media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 22, edition 000410, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- VOTERS WARN OBAMA
- AS PAROCHIAL AS MNS
- KANCHAN GUPTA
- WOMEN'S HOCKEY DESERVES MORE - ANCHAL KAKROO
- WOMEN'S HOCKEY DESERVES MORE - ANCHAL KAKROO
- TOUGH ROAD AHEAD - KALYANI SHANKAR
- SPINNING TALES - PRAFULL GORADIA
- FROM DEEMED TO DOOMED - ANURADHA DUTT
- NOT ALL CHANGE IS GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE - DILEEP BIDAWAT
- WHOM DOES MR PAWAR THINK HE REPRESENTS?
- SO UNLIKE MUMBAI
- END DISCRIMINATION
- CHINA DECLARES CYBER WAR - BY SUBIMAL BHATTACHARJEE
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
- CHILD MARRIAGE NOW LEGAL IN RAJASTHAN? - BY SUDHANSHU MISHRA IN JAIPUR
- MORE SUICIDES KEEP TELANGANA ON BOIL - BY A. SRINIVASA RAO IN HYDERABAD
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- POOR SHOW
- DRIVING THEM OUT
- BRAIN DRAIN IN REVERSE - VIVEK WADHWA
- 'TEN PER CENT OF THE HOMELESS ARE WOMEN'
- UNDO THE PAPERWORK - JUG SURAIYA
- INFLATION TIMES - N N SACHITANAND
- HIT AND MIST FOR US
- A RACE TO THE BOTTOM
- NETAJI, NOT NETAS - G.D. BAKSHI
- NOT BATTING FOR FAIR PLAY - AYAZ MEMON
- YES, WE LOVE YOU TOO - ASHOK MALIK
- MORE ADVENTURISM
- NO FAIR
- POWDER'S DRY
- LIFE AFTER SIXTY - SEEMA CHISHTI
- TAXI TO NOWHERE
- KAVITHA IYER
- DIALOGUE OF THE DEAF
- INDER MALHOTRA
- HAND-WRINGING OVER HAITI
- TECH AGAINST TERROR - AJEY LELE
- BEARING THE COST OF CULTURE
- CHINESE WALL
- SPILT MILK
- MINIMUM WAGE, BUT WHO GAINS? - MANISH SABHARWAL
- CORRECT THIS IMBALANCE OF TRADE - P RAGHAVAN
- MUMBAI DESERVES BETTER - AKASH JOSHI
- A HUMILIATING NON-AUCTION
- OBAMA IN TROUBLE
- THE SAMAJWADI PARTY'S IDENTITY CRISIS - VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM
- IT'S STRATEGIC CULTURE THAT COUNTS - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
- MUMBAI ATTACK: FAILURES OF COMMAND - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- HAITI: A CALCULATED IMPOVERISHMENT - SEUMAS MILNE
- OZ BLUES
- WRONG MOVE
- DEATH OF A PRAGMATIST - MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- A CHEESY STORY WITH POETIC JUSTICE - FARRUKH DHONDY
- OUR TRUE HOME
- TACKLING TERROR SYNDICATE
- PLAYING TO MARATHI GALLERY
- PAWAR SCARES AGAIN
- REVAMPING SECURITY SET-UP - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- THE COOK AND I - BY ROBIN GUPTA
- WHAT WENT WRONG AT COPENHAGEN SUMMIT - BY SHASHWAT RAJ
- OBAMA'S YEAR IN POWER - BY RUPERT CORNWELL
- DRINKS INDUSTRY 'SEDUCING TEENAGERS' - BY JEREMY LAURANCE
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- UN-DEEMED VARSITIES
- UPTURNING TRADE BALANCE
- BJP'S AWKWARD GEN NEXT TRANSITION - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTIVITY DEVELOPMENT - PK BARUAH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- IT'S NOT IN THE STARS
- RENDER UNTO CAESAR
- INCREMENTAL STEP
- POLICY FAILURES PROLONG FOOD INFLATION - ASHIMA GOYAL
- BANKS MUST BUILD BUFFER IN GOOD TIMES - ARUN DUGGAL
- A TECHNOLOGICAL LEAP OF FAITH - MUKUL SHARMA
- PM MUST GAINFULLY EMPLOY JUNIOR MINISTERS - GVL NARASIMHA RAO
- SMALL CABINET HELPS RATIONALISE GOVT EXPENSES - MUJTABA KHAN
- 'WE USE INDIA AS INNOVATION HUB TO GO TO OTHER MARKETS' - N SHIVAPRIYA
- HYSTERIA IN PAK QUITE DELIBERATE
- TALIBAN TARGET MORALE - BY INDRANIL BANERJIE
- DEMOCRATS, THERE'S A BRIGHT SIDE TO DEFEAT - BY GAIL COLLINS
- THE LEFT: A LACK OF FAITH? - BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
- AFTERSHOCKS - BY ÉVELYNE TROUILLOT
- SCIENCE AND SAMADHI - BY THICH NHAT HANH
- PAKISTAN SNUBBED?
- JOBLESS JUNIORS
- TWIST AND SHOUT
- STAIN-REPELLENT CHEMICAL 'LINKED TO THYROID DISEASE'
- TREE-LINED BUNKERS THAT COULD CHANGE IT ALL
- PAKISTAN NEEDS A REALITY CHECK
- RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW - JAGMOHAN CHOPRA
- HURT STATE
- NOT A GAME
- A DIFFERENT TEA PARTY - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- THE ROAD AHEAD - MALVIKA SINGH
- RELEASE THEM
- MULTIPLE BLOWS
- SHADES OF PREJUDICE - BY SHANKAR VEDANTAM, NYT:
- AMERICAN-BORN JIHAD - BY H D S GREENWAY
- AN OBSESSION AND A LOVE - BY MUTHI-UR-RAHMAN SIDDIQUI
THE JERUSALEM POST
- THE PRICE OF A RESCUE
- DAMAGING POLITICAL DECISION
- FROM PAULA TO SARA - BY YOEL MARCUS
- YITZHAK LAOR / IS 'JEWISH PRIDE' ABETTING RACISM? - BY YITZHAK LAOR
- NOW YOU REMEMBERED? - BY YOSSI SARID
- THE WEST'S 'PRINCIPLE OF HEIGHT' - BY EMMANUEL SIVAN
- BEWARE OF MAYORS WITH 'NEW POLICIES' - BY ORLY NOY
- OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE COMMEMORATION - BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
- HAVE A SAFE TRIP, MOHAMMED - BY MOHAMMAD DARAWSHE
- MUCH-MALIGNED PONTIFF - BY DIMITRI CAVALLI
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE COURT'S BLOW TO DEMOCRACY
- SUNNIS AND IRAQ'S ELECTION
- THE PARTY OF NOPE
- DO THE RIGHT THING - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- POLITICS IN THE AGE OF DISTRUST - Y DAVID BROOKS
- TO HEAL HAITI, LOOK TO HISTORY, NOT NATURE - BY MARK DANNER
- FACT AND FICTION
- BAD MEDICINE
- WORKPLACE SAFETY
- CONSCIENCE OF THE CONSTITUTION - AYAZ AMIR
- THE RIGHT TO THE CITY - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- TRAVEL THROUGH LANDS AND SEE - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- RESPONSIBILITY AND AUTHORITY - DR MASOODA BANO
- INDIVIDUALS OR INSTITUTIONS? SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- GATES' EXTREMELY DISTURBING THREAT
- IMPENDING WHEAT CRISIS
- A SETBACK TO OBAMA AND DEMOCRATS
- THE FAILURE OF BARACK OBAMA - M D NALAPAT
- THE WORLD'S TALLEST SKYSCRAPER - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- ON ISLAM AND JEHAD - MUHAMMAD ALI
- INDIAN ARMY CHIEF'S REALITY CHECK - SULTAN M HALI
- WIPING AWAY GRIEF..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- DOMESTIC HELP
- PRICE CONTROL
- SETTING CRIMINALS FREE..!
- MAJOR ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION - DR. BARKAT-E-KHUDA
- HRC MAKES WAY FOR ANISUL - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
- COSMETIC CHANGES AND ISLAM - DR TERRY LACEY
- BRINGING PPPS INTO THE LIGHT
- HEEDING THE POLITICAL LESSONS OF GLACIERGATE
- NO NEED TO PROTECT PUBLISHERS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- OBAMA'S THUD TO EARTH
- THE TOLL OF TUNNEL VISION
- STIRRING UP THE RISKY POLITICS OF INDUSTRY AID
- KENNEDY'S DEATH A REPUBLICAN GAIN
- BARACK OBAMA AND THE BANKS: AT LAST, ACTION
- IN PRAISE OF MAHLER IN THE NORTH
- LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL RECORD
THE KOREA HERALD
- JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE
- WASTEFUL TRIPS
- LOOK BEYOND AL-QAIDA FOR CAUSES OF PROBLEM IN YEMEN
- MAI YAMANI
THE JAPAN TIMES
- DPJ VERSUS PUBLIC PROSECUTORS
- NARROWED GAP IN UKRAINE - BY GWYNNE DYER
THE JAKARTA POST
- IT'S (MILITARY) BUSINESS
- A CHALLENGING AGE FOR RI'S ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT
- KARLHEINZ SPITZ AND RUSDIAN LUBIS
- THE YEAR 2009: A PERIOD OF BAD FISCAL DECISIONS - PAUL DONOVAN
- IS THIS THE END OF THE AGE OF STREET PROTESTS? - TAUFIK RAMADHAN INDRAKESUMA
- REBOUND MAY FUEL CHANGE
- SOCCER NEEDS OVERHAUL
- WHY WOMEN GO BANKRUPT AND HOW THEY CAN STOP IT - BY NAOMI WOLF (CHINA DAILY)
- LET'S GOOGLE FOR TRUTH BEHIND SEARCH ENGINE'S PULLOUT - BY WILLIAM DANIEL GARST (CHINA DAILY)
- BALANCING URBAN-RURAL PROGRESS - BY PENG ZHENHUAI (CHINA DAILY)
- MORE SPENDING NEEDED FOR TRUE RECOVERY - BY JASPAL BINDRA (CHINA DAILY)
- IN THE ROUND - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
- MR. KHLOPONIN GOES TO THE CAUCASUS - BY NIKOLAI PETROV
VOTERS WARN OBAMA
AS MR BROWN GOES TO WASHINGTON
It would not be far-fetched to see Mr Scott Brown's victory in the United States Senate special election from Massachusetts as a warning to President Barack Obama. Massachusetts is strongly Democratic territory. The election was caused by the death of Ted Kennedy, long-time Senator and a pillar of the Democrat establishment. He was also a mentor to Mr Obama and a key supporter of his healthcare reform, the legislative passage of which may now be disrupted thanks to Mr Brown's opposition. On his part, Mr Brown is a relative unknown but represents traditional conservative positions within the Republican Party. In his campaign, he took on Mr Obama's healthcare policy and also advocated a very strong line on terrorism, and particularly on suspect aliens living within the United States. Yet, it would be facile to conclude the election was only a referendum on Mr Obama's social sector programmes and the efficacy of his anti-terrorism measures. The principal factor driving the American voter remains the economy. For all his talk, Mr Obama has not really delivered on this front, and has not been able to create sufficient jobs to satisfy middle America. There is a growing perception that whether on the economy or on foreign policy and national security, Mr Obama has spent his first year doing the equivalent of on-the-job training. Notwithstanding the romanticism associated with his admittedly historic election, the poetry of his campaign, to borrow a phrase used by Mr Obama himself, has not been matched by the prose of his governance. In Massachusetts, it is understood that an overwhelming majority of independent voters those who are not committed to one or the other of the two big political parties swerved towards Mr Brown. Other than the depressing employment numbers, the recent spurt in incidents of home-grown Islamism and the discovery of sleeper cells within America, the near-miss of another airline terror incident on Christmas and the general sense of drift that has only been accentuated since Mr Obama took charge, must all have contributed to the mood swing in Massachusetts. In the past few months, it has been conventional wisdom that the Republicans need to find a centrist candidate to seriously challenge Mr Obama in 2012 and that a far-Right nominee will not work. This assessment would fly in the face of Mr Brown's success. He spoke out in favour of water-boarding terrorists and throwing out illegal migrants, taboo subjects in Washington, DC, through the 12 months of 2009.
There had been a growing feeling that the November 2010 Congressional elections would trigger a Republican bounce back and give Mr Obama a bit of a mid-term jolt. It was being speculated this would cause him to finally junk the leftist fringe that was his original benefactor in the Democratic Party and that has thus far treated the Obama presidency as the political equivalent of Woodstock. This time-table has just been brought forward. It is for Mr Obama to reinvent himself, move towards the Right and establish his credentials as a middle-ground Democrat, conscious of mainstream concerns. In a sense, he has to rebuild the coalition that made Mr Bill Clinton such an electorally powerful force in the 1990s. If he cannot do this, he could see his political capital decline even more rapidly in 2010. The belief that he is a one-term wonder will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
AS PAROCHIAL AS MNS
CONGRESS, NCP GUILTY OF HYPOCRISY
There is a line of political thought that says ideology should not take precedence over politics. That political pragmatism or 'vertical politics' should be the guiding force for political parties. The advocates of this concept believe that this will help bring focus on real issues and overcome ideological hurdles that often come in the way of constructive politics. On the face of it, this sounds perfectly reasonable. But what happens when pragmatic politics turns into opportunistic politics? The decision of the Maharashtra Government to make knowledge of Marathi mandatory for those wanting to own and drive taxis in Mumbai is a case in point. In a Raj Thackeray-like move, the Congress-NCP State Government has announced the proposed measure, apart from reiterating an already existing domicile rule that makes it compulsory for owners of taxi permits to have lived in Maharashtra for at least 15 years. Though the decision will technically impact taxi-drivers across the State, it will particularly affect Mumbai's fleet of 56,000 taxis which is mostly driven by north Indian immigrants. The State Government has tried to defend and downplay its decision by saying that the move is congruent with the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act and that in any State it is a policy to give preference to local residents. Nonetheless, no matter what spin the Congress-NCP Government tries to put on it, the political motivation behind the decision is quite apparent.
It is no secret that Mr Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has emerged as a serious political force in Mumbai, especially after its surprising performance in the State Assembly election last year in which it won 13 seats. The rise of the MNS purely on the 'Marathi manoos' plank has understandably made parties such as the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra nervous. Hence, the Congress-NCP combine has been under a certain amount of pressure to respond to this challenge, particularly in view of the civic elections scheduled for early-2012. Wednesday's decision vis-à-vis taxi owners and drivers needs to be seen in this context. But what it fundamentally represents is blatant hypocrisy and exposes how far parties like the Congress and the NCP can go for political mileage. That they would be willing to sacrifice their proclaimed 'principles', which till now they were flaunting as inclusive and non-parochial, for the sake of retaining political power, is truly distasteful. There is no denying that the brand of politics that the MNS has made its own is condemnable. Violence and hooliganism cannot be accepted in any civilised society. For the so-called secular parties to stoop to the same level as the MNS does for votes, betrays a dangerous moral decay that has pervaded Indian politics. It is precisely because of this duplicity that is fast gaining currency in the Indian political landscape that perhaps ideology should not be relegated to political science textbooks.
Mohammed Hamid Ansari, unlike most of his predecessors, is not a politician elevated to the post of Vice-President of India for services rendered to his party. He was a member of the Indian Foreign Service, Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities and headed the working group set up by the Prime Minister to propose 'confidence-building measures' for civil society in Jammu & Kashmir, apart from undertaking various other assignments, including promoting the concept of 'oil diplomacy', given to him by the Government of India. In between fulfilling his various onerous responsibilities, he has also spent time at the Observer Research Foundation. Although a favourite of the New Delhi establishment, he is known to have taken a contrarian position on several occasions for instance, he has unambiguouly criticised India's vote against Iran's bomb-in-the-basement nuclear programme, bitterly lashed out at the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and ruthlessly berated Israel for not silently suffering Islamist excesses. Hence, it would be unwise to brush aside the suggestion of such a distinguished person that intelligence agencies in India should be made accountable to Parliament.
Delivering the RN Kao Memorial Lecture at the R&AW headquarters in New Delhi last Tuesday, Mr Ansari made an elaborate case for setting up a parliamentary intelligence oversight committee "to ensure that Government's policy is carried out effectively within the boundaries of law". How else, he asked, "shall a democracy ensure its secret intelligence apparatus becomes neither a vehicle for conspiracy nor a suppressor of traditional liberties?" Unless there is a parliamentary intelligence oversight committee with "access to some operational details", he added, no "assurance (can be given) about the efficacy or legality of the intelligence services".
While acknowledging that we need to carefully examine whether the "openness and public discussion will compromise the secrecy essential for intelligence needs", Mr Ansari asserted the "legislature, nevertheless, is the organ of the state that allocates funds and is, therefore, entitled to insist on financial and performance accountability" which, at present, is not done. According to him, "The proposed Standing Committee could fill this void; it could also function as a surrogate for public opinion and thus facilitate wider acceptance of the imperatives of a situation... a wider sampling of opinion would facilitate better comprehension of the issues and of possible remedies to attain total national power and comprehensive defence."
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, asked what he thought of Western civilisation, had famously replied, "I think it would be a good idea." As ideas go, Mr Ansari's proposal, too, is 'good idea'. Of course, Rameshwar Nath Kao, who set up R&AW in 1969 and headed our external intelligence agency till 1977, would have balked at the suggestion that Parliament should be allowed to oversee the functioning of his organisation "to ensure that Government's policy is carried out effectively within the boundaries of law". As would his successors as well as spy masters of repute who have headed the Intelligence Bureau, barring the few who rose to high office not because of their abilities but by virtue of their proximity to those who matter in the corridors of power. If intelligence agencies were to start working "within the boundaries of law", we wouldn't need intelligent men and women gathering realtime, actionable intelligence but dull babus who excel at citing rules to justify inaction and worse.
More importantly, it is amazing that a former officer of the IFS, whose members are not known to be particularly deferential to politicians (except those who can swing plum postings for them) or respectful about Parliament's privileges recall Mr Ronen Sen's mocking description of MPs critical of the India-US civilian nuclear agreement as "headless chicken" should demand accountability from intelligence agencies through parliamentary oversight and scrutiny. Mr Ansari could argue that the Ministry of External Affairs does come under Parliament's scrutiny. But the Standing Committee on External Affairs scrutinising budgetary allocations for the Ministry or producing anodyne reports on specific policies does not really amount to 'oversight'. Neither are its reports taken seriously by policy-makers nor are its views considered to be of any consequence insofar as the functioning of the Ministry is concerned.
It would, however, be unfair to suggest that the Standing Committee on External Affairs does a thorough job of its task. Our MPs are known for doing shoddy homework and most of them are largely ignorant of foreign affairs if not entirely disinterested in the finer nuances of strategic issues. It is not surprising that the last occasion when the Ministry of External Affairs had come to dread the Standing Committee was when Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed the oversight body: He would ask the right questions and refuse to take bluff and bluster as answer.
Had the Ministry of External Affairs and its IFS babus been truly accountable to Parliament "to ensure that Government's policy is carried out effectively within the boundaries of law", then they would have had to explain to the elected representatives of the people of India as to why Mr Harish Kumar Dogra, our High Commissioner to New Zealand, was recalled and humiliated in an appalling manner. Or under what circumstances did the babus at the Consulate General of India in Chicago issue multiple entry visas to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operatives David Coleman Headley and Tawwahur Hussein Rana, thus facilitating, to a great measure, the fidayeen strikes in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Mr Ansari's concern for accountability would have carried greater credibility had he raised these and other questions related to the functioning of a Ministry he has served for nearly four decades.
This is not to suggest that intelligence agencies should be accountable to none or that obsessive secrecy should exclude keeping the legislature from being informed; that would be a ridiculous assertion. After all, if intelligence and counter-terrorism officials associated with the FBI and other agencies can be summoned for congressional hearings in the US, there is no reason why R&AW and IB officials cannot be asked to brief our parliamentarians. Similarly, if details of US Congress hearings can be placed in the public domain (unless they are classified as strictly off-the-record), there is no reason why details of similar briefings to our Parliament cannot be made public. But such briefings, we must bear in mind, are never ever about 'operational details'. To accept Mr Ansari's proposal would amount to severely compromising our national interest.
WOMEN'S HOCKEY DESERVES MORE
Even Bollywood hasn't been able to rescue Indian women hockey players from their plight. Not only are they being ignored but also the future of women's hockey is in danger. Hockey India on one hand is giving away handsome rewards to the men's team while on the other hand is doling out nothing but promises to the women's team. Awarding Rs 1 crore to the men's team is a motivating step, but depriving the women's team is totally wrong.
The women's team has been severely neglected. The players virtually get zero compensation for their efforts. It is a matter of shame that some of them have to face crushing poverty in spite of being on the national hockey team. This speaks poorly of us as a sporting nation.
It seems that the hockey association is going through a cash crunch only for the women's hockey team. It is shameful that in a desperate attempt to rescue the team and its players, four senior players have opened a joint account and have asked the country to donate some money for their benefit.
In such a state where the women's team has asked the public for help, one cannot help but question this blatant discrimination. Delaying the payment of financial dues to the player not only hampers their motivation but also reduces their chances of winning any future tournaments.
This kind of an attitude will soon result in women refusing to take up hockey as a sport. Hence, there will be no women's team left to represent the country. The Shahrukh Khan Bollywood hit, Chak De India, was supposed to be an eye-opener for hockey officials in India. But sadly, the current state of affairs proves that nothing has changed. It will be better for the women's hockey team to go on a strike and boycott playing for the country until the players are paid their financial dues. Hopefully then someone will take note of their plight. This is the only course of action left for our players. They need to be treated with far greater respect than they are today.
WOMEN'S HOCKEY DESERVES MORE
Even Bollywood hasn't been able to rescue Indian women hockey players from their plight. Not only are they being ignored but also the future of women's hockey is in danger. Hockey India on one hand is giving away handsome rewards to the men's team while on the other hand is doling out nothing but promises to the women's team. Awarding Rs 1 crore to the men's team is a motivating step, but depriving the women's team is totally wrong.
The women's team has been severely neglected. The players virtually get zero compensation for their efforts. It is a matter of shame that some of them have to face crushing poverty in spite of being on the national hockey team. This speaks poorly of us as a sporting nation.
It seems that the hockey association is going through a cash crunch only for the women's hockey team. It is shameful that in a desperate attempt to rescue the team and its players, four senior players have opened a joint account and have asked the country to donate some money for their benefit.
In such a state where the women's team has asked the public for help, one cannot help but question this blatant discrimination. Delaying the payment of financial dues to the player not only hampers their motivation but also reduces their chances of winning any future tournaments.
This kind of an attitude will soon result in women refusing to take up hockey as a sport. Hence, there will be no women's team left to represent the country. The Shahrukh Khan Bollywood hit, Chak De India, was supposed to be an eye-opener for hockey officials in India. But sadly, the current state of affairs proves that nothing has changed. It will be better for the women's hockey team to go on a strike and boycott playing for the country until the players are paid their financial dues. Hopefully then someone will take note of their plight. This is the only course of action left for our players. They need to be treated with far greater respect than they are today.
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
AMAR SINGH'S RESIGNATION FROM ALL PARTY POSTS SIGNALS TROUBLE FOR HIM AS WELL AS THE SAMAJWADI PARTY. FOR AMAR SINGH MAY NOT BE ABLE TO FIND ANOTHER MULAYAM SINGH YADAV WHO WILL GIVE HIM THE POLITICAL SPACE HE HAD IN THE SP. AS FOR THE SP, IT WILL NOT FIND ANOTHER CHARISMATIC LEADER LIKE HIM
What is going to be the future of the Samajwadi Party now that Mr Amar Singh has resigned from the posts of national general secretary and party spokesperson as well as quit the parliamentary board of the party and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has accepted it with a "heavy heart"?
It is true that no party will cease to exist with the exit of any individual but the SP cannot bring back its old glory even if it goes back to the socialist roots in the changed situation.
Until yesterday Mr Amar Singh was the face of the party at the national level. He was the one who was talking to other leaders in Parliament and outside. He was the one who was making deals with them for the party. He was the main fundraiser of the party. He was the one who was distributing tickets and brining glamorous film stars into the party. He was the one who managed the election campaign. In fact, even Mr Yadav admitted that without Mr Singh he could not function. Even insiders say that left to himself he would not have accepted Mr Singh's resignation.
At the same time, Mr Singh has not endeared himself to all, particularly to the family of Mr Yadav. His detractors in the SP, who were growing in number over the years, saw him as the villain. For instance, those leaders who left the party like Mr Azam Khan, Mr Raj Babbar, Mr Beni Prasad Verma and those who were sidelined like Mr Janeswar Misra all hold him responsible for their plight. Mr Yadav's son Akhilesh Yadav has now become the State party president and wants to have his way but this is not palatable to Mr Singh. The final straw was when Mr Akhilesh Singh's wife lost elections recently. Naturally, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav ultimately said goodbye to Mr Amar Singh.
What happens next and what is the future of the SP in Uttar Pradesh politics are crucial questions facing the party. Mr Singh's resignation has come at a wrong time for the party chief as the SP is licking its wounds after the electoral defeat. There is every need to build the party against the onslaught of the ruling BSP as well as the rising Congress. Does Mr Mulayam Singh have the stamina to do so?
The Uttar Pradesh politics is so strange that every party is trying to snatch space from the other. For instance, the Congress lost its core voters years ago. Gradually, the BJP took away its upper caste votes. The BSP snatched the dalit votes while the Samajwadi Party grabbed the Muslim votes. Later the SP took away the Thakur votes and the BSP grabbed the Brahmin votes from the BJP. Now, the Congress is trying to raise its head by wooing away a little bit of upper castes, a little bit of dalits and a little bit of Muslims and come back. In such a scenario where does the SP stand?
With the exit of Mr Singh, the SP has many problems to face. First of all, Mr Mulayam Singh is in the process of handing over the party to his son. The task of facing the onslaught of both Mr Rahul Gandhi and Ms Mayawati is not going to be an easy one for Mr Akhilesh Yadav.
Second, Mr Mulayam Singh himself is not the same person as he was 18 years ago when he floated the party. Moreover, political equations have changed so have the aspirations of the new generation voters.
Third, the SP is on the downslide and there is nothing visible for it to go up either by way of a charismatic leadership or electoral prospects or even funds after the exit of Mr Amar Singh. Along with Mr Singh goes the glamour of the party. Speculations are rife that Jaya Prada, Jaya Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt may soon leave the party. The party's base is also cracking with the Muslims moving towards the Congress.
Fourth, the Assembly elections are more than two year away and Ms Mayawati is well-entrenched as of now. Unless the SP aligns with some other party, it is not going to be easy to succeed.
Fifth, the SP has no space at the Centre for manoeuverability. Sixth, Mr Amar Singh's exit may leave the SP as the all-Yadav party.
As far Mr Amar Singh's future is concerned, many believe that he will find a place for himself somewhere if his health permits. There are rumours about his floating a party, joining Mr Kalyan Singh's party, going with the NCP or with the Congress but it is also a fact that he may not be able to find another Mulayam Singh who would give him so much political space. The question that arises is: Will he be able to play a similar role in national and Uttar Pradesh politics? Since elections to Uttar Pradesh are two years away, there is plenty of time for both the leaders to chalk out their course. Only time will tell where will they stand.
HR BHARDWAJ HAS GOT HIS FACTS WRONG ON HISTORY
While addressing a conference on Vijayanagar organised by the Indian Council for Historical Research, Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj is reported to have decried categorisation of historical Indian rulers. Had he read history, he would have come across the following passage written by Robert Sewell, a civil servant in colonial India, in his book A Forgotten Empire:
"For a space of five months (in 1565) Vijayanagar knew no rest. The enemy had come to destroy, and they carried out their object relentlessly. They slaughtered the people without mercy; broke down the temples and palaces; and wreaked savage vengeance on the abode of the kings." Sewell continued, "Never perhaps in the history of the world has such havoc been wrought, and wrought so suddenly, on so splendid a city; one day, and on the next seized, pillaged, and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description."
Firishtah, the traveller from Persia in the same year confirmed the havoc in these words: The sultans marched onwards into the country of Ramraje as far as Anicondeh, and the advanced troops penetrated to Beejanuggur, which they plundered and committed all manner of excess. The raaje of Beejanuggur since this battle has never recovered its ancient splendour; and the city itself has been so destroyed that it is now totally in ruins and uninhabited.
Muslim rulers might have been invaders, but they were responsible for making India "magnificent", said Mr Bhardwaj. What an unkind thing to say to an audience keenly interested in Vijayanagar and Krishnadeva Raya. In all probability, the listeners, mostly scholars, knew their history, unlike the Governor. He must have had the Taj Mahal and other buildings in mind. But did he realise that medieval rulers exhausted the state coffers on jewels, luxuries, buildings and spared little for development? As a result, India missed the industrial revolution and remained a medieval economy.
According to the Governor, Muslims are sons of the soil although most of them would prefer to believe that they have central Asian or Persian blood flowing in their veins. Moreover, they are not permitted to bow to the soil as is exemplified by their refusal to sing Vande Mataram. In any case, for them the ummah is greater than the country. Mr Bhardwaj was evidently carried away when he spoke about Bahadur Shah Zafar being an example of sacrifice for the country. No doubt, he was a fine poet but one who got into the crossfire of politics at the advanced age of 80 plus. Surely, he was no epitome of sacrifice.
Mr Bhardwaj's definition of the word 'contribution' appears to be novel when he said that Islam had done as much for the country as Hinduism. A major turn to Indian history was certainly given in the name of Islam when the Muslim League insisted on partitioning the country in 1947. To justify the vivisection, Mohammed Ali Jinnah said the following at Lahore in March 1940: Hindus and Muslims belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. To yoke together two such nations under a single state . must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric. Whom are we to believe more about Muslim attitudes, Jinnah or Mr Bhardwaj?
Not only Jinnah but also seven of his leading league colleagues had considered co-existence of Hindus and Muslims so difficult that through 1946-47, they had demanded an exchange of population. Whereby, all the Muslims of the sub-continent should gather in Pakistan and all the other communities collect in Hindustan. Feroze Khan Noon, who later became Prime Minister of Pakistan, was the most forthright in his views. As reported by the Dawn, the daily founded by Jinnah and published from Delhi, dated April 8 of 1946, he threatened to re-enact the murderous orgies of Chengez Khan and Halaqu Khan if non-Muslims took up an obstructive attitude against population exchange. The other six leaders who were also vocal on the issue were Nawab Iftikhar Hussain of Mamdot, Pir Elahi Bux of Sind, Raja Ghazanfar Ali, Ismail Chundrigar of Gujarat, Mohammed Ismail of Madras and Shaukat Hayat Khan.
Mr Bhardwaj must be aware that Buddha and Mahaveera lived 25 centuries ago whereas Islam was founded some 1400 years ago with a bedrock belief that there is no god other than Allah. There is no scope for plurality in Islam. It is all about singularity as a result of which there are momins or faithfuls and the rest are kafirs or infidels.
The Governor has talked about the Constitution having resolved that India has a composite culture. There is mention of the republic being sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic but I can find no mention of "composite culture". Jinnah was forthright, as were leaders like Syed Ahmad Khan, Justice Ameer Ali, poet Mohammed Iqbal that there were two nations, Muslims and non-Muslim. In Jinnah's words at Lahore in March 1940:
The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literature. They neither inter-marry nor inter-dine together and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise their victories and defeats overlap (Qaid-e-Azam by Sharif Al Mujahid).
FROM DEEMED TO DOOMED
THE GOVERNMENT'S SUBMISSION TO THE SUPREME COURT REQUESTING DERECOGNITION OF 44 DEEMED UNIVERSITIES IS AN INDICTMENT OF HOW POLICY-MAKERS GAMBLE RECKLESSLY WITH STUDENTS' FUTURE
If the child is the father of the man, as the poet William Wordsworth sagely observed, then India's future may rest on the shoulders of a population of stressed-out adults. Student suicides have peaked abnormally in recent years, with children as young as 11 years choosing death over the pressures of examinations, vicious competition and the prospect of failure. It is an old problem that has reached endemic proportions as lifestyle expectations spiral out of control. Now, almost two lakh students might face uncertainty, with the Centre recommending to the Supreme Court that 44 'deemed' universities be de-recognised because they are being run as "family fiefdoms" and not on "academic considerations".
Deemed universities are departments or institutes, formerly under recognised universities, that have been given autonomous status. This enables them to have their own rules for admission; set the syllabus; and determine fees. About 1,19,363 students are enrolled in these 44 institutions at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels; there are 2,124 MPhil and PhD researchers; and 74,808 distance education students. Government assurances have surfaced that they would not be affected as the colleges would remain under the universities to which they were earlier affiliated. Alternatively, students would be helped to move to other institutions, while those doing distance learning could enroll with Indira Gandhi National Open University or State open universities.
Nervous reactions have begun to erupt from across the country. Anger is directed at the Congress-led UPA Government as it was during its earlier tenure, that the Human Resource and Development Ministry, led by Mr Arjun Singh, had extended the deemed status to the maximum number of institutions. Questions are being raised, quite legitimately, about the compulsions for the HRD Ministry's eagerness to extend the deemed status to so many places, without proper verification of their ability to provide quality education, on par with that available in well-established institutions. Allegations of monetary inducements being given in exchange for the deemed status are already being bandied around. Tamil Nadu is especially under scrutiny as 16 of its deemed universities the maximum in any State have been found wanting. Of these, four were either founded or run by politicos and their relatives. These include Bharath University, St Peter's University, Dr MGR University and Periyar Maniammai University.
Angry reactions have erupted on Internet sites. Jayant Verma from Chandigarh mirrors the general outrage: "Its not only a shame but a slap on the face of the UPA Government. Our University, Maharishi Mahakandeshwar University in Mullana, Ambala was granted the deemed-to-be status during the last tenure of the UPA Government. Our first batch under the university name has still got to pass out. If the university was not fit enough why did they let them be such universities in the first place. . . . Our future lies in the balance if the university is de-recognised of the deemed status. I hope another Mandal Commission like episode doesn't ensue . . .".
Similarly, Natarajan R of Chennai asks: "Can someone tell me why the AICTE or UGC, as the case may be, is not accountable for giving the approval in the first place. After all money is honey!"
The UPA Government cannot disown the fact that it was during its earlier tenure that the Human Resource and Development Ministry's "education merchandise" found maximum takers. Of the 130 universities of this kind, only 10 were given the 'deemed' status before 2004. The irony is that it is the UPA regime itself which is now trying to undo the damage by seeking the apex court's intercession. Its recommendations are on the basis of the findings of the PN Tandon Committee and special task force which investigated the functioning of 126 deemed universities. Apparently, 38 are up to the mark; 44, that are deficient in some areas, have been given three years time to upgrade; but 44 are beyond redemption.
The Government affidavit filed in the apex court states that they, ". . . neither on past performance nor on their promise for the future have the attributes to retain their status as deemed to be universities". These include three, sponsored by the Government Nava Nalanda Mahavihara in Bihar; Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development in Tamil Nadu; and the National Museum Institute of the History of Art, Conservation and Musicology in New Delhi.
The Government affidavit also indicts the 44 blacklisted universities on counts of "undesirable management architecture", with families running them; offering post-graduate and under-graduate courses that are "fragmented with concocted nomenclatures", and offering more seats than their capacity.
It is really an indictment of how policy-makers gamble recklessly with students' future.
NOT ALL CHANGE IS GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE
SOIL FERTILITY LOSS, ERRATIC MONSOONS, DEPLETING WILDLIFE ARE DANGERS THE THAR DESERT IS FACING, WRITES DILEEP BIDAWAT
The desert has a unique ecosystem, harsh climatic and terrain conditions coupled with an amazing grace that life and practices speak of. Interestingly, the heat generated in the atmosphere actually helps to draw the monsoon in the region. Despite water shortage, traditional water management helps to keep the desert moist. 'Khejdi', 'Sevan', 'Dhaman' and other countless plants provide succour to life-forms there. Home to animals like deer, blue bull, wolf, desert fox, rabbit, barasingha and birds like vultures, great Indian bustard, grey francolin, common quail and peacock, the Thar desert hums with diverse life-forms.
However, things are changing in the Thar desert but not for good. Ghowaram, former sarpanch of Pataudi village, Barmer, says, "Weather and its cycle are changing. Summer is getting longer and winter is becoming shorter day by day. Monsoon comes either before time, or very late. We have not seen such heat in November and December. Famine comes every now and then. The desert has never seen such changes."
This insight would have possibly remained buried had a workshop on 'Climate Change and its impact on community livelihood', not taken place in November last year at Balotra block, Barmer district in Western Rajasthan.
Without even knowing the term 'climate change' which has taken up reams of paper, hours of air-time and the immense resources to hold an international summit, the rural population have become conscious of the change around them.
According to them, animals like deer and rabbits are not so common now and vultures have completely vanished and plants like Sevan, Dhaman and Phog are fast disappearing. Even the 'Khejdi' is becoming rare.
But are these changes linked to the larger issue of global warming? This was the point leading to much brainstorming. Agricultural, animal husbandry and environmental experts presented their analytical explanations. Rural communities spoke of their insights. What then emerged was a link between the vast changes in agriculture, animal farming and people's lives and the deeper dimension of climate change.
Practices which violate the fundamental principles of the environment not only contribute to factors leading to climate change but in turn are affected by this change which pushes them further to adopt environment-unfriendly practices. A case in point is the use of tractors unsuitable to the terrain. Even the non-irrigated fields are so soft that they do not require tillage through tractors. Yet they are used affecting the fertility of the soil. The result is shortage of fodder and wood which affects animal husbandry. People believe that farms which once produced eight-10 quintals of grain now producing only three to four quintals per hectare.
Moreover, exploitation of groundwater continues at a relentless pace. Jodhpur once famous for producing onions and chillies is in dire straits because of drying up of wells and falling fertility of the soil.
Scientists from Central Agricultural Resources Department Institute at Kajri believe that global warming is causing western storms during summer which is driving moisture-laden monsoon winds away from Rajasthan.
According to satellite data of American Space Agency NASA, the climate of Thar is expected to be unstable over the next few years. There will be periods of drought and periods of heavy rainfall. Though the monsoon will be active, it may pour over certain area while leave others bone-dry.
However, people here have taken it upon themselves to act in small ways to the huge problem of climate change. Those with half-acre of land decided not to use tractors. Each participant vowed to create awareness and share the knowledge they gathered among others. They said, "We will save local plants and we will not use plastic bags and stop others from using it."
WHOM DOES MR PAWAR THINK HE REPRESENTS?
AGRICULTURE minister Sharad Pawar has been justifiably pilloried by the Opposition for his irresponsible statements on the future price movements of sensitive commodities like rice, sugar and now, milk.
UP Chief Minister Mayawati has even accused him of sending price signals to hoarders and black marketers. There may be more than a modicum of truth in this charge. While it is a fact that food prices in general, and prices of essential commodities like rice and sugar in particular, have witnessed unprecedented price inflation, Mr. Pawar cannot justify his statements by claiming to have stated the obvious.
As food minister his statements carry much more gravitas than that of an ordinary commentator. As the world's second largest agricultural economy, any move by the government sends reverberations through not just the domestic, but world markets.
Take sugar, for instance. Shortly after Mr.Pawar said that India might have to import sugar, world sugar prices started shooting up, since India is also the world's largest consumer of sugar. On Wednesday, sugar prices had shot up to $ 751/ ton in the London market, the highest in 21 years.
This is no coincidence, especially since the world's largest sugar producing nation, Brazil, is expecting a bumper crop and sugar prices were earlier expected to fall.
Mr. Pawar cannot absolve himself of responsibility by blaming either the monsoons or lack of them or market forces for the current mess on the food front. He needs to either come up with concrete solutions to solve the problem, or go.
SO UNLIKE MUMBAI
ONE OF the reasons that Mumbai is such a great city is not just because of the enormous amount of money it has, but because it has an open heart it is inclusive despite the community- specific ghettos, it is tolerant regardless of the 1993 riots and it has a single- minded focus and that is to get work done no matter what the odds.
It is this culture that the Congress- led government in Maharashtra has managed to threaten with its decision to invoke a 40- year- old law that requires a working knowledge of Marathi to receive taxi permits, and indeed the licences, to drive them. Not just that, cab drivers would now have to prove they have been living in Maharashtra for at least 15 years.
Large political parties, especially those with a national presence, must subsume the populist agendas of smaller, often rabid parties, by insisting on and propagating broad and inclusive political platforms.
Instead, the Congress in Maharashtra seems to have been subsumed by the chauvinistic ideology professed by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ( MNS) and its leader Raj Thackeray.
This is as despicable as it is shortsighted.
Governments have a larger responsibility than to just pander to narrow- minded constituencies for short- term political gains.
Imagine the goodwill the same government would have generated if it insisted that taxis in Mumbai should have minimum safety standards, run on eco- friendly fuel, and would be heavily fined if they broke even minor traffic rules.
The Maharashtra government now has to answer other states as to whether their immigrants will be safe in Maharashtra or not, and whether or not the state has obligations to the Indian union.
THE words " Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping" attributed to actor- model Bo Derek fits the stereotype of women as shopaholics. But, members of the fairer sex are pushing the envelope to end such ' negative profiling'. In India, for instance, women have excelled in almost every field one can think of.
It is in this context that reports of bias against Indian women hockey players seem to be anachronistic. The probables for the Commonwealth Games are turning up for practice with black armbands to protest against the lack of funds even though the men's team just won the fight with Hockey India over salaries. Indian sports administrators should go with the flow of history and put the angry women players on an equal footing with their male counterparts, while the men's team should tell the women players, ' Chak De India'.
CHINA DECLARES CYBER WAR
BY SUBIMAL BHATTACHARJEE
EARLIER this month, Google said its corporate infrastructure had been the victim of a " highly sophisticated and targeted attack originating from China" in December last year and that those attacks had resulted in the theft of intellectual property. More recently, outgoing National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan voiced the suspicion that cyber attacks on Indian computers again last month including those at the Prime Minister's Office, had also originated in China. In March 2009, researchers in Canada concluded a 10- month operation to uncover a cyber- spying operation targeting business, political and economic institutions in more than 100 countries.
Though the activity was based in China, the researchers had no way to link it to the government.
Google said it had evidence to suggest that the primary goal of the attackers was accessing the gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. In its statement, it went on to add that the company would not henceforth censor content in the Google China website google. cn even if that meant shutting down the website and, subsequently, the Google operations in China.
This is strong stuff and it has many ramifications, not only for the business world but also for the political relations between the US and China.
Things have not gone smoothly for Google ever since it started its Chinese operations in 2006 and the move to accept censorship was criticised in many quarters. Last year Google was reprimanded by the Chinese authorities for having pornographic content and its video sharing site Youtube and social networking site Orkut remain inaccessible in China. Most western companies that operate out of China abide by Chinese censorship rules and there has been criticism of Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo for kowtowing to the Chinese.
Despite agreeing to these terms and tying up with local partners, Western companies are unable to dominate the Chinese internet market which has more than 330 million users. Google has about 31 per cent of the search market, much behind the local Chinese search engine Baidu at 63 per cent. Similarly eBay trails behind Alibaba in the ecommerce market and MSN behind Tencent in the instant messaging space.
The Chinese forays in cyberspace are characterised by two aspects one is their censorship regime that goes much beyond any reasonable understanding of the term, and the second is their constant penchant for cyber attacks on adversaries whether in the political, corporate or even social field. Google's outburst has touched upon both the issues. All critical content related to the Chinese political system and leadership is strictly blocked as are all references to the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese complicity in cyber attacks today is getting more obvious by the day and quite a few nations have suffered repeated attempts, many of them being successful. The case of the successful penetration into Pentagon a couple of years back is well known. The Indian establishment, too, has blamed China for attacks on computers early last year and more recently.
Such attacks are deftly carried out Chinese officials deny any knowledge of the attacks, what to speak of acknowledging any responsibility. Yet the attackers have strong institutional support and are generally spoofed from other networks like those of the Russians or the Taiwanese shielding the actual perpetrators.
The common forms of such attacks are hacking to gather sensitive information and to create remotely controlled computer networks and distributed denial of service ( DDoS) attacks. The Chinese are becoming more sophisticated in their methods of attack and it is believed that apart from the Chinese People's Liberation Army's cyber command, many other institutions like universities are being regularly funded and trained for the purpose.
The common global perception today is that the Chinese see cyberspace as one of the leading fronts on which global dominance is a must and the belligerence displayed in the form of these regular attacks is a way of reminding its adversaries, primarily the US and India, that they are in no way unfamiliar with the English language dominated global internet regime. The response of the US government to the Google announcement is important. While the State Department has responded, the tenor of the message itself is an indication of the caution that the US today displays on issues related to China.
Google has definitely raised the issue to a pitch that the US can hardly ignore, yet at the same time it cannot be seen to be tough on China.
Any arrangement to arrive at a global consensus on how to deal with the Chinese cyber attacks has to have a leading US role whereby the rules of engagement in cyberspace have to be defined and adhered to. However the effort has not been there in right earnest. The UN Secretary General has just set up a Group of Governmental Experts ( GGE) from 20 countries to explore the role of information communications technology in international security after two failed attempts in the past. This GGE should be able to recommend a plan of action to deal with those cyber attacks which are beyond the purview of business and social crime and have a direct political consideration such as human rights and national security.
As for Google, it will be interesting to watch how it acts in the coming weeks.
It is almost certain that the Chinese will not budge from their position regarding tough censorship of content on websites that can be viewed in that country. But there could be a way out.
That many of the western hardware manufacturers were able last year to resist the Chinese government's pressure to bundle preinstalled censorship software on PCs shipped is an indication that some degree of realisation is there in the Chinese leadership of the impact of cyberspace and its tools.
The influence of the 31 per cent Google users in China might also have some impact. However the ability to operate with complete freedom in China is not on the cards.
Many experts feel that a tech giant like Google must come out with more encompassing anti- filter tools, as well as protocols to allow content sharing across networks so that availability of content is possible across locations and regimes. After all, perfect censorship is impossible to attain and the Chinese will be forced to either fight this anti- filter battle and at the same time filter content, or give up.
The Google spark can push the global debate on cyberspace in two directions, and both cyber attacks and censorship issues will have to be addressed much more closely. The fact remains clear that as long as repressive regimes remain, censorship will continue.
Likewise cyber attacks will be more pronounced in times to come. The alarm bell should have gone off for Google in 2006 when it went to China. But it is not too late if their present stand can alert and awaken the global community to the dangers to cyberspace.
Meanwhile gmail has been provided with upgraded security features and we can only hope that the Chinese are not already in the process of breaking through those as well.
The writer is country head General Dynamics. These views are personal
THE LAHORE LOG
ZARDARI IS RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS
BY NAJAM SETHI
THE SUPREME Court has predictably paved the way for ousting President Asif Zardari from the Presidency.
Its 280+ page judgment against the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO) emphasises several points.
First, it argues that the notion of " trichotomy of power" is enshrined in the constitution and cannot be violated. This means that parliament, executive and judiciary must not stray from their domains and encroach on that of the others. The reference is to the ongoing conflict between the executive and the judiciary on the appointment of judges and the execution of the orders of the Supreme Court by the government, in particular to the negative attitude of the government in not putting some government members on the Exit Control List as suggested by the court and its reluctance to prosecute its members and advise the Swiss government to reopen the corruption cases against Mr Zardari in Geneva.
Second, the court has cited the history of the successful legal battles by the Philippine and Nigerian governments to get the Swiss government to return the billions looted by dictators Ferdinand Marcos and Sani Abacha respectively and stashed away in Swiss banks.
The message is loud and clear: activate the Swiss money laundering case in Geneva against Mr Zardari, get him convicted and bring back the plundered money. A conviction in Geneva would be sufficient grounds to knock Mr Zardari out of the Presidency.
Third, most critically, the court has relied on the " Islamic injunctions" in the constitution, even though these are based on vague notions of " morality". In particular, reference has been made to Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution inserted therein by that great Islamist fraudster- gangster, General Zia ul Haq.
These relate to conditions of qualification and disqualification from being a member of parliament ( like the president of Pakistan). Article 62 ( d): he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions.
Article 62 ( f): he is sagacious, righteous and non- profligate and honest and ameen. Article 63 ( a): he is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court. Article 63 ( g): he is propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to morality or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.
The case for the prosecution is likely to proceed thus: ( 1) Article 62( d) applies because Mr Zardari is commonly known to be corrupt, hence his universal nickname as Mr 10 per cent. ( 2) Article 62( f) applies because he not ameen or sagacious or non- profligate because he broke
his pledge to restore the judges and repeal the 17th amendment. ( 3) Article 63( a) applies because he submitted a medical certificate to the Swiss Court some years ago saying his mind was disturbed and he couldn't attend the proceedings.
( 4) Article 63( g) applies because he has been alluding to the judiciary and army as " conspirators" hence defaming and ridiculing them and undermining the integrity and independence of the judiciary by refusing to accede to the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan viz appointment and elevation of judges etc. IT MAY be noted that none of these provisions has ever been used to knock out any member of any parliament, high or low, in Pakistan.
Indeed, in 1985 the Lahore High Court threw out a petition against a member of the provincial parliament pegged to these provisions because of difficulties inherent in interpreting the moral provisions of these " Islamist" articles.
Therefore the Supreme Court will have to risk its credibility for all times to come if it wants to get rid of Mr Zardari on the basis of any of these provisions.
Mr Zardari has cut short his Punjab tour in which he interacted with his party's rank and file. He has retreated to the bunker of the Presidency in Islamabad to take stock and fashion a counter strategy for survival. What will this be? First, he will try and put up a spirited legal defence. This will be done by delaying the proceedings and marshalling strong political and Islamic arguments against the use of Articles 62 and 63. Second, he will try and build public opinion and persuade sections of the media ( which are still bipartisan) in his favour as a persecuted leader who is being targeted by a vindictive and partisan Supreme Court. Third, he will marshal his allies in Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan to rally around his besieged government by holding out their common bleak prospects in the event of a mid- term election forced by the Supreme Court's relentless pursuit of the case against him.
Should worse come to worst and he cannot escape being ousted from the Presidency, his options will not look too good.
One, he can go quietly into the night, hand over to the PPP's Senate Chairman, get another PPP loyalist or political ally elected as President, and wield power from behind the scenes as head of the PPP. The problem with this scenario is that the Supreme Court is bound to hound and jail him on the basis of the cases against him which will stand revived. Two, he can try and find a compromise solution behind the scenes with the judiciary, army and opposition which allows him to survive as a toothless president but strengthens the position and ambitions of the other players. The problem with this is the great difficulty of stitching such a compromise in view of the level of distrust that exists between all the contenders for power. Third, he can call for fresh elections and throw the country into a spin. The problem with this scenario is that the army and judiciary could join hands to postpone the elections for several years and use the time and space to decimate all politicians regardless of party affiliation. This is the most likely outcome of exercising this option.
There is a new and powerful troika reckoning for political supremacy in Pakistan. It comprises the army, judiciary and nationalistic media. Should the organs of the state succeed in expelling the organs of the people who are supposed to direct them, the political system of electoral and popular democracy, however incompetent and inefficient, will be scuttled in Pakistan, with far reaching adverse domestic and regional consequences.
The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)
I'm telling you from now only, so don't say keh I keep secrets, but I'm turning around a new leaf. I've made a list of new year revolutions: 1. Fight less with Janoo. Khair, that should be easy because he's hardly here any more. Most of time he's in bore Sharkpur.
2. Loose twenty pounds. I know, I know keh it doesn't show but really I'm becoming a bit too hippy. Even my darzi's noticed. So no ghee wallah desi khaana which gives you cellulight. Only avocadoes and chicken seizure salad and Chinese beef and chilli and pizza and light light se sandwiches.
3. Give no safe heaven in my home to Janoo's family. No more eid ka khaanas for his sisters, the Gruesome Twosome, no more iftaris for the Old Bag, oho baba, his mother, who else? 4. Take no tensions. See above.
5. Stay away from all hotels. In case I get blown up by a bomb.
6. Find new facial waali. Old one has too much of B. O. 7. Wear only pinks and purples. My palmist, Tasleem Bibi of D Block Model Town, has told me that I mustn't wear greys and browns. They bring bad luck to me. And green tau is totally out because it's Mulloo's favourite colour. And to go with my new pinks also have to buy some nice new rubies.
8. Visit places I've never seen before. Like Burj Khalifa in Dubai and new Channel ki boutique in Delhi's Imperial Hotel.
9. Take regular exercise. Like walking to dressing room myself to fetch a tissue instead of yelling to maid.
10. Doing Haj. All the girls Bobo, Baby, Fluffy, Flopsy have been two two times and now I feel so out of it when we meet at coffee parties and they go on and on about their closeness to God. Vaisay I think so, they do it jaan keh.
11. Start attending more darses. See above.
12. Give no chuttis to servants. All last year itna mera advantage take kya hai na in sub ne, keh bus don't even ask. One month one's mother would pass away, next month the other's. Bus now I think so everyone's mother's passed away so all chuttis khatam.
13. Persuade Mummy to give up on cheetah prints. So last decade.
14. Be more green. Switch from blue contact lenses to green.
15. Be more friendly with my neighbours. Visit India at least once a month to help their econmy by buying more jewellery.
16. Wake up early. At 11.30 instead of 12.
So bus, just leading simple saaf suthri life. Aur kiya?
CHILD MARRIAGE NOW LEGAL IN RAJASTHAN?
BY SUDHANSHU MISHRA IN JAIPUR
RAJASTHAN'S home department officials are in a catch- 22 situation.
They have been asked to frame rules that make registration of marriages compulsory in Rajasthan.
Here lies the problem: The related Bill passed by the assembly last year had allowed registration of child- marriages as well.
But child marriage is a prohibited practice across the country.
According to Section 8( 1) of the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Bill 2009, " the parties, or in case the parties have not completed the age of 21 years, the parents or as the case may be, guardian of the parties, shall be responsible to submit the memorandum within a period of 30 days from the date of solemnisation of the marriage to the registrar". This is in contradiction of the Centre's Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
The Act clearly states that a " child means a person who, if male, has not completed 21 years of age, and if a female, has not completed 18 years of age". When Rajasthan drafted and passed the Bill last year, nobody seemed to have noticed this glitch. Realisation dawned only when rules were being framed.
Principal secretary ( law), S. S. Kothari, said: " We just wanted couples to register their marriages irrespective of their age. In fact, it's an excellent way to detect child marriages." He also claimed the state law did not contravene the provisions of the Centre's Act. The prohibition Act states that the marriage can be nullified only if a contracting party ( the bride or groom) who was a child at the time of the marriage moves the court.
It further states: " If at the time of filing a petition the petitioner is a minor, the petition may be filed through his or her guardian or next friend along with the child marriage prohibition officer." In this context, Kothari asserted, the law for making marriage registration compulsory did not legalise child- marriages.
Principal secretary ( home) Pradeep Sen said the rules were yet to be framed and it should not be construed that Rajasthan was supporting child- marriages. Also, ground reality cannot be ignored. Many communities follow the practice of childmarriages and since the law is for everyone, all these aspects had to be taken into account, Sen said.
Rajasthan's marriage registration Act is not be applicable to the marriages solemnised under the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, the Parsi Marriage Act and Divorce Act 1936 or the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
MORE SUICIDES KEEP TELANGANA ON BOIL
BY A. SRINIVASA RAO IN HYDERABAD
THREE more people killed themselves on Thursday over the delay in formation of a separate Telangana state . In Kamareddy town of Nizamabad district, 20- year- old Suresh hanged himself in his house in the early hours, leaving behind a suicide note stating that he was frustrated over the delay.
In Medak district, A. Dasarath ( 23) committed suicide by hanging himself for the same reason. Agricultural labourer N. Kishan ( 45), also from Medak, killed himself by consuming pesticide.
He had attended a cultural programme organised by Telangana activists, where they paid tributes to N. Venugopal Reddy, a student who had committed suicide on the Osmania University campus on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the second day of the bandh called by the Telangana Joint Action Committee evoked partial response in the region.
Except the disruption of a T- 20 match at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal by the agitators, the rest of the Telangana region remained peaceful.
Students of Osmania University took out a peace rally on the campus, condemning Wednesday's police lathicharge and firing on them.
Legislators of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the Bharatiya Janata Party met assembly Speaker N. Kirankumar Reddy again, urging him to accept their resignations submitted last month.
The Speaker said he needed time to decide.
THE FAT CATS
IT IS often said the writ of the Maoists runs in many districts across states. But what is not said is about the writ of corporates running ( or ruining) huge areas and perpetrating every conceivable violation of law, be it SEZs or mining or drilling. Illegality runs riot in these places. Now there is an official admission when the attorney general admitted before the apex court that there is " complete breakdown of law and order... unauthorised extension of mining lease area, encroaching upon reserve forest in areas under the guise of mining activity". Of course, the reference was to the " Bellary" Reddy brothers. But it can safely be extended to other barons as well.
Should not the fight against the Maoists be extended to tame the fat cats who are camouflaged in the guise of industrialists? It is easier to fight the Maoists than the Trojan horses within. The threat is that the cats have access right up to the antechamber of the powers- that- be.
STEEL A STEAL
STATEMENTS from the corporate affairs ministry are taken with a tonne of salt because of their frequency.
The latest being a report that the government will inspect the financial books of a steel company for alleged manipulation of share prices, funds diversions and other related matters.
This is significant because ArcelorMittal has picked up a 5.6 per cent stake in the company.
So far so good! But what about the investigation into other steel majors who may have possibly indulged in similar practices? The silence is normally deafening. Even the serious frauds investigation office, which functions under the ministry, has not come out with any conviction. Not surprising, since it admittedly has neither the expertise nor the wherewithal to do what it is supposed to.
THE CONGRESS is turning out to be the only " party", with the others decimated after the elections and eclipsed thereafter by their own actions. So it is not a great surprise that there is a beeline to get onto the bandwagon, be it politicians, powerbrokers, business barons and even opinion- makers.
Everybody is dropping hints with surprising alacrity about a possible entry into the grand old party. Like so many others queuing up before 10, Janpath, a former Union home secretary is also toeing the line. The list is long, but the wait may be inordinately longer. For the record, this bureaucrat had hobnobbed with the inhabitants of Jhandewalan and Ashoka Road during the NDA rule.
ALL IN A NAME
WHEN abbreviations become acronyms, all hell can break loose. Rural development minister C. P. Joshi realised this on Thursday. A reporter reminded Joshi that the government had not taken the recent renaming of the NREGA after the Father Of The Nation with the required seriousness.
There was a slip of tongue on the reporter's part. He said NREGA, popularly known as ' Narega', was not being referred to as ' Marega' on the files with the ' M' standing for the Mahatma! Taken aback, the minister clarified that the government was fully committed to calling the scheme ' Mahatma Gandhi NREGA'. Point taken but lack of a vowel could steal the sting from the renamed scheme. ' Narega' is always easier than MGNREGA!
LESSONS NOT LEARNT
THE MADHU Koda scam in mineral- rich Jharkhand has not provoked the government to have a rethink on the mineral policy. The guidelines leave enough room for questionable interpretation of policy and follow- up which will defeat the very purpose of reforms. Why on earth should ore be allocated by fiat, with scope for bias and give and take by the high and mighty?
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IPL AUCTION'S SNUB TO PAKISTANI PLAYERS A BLOW TO SOFT DIPLOMACY
Two days after the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, it's still not clear why none of the available Pakistani players were picked up by any of the teams. The government has denied that it exerted any pressure on IPL teams to shun Pakistani players. The IPL franchisees on their part have cited the uncertainty surrounding the Pakistani players. But the big question is: Why were the Pakistani players part of the bidding process in the first place if there were doubts about their availability? Once they were part of the auction, it is shocking that none of them many of whom were part of the T20 World Cup-winning squad were considered good enough.
Both the Indian government and the IPL clubs have come out poorly in this episode. The government should have categorically stated before the auction that Pakistani cricketers were welcome to play in India and that there would be no obstacles in their way. Indeed it would have been wonderful diplomacy to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistani cricketers, separating the issue from New Delhi's misgivings about Islamabad's response to 26/11.
The IPL franchisees, too, seem to have missed a trick. Many of the Pakistani players are proven match-winners in the shortest form of the game as well as very popular in India. There was no good reason to keep them out. Players such as Shahid Afridi lend glamour as well as excitement to the game, which is what the IPL is all about. And Sohail Tanvir was the highest wicket taker in the first edition of the IPL. By snubbing all 11 Pakistani players on the auction block the franchisees have plenty to answer for.
Indo-Pak ties are at present not in the best of health. But a boycott of Pakistani cricketers plays into the hands of both Indian and Pakistani hardliners. The latter, like the former, aren't too keen to see Pakistani players participating in Indian tournaments. But hawks in Pakistan will now seize on the IPL episode by playing it up as a national humiliation. This could have been avoided. Cricket and Bollywood are India's two most potent tools of soft diplomacy for the region. Even if responses to India's concerns from Islamabad's security establishment aren't satisfactory, New Delhi must still reach out to Pakistan's civil society to build a constituency for peace. The fumbling over IPL is a lamentable failure on this score. And it's the IPL and Indian cricket fans that are the real losers.
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DRIVING THEM OUT
MAHARASHTRA GOVERNMENT'S NEW RULES FOR TAXI DRIVERS REFLECT CHAUVINISTIC POLITICS
The undignified haste with which Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan had to scramble back from his government's stand on giving licences only to taxi drivers who know Marathi, is a pointer to how poor the idea was to begin with. But the issue remains murky. The second condition the government had announced was that new licences would require that the recipient had been resident in the state for 15 years and more. If the Maharashtra government intends to persist with this and even if it does not, the mere fact that it thought to push such proposals through is a troubling indicator of the bankruptcy of ideas that has plagued state politics for years now.
From both a logical and constitutional point of view, the proposed diktat is eminently lacking in reason. It would require cabbies, seeking renewal of their taxi permits, to go back to school in order to build up fluency in Marathi. Institutionalising this is both unnecessary and unfeasible. More importantly, mandating knowledge of Marathi and an applicant's term of residence in the state in this manner is a direct threat to an Indian citizen's constitutional right to seek employment in any part of the country.
But the problem goes beyond such issues. Contextualised in the light of the chauvinistic politics unleashed by the MNS, it seems a tawdry attempt by the current administration to appropriate their particular brand of parochialism. It is no secret that a large number of taxi-drivers in Mumbai are migrants from northern states. If the new regulations were to be imposed, they would be affected the most. This is precisely the socio-economic segment that has been targeted by the MNS in recent times. They are convenient victims to enable the MNS to build its brand and grow out of the shadow of the Shiv Sena that had in turn targeted south Indians to build its reputation.
With civic polls approaching and the MNS faring better than expected in the recent assembly polls, it is difficult to interpret this move as anything other than an attempt by the Congress-NCP combine to undercut the former's support base. This is poor politics, as an increase in parochialism will only benefit MNS. Indira Gandhi made the same mistake when she reached out to the extremist brand of Sikh politics represented by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. When will our politicians ever learn?
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BRAIN DRAIN IN REVERSE
IMMIGRANTS IN US SEE BETTER PROSPECTS BACK HOME
Berkeley, California: At a recent meeting of young technologists in Silicon Valley, i polled a room full of Indian techies about their future plans. It was an ad hoc exercise but when i asked how many of them planned to return home to India to work in the near future, over 50 per cent of the people raised their hands. That dynamic is also playing out on a world stage as the great nations of the world battle for the brains that will spur their economies.
During his recent trip to the US, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh said he welcomed Indians to return home. India also unveiled a policy that would allow Indians to hold multiple citizenships. China, too, has mounted campaigns and offered incentives. This trend has been growing at a time when the crisis-hit US is facing pressure to discourage immigration by foreigners with skills.
Although India and China have long decried the "brain drain", they have not been able to entice many of their expats to return home. That appears to be changing, and fast. The reason is strong economic growth rates in those countries coupled with enhanced entrepreneurial opportunities and rapidly rising standards of living and wages. Conversely, the US and most of the West continue to suffer from slower economic growth rates and living standards and wages that are, by some measures, declining in real terms. The number of H-1B visas has actually dropped during the Great Recession.
The net result could be a drop in US innovation. That foreigners residing in the US contribute enormously to innovation is beyond dispute. My research teams at Duke University calculated that foreign nationals were named as inventors or co-inventors in one quarter of WIPO patent applications filed from the US in 2006. Additionally, 16.8 per cent of international patent applications had an inventor or co-inventor of Chinese heritage and 13.7 per cent of Indian heritage. By way of comparison, ethnic Chinese and Indians collectively represent less than 3 per cent of the total US population.
Contrary to claims that immigrant patentfilers crowd out US-born researchers, emerging research is showing that immigrants tend to boost patent output by their US born colleagues. These immigrant patent-filers emerged from the US university system, where foreigners now dominate the advanced degree seeking ranks in science, technology, engineering and mathematical disciplines.
Beyond intellectual contributions, Chinese and Indian immigrants have been key entrepreneurial drivers in the US. One-quarter of all technology companies in the US have at least one founder who is a Chinese or Indian immigrant. The concentration is even heavier in certain key industries such as semiconductors and enterprise software.
Precisely how many present-day entrepreneurs and knowledge workers have already departed remains difficult to quantify. No government tallies return immigrants or departing immigrants. But stories of these departures are common in the popular press and circulating in immigrant-oriented electronic communities. We feel fairly certain that the numbers are most likely in the tens of thousands.
Future departures seem set to increase, as well. In a study of over 1,200 foreign national students matriculating in the US, we found that only 6 per cent of Indian, 10 per cent of Chinese, and 15 per cent of European students said they want to stay permanently. Many cited worries over obtaining visas, a logical concern, as restrictive immigration policies have left roughly one million immigrants and their dependents in a limbo.
What's more, those that have departed did so at a particularly critical time in their careers just before they would be likely to start their own companies. On average, these company founders had lived in the US for 14 years. The average returnee was in the mid-30s. The implication is clear. Those who had left will start companies in their home countries, where most of the benefits of this entrepreneurship will accrue.
Mitigating factors could, however, easily slow this tide. Political unrest in China or increased terrorism in India are two of the bigger potential hurdles. Likewise, as these economies mature and their currencies gain in value against the dollar, starting a new business in the home country with US dollars will become more expensive. The US federal government for the first time in decades appears intent on spending big money on big science and R&D, a wild card that could influence scientists and technologists to stay. And nearly one-third of the returnee respondents in our survey indicated they had difficulty transitioning to their home cultures. Bureaucracy, corruption, pollution, congestion and a different work culture were all reasons they listed.
If the US relaxed immigration policies by, say, allowing founders of companies to remain in the US indefinitely, this could prove a strong magnet to retain talent. But for the near term, with US unemployment over 10 per cent, venture capital and corporate spending depressed, and US universities rapidly cutting back their budgets, the Rising East will continue to pull in its fair share of future science and technology rock stars who may build the next Google or Microsoft in Gujarat or Mumbai.
What is clear is that a big shift is underway. China and India will no longer be farm teams for the scientific Big Leagues in America.
The writer is an exec in residence at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University. Copyright: Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation, Yale University.
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'TEN PER CENT OF THE HOMELESS ARE WOMEN'
Nearly 400 people are reported to have died in the recent cold wave that swept northern India. During the winter season of 2002-03 almost 1,000 cold wave deaths were reported in north India. Paramjit Kaur, director of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (Campaign for Rights of Homeless People), spoke to Bharat Dogra about the urgent need to increase the protective cover for homeless people:
What can be done to improve shelters for homeless people?
The present-day availability of night shelters is extremely inadequate to meet the real needs of homeless people. It is not enough to create temporary night shelters for a few weeks. We should have at least one permanent, pucca, well-equipped shelter for every one lakh urban population. These shelters should become the centre for providing badly needed nutrition and health support to homeless people. Within homeless people we should be careful to provide for the most vulnerable groups such as women. At present the condition of homeless women is pathetic. Our estimate is that at least 10 per cent of the homeless are women. We need wellequipped shelters for them where they can stay with their children. Particularly in the case of these homeless women we need a comprehensive approach meeting all basic needs at shelters.
What can we do to ensure that adequate shelters become available in the near future?
A comprehensive plan needs to be drawn and adequate resources allocated for this to provide wellequipped, permanent shelters following proper space-norms not only in big cities but also in smaller towns. Special attention should be given to places where migration is high. There has been so much neglect and delay in the past that we've to make up for all the lost time. But hurrying up cannot mean compromising on quality. Good night shelters capable of providing satisfactory rest and water and sanitation need to be built. If provision of adequate shelter and blankets is combined with nutrition and health support, then conditions of extreme distress can be prevented. Civil society groups and citizens should cooperate with the government to meet the basic needs of the homeless. Till enough shelters are created, many government and non-government organisations can make some of their buildings available as shelters during nights. What citizens should remember, however, is that the homeless need an enduring commitment and not just for a few winter weeks. They also suffer from other weather extremes like torrential rains and heat waves.
How can we reduce the extent of homelessness?
Government schemes like rural employment guarantee schemes should be better implemented. We need employment guarantee schemes for the urban poor too. Providing affordable housing and healthcare to all will also go a long way in reducing the extent of homelessness in India. Conditions like the present cold wave should be declared as emergency situation in which no possible effort is spared to protect precious human lives.
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UNDO THE PAPERWORK
Back from Bangalore or Bengaluru, to give it its new name i am happy to report that the erstwhile Garden City which was fast becoming a concrete wasteland thanks to greedy property developers who believe that nothing succeeds like overbuilding excess is sprouting new green shoots. One of the more notable among these is the recently opened Royal Gardenia which has bagged the coveted LEED India Platinum rating for being the world's largest eco-friendly hotel. From its wind-funnel atrium which requires no air-conditioning, to its dripfed 'vertical gardens' that cover walls in panels of green vegetation, it wears its environmental heart on its corporate sleeve. But what impressed me most about the place was the loo: discreetly tucked away beside the potty was a hygiene faucet. A hygiene faucet? In a super-deluxe hotel? An Indian super-deluxe hotel? Could such a thing be possible? It could be. And it was. There was the hygiene faucet, ready for hygiene-friendly, as well as environment-friendly, service.
All Indians or at least all urban Indians know what a hygiene faucet is: that hose-like contraption that provides strategically directed squirts of water after the performance of what are referred to as one's morning ablutions. The hygiene faucet is a born-again, or Gen X, brass lota, that indispensable accessory in any Indian loo, urban or rural, since time and ablutions immemorial. Indeed, so ubiquitous is the lota or its hi-tech avatar, the hygiene faucet that it might well be nominated as our unofficial national emblem. Despite this, the loos of hotels in India or at least those establishments which boast more stars than your common or garden constellation remained singularly and stubbornly lota-less, or hygiene faucet-less. Instead of which following the Anglo-Saxon example these supposedly super deluxe luxury loos provided an abundance of toilet paper, or what is commonly known as TP. This TP-fixation not only put all Indian guests at such places in a quandary of existential angst how to wash up after the job's done? but was also environmentally questionable. How many trees forget trees; how many forests had to be felled to provide those endless rolls, those globe-girdling infinitudes of TP? And to what purpose, other than what at best might be termed as a less than salubrious bottom line?
Think of it. Think of all those international environmental conferences they've been having, from Rio, to Kyoto, to Copenhagen. Number crunchers have computed the carbon-emitting air miles that delegates flying to and fro from all these tamashas have collectively chalked up. The cups of coffee drunk (imported from Colombia? Jamaica? Brazil?), the pins and paper clips used at such meets, have all been totted up. But no one has given a thought to all the TP literally gone to pot, thanks to these jamborees. If you take three squares of TP per application, and an average of three applications per visitation, that comes to nine squares. Assuming each square to be four inches by four inches, you get 36 inches, or one yard, of TP per person, per session. And that's assuming that none of all those high-flying delegates has developed a case of Rio Runnies, or Copenhagen Collywobbles, as a result of all this dashing about to unfamiliar climes and needs to use the loo and the TP more than once a day. Doesn't bear thinking about.
Or rather, it does bear thinking about. And the Royal Gardenia has thought about it and become the first hotel of its kind in India and elsewhere to provide, along with TP, its eco-chummy alternative in the form of the hygiene faucet. It is to be hoped that the example set by the Bengaluru hotel will be emulated far and wide in India and beyond our shores so that the next time Al Gore, R K Pachauri and Eco Co meet to see how they can save the planet from environmental catastrophe they'll have help at hand. In the form of a hygiene faucet. And a new eco mantra: Go green; go Gardenia; go wash.
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FOR FOOD'S SAKE
N N SACHITANAND
My wife and the neighbour's are no longer on speaking terms. It seems the other day she had sent someone over to borrow a cup of sugar and the cup came back with only a teaspoon of the stuff in it. "The nerve of it," growled the missus. "Does she think we are beggars?" I guess, however, that the neighbour lady had a point. With sugar becoming as costly as gold, or so it seems, who would think of gifting away a whole cup of it? Of course, things have not yet got to the point when one has to take a whole bag of cash to bring back a pocketful of groceries. I heard though that an aunt of mine has removed the lock from her jewellery locker and put it on the larder door. We live in strange times. My friendly neighbourhood handcart vegetable vendor has hired a bodyguard. "Every onion is worth a fortune these days," he explained. And did you hear about that bizarre kidnapping case? It seems a foodgrain dealer's son was snatched and the ransom demanded was not a bagful of cash but a sack of daal. The trader was reportedly more inclined to hand over cash than lentils.
I have it from authentic sources that the dreaded don, Dawood Ibrahim, has given up the narcotics trade. No, he has not had a sudden attack of conscience. He feels there is a better margin in smuggling potatoes. Ambitions have changed. A career in a leading IT firm or a multinational bank no longer brings a glow of arousal to the eyes of our youth. Now they dream of becoming rice merchants. Even the film industry has succumbed. The latest hot script, one hears, is about this rich industrialist's daughter who falls in love with a grocer's son. The industrialist puts all sorts of obstacles in the way of the romance, as they are wont to do in Bollywood, until one day he finds that the grocer has bought out his empire. And, finally, let me tell you about this lady who had gone out alone in the evening for vegetable shopping. While returning, in a dark, lonely section of the road, she was accosted by a robber. "Please don't take my mangalsutra," she pleaded. "Who cares about that," laughed the robber scornfully, snatched her bag of vegetables and fled.
HIT AND MIST FOR US
Fog soup anyone? In Delhi, this is the starter and main course for both rich and poor at the moment.
In John Carpenter's 1980 (non-Oscar winning) horror movie The Fog, mysterious events, including gruesome deaths, take place after a strange, glowing fog arrives at a town. Delhi may not be the northern California fishing town of Antonio Bay, but the capital city was struck by a Carpenter-sized fog on Wednesday evening. The fact that it descended so suddenly and so early in the evening (around 8.30 pm) did not allow Delhiites to be, as the saying goes, 'crippled' by its appearance. Most of us, returning from work, were actually caught in it like pieces of meat in a soup trying to reach home slowly but as quickly as we could.
Travelling through a fog is exactly what it looks like: travelling through clouds, as a fog is essentially a cloud that's in contact with the ground. Even as we Delhiites, romanticising everything that we can lay our eyes on, prefer to call the city's fog blanket a 'rolling mist', it would be wise to know that a mist is less dense than a fog. But if it's gothic qualities we want, gothic qualities we'll get. The fog that threw traffic, airplanes and trains off schedules, can be seen as a malevolent force that allows the legendary hardworking Delhiite to go to work only after the sun has been sighted and return from work before the same source of light disappears.
Coming less than a week before the annual Republic Day, the fog is also a reminder that caught within its opaque grasp, we're all blinded. We certainly can't think of a more non-destructive, egalitarian force of nature. If nothing else, rejoice in the one weather condition that makes the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless all look the same. If they can be seen through the heavy haze, that is.
A RACE TO THE BOTTOM
BY TRYING TO BEAT THE MNS AT ITS OWN GAME, THE CONGRESS IS UNDERVALUING ITSELF.
Not so long ago, the Maharashtra Congress would react to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray's brand of identity politics as a vampire to garlic. But today with the civic polls looming in 2012, the Congress-NCP government has taken a stab at copycat politics by declaring that all those who want to own and drive taxis in Mumbai must know Marathi. In addition, the government cited an old rule that states that only those with a 15-year domicile were eligible for licences. When it became apparent that its rhetoric could not match the real McCoy, namely Mr Thackeray's inflammatory anti-migrant policy, or indeed make a dent in his constituency, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has backtracked saying even a knowledge of Gujarati or Hindi will do.
All this has nothing to do with language or the ethnicity of taxi drivers, but with the narrow parochial politics that has come to affect Mumbai. The Shiv Sena set the tone with its anti-outsider agenda, that was replicated by the MNS to considerable electoral gain. The Congress, which came to power on the plank of improving infrastructure in Mumbai, clearly got the wrong end of the stick in suddenly trying to become an MNS wannabe. Such politics may suit a one-trick pony like the MNS but surely the Congress-NCP combine should be able to win votes on much larger issues like the appalling civic conditions in this once great city. The Congress with its national appeal is the perfect counter to the identity politics of Sena-type formations and should not have tried to usurp their agenda. In fact, it doesn't even make for good politics because the MNS, for example, has a core constituency of disgruntled youth as its base and nothing can dent that at the moment.
Not surprisingly, the Shiv Sena and BJP have been elated at the Congress trying to imitate their dangerous rhetoric. The Congress must also be mindful of the fact that it is the party of governance and should not provoke the sort of attacks on migrant taxi drivers that the MNS did last year. To hide behind the excuse that these requirements are part of an old law does no credit to the Congress. The Mumbaikars in whose name all political parties are posturing would be far better served if politicians could come up with a blueprint to salvage the decaying city. Perhaps, when people have a passable quality of life, the cosmopolitan spirit of Mumbai may reassert itself.
NETAJI, NOT NETAS
Subhas Chandra Bose was the practitioner of the antithesis of today's identity-based politics. More than ever before, on his 113th birthday, we need Bose's pan- Indian vision.
He formed the provisional Government of Azad Hind in 1942 in Singapore and with the Azad Hind Fauz or the Indian National Army (INA) made up of Indian prisoners of war captured by Japan declared war on Britain. He assumed Supreme Command of the INA and expanded it to a sizeable force of three divisions with some 60,000 soldiers.
He prevailed upon the Japanese to invade India. Two INA divisions later joined the 15th Japanese Corps led by Lt Gen Mutaguchi in the assault on Kohima and Imphal. They marched over 200 km through the dense jungles and crossed the Chindwin. They helped the Japanese to capture Kohima and besiege Imphal. Had the Japanese struck out for the rail head of Dimapur, victory would have crowned this offensive. Air power, however, tilted the scales. The tide of the war had turned and the combined Japanese-INA force retreated across Burma.
The INA troops fought fiercely at Mount Popa on the Irrawady river. Over one-third of the 60,000 strong INA force laid down their lives. It was a hopeless battle but Bose personally led the retreat. The nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender. What was Netaji's response? In a display of amazing tenacity he boarded a Japanese bomber flying to Manchuria. He wanted to contact the Russian forces and take their help to resume the freedom struggle. Japanese accounts indicate that this bomber crashed in Taiwan but the legend of Bose endures to this day.
The key catalyst for the British leaving was not so much the non-violent freedom struggle but the spectre of Bose and his INA. We need to revive his vision of a pan-Indian identity and his emphasis on 'hard power' and realpolitik.
G.D. Bakshi is a former Major General in the Indian Army
The views expressed by the author are personal
NOT BATTING FOR FAIR PLAY
There was an indignant reply to my tweet message, which had criticised the manner in which the Pakistani cricketers had been snubbed at the Indian Premier League auction the other day. "The IPL has made all possible players available,'' went the rebuttal, "the government has guaranteed visas for all players including Pakistanis, the franchisees assess the risk options and choose the best available. So what's the big deal?''
The argument is seemingly infallible: save that, as students of formal logic might detect quickly, it is based more on form and not content; or perhaps even more pertinently in this matter, context. After all, this was not just about a simple player auction, it was about the most emotive issue in the subcontinent, cricket: and in a broader dimension, not merely about cricket, but about the fragile Indo-Pak relations in which symbolism plays a deep role.
Let's look at the issue from another angle. Suppose there had been bidders for the Pakistani players, and say five of the 11 had been picked up by different franchisees. Suppose, further, that on the eve of the tournament, all five players pulled out of the tournament citing personal problems. Would anybody believe that this was not a considered decision by all of them, with possibly the Pakistan Cricket Board and the government of Pakistan also party to it to embarrass Indian cricket and India?
Let me play devil's advocate a while longer. Was there an advisory from the government to the IPL, and from there to the franchisees, to shun the Pakistani players? Perhaps not. Given the peculiar nature of Indo-Pak relations, especially post- 26/11, should there still have been some sort of discussion about the issue before the auction? Certainly yes. Does anybody believe that there wasn't? Most certainly not!
In a volatile political scenario, cold logic has cruel limitations and perception becomes more crucial than reality. We are told that what happened at the auction was mere coincidence driven by plain business considerations. Not impossible, but improbable. It's a test of anybody's credulity to accept that three major stakeholders in the drama the government, the IPL and the franchise owners would have been ignorant of what was likely to happen.
The cricketing merit of the Pakistani players, of course, need hardly to be discussed. At least three of them Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal and Umar Gul would have been 'hot picks', and if former captains Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble had not had their hands tied, so to speak, they would surely have squirmed in their seats in bypassing them. Unlike most Aussies and some Englishmen, these Pakistani players were available for the entire season.
My point is, why go through the charade when the outcome was known in advance? Why the tamasha of asking the Pakistani players to apply in time, with due clearance from their government, when it was evident that they would not find takers. The easier (and best) way out would have been to omit them from the auction this season, hope for the political climate to improve, enhance franchisee confidence, and then bring them back into contention.
The crux of the matter, therefore, is really not the proprietary correctness of the IPL, the no-risk business acumen of the franchise owners, and the reluctance of the government to 'poke' its nose into the affairs of what it considers a 'private tournament'. It is the utter diffidence of these three stakeholders towards the political sensitivities involved, one which affects the biggest stakeholders in this affair: namely, the people of India and Pakistan.
The trauma of 26/11 haunts all Indians, not only those associated with cricket and the IPL. Terrorism is reprehensible, and its propagators must be hunted down and destroyed, but alienating a whole people for the actions of a dastardly few is hardly a solution. Ordinary Afghans and Iraqis, who know a thing or two about it will aver that this is just not cricket. But that's another story altogether.
Ayaz Memon is a Mumbai-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal
YES, WE LOVE YOU TOO
India's attitude towards Pakistan has changed from being patronising to apathetic. And it seems that Islamabad just can't stomach that, writes Ashok Malik.
Advocates for greater civil society engagement between India and Pakistan have three essential arguments. First, they contend a vast majority of Pakistanis want friendship with India but are being thwarted by a small minority. Second, with Indian help Pakistani civil society and democracy can yet win the battle against Islamism. Third, a democratic and 'mainstreamed' Pakistan will guarantee amity.
To be fair, these ideas are not new. Till even the 1990s, it was fashionable to believe that once the Partition generation or the children of the Partition generation, those with once-removed experiences of 1947 moved on, India and Pakistan would be able to relate to one another as normal countries.
They would not necessarily love each other or always cooperate. The sense of competition would still be there, but not blind demonisation. In the media and in popular culture, at football matches and occasionally at diplomatic conferences, Britain and France still disparage each other. Neither side sees this, however, as a resurrection of Agincourt and Crecy.
How has this theory panned out? The past 10-odd years have changed Indian attitudes towards Pakistan. After the attack on Parliament in December 2001, India was livid and at one level ready for war. Troops were mobilised. For a whole host of reasons, India did not and could not go to war.
The conflict in Afghanistan; the presence of Western strategic assets and operatives within the borders of Pakistan; the understanding that a war would hurt the Indian economy and businesses that were becoming dependent on foreign capital and clients; the fact that the world could not watch two nuclear powers fight each other and not be expected to worry; the self-admission that India had no defined political objectives for a possible war, no blueprint for the future of Pakistan, no desire to effect regime change, no proxies in its polity all of these were obstacles.
India realised its autonomy had been curtailed. That was the price for growing up as an economy, as a nuclear power, as a nation. Fortuitously, it was in about 2002 that the Indian economy pressed on the accelerator. The following years transformed the Indian mind-space. They also left an impact on Indian perceptions of Pakistan.
Today, the western neighbour is treated more with condescension than antipathy. India is not Pakistan-obsessed in the manner of previous generations. Its middle classes see their country as in another league. They presume correctly, incorrectly, exaggeratedly that India is in a two-horse race with China, not in a two-mule derby with Pakistan.
The Pakistani military-strategic establishment obviously hasn't taken to the diminution with equanimity. As it sees it, it can still blackmail India. In a part of the world too often associated with turbulence, chaos and false starts, India has invested effort to push itself onto the list of stable, ordered societies. By facilitating 26/11-type 'urban guerrilla' terrorist attacks, the Pakistani Praetorian Guard is convinced it can block India's advance.
What of Pakistanis beyond the garrison town of Rawalpindi and the intrigues of compromised political elites in Islamabad? How does one approach middle Pakistan? For a start, it would be prudent to not confuse middle Pakistan which is, one supposes, an amalgam of Punjab, the society that has been the precariously-designed nation's sheet anchor, and of the more transactional Sindhis with the English-speaking intellectuals who appear on TV, write op-eds and meet equally anguished Indians at goodwill seminars.
While well-spoken and earnest, the members of the itinerant Pakistani intelligentsia are not quite representative or in control of their country. They cannot realistically become the power establishment in Islamabad, displacing the army or even the politicians who, corrupt as they are, still represent sectional, provincial interests. It would be downright over-optimistic to believe Pakistani civil rights activists and liberals can actually influence policy on India. There is a difference between what is desirable and what is feasible. Pakistan is not about to throw up its own Vaclav Havel.
How then does India address Pakistan? There is no unanimous view. As Stephen Cohen once put it, "Indians are profoundly ambiguous as to Pakistan. Some would like to embrace Pakistan Others, for example a friend of mine wrote me a little note of all the reasons why a broken-up Pakistan would be in India's interest Others simply would like to ignore Pakistan. A shining India [is] out of Pakistan's league India shouldn't pay any attention to Pakistan."
Cohen has summed up the predicament fairly accurately. There is, however, one important corollary. India is confused over the diagnosis but even if it decides on one, can it deliver any of the alternative courses of medicine? Bluntly put, does India have leverage within Pakistan to shore up its civilian institutions and help foster a middle class democracy? Conversely, does India have the covert capabilities and the hard-nosed will to dismember Pakistan if it decides that is the route to tranquillity in South Asia?
At the heart of the matter is a compelling verity India just does not want to admit: it has astonishingly little influence within Pakistan. This makes any proposal war-mongering and demands to bomb the country or, at the other end of the spectrum, calls to promote democracy in Islamabad, patronise kebab shops in Lahore and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with civil society in Quetta and downtown Peshawar a non-starter.
Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator.
The views expressed by the author are personal
Surveying the damage inflicted on India-Pakistan relations by the Indian Premier League, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna tried to draw a thick line of separation between government and private events in this country. As diplomatic damage control, he was distancing the government from the outrageous non-auction of 11 Pakistani cricketers on Tuesday and thereby from the anti-India sentiment in Pakistan fuelling abandonment of a visit to this country by Pakistani parliamentarians as well as calls for a blackout of IPL matches and Indian films. But will the minister and his colleagues in government take stock of the damage inflicted by the IPL on this country and on cricket as it is hosted in this country? The government may or may not use the instruments available to call the IPL or the BCCI, it is the same difference to account. But it certainly needs to be much more articulate in isolating them in their arrogant disregard for the consequences of their actions.
A year ago, IPL's second season was abducted to South Africa and a refusal to compromise on the schedule at a time when the security forces were stretched for general election duty was carried through by representing this country as unsafe for a big-ticket event. Now as not one of the 11 Pakistani players eleven men in whom team owners had shown enough interest for them to go under the hammer received an opening bid, IPL commissioner Lalit Modi shrugged it off with these words: "Many other players were not sold, I don't see too much into this." Availability is the new mantra, and in its name presumably even individual team decisions that taken together smack of prejudice are acceptable.
Not so fast, Mr Modi. IPL is a work in progress, and cricket officials are clearly using it to test the limits to which they can consolidate their turf as a state within a state. Last year they invoked the calendar as a pretext for conceit. Now they are wrecking a civility that's survived even through the darkest days of Indo-Pak relations. Whatever be the state of play in relations between the two governments, cricket has been a sphere to assert a normative standard of people-to-people interaction. In fact, governments have drunk deep from this carefully harvested reservoir of goodwill. Modi and his cohorts, by their arrogant disregard for the consequences for their actions, have depleted that reservoir. Pakistan will likely find soon enough that the message sent out from the IPL is not representative. But cricket is the poorer for this week's callousness.
Oddly, taxi drivers don't just drive cabs, they also bear the burden of representation. Let's say you've just flown somewhere. Airports are the same anywhere; so your first real impression of the city is the taxi in from the airport. Then there's the fact that conversations with a cab driver are as close as most visitors to a place get to talking to people who actually live and work there about the things that matter to them. Even residents tend to have their view of their town massively influenced by their opinion of the average taxi driver: is he argumentative? Efficient? Late? (Think of the reaction across Mumbai to the episode of the 1980s Doordarshan serial 'Rajani' in which the feisty heroine takes on a refusenik cab driver.)
Which is why Mumbai's latest little bit of nativist madness invoking provisions that the drivers of its famous fleet of black-and-yellows read and write a "local language", and that they prove they have lived in the city for 15 years is more than just another silly order. First, of course, this would further hamper migration to the city in a country in which such migration is something we have to assist and direct, not control. In cities everywhere, economic migrants start off driving cabs: in Delhi, a cab stand is often the first home of migrants from villages in the North; and the idea of hopeful Indian cabbies in New York has been integral to a dozen Hindi films. Such jobs are a good fit for many reasons: the long hours that new migrants will be willing to put in, the way in which driving a cab grants them familiarity with this new place in which they've found themselves.
But, even more than that, this demonstrates how the idea of Mumbai is under attack from Maharashtra's politics. The old concept of the great, accepting metropolis is precisely what the various Senas, and now the ruling Congress-NCP coalition, have been chipping away at. But, even as people increasingly self-selected themselves into segregated neighbourhoods, and Marathi signs became another form of protection money, one of the most sacred of Mumbai's public spaces remained immune. Now a hopelessly non-performing government could be changing that.
You cannot have it both ways. You can't claim that a massive bureaucracy and large amounts of wires-crossed government intervention in agricultural markets is necessary to keep the prices of essential commodities low while simultaneously sitting back and announcing mournfully that the price of an essential commodity is going to rise, and there's little that can be done about it. But the essential hopelessness and muddle of India's approach to such products was on display yesterday when Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar practically announced that, after sugar, pulses and vegetables, it was time for milk to start straining household budgets across the country.
True, as Pawar pointed out, milk is a state subject. But he did not seem to register that that is actually an excellent reason why the Union agriculture ministry should not appear to be standing up and taking responsibility for the prices going up. The ministry, in any case, has shown through its responses to not have a reformist bone in its body: Pawar is, no doubt, partly miffed because the Cabinet, when it met to discuss prices recently, did not decide to ban the export of milk products in order to try and (ineffectually) shove up domestic price.
There are reasons why milk production has not been particularly good this year. But supply-side constraints of this sort, in a genuinely open and reformed economy, wouldn't be a problem. Everywhere else in the world there is a milk glut. Indeed, online futures prices have fallen by over a half of their original level since July last year. But, here in India, we don't benefit from that, and are instead girding ourselves for another man-made price increase. This might well be Sharad Pawar's last major position in government. Dragging his ministry into a 21st century, reformist mindset, might just cement his legacy.
LIFE AFTER SIXTY
The lyrical and memorably shot song from CID, "Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan" was a metaphor for the mix of lively spirit and urban stress but all-embracing nature of the city then holding the promise of what free India had to offer: opportunity, easy conviviality and the possibility of another life. Of course, Majrooh Sultanpuri's lyrics caution against "trams", "motors" and "back-stabbers" "zara bach ke, zara hat ke" but what ultimately got you hooked and set feet tapping was that refrain of promise, "Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan", a tribute to a grand idea, almost a microcosm of the Indian thing. Today, the same city goes by another name, and taxi passengers are wondering if they too will have to show papers before entering the smartly-operated Premier Padminis. It's ironic that this rule has been applied for people of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country in virtually the same week as we are getting ready to celebrate 60 years of the Republic.
In the original calligraphed copy of the Indian Constitution the text was signed off on exactly sixty years ago, and it forms the basis for our sense of a nation and its people something that appears in the original makes an interesting point. The point, about the making of our nationhood, is worth looking at a little closer. The illustrator for the book one of the early 20th century Indian masters, Nandalal Bose powered the text with paintings in a style that drew, very much like our Constitution, from diverse influences (Rajasthani, Egyptian, Japanese) but in the end remained fiercely, and appropriately, Indian.
Sixty years on, beyond Bose's wonderful interpretations, there are several prisms through which the life of the Republic can be evaluated. Inadequate progress, some could conclude, but while using the harshest criteria it may be a good idea to look at the context in which the grandest book our times, one which is a guiding first principle for a billion-strong nation, was scripted. True, there were just 250 million citizens then; but there were all kinds of "isms" that, as Granville Austen very eloquently put it, troubled Nehru and the top leadership of all parties at the time. It was a very complex task of "cementing India's geographical proximity" at a time when "Shyama Prasad Mookherji was calling for the annulment of Partition, when Master Tara Singh was advocating a separate Punjab, when the Communists were rebelling in Telengana, when the Tamils were dreaming of cultural nationhood for Dravidanad, and when Jammu and Kashmir's status within India was being questioned." More so, unlike the US and China, the other big projects of the time, India did not even have the luxury of linguistic unity or race as a unifier or the option of colonising beyond its boundaries; if anything, India's boundaries were redrawn cruelly in 1947 in what was to be the bloodiest movement of people across lines on the map at one time.
In the face of all that, the emergence of a liberal, "sovereign, democratic" republic must be regarded as the eighth wonder something that others today seem to be desperate to discover as they deal with forms of multiculturalism imposed by employment-driven migrations.
India, having embarked on the road to building a nation in the full glare of the modern public gaze, has also seen several waves engulf the Republic: the Nehru years, the years following his death dominated by Indira Gandhi's worldview, and then later by decentralisation imposed from above or taken by force by players on the ground panchayati raj, regional parties, coalition governments in the states and then at the Centre challenging and then reshaping challenges to what India meant. And the Republic broadened its definition at each stage.
The road may not have been the revolutionary one but its impact very often was. If privy purses were snatched in the 1970s to give more soul to the Right to Equality, 2005 saw the Right to Information engage the citizenry with governance from a position of strength. The Right to Work, through the NREGA, has had a ripple effect which can be evaluated properly only after a few years.
But what is now the burning question (and perhaps not articulated that sharply as we are still going through the process) is how the young will see themselves as a nation in a few years time, with old politics and shibboleths melting down. The past twenty years of caste and religion as political mobilising units appears to be heading for the fire exit. But what is unsettling is that there seems to be nothing
by way of a new dream, idea or common destination replacing the politics of olden times. The absence of well-
articulated positions on what holds us together as a nation may prove even more tough to handle as an energised, hopeful and aspirant India grows up. Rules for domiciles may just be the easy way to hark back to politics which may have worked ten years ago, but today is only a hopeless spoiler in an India that is energetic and optimistic of securing a better life.
While "governance" is rightly becoming the focus of choices, what is a bit blurred is the politics of it all. This
vacuum, leading popularly elected governments to whip things like taxi permits, is worrying.
In India at ceremonies to mark 60 years, people are remarried to their old spouses almost to emphasise the point that it's a new life after 60. Though nations are not people, sixty has been good for us (incidentally, the average life expectancy of Indians is now more than 60, it is 67 years).
But isn't it also time to re-commit ourselves to the continuance of a project which continues to dazzle and make others envious? It has warts, holes, its share of unfinished business, plenty of it but it may not be a bad idea to re-pledge ourselves to dodging the "trams", "motors" and "back-stabbers" and stay with the essence of the "Bombay" song.
TAXI TO NOWHERE
The Maharashtra government has once again put on its bumbling face, announcing a poorly thought-out policy only to retract it hours later. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has issued a clumsy clarification "local language" includes Gujarati and Hindi too, apparently less than a day after he, as well as his Transport Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, explicitly said that aspirants for all taxi permits that will be issued or renewed from now on must know to read and write Marathi.
His furious backpedalling notwithstanding, the damage has been done. Because the decision has nothing to do with taxis, and will not in any way alter the experience for those using them in the financial capital.
How many residents of Mumbai are Maharashtrian? Less than 40 per cent, and declining, according to both the state government, and (more recently) the Shiv Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's Human Development Report. Of course, the government has a mandate to promote local language and culture but by imposing the language on the driver of a taxi?
In any case, the 15-year domicile rule for taxi permit aspirants is an existing one, and it's no secret that youngsters fresh off the train from Basti or Azamgarh have no trouble bypassing the rulebook to get behind the wheel. The contentious, and worrying, fine print is the Congress-NCP government's throbbing need to make what it believes are the right noises in a state where language politics has been centrestage or in the wings, never farther over the past three years.
It is one thing for the Sena's BMC to decree that all administrative work will now be conducted only in Marathi or for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which bases its politics only on chauvinism, to vow to batter any Bihari daring to conduct Chhat puja on a Mumbai beach. But for the popularly-elected government that bandies about its secular and inclusive agenda at its convenience, this indulging in partisan politics is another thing entirely.
Still, for every MNS-led agitation against "outsiders" taking the Railway Recruitment Board's exams, there has been a Congress reiteration of reservation of jobs for locals; for every Sena "Shiv" vada pav , a paranoid and copycat Congress kaande pohe. For all practical purposes, the government's message to its political rivals the next election will be to the Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, in 2012 is that no electoral trick is too wily for them.
That's a sorry report card for a government whose Mumbai MLAs have uniformly assured their constituencies that the cosmopolitan nature of the city's slums and chawls will not change. If all big cosmopolitan cities absorb poor migrants at the level of security guards, domestic help, streetside vendors, drivers, then Mumbai's promise is greater still it embraces the dreamers and the stragglers. You can come to this city with little more than your gumption and be anything from a taxi driver to a radiocab entrepreneur. To turn that clock back is to rob the city of everything that makes it Mumbai.
So, that the cabinet chose to send out such a message, and also that the chief minister had to backtrack, are not merely symptomatic of the chronic ailment that is this government's indecision. It is also evidence that the government, nearly a decade in power in Maharashtra, lacks a single new idea for Mumbai and for its people who enjoy being regaled with stories of a journey from Jaunpur to Mumbai's jhopadpattis in any language, really.
Elsewhere, taxi-drivers are required to know the city, its routes and its traffic traditions. Will Vikhe-Patil's new band of drivers promise safer rides, fewer breakdowns on rainy days, better value for money, dedicated feeder services from public transport nodes to business districts, better fuel economy, less traffic congestion, or just simply a more comfortable ride? The new permits do come with conditions that the taxis must be air-conditioned, equipped with electronic meters and bill-printers, all available only in the privately operated "fleet taxi" scheme. But that is a scheme the government is still struggling to promote, even though it's been three years since its launch as one of the "Quick Wins" in a mostly mythical makeover for the city. Despite the widespread demand for better taxis in the financial capital, there are barely 2,000 of these radio cabs in a city with 55,000 taxi permits.
Even Chotu Ustad, Amitabh Bachchan's essaying of a Mumbai taxiwallah in Khuddar, knew when he sang the 1980s hit number "Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain" that speaking a different language didn't change the context. The lakhs of people, Maharashtrians and others, who use Mumbai's taxis don't need Marathi-speaking or Marathi-writing drivers. And they know this to be another impracticable move from a state government that excels in achieving little for this decrepit city and spends an awful lot of time doing that.
DIALOGUE OF THE DEAF
Within a few days after China's unilateral cease-fire in the 1962 War, the United States and Britain had "arm-twisted" Jawaharlal Nehru to agree to negotiate with Pakistan for a settlement of the Kashmir question. There were repeated hitches, of course. For instance, Nehru and his officials insisted that the bilateral discussions could not be confined to Kashmir but must cover "all related problems". The Pakistanis objected to this. However, Duncan Sandys, Britain's secretary for Commonwealth shuttled between New Delhi and Rawalpindi (then capital of Pakistan while Islamabad was under construction) and hectored the two sides to agree to the terms of discourse.
The first round of what were to turn into a tedious, often frustrating, and eventually fruitless talks these were not always bereft of humour and courtesy, however between Swaran Singh and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto began as early as December 27, 1962 at Rawalpindi, the Indian delegation having reached there the previous evening. It was a minor miracle that these talks did not break down even before they had begun. For, as the Indian delegation sat down to a sumptuous dinner at a government guesthouse where it was lodged (there were no hotels worth the name in the garrison town then), Radio Pakistan announced that Pakistan and China had reached an agreement "in principle" to settle their boundary, as part of which Pakistan had given a part of Kashmir to China.
There was an instant outburst of anger around the dinner table. All Indian delegates knew that their temporary abode was bugged but they thought that rulers of Pakistan should "better learn first hand" how strongly offended the Indian side felt. There was a virtual chorus that the delegation should return home early next morning. But the cool and imperturbable Swaran Singh, together with Commonwealth Secretary Gundevia and G. Parathasarthi, high commissioner to Pakistan, decided to keep the talks going even though neither Bhutto nor President Ayub, on whom the leader of the Indian delegation had called, had said a word about the agreement with China.
Nothing would be more foolhardy on my part than to attempt summarising the bilateral talks that, as I have said before, were often like the playing of two cracked gramophone records with needles stuck in both. To give even the briefest indication of the highlights of the talkathon in different cities would also need at least two articles.
At Rawalpindi, the plenary session between the two countries had hardly begun when it was ended. In an obviously pre-planned plot, Bhutto interrupted Swaran Singh's speech reproving Pakistan for signing away Kashmir's territory and waved a piece of paper to announce that President Ayub wanted to see the Indian minister immediately. The Field-Marshal most courteously assured "Sardar Saheb" that the press release on the agreement with China was no affront, and the "mistiming" of the announcement was inadvertent. Thereafter, there was no plenary session. The two ministers had a long talk by themselves while their officials sparred separately. This was to become the pattern for all subsequent rounds.
After three "freezing and provocative" days, the Indian team returned to Delhi where the second round of talks was scheduled for mid-January. It was at Rashtrapati Bhavan that Bhutto was put up, and the talks also took place there minister to minister and officials to officials. As at Rawalpindi, so in New Delhi there was no meeting ground. Consequently, there is nothing much to report except for a lively diversion when an Indian delegate B. L. Sharma who had obviously mastered hundreds of files was reading, to controvert the Pakistani delegation's claim that the Kashmir cease-fire line was not defensible, a "top secret" Pakistani document, penned by the British commander-in-chief of the Pakistani Army during the first Kashmir War 1947-48. Astounded and angry, Pakistani foreign secretary Dehlavi demanded how had India laid its hand on "our classified papers".
"Very simple", replied Sharma, "senior British officers on the two sides...were honest enough to exchange their reports mutually...and this happens to be one of the listed documents in our archives".
Before the talks began, India had decided to seek a settlement of the Kashmir issue by ceding to Pakistan a part of the Kashmir valley by modifying the cease-fire line to Pakistan's advantage all along. The only question was whether the maximum concessions India could offer would meet the minimum aspirations of Pakistan. The Pakistani side knew this well before Swaran Singh mentioned it to Bhutto because the US and the UK, through their ambassadors in both countries, to say nothing of the ineluctable Sandys and other Anglo-American stalwarts constantly descending on the subcontinent, were keeping their protégés in Rawalpindi informed. Sometimes they floated strange proposals of their own, more often than not to favour Pakistan. With this country their argument was that as long as India and Pakistan were perceived to be engaged in solving their disputes, it would be easier to get Congressional approval for military aid to India.
Before leaving Delhi Bhutto wanted "principles" for "dividing" Kashmir to be settled. He and his delegation wanted that territorial division should take into account the "composition of the population of the state", the control of the rivers, requirements of defence and other "relevant considerations" for the determination of an international boundary "acceptable to the people of the state". The Indian side urged that any "territorial readjustments" should be on a rational basis, taking into account geographical, administrative and other considerations and causing the least possible disturbance to the life and welfare of the people. The gap between the two positions could not have been wider. Yet, mercifully, the two delegations agreed that the final settlement, when reached, should embody some sort of a declaration that the two countries wanted to live in "peace and friendship forever".
For the rest, the only thing the two delegations could do was the resort to the diplomatic subterfuge of announcing that the "frank and cordial" second round of India-Pakistan talks was over, and the third one would take place in Karachi in the first fortnight of February.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
HAND-WRINGING OVER HAITI
On my blog, a woman named Mona pointed to Haitian corruption and declared: "I won't send money because I know what will happen to it." Another reader attributed Haiti's poverty to "the low IQ of the 9 million people there," and added: "It is all very sad and cannot be fixed."
"Giving money to Haiti and other third-world countries is like throwing money in the toilet," another commenter said. A fourth asserted: "Haiti is a money pit. Dumping billions of dollars into it has proven futile..." Not everyone is so frank, but the subtext of much of the discussion of Haiti is despair about both Haiti and foreign aid. Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, went furthest by suggesting that Haiti's earthquake flowed from a pact with the devil more than two centuries ago. While it's not for a journalist to nitpick a minister's credentials, that implication of belated seismic revenge on Haitian children seems defamatory of God.
Americans have also responded with a huge outpouring of assistance, including more than $22 million raised by the Red Cross from text messages alone. But for those with doubts, let's have a frank discussion of Haiti's problems:
Why is Haiti so poor? Is it because Haitians are dimwitted or incapable of getting their act together? Haiti isn't impoverished because the devil got his due; it's impoverished partly because of debts due. France imposed a huge debt that strangled Haiti. And when foreigners weren't looting Haiti, its own rulers were.
The greatest predation was the deforestation of Haiti, so that only 2 per cent of the country is forested today. Some trees have been and continue to be cut by local peasants, but many were destroyed either by foreigners or to pay off debts to foreigners. Last year, I drove across the island of Hispaniola, and it was surreal: You traverse what in places is a Haitian moonscape until you reach the border with the Dominican Republic and jungle.
Without trees, Haiti lost its topsoil through erosion, crippling agriculture. To visit Haiti is to know that its problem isn't its people. They are its treasure smart, industrious and hospitable and Haitians tend to be successful in the US (and everywhere but in Haiti).
Can our billions in aid to Haitians accomplish anything? After all, a Wall Street Journal column argues, "To help Haiti, end foreign aid." First, don't exaggerate how much we give or they get.
Haiti ranks 42nd among poor countries in worldwide aid received per person ($103 in 2008, more than one-quarter of which comes from the United States). David Roodman of the Centre for Global Development calculates that in 2008, official American aid to Haiti amounted to 92 cents per American.
The US gives more to Haiti than any other country. But it ranks 11th in per capita giving. As for whether aid promotes economic growth, that's a bitter and unresolved argument. But even the leading critics of aid William Easterly, a New York University economist, and Dambisa Moyo, a banker turned author believe in assisting Haiti. "I think we have a moral imperative," Moyo told me.
So, is Haiti hopeless? Is Bill O'Reilly right? He said: "Once again, we will do more than anyone else on the planet, and one year from today Haiti will be just as bad as it is right now."
No, he's not right. And this is the most pernicious myth of all. In fact, Haiti in recent years has been much better managed under President René Préval and has shown signs of being on the mend.
Far more than most other impoverished countries particularly those in Africa Haiti could plausibly turn itself around. It has an excellent geographic location, there are no regional wars, and it could boom if it could just export to the American market.
A report for the United Nations by a prominent British economist, Paul Collier, outlined the best strategy for Haiti: building garment factories. That idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it's a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti.
So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let's dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories.
And let's challenge the myth that because Haiti has been poor, it always will be. That kind of self-fulfilling
fatalism may be the biggest threat of all to Haiti, the real pact with the devil.
TECH AGAINST TERROR
The new national security advisor (NSA) will have his plate full, whether or not some burden shifts from the NSA's office to the home ministry. While many issues compete for immediate attention, it is important to focus on the larger strategic picture. Post 26/11, there has been much discussion on our current preparedness to handle terrorism. A month back, the home minister outlined a series of measures for revamping internal security architecture. And one arena which demands urgent attention is investment in technology.
Unfortunately, the focus so far has remained at the tactical level. We need to think beyond the purchase of bullet-proof jackets. It is essential to take cognisance of what technological investments other countries have made, and consider our own specific requirements. However, has the Indian establishment given serious thought towards developing a technological roadmap to address the terrorist threat? The answer is both yes and no.
The state certainly appreciates the need to invest in technology, and has taken several concrete steps in that direction, but still views the use of technology as an appendage to the stuctures devised in the past year. There is no definite technology roadmap that has been devised. The DRDO, for instance, is mandated to look after the needs of the armed forces, but who is to devise a plan for the police, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies?
26/11 needs to be viewed in the backdrop of larger strategic realities. However, at a tactical level, it occurred because of the lack of timely and reliable intelligence. Various mechanisms already exist to gather both human as well as technical intelligence. Post-26/11 India has launched a high-precision Israeli-made spy satellite RISAT-2 to gather intelligence. This satellite is capable of giving timely information, including relevant inputs from border-crossing to information on terror camps and hideouts across the border. Such investments indicate that the major focus of technological investments appears to be intelligence gathering. There is a need to direct investment towards technologies for quick analysis, distribution and coordination. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, Indian police and para-military forces are still equipped with .303 rifles. These agencies need to learn from the US and allied forces operating in say, Afghanistan, how technology can be tapped to fight terror. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones have proved their battle-worthiness in this region. Such combat vehicles could prove to be of great value in India's internal security situation. Another technology which needs attention is robotics, which is already in use in Iraq and Afghanistan and put to use in logistical supply chain and intelligence gathering.
Recently, the UK's Ministry of Defence decided to put 100 Dragon Runner robots in Afghanistan. These are small and robust robot weighing between 10 and 20 kg, and capable of operating in rough terrain. They could be used for perimeter security, checkpoint security and the inspection of suspect vehicles. They can operate in sewers and drainpipes to detect danger. They can be configured for reconnaissance and surveillance operations too, and comes with explosive identification capability. Such systems could have played a significant role in the urban warfare environment of 26/11, and much human casualty could have been reduced. The good news is that at least a few in the scientific community are working towards developing innovative technologies. Indian scientists are developing an electronic device (e-dog) that will sniff out explosives like RDX which remain undetected by existing security equipment. This was announced on the on the sidelines of the recently concluded Indian Science Congress.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another area in the field of counter-terrorism that both government and corporate entities need to seriously examine. This technology has various applications, from surveillance to pattern recognition. In India even today, there are loopholes in security systems everywhere from cinema halls to the nuclear establishment. This happens because technology is not central to internal security doctrines.
Today, when fighting terrorism is arguably India's most pressing challenge, we need to grow beyond haphazard technology induction. Globally, successful statistical techniques like Six Sigma could be used to analyse how, when and in what form such technology induction could be done. It is essential to develop structures to examine the technology-related requirements of various internal security agencies and advise government accordingly. India's counterterrorism apparatus lacks a strong technology focus and this is one area that the new NSA should focus on.
The author is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
BEARING THE COST OF CULTURE
Last week the shadow culture secretary for Britain's Conservative Party, Jeremy Hunt, promised to introduce "a US-style culture of philanthropy" if the Tories come to power in the coming election. Speaking before the State of the Arts conference in London, Hunt foresaw a "golden age" of tax breaks to encourage private donations and help cut back on government spending.
"I do believe in state funding," he reassured his no doubt partly sceptical audience, "but we are committed to a mixed-economy funding model for the arts."
And in Paris last month the Pompidou museum was shut down by a strike for more than two weeks, because France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also wants to reduce arts support.The plan is for only one worker to replace every two who retire. The Pompidou Center's labour union estimates that the museum would lose some 200 jobs in the next decade as a result. French museums are supposed to raise money if they want more workers. In short, to Americanise the system, as Hunt is proposing in Britain.
Didier Alaime, who represents the Confédération Générale du Travail, the country's biggest union, in its dealings with the Culture Ministry, said the other day that "the more public policies are dependent on private financing, the more they risk feeling the ups and downs of the market." He added, "The more we're dependent on outside financing, the less we" he was speaking about the people of France "control the policies that are financed." Alaime recalled how a few years ago the Louvre relied not on public money but on a gift from Total, the oil company, to pay for the restoration of its Apollo Gallery, where now "the name of the sponsor is more visible than the name of the gallery itself." "It gives the impression that culture is merchandise," he said.
Franck Guillaumet, secretary of the union for Pompidou employees, echoed that thought. He lamented how "we have to struggle against this unfortunate trend in order to preserve the French cultural exception," as many in France proudly call the country's brand of cultural protectionism. Increasingly, he added, "we live under a Thatcherian system in which public service and civil servants are demonised."
The only thing worse for the French than becoming more like America, apparently, is becoming more like Britain. But Britain and France may not be so far apart when it comes to public versus private financing. For years Americanisation has been creeping in both countries and in others in Europe, like Italy and Germany. American culturati tend to idolise the Old World approach whereby governments pick up the tab for culture. But a consequence is that European cultural institutions have, compared with those in the US, next to no tradition of private giving. There are few, if any, tax incentives to entice private donations in many countries. Even volunteer work tends to be frowned upon.
Here in Berlin I often escape for an hour or two to the Gemäldegalerie, this city's museum of old master paintings, one of the best in the world. It is a glorious gift, and I am grateful to a public financing system that in this particular case is not yet in thrall to, or is proudly resisting, the marketing strategies that have turned the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London into the equivalents of Wal-Marts on Black Friday. At the same time, by freeing these companies from market forces, it allows them to answer to pretty much no one except themselves.
Even when government-sponsored culture begins with grand ambitions, the machinery of state can grind it down. Just as Georges Pompidou, France's president, devised the Pompidou museum, his successor François Mitterrand opened the Orsay as part of an attempt to guarantee his own legacy, and then Jacques Chirac did the same with the Branly museum for non-Western cultures. (In France presidents are aspiring Medicis, with public money.)
The point? Government patronage is no panacea in Europe, admirable and beautiful though it may be in principle and sometimes in reality. Private patronage, meanwhile, can have its distinct advantages. True, strings are usually attached. But a variety of donors tend to allow an institution more independence and flexibility, more lightness on its feet.
American museum directors these days must spend their careers passing the tin cup, but by now government grants in the United States, which were always small, are beholden to special interests and awarded to recipients who will offend neither left nor right so they offer no real alternative. In an ideal world America would be more like Europe, and vice versa.
All is clearly not well in the bilateral economic relationship between India and China. As was reported in FE on Thursday, the Indian government has taken the unusual and stern step of handing a demarche to China on a number of barriers that prevent the export of Indian goods and services into that country. This is the first time that India has issued a demarche to China on an economic issue, and it shows that both Indian industry and government are very serious about pressuring China into lowering barriers to trade, particularly non-tariff barriers on Indian exports. At the base of India's concern is the growing imbalance of trade between the two countriesthe trade deficit with China has gone up from just over $2 billion in 2001-02 to over $22 billion in 2008-09. There is indeed a justifiable reason for concern. India's exports to other more competitive markets have registered a more impressive growth than exports to China. This wide imbalance in trade with China cannot, therefore, be simply explained by a lack of competitiveness on the part of Indian exporters. There is little doubt that specific sectoral barriers imposed by China are hurting competitive exports from India.
The Indian demarche clearly outlines the areas of concern. Right at the top are restrictions imposed by the Chinese on agricultural imports from India, including bovine meat. Interestingly, bovine meat from India is exported to 60 countries and meets the highest sanitary standards. Yet, China continues to ban it. The other area where India is competitive is in wind energy and power equipment but here too specific tariff and non-tariff barriers, according to estimates calculated by Indian industry, impose an additional cost of 40% of the base price. Pharmaceuticals from India, very competitive in Western markets, suffer from a complicated registration regime in China. In services, entertainment, both TV & films and information technology, don't enjoy the kind of market access they do in Western countries. All these issues have been flagged in the demarche. China should surely agree to cede some ground, especially if it expects India to continue to be generous towards granting visas to Chinese workers. Our argument has been that India should be liberal with visas, but international trade is governed by mercantile interests. And India's aggressive demarche shows that we are ready for some hard talk with China on trade. Rather than let the trade dispute escalate, China must give some concessions. As two of the fastest growing economies in the world, the India-China bilateral trade relationship should not be spoilt by unnecessary barriers.
Food prices have been developing into the big horror story on UPA-2's beat. The minister of agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution, Sharad Pawar, doesn't seem to be helping. His most recent gambit, of announcing that a hike in milk prices was imminent, is part of broader mismanagement. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati not only called this statement irresponsible but also used it as a pretext for calling for his removal from the agriculture ministry. The CM and Sharad Pawar are already at loggerheads over the sugar issue, and her claims obviously have to be read within the context of political manoeuvring. Still, a key factor that's common to both the sugar and milk fronts is that the Union minister has been caught talking up prices. His brief is to hold forth on policy measures to address supply and demand concerns rather than announce the direction of prices in advance. Yet, he took it upon himself to say sugar prices will remain high in the coming years and now he has ventured to predict that milk will also get dearer. All this is despite Pawar's disclaimer that he was no astrologer. Well, why is he pontificating like one?
On Wednesday, the minister told a conference of state ministers of animal husbandry and dairying that the demand for milk is projected to rise to 166 million tonnes by 2020 and to about 180 million tonnes by 2021-22. To put this in context, milk production is estimated to have risen to 108 million tonnes in 2008-09. Going forward, India needs an average incremental increase in milk production of 5 million tonnes per year, as against the average annual increase of 3.2 million tonnes in the last 15 years. But note that the Operation Flood started in 1970 did achieve various advances, ranging from sustained production increases and increased per capita availability of milk to reduced dependence on commercial imports of milk solids. It activated a modern dairy marketing and distribution network. What this suggests is that good policies can equip us to meet upcoming demands as well. So if the minister must go public with his musings for the future, he could give us more details on, say, the National Dairy Plan that is in the pipeline for improving bovine productivity and substantially increasing milk production. The minister cannot keep disguising his failures to check food inflation by blaming states and hoarders. Not that perishables like milk lend themselves to hoarding happily.
MINIMUM WAGE, BUT WHO GAINS?
There have been a series of recent labour market policy moves around benefits and wages that create an illusion of benefiting poor and informal sector workers. Unfortunately, none of these moves apply to or help the 93% of the workforce in the informal sector. In fact, trying to increase gross or take-home wages by issuing regulatory fatwas is like trying to reduce obesity by mandating small sizesit just doesn't work. India's poor will only move into higher wage jobs with a reform of our labour laws and skill regime and not by expanding dysfunctional benefits or trying to enforce the unenforceable.
Mandatory payroll confiscation by employers in India is already among the highest in the worldabout 40% when you include employee provident fund, gratuity, employer state insurance, etc. Last week, the ministry of labour moved to tweak minimum wages for seasonal workers. The EPFO was rewarded for not covering more than 10% of its target population (employers with more than 20 employees) by an expanded kingdom (employers with more than 10 employees). The ESIC was rewarded for its low quality healthcare, absent doctors and poor outcomes by raising the coverage wage ceiling from Rs 6,500 to Rs 10,000 per month. Do these regulatory fatwas have no cost and are they magic wands to mitigate the wage and benefits tragedy of most of our workforce? Has the share of employees in company revenues been declining and profits of company increasing? Do these laws help us reduce the share of unorganised employment or represent the self-interest of the vocal minority of organised labour that is quick to gift-wrap self-interest as national interest?
I believe such moves by civil servants and politicians represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how wages are set in a cost-to-company (CTC) world. This mistake has its roots in thought world of government wages where benefits are paid over and above salary. In fact, according to the last pay commission, while headline salary for government servants is low, the cost-to-government amounts to over three times this number when you factor in benefits like housing, healthcare, dearness allowance, etc. But increased competition for private employers in the last decade has forced them to become merciless enforcers of the CTC conceptso all benefits come out of CTC and are not over and above it. Therefore, any increase in the mandatory contribution of EPF or ESI in a CTC world does not increase wages but reduces take-home salary. Reduced take-home salaries hit vital cash flow at lower salary levels since there is no savings cushion. So we create the vicious cycle of making informal employment more attractive because in these arrangements gross salary is equal to take-home salary.
The issue here is a broader debate around informal employment. Where does it come? Nobody likes informal employment; policymakers get less tax, employees don't get the skills or corridor effect, and informal employers have higher turnover and lower productivity. An OECD policy briefing, Is Informal Normal?, says, "Targeted policies can do much to reduce the level of informal employment in a country. A thriving informal sector is, above all, an expression of a lack of trust in public institutions, a negative perception of the role of the state, and limited understanding of the benefits derived from social security." I would like making the case that creating competition for the monopoly EPFO and ESI would not only improve service and reduce costs but also increase voluntary coverage. I also believe that a 40% mandatory payroll confiscation creates huge incentives for low wage and young job-seekers to make the Faustian bargain of informal employmentevery month we have a huge pushback from youth who are simultaneously myopic about long-term savings but realistic about how much cash flow they need to survive this month. The optics of bringing down mandatory contribution make it politically untouchable today but it is an inevitable ingredient of any long-term recipe that aims to change the structure of our labour force. Of course, all this must be accompanied by a broader review of our human capital regime around labour laws, around tenure, market relevant skills and education for employability that will create the ability and eligibility for higher productivity and wages.
Our labour laws and benefits regime breed the slavery of the 21st centuryinformal employment. The recent changes to our benefits regime and proposed changes to our minimum wage regime do not encourage the shift to organised employment but retard it. 95% of the jobs created since 1991 are in the informal sector. Why? It's time we recognised that there is no pull but it is a push. This push comes from our labour laws, our benefits regime, and the political power of our self-interested trade unions. Current labour market moves don't help the informal sector even though they masquerade to; when will somebody stand up for the silent majority?
The author is chairman, Teamlease Services
CORRECT THIS IMBALANCE OF TRADE
The stern protest registered by India with China about the restrictions that hinder the export of goods and services to that country has more than just a little justification. Trends over the decade show that India's trade deficit with China has steadily shot up from just under $2 billion at the start of the decade to more than $22 billion now. The share of Chinese merchandise imports that has been financed through Indian merchandise exports to China has also come down from 79% in 2004-05 to 30% in 2008-09.
But if one were to exclude low-value primary commodities like iron ore from total exports, India's trade deficit with China would be close to $25 billion. And the share of Chinese merchandise imports into India, financed through India's merchandise exports to China would come down to a fifth. This is a rather pessimistic scenario for India, which has steadily increased its exports for almost two decades now, and even managed to grab a slightly larger global share.
The growing trade imbalance with China has ensured that India's trade deficit with China now accounts for one-fifth of India's total trade deficitit is the single largest deficit with any nation. Otherwise, India's only major trade deficit zone was the Opec, where India's deficit was a colossal $56 billion accounting for almost half of India's merchandise trade deficits.
India's growing trade deficit with China is also in sharp contrast to the experience elsewhere. For instance, India's trade deficit with the EU has hovered around the $3-billion mark in the last three years, which is close to India's trade deficit with the bloc in the late eighties. In the case of the US, though India's trade surplus has shrunk, it still was a substantial $2.6 billion in the most recent year.
Trends also show that excluding China, India's trade balance with the rest of the developing world was positive throughout the current decade with the surplus moving up to $5.2 billion in 2007-08. It was only in 2008-09, perhaps on account of the global recession that the trend was suddenly reversed with the positive trade balance turning into a deficit of $5.1 billion.
So what explains the sharp acceleration in India's trade deficit with China?
The trade numbers show that between 2000-01 and 2008-09 the share of India's exports to China more than doubled to 5.1% of the total while its imports more than trebled pushing up China's share in India's total imports to 10.8%. This shift in trade towards Chinese markets is a part of the larger shift in India's trade towards the Asian region. In fact, other major countries where India has made substantial gains in increasing exports' share during the decade include Singapore (2.5 percentage points), South Korea (1.2 percentage points) and Malaysia (0.5 percentage points). This is in sharp contrast to the declining share of India's exports to developed markets like Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and the US. The sharpest fall was in the share of the US, where India's exports share declined by 9.5 percentage points and fell to 11.4% during the decade.
The question then is, what is the feasibility for further buoying up India's exports to China and narrowing down the disproportionately large deficit? A cursory glance at Indian exports shows that many of the important Indian products have not been able to gain any significant toehold in China even though they have made inroads into other developed markets.
For instance, the data for the first six months of 2009-10 shows that China's share of Indian exports was minuscule and far below India's total export share to China in many of the top 25 Indian export products, such as gems & jewellery (1.7%), petroleum products (0.3%), transport equipment (0.3%), pharmaceuticals (1.3%), cotton readymade goods (0.2%), machinery & instruments (4.8%), metal manufactures (0.6%), iron & steel (1%) and marine products (4.8%).
But some other products in the top 25 ranking have made more substantial headway with the Chinese share in India's export market going up considerably in products like electronic goods (6.2%), oil meals (6.4%), spices (8%), dyes & intermediaries (8.1%), processed minerals (8.6%), plastic & linoleum products (12.5%), non-ferrous metals (24.5%) and iron ore (91%).
Boosting export growth in the laggard products would require India to take up the issue of non-tariff barriers in China, including for products like pharma, automobile parts and steel. The array of policies protecting and promoting the so-called "pillar industries" and discriminatory VAT policies place exporters at a disadvantage.
Arbitrary practice by the Chinese customs is also another deterrent to exporters. Persuading China to tone down these restrictions would certainly give Indian exports a big boost and help narrow the trade deficit to reasonable levels.
MUMBAI DESERVES BETTER
On Wednesday, a move was made by the Maharashtra state government to issue permits to cab drivers only if they could speak Marathi and were domiciled in Mumbai for 15 years. A day later, the chief minister backtracked and said that the drivers should know how to speak any local language: Hindi or Gujarati.
Important Cabinet time and tax-payers' money was wasted on cynically going one-up on political rivals when it doesn't require any debate or an erudite survey to know that Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city and, in fact, has its own language created by a pot pourri of immigrants. Any taxi driver in Mumbai will tell you that in their entire lifetime there would be just a few incidents when a passenger would speak only in Marathi.
The Congress-NCP government's plan reeked of a politically motivated move to steal a march over the MNS, which rose to prominence in recent elections after it managed to capture 13 seats. MNS has been open about its stand on immigrants and its hooligans have been arm-twisting shop owners and establishments to promote the Marathi cause. Its bullying of establishments into displaying their boards in Marathi was seen as a huge success by some. Peculiarly, despite having won a majority in the recent election, the Congress-NCP combine is trying to stoke linguistic chauvinism.
There are several pressing matters that need to be dealt with, such as water shortage in Mumbai. The commercial capital faces a shortfall of about 400 million litres of the 4,300 million litres needed daily. In many parts of the city people receive water only for a few hours. There is a gap of around 4,000 mw of power, and industry suffers from outages. The roads in Mumbai are dug up and traffic congestion cause distress to commuters. The pride of Mumbai, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, took a decade to be built. So only when the ministers stop their cynical shenanigans can one expect some action on projects that would alleviate the real woes of the people of Mumbai.
A HUMILIATING NON-AUCTION
Celebrity-owners of the Indian Premier League cricket franchises have brought glamour and drama to the player auctions of the last two years. But this year's bidding for cricketers had an added element of farce: not even one of the 11 players from Pakistan, the current world champion in the Twenty20 format, was bought by any of the eight franchises. While rookie cricketers were bought for staggering sums, world class players such as Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul, who have shone in the T20 version of the game, found no takers. In the absence of encouraging signals from the Indian government or the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the owners of the franchises were not convinced that the Pakistani players would be able to get the necessary clearances. However, the government now says that apprehensions over the issue of visas were "completely misplaced," and points out that visas were issued at short notice to 17 Pakistani cricketers in December-January for the IPL 2010 auction. There were of course heightened security concerns, amid fears that right-wing elements such as the Shiv Sena might disrupt matches involving Pakistani players in Mumbai. In any case, the team-owners were risk-averse and took the lazy way out.
Understandably, the snubbed players and the Pakistan Cricket Board have taken offence at the mishandling of the auction. Under IPL rules, at least one franchise will have to show interest in a particular cricketer for him to be included in the auction. So what changed between January 6, when the final list of Pakistani cricketers was cleared, and January 19, the day of the auction? If doubts over the availability of the 11 players in the context of visa- and security-related uncertainties were the reasons for this strange situation, the proper course would have been to exclude them from the bidding pool and honestly state the non-cricketing reasons for such exclusion. Instead, those running the IPL and the owners managed to humiliate the Pakistani cricketers, some of whom had played an important part in the success of IPL-I. Such is the unpleasantness created by this non-auction that Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik saw in it an indication that India was "not serious about the peace process" while Sports Minister Ijaz Jakhrani spoke of hurt Pakistani pride and giving a fitting reply to India. These may be exaggerated emotional reactions but there is no denying that sport, within its limitations, can serve as an effective way of promoting people-to-people contacts in problematical circumstances. Now that the damage has been done, the BCCI as well as the government authorities must do their best to see that the fall-out from this unedifying episode is contained within IPL-III.
OBAMA IN TROUBLE
A year on from the cold winter day when Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, he must be wondering where it all went wrong. On Tuesday, his party suffered a serious setback in a Senate seat election in Massachusetts, a defeat that might scuttle his defining project of reforming the healthcare system. A relatively unknown Republican state legislator, Scott Brown, defeated the Democratic candidate, state attorney-general Martha Coakley, to snatch the seat occupied by Edward Kennedy for nearly half a century until his death in August 2009. This loss puts an end to the 60-seat majority the Democrats enjoyed in the Senate, essential for avoiding filibusters by the Republican opposition. Healthcare reform is particularly vulnerable because Congress is poised to reconcile two versions of the reform bill, awash with differences, of the House and the Senate. The Massachusetts defeat puts tremendous pressure on Democrats to either get the House to accept the Senate version as it stands, thereby avoiding further debate in the Senate, or get the Senate to create a budget reconciliation bill based on the House's amendments, which could then be passed with a simple majority. In either case, there is likely to be intensified intra-party wrangling the very style of politics that Candidate Obama made such a show of eschewing.
The loss in Massachusetts mainly reflects President Obama's declining approval ratings, which have already come down to 50 per cent. Mr. Obama now admits that "we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people." If so, he must spend his second year in office doing two things. First, instead of temporising and constantly seeking the middle ground on issues of great import, he must be venturesome and battle it out. He must learn to act in the spirit and style of a great helmsman-in-crisis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on issues of vital concern to ordinary people unemployment, healthcare, recovery from a demoralising economic crisis, and of course counter-terrorism. With a lot of hard work and some luck, there should be some positive results to show in the Congressional elections of November 2010. Secondly, Mr. Obama must, reprising his inspired presidential campaign, reach out to ordinary Americans, square with them on whatever his game plan is and the obstacles to realising it, infuse in them hope and give them real reasons for believing that this is not going to end up as a one-term presidency.
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THE SAMAJWADI PARTY'S IDENTITY CRISIS
CONTRARY TO POPULAR PERCEPTION, THE AMAR SINGH YEARS WERE PRODUCTIVE FOR THE SP. JUST HOW THE PARTY REINVENTS ITSELF WILL BE INTERESTING TO WATCH.
Like Amar Singh himself, his official website, thakuramarsingh.com, is frank, bitingly sarcastic and, needless to say, vastly entertaining. The introduction describes him: "Amar Singh is a growing enigma, his force is unstoppable, his will untethered."
Many of the recent blog entries are devoted to his thunderbolt resignation from crucial posts in the Samajwadi Party. And expectedly, the former SP general secretary socks it to his critics in the party, rebutting their now openly aired charge that he has turned a socialist party into a capitalist party. "Yes I have wealth, and I have wealthy friends," he tells his former associates, going on to reveal embarrassing details of how in the past the same wealth helped many of them out of their personal crises.
With so much dirt exchanged in public, it was a given that SP chief Mulayam Singh would sooner rather than later accept Mr. Amar Singh's resignation. The old guard in the party had long cavilled at Mr. Amar Singh's clout with the supremo. They were at a loss to understand the logic of the Mulayam-Amar association. One was "dhartiputra (son of the soil) Mulayam," wedded to the austere, socialist ideology of Ram Manohar Lohia. The other was a self-confessed player of high-stakes politics, flamboyant, colourful and utterly unselfconscious about his Bollywood-big corporate connection.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Mr. Amar Singh became the face of the party, and then the party itself. Journalists visiting him grew accustomed to hearing the party being spoken of in the first person singular: "I saved the Manmohan Singh government;" "I will not have seat adjustments with the Congress," and so forth.
Unsurprisingly, once the Mulayam-Amar equations unravelled, Mr. Amar Singh found himself cast in the role of "villain." SP insiders blamed him for the party's plunging fortunes, attacking him especially for the erosion of Muslim support. Pundits decried his baneful influence on Mr. Mulayam Singh, a Muslim-OBC (Other Backward Classes) icon seen to have surpassed such previous underclass symbols as Charan Singh and Karpoori Thakur. In the common perception, Mr. Mulayam Singh's SP was a subaltern phenomenon umbilically connected to the ground, while Mr. Amar Singh's SP was all glamour and public relations.
It is a fact that the SP's old guard felt slighted and sidelined in the Amar Singh dispensation. Nor can anyone dispute the overdose of glamour that tended to dilute the SP's core identity. Yet to juxtapose Mr. Mulayam Singh and Mr. Amar Singh in such black and white terms is to oversimplify their relationship. Indeed, the question arises: Why would anyone suffer a friendship for 15 years if that only brought misery and ruin? In truth, Mr. Amar Singh was a perfect fit for Mr. Mulayam Singh and vice versa. The SP chief commanded a loyal base but was hamstrung by the "homespun" tag. He was shy, inarticulate and uncomfortable dealing with the larger world.
By contrast, Mr. Amar Singh loved the glare of the camera, went out to court controversy and revelled in brinkmanship politics. He raised the SP's profile, liberated it from its provincial, anti-English upbringing, deployed massive doses of funds, and used his phenomenal network to strike backroom deals. But Thakur Amar Singh, as he calls himself in his blog, was also a keen political animal. He divined that for the SP to beat competition and expand its reach, it would need to end its antagonist relationship with the forward castes. The BJP's growth showed the way. The saffron party was the first in Uttar Pradesh to use "social engineering" to add OBC castes to its essentially 'upper' caste constituency.
In time, the SP's famous MY(Muslim-Yadav) base expanded to take in sections of Thakurs and with visible results. The payoff for Mr. Amar Singh was unbridled power without having to contest elections. In the 2007 Assembly election, Mayawati would appropriate the caste-building formula to runaway success.
That the Mulayam-Amar match was mutually beneficial is borne out by two facts. For 15 years, office-bearers put up with Mr. Amar Singh, protesting only after Mr. Mulayam Singh's son, Akhilesh Singh, took the lead in the revolt against the general secretary. It is doubtful whether Mr. Mulayam Singh would have allowed his long-time associate to go had filial relations not intervened. In the end, Mr. Amar Singh fell by the same process by which he rose to the top in the SP. He sidelined and superseded seniors. Today, the son has sidelined and superseded him.
Secondly, contrary to popular impression, the Amar Singh years were actually productive for the SP. The party was founded in October 1992, and Mr. Amar Singh became general secretary in 1995. The SP strength in the Uttar PradeshVidhan Sabha went up from 110 of 424 seats in 1996 to 143 of 403 seats in 2002. In 2007, the Bahujan Samaj Party overtook the SP, which, however, remained a major force and indeed marginally increased its vote share to 25.43 per cent (+ 0.6 per cent). The SP's graph was on an upward trajectory in the Lok Sabha, too. Between 1996 and 1999, its seat share went up from 16 to 26 of 85 . In 2004, the party defied the odds to emerge on top with 35 of 80 seats, and though its share of seats and votes declined in 2009, it finished ahead of the favourite, BSP, winning 23 seats to the latter's 20.
The BSP's rapid slide in only two years ought to have pumped adrenalin into the SP. Yet this was a time of crisis for the party. The pragmatic politics of Mr. Amar Singh brought Hindutva hero Kalyan Singh into the SP fold. The assumption was that the OBC vote would consolidate in the SP's favour and it would romp home on a match-winning Muslim-OBC-Thakur alliance.
In the event, the Kalyan factor led to a piquant situation. On the one hand, it brought about a measure of backward caste consolidation, which gave the SP a handsome number of seats in the Yadav-Lodh belt of mid-western U.P. On the other, there was a cost to be paid in the form of Muslim disillusionment with "Maulana Mulayam."
For years, Muslims had worshipped the SP chief, overlooking his previous association with Mr. Kalyan Singh only because of their emotional attachment to him. But they were unwilling to forgive a second dalliance with the man who oversaw the Babri Masjid's liquidation and who continued to spew venom against the community.
What next? There is nothing SP insiders would like more than obliterating the Amar era and going back to where it all started. But that is easier said than done. An entire generation has grown up these 15 years. The State's small towns are bustling affairs, crowded with malls and cybercafés. The SP's strident opposition to English and computers will alienate the urban voter. At the same time, the departure of Mr. Amar Singh and Mr. Kalyan Singh will mean that it will have to do without the "plus votes" which are now part of every political party's electoral calculation.
The SP would also be naïve to bank on a happy reunification with Muslims post-Amar Singh 'purge.' The community has been taken for a ride far too often for it to blindly trust the SP or any other party. Muslims know that the SP chief actively connived in the Kalyan Singh induction. So he can hardly brush away the Ayodhya warrior as an Amar Singh-imposed baggage. Nor should the SP chief assume that he can balance the Kalyan mistake by inviting the return of Muslim hardliners like Azam Khan. The opportunism is unlikely to be lost on Muslims.
Today U.P. is a battlefield where parties are furiously chasing one another's vote banks. The Congress' umbrella Dalit-Muslim-'upper' caste formation served the party well for decades and more. The BJP annexed the 'upper' castes and looked well settled to stay on top. But in less than a decade, the SP was snapping at its heels. Barely did the SP reach the summit when the BSP came along. Ms Mayawati snatched votes from the BJP and the SP and forged what seemed an unassailable 'Dalit plus' combination. But within two years, her carefully built fortress would be breached, with a resurgent Congress voraciously eating into its rivals' vote bases.
The cycle of vote poaching started in U.P. with the Congress as the victim. Today, the Congress is doing unto others what they did to it. . The rush for the "plus vote" is threatening core constituencies, and parties have to protect their own flanks even as they raid the bases of their rivals. Only the very alert can survive the intense competition, and even those who do will spend shorter and shorter time at the top.
Just how the SP reinvents itself in this challenging situation will be interesting to watch.
IT'S STRATEGIC CULTURE THAT COUNTS
REVAMPING THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STRUCTURE TO REMEDY THE LACK OF LONG-TERM PLANNING MUST BE A TOP PRIORITY FOR THE NEW NSA.
On October 16, 2002, the National Security Advisory Board whose members had never officially been consulted on any major decision was called to Hyderabad House for a highly unusual meeting with the National Security Council chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On the agenda was the question of what to do with Operation Parakaram the deployment of the Indian Army at the Pakistan border which was then in its 10th month.
"It was clear from the presentations made," one of the NSAB members present told The Hindu recently, "that the government was keen to call off the operation and was looking for a rubber stamp." Unfortunately, board members, mostly retired officials with a sprinkling of outside experts, came out against the redeployment of troops. As the meeting progressed, however, one of them got a text message. TV channels were reporting breaking news: 'Government calls off Parakram on recommendation of NSAB'.
As loyal team players, board members went along with the charade. But this episode underlines a fundamental problem with the wider National Security Council architecture: structures like the NSAB and the NSC Secretariat (NSCS) have been created but their role and function, 11 years on, remain undefined and vague. Not surprisingly, the systemic weakness they were meant to deal with the absence of long-term, strategic planning and analysis remains unaddressed.
As the only part of the NSC apparatus directly empowered by the Prime Minister to act on his behalf, the National Security Adviser has been able to act effectively on the diplomatic and strategic front by making existing official machinery function in a more coordinated fashion. On the long-term planning front, however, the NSA has been hampered by the absence of a proper support structure and requisite talent. The NSCS was created by folding the Joint Intelligence Committee into it as its core and then pulling in additional staff. But opinions are mixed about the extent to which it has been able to function as the executive "office of the NSA" in its interaction with different branches of government. And the fact that the JIC has been revived as a separate part of the NSCS suggests intelligence assessment and tasking is still very much a work in progress.
Satish Chandra, who served as Deputy to the NSA from 1999 to 2005 blames M.K. Narayanan for the problem. "The NSCS was a coordinator of intelligence and trends which individual ministries could not take up. It was conceived as a think-tank anticipating threats," he said in an interview. "Intelligence coordination was also key. We created the Intelligence Coordination Group, bringing the producers and consumers of intelligence together so that the agencies knew what to collect. We came up with detailed annual tasking, with annual assessment. Unfortunately, Narayanan did not use this."
Serving NSCS staffers strongly dispute this assessment, noting that the ICG concept continues, albeit under a different name. And the fact remains that prior to Mr. Narayanan's tenure, the NSCS, for all its "coordination," produced some great bloomers, one of which was a report recommending that India send troops to Iraq.
As far as the handling of intelligence was concerned, Mr. Narayanan made two changes. As NSA till 2004,
Brajesh Mishra took little interest in intelligence matters and was quite happy to let the Director, Intelligence Bureau (DIB) and Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) chief meet the Prime Minister directly (though he would invariably be present in those meetings).
As an ex-DIB, however, Mr. Narayanan saw himself as integral to the process of intelligence fusion, much of
which was tactical. He held regular meetings with the intelligence chiefs and did not encourage them to meet Manmohan Singh directly. C.D. Sahay, who served as head of RAW from 2003-2005, recalled the almost continuous direct access he and the DIB had with Mr. Vajpayee. "My understanding is that with Mr. Narayanan, the intelligence chiefs lost that direct access to the PM. If they needed to convey something important, they got to do it only to the NSA".
By assuming responsibility for intelligence fusion at the tactical level, Mr. Narayanan exposed himself to attack. The terrorist strike on Parliament in 2001 did not see the Opposition demanding Mr. Mishra's head. But, said Mr. Sahay, Mr. Narayanan came under sustained fire for failing to prevent the November 2008 Mumbai incident.
The second change Mr. Narayanan introduced in intelligence management was to revive the JIC under a standalone chairman, essentially separating it from the NSCS. The move puzzled a number of former intelligence chiefs, who spoke to The Hindu on background, since the Group of Ministers report on intelligence reform had recommended winding up the JIC. However, according to a former NSCS staffer, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, now Senior Fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, this separation was "absolutely the right decision". He said it was quite impractical for the NSCS staff to do both the tasks of long-term strategic policy and planning as well as intelligence coordination and assessment. If anything, said Mr. Roy-Chaudhury, a separate but related group, possibly within the JIC, is also needed to perform strategic tasking functions.
The only problem with Mr. Narayanan's decision was that it was not accompanied by a commensurate increase in the total staff strength for the NSCS and JIC. Most strategic planning is done by ex-IB officials, who prevent talent from coming in or ensure whatever talent emerges is not retained. The NSA tried to increase the numbers but tough security requirements, exacerbated by the Rabindar Singh scandal in RAW and the cyber-security scandal in the NSCS, meant staff strength in both organisations remained in short supply.
The Indian Foreign Service, which might otherwise have been an ideal reservoir for the NSCS, is itself short-staffed and has been able to send only one officer, China expert Sujan Chinoy, on deputation to the Secretariat in addition to the current DNSA, Alok Prasad. As for Indian academia, another potential catchment area, the NSC has done little to encourage foreign language and area studies.
With the exception of the draft nuclear doctrine, produced in 1999 during K. Subrahmanyam's chairmanship and adopted by the government in 2003, NSAB reports appear to have had little impact on government policy. Some NSAB members said this is because they only have access to open-source material despite taking the oath of official secrecy. Others familiar with the NSC system dispute this assessment. "The problem with the research produced by the NSAB or NSCS is not lack of access to classified material but actual lack of expertise on the full range of issues that concern national security", an official told The Hindu.
At a more practical level, the lack of continuous connectivity between the NSA and the NSCS hampers the effectiveness of both. With the Secretariat officially tasked to serve the NSC, which rarely meets, the NSA is left to perform his diplomatic and nuclear functions with just one joint secretary and two director-level officers in the PMO. The NSCS has a staff but has never really functioned as the "Office of the NSA." Under Mr. Mishra, the late J.N. Dixit and Mr. Narayanan, the National Security Adviser's work has gradually expanded in line with the complexity of India's interaction with the rest of the world. Even if the work of counter-terrorism intelligence is handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre, there is much more to intelligence than that. There is some thought being given to appointing a standalone 'intelligence czar' to deal with fusion and tasking. Even if that portfolio is taken away from Shiv Shankar Menon, named on Wednesday as the next NSA, the three core functions of diplomacy, nuclear command and control, and long-term security planning and assessment will need a tighter relationship between the NSA and the NSCS, with the Deputy NSA being tasked to a much greater extent on key diplomatic and security issues.
The only caveat, of course, is that the problem of long-term assessment will not be resolved through bureaucratic adjustment. Because the NSC has never delivered on that part of its mandate, some observers believe a fresh look is needed at the very concept. "I will go further and question the existence of the National Security Council," Brajesh Mishra, NSA from 1999 to 2004, said in an interview. "I don't think we need it because the Cabinet Committee on Security really does everything. And consequent to abolishing the NSC, the NSCS should be trimmed to give the NSA advice on his duties relating to international affairs. The JIC could then be made to report to the Prime Minister through the Cabinet Secretariat."
The problem with Mr. Mishra's suggestion, of course, is that the CCS deliberates on current policy and not on matters of long-term planning. And the latter area is where urgent action is needed as the country's global clout increases. India's problems here are systemic and chronic: it is simply not prepared in terms of talent and systems for medium and long term planning. Indian universities do not produce talent in the quantity and quality required and there is no part of the bureaucratic system which encourages the nurturing of talent .
Given this deficiency, the NSA tends to be burdened with everyday demands and little time is devoted to effecting systemic structural improvements in how decisions get taken when multiple government agencies are involved. If India wants to be in a position to exercise power internationally, it requires both diplomatic instruments and internal structures.
Ensuring the NSCS is restructured to serve both as the 'Office of the NSA' and as the catalyst for system-wide talent generation and strategic planning will be the biggest challenge the new NSA will have to deal with.
MUMBAI ATTACK: FAILURES OF COMMAND
THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION INTO THE MUMBAI ATTACKS SHOWS THAT POOR LEADERSHIP CRIPPLED THE POLICE ON 26/11.
Late last year, Mumbai Police Commissioner D. Sivanandan sat across the table with a small group of senior officials to discuss just what had gone wrong with his force on November 26, 2008 and what needed to be done to make sure mistakes which cost the lives of hundreds never happened again. Even as the meeting was under way, Mr. Sivanandan's predecessor made known his views in a magazine interview.
The former Commissioner, Hasan Gafoor, charged several officers with refusing to "take on the terrorists:" notably Joint Commissioner in-charge of law and order K.L. Prasad, Crime Branch Additional Commissioner Deven Bharati, southern region Additional Commissioner K. Venkatesham and Anti-Terrorism Squad Additional Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh. The officers, Mr. Gafoor said, "did not appear keen on responding to the situation."
The facts on which he founded his criticism remain unclear. The former civil servant, Ram Pradhan, and the retired intelligence officer, V. Balachandran, who carried out an official investigation of police responses to the November tragedy, noted: "No formal de-briefing sessions were held by the Commissioner of Police with all [or] groups of officers to make an assessment of what went wrong."
But from the depositions made before the Pradhan-Balachandran committee, we do have some idea of just what happened in the first few hours of the attack and the key role of Mr. Gafoor's own leadership in that tragic debacle.
Mr. Gafoor told the committee that he first learned of the firing at the Leopold Café at 9.50 p.m. To him "it appeared like a military-type professional attack." He "at first wondered whether it was a reaction to the Malegaon arrest [of Hindutva terrorists by the ATS]".
Even as Mr. Gafoor made his way to the Leopold, he received reports of fighting at the Oberoi and Trident hotels. For reasons that are unclear, the Police Commissioner decided "to stay near that and set up his base of operations." "On reaching the scene," Mr. Gafoor told the committee, "he started giving instructions to his officers on his priorities which were pinning down the terrorists, preventing their escape, saving lives and removing [the] injured to the hospitals." Many including journalists saw Mr. Gafoor in the backseat of his bullet-proof car as fighting raged around him.
The Pradhan-Balachandran findings make clear that Mr. Gafoor was guilty of gross violations of standard operating procedures. Plans drawn up by the Mumbai Police in 2006 mandated that Mr. Prasad, with overall charge of the city's police stations, ought to have taken charge of the control room. Instead, that task was assigned to Crime Branch Rakesh Maria.
Mr. Gafoor himself, the committee said, "should have been in the command centre of the control room, which might have helped in better utilisation of forces." It noted a "certain lack of cohesion and communication in the internal functioning of the Mumbai Police Commissioner's office."
Police officers who testified before the committee appeared to have shared that assessment. Param Bir Singh found himself engaged in fighting at the Oberoi-Trident complex minutes after fighting broke out there. Positioned above the hotel atrium, the Lashkar-e-Taiba assault team was able to repel police efforts to enter the buildings. Later, a bomb that went off in the Oberoi lobby set off fires, making an assault impossible.
Director-General of Police A.N. Roy, Mr. Singh told the committee, helped to develop an alternative response. Mr. Roy persuaded residents of the upmarket National Centre for the Performing Arts Building to evacuate their flats, giving the police a line of fire into the upper floors of the Oberoi-Trident complex. The police position in the NCPA was later to become a key element in the National Security Guard's final storming of the building. Mr. Gafoor, who parked himself just below the NCPA, does not appear to have had any role in the Oberoi-Trident fighting.
Mr. Roy, the committee recorded, consistently provided advice and assistance to senior officials, even thought he "had no operational responsibility in view of the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Police in Mumbai."
For the most part, though, the leaderless force was left to cope with the situation as best as it could. Azad Maidan division Assistant Commissioner Issaq Ibrahim Bagwan battled the terrorists inside the Nariman House, keeping them pinned down till the afternoon of November 27, when the NSG finally arrived. Helped by only a small unit of Maharashtra's reserve police, he "cordoned off the area and moved out at least 300 people," the Pradhan-Balachandran report records.
From the evacuated buildings, Mr. Bagwan exchanged fire with the terrorists an action which likely helped Sandra Samuels escape the building with infant Moshe Holzberg. He received no recorded backup from his Police Commissioner.
Bad leadership also led to the mishandling of the one force which could have facilitated a sharper police response the ATS Quick Response Teams stationed in Mumbai. The Quick Response Teams were poorly trained. But the men did have some elementary combat training.
However, the committee found, the Quick Response Teams were dispersed over multiple locations, depending on the demands of local commanders a violation of a cardinal tenet of special forces operations.
Mr. Gafoor's decision to station himself at the NCPA also cut the Police Commissioner off from critical intelligence flows. Intelligence sources say Mr. Bharati who earlier served with the Intelligence Bureau was summoned after the authorities first picked up conversations by the terrorists in the Taj Mahal Hotel and their controllers in Pakistan.
Direction-finding equipment deployed by the Intelligence Bureau in Mumbai suggested, incorrectly, that the mobile phones being used by the terrorists were located along the Colaba causeway. Mr. Bharati was assigned charge of conducting room-by-room searches in the many budget hotels in the area, before communications-intelligence experts were finally able to determine that the phones were inside the Taj.
Later, Mr. Bharati played a key role in the fighting inside the Taj. In tapes obtained by The Hindu, he can be heard attempting to deceive the handlers by claiming to be a hotel waiter who had been handed a mobile phone by an injured terrorist, and asking for instructions an effort to create confusion in the control room.
For his part, the committee records, Mr. Venkatesham took charge of the evacuation of injured hotel guests and bystanders at the Taj, as well as the task of facilitating the movement of police and fire brigade units.
Many of the targets among them, the Leopold, the Taj, the Nariman House and area outside the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus were in Mr. Venkatesham's area of responsibility. There was simply no way he could have been present at all these venues.
Ironically enough, Mr. Gafoor who was transferred to a low-profile post in the wake of the Pradhan-Balachandran findings could well have a chance to lead the force he failed again. In May, he will be among three officers to take over from Mr. Roy, who currently holds office as Maharashtra Director-General of Police.
HAITI: A CALCULATED IMPOVERISHMENT
There is no relief for the people of Haiti, it seems, even in their hour of promised salvation. More than a week after the earthquake that may have killed 200,000 people, most Haitians have seen nothing of the armada of aid they have been promised by the outside world. Instead, while the U.S. military has commandeered Port-au-Prince's airport to pour thousands of soldiers into the stricken Caribbean state, wounded and hungry survivors of the catastrophe have carried on dying.
Most scandalously, U.S. commanders have repeatedly turned away flights bringing medical equipment and emergency supplies from organisations such as the World Food Programme and Medecins Sans Frontieres, in order to give priority to landing troops. Despite the remarkable patience and solidarity on the streets and the relatively small scale of looting, the aim is said to be to ensure security and avoid "another Somalia" a reference to the U.S. military's "Black Hawk Down" humiliation in 1993. It's an approach that certainly chimes with well-established traditions of keeping Haiti under control.
In the last couple of days, another motivation has become clearer as the U.S. has launched a full-scale naval blockade of Haiti to prevent a seaborne exodus by refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States from the desperate aftermath of disaster. So while Welsh firefighters and Cuban doctors have been getting on with the job of saving lives this week, the 82nd Airborne Division was busy parachuting into the ruins of Haiti's presidential palace.
There's no doubt that more Haitians have died as a result of these shockingly perverse priorities. As Patrick Elie, former defence minister in the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice overthrown with U.S. support put it: "We don't need soldiers, there's no war here." It's hardly surprising if Haitians such as Elie, or French and Venezuelan leaders, have talked about the threat of a new U.S. occupation, given the scale of the takeover.
Their criticisms have been dismissed as kneejerk anti-Americanism at a time when the U.S. military is regarded as the only force that can provide the logistical backup for the relief effort. In the context of Haiti's gruesome history of invasion and exploitation by the U.S. and European colonial powers, though, that is a truly asinine response. For while last week's earthquake was a natural disaster, the scale of the human catastrophe it has unleashed is man-made.
It is uncontested that poverty is the main cause of the horrific death toll: the product of teeming shacks and the absence of health and public infrastructure. But Haiti's poverty is treated as some baffling quirk of history or culture, when in reality it is the direct consequence of a uniquely brutal relationship with the outside world notably the U.S., France and Britain stretching back centuries.
Punished for the success of its uprising against slavery and self-proclaimed first black republic of 1804 with invasion, blockade and a crushing burden of debt reparations only finally paid off in 1947, Haiti was occupied by the U.S. between the wars and squeezed mercilessly by multiple creditors. More than a century of deliberate colonial impoverishment was followed by decades of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of the Duvaliers, who indebted the country further.
When the liberation theologist Aristide was elected on a platform of development and social justice, his challenge to Haiti's oligarchy and its international sponsors led to two foreign-backed coups and U.S. invasions, a suspension of aid and loans, and eventual exile in 2004. Since then, thousands of U.N. troops have provided security for a discredited political system, while global financial institutions have imposed a relentlessly neoliberal diet, pauperising Haitians further.
Thirty years ago, for example, Haiti was self-sufficient in its staple of rice. In the mid-90s the IMF forced it to slash tariffs, the U.S. dumped its subsidised surplus on the country, and Haiti now imports the bulk of its rice.
The same goes for the lending and aid conditions imposed over the past two decades, which forced Haitian governments to privatise, hold down the minimum wage and cut back the already minimal health, education and public infrastructure. The impact can be seen in the helplessness of the Haitian state to provide the most basic relief to its own people. Even now, new IMF loans require Haiti to raise electricity prices and freeze public sector pay in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day.
What this saga translates into in real life can be seen in the stark contrast between Haiti, which has taken its market medicine, and nearby Cuba, which hasn't, but suffers from a 50-year U.S. economic blockade. While Haiti's infant mortality rate is around 80 per 1,000, Cuba's is 5.8; while nearly half Haitian adults are illiterate, the figure in Cuba is around 3 per cent. And while 800 Haitians died in the hurricanes that devastated both islands last year, Cuba lost four people.
In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein shows how natural disasters and wars, from Iraq to the 2004 Asian tsunami, have been used by corporate interests and their state sponsors to drive through predatory neoliberal policies, from radical deregulation to privatisation, that would have been impossible at other times.
Former President Bill Clinton, who wants to build up Haiti's export-processing zones, appeared to contemplate something similar, though a good deal more sensitively, in an interview with the BBC. But more sweatshop assembly of products neither made nor sold in Haiti won't develop its economy nor provide a regular income for the majority. That requires the cancellation of Haiti's existing billion-dollar debt, a replacement of new loans with grants, and a Haitian-led democratic reconstruction of their own country. That really would offer a route out of Haiti's horror.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
Australian politicians and diplomats have been denying all along that the attacks on Indians in Melbourne and in other cities for more than six months now had any racist tinge, insisting instead that they are mere acts of criminality and it is pure coincidence that Indians were the victims.
Now it seems that at least some of its community leaders have gathered the courage to speak out. Victoria's police commissioner Simon Overland has conceded that Indians are being targeted and former general Peter Cosgrove has gone on to say that there was indeed a racial strand to the attacks.
There is no satisfaction to be derived from these confessions because it does not help in solving the issue at hand. The objective has to be to make Australian cities safe for Indian students and it has to be implemented effectively as well. .
The Australian authorities may have to do more than they have done so far. A beginning could be made with the recognition that this not just another crime on city streets but it is something as ominous as racism.
While it endangers Indian students living in the country, the implications are far more serious for Australian themselves. Australian minister and educationists have acknowledged that they need Indian students to enrol in their colleges and universities for economic reasons even as Indians are eager to study in Australia. It is then the responsibility of Australians to make the place safe for Indians.
It is true that Australia has come a long way from the 1960s and 1970s when it was a culturally isolated island-continent. The inflow of Indian students has been on the rise in the recent years and it is something that everyone on both sides welcomed as a positive development. But this cannot continue if these attacks are not checked.
It would be useful if Indian students were to form support systems and the universities along with community workers and the local police were to play a role in the making of them. There is need for a careful scrutiny of the attacks because it should reveal the discontents in the Australian society.
If it is a racial rift, then it becomes necessary to know whether it is between poor whites and the Indians, and the jobs that Indians are allowed to do while studying. These details should them form part of the advisory that both governments should issue to students seeking to study in Australia.
Mumbai: The number of students who enrol in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's Marathi medium schools falls by about 10 per cent every year. In the past couple of years, the rush has been towards English medium schools and the BMC has been shutting down its Marathi schools.
This trend has been seen in Thane and Pune as well, where the demand for English medium schools from the local population has been consistently rising.
Elsewhere, there are Marathi writers who are languishing without support. While Marathi cinema is seeing a very welcome upsurge in recent times, the famed Marathi theatre is struggling a bit. A culture and a language grows through its arts and artistes. Love of language cannot be imposed from above, especially by politicians.
This is why the state government directive that taxi drivers applying for new permits must be able to speak, read and write Marathi cannot be seen as any great love for the future of this great language.
The Congress-Nationalist Congress combine is clearly wooing that section of the electorate which is moved by the "Marathi manoos" campaign, to which both the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena claim ownership. Throw some anti-migrant feeling into the mix and the expectation is that the state government will be seen as pro-Marathi.
Chief minister Ashok Chavan has since changed his tune he now says Hindi and Gujarati are also local languages but it is unlikely that anyone will be fooled by this.
While UP CM Mayawati has been pretty voluble on the issue and the taxi unions are apprehensive, it cannot be anyone's case that forcing 20,000 taxi drivers to learn Marathi will solve the problems which the language faces.
Moreover, once passions are aroused on the issue, lumpen elements can be bought by anyone to create trouble. This is nothing but bogus politics.
Language is not just a sensitive issue in India; it has been for too long an easy tinderbox used by politicians to advance their careers.
Regional chauvinism which directly opposes national unity has to be countered swiftly and intelligently. There is place for everyone here but in a democracy, freedom of choice remains paramount.
The state government like its counterparts elsewhere with similar strategies planned ought to be looking to bolster Marathi so that it makes an easy transition into a difficult future for regional languages. But it has to begin at the grassroots, not with a few people who come to the state to earn a meagre living.
DEATH OF A PRAGMATIST
The demise of Jyoti Basu does more than mark the passing of a titan among India's communists. It also throws light on the challenge facing his successors.
It was the genius of Basu that he could be all things to many people. As champion of federalism and a protector of minorities and elder statesman first of anti-Congress and then finally of the plural forces, he was without parallel.
Yet, a decade after he demitted office in an orderly way to a hand-picked successor, his party and the Left forces are in serious disarray. Part of the reason is the ebbing away one by one of the giants who laid its foundations.
Far more than that other key cadre party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, they managed mostly to keep to an image of honesty and probity in public life.
Writing in his memoirs of his student days, Iqbal Masud the former revenue service officer who was known as a film critic, wrote of how he had received the young Mohan Kumaramangalam at the railway station in Madras in the 1940s.
"They do not", Masud recalled over a half century later, "make Communists like those any more." He could have been speaking of Basu.
The crisis is evident in West Bengal itself.Basu courted private capital with less success than his successor, Buddhadev Bhattacharya. But a thermal plant like Bakreshwar became a symbol of regional pride with young men lining up to donate blood and put the money they earned in a 'collection box' to fund the plant.
Symbolic as this was, it showed a determination to make industrialisation a popular project, something that clearly has not been seenin West Bengal since 2007.
With the passing of Basu, more than just an age has ended. He was after all democracy's version of Deng Xiao Ping, someone who cared not about the colour of the cat but whether it could catch the mouse.
More seriously, he gave significance to issues such as defence of democracy (as in the Emergency) and of the secular fabric (as against the Hindutva groups). Both required major innovations in practice, even working with forces otherwise inimical to Marxism. But he helped give the party the steel to make it cut the cloth to the size in a given situation.
Yet, where the party finds itself today is surely also to do with its shortcomings in the Jyoti Basu period. True, he was only its leader in one state, but he cast his leadership across the party and the Left across India.
Much of the commentary since his demise has looked at what he left undone in West Bengal but that is to do him less than justice.
What is striking is the extent to which the present tenure of the Left Front since May 2006 has eroded the solid base of support among the rural poor so carefully built in the first JyotiBasu ministry.
At its core, the party managed to play a key role at the Centre as a pivot in crucial realignments. It did so most clearly and recently when it helped gather the anti-Vajpayee forces under one broad umbrella.
Yet, in the medium termit enabled the Congress to stage a recovery. Once it fine-tuned its economic policies and reached out to the minorities, it was able to dispense with any need for Left support.
The decision to withdraw support to Manmohan Singh in August 2008 only helped the Congress consolidate and refurbish itself. This is the kind of brinkmanship Basu might not have indulged in. He was far too canny a player to stake all on opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Part of this arose from his background and it is worth asking why the CPM has so many key figures in its party today who have never fought more than a University student union election.This in itself puts them out of touch not only with the hurly burly of the poll trial but also with the realities of politics on the ground.
There is a role for a left-wing parliamentary force in Indian politics, but it was Basu who came closest to defining that place in a positive way. It is this ability to manage multiple contradictions more than dogma or ideology that makes for leadership in a democracy.
Yet incremental change in democratic frame requires serious rethinking of ideology for a party still steeped in early 20th century Marxism.
The Maoist tendency routed in Basu's day has reappeared in several states. Basu's Left Front responded in 1977 going beyond law and order. It created new opportunities for growth in a just way in rural Bengal.
A careful grasp of real possibilities of change in a law governed manner that would give the poor a measure of justice. It sounds so simple and is as we all know so elusive.It is here with maach andbhath ( fish andrice) that Basu made Marxism gain meaning.
If they cannot match that performance his successors will find others willing to take on the baton.
The writer is a commentator on political affairs
A CHEESY STORY WITH POETIC JUSTICE
Kraft Cheese is to buy Cadbury's Chocolates for £11.9 billion, a sum that could rehabilitate a hundred Haitis. Growing up in Pune I had never heard of Haiti, but I certainly had heard of Kraft cheese and of Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolates.
They weren't in plentiful supply. India was then, under the tutelage of Pandit Nehru, who was building the infrastructural base for capitalismunder the guise of socialist development, austere in its consumption.
Kraft cheese and Cadbury's chocolates were not in the shops and could only be bought at a price from the ubiquitous smuggler yes, even Poona had them.
The blue cylindrical tin with its plastic content was our definition of cheese. Of Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Brie or Camembert, we knew nothing.
It always puzzled me that the rationed slices we would be given when the tin was opened and the cheese sliced in sectors, had no large and small holes, like the cheeses that the characters in American comics, Mickey Mice and such like, were in constant pursuit of.
To Poona, Kraft was cheese and a rich and idle Parsi lady of our town, protesting against its banning, set out to manufacture its equivalent in Poona. She sought the help of our impoverished Maths tutor, an after-hours practitioner who would rent out the benches on his veranda and in his front room and his vast library of past exam papers to college students to spend an hour (we went in shifts, like a factory) wrangling with the problems which he was expert at solving when we got stuck.
This gentleman, call him Mr P, was summoned by the rich lady to enter into a partnership and research the making of cheese. Mr P entered the partnership and through diligent research in the town's libraries discovered that apart from milk, cheese manufacture required characteristic strains of fungus and mixtures of stuff got from animal's stomach linings.
His research must have made him aware that he was not about to make the smooth confection that came out of Kraft tins. These cheeses were different.
Perhaps he neglected to tell the rich Parsi lady about this deviancy in manufacturing ambitions. After much ado, the right strain of fungus was imported and the cheese factory set up in the glass greenhouse shed of the rich lady's spacious bungalow.
Soon Mr P, engrossed in his new enterprise, lost interest in his Rs 7-a-month maths pupils to whom his business board promised "cent-per-cent results". The cheese manufacture which absorbed all his time was, he reported, reaching perfection.
And then one day it was ready. The samples were near perfect but nothing like the Kraft cheese from the blue tins. The rich Parsi lady's friends, invited to taste the new product, were not at all happy. This wasn't cheese at all not in texture, not in taste.
They all, including their hostess, turned on poor Mr P who, having acquired some sophistication in his knowledge of cheeses protested that it was very close to a French Brie.
To no avail. He was, after all his efforts, dismissed as an incompetent craftsman and when he fought back, using the foul language he used on his recalcitrant pupils, was told to get on his bike and go away.
The story of this injustice spread through the town. Mr P's maths classes had fallen asunder, his pupils having sold out to rival tutors. He was ruined. But Ahura Mazda is just. One night soon after, the Parsi lady's several large dogs smashed through the glass of the greenhouse in pursuit of the mice who were after the cheese.
These large beasts, likes bulls in a china shop, upset the vats, test tubes and stores of fungus.
The fungus caught on to the hair and skin of the dogs who brought it into the house where it spread to the carpets, curtains and finally to the eyelashes, eyebrows and perhaps other parts of the human inhabitants of the house. I returned to Mr P's classes and was one of those who got 'cent-per-cent results'.
The writer is a London-basedscriptwriter
OUR TRUE HOME
When you practice the bell of mindfulness, you breathe in, and you listen deeply to the sound of the bell, and you say, "Listen, listen."
Then you breathe out and you say, "This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home. Our true home is something we all want to go back to. Some of us feel we don't have a home.
What is the meaning of "true home"? In the last Dharma talk, we talked about a wave. Does a wave have a home? When a wave looks deeply into herself, she will realise the presence of all the other waves. When we are mindful, fully living each moment of our daily lives, we may realise that everyone and everything around us is our home.
Isn't it true that the air we breathe is our home, that the blue sky, the rivers, the mountains, the people around us, the trees, and the animals are our home? A wave looking deeply into herself will see that she is made up of all the other waves and will no longer feel she is cut off from everything around her.
She will be able to recognise that the other waves are also her home. When you practice walking meditation, walk in such a way that you recognise your home, in the here and the now. See the trees as your home, the air as your home, the blue sky as your home and the earth that you tread as your home. This can only be done in the here and the now.
Sometimes we have a feeling of alienation. We feel lonely and as if we are cut off from everything. We have been a wanderer and have tried hard but have never been able to reach our true home. However, we all have a home, and this is our practice, the practice of going home.
When we say, "Home sweet home," where is it? When we practice looking deeply, we realize that our home is everywhere. ou only need to stop being a wanderer in order to be at home.
From Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh
TACKLING TERROR SYNDICATE
US MUST PUT ENOUGH PRESSURE ON PAKISTAN
It is difficult to disagree with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates when he says that another 26/11 may lead to a military conflict between India and Pakistan. India observed great restraint after the Pakistan-trained terrorists massacred 170 persons in Mumbai in November 2008. The agitated public in India was just not prepared to take it lying down, particularly when it became clear that a well-planned audacious attack by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) men, who used the sea route to reach Mumbai, could not have been possible without the ISI's involvement. India provided dossiers to Pakistan with enough evidence to punish the guilty quickly, but they are yet to be brought to justice. Instead of taking drastic steps to deal with the LeT and other such outfits engaged in destructive activities, Islamabad has allowed the terrorist infrastructure to remain intact.
The LeT is part of the syndicate of terror along with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, as Mr Gates has pointed out. But what has his country done to get the LeT eliminated. Unfortunately, the US has not been as much concerned about the activities of the LeT as it has been in the case of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. The reason is that the LeT has been causing death and destruction mainly in India. Washington appears to have started showing some concern over the threat posed by the LeT only after the dangerous revelations made by arrested Pakistani-origin US national David Headley and Canadian citizen Tahawwur Hussain Rana. Perhaps, the realisation has now dawned on the US that the LeT is as capable of causing destabilisation in South Asia and other regions of the world as are Al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The US should, therefore, put more pressure on Pakistan to act decisively against all kinds of terrorist outfits, including the LeT, Al-Qaida and the Taliban. After all, Islamabad is committed to not allowing its territory to be used for launching terrorist strikes. The US will have to show greater determination in the fight against terrorism. Under no circumstances should Al-Qaida and the Taliban, having safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, be allowed to survive. Pakistan must be made to abandon its policy of using terrorism for achieving its objectives.
PLAYING TO MARATHI GALLERY
CONGRESS DOES A RAJ THACKERAY
The Congress in Maharashtra seems to be following the dictum that if you cannot beat them (read MNS goons), you should join them. The decision taken by its Cabinet on Wednesday to give licences to only those taxi drivers who know Marathi is a brazen, parochial move which reeks of similar activities by the Shiv Sena and the MNS. It would have been bad rhetoric even by a splinter group as an expression of intent but coming from a national party, which happens to be in power, it is unpardonable. Stung by the widespread criticism that the decision evoked, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan backtracked on Thursday, saying that the local language could be Marathi, Hindi or Gujarati, but the damage had been done, because earlier in the day he had said clearly that only those who knew Marathi could drive a taxi in Mumbai. This has happened in spite of the fact that when the Shiv Sena and the MNS had spread similar us-versus-they venom, the Congress was in the forefront of those who condemned the move.
Not only that, it has ordained that taxi drivers must be residents of Maharashtra for at least 15 years. Being the ruling party in Maharashtra and at the Centre also, the Congress must understand the alarming implications of the ill-advised decision. It would not only ruin the cosmopolitan character of Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra, but could unleash similar demands in other states of the country. With such barriers raised by every state, India's unity will be under grave threat.
This dirty identity politics is being played apparently to wean Marathi youth away from the MNS and the Shiv Sena, but it does not make even political sense. Taxi drivers, most of whom are from the North, have traditionally supported the Congress and this move might end up antagonising them. Instead of invoking archaic Maharashtra Motor Rules, the government should show some common sense and swear by equality of all Indians. Mumbai is what it is today because of the hard labour of millions of Marathis as well as others. It must not propagate ghetto mentality for the sake of a few votes.
PAWAR SCARES AGAIN
HINT OF MILK PRICE HIKE IN NORTH
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is increasingly becoming an embarrassment for the government he represents not as much by his incompetence in handling the relentless price rise as by his off and on foot-in-mouth statements. Every time he opens his mouth to say something these days, he ends up inviting ridicule. His latest speculative remark that milk could get costlier in northern India immediately provoked UP Chief Minister Mayawati to demand his head and fuelled another Opposition attack on the UPA government, already under fire on the volatile price situation.
If such a minister has been tolerated for so long for so frequent self-goals and allowed to be vested with the responsibility of managing prices, it has been because of the compulsions of coalition politics. But there is a limit beyond which even a fairly tolerant Congress may not like to walk with the veteran politician from Maharashtra if he remains hell-bent on damaging his reputation earned over the long innings in politics as a good administrator. Some in the Congress this time joined the Opposition in baying for his blood. A Congress spokesman helped him understand something as simple as this: if you see a problem, come up with a solution too.
Milk prices had been inching up in North India even before the Agriculture Minister created a scare. Though India remains the largest producer of milk in the world, demand is soaring faster than supply. The country, therefore, can ill-afford to be complacent. The government has banned the export of milk products, but that is not enough. Given the fact that the per capita milk consumption in the country is still very low, the production needs a boost. Not only milk has to be available for all, it has to be affordable too for the vast majority of Indians.
REVAMPING SECURITY SET-UP
MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERSONNEL CHANGE
BY INDER MALHOTRA
EVER since the New Delhi grapevine started forecasting National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan's departure from the Prime Minister's Office to Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, it has been clear that the change is a prelude to a revamping of the entire national security architecture in this country, such as it is. The institution of NSA has existed in the United States since the end of World War II and in Russia also for a long time. Here, however, it is very new and in an evolutionary stage.
To be sure Mr Narayanan was very briefly the NSA and chief executive of the first ever National Security Council in V.P. Singh's time. But the whole exercise was no more than a flash in the pan. Both the NSC and the NSA disappeared with the fall of V.P. Singh's government. Mr Narayanan went back to his earlier post of Director of Intelligence Bureau from which V.P. Singh had shifted him, and served for several years.
It was only in 1999 when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister that the first functioning NSC was formed and the first functioning NSA was appointed. However, Atalji assigned the onerous task to his already overburdened Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra, which was totally contrary to the recommendations of the task force on the subject. (Interestingly, Mr Mishra is now opposed to the institution of NSA because he thinks it is incompatible with parliamentary democracy.)
In 2004 when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed J.N. Dixit, a former foreign secretary, as his NSA. Simultaneously, Mr Narayanan joined the PMO as an adviser on internal security. Coordination of all intelligence agencies and ministries involved in making national security policy remained with the NSA.
After Dixit's sudden death in January 2005, Mr Narayanan became the NSA and took over the overseeing of both external and internal security. Being a veteran of the intelligence establishment and a long serving DIB, he also started micromanaging intelligence agencies that aroused criticism. Too much executive responsibility, the critics argued, detracted from the NSA's job of coordinating the making of national security policies and monitoring their implementation. But this had no impact. Mr Narayanan, like Mr Mishra, acquired a very high profile that was in some ways though not entirely comparable to the roles played in the US by Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. To say this, however, is not to overlook the good work Mr Narayanan has done and services he has rendered. Even his critics acknowledge his constructive role in negotiating the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. It is also remarkable that after 26/11 the Prime Minister refused to accept his resignation while others were allowed, if not actually told, to leave. Some attributed this to the confidence that the Congress President was perceived to repose in him.
If a date has to be fixed for the waning of Mr Narayanan's star, it has to be the day when the hands-on P. C. Chidambaram took charge of the Union Home Ministry in the wake of the horrendous Pakistani terrorist attack on Mumbai. Wanting to establish a firm grip on internal security, he started holding a daily meeting at which not only the heads of the I.B. and the external intelligence agency better known by its acronym RAW but also the NSA had to be present. The word went round that at times tension at these meetings was palpable.
Apparently, things began to move faster after the parliamentary elections in May last when the Manmohan Singh government Mark II was formed. The Prime Minister asked Mr Narayanan to stay on as NSA but only for a limited period, not for the government's five-year term. The watershed, some observes believe, was reached when Mr Chidambaram, in his lecture on the centenary of the IB, outlined a comprehensive scheme to revamp and reinvigorate the Home Ministry. He wanted it to deal with every aspect of internal security and shed other responsibilities, ranging from national disaster management to the welfare of freedom fighters, to other ministries and departments. The general reaction then was that the idea behind the Home Minister's scheme was sound but the same could not be said about all its details. However, Mr B. Raman, a former deputy chief of RAW and now one of the finest security analysts, wrote that Mr Chidambaram's reorganisation plan, if accepted, would make him "Internal Security Czar".
It is in this context that there has been widespread and intense speculation about a turf war between the Home Minister and the NSA in which the former has prevailed. Mr Chidambaram has pointed out, however, that he has never even mentioned the NSA. All he wants, he adds, is that every agency having to do anything with the problem of terrorism must report to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre under the Home Ministry. This arrangement would leave the NSA with a large number of other functions. In any case, as he underscores, Mr Chidambaram's lecture has yet to be converted into a precise proposal to be presented to the Cabinet for approval.
Be that as it may, the main point that is being overlooked is that whoever may be the Home Minister and whoever the NSA the entire national security architecture in this country needs to be restructured and revamped to cope with the great and growing challenges to Indian security, internal and external. It also needs to be recognised that at present internal security has assumed greater importance than ever before. The United States had made sweeping reforms in its security apparatus after 9/11. It had set up a new department of home security without making it excessively powerful, and taken other measures. Yet, the latest incident at Detroit where the US homeland became vulnerable to airborne terrorism shows the even the wholesale American reforms haven't been enough. Our system, sadly, is chaotic by comparison and needs to be streamlined speedily.
What the government proposes to do is not yet known. But there is a clear and urgent need to appoint a Director of National Intelligence who would relieve the NSA of the responsibility to coordinate the operations of intelligence agencies and report to the Prime Minister through the NSA and to the Home Minister directly. Equally patent is the need to ensure that everyone concerned shares fully all intelligence inputs. The doctrine of sharing them on the basis of "need to know" simply will not do.
THE COOK AND I
BY ROBIN GUPTA
A SINGLE person charged with the responsibility of administering large land areas quickly comes to terms with silent bungalows, loneliness and keeping his own counsel and after the day's innings in court, in office, in the field and, in fact everywhere he takes a step, at home, it is to the cook or the 'nafar' (valet) that he must turn for company.
My first cook C.L. Chetri, an elderly Nepalese, came to me with impeccable credentials; he had never worked for an Indian and had been in the service of a severe English spinster for decades. I watched his work with anxiety for after a breathtaking escape from wedlock I realised that the cook would superintend my domestic felicity.
Chetri turned out good Indo-Anglian fare. He was punctual, honest and well turned out. In his cooking as in his conduct, tradition guided his conscience. He kept a beautiful table; also he was an excellent ballroom dancer.
I then came across Sher Khan in the stately Morar guest house at Gwalior. As I was taking in the magnificent
circumstance of wide spaces, statues and sun dials, silhouetted in the moonlight and wondering how the night would pass, I found this turbaned nafar pouring out whisky measuring the soda against my brow.
He returned after 20 minutes with a fresh glass to enquire whether he should render raga Malkauns or whether I would prefer listening to Darbari Kannada, a little later. Sher Khan belonged to Faizabad from where the then Maharaja of Gwalior had taken him into service.
In Calcutta I came across Munir Mian, an elderly servitor at the Burdwan house. Dressed in black achkan and a long velveteen cap with 'itr' behind his ear, he had devised the ingenious method of escorting me between monsoon-drenched palaces by gently clapping his hands rhythmically in the direction of our destination.
Till late Devinder Kaur of Faridkot and I became close friends, she would visit me escorted by a trim elderly Sikh gentleman in khaki uniform. Makhan Singh ate with us and I found that he wielded the cutlery easily changing it course by course, never permitting a morsel to rise to the border of a plate. He had been in-charge of the royal 'Bustarkhana'.
I also recall a special attendant in the Haryana Civil Secretariat, who endeared himself after he hurled a matchbox across the table in a studied gesture of extreme politeness to help me light a cigarette .
Michael has been my khansama for long years, escorting me through the large Commissioners' residences at Patiala, Ferozepur and Faridkot. Both of us have aged and slowed down. His manners rank him many notches above most colleagues that I have left behind. In the evenings he holds a small salver for my drink as we walk beneath the tall trees. Some mornings when I am late he gently touches my feet suggesting I continue the journey.
WHAT WENT WRONG AT COPENHAGEN SUMMIT
BY SHASHWAT RAJ
As we move into the new year, the hope for a cleaner and safer future fades away. With the curtains falling on the Copenhagen climate summit '09, what came out was a lot of statements and assurances but without any concrete way to fulfill them.
The Copenhagen Accord was signed and the world leaders (besides blaming one another for non-cooperation) announced that the deal has been 'good' and that they ensured their country did not lose out.
But the big questions remain: Is climate change a country-specific issue? Should not it have been given priority over the interests of the fossil fuel industry in various countries?
For several years now we have been witnessing a lot of summits on the issue but none has yielded any concrete results towards containing climate change. Come the year 2012 the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol gets over and the world is left with no legally binding treaty on the reduction of greenhouse gases that are poisoning the atmosphere.
Even if the nations agree to sign a new legally binding treaty in 2010, it is not sure that it can come into force before the end of 2012. Not that the Kyoto Protocol helped much but then it was the first legally binding treaty towards containing climate change. It was better than nothing. And now we have the prospect of nothing.
The Copenhagen summit made it evident that governments are more concerned about traditional industries than about people.
Their leaders seemed more interested in ensuring their country did not have to compromise, leading to an accord that may well prove worse than no accord at all.
That is why we had all this talk about a recession affecting the power of developed countries to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change that they have caused.
There had been no such excuse when they bailed out their banks. And that is why there was this other way to deflect attention from the main issue the tussle over whether developed countries could oversee the greenhouse gas control efforts of large developing countries like China, Brazil, India or South Africa.
Such essentially non-issues kept the focus away from the main problem climate change is here, it is accelerating, people are suffering, and they will suffer far more unless the world takes some very strong steps here and now.
The summit is now over with an assurance from global leaders that they will address the climate change challenge, yet no one agreeing to a legally binding treaty.
In the western Press, China is now being blamed for it, despite being at the forefront of countries that have acted domestically to fight climate change.
It is dismantling one of its old coal-based thermal power plants every week and replacing it with a cleaner plant.
What else is it expected to do?
The summit was reduced to separate lobbies of various nations all bent on not compromising but blaming everyone else. This effectively obscured the fact that 20 per cent of the world's population living in developed countries contributes 70-80 per cent of all the greenhouse gas emissions, yet they want the developing nations to shoulder more responsibilities.
As Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said recently, "The world is facing tragic crises of leadership. Rather than coming together to secure a future for hundreds of millions of people by agreeing to a historic deal to avert climate chaos, leaders of the world's most powerful countries have betrayed future and current generations. Averting climate chaos has just gotten a whole lot harder."
The world today lacks leaders and all that we have are politicians.
As the climate disaster stares us right in the face there is no option but to agree to emission cuts. If we don't get
a legally binding treaty for this by the next climate summit in Mexico City this December, we are condemning not only our future generations but also ourselves to a world we cannot live in.
OBAMA'S YEAR IN POWER
BY RUPERT CORNWELL
It's been tough, and in the short term it's probably going to get tougher still. That, in a nutshell, is the road ahead for Barack Obama as he embarks on the second year of what, 12 months ago, was the most eagerly anticipated American presidency in half a century.
The mood, a week before Mr Obama delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress next Wednesday, could scarcely be more different.
His Democratic Party faces losses in November's midterm elections, and the only question is how large those losses will be.
Whatever the result of yesterday's special Senate election in Massachusetts, growing doubts surround his ambitious legislative agenda. Republican obstructionism on Capitol Hill is only likely to grow.
The most immediate challenge is healthcare reform. One way or another the measure's fate will be decided in the next few weeks, maybe days and it must be. Mr Obama was elected on the promise of bringing real change.
Yet his other priorities, of overhauling the country's energy policy, the regulation of its financial markets and immigration laws, have all been stalled by the unrelenting focus on healthcare.
Somehow the President must re-invigorate his troops. But even before the spectre of defeat loomed in Massachusetts, dozens of Democrats facing tough re-election battles in November were wavering.
In the months ahead, the pressure to break rank on legislation unpopular in their home states and congressional districts will only grow, further jeopardising Mr Obama's ability to deliver on his promise of tackling problems ignored during eight years of Republican neglect.
At least the legislative agenda is, to a degree at least, within his control. The economy, the biggest domestic cloud over this presidency, is not. Mr Obama's flagging poll ratings, and the sour and obstreperous national mood, reflect the loss of jobs and wages in America's worst recession in 75 years.
The recession may have originated when George W Bush was in office but, fairly or unfairly this is Mr Obama's economy now.
And while statistical indicators may have turned up, every sign is that recovery will be slow. Technically the recession may be over, but for most of 2010 it won't feel like it. That alone bodes continuing difficulties for the White House.
The foreign policy outlook is equally tricky. Mr Obama may be winding down US involvement in Iraq, but that war has been replaced in the headlines by the equally unpopular conflict in Afghanistan.
Having decreed his own surge in Afghanistan, that war unquestionably now belongs to Mr Obama. If US casualties continue to increase, and no perceptible progress is made either on the ground or in the quality of Hamid Karzai's governance he will come under fresh pressure.
The toughest problem though is the entwined dilemma of the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock, and Iran and its nuclear programme. For the Obama administration, even more than for its predecessor, the military option against Tehran represents the very last resort.
But if tougher sanctions have no effect, its hand could yet be forced by Israeli action. That, however, would almost certainly draw a retaliation from Iran, perhaps disrupting global oil supplies and sparking new attacks from Hamas and Hizbollah against Israel, possibly sparking a new regional war.
Complaints about Mr Obama are many, even from supposed allies. He is too cerebral in office, they say, too analytical and too solipsistic. He does not "feel the people's pain" as visibly as he should. The criticism, however, ignores a basic truth about the modern presidency: the campaign to win it requires a candidate to promise far more than he can possibly deliver.
In Mr Obama's case, the mismatch between words and deeds has been greater than usual. One reason has been the ferocity of a Republican opposition whose only ambition is to block every piece of legislation he proposes. The other is an ever more dysfunctional system of government that makes it easy for them to do so.
But at least the absurdly high expectations of 12 months ago are over.
In 2010, and for the rest of his term, he will have to grind out his successes some of which will not be seen as such at the time. He will have to move on past the inevitable failures. As the healthcare battle has proved, perfect solutions are impossible.
In politics however, nothing is ever quite as good or as bad as it appears. Suppose the Democrats do lose Massachusetts, and with it their health bill. Mr Obama will look rather like another young Democratic president who failed in a bid to overhaul healthcare in his second year, and was then humiliated in the 1994 midterm elections to the point of pleading that, despite everything, his office was still "relevant".
Yet Bill Clinton came back from the depths to win a second term handsomely. Today he is generally regarded as a successful president. Whatever the likely travails of his second year, the script for Mr Obama could be similar.
By arrangement with The Independent
DRINKS INDUSTRY 'SEDUCING TEENAGERS'
BY JEREMY LAURANCE
A row has broken out between the alcohol industry and a leading medical journal over allegations that the industry is using dubious tactics to promote its products to young people. Internal industry documents reveal that firms are "pushing the boundaries" of the code on alcohol advertising, according to researchers writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
They say market research on 15- and 16-year-olds is used to guide the development of campaigns and that many references were made to the need to recruit new drinkers and establish their loyalty.
The alcohol industry spends £800m a year promoting drinking in the UK, 45 times more than the Government spends on educating people about its dangers. Promotion is restricted by a voluntary code of practice which bans advertising aimed at under-18s, encouragement of irresponsible drinking, linking drinking with social or sexual success or with masculinity or femininity.
The BMJ analysis was carried out by Professor Gerard Hastings, director of the Institute for Social Marketing at
the University of Stirling, and colleagues. Professor Hastings advised the Health Select Committee, which obtained the documents in order to explore how self-regulation was working. The authors say the UK needs to tighten regulation of the alcohol industry and that an independent regulator should vet all alcohol advertisements.
"The current problems with UK alcohol promotion are reminiscent of those seen before tobacco advertising was banned, when attempts to control content and adjust targeting simply resulted in more cryptic and imaginative campaigns... History suggests that alcohol advertisers are drinking in the last-chance saloon," they write.
The alcohol industry reacted angrily. David Poley, chief executive of Portman Group, a trade group of UK alcoholic drinks producers, said: "We are proud of the regulatory system for alcohol in the UK which is admired across the world".
Simon Litherland, managing director of Diageo GB, said: "This article is a gross misrepresentation of the strict internal marketing process that Diageo applies, and a distortion of the evidence we provided to the Health Select Committee as part of its inquiry".
The BMJ called for a clampdown on alcohol promotion and a minimum price per unit of alcohol to curb the
harm caused. The editorial by Trish Groves, deputy editor of the BMJ, said: "It is time to put away the rhetoric, popular with the drinks industry, that alcohol misuse is largely an individual problem best avoided and managed through education, counselling and medical treatment."
Advertisements for alcohol must not appeal strongly to people under 18 or be associated with, or reflect, youth culture. No one who is, or appears to be, under 25 years old may play a significant role in any advertisements.
Drunkenness and excess
Advertising must not link alcohol with brave, tough, unruly or daring people or behaviour; nor should it encourage irresponsible, antisocial or immoderate drinking (whether in terms of style or amount).
Sociability and social success
Advertising must not link drinking to the social acceptance or success of individuals, events, or occasions. It should not imply that it can enhance an individual's popularity, confidence, mood, physical performance, personal qualities, attractiveness or sexual success.
Masculinity and femininity
Advertising must not link drinking with enhanced attractiveness, masculinity or femininity, nor with daringness, toughness, bravado, challenge, seduction, sexual activity, or sexual success.
By arrangement with The Independent
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The report of the expert committee headed by P N Tandon, set up by the HRD Ministry to examine the functioning of 126 of the 130 higher education institutions invested with "deemed university" status by the Union Government, makes sorry reading. The committee has found 44 of these institutions unworthy of the tag and recommended that they be divested of "deemed university" status. 44 other institutions were found to be deficient, and the committee has suggested that they be given three years time to rectify their shortcomings failing which they too should be derecognised. That only 38 of 126 deemed universities put under scanner have been found to be up to the mark shows how opportunist elements have made a mockery of a concept designed to upgrade and improve higher education in the country. The logic which had spawned the concept was that certain institutions of higher education require autonomy which would de-link them from State universities in matters of syllabi, finance etc., thereby enabling them to focus on research and training in cutting-edge areas. Interestingly, while earlier a majority of such institutions had cited information technology as their special field of research in seeking deemed university status, there has been a recent switch to biotechnology. This is in keeping with the changed demands of the national and global job-markets and exposes the true intentions of some of these institutions.
Such a development has been the outcome of hastily implemented policies of reform in a milieu where education itself has become big business, without having a proper monitoring mechanism in place. Little wonder the Tandon panel discovered that many of the failed deemed universities were being run as family business enterprises rather than on academic considerations. The report has enabled the HRD ministry to enact regulations to ensure that deemed university status to unfit institutions is withdrawn and those which continue to wear the tag as also new entrants keep to their commitment to research in frontier areas. The regulations now await the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. Even if these are accepted by the Court and the murky scenario is cleaned up to some extent, it will be a case of closing the stable door after the horses have bolted. Lakhs of students are currently pursuing higher studies in existing deemed universities. The confusion which the recent developments have thrown them into can well be imagined. Those studying in the un-deemed varsities will feel that their degrees have been devalued, while those studying in institutions under scrutiny will have a sword of uncertainty hovering over their heads. The Government owes it to these students not only to ensure that this sphere of higher education is properly monitored in the future, but also to bring to book those responsible for the current sorry state of affairs.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
UPTURNING TRADE BALANCE
It is heartening that Indian exports which registered a steep fall continuously for the last one year due to the world-wide impact of global financial crisis has shown a positive turn after long 13 months in the new year. The year 2010 begins on a cheerful note for the country's export consignment growing by 18.2 per cent in November itself to $13.2 billion worth compared to less than $11.2 billion a year ago. Though imports still remained in the negative zone declining by 2.6 per cent down to $22.9 billion, the import contraction in November was much lower than 15 per cent in October, signifying a pick-up in the economy. However, it should be noted that exports have turned positive not only because of economic recovery but also partly due to the low base of exports last year and, hence, there is no room for complacency. As the experts of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade rightly observes, Indian exporters need to keep their competitiveness both in terms of quality and prices and continue to focus on market and product diversification. The exporter should perhaps also remain cautious about the volatility of foreign exchange rates and the government stimulus should not only continue for some more time but also should be enlarged with respect to selected vulnerable industries. It is true, as the Federation of Indian Export Organizations observes that the latest data released certainly speaks of the adaptability of Indian exporters to the changed scenario of global economy and, of course of the positive impact of government stimulus extended to export product industries. It is also heartening to note that the Union Commerce Ministry is slated to shortly announce some additional sops for select exporters though the move goes contrary to the Finance Ministry pitching for a roll-back of the already extended stimulus packages to the industry. The Commerce Ministry after a thorough review of various export sectors is convinced that they are still facing problems despite overall shipments turning positive by now. Though the names of export industries being considered for additional impetus are still not known, it is expected that the labour-intensive segments like gems and jewellery, leather, engineering and carpetmaking groups might be getting sops like tradeable entitlements for duty-free imports.
According to industry data, exports in the fiscal 2009-10 are expected to remain in the range of USD 165-170 billion. The export products from Special Economic Zones (SEZ's) might be reaching more than the targeted Rs 1,25,000 crore in the current fiscal with Reliance Industry's refinery alone expectedly contributing Rs 35,000 crore to total shipment, but a number of industries having no excess to SEZ-related tax benefits are still not faring well. However, a fall in imports even after India's oil imports turning positive by now, still continues to be steeper than the decline in overall exports and, hence, trade deficit has come down to around $5 billion. In the backdrop of this scenario, the government would be doing well to take some short-term measures for the time being and can go for a long-term policy later when the global economic recession turns further for the better. While Union Commerce Ministry's decision to extend sectoral sops to the export sector from its own annual budget allocation is highly welcome, the Finance Ministry should also decide to continue with its stimulus package, particularly the provision of interest-subsidy, for some more time so that India's trade balance becomes positive within a short period.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
BJP'S AWKWARD GEN NEXT TRANSITION
The Bharatiya Janata Party has made a major tactical mistake by joining a totally opportunist ruling coalition under Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren in Jharkhand. There is no popular mandate for this. The coalition will be unstable and unlikely to retain a majority in the 81-member Assembly. The electorate delivered a stinging rebuff to the BJP, whose seat tally has fallen from 30 to 18. This was a clear message that the BJP should stay out of power.
The BJP went with the thoroughly discredited, corrupt, unsavoury and unreliable Soren mainly to keep the Congress out of power, and to please the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which can function best when the BJP is in government. The Congress-led front, which won 25 seats, could have easily joined shared power with Soren. It acted from a position of strength and didn't succumb to that temptation. Soren is incapable of running an administration that's not a money-making and patronage-distribution machine working for his friends and relations.
The BJP decided to collaborate with Soren despite his known disdain for itand despite the public views of some of its leaders, including national spokesperson Rajiv Prasad Rudy. Only weeks ago, the BJP wanted Soren jailed for corruption. This is the first significant decision made by new BJP president Nitin Gadkari and will probably turn out his first blunder following an inauspicious start, with the BJP losing the Legislative Council elections in his hometown, Nagpur. Gadkari's elevation as BJP president is part of a larger organisational transition. The post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha has gone from L K Advani to Sushma Swaraj. And Arun Jaitly (59) has replaced the 71-year-old Jaswant Singh as the BJP's Rajya Sabha leader.
Younger leaders have indeed risen in the BJP as Atal Behari Vaipayee and Advanithe longest-standing Prime Ministerial-aspirant-not-to-be-PMfade into the sunset. But the party hasn't acquired a youthful, energetic character or made a transition to new political ideas, better leadership or strategies that can prevent its continuing decline and help it regain some of the influence it has lost after two successive national election routs.
There are three reasons to be sceptical about the effectiveness of the BJP's ad hoc and awkward transition. Two of the three changes are purely nominal. The positions of Leaders of the Opposition in Parliament are largely decorative. In any case, Swaraj, who got elected to the Lok Sabha almost by flukebecause her Congress opponent didn't fill out his nomination papers correctlyis a poor substitute for Advani.
Whatever one's view of Advani's politics there's no denying that he's a parliamentarian with decades-long experience. Swaraj, who has lost four Lok Sabha elections, cannot even remotely claim that stature. Similarly, Gadkari (52) is only slightly younger than Rajnath Singh (58)hardly a generational change.
Second, with Gadkari as its president, the BJP has replaced one provincial leader with another. Singh was at least exposed to Hindi heartland politics. Gadkari has had no exposure whatever to politics outside Maharashtra. Gadkari is projected by the RSS and a section of the media as a dynamic, efficient leader who believes in "getting things done". They depict him as Vikas Punush (Man of Development)largely because he launched the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and 55 flyovers in Mumbai and 10 in Nagpur as Maharashtra's Public Works Minister in the 1990s.
However, these projects are no indicators of progress, but may be the very opposite. The Expressway, for instance, is an extremely expensive project which has caused significant environmental destruction in a fragile part of the Western Ghats, which is already under stress from the predatory activities of township developers like Lavasa and Amby Valley. Vehicles are forced to use the Expressway by paying a high toll because no other road exists or parallel sub-routes are deliberately left unmaintained and made unusable. The Expressway doesn't follow international safety standards on gradients, curve angles or shoulders, and has become the site of a disproportionate number of accidents.
The government is subsidising the Expressway despite the guaranteed high traffic, much corner-cutting and large revenue generation through selling prime hoarding spaces. There's also the additional social cost in promoting road transportation, in particular private trucks and cars in place of railways. Rail transport per tonne- or passenger-kilometre is almost 60 per cent cheaper than road transport and consumes much less energy and other resources. The Mumbai-Pune rail link is one of the most efficient in India. Augmenting rail capacity would be vastly preferable to making a huge investment in an inappropriate mode of transport with high greenhouse gas emissions.
Similar questions can also be raised about flyovers which are disfiguring urban India and destroying numerous city centresand hence their distinct identity and sense of community. Flyovers have limited uses: for instance, in crossing a railway line, or in interconnecting highways outside urban crossing limits. But they do not, generally speaking, contribute to reducing congestion or improving traffic speed.
Usually, flyovers merely redistribute congestion: you move fast along a flyover between two busy junctionsonly to arrive at a third, extremely congested, junction. Besides, flyovers are not conducive to public transport. Buses cannot stop on them. That's why no major city in the West has flyovers inside its urban limits. So Gadkari's so-called "accomplishments" have probably entailed an abuse of scarce road space and contributed to greater traffic congestion in Mumbai and Nagpur. His "dynamism", say engineers familiar with his work, largely consisted in giving the PWD and the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation a free hand in executing extravagant projects.
Gadkari is a businessman who owns orange orchards, a chain of stores, and a small 26 Megawatt power station, attached to his Purti Sugar Industries, which sells electricity to Anil Ambani's Reliance Energy. His notions of efficiency and development are those of a businessman, not of a leader who believes in inclusive, people-oriented politics.
It's thus extremely doubtful if the new BJP president brings any political capital, insight or experience to the party which can help stem its decline. Gadkari is a sub-regional faction leader,' who could never patch up his rivalry with the late Pramod Mahajan and his brother-in-law and BJP heavyweight Gopinath Munde, an Other Backward Classes leader from the Marathwada region.
Gadkari has tried to project himself as someone who believes in inner-party dialogue and harmony. He has advocated a dialogue in Rajasthan with estranged former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and said he would like to bring back into the party expelled leaders such as Govindacharya, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti. But his own record of resolving factional differences with the Maharashtra BJP is extremely patchy, if not poor.
The third reason for being sceptical of the worth of the BJP's Generation-Next shift is that the change has been scripted by the RSS. It's the RSS which demanded that Advani step down as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and that the next president should not be chosen from among the four second-generation people who dominate the party's central apparatus: Arun Jaitly, M Venkaiah Naidu, HN Ananth Kumar and Swaraj. The RSS finally decided on Gadkari. But its first choice, like Advani's, was Narendra Modi. But Modi refused and the Sangh zeroed in on Gadkari.
The RSS has tightened its vice-like grip on the BJP. Having first seized the party's machinery by appointing its pracharaks as organisational secretaries of party State units two years ago, it now dictates terms to the BJP on ideology, political strategy and composition of its office-bearers. But the RSS lacks political acumen and strategy. It's an ideologically driven organisation, which is accountable to nobody and profoundly undemocraticall appointments are made by the Sarasanghchalak. The RSS has a uniquely sectarian project of destroying India's essential character as a multicultural, plural and multi-religious society.
The RSS's priorities are qualitatively different from those of a normal political party working in a competitive democratic environment. For it, the advancement of Hindutva is far more important than power gained through social coalitions of different classes and castes and linked to programmes and policies.
RSS domination is likely to further aggravate the BJP's multiple crises of ideology, political strategy and organisational incoherence and widen the rift between its acolytes inside the BJP and those who wish to limit RSS influence. Gadkari is unlikely to win wide acceptance from the BJP's second-generation leaders, who are engaged in a permanent turf war. This hollow and tortuous generational transition won't rejuvenate the BJP.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTIVITY DEVELOPMENT
There is an urgent need to address the question of what practical steps we need to undertake to ensure that the productivity movement can be sustained and reinforced in the changing environment, although it is a fact that there is no uniform formula for success. However the approach is based on my years of professional experience in Assam and Tripura by effectively utilizing natural gas which otherwise was flared during the sixties and seventies in North East.
The tripartite approach to productivity is the guiding principle that shapes and forms the productivity movement in Assam, as the government, management and labour are represented on the governing council.
The truth today is that the present APC governing council is a weak structure for various reasons and the government hence maintains an arms length relation. The governing council has the duel function of advising the government on issues affecting productivity and serving as the supreme-policy-making and strategy-formulating body. It is through the governing council that Assam Productivity Council (APC) can establish effective linkage between macro and micro issues affecting productivity and develop strategies for wide range of industries.
Our experience in creating the city gas distribution networks in all the major towns of Assam like Margherita, Digboi, Duliajan, Naharkatia, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Doomdoma, Moran, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Tezpur, and beyond towards Guwahati was a blessing due the Productivity Council's contribution during the eighties. One can thus draw this experience in our urgent need for power and water management sectors only when we empower our council to do so.
Due to the fast changing technology and the change in management culture, to sustain growth, value addition is required at all levels and the expertise from APC can be effectively utilized if so desired by the government. For example, the governing council of APC may support the government by nominating in the board of the industries and advisory committees by contributing knowledge and to obtain feedback on the changing scene. In advanced countries and within India in our developed States, such benefit is derived by the society.
The best effective communication channel is through consultancy from APC to the various sectors like power, infrastructure, water resource management, post and pre-harvest agriculture management, environmental management etc. APC, being a tripartite body can draw the best resource from the society and can sustain by creating such model for the value-added service.
The effective service model for APC may consist of three essential elements; development, consultancy and training. As APC can draw a wide spectrum of expertise as resource persons, the transfer of knowledge through the above three channels of APC, tailor made to the specific need of industry or service, to enhance improvement of productivity, will be effective.
APC must also review its activity regularly and each activity must be judged by its position in the development cycle. At the introductory stage of a new activity when the market is unready, and APC's capability requires further development, the cost recovery should be lower prices to gain market acceptance. With the activity approaches maturity, it should be possible to increase a better price.
As the APC takes up new activity it is not always easy to gain the knowledge and expertise required quickly to provide the service that is needed. While staff development should form the cornerstone for institutional building, it is always possible to shorten the learning curve by forming strategic alliances with other centres of excellence to develop and improve our capability.
In addition to strategic alliances, APC should undertake extensive networking not only to keep track of global development, but also to establish linkages with organizations that are engaged in productivity promotion. We are living in a globally interdependent world, and with the collapse of distance, we can truly contribute to and benefit from the world wide productivity movement.
(Published on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of Assam Productivity Council)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT'S NOT IN THE STARS
Who would have thought that it is as difficult to find true love as it is to find, well, ET in your backyard. Not the ET delivered at your doorstep or desk every morning , but that strange creature most often seen in close encounters of the James Cameron kind these days, if not Steven Spielberg and Raakesh Roshan.
As we know from their movies, and occasional blips on space telescopes probing the universe, there must be someone or something out there; but now it seems that the average lonely heart pining away on a London park bench has about as much chance of hearing the echo of a kindred soul as scientists are of getting an accurate census of ETs in deep space. A British university professor has calculated that he has a 1 in 285,000 chance of finding love, using the same equation by which scientists are trying to ascertain how many ETs are out there.
Using the mathematical theorem the US astrophysicist Frank Drake devised in the early 1960s, this professor, who lives on a boat, went searching for his ideal match but found that there were just 10,500 women in all of Britain who fulfilled his modest criteria of being London-based , between 24-34 , with a university education markedly close to Drake's estimate of the 10,000 or so potential communicative civilisations along the Milky Way.
Calculations showed that a mere 0.14% of Londoners and 0.017% of Britons met his standards, and if the other variable in the potential relationship (the women) turned out to be as nitpicking, the chances of finding a perfect match narrowed to 0.00034 %.
The moral of this story, however, lies in what happened next: despite the odds, the finicky professor found love right at his doorstep, and has begun dating a neighbour who not only meets his criteria but even lives on a boat. So the lesson is, look no further than that trusted ET on your doorstep everyday and don't waste time hankering after the unknown ETs that may be floating light years away on the edge of another galaxy!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RENDER UNTO CAESAR
We welcome the Maharashtra government's decision to levy an entertainment tax on the Indian Premier League (IPL). An arm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the IPL has become a huge money spinner and there is no reason why it should not contribute to the tax kitty.
In this, the state government has, perhaps , taken a cue from the income-tax department. The latter has sought to disallow tax exemptions to the BCCI on the grounds that it is no longer promoting cricket as a 'charitable' activity. The BCCI is now primarily a commercial entity. Revenue generated from the IPL is presently shared between the umbrella cricket body and its franchisees. But the taxman does not get a look-in . This is unacceptable. The BCCI must be taxed on its income. The government can use the tax revenue to fund other sports bodies, such as Hockey India, that are starved of funds. It can also hike budgetary allocation for the sports ministry.
Till 2006-07 , the BCCI qualified for a tax exemption for promoting sports as a 'charitable' activity. Subsequently, the government excluded commercial entities from the definition of charity in a bid to reduce exemptions and to prevent misuse of tax breaks. Over the years, BCCI has added many more objectives to its original charter including establishing coaching academies and holding 20-over matches. It also generates a huge surplus through media rights and sponsorship.
However, only 10% of the surplus money is spent on promoting cricket, the balance being shared with players. Agreed, cricketers pay tax on their income from IPL matches as franchisees deduct tax at source on payments made to them. Franchisees also pay a tax their on income. But the BCCI does not pay tax. The tax department is entirely justified in raising a tax demand on BCCI's income for 2006-07 . There could also well be a case to review tax exemptions to charitable institutions, given that many of them are prone to misuse. The governments, both central and state, must continue to tighten the norms to plug the loopholes.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The government is reportedly toying with the idea of raising the ceiling for projects involving foreign direct investment (FDI) that presently require mandatory approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. Welcome as this is, it is at best an incremental, procedural step.
To the extent it will reduce some of the red tape that dogs investments involving government clearance, it will certainly help. But not to the extent that is needed if we are to incentivise FDI flows into India. To be sure, we have come a long way: from $8 billion received as recently as 2006-07 , net FDI flows touched $17.5 billion in the first quarter of the current fiscal alone. But we are still nowhere near the target of $50 billion set for 2012. For that, the government needs to move faster on clearing the labyrinth of rules and procedures that characterise the FDI regime in the country.
Apart from the multitude of sectoral caps, the needless confusion over FDI and foreign institutional investment (FII) as also the computation of foreign investment in downstream projects, the constant flip-flop in policy do not make for a good investment climate. Add to this the numerous operational problems that contribute to the country ending up close to the bottom of the World Bank's Doing Businessleague tables on ease of doing business and it is no surprise that we are nowhere near realising our potential when it comes to FDI.
This is what the draft press note on FDI regulatory framework put out for comments by the government a few days ago must rectify. If, as the note says, "it is the intent and objective of the government to have a regulatory framework which is transparent, predictable, understandable , simple and clear to reduce the regulatory burden and promote FDI", it must do what this paper has urged all along.
Junk the myriad sectoral caps and opt for a small negative list where FDI is either banned or allowed to a limited extent with all other sectors open to foreign investment without an upper limit. Unlike FII where there is a downside in terms of volatility of flows, there is hardly any downside apart from those involving security and strategic concerns to FDI. We need to capitalise on that. Removal of procedural roadblocks is only a small step.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POLICY FAILURES PROLONG FOOD INFLATION
Food price inflation originated in a supply shock, but four types of policy weaknesses have propagated and prolonged a relative price rise. The first is the tendency to wait and see, rather than react proactively to situations. This is unfortunate since a window to avoid normal long lags in the impact of policy then closes.
Trigger points should automatically set off forward-looking action to frequent supply shocks, such as monsoon failure or oil price shock. Such a response can neutralise a temporary shock as it reduces delays in discretionary decision-making.
The slow-moving consensual committee process can then take a decision on whether the shock is temporary or permanent, and suitably adjust the initial response. Such a principal-based rule combines the absence of discretion and speed of a rule, with the flexible non-mechanical decision-making required for a complex context.
Trigger points can automate both supply side and monetary policy responses. The ministries have a variety of instruments to affect supply, which is squarely their responsibility . But temporary exchange rate appreciation can help. Since food has a large weight in the consumption basket, a sustained rise in food prices raises wages and manufacturing prices. There are signs of the latter as the slowdown, which reduced the ability to pass on cost increases, reverses. Wages and prices are set based on expected inflation, and then are not changed for some time. Anchoring inflation expectations can abort this process. Starting early can limit the required rise in interest rates and allow the rise to be gradual . It is necessary to neuter these shocks because the second failure propagates them.
This is the attempt to preserve an outdated and dysfunctional distribution between groups. In the complex political economy of food pricing, farmers get regular procurement price hikes. Traders are awarded a monopoly through restrictions on private trade and retail, while the poor are ineffectively protected through the public distribution system. Rising procurement prices and systemic inefficiencies are key mechanisms converting a relative price shock into inflation . Food and oil prices are volatile worldwide , but they fall after they rise elsewhere.
In India, they do not rise as much but rarely fall. So, over time, the rise here exceeds than elsewhere. In Pakistan and Sri Lanka, annual food inflation exceeded ours in 2007 but has fallen to 11% and 4% respectively.
Marketing and tax reform can reduce margins so that more of a lower consumer payment goes to the farmer. The implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) should free inter-state movement of commodities and reduce wholesale traders' monopoly in some states. Restrictions initially imposed to help the many small traders are captured by a few big ones. Reducing their power should be an electoral advantage, especially if supplemented with direct retail access, better storage and transport facilities for farmers, and rising overall opportunities. These measures, along with stable support prices, would help them more than high procurement prices.
The third failure is the preference for short-term transfers over facilitating the long-term supply response. Subsidies have not compensated for failures in irrigation, infrastructure and marketing. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is a great opportunity for the widespread small-scale watershed development that can protect against monsoon failures. But the focus has been more on employment generation than on creation of assets. Since the two tasks are inter-linked , employment can be used for water works. If participants are asked to focus on the latter, it will deliver the first as well. The inclusion of health and education in the consumption basket raises India's poverty ratios. Better public services are essential to reduce this broader measure of poverty. As growth and opportunities accelerate, voters value this kind of delivery. Political parties need to seize the change.
The fourth failure is inadequate attention to structural features in the design of policy. Given the billion-plus population and varying income levels, a long-term rise in agricultural productivity is vital. It will be a long time before food demand becomes inelastic. The typical sharp monetary tightening in response to cost-push is incorrect when longer-term supply is elastic. It has a high cost in output foregone for little gain in inflation reduction. But going to the opposite extreme and neglecting inflationary expectations , as seems to be happening now, is also inappropriate. Quick, coordinated post-crisis response has demonstrated that countercyclical policy works. But we should suit responses to our domestic cycle, not to external pressures. Rather than waving a hand to liberalise inflows, before the domestic absorptive capacity has been created , it is necessary to concentrate on this harder and more important challenge.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKS MUST BUILD BUFFER IN GOOD TIMES
John Kenneth Galbraith, famous Harvard economist and the US ambassador to India during Kennedy administration, wrote that "all financial crisis are result of debt that in one fashion or another has become dangerously out of scale" . This was clearly demonstrated in the recent financial crisis in the US and Europe. Aggressive lending epitomised by sub-prime housing loans and excessive leverage in major banks and financial firms such as Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, AIG, Citi Bank and RBS led to the most serious financial challenge since the Great Depression in '30s.
One has to understand the causes of this financial crisis and take appropriate measures to avoid its recurrence. For that a review of provisioning system for nonperforming loans (NPLs) in banks is important . This was brought to light when the Spanish banks fared better during the recent financial crisis as they follow a different provisioning approach.
The business and economic cycles cannot be outlawed. The linkage of credit cycle and the business cycle is intuitive but the cause-effect , lead-lag between the two have varied from cycle to cycle in different countries. For example, in the second half of 2008, in India, the credit crunch triggered by the psychological effect of global financial crisis, led to negative effect on the economy and caused major downturn in the automotive, steel, heavy machinery and other sectors.
A downturn in the economy generally leads to deterioration of asset quality of banks and increase in NPLs. At the bottom of the business cycle, the bank NPLs tend to be high and banks increase provisions against higher NPLs. These higher provisioning requirements makes bankers cautious at the bottom of the business cycle . They tighten credit, further deteriorating borrowers financial position and making general economy worse.
In contrast, at the peak of the business cycle, companies performance is strong and banks NPLs are low. Banks tend to reduce provisions because of lower NPLs, ease credit terms and expand their loan portfolios, spurring economic growth. This easy credit approach results in poor loan selection, leading to higher NPLs when the cycle turns. The net result is that banks procyclical actions at the high and low points in the business cycle tend to further amplify the cycle with all the negative consequences associated with this increased volatility. The alternative approach being considered now is a "countercyclical" provisioning approach under which banks build their reserves during good times when their earnings are high and let these reserves come down during the economic slow down.
It is common sense to put aside some money in reserve when earnings are strong and draw down on these reserves during the tough times. However, in banking there is another reason for suggesting the countercyclical approach. Loans made during the peak of the business cycle are generally poorer in quality and loan growth during this period is high. Therefore, it makes sense to have higher level of loan loss provisions during this period. This will make banks more careful on the credit quality and slowdown the pace of loan portfolio growth at the peak of the economic cycle.
At the bottom of the business cycle when companies need bank credit support , banks are very reluctant to lend. Loans made during this phase are of superior quality as banks are very careful and loan growth is small or negative. Thus, a lower level of provisioning is not only appropriate but will also encourage the bankers to help companies recover quickly during downturn.
This approach is getting greater acceptance in the banking community. Last month Basel Committee on Banking Supervision published a consultative document for "strengthening the resilience of the banking sector" . The document states that the committee is proposing to introduce a series of measures to promote the build up of capital buffers in good times that can be drawn upon in periods of stress. A countercyclical capital framework will contribute to a more stable banking system that will help dampen, instead of amplify, economic and financial shocks. In addition, the committee is promoting more forward-looking provisioning based on expected losses which captures actual losses more transparently and is also less procyclical than the current incurred loss provisioning model.
Even the accounting profession is examining this issue though there are some differences between the accountants and regulators on the details of the provisioning approac4h. International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) is considering an expected less approach (rather than the current incurred loss model) in which the banks will make provisions at the time of making the loan and book less profit upfront . It is not fully countercyclical approach but would help make the financial system more stable over the business cycle.
In India, the RBI has specified provisioning requirements for NPLs which are more than 90 days past due for interest or principal. The provisions range between 10% and 100% of the outstanding amount depending upon the age of the NPLs and security available. Banks are also encouraged to make additional specific provisions based on the riskiness of their portfolio. The provisioning coverage ratio is defined as total provisions divided by gross NPLs and provides an indication of the extent the bank has kept aside reserves to cover loan losses. Net NPLs are gross NPLs less provisions.
Provisioning coverage ratio (PCR) among Indian banks varies from a low of 36% to a high of 89%. RBI also seems to be adopting a countercyclical approach and in a circular last month advised that "the banks should build up provisioning and buffers in good times i.e., when profits are good which can be used to absorbing losses in a downturn" . The RBI has asked the banks to increase the provisioning coverage ratio to 70% or more by September. This is a welcome move at this time when banks profits are likely to be strong. Majority of banks will have no difficulty in meeting the 70% PCR but a few may need more time. It is suggested that the PCR be further hiked to 75% by 2011. During slowdown, the banks may be allowed to go down to 50% PCR.
Overall, the countercyclical provisioning for NPLs in india and globally is a good move to dampen the effect of ups and downs of business cycle and must be adopted by banks and other financial institutions.
(The author is former CEO India, Bank of America and is now chairman of Shriram Capital.)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A TECHNOLOGICAL LEAP OF FAITH
The scientific search for extraterrestrial (ET) intelligence has all the makings of a new religion. Believers argue that while it's true our Earth is the only planet in this solar system that harbours such life, astronomers in the last 15 years have already discovered some 400 other extrasolar planets orbiting relatively nearby stars. What's more, they say, we haven't even scratched the surface . Considering our Milky Way galaxy alone has about 100 billion stars with potential intelligence-bearing life around them, and there are about 100 billion galaxies around, what are the chances if not astronomical that the universe is teeming with sentience?
Unbelievers are not convinced by such blind faith. They like to paraphrase physicist Enrico Fermi's paradox which states that although the size and age of the universe suggests many technologically-advanced civilisations ought to exist, the hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of evidence to support it. In other words, if ETs exist , then where the heck are they? Why have we not heard from them? Not a single alien space probe has ever been seen or contacted and, in any case, if travel is difficult for them, why have we not been able to detect any of their radio transmissions at least? Why the great silence? Unless there's nothing to hear and no one out there.
Agnostics point out that the search for alien intelligence has been in progress for at least 50 years with increasing powerful instruments being pressed into service searching for electromagnetic signals but, to date, nothing definitive has emerged. However, they also point out that seeking something in our image is being rather human-centric ; other intelligences don't necessarily have to be housed in humanoid forms, using bodily processes or homo sapient technology. Therefore , without ever knowing what ET could be like, we can never take it for granted that we will find it or it even exists.
Faith, as usual, plays a big part in this belief or unbelief system. The US government at one time funded the search for ET through a Nasa programme with federal grants, just like it once funded research into faith healing too. Human beings like to believe in belief , and often it works for those who believe the hardest while the faithless take faith in only themselves. Yet, does anyone really like to think we've been cast adrift alone into the unknown?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PM MUST GAINFULLY EMPLOY JUNIOR MINISTERS
GVL NARASIMHA RAO
Every ministry needs to have a blend of senior ministers with appreciable experience and junior ministers who possess raw energy, enthusiasm and much-needed fresh ideas. There are some ministries like the ministries of home, finance and human resource development to name a few which are vast and cannot be handled by just a Cabinet minister. Several years ago, we used to have three-tier ministries with deputy ministers as the lowest rung of the ministerial ladder. We have dispensed with that tradition many years ago.
The problem of ministers of state not having work arises due to many factors. Often, ministers are appointed solely owing to political considerations without giving due consideration to the actual need for having such ministers. Or to their relative competence. Then again, it is also due to the territorial or 'greedy' disposition of the Cabinet ministers who like to do all the work by themselves. All the same, there are some very capable ministers who complain of a lack of work.
But we cannot have a situation where we have ministers who do absolutely no work at all. Thanks to their recalcitrant senior ministers, ministers of state do not have much say in policy formulation which actually is their primary grievance but then again, what prevents them from taking an active role in improving delivery and implementation of development programmes? There is a dire need for the government to focus on this department.
It is ironical that a government, unable to grapple with serious challenges like price rise and an adverse employment situation, is faced with the situation of having ministers of state as 'non-performing assets'. The prime minister will do well to assign them some specific work so that his government can wake up from its slumber in attending to serious challenges facing the nation.
The prime minister must find opportunities to gainfully employ his ministers of state. If he can't , he should do away with them. That way, at least the public money would be saved.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SMALL CABINET HELPS RATIONALISE GOVT EXPENSES
Ultimate accountability and responsibility collective, legal and individual of ministers to the people is the hallmark of parliamentary democracy. Article 74 of the Constitution envisages a council of ministers; nevertheless, its silence on the size of the council is a tacit mechanism to provide space for the prime minister/CMs to decide the number, depending on the needs.
The situation turns complex in a coalition phase where the lead partner is compelled to bring together varied people , which impedes coordination and harmony and, thus, generates a functional gap between the Cabinet ministers and ministers of state. The current feeling of negligence among young ministers of state needs to be understood in this backdrop. The younger lot, unlike their predecessors, represent a new generation of educated, articulate and 'rights conscious' bunch of legislators.
The phenomenon of direct access of bureaucrats to Cabinet ministers and even PM/ CMs adds to the confusion. In Andhra Pradesh , the DGP directly consults the CM while dealing with anti-Naxal operations, bypassing the home minister! Recently, the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation MD had to be shifted for hiking fares without the knowledge of the transport minister. This appropriation of authority signifies a dangerous trend. The possibility of a bureaucrat-corporate world nexus also can't be ruled out.
In a coalition representing multifarious political facets, with a commitment to promote youth culture in governance, ministers of state have a vital role in bridging the government and the masses . Their presence is a sine quo non to ensure administrative decentralisation . We need to evolve a healthy convention of defining the role and authority of such ministers while assigning portfolios. A small council of ministers may help rationalise government expenditure. But to cope with contemporary challenges, a larger council with active members having a distinct role is the answer.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE USE INDIA AS INNOVATION HUB TO GO TO OTHER MARKETS'
In 2007, networking major Cisco took an unusual step that was a first in the corporate world. It decided to set up a second global head office in Banglaore, India. Wim Elfrink, who was designated chief globalisation officer, led 20% of top talent in Cisco, which relocated to India. Three years later, in an interview with N Shivapriya, Mr Elfrink, dwells on the learnings and smart connected communities, the first initiative being driven out of its second global head office in India. Mr Elfrink is also executive vice-president, Cisco Services, the $ 8-billion services arm of Cisco. Excerpts:
On the learnings from setting up a second head office in India
To me, the big discovery was, you can't just sell what you have, you have to create something new. Not just in India but in Indonesia, China, the Middle East. The scale is unprecedented, so the drivers are different. In the US, when you sell a product, it is about features and differentiation. In India, when we go from 50 million to 500 million cellphone subscribers, it's about affordability and scale. A lot of people see that as cheap. I don't like the word cheap, it's affordability. When you think price points, you need to think not just in absolute, but also in volume terms.
On smart connected communities, which is being driven out of India.
Over the next five years, 500 million people will be urbanised. That's about 180,000 people a day who need access to water, electricity, healthcare. How are you going to do that? You can just think in traditional patterns. I live in Bangalore, which grew from 1 million to 8 million. That unprecedented scale is a huge opportunity for innovation. If India wants to maintain its growth, urbanisation has to happen. Most people haven't recognised the role of technology in urban planning.
It's an afterthought. The initiative that Nandan Nilekani has taken with the UIDIA is a great example of how to embrace technology and do something fundamentally different. Within Cisco, now we recognise that India is an innovation centre for what we call smart connect communities. We use India as an innovation hub to go to Indonesia, China, the Middle East where urbanisation is high on the agenda. We say the future of work, healthcare... everything, will be connected. In the past, cities were built to go to your workplace. Now, increasingly you can work from any place, but you have to be connected.
On doing business in India.
It's much more personal. You have to build relationships, you have to talk to people face to face. In the US, you can plan things but in India you can invite somebody even next week based on relationships. You have to have that human touch. I appreciate that. Yeah, I've had to change planning my schedule six months in advance. What I do is plan my travels and my schedules around it. I leave more white space to be able to react and talk. And to me, India is still relatively hierarchical. I've never seen a country with so many job descriptions. People want to get a promotion every two years, add something more to their title. In western culture, it's much more horizontal it's about learning and taking on additional responsibilities not so much about whom you report to in title. Big big difference.
On India and the one thing you would like to change.
India is a new adventure, a new learning. I believe in lifelong learning. I call it self-actualisation. I am fascinated with the diversity. I call it the high highs and low lows. I've never seen a society with such extremes but still living together. Maybe it's the value system that keeps the society together. One thing I would like see is people move from incremental to transformational. People say, look what we've changed I say no, look where we have to go. More aspirational thinking to do something totally different and totally aspirational. If you don't think like this, you will never be able to catch up.
HYSTERIA IN PAK QUITE DELIBERATE
It is a self-serving act on the part of the Pakistani establishment to orchestrate anti-India hysteria in that country, exploiting the issue of non-selection of Pakistani cricket stars for the third edition of the Indian Premier League. In 60 years, the Pakistani establishment has lost no opportunity to incite the public mood against India to mar prospects of building people-to-people contacts between the two countries. When such links are sought to be forged, a terrorist incident is generally rigged up to provoke Indian opinion, and other steps taken to hurt the ordinary Indian. Thus, when the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, took his famous "bus yatra" to Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then Army Chief, pointedly refused to salute him, violating protocol norms. This was guaranteed to raise hackles in India. The night of the state banquet in honour of Mr Vajpayee in Islamabad, a massive terrorist assault was mounted in Kashmir. With the Indian leadership giving indications of taking all this in its stride for the larger cause of peace, efforts were intensified that would lead to the outbreak of the Kargil war only a few weeks later. More recently, a series of terrorist actions have been organised in the Kashmir Valley in order to stymie the incipient "quiet diplomacy" initiated by New Delhi. Given a record such as this, it is no surprise that instead of seeking to explain in rational terms the decision of IPL franchisees not to opt for Pakistani players, which is clearly driven by business considerations alone, Pakistan's civil society has been encouraged to view it as a "conspiracy" to "humiliate" Pakistan. The Foreign Office spokesman in Islamabad and the interior minister, Mr Rehman Malik, have made prejudicial statements suggesting that Indians are against the very idea of peace with Pakistan. The Speaker of the National Assembly announced the cancellation of a proposed visit of Pakistan MPs to India. Steps are being taken to block the viewing of popular Indian television programmes, which are a big hit in Pakistan. These are nothing but a string of carefully organised articulations to inject venom into the situation, especially since those who run Pakistan know all too well that hockey, cricket and squash players from that country are admired in India, and its singers, poets and artists are objects of popular affection. There can simply be no question that Indians don't want to watch Pakistani cricketers in action, or that the Indian government has a vested interest in keeping the pot boiling. On the other hand, even in times of seeming normality, the Pakistan government has gone to considerable lengths to ensure that chambers of commerce in that country should not seek to establish business ties with their Indian counterparts until the "core" issue of Kashmir is settled. It is therefore amusing to see Pakistan now trying to suggest that India is blocking Pakistani cricketers because it is against the normalisation of relations. Patently, the diatribe is meant for Washington's ears. But the preposterous idea cannot have many takers. The IPL franchisees avoided the risk of signing on Pakistani cricketers for huge sums of money although they had technically been cleared for the auction just in case they don't show up. The fear of Mumbai Mark-II is real. It wouldn't have been if Islamabad had genuinely moved against those who organised 26/11.
TALIBAN TARGET MORALE
BY INDRANIL BANERJIE
The Taliban attack in the heart of Kabul last Monday (January 18) has been universally described as "brazen". Several terrorists tried to enter the Afghan central bank building, which is next to the presidential palace and the ministry of justice building. One of the men wearing an explosives vest tried to blast through the entrance of the bank. A vigilant guard shot him down, but the man managed to blow himself up. Seeing that the bank entrance had not been breached, the rest of the terrorists entered a shopping mall next door, ordered all the people out and started firing at random towards the government buildings. After five hours of shooting and explosions, the Taliban terrorists were finally killed. Clearly, they had expected to go down fighting.
What they had proved once again is that the Taliban could strike at will anywhere in the heart of Kabul, the citadel of Afghanistan protected by the US military. The Taliban have managed to strike at a number of key targets within the city in recent times, including, among others, the ministry of justice, a United Nation's guesthouse and the Indian embassy. All these have been suicide attacks meant to send a message.
This time too, as the New York Times pointed out, the "effect of the attack seemed primarily psychological, designed to strike fear into the usually quiet precincts of downtown Kabul and to drive home the ease with which insurgents could strike the American-backed government there". A Washington Post reporter quoted locals who shared this view: "This is to show the Afghan government and the internationals that they can carry out an attack one kilometre from presidential palace".
The attacks are also directed at the Afghan and American public. The Taliban want front-page space for they appear to believe they are playing out a classic end game in Afghanistan.
It was the brilliant Vietnamese strategist Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap who had developed the idea of demoralising enemy public opinion to win an otherwise unwinnable military engagement. He knew that his poorly equipped peasant army was no real match for the professional American military and its awesome firepower capabilities.
Even as Gen. Giap launched the famous Tet offensive on January 31, 1968, he knew it was not going to be a military success. Yet as many as 35 Vietcong battalions were flung at Saigon, the seemingly unassailable capital of South Vietnam.
The US embassy came under attack under the full view of American TV cameras. A 19-member suicide squad held the embassy for six hours until US paratroopers landed on the building's roof by helicopters and took them out. The attack on Saigon and the pictures of American soldiers dying shook the United States. Although the Tet offensive failed and the Vietcong was beaten back, it had successfully broken the resolve of the American people. Shortly thereafter, US defence secretary Clark Clifford, an old friend of President Lyndon Johnson, advised a gradual pullout. The Taliban strategists are no fools and some of them, or their advisers, are students of military history. They know that their real goal is not the military defeat of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Afghanistan, it is breaking American resolve. Some indications from Washington have suggested that the American resolve is beginning to crumble. The Taliban want to fast forward that process.
At the same time, the Taliban leadership too is under pressure. The Pakistani military has shown more resolve in hitting the Taliban in South Waziristan Agency. If the Pakistani Army moves further west into the valleys where Siraj Haqqani's troops are believed to be located, it could signal the beginning of major problems for the Taliban.
There is, however, a possibility that the Pakistani Army will continue to offer some space to the Taliban in Waziristan and elsewhere. The problem is the constant US pressure on the Pakistani Army GHQ. The Indian government has withdrawn a significant number of troops from Kashmir and has opened political dialogue with the separatists. This puts even more pressure on Rawalpindi to continue to shift troops from the east to the Afghan border. This scenario does not seem to appeal to the Pakistani Army establishment.
This could be one reason why Indian troops have been coming under increasing fire from the Pakistani side.
Infiltration attempts too have surged. In some sectors along the Line of Control (LoC), the Indian side retaliated and two Pakistani soldiers were reported killed on Tuesday. The Pakistanis have blamed the Indians and suggested that this kind of situation does not warrant a further thinning out of troops along LoC.
Some writers close to the Pakistani Army establishment have even conjured up the threat of a two-front military conflict. The well-known Pakistani writer on strategic issues, Shireen Mazari, writing in the Nation, claims that the British and the Americans have decided "to give India a major military role in Afghanistan".
This kind of thinking goes down well with the more paranoid in Pakistan and helps mould public opinion against the US war effort in Afghanistan.
Indranil Banerjie is a defence and securityanalyst based in New Delhi
DEMOCRATS, THERE'S A BRIGHT SIDE TO DEFEAT
BY GAIL COLLINS
Poor Democrats, cheer up. There's always a bright side.
On the one hand, the Republicans have a new superstar, Scott Brown, the senator-elect from Massachusetts. On the other, he's already beginning to come off as a little strange.
During Tuesday night's victory speech, Brown veered off-script and offered up his college-student daughters to the crowd. ("Yes, they're both available!") As his girls laughed with embarrassment and his wife yelled at him to stop, Brown just dug deeper. ("Arianna's definitely not available, but Ayla is".)
By the end, even Glenn Beck was weirded out. However, in a spirit of even-handedness, let us say that Beck may have gone overboard when urged that Brown be equipped with a chastity belt and announced: "This one could end with a dead intern".
For some Democrats, particularly the ones in Washington, looking on the bright side came down to blaming the Massachusetts Massacre on the party nominee, Martha Coakley. ("Political malpractice", sniped one Obamaite.)
True, she seemed to have the public persona of a flounder. But if warmth and charisma were a requisite for being in the Senate, three-quarters of the members would have to go home immediately. A body where Arlen Specter can be courted by both parties is not a place that puts much premium on personal charm.
The White House would really rather not see the vote as a commentary on Obama. In this they are in accord with Scott Brown, who when asked whether his victory was a referendum on the President, said cheerfully: "It's much bigger than that".
Gradually, we are reaching a consensus that Coakley lost because the irritable voters wanted to send a message. Which was: change.
Change all over the place! Except apparently not in beating up the bankers, since the Democrat favoured a tax on big banks to pay for the bailout and the Republican opposed it.
And not change that involves getting out of Afghanistan. That was Coakley's idea. Brown wants to stay the course.
Stay the course, for sure. But stop spending so much money on the course. Cut the budget! Except when it comes to the troops, who need all the support we can give them. As Scott Brown kept pointing out.
Scott Brown has a truck. Maybe there could be more trucks.
Healthcare! The voters were definitely sending a message, which was that Obama should have pushed harder, or else been more bipartisan. Many of the morning-after advocates of bipartisanship said Obama's big error was failing to appease the Republican desire for doing something about malpractice insurance and torts. The people hate torts. Except the creamy chocolate kind.
The voters of Massachusetts were definitely angry about taxes, although the ones they seemed most ticked off about were in the state. Everyone was really, really angry about the state government. This is a national theme. Vitriol also abounded last November in New Jersey and Virginia. And payback is coming soon in Illinois, which is going to have its primaries in a couple of weeks.
So many states are knee-deep in debt, and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it since no matter how hard the various governors try to change things, the recalcitrant, entrenched state legislators always resist.
That drives people crazy, causing them to express their ire by voting out the governors. Or Martha Coakley. The only officials who never get voted out are the legislators. Because they are entrenched.
Back in 2008, the public swung around to Mr Barack Obama in a big way when the economy suddenly collapsed and Mr John McCain responded by sounding impulsive to the point of flakiness. Things looked scary, and we liked the cool, calm, cerebral guy.
Now people are less scared than irate because the stock market seems to have come back while they're left behind. The angrier they get, the crazier their political objects of affection become. You can't drive home the point that you're hopping mad by voting for some sensible centrist. Really, the scarier the better. Ms Sarah Palin, be my valentine.
Meanwhile, about that bright side: Some commentators have been arguing that having 60 votes in the Senate was really more trouble than it was worth. That once the Democrats hit a filibuster-proof majority, they were saddled with unrealistic hopes.
Now that they're down to 59 votes, the theory is that we'll have such modest expectations that we'll fall down with admiration if the senators manage to get their shoe laces tied in the morning.
My positive thought is that we should appreciate what a good outlet democracy can be for public dissatisfaction.
There was a time when, if people got worried about the way things were going, they would throw a virgin off the side of a cliff. Now they just kill a politician. And only metaphorically! Is this a great country, or what?
THE LEFT: A LACK OF FAITH?
BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
The recent resignation of Dr K.S. Manoj, a former member of Parliament (MP) from Alappuzha, Kerala, from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) underlines the contradictions that exist in the Indian Communists' approach to religion. Asked to choose between religious beliefs and practices and Marxists' commitment to atheism, Dr Manoj immediately made it clear that he was choosing to follow his conscience and resigned from party membership.
Dr Manoj has been a practising Christian even when he was a member of the CPI(M) and its MP. He won his seat with a narrow majority against a powerful Congress candidate in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. In his resignation letter he has pointed out that the party central committee's instruction that Marxist office bearers and leaders should not practice or participate in any religious ceremonies was unconstitutional as the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to every citizen.
Dr Manoj's is not the first such resignation in the Kerala Marxist Party. In 2008, Marxist leader A.P. Abdullakutty, who was a CPI(M) MP then, also left the party on similar grounds. Later he contested for the Kerala Assembly as a Congress candidate and won with a huge margin in the Marxist heartland, Kannur.
There is surely a contradiction in the CPI(M) opposing any participation in religious ceremonies by its leaders on the one hand and the same leadership sharing the election dais with a party like the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the Lok Sabha elections last May. In West Bengal, too, the Marxist party has been supporting Islamic extremist and orthodox elements, as was demonstrated when Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen was bundled out of Kolkata one fine morning in 2008.
The Indian Communists, it should be recalled in this context, were strong supporters of the idea of India's Partition. Though claiming to be champions of "secularism", the Indian Left was in cahoots with British imperialists in supporting the demand for the creation of a theocratic Pakistan.
In the two states the CPI(M) is in power, the Marxist leadership has taken an ambivalent attitude in taking action against jihadi elements. In Kerala, the kingpin of recruiters for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), T. Nasir, was able to escape from a 100-strong police force that was taking him to the police station. He then escaped to Bangladesh through West Bengal. After that he was nabbed by the Bangladesh government and handed over to India. He has since revealed much that should damage the Marxists in both the states.
It is obvious that Nasir, who recruited many young men of his neighbourhood for terror training in Pakistan and jihadi action in Kashmir, would not have been able to escape from police custody without assistance, both overt and covert. The Communists' tie-up with the PDP in this context is a significant indictor as investigators have exposed Nasir to be allegedly closely linked to PDP leader Abdul Nasser and his wife Sufia. The latter was arrested for alleged terrorist links and instigating the burning of Tamil Nadu state buses in several places in Kerala to protest against PDP leaders' detention on terror charges.
Though the Constitution declares India as secular, our secularism cannot be placed in the Western context of the same word. Secularism in the West, especially in the Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries, arose out of religious conflicts like the one between Catholics and Protestants that led to the 100 Years' War between France and Germany, Spain and Britain and the religious character given to the wars between European powers and the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.
When the United States of America came into being in the late 18th century, the separation of state and religion had its origin in different Christian groups, like the Puritan Pilgrims seeking refuge in the newly-discovered continent of North America as a refuge from the religious persecutions of Europe, including England, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In India, history is witness to the broad tolerance of all religions and sects and we are proud of the fact that apart from Hinduism two other religions, Buddhism and Jainism, originated on this soil. Besides these, countless sects within Hinduism flourished, often with conflicting claims and contradictory philosophies. In mainstream Hinduism itself three different philosophical schools and their large followings Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita lived in close proximity to one another.
The Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Europe from the 16th to 19th centuries could be posited against the religious harmony between various Hindu schools and among the two locally-grown religions. At least when the Indian Constitution was formulated secularism meant equal respect for all roads that led to the same divine end, a basic statement in the Vedic texts as against the exclusiveness claimed by the later Semitic religions. The basic secular approach of the founding fathers of the Constitution has been twisted and tweaked since Independence. State power has been used to perpetuate a minority-majority syndrome and every issue has been tried and tested on the Procrustean bed of this version of secularism.
In this context, the attitude of the Marxists has been particularly bizarre. While they have carried a systematic tirade against believers in God in the name of "secularism", they have had no qualms in sleeping with the worst Communalists. In their eyes, faith in the pristine glory of God is an unpardonable sin, but doing business with those who kill and maim innocents in the name religion is the service of the "proletariat". Could there be a bigger case of hypocrisy?
Balbir K. Punj can becontacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 
BY ÉVELYNE TROUILLOT
THE family has set up camp in my brother's house. I live just next door, but it makes us feel better to be all in the same house. My brother, a novelist, is writing his articles; I am writing mine. From time to time a tremor will make us pause and run back outside, just in case, to be safe. I wonder how long we will have to be so cautious, and I long for normalcy.
We sleep; we listen to the radio; we exchange information. Mostly, we have been trying to stay alive and sane since that Tuesday afternoon a week ago when the earthquake changed our lives forever. It doesn't help that the earth continues to convulse. Just this morning, we felt another tremor, the most violent since the earthquake itself. Let us hope it did not cause more deaths and damage.
I do not recognise the streets of Port-au-Prince. In front of what used to be a school, three corpses are covered demurely by a blue sheet. Feet and eyes carefully avoid the small cadavers.
A few miles down, the Sacré-Coeur church, where the upper-middle class used to be baptised, married and buried, is a big pile of rubbish.
Under the broken glass and bricks of the five-story Caribbean Supermarket which carried the most varied imported products and where foreigners were most likely to meet one another women, men and children lie trapped, given up for dead. On Monday, rescuers managed to free from the site a young woman who was still alive. That same day, a grief-stricken family identified the body of a 27-year-old mother of a six-month-old girl, who was not so lucky.
In the evening, the digging for bodies ceases, as does the search for drinking water and food, for news about missing parents and friends. Tired; terrified of the dark and its dreams of tremors, of the morning and its bad news; secretly or not relieved to be alive, we try to sleep.
In the background, the few radio stations that can still broadcast convey the messages of agonised families and friends. A father comes all the way from a little village in the south of Haiti looking for his two daughters.
Although his voice is breaking, he manages to enunciate their names and please could somebody, anybody tell him if they are alive? The newscaster quickly repeats the message and introduces someone else. There are so many of them, a litany of desperate voices.
Night settles. The stars provide the only light; the electricity has not been restored. We save the energy from our inverter generator system to run the Internet, so we can stay in contact with friends and family. The telephone lines are unreliable.
But we Haitians are nevertheless connected regardless of our social conditions, our economic status, our religious beliefs, if only because we share the same uncertainties, the same fears about the monstrous size of the task at hand.
Although the earthquake does remind us of our common and fragile destiny, the fact that the earth trembles and destroys with equal brutality luxurious and shabby houses, small and huge enterprises, does not obscure the inequalities that divide Haiti. Social and economic disparities, the unjust distribution of our resources and the dire poverty of the majority of the population cannot magically evaporate with the dust. But maybe this disaster will constitute a new beginning. Maybe the reconstruction effort that is now so urgent will also work to narrow the gaps between us.
It is with a sense of warmth that I think of all the messages of solidarity I have received from around the world. Like most Haitians, I marvel at the signs of humanity fundraisers, simple letters of sympathy, offers of help: "Just tell me what you need!" But it is our government's responsibility to help those most in need.
I am focusing now on what is essential in life: love and friendship. Like most people here, I am not watching the news. We have limited power, and anyway it seems futile and even absurd to be a spectator of my own life, especially when the TV images highlight only the misery of our country. Many of us Haitians are offended by the coverage of the earthquake. Once more, a natural disaster serves as an occasion to showcase the impoverishment, to exaggerate the scenes of violence that are common to any catastrophe of this type.
No, I am not watching the news. I am too busy trying to find a way to keep my hope alive because the work in front of us is humongous. I am busy rejoicing in the laughter of the children in the camp near our house, smiling at the comical reactions of a passer-by after a recent aftershock. I am busy shedding tears at the news of a miraculous rescue of six students from the wreckage of a university building. I am busy collecting the fragments of life that reflect the enormous courage and resilience among us.I am busy loving life and my country.
Évelyne Trouillot is a novelist whose short stories have appeared in English in the collection Words Without Borders
By arrangement with theNew York Times
SCIENCE AND SAMADHI
BY THICH NHAT HANH
Science is now capable of demonstrating "no-self". Neuroscience teaches that neurons communicate with each other very well, and that they operate together without a leader or a boss. They are like an orchestra playing beautiful music without a conductor. Our bodies are made of many cells and there is coordination among the cells; they don't need a president of all the cells in order to make decisions. There is no-self.
If a scientist knows how to maintain that insight on life, then that flash of insight will become a liberating factor. If you just accept that idea as a notion, then that is not enough to liberate you from your fear, your desire, your despair. No-self and impermanence as notions are not very helpful. You need to maintain a long-lasting understanding in order to get liberation. That is why samadhi has been translated, "you maintain it like that". You keep the insight alive and you make it last.
In your daily life you are able to maintain the vision of impermanence, the vision of no-self as a living experience. Only that insight can liberate you from fear, from anger, from separation. It is like when you boil potatoes, you have to maintain the fire underneath them for at least 20 minutes for the potatoes to cook. If you light the burner and then turn it off, you will never have cooked potatoes. Samadhi is like that.
Samadhi is the concentration needed to maintain the steady presence of that insight. Scientists are capable of finding no-self and impermanence, but what they need is samadhi to maintain that understanding throughout the day. They need the tools of mindfulness, concentration, and samadhi in order to discover more. It would be helpful to have practitioners of meditation and scientists to collaborate in order to discover more about ourselves. You can be sure that the world is an object of the mind. The sun, the moon, the earth, the cosmos, the galaxies they are all objects of the mind. And our body, also, is an object of our mind. And our mind, also, is an object of our mind. That is why we can investigate the object of our mind. When we understand the object of our mind, we understand our mind because mind and object of our mind cannot be without each other.
When we believe that consciousness is permanent and only the body perishes, that the soul continues and goes to heaven or hell, that is eternalism. A right view should transcend a view of eternalism. A permanent, immortal soul is something that cannot be accepted, either by good Buddhists or good scientists. But the opposite view that after this body disintegrates, you disappear altogether, is another extreme, another wrong view, called nihilism. As a student of Buddhism, you are not caught in either of these views. There's only continued manifestation in different kinds of forms; that is rebirth, continuation, in the context of impermanence and no-self. Good scientists see that nothing is born and nothing dies.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness Meditation
in India email email@example.com 
CONTROVERSY, it would appear, is an essential ingredient of what makes up the cash-spinning tamasha called the IPL: the latest being churned up by 11 Pakistanis remaining unsold during the recent auction ~ a less-than-tasteful way of making players available to the franchisees. Members of the T20 world champion squad are entitled to feel disappointed, and not merely because they have been deprived of potential big bucks. But clearly over the top are allegations of a conspiracy, an insult to the nation, legislators calling off an India visit and creation of conditions in which the Pakistan Hockey Federation had to clarify that it would be participating in the World Cup in New Delhi next month. That reaction does confirm the passion cricket generates in the subcontinent (there would have been similar outrage in India if the situation was reversed), but it also confirms that the sporting communities in this part of the world have yet to come to terms with corporate-conducted events independent of official control ~ else there would have been no need for Pakistan's sports minister to phone his Indian counterpart in protest. There were limited slots open to the teams and they made their choice in keeping with their requirements. And availability of the players was critical to their plans ~ they were not assured on that front, and there was also a threat of political elements creating problems if Pakistan players took the field. Sad realities that cannot be ignored.
Having said that, it must also be emphasised that the IPL management could have avoided the multi-faceted embarrassment had it checked things out with both governments, and not put the Pakistan players on the block if doubts lingered. The IPL does not function in a vacuum, it has the approval of the ICC and BCCI, indeed it utilises the stadiums and other facilities of the state associations, and therefore must be sensitive and respect the circumstances and sentiments of others. Indo-Pak ties remain fractious and it would have been well-advised to proceed cautiously, avoid adding complications to the consequently strained cricketing relations. The short point is that for all the money at their disposal Lalit Modi and the IPL are not a law unto themselves ~ and that message must be driven home.
THE "HARD'' LIFE OF AN MOS
DR Manmohan Singh is known to give a patient hearing to all those with grievances ~ be it statehood seekers from Telangana or agitators from Visva-Bharati. But he could hardly have expected junior ministers in his own government to be up in arms at having been "deprived'' of work ~ and the power that goes with it ~ by seniors. If the Prime Minister had to be cruelly candid, he may have asked whether so many ministers of state were necessary when some of them spend more time on individual pursuits like twittering than on official engagements. That would have spared the exchequer considerable expense when members of Parliament have cited perks enjoyed by ministers as justification for similar benefits to be showered on their families and associates. A more pertinent question is whether there is so much work as to be shared between the cabinet minister and his juniors in any but the most important ministries. The cabinet minister often represents clearly defined interests which cannot be diluted by the logical process of sharing. That apart, junior ministers are often inducted to satisfy coalition partners, fulfilling quotas rather than serving specific needs. Some come with dubious records as in the case of Sibu Soren and RJD representatives in the last UPA government which had caused the Congress a good deal of anxiety. That the Prime Minister chose to hear out junior colleagues from different parties suggests he has no desire to rock the boat.
Experience of government should have made it clear to him that, while ministers are inclined to hog the limelight, bureaucrats constitute the backbone of governance. Routing files through junior ministers does nothing more than fulfil a ritual. Yet that may help soothe the tempers that rose at the meeting. Saugata Roy, minister of state for urban development, did not say whether his appeal to the Prime Minister to allot work to junior ministers applied to all ministries including railways. Nor was he in a position to justify a Trinamul directive to its Union ministers to spend the bulk of their time attending to Bengal issues. The best thing he could have done was to hint at downsizing the ministry in the public interest, also because the government is woefully short of official accommodation. That would be expecting too much. The final message may well have been that the junior ministers would rather endure their "hardships'' than accept any suggestion that the ministry is flabby.
TWIST AND SHOUT
WHEN WILL PRACHANDA LEARN?
WHEN Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao visited Nepal last year, former Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal "Prachanda" Dahal was in Hong Kong. It was a deliberate move to snub the Indian visitor since Dahal reportedly had no prior commitment to visit that country. Last week, when Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna and Rao were in Kathmandu, Prachanda had just returned (a few days earlier) from yet another trip to Hong Kong, giving the impression that he likes to consult Chinese leaders before taking any steps. Incidentally, that was his fourth visit to China since August 2008. After stepping down in May last year, Prachanda became a rabid India-baiter, to the point where his motives ~ or his sanity ~ became suspect. Before Krishna's visit, Prachanda's outpouring became more strident. He alleged that some foreign powers ~ an obvious reference to India ~ were plotting to murder him. Stranger still was his contention that before the 1 June 2001 palace massacre of King Birendra's family, the Maoists had held direct talks with the monarch and offered him the presidentship if he agreed to abdicate, but his entire family was wiped out within a few days ~ also a dark hint at India's involvement. It is to be hoped that Krishna's meeting with Prachanda, during which he did some plain talking to the effect that such "baseless attacks on India will vitiate the age-old tested friendship and may have a negative impact on Indian public", will serve as a lesson for Prachanda and some sections of Nepalese society who are ultra-sensitive to closer ties with India.
Prachanda, who seems to be suffering from political delusions, will do his country credit by concentrating on rectifying domestic politics and improving his party's image instead of playing the India-card. He might draw solace from having China as one neighbour, but he cannot ignore the reality that India is another.
STAIN-REPELLENT CHEMICAL 'LINKED TO THYROID DISEASE'
Washington, 21 JAN: In a major breakthrough, scientists claim to have found a link between thyroid disease and exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid ~ a stain-repellent chemical used in nonstick cookware, carpets, paints etc.
A study by Exeter University and the Peninsula Medical School has revealed that people with higher concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in their blood have higher rates of thyroid disease. Thyroid disease occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't supply the proper amount of hormones needed by the body. According to team leader Professor David Melzer of the Peninsula Medical School: "There have long been suspicions that PFOA concentrations might be linked to changes in thyroid hormone levels.
"Our analysis shows that in the 'ordinary' adult population there is a solid statistical link between higher concentrations of PFOA in blood and thyroid disease."
PFOA is a very stable man-made chemical that excels at repelling heat, water, grease, and stains. It's used during the process of making household items like non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, carpets, fabrics etc. For their study, the scientists analysed samples from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The study included 3966 adults aged 20 and older whose blood serum was sampled between 1999 and 2006 for PFOA and other perfluoroalkyl acid (PFAA) compounds, including perfluoroctane sulphonate (PFOS).
The scientists found that the individuals with the highest 25 per cent of PFOA concentrations were more than twice as likely to report current thyroid disease than those individuals with the lowest 50 per cent of PFOA concentrations. The most specific analysis included 163 women and 46 men who reported having current thyroid disease and who were taking thyroid medication at the time the samples were taken. ~ PTI
TREE-LINED BUNKERS THAT COULD CHANGE IT ALL
IT looks like a hop, skip and a jump. There's the first electrified fence, then the dirt strip to identify footprints, then the tarmac road, then one more electrified fence, and then acres and acres of trees. Orchards rather than tanks. Galilee spreads beyond, soft and moist and dark green in the winter afternoon a peaceful Israel, you might think. And a peaceful Lebanon to the north, tobacco plantations amid the stony hills, just an occasional UN armoured vehicle to keep you on your toes.
"Major Pardin says you cannot take pictures," a Malaysian UN soldier tells me. A second one says the same. Then along comes a Lebanese army intelligence officer and stares at our papers. "OK, you have permission," he declares, and I snap away with my old 36-frame real-film Nikon; the fields, the frontier fence, the high-tech surveillance tower on the horizon. This must be the most photographed border in the world.
Of course, the gentle countryside is an illusion. Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues in the Israeli government have been announcing that the only "army" of Lebanon is the Hizbollah, the Iranian-armed and Syrian-assisted guerrilla force whose bunkers and missiles north of the Litani river might just tip the balance in the next Hizbollah-Israeli war. And Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the chairman of the Hizbollah, has been making some even more interesting threats: that his forces will "change the face" of the West Asia region if there is another war with Israel. No one is in much doubt about what this means.
The newly resurfaced Lebanese roads near the border courtesy Hizbollah money suggest that someone might want to move men at high speed towards the frontier. Perhaps even to cross the border. That's what the Israelis suspect, too and it makes sense of Nasrallah's warning last week. The Hizbollah claimed that the 2006 war with Israel was a "divine victory" it didn't feel that way to us in southern Lebanon at the time yet even Israel admits it was a near-defeat for its own ill-trained soldiers.
But how would Israel react if the Hizbollah managed to enter Israel itself? Israeli army commanders are talking about this in the Israeli press. A fast, dramatic spring across the frontier to the west in the direction of Naharia, perhaps, or a grab at the settlement of Kiryat Shmona and the Hizbollah would announce it had "liberated" part of historic "Palestine". Israel would have to bomb its own territory to get them out.
This is no game. The Israeli army wants to revenge itself on the Hizbollah, which humiliated it in 2006. Nasrallah on giant-wide screens, for security reasons often talks as if he's the Lebanese President. Did the Israelis really think al-Qaida or the Hizbollah were behind the attempted killing of two Jordanian diplomats between Amman and the Allenby bridge, Nasrallah asked. No friend of al-Qaida, Hizbollah would have succeeded in blowing them up if it had been involved. The crowd roared its agreement.
But the threats continue. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak says the Lebanese government will be held responsible for any future war and the Lebanese have had the usual warnings from Israel. Lebanon's infrastructure will be attacked, its bridges and highways destroyed, its villages erased. Israel, Barak has been saying, was restrained in 2006 when it attacked Lebanon's infrastructure, destroyed its bridges and highways and erased its villages. Plus ça change.
But there's a good deal of "change". Syria is being courted by the Obama administration. Its old allies in Lebanon Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, among them are uttering honeyed words to Damascus. Indeed, Jumblatt has been meeting both Nasrallah and his old enemy, Michel Aoun, and concluding that he is three-quarters of the way down the road to Damascus. And President Assad of Syria has been visiting Teheran again, to assure the Islamic Republic of his ever-loyal support.
You can see the way everyone is thinking. And here's the big question, the camel in the room. If Israel ignores Obama and attacks Iran's nuclear sites a real aggression if ever there could be the Hizbollah could fire rockets into Israel, perhaps even revealing its new anti-aircraft missile capacity. Hamas might join in from Gaza. Hamas is a tin-pot outfit, the Hizbollah is not. An Israeli attack on Iran will unleash Iranian military power against America. But part of that power is Hizbollah in Lebanon. This is serious business.
Over Christmas, a parcel "from a foreign country" was delivered to three Hamas officials in Beirut and blew up, killing all of them. Last week, a bomb exploded in a building in southern Lebanon owned by two Hizbollah officials, wounding three children. One of them, 11-year-old Diana Zreik, had her left leg amputated. It looks like a glance at the past, to the 1970s, when Israel posted letter-bombs to its enemies in Lebanon.
The UN has been complaining at the increase in Israel's overflights of Lebanese territory. The Lebanese army has been opening fire on Israeli aircraft flying over the border useless, of course, because the Americans don't give the Lebanese army weapons that can hurt Israel while US senator John McCain has dropped by in Beirut to complain about the Hizbollah's weapons which, under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are supposed to be in the hands of the Lebanese army. This is the same resolution that should prevent Israeli overflights.
And what do those overflights show? "We see Hizbollah expanding inside Lebanon and its growing influence, political and otherwise," Barak said last week. "We again wish to make clear to the Lebanese leadership that we see everything, and we will hold the parties which cause increased tension responsible... the situation can quickly deteriorate."
Thank you, Israel. Especially if Israel attacks Iran.
PAKISTAN NEEDS A REALITY CHECK
WITHOUT doubt, large sections of the Pakistani civilian government are sincerely opposed to jihadi terrorism. After being victim of numerous terrorist attacks, this is but natural. The problem is that Islamabad still behaves as if it is a normal government deserving normal treatment. Either the Zardari regime is horribly alienated from reality or it is obsessed with saving face. If it's the latter, it is terribly ill advised. The stakes have become dangerously high.
This painful truth was highlighted during the visit of US defence secretary Robert Gates to India. Gates warned India of another 26/11 attack and commended India for its restraint after the Mumbai attack. He considered it unrealistic to expect similar restraint in the event of a second attack. He foresaw such an attack leading to war. He opined that an Indo-Pakistani war was what Al-Qaida and the Lashkar-e-Toiba were seeking. He did not elaborate, of course, on why such a war was sought by them or whether any power was egging them on.
Pakistan swiftly responded. A foreign ministry spokesman regretted that Gates had gone public with his purported information instead of sharing it in private with Islamabad. It was this reaction that revealed how Islamabad continues to live in cuckoo land of its own making. What is the point of sharing information with a government that so palpably is incapable of governing its nation?
Never mind intelligence information related to impending attacks, can Islamabad deny that Al-Qaida and Lashkar terrorists continue to hide in Pakistan? Pakistan has disputed the presence of Osama bin Laden, claiming that he is dead. Regardless of Osama being dead or alive, can Islamabad seriously dispute the large presence of terrorists aligned to Al-Qaida and Lashkar ensconced in safe havens within its territory? Or does it still believe that all the terrorist attacks inflicted on innocent Pakistanis are the handiwork of India's Research and Analysis Wing?
The bald truth is that what Islamabad must accept is that as long as Al-Qaida and Lashkar are not eliminated from its soil no foreign government will take its protestations or claims seriously. One can sympathise with the Pakistan government's inability to solve the problem given the high degree of infiltration into its ranks by pro-jihadi subversive elements. But things are reaching a stage where Pakistan-based terrorism is not only endangering the survival of that country but also the stability of the entire region. If Islamabad cannot effectively tackle jihadi terrorists it should bluntly accept the fact. It should invite the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the USA or even Indian troops to assist it with operations inside Pakistan to eliminate the menace.
Islamabad should stop worrying about saving face. It needs to save the state.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW
'I'VE done it," said Arvind while walking alongside me in the park.
"You've done what?" I asked.
"I've removed all unwanted stuff from Mandy's cabinet without her knowing about it."
"What if she comes to know?" I asked.
"She never has, she never will."
"How are you so sure?" I enquired.
"Between you, me and Sonia Gandhi "
"Sonia Gandhi? What's Sonia Gandhi got to do with the emptying of cabinets?" I interrupted.
"You'll be surprised, if there's anyone in this country who has mastered the art of emptying cabinets, it's her, the stealth with which she eases out unwanted elements from Man's cabinet needs to be admired," said Arvind, signing off.
Arvind's reference was to his wife Mandira's fetish for storing things in cabinets, drawers, lofts, in fact any nook and corner she could get hold of in the small flat they had in Delhi. Even the terrace and the car's dicky had not been spared her passion for storing things that were old and not in use. Her favourite saying, "You never know when you need them," had turned their house into a warehouse of clothes, footwear, books, crockery, cutlery, tiffin boxes, jars, calculators, watches, locks, keys, plugs and sockets that were not in use.
At the last count, there were 15 saris, 10 blouses and six pairs of sandals hung or stacked in her almirah which she hadn't worn for years, some of them for more than a decade. A peep into one of her closets also revealed the presence of a single sandal she had saved in the hope that she would find the other one some day.
Mandy was not alone in her habit of storing things. If the number of buckets, jugs, flasks, toasters and irons perched in our kitchen loft were an indication, my wife Sudha was not far behind. My repeated pleas that every inch of shelf-space had an element of cost attached to it and should be optimally used, had not made any headway with her. All the inventory control models like Last In First Out and First In First Out I had learnt during my MBA days fell flat whenever I discussed the possibility of emptying the lofts with her.
"Keep your management theories to yourself, I know more about these things," was her stock reply.
While talking about shelf-space, I am reminded of our grandmother's room, in a corner of which were stacked huge black trunks that she had brought with her from Lahore prior to partition. Till her last day, everyone kept guessing the amount of gold and jewellery those monsters contained. Finally, when the trunks were opened after she passed away, all we found were old clothes and knick-knacks.
Why are people so attached to old things? Psychologists explain it as an age-old habit of saving things for a rainy day, a habit passed on to us by our parents and grandparents, reminiscent of the hard days they had been through. Unfortunately, that day never comes and our cupboards continue to be stacked with clothes and things that have gone out of fashion or are beyond repair.
It would be wrong to say that only women are fond of storing things, for research shows men to be equally adept at it. Open any man's almirah and you will find at least one-third the shelf-space being occupied by trousers, shirts, ties or shoes he hasn't worn for years, space that can easily be used for storing things that are new and in use.
A look into a friend's almirah the other day revealed the presence of four pairs of black trousers, only one of which was being worn by him and the rest were kept in the hope that he would fit into them some day. While I respect my friend's love for black trousers, I am sure the day he fits into the old ones will never come.
Small houses, even smaller shelf-space and constantly changing colours, designs and models of clothes or products we wear or use make it imperative for us to make optimum use of whatever shelf-space we have, which is possible only by removing the old and bringing in the new. My advice to everyone: before we reach a stage where we have to plead or pay someone to take that stuff away, do it yourself and make your home a better, cleaner place to live in!
The writer is a freelance contributor
If ministers can go for eight months without work or with very little of it, it is obvious that there is no work for them. Maybe the ministers of state who complained of lack of work to the prime minister recently should have thought that through. Of 38 junior ministers in the United Progressive Alliance government, 33 attended the heart-to-heart meeting with the prime minister. Of these only three or four claimed to be satisfied with the work they did. The junior ministers' complaints that they had hardly any files to sign and little work to do, that they were ignored when policy decisions were made in their ministries or even when press notes were circulated, that they were not interested in power without responsibility reflected the deeply hierarchical mindset that underlies governmental organization, one which is also related to the intense desire for control among senior politicians. But there were suggestions too. One junior minister said that the prime minister should evolve a policy for workload distribution while another suggested that the respective senior ministers should set targets for their juniors. This would be good practice.
Charming and heartening though these sentiments sound, the fundamental issue remains unchanged. If the government can function without engaging the majority of 38 ministers, then the government does not need them. In a time of reduction of unnecessary public expenditure, calculating what is spent on jobless ministers and multiplying ministries has become more relevant than ever. It cannot be the case that a sprawling organization makes for efficiency, because it has been proved time and again that the greater the number of departments, ministries and officials involved, the worse the coordination and progress rate in any task. India has an astonishing number of ministries, the result of splitting up, for example, transport into aviation, roads, shipping and so on, violating logic and hindering efficiency but appeasing coalition partners and pleasing all segments of the dominant party. Just as such extra ministries should be merged or abolished, ministers of state with no distinct portfolio and no allotted job cannot become apprentices to power on public money. The strangest are the ministers of state with independent charge which particular split hair prevents them from becoming full-fledged ministers if their jobs are so necessary?
NOT A GAME
There is no doubting the fact that the Indian Premier League works on sound business sense. Had there been any room for sentimentality in its transactions, it would have become less of a money-making machine than it is and more of a sinecure for retired sportsmen whom people had problems forgetting. The IPL represents competition, the ugliest aspects of it, as also its prettiest. Which is why the best talents in the sport are drawn to the IPL and the heaviest purses are allowed to put a price tag on them. By this simple logic of the marketplace, the cricketers of Pakistan should have been priced commodities. Till last year, in fact, they were. If the third auction of the IPL found them returning empty-handed, it is because forces more duplicitous than the market have intervened. Since last year, the competition has been the unfortunate victim of the politics of two nations. A summary ban on Pakistan's cricketers from playing for the matches after the Mumbai tragedy prevented them from appearing for the tournament in South Africa. This year, the same factor has intervened, and more dishonourably. There is no formal ban on the players, but the authorities on both sides of the border, either through their action or inaction, have made sure that they continue to remain excluded from the tournament.
A huge question mark on their availability has dissuaded franchisees from bidding for them. The question could have been put to rest had the respective cricket boards of India and Pakistan, as also the government, which processes such travel, given enough confidence to the organizers and the parties concerned about the cricketers' participation. That this was not done indicates that, on either side of the border, political one-upmanship is dictating the course of the game. The question of the cricketers' availability has been linked to security, particularly in Mumbai, where a number of matches are to be held and where much public anger could be whipped up against the Pakistan cricketers by the Shiv Sena and Hindu Right parties. But these considerations should have weighed with the government, which is supposed to provide the security, and the IPL management, which is organizing the tournament, before bringing the players to the auction. The hamhandedness has done immense disservice to the game, and to the cause of peace.
A DIFFERENT TEA PARTY
THE MASSACHUSETTS RESULT GIVES OPPOSITION TO OBAMA A FILLIP
Less than two years ago, the American historian, Simon Schama, began The American Future: A History with the melodramatic lines: "I can tell you, give a minute or two, when American democracy came back from the dead because I was there: 7.15 pm. Central Time, 3 January 2008, Precinct 53, Theodore Roosevelt High." Schama then went on to describe the presidential primaries in the nondescript town of Des Moines in Iowa and the silent upsurge that saw an unknown Senator Barack Obama edge past his better known Democratic Party rivals in Precinct 53.
"It didn't take a genius, much less a media analyst," he wrote gushingly, "to figure out what was going on in Iowa: a populist rejection of political business-as-usual: of the dominant orthodoxies."
I was asleep in the early hours of Wednesday when CNN flashed the Massachusetts Moment: jubilant Republicans in, of all places, Boston, celebrating former male model Scott Brown's surprise victory over his Democratic rival in a seat held by the iconic Kennedy family since 1952. Unlike Schama, I missed another moment of change. Was it a populist revolt against another dominant orthodoxy? Or was it the trigger of a counter-revolution against the audacity of hype?
Political buffs are forever enthralled by byelections. They are a bit like a capsuled dress rehearsal of another big day; and they are meant to follow a predetermined script and not spring unexpected surprises. The fun begins when the lines get terribly muddled and all hell breaks loose. The phlegmatic fall back on hoary clichés the 'wake up call' and 'pull up your socks' being all-time favourites and the more excitable reactions take the form of abstruse over-generalizations, and the writing of obituaries that often turn out to be woefully premature.
The post-mortem of the Massachusetts Moment has been along both lines. No one, not even the starry-eyed panel that awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for showing potential, could have underplayed the significance of a Democratic defeat in the pocket borough of liberalism. Massachusetts provided three Democratic presidential candidates in the past 50 years. It was also the only state to vote against Richard Nixon in the one-sided election of 1972 a contrariness celebrated by the Watergate era bumper sticker, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts."
Massachusetts was to the Democrats what Amethi and Rae Bareli are to the Congress in India and what Ebbw Vale is to the 'old' Labour Party in Britain: the custodian of the faith.
Many the proverbial Namierites in the woodpile will attribute the conversion of a 30-point lead for the Democrats in November to a five-point deficit on election night to the inadequacies of the Democratic candidate and smug over-confidence. They will refer to the enormous damage caused by her ignorance of which team a local sporting hero played for.
No doubt the small picture can often be more revealing than the grand overview, but the point to note is that the upset was caused not because loyal Democrats stayed at home (the usual way of protesting against an imperfect candidate) but because the unattached section voted Republican. More to the point, the winner mounted a single-minded campaign against the president's trillion-dollar healthcare initiative and garnished it with sweeping asides against the pitfalls of being good to terrorists. If byelections are often a vehicle of single-issue protest, a way of rocking the boat without sinking it, Massachusetts was its perfect illustration. Yet, the sheer magnitude of the swing against the Democratic Party Obama won the state in November 2008 with a 27-point margin suggests that the byelection result could be a pointer to a deeper stirring in American society.
What Schama would undoubtedly have found interesting and indicative of the overall health of a resuscitated democracy is the role of activists from an organization that calls itself the Tea Party Patriots, an allusion to the famous Boston tea party of 1773. Created in early-2009 as a reaction to what it perceived was the Obama administration's growing reliance on government intervention, TPP's mission statement is unambiguous: "The impetus for the Tea Party movement is excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets."
Using the disquiet over lavish bailout packages, the mounting fiscal deficit, 'ObamaCare' and the administration's 'softness' towards the 'enemies of America', the movement created an alternative grassroots conservatism that has steadily chipped away at the liberal sanctimoniousness which propelled the Obama victory in 2008. Its 'tea parties' in some 200 towns have attracted those always uneasy with the underlying permissiveness of the Obama phenomenon but who nevertheless shied away from the neo-conservatism of the Bush-Cheney era.
American conservatism has traditionally been bipartisan and blessed with a self-image of robust common sense, a euphemism for what is painted as the "American way" by creatures as diverse as Superman, John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A large swathe of the United States of Ameica always nurtured serious misgivings over the politico-cultural dimensions of the "Yes we can" trumpeters but were intimidated into passivity by the sheer energy of the Obama campaign. Now, and despite the apparent disarray in the Republican Party, these voices are beginning to find a focus.
The Massachusetts victory is calculated to give the opposition to Obama a fillip. It is premature to write off the president and see his declining approval ratings after a year in office as setting the stage for a paralysed presidency. Obama still has vast reserves of goodwill at home and abroad to stage a political recovery. However, he has a problem within the constituency that voted him to power so enthusiastically.
Obama epitomized a yearning for a kinder, gentler, younger, ethnically diverse America. His America implicitly negated many of the assumptions of both conservatism and traditional liberalism. In power, the president has been unable to satisfy those most vocal in his support.
Afghanistan is a case in point. A large section of those who voted for Obama clearly felt that the US should rapidly extricate itself from an unwinnable war. By implication they also believed that a withdrawal would insulate the US from the wrath of the Islamists. The desire to opt out was, however, completely at odds with the military that demanded more troops on the ground. Late last year, the generals got three-fourths of the 40,000 extra troops they had sought but this concession was coupled with the rider that US forces would withdraw by mid-2011, an unrealizable proposition.
The net effect is a muddle. The military resent an impractical deadline that bolsters the Taliban's resolve and encourages Pakistani obstreperousness; the peaceniks feel that Obama has been sucked into a system that is inherently at odds with the values they felt he stood for. In 2008, Obama's success rested on both America tiring of the Bush administration and an ambiguity over what he actually stood for. A year later, Bush is history but the mystery of the 'real' Obama persists.
This confusion over what the administration really wants to achieve has set the stage for a backlash, as witnessed in Massachusetts. Obama is not being hounded by a coalition of white supremacists and illiberal Christians the famous "Right-wing conspiracy" the Clintons once invoked. His problems arise from those who still believe in the greatness of America and can't bear to see it transformed into another namby-pamby Europe, playing second fiddle to a resurgent China.
There is hope for America, despite Obama.
THE ROAD AHEAD
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The last administrative reforms commission that looked into the ways of redrawing the failed structures of governance presented comprehensive solutions, systems and processes that would get rid of the untenable practices that have suffocated this nation. No one can comprehend the reasons why the prime minister of India heading the United Progressive Alliance government, with many distinguished and competent ministers in the cabinet cannot take a concerted decision to implement the reforms that have been submitted. To fall prey to a bureaucracy that sees merit in zero change and no merit in the radical overhaul of a defective system it has operated for decades is unwarranted and detrimental to the future of India. It is degrading to stall renewal in this careless fashion.
Veerappa Moily led the commission, and is today the minister of law and justice. Surely, he could demand that reforms be initiated with strict time-frames to enable this government to return to power with a full mandate for the Congress in the next elections? The post-election upbeat mood has begun its downslide. The unexpected mandate of more than 200 seats for the Congress on its own was a signal from the people to the party, asking it to prove its capabilities and begin the delivery of goods and services. The signs of that happening have dimmed considerably. A lacklustre attitude to the challenges of bringing change in the fundamentals of governance is corroding the reputation of the Congress. Subsidiary partners at the Centre may have personal agendas that prefer a status quo. But surely, the Congress has a desire to re-establish its supremacy across the country? Why is the party not driven? Why does it want to destroy itself before handing the 'machine' over to the next generation?
With a cast of characters such as P. Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Shashi Tharoor, Ambika Soni, C.P. Joshi, V. Moily, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and younger incumbents such as Jyotiraditya Scindia or Sachin Pilot, all led by Manmohan Singh, India is actually poised to bring about a reorganization of the administrative machinery. These people have the intellectual and other qualities required to enforce change and ensure inclusive governance. They understand the many complicated issues and could work with ease to transform a moribund reality. There is no excuse at all for the seeming lethargy.
What stops the prime minister from wielding the whip? After all, he was ready to resign on the issue of the rejection of the nuclear deal. Why not use the same mechanism now to ensure administrative reforms? The latter could transform the lives of ordinary people across the economic and social strata. India needs an answer to this critical query. Start by restructuring the hire- and-fire policy. India does not deserve to be exploited any longer. Basic infrastructure needs to be provided to this energetic and entrepreneurial people who have made good, survived and grown, added to the larger wealth, despite faulty, corrupt governance.
When Parliament reconvenes, the prime minister needs to spell out his agenda for India and compel change. A statement to this effect in the Lok Sabha would bring about the corrective required, and encourage sane, intelligent discourse on issues that affect all, regardless of caste, creed, gender or faith. Weigh the options, whip the bureaucrats into action, and sweep away the useless. That is the excitement of leadership. Why allow an inept bureaucracy to hold the country to ransom? The 'sabotage' needs to be exposed. Surely, the ruling political tsars of India want to leave behind a worthwhile legacy?
"THERE ARE FEW GROUNDS FOR KEEPING UNDERTRIALS."
If Union law minister Veerappa Moily's plan to release 1.25 lakh undertrials, of the 1.75 lakh who are languishing in the country's jails for petty crimes for many years, in six months from January 26 succeeds, he would be among those who have made the best contribution to delivery of justice in the country, past or present, minister or king, judge or lawyer. That is no exaggeration because the presence of such a large number of undertrials in jails mocks the system of justice and rule of law, and at no point of time in history have there been so many of them at the same time in jails. Many of them have already been in jail for longer terms than they would have served if they had been convicted. The majority of them are hauled up there for petty offences and some of them turn real criminals after their long stint in jails. Keeping people in jail without trial for even a short period is a violation of the constitutional right to life and liberty. Most of them are poor and can only suffer in silence.
The minister has written to all chief justices to facilitate early and fast trials in various ways. Plea bargaining by which an undertrial accepts his guilt and the court sentences him to the period already served in jail, day-to-day hearing of cases and holding trial in jails by video-conferencing are some elements in the minister's plan. The country has been divided into different zones and in each zone an additional solicitor general will supervise the progress of the plan and monitor the freeing of prisoners. Some of these ideas are not new, but they were not implemented with any sincerity.
It is not just the legal and human rights of prisoners that is involved in the matter. The increasing numbers of undertrials result in overcrowding of jails. In fact 2.45 lakh of the 3.5 lakh prisoners are undertrials. Jail facilities are overextended and the costs of staff and infrastructure have increased. If most of the undertrial prisoners are released in the coming months and the numbers don't swell later, jails can be better managed and administered and their conditions will improve. The plan should be implemented with seriousness and commitment. The government can publish the zone-wise number of undertrials released every week or fortnight after January 26 till July 31, so that the country knows the plan is making progress.
'STALEMATE OVER CABINET WILL DEEPEN UNCERTAINTY.'
The audacious attack by the Taliban in the heart of Kabul indicates how fragile the hold of the Afghan government is. Suicide bombers and heavily armed Taliban fighters were able to hold off security forces for several hours near the presidential palace. The attack was timed to coincide with the swearing in of Karzai's cabinet ministers and appears to have been aimed at damaging the government's image in the eyes of the international community days before a crucial donor summit in London. President Hamid Karzai's authority has suffered a series of stinging blows in recent months, the most recent being the rejection of several of his cabinet nominees by parliament. A fortnight ago, parliament rejected 17 of 24 nominees. On Saturday, 10 of the 17 new nominees were vetoed again. His credibility was severely undermined, when allegations of widespread fraud and vote-rigging clouded his re-election. The deadlock over cabinet formation has left him still weaker. It will be a much diminished Karzai, who will appear at the London conference next week. More importantly, the stalemate over the cabinet nominees will deepen political uncertainty in Afghanistan. Several portfolios are vacant and with parliament going into recess, it will be some time before the Afghan government will be up and running.
There is a ray of hope amidst this rather bleak scenario. It is heartening that Afghan parliamentarians are standing up, speaking out and acting against those in high places who have links with the warlords. Many of the cabinet nominees rejected by parliament are warlords like Ismail Khan, a warlord who once ruled Herat, and three nominees of General Abdurrashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord. Karzai is believed to have nominated them as part of deals struck in the run-up to elections to win the support of warlords. Parliament has done well to prevent him from putting them in ministerial posts.
Several western officials have expressed exasperation over the stalemate over cabinet formation in Afghanistan. Their impatience is understandable in the context of the upcoming donor conference as several governments were keen to know who will be at the helm of ministries before they commit funds to Afghan reconstruction. However, the assertion of parliament is good for Afghanistan as it will put in place a cleaner cabinet. In corruption-wracked Afghanistan this is reason to celebrate.
SHADES OF PREJUDICE
RACIAL MINORITIES WHO ARE ALERT TO WHITE-BLACK OR WHITE-BROWN ISSUES OFTEN REMAIN SILENT ABOUT COLOURISM.
BY SHANKAR VEDANTAM, NYT:
Last week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, found himself in trouble for once suggesting that Barack Obama had a political edge over other African-American candidates because he was 'light-skinned' and had 'no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.' 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 Martin Luther King Jr, dreamed by the content of their character.
The Senate leader's choice of words was flawed, but positing that black candidates who look 'less black' have a leg up is hardly more controversial than saying wealthy people have an advantage in elections. Dozens of research studies have shown that skin tone and other racial features play powerful roles in who gets ahead and who does not. These factors regularly determine who gets hired, who gets convicted and who gets elected.
Consider: Lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos. The education test-score gap between light-skinned and dark-skinned African-Americans is nearly as large as the gap between whites and blacks.
The Harvard neuroscientist Allen Counter has found that in Arizona, California and Texas, hundreds of Mexican-American women have suffered mercury poisoning as a result of the use of skin-whitening creams. In India, where I was born, a best-selling line of women's cosmetics called Fair and Lovely has recently been supplemented by a product aimed at men called Fair and Handsome.
This isn't racism, per se it's colourism, an unconscious prejudice that isn't focused on a single group like blacks so much as on blackness itself. Our brains, shaped by culture and history, create intricate caste hierarchies that privilege those who are physically and culturally whiter and punish those who are darker.
Colourism is an intraracial problem as well as an interracial problem. Racial minorities who are alert to white-black or white-brown issues often remain silent about a colourism that asks 'how black' or 'how brown' someone is within their own communities.
If colourism lives underground, its effects are very real. Darker-skinned African-American defendants are more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned African-American defendants for crimes of equivalent seriousness involving white victims. This was proven in rigorous, peer-reviewed research into hundreds of capital punishment-worthy cases by the Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt.
Take, for instance, two of 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. In an experiment that fall, Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory University, and a number of other researchers shot different versions of a political advertisement in support of Obama. One version showed a light-skinned black family. Another version had the same script, but used a darker-skinned black family. Voters, at an unconscious level, were less inclined to support Obama after watching the ad featuring the darker-skinned family than were those who watched the ad with the lighter-skinned family.
Political operatives are certainly aware of this dynamic. During the campaign, a conservative group created attack ads linking Obama with Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, which darkened Kilpatrick's skin to have a more persuasive effect. Though there can be little doubt that as a candidate Obama faced voters' conscious and unconscious prejudices, it is simultaneously true that unconscious colourism subtly advantaged him over darker-skinned politicians.
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. It remains a worthy aspiration. But this belief rests on a profound misunderstanding about how our minds work and perversely limits our ability to discuss prejudice honestly.
AMERICA FILLS THE LOYALTY VACUUM WITH AMERICAN-NESS. LOYALTY IS INSTILLED CONSTANTLY, AT ALL STAGES.
BY H D S GREENWAY
We Americans used to be more than a little smug about the integration of Muslims into US society in contrast to the way Europeans get along or don't get along with Muslims living in Europe.Unlike western Europe, America did not import large numbers of Muslims from Asia and North Africa to fill labour shortages after World War II.
America never faced the 'guest worker' problem with guests who not only never went home, but summoned their relatives to join them as Europe did in the mill towns of England, the banlieues of Paris, and the industrial cities of Germany. Latin America was the source of our immigration problem.
It was said that the immigrants Europe imported were often from such poor and remote regions of their respective countries that they would have had trouble adjusting to Istanbul, Casablanca and Lahore, never mind, Bradford, Clichy-sous-Bois or Kruezberg.
Our Muslims were better educated, better adjusted, and were willing to integrate into American society rather than holing up in ghettos around industrial towns, some refusing to learn the languages of the countries in which they resided, and sending away for their imams and brides. Rather than making up the poorest level of society, American Muslims were mostly middle class.
The multiculturalism of Britain seemed to have failed, with too many Muslims never really accepting, or being accepted, into British life. After the London subway bombings at the hands of homegrown Muslims, a British columnist wrote that in America there is no "loyalty vacuum where national identity should be." America "fills the void with American-ness. Loyalty is instilled constantly, not only in one-off ceremonies whether it be saluting the flag at school or singing the national anthem at a ball game."
Could Britain learn something from America? The quandary, as the Tory leader David Cameron put it, was that the British "don't do flags on the front lawn."
France, in the tradition of 'égalité', treated everyone as a Frenchmen first and anything else religion, ethnic background as unimportant and secondary, at least in theory.
But in practice it never seemed to work out that way. Immigrants are not really accepted in France, with shockingly few of them represented in government, in the National Assembly, or the life of the nation itself. And today, France wrestles with questions about national identity.
In Germany, haunted by its National Socialist past, there was a reluctance to impose German culture on immigrants. "We Germans in particular had no right to force our highly questionable customs onto other cultures, " wrote the writer Peter Schneider.
Europeans, it seemed, could not adjust to the fact that they had become nations of immigrants, instead of emigrants as they once had been. America had always been open to immigration. Citizenship, the flag, and our institutions define what an American is, not how people dress. Thus the constant controversies over headscarves that cut to the core of European sensibilities seemed strange to American ears. A national referendum to ban minarets would be inconceivable in the United States.
So we thought our very American-ness had inoculated us against the radicalisation of Muslim youth. The Britishborn plotters of the London subway explosions, the 9/11 Hamburg cells, or the British educated Nigerian bent on bringing down an airliner were not going to be replicated here. Our Muslims were immune, we thought.
But now, with young Somali-Americans going off to jihad in East Africa, with Pakistani-Americans doing the same in Pakistan, a former New York coffee vendor named Najibullah Zazi arrested in a bomb plot, and with Major Nidal Hasan's mass murder of his fellow soldiers, we have come to realise that the siren call of jihad does not fall upon deaf ears on these shores. A decade of invading Muslim countries is having its radicalising effects here at home. We can no longer afford to be smug.
The FBI tries to infiltrate extremist cells, and so they should. But there are reports that American Muslim organisations that have in the past cooperated with law enforcement are feeling alienated by increasing pressure, and reconsidering their cooperation.
The worst we could do as a society is to overreact, to make American Muslims feel they are a not one with the rest of us; in effect, to take the American flags off their front lawns.
AN OBSESSION AND A LOVE
AS AN EASY-GOING AND CARE-FREE TEENAGER, I WAS ALWAYS DRIVEN TO THE CHARM OF THE MARVELLOUS HANDY STOREHOUSE OF INFORMATION AND ENTERTAINMENT, CALLED RADIO.
BY MUTHI-UR-RAHMAN SIDDIQUI
Once regarded as the little broadcast wonder, this humble gadget almost lost its sheen ever since the ubiquitous television flooded our households. And with the widespread use of the internet, there was little reason for anyone to tune in a radio programme.
In an age where eye-catching visuals and gleaming live footages rule the roost, radio with its supposed shortcomings, had become quite unobtrusive. Nonetheless, thanks to revival of the FM broadcast which has become the most sought after form of entertainment for people on the move, this unassuming receiver of wireless signals has got a new lease of life.
My first tryst with radio began way back in the late 90s when I was in the high school. A friend of mine had bought a radio set and he would listen to its programmes daily. His disinclination to give the radio set to anyone would often leave me yearning for the little prodigy.
Some years later, my joy knew no bounds when I bought a radio set for myself. I couldn't help clasping it. I'd immerse myself deep harking to the wonderful programmes being aired on it. These would stoke my imagination and I'd be lost in the beauty and the astounding flow of words streaming out of them.
This addiction to radio didn't stop even after I stepped into college life. The first thing I used to do after returning home from college was to turn the radio on and listen to its broadcasts before attending to other chores. Mother would tick me off over my 'affair' with the radio, but I'd not heed.
I'd soothe under the feel of old Hindi songs for hours, humming and crooning them several times when Vividh Bharathi aired them. And listening to the BBC Radio, especially its Urdu and Hindi services, was altogether a different experience. Its signature tunes always captivated me.
This joyous association, however, was not to last long. Ever since my China-made radio set developed glitches and I came of age, there is little time that I get for invoking this obsession. Nonetheless, I do try to relive the fascination by pouncing over the new radio set I bought some time ago. But, sadly its charm is not the same.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE PRICE OF A RESCUE
For the past 10 days, like everybody else, Israelis have been turning on their televisions to witness the collapse of Haiti, and the effort there to save lives and somehow start to rebuild. A much smaller swath of destruction has garnered secondary headlines here, as winter rains wreaked havoc on Negev infrastructure, washing out roads, electrical cables and water supplies. News reports included awe-inspiring shots of flash floods in the canyons of the Negev and the Arava.
We should have been able to sit back, appreciate the beauty from afar and enjoy the blessing of rain.
The volunteers who staff Israel's civilian rescue teams, particularly in the Negev, could afford no such relaxed contemplation, however. Those teams of well-trained hikers and four-wheel-drivers paired up with the IAF's elite 669 aerial rescue unit to pull numerous thrill-seekers out of raging torrents.
For at least a day before the flood waters raced across the desert, pouring down out of the Negev highlands with the force of a train, radio stations had warned that there was a "serious danger" of flash flooding. As the rain fell, the reports took a direr tone, urging drivers to stay clear of specific roads. Unfortunately, instead of deterring people from entering the danger zone, these warnings may actually have encouraged them.
The most tragic consequence was for the Fugel-Hochman family: A brother and sister were killed when their jeep was swept downstream in the raging waters of Nahal Arava. A second brother escaped with light injuries. The search for Yoram Hochman lasted almost 24 hours, before his body was found in a minefield near the Jordanian border. IDF combat engineers had to be deployed to disable the mines so that rescuers could reach the body.
Police said afterwards that the road on which the jeep attempted to cross the stream's floodwaters was a secondary access road, and that the only reason anyone would have been using it would seem to have been a desire to meet a flash flood face-to-face. Still, reports differ as to whether or not the deceased were specifically warned not to enter the stream of water that flowed in Nahal Arava.
THERE IS no reason to discourage people in general from visiting Israel's natural sites, even during floods, but when specific warnings are issued, they should not be ignored. Some "adventurers," however, apparently regard warnings as mere recommendations.
The price that they sometimes pay is not only exacted from themselves and their families, but is also shouldered by Israel's civilian rescue teams. Search-and-rescue (SAR) volunteers operate at the expense of their work hours, use their private vehicles, donate their weekends to training, receive just a small sum as reimbursement for gas and vehicle expenses, and put their lives in danger.
Relying on the kindness of strangers, the government budgets a total of NIS 3 million annually for equipment and training for all of Israel's civilian SAR teams, from the Golan Heights to Eilat. The cost is also shouldered by the IDF and the police, with each helicopter deployment costing thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of shekels.
If radio warnings and park service alerts fail to convince, perhaps it is time for the money to do the talking - for people to have to pay for their rescue. Just as Israelis choosing to enter Palestinian-controlled areas sign a waiver revoking their right to be rescued should they meet trouble, those who disregard specific personal safety warnings should know that civilian volunteers, however well-intentioned, and taxpayers, will not shoulder the financial burden of their irresponsible choices.
In Europe, many countries refuse to give hikers mountaineering permits if they have not purchased climbers' rescue insurance. In the US, local governments and states have started to charge for rescues. Along with criminal charges, the Heene "balloon boy" family were presented with a bill for $42,000 in rescue fees.
Critics here claim such a policy would deter those who really need help from calling for it. But the fees charged to those who go to hospital emergency rooms or call an ambulance without meeting the appropriate terms have produced no such deterrent effect.
Of course, those who have taken reasonable precautions and heeded safety guidelines should not be penalized. Accidents sometimes happen even to the best-prepared people.
Rescue fees would benefit everybody - the rescue teams and the would-be adventurers who might just think twice. The next time the storm clouds roll through, we might all be able to appreciate the blessing of rain and worry less about the cost in human lives.
DAMAGING POLITICAL DECISION
Like most decisions by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, the authorization to recognize the college in Ariel as a university stems from coalition considerations and the desire to hold on to cabinet seats at any cost. When Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the green light to implement an improper cabinet decision from 2005, he finally showed that Labor's excuse for joining the government - to moderate the extremists - was false. Barak is the one taking the government's most dangerous steps.
Granting university status to Judea and Samaria College is an unfortunate mistake for which Israel's entire system of public higher education will pay a heavy price. For years, the Council for Higher Education resisted enormous pressure from the heads of the college in Ariel and staunchly opposed the change. Israel does not need another university, and if it did, the college in Ariel is not the most worthy of gaining that status. "This is pretention with nothing to back it up," the former deputy chairman of the Council for Higher Education, Prof. Yitzhak Galnoor, told Haaretz yesterday. "I propose that the army study there and the defense minister be the president of the university."
This ironic statement expresses the absurdity of the change. The college's academic level has never been officially measured. Even if it were a praiseworthy institution with its research work touted far and wide, Barak's directive to the GOC Central Command to recognize the college as a "university center" - which backs up the 2008 declaration by the college itself - reflects the complete contempt in which the settlements, supported by Israeli governments, hold the law and the country's citizens. Barak's instruction, like the 2005 cabinet decision, is no more than a political step taken by the government (not by academia) and implemented by the army. It callously circumvents the higher education system, which will be damaged worldwide and badly hurt by the redivision of the shrunken budgetary pie.
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Israeli scientists and intellectuals have suffered in recent years due to a feeling of estrangement among important academic institutions worldwide; there have also been boycotts and ostracism. No doubt this attitude will worsen when Israel develops a large university town in the territories at a time when it is bound to a construction freeze. Israeli academia will become even more the leper, and Israel's intellectual and scientific life will be forced into a ghetto; the damage to the system and all of society is hard to gauge.
This dangerous folly is now at the doorstep of the Council for Higher Education - the only institution that can stop it. Without its approval, Ariel cannot receive university funding and recognition of its degrees. The council must wage an unremitting professional and civil struggle for the future of higher education, for what remains of Israel's legitimacy in the world, and against pushing Israeli society to the destructive margins of the land of the settlers of Judea.
FROM PAULA TO SARA
BY YOEL MARCUS
Although Israel's "first ladies" have no official status, each of them shaped her status according to her personality, opinions and character. In late 1963, when David Ben-Gurion was in conflict with his party, a last attempt was made to prevent his downfall with an official journey to the five socialist Scandinavian countries, which were guaranteed to receive him with open arms. And that's what happened. Our ambassador to Copenhagen and his wife invited B-G and his wife Paula to their luxurious home for a meeting with the press. The journalists asked questions, B-G replied and Paula napped.
When B-G had finished, waiters appeared with drinks and cocktail sandwiches. Paula, who woke up and saw the waiters and the luxurious home, raised her voice: "What's this here? For this you made Ben-Gurion [that's what she called him] leave the official guesthouse? Who is paying for all this, Rockefeller? In Israel there are people who have nothing to eat and you're serving caviar?"
The ambassador's wife was ready to faint and the military secretary, Col. Haim Ben David, in dress uniform, whispered in her ear: "Paula, the place is full of journalists." Just as angry as before, she turned to him and raised her voice: "And what are you doing here? Go home to the army!" That was Paula, straight to the point, defending her husband to her last breath. During a visit by Dag Hammarskjold, the bachelor UN secretary general who was not very friendly, Paula said: "The time has come for you to get married and make less trouble for us."
Paula was the wife who used to stand behind the curtain in the Knesset. As opposed to B-G, who hated Menachem Begin, she liked him. And Begin, like a Polish gentleman, would always kiss her hand. Paula would often say to B-G when they were with the family, "Why are you persecuting him? He's so nice." But she was not involved in politics, she was in charge of the family budget. B-G kept a comb and small mirror in his pocket, but not a wallet. She would fiercely protect his rest time, and if party hacks arrived while he was napping, she would chase them out and scold them.
Tzipora Sharett would stay out of the limelight, but in Sharett's diaries she is mentioned often, which proves that she served as a listening ear to him, and he respected her opinion. Miriam Eshkol, a Knesset librarian whom the widower Levi Eshkol married, was both involved and vocal. After the Six-Day War, Mariuma, as Eshkol called her, claimed that a putsch had been carried out against Eshkol when he was ousted from the defense portfolio. She kept a diary that she does not intend to publish, but she is still loyal and interprets him for biography writers.
Leah suited Yitzhak Rabin like a glove. He was the handsome Palmachnik with the basso profundo voice, and she was the girl with "the most beautiful legs in Hashomer Hatzair" - the Zionist youth movement. On the way to the top they complemented each other. He was shy by nature, and when he became prime minister she pushed him into high society. Neither of them - he with a glass of whisky in hand, she dressed in the latest fashion - missed a single event to which they were invited. Leah did not intervene in politics but was aware of her husband's interests. And although they often hosted important people, they did not forget their old friends. Rabin resigned from the premiership in 1977, when his wife was tried because of an unexplained $20,000 that was discovered in a bank in Washington, where Rabin had served as Israel's ambassador.
From the time he returned to power, Leah was always there for him, and after his assassination she made sure to perpetuate his name on every site she could. Loyal to the end, Leah loudly declared her anger at this writer because of a critical article about her exaggerated efforts to substitute Rabin for old and important names.
In his emotional speech on the night of the "upheaval," when he won the election after seven failures, Begin thanked his wife Aliza for "following me in the desert, in an unsown land." Aliza was not involved in politics, but she was with him all the way, more as a Siamese twin than a wife. Even in the underground, even during the long seven terms in the opposition. He burst out crying in Los Angeles when he was informed of her death. "Before my trip the doctor promised me that her life was not in danger," he said, crying bitterly.
Sara Netanyahu is very pedantic about cleanliness, often appears at her husband's side, whether or not it is necessary, and always smiles. She is so jealous that once when Limor Livnat had an appointment with Netanyahu, they wrote a man's name in the planning book in the Prime Minister's Office in case Sara took a peek. And she used to peek.
Sara is a woman with extreme political awareness. She brought from her childhood home a belief in Greater Israel and is involved in appointments in the PMO. Under other circumstances she could have been an MK instead of harassing her maid. As Claire Booth Luce - who came from the family that founded the Time Magazine group and served as a U.S. ambassador to Italy - once said: "If God had wanted us to think with our wombs, why did He give us a brain?" Sara's problem is not her brain, but her character.
YITZHAK LAOR / IS 'JEWISH PRIDE' ABETTING RACISM?
BY YITZHAK LAOR
A short while after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in an interview with The Spectator (on September 11, 2003) defended his support for the war despite the widespread opposition it had engendered in Italy. In responding to one question, Berlusconi employed a moral distinction between Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein. Mussolini, he said, did not kill.
A storm broke out and the Italian leader hastily apologized to the Jewish community in that country for his stupidity. And justifiably so. After all, under Mussolini not only were racist laws against the Jews passed, Jews were murdered for being Jews. However, when he apologized Berlusconi ignored the masses of Italians who had been tortured and murdered under Fascism, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the use of gas to massacre huge numbers of Ethiopians. He did not apologize for any of these acts.
Nor did the Jewish community in Italy demand that he apologize for them. They were interested only in the Jews who were murdered. Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Rome's main synagogue, where he belittled even this limited commitment.
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The visit was a milestone. Its significance stems from a process which began earlier, and at the conclusion of which Joseph Ratzinger will undoubtedly grant Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) the status of saint. That very same pope who remained silent as, a short walk from his residence, more than 1,000 of Rome's Jews who had been caught in a series of home raids on October 16, 1943 were sent to their deaths. The same happened throughout the entire war, as well as after it. Under his predecessor, Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli had played an important role in the 1930s in repressing German priests' opposition to Hitler.
In the culture of memory - in the name of which we'd naively thought that, as Jews, we had moral demands and red lines - Pius XII and his silence held important symbolic value. In 1942, Natan Alterman wrote: "And the ax by night and by day devours / and the Christian father in the city on high / from his holy palace does not emerge / to stand against the pogrom with his savior." We read that poem on memorial days, but our culture of memory - even as it becomes more fashionable throughout the rest of the world - manages to bend itself to those places where "it is worth our while." Their culture of memory has turned into our culture of memory.
It is true that some Jewish community leaders were absent from the ceremony in Rome, and it is true that the choir sang "I Believe in the Coming of the Messiah" which includes a defiance of Christianity ("even though he is lingering") - the tune for which was written in the Warsaw Ghetto before its composer was sent to his death in Treblinka. But what the religious text provided for the Jews of Rome, the community itself did not succeed in doing as a body with a moral stand.
And no wonder. The state of Israel also acts in this way. The pope is not the Turkish ambassador. His chair is not merely high, it is known as the Holy See. Israel will only remind him of the church's sins when he speaks out against the occupation.
The Holocaust has become part of Europe's new religion. Under its aegis, one has the right to hate foreigners and migrants. The greatest Islamophobes are also friends of Israel, and the Jewish communities for the most part do not dare to defend the victims of the "new" European racism - Muslims, Africans and Gypsies. Sometimes they consider this xenophobia to be some kind of "victory," as if the Jewish race has finally succeeded in joining the "white man's" bandwagon - something it was prevented from doing until the second half of the 20th century.
Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, who not only has a violent Fascist background (in the 1960s and '70s) but is also responsible for making racist statements in the present, is a good example of the new European. Where did he carry out his first "purifying" visit after being elected a year and a half ago? With the Jewish community, of course. And they were glad to receive him. The Italy of Berlusconi, of course, was quick to host Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the first of the Western European nations to do so.
Make no mistake - these are not Jews with a ghetto-like mentality. One can see, in this exact case, an example of the "Jewish pride" as it is understood by the proud and foolish members of our foreign ministry - who seat a Muslim ambassador on a low chair and maintain a prolonged silence - and the Jewish community in Rome, as the present pope dismantles the symbol of the evil of silence
NOW YOU REMEMBERED?
BY YOSSI SARID
The defense minister paid a visit to Turkey this week. They say it was a success. If so, it is possible to renew the conspiracy of silence and the silencing.
This is what happened a few months ago after Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again poured bitter words upon us. An important Israeli personality telephoned me and said the following: "Now you have to hit back at the Turks, to denounce them for the crimes they committed against the Armenians. You, Yossi, have the right to do so. Today you are a private citizen, but even when you were a public figure you did not hold yourself back. You expressed yourself often, in writing and orally, against the way they shirked responsibility for the genocide."
I was filled with revulsion and my soul wanted to puke. The person who telephoned me was an example of the ugly Israeli who had disgracefully been at the forefront of those who denied the Armenian holocaust. He was the one who had joined those who lashed out at the education minister at the time, who visited a church in Jerusalem ten years ago and told those gathered there: "The value of a human life, no matter who the human is - Jew, Arab, Armenian, Gypsy, Bosnian, Albanian, Rwandan - this is the value I want to inculcate all our pupils with. In the new history curriculum I want to include a central chapter on genocide, and as part of that, a broad reference to the Armenian genocide. This is our duty to you, this is our duty to ourselves."
The country was astir, and ministers began to sweat. Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres were the first to express reservations. This declaration, they quickly announced, was not made at the government's initiative; it was the initiative solely of the education minister and was his responsibility. I was ashamed.
New tunes have recently been heard in Jerusalem: "The Turks are the last ones who have the right to teach us ethics." It would be interesting to know who the first ones are. There obviously are not any when referring to the "most moral" state and army "in the world." If the Turks try to teach us, we shall slap them - and hard.
I never understood why young Turkey, which had no hand in that bloodshed, insists on defending the blood of its forefathers. Would too deep an exploration of the past reveal signs of the present? When someone tries forcibly to erase history, that history will usually insist on being rewritten, and in blood.
But it is not only the politicians. Experts in public and political affairs are also clamoring to take the skeletons out of the Turkish closet, more than one million skeletons, to be exact.
Those who never wasted a word on the first genocide of the 20th century have suddenly remembered it. This is the genocide that Henry Morgenthau, Sr. defined as "the greatest crime in modern history." He was the American ambassador to Ankara during those black years, and he was a Jew.
I shall reveal to you what my response was to the agitated caller. "Now you remembered? Only now, when they attribute crimes to you as if you were Turks? I do not believe in a firing squad, so deal with Erdogan yourselves; you deserve him. How sad it is that you conceded a moral position for other interests that are brought about by time and finished also by time." And now I have an addendum to that response of mine: Let us assume that Turkey will renew its ties with Israel to what they were in the past. Then what? What then? Will we also renew our contribution to the denial of the Armenian holocaust?
THE WEST'S 'PRINCIPLE OF HEIGHT'
BY EMMANUEL SIVAN
Thirty years ago, Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said published his highly influential book "Orientalism" in which he accused Middle Eastern studies of being nothing more than a tool in the hands of imperialism. Middle Eastern scholars suffer from essentialism, he claimed. They suffer from the belief that the East (and/or Islam and/or Arabism) has had one fixed cultural essence throughout history, different from that of Western culture - an emotional and irrational essence, foreign to the scientific approach, based on patriarchal oppression and characterized by xenophobia.
Many Middle Eastern scholars were forced to admit among themselves that even if Said had exaggerated, their discipline has a tendency toward generalization regarding the East's characteristics. Bernard Lewis, who was a main target of Said's attacks, told me in 1983 with an ironic smile: "Something good came of it after all; because of Said we have all become more cautious."
Have we really? From time to time the old essentialist approach rears its head. In the wake of Danny Ayalon's meeting with the Turkish ambassador, Middle Eastern scholars tried to explain the deputy foreign minister's behavior in terms of "the Eastern mentality." One of them claimed on a news site that Muslim culture is dominated by what he calls the "principle of height." Islam always wants to be in a position of superiority, both metaphorically and practically, so placing a Muslim in an inferior position, certainly in public, is a severe blow to him. In fact, Muslim law prohibits the building of churches and synagogues higher than the surrounding mosques, whereas the minarets that are now cropping up in Europe dwarf the towers of nearby churches. He also used as proof the skyscrapers in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.
That Middle Eastern scholar meant well - he wanted to calm rather than incite. He criticized Ayalon for not being aware of Muslim sensitivities to matters of height - anyone who humiliates a Muslim representative in this vein only exacerbates the conflict between Turkey and Israel over the past year or so.
The intention is good, but the argument is shaky. The horizons of Italian cities are full of bell towers; once again, the "principle of height," in a Catholic country rather than a Muslim one. Why? Because the Islamic countries and Italy share the same medieval past, which is expressed in what is called "hierarchical tolerance." In other words, the culture (or religion, or civilization) under discussion is the epitome of perfection, superior to all its predecessors and contemporaries, whether because of a divine mission or its material achievements. Those who say this admit that in addition to their culture there are other cultures that may be inferior but share part of the divine heritage and are entitled to a certain physical and spiritual existence.
The first signs of modern tolerance appeared in the West only in the 17th century, with the writings of Baruch Spinoza and John Locke. These philosophers developed the idea of a more egalitarian, skeptical and relativist tolerance; an idea based on the assumption that all human beings are prone to error, so there must be defects and shortcomings in every belief system. There is no monopoly on the truth. Therefore we must be tolerant toward one another and enable freedom of expression, worship and association.
These were the first signs. The process of accepting these ideas in the West was long and painful, lasting more than 300 years. It reached Eastern Europe only in 1989.
That means that the West is not tolerant and rational in its essence, but rather a dynamic phenomenon. The same is true of the Muslim "East." But in the world of Islam the process of development toward modern tolerance is slower, more tortuous and includes regressions to the medieval version; for example, the appearance of Islamic fanatics. Only certain sectors of the Muslim world are currently imbued with the values of modernity; in others we find a mixture of the old and new, or only the old. These sectors' strength differs from one Muslim country to another.
This is a complex situation further complicated by the fact that in Europe itself there has been a regression to values belonging to the past, and the "principle of height" is appearing there once again - but in a Western version. The Swiss held a referendum on minarets because according to its initiator, the billionaire industrialist and politician Christoph Blocher, "The minarets interrupt the Christian horizon," which he called "the trademark of our culture." Blocher did not mention that in Switzerland only four minarets have been built. The party of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France is now trying to ride the ugly Swiss wave. "The tangible danger to French secularism," according to Le Pen, is reflected in the construction of minarets. How many minarets have been built in France? Only 12.
It turns out that the meeting of the deputy minister and the Turkish ambassador is not a matter of Muslim mentality, but simply of humiliation - which according to any universal criterion is a blow to human dignity.
BEWARE OF MAYORS WITH 'NEW POLICIES'
BY ORLY NOY
For six years, the skyline of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan has been marred by a high-rise adorned with an Israeli flag running the length of its entire seven stories. It was built without a permit in 2004 by the Ateret Cohanim association, and an evacuation-and-seal order against it has been awaiting implementation for the past three years.
Called Beit Yehonatan (Jonathan's House), after Jonathan Pollard, who's now serving a life sentence in the United States for spying for Israel, the building stands out like a sore thumb against the neighborhood's Palestinian-owned houses, which, by planning regulations, cannot be more than two stories high. This structure stands out in blunt defiance not only of the Palestinian area whose heart it occupies, but also of the rule of law, which is apparently unable to impose itself on the building's backers who, it turns out, include restless politicians who employ dubious methods to prevent the court order from being executed.
Attorney Yossi Havilio, legal advisor to the Jerusalem Municipality, has testified in writing more than once about having come under serious pressure from past and present Knesset members and senior city hall officials, who demanded that he "kasher" Beit Yehonatan. The attorney general has also severely criticized the fact that political elements have intervened in favor of legalizing the building. Presently, however, it continues to stand tall and is occupied by settlers belonging to a much larger group of about 80 Jewish families, who have moved to Silwan in an attempt to "Judaize" the area of the so-called holy basin encompassing the Old City.
For Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, this is a very embarrassing state of affairs. The mayor, who has vowed to uphold the rule of law, in the name of which he has demolished dozens of "illegal" Palestinian buildings in the city, was seeking an honorable way out of this situation - trying to avoid the evacuation of Beit Yehonatan, on the one hand, while maintaining a pretense of legality and equality, on the other.
Eventually, a creative solution was found: The municipality came up with "a new planning policy" regarding East Jerusalem, which is supposed to provide, according to Barkat, "a very significant increase in the number of floors and construction percentages allowed." It is no accident that the city chose the region of Beit Yehonatan as a "pilot" for this new policy.
Nevertheless, a meticulous examination of the East Jerusalem construction planning situation reveals that while the "new policy" will probably save the existing Beit Yehonatan, it is almost totally inapplicable when it comes to proposals for new construction submitted by Palestinian residents there. This is due to the unattainable conditions they will need to meet before receiving approval from the authorities. For example, applicants must prove ownership of the plot they wish to build on, something that's nearly impossible due to the absence of an orderly land registration system in this part of the city. They also have to meet impossible parking standards.
Furthermore, construction permits are conditional on the existence of a proper sewerage system in East Jerusalem, which to date lacks 70 kilometers of main sewage pipes. Applicants need to show that standard access roads to the site exist, although the State of Israel has not paved a single new road within the city's Arab neighborhoods since 1967. These types of infrastructure are basic services provided elsewhere in Israel, including in Jewish Jerusalem, by the authorities as a matter of course - but not in East Jerusalem, where the responsibility for providing them has devolved onto the shoulders of the residents.
In light of this reality, Barkat's statements are mere lip service that is meant to legalize Beit Yehonatan retroactively, without offering a real planning solution to the chaotic situation that has prevailed in East Jerusalem for more than four decades.
Yakir Segev, who holds the portfolio for East Jerusalem in the municipality, admitted, in a recent moment of candor, that the State of Israel has effectively waived its sovereignty over Jerusalem neighborhoods that fall on the eastern side of the security wall. In truth, the city might as well admit that it is renouncing its responsibilities for ALL of its Palestinian residents, although they account for more than one-third of its population.
It is important to stress that these are not merely bureaucratic technicalities. In Silwan, just like in Sheikh Jarrah, legal and municipal regulations are used to promote an extreme political agenda, which aims to dictate a new geopolitical reality in the area. This bluntly exceeds Barkat's mandate as a mayor, even of the "eternally united capital of Israel."
Orly Noy is the spokeswoman of the Jerusalem-based advocacy group Ir Amim.
BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
BERLIN - The end of each January is punctuated by Holocaust commemoration events across Europe, and this year, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, should be no different. Yet in recent years, Shoah remembrance has come to resemble a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where people perform numbing rituals instead of undertaking the uncomfortable and dirty business of combating contemporary anti-Semitism.
The fear of contamination underlies the obsessive-compulsive's ritual of repeatedly washing hands, and in the same way, many participants and organizers of Holocaust memorial events immerse themselves in a feel-good compulsion devoid of a connection to reality. The OCD sufferer, however, often knows his repetitive behavior is nonsensical and irrational, even if he cannot resist it.
The fluffy exercises intended to preserve the memory of the victims of Nazism - and to symbolize an anti-fascist attitude - are not limited to the events surrounding International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. Many policy makers, academics and politicians in Germany seem to be consumed year-round with preventing harm to dead Jews, but one wonders if this doesn't come at the expense of focusing on threats to living ones. Petra Pau, a Left Party MP in the Bundestag, frequently reports on her parliamentary investigations into vandalized Jewish cemeteries in Germany. Yet Pau avoids criticizing members of her party who equate Israel with Nazi Germany, or attended pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah rallies during Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War. Wolfgang Gehrcke, for example, her party's spokesman on foreign policy matters, is a frequent participant in such Israel hate festivals.
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Gehrcke is hardly alone. When more than 100,000 Germans participated in rallies organized by German Muslim organizations a year ago during Israel's incursion into Gaza - demonstrations that included incitement to the crowds to chant "Kill, kill Jews" and "Kill, kill Israelis" - not a single German MP was willing to initiate a parliamentary investigation.
The pressing problem is that mainstream German society has an obsolete understanding of anti-Semitism. As long as you do not subscribe to the eliminationist views of Hitler's inner circle, it seems, you are exonerated from being considered anti-Jewish. Yet mushrooming anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments are confirmed by statistical reality.
A 2009 study by Bielefeld University showed a spike in Jew-hatred in Germany and unsettlingly high rates across Europe of contemporary anti-Semitism - an intense loathing of the Jewish state coupled with a guilty-defensive reaction to the crimes of the Shoah that throws the blame back onto the Jews. According to the study, 41.2 percent of Europeans agreed with the statement that Jews are exploiting the Holocaust to advance their own interests, and 45.7 percent of respondents supported the contention that Israel in general "is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians."
To further compound the disconnect between the compulsion toward empty ceremonies and the authentic need to combat contemporary anti-Semitism, the Bundestag passed a resolution in November 2008, during the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, to create a governmental commission to monitor anti-Semitic crimes.
Perhaps the commission should begin by examining its own members' attitudes. One member, Elke Gryglewski, from the House of the Wannsee Conference museum (the site where the Nazis planned the extermination of European Jewry), reportedly said at a recent meeting that Holocaust survivors are "not objective and too emotional" to help in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Juliane Wetzel, another commission member and a scholar at the controversial Berlin Center for Research on Anti-Semitism, blasted Jewish critics of the panel and of her work, arguing that she would not allow herself "to be blackmailed by lobby groups." "Lobby group" is code for pro-Israel organizations here, and is considered pejorative.
Many Germans and Europeans take the path of least resistance by indulging a fetish with commemorative events and deceased Jews. Living Diaspora Jews and Israelis, however, are inconvenient: They are a reminder of the horrors of the extermination camps and are frequently willing to flex their muscles regarding new manifestations of anti-Semitism and to draw connections from the political and moral lessons of the Nazi era for the here and now.
The therapeutic gold standard for treating OCD is a therapy called "exposure and response prevention." A healthy dose of confrontation with Islamic anti-Semitism and mainstream European anti-Semites would do more to advance the security of Diaspora Jews and Israelis than the ubiquitous Holocaust remembrance events. That would also entail response prevention - namely, a shift away from ritualized commemoration. Shoah remembrance that also inspires Europeans to name Jew-haters as anti-Semites, as well as criticize the double standards that routinely single Israel out as the punching bag of the United Nations, is the first step in a prudent therapy.
Benjamin Weinthal is a journalist working in Berlin.
HAVE A SAFE TRIP, MOHAMMED
BY MOHAMMAD DARAWSHE
The announcement of MK Mohammed Barakeh of his intention to join the parliamentary delegation to Auschwitz next week has ignited a heated discussion in Israel's Arabic press.
Many saw this as a positive step, following efforts by other members of the Arab community to reach out to the Jewish community and improve relations between the two groups. Such efforts include the establishment of a small Holocaust museum in Nazareth, and the visit of 260 Israeli Arab and Jewish clerics, municipal leaders and educators to Auschwitz in May 2003, led by Bishop Emile Shoufani. Shoufani's visit sparked controversy, and Barakeh, head of Hadash, one of the largest Arab parties, has now added more fuel to the fire with his decision. Almost half of the responses in the media have been negative - and many are due to political rivalries - with most of the opposition centering on the visit itself, its meaning, timing and framework.
Barakeh's announcement has not yet ignited similar debate among Israeli Jews. A few extreme right-wing groups have called upon him not to travel, claiming that a Palestinian has no place in a formal Israeli parliamentary visit to such a symbolic place, and demanding that the Knesset speaker ban Barakeh's participation.
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However, Barakeh, who comes from a Palestinian family that was forced to flee from the village of Safuriya, can offer a possible bridge between the Jewish and Palestinian narratives. Safuriya was destroyed by Jewish forces in 1948, and today (Moshav) Tzippori stands on its ruins. Barakeh says that we need not compare the Holocaust with the Palestinians' tragic history, but he believes Arabs and Jews must understand the significance the events have for each population. He is taking a courageous step toward helping both sides confront traditional stereotypical conceptions of each other. A photo of Barakeh looking at the remnants of the place where so many Jews were murdered, and his expressions of empathy, should have a touching impact on Jewish souls.
The Jewish public often sees Arab MKs as representatives of the enemy and blames them for exploiting and increasing the tension between the two communities. The Jews may see Arab politicians as provocative representatives of the Palestinians, while believing that the legislators should focus solely on their own domestic and civil-rights concerns, rather than broader regional issues. In fact, Arab lawmakers do spend the majority of their time on internal matters, even if this is not reflected in the Hebrew media.
The country's Arab citizens are probably split down the middle regarding Barakeh's trip, but many of those who oppose it have suggested that it is too soon to show empathy for Israel's Jews, as they are responsible for continued discrimination and marginalization of the country's Arabs, not to mention the ongoing oppression of their Palestinian brethren in the occupied territories.
Others see Barakeh's participation in a parliamentary delegation as problematic because they fear it may be seen as signaling acceptance of the Jewish narrative, and thus strengthening the argument that the Jews - not the Palestinians - are the victims of history. Some Arabs believe that empathetic gestures should be made by Israel's majority, not by its minority, and that such a step by an Arab politician should be a "prize" given to the Jews only after they have demonstrated understanding of and offered equality to Arab citizens.
My sympathies, however, are with those who argue that the responsibility for building a shared society lays not only on the shoulders of the Jews, but also upon those of the people who have the most to gain from a more equitable society: the Arab minority in Israel. We should take responsibility for our destiny and not wait until the Jews decide what to do with us.
At the same time, we need to challenge stereotypes. The Arab citizen should not be viewed by Jews solely through security or political lenses, but also as a human being who can empathize with his fellow citizens, as a person with an open mind and heart, and as an intellectual who asks difficult questions not only of the "other," but also of himself.
Barakeh's decision is therefore not only courageous, but also a smart political move, one with the potential to help change social, political and national discourse about the status of the Arabs in Israel. Today, Arab MKs are not considered legitimate partners for a government coalition. Maybe that taboo can be broken. Maybe now, Barakeh and his Arab peers in the Knesset will gain more legitimacy and access to the Hebrew media. Maybe now, Arab MKs will start talking to the Jewish community, and maybe that community will begin to listen.
Have a safe trip, Mohammed Barakeh, and may you return with renewed strength. Your job is now more meaningful than ever: You are on the front line of dialogue, and not of an argument with the Jewish community. It is a dialogue that has been lacking since the shooting of 13 Arab citizens by Israeli police during the clashes of October 2000. We now remain with the question of who will be your partner in this tango on the Jewish side, and how many within the Arab community will support your move.
Mohammad Darawshe is the co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives (abrahamfund.org).
BY DIMITRI CAVALLI
Some things never go away. The controversy over Pope Pius XII's actions during World War II was recently reignited when Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree affirming that his predecessor displayed "heroic virtues" during his lifetime. When the pope visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on Sunday, Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome's Jewish community, told him: "The silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done."
This was not the first time the wartime pope, who is now a step closer to beatification, has been accused of keeping silent during the Holocaust, of doing little or nothing to help the Jews, and even of collaborating with the Nazis. To what extent, if any, does the evidence back up these allegations, which have been repeated since the early 1960s?
On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state, instructed the papal nuncio in Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies.
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On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an encyclical, entitled "Mit brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Anxiety"), that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church. The encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits on March 21, 1937.
Although many Vatican critics today dismiss the encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an official in the German foreign ministry, wrote that the "encyclical contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German government, calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the state, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace."
Both Great Britain and France should have interpreted the document as a warning that they should not trust Adolf Hitler or try to appease him.
After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased with the new pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: "Midday with the Fuehrer. He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as pope."
During the war, the pope was far from silent: In numerous speeches and encyclicals, he championed human rights for all people and called on the belligerent nations to respect the rights of all civilians and prisoners of war. Unlike many of the pope's latter-day detractors, the Nazis understood him very well. After studying Pius XII's 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security Office concluded: "In a manner never known before the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order ... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." (Pick up any book that criticizes Pius XII, and you won't find any mention of this important report.)
In early 1940, the pope acted as an intermediary between a group of German generals who wanted to overthrow Hitler and the British government. Although the conspiracy never went forward, Pius XII kept in close contact with the German resistance and heard about two other plots against Hitler. In the fall of 1941, through diplomatic channels, the pope agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that America's Catholics could support the president's plans to extend military aid to the Soviet Union after it was invaded by the Nazis. On behalf of the Vatican, John T. McNicholas, the archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered a well-publicized address that explained that the extension of assistance to the Soviets could be morally justified because it helped the Russian people, who were the innocent victims of German aggression.
Throughout the war, the pope's deputies frequently ordered the Vatican's diplomatic representatives in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered Jews. Up until Pius XII's death in 1958, many Jewish organizations, newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples, in his April 7, 1944, letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Alexander Shafran, chief rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews ... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."
The campaign against Pope Pius XII is doomed to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges against him - that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews - with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation.
Dimitri Cavalli is an editor and writer in New York City. He is working on books on both Pope Pius XII and Joe McCarthy, the late manager of the New York Yankees.s
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE COURT'S BLOW TO DEMOCRACY
With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court's conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.
Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.
As a result of Thursday's ruling, corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We'll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.
The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission radically reverses well-established law and erodes a wall that has stood for a century between corporations and electoral politics. (The ruling also frees up labor unions to spend, though they have far less money at their disposal.)
The founders of this nation warned about the dangers of corporate influence. The Constitution they wrote mentions many things and assigns them rights and protections the people, militias, the press, religions. But it does not mention corporations.
In 1907, as corporations reached new heights of wealth and power, Congress made its views of the relationship between corporations and campaigning clear: It banned them from contributing to candidates. At midcentury, it enacted the broader ban on spending that was repeatedly reaffirmed over the decades until it was struck down on Thursday.
This issue should never have been before the court. The justices overreached and seized on a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 campaign. The court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity, and it scheduled arguments during its vacation.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., no doubt aware of how sharply these actions clash with his confirmation-time vow to be judicially modest and simply "call balls and strikes," wrote a separate opinion trying to excuse the shameless judicial overreaching.
The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.
The majority also makes the nonsensical claim that, unlike campaign contributions, which are still prohibited, independent expenditures by corporations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." If Wall Street bankers told members of Congress that they would spend millions of dollars to defeat anyone who opposed their bailout, and then did so, it would certainly look corrupt.
After the court heard the case, Senator John McCain told reporters that he was troubled by the "extreme naïveté" some of the justices showed about the role of special-interest money in Congressional lawmaking.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the ruling not only threatens democracy but "will, I fear, do damage to this institution." History is, indeed, likely to look harshly not only on the decision but the court that delivered it. The Citizens United ruling is likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore. With one 5-to-4 decision, the court's conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.
Congress and members of the public who care about fair elections and clean government need to mobilize right
away, a cause President Obama has said he would join. Congress should repair the presidential public finance system and create another one for Congressional elections to help ordinary Americans contribute to campaigns. It should also enact a law requiring publicly traded corporations to get the approval of their shareholders before spending on political campaigns.
These would be important steps, but they would not be enough. The real solution lies in getting the court's ruling overturned. The four dissenters made an eloquent case for why the decision was wrong on the law and dangerous. With one more vote, they could rescue democracy.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SUNNIS AND IRAQ'S ELECTION
We had hoped that the March 7 parliamentary elections would prove the growing maturity of Iraq's fragile democracy and set the country on a stable path as American combat troops get ready for this summer's planned withdrawal. Instead, the process unfolding is disgracefully unfair and roiling dangerous sectarian tensions.
Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission unleashed an electoral hand grenade this month when it disqualified some 500 (out of 6,500) candidates many of them prominent Sunni Muslims because of alleged ties to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Among those ordered off the ballot: Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of Iraq's most influential Sunni politicians. The decision was ratified last week by Iraq's electoral commission.
Sunnis are understandably furious. After boycotting or battling the Shiite-dominated governments for much of the last seven years, Sunni leaders have been struggling to find a constructive new role.
The worst of Mr. Hussein's henchmen should be held accountable for past repression. But there is little doubt that many if not most of the disqualifications are politically motivated and intended to disenfranchise Sunnis. Although Mr. Mutlaq openly solicits support from Mr. Hussein's admirers, he was permitted to run for Parliament in 2005. And Mr. Obeidi has performed competently and loyally as defense minister.
The accountability commission is the successor to the destructive de-Baathification commission that sought to keep anyone with ties to Mr. Hussein out of government. Its chief, Ali Faisal al-Lami, is hardly an impartial judge. He is a candidate on the slate led by the Shiite leader Ahmed Chalabi, a relentlessly ambitious force in Iraqi politics who lured the Bush administration into the 2003 invasion and wants to be prime minister.
Both the accountability and the election commissions are part of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's government, and he issued a statement supporting their decisions. But American officials say Mr. Chalabi is the main manipulator. Mr. Chalabi's absurd charge that the United States wants to return the Baath Party to power is typical of his divisive and destructive brand of politics.
There are other reasons to fault the process. Many Iraqis rightly question the legality of both commissions and their procedures, including a disturbing lack of transparency about who was disqualified and why. The ability to ban candidates is a serious authority that must be exercised openly, judiciously and rarely.
The Obama administration needs to keep pressing Iraqis to find a compromise that would allow the fullest list of candidates, including Mr. Mutlaq and Mr. Obeidi, to run. It still has leverage over Baghdad including billions in aid and the ability to fulfill or deny the Iraqi government's desire to purchase sophisticated weapons like F-16s. It must use that leverage. Iraqis have learned to play hardball politics. That is far better than fighting in the streets. But it should mean besting adversaries at the ballot box not denying them the chance to run. If Sunnis are arbitrarily excluded, the entire election will be compromised. Even worse, the Sunnis may conclude, once again, that there is no role for them in Iraqi politics. That would be a disaster.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE PARTY OF NOPE
Here is the latest from the Grand Old Party: After years of eagerly enabling the Bush administration's deficit spending and record debt, Republicans in Congress are dusting off their budget hawk costumes and suddenly demanding fiscal responsibility for the nation. In this scenery-chewing role, they are not just denying their own profligate history, but they hardly seem to be serious. Take their reaction to President Obama's proposal for a bipartisan commission to tackle debt and budget threats.
"It's a nothing-burger," said Senator Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee. He said he finds the proposal for a commission of 10 Democratic and eight Republican experts de facto partisan, and prefers any panel be created and controlled in Congress (where Senate Republicans feast on serial filibustering). Representative John Boehner, the House minority leader, suggested Republicans would simply boycott posts on the commission, asking why provide political cover for panicky Democrats.
Unabashedly feckless, the Republican Party aims to rise from the Congressional minority by brandishing a political agenda of just saying no. As in no to health care reform. (Their new senator-elect from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, ran outright on a promise to be the latest to shoot down health care.) No to global warming repairs; no to real reform of Wall Street; no, in fact, to any act of creative opposition.
The proposed commission would make recommendations for facing the most politically painful decisions about how to rein in programs and raise revenues as the national debt rises. The proposal is occasioned by an election-year fight that's heating up over the current deficit, a good part of which is because of Bush administration spending on such wasteful exercises as the Iraq war. Don't expect the No Party to own up to their past red ink.
Sooner or later constituents must wonder how far Republicans can take pure opposition as a political philosophy without offering believable program alternatives. The party should remember how Speaker Newt Gingrich got into a fight with the Clinton White House over the budget and debt limit, and then played a game of political chicken in which he precipitated a government shutdown in 1995. He did not fare well.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DO THE RIGHT THING
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history.
Tuesday's Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election means that Democrats can't send a modified health care bill back to the Senate. That's a shame because the bill that would have emerged from House-Senate negotiations would have been better than the bill the Senate has already passed. But the Senate bill is much, much better than nothing. And all that has to happen to make it law is for the House to pass the same bill, and send it to President Obama's desk.
Right now, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, says that she doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate bill. But there is no good alternative.
Some are urging Democrats to scale back their proposals in the hope of gaining Republican support. But anyone who thinks that would work must have spent the past year living on another planet.
The fact is that the Senate bill is a centrist document, which moderate Republicans should find entirely acceptable. In fact, it's very similar to the plan Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts just a few years ago. Yet it has faced lock-step opposition from the G.O.P., which is determined to prevent Democrats from achieving any successes. Why would this change now that Republicans think they're on a roll?
Alternatively, some call for breaking the health care plan into pieces so that the Senate can vote the popular pieces into law. But anyone who thinks that would work hasn't paid attention to the actual policy issues.
Think of health care reform as being like a three-legged stool. You would, rightly, ridicule anyone who proposed saving money by leaving off one or two of the legs. Well, those who propose doing only the popular pieces of health care reform deserve the same kind of ridicule. Reform won't work unless all the essential pieces are in place.
Suppose, for example, that Congress took the advice of those who want to ban insurance discrimination on the
basis of medical history, and stopped there. What would happen next? The answer, as any health care economist will tell you, is that if Congress didn't simultaneously require that healthy people buy insurance, there would be a "death spiral": healthier Americans would choose not to buy insurance, leading to high premiums for those who remain, driving out more people, and so on.
And if Congress tried to avoid the death spiral by requiring that healthy Americans buy insurance, it would have to offer financial aid to lower-income families to make that insurance affordable aid at least as generous as that in the Senate bill. There just isn't any way to do reform on a smaller scale.
So reaching out to Republicans won't work, and neither will trying to pass only the crowd-pleasing pieces of reform. What about the suggestion that Democrats use reconciliation the Senate procedure for finalizing budget legislation, which bypasses the filibuster to enact health reform?
That's a real option, which may become necessary (and could be used to improve the Senate bill after the fact). But reconciliation, which is basically limited to matters of taxing and spending, probably can't be used to enact many important aspects of reform. In fact, it's not even clear if it could be used to ban discrimination based on medical history.
Finally, some Democrats want to just give up on the whole thing.
That would be an act of utter political folly. It wouldn't protect Democrats from charges that they voted for "socialist" health care remember, both houses of Congress have already passed reform. All it would do is solidify the public perception of Democrats as hapless and ineffectual.
And anyway, politics is supposed to be about achieving something more than your own re-election. America desperately needs health care reform; it would be a betrayal of trust if Democrats fold simply because they hope (wrongly) that this would slightly reduce their losses in the midterm elections.
Now, part of Democrats' problem since Tuesday's special election has been that they have been waiting in vain
for leadership from the White House, where Mr. Obama has conspicuously failed to rise to the occasion.
But members of Congress, who were sent to Washington to serve the public, don't have the right to hide behind the president's passivity.
Bear in mind that the horrors of health insurance outrageous premiums, coverage denied to those who need it most and dropped when you actually get sick will get only worse if reform fails, and insurance companies know that they're off the hook. And voters will blame politicians who, when they had a chance to do something, made excuses instead.
Ladies and gentlemen, the nation is waiting. Stop whining, and do what needs to be done.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
POLITICS IN THE AGE OF DISTRUST
BY DAVID BROOKS
In November 2008, William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck wrote a report called "Change You Can Believe In Needs a Government You Can Trust." Galston and Kamarck, who served in senior positions in the Clinton administration, threw up some warning flags for the incoming Obama administration.
Despite the Democratic triumph that month, they noted, public distrust of government remains intensely high. Historically, it has been nearly impossible to pass major domestic reforms in the face of that kind of distrust. Therefore, they counseled, the new administration should move cautiously to rebuild trust before beginning a transformational agenda.
The Obama administration interpreted the political climate in an entirely different way. As John F. Harris and Carol E. Lee wrote in a smart piece in Politico on Wednesday, the administration interpreted the 2008 election as a rejection of not only George W. Bush-style conservatism, but also Bill Clinton-style moderation. The country was ready for a New Deal-size change. It had a leader in Barack Obama who could uniquely inspire a national transformation.
As happens every four years, hubris defeated caution, and the administration began its big-bang approach.
As always, it backfired. Instead of building trust in government, the Democrats have magnified distrust. The country already believed Washington is out of touch with its core concerns. So while most families were concerned about jobs, Democrats in Washington spent nine months arguing about health care. The country was already tired of self-serving back-room deals, so the Democrats negotiated a series of dirty deals with the pharmaceutical industry, the unions and certain senators. Americans already felt Washington doesn't understand their fears and insecurities. So at the moment when economic insecurity was at its peak, the Democrats in Washington added another layer of insecurity by threatening to change everything at once.
Instead of building a new majority, the Democrats have set off a distrust insurrection (which is not the same as a conservative insurrection). Republicans are enraged. Independents are furious. Democrats are disheartened. Health care reform is brutally unpopular. Even voters in Massachusetts decided it was time to send a message.
The Democrats now have four bad options. The first is what you might call the Heedless and Arrogant Approach. A clear majority of Americans are against the Congressional health care reform plan. Democrats could say: We know this is unpopular, but we think it is good policy and we are going to ram it through and you voters can judge us by the results.
The second route is what you might call the Weak and Feckless Approach. Democrats could say: We have received and respect the message voters are sending. We are not going to shove the biggest social transformation in a generation down the throats of a country that has judged and rejected it. We are not going to concentrate immense new powers in a Washington the country detests.
Instead, we will regroup and reorganize. Perhaps we will try incremental reforms. Perhaps we will use federal money to support a series of state reform efforts like the one in Massachusetts which are closer to the people. (In 2007, Russ Feingold, a Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican, co-sponsored the State-Based Health Care Reform Act to spark this kind of local experimentation.)
The third approach is the Dangerous and Demagogic Approach. This begins with the presumption that what Americans really want is a bunch of pseudopopulists to tell them they can have everything for free. This would mean stripping the health bills of anything that might be unpopular like Medicare cuts and tax increases and passing the rest regardless of the cost.
The fourth approach is the Incoherent and Internecine Approach. This would involve settling on no coherent policy but just blaming each other for cowardice and stupidity for the next month. Liberals, who make up 20 percent of the country, could complain because they didn't get their version of reform. The Senate and the House could bash each other. The intelligentsia could bash the public.
Right now, Incoherent and Internecine is winning, but the hard choice is between the first two approaches. Galston, ironically, now supports Heedless and Arrogant. It was a mistake to rush into health care, he believes, but now that the party is down the road it would be suicide to turn back. Democrats should stand for what they believe in. If the policy works, then public trust will follow.
I support the Weak and Feckless Approach. Trust is based on mutual respect and reciprocity. If, at this moment of rage and cynicism, the ruling class goes even further and snubs popular opinion, then that will set off an ugly, destructive, and yet fully justified popular rebellion. Trust in government will be irrevocably broken. It will decimate policy-making for a generation.
These are the choices ahead. Have a nice day.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TO HEAL HAITI, LOOK TO HISTORY, NOT NATURE
BY MARK DANNER
HAITI is everybody's cherished tragedy. Long before the great earthquake struck the country like a vengeful god, the outside world, and Americans especially, described, defined, marked Haiti most of all by its suffering. Epithets of misery clatter after its name like a ball and chain: Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One of the poorest on earth. For decades Haiti's formidable immiseration has made it among outsiders an object of fascination, wonder and awe. Sometimes the pity that is attached to the land and we see this increasingly in the news coverage this past week attains a tone almost sacred, as if Haiti has taken its place as a kind of sacrificial victim among nations, nailed in its bloody suffering to the cross of unending destitution.
And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti's pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti's harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.
In 1804 the free Republic of Haiti was declared in almost unimaginable triumph: hard to exaggerate the glory of that birth. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans had labored to make Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was then known, the richest colony on earth, a vastly productive slave-powered factory producing tons upon tons of sugar cane, the 18th-century's great cash crop. For pre-Revolutionary France, Haiti was an inexhaustible cash cow, floating much of its economy. Generation after generation, the second sons of the great French families took ship for Saint-Domingue to preside over the sugar plantations, enjoy the favors of enslaved African women and make their fortunes.
Even by the standards of the day, conditions in Saint-Domingue's cane fields were grisly and brutal; slaves died young, and in droves; they had few children. As exports of sugar and coffee boomed, imports of fresh Africans boomed with them. So by the time the slaves launched their great revolt in 1791, most of those half-million blacks had been born in Africa, spoke African languages, worshipped African gods.
In an immensely complex decade-long conflict, these African slave-soldiers, commanded by legendary leaders like Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defeated three Western armies, including the unstoppable superpower of the day, Napoleonic France. In an increasingly savage war "Burn houses! Cut off heads!" was the slogan of Dessalines the slaves murdered their white masters, or drove them from the land.
On Jan. 1, 1804, when Dessalines created the Haitian flag by tearing the white middle from the French tricolor, he achieved what even Spartacus could not: he had led to triumph the only successful slave revolt in history. Haiti became the world's first independent black republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Alas, the first such republic, the United States, despite its revolutionary creed that "all men are created equal," looked upon these self-freed men with shock, contempt and fear. Indeed, to all the great Western trading powers of the day much of whose wealth was built on the labor of enslaved Africans Haiti stood as a frightful example of freedom carried too far. American slaveholders desperately feared that Haiti's fires of revolt would overleap those few hundred miles of sea and inflame their own human chattel.
For this reason, the United States refused for nearly six decades even to recognize Haiti. (Abraham Lincoln finally did so in 1862.) Along with the great colonial powers, America instead rewarded Haiti's triumphant slaves with a suffocating trade embargo and a demand that in exchange for peace the fledgling country pay enormous reparations to its former colonial overseer. Having won their freedom by force of arms, Haiti's former slaves would be made to purchase it with treasure.
The new nation, its fields burned, its plantation manors pillaged, its towns devastated by apocalyptic war, was crushed by the burden of these astronomical reparations, payments that, in one form or another, strangled its economy for more than a century. It was in this dark aftermath of war, in the shadow of isolation and contempt, that Haiti's peculiar political system took shape, mirroring in distorted form, like a wax model placed too close to the fire, the slave society of colonial times.
At its apex, the white colonists were supplanted by a new ruling class, made up largely of black and mulatto officers. Though these groups soon became bitter political rivals, they were as one in their determination to maintain in independent Haiti the cardinal principle of governance inherited from Saint-Domingue: the brutal predatory extraction of the country's wealth by a chosen powerful few.
The whites on their plantations had done this directly, exploiting the land they owned with the forced labor of their slaves. But the slaves had become soldiers in a victorious revolution, and those who survived demanded as their reward a part of the rich land on which they had labored and suffered. Soon after independence most of the great plantations were broken up, given over to the former slaves, establishing Haiti as a nation of small landowners, one whose isolated countryside remained, in language, religion and culture, largely African.
Unable to replace the whites in their plantation manors, Haiti's new elite moved from owning the land to fighting to control the one institution that could tax its products: the government. While the freed slaves worked their small fields, the powerful drew off the fruits of their labor through taxes. In this disfigured form the colonial philosophy endured: ruling had to do not with building or developing the country but with extracting its wealth. "Pluck the chicken," proclaimed Dessalines now Emperor Jacques I "but don't make it scream."
In 1806, two years after independence, the emperor was bayoneted by a mostly mulatto cabal of officers. Haitian history became the immensely complex tale of factional struggles to control the state, with factions often defined by an intricate politics of skin color. There was no method of succession ultimately recognized as legitimate, no tradition of loyal opposition. Politics was murderous, operatic, improvisational. Instability alternated with autocracy. The state was battled over and won; Haiti's wealth, once seized, purchased allegiance but only for a time. Fragility of rule and uncertainty of tenure multiplied the imperative to plunder. Unseated rulers were sometimes killed, more often exiled, but always their wealth that part of it not sent out of the country was pillaged in its turn.
In 1915 the whites returned: the United States Marines disembarked to enforce continued repayment of the original debt and to put an end to an especially violent struggle for power that, in the shadow of World War I and German machinations in the Caribbean, suddenly seemed to threaten American interests. During their nearly two decades of rule, the Americans built roads and bridges, centralized the Haitian state setting the stage for the vast conurbation of greater Port-au-Prince that we see today in all its devastation and sent Haitians abroad to be educated as agronomists and doctors in the hope of building a more stable middle class.
Still, by the time they finally left, little in the original system had fundamentally changed. Haitian nationalism, piqued by the reappearance of white masters who had forced Haitians to work in road gangs, produced the noiriste movement that finally brought to power in 1957 François Duvalier, the most brilliant and bloody of Haiti's dictators, who murdered tens of thousands while playing adroitly on cold-war America's fear of communism to win American acceptance.
Duvalier's epoch, which ended with the overthrow of his son Jean-Claude in 1986, ushered in Haiti's latest era of instability, which has seen, in barely a quarter-century, several coups and revolutions, a handful of elections (aborted, rigged and, occasionally, fair), a second American occupation (whose accomplishments were even more ephemeral than the first) and, all told, a dozen Haitian rulers. Less and less money now comes from the land, for Haiti's topsoil has grown enfeebled from overproduction and lack of investment. Aid from foreigners, nations or private organizations, has largely supplanted it: under the Duvaliers Haiti became the great petri dish of foreign aid. A handful of projects have done lasting good; many have been self-serving and even counterproductive. All have helped make it possible, by lifting basic burdens of governance from Haiti's powerful, for the predatory state to endure.
The struggle for power has not ended. Nor has Haiti's historic proclivity for drama and disaster. Undertaken in their wake, the world's interventions military and civilian, and accompanied as often as not by a grand missionary determination to "rebuild Haiti" have had as their single unitary principle their failure to alter what is most basic in the country, the reality of a corrupt state and the role, inadvertent or not, of outsiders in collaborating with it.
The sound of Haiti's suffering is deafening now but behind it one can hear already a familiar music begin to play. Haiti must be made new. This kind of suffering so close to American shores cannot be countenanced. The other evening I watched a television correspondent shake his head over what he movingly described as a "stupid death" a death that, but for the right medical care, could have been prevented. "It doesn't have to happen," he told viewers. "People died today who did not need to die." He did not say what any Haitian could have told him: that the day before, and the day before that, Haiti had seen hundreds of such "stupid deaths," and, over the centuries, thousands more. What has changed, once again, and only for a time, is the light shone on them, and the volume of the voices demanding that a "new Haiti" must now be built so they never happen again.
Whether they can read or not, Haiti's people walk in history, and live in politics. They are independent, proud, fiercely aware of their own singularity. What distinguishes them is a tradition of heroism and a conviction that they are and will remain something distinct, apart something you can hear in the Creole spoken in the countryside, or the voodoo practiced there, traces of the Africa that the first generation of revolutionaries brought with them on the middle passage.
Haitians have grown up in a certain kind of struggle for individuality and for power, and the country has proved itself able to absorb the ardent attentions of outsiders who, as often as not, remain blissfully unaware of their own contributions to what Haiti is. Like the ruined bridges strewn across the countryside one of the few traces of the Marines and their occupation nearly a century ago these attentions tend to begin in evangelical zeal and to leave little lasting behind.
What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not "remake Haiti." But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.
Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world's greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians all Haitians to rebuild Haiti.
Putting money in people's hands will not make Haiti's predatory state disappear. But in time, with rising
incomes and a concomitant decentralization of power, it might evolve. In coming days much grander ambitions are sure to be declared, just as more scenes of disaster and disorder will transfix us, more stunning and colorful images of irresistible calamity. We will see if the present catastrophe, on a scale that dwarfs all that have come before, can do anything truly to alter the reality of Haiti.
Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of "Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War," which chronicles political conflict in Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and the United States.
I. THE NEWS
FACT AND FICTION
Separating fact from fiction in the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui remains almost impossible. However, as hearing in the trial began in Manhattan, it became clear that plenty of lies had been told. The emerging evidence suggests the version of events regarding Dr Siddiqui shooting at US soldiers in Afghanistan may not have been entirely accurate. It also seems that an Afghan interpreter with a US green card may have been 'persuaded' to testify in the matter. The entire matter has remained a mystery for far too long. It may indeed be hard to believe that the young woman from Karachi has no links at all with militancy. But there can be no doubt that she and her children did not deserve the treatment they received or the years of illegal detention Dr Siddiqui was subjected to. Every person no matter what crime they are accused of has a right to the due process of law and an opportunity to defend themselves. Dr Siddiqui was denied this for years and the treatment she received during this time undoubtedly contributed to her precarious physical and mental health.
While the matter has led to fierce public anger being directed, quite justifiably, towards the US, we also need to hear some explanation from authorities at home. From what is known of her story, Dr Siddiqui was 'picked up' from Karachi in 2003, presumably by agencies. She may have been handed over to US authorities by them. Indeed this seems likely. The tale of Dr Siddiqui highlights the plight of those who have gone 'missing'. Some of them landed up at Guantanamo Bay; the fate of others is still unknown. Money may have changed hands in some cases. The facts in this sordid, and terribly sad, case must be uncovered. They could offer up important clues to how militancy operates around the world. But it is vital too that those responsible for the grotesque treatment of a young woman and her children be punished. They must not be allowed to get away with their crime. The cycle of injustice must be broken if an end is to be put to militancy and the factors that fuel it. There must be no further cover-ups in the case. Indeed it is important that the truth be discovered both at home and in the US, so the evil that ties together the various strands of the terrorist problem can be uprooted.
I. THE NEWS
The interior minister has informed the National Assembly that 40 to 50 per cent of medicine manufactured in the country is spurious. This is no small matter. It implies that many of those who purchase drugs end up with substances that bring them no benefit at all and potentially inflict harm. The fact is that the revelation before the court does not entail anything new. Similar figures have been cited before. Indeed even when they are not brought up by legislators, we all know that fake medicines are widely sold and that quacks operate everywhere.
While laws exist on the books to deal with many such issues, the lack of implementation means that they remain unresolved year after year, decade after decade. Even when campaigns are carried out these are generally short-lived and have proved impossible to sustain. Those arrested are quickly released and sealed manufacturing plants re-opened. We need reform both at the higher level to create more efficient mechanisms for implementing rules and at the lower levels where administrations and police so often protect wrongdoers. This can happen only when there is commitment to change and at present this does not exist. So even when matters that have an impact on millions of lives come up in parliament there can be no guarantee that they will be dealt with in a meaningful manner.
I. THE NEWS
The Senate has passed a bill under which women would receive greater protection from harassment at the workplace. This is welcome. But what was striking about the debate that took place in the Upper House on measures, which include a jail sentence of up to three years for offenders, was the opposition from religious parties. One would have thought these parties, which campaign on the grounds of morality, would favour legislation aimed at protecting the vulnerable from abuse. Instead, their representatives argued, quite absurdly, that the law would allow 'NGO employees' to 'spread vulgarity'.
The firm opposition to this stance from all mainstream parties reflects the fact that such views are not shared by the majority. It is good news too that these parties joined hands to ensure the bill was passed. The harassment women suffer at work is no secret, and has been highlighted by the periodic surveys and studies conducted. What is also critical to the efforts to counter it is greater awareness. Today, more women than ever before are coming forward to report harassment. This is crucial. Organisations are also empowering HR departments to act in these cases, while the larger presence of women in key posts at the workforce could also play a key part in tackling the problem. The real focus for the government though must be on how to enforce the law on factory floors and in other places where low-income earners work. The issue of harassment is an acute one here. Workers who complain risk being sacked or penalised in other ways. The success of the new legislation will thus depend on the degree to which it is made a reality at these places, thus offering relief to millions of impoverished women who have for decades suffered abuse in various forms in a bid to support families.
I. THE NEWS
CONSCIENCE OF THE CONSTITUTION
The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was a dead duck the moment the National Assembly refused to have anything to do with it. If it still needed another shot in the head, a division bench of the Supreme Court (SC) could have done the needful, no extraordinary issue of constitutional theory being involved in the outcome.
But we have not been that lucky, all 17 of their SC lordships hearing the NRO case whose detailed judgment -- written by My Lord the Chief Justice -- is now out, and about which the shrillest comments are coming from the already committed or the already biased.
This judgment is not for the fainthearted because it doesn't make for easy reading. This is not syntax at the point of a rapier; more a sledgehammer driving home its many obvious points.
Discrimination -- favouring a certain classification of people, to the exclusion of others -- was enough of a touchstone by which to fell the NRO and make short work of it. But in its wisdom -- and I readily confess there may be reasons for doing so not readily accessible to untrained legal minds like mine -- the SC chose to traverse a longer route, to arrive at much the same conclusion.
In so doing the SC has pointed the way, in part, to a quaint realm of thought. It says the Constitution has a conscience which nothing must violate, a point of view likely to sound strange to the many cynics inhabiting the Republic who are convinced that anything by way of both innocence and conscience the 1973 Constitution lost long ago at the hands of such conscience-keepers as Gen Ziaul Haq.
Zia's greatest collaborators were superior judges, as were Pervez Musharraf's when he seized power many years later. It is a sobering thought that all the 17 pillars of wisdom now in the SC took oath under Musharraf's Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) in 2000. The Constitution may have had a conscience even then but it wasn't strong enough to deter baptism in the waters of the PCO.
Nor was this all. Just as earlier coups had been validated by the superior judiciary, Musharraf's coup was validated too in 2000 in the famous Zafar Ali Shah case. Among the luminaries on that bench headed by Chief Justice Irshad Hasan Khan was an up and coming judge by the name of Iftikhar Chaudhry.
By which I do not mean to say that people remain always the same and do not change. They change all the time. Some of us as we grow old become worse, leaving the idealism of youth behind. Some of us grow better, leaving behind the thoughtlessness or follies of our younger days. But the least that should come with the remembrance of past omissions or mistakes is a measure of humility.
How well has Ghalib put it: Mein ne Majnoon pe lark pan mein Asad, Sang uthaya tau sar yaad aya. When I thought of casting a stone at Majnoon, I thought of my own head -- meaning my own follies.
In his note to the detailed judgment written by CJ Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad Khawaja writes as follows: "At the very outset it must be said, without sounding extravagant, that the past three years in the history of Pakistan have been momentous, and can be accorded the same historical significance as the events of 1947 when the country was created and those of 1971 when it was dismembered." He goes on to say: "It is with this sense of the nation's past that we find ourselves called upon to understand and play the role envisaged for the Supreme Court by the Constitution."
Without sounding extravagant? There's a touch of hubris about this declaration which almost amounts to saying that caught as we are in the midst of great events, it is history which calls upon us to make great decisions. A judiciary best fulfils its functions if it is faithful to the letter of the law and if it is honest in interpreting it; and if it doesn't play second fiddle to dictators and doesn't bend the law to suit their purposes. A sense of historical mission, which is what is suggested by Justice Khawaja's observation, is best left to the people and their chosen representatives.
And if it is history we should consider, it must be history in its entirety and not slices of history susceptible to selective interpretation. Nowhere is the judgment's take on recent history more evident, and perhaps more startling, than in its analysis of the meaning of the word 'reconciliation'. It says that the NRO was a deal between two individuals -- Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto -- for their personal objectives.
"We are of the opinion," says the judgment, "that the NRO was not promulgated for 'national reconciliation' but for achieving the objectives which absolutely have no nexus with the (sic) 'national reconciliation' because the nation of Pakistan, as a whole, has not derived any benefit from the same."
In attesting to the subjective nature of the NRO, the judgment quotes this from Benazir Bhutto's book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West: "The talks with Musharraf remained erratic. He didn't want us resigning from the assemblies when he sought re-election. There wouldn't be much difference in his winning whether we boycotted or contested, but we used this to press him to retire as army chief. He cited judicial difficulties. It was a harrowing period. After many, many late-night calls, he passed a National Reconciliation Order, rather than lift the ban on a twice-elected prime minister seeking office a third time, which he said he would do later."
Is this an individual talking or a major political leader discussing the when and how of a democratic transition? The keystone, the flagstone, of Musharraf's rule was his position as army chief. And here when Benazir Bhutto is negotiating the removal of Musharraf's uniform -- in which she eventually succeeded -- their lordships are of the opinion that this deal between the two was just confined to their two selves and had no wider significance whatsoever.
This is a selective reading of the past three years which in Justice Khawaja's estimation have been as momentous as anything in our past. There were many things which came together to pave the way for the transition from Musharraf to the present order. Different chapters were written by different authors.
The lawyers' movement wrote one chapter, arguably the most important in weakening the mainstays of the Musharraf dispensation. CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and the judges who stood with him wrote another chapter when they defied Musharraf. This was a first in Pakistani history. Judges had been collaborators of military strongmen. They had never stood up to them before, at least not in this manner.
There was a third chapter written by Benazir Bhutto and, much as we may dislike the notion, by our American friends when in tandem they prevailed upon Musharraf to shed his uniform. The judiciary and the lawyers' movement had an indirect hand in this in that they had created the climate in which Musharraf had become an enfeebled ruler. But this should not detract from Benazir Bhutto's role who played her cards shrewdly and engaged with Musharraf in a manner which persuaded him to hand over the army baton to a successor.
The fourth chapter was written in Benazir Bhutto's blood when she was assassinated in Liaquat Bagh. The lawyers and the judiciary had weakened Musharraf. They hadn't destroyed him. Benazir Bhutto's death rocked the Musharraf order by bringing the latent anger of the people to the surface. There was nothing that could save Musharraf thereafter, Benazir Bhutto proving more powerful in death than she had been in life.
And it was only with the coming of democracy that the judges detained by Musharraf were freed. And only with the so-called long march led by Nawaz Sharif that, after many travails, they were eventually restored. In other words, it was the political process and the climate of the times which led to their historic restoration. How can their lordships see themselves in isolation from all this history?
The NRO was a bad law and there can be no cavil with this. But it was part of a larger picture of which there is scarce a mention in the entire judgment.
I. THE NEWS
THE RIGHT TO THE CITY
AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
Last August, an unlikely but highly motivated group of artists, musicians and social activists in the German city of Hamburg occupied the city's Gangeviertel buildings. They were protesting the city's attempt to woo a "creative class" to spur urban development.
In October, they published their manifesto, Not in Our Name, whose opening lines immediately betray reference to Marx: "A spectre has been haunting Europe since US economist Richard Florida predicted that the future belongs to cities in which the 'creative class' feels at home."
Richard Florida suggests that a city with a "creative class" that is, a city with a high concentration of high-tech workers, artists, musicians even homosexuals correlates with higher levels of economic development. He has even devised a "Bohemian Index" to prove it. At the risk of oversimplification, Florida suggests that a city with a thriving creative class will, in turn, attract more creative and dynamic people.
And in today's world, it is precisely these creative and dynamic people that can run a Global City. Build a city to cater to the "creative class" and watch it bring the city more trade, business and money. Some successful cities are beginning to realise that investing in companies or infrastructure yields less return than when they invest in people.
Smart people, and not money, it seems, make the world go round.
The city of Hamburg, clearly having spotted something it liked in all of this, fell hook, line and sinker for the message and even hired a consultant to chalk out a strategy in the light of Florida's work.
Development in the city sparked up as the city aimed to send out a very specific image of a pulsating capital that offers visitors creative opportunities of every stripe. It even plans, for example, to build the world's largest opera house.
However, some of the city's artists, musicians and social activists a slice of that very "creative class" Florida refers to have objected. They have objected to the fact that their city is being reduced to Brand Hamburg, as they refer to it, and point out, for example, that rising property prices fuelled by the development are driving the "creative class" out of the city centre. Not in Our Name, they say, and they invoke Marx.
One of the groups involved in the occupation of the Gangeviertel buildings which were slated to be developed into "a glass-and-steel architecture, offices and luxury condominiums" was Right to the City, a loose group of activists and pressure groups whose name refers to the title of a paper published in October 2008 by noted geographer and social theorist David Harvey.
Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of the Department of Anthropology at City University of New York and has spent a career spanning over four decades mapping, amongst other things, how imperialist economies need to be located somewhere. He's followed the money, so to speak, around the Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and American empires and can identify the places in which the economies of these empires were located.
Cities, argues Harvey, are ideal places for capitalists. There is no better example of the excess that characterises capitalism than the city. It is the investment in this excess capital located in cities that interests Harvey. So it should. In Pakistan, for example, urban areas take up less than 10 percent of our landmass, yet they contribute, according to the 2008-2009 Economic Survey, to approximately 70 percent of GDP.
One of the ways that capitalist economies soak up the capital they've accumulated, Harvey explains, is by investing in urban infrastructure. Another example is badly-thought-out military adventures. Look at the cities around the world, Harvey says, and ask yourself who you think the cities are being built for? Fair enough. And one can ask whom the Centaurus Tower in Islamabad is being built for when the CDA has, basically, sounded the red alert because of acute water shortages. One can ask whom the Lahore Canal Road widening project will benefit, given that less than 15 percent of the population has access to private automobiles. One can ask whom the Karachi Port Trust built the world's second-highest water fountain for.
If you were to step back and, for a second even, question the trajectory our urban development has been and, to quote Harvey, "the results are indelibly etched on the spatial forms of our cities, which increasingly consist of fortified fragments, gated communities and privatised public spaces kept under constant surveillance." Sound familiar? Whom, indeed, are our cities being built for?
Arif Hasan has a similar, though distinct, understanding and explanation of how our urban areas are taking the forms they are. In his paper on "The World Class City," Hasan describes how urban planning in developing countries like Pakistan has been replaced by "project-based" planning.
Since ours is a poor country, almost all investment in urban infrastructure (other than housing) has been made with money provided to us by multilateral funding agencies like the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and that too on a fragmented, unconnected, project-by-project basis.
Private housing is no exception. Investments in urban housing over the past decade have catered largely to an urban elite. Though Hasan does not dwell for long on the investments in the Pakistani housing market, he does share with Harvey the conclusion that far too many inner-city urban developments have resulted in dislocation of the poor and a preference for an increasingly scarce (and, if I may say, paranoid) elite. Nadeem Ul Haque, former vice chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics -- who enjoys taunting urban planners and comfortable civil-society begums alike with suggestions to convert the Royal Palm and Gymkahana Golf Clubs into more efficient and equitable uses of space -- is also relevant here. I can think of no other place in the world where "urban development" has been used to perpetuate an elitist status quo.
According to Nadeem Ul Haque, one of the reasons we have housing shortage is because most of the land in our cities is used in a wasteful way. We have government offices and residences acres large, but catering to just a few. We have a housing template that prefers a four-kanal bungalow but is out of reach of all but a few Pakistanis. This waste makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the city to function as it should to provide fair and equal habitation, employment opportunities and even public transport for all.
In this situation, with all the chaos that urban planning has become in Pakistan, it is time to consider who cities are built for. David Harvey has formulated a strong argument for a Right to the City, a fundamental right of every urban dweller to participate in the growth and development of their metropolis. The Right to the City, he argues, must be adopted both as a working slogan and political ideal. The democratisation of this right "is imperative if the dispossessed are to take back control which they have for long been denied, and if they are to institute new modes of urbanisation. Lefebvre was right to insist that the revolution has to be urban, in the broadest sense of that term, or nothing at all."
Postscript: The occupation of Hamburg's Gangeviertel buildings ended when the city of Hamburg agreed to enter into lease agreements with the squatters.
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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