailed since November 2009. No further significant rain is expected and that which was forecast for January 18 never materialised. Punjab is likely to see more than a 90 pet cent shortfall in winter rains, and all other provinces will fare little better. The cause of our troubles is called the 'El Niño effect' and it has been with us since June last year, blocking much of the summer monsoon and now doing the same for winter rainfall. There is no expectation of the effect abating before the latter part of the year.

There are reports of an increase in respiratory problems in the twin cities and the Potohar region is going to remain under severe water stress at a time when the spring crops most need the rain. There is a scarcity of potable water and as a result an expectation of an increase in gastro-intestinal illness as people drink tainted water. Water levels in reservoirs, already low, are going to drop further – with the inevitable impact on hydro-power generation swiftly following. There has been a relatively poor snowfall over the winter in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir which will again feed through to the rest of the country as less water will result from the summer melt. We cannot blame the government for the wicked weather, but we can all make what contribution we can to mitigate its effects. Do our driveways in front of the house really need to be hosed down every day? Are all of the lights in the house now converted to energy-saving bulbs? Are the children properly clad and fed for the weather? El Niño could not have arrived at a worse time for us, with a national power crisis in full swing – but at least we have the comfort of knowing that this is not something we caused by our own negligence or mismanagement.







President Barack Hussein Obama completes his first year in office today. Last year, exactly on this day, he took oath as first-ever non-white president in America's history. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, Obama shattered two-century-old race barrier. It was Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream come true. Obama's election as president was a miracle but he won the election not because he was black. He got elected because he was a fresher and smarter candidate with no prior political baggage.

There was another reason for this miracle to happen. America was fed up with the Bush legacy and wanted a clear break from those eight years of domestic failure and external belligerence. There was a feeling among the American people that for the first time since John F Kennedy, they had a different kind of leader whose presence in the White House not only gave it a new 'facelift' but also symbolised hope for change.

In his election campaign, Obama was eloquent enough to project himself as the harbinger of change in America's outlook and behaviour. He ran on a platform for change, and gave a message of new hope which inspired not only his own people but also those around the world. At home, he said he would turn over the languishing economy. Abroad, he pledged to end the war in Iraq and defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He had been speaking of the Bush era as a bleak chapter in American history. "America, we are better than those last eight years," he asserted while pledging to restore what he called "our lost sense of common purpose." At the Denver Convention, while laying out his vision of hope and change, Obama drew a sombre picture of America's defining moment while laying the blame squarely with "a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W Bush."

In his inaugural address, President Obama explained how he would make the difference in America's policies and in the lives of Americans as well as those of the people of the world. But then he also listed the multiple challenges of Bush's terrible legacy which included wars, global image erosion, shattered economy, depleted social security, health-care crisis and decaying education system. One year later, Obama seems helpless. There is no sign of the promised change anywhere.

Obama had told his people that the challenges ahead were real and serious and they were many but he declared exuding confidence: "Know this, America, they will be met." Now that he has completed his first year in office, the American public as well as the world at large is wondering what happened to the promises he made to them, especially on issues of global peace and security and on ending the two 'bloody' wars that his predecessor left for him.

The American people and the media as indeed the whole world are convinced that fighting wars was a mistake that Obama should have redressed. According to the Washington Post, "in the name of the war on terror, we have invaded and occupied a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, we have emboldened our enemies, we have lost and taken many lives, we have spent trillions of dollars, we have sacrificed civil liberties, and we have jettisoned our commitment to human dignity."

No other nation has done greater damage to its own global prestige and credibility because of its misdirected policies and misplaced priorities. Ironically, most of these policies have given no relief to the world in terms of peace and development, nor have they brought any political or economic dividends to the US itself. It is experiencing one of the worst fiscal crises of its history by waging wars in anger after the 9/11 atrocity. The 'war on terror' is now considered a 'wicked' war that has not gone beyond retribution and retaliation.

Washington's overbearing global conduct during the Bush era not only brought a serious backlash among foreign populations but also sparked anti-Americanism all over the world reflecting global dyspathy to the US unilateralism, its self-righteousness, its international conduct including the blatant use of force in Iraq and elsewhere, and as the late Robert McNamara said, "its contempt for moral and multilateral imperatives." Obama has done nothing to change this global perception.

With growing anti-Americanism all over the world, there is equally growing concern in the US today over the challenges that this universal phenomenon poses to US global interests and policy objectives. Public opinion polls show a marked increase in this phenomenon over the last few years in much of the world. A recent study by a bi-partisan group of national security experts from American governmental and non-governmental sectors concluded that anti-Americanism, not terrorism, was America's biggest problem.

The report acknowledged that "by flexing military might, ignoring multilateral institutions, and trying to transform the domestic politics of other states, we have triggered a backlash that increases extreme anti-Americanism, discourages key actors from fully cooperating with us, and weakens our global authority." There is a need for 'self-reappraisal' in Washington to identify the real causes, motivations, attitudes and criticisms that have over the decades contributed to global anti-Americanism.

Interestingly, during his visit to France last year, President Obama did not mince words in calling out his own country for 'arrogant' patriotism as against Europe's 'insidious' anti-Americanism. He admitted "in America, there is a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world, and at times America had shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" while in Europe, there is anti-Americanism that is at once casual, but can also be insidious.

The graph of anti-Americanism in Pakistan as elsewhere in the world has also been sky-rocketing in recent years despite all that the US claims to be doing to help Pakistan's long-term interests as a 'friend and an ally.' There is in fact a pervasive feeling all over the world that the US is not a 'steadfast and reliable' friend, and that its self-serving policies had contributed to most of the current problems in different parts of the world, including our own region where US nuclear and defence deals with India have created serious strategic imbalances.

Against this backdrop, the change of leadership in Washington was seen as watershed opening for change of direction in America's thinking and behaviour. Obama was expected to bring paradigm shift in US global policies and priorities to redress its strategic faux pas and correct its negative perception as an 'arrogant superpower' which in its behaviour is "hegemonic, unilateralist, interventionist and exploitative." If anything, Obama's policies in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world have only deepened this perception.

President Obama may have been sincere initially when he intended to do and undo many things but in this one year of his presidency, he has not gone beyond rhetoric and has only been grappling with his faltering 'strategies' contrary to his own avowed mission. The mid-term elections are not too far. Obama and his Democratic Party are up for an early verdict on their performance, and there is a long checklist to judge on his unkept promises.

Obama had promised a new America which would be true to its values at home, and which would also be at peace with the rest of the world. His new America is nowhere in sight. He is fast losing the momentum on his pledges and commitments. American public opinion is increasingly losing patience with his policies which in essence are no different to those of his predecessor.

He has no magic wand but he could at least restore America's moral standing so that it quickly recovers from its global alienation and perception as an 'arrogant power'.

Apparently he is caught in a struggle against the neocon remnants in American 'establishment' with the Pentagon and the CIA calling the decisive shots in their lead role.

Obama was awarded last year's Nobel Peace Prize rather prematurely but it was a timely 'call for action' and an incentive to encourage him to remain steadfast in his mission. He must regain his lost momentum lest he is crossed as one-term president. Obama must go ahead and bring peace and justice to the world that his predecessor had turned upside down. But can he do it?

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@ yahoo. com






Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, died on Jan 20, 1988. What is the legacy of this great reformer -- an adherent of non-violence and anti-imperialism?

Bacha Khan was born in the house of a 'minor' Khan in 1890. Two important events took place before his birth: the advent of British Empire in the Peshawar valley in 1849 and the Mutiny of 1857. But the most import events that left an impact on his thoughts and shaped his struggle later took place between his birth and 1929. He launched his Khudai Khidmatgar (Red Shirts) Movement in 1929. The British were able to divide the Pakhtun land externally with Afghanistan in 1893 and internally into three parts. Seven years later there was the great uprising of the Pakhtuns against the British Empire in the tribal belt. All these developments shaped the thoughts of Bacha Khan, one of the great reformers of the subcontinent.

The British Empire introduced drastic changes in Pakhtoon society in accordance with imperialist interests. The development of the new irrigation system was accompanied by the introduction of many laws, including permanent settlements, imposition of heavy taxes, commencement of capitalist economic relations and a system of modern communications and transportation. The introduction of permanent land ownership was the most important one and this created a loyal minority of Nawabs, Khans and Pirs at the expense of commoners.

The great majority of masses were alienated from land in one way or another. It is estimated that in the course of 30 years 60 per cent of arable land was confiscated by landlords with the backing of the colonial power. The share of the common man declined by 30 per cent in just 20 years.

The introduction of a market economy and extraction of surplus crops from the rural poor resulted in the ruin of the traditional petty bourgeoisie. A new class emerged out of the ruin of Pashtun society. It resulted in the emergence of new merchants and minor Khans on the one hand and alienated rural poor and traditional artisans on the other. The situation was exploited by the Khudai Khidmatgars in the settled areas of NWFP.

A very different system and strategy was adopted in the tribal belt. The so-called Sandeman system was introduced by the British in Balochistan and in the tribal belt. But it was in the settled districts where the impact of capitalist market relationships was felt extensively.

As Hamza Alavi and Eric Wolf pointed out in their research on peasants' struggles, it was middle-class peasants who could stand up against the big landlords. So in the settled areas of NWFP it was Bacha Khan, a minor Khan of Charsadda, who founded a movement of the rural poor.

Before launching his anti-colonial movement, he not only collaborated with many Pakhtun reformers but also actively took part in many social and political movements of his time.

The British were alarmed by upheavals of the rural poor under the leadership of Bacha Khan and other minor Khans. The development was linked with the rise of Bolshevik Russia and was considered a threat to the British imperial power in the Indian subcontinent. The movement enjoyed the support of various sections of Pakhtun society. The interests of the minor Khans were translated in such a way that it became the focal point of the whole society. Syed Waqar Ali Shah aptly analysed the support of different strata of society for the movement led by Bacha Khan:

"To the Pakhtun intelligentsia, it was a movement for the revival of Pakhtun culture with its distinct identity. To the smaller Khans, it was a movement that demanded political reforms for the province that would enfranchise them and give them a greater role in governance. Its anti-colonial stand suited the majority of anti-establishment ulema, who always regarded British rule in the subcontinent as a curse. For the peasants and other poor classes it was against their economic oppressors: British imperialism and its agents, the pro-British Nawabs, Khan Bahadurs and the big Khans."

Traditionally, people such as blacksmiths, barbers, goldsmiths and even the mullah are not considered Pakhtuns. But the movement was able to mobilise every downtrodden section of society around a common cause -- social justice and an end to colonialism. The enemy was quite obvious: big landlords and the power behind them, the British. At the moment the Muslim League was a representative of the big landlords, Khans and Pirs. The movement culminated in the victory of the Congress in NWFP.

But the movement was exposed to contradictions once the Khudai Khidmatgars and the Congress came to power in the province. On the eve of the great peasant uprising in Ghaladir, Mardan, the provincial government sided with the Nawab of Turo against its own supporters. They extensively worked in Hazara and the Khudai Khidmatgars were marginalised there after two consecutive peasant conferences in the late 1930s.

The peasants were now organised by Maulana Abdul Rahim Popalzai. Many intellectuals and urban professionals were disappointed when Maulana Popalzai, a socialist leader as well as Mufti-e-Azam of the province, was arrested at the behest of the big landlords. Maulana Popalzai died in jail. It was a great blow to the Khan brothers -- Dr Khan Sahib and Bacha Khan. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the president of the Congress, was so upset by the arrest of the great freedom fighter that he wrote a letter to the Khan brothers to express his discontent with the development.

Many urban professionals had left the movement, such as Sardar Abdul Rab Nishter and Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan. The Khudai Khidmatgar movement in its prime lost the support of tenants who had migrated from the tribal belt adjacent to the fertile settled areas of the Mohmands, Bajauris, Buneris, Malizais, Salarzais and others. Consequently, tenant cultivators deserted the movement in large numbers.

But the movement enjoyed the support of traditional petty artisans, small landowners and many landlords. Despite the British propaganda against him and his movement by the British, the big landlords, the Pirs and the mullahs, Bacha Khan's anti-colonial stance and struggle for social justice enabled him to face all odds. The Khudai Khidmatgar movement inspired generations of Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line, especially in the settled districts of NWFP.

The writer is an activist. Email: sartaj2000







The duty of a government is to protect the lives and belongings of the public. It is duty-bound to provide justice without discrimination and to ensure the basic necessities of life.

Mahmood of Ghazni was a great king and his empire stretched across a vast area. One day a caravan was looted by dacoits within his kingdom and some travellers, including a young man, were killed. The old mother of that young man went to the court of the king and complained bitterly about it. When Mahmood made the lame excuse that it was a far off place, she became infuriated and reprimanded him for conquering such far off places even though he could not ensure the security of his subjects there. The king immediately ordered a contingent of soldiers to go to the spot and impose the government's writ.

In the olden days rulers did not hesitate to acknowledge their mistakes and apologise and accepting shortcomings, and advice was not considered something to be ashamed of. Kings and rulers of old were said to be absolute rulers with unquestionable authority, but the common man had access to them. Justice was dispensed promptly and there was no way of escape, even for the rich and powerful.

Caliph Umar (RA) punished his own son through lashing. Hajjaj Bin Yusuf punished the corrupt by lashing, and Sher Shah Suri punished his son in the same way when he was caught sitting on an elephant and teasing the wife of a poor man. Emperor Jehangir had a bell hung at the gate of his palace which any needy or aggrieved person could peal in order to get prompt justice or help. Mirza Ghalib was arrested for allowing gambling in his house and was prosecuted in the court of Mufti Sadruddin Arzu (Ghalib's own disciple) who convicted him according to the law, but paid the fine from his own pocket.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Prophet Isa (PBUH), there lived an Emperor in India by the name of Vikramajit (Vikamadattya), who had his capital in Ujjani (near Bhopal). The concept of "Nau Ratan" (nine wise people) originated in his court. They were persons famous for their wisdom and knowledge. Famous poet and playwright Kali Das, who wrote Shakuntala and Maghdoot, was one of them. Vikramajit is reported to have had the blessings of Almighty God to extract evidence from stones, trees, birds, and animals. He was famous for dispensing justice.

The Moghul Dynasty flourished just as long as the rulers were honest, God-fearing and just. After the death of Aurangzeb, the dynasty deteriorated and ultimately disintegrated and many local rulers declared themselves autonomous, making it possible for the British to colonise the whole subcontinent. The British cleverly applied the concept of "divide and rule" and regularly paid those who were willing to take up arms against the Indian rulers. Consequently, the Moghul Empire became limited to the Red Fort in Delhi.

The success of the British was due to their intelligence and intrigues and also because of the differences between the local rulers, their cruel and corrupt rule and the absence of justice and rule of law. The uprising of 1857 put the last nail into Indian rulers' coffin. The British gradually conquered the whole of the subcontinent and also made meticulous plans to keep it under their control for as long as possible. They eliminated those whom they considered to be nationalists, replacing them with stooges to make use of their services as and when required, as was done in both World Wars. They established Fort William College at Calcutta where British colonialists were compulsorily taught Urdu. Some became so fluent that they even became Urdu poets.

The British were wise in that they decided not to disturb local laws and religious traditions. Marriage and inheritance laws were left untouched and Maulvis and Pandits were employed to take care of these matters. They did not force people to learn English, but whoever spoke the language were assured of good jobs. They conferred titles on those who translated the Civil Procedure Code, the Indian Penal Code and other British laws into Urdu, notably Shamsul Ulema Deputy Nazir Ahmed. They did not change the names of the cities and abstained from interference in religious matters.

Hindu and Muslims festivals were declared holidays and loyal Muslim and Hindu officers were given titles such as Khan Bahadur, Rai Bahadur, Sir, etc. In the police force, the constable, head constable, inspector, DSP, SP and DIG were locals. Only the IG Police was British. Similarly, in the Revenue Department, the Patwari, Tehsildar and deputy revenue commissioner were Indians and only the revenue commissioner was British. In the army, the ranks of soldier to colonel were filled by Indians and those of Brigadier General and above by British.

There was no favouritism, nepotism, superseding of officials, corruption in civil work contracts, etc. Consequently, the quality of the work carried out was of such high standard that many roads, bridges and buildings still stand today and are in relatively good condition. People respected the law and fear of punishment kept them from breaking it. Law was the same for everybody. Immediately after Partition, the leaders and law enforcing agencies were honest, but within a few years corruption, nepotism and favouritism became the order of the day. Nowadays people are even committing suicide (or suicide bombings?) and the rulers are least bothered.

The Indians did a much better job. Its independent area was reduced to less than the size of Pakistan because 553 states were sovereign. However, Sardar Patel, the home and deputy prime minister, immediately annexed all the states and also abolished the Jagirdari System, thus saving the country from future intrigues and manipulation by a few rich families. We failed to take similar action. During the rule of Liaquat Ali Khan we had such a good system in place that the editor of Blitz, Mr Karanjia, advised the chief minister of Bombay, Mr Murarji Desai, to visit Pakistan and learn about good governance.

Soon autocracy and dictatorship destroyed the very fabric of the country and we are now known as one of the most corrupt, intriguing and cheating nations of the world. The ruling elite has only one purpose in mind – how to earn money quickly, by whatever means. Courts became corrupt, further facilitating the rulers in their nefarious activities. Stolen money was transferred abroad and property bought. If a case was initiated, it dragged on for years and was ultimately dropped.

Contrary to general expectations, the military rulers turned out to be no better. Dictators, having very little public support, relied on foreign powers and sold the sovereignty of the country in return for personal survival. The result is there for all to see. Loans worth almost Rs200 billion have been written off, foreign debt has increased, submission to foreign dictates is the norm, selling citizens for bounties has become acceptable, and foreign powers have been allowed to operate within the country and kill locals with impunity. Our leaders have not learnt to apply economic austerity. Our only survival lies in a popular public uprising and cleansing of the whole system, once and for all.






Discussions around the Punjab Health Care Bill 2009 have intensified following some instances of alleged medical negligence in Lahore. The purpose of this comment is to clarify many policy and institutional implications of this bill in an attempt to avert a confrontation.

To begin with it is acknowledged that as the steward of the health sector, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the provision of quality health services. Health being a provincial subject, it is also perfectly legitimate for the provincial government to legislate in this area. There is also a need for legislation in the quality regulation domain and imperative to create an institute focusing on quality, as this area has remained outside of the domain of planning. The need to bring the private sector within a normative framework is also acknowledged, as it is currently outside of the state's purview.

It is also true that quality of care offered by the private sector is heterogeneous, that rampant malpractices are commonplace, that citizens and the bona fide elements within the private health market suffer at the hands of the non-bona fide private health actors, which are burgeoning at an alarming rate and that there is lack of awareness regarding the law of tort and the remedies available under it. In view of all these gaps, the move to regulate the private sector with a view to ensuring quality of services as an endpoint is perfectly understandable. But is the envisaged strategy to be pursued through the bill the right approach? I will draw insights from past experiences to support my opinion in this connection.

First, for any regulatory framework to be effective, the consensus of stakeholders is a prerequisite. Lessons from the failure of NWFPs' policy on Institution Based Private Practice is instructive in this regard. This time around also the private healthcare community is not fully on board as is evident from the Pakistan Medical Association's categorical call to confrontation at the outset and subsequent, post-hoc consultations. Even if a regulatory strategy is well conceived--and the present one has many gaps--it will be inherently constrained if there is no stakeholder ownership.

Second, the style of regulation and quality control measures to be adopted through this bill are intrinsically--and inadvertently--structured for failure. Current regulatory systems are plagued with institutionalized rent-seeking where low paid inspectors collude with private entities. It would be extremely difficult for any new regulatory institution to ensure a level of remuneration for regulators that could play a role in prohibiting such behaviors given the current fiscal constraints.

Third, even if resources are not an issue and a health care regulatory arrangement is created, the level of acceptability it will have in the present system should be brought to bear. From a broad health governance perspective, the creation of a Health Commission could represent the beginning of separation between three functions within the health administration. The commission could be mandated with a regulatory role, the Secretariat could retain a policy making function and implementation could be entrusted to the departments of health and the EDOs' offices. In theory this is a desirable model, but it needs long-term consistency of policy direction and robust technical capacity to institutionalize such a change. There are inherent limitations in this respect and resistance to change from stakeholders who have a vested interest in maintaining status quo. The saga of the Drug Regularity Authority is a case in point where action has not been forthcoming since 2005.

Fourth, Pakistan's history is replete with examples of 'independent commissions', which have not delivered on the intended premise. We tend to think of institution creation as an end in itself. We don't structure the measures needed for institution building and often trade off design robustness in favor of structuring loopholes for controls. In fact some sections of the bill indicate an intent to factor-in discretionary powers, which can allow uneven application of the law at a later stage.

And finally, even if the government of Punjab created the ideal regulatory authority and even if had the money to do that, it must be remembered that institutions cannot be disconnected from their environment and that in isolation they are not a substitute for the many inefficiencies that pervade the health system in general.

It is therefore recommended that the government should reconsider its approach to quality regulation. Given the size and scale of the private sector and the nature of needed changes, a market harnessing form of regulation, which can incentivize the delivery of quality services appears the most feasible. The importance of this approach is that it can be mainstreamed at the same time as some other critically needed measures to harness the outreach of private providers. The latter are needed in Pakistan as 70 per cent of the healthcare delivery is by the private sector, whose potential to deliver public goods in health remains un-harnessed.

The decision to use private providers to deliver public goods in health entails the creation of a set of policy and regulatory norms. It is in tandem with these fundamental changes that incentives for quality can be built and with careful monitoring and oversight, can be successful in Pakistan's complex environment. Coercive measures in isolation cannot be a substitute for the needed reform in the health sector.

The writer is the founder and president of Heartfile. Email: