media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 25, edition 000412, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- IT'S A JUNGLE OUT THERE
- GO FORTH AND BLOG!
- WORTH LEARNING FROM GUJARAT - JOGINDER SINGH
- DOESN'T TASTE SO SWEET - REEMA SHARMA
- OBAMA HITS A RIGHT TURN - S RAJAGOPALAN
- READ MY LIPS - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- WHY I STAND WITH GEERT WILDERS - DANIEL PIPES
- CONGRESS ALLIES A DRAG ON THE UNION GOVT
- WORTH EMULATING
- DON'T DOUBT DINAKARAN PANEL PROBITY - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
- POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- FACE THE PROBLEM
- SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
- PATRIARCH, PARTY, PEOPLE - SURENDRA MUNSHI
- 'FRUITS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUST BE AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE' - THE COFFEE SATSANG
- J S RAGHAVAN|
- HOLD THEM TO ACCOUNT - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
- WE HAVEN'T A CLUE
- KUMBH GREAT SPECTACLE - SUMAN KAPOOR
- TAKE STOCK OF WALL STREET
- THE NSA'S ROLE HAS BEEN DOWNSIZED - PANKAJ VOHRA
- RENAISSANCE MAN - SITARAM YECHURY
- SCEPTICISM HELPS
- ODD ONE OUT
- SECURE FOR GROWTH
- NEW FRIEND FROM THE EAST - C. RAJA MOHAN
- SET THE SUN ON BLACK CARBON - V. RAMANATHAN
- GUARDING OVER GROWTH - K. SUBRAHMANYAM
- UNQUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT - ROHIT PRADHAN
- THE POWER OF HALF - MORE (STEVE) JOBS
- HARVESTING A BETTER FUTURE
- CAPITAL PROBLEM
- THE EARNINGS ARE FOR REAL THIS QUARTER - MAHESH VYAS
- ASSETS VERSUS BUBBLES IN REAL ESTATE - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- NACIL'S UNFORTUNATE TALE - JAYA JUMRANI
- THE NSA NEEDS HIS OWN OFFICE
- PANDEMIC LESSONS TO BE LEARNT
- FARM SUICIDES: A 12-YEAR SAGA - P. SAINATH
- TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE WATER MANAGEMENT - T.N. NARASIMHAN
- FOOT ON BOMB, MARINE LEARNS HE'S CHARMED - C.J. CHIVERS
- EDUCATION OPTIONS: SCOPE FOR MEDIA ROLE - DNA
- NO WAY BUT TO TALK - ASCENDING CURVE
- GETTING LEFT BEHIND - AMULYA GANGULI
- ONE YEAR ON, OBAMA MAGIC IS RECEDING - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
- FOR EACH ONE OF US
- HEAVY TAX DOSE IN PUNJAB
- INLD VICTORY
- CHANGE OF GUARD
- FLAWED SECURITY PLANNING - BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
- A HOUSE FOR MRS WOOD PECKER - BY JUSTICE MAHESH GROVER
- WASTAGE OF FOOD - BY S. S. JOHL
- AMERICANS DISILLUSIONED WITH GOVT - BY RUPERT CORNWELL
- CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- JUSTICE DENIED
- MUNICIPAL STAFFING
- HAZARDS OF MEGA DAMS IN NORTH EAST - DWAIPAYAN
- JYOTI BASU: A RARE STATESMAN - ROYAL AHMED
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- MOON STRUCK
- INVEST IN RAIL
- NOT ALL CLIENTS APPRECIATE TAKEOVERS - JOCHEN SCHWERDTFEGER
- TIME TO DISBAND POPULIST MEASURES IN THE ENERGY SECTOR - SOMA BANERJEE
- POVERTY REDUCTION AND CREATION - ABUSALEH SHARIFF & ANIRUDH KRISHNA
- DISCOVERING ONE'S 'TRUEST INTEREST'- K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- YE BANKERS, BE CALCULATING, BUT NOT ALGORITHMIC - SUDESHNA SEN
- INDIA HOLDS THE KEYS TO SUCCESS: NIALL FERGUSON - SRUTHIJITH K K
- 'INDIA'S UNSTOPPABLE GROWTH STORY EXCITES US' - SOMA BANERJEE
- 'OUR OBJECTIVE IS TO REDUCE AEGON'S US EXPOSURE TO 40-45%'
- EQUITIES ARE LIKELY TO STAY RANGE-BOUND FOR 12 MONTHS'
- SEBI TO HELP INVESTORS TAKE DECISIONS AND RESPONSIBILITY' - ASHWIN J PUNNEN
- SHOPPERS STOP'S A BRIDGE TO LUXURY - SREERADHA D BASU & AMIT SHARMA
- THE TRUTH BEHIND PAK'S DOUBLE BLUFF
- THE RIGHT WAY TO GROW - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
- US HAS HOPE, IT NEEDS MORE (STEVE) JOBS - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- KALAM FLIES ECONOMY, GOWDA GAZES AT STARS - KALAM KA KAMAAL
- LOVELY IN MEMORY - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
- PAY IT FORWARD, AND THEN WATCH - BY AMRIT SADHANA
- FOGGY COLLISIONS
- BLITZ IN KABUL
- OBAMA'S BUBBLE?
- KURT JACOBSEN AND SAYEED HASAN KHAN
- MARRIAGE MAKES WOMEN FATTER: STUDY
- HOCUS FOCUS
- FOOD FOR DEBATE
- MAKING OF A SUPERPOWER - COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO
- ANOTHER EMPTY PROMISE - FIFTH COLUMN - GWYNNE DYER
- MEDIATING GREED
- COURSE CORRECTION
- PRICE OF POWER - BYLINE M J AKBAR
- US SUPREME COURT BLOW TO DEMOCRACY
- DUKHU OF DANAPUR CLUB - BY D K HAVANOOR
THE JERUSALEM POST
- PR 101 FOR CHARITIES
- REALITY CHECK: SHAKING THINGS UP - JEFF BARAK
- THE REGION: F FOR FAILURE - BARRY RUBIN
- A MEDICAL MISSION OF PRIDE AND PROMISE - JONATHAN HALEVY
- A FORUM FOR ASSAULTING ISRAEL AND AMERICA - BRETT JOSHPE
- WHEN GOOD DEEDS ARE WORSE THAN DOING NOTHING - OLIVER WORTH
- SAVE THE PEACE
- WHAT WOULD NETANYAHU DO WITHOUT PERES? - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- OBAMA CHASING RAINBOWS WITH TWO-STATE SOLUTION - BY MOSHE ARENS
- WANTED: IMMIGRATION POLICY - BY SHLOMO AVINERI
- THE VERDICT ON MAZUZ - BY ZEEV SEGAL
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- IN FROM THE COLD?
- RESTARTING FINANCIAL REFORM
- STILL WAITING AT THE T.S.A.
- BIG FOOD
- THE BERNANKE CONUNDRUM - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- ITALY'S AFRICAN HEROES - BY ROBERTO SAVIANO
- JAGUARS DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE - BY ALAN RABINOWITZ
- DEMOCRATS, GET DOWN TO BUSINESS - BY HAROLD FORD JR.
- TORTURED AND SLAUGHTERED
- GOOD BOOKS
- TIPPING POINT
- A SEDULOUS RULING - BABAR SATTAR
- THE POST-NRO DYNAMIC - TALAT MASOOD
- UNDERSTANDING INFLATION - SHAHID KARDAR
- SAVING THE SINKING SHIP - AMEER BHUTTO
- PLAIN WORDS - CHRIS CORK
- US NUCLEAR DUPLICITY - ASIF EZDI
- SOME FOOLS DRAG COAS IN NRO CONTROVERSY
- BAR HAS TO COME AT THE BACK OF BENCH
- POLLUTED WATER RIGHT IN THE CAPITAL
- GATES VISIT CREATED MORE MISUNDERSTANDING - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
- THE INSIDIOUS INDIAN PROPAGANDA - DR S M RAHMAN
- AN EASY WAY TO KILL - SAEED QURESHI
- WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE PRESIDENT? - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- RUCHIKA'S SCHOOL..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- MOEEN'S DEFENCE
- CHILDREN'S FILMS
- A BAROMETER CALLED MONEY..!
- SOLUTION TO GROWING TRAFFIC IN DHAKA - DR MIR MUHAMMAD HASSAN
- NATION READIES TO HANG BANGABANDHU KILLERS - NAVA THAKURIA
- THE FISCAL CRISIS DOWN BELOW - MICHAEL BOSKIN
- A MOMENT TO REFLECT HOW FAR WE HAVE COME
- RESORTING TO THE RESERVES
- RESOLUTE OR RATTLED?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- TAXING TIMES FOR TAX CHANGE
- MURRAY-DARLING WATER FOLLIES
- FUTURE SHOCK: PRODUCTIVE TAX REFORM DOES NOT EQUAL CUTS
- IN PRAISE OF WORLD HISTORIES
- THE UK'S WORLD ROLE: GREAT BRITAIN'S GREATNESS FIXATION
- CRIMINAL JUSTICE: MERCY AND THE MERITS OF THE CASE
THE KOREA HERALD
- TAKE INITIATIVE
- GLOBALIZATION OF HANSIK
- SUPPORT IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS, DEMOCRACY - MEHDI KHALAJI
THE JAPAN TIMES
- POVERTY IN JAPAN
- SUPPORTING SCHOOL PRINCIPALS
- JAPAN COULD PAY BIG PRICE FOR HURTING AMERICAN PRIDE
THE JAKARTA POST
- NO NEED TO PANIC
- THIRTEEN CHALLENGES FACING INDONESIA - SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO
- EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS AND POLITICS OF FEAR - JONATAN LASSA
- CHILDREN AND SEX PREDATORS - MUHRISUN AFANDI
- SECURITIZATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION - MU'ADZ D'FAHMI
- PROTECTIONISM IS VICIOUS
- BUILD UP OUR HERITAGE
- SWALLOW UNPLEASANT TRUTH AND REDESIGN OUR VALUES - BY KLAUS SCHWAB (CHINA DAILY)
- REGIONAL INTEGRATION EN ROUTE - BY LI QINGSI (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- MEDVEDEV'S BATTLE AGAINST LEGAL NIHILISM - BY YANA YAKOVLEVA
- SARKOZY'S 3-WAY NATO BET - BY CAMILLE GRAND
- THE NEW EMIGRATION - BY ALEXEI BAYER
- MEDVEDEV'S 'FIRM HAND' GOOD FOR FOREIGN POLICY - BY VLADIMIR FROLOV
IT'S A JUNGLE OUT THERE
ROAD SAFETY SHOULD FOCUS ON REAL ISSUES
As the global capital of road accidents, there is no denying that India is in dire need of an overhaul of driving norms. As many as 1.14 lakh people in the country die each year due to road accidents, a number greater than anywhere else in the world. The problem, it must be stressed, lies with the culture of driving in India. The only rule on Indian roads is that there is no rule. Few follow the system of lanes or bother to adhere to speed limits. Indeed, traffic laws are more of an irritation for Indian drivers than anything else. The fact that driving licences can be acquired without much fuss doesn't help matters either. The driving test that people have to go through in this country is nothing but a farce the written test is a joke, and rarely are applicants told to demonstrate their driving skills. Worse, in many cases there isn't even a basic cursory check to prevent those who have no knowledge of driving from obtaining a licence. It is true that in this country the driving licence has become more of an identity proof rather than proof of one's driving skill. Thus, no one can argue that major reforms are not needed to rectify the current situation. Nonetheless, energy needs to be focussed on pertinent reform measures and not be wasted on frivolous ideas. The new norms being contemplated by an expert committee set up by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways should aim to address the real problems behind our killer roads. It is in this context that the suggestion of having an upper age limit for licenced drivers should be dropped. Though it is true that with age physical reaction time crucial for driving slows down, it is not the same for every individual. Therefore, to have an arbitrary upper age limit 72 to 75 is what is being considered would be extremely unfair to those who have years of driving experience under their belt and are still very much capable of driving themselves around. What is even more unfair is to link such a measure to the high rate of road accidents. Research has shown that the perpetrators of the majority of such accidents are from the 18 to 25 years age bracket. Hence, it would be a much better approach to have periodic driving tests for existing driving-licence holders to see if they should actually be allowed behind the wheel of a car.
What is needed is a nationwide, holistic road safety awareness programme. This should start right from our schools. The aim should be to inculcate a strong sense of pedestrian as well as driving safety norms among the youth. In fact, a special weekly road safety session should be organised for school students. Wherever possible, schools should also try and organise basic driving classes for senior school students to prepare them for driving schools and driving tests in future something that is the case in several developed countries. The problem with road accidents in India is that very few people realise that they are one of the major killers in the country. In fact, getting people to recognise road accidents as a problem is itself a challenge. Till now, awareness programmes have largely been run by NGOs. It is high time the Government gets into the act. Having centralised, Government-approved driving schools and stricter, periodic driving tests should be looked at in earnest. But before anything else, a culture of road safety needs to be vigorously promoted to change the current apathy that exists vis-à-vis the rising rate of road accidents.
GO FORTH AND BLOG!
THE POPE ENDORSES THE NET
Galileo Galilei suffered enormously after being held guilty by the Roman Inquisition of "vehemently suspect heresy". His crime: He defended Copernicanism, rejecting the patently absurd 'geocentric' theory which placed Earth at the centre of the universe, and publicly supporting the heliocentric view, of which even astronomers of the time were sceptical and according to which the universe revolved around the Sun. The Vatican was horrified that someone should dare promote a theory, never mind its basis, that was "false and contrary to Scripture". Galileo Galilei was warned and asked to desist; when he refused, the Vatican forced him to recant and spend the rest of his life under house arrest. The philosopher-scientist who made a seminal contribution to the Scientific Revolution and is today honoured as a path-finder, died a miserable, heart-broken man. It took the Vatican 400 years to admit it was wrong and Galileo Galilei was right, although it is yet to abandon other absurdities, for instance, creationism Darwin still remains an outcast. Science has never found favour with the Catholic Church, nor has the Vatican been overly enthusiastic about endorsing the harnessing of science and technology for the welfare of humankind. Faith and rational logic are bound to conflict; if the choice is between scripture and science, men (and women) of god cannot but exercise their choice for the former. Faith, by definition, must be anchored in certitudes; the laity can stray, but not the clergy. Yet, the overwhelming manner in which science and technology have begun to influence our daily lives appears to have started having an effect on those who find science a terrifying impingement on faith in absolutes. How else can we explain Pope Benedict XVI rephrasing the canonical edict, 'Go forth and multiply', to urge the clergy to 'Go forth and blog'?
In last Saturday's message to the Catholic Church, made public through the Papal website, Pope2You who would have ever thought that the Pontiff would have his own portal on the Internet? the Pope has sought to enlighten his priests. "The spread of multimedia communications and its rich 'menu of option' might make us think it is sufficient simply to be present on the Web," the Pope said, but that is clearly, sufficiently, not enough. Priests must, according to him, "proclaim the Gospel" by employing the latest generation of digital technology. The message is appropriately titled, "The priest and pastoral ministry in a digital world: New media at the service of the world." To demonstrate the Pope's commitment to new technology, the Vatican has opened a YouTube channel and Pope2You offers a Facebook application to spread the Lord's Word as preached by the Pontiff. All this, of course, is good news. Possibly, we will soon have the Pope blogging every night and signing off with a 'whatever'. That would be fun.
WORTH LEARNING FROM GUJARAT
Gujarat has taken a bold step for making voting compulsory for all local bodies in the Sate. Though similar laws exist in more than 30 countries, which include Australia, Belgium and Singapore, the Gujarat Bill is the first of its kind in India. The Bill when made into law will be applicable to Gujarat's seven municipal corporations, including Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot, 159 Nagar Palikas, 26 zilla panchayats, 224 Taluka panchayats and more than 13,700 gram panchayats.
The Gujarat Government says that its aim is to make the neutral voter, with no personal interests, politically conscious and encourage him or her to vote. It says, "It is Gujarat's reply to those who carry out candlelight marches and drawing room politics but do not go to vote."
The intention behind making the process mandatory is to bind the people of the State to some responsibility and, thus, strengthen the process of democracy. According to the Bill, voting for none of the candidates would be one of the options.
Whatever we do in life there will always be opposition. Some will oppose our convictions for genuine reasons while others will do so because they feel threatened. Political rivals of the Gujarat Government have called the move to make voting mandatory a gimmick and have questioned its ethical basis.
An Opposition party member has said, "How can a right be enforced as a duty? It's in violation of fundamental rights Moreover, making it (voting) compulsory for an unaware voter who does not know about party ideology will mean undesirable consequences where the value of a genuine vote would be diluted But the issue to vote or not to vote is itself an ideological one. In a democracy one has the right to be indifferent and abstain from voting as well."
Another strange argument that has been offered is that compulsory voting will 'lower' the spirit of democratic and political process! Some others have asked, and strangely so, for favours in return of compulsory voting. Their warped logic goes: "There is no package of guarantees in the Bill, like right to employment or food... Then what is the state asking for when it is offering so little or nothing?" The biggest problem in our country is that there are too many opinions everybody, no matter whether informed or ill-informed, has an opinion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Gujarat Bill. In fact, it should serve as a template for other States to follow.
The Bill in its present form does not propose any penalties to ensure compulsory voting. In some countries where voting is compulsory, in order to be eligible for Government facilities, citizens have to show a certificate that affirms that they have voted in the last election. The logic that voters are unaware of political ideologies does not hold water. In fact, it is the other way around as it is the educated, upper-class people who are indifferent to voting.
I have been casting my vote from 1962 when I became eligible to be registered as a voter. In the last election, in the highly educated constituency of New Delhi, I went to cast my vote at about 11:30 am. I asked the polling officer the number of people who had come to vote. He said that among the officers class, both retired and serving, I was the first to do so. But he was all praises for ordinary folk who had made a beeline outside the polling booth even before the commencement of voting. At the end of the election, when the results were declared, the polling percentage was the lowest in New Delhi Constituency.
If looked at objectively, the Gujarat Bill leaves a lot of room for a citizen to express his or her dissatisfaction with the selection of candidates with the 'none of the above' option. What is compulsory is that the person has to come to the polling station and either express or not express his or her preference for any of the candidates. The Bill, when passed, will actually help create political awareness as when people know that they have to vote or express their disapproval of the candidates, they will automatically try and have an understanding of the existing political situation to make an informed choice.
In all fairness, the Gujarat Bill needs to be given a chance. There is no doubt that the Bill can be improved through experience when passed into law. It could eventually include grounds for exemption, like for instance when a person is in hospital or on a trip overseas and cannot make it to a polling booth. There should also be provisions such as postal vote, pre-poll vote, provisional vote, and absentee vote or voting for none. It would be desirable to have some penalty for deliberately not voting.
Compulsory voting is bound to improve the standards of our democracy. It will also negate vote-bank politics to a certain extent. It will truly make every vote count. A high voter turnout is vital for proper democratic endorsement of the Government and efficient functioning of our democracy. Activists throughout the last century have fought and died for enfranchisement. We should respect their sacrifice by voting.
Having a law that will make voting compulsory will make our democracy stronger. It will help emphasise the ideal that each voter is a stakeholder in the democratic process. Making voting compulsory in elections to civic bodies is a stand that deserves to be supported wholeheartedly. This will help in arresting the gradual decline in voting percentage in elections, as has been witnessed during Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls across the country. It would be worthwhile to learn from the Gujarat experience and extend compulsory voting throughout the country and for all elected bodies involved in the task of governance, including Parliament and State Assemblies. Besides, it must be remembered that if democracy ensures our fundamental rights, it also enjoins on us certain fundamental duties. This fact must not be lost on us.
There are bound to be those who will oppose the move. But that should not deter us from adopting a law which, if implemented in its true spirit, will further the case for participatory democracy. If other democracies which have tried compulsory voting are not complaining, the least we can do is give the initiative a fair chance.
DOESN'T TASTE SO SWEET
Union Minister for Food and Agriculture Sharad Pawar has been drawing considerable flak from all quarters for the exorbitant rise in prices of essential commodities. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has even gone to the extent of calling for Mr Pawar's resignation. She recently stated in a Press conference that unless the Prime Minister sacked the Minister, she would not attend the coming conference on price rise.
Meanwhile, there has been no respite for the public from soaring prices, especially that of sugar. The tug of war between the Centre and the States over the price of this essential commodity is not helping matters either. The Centre is trying to shift the blame on the Uttar Pradesh Government by pointing to the latter's reluctance to lift the ban on the import of raw sugar into the State the largest producer of sugarcane which it says will help ease the crisis. But this assertion is not without flaws.
The annual domestic consumption of sugar in India, the world's largest consumer, is about 16 million tonnes. The present stock is about 15 million tonne. How is it possible that sugar is being sold at such a high price even though the deficit is just one million tonne? Even if we go by the maximum State Advisory Price of Rs 265 per quintal, sugar processing would still cost not more than Rs 30. This still doesn't explain the gap of Rs 20 for retailing, with retail price being Rs 50 per kg.
The present price of sugar is dependent upon processing of the last sugarcane crop, which no doubt saw below average production. Besides, importing raw sugar from the international market will further boost domestic prices. Adding to the public's woe is the Government's failure to impose a limit on the stocks of sugar that a trader can keep to check possible hoarding.
One wonders if it will be possible to cut down on sugar even if it is priced more than Rs 50 per kg. Despite being on a 29-year high, the sweetener still has the same charm it used to have when it was Rs 22 per kg. That does not mean the rising price of sugar is welcome. It is time Mr Pawar starts delivering results.
OBAMA HITS A RIGHT TURN
Of all the States, Republicans least expected to bounce back from Massachusetts, long considered a Left-liberal bastion. Scott Brown's victory shows Obama no longer charms America and Americans have begun to tire of his rhetoric"It's hard to believe President Obama has now been in office for a year. And you know, it's incredible. He took something that was in terrible, terrible shape, and he brought it back from the brink of disaster... The Republican Party."
All those who watched the Jay Leno show the other day and thought the late night comedian was about to credit US President Barack Obama with rescuing the American economy had a hearty laugh when he came up with that postscript about the Republican Party. But what he said in jest is now being said in all seriousness by many political pundits after the Democrats ended up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in their impregnable Massachusetts fortress.
For most of 2009, the Republicans remained down in the dumps, totally clueless on whether there was going to be any light at the end of the long tunnel. Even when Mr Obama's approval numbers were slipping in recent weeks, little was coming in their direction on the rebound. Now that the seeming turnaround has come about so dramatically on the first anniversary of the Obama presidency, the Republicans could not have asked for more in the run-up to the mid-term Congressional elections later this year.
At just a little over 49 per cent as of last week, Mr Obama's is the second lowest approval rating among all US Presidents since the 1950s at the end of their first year in office. The only other President to fare worse during the period was Ronald Reagan (48 per cent) who, like Mr Obama, inherited a troubled economy. Reagan, however, overcame the initial setback and won his second term by a landslide, winning 49 of the 50 States. Democrats would like to think that Mr Obama would emulate Reagan in this regard. Republicans, however, would hope that Mr Obama, like fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter, bows out at the end of his first term.
The immediate consequence of the electoral upheaval is the Democrats have lost their tenuous 'filibuster-proof' majority in the Senate. And the immediate casualty is Mr Obama's signature healthcare overhaul plan. The Democrats are at their wits' end on how to proceed, prompting party elders to opt for a breather of four to six weeks. Once ready, the Democrats will have little option but to rework the plan with the Republicans, now that the latter can defeat the measure on the Senate floor.
At the one year mark, what is worrying Mr Obama even more is the jobs situation. The just-out report for December contains more bad news for him, with unemployment rates rising in 43 of the 50 States. This contrasts with the previous month, when 36 States actually reported a decline. Overall, US unemployment is running at 10 per cent. Most analysts believe that the mounting job-losses are undermining the fitful economic recovery, with grim portents for Mr Obama.
For all the steps taken so far, the housing crisis, which triggered the financial meltdown in 2008, is far from over. According to a new report, 2009 has ended as a record year for home foreclosures. As many as 2.8 million households have received foreclosure notices, up 21 per cent from 2008. A major realty network expects the number of foreclosures to rise to anything between three and 3.5 million homes this year.
The practice of giving performance grades at the end of the first year has largely been overshadowed this time round by the stinging Massachusetts defeat. But, weeks earlier, Mr Obama gave himself a "good, solid B-plus" during an interview to Oprah Winfrey. And, once the healthcare reforms were passed and signed, he expected it to rise to "A-minus". Post-Massachusetts, all that is bound to be dismissed as a pipe dream, now that a big question mark hangs over healthcare overhaul.
Critics reckon that Mr Obama promised to do too much too soon during his campaign and the chickens are now coming home to roost. The core contradictions in the promises Mr Obama made to the country in 2008 have caught up with his party in Massachusetts, writes columnist EJ Dionne Jr in The Washington Post.
Many analysts and some Democrats themselves believe that Massachusetts could serve as a blessing in disguise for Mr Obama to lurch to the centre and effect course corrections on healthcare and other 'far-liberal' policy moves well ahead of the November elections. Mr Evan Bayh, the Democratic Senator from Indiana, has warned of a "catastrophe" if the right lessons are not drawn from Massachusetts.
"The course the Obama White House needs to chart is neither Left nor Right. It leads directly to the priorities of America's middle-class families, who are worried about jobs, foreclosures, mounting credit card debt and are looking desperately for someone on their side," says Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post.
Mr Obama is clearly receiving conflicting pieces of advice. If the Right-leaning folks want him to start governing from the middle, his liberal base is egging him on to be more combative and populist. On Friday, at his first cross-country outing in Ohio since the Massachusetts drubbing, Mr Obama gave ample evidence that he was sticking by his base as he asked Congress to pass a new job-creation Bill with tax breaks for small business hiring. He was back in his famed campaign mode rhetoric, promising to fight vested interests, insurance industry, the deceptive practices of the financial sector.
"I won't stop fighting to give every American a fair shake," he thundered in a speech that promised a fight on one count or another at least 20 times. If his party faithful were visibly pleased over his attempt to recover lost ground, the Republicans were quick to remind him that as someone at the helm now, it's time he delivered results, not fiery speeches.
Mr Obama is slated to outline his new approach in his first 'State of the Union' address on Wednesday. Unemployment is expected to be its most dominant concern. Faulting Mr Obama for what they regard as his proclivity to keep blaming everything on predecessor George W Bush even a year after taking charge, the Republicans say Mr Obama needs to explain why the nation lost more than four million jobs under his watch.
Post-Massachusetts, the ginger group within his own Democratic Party also wants him to give a bold thrust to creation of jobs, all the more so since the much-touted $ 787 billion stimulus package does not appear to have succeeded much on this score. Experts point out that if underemployed Americans were also taken into account, the overall unemployment rate would be a daunting 17 per cent.
Mr Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution believes that Mr Obama's challenge now will be to "generate some measurable improvements in the economy and to persuade voters that he and the Democrats are a much better bet than the Republicans to clean up the mess they inherited". Americans, Mr Mann feels, expect Mr Obama to "clearly explain why we are in this shape, what he has done to date, and what additional actions he intends to take in the months ahead".
READ MY LIPS
MAMATA ENSURES TRINAMOOL CONGRESS, NOT CPM, REMAINS THE FOCUS OF PUBLIC DEBATE
Whatever else Ms Mamata Banerjee's endowments are to fulfil the role of West Bengal's iconic politician in the 21st century, she has the natural instinct of a survivor. Hence her rather savage comments on her absence at the state funeral for Jyoti Basu were entirely spontaneous; she needed to draw attention back to the new and emerging reality in State politics namely, herself.
The fastidious may be put off by the language she deployed, but that is incidental if not irrelevant. Asserting that she was not a "servant" of the CPI(M) and, therefore, not at their beck and call, was the point she needed to make and she made it forcefully. To maintain the difference she needs to ensure that there is a constant distance between the politics she represents and the politics of the CPI(M). Even the slightest hint of playing by the old rules of political conduct would be seriously injurious to the Trinamool Congress's health.
Given that the critical Kolkata Municipal Corporation election is coming up, Ms Banerjee has to force public attention back to the Trinamool Congress's interpretation of West Bengal's present predicament. Allowing a lapse of attention to voters, with their notoriously fickle memory and the even more dangerous habits of mind in which they were tutored by Jyoti Basu, would make Ms Banerjee's task of pulling off a spectacular victory in the coming civic election that much tougher.
Ms Banerjee cannot afford the luxury of public attention being diverted even if it makes a few squeamish bhadralok sniff with disapproval. Maintaining the momentum is necessary, even though she and the CPI(M) both know that there is not even a reasonable chance of anything other than a Trinamool Congress win in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections.
It is a politically precarious tight rope that Ms Banerjee is currently walking; on the one hand she has to use every possible means to continuously add fuel to the hate CPI(M) message; on the other, she has to use every possible means to continuously inject ever more quantities of doubt and suspicion about the Congress's commitment to the anti-CPI M platform.
Therefore, Ms Banerjee's demeanour is necessarily aggressive, abrasive and challenging making her even though she is in power at the Centre with the Railway Ministry and seven other portfolios the archetypal opposition firebrand, albeit of an earlier era. The stress of keeping an eternal watch on how not to allow the Trinamool Congress to become too closely identified with the Congress can make Ms Banerjee sound shrill at times, but for her, the need to strongly assert her difference is a matter of survival.
It is almost as though Ms Banerjee has converted Jyoti Basu's constant warning to his party there is no room for complacency as her mantra for achieving success. It this puts her in a spot over things like attendance at the new Governor MK Narayanan's swearing-in then so be it.
The Trinamool Congress has to agitate and oppose to prove its point that it stands for the rights of people who were being oppressed by the CPI(M). If this means blocking the Haripur nuclear power plant project to protect the livelihood of fisher families, if it means blocking completion of a tower for transmission and distribution of power on Sagar Island, if it means blocking the development of Nayachar as the new site for the petroleum, chemicals and petrochemicals zone then so be it.
Since Ms Banerjee has carved out a constituency for her party through the agitations in Singur and Nandigram, continuing along that trajectory is essential to maintain her popularity. It would be suicidal for Ms Banerjee personally and disastrous for the Trinamool Congress politically to change tack and make any kind of compromise or negotiate for any accommodation at this stage.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections plus the 82 other municipalities represents a daunting task for Ms Banerjee with little time to re-set the stage. She needs to get this right not only because to win is to ensure that the 2011 State Assembly election fight becomes easier, she needs to get it right to resolve all doubts about who runs the political campaigns in West Bengal. Ms Banerjee needs to show that she is boss vis-à-vis the Congress and she needs to dominate the campaign rhetoric vis-à-vis the CPI(M). Reverting to her street-fighter style is therefore her best bet; that automatically creates resonance in the minds of voters grown accustomed to her style of noble intentions delivered in a savage idiom.
WHY I STAND WITH GEERT WILDERS
HE IS BEST PLACED TO DEAL WITH THE ISLAMIC CHALLENGE FACING EUROPE WHICH IS LOSING ITS HISTORIC IDENTITY
Who is the most important European alive today? I nominate Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I do so because he is best placed to deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent. He has the potential to emerge as a world-historical figure.
That Islamic challenge consists of two components: On the one hand, an indigenous population's withering Christian faith, inadequate birth rate, and cultural diffidence, and on the other an influx of devout, prolific, and culturally assertive Muslim immigrants. This fast-moving situation raises profound questions about Europe: Will it retain its historic civilisation or become a majority-Muslim continent living under Islamic law (the Shari'ah)?
Mr Wilders, 46, founder and head of the Party for Freedom (PVV), is the unrivalled leader of those Europeans who wish to retain their historic identity. That's because he and the PVV differ from most of Europe's other nationalist, anti-immigrant parties.
The PVV is libertarian and mainstream conservative, without roots in neo-Fascism, nativism, conspiricism, antisemitism, or other forms of extremism. (Mr Wilders publicly emulates Ronald Reagan.) Indicative of this moderation is Mr Wilders' long-standing affection for Israel that includes two years' residence in the Jewish state, dozens of visits, and his advocating the transfer of the Dutch Embassy to Jerusalem.
In addition, Mr Wilders is a charismatic, savvy, principled, and outspoken leader who has rapidly become the most dynamic political force in the Netherlands. While he opines on the full range of topics, Islam and Muslims constitute his signature issue. Overcoming the tendency of Dutch politicians to play it safe, he calls Muhammad a devil and demands that Muslims "tear out half of the Quran if they wish to stay in the Netherlands." More broadly, he sees Islam itself as the problem, not just a virulent version of it called Islamism.
Finally, the PVV benefits from the fact that, uniquely in Europe, the Dutch are receptive to a non-nativist rejection of Shari'ah. This first became apparent a decade ago, when Mr Pim Fortuyn, a Left-leaning former communist homosexual professor began arguing that his values and lifestyle were irrevocably threatened by the Shari'ah. Mr Fortuyn anticipated Mr Wilders in founding his own political party and calling for a halt to Muslim immigration to the Netherlands. Following Mr Fortuyn's 2002 assassination by a Leftist, Mr Wilders effectively inherited his mantle and his constituency.
The PVV has done well electorally, winning six per cent of the seats in the November 2006 national parliamentary elections and 16 per cent of Dutch seats in the June 2009 European Union elections. Polls now generally show the PVV winning a plurality of votes and becoming the country's largest party. Were Mr Wilders to become Prime Minister, he could take on a leadership role for all Europe.
But he faces daunting challenges.
The Netherlands' fractured political scene means the PVV must either find willing partners to form a governing coalition (a difficult task, given how Leftists and Muslims have demonised Mr Wilders as a "Right-wing extremist") or win a majority of the seats in parliament (a distant prospect).
Mr Wilders must also overcome his opponents' dirty tactics. Most notably, they have finally, after two and a half years of preliminary skirmishes, succeeded in dragging him to court on charges of hate speech and incitement to hatred. The public prosecutor's case against Mr Wilders opens in Amsterdam on January 20; if convicted, Mr Wilders faces a fine of up to $ 14,000 or as many as 16 months in jail.
Remember, he is his country's leading politician. Plus, due to threats against his life, he always travels with bodyguards and incessantly changes safe houses. Who exactly, one wonders, is the victim of incitement?
Although I disagree with Mr Wilders about Islam (I respect the religion but fight Islamists with all I have), we stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the lawsuit. I reject the criminalisation of political differences, particularly attempts to thwart a grassroots political movement via the courts. Accordingly, the Middle East Forum's Legal Project has worked on Mr Wilders' behalf, raising substantial funds for his defence and helping in other ways. We do so convinced of the paramount importance to talk freely in public during time of war about the nature of the enemy.
Ironically, were Mr Wilders fined or jailed, it would probably enhance his chances to become Prime Minister. But principle outweighs political tactics here. He represents all Westerners who cherish their civilisation. The outcome of his trial and his freedom to speak has implications for us all.
The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. www.danielpipes.org
CONGRESS ALLIES A DRAG ON THE UNION GOVT
CALL IT the downside of the coalition era in our polity. The Congress Party did return to power in May 2009 with a larger strength in Parliament, but its allies in the United Progressive Alliance have hamstrung the functioning of the Union government.
As the M AIL T ODAY has revealed, Union ministers from the Trinamool Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazgham, three critical allies of the Congress, stand out in the Union Council of Ministers for their poor performance. It certainly doesn't help matters that these allies had managed to bag some key ministries on account of the Congress party's dependence on them for a majority in Parliament.
How well NCP chief Sharad Pawar has performed as Agriculture Minister needs no iteration. He has not just failed to bring prices down, his forecasts on future prices may have actually talked up prices in the market. The economic logic of simple supply side shortages not being able to account for the astronomical rise in prices of basic commodities is seemingly beyond him.
Trinamool Chief Mamata Banerjee, as is well known, spends more time in Kolkata preparing for the 2011 Assembly elections than attending Cabinet meetings and looking after the Indian Railways. The spectacle of recurring accidents in her tenure and the need for technological overhaul of the system to prevent their occurrence do not seem to matter to her.
In the regime of the NCP's Praful Patel, who heads the civil aviation portfolio, the national carrier has suffered huge losses.
Why he chose to merge Air India and Indian Airlines or order the purchase of a large contingent of aircraft is still not clear though the speculation about his proximity to private operators could be an answer.
As for the DMK's A Raja and M K Alagiri, the less said the better. The jury is still out on how much loss Mr Raja caused to the national exchequer by allocating 2G spectrum at throwaway prices. Mr Alagiri conceals his embarrassment over not knowing any language in use in the corridors of power in Delhi by spending time in Tamil Nadu.
And the most unfortunate fact is that the prime minister, critically dependent on his allies, can do precious little to make this errant flock of ministers fall in line. Perhaps there is a message there for the electorate about voting for parties with a pan- Indian agenda in parliamentary elections.
SOUTH Korean President Lee Myung- bak who is the chief guest at the Republic Day parade tomorrow personifies his hardworking and achievement oriented nation.
His humble background as a person who picked garbage to pay his way through university only adds to his mystique as a builder of modern South Korea, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. But his achievement is not merely as a politician. He first made a name for himself as an executive in Hyundai Engineering and Manufacturing Company, rising to become its CEO at the age of 51.
In politics his first stop was as mayor of Seoul, a city that has by all accounts transformed itself into a world city.
India has a special relation with South Korea because many of its famous companies like Hyundai, Posco, Samsung and LG chose to establish themselves here at a time when other multi- nationals, tended to give India a miss. Some of the companies have set up manufacturing and service facilities as well. Korean companies are also active in infrastructure construction projects in the country. As a democratic technologically advanced country on the periphery of China, South Korea has an important place in Indian geopolitical considerations.
South Korean investors are keen to move to India so as not to put all their eggs in the Chinese basket.
We have a lot to learn from South Korea, principally the virtues of hard work and constructive nationalism, of a type that does not divide, but instead, propels the nation forward. India and Korea are currently negotiating a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement which, when concluded, is likely to give a major fillip to the trade ties between the two countries.
DON'T DOUBT DINAKARAN PANEL PROBITY
BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
IMPEACHMENT proceedings against Justice Dinakaran are on. The controversy which started over the suitability of his appointment as a Supreme Court judge has expanded into considering whether he should be allowed to remain a judge, leave alone the Chief Justice of Karnataka.
Accordingly, the Vice-President M.H. Ansari (as Chairman Rajya Sabha) has appointed Justice Sirpurkar (Supreme Court), Justice Dave (High Court), and P.P.
Rao (distinguished jurist) as members of the Committee under the Judges Enquiry Act 1968 as a prelude to impeachment.
But no sooner was this penultimate proceeding started, those very groups responsible for the campaign against Justice Dinakaran sought a recall of two members (Sirpurkar and P.P. Rao) and the inquiry to be reconstituted.
This request flows from Forum for Judicial Accountability (Chennai or Vaigai group) and Campaign for Judicial Accountability (Delhi or Bhushan group). Both have been at the forefront of this campaign supported by others.
The two groups are convinced he is guilty. Others who support it, like myself, feel that there is prima facie case for an inquiry which alone can determine his guilt.
Why should Justice Sirpurkar and PP Rao be asked by the Vice-President to recuse themselves? It is also suggested that since the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was consulted about these appointments, these appointments are suspect because the CJI had defended the Collegium's affirmation of the decision to elevate Justice Dinakaran to the Supreme Court. The Chennai group feels that it has a special right to challenge these appointments because they were the first to exppose the Dinakaran issue to the public. The Delhi group is a self-styled vociferous custodian of judicial morals. Democracy is grateful to both of them.
At the very outset, let us be clear that the Inquiry Committee is not a jury.
Nor are we in the process of jury selection where you keep opposing appointments until you get the jury of your choice. If the Vagai- Bhushan groups want to appoint judges of their choice or satisfaction, the rule of law and fairness is ill served. Nor should it appear that this is so.
Let us start with P. P. Rao.
Did either of the groups speak to P. P. Rao? No, they did not. Well, I did. P. P. Rao drafted the memo of 28th November 2009 asking Dinakaran to face the inquiry. Reliance was placed on a newspaper item saying that it was " learnt" that P. P. Rao had been consulted by Dinakaran. The next step was to jump to the conclusion that Rao was disqualified.
First, P. P. Rao has not given any " opinion" to Dinakaran. Dinakaran is not his client for a fee. He is not a friend. There is no pecuniary " bias". Dinakaran did call on Rao, who told him to face an inquiry and step down from work during that period. Rao's stance has always been clear. The Chennai group also asserts Rao and Dinakaran along with others are on the General Council of the National Law School.
According to them, the test is that all those who " have had any association with the person whose acts are to be gone into" are disqualified.
This would exclude all judges of the Supreme Court and High Court Chief Justices, since they all meet at Chief Justices Conference, and other meetings. This concept of " association" is then restricted by the Chennaigroup to " close association" with Dinakaran. This test, too, fails. Rao is not closely associated with Dinakaran.
Rao is one of the most distinguished counsels and jurists in India known for courage, integrity, calm and brilliance. His impeccable record shows he is above suspicion. The only way to malign him is to force unwarranted suspicions on him. Rao is a gift to the legal and public community. Let things remain that way.
An embarrassed Rao wrote to the Vice- President to seek permission to recuse himself in the light of the controversy. The Vice- President has declined.
Mudslinging without foundation is neither fair nor in the public interest.
Justice Sirpurkar is a judge of the Supreme Court against whom there is no allegation of judicial impropriety. His recusal is sought for two reasons.
First, both were judges of the Chennai High Court between 1997 and 2003 and sat on benches and committees together.
This could hardly constitute a disqualification. If correct, no Supreme Court judge could ever sit on the inquiry committee against a Supreme Court judge because they invariably sit on cases together.
The second reason advanced by the Bhushangroup is that it " has come to know ( that) he has told several responsible lawyers after the controversy ' that he knows Dinakaran well and that he is a honourable and wealthy man' and has therefore ' prejudged the issue'". Corridor gossip lacks credibility. Even so, Dinakaran is prima facie innocent until proven guilty. His inquiry should be fair. Justice Sirpurkar will, and must have, assessed the situation before accepting this assignment. Attributing bias on unwarranted suspicions is unacceptable.
The sad part of such accusative campaigns is that it puts public minds in a fix. If Dinakaran is acquitted, there will be a " I- told- you- so". If found guilty, the judges and Rao will be applauded. The effect of such a campaign is a message to Sirpurkar and Rao that they are forewarned that they must convict to prove their independence and impartiality.
Such pressure on an independent inquiry is simply wrong.
The next issue is whether the Chief Justice of India ( CJI) is to be consulted since it is alleged that the Judges Inquiry Act 1968 does not require consultation and the CJI had defended the decision to elevate Dinakaran to the Supreme Court. That the CJI defended his own and the decision of the Collegium is hardly surprising.
Placed in doubt he again referred the matter to the Collegium, which reversed the earlier decision. The CJI asked the government to inquire into the allegations against Dinakaran. As CJI, and head of the judiciary, he had to be consulted on which judge could be spared from court work. On the material placed, there is no reason why the CJI should not discharge his constitutional functions.
This leaves the issue of the Survey of India Report to determine the extent of the Dinakaran lands and alleged encroachment. The Chennai group says that the Survey of India's deliberations should stop, so that parallel proceedings do not take place in Parliament and the Survey of India. I think this demand is correct, but it should not possess a shrillness of articulation.
On 11th January 2010, the CJI told a newspaper that he asked the government to conduct an inquiry and does not know what the Survey's report says.
What, then, is the solution? Clearly, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha ( to whom the Chennai- group wrote the letter) has no jurisdiction. Nor, indeed, the Chief Justice of India, who did not order it.
Before the matter is litigated, the Government of India has the power to stop the Survey of India. It will also be within the remit of the inquiry and Parliament to seek the report or further evidence, if so advised.
Vigilance is important to democracy, excessive suspicion is not. Public scrutiny is vital, but it has to be grounded with well founded rigour.
The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer
POWER & POLITICS
HARD MEN FOR TOUGH JOBS
WHEN the going gets tough, the tough get going, goes the saying. The UPA government seems to have total and implicit faith in this adage. The appointment of the former national security advisor MK Narayanan as the new Governor of West Bengal, coming so soon after Naraian Dutt Tewari was summarily packed off from Hyderabad for indulging in activities not generally associated with occupants of Raj Bhavans least of all 86 year olds leads me to just one conclusion.
This government is not going to allow governors to treat the Raj Bhavans as farmhouses in the city centre for fun and frolic and rest and recreation. For a change, it is telling them: take your jobs seriously, or here is the pink slip. In these columns a couple of weeks ago, I had written about how successive governments at the Centre had reserved the gubernatorial jobs for over- the- hill politicians who remained content being mere rubber stamps or agents of the ruling party at the Centre.
In the last fortnight, the government appointed or transferred eight governors.
Four of them took the oath of office on Friday and the rest are scheduled to do so soon after the Republic Day formalities are done with. Of the 28 incumbents, politicians with 16, not surprisingly form the majority. There are four retired IAS officers: former home secretary NN Vohra in Srinagar, retired Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt in Chattisgarh, former civil aviation secretary SS Sidhu in Goa, and former Home Secretary BP Singh in Sikkim. Two more are former army men: Retd General JJ Singh and retd Lt Gen MM Lakhera. The rest are, you may have guessed, all retired police officers.
Never in history have six ex- police officers occupied the post of governors at the same time. And the fact that all six, whose efficiency is beyond question and integrity beyond reproach, are in charge of sensitive states is probably an indication that the government truly believes that when the going gets tough, you really have to get the tough going. Narayanan, an IPS officer, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau and the NSA, is now in West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee is not the only threat to law and order. When the Telangana strife began, the centre showed the door to ND Tiwari and asked ESL Narasimhan, then governor of Chattisgarh, to hold concurrent charge of Andhra Pradesh.
Narasimhan now has been confirmed as the governor of the state, his old post in Raipur going to retired IAS officer Shekhar Dutt. Narasimhan is a 1968 batch IPS officer and, hailing as he does, from the Andhra cadre, there is no one better suited than him to understand, evaluate and tackle the situation in the state which, if handled without some amount of Narasimhan deftness, could turn into an inferno.
Ex Army man JJ Singh was Director General at the Military Operations Directorate. The Chinese fear none, but it still makes sense to have him as the governor of Arunachal Pradesh where Beijing loves to poke its nose. Nikhil Kumar, Gurbachan Jagat and RS Mooshahary have all had distinguished careers in police forces in different states and are posted in similarly crucial North east stations while the services of BL Joshi, who joined the police in 1957 and has had long stints working with Interpol, Narcotics and Internal Security is just what lawless Uttar Pradesh needs.
These are proven people in sensitive posts. Take them away and who are you left with? The old style politicians whose utility dates in that rough and tumble world is long expired and who are now being used as agents and political rubber stamps in states where the threat is not to the centre, but the ruling party at the centre.
This is not to suggest that none of the 16 political appointees deserve to be in their Raj Bhavans.
They were all posted as governors because they had reached the sunset of their political careers. As career politicians, they can at best play backroom politics to aid their benefactors at the centre. It is challenge that bring out the best in man. And as these increase by the day, I believe that this government and those that follow will think of men and women with proven administrative skills for the Raj Bhavan jobs. Governors should be made of such mettle.
Mulayam's support base set to shrink
MORE and more, the Samajwadi Party is beginning to look like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland . The leadership's grin remains intact, but everything else has fallen apart or disappeared. The last couple of years have been forgettable for Mulayam Singh Yadav electorally and as the party now begins to resemble a family run fiefdom, the downhill slide has picked up speed. The death last week of the affable Janeswar Mishra, the Brahmin face of the SP, comes close on the heels of the palace coup in Etawah that saw the departure of Amar Singh. With both the Brahmin and Thakur leaders out of the party, its impact is being assessed. Now Mulayam has the daunting task of wooing or retaining the few Rajputs and Brahmins left in the SP. Amar's departure just three days before the council elections created enough confusion among the higher and middle level leaders of the SP. The party had fielded only five candidates in 36 seats and managed to win just one.
Rajputs are particularly angry because Amar Singh was not only one among them but also the only leader with nationwide visibility that the party had; the rest were at best, constituency- level leaders who had no say in the party affairs. With his cross party friends and vast business and other contacts, Amar Singh had given the one- state party a reach beyond the borders of Uttar Pradesh.
During the Mulayam regime in 2003- 07 period, there were violent Yadav- Thakur clashes in eastern UP and when the police seemed to be working in tandem with the Yadavs, it was he who raised the issue with Mulayam and restored order. The SP currently has 14 Rajput MLAs in the assembly, three in the council and four Rajput MPs. Insiders tell me many of them are beginning to feel " uncomfortable" in the SP as they fear they will be targeted for being " Amar Singh's men". With the SP firmly in the grip of Mulayam, brothers Shivpal and Ram Gopal and son Akhilesh, its next poll slogan may well be " I Me, Mine".
WHY DID MAMATA MISS THE FUNERAL?
MAMATA Banerjee's penchant for theatricals is legendary but I am sure even the most ardent of her Trinamool supporters have been left red faced by her antics at the funeral of the Marxist veteran Jyoti Basu last week. A funeral is an occasion when even sworn enemies gather in silence and maybe keep a safe and dignified distance. Everyone knows that Mamata views a communist in the same manner that a bull looks at a red rag.
But someone ought to tell the lady that her responsibilities as a minister in the union government far outweigh the irresponsibility that come with being leader of the Trinamool Congress. Reports have it that she boycotted the funeral because she believed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was cosying up to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the man she hopes to replace at Writers Building after the assembly elections next year.
It was nothing of the sort.
Protocol dictates that when the prime minister visits a state, the local chief minister must be present at all public functions. The two may have done nothing more than exchange pleasantries, but conspiracy buffs in the Trinamool seem to have convinced Mamata that they were hatching something.
It now appears that the real reason was something else.
Rumours doing the rounds suggest Mamata wanted to accompany Sonia Gandhi in her car for the funeral but the elite Special Protection Group would have nothing of it. Mamata is then said to have demanded that she be allowed to travel in one of the many cars that formed the SPG convoy but was politely told by an officer that the rulebook did not allow such free rides. She is then said to have had a running verbal feud with the leader of the commando group before finally walking away in a huff, but not before accusing the SPG of trying to keep her away from Sonia. In the months to come, Mamata can be expected to spin many such conspiracy theories that will fascinate Bengalis, at least until the assembly elections next year.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FACE THE PROBLEM
News stories about attacks on Indians in Australia, such as the latest one about two Indian nationals being assaulted in Brisbane, no longer cause surprise only resigned indignation. That in itself indicates the seriousness of the situation. So far, the Indian government's reaction to such attacks has been relatively muted. But this is unlikely to continue indefinitely. The issue is an emotive one and the threat to its nationals as well as growing public pressure will sooner or later push New Delhi into taking a more strident line. Signs of this can already be seen with external affairs minister S M Krishna's recent warning that bilateral ties between the two countries could be affected.
If the situation is to be arrested before it deteriorates further, Canberra must show clarity in assessing the problem. It is understandable that the Australian government may be reluctant to face up to the possibility of racism being a motivating factor in these attacks. Likewise, the explanations they have offered of the Indian victims being targets of opportunity because of the economic profiles and work hours contain some truth. But it has gone beyond the point where racism as a root factor can be ignored. And the attitude of top functionaries such as Victoria's police chief commissioner who is reported to have said that Indians are safer in Australia than in India does not help matters. It is meaningless in the context, unfortunate bluster to avoid facing an unpleasant reality.
Warnings have been sounded within Australia itself. A former military chief has said that it would be madness to ignore the racial element in these attacks. And Universities Australia, a top body that represents 39 Australian universities, has accused the state and federal governments of ignoring the warning it issued two years ago when it alerted them to problems about student safety, lack of concessions on public safety and the like.
There is no denying that among certain sections of Australian society, there is a problem. The clashes on Sydney beaches in 2005 between gangs of ethnic Lebanese and Anglo youths brought this into stark relief. The current attacks on Indians seem to be spreading. Having started in Melbourne, they spread to Sydney and now Brisbane. It is time for Canberra to see the problem for what it is and take the steps necessary to kill this contagion by cracking down on racially motivated attacks aimed at Indians. Economic and strategic ties between India and Australia hold great promise. Canberra should not allow them to be held hostage to this single issue.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
The Supreme Court's observation that burqa-clad women cannot be issued voter identity cards is welcome. Rejecting a petition that argued that asking burqa-clad women to lift their veils to get photographed goes against Islamic sensibilities, the court has rightly pointed out that making an exception for veiled women would "create complications in identification of voters". The Election Commission's rules mandate that all eligible voters must be photographed without their faces being covered in order to enrol themselves as bona fide voters. This is not an unreasonable rule and should not be interpreted as an affront to religious sentiments.
The insistence on asking women to lift their veils to be photographed is merely a practical measure to aid the proper identification of voters, which is crucial to prevent bogus voting. There is support for this move from within the Muslim community. Muslim scholars have pointed out that the Quran does not mandate the face veil and therefore shedding it is not un-Islamic. Conservatives though maintain that the face veil is mandatory.
One of them, Maulana Abu Zafar Hassan Nadvi, a senior cleric, has maintained that such a move goes against Islamic values in the name of liberating women. It does nothing of the kind. Within the Muslim community there is no consensus on whether the burqa is mandatory or not. Its adoption varies among various sections. In such a scenario, a case for the burqa on behalf of the entire Muslim community does not hold much water. In any case, cultural practices of any community cannot be allowed to subvert the law of the land.
There are some who are equating this row with the larger debate over the place of the burqa in public life, which is presently raging in some western European countries. Any such connection is both tenuous and incorrect. The ban on the burqa in France and the resistance to the veil in public places in Denmark and Britain, for instance, are rooted in a larger ideological dialogue between the Islamic world and the West. The issue at hand here in India is merely one of electoral procedure. It would be unfortunate if Muslim women preferred not to get themselves photographed and thus lost their voting rights, as it would further ghettoise them. Their absence from the democratic process would only harm their self-interest.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PATRIARCH, PARTY, PEOPLE
Jyoti Basu, like any other prominent public figure, can be assessed in different ways. He can, first, be considered in light of personal experiences. Thus, in an interview he gave earlier, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee mentions his long association with Basu and admits that Basu was like a father to him, apart from being his guru. He highlights Basu's qualities as those of a "quintessential Bengali bhadralok" who at the same time was "a staunch communist". Basu was a warrior who could not take any injustice lying down and also an able administrator, performing both roles without betraying any emotion.
Many of Basu's qualities are known even outside his close circle. Indeed, it is widely known that he had a phenomenal memory and could easily go to the heart of a matter under discussion. His command over the English language and his urbane manners were admired, even among his ordinary party workers. His crisp and clear style of speaking, just as his brisk walk, added to his charisma.
An appraisal of Basu must move beyond personal experiences and appreciation of his personal qualities. He needs to be considered in the context of what he left behind as a public figure. Internationally, he had to his scredit the record of being the longest serving head of an elected communist government in the world, a fact of which he was justifiably proud as Gopalkrishna Gandhi reminds us. Nationally, he stood for coalition government and was heard as a respected politician. But his role in this respect is defined more in terms of what was not to be, thanks to what he called then the "historic blunder" of his party. He did play a significant role though in making his party a strong presence nationally.
Within his own state, his role is more controversial. He did go through elections and made his party see the necessity of this 'bourgeois' practice, even if there were allegations of rigging. He brought stability to West Bengal, protecting it from the influence of communal forces. Though there are critics of the process, the effort made towards land reforms and strengthening of panchayats needs to be noted. Basu alone was not responsible for these achievements. This does not yet take away the credit due to him as chief minister of West Bengal from 1977 to 2000.
On the negative side, it is widely noted that his government had no coherent industrial policy. The rhetoric of class exploitation was no substitute for it. Indeed, in building an irresponsible trade union movement that brought the term gherao into political vocabulary, a situation of anarchy was created in the state. Thus, enough damage was done to the image of West Bengal as an industrial location. I recall a staunch German Marxist friend of mine who came to Calcutta in the 1980s feeling bewildered by the situation that prevailed there at the time. Marx formulated the theory of the exploitation of workers on the strength of the surplus value they created. If workers created no value at all and yet received payment, he asked, who exploited whom? An unabashed parasitism came into prominence thus, which benefited favoured organised workers and, above all, the army of office clerks. The politicisation process at the root of this parasitism left no institution untouched, particularly harming institutions in the sectors of health and education.
This is broadly the situation that prevails even today, though the positive effort made by Bhattacharjee should not be overlooked. All is not well in the state of West Bengal. What needs to be underlined is that West Bengal was not only arguably turned into an industrial graveyard but even more so a graveyard of the ideals that the best sons of the soil tried to present to the country and beyond it to the entire world. We need to think of Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore in this context. Both emphasised and through the examples of their own lives showed the value of hard work and character formation. This has been forgotten. Consider what has been done to Shantiniketan, no abode of peace. Tagore's spirit has been driven out of it, not even his Nobel gold medal could be preserved there.
Surely, Basu alone cannot be held responsible for this decay. There have been forces within as well as outside his party which colluded so to speak in bringing about this condition. But he must as helmsman for long take his share of responsibility. There is a lesson to be learnt for all of us from this negative side of the story. This brings me to an old ideal the ideal of putting people above the party, the common interest above the particular interest. This is an ideal that can be found in both Marx and Gandhi. Will major politicians of the state, representing different political parties, be able to think of the state beyond the next election? Will Bengal's intellectuals and creative personalities be able to, in a fearless manner, articulate what is good for the state?
The writer is a social commentator.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'FRUITS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUST BE AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE'
Last year, 56-year-old Irina Bokova of Bulgaria was elected the director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). She is the first woman to hold this post. After working in Bulgarian governments, both before and after the fall of communist rule, Bokova has been a diplomat and special representative to the UN. On her first visit to India after becoming the director general, she spoke to Subodh Varma on her vision for UNESCO:
What is this 'new humanism' that you want to bring into UNESCO's approach?
Many countries, like India, are showing dynamism in their economic progress. But they are struggling to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, empowering women, reducing child mortality, combating diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability etc. 'New Humanism' seeks to put these in focus. It stresses an inclusive humanism, which takes within it the environment, nature, and strives to build new values. It is 'new' because it is different from the 18th century concept of individual-based good.
What does the vision of 'science and technology for humanity' mean?
Firstly, it means that the fruits of science and technology should become available for all of humanity and not get restricted to some countries or some strata of society, as they are presently. Secondly, it means that science needs to be used effectively to resolve common problems facing humanity, like diseases, climate change, water management and others. At UNESCO, we have been trying to facilitate this process through action on the ground and by providing information to all.
Is it true that big, wasteful bureaucracies stifle the UN and affiliates?
Absolutely untrue. Since 2001, there has been a systematic rationalisation of functions, expenditure and jobs in all the UN organisations. Many of the earlier problems are getting resolved. There has also been an effort to 'deliver as one', that is bring about synergies among various UN agencies. In my visit here, for example, i met all the UN agencies together at a meeting, to evolve a common approach of work in India.
How do you view the Indian government's efforts towards 'education for all'?
The Indian government is aware of the gigantic problems it faces the unacceptably high illiteracy and dropout rates, low enrolment in higher education and others. It has a positive commitment to address these problems through increased spending and through legislative measures like the right to education. Quality of education is another major issue training of teachers. In my discussion with the minister, i found a deep awareness and political will to address these problems. UNESCO will assist in all these areas through inputs for framing policy and also by concrete action on the ground. We are setting up the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Peace Education and Sustainable Development, a category 1 UNESCO institute here.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE COFFEE SATSANG
J S RAGHAVAN|
The subject of who brews his early morning coffee came up for deliberation in our select group of its connoisseurs. Badri, nursing his single malt whisky kicked off the proceedings. ''No, not my wife. A decaffeinated tea addict, she sickens me with her dip-dip, messy tea bags. She faults my notion that tea is a proletarian drink, but genuine Tanjore filter coffee is fit for the gods and no less. I brew my own. Period.'' Shankar, taking a moody swallow from his vodka, spoke next. ''My wife is no better. Her grouse is that coffee is too strong for her jejunum or ileum, wherever it is in her anatomy. Drinks lukewarm, weak, sweetened tea, cold-shouldering the magic potion from Robusta or Arabica cherry. We all know coffee was accidentally discovered by an Abyssinian shepherd who found his lazy sheep gamboling after eating its berries. Hearing that she sneered, 'No wonder you go after it like dumb sheep'. Can a woman with such animus in her heart be permitted to make coffee? No way. I have to bar her from darkening the kitchen before sunrise.''
We heard a growl from Ram, the oldest monk in our group, now on his second rum refill. ''Early morning? My wife hasn't seen one since she rises after half-past seven. And goes for a health-drink that smells like a cross between burning plastics and putrid pickles. Expect coffee from her? My left foot. I make it myself.'' We looked at the professorial Partha, whose sworn poison is gin. He looked deeply into the glass as if it was to prompt him. ''The way my wife goes about her tea service to her cronies would humble a lady in a kimono. I should give full marks for that. But she can't touch coffee. Calls me a filtered fuddy-duddy, jeering at my obsession with my mother's brass coffee filter. The coffee she serves grudgingly doesn't come from a filter but from the outlet of a dishwasher. So what do i do? Fend for myself.'' Subbu rose with a nervous laugh carrying his chilled draft beer. ''Sorry folks. I'm unfit to take a seat in this coffee satsang. I insult that great drink daily. Pushpa had weaned me from it. I drink instant coffee.'' Having spat those words feelingly, he grabbed his tankard and exited from our midst in a marked manner.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HOLD THEM TO ACCOUNT
MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
Those of us who felt outraged at Ram Jethmalani's crude defence of S P S Rathore, and the attack on the credentials of Ruchika and Aradhana's families, to the extent of challenging the veracity of Ruchika's complaint would do well to remember that the vicious counter-allegations, blatant character assassination of the victim, filing of bogus counter-cases against the victim, her friends and family has become a routine conduct of criminal lawyers, especially those who are hired to defend men accused of crimes against women.
The legal brains hired by Rathore to defend him in the courts are as responsible as Rathore himself for implicating Ruchika's brother in false cases, of hounding Ruchika's father and brother out of their own home and hometown, witch-hunting Aradhana's father, harassing journalists with defamation cases and using other pressures for daring to cover the story in Punjab papers. Without the active cooperation of lawyers Rathore could not have dragged the case on for 19 long years, leading to serious miscarriage of justice.
It is indeed important to assume a person innocent until proven guilty. In the interest of fair trial it is vital that even those accused of heinous crimes have lawyers to defend them. However, it is a blatant debasement of our judicial system to overlook the use of falsehoods employed by lawyers to defend their clients. The first and foremost duty of a lawyer ought to be to assist the court in delivering justice which can happen only if lawyers do not consider it their right to use illegal or dishonest means to mislead the court -- using the specious plea that they are merely performing a professional duty for which they have been hired.
While society at large may socially ostracise and shun a man guilty of serious crimes, lawyers are treated as virtual celebrities if they are successful in using their legal acumen to help murderers, rapists, arsonists and those accused of hate crimes escape due punishment. Even though Section 195 of IPC states that "giving or fabricating false evidence with an intent to get someone convicted is a crime punishable with jail term of 7 years or upwards" the judiciary has rarely taken a tough stand against lawyers who enable their clients to implicate others in false cases, twist facts out of shape or use devious, dishonest means to help their clients escape due punishment.
As per the IPC, in all such matters, the court has to be the complainant. A petitioner can bring such matters to the notice of the court by filing an application under Section 340 of CrPC but it is rare for courts to take action in cases of false evidence. Most important of all, only litigants are covered by this law. There is no liability on lawyers. That is why eminent legal luminaries have no hesitation in assisting the Rathores of this world cover up their own crimes and terrorise victims with false cases. Not surprisingly, most people despise the courts and dread the colonial legal system, which has such perversions built into it. This is an important reason why the hold of traditional caste and biradari panchayats is still strong in India. Way back in 1908, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Hind Swaraj: "Lawyers...will, as a rule, advance quarrels instead of repressing them. Moreover, men take up that profession, not in order to help others out of their miseries, but to enrich themselves...and their interest exists in multiplying disputes." The more heinous a crime, the higher the fee the lawyers get. The more lawyers drag the case, the more money they make. It's not surprising, therefore, that they have acquired a vested interest in crime and criminals. The agenda of judicial reforms must take all these issues head on. It would be a sign of mental slavery if we accept the existing flawed system simply because we inherited it from our colonial rulers.
The writer is a senior fellow at CSDS.
WE HAVEN'T A CLUE
Just when we were told that we'd get to see the super sleuths of Scotland Yard, who were reportedly coming to New Delhi to protect the British contingent at the Commonwealth Games, comes news that this might not happen. The Brits, we gather, are happy with the security arrangements here. Clearly, the poor deluded souls have not had first-hand experience of our security methods. Not that we are not effective, mind you, just a trifle unorthodox.
Now Scotland Yard may go in for painstaking forensic examination followed by rigorous questioning of the suspects and those known to them. This could take months, even years. Our methods are far less complicated. If, by chance, you are found loitering around the Games village in Delhi, our security would get you to spill the beans in no time at all. The 'what do you think you're doing?' would be accompanied by a few well-aimed whacks across the face. If this does not get you to sing, then it's off to the local thana where they have ways to make you talk. If, God forbid, a crime were to be committed in the Games village or any athlete perceived a threat, trust our lads in khaki to be all over the crime scene obliterating all evidence and relying only on their powers of deduction to nab the culprits.
Of course, it is possible that those nabbed may say they were in distant Barabanki at the time of the offence, but we don't let such minor details get in the way of speedy resolution of crimes. So we don't really need the toffs from Scotland Yard coming down here and communing with our lads. At best they can come around, stay in the British High Commission compound saying "har, har, pass the gin and tonic, old chap", and observe from a distance how we get results faster than instant noodles. All we can say is Scotland Yard or no Scotland Yard, we're game for anything.
KUMBH GREAT SPECTACLE
The Kumbh Mela, now on, is by far the largest gathering of faith anywhere in the world. It is celebrated when the planet Jupiter enters the zodiac sign of Aquarius (kumbh), attracting the faithful from all over India and beyond to the banks of the Ganga, mainly in Haridwar.
Its origin is found in the mythical churning of the ocean, undertaken jointly by the gods and demons for amrita (nectar) on the understanding of sharing it equally.
However, when the kumbh (pot) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For 12 days and 12 nights (equivalent to 12 human years), the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. It is believed that during the battle, Lord Vishnu flew away with the elixir. In the course of the battle, drops of amrita fell at four places on earth at Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, and that is where the Kumbh Mela is observed every 12 years.
Like any other such religious event in the world, apart from faith, a lot of colour and pageantry is associated with the Kumbh. A large number of foreigners too come to witness the event for it is an occasion when various orders of Sadhus come out of their Himalayan caves to take the ritual bath in the holy Ganga.
The number of pilgrims swells to millions when Naga Sadhus and ascetics of the Juna and Dasnamai Akaharas (orders) come for the ritual bath. They traditionally enjoy certain privileges like exclusive access to the river on auspicious days marked for shahai snan (grand bath), occasionally leading to clashes for precedence over each other.
It is a great spectacle to watch these sadhus go in a procession for the snan, for a dip in the holy waters is believed to be rejuvenating. On several occasions, the scramble for being the first to take the bath on auspicious days has caused stampedes, leading to loss of lives. But that is okay because the faithful believe that those who die during the Kumbh go straight to heaven!
TAKE STOCK OF WALL STREET
US President Barack Obama joins other heads of governments in the West trying to tame the animal instincts that lend capitalism its unique vigour. By banning deposit-taking banks from propriety trading, he is brutally curbing their risk-taking ability. Regulation in mature capitalist economies has settled on calibrating risk with capital provisioning, not by denying access to financial innovation. Mr Obama's proposal will not only be difficult to implement because banking functions are fiendishly intertwined today but also it does not meet the larger regulatory goal of ring-fencing the financial system and the economy beyond from excessively risky behaviour by individual banks. Both these aims are better served by the Basel II rules, which came into force in Europe and Japan last year and will take effect in the US in 2012, that boost the amount of capital banks have to hold against private equity investments.
US banks have of their own been reducing private equity investments as leveraged buyout deals dry up. Banks provide 9 per cent of the capital invested in US private equity funds, most of which is capital managed on behalf of clients. Internal hedge funds and private equity investments make sense for banks because of the trading, underwriting, and advisory revenue they provide, not extraordinary returns. The main benefit is it opens the door to clients from private equity groups. The most likely outcome of
Mr Obama's proposal is that funds currently owned by banks will be spun off as independent entities, pushing more money into dark pools that are more difficult to regulate.
The G-20, in a rare display of collective regulatory overhaul, has made some eminently actionable suggestions. One, alongside rules for individual agents that most economies have in place, is to have rules for the market overall, to be scalable as the situation demands. Essentially, macro-regulation as a supplement to everyday micro-regulation. Two, the market's appetite for risk swings wildly between boom and bust and the reins should be tightened when the animal spirits are high. By building up prudential capital buffers during the benign phase of an economic cycle, when it's easier and cheaper to do so, financial institutions can enter more challenging times from a stronger position. Mr Obama need not have broken ranks with the rest of the world in trying to fix a problem that affects us all.
THE NSA'S ROLE HAS BEEN DOWNSIZED
Former National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan's appointment as West Bengal Governor clearly indicates that the Prime Minister has decided to downgrade the position of his NSA and perhaps vest greater powers in the home ministry. The development is also an endorsement of Home Minister P. Chidambaram's proposal for a new security architecture inspired by the Homeland Security department's success in the United States. It may eventually lead to the creation of the National Counter Terrorism Centre.
As the Home Minister is busy preparing a discussion paper for presentation to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Security, the role of the NSA has obviously been curtailed. Shiv Shankar Menon, the new appointee, is certainly not going to enjoy the same kind of sweeping powers his predecessor did. In matters of security, he does not possess the same kind of knowledge of several agencies dealing with the subject. He is at best a distinguished diplomat, the Sharm el-Sheikh controversy notwithstanding, and if control over the intelligence agencies is taken away from him, he will be reduced to being the National Diplomatic Adviser.
Unfortunately, there are not too many officers to fill MK's shoes as far as security concerns go. His strength lay in the fact that he knew the entire security establishment from close quarters and was conversant with the capabilities of senior officers. There is no doubt that he provided patronage even to mediocre men. But he drew on his vast experience at times to give direction to policy as also to cover up for people on occasion.
The position of the NSA was created during the NDA regime and Brajesh Mishra was the first person to occupy the office. Mishra was the one who made the A.B. Vajpayee government tick, as he was also the principal secretary to the PM. But he knew his limitations on the security front, and allowed his hand-picked persons to run the show while he concentrated on diplomacy and matters of State.
J.N. Dixit, who succeeded him after the UPA came to power, was one of the most outstanding foreign secretaries we've had. But his role had more to do with diplomacy and foreign policy; M.K. Narayanan presided over internal security. After his demise, MK got to occupy the post and became super-powerful. While it is the government's prerogative to appoint anyone of its choice, there is a feeling among intelligence agencies that it is not necessary that only a former foreign service officer should hold the post. For that matter, it's not essential even for a former police officer to be entrusted with the job. The NSA can be from the Indian Administrative Service or the armed forces. The primary concern for any country should be its security, which should finally determine its foreign policy.
It is clear that the PMO has decided to lighten its burden as far as security concerns go, paving the way for a bigger role for the home ministry. It means that the new charter defining the NSA's role may limit his brief. He may then carry forward the foreign policy initiatives that the PM wants, besides advising him on nuclear and other subjects concerning relationships with key countries. This could lead to a situation where the NSA becomes a parallel foreign office functionary in the same way as MK had substituted the work of many in the home ministry.MK's exit has also made many of his hand-picked officers vulnerable. The government must hurry with its plans for a new security architecture and find the best officers to hold key positions in the new set-up. MK's exit is bound to lead to a major overhaul. For many, his absence will mean that the buffer has disappeared. The slogan will be 'perform or perish'. And security issues will obviously remain paramount. Between us.
It is, indeed, a remarkable coincidence that the country mourns the passing away of Jyoti Basu while observing the Diamond Jubilee of the founding of the Indian Republic. It is remarkable in the sense that Jyoti Basu's seven decade-long political life is contemporaneous with the evolution of modern India.
Having gone to England to return as a Bar-at-Law, he was attracted to the Communist worldview, embraced the ideology and returned to India in 1940 not to don the black robes but to plunge directly into the freedom struggle by joining the Communist Party. Karl Marx had once said that when an idea grips the minds of the masses, it becomes a material force. The desire for independence from British rule had gripped the Indian masses when Jyoti Basu joined the Communist movement. He, however, was thinking ahead about the character and content of independent India. The political independence that would be achieved needed to be converted into the true economic independence of every Indian. This meant the creation of a socialist society where exploitation of man by man simply ceases to exist. It is with this passion, that remained undiluted till the end, that he served the Indian people.
Modern India, post-Independence, was evolving through major struggles that led eventually to the integration of the feudal princely States into the Indian Union. The struggles led by the Communists brought to the fore the agenda of land reforms and the abolition of feudal zamindari and other land tenure systems. This was also the period when the various linguistic nationalities in India, who had united in the struggle for freedom, were seeking their distinct identity a process that finally led to the linguistic reorganisation of the Indian States in 1956.
Jyoti Basu's political evolution converged with the evolution of modern India, based irrevocably on the premise that the recognition and celebration of India's diversity can only be on the basis of its secular democratic foundations.
Jyoti Basu's firm commitment to our country's secular democratic character and administrative structures remained a constant feature of his work and activities. As communal forces represent the very antithesis of this evolution of modern India, Jyoti Basu worked to isolate and defeat the communal forces and strengthen the secular polity.
Simultaneously, his entire concentration was on carrying forward the struggle to convert India's political independence into economic independence for its people socialism. Within the Indian Communist movement, however, a very intense ideological battle erupted on how this was to be achieved. Steering clear and battling against both the right and left deviations, Jyoti Basu, along with his other comrades who eventually formed the CPI(M), adopted the correct line of combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity and struggles to achieve this objective. Jyoti Basu excelled in using parliamentary democracy, its institutions and fora, both for advancing this struggle and simultaneously providing greater relief to the people.
The implementation of land reforms, the deepening of democracy by developing the panchayati raj institutions and the articulation of the need for better Centre-State relations to strengthen India's federal character were some of his important contributions to the process of the consolidation of modern India. These apart, he was one of the first to constitute separate ministries for environment and science and technology.
Apart from all these, the main facet of Jyoti Basu's personality that attracted people towards him was his unassailable faith in them. He would always urge the Party and its cadre to go to the people and explain to them what we were doing and take them into confidence. This faith in the people was the strength of his credibility. They never questioned, or even doubted, his integrity.
The consolidation of the modern Indian Republic and elevating the bar of political morality can be achieved only by pursuing this course, as exemplified by Jyoti Basu. The strengthening of the secular democratic foundations and, more importantly, completing the unfinished task of converting the political independence of the country into the true economic emancipation of the people, will define the contours of such a consolidation. The widening hiatus between 'shining' and 'suffering' India needs to be overcome.
This, in turn, requires from all of us the strengthening of the spirit of selfless service to the people and the country. Pledging his body to serve medical science, Jyoti Basu on April 4, 2003, wrote: "As a Communist, I am pledged to serve humanity till my last breath. I am happy that now I will continue to serve even after my death."
Jyoti Basu's indomitable fighting spirit that he displayed all his life was there to be seen in death as well. Running his 96th year, when he was brought to the hospital with pneumonia, medical science and doctors, naturally, did not see much hope. But, as always, he surprised everybody. For 17 days, the fight continued. 'Never say give up' sums up the spirit of his life.
It is this spirit that needs to be strengthened for carrying forward the consolidation of the modern Indian Republic.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.
When temperatures revert to near normal on a scientific argument that had turned very personal, Jairam Ramesh, Union minister for environment and forests, will probably stop seeing the long overdue constitution of an Indian panel to study climate change just as a counter to R.K. Pachauri and the IPCC. For now, he can be allowed his victory lap for pulling off one of the biggest scientific scoops of recent times. Ever since he took over his current portfolio last summer, Ramesh has been arguing that the IPCC's warning in its fourth assessment report that, given the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are retreating, they could disappear by 2035 was unscientific and alarmist. But the current climate is such that to demand due diligence and rigour from those studying global warming is not just to risk being portrayed as a sceptic, but to have serious moral questions raised about your agenda. So, now that the IPCC has accepted its mistake and apologised albeit without taking adequate responsibility for the alarm it raised Ramesh is underlining the lapse.
With or without the IPCC's rigour, India needs a broad-based national agency for climate change assessment. Climate change prediction is an evolving science and the geographic and demographic diversity of this country demands careful study of complexities that could inform threats to its peoples and habitats. But certainly, confirmation that the IPCC could have been as much as 300 three hundred years off in its prediction on the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers is a wake-up call. As climate change becomes a factor in a variety of policy decisions within and among governments, the number of stakeholders in overstating and in understating threats is growing.
The next hoax may not be as glaring, and therefore easy to expose, as the glacier prediction. A national database is therefore crucial. The episode should also serve as an alert that we need to create more fertile ground for informed questions.
ODD ONE OUT
Talk of mixed messaging. A public service advert against female foeticide featured prominently on the website of the ministry for women and child development and was splashed across newspapers. "Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?" it asked in bold letters, with pictures of high-flying, high-testosterone icons from Kapil Dev to Virender Sehwag and Amjad Ali Khan and then, a visual non-sequitur a moustachioed military man, who it turns out, is Pakistan's retired Air Chief Marshal, Tanvir Ahmed.
To err is human, to err defiantly and brazen it out until hauled up by your boss is perhaps, typical of sarkaari functioning. The innocent, almost comical sexism of the advert aside, what makes this episode remarkable is the aftermath. After television channels inflated the matter, the PMO stepped in to apologise for "the inclusion of a foreign national's photograph in a Government of India advertisement." The Opposition jumped in, asking what dire future awaits us "if our government officials and politicians do not know who our top military officers are", and extending it further, wondering what might happen "if our government advertisement carries the photo of the Pakistan prime minister in the place of our prime minister." Later, the ministry and the government's Directorate of Visual Publicity lobbed responsibility at each other, saying that the ad was created by a private agency. Of course, it is unclear who actually needs to own up to their cluelessness. Krishna Tirath, the minister for women and child development, asserted: "The message is more important than the image." And she blamed the media for refusing to focus on the girl child's plight. The advertising agency, in turn, might conceivably blame the internet for making the Pakistani defence chief's picture so temptingly available.
So much blame and recrimination, over one little misplaced picture. Bloopers happen. In such perfunctory, pro-forma government messaging, they probably happen more often. But they get magnified beyond control when no one steps in on time to acknowledge them.
SECURE FOR GROWTH
Allowing for a threshold of error as all compilations of figures must, the data from India's 33 districts worst affected by Naxalite violence still convincingly spell out the bad news on the wall. These districts, spanning five states, are caught in a vicious cycle because of the high incidence of Naxalite violence and the pervasiveness of Naxal presence government projects for development and welfare are critically hindered and the lack of development, or persistence of underdevelopment, thereby further empowers Naxalite activity, since it becomes easier for Naxalites to move into these areas and enforce their formulaic indoctrination and violence. Therefore, as the affected states and the Centre coordinate the anti-Naxal operations, there are not just clear priorities but also advancing deadlines. Under the circumstances, an affected state cannot afford to be complacent or lazy in executing the operations and if there's a message for chief ministers like Shibu Soren in these Planning Commission figures, it is this.
Government expenditure on health, education, child care, electricity, roads, water, etc is invariably and alarmingly poor in 28 of the 33 LWE (left wing extremism) districts in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Bihar. In percentage terms in Jharkhand, for example, the expenditure for child care in the 10 worst affected districts is 15 while the state's average is 86; for rural roads it is 48 and 127 respectively, and for education 17 and 77. The seven districts in focus in Chhattisgarh spend 15 per cent on water while the state spends 83 on average; for rural roads it's 46 per cent versus 115 per cent. Individual districts make the picture darker: Malkangiri in Orissa has a literacy rate below 25 per cent but it spends under 4 per cent of funds under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan; Bihar's Aurangabad utilises less than 10 per cent of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana funds while the state notches up 110 per cent.
Financial expenditure data may not be enough, but it's a sound enough means of gauging progress. The Centre and states' indisputable goal is the speedy success of the anti-Naxal operations. The two-pronged strategy of combating Naxalites while engendering development will not work if either fails or takes too long. By establishing security, the vicious cycle of bad indicators can be broken by providing development. When that happens, there will be less ground for any local sense of alienation and still less for budding Naxalism. The cycle of life thus begun will in turn ensure effective delivery of governance and further development.
NEW FRIEND FROM THE EAST
C. RAJA MOHAN
Although South Korea is one of the world's leading economies and a major commercial partner of India, it has not figured high on Delhi's list of foreign policy priorities. Seoul's strategic policies, too, had been limited by the tragic consequences of the partition of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II. Korea's worldview has had a narrow focus on the troubled relations with North Korea, the alliance with the United States and the security environment in Northeast Asia.
This prolonged mutual strategic neglect will hopefully end this week with the presence of President Lee Myung-bak as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi.
One of the first foreign policy acts of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the UPA government returned to power last year was to sign the comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Seoul. The CEPA has come into force this month. Dr Singh now has the chance to complement his economic outreach to South Korea with a full-fledged strategic partnership.
Much like China and Japan, which have steadily increased their political and economic influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean littoral, India has every reason to seek a larger role in shaping the balance of power in the Western Pacific Ocean.
As South Korea seeks to raise its political profile across the world, it is the perfect partner for India in rebalancing Asia amidst the rise of China, political uncertainties in Japan and the growing perception of America's relative decline.
Traditionally Korea has been seen as a "shrimp among the whales". Caught between China, Russia, Japan and the US, Korea was a mere subject of great power politics in Northeast Asia. The Korean elite, it seems, has had enough at the receiving end; they want to become, shall we say, a shark among the whales.
If North Korea has shown the immense negative possibilities of the peninsula's role in Asian affairs by its nuclear weapons programme and its transfer of missiles and their production technology to Pakistan and other regimes, South Korea is now determined to demonstrate the positive potential.
As the world's 13th largest economy with the sixth largest armed forces, fourth in the mathematical proficiency of students, fifth largest spender on research and development, topmost builder of commercial ships, and the sixth largest importer of oil South Korea is now ready for prime time in Asia.
Under the leadership of President Lee, South Korea is all set to close the gap between its strategic potential and performance. The South Korean leadership wants to break out of the inherited "provincialism", broaden its foreign policy engagement beyond Northeast Asia and reposition itself as a balancer in the Western Pacific.
No wonder Seoul has put a new emphasis on modernising its armed forces, building a blue water navy, developing a strategic space programme. Given South Korea's intense nationalism and a strong streak of autonomy (it refuses to defer to either China or Japan), Delhi has everything to gain by strongly supporting Seoul's foreign policy ambitions.
In recent years, India has expanded its security engagement of the US, Japan, Australia, and China. Delhi has made occasional naval forays into the Western Pacific and shown the flag in the South China Sea. If India wants to reinforce the security dimension of its "look east" policy, the following steps present themselves at the very top of Prime Minister Singh's conversations with President Lee.
The first is a formal declaration on bilateral defence cooperation similar to the ones that India has signed with Tokyo and Canberra last year and the military MoU with Beijing in 2006.
Second, as a major importer of natural resources and leading exporter of manufactured goods, South Korea has great interest in the protection of Sea Lines of Communication in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. That makes the country a valuable partner for India in the policing of the sea lanes from the Western Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific. This should necessarily involve mutual maritime support far from their shores Korean naval operations in the Indian Ocean and Indian naval presence in the Western Pacific.
Third, of special importance for India, is the potential collaboration with South Korea in rapidly expanding Indian shipbuilding capacities. India's plans to build a large naval fleet are constrained by the inability of Indian public sector shipyards to meet the demand. Seoul and its large shipbuilders can be natural allies of India's emerging private shipyards in the strengthening of Indian infrastructure for the design and construction of both ships and submarines.
Fourth, South Korea, after a delayed start, is poised to emerge as a major space faring nation. India and South Korea must exploit the many synergies that beckon them in the commercialisation of outer space, governance of global space activity, and in countering the spread of ballistic missiles in Asia.
Finally, the two sides are reportedly discussing the prospects for civilian nuclear cooperation. Prime Minister Singh and President Lee should however look beyond the mere transfer of nuclear reactors and look for a much broader range of civilian nuclear cooperation and the promotion of regional non-proliferation arrangements.
For its part, Delhi must understand why Seoul is chafing under the restrictions imposed by the previous international agreements on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. These are rules that North Korea has brazenly violated and don't apply to other nations in Northeast Asia. India must respond to South Korea's nuclear aspirations by agreeing to work together in the development of advanced fuel cycle facilities under full international safeguards.
The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and
International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC firstname.lastname@example.org
SET THE SUN ON BLACK CARBON
Over a four-day period in December 1952, a thick still fog settled on London. By the time it dissipated, an estimated 5,000 people had been killed. The culprit was the smoke and sulphur particles belching forth from thousands of chimneys throughout the city. Soot or black carbon is a major component of smoke. In addition to the health hazards, recent research has revealed that the black carbon traps significant amount of sunlight in the air, thus linking air pollution with climate change.
Fog forms when water vapour condenses on tiny particles in the air. The sources of those particles are both natural and manmade. In cities like London and Los Angeles, man-made particles from industrial smoke can outnumber natural particles by factors of two to 10 while in cities like Delhi, Beijing or Mexico City, smoke particles can be 10 to 100 times more. During winter, sudden drops in temperature trigger condensation of moisture on the haze particles, leading to persistent fog events. This smoke-filled fog or smog blocks sunlight from reaching the ground causing dimming and visibility reduction which in turn cools the ground.
The 1952 London fog made the city colder, so people threw more coal on their home fires and fed the toxic haze, what we would now refer to as a brown cloud. There is also a feedback of sorts that develops when fog and smoke mix. The intense solar heating of air and dimming at the ground by the soot can make things worse; eventually, the pollution will be concentrated at ground level. In London, the elderly and other vulnerable residents literally suffocated to death as they walked the streets.
Smoke from one kitchen fire or one lorry may seem innocuous enough but when burning in their millions, and combined with episodes like the recent heavy fog that blanketed Delhi, the historical precedents should alarm us. The particles remain aloft for as much as two weeks, enough time for the pollution to become widespread and blanket all of the Indo-Gangetic plains with a 3 km thick "brown cloud" and even coat Himalayan glaciers with a layer of black carbon, as seen routinely in satellite images. The estimated regional impacts include large-scale dimming, disruption of monsoon rainfall, melting of Himalayan snowpacks and glaciers, decrease in rice yields and a contribution to nearly one million deaths annually.
Black carbon is sometimes thought of as "poor man's pollution". This is not the case; it is a worldwide problem, a major source of global climate change. Indeed, per capita emissions of black carbon in the United States and China are larger than India's. In developed nations, diesel is the major source whereas, in India, rural cooking with wood and dung as well as diesel are major sources. Villagers can't afford fuels any cleaner than the free wood and dung they use in their mud-stoves.
But as climate change problems go, this is a situation in which there is good news. In the wake of last month's largely failed climate talks in Copenhagen, nations have a chance to take action that I believe will produce nearly instantaneous benefits: reducing their black carbon emissions. Pilot programmes to replace homemade stoves with cleaner-burning alternatives are already gaining a foothold. India, in particular, is a pioneer in clean cookstove initiatives. One project in which I am involved, Project Surya, is an experiment, based out of the village of Khairatpur in UP, to measure the atmospheric effects that use of clean cookers can make. Deploying stoves that burn wood much more cleanly than the mud-stoves, we anticipate measurements revealing an island of clean air.
I estimate that with a Rs 40,000-crore one-time investment, several problems can be significantly mitigated. That sum would buy clean stoves for 150 million households as well as replace polluting kerosene lamps with solar lamps across rural India. Unlike the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for more than a century, black carbon is washed from the sky in two weeks and hence elimination of its source will have immediate impacts. The act would make India a global leader in air pollution and climate change response. In addition to safeguarding the health of its people and water supply, the direct economic benefit to India's poor will be immediate, as the new stoves and lamps earn credits in carbon-equivalent markets.
The deadly London fog of 1952 was thankfully never repeated. England took immediate measures to safeguard the health of its citizenry. It reduced a contributor to global warming long before anyone cared about such matters. India has a similar opportunity; only this time it has a far greater understanding of what's at stake.
The writer is distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego
GUARDING OVER GROWTH
Do our politicians know that they are involved in the most gigantic and historically unprecedented task? Nurturing India's growth of 8-10 per cent to transform it into the third-largest market, with a GDP next only to China and US, in the next three decades is such a task. Great powers have risen in the past in history, and in the present situation, we are witnessing the very rapid rise of China.
What is special about India's rise? In the next three decades, India will be the world's most populous, pluralistic and secular country that will have risen to these heights as a democracy with full adult franchise a unique development in history. China's rise follows the familiar model of earlier great powers an authoritarian state rising rapidly to the consternation of other existing great powers. Britain, France, Russia, Japan and Germany acquired their great power status before they became democracies. There were major international conflicts following their rise. The US was a democracy when it was born, but not a full-fledged democracy as we understand it today. Thomas Jefferson did not set his slave mistress free. It took nearly 190 years, after the civil rights legislation of the '60s, for the US to become a full democracy.
In April 2008, in a global forum held in Delhi, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) hailed India's rise as a unique one that does not evoking concern from other major powers. These powers had, in fact, taken the initiative to accommodate India in a modified international nonproliferation regime that allowed India to have its nuclear arsenal outside the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and yet be eligible for civil nuclear cooperation. The difference in the international community's perception of Chinese and Indian ascendance is striking. While China's assertion of its intention to rise peacefully does not command much credibility, there are no reservations about India rising peacefully mainly because India is already an established democracy and there is no past precedent of a democracy being aggressive towards another democracy. This difference in perception is reflected in the offer of all major democracies to sell their sophisticated military equipment to India while only Russia supplies military hardware to China. Even in that case, there is a qualitative difference between the Indo-Russian and Sino-Russian arms supply relationships, in India's favour. In a nuclearised and globalised world, a war among major powers is hardly likely. Therefore India's rise can be considered to be under favourable circumstances so far as its relationship with major democracies are concerned, the dominant forces in our world.
Unfortunately there is a flip side to this picture. The threats and challenges to this great Indian experiment of building the largest democratic industrial and modern state come from religious and left extremist terrorism, ethnic sessionism rooted in tribalism, failing states in our neighbourhood, organised crime, narcotics, weapons of mass destruction and the reservations of a non-democratic China on India's alignment with democracies. China has preferred the harmonisation of the society over democracy as its core value and considers democracy a challenge to the fulfillment of its aspirations. All these threats and challenges have to be countered and managed effectively in the next three decades, if India is to emerge as the unique achievement in the human history. This is the problem of national security that faces the Indian political leadership.
One wonders whether our political class as a whole has an understanding of this national security problem in all its complexity and magnitude. While different aspects and facets of these multiple threats have to be dealt with by different agencies and instrumentalities of different ministries the interaction, interconnectivity and synergising among these challenges ,the short, medium and long term materialisation of these threats and challenges, the overall country-wide plans to deal with them, resource allocation and capability development cannot be handled optimally by individual ministries. The prime minister is responsible for ensuring that India progresses steadily towards the goal it has set for itself and the four ministers for home, defence, external affairs and finance form a cohesive team under his leadership to deal with these threats and challenges. This is what the National Security Council and national security management
There is better understanding about the Indian security management problem outside India than within the country. Rand Corporation and the New York police department were drawing lessons from the 26/11 attack quicker than the Indian agencies. A Singapore seminar focuses attention on the inadequacy of the study of the discipline of international studies if India were to play its due role. An American analyst comes out with a study that India lacks the software to play a role as a major actor in the light of inadequate development of think-tanks. Goldman Sachs comes out with its projections of economic futures of nations. The US National Intelligence Council publishes its long-range forecast about Indian growth. The NDA government abolished the Joint Intelligence Committee on setting up the NSC. In the US there are revolving doors between government national security establishments, think-tanks and universities. In India, there is a paucity of qualified personnel to staff even the few posts in the NSC secretariat. Our intelligence agencies are not encouraged to develop capabilities to develop assessments. Mostly they do situation reports. This is mainly because the political class is mostly focussed on the present. Those who do not focus on the future can never be ready to meet developing threats. This has been our history.
Therefore the job of the NSA is not to be in the nuclear command chain, nor to be a super-czar of intelligence or exercise any executive function. His job is to organise and coordinate national security management at the highest level as the principal civilian adviser of the prime minister, in his role as the national security manager and as the secretary of the five member NSC which should not function as a mere sanctioning body of proposals and schemes submitted by the ministries but as a think tank on national security and as a forward planner. The council should issue directives to the ministries on formulation of policies and specific plans to meet challenges and contingencies. The council will not be able to play such a role unless it is given regular fortnightly intelligence briefings. The nstitutionalisation of intelligence briefing and follow-up discussions will sensitise the five members of NSC to issues of national security and will have a tonic effect on the entire process of intelligence collection, compilation, analysis and assessment. The new NSA should make a new beginning. He should start addressing the problem of national security management and not waste his time on distracting executive responsibilities, which could be looked after by others. His job is a daunting one.
The writer is a senior defence analyst
UNQUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
The British," scholar-diplomat K.M. Panikkar noted, "did not wait for enemies to penetrate as far as Panipat before taking countermeasures as the Indian rulers of the Gangetic Valley had been accustomed to do...The emergence of a powerful state in the Kabul area, whether in the time of Kanishka, Mahmud of Ghazni or Ahmed Shah Durrani, profoundly influenced events within India; and yet, so far as the great states of the India-Gangetic Valley were concerned, they continued to remain ignorant of these developments and therefore, were unable to take the necessary steps to safeguard their independence."
Had he lived through the 1990s, Panikkar would most certainly have added Mullah Omar to that list. It was not a coincidence that the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir peaked when Afghanistan was under Taliban rule: it enabled the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to direct its resources against India. If infiltration and violence fell in Kashmir over the last few years it was as much due to the intensification of the conflict in Afghanistan as it was to international pressure on General Pervez Musharraf. If the United States withdraws from the region, leaving Kabul to the Taliban and without dismantling the military-jihadi complex, there is a risk that India will once again become the primary target.
A direct military retaliation against Pakistan in response to a future terrorist attack is risky and limited in scope. It is also politically unsound, because nothing serves the interests of the military-jihadi complex more than an old-fashioned war with India. Does this mean India has no option but to patiently wait for the day the Pakistani people overthrow their military overlords and somehow demobilise the hundreds of thousands of practically uneducated, radicalised and violent militants?
Well, it has. It involves ensuring that the US troops dismantle the military-jihadi complex, or at least severely damage it, before they withdraw from the region. India can shape this outcome by sending its own troops to areas in western and northern Afghanistan, so that the bulk of the US military capacity in Afghanistan can focus on the regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The government of President Hamid Karzai and members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance have long argued for India to scale up its involvement in Afghanistan. Iran and Russia, both of whom share an interest in keeping the Taliban out of power, are far more likely to be comfortable and co-operative with Indian troops in Afghanistan's western and northern provinces than with US troops. Over time, a co-operative arrangement between India, Iran and Russia could form the bedrock of a regional solution to a stable Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the very mention of an overseas military deployment runs into a dogmatic wall of domestic opposition. First, the bad experience of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s is brought up as if that episode should cause India to for forever foreswear the use of its armed forces beyond its borders. Apart from the significant differences in context, the Indian army has accumulated two decades of counter-insurgency experience in Kashmir and elsewhere that makes it a qualitatively different force from what it was before the Sri Lankan intervention.
Second, it is argued that sending Indian troops to Afghanistan will be seen as anti-Muslim. On the contrary, it is ordinary Afghans, a vast majority of who are Muslims, who will be the biggest beneficiaries of an Indian intervention. How can supporting the legitimate government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan be anti-Muslim? The idea that fighting the Taliban is a war against Islam is a misleading canard that only benefits the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.
Third, it is not true that the Afghan people are uniformly hostile to foreign troops as it is frequently made out to be. Western troops were generally welcomed as deliverers when they expelled the Taliban regime in 2002, and recent surveys indicate that a majority of the Afghan people still support their presence. The notion that Afghans resent all foreigners is borne out of colonial romance and modern ignorance ground realities suggest that Afghans seek security and good governance, like anyone else in their situation.
But can India afford to station troops abroad? Some critics of the idea estimate that it costs Rs 1 crore a day to maintain a brigade in Afghanistan. Let's put this in context: last year, the defence ministry returned Rs 7000 crore of its budget due to its inability to spend it enough for 19 brigades. We cite this to suggest that financial considerations do not rule out the option of foreign troop deployments.
India must continue providing long-term development assistance. India must ramp up training Afghan security forces. But successes from these will be ephemeral unless India deploys combat troops to Afghanistan. As the nuclear deal has shown, the Indian electorate does reward those willing to take risks in pursuit of the national interest. As US troops mobilise for a decisive year in Afghanistan, India has a unique opportunity to shape the future of the Hindu Kush and, in doing so, open the doors to peace in the subcontinent.
The writers work at 'Pragati The Indian National Interest Review', a publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance
THE POWER OF HALF
It all began with a stop at a red light. Kevin Salwen, a writer and entrepreneur in Atlanta, was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, back from a sleepover in 2006. While waiting at a traffic light, they saw a black Mercedes coupe on one side and a homeless man begging for food on the other. "Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal," Hannah protested. The light changed and they drove on, but Hannah was too young to be reasonable. She pestered her parents about inequity, insisting that she wanted to do something.
"What do you want to do?" her mom responded. "Sell our house?" Warning! Never suggest a grand gesture to an idealistic teenager. Hannah seized upon the idea of selling the luxurious family home and donating half the proceeds to charity, while using the other half to buy a more modest replacement home. Eventually, that's what the family did. The project crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring is chronicled in a book by father and daughter scheduled to be published next month: The Power of Half. It's a book that, frankly, I'd be nervous about leaving around where my own teenage kids might find it. An impressionable child reads this, and the next thing you know your whole family is out on the street.
At a time of enormous needs in Haiti and elsewhere, the Salwens offer an example of a family that came together to make a difference for themselves as much as the people they were trying to help. In a column a week ago, I described neurological evidence from brain scans that altruism lights up parts of the brain normally associated with more primal gratifications such as food and sex. The Salwens' experience confirms the selfish pleasures of selflessness.
Mr Salwen and his wife, Joan, had always assumed that their kids would be better off in a bigger house. But after they downsized, there was much less space to retreat to, so the family members spent more time around each other. A smaller house unexpectedly turned out to be a more family-friendly house. "We essentially traded stuff for togetherness and connectedness," Mr Salwen told me, adding, "I can't figure out why everybody wouldn't want that deal."
One reason for that togetherness was the complex process of deciding how to spend the money. The Salwens researched causes and charities, finally settling on the Hunger Project, a New York City-based international development organisation that has a good record of tackling global poverty. The Salwens pledged $800,000 to sponsor health, microfinancing, food and other programmes for about 40 villages in Ghana. They traveled to Ghana with a Hunger Project executive, John Coonrod, who is an inspiration in his own right. Over the years, he and his wife donated so much back from their modest aid-worker salaries that they were among the top Hunger Project donors in New York.
The Salwens' initiative hasn't gone entirely smoothly. Hannah promptly won over her parents, but her younger brother, Joe, was (reassuringly) a red-blooded American boy to whom it wasn't intuitively obvious that life would improve by moving into a smaller house and giving money to poor people. Outvoted and outmaneuvered, Joe gamely went along.
The Salwens also are troubled that some people are reacting negatively to their project, seeing them as sanctimonious showoffs. Or that people are protesting giving to Ghana when there are so many needy Americans. Still, they have inspired some converts. The people who sold the Salwens their new home were so impressed that they committed $100,000 to the project. And one of Hannah's closest friends, Blaise, pledged half of her baby-sitting savings to an environmental charity. In writing the book, the Salwens say, the aim wasn't actually to get people to sell their houses. They realise that few people are quite that nutty. Rather, the aim was to encourage people to step off the treadmill of accumulation, to define themselves by what they give as well as by what they possess.
"No one expects anyone to sell a house," said Hannah, now a high school junior who hopes to become a nurse. "That's kind of a ridiculous thing to do. For us, the house was just something we could live without. It was too big for us. Everyone has too much of something, whether it's time, talent or treasure. Everyone does have their own half, you just have to find it."
As for Kevin Salwen, he's delighted by what has unfolded since that encounter at the red light. "This is the most self-interested thing we have ever done," he said. "I'm thrilled that we can help others. I'm blown away by how much it has helped us."
MORE (STEVE) JOBS
The most striking feature of Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilised to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama's presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.
In part, it disappeared because the Obama team let it disappear, as Obama moved to pass what was necessary the economic stimulus and what he aspired to health care by exclusively playing inside baseball with Congress. The president seems to have thought that his majorities in the Senate and the House were so big that he never really had to mobilise "the people" to drive his agenda. Obama turned all his supporters into spectators of The Harry and Nancy Show.
And, at the same time, that grass-roots movement went dormant on its own, apparently thinking that just getting the first African-American elected as president was the moon shot of this generation, and nothing more was necessary.
Well, here's my free advice to Obama, post-Massachusetts. If you think that the right response is to unleash a populist backlash against bankers, you're wrong.
Obama should bring together the country's leading innovators and ask them: "What legislation, what tax incentives, do we need right now to replicate you all a million times over".
And to reignite his youth movement, he should make sure every American kid knows about two programmes that he has already endorsed: The first is National Lab Day. Introduced last November by a coalition of educators and science and engineering associations, Lab Day aims to inspire a wave of future innovators, by pairing veteran scientists and engineers with students to inspire thousands of hands-on science projects around the country. Any teacher in America, explains the entrepreneur Jack Hidary, the chairman of N.L.D., can go to the Web site NationalLabDay.org and enter the science project he or she is interested in teaching, or get an idea for one. N.L.D. will match teachers with volunteer scientists and engineers in their areas for mentoring.
The president should also vow to bring the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, to every low-income neighbourhood in America. NFTE works with middle- and high-school teachers to help them teach entrepreneurship. The centrepiece of its programme is a national contest for start-ups with 24,000 kids participating. Each student has to invent a product or service, write up a business plan and then do it. NFTE works only in low-income areas, so many of these new entrepreneurs are minority kids.
In November, a documentary movie Ten9Eight was released that tracked a dozen students all the way through to the finals of the NFTE competition. Obama should arrange for this movie to be shown in every classroom in America. It is the most inspirational, heartwarming film you will ever see.
This year's three finalists, said Amy Rosen, the chief executive of NFTE, "were an immigrant's son who invented a company to do tax returns for high school students, a young woman who taught herself how to sew and designed custom-made dresses, and the winner was an African-American boy who manufactured socially meaningful T-shirts."
You want more good jobs, spawn more Steve Jobs. Obama should have focused on that from Day 1. He must focus on that for Year 2.
HARVESTING A BETTER FUTURE
One of the reasons why the Indian economy managed to clock a very impressive 7.9% GDP growth in Q2 was that agriculture didn't register negative growth. That was largely because the fall in kharif output as a result of an erratic monsoon did not show up in the GDP numbers for Q2. So, it's hardly surprising that both Pronab Sen, chief statistician of India, and Abhijit Sen, member, Planning Commission, are expecting the growth number for agriculture to be sharply negative in Q3that will simply be the kharif impact. Depending on how bad it turns out, it has the potential to shave off half a percentage point of GDP in Q3. Fortunately, as we have argued before in these columns, agriculture now has only limited potential to adversely affect certain macroeconomic indicators like GDP growthagriculture has only 18% weightage in the overall GDP number. But a steep decline in food production can have, and indeed has had some impact on inflation, which is also an important indicator of economic stability. Of course, there is still hope that the sharp improvement in the IIP registered in October and November may be able to make up for some of the losses on account of agriculture.
The good news for Q4, however, is that the rabi crop is likely to be very good. And even if it doesn't make up for the shortfall in kharif, it will do enough to lift agricultural growth from the sharp negative growth likely in Q3. If industry and services continue to register robust growth for the rest of the financial year, we still have a reasonable chance of ending the year with an overall growth of 7%-plus. Aggregate growth for the first two quarters is 7% and even if Q3 turns out just under 7%, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that Q4 will be comfortable above 7%. But that is the larger macroeconomics. The farm sector needs much reform if it is to contribute substantially to GDP growth. Public investment, particularly in irrigation, needs to be scaled up to minimise the adverse impact of an erratic monsoon. Also, more efficient supply chains are necessary to ensure that a slight stumble in agriculture doesn't translate into a massive rise in prices. Over the longer run, there is little option but to increase productivity in Indian agriculture. For this, labour surplus from the farms will have to move to industry or services. This means that the government must take action quickly on issues like land acquisition that are a hurdle to industrial activity in rural/semi-urban areas.
India's largest engineering company, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), reported a decline in net sales for the quarter ended December 2009 for the first time in seven years. L&T's disappointing result points to an obvious conclusionthe economic recovery is still incomplete, and the infrastructure and capital goods sector will likely need the stimulus packages to continue for some more time. The net profit of the company was also down by 50% as compared to the same quarter last year and the benchmark Sensex reacted sharply to L&T's downward revenue guidance for the financial year at 10%, instead of the 15% projected earlier. Though IIP data for capital goods shows signs of improvement in industrial activity, the growth can be attributed to a low base effect. While the order intake has been good in the power sector, driven by public and private utilities, recovery is yet to be seen in other segments of the capital goods industry. At the ground level, delay in execution of projects, weak signs of industrial Capex revival and lack of actual orders mean that the green shoots of recovery are yet to translate into healthy revenue growth for companies. Even L&T in its earnings call has pencilled in the fact that its sales revenue remained subdued as a result of slower progress of jobs due to various extraneous factors and delayed financial closure of infrastructure projects, especially road projects that have seen a slow pick-up. The company also reported difficulties in getting front clearances for new projects and even some projects that are under execution have got stuck because of bureaucratic logjam. These are perennial problems in the infrastructure sector, which of course need to be addressed urgently.
Of course, lower cost of capital, easy credit availability and buoyant equity markets must be turned into an opportunity to execute projects faster, and land acquisitions and financial closures must be put on the fast track. Interestingly, L&T has orders valued at Rs 91,000 crore in hand and the bulk of the orders came from the power, fertiliser and building sectorssome high-value hydrocarbon sector projects were deferred. The challenge for the company now lies in executing them. With prices of steel, cement and aluminium climbing up, construction costs will rise and will affect margins of all companies in this sector. Still, the government can lend a helping handgiven that a large part of the infrastructure Capex is government-driven, it is imperative that various ministries draw up a list of pending projects and execute them at the earliest before the end of the financial year.
THE EARNINGS ARE FOR REAL THIS QUARTER
Indian corporates are expected to announce good financial results for the quarter ended December 2009. Earnings growth rates have accelerated during 2009. They grew by 15% in the quarter ended March 2009 and then rose to 19.9% and 38.3% in the June and September 2009 quarters. CMIE expects an even higher growth of 41% in the last quarter of 2009.
There are at least three reasons why the December 2009 quarter results will look very impressive. First, the y-o-y growth rate will benefit from the 29% fall recorded in the base quarter. Secondly, companies have benefited by not passing on the cut in excise duties announced by the government last year, and commodity prices and interest rates have fallen. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it is apparent that there is a smart recovery under way. Optimism has returned on the back of robust domestic demand.
The expected increase in earnings may buoy the stock markets. The price-to-earnings ratio of CMIE Overall Share Price Index (COSPI) companies was 23.5 around the middle of January 2010. The COSPI includes over 2,000 companies. It is, therefore, the most comprehensive measure of the performance of listed companies.
The Nifty P/E was also around the same level while the Sensex P/E was lower at around 22.6. At least in recent times, the P/E of the Sensex30 portfolio of companies has been systematically lower than that of the Nifty50 portfolio; and the COSPI has been somewhat higher. Part of the reason why the COSPI companies have a higher P/E is that these include the petroleum PSUs like IOC, HPCL and BPCL that are absent from the Sensex and the Nifty. Also, on an aggregate basis the inclusion of several smaller companies raises the P/E of the portfolio.
But, these differences apart, generally, the P/E is currently around 22-23. And what is important is what would happen to it once companies announce the expected good financials by around the end of this month. If the results are as good as CMIE's projections, then we should expect the P/E to fall substantially. When the results of the previous quarter were out, the P/E fell quite sharply. Earnings were up by over 38%, as a result the P/E of the Nifty50 fell from 23 on October 17 to below 20 on November 3, 2009.
Other indices took a similar dive. But what is interesting is that by the middle of January, they were all back to their levels as of the middle of October.
The markets seem to be saying that a P/E of 22-23 is what they believe and if the P/E falls as a result of good financials this quarter, it will pretty much bounce back to the levels of 22-23 soon. If this is true, it implies that the markets should rise in February and March. I do not intend to predict market trends. The idea is to understand the way markets seem to value stocks.
A P/E of 22-23 is generally considered high while a P/E of around 12-15 is usually considered to be reflecting a fair-valued market.
However, the P/E of Indian listed companies as a whole has rarely been lower than 15, at least since late 2005. It was below 15 only during the period of the global liquidity crisisSeptember 2008 through April 2009. By June the ratio had touched 20 and has inched up further since then. It shrugged off the crisis pretty quickly. This probably reflects the market's confidence in the corporate sector and its confidence in a P/E of around 22-23.
The average P/E in the past four years has been persistently high. This is particularly true of the COSPI portfolio where the P/E averaged 21.6, 25.1, 22.9 and 21.9 in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The corresponding numbers for the Sensex30 were 20.2, 22.3, 18.2 and 18.1. The average P/E in the preceding four yearsfrom 2002 through 2005was much lower, in the range of 12-17.
The rising P/E reflects the greater confidence reposed by investors in the capacity of Indian companies to grow their earnings aggressively. Now, what if the investors take the P/E to 25, or even beyond? Should we say that the markets are overpriced? And if so, why?
If Indian companies have fundamentally strong balance sheets (as they do have around now) and if they continue to grow aggressively through investments (as they also seem to be doing around now), there is good reason to repose faith in a market that may value them higher.
In the current circumstances it would be wrong to target an increase in asset values as a bubble. What is important is that companies are subjected to the strictest accounting standards and are required to make copious disclosures to the markets. Exceptions such as the one made by the government last year for AS-11 and such as on the one by Sebi that permits companies to delay disclosing the financial results of the last quarter of a company's accounting year should not be allowed. But a gradual rise of the P/E to higher levels during times of growth should not be frowned upon by the regulators. Let that privilege rest with the investors.
The author heads Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy
ASSETS VERSUS BUBBLES IN REAL ESTATE
The finance ministry has reportedly turned down a proposal by the Department of Policy and Promotion (DIPP) that had suggested doing away with the mandatory three-year lock-in period for FDI in the real estate sector. The ministry's point of view is that a lock-in acts as a deterrent, checking speculation and protecting the sector from the sudden flight of capital. This could be particularly true at times of an unprecedented crisis, such as the global meltdown in 2008, when foreign institutional investors pulled out nearly $5 billion worth of equity investments between September and October 2008. For sure, there is a big difference between portfolio investments or hedge fund money coming into the stock market and money that is being channelled into the development of projects that by nature are of a much longer gestation. However, the ministry's contention is that despite the correction after the meltdown, real estate prices were not eroded to the extent that values of some other asset classes were, largely because the lock-in prevented investors from sending their money back home.
The ministry may have a point. After all there's no running away from the fact that there could have been some volatility in real estate prices had investors been allowed to repatriate their investments. However, given the fact that there is tremendous interest in the Indian real estate market and that most of the investments are of a long-term nature, how much money would have flowed out, is debatable. According to one estimate, nearly $20 billion worth of foreign investment has come into the Indian market since FDI was first allowed. So, in any case, imposing a lock-in on the original investment, which is between $5 million for a joint venture and $10 million for a 100% subsidiary, depending on the structure of the entity, should not bother long-term investors. As of now, it appears that the lock-in will be imposed on a rolling basisin other words, the investment amount will be locked in for three years. That may seem harsh but again, shouldn't hurt too much. All that investors would need to do at their global investment committee meetings is to point out that the Indian government has shifted the goal post. But that shouldn't really make anyone too uncomfortable about putting in money to work in India given its reputation as one of the world's top business destinations.
Some investors have been suggesting that the minimum space requirement of 50,000 sq feet, for a project to be eligible for foreign investment, should be reduced because smaller projects tend to lose out. There could be some merit in that though it's hard to know where to draw the line. Actually, it's not such a bad idea given that there is a shortage of good projects in any case. The other area where foreign investors have been looking for easier regulations is when it comes to selling fully developed property to foreign buyers. There are some assets, such as malls, which when fully constructed, can't be bought by a foreign investor. There is a clear rationale for this, namely that there is a fair chance that such purchases would fuel asset inflation and moreover, the government believes it would be tantamount to trading in land. However, foreign investors argue that if foreign money has been used to develop an asset, the investor should be allowed to sell that property to another foreign investor locally. They argue that the original purpose, namely that foreign money should have been used to create the asset, would have been served. It's a tricky situation and for the time being perhaps, it's best to leave the rules as they are. One way in which a foreign company can sell out to another foreign entity is through an overseas transaction but that's not really desirable.
Not surprisingly, foreign investors also want to send more money home. Typically, foreign investments, in real
estate space, are made either in the form of pure equity shares, preference shares or compulsorily convertible debentures (CCDs). Dividends are payable on equity shares as also preference capital while interest can accrue on the debentures till the time that they are converted. Repatriating dividends, investors say, is tax inefficient because it would attract dividend distribution tax at the rate of 17%. They want a way out of this and want to send home money in a more tax-efficient manner, of course, only once the project is completed. How that can be resolved isn't clear right now. It's true that investors need to make returns and also to prove to their overseas shareholders that their money was wisely invested. That will encourage further investment and all said and done India is a capital-starved country, so it won't hurt to encourage project finance. At the same time, when foreigners enter a market, they do so with some idea of what they're going to make. So dividend distribution tax should be pencilled into those returns.
NACIL'S UNFORTUNATE TALE
A 31-member parliamentary panel affirmed last Thursday what most experts in the aviation industry have had long believedthat the decision to merge Air India (AI) and Indian Airlines (IA) was taken due to "irrational and misplaced" policy decisions of the government. The panel has recommended a probe into the Rs 45,000-crore fleet acquisition plan of AI at a time when the aviation sector was reeling under huge losses due to the economic crisis.
The merger of state-run AI and IA was done in March 2007the year of M&As in the aviation sectorwith the approval of Union ministry of corporate affairs. The loss-making airlines were merged into a single entity, National Aviation Company Ltd (NACIL), in order to achieve two objectives, namely economies of scale and increased leverage. The new merged entity was expected to bring the airline among the world's top 20 carriers and the largest airline in Asia. The cash-strapped carrier NACIL (with its brand name AI) was losing about Rs 15 crore a day at the last count and posted a loss of around Rs 5,400 crore in 2008-09, which was more than double of that in 2007-08. But can two losers together make a winner? The answer seems to be no, until now.
The committee has recommended that the government atone for its mistake by writing off all of the merged entity's losses. But is it possible for a government bearing the brunt of a huge fiscal deficit to take such an action? The panel has also suggested letting AI and IA function as two separate functional units. Does that mean that the government will now consider a demand for a de-merger with pressure emerging from some sections within it and from the employees of both the carriers? Some of the officials in the ministry had mooted a proposal in this regard but its fate remains unknown.
The real solution to NACIL's woes, however, lies in a complete synergetic restructuring of the human resources and aircraft types of both the carriers. They need to merge in a literal sense in both these respects and operate as a single, competitive, commercial enterprise, preferably independent of the ministry of civil aviation.
THE NSA NEEDS HIS OWN OFFICE
If the appointment of Shiv Shankar Menon as India's new National Security Adviser is major news, this is as much because of the impressive qualities the new incumbent brings to the job as the manner in which the scope and ambit of the office expanded under M.K. Narayanan. Some of that expansion was not always useful or advisable and has since been reversed. This is particularly true of the handling of counter-terrorism and intelligence at the tactical level, which wi ll now be handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs' proposed National Centre for Counter Terrorism with a full-time director. But P. Chidamabaram's reputation as an efficient Home Minister has prompted calls for a further paring down of the NSA's mandate. The fact that the NSA has multiple functions diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister, de facto overseer of the country's nuclear weapons programme, and catalyst for long-term threat assessment and national security planning has led some to argue these roles need not be played by a single person. Some have even begun to question the constitutionality of an executive, 'unaccountable' NSA in a parliamentary system. The last objection is misplaced because the NSA derives his existence and authority directly from the Prime Minister, to whom he is accountable and who, in turn, is fully accountable to Parliament. But the calls for trifurcation of the NSA's role also have no merit.
As India's engagement with the outside world grows steadily more complex, the government's ability to manage present and future security problems is contingent on an institutional structure that can pull things together in space and time. The NSA's role is to facilitate spatial coordination between ministries and departments on national security matters and also get the system to anticipate and prepare for the next set of strategic challenges. With so much of modern diplomacy conducted at the summit level, the NSA, as the principal staff officer of the Prime Minister tasked with overseeing India's national security, is indispensable as an empowered interlocutor with foreign powers. As for the NSA's role in the Nuclear Command Authority, it is unreasonable and perhaps even dangerous to suggest, as some have done, that a military officer should chair the Executive Council because 'only the Army' understands nuclear matters. India's strategic assets are under civilian control and the NSA helps the Prime Minister exercise that control. It is clear that the national security structure in India needs revamping. The biggest weakness is the lack of an organic link between the NSA and the National Security Council Secretariat. The absence of a well-staffed 'back office' has hampered the functioning of the NSA and undermined the prospects for the kind of long-term strategic planning India needs. The NSA urgently needs to be provided with instruments that allow him to exercise his true mandate.
PANDEMIC LESSONS TO BE LEARNT
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is planning to review its response to H1N1 once the pandemic is over. Several European countries have accused it of exaggeration. With the world nervously watching the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu, which only sporadically infects humans but kills over half of those unlucky enough to catch it, the WHO significantly revised its influenza pandemic plan in 2005. Under the revised criteria, once a flu virus crossed over from animals and showed itself capable of efficient human-to-human transmission, the extent of its spread would determine the declaration of a pandemic. Catching everyone by surprise, it was a H1N1 flu virus that originated in pigs and carried a novel combination of genes that set off the current pandemic. Even after the new swine-origin virus began causing widespread outbreaks, the WHO was averse to using severity as a factor in judging the pandemic. It argued that assessing severity was complex; besides, it could vary among countries (and even within countries) and might change over time. But with the pandemic turning to be less of a killer than some virulent seasonal flu strains, people and governments are asking what the fuss was all about. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has now called for an investigation into the role of pharmaceutical companies in overplaying the dangers of H1N1.
Developed countries have spent billions to fight the pandemic and the healthcare systems of many developing countries have been severely strained. From about 29,000 people from 74 countries infected by the virus leading to 144 deaths at the time the world health body declared it a pandemic in June last year, H1N1, as on December 30, had spread to more than 200 countries. But the number of laboratory-confirmed deaths has not gone beyond 12,000. Though the actual number of infected people and deaths may be higher as the virus is widespread in the community, the fatality rate is nowhere alarming. Some developed countries have already reduced the vaccine orders or have been trying to resell their stockpiles. The WHO recently stated that the influenza has passed its peak in many countries in the northern hemisphere, including the U.S. However, the infection continues to rise in some parts of Europe, and in Asia, where the infection started later. In short, there is no warrant for either alarm or complacency.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
FARM SUICIDES: A 12-YEAR SAGA
IN 2006-08, MAHARASHTRA SAW 12, 493 FARM SUICIDES. THAT IS 85 PER CENT HIGHER THAN THE 6,745 SUICIDES IT RECORDED DURING 1997-1999. AND THE WORST THREE-YEAR PERIOD FOR ANY STATE, ANY TIME.
The loan waiver year of 2008 saw 16,196 farm suicides in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Compared to 2007, that's a fall of just 436. As economist Professor K. Nagaraj who has worked in-depth on farm suicide data says, "the numbers leave little room for comfort and none at all for self-congratulation." There were no major changes in the trend that set in from the late 1990s and worsened after 2002. The dismal truth is that very high numbers of farm suicides still occur within a fast decreasing farm population.
Between just the Census of 1991 and that of 2001, nearly 8 million cultivators quit farming. A year from now, the 2011 Census will tell us how many more quit in this decade. It is not likely to be less. It could even dwarf that 8 million figure as the exodus from farming probably intensified after 2001. The State-wise farm suicide ratios number of farmers committing suicide per 100,000 farmers are still pegged on the outdated 2001 figures. So the 2011 Census, with more authentic counts of how many farmers there really are, might provide an unhappy update on what is going on.
Focussing on farm suicides as a share of total suicides in India misleads. That way, it's "aha! the percentage is coming down." That's silly. For one thing, the total number of suicides (all groups, not just farmers) is increasing in a growing population. Farm suicides are rising within a declining farm population. Two, an all-India picture disguises the intensity. The devastation lies in the Big 5 States (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh). These account for two-thirds of all farm suicides during 2003-08. Take just the Big 5 their percentage of all farm suicides has gone up. Worse, even their percentage of total all-India suicides (all categories) has risen. Poor States like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are doing very badly for some years now.
In the period 1997-2002, farm suicides in the Big 5 States accounted for roughly one out of every 12 of all suicides in the country. In 2003-08, they accounted for nearly one out of every 10.
The NCRB now has farm suicide data for 12 years. Actually, farm data appear in its records from 1995 onwards, but some States failed to report for the first two years. Hence 1997, from when all States are reporting their farm suicide data, is a more reliable base year. The NCRB has also made access much easier by placing all past years of "Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India" reports on its website.
The 12-year period allows us to compare farm suicide numbers for 1997-2002, with how they turned out in the next 6-year period of 2003-2008. All 12 years were pretty bad, but the latter six were decidedly worse.
Reading a 'trend' into a single year's dip or rise is misleading. Better to look at 3-year or 6-year periods within 1997-2008. For instance, Maharashtra saw a decline in farm suicide numbers in 2005, but the very next year proved to be its worst ever. Since 2006, the State has been the focus of many initiatives. Manmohan Singh's visit to Vidharbha that year brought the "Prime Minister's Relief Package" of Rs.3,750 crore for six crisis-ridden districts of the region. This came atop Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's Rs.1,075 crore "CM's relief package." Then followed the nearly Rs.9,000 crore that was Maharashtra's share of the Rs.70,000-crore Central loan waiver for farmers. To which the State government added Rs.6,200 crore for those farmers not covered by the waiver. The State added Rs.500 crore for a one-time settlement (OTS) for poor farmers who had been excluded from the waiver altogether because they owned over five acres of land.
In all, the amounts committed to fighting the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra exceeded Rs. 20,000 crore across 2006, 2007 and 2008. (And that's not counting huge handouts to the sugar barons.) Yet, that proved to be the worst three-year period ever for any State at any time since the recording of farm data began. In 2006-08, Maharashtra saw 12, 493 farm suicides. That is nearly 600 more than the previous worst of 2002-2005 and 85 per cent higher than the 6,745 suicides recorded in the three-year period of 1997-1999. The same government was in power, incidentally, in the worst six years. Besides, these higher numbers are emerging within a shrinking farm population. By 2001, 42 per cent of Maharashtra's population was already urban. Its farmer base has certainly not grown.
So was the loan waiver useless? The idea of a waiver was not a bad thing. And it was right to intervene. More that the specific actions were misguided and bungled. Yet it could also be argued that but for the relief the waiver brought to some farmers at least, the suicide numbers of 2008 could have been a lot worse. The waiver was a welcome step for farmers, but its architecture was flawed. A point strongly made in this journal (Oh! What a lovely waiver, March 10, 2008). It dealt only with bank credit and ignored moneylender debt. So only those farmers with access to institutional credit would benefit. Tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh and poor farmers in Vidharbha and elsewhere get their loans mainly from moneylenders. So, in fact, farmers in Kerala, where everyone has a bank account, were more likely to gain. (Kerala was also the one State to address the issue of moneylender debt.)
The 2008 waiver also excluded those holding over five acres, making no distinction between irrigated and unirrigated land. This devastated many struggling farmers with eight or 10 acres of poor, dry land. On the other hand, West Bengal's farmers, giant numbers of small holders below the 5-acre limit, stood to gain far more.
Every suicide has a multiplicity of causes. But when you have nearly 200,000 of them, it makes sense to seek broad common factors within that group. Within those reasons. As Dr. Nagaraj has repeatedly pointed out, the suicides appear concentrated in regions of high commercialisation of agriculture and very high peasant debt. Cash crop farmers seemed far more vulnerable to suicide than those growing food crops. Yet the basic underlying causes of the crisis remained untouched. The predatory commercialisation of the countryside; a massive decline in investment in agriculture; the withdrawal of bank credit at a time of soaring input prices; the crash in farm incomes combined with an explosion of cultivation costs; the shifting of millions from food crop to cash crop cultivation with all its risks; the corporate hijack of every major sector of agriculture including, and especially, seed; growing water stress and moves towards privatisation of that resource. The government was trying to beat the crisis leaving in place all its causes with a one-off waiver.
In late 2007, The Hindu carried (Nov. 12-15) the sorry result emerging from Dr. Nagaraj's study of NCRB data: that nearly 1.5 lakh peasants had ended their lives in despair between 1997 and 2005. Just days later, Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar confirmed those figures in Parliament (Rajya Sabha Starred Question No. 238, Nov. 30, 2007) citing the same NCRB data. It's tragic that 27 months later, the paper had to run a headline saying that the number had climbed to nearly 2 lakh. The crisis is very much with us. Mocking its victims, heckling its critics. And cosmetic changes won't make it go away.
TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE WATER MANAGEMENT
AN INTERNATIONAL PRIVATE-SOCIAL GROUP FORESEES INDIA'S WATER DEMAND EXCEEDING AVAILABILITY BY A FACTOR OF TWO BY 2030. TIME IS NOW FOR INDIA TO TAKE ON THE DAUNTING TASK OF FORMULATING A UNIFYING NATIONAL WATER POLICY.
The 2030 Water Resources Group is a consortium of private-social sector organisations formed in 2008 to provide insights into emerging world-wide water issues. In a report, "Charting our water future" issued in 2009, the group provides a candid, fact-based integrated assessment of the global water situation over the next two decades.
Globally, current withdrawals of about 4,500 cubic km exceed the availability of about 4,200 cubic km. By 2030, the demand is expected to increase to about 6,900 cubic km, with a slight drop in availability to 4,100 cubic km. Thus, by 2030, a global deficit of 40 per cent is forecast. For India, the annual demand is expected to increase to almost 1,500 cubic km, against a projected availability of 744 cubic km; a deficit of 50 per cent. The report admits unavoidable uncertainties in these estimates. As an independent check, an alternative perspective merits consideration.
India's average annual precipitation is about 1,170 mm, and the land area is 3.28 million sq. km. Thus, the volume of annual precipitation input is 3,840 cubic km. The projected availability of 744 cubic km constitutes about 19 per cent of this amount. In comparison, California, known for its spectacular hydraulic-engineering structures, diverts about 18 per cent of its annual rainfall. For a variety of reasons, California is already contemplating a 20 per cent reduction in water use over the coming decade. Conservatively, if we assume that India may harness 15 per cent of rainfall with careful management, an annual availability of about 600 cubic km is perhaps a reasonable figure to comprehend the scope of India's water crisis.
Looking to the future, the report stresses that closing the gap between supply and demand will be very difficult. Rather than claiming to provide solutions to all water problems, the authors cautiously consider the report a starting point for meaningful dialogue among all stakeholders for action towards credible solutions. In this spirit, we may examine the implications of their findings to India's water situation.
In the broadest sense, two questions arise: What do the findings portend for India's economic growth? How should India respond to the impending crisis?
Concerning economic growth, even a modest 6 per cent annual growth implies a real tripling of the economy by 2030. Is this achievable, if the annual availability is limited to about 600 cubic km? What rate of economic growth should India reasonably plan for?
The question how India should respond is of fundamental importance. India's greatest challenge is to set in place an equitable, efficient system of governance for sharing a finite resource among all segments of society, simultaneously preserving the integrity of the resource for future generations.
At the time of independence, the annual availability of water in abundant quantities was taken for granted, and India's Constitution declared water to be a State subject, with the Union government playing a role in inter-State issues. The Constitution does not explicitly recognise water's unique attributes as a finite resource, widely variable in space and time, and vital for the sustenance of all living things.
At the beginning of the 21st century, when confronted with the imperative of sharing this vital resource among all segments of society according to the values of justice and equality assured in the preamble, one finds a conspicuous lack of philosophical authority necessary to make decisions on the allocation, prioritisation, protection, regulation, and management of water resources. This want of a philosophical basis is manifest in a lack of a national water policy. If so, what might be an appropriate philosophical approach?
India is about as large as Europe without Russia. Both have long histories of human habitation. India comprises 28 States and 7 Union Territories. Europe is a union of 27 independent nations. In 2000, the European Union issued the far-reaching Water Framework Directive with the goal of achieving sustainable management of water. The Directive requires all member-states to establish water laws conforming to common hydrological principles applied over river basins, with the active participation of citizens. The Directive's philosophical foundation is set forth in the preamble: "Water is not a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such."
In 1976, a committee on Earth Resources, Time, and Man of the International Union of Geological Sciences observed: "Mankind is on the threshold of a transition from a brief interlude of exponential growth to a much longer period characterised by rates of change so slow as to be regarded essentially as a period of non-growth. Although the impending period of transition to very low growth rates poses no insuperable physical or biological difficulties, those aspects of our current economic and social thinking which are based on the premise that current rates of growth can be sustained indefinitely must be revised. Failing to respond promptly and rationally to these impending changes could lead to a global ecological crisis in which human beings will be the main victims." This observation clearly anticipates the findings of the 2030 Water Resources Group.
Even with the best available technologies, the finiteness and unpredictable variability of water resource systems place severe limits on human aspirations for prosperity. At present, India is in a difficult position of not only accepting this reality but also having to take concrete steps to adapting to the reality.
A related development. A November 2009 report, "A framework for India's water policy" of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, discusses India's water endowments and the human challenges confronting sustainable water management.
(T.N. Narasimhan is in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley. tnnarasimhan@LBL.gov)
FOOT ON BOMB, MARINE LEARNS HE'S CHARMED
ON A MARINE FOOT PATROL IN AFGHANISTAN, RYAN T. MATHISON STEPPED ON A PRESSURE PLATE RIGGED TO ROUGHLY 25 POUNDS OF EXPLOSIVES. FORTUNATELY FOR HIM AND HIS PATROL, IT DID NOT EXPLODE.
If luck is the battlefield's final arbiter the wild card that can trump fitness, training, teamwork, equipment, character and skill then Lance Cpl. Ryan T. Mathison experienced its purest and most welcome form.
On a Marine foot patrol in Shosharak, Afghanistan, through the pre-dawn chill of Friday morning, he stepped on a pressure-plate rigged to roughly 25 pounds of explosives. The device, enough to destroy a pickup truck or tear apart several men, was buried beneath him in the dusty soil. It did not explode.
Lance Cpl. Mathison's weight triggered the detonation of one of the booby trap's two blasting caps. But upon giving an audible pop and tossing small stones into the air, the device failed to ignite its fuller charge a powerful mix of Eastern bloc mortar rounds and homemade explosives spiked with motorcycle parts, rusty spark plugs and jagged chunks of steel.
Lance Cpl. Mathison and several Marines near him were spared. So began a brief journey through the Taliban's shifting tactics and the vagaries of war, where an experience at the edge of death became instead an affirmation of friendship, and in which a veteran Marine reluctantly assumed for a morning one of the infantry's most coveted roles: that of the charmed man. "Goddamn Matty, man," said Cpl. Joshua D. Villegas, the patrol's radio operator, allowing his eyes to roam over the intact Marine after the patrol had backed away from the dud.
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have become the insurgents' killing tool of choice in the Afghan war, a complement to the Taliban's assault rifles, machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. They serve as a battlefield leveller for elusive fighters who are wary of meeting Western forces head-on.
As their use has multiplied several-fold in the past two years, bomb-disposal specialists and American officers say, the Taliban's bomb-making cells have sharpened their skills, moving away from smaller bombs in cooking pots to larger bombs encased in multi-gallon plastic water jugs, cooking-oil containers or ice coolers.
The bombs typically contain a slurry of fertilizer mixed with aluminum-based paint, and are triggered either via switches tripped by their victims or by a militant who detonates the weapon remotely when a victim moves near. Sometimes the insurgents use military-grade explosives from unexploded ordnance or conventional land mines.
No matter their determination or rising level of experience, those who manufacture or emplace the bombs still make mistakes, as evidenced by events on Friday morning on ground that the Marines call Cemetery Hill.
A foot patrol from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines left Patrol Base Brannon, a remote outpost in Helmand province, at about 4:30 am, two hours ahead of the sun. The Marines said they were headed to a knoll to settle into an observation post beside a cemetery and watch over a road dubbed Blue Moon.
The cemetery, contained by mud walls and shaded by three tall trees, overlooks part of the small village of Shosharak, including a house from which the Taliban have often fired on Marine patrols. A Marine was killed here last year. It is bitterly contested ground.
The Marines reached the wall. About a half-hour before sunrise, Lance Cpl. Dario P. Quirumbay, 20, the assistant patrol leader, called softly to Lance Cpl. Mathison, 21. He wanted to give him a thermal sight to scan the surrounding terrain.
Lance Cpl. Mathison moved toward his friend. When he was a few feet away, the weight of his footfall depressed something hidden in the dirt. There was a muffled pop, a sound resembling a man stomping on a bottle. A small explosion like that of firecracker lifted his boot. Rocks peppered the two Marines.
"Don't move!" Lance Cpl. Quirumbay said.
Wary of stepping on another bomb, the patrol sat still until light glowed in the eastern horizon, when other Marines unfolded a metal detector and swept around their friend. The detector emitted a loud whine, signalling that a large IED remained in the soil. The Marines radioed for a team that specialises in dismantling explosives and backed off the knoll.
By the time the disposal team arrived, sweeping down Blue Moon with metal detectors, most of the Marines understood how lucky they had been. "We were what? Ten metres from it?" said Hospitalman Joseph R. Korte, 20, the patrol's trauma medic. "Five," said Lance Cpl. Hickson, 21. Mr. Korte looked over at Lance Cpl. Mathison, who was crouched against a wall. "That would have killed you and Q," he said, using Lance Cpl. Quirumbay's nickname.
Lance Cpl. Mathison is a big Marine, thick at the neck and light on his feet, and a veteran of a tour in Iraq's Anbar province. He seemed to be suspending belief. He listened to his friends in silence. "I'm still calling it nothing," he said at last. "I'm going with that it was nothing." He finished his thought. "Makes me feel better," he said.
The rest of the patrol would not have it. "Well, Matty," said Lance Cpl. Hickson, his voice rising. "You might want to stop drinking, stop cussing." Someone else mused about all the free beers Lance Cpl. Mathison could expect.
Lance Cpl. Jacob M. Ohl, 19, interrupted. "Hickson was reading the Bible last night," he said. "Been to church three times in his life, and last night he was reading the Bible."
"I saved you," Lance Cpl. Hickson said.
He grinned. No one seemed sure what to think. They passed cigarettes, except for Lance Cpl. Mathison: He pulled a lollipop from a plastic bag and popped it into his mouth.
He watched the two Marines in the disposal team working on the hill. They were busy, and moving cautiously. Lance Cpl. Mathison had not wanted to accept that it was a bomb. He was beginning to shift his point of view. "If this really was an IED, then you ain't drinking with me," he said. "Because I'm done drinking. I'm going back to the way I was before I joined the Corps."
An improvised bomb is a simple thing a few batteries, a few wires, a blasting cap or two inserted into a stable explosive charge. A pressure plate serves as a switch. When depressed, the circuit is closed; the current from the batteries flows to the blasting cap, igniting the cap and setting off the full blast.
Ordnance specialists have a label for devices designed this way: victim-operated.
As simple as the system seems to be, there are many opportunities for malfunctions. But the Marines were puzzled. Up at the cemetery, a blasting cap had exploded, suggesting that the bomb maker had rigged a working circuit. Were it not for some unexplained fluke, these men knew, the bomb should have detonated, too.
Cpl. Villegas, the radio operator, jogged over. "Matty, I love you," he said as he ducked along the wall.
The arrival of the radio operator meant the Marines now had an infantryman's oxygen: information. They could overhear radio traffic between the patrol leader and the disposal team.
Word began to reach them. The pressure plate had been connected to two 82 mm mortar rounds and a directional fragmentation charge weighing roughly 20 pounds. The meaning of that sunk in. If it had exploded, it would have killed more than the two nearest Marines.
"Oh God, dude," one of the Marines said. Another strung together a profane phrase. The first word was dodged. The last was death. "Oh Matty, get over here," said Lance Cpl. Hickson. The two men hugged. They slapped each other's backs. They let go. Lance Cpl. Mathison was convinced. It really had been a bomb. "We're all lucky, man," he said. "That would have hurt us all."
A few minutes later, Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Dreher, from the disposal team, called for the man who had stepped on the pressure plate. The staff sergeant had collected evidence from the IED and rigged a small charge of plastic explosive to destroy what remained. He asked Lance Cpl. Mathison to ignite the blast.
"If that IED had worked like it was supposed to?" the staff sergeant said. "Bye-bye, sweetheart."
"Fire in the hole!" he shouted three times. Then the blast shook the earth. Dirt, stone and bits of metal showered the ground for several seconds the end of a weapon that had nearly decimated a small patrol. © 2010 The New York Times News Service
EDUCATION OPTIONS: SCOPE FOR MEDIA ROLE
The Central government revealed, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court on January 18, that 44 educational institutions in the country had failed to meet the standards and norms set by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to qualify for winning the status of "Deemed-to-be Universities" (DUs). This gave enough indication that these institutions would lose their DU status soon. The government's statement was based on the findings of a Committee he aded by Professor P.N. Tandon.
Tamil Nadu accounts for about 15 of the affected institutions, including the one founded by a Union Minister. Understandably, the revelation led to agitations by students likely to be affected, in Chennai, Salem, and Thanjavur. There were also some incidents of violence. Not surprisingly, the first State government to come out with a clear stand on what needs to be done is the DMK government of Tamil Nadu. Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy has gone well beyond welcoming the Central government's move to propose abolition of the DU system itself. Revealing that Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wrote to Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal in June 2009 asking that the powers of the State government and the existing universities be protected, Mr. Ponmudy has highlighted several aspects of the abuse of the DU system. Most important, he has reiterated the State government's assurance that the students of the affected institutions would not suffer "in any manner."
NEED FOR MORE IN-DEPTH STUDY AND COVERAGE
These significant developments have been adequately covered in the print and broadcast media, with some newspapers providing useful editorial analyses and comments as well. But it is clear that this challenging subject, and the key issues of educational standards and quality, and social opportunity, that have come to the fore, need more in-depth study and coverage than they have so far got in the public sphere.
Although the concept of the UGC honouring well-run colleges by extending to them the status of DUs in appreciation of their exemplary achievements in academic and research activities is nearly as old as the Indian Republic, the mushrooming of DUs in some States, particularly Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is of relatively recent origin. While under the original policy the UGC conferred the status on an educational institution after rigorous assessment, in the latter case the DU status was won by some, if not several, institutions exercising enormous political pressure and resorting to corruption.
About 30 deemed universities function in Tamil Nadu and applications from more are pending with the UGC. Ever since the Central and State governments began, in the 1980s, abandoning their responsibilities in the vital sphere of higher education, Tamil Nadu has become a hunting ground of hyper-profit-seeking private players in higher, and especially professional, education. This has resulted in a serious imbalance, with private institutions far outweighing State-run and State-aided institutions. Of the professional colleges, the imbalance, purely in terms of the number of colleges, is more in the engineering than in the medical field, where there is an acute shortage of seats at the undergraduate and especially post-graduate levels.
There are some excellent-to-good private colleges and deemed universities that specialise in various professional fields and offer new kinds of opportunity to young men and women. Scholarly studies show that aside from the welcome expansion of educational opportunity in the relevant fields, this transformation, which took place over two decades, has contributed to, and indeed enabled, the spectacular development of the software and IT-enabled-services (ITES) sectors in southern India. But these worthy private colleges and universities are swamped by institutions that approach education purely as a business and care little for quality and even minimum standards, especially in terms of the quality of teaching, faculty, and educational infrastructure.
LIMITLESS SCOPE FOR EXPLOITATION
Today Tamil Nadu has 354 engineering colleges, of which 333 are self-financing institutions. Although the highest court of the land has banned the practice of collecting capitation fees, the overwhelming majority of self-financing colleges collect substantial sums from students at the time of their joining the institution (claiming privately that this is an inescapable part of the economics of running professional colleges in the private sector). Thus, in the main, the scope for exploiting young people and their families has become limitless, with the phenomenal rise in the demand for engineers and other professionally qualified people in the IT and ITES sectors.
In a highly competitive market, those with more resources and resourcefulness have succeeded in a big way. In the case of some, a small minority, a sustained commitment to educational values and excellence and a focus on improving performance and benchmarking has made all the difference, winning them an enviable reputation nationally and even abroad. But it is clear that the majority of players have used their clout with the right people to elevate the status of their institutions improperly.
Then came a frenetic rush for winning the status of DU. Apart from being a brand-building exercise, this status would enable these institutions to wriggle out of government controls and supervision by monitoring agencies. Many who managed to win the unmerited status of DU for their institutions became defiant towards overseeing institutions, the UGC and the All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). The new status was rarely used to improve the quality of education by enhancing faculty strength and quality, and provide better facilities, academic and otherwise, to the students.
In its affidavit to the apex court, the Central government stated that the 44 institutions, identified for being awarded the DU status, had violated the guidelines prescribed for achieving excellence in teaching and research or innovations, and introduced unrelated degree programmes, thus going beyond the grant of the status. Barring the notable exception of some public-funded institutions, none of the 44 could produce any evidence of quality research, according to the Tandon Committee. It found that many institutions increased their intake disproportionately, and in some cases exponentially in relation to the qualified faculty strength and academic infrastructure. There were also instances where the fees were considerably higher than the ones recommended by the official committees.
The Tandon Committee said that 38 institutions justified their continuance as DUs; 44 were found deficient and had several shortcomings that needed to be corrected over a period of three years; and 44 others simply did not have the attributes to continue as DUs. Another notable finding of the committee was that families rather than professional academics controlled many of these institutions. A newspaper report quoted a member of the committee as saying that some of these institutions had been "atrociously scandalous" in admitting more than 1,500 candidates for Ph.D. studies, with a faculty strength of less than 200! One institution was reported to have opened 'study centres' in about 500 places.
The Hindu's consistent role
While appreciating the editorial of The Hindu ("A step in the right direction" January 21, 2010) and welcoming the government's move to withdraw the status given to 44 institutions, many readers have referred to the consistent role played by the newspaper against exploitation in the field of education.
"The editorial was timely and served a much-needed cause," writes Seshadri Ramkumar from Lubbock, Texas. "A good number of institutes that have mushroomed in the recent past have made minimum to nil contribution to research and outreach." S. Vivekanandan, writing from Madurai, takes exception to the recommendation of the Tandon Committee that 44 deemed universities, found to be deficient, should be given three years to rectify the shortcomings. He feels the move "will seriously jeopardise the 'Right to Quality Education' of the stakeholders of higher education." He wants the government to withdraw the deemed university status conferred on all private institutions. "It is a good sign that the government has not spared even the institutions founded by a Union Minister," writes K. Raju from Chennai.
As a reader points out, this newspaper has been consistently informing the public through its news coverage of higher education and educating it through competent articles and interviews with experts in the field of education, such as former UGC chairman Yashpal. In fact, several newspapers and magazines, besides some TV channels, have been reporting the hyper-commercialisation of engineering and medical education and the greedy exploitation of the aspirations and dreams of youth. But the message, it is clear, is yet to reach a large section of the people going by the fact that tens of thousands of parents, in their eagerness to educate their children, are not prepared to resist opting for the third-rate, and even the worst, of the colleges.
NO WAY BUT TO TALK
The India-Pakistan cold war continues unabated. Both sides seem to be fuelling it though they would deny it vehemently. Even as Indian intelligence agencies have alerted the nation about possible Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) para-glider attacks, Pakistan prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has said that it would not be possible to give assurances of preventing and pre-empting Mumbai-type terror incidents at a time when Pakistan was facing a similar situation every other day.
Together the two bits of information make for bleak reading. The trust deficit between the two countries seems to be widening and the two sides are only fuelling it further.
The fact that no Pakistan cricketer was picked during the Indian Premier League (IPL) bids for players has only added to the more-than-piquant situation.
Pakistan's military and political leaders are aware that they have reduced their country into a plaything of the jihadists and they just do not know to extricate the country and themselves from the clutches of the religious extremists. They are eager to deflect the ideological fury of the Islamists on to India and thereby apparently gain the upper hand.
The instinctive compulsion to score over India eggs Pakistan's leaders to do and say things that implicate them deeper than ever in the stratagems of Islamist terrorists.
The Americans are keen to get as much help as they can get from Pakistan in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas.
That is why they are forever offering money, planes and guns to Islamabad to humour them as well as keep them in the war against terrorism even as they realise Pakistan is a reluctant combatant. Meanwhile, Americans want India to play whatever role it can in strengthening Afghanistan's civilian networks, which turns out to be a sore point for Pakistanis.
Busy as they are engaging the two sides for their own strategic ends, the Americans are unlikely to make any efforts to defuse India-Pakistan tensions as they did in 2002 in the aftermath of the terror attack on Parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2001.
That leaves India and Pakistan to deal with the situation in a mature fashion. They will have to make up their
minds to talk directly to each other, frankly and honestly. It does not help to indulge in this ricochet of statements.
A study released by the Women and Child Development ministry has some good news gender disparities are down in India. Or that is, on a 10-year range starting from 1996, women fared far better in 2006.
The assumption is that this upward trend continues today. The study uses both standard human development indices as well as empowerment measures which includes political and economic participation as well as power over decision-making. The rise is from 0.514 to 0.590 in gender development and 0.416 to 0.497 is 2006.
By empirical evidence alone, there is little to argue with this data. Certainly, women are increasingly becoming more visible in all walks and spheres of life. There is also growing awareness and even acceptance that women can no longer be treated as "goods and chattel" or as the weaker or lesser or even less deserving gender.
However, we are also on the eve of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the formal adoption of our Constitution. This noble document assured us that as far as the republic of India is concerned, equal rights are guaranteed and this includes gender. Our progress then needs to be matched against that milestone.
Take political participation women make up about 10 per cent of this 15th Lok Sabha and about 9 per cent of the Rajya Sabha. In panchayats with one-third reservations for women, the number of women sometimes exceeds a third.
There are several lessons which can be extrapolated from this but the most obvious is that as far as women in politics is concerned, our one prime minister and several chief ministers aside, there is still a long way to go.
On the medical health and education fronts, women also lag far behind. They do better in some states and worse in others the Union territory of Chandigarh just took over from Kerala in the last report as having the highest gender development indices. But the national average is not yet encouraging.
This means that after 60 years of having a fine Constitution, half the country's population is not doing as well as the other half. Women in India, according to most studies, do the worst when it comes to controlling economic power. Financial independence goes a long way in assuring self-esteem and self-confidence.
So, while it is gratifying that women are not doing as badly as before and exhilarating that women are becoming pilots, CEOs and chief ministers, we need to work out a strategy to ensure that those left on the ground have the courage to grow wings.
GETTING LEFT BEHIND
Like his younger comrades Anil Biswas and Subhas Chakraborty, Jyoti Basu, too, breathed his last in a private hospital. Although privatisation is anathema to the communists, they almost invariably send their children to missionary schools and opt for private medical institutions when they are ill. It was only after his death that Basu's body was handed over to the government-run Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial (SSKM) Hospital for medical research.
Before the Left came to power in West Bengal, the SSKM, then known as the Presidency General hospital, was one of the finest in Calcutta, as Kolkata was known at the time. Its excellence in the quality of doctors and nursing staff and the care taken of patients was matched only by the equally well-known Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.
Now, they are among the most derelict of institutions. The comrades in the corridors of power will not touch them with a bargepole. There are two reasons why they are falling apart the free hand given to communist trade unions, which have destroyed all sense of discipline and service, and the preference given to the appointment of doctors with Leftist affiliations at the expense of competence.
It is the same with academic bodies. The obvious example of the decline of a premier institution is Presidency College, whose name was taken with great pride by all Bengalis. Yet, within a few years of the Left Front's assumption of power in 1977, the college started to go to seed for the same reason for which the hospitals did no teacher could hope to get selected without the approval of Alimuddin Street, where the CPM office was located.
The official "assault" on Presidency College was undertaken with the objective of curbing elitism. Why should one college stand out from the rest as a centre of excellence? The same drive against elitism also saw the abolition of English up to Class V in government schools, thereby depriving generations of Bengali children the chance of gainful employment outside the state. In view of the decline in the availability of jobs in West Bengal because of the flight of capital from 1967 when the United Front first came to power, the flight of the brightest of students also began.
For all of this, Basu is to blame. First, his political ascent itself was a quirk of circumstance. If the Congress had not split in 1966 with the departure of Bangla Congress under Ajoy Mukherji, the Left could not have won in 1967. And, then, if Indira Gandhi had not imposed the Emergency, the Congress would not have been decimated in 1977. These two missteps propelled the Left to power. And, then, the story of West Bengal's decline began because, as communists, the first task of Basu and his comrades was to infiltrate every "bourgeois" institution.
It wasn't only hospitals and colleges which were crippled, the bureaucracy and the police were subverted with the result that when the CPM goons launched their onslaughts on the party's political opponents, the guardians of law looked the other way, as in Narendra Modi's Gujarat in 2002. The rest of India and the Leftist intelligentsia were deceived into believing that these were class conflicts between the "haves", supported by the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, and the "have-nots" aligned with the Left. In reality, it was the flexing of muscle power by the Marxist militia working in tandem with the police.
It was only when Singur and Nandigram burst on the scene that the Leftist fellow-travellers like Mahashweta Devi, Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy et al understood what was going on. But, by then, the Left Front had already begun digging its own grave. Although Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee tried to retrieve the situation by trying to reverse the flight of capital, introduce English from the primary stage and grant autonomy to Presidency College, it would not be easy to undo the damage done by Basu.
The latter's failure, of course, was the failure of his party. They were misfits in a democratic set-up because its cornerstone is accommodation and professionalism. Partisanship, which is the lifeblood of communists, has no place in such a system. Because the Left does not understand this concept of autonomy, it wanted Somnath Chatterjee to function as a party apparatchik.
Although Basu saw West Bengal's decline, his vision was so circumscribed by dogma that he saw no way out. Any remedial action would have meant taking the bourgeois path, which was out of the question. Or he simply did not care. Having lived a life of affluence in childhood and youth and later in power, the power cuts, the hooliganism of cadres, the collapse of institutions did not touch him.
It didn't matter that a respected minister, Benoy Chaudhuri, accused the government of being one of, for and by contractors or another resigned after writing a play called Dushsamay (Bad Times). Riding in long convoys even after relinquishing office, Basu was oblivious of the havoc he had caused. History will not be kind to him.
ONE YEAR ON, OBAMA MAGIC IS RECEDING
The irony was breathtaking: exactly one year after US President Barack Obama's all-conquering inaugural in January 2009, the late Edward Kennedy's US Senate seat in Massachusetts went to the Republicans. Suddenly, Obama's domestic agenda, and its kingpin, health care, are in trouble. It is hard to believe, after the euphoria of 2008, that Obama's place in history may depend on a single vote in the US Senate. But it does: the 60-40 supermajority is gone, and Obamacare may not survive.
Obama has not done all that badly, but expectations were so inflated that there was bound to be a let-down, especially among those afflicted by a "Messiah Syndrome". His predecessor George W Bush was so despised that Obama would have looked good anyway. Apparently there are limits to the carte blanche. His approval ratings fell below 50 per cent in January, according to Gallup.
In all fairness, Obama inherited large problems: two wars, and the global financial meltdown. It is true that the Great Depression was fended off (although the credit should go to the Federal Reserve), there has been movement towards containing health-care costs, and Iraq (but not Afghanistan) seems to be stabilising. Obama has presented a kinder, gentler America to the rest of the world which may have resented the cowboy tactics of Bush. America's brand image has improved.
On the other hand, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and people have been forced to tighten their belts.
Obama's deliberate, Olympian style suggests perhaps unfairly paralysis by analysis. The dithering over Afghan policy for eight months, and the plan to "surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell", have hurt India's interests. An Obama, desperate to pull out of Afghanistan, is likely leaning on India to cave in on Kashmir, in order to appease Pakistan.
And it appears that Obama has allowed his agenda to be hijacked by several factors: an exaggerated internationalism, a certain hubris, a permanent campaign mode, and an unwillingness to rein in ideologues.
Internationalism is good in theory, but not at the expense of domestic agendas. The Economist reports ('Around the world in 42 days', January 19) that "[Obama] has spent much more time overseas than his predecessors."
Unfortunately, Obama also seems to specialise in alienating America's friends and appeasing its foes. India was shown that it did not matter, but Obama was at his charming best with China, militant West Asians and Iran. Predictably, he got little in return. He reached out to the Islamic faith in his Cairo and Ankara speeches, but this was construed as weakness, and al Qaeda/Taliban are rampant. The Chinese humiliated him in Copenhagen.
Second, Obama seems to have begun to believe his own propaganda. Remember the Nobel peace prize, which, surely, Obama knows he doesn't deserve, at least not yet? For him to accept it anyway came across as grasping and vain.
Obama also seems to have some trouble switching from campaigning where he can make promises to governing where he has to deliver. Some of his actions seem predicated on PR: the time-table for the pullout of troops from Afghanistan is meant to give him a boost in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Finally, Obama is not reining in his more rabid supporters. Some of them believe that there had been a permanent shift to the left in 2008. Not so; especially as a result of tough economic times, there has been a shift to the right, and Republicans are feeling their oats.
If Obama is able to curb his vanity, his internationalism, and the more extreme of his supporters, and, big if the economy does improve in the next few months he may well rebound.
Overall, Obama's first year in office rates only a B for effort, and a C- for results.
FOR EACH ONE OF US
As we have gathered here together to thank God for the Nobel Peace Prize, I think it will be beautiful that we pray the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. We pray this prayer every day after Holy Communion, because it is very fitting for each one of us.
And I always wonder that 400-500 years ago when St Francis of Assisi composed this prayer, they had the same difficulties that we have today as we compose this prayer. I think some of you already have got it so we pray together: Let us thank God for the opportunity that we all have together today, for this gift of peace that reminds us that we have been created to live that peace, and that Jesus became man to bring that good news to the poor.
He, being God, became man in all things like us except in sin, and he proclaimed very clearly that he had come to give the good news. The news was peace to all of good will and this is something that we all want the peace of heart. And God loved the world so much that he gave his son - it was a giving: because he loved the world so much that he gave his son. He gave him to the Virgin Mary, and what did she do with him?
As soon as he came in her life, immediately she went to give that good news, and as she came into the house of her cousin the child in the womb of Elizabeth, lept with joy. That little unborn child was the first messenger of peace.
He recognised the Prince of Peace had come to bring the good news for you and for me.
And as if that was not enough, he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us.
Mother Teresa's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1979
HEAVY TAX DOSE IN PUNJAB
JUSTIFY IT WITH BETTER GOVERNANCE
IN one of the largest tax collection exercises outside the budget, the Punjab government has made some serious effort to replenish its treasury, depleted over the years by reckless official and political extravagance. For a long time successive governments in Punjab had avoided the unpleasant decision to raise taxes and resorted to loans to run the state affairs. The politics of competitive populism, followed both by the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress, had drained the state finances and led to a staggering debt of Rs 63,000 crore, which the future generations of Punjabis will have to repay.
After paying for subsidies, salaries, pensions and interest on loans the government is left with no money to spend on development. It is either diverting money earmarked for Central schemes or acquiring farmers' lands to sell plots at huge profit. Even after putting a Rs 4,000-crore additional burden on the people as suggested by the committee comprising Deputy chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia, the thoughtless in power have not bothered to cut their own luxuries and expenses, shed administrative flab, sack the parliamentary secretaries, wind up unwanted boards and corporations or take up administrative reforms to reduce the government spending. The one-year extension option to the employees retiring this year is discriminatory and leaves others fuming. Instead of teachers, more policemen are to be hired on priority.
Those in the government need some serious introspection: why their expenditure overshoots revenue, whether the subsidies reach the intended beneficiaries, why education and health are in such a mess, why people vote out every government and do not re-elect it. People do not mind paying extra taxes if the services they expect from the government improve. Will farmers get regular, quality power now? Will they be spared harassment while getting reimbursements? It is not just lack of financial discipline or extravagant spending that infuriates the common people no end, but also poor governance, corruption and an outrageous show of VIP security.
CONGRESS NEEDS TO WORK HARD IN HARYANA
EVER since Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda called early elections in Haryana, things have not been going on expected lines for the Congress. First, its calculations that the success that the party had achieved in the Lok Sabha elections would be replicated in Assembly elections went awfully awry. It almost lost power but for the chipping in of Independents and HJC rebels. When they were accommodated, many of the senior party members were alienated. The fissures have been papered over but continue to be pretty visible. Under such circumstances, it had put all forces at its command into the Ellenabad byelection caused by the vacation of the seat by Mr Om Prakash Chautala who decided to retain Uchana Kalan. This time his son Abhey Singh Chautala contested against the previous Congress candidate Bharat Singh Beniwal. Since every seat counted for the Congress, the byelection got far more importance than it deserved. But in the end, its calculations have again proved wrong, with junior Chautala retaining the seat with a comfortable margin of nearly 6,200 votes.
Ellenabad is a known stronghold of the INLD and the Congress did not have a plausible roadmap to wean away its committed voters. As far as money and muscle power was concerned, both parties were virtually even. In the end, the old bonds of the Chutalas with the largely farming community right since Mr Devi Lal's time proved to be the clinching factor.
Although it was a contest between Mr Abhey Singh and Mr Bharat Singh Beniwal, the battle had turned out to be proxy war between Chief Minister Hooda and his predecessor Chautala. Mr Hooda campaigned in the constituency for more than a week. The effort has not borne fruit. The victory has further boosted the morale of the INLD, which at one stage had been nearly wiped out from the state. The Congress must do a serious re-think as to why it has frittered away that advantage, allowing its archrival to stage a comeback.
CHANGE OF GUARD
MAY BE, PATIL WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE
ALMOST the first thing that Mr Shivraj Patil did after being sworn in as the 32nd Governor of Punjab was to promise a "cooperative atmosphere" and a "positive attitude". Here is hoping that he actually brings about this change in the functioning of Raj Bhawan in the shortest possible time because it is badly needed in Punjab and certainly in the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Especially in his capacity as the Administrator of Chandigarh, he will have to be far more accessible and accountable hands-on person than his predecessor was. Perhaps, he made the statement deliberately because the people's wish-list is known to him, considering that he has been the Home Minister of India. Punjab is getting a "civilian" Governor after some two decades. Whatever the other advantages of having Generals as Governors might have been, responsiveness to the public opinion is not their strong point, judging from the controvertial tenure of Gen S. F. Rodrigues. As a politician, Mr Patil will have to be more alive to the aspirations of the public.
He will also have to wipe out the bitterness that has creeped into the relations between the bureaucracy and the Administrator. General Rodrigues' tenure was marked by a running battle with his senior officers. Mr Patil should ensure that the Administration presents a cohesive image and everybody pulls along in the right direction.
He will also have to steer clear of the kind of ugly spats the UT experienced in the recent past. Most of them were the result of ignoring the various checks and balances and taking decisions unilaterally in Raj Bhawan. Ideally, Chandigarh should be under a Chief Commissioner. But if Raj Bhawan is more transparent, numerous unpleasant situations can be easily avoided. There are set procedures in administration which were ignored by his predecessors. With Mr Patil's arrival in Chandigarh, the UT hopefully can live in peace and harmony.
FLAWED SECURITY PLANNING
NEED TO CHANGE THE MINDSET
BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
A new National Security Adviser (NSA) has been appointed and he is a former Foreign Secretary. The first and the second NSAs were also from the Indian Foreign Service. Since our National Security Council (NSC) has not been set up under an enactment unlike the US body, its functioning style depends largely on the Prime Minister and the NSA, who is its Secretary. Mr Vajpayee had an NSC which had six members, inclucing the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The other five members were the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance. Except for the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, the other five were the members of the Cabinet Committee for Security Affairs (CCS). Mr Vajpayee made his Secretary heading the PM's Office, Mr Brajesh Mishra, the NSA.
The NSC was intended to guide and formulate long-term planning and policy formulation on issues relating to national security. The NSC hardly met in this role during the NDA's rule. With a few exceptions, most of the meetings were as CCS members in which the matters relating to defence and national security were handled with the NSA-cum-Secretary to the Prime Minister bringing up current issues for decisions of the CCS. Recently Mr Mishra has expressed the view that the post of the NSA was too powerful and was also not accountable to Parliament and, was, therefore, unsuitable for parliamentary democracy. It was his proximity to Mr Vajpayee and the combination of the two posts of the NSA and the Secretary to Prime Minister that made the post very powerful. His successors did not wield the power he did.
However, it must be said to his credit that he used his credentials to enhance India's rating as a major actor in the international system with other major powers of the world through his personal diplomatic efforts. While that was an unprecedented achievement for a person not holding formal political office, his tenure as the NSA did not advance the objectives for which the NSC was established. He now favours discontinuing the institution.
Mr Dixit and Mr Narayanan inherited a post which was not the same as the one occupied by Mr Mishra since they could not combine the post of the NSA with that of the Secretary to the PM. The UPA government made the NSC identical in its composition to the CCS. During Mr Mishra's tenure the functions of coordination of intelligence agencies, including the newly created National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), chairmanship of the Executive Council of the Nuclear Command Authority, liaison with national security advisers of other major powers, etc, had been added to the responsibilities of the NSA.
The internal security situation posed an additional challenge with an increase in terrorism as well as Left wing extremism. Simultaneously came the US initiative of helping India in its efforts to become a major power which transformed into the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. All these developments kept the NSA extremely busy. Mr Narayanan as the NSA did try to build further on the foundation laid by Mr Mishra. He revived the Joint Intelligence Committee within the NSC secretariat. He increased the number of deputies from one to three, initiated a number of studies and set up policy groups for particular issues.
But the problem of management of Indian national security could not have been fully addressed by an incumbent NSA. Unfortunately in this country, the complexity and magnitude of the problem of management of national security have not been grasped by our political class and establishment. India's rise to the status of the most populous, democratic, pluralistic, secular, industrialised country as the third largest market and GDP in the world in the next three decades will not be a resistance and obstacle-free process even though in the nuclearised and globalised world today there is no expectation of a war among major powers. Though India's rise is a unique case in modern history when it will not cause concerns among other major democracies since its growth is as a democratic nation, there are still serious threats and challenges to India. These are religious and leftist extremisms, ethnic secessionism, organised crime and one non-democratic great power which is our neighbour, concerned about our rise and would like to keep us down though India has no ambition to rival China.
The role of the NSC and the NSA is to think and plan ahead to meet the threats and challenges that are likely to arise. This calls for a mechanism to make forward-looking assessments spanning short, medium and long-term developments within the country and in the world outside. Such assessments should be discussed by our political leadership (National Security Council) and appropriate plans to advance our interests and limit damage to them will have to be formulated. Directives should be issued to the ministries to translate the plans into policies and programmes and seek the approval of the NSC. Initiating, monitoring, coordinating and supervising the implementation of this process on behalf of the Prime Minister is the role of the NSA.
Ensuring the emergence of India as the world's largest, pluralistic and secular democracy, thwarting the various threats and challenges in the next three decades, is a daunting task. If only our politicians had understood the stupendous nature of this task they would have paid more attention to the development and functioning of the NSC. We have major problems to develop and nurture a national security system and endow it to have adequate capability to meet the requirements of the task.
Outsiders have already focused attention on our inadequacies in this respect. These are a lack of an adequate intelligence capability, internal, external and technical with a large proportion of highly trained people. Secondly, the country needs a large number of think-tanks and highly qualified social scientists applying themselves to international studies and national security.
Above all, both our political class and academia have to undergo a basic attitudinal change about intelligence and its role. Till now our politicians and bureaucracy have been acting on a mindset which leads them to feel that intelligence is a report on current and immediately impending happenings and is necessary for them to react to them.
That is the surest way of not being ready to deal with a threat successfully. Intelligence, in reality, is a vital but incomplete input to enable one to assess a future likely threat and, therefore, is continuously needed to be aware of a developing situation and be ready to deal with it in anticipation.
When the Kargil panel suggested that the NSC members should have regular fortnightly intelligence briefings, it was turned down on the ground that the particular agency would bring the relevant intelligence to the notice of the NSC as and when it was necessary. That is the approach of those who can only react and not get ready to act in anticipation to thwart a threat.
Unlike his predecessors, this Prime Minister is familiar with the problem and its solution. He now has an opportunity to initiate a new beginning in the national security management.
A HOUSE FOR MRS WOOD PECKER
BY JUSTICE MAHESH GROVER
TALES from Panchtantra drawn heavily on animal characteristics to weave stories with inferences to human behaviour, and copious comparisons have often emerged in them and other folklore as well. For example, a Bagula has been compared to a deceptive person (Bagula Bhagat), an owl is wise and a fool depending on which side of the continent you are. Crow is attributed cunningness, falcon ruthlessness, a sparrow timidity, while parrots and mynahs provide for legendary love stories.
Probably, these creatures are afflicted with the same emotions as humans which compel them to behave in somewhat similar fashion as us, but which is just a shade less pronounced and demonstrative on account of intellect deficit.
While enjoying my tea in the benign settings of a lawn surrounded by trees, inhabited by avions, I started observing them while feeding them crumbs strewn on the grass. It was pleasurable to watch them display their antics and often, they interacted with you, if you chose to do so. On throwing crushed biscuits around, the place would instantly be flooded with a variety of birds fighting for the crumbs, often chasing each other away, and entering into a brawl.
A pair of mynahs were regular visitors and would swoop down instantly, the moment I set down my chair, and then screech loudly, relentlessly demanding their treat and would not give up till their demand was met. They gradually got emboldened enough to perch themselves within touching distances from me. This made the tea ceremony lively and interesting. The most interesting was the Wood Pecker, who came and started chipping viciously and noisily at a tree trunk. He persisted day after day. It was spring time, so I guessed that it was trying to make a home in the tree chosen by him. He managed to chip away a good bit of the tree where a hole was soon discernible.
He then came with his partner who sat at a distance watching him chip at the tree for some time. She then flew to the spot where Mr Pecker had been strenuously working. It seemed that Mr Pecker had got Mrs Pecker along to approve of the site of abode selected by him.
Alas! Mrs Pecker had different notions. She gave one peck on the tree, looked at Mr Pecker disdainfully, convinced of his ineptitude and flew away. A bewildered Mr Pecker sat looking quizzically at his work. An angry call made him follow her demurely.
"Love's Labour Lost," one could say, or say "Hen- pecked Mr Wood Pecker"?
Ever noticed it in humans?
No candid confessions, but only sheepish denials.
As a humorist said, "One of the fundamental truths about marriage: the wife is always incharge."
WASTAGE OF FOOD
BUILD SILOS FOR SAFE STORAGE OF GRAINS
BY S. S. JOHL
INDIA has been suffering from bouts of shortages and surpluses on the food front for the last several decades. The country lays maximum emphasis on increasing production and, yet, follows a tardy policy on foodgrain storage.
Grains are stored in CAP and godowns mainly and only recently some silos have been set up. Still the storage space dismally falls short of requirements.
However, now policymakers seem to have awakened to the ground realities and at the instance of the Government of India, the Food Corporation of India has now decided to create additional foodgrain storage capacity for central pool stocks across the country, including Punjab and Haryana.
As per the policy guidelines, only storage godowns in the private and public sectors on a five-year guarantee of business are to be got constructed. Unfortunately, these policy guidelines appear to have been framed without taking a holistic view of the issue.
The availability of foodgrains in a particular season depends on production, minimum support prices and other related factors. Depending upon the foodgrain stocks already in storage, the requirements of additional storage change from time to time.
There has to be, therefore, some degree of flexibility in types of storage linked with handling and transportation of foodgrains. The irreversible trend of fast increasing mechanisation at the farm level and bulk marketing by farmers, a short duration of the marketing season followed by heavy monsoon rains require a rational mix of different storage systems and capacities.
The CAP storage, which is the lowest cost storage, is suitable for short-period storage only and is totally unsuitable in the rainy season. This system, therefore, has a limited scope in Punjab, Haryana and western Utter Pradesh.
Grains must be removed from such stores in these states, well before the monsoon sets in. Godowns are suitable for not more than one year, although at present grains in such stores are kept for several years.
In longer storage in godowns grains get infested with insects and are spoiled by rodents and moisture. If grains are stored at a higher moisture content, i.e., more than 12 per cent, this can lead to a huge loss in terms of quality.
Another aspect is that being vertical structures, silos occupy only one-third of land area compared with the land requirements of godowns, which offsets the higher costs of silos. This is particularly important for Punjab, where land prices are very high.
The silo storage is meant for long duration storage easily up to two to three years and even longer. This system of storage saves the grain from spoilage due to excessive moisture, development of hot pockets, fungus growth, insect pests, rodents, birds and thefts.
No doubt, this system is a bit more expensive, yet even if one per cent of post-harvest losses are eliminated through the silo storage, it can save 2.3 million tonne of foodgrains. This is a huge contribution to the food security of India.
These days farmers bring wheat and paddy to the market in bulk through tractor-trailers. If metallic silos are built with facilities of bulk weighing, drying, cleaning and grading infrastructures, there is no need for producers to unload their produce in market yards, where there are no drying facilities and after sale the produce is filled in bags.
In the silo system the need for bags is eliminated and bags are used only at the final stage of delivery for supply to consumers. There are, thus, considerable savings on time, bags, hassles of handling the produce in the market.
The silos can be declared as market yards under the provisions of the Agricultural Produce Markets Act and all charges like market fees, purchase tax and other development charges being levied by the government can be easily realised at the silo heads.
There is no scope for tax avoidance in this system. This requires some amendments to the Agricultural Produce Markets Act, which should not pose any problem because action is already afoot to amend the Act for enabling the setting up of private markets in the country.
No doubt, the silo system of grain storage is a bit costly. However, in view of the food and nutritional security of the country and proper management of foodgrain supply and demand, a rational mix of CAP storage, godowns and silos is required to be built. Grains meant for the buffer stock, emergency provisions and exports must be stored in metallic silos in order to keep the quantity and quality of the grains in the original, rather improved form through scientific handling that would ensure the maintaining of proper temperature, moisture and aeration in the stored grains.
Plinth storage facilities should be for very short period storage and created only in the foodgrain surplus producing areas. The stocks must be cleared within two to three months before the winter rains and the monsoon set in.
Godowns can be used both in the surplus-producing areas as well as consuming areas/states for annual supplies and must be recycled within one year.
It is to be remembered that any minor spoilage renders the grains nutritionally deficient and often unfit for human consumption. Also, we need to realise that the grains that are not fit for human consumption are also not fit for animal consumption.
Thus, for improving food security as well as nutritional security of the country, a rational mix of foodgrain storage systems, wherein all the three types of storage systems find their due place is the need of the hour.
The Central policy for creating substantial additional capacity is already too late and this delay has cost the nation dear in terms of spoilage and losses of grains and ad hoc actions aimed at managing the supply and demand of foodgrains in the country.
Now that additional capacity is being created incorporating only the godowns is a misplaced policy stance. When new storage capacity is to be built in the public and private sectors, the policymakers must not ignore the system of scientific storage in metallic silos. These costs will pay back in their own turn in terms of ensuring food and nutritional security in the country in the context of good quality foodgrains. Even if a fraction of the cost and attention is diverted from production to scientific storage, the country will not have to suffer from the bouts of shortages and imports as well as unmanageable surpluses and exports, which invariably involve huge costs and losses to the nation.
AMERICANS DISILLUSIONED WITH GOVT
BY RUPERT CORNWELL
ON the face of it, few political turnarounds have been as astonishing. A mere 14 months ago, a tide of fury at George W. Bush and eight failed years of Republican rule swept Barack Obama to power.
Last week's stunning loss of a seemingly rock-solid Senate seat in Massachusetts suggests voters' anger is now directed with equal ferocity against Mr Obama and the Democrats. In fact, one crucial element has not changed: Americans' disillusion and exasperation with the way their government works.
Many factors contributed to the came-from-nowhere victory of Scott Brown. He was an excellent candidate; a relative outsider, a natural communicator and infectiously energetic. Maybe too the electorate felt that however hallowed the memory of Ted Kennedy, after almost half a century it was time for real change. "This is the people's seat," Mr Brown declared in his victory speech, not a sinecure to be handed down from one generation of Democrats to another.
The faltering economy, stagnant earnings and a jobless rate of 10 per cent have added to the rebellious mood. Another element, unquestionably, was the increasingly unpopular health care measure pushed by Mr Obama and the Democratic majority on Congress, now opposed by a majority of Americans.
Then there's the Obama factor. This was not a referendum on the President, who in November 2008 carried Massachusetts by 26 points. But his approval rating has since slid from 75 per cent to 50 or less. The presidential coat-tails are not what they were. Indeed, Mr Obama's appearance alongside the Democrat candidate Martha Coakley at the weekend may have done as much harm as good.
But one strand links all these reasons, and connects them with the wrath visited by voters on Republicans in 2006 and 2008: the frayed relationship between Americans and their ever-more dysfunctional system of government.
The President's popularity has slipped. But in comparison with Congress, viewed positively by just 25 per cent of the voters, he is adored. And since Democrats control both chambers, they naturally bear the brunt of the blame. Indeed, to judge by recent polls, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is as unpopular as was Dick Cheney in the waning years of the Bush era.
Nowhere is the resentment greater than among independents, at the fulcrum of US politics, whose support sent Mr Obama to the White House, premised on the belief he would fulfil his campaign promise to change the way Washington ie government worked.
It hasn't happened. The climate has grown even more venomously partisan, preventing anything being done. There's the old stench of corruption too. Ms Pelosi promised to clean things up. Instead Americans are offered the unedifying spectacle of New York Congressman Charles Rangel, head of the hugely powerful House Ways and Means committee the main tax-writing body on Capitol Hill entangled in ethics and tax avoidance allegations.
Instead of taking Congress to task, Mr Obama appears ready to indulge its every whim. As his ambitious reform schemes founder healthcare today, perhaps climate and energy policy and market regulation tomorrow he seems to have achieved a poisonous combination of big government and no government.
As a result independents are deserting in droves. The trend was already evident in last November's elections where Republicans recaptured the governor's mansion in New Jersey and Virginia, two states Mr Obama had comfortably carried only a year before. The same happened this week in Massachusetts where, although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one, nearly half of all voters are independents.
For the moment Republicans are beneficiaries of this anti-establishment mood, stridently expressed by the Tea Party movement which strongly backed Mr Brown. But Republican incumbents could fall victim to the resentment a danger he recognised on Tuesday night when he scarcely used the word "Republican". His victory was "all of us against the machine". His was an "independent" majority.
Where this new populism will lead is the most fascinating current question in US politics. It is similar to Poujadism in France in the 1950s in its disgust at elites (in this case Wall Street). But it is a very American movement, of little guys fed up with deficits and with a government that spends like a drunken sailor when they have to watch every cent. If it lasts, the consequences could be momentous.
By arrangement with The Independent
NARENDRA MODI GOES KITE FLYING
BY DEVI CHERIAN
NO BJP Chief Minister can beat the astute Narendra Modi. You cannot ignore the political acumen of the Gujarat Chief Minister. He has perfected the art of subtly making political capital out of all occasions whether celebrations or moments of solemnity.
His dress sense changes according to the occasion. Clad in a jersey, Modi was out flying kites with people on Makar Sankranti. He chose six locations in Ahmedabad where he flew kites, interacted with people and shared their home-made food. In short, he floored his constituency people.
Interestingly, all the six locations he chose were areas where the BJP needed to strengthen itself. As the Municipal Corporation elections approach, Modi knows that his flying kites on a local terrace or eating a home-made "till ka laddoo" is something the locals will remember when they go to cast their vote.
He is going all out to prove his secular credentials these days. He inaugurated an international seminar on Buddhism.
He plans to set up a big Buddhist temple along with a centre for research. With the Dalai Lama by his side, he propagated the message of love and compassion. Now that is a changed Modi, no doubt!
A plot on moon for Mayawati
AN understatement is certainly not the forte of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. After declaring that her birthday celebrations on January 15 would be low key, she really stretched the definition of "low key".
All the parks and memorials in Lucknow were lit up with blue Chinese lights. Hoardings, sponsored by BSP leaders, were plastered all over the state capital all in shades of blue, which happens to be the BSP's colour too.
There were also blue banners, blue balloons, blue arches and even blue elephants. Inside the auditorium where Behenji unveiled projects for the poor, blue orchids were put up on the walls. Thank God, there was no customary cake cutting in public this year.
Mayawati has also been gifted a three-acre plot on nothing less than the moon! Gifted by a party leader. He purchased the lunar plot from the US-based Lunar Republic Society.
The society openly sells plots on the moon. It also has registration papers signed by its member-secretary. But one does not know the price that has been paid for the plot.
Of course, when a gift is being given to Behenji, its price is immaterial. It is the feeling that matters. This year Behenji announced welfare programmes and development schemes worth Rs 7,312 crore.
Mothers-to-be have a choice
Today mothers, it seems, can go to any lengths to 'bestow God's blessings upon their children, even if it means risking their own or their baby's health. And, sadly, the doctor goes along with it.
A woman in the Capital chose to deliver her baby prematurely so as to coincide the birth with Makar Sankranti, a festival which is considered auspicious by Hindus.
Nowadays gynaecologists give the mothers-to-be a choice of natural birth, water baby birth and a cesarean.
If the mother-to-be is into astrology, she can ask her astrologer what is an auspicious day time to give birth. Then the doctor also obliges.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Plight of undertrial prisoners in India has been a constant reminder of the shortcomings in our judicial as also the law enforcing mechanism. Lackadaisical attitude of the police coupled with the slow pace in which the judiciary moves has ensured that our prisons are overflowing with undertrials, many charged with petty crimes which might carry a few months of imprisonment if found guilty. A Government survey has startlingly revealed that there are at least 1.7 lakh undertrial prisoners in the country who have spent more time without trial in jail than the maximum prescribed imprisonment term for the crimes with which they have been charged! Often innocents are picked up by the so called guardians of law and order because they are under pressure to show results in their investigations; these languish for long period of time in jail before their cases come up for trial. Most of them are from the under privileged section, without the cash or clout required to move for bail or expedite the judicial process. Contact with hardened criminals within the deleterious environs of a prison often serves to criminalise individuals who otherwise may have been law-abiding citizens. Surprisingly, no initiative had been taken by the Judiciary or the Executive to rectify this unacceptable situation, with even lawyers, one of the most aware and vocal segment of our society, choosing to turn a blind eye towards it.
However, the Centre appears to have finally woken up to such blatant denial of justice. The Union Law Ministry is planning to ensure that 1.25 lakh undertrial prisoners are freed within six months from January 26. In order to expedite this process, it has divided the nation into zones and appointed an additional solicitor general for each zone to supervise the release. The Ministry plans daily hearings so that quicker judgements can be made and action taken on the fate of those who have served time as undertrials. It also envisages State help to poor undertrials in the form of free legal assistance. These are positive steps being contemplated by the Centre and should lie at the core of judicial reform. However, procedural changes should not be confined only to the current undertrials but become permanent aspects of the justice system so that the pile-up problem is tackled once and for all. Of course, neither the Legislature nor the Executive can bring about reform to our justice system unless it receives full support of all segments of the Judiciary. Also, the undertrial issue is only one of the many constraints hampering the system from meting out due justice to all sections of society, especially litigants in civil suit cases. It is imperative that the Courts of the land, as well as all the constituents of the Judiciary, play a pro-active role in ushering in meaningful reforms.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Guwahati has grown beyond all expectations during the past half a century and especially during the past 3 decades. While old Guwahati had its importance as the seat of learning and the centre of Assam's social and political life it had only a small population and a limited area till about the end of the 1960s. Then it suddenly got a spurt as the capital of Assam was shifted down from Shillong in the next decade. Another important event which has gone unnoticed is the establishment of the Tea Auction Centre. This Centre created 3000 jobs directly and indirectly. This also brought the offices of the tea companies, the warehouses and the banks in the 1970s. Then Guwahati was expanded in area and population with the tremendous growth of trade and equally significant craze of the Assamese people for a plot of land or an apartment in the city. This unplanned expansion created quite a confusion and chaos because the infrastructure did not expand at the same rate. The municipal services also were not commensurate. There was a haphazard growth in the number of municipal workers. But there was no scientific analysis of the need for such staff nor any proper study as to whether all of them are qualified for the jobs they were expected to perform. It is alleged that the "city fathers", if the greedy ward commissioners can be given that epithet, were busy in collecting their own shares of the kitty while the citizens suffered. The same process was replicated in the other municipalities of Assam. Everywhere the staff in position was neither qualified nor trained to perform the particular jobs to which they were appointed.
The Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC), chaired by the former Chief Secretary H.N Das, took cognizance of this situation and recommended that ''a very quick management study be got done in order to determine the different categories of staff recruited for GMC immediately. A similiar study should be commissioned for the other ULBs (Urban Local Bodies). The two Reports should be available to GOA (Government of Assam) whithin six months". But GOA has done absolutly nothing during the past 22 months, since TASFC's Report was submitted, although it had decided as follows : "Accepted. Action by UD and GD Departments for creation of Study Group ". It may also be recalled that TASFC had recommended a total devolution of Rs. 861.79 crore to 72 municipalities besides munificent grants-in-aid for various special purposes out of an additional amount of Rs.593.46 crore for both rural and urban areas. GMC alone was recommended a devolution of Rs. 225.93 crore. It is learnt that GOA has released only a small sum for arrear salary payments out of grants- in -aid but nothing at all out of the devolution although it had accepted the recommendations vide the Explanatory Memorandum on Action Taken laid on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on December 11, 2009. Action on these recommendations should be expedited.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
HAZARDS OF MEGA DAMS IN NORTH EAST
After all, the site where the projects have been proposed is a highly sensitive seismic zone, and, what they worry about is the hazards the dams may pose for the flood-prone States like Assam.
We know that a sustainable economic growth even in a remotest part of a country is possible if it does abound with natural resources like gas, crude oil, uranium, coal or even water. Most of the northeastern region of the country, if not the whole of it, can well be a prime destination for industrial growth in the country, simply because it is full of these resources. Indeed, for hydro-electric power projects, the State of Arunachal Pradesh is by far the best place as it is the richest of all the States in the country in water resource. A report based on a survey conducted by the Department of North Eastern Region (DoNER) a couple of years ago, also confirms it having been so rich when it says that the State has, by virtue of it, the potential of generating energy to the extent of a staggering 50,328 MW. Interestingly, even the survey report carried out by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), a foremost governmental agency, vis-a-vis Arunachal's capability in terms of energy-generation, has also been identical.
But what we are primarily concerned about is the North East as a whole, not Arunachal Pradesh alone. Though resource-rich, it is under constant threat of earthquake as the region has fallen in the very seismically sensitive zone-V. Under these circumstances, before deciding or proposing any venturous jobs in the form of mega hydro-electric projects on the upper reaches of the river Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh, all we ought to first do is undertaking a comprehensive and in-depth study on likely impacts of the proposed hydro-electric projects in the downstream areas, and then, making the assessment report public. Doing all these things is all the more important not only to avoid being unnecessarily implicated into a controvery but also to draw a definite conclusion if it is at all feasible for it to set up the proposed mega power plants in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh that are known to be located in the highly seismic zone.
But the Centre does not seem to be committed to assiduously and meticulously conducting scientific and thorough studies and survey on the downstream impact of the dams. It, instead, prefers carrying out the spadework in a haste and piecemeal, irrespective of a possible popular outcry, with a view to somehow pushing ahead all the dams it has proposed in Arunachal Pradesh, Amd, that is exactly what it has done recently.
Actually, what has taken one by utter surprise is how could it chalk out such a massive plan of generating 55,000 MW power by setting up around 100 projects in the State without taking into confidence the local populance, some of whom could give it some food for thought, and grant permission hurriedly to the projects to come up? Did not it understand that any frenetic bit to meddle with the river system in place from time immemorial, through these projects, in the highly sensitive region could inflict irreparable damage on forest cover, induce floods, displace people and even lead to earthquake. If the damage is serious the benefits sought to be reaped through power generation will seldom outweigh it.
What is the consequence of a massive hydro-power project, if built in an earthquake-prone zone, it is possibly China in the world that can only tell because the country has had a painful experience about it. China set up a 511-feet high mega dam in a geological fault-line of its Sichuan province, least caring for a proper planning accompanied by scientific studies. The net result was a greatearth quake measuring 7.9 magnitude on the richtes scale that is believed to be the outcome of the weight of its water affecting the thick layers of rocks beneath the surface that had hit the whole province in May 2008, killing many people.
When we have seen that our neighbouring country suffers of serious setback with the collapse of the dam, triggering the great earthquake, it was considered that the Centre would make a thorough downstream possible impact assessment of the projects, taking time and the grant permission for small dams instead of massive ones, only after it is satisfied with its reports. But, it, without making its findings public, gave the nod to large dams in Arunachal Pradesh, that has created apprehension among the people of Assam. After all, the site where the projects have been proposed is a highly sensitive seismic zone, and, what they worry about is the hazards the dams may pose for the flood-prone States like Assam. But, the Centre did not deem it necessary to give them any information about its study report pertaining to the plants. If really there is a likelihood of a major calamity like floods or earthquake befalling to them in coming days in the event of large dams being built in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, the move to initiate construction activities ought to have been preceded by its efforts at a broad consensus with the leading environmentalists, the would-be-affected villagers and the students' bodies. This action could have measurably removed doubts from the minds of the people about the Centre's sincerity.
The crucial question is that if the rationale behind its opposition to the reported move of China to set up a massive hydropower project in the Tsangpo known as the Brahmaputra in Assam is that such a high-powered dam could prejudice our interests, why has it planned 100-odd mega dams in the same region? Why has not it planned for small ones? Is it because these projects alone cannot afford to cater to the growing energy needs in the rest of the country?
Whatever it may be, the people in the North East, especially those of Assam, have not approved of what they term its "Machiavellian manner" and aired their stiff opposition to its reported move. Environmentalists, academia, intelligentsia and leading civil society groups have also in unison voiced similar reservations about the importance of such a move. The noted environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna and the NAPM supremo Medha Patkar warned of disastrous consequences it could cause. In its recent New Delhi meeting, the NAPM urged that the plans should only be chalked out for small dams in the NE region that should be constructed after "full consultation" with the people of the upstream and downstream areas. The disgruntled All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and several other local organisation including the Takam Mishing Porin Kebang (TMPK), have demanded the construction activities of the dams, especially the 2000-MW Lower Subansiri Hydropower, the main dam, near Garukamukh of Dhemaji district close to the border of Arunachal Pradesh be put on a shelf, till the final report of the expert committee is out. The AASU has also accused the authorities of the National Hydro-electric Power Corporation (NHPC) who have already initiated constructing six mega projects including the LSHP, on the river Subansiri and the river Dehing, of reneging on the suggestions of the expert committee.
The committee which was formed with experts from Gauhati University, Dibrugarh University and the IIT as per an agreement arrived at a tripartite meeting between the Assam Government and representatives of the NHPC and the AASU, to study the feasibility of the projects and submit its findings, has in its February 10, 2009 report recommendeded that the construction of the main dam, the LSHP, be put on hold until its final report is out. It means its site needs to be studied profoundly because it is adjacent to Gerukamukh of Dhemaji district and Lakhimpur district that are chronic-flood-prone regions.Floods in these two districts are a prime concern which occur not essentially because of rainfall in the catchment areas of the State but because of huge amount of stored water released from big dams of Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan during rainy season. When it is released vast areas of the two districts are inundated and many people rendered homeless. This artificial and sudden flood could be due to the defective constructions of the dams, or their failure that could again lead to a quake in future as Sichuan Province's dam did. Last year's high floods were the outcome of the sudden release of excess water from Arunachal's Ranganadi Hydro-power project. One wonders how the NHPC, inspiteof all there unpleasant developments, continued with construction of the LSHP, ignoring the recommendations of the panel.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
JYOTI BASU: A RARE STATESMAN
Various persons have told about Jyoti Basu in various ways. But in real sense he was a remarkable person of Indian politics; a rare political leader, particularly of the Left politics of India. He was the multifacial rare personality of Indian politics. His father Nishikanta Basu got his MBBS degree from the Dibrugarh Medical school, a fact which is not known to many people of Assam. Jyoti Basu was born in the residence of the then Harrison Road presently known as Mahatma Gandhi Road on July 8, 1914. His father and his two uncles lived in Dhubri in Assam. As his grandfather worked there the family also lived in Dhubri town. The Basu family originally hailed from Berdi of Dhaka, Jyoti Basu graduated from Presidency College of Calcutta in 1935. He went to London to complete his Barrister degree and passed in 1940. In the same year, he got involved in active Left politics in India.
He became the member of West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1957. Thereafter he was in the opposition for long ten years. He refused to take his salary and other facilities as an opposition leader of the Assembly. In this tenure, the speeches in the Assembly delivered by him were marked as an asset of Indian politics. In 1967, the rule of the first government of Left-alliance began in West Bengal. On March 2, 1967 he took the oath of Deputy Chief Minister as well as Finance Minister of West Bengal. In the year 1977 Jyoti Basu was elected from Satgachia as a member of Legislative Assembly in record margin of votes. He took the oath as the Chief Minister of West Bengal on June 21, 1977 as the leader of the Left Front Government. In this capacity he ruled the State for long 24 years which itself is a record in Indian as well as world politics. After completion of 24 years as Chief Minister of West Bengal he voluntarily retired from active politics on health ground which is also a rare instance in Indian politics.
During this quarter century as Chief Minister, he reached the pinnacle of politics and left behind many treasures in politics. For the last three decades he was like an emperor in State politics. He also left his significant marks in Indian politics. During his tenure as Chief Minister, he worked with eight Prime Ministers. From Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh everyone regarded Jyoti Basu as a remarkable political leader. They had discussions with him on various political matters with due regards. In every national crisis Delhi relied on his opinion. Like his predecessor, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, Jyoti Basu was the foremost middleman of crisis in Indian politics. He always looked at the national problems from a neutral point of view, that is why his opinions always got importance from national leaders also. No doubt there were some differences of opinion but he always managed to deal with the problems with his wisdom and came out with flying colours. Though he got the opportunity to be in the Prime Minister's chair his party did not give him consent to be in the highest position of national politics. In this regard in an interview with veteran journalist MJ Akbar Jyoti Basu, ".... but in India we have reached a situation where, knowing fully well who I am, what my philosophy is, what my beliefs are, they invited me, all of them together, unanimously, to sit on the Prime Minister's chair."
Jyoti Basu was the king without a crown in the politics of West Bengal. Jyoti Basu was identified as unparalleled spokesman of secularism. During the period old Babri Masjid demolition when the whole nation was engulfed in communal violence Jyoti Basu controlled the situation of West Bengal with an iron hand. Due to his strong administrative rule no major communal violence occurred in the State.
In fact he dedicated his whole life for the cause of secularism. He played a role as a saviour of secularism for which he is respected and admired by the people who always fought against communalism. In this way he worked himself to be the emissary of secularism in the minds of the people of the nation.
Jyoti Basu was not an authority of Marxist thinking but his strong practical knowledge was the source of his immense force. Many times he was criticised by his opponents but couldn't ignore him as a political leader of wisdom. There are several Marxist leaders like Namboodiripad, Basabapunnaya and Harkishan Singh Surjit none of them was accepted like Jyoti Basu in the national level. His hardcore critics also have regards for him as a noteworthy political leader. In his long tenure as Chief Minister of West Bengal his government had achieved notable success in land reforms, Panchayati Raj and agricultural reforms. His government laid more stress on security and welfare of the people and also grassroots development of the farmers. Jyoti Basu who nearly reached century of his life was the unparallel and uncrowned politician of the State. Another important political characteristic of his period was that, he always fought for cordial Centre-State relations. He openly criticised the tendency of excessive power by the Central government. He believed that in a federal government like India neutral faith and trust among the Centre and the States was a must. A leader who prevailed upon the trust of the people for such long years, no other leaders could come near his consistency.
At present our nation is facing a lot of problems. Political atmosphere is not conducive to the welfare of the people, political degradation characterises the nation's politics. In this period of crisis, the nation needs more leaders like Jyoti Basu. Basu's death will create a vacuum in the field of qualitative politics of the country. In the real sense he was a rare statesman of the country.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Next time you wish for the moon, beware. It may just come true. In fact, it may happen even if you don't wish for it, apparently. With her penchant for all things earthly preferably hewn in stone it is not surprising that UP chief minister Mayawati was not amused to learn that some over-zealous partyman has actually attempted to buy her a birthday gift that would eclipse all others: a plot on the moon.
The poshest bits of Lucknow or New Delhi hold no candle to a piece of the Moon. But Ms Mayawati was hardly likely to fall for the lure of moondust when there're plenty of earthly places up for grabs, especially those that can be reached by her official cavalcade.
Who wants to wait for a traipse to the moon till Richard Branson comes up with the next stop for Virgin Galactic anyway? So, while the partyman Narendra Singh Sengar was expelled from the BSP for his deal with a US-based company for a moon plot for his leader, Ms Mayawati has ordered an inquiry into the murkier plot that may lie hidden behind the package that arrived from the US with the 'relevant' papers.
Dismissing the reports of her newest acquisition as 'baseless' , the UP government has asked the ministry of external affairs it can't get more external than the moon to investigate the origin of the documents that arrived from an address in California. People have been sold the London Bridge and the Statue of Liberty . Trust Ms Mayawati to not succumb to such moonshine .
Especially since it seems a pretty cheap venture : a cursory search on the internet for plots on the moon shows that the going 'rate' is a measly $20 per acre. Maybe because there's no credible source of water there yet. At least Noida has an assured supply and better land appreciation . But as an exotic location for elevating statues, the moon does have something going for it.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INVEST IN RAIL
Successive Union governments have only themselves to blame for bringing the Indian Railways to the state of despair it is in now. Rail is not the preferred mode of transport for most goods except for bulk goods. And, it underpeforms the economy. As upgradation and expansion of the railways was ignored, its share of freight plunged to 30% in 2007-08 from 89% in 1950-51 .
In contrast, the share of road transport rose to 61% from mere 11% over the same period. In the 62 years since Independence, India added only 10,000 km of rail track to the 54,000 route km it inherited, an abysmal rate of 161 km a year! Compare this with China. In 1950, it had 21,800 km of railway lines, and by end 2007, this was expanded to 78,000 km (and 86,000 km by 2009 end).
Between 2004-05 and 2008-09 , while India added just about 220 km a year, China added 1,000 km annually. India plans to expand its rail network to 89,000 km by 2020, China will expand its to 120,000 km by 2020. Clearly, China has figured out that a booming economy needs an efficient transport system, with rail playing a key role, to sustain growth and enable movement of people and goods.
India recognises the need, but politics of regional appeasement overtakes economic consideration, and we have a backlog of 11,985 km of sanctioned lines in various stages of completion.
Rail needs the thrust the current UPA government's predecessor, the NDA, gave highway development. Projects need to be speeded up, even if some lines would remain uneconomical for many years. Freight and passenger fares need regular revision to enable the railways to generate enough surplus to finance its projects.
The transformation of the railways under rail minister Lalu Prasad Yadav hinged on fully utilising existing slack in the system , and then some. The point is to build new capacity. Projects such as the dedicated freight corridor can prove to be a game-changer for the railways as well as the economy , and must be accorded due priority. So should highspeed trains between commercial capitals.
The railways cannot complete these projects on its own and, therefore, has to rope in the private sector. Funds are no constraint, only political will and imagination are.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOT ALL CLIENTS APPRECIATE TAKEOVERS
McNally Bharat Engineering Co, the engineering arm of the B M Khaitan group, aims to become a 'onestop' provider of solutions in the area of infrastructure development across the sectors. With this objective in mind, the company has been on the move.
It acquired German firm Humboldt Wedag Coal & Minerals Technology GmbH and its affiliates in India, South Africa, Russia and China. The company has since been rechristened as MBE Coal & Minerals Technology GmbH, Cologne (Germany). Its managing director Jochen Schwerdtfeger shares his views on acquisition.
Integrating the business of an acquired company with that of the acquirer has always been a painful and a time-consuming process. Integration of German MBE Coal & Minerals Technology GmbH (MBE-CMT ) and its affiliates in India, South Africa, Russia and China with the parent company McNally Bharat Engineering Co could prove to be difficult and take time.
The different systems and proceedings used in the financial, commercial and technological operations will have to get adapted to each other. The German employees will have to be convinced that the acquisition will give them an opportunity to grow and that MBE-CMT will not become an Indian company located in Germany. Will integration be difficult because of the different geographical locations?
"No. MBE-CMT has had global business relations and networks across globe. The cultural difference will also play a minor role, since we have been operating in India as Humboldt Wedag India for the past 30 years," says Mr Schwerdtfeger. The rechristening process is complete and a new board constituted with three German directors and two top level managers of MBE's Kolkata office.
Though MBE-CMT has on its payroll some 38 people in Germany and a number of slots for vital functions are vacant , the company hopes to keep the staff strength at approximately 50. MBE-CMT will continue with its coal and minerals processing business globally. In addition, it also intends to make use of technology synergies provided by McNally Bharat Engineering . It's also looking to grow further by making better use of the global opportunities geographically and technologically.
What did the German firm offer in terms of expertise that attracted the Khaitans? The company owns several globally established technologies for coal and minerals processing that would get tailored as per the demand , as well as different types of state-ofthe-art equipment. "The German company's enthusiastic team collected various know-how over the decades and stuck to the company. Some of them are famous in their respective areas of expertise, like Dieter Ziaja in iron ore processing globally, Jurgen Winckler in coal processing in India, Europe and Russia. It is this team McNally Bharat Engineering bought from KHD Humboldt Wedag International GmbH," he says.
The takeover will obviously benefit both. By becoming part of the McNally Bharat group, the German firm will gain from the new parent's financial muscle. That apart, MBE's capability to execute EPC projects will give the German firm the flexibility to participate in more projects instead of limiting themselves to projects being executed on an EP basis. What does all this signify?
"It means the German firm will become truly global, offering all kinds of handling equipment at competitive price especially in the price driven huge rotary mill market." Will change of guard deter German firm KHD Humboldt Wedag's existing clients from continuing with their relationship?
"Yes, it may not get appreciated by some of our clients. But, this is true for only few countries like China, which represents around only a quarter of the company's turnover. We are in dialogue with them explaining the benefits that the new entity will bring to the table, post-acquisition ." In comparison, Mongolian and most of the Indonesian clients have appreciated the development.
Proving competence is an issue all face. But McNally Bharat has chosen the best way to open the global market by penetrating it from Germany and not from India. MBE Coal & Minerals Technology GmbH has also chalked out future growth strategies . "I strongly feel that it is much better to be a hidden champion than to be attacked while entering the ring after telling everybody that the future champion is coming."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TIME TO DISBAND POPULIST MEASURES IN THE ENERGY SECTOR
Subol Mondal, a 55-year-old smalltime farmer, at Dayapur village in the Sunderban forests, West Bengal, is very particular to keep his date with the local banker every month. He is servicing a 15-year loan, at subsidised interest rates, and paying out an equated monthly instalment (EMI) of Rs 900 in the beginning of the month is not a mean job.
He has had a hard year with natural disasters like the Aila playing havoc on his farm. Not only has he lost his crop but the cyclone has ruined his farmland as the salt water that seeped through has left his piece of land uncultivable for the next few crops.
Living in a thatched mud-house built on a high-rise land, however, saved him from losing his only source of electricity, the solar photovoltaic plate embedded in the thatched roof. The three-point connection, which he and his family of eight use for two hours every evening, is crucial this year as his eldest daughter prepares for her forthcoming board exam.
Subol is anxious to get his farmland (his only source of livelihood) to production at the earliest, but he is happy that his daughter may soon become a new earning member of the family thanks to the three 100-watt bulbs that light up his house and hopes for a better future.
Subol is not the only one. His fellow villagers and he are aware that the sun or solar power is a better bet and it is in their interest to adopt this nature-friendly device. Depending on diesel gensets or firewood, that have adverse impact on the ecosystem, will spell doom for their future as their livelihood is directly proportionate to the natural balance in the Sunderban region.
Can our political netas hear? There are about 18 to 20 solar photovoltaic projects in the Sunderban delta that provide electricity to about one lakh people.
The islands are estimated to have a population of 4.4 million people, most of whom are dependent on forest wood for lighting and cooking. Kerosene, a subsidised fuel by the government, does not reach these poor people and even if it did, they have to buy it at an exorbitant price of Rs 150-200 a litre. The government has set a subsidy price of Rs 9 a litre for this poor man's fuel. So much for the government's justification for doling out subsidies to the poor and needy.
The recent energy security report submitted by Teri has thrown up some interesting numbers and policy solutions to deal with India's energy market. China and India together consume more than what OECD countries do, and the demand will only increase in the years to come.
A small case in point is the number of personal vehicles in the country.
According to the Teri study, it has exploded from three million in 1980 to 72 million in 2005. The share of public transport is projected to decline to 45% by 2030 from the current level of 60%, and the growing automobile market is only a sign of things to come. Almost 50% of the Indian population does not have access to electricity and India's plans to provide power for all by 2012 is only a pipe dream at this point.
The era of cheap energy resources are on their way out. Policymakers across the world have recognised it and are working hard to drive home these truths by adopting energy-efficiency norms. Demand management is a key tool and governments across nations are promoting work on innovative technologies to promote efficient use of energy.
India, however, lags even its neighbours who are not so economically prosperous but have aligned their fuel prices to market rates in a bid to conserve and promote efficient use of scarce energy.
India, which has to import more than 70% of its energy requirement, is, however , still debating and setting up committees on whether and how subsidies are to be given and fuel prices set. Most of the subsidies are misplaced and subsidised products are being diverted for adulteration . A recent study by an economic think tank shows that most of the subsidies are consumed in the richer states and by city dwellers who are in the middle- to high-income groups.
Some of the key recommendations of Teri's energy report should find place in the future energy policies if India is serious about demand management. An integrated transport policy that promotes public transport, targeted subsidies through smart cards or unique identity numbers being developed, cost-reflective pricing, promotion and adoption of renewable energy facilities and effective regulatory intervention are actions that India's policymakers need to initiate before it's too late.
Populist policies of keeping fuel prices at artificially-low levels only create distortions and do not pay off in vote-bank politics in the long run. If consumers can cough up Rs 50 per kg for the sugar in their cuppa or over Rs 100 per kilo for everyday dal, then why the huge subsidy for motor fuel that needs to be conserved given its finite sources.
Villagers are aware that solar power is a better bet and it is in their interest to adopt this nature-friendly device China and India together consume more energy than what OECD countries do, and the demand will only rise Populist policies of keeping fuel prices at artificially-low levels does not pay off in vote bank politics in the long run
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POVERTY REDUCTION AND CREATION
ABUSALEH SHARIFF & ANIRUDH KRISHNA
Poverty measurement is an unsettled issue, both conceptually and methodologically. Since poverty is a process as well as an outcome; many come out of it while others may be falling into it. The net effect of these two parallel processes is a proportion commonly identified as the 'headcount ratio' , but these ratios hide the fundamental dynamism that characterises poverty in practice.
The most recent poverty re-estimates by an expert group has also missed this crucial dynamism. Studies carried out by one of the authors of this article in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan have, however, helped bring to light the essence of poverty dynamics: it is simultaneously both created and reduced.
Following up on these insights, we examined , for the first time in India, a nationally-representative panel data set for more than 13,000 households studied in 1993-94 and re-interviewed in 2004-05 . We found that while 18.2% of the rural population moved out of poverty, another 22.1% fell into it over these 12 years.
This net increase of four percentage points was seen to have a considerable variation across states and regions. In states such as Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan and West Bengal, where more people moved out of poverty than fell into poverty, there has been an overall decline in rural poverty. Conversely, rural poverty rose in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, where descents into poverty were more numerous than escapes.
States as well as regions within states differ from one another. Some have high descent rates but low escape rates; in a few other states, both descent and escape rates are low. And, therefore, different combinations of poverty policies will be required for each region. A typology emerging from our analysis is presented in the accompanying chart.
Consider the upper-left cell that lists regions that have most successfully reduced poverty over the 12-year reference period , because a high escape rate went together with a low descent rate. Two small states, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, and another group of states (Assam and the northeast) fall within this high-performing group.
The poor in India are best off living within some region of this cell: the probability is highest that her circumstances will improve over time. For a contrasting situation, consider the bottomright cell, characterised by low escape rates and high descent rates. Compared to other regions, the prospect for the poor in these regions is bleak; chances for further impoverishment are the highest.
Future efforts in these regions will do well to concentrate first on lowering the high rate of descent, and second on ramping up the low escape rate.
A more nuanced prognosis emerges for regions included within the off-diagonal cells. Consider, for example, the two regions belonging to the bottom-left cell (Karnataka-inland southern, and Madhya Pradesh-Vindhya ). A high escape rate within these regions has been compromised by a concurrently high descent rate.
Future poverty-reduction efforts in these regions should focus primarily on reducing the high rate of descent into poverty. It makes greater sense to raise the escape rate only after the high risk of falling into poverty has been reduced. The opposite policy prescription seems appropriate for regions of the top-right cell.
Thus, different policy mixes, combining different elements of prevention (against descents into poverty) and support (for escaping poverty), are required in diverse regions and states. A uniform national poverty policy will not be effective for entire states or the entire country.
We examined the escapes and the descents that have occurred in rural India between 1993 and 2005. A few factors are involved with both escapes and descents, but there is also another group of factors that affect only escape or only descent.
Factors significantly associated both with escape and descent: Age of household head, household size, household composition, households with telephones, change in the share of rural non-farm income, remittances , women's media exposure and loan taken in last five years. Factors associated with escape but not with descent: A few other factors influence escapes but do not matter much for descents.
These factors include being a member of 'minority other than Muslim', presence of adult son during the previous period (1993), and that the household was located within 5 km of nearest town with the availability of bus stop. Sickness within households had an adverse effect.
Factors associated with descent but not with escape : An SC, ST or OBC household faced a greater risk of descent into poverty, whereas if the head of the household was educated to secondary level or higher, it reduced the risk of descent. Possession of land and other assets too reduced the risk. Significantly, such rural assets were not germane to escapes from poverty.
States with high and low growth rates have variously experienced high and low rates of escape and descent. No clear correlation exists at the level of states and regions between high growth rates and higher poverty reduction. Rather than waiting for growth to occur and work its putative magic, direct actions to reduce poverty are necessary.
Action along two fronts is simultaneously required :Descents into poverty must be prevented using context-specific measures even as escapes from poverty are promoted vigorously. Different escape and descent rates characterise diverse states and separate regions within states.
The reasons that matter for escape and descent also differ considerably across and within states. Considering only the aggregate results obscures these important differences . A uniform national policy does not, therefore, represent the best use of resources . State- and region-specific threats and opportunities must be separately identified and directly addressed.
(Shariff is with IFPRI, Asia, and Krishna works for Duke University, US)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DISCOVERING ONE'S 'TRUEST INTEREST'
The prayer evolved by Benjamin Franklin beseeches the 'powerful Goodness, bountiful Father and merciful Guide' to increase in him that wisdom "which discovers my truest interest" . The age-old search of every seeking spirit has been in divining that vocation and pursuit specifically suited to it, which would not merely confer fulfilment but also that 'flow' and supreme effectiveness . This, verily , is the ultimate realisation of all human quest through the call within one's swadharma , or his work upon this earth.
This quest, in essence is the entreaty , summed up beautifully in the great Indian prayer, tamaso ma jyotir gamaya and the inspiring poem of Cardinal Newman, commencing with the lines, Lead Kindly Light. This also is that approach , prompted by the ancient dictum, Know Thyself, inspired by the continual inquiry within , Quo Vadis. The entire process is centred on obtaining that supreme felicity of self-knowledge , self-realisation or atmagnanam call what you will.
Philosophers modern and ancient over the entire world , have dealt with this sublime, though abstract subject and philosophy , in various ways. One example in this regard, is Somerset Maugham's portrayal of his characters, Charles Strickland and Abraham in his Moon and Sixpence and Larry Darrel in his Razor's Edge. Spurred on by the call within, they forsake sinecure living to pursue and fulfil their dreams, braving and overcoming difficulties from all over.
The sine-quo-non for all spiritual pursuits is thus knowing oneself and thus being clear in priorities and pursuits.
This 'knowing' comes not through just mere learning (apara vidya) but through that knowledge of the self, leading also to comprehending one's "truest interest" (para vidya). The evolved seeker would not only "act while there yet is time" but act also well, wisely and rightly.
This also would ensure that after obtaining the object of one's dreams, he would also always cherish and be fulfilled by what he has thus obtained. He would never, ever, have to feel, "It is, but hadn't ought to be" , as felt by the characters of Bret Harte's parody of John Whittier's Maud Muller.
The true essence of all spiritual pursuit is thus centred on that supreme blessing which any human can aspire for realising oneself and thus one's own 'truest interest' !
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
YE BANKERS, BE CALCULATING, BUT NOT ALGORITHMIC
It's nice, sometimes, to be able to say I told you so. Well, as I did say in my new year predictions, 2010 is turning out to be the year when Big Banks learn to live with new realities. Barack Obama just unveiled one of the most draconian proposals to cut them down to size.
Oh, and meanwhile, back in 2007, we put out a rather desperate warning, just when the first noises diverging from the Bali consensus starting happening here, for India to get its act on climate change together, stop ignoring it, and take nothing that western climate change propaganda put out at face value. Well, now, it seems the Himalayas aren't really melting, and yes, the findings were some kind of propaganda to push India into accepting emission cuts. Hmm.
Back in Wall Street, it seems that despite the desperate and high-profile lobbying one estimate is that Wall Street spent over $500 million last year Mr Obama has decided to go with the ballot box, and public opinion after Scott Brown won a shock Republican victory to the Senate. We'll have to see how much translates into reality, especially as the legislation has to make its tortuous way through US congress. Now, people are betting how much more Wall Street will spend in lobbying support.
I've been getting some outraged responses from the banking lobby, including how pandering to 'ignorant' public opinion will kill now, both London and New York as financial centres. Yes, but then where will all the bankers go? Timbuctoo? I know these people. There's no way they want to live in Geneva, for instance. And even if they do, they'll come and spend their money on weekends in London.
Obviously, this issue will now pretty much take centrestage in Davos, where the rich and powerful gather to schmooze this week. Bankers are out in full force this year, but then so is everyone else and the anti-banker lobby is just getting stronger every minute. May be the global get-together will bring home to top bankers that they really need to change their bad old ways.
If the auto industry, the IT industry, companies like Pepsico and even Tetrapak can change the fundamental way they do business, so can bankers. Bank shares have tumbled, yes. There are those who think, at least here, that is a good thing.
Yes, it's nice to have the markets up and so on, but when a company like Cadbury gets swallowed by a hostile takeover, simply because it was so badly undervalued when the bid started and still is, most would say maybe it's time banks stopped hogging more than their fair share of almost every resource.
After all, shareholders don't even benefit much when banks make obscene profits they just dole it out as bonuses. The new 'low' at Goldman Sachs, of over 35% of its profits being given to its employees, to the average of 50% across the industry, is ridiculous compared to other industries. It works out to a measly average of about $500,000 per employee.
Oh, and if Mr Obama's reforms go through, they won't have this excuse that 'talent' will flee to hedge funds and the like if their pay is cut because, well, they won't need that kind of talent any longer. Yes, all the arcane stuff will move into other entities but those don't have to be backed by taxpayers. The world is not affected if a hedge fund speculator loses his shirt.
At least I hope regulators figure out how to keep the inevitable GenNext of the financial whizkids out of taxpayers' pockets. Which reminds me, I read in ET that algorithmic trading is the next big thing in India, which calls for another warning.
Every gift horse has hidden booby-traps. Just last week, the SEC cracked down on high-frequency trading now traders and brokers in US aren't allowed 'naked' access, when a broker gives his access to someone to trade directly using formulae that does zillions of deals a minute, without using the brokers risk management controls.
Algorithmic trading, if I may use an oversimplification, is a bit like when a Chef writes a recipe, but a bunch of robots actually make the food.
As long as the ingredients are perfect, it's machine-efficient. But the robot can't tell if the fish is off, or the veggies rotten, or the chilly too much or too little. Mathematicians and programmers set up those algorithms, hence the demand for mathematics PhDs in high finance.
It then uses computers to match prices and do deals, at a speed no human can track or match. Sure, an algorithm can't invent toxic derivatives products, but can spread the infection faster than you can say Salmonella. That's more or less what happened last year, and why it took so long for traders themselves to figure out what was going on. At least, being late to the algorithm party, we know what the potential pitfalls are. The trick is not to fall into them as well, which is where I have my doubts.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA HOLDS THE KEYS TO SUCCESS: NIALL FERGUSON
SRUTHIJITH K K
The academic historian at Harvard University speaks to ET on the sidelines of the Jaipur Literary Festival. Ferguson spoke about the financial crisis, banking reforms, gold and oil prices and why he is bullish on India more than on China. Excerpts:
You have held the position that the financial crisis has not entirely played itself out. How long more do you think there is to go and why do you think so?
In the sense that there are still significant problems in the US financial system and the European financial system, there are substantial losses in commercial real estate in the US. There are substantial amounts of money that are still, it seems to me, have to be written off by European banks. So, for that reason alone, losses will continue to hit banks throughout 2010. Secondly, an increasingly improvised reconstructive response, of which the Volcker plan is a recent example, will, in fact, undermine confidence in the financial sector. Which is why we saw a sell of stocks immediately after the Obama announcement.
Thirdly, the fiscal consequences of Obama's response to the crisis are almost certainly going to have costs. If you have a massive explosion of public debt, one consequence is likely to be upward pressure on long-term interest rates, which must act as a drag on the economy.
Even if your short-term interest rate is zero, if the long-term interest rate goes up about 4% and inflation stays low, that is a pretty tidy sum you are spending servicing your debt.
So, for all those reasons, I don't see a sustained and robust recovery in 2010 in the West. I think it's a different story when you look at economies such as India, China, Asian economies or Brazil. This financial crisis is a Western financial crisis and it has not impacted the emerging markets as much as people expected it to.
By when do you think the US economy can once again achieve a 3-5% rate of growth?
I think it is already achieving 3% the numbers for the latest quarter are not out yet, but I anticipate the growth to be about 3%. There is just no conceivable way in which we can achieve growth in the neighbourhood of 4% in 2010. Indeed, I think there is a distinct possibility that as this year goes on, the pace of recovery will slacken. I remain very cautious about the outlook for the US economy and also for the Eurozone, which has a very serious problem of fiscal crisis in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. These problems are only going to get worse this year.
You said you are more an India bull than a China bull. What are your reasons?
I think, in the short term, there are reasons to be nervous. Chinese-led credit growth spun out of control last year and I think there has to be more tightening to prevent bubbles in the real estate and stock markets.
This tightening must include currency devaluation?
Right, I think it also needs to ultimately reverse that. These things are bound to slow China down along with the required economic and monetary tightening. That is why I wouldn't want to own a lot of Chinese stocks right now.
It's tough for foreign investors to make money out of China. If you look at the performance of the BRIC markets, I think China is not the top performer of the last decade. You would have been better off investing in other ones.
And one reason that I'm long on India than China is that India has a better institutional basis of development than China does. I think that representative government, rule of law, meaningful private property these are key to success. They were keys to western success.
China doesn't have these things. In the end, if you don't have these things, you are just a planned economy with a market wrapped around that.
Look at what Soviet Union was in the 1930s. If you went there in 1936, you would be very impressed they were building huge canals, buildings, highways, large cities and what not. But it became clear by the 1970s that the negative externalities of industrialisation were huge and the impact of population control and central planning were negative. And sure enough, Russia fell apart. Now, I'm not saying that it's going to happen in China any time soon. But if you take a 20-year timeline, China has huge demographic problems. If you look at the environmental costs of their development, it's huge.
So, I think at some point in the growth of India and China, there will come a time when China's strategic policies will produce unintended consequences.
Whereas in India, all that is really needed, and I know this sounds terribly simplistic, is improving primary and secondary education for a majority of people and improving infrastructure. And then let the markets rip. Indians are very entrepreneurial. Everywhere you go, people are selling stuff, even if it is only a pile of spices. I think unlocking the entrepreneurial energy of India will lift a large number of people out of poverty.
Coming to the Middle East, do you think there is going to be a shift in attitude towards the oil-rich states of that region once renewable energy forms a much larger part of our energy basket?
This is all about the price of oil and natural gas. If the price of oil goes up after a certain stage, the race towards renewable energy will get accelerated. And they know that.
Everything depends on our willingness to adopt more expensive, but less carbon-generating sources of energy. I can't really tell you where oil prices will be a year from now, because it's a function of politics. If there is a war in Iran, there will be a mad race towards renewable energy.
How much traction has the idea of limited purpose banking, of which you have been a proponent, been gaining?
The most enthusiastic response we have had in any official person is from the Bank of England. And I think Mervyn King in particular is open to the idea. In the US, things are absolutely up in the air at the moment. If you look at the text of what Obama said the other day, it is not entirely clear what exactly is the model of change. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley would have to change their terms and models of operation.
How has this financial crisis impacted popular support for capitalism and free markets?
The classic newspaper headline in Europe or in the US is "The crisis of capitalism". Magazines will say 'The end of free markets' or 'Capitalism falls from grace'. That's the kind of classic media simplification. There isn't any credible alternative to capitalism out there. Even the Chinese recognise that Capitalism is the most efficient way of organising a modern economy. What is at stake here is not whether or not capitalism has a future. What is at stake is how exactly we should regulate market mechanisms and how big the role of the state should be. I think from that point of view, only a surprisingly little separates diverse positions. Because those who are Keynesians and proponents of large deficit finance stimulus programs aren't against capitalism, they just accept Keynes' modification that at times of a severe contraction in demand, the state ought to step in.
The debate surrounding most of these issues are highly technical. If you wrote a headline saying 'Crisis of the Basel II norms governing banking', or 'Crisis of over the counter-lending system', you'll probably sell very few newspapers. "Crisis of capitalism' is a better headline.
The important thing right now for us is to not allow political pressures to distract the very complex task of improving international financial regulations. I use the word international deliberately because under political pressure, national governments are taking decisions that are not coordinated with other national governments. For instance, what the UK is doing with its financial system is quite different from what Obama is doing.
And in today's world of highly interconnected economies, that is a bad thing.
How did you move from being a scholar of conflict and war to being a scholar of money?
It's pretty closely connected, you know. My first book was about the German hyperinflation. To understand how this happened in 1923, I had to study the impact of war, which is what led German public finance into deficit printing money. My book on the Rothschild Bank, which I think is still my most important book, is as much about conflict as it is about finance. One of the principal reasons why governments borrowed money in the past really, up until the 20th century, was to finance war. So, finance is closely connected to conflict, and I have never gone into them as separate fields. To me the most interesting thing about the study of history is the inter-connectedness of the financial, the military, the political, the social and the cultural worlds. And to study them separately is to miss the point: of relevant thought processes, which lead these things to act.
You have held this position that the US should play a greater role in international affairs as a liberal empire to try and mitigate conflict arising out of failed states. Interestingly, the other half of your Chimera concept, the illiberal empire that is China, is following your model of an ideal empire. If it wants resources from or strategic space in a country, it builds roads, invests in factories, aids development... What are your thoughts on this?
My argument about the US, between 2003 and now, has been that while the global economy needed a liberal empire to underwrite economic gaps and to spread a commitment towards economic freedom, the US is unlikely to play that role very well because of three deficits: financial, manpower and attention.
The difference between China and the US couldn't be starker. The Chinese have a massive financial surplus, not a deficit. They have a massive manpower surplus. And they certainly don't have an attention deficit. They have a very long-term gameplan and the plan is to use their accumulated surpluses to acquire large amounts of the world's commodities. Sub-Saharan Africa is part of that strategy, and so is to an extent part of South America.
In that sense we are in the interesting situation that the world's natural superpower, its dominant power in our decade, is incapable of being an effective empire, but the rising power, the challenging power, is not only capable, but is already behaving like one.
But China is surely not the ideal empire as per your model.
No, my ideal empire is a liberal empire. Which many people say are contradicting terms till you point out that the British empire went from being an illiberal empire to a liberal empire from the 18th to the 19th centuries because it started off as an empire based on slavery and exploitation and ended up as an empire that promised free trade and a transition to representative government, which it achieved in a significant number of colonies.
I don't think the Chinese empire is like that. I think the Chinese are interested in their copper and in their oil, but don't think China gives two hoots about how Sudan is being governed. If genocide is being carried out in Darfur, they will probably say tough luck. The Chinese imperial order is not a liberal vision at all. It seems to me that China is more a mercantilist than a liberal power that restricts trade in currency. When it comes to political issues, China's own domestic politics is profoundly hostile to the idea of representation and certainly to the idea of freedom of speech, freedom of press and the freedom of association.
So, if the world is going to become a Chinese world in the next 25-50 years, I don't think that is a very promising scenario. I'd rather have American power perpetuate because for all its faults. It is a power that is fundamentally committed to the spread of economic and political freedoms.
And you have not revised this position despite the messy war in Iraq and the engagement in Afghanistan?
I have always expressed my position of Iraq in a critical manner, which is to say I have said that if you are going to do this, you must stay committed for decades, not just years, and you have to commit 200,000 men, not 60,000 men and you have to commit serious money. And I have warned at that time that the US is screwing it up by not committing adequate resources.
I think we have a long way to go in Iraq. But I have said that it will take decades. Is it an option to give up? No. Neither is it an option to give up in Afghanistan. If the US does give up in Iraq, the ultimate result will be Iranian hegemony in the entire Persian Gulf. And if it gives up in Afghanistan, the result will be a restoration of the Taliban rule.
So, I don't think my position has changed. I have been critical of President Bush to the extent of arguing that the Republicans should vote for Kerry in 2004. But I think the fundamental objective remains correct. The United States cannot just sit back and pretend that it does not have global responsibilities. It does. And not just for self-interested reasons, but also I think as a principle, it includes transforming failed states into functional states.
And it really doesn't matter whether we are talking about Iraq, Afghanistan or Haiti. If you are the predominant power of the world, then that wonderful old cheesy line applies: With great power comes great responsibility.
The trouble with Americans is that the compromises that are inherent in an empire are hard for them to reconcile with because of their distinct political and cultural history as an anti-imperial or anti-colonialist republic.
Is there even a remote possibility of a bubble in gold?
I don't think so. I think gold will start reversing this year. Not in an inflationary world, not in a world where the West is struggling. What we are seeing now is a perfectly rational response to external factors.
And finally, how does sex lead to peace?
That argument comes from the War of the World where I argue that there are natural and biological tendencies for men and women from different ethnic or racial groups, to be attracted to one another. And it is only culture that seeks to prohibit those relationships. Whether it is rules against inter-marriage in the 1930s in Germany or for that matter in 1960s in Alabama, or the kind of divisions that prevent Sunnis and Shias from intermarrying in modern Iraq, we are always trying to prevent the natural attractiveness of the other from operating. To my mind, one of the great benefits of globalisation is that it brings us closer to the other. I would never have met a girl from Somalia, had it not been for globalisation, and well, also had it not been for the vagaries of radical Islam. If there is any way we can manage to erase the great divisions of race that have been behind so much conflict, it is only by respecting the choice of men and women, to love across those lines. The artificial barriers of culture must be demolished by our natural impulse.
Niall Ferguson is Author of The Ascent of Money
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INDIA'S UNSTOPPABLE GROWTH STORY EXCITES US'
Prime Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia is no stranger to India. He has been visiting India since the eighties. But it is the New India with its unstoppable growth story that has fascinated him the most. Soma Banerjee caught up with the Malaysian PM to discuss wide-ranging issues from trade to Bollywood, during his first India tour as the Prime Minister of Malaysia . Excerpts:
This is your first visit to India as the prime minister of Malaysia. What are the major changes you see in this country?
I think two things have changed. One is, of course, in terms of the direction that India is taking. We have had our cultural and historical ties over centuries, but what excites us is the future. It is a more vibrant economy and an India that's more confident having gone through its reforms and liberalisation. People here are more confident of the future and this is why we have decided that India will be a major strategic partner for Malaysia.
Could you elaborate in what terms do you think there could be a strategic alliance between the two countries?
I think, we both have our strengths in terms of the potential of total trade. I think that's huge. Although we have achieved a growth rate of about 23% per annum over the past five years and total trade is now $10 billion, we still have a long way to go. I can see a huge role for Malaysian companies in roads, airports, construction, given the strong infrastructural requirement in India.
I've told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the private sector here. We've signed our MoU which will be a government to government MoU that will open the door for more construction work for Malaysian companies in India. At the same time, we're looking at the strength of Indian companies. For example, you're strong in IT, biosciences, in biodiversity. Malaysia is enormous in pharmaceuticals and there is a lot of synergy to compliment each other.
On FTA and Asean, India and Malaysia are also working on the bilateral agreement. What is the current thinking? How does it impact the regional trade?
I think, it'll be exciting, because we're talking of two markets that will be complimenting each other and provide enormous opportunities. For instance, Asean is a market of 550 million people. Malaysia can be used as the gateway to the Asean market. Mr Singh and I have agreed that we must go beyond Asean and FTA. We have agreed that the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between the two countries should be finalised by the end of this year, because that would provide a strong impetus in terms of our economic relations.
India is keen to include financial services into this agreement. Do you see that happening and a consensus emerging on that?
That would be treated separately. But as you know, we have liberalised the financial sector in Malaysia and many more new banks, including foreign banks, will be allowed to operate in Malaysia. We have also increased the foreign equity level in Malaysian companies to 49%.
I think, there is already a very strong interaction and three of your banks have formed a consortium to apply for commercial banking licence. So, things are happening between the two sides and post-regulatory bodies like our security commission have got a very strong partnership with their counterparts here.
So, one of the things that we would like to pitch for is that Indian companies to get listed in our stock exchange. Four Chinese companies have already been listed and seven are waiting in the pipeline to get listed in Malaysia. Also, our capital market is strong and resilient. Issuance of bond, for example, could be done in Malaysia.
Have you had any discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on this issue?
Yes. I will talk to the private sector as well.
How do you see the growth of China and India both politically as well as economically panning out in the region?
I think, both countries are important to the region. Both countries can compliment each other. I don't think, it's a kind of zero-sum game. I think, both China and India will grow at phenomenal rates. And it's up to us to work towards a greater regional integration. Both countries have adopted market-friendly and neighbour-friendly policies and I am confident that those policies will continue in the future.
What is your outlook on the global economic recovery?
Well, it's quite hazardous to make predictions, because a lot of unforeseen things can happen but barring something unforeseen, I believe that we are out of the woods. I believe that this year we saw a strong recovery in Malaysia and other parts of the world. We just have to continue with our policies, be as open as possible, don't go into protectionism and don't take policy measures that can derail the recovery process.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'OUR OBJECTIVE IS TO REDUCE AEGON'S US EXPOSURE TO 40-45%'
Although AEGON is a recent entrant into the financial services business in India, the group has been assessing the Indian markets for more than a decade. AEGON was affected by the financial crisis because of its large exposure to the US market. Since the crisis, the group has taken a decision to reduce US exposure, which is why there is a renewed focus on Asia and India where it is present in a three-way joint venture with Religare and Bennett Coleman & Co. Alex Wynaendts began his career in ABN Amro. He joined AEGON in 1997 and was part of the senior management team that visited India soon thereafter. Mr Wynaendts took charge as chief executive and chairman of the executive board on April 23, 2008.
Why was AEGON, despite being a Dutch company, affected by the crisis which was largely to do with US mortgages? What changes have you made to your business plan to deal with it?
With over 60% of our business coming from the US, it is not surprising that we were affected by the crisis. AEGON, however, is not a bank and therefore, the impact was not nearly as severe. The portion of our investments related to subprime mortgages was relatively small. But that is now behind us and we have a strong balance sheet that favours growth. The level of capital that we currently have is well in excess of what is required for us to maintain our double A financial strength rating. At the end of the third quarter, we had E 3.7 billion of excess capital.
With regard to our business plan, we accelerated our focus on being more efficient with our capital, reducing costs and investing in high-growth markets, which of course include India. As I have said in the past, our stated objective is to reduce Aegon's US exposure to 40-45%, and we have already made progress in the past year. This has been achieved not so much by shrinking the US business but by pursuing growth in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. Given our focus in these areas, it is very important for us that our new operations here be very successful which I am confident they will be.
What is the position with regard to the E 3 billion funding support that you received from the Dutch government? Does it preclude from pursuing inorganic growth?
We have already repaid one-third at the end of last November, but it remains our objective to keep a stronger capital buffer in the current environment. We will repay the remaining E 2 billion at the earliest opportunity. The government has not placed any restrictions on our growth, but of course, the additional capital we acquired cannot, and should not, be used to pursue unfair competitive advantages. In the present environment, our focus is on organic growth. We feel that given our strong business platform, we have plenty of opportunities for organic growth.
Have you set any targets in terms of growth or scale?
We have not set specific targets on scale. Our objectives include making sure that the company is profitable and that we are among the top five insurers in each of the markets in which we operate. Of course, this depends on the size of the market and the level of fragmentation of the market. In new markets like India, it takes time to generate earnings. We of course have targets based on our business plan and internal measures. Our ambition is to achieve growth in combination with profits. But to make it clear, we have a long-term commitment to India and are confident that the steps we are taking to build a solid organisation, attract good people, and develop broad distribution will enable us to generate profitable growth over time.
The Indian life insurance market has been driven by valuation consideration. What is your view?
Valuation is determined by the return you are generating on the capital you deploy. In life insurance, the waiting period is longer and the market uses a number of measures such as embedded value and now market consistent embedded value to measure valuation. For our purposes, we are committed to deploying the capital required for organic growth, particularly if it is clear that the business is growing, and in a profitable manner.
How would you compare the Indian and Chinese markets?
Our operations in India started much later and are therefore, smaller and at a different stage than our operations in China. But Rajiv (Jamkhedkar, CEO of AEGON Religare Life India) is doing a great job in catching up and has already made an impressive progress in building a talented, dedicated team and a diversified distribution network. In India, a life insurance licence allows us to do business anywhere in the country, but in China, we have to apply for a new licence for every province. But the market there is so large that we do not see this as a barrier. In Asia, we have a very focused strategy aimed at the three markets of China, India and Japan, where we are present through a joint venture with Sony Life.
What is your view on the New Pension Scheme? Do you feel that investors would go out and purchase this scheme? Do you want to get into this business?
We have discussed the New Pension Scheme proposal internally and understand that the legislation is still pending. The interest of investors in the New Pension Scheme will depend very much on the level of proper fiscal incentives.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EQUITIES ARE LIKELY TO STAY RANGE-BOUND FOR 12 MONTHS'
The upcoming public issues of state-owned companies will find enough takers, as long as there are no strong signals of monetary policy tightening from central banks worldwide, said Anand Shah, head, equities, Canara Robeco Asset Management . In an interview with Nishanth Vasudevan, he talked about the challenges India's economy and equity markets face in the foreseeable future. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Economic readings suggest India can achieve 8-9% growth here on, but the market does not seem to be too gung-ho about it, going by the recent indecisiveness. What do you think?
It is not that market is not gung-ho about India's economic prospects, going by the FII investments in its equity markets in the past year or so. Having said that, one also has to appreciate that 8-9% GDP growth rate is not a given. It's a possibility, which depends on a lot of factors such as sustenance of global economic recovery, infrastructure creation at swift pace, revival in private sector capex, and above all, the rate at which the fiscal stimulus and monetary easing are withdrawn, in the light of rising inflationary pressures. India injected fiscal and monetary stimulus worth over 12% of GDP between September 2008 and April 2009, as the global recession deepened. The intervention helped the economy grow 7.9% in the third quarter of CY2009. However, when we see the GDP growth details, it reveals the real GDP growth ex-government spending is a mere 1.9%. Hence, 8-9% growth can be achieved, but it cannot be taken for granted.
When will markets shift from liquidity-driven moves to earnings-driven ones?
Markets in the long term are always driven by earnings, but will be driven by liquidity in the short term. If one sees 2008 and 2009 in isolation, India Inc should have had massive earning de-growth in 2008 and extremely high earnings growth in 2009, but that was not the case. That is because one-year movements of markets were driven by liquidity than earnings. Whereas, when you see through the entire period (two years together), markets are down marginally, reflecting impact of the global slowdown on earnings of India Inc. Results over the past one year show that, for some companies, which are dependent on domestic demand, all is well in the longer term. With further cost cutting, improved productivity and strengthened balance sheets, these companies have emerged stronger to benefit from domestic demand growth and to counter future slowdown, if any. In the short term, liquidity-driven markets will give us opportunities to buy these companies at attractive valuations during panic.
How do you think will the market react to the optimism about economic growth and concerns over inflation?
The economic recovery worldwide is still in an early stage. In India too, fiscal stimulus and monetary easing has lifted GDP growth rate, but inflationary pressures are extremely high due to high food prices. We expect RBI to wait and watch in the coming weeks, till it is sure of sustained economic recovery. Also, in the coming months, the paper supply will complement the high level of global liquidity that is looking to invest in Indian equities. Due to these factors, there is bound to be volatility and uncertainty in equities in the short-term. We expect equities to remain range-bound for the next 12 months, especially till the economic growth comes back fully and dependence on policy support is reduced.
Does the market have enough appetite to absorb the big line-up of public issues of state-owned firms this year, especially that valuations appear unsustainable?
The market is flush with liquidity and we feel there is enough appetite, among FIIs, to absorb the upcoming paper supply by the state-owned companies. However, this is going to continue only till the time there are no strong signals of monetary tightening from the central bankers worldwide as that would lead to unwinding of liquidity and then markets will start questioning earnings and steep valuations of upcoming IPOs.
Which are the sectors you are bullish on and which are those you would avoid?
We are bullish on the Indian household and the sectors that will benefit from their savings and spending. The strength of Indian household will, in turn, help the companies in banking & financial services, pharmaceuticals, media and entertainment, power, FMCG, organised retailing and telecom sectors. Companies, which are dependent on global economic revival, such as metals, textiles, IT services, will remain more vulnerable to global shocks. Bottom-up stock picking in these sectors is advised.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SEBI TO HELP INVESTORS TAKE DECISIONS AND RESPONSIBILITY'
ASHWIN J PUNNEN
Stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), will continue to play a proactive role to ensure that the equity markets are safe for investors, while taking measures to expand the market in terms of reach and participation, says MS Sahoo, whole-time member, SEBI in an interview with ET Now.
What is the rationale for the regulator settling many cases through consent orders? How many cases have you settled so far through the consent route?
Consent and plea bargain are effectively used by many leading international regulators for settling cases. Till the end of last year, we have settled about 800 enforcement actions through consent orders. We have collected about Rs 100 crore through consent proceedings, of which Rs 25 crore is from disgorgement relating to the IPO scam, and Rs 73 crore as settlement charges. Remember, money received through settlement charges goes to the Consolidated Fund of India, it does not stay with SEBI. The disgorgement money will be distributed to investors who have lost out due to the IPO irregularity.
Can any proceedings be settled through consent? Theoretically, yes, if the terms are appropriate. Does that mean that a person can violate the law and settle the case of violation of rules by paying money?
Though every case can be settled, it does not happen that way. While SEBI has settled 800 cases, it has also declined to settle 500 cases. It is not that every enforcement action is settled by consent. Further, it is not that the cases are settled only on payment of money.
The settlement in one-third of the cases includes non-monetary considerations such as debarment from market, suspension of registration and so on. And SEBI has put in place a very stringent scrutiny process before going for settlement. There are three levels internal committee, external committee and a panel of members. They take various factors into account, including evidence available on record.
A case may be a serious one, but it may not be so strong on record. In that case, one would feel that a person with serious violation has been let off leniently. But one has to look at the strength of the case. The factors that are taken into account before going for the settlement are gravity of the charge, history of the party and its conduct during investigation, whether violation was intentional and harm done to market or investors, gains made by the party, etc.
Many orders issued by SEBI have failed to stand the judicial test. Why is it so and how are you addressing the problems on this front ?
I think, it is a perception not supported by facts. In fact, in quite a few cases recently, the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) has imposed costs on the other party. And SEBI is also doing a lot to strengthen its investigations and legal department.
What is the aim of having a committee to look at the governance of stock exchanges?
The exchange infrastructure has been evolving. After demutualisation of exchanges, they have decided to be 'for-profit companies'. So, there is a conflict of interest because exchanges currently discharge regulatory responsibilities while pursuing commercial objectives. There are different models available to balance these two objectives, which even include entrusting the regulatory responsibility of exchanges to an outside agency.
We have to consider various options and work out a model which best suits our environment. We want an expert panel to look into this issue.
How effective has SEBI been in protecting investors? Can you spell out the new measures you are taking on the investor-protection front?
Please look at some statistics. The number of transactions has increased at least 200 times over the past 15 years. But, the number of complaints received has reduced to about one-tenth of the level in 1990s. This means that the efforts are yielding good results. Also, look at the redressal rate.
SEBI received 58,000 complaints and redressed 76,000 complaints last year. During April-December 2009, it has received 19,000 and redressed 29,000 complaints. We try to deal with a problem at its source. For example, we used to receive many complaints relating to refunds in public issues. So, we thought of obviating the need for refunds and came up with the application supported by blocked amount (ASBA), which does not require refunds.
Our endeavour now is to help build capability of the investor to enable him to take decisions and responsibility for the same. Investors should be able to obtain and use information required for investing and the market participants should reveal relevant details about themselves, the products, the market and regulations. Along with this, we will ensure that systems are in place to make transactions safe and have proper mechanism to deal with investor grievances and also the violators of law.
What are the priority areas for SEBI?
Obviously, it is to meet the needs of the investors and the corporate sector. This means expansion of market by increasing geographical coverage, number of participants, variety of products, lesser shut-down periods, compression of timelines, so that the securities market continues to be an engine of growth while investors enjoy investing.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SHOPPERS STOP'S A BRIDGE TO LUXURY
SREERADHA D BASU & AMIT SHARMA
Leading lifestyle retailer Shoppers Stop is in expansion mode. It has drawn up plans to invest Rs 200 crore for adding 18 new stores with about 3-million square feet in three years. As marketing and loyalty vice-president for Shoppers Stop, Vinay Bhatia has been at the forefront of bringing about vital change in what the brand stands for. It's no surprise then that the company is out of the red, registering profit on the back of sales increase and a slew of cost-cutting measures. In an interview with Sreeradha D Basu & Amit Sharma, Bhatia talks about the retailer's plan to attract the young audience, bringing in international brands and the new elements in its marketing mix . Excerpts:
Tell us about the journey that brand Shoppers Stop has undertaken. What prompted the makeover?
We were always perceived as a premium brand, but lastApril, we decided to reposition the brand. What we realised was that there was a certain space above the premium brand which is what we define as a bridge to luxury space and that is the position we occupy. To occupy that position, we did a number of things and the changing of our logo was one of those things. Apart from this, we decided to get great merchandise in the storesgetting a lot of international brands in the portfolio like CK jeans, Tommy Hilfiger, FCUK, Mustang, Dior, many of which we got on an exclusive basis. This was done to create our brand on the merchandise side as consumers shop for brands these days. We then worked on our service and ambience upgradation and on our customer connect. These steps have paid off and we currently have a growth rate of over 45% on our international brands portfolio, on a same stores basis. No other retailer has been able to make these brands succeed the way we have been able to.
One common thread across retailers appears to be the youth focus. Post-makeover, what are the other initiatives taken to tap into a younger clientele? How beneficial have they been?
The youth audience for us is not just an age band. It is an attitude that spans across ages. Our intention was to make the brand more young and modern while retaining the previous values like trust. We continuously do three key things to connect with this youthful 'mindset' adopt communication routes relevant to youth, up the fashion quotient through merchandising, and create ambience that connects with the mindset. Our brand campaign addresses environment-related issues (eg wear old jeans, never take them off, Conserve Water) in a youthful, tongue-in-cheek manner. We are also active on social marketing platforms with Facebook and Twitter.
This apart, we continue to innovate through merchandising opportunities like the recently launched Zoozoo merchandise and film merchandise like Om Shanti Om and Love Aaj Kal. There's also the sensorial experience that we create in-store, with the Shoppers Stop Radio that plays youthful music, CCD in most of our stores as a great way to relax in-between shopping, the day and night lighting in the trial rooms and new innovative services like the recently introduced Nail Factory a kiosk to decorate nails; to name a few. The results are very clear there is a significantly larger number of younger audiences enrolling into our First Citizen (72 % of new enrolments are under 35 years). We are growing at 40 % plus for international brands. Brand scores on modernity/youthfulness have seen double-digit increase and the customer satisfaction index has also shot up significantly.
Indian retailers are often accused of spending less attention and resources on the environment within their stores. How have you worked at increasing consumer involvement at this level?
We tried to make sure that we involve the customer as much as possible. Because the longer they stay in the retail environment, the more they shop. We targeted four out of our consumers' five senses. So, in sight we significantly improved the lighting of our stores. We now have day-night lighting trial rooms at our stores. The trial rooms are equipped with lighting that enables consumers trying apparel to see how they would look in the outfit during the day and at night. For the sense of taste, we have cafeteria across all our stores and have tied-up with Café Coffee Day to manage our cafeteria, as that is not our area of expertise. For the sense of hearing, we have customised radio done for our stores for which we tied up with a music integration specialist company called Blue Frog.
THE TRUTH BEHIND PAK'S DOUBLE BLUFF
It is prudent to be realistic and acknowledge that Islamabad's intentions have grown more hostile in recent weeks. In October last year, the Indian embassy in Kabul was once again the target of a massive attack by Pakistan-inspired terrorists. For more than a month, infiltration has topped the agenda in Kashmir. Jihadists have stage 26/11-style incidents in Srinagar and other towns. If defence minister A.K. Antony is to be taken at face value, if a Mumbai-type major assault has not been replicated in a metro it is because terrorist efforts have been neutralised. Last week Pakistani troops opened fire along the international border near Amritsar. It is evident that the boundary is stirring uneasily. The way the Pakistan government has handled the non-inclusion of its players in the forthcoming IPL cricket championship can only confirm apprehensions. While the matter was a commercial decision of the IPL franchisees, the Pakistan establishment sought to orchestrate the view that it was a decision influenced by New Delhi. Playing a reckless hand, Islamabad has thus sought to incite Pakistani civil society against this country. This amounts to manufacturing consent for another Mumbai-style attack by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or a similar outfit. The question that needs to be asked is: why is Pakistan heating up the scene with India when it says its armed forces have consciously decided to meet the threat of the Pakistani Taliban? The old equations are still helpful to deal with this straightforwardly practical matter. While the challenge to Islamabad from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is being sought to be met as not doing so is apt to put the Pakistani state itself in jeopardy, the Pakistani authorities are being careful to avoid giving the impression that they are at odds with the jihadi cause itself. Thus, those targeting India in Kashmir and elsewhere are kosher. Two, by whipping up an anti-India atmosphere at home that provokes India to bolster its defences, Islamabad tries to find excuses to transfer troops from its western border with Afghanistan to the eastern front against India. The fundamental reason is that it wants to give the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan's tribal areas a free hand to attack US and Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan. The political belief underpinning such encouragement is that rising casualties will make the Europeans and the Americans quit, and that would pave the way for the return of full-fledged Pakistani influence in Kabul. The recent visit of the US defence secretary, Mr Robert Gates, to India and Pakistan is framed by the above narrative. Mr Gates made a few things quite clear. In New Delhi he appeared to endorse the Indian view that esoteric distinctions sought to be made as between the LeT, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were unhelpful. He also noted that another Mumbai-style attack by Pakistani terrorists might reveal that India's patience is "not unlimited". In Islamabad, the American official underlined that moving Pakistan troops to the India border didn't make sense as the "existential" threat to Pakistan came from the western front. He also said Islamabad's carping about growing Indian influence in Kabul was bogus as there were 44 countries that were helping out in Afghanistan.
THE RIGHT WAY TO GROW
BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
The recent Supreme Court judgment instructing the Delhi government to provide night shelters to all the capital's homeless in the biting winter cold focuses on rights-based inclusive development. Earlier, gross domestic product (GDP) growth was the principal goal of development. But later growth became more a means of development than a goal, one that distinguished inclusive from equitable development.
A sustained GDP growth would gradually include all sections of people just by the linkages of market forces. Special measures will be necessary only to hasten that process. Equitable growth will not, however, result from market interactions alone, which tend to accentuate existing inequalities. Redistributive measures would be necessary to move from inclusive development to equitable growth.
The debate shifted in the Nineties to the notion of rights-based development. It interpreted inclusiveness of development as peoples' ability to exercise their human rights to which every individual in a society is entitled. The state authorities had the obligation to promote and fulfil them. From that they derived their legitimacy and may even be overthrown if they failed. Legal theorists, saying that among all the goals of state authorities policies to fulfil these rights would get top priority, further developed this position. Development was seen then as expansion of these rights, which were the essential ingredients of their welfare. In the rights-based approach, both the goals and the process by which those goals are attained would be regarded as human rights. Even if the final outcomes are not achievable immediately, the approach called for immediate adoption of policies that will set in the process of realising them.
It incorporated the concept of progressive realisation. Depending upon resources and other institutional constraints, a step-by-step achievement of the objectives combine three elements: providing access to the rights, ensuring availability of the objects to be enjoyed by the rights and then ensuring adequacy and appropriateness of these rights.
For example, when the right to food is considered as an essential element of the right to development, it would imply that state authorities must provide every individual access to food together with policies to expand the availability of these food items in adequate quantity and appropriate quality. More importantly, each part of this process accepted as rights entail legal obligations on the state authorities to fulfil them. There has to be a mechanism of judging whether the authorities are making their best effort to fulfil their obligations. If they fail, the mechanism should be able to initiate corrective measures and reprimand the authorities. If these rights are incorporated in the domestic legal system, they become justiciable in the courts of law.
Human rights have been recognised by international covenants and all signatory countries are expected to incorporate these into their domestic legal systems. Even if they don't, they would be subject to international mechanisms of monitoring, though that is not the same as monitoring by domestic legal process. So everywhere rights activists have been trying to convert these internationally-recognised rights into domestic legal rights.
In India, the Supreme Court has played a vital role in that process. It has derived many of these basic rights from the fundamental right to life recognised by the Constitution. If the non-fulfilment of a right violates or threatens to violate the fundamental right to life then the fulfilment of those rights and monitoring of obligations become the domain of the domestic legal process. Right to food is one of those rights, just as right to health, education, an adequate standard of living and the right of civil and political freedom which are all reckoned as the basic elements that are to be fulfilled in order to enjoy the right to life.
The Supreme Court should be commended for bringing the right to shelter of the homeless people in Delhi within the preview of the rights-based approach to development. Without such shelter, thousands of people are subjected to conditions that threaten their life and the ability to enjoy any of the basic amenities. Because of the three-pronged approach of providing access, availability and adequacy of shelter, the court could talk about the basic minimum shelter first and build up on that a realistic process of achieving those objectives fully "through progressive realisation", each step of the process being subjected to monitoring and evaluation.
The power and effectiveness of these rights-based processes of development ensures that every individual is entitled to enjoyment of these rights, having at least minimum access to them and the society having obligation to expand that access to every individual.
Human rights derive their characteristics from the notion of human dignity. There should be no discrimination between one individual and another in the access to rights. Every individual should be able to participate in the process of securing these rights. The authorities having the responsibility of fulfilling these rights and must be accountable in a transparent process of realising them.
Even if the ultimate objective cannot be immediately attained, the processes to achieve them would become "rights" for which the state authorities must adopt appropriate policies. Mr Amartya Sen described these rights as "meta-rights". As those processes are necessary to achieve these rights, they have to be regarded at par with the fulfilment of the ultimate rights.
The right to a process in the human rights discourse is as important as the right to the outcome. This rights-based notion of inclusive development has, thus, shifted the paradigm of development literature and concentrated on the policies and programmes that have the maximum likelihood of achieving the goals of development.
The authorities are expected to formulate polices and programmes that can be debated and evaluated openly in different forums, with the participation of all stakeholders. The development process would thus become truly democratic and inclusive, allowing everybody the chance to enjoy their basic rights.
Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
US HAS HOPE, IT NEEDS MORE (STEVE) JOBS
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The most striking feature of the US President, Mr Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilised to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama's presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.
In part, it disappeared because the Obama team let it disappear, as Obama moved to pass what was necessary the economic stimulus and what he aspired to healthcare by exclusively playing inside baseball with Congress. The President seems to have thought that his majorities in the Senate and the House were so big that he never really had to mobilise "the people" to drive his agenda. Obama turned all his supporters into spectators of The Harry and Nancy Show. And, at the same time, that grass-roots movement went dormant on its own, apparently thinking that just getting the first African-American elected as President was the moon shot of this generation, and nothing more was necessary.
Well, here's my free advice to Obama, post-Massachusetts. If you think that the right response is to unleash a populist backlash against bankers, you're wrong. Please, please re-regulate the banks in a smart way. But remember: in the long run, Americans don't rally to angry politicians. They do not bring out the best in us. We rally to inspirational, hopeful ones. They bring out the best in us. And right now we need to be at our best.
Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of "Start-Up America".
Obama should make the centrepiece of his presidency mobilising a million new start-up companies that won't just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things. Without inventing more new products and services that make people more productive, healthier or entertained that we can sell around the world we'll never be able to afford the healthcare our people need, let alone pay off our debts.
Obama should bring together the country's leading innovators and ask them: "What legislation, what tax incentives do we need right now to replicate you all a million times over" and make that his No. 1 priority. Inspiring, reviving and empowering Start-up America is his moon shot.
And to reignite his youth movement, he should make sure every American kid knows about two programmes that he has already endorsed: The first is National Lab Day (NLD). Introduced last November by a coalition of educators and science and engineering associations, Lab Day aims to inspire a wave of future innovators, by pairing veteran scientists and engineers with students in grades K-12 to inspire thousands of hands-on science projects around the country.
Any teacher in America, explains the entrepreneur Jack Hidary, the chairman of NLD, can go to the website NationalLabDay.org and enter the science project he or she is interested in teaching, or get an idea for one. NLD will match teachers with volunteer scientists and engineers in their areas for mentoring.
"As soon as you have a match, the scientists and the students communicate directly or via Skype and collaborate on a project", said Hidary. "We have a class in Chicago asking for civil engineers to teach them how to build a bridge. In Idaho, a class is asking for a scientist to help them build a working river delta inside their classroom".
The President should also vow to bring the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) to every low-income neighbourhood in America. NFTE works with middle- and high-school teachers to help them teach entrepreneurship. The centrepiece of its programme is a national contest for start-ups with 24,000 kids participating. Each student has to invent a product or service, write up a business plan and then do it. NFTE works only in low-income areas, so many of these new entrepreneurs are minority kids.
In November, a documentary movie Ten9Eight was released that tracked a dozen students all the way through to the finals of the NFTE competition. Obama should arrange for this movie to be shown in every classroom in America. It is the most inspirational, heartwarming film you will ever see. You can obtain details about it at www.ten9eight.com .
This year's three finalists, said Amy Rosen, the chief executive of NFTE, "were an immigrant's son who took a class from H&R Block and invented a company to do tax returns for high school students, a young woman who taught herself how to sew and designed custom-made dresses, and the winner was an African-American boy who manufactured socially-meaningful T-shirts".
You want more good jobs, spawn more Steve Jobs. Obama should have focused on that from Day 1. He must focus on that for Year 2.
KALAM FLIES ECONOMY, GOWDA GAZES AT STARS
KALAM KA KAMAAL
The passengers of New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Indian Airlines flight on January 16 caught a happy glimpse of former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's virtues. It started with the moment he entered the airplane. There was no air hostess on board to guide Dr Kalam to his seat, so the former President of India cheerfully found his way to seat number "A 1" in economy class.
Passengers, shocked to find him seated in economy class, took up the matter with the pilots who immediately rushed to him and requested him to shift to the executive class. But Dr Kalam politely turned the offer down. "Don't worry, I am comfortable", he said.
Dr Kalam also refused to have "special dishes" and insisted on having the food regularly served in economy class. He chatted with fellow passengers all through the flight and had them in splits with his jokes.
After landing at Bhubaneswar, Dr Kalam had to wait for nearly two hours for an official car to take him to the state guesthouse. And when the car finally arrived, it wouldn't start, delaying him for another 30 minutes.
But Dr Kalam took it all in his stride, with his trademark smile. Now here's a man who practices what he...
Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan seems to have turned flip-flop into an art form. On January 20 Mr Chavan announced that his government would grant licences for fleet taxis only if the drivers were able to speak and write "the local language".
Following an outcry, the next morning he said he did not mean to discriminate against anyone and by local language he meant Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi.
This brought a blistering threat from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray. So Mr Chavan did another flip and by evening his statement was that knowledge of Marathi was compulsory for taxi drivers. Ever since he became chief minister, this has been Mr Chavan's trademark. Earlier this month he said he would allow alcohol manufacturers to use foodgrains to boost production. Following protests because of foodgrains shortage and rising prices, he changed his mind and said he would not give any such permission.
Shadow of the 'sun'
Some of the most powerful politicians of Karnataka shudder when his shadow falls on them. But it seems that the much-feared former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the self-proclaimed "son of the soil", himself fears the "soiled sun".
So much so that he disappeared a day ahead of the recent solar eclipse and stayed deep inside his fortress in Bengaluru until the day after.
And now, apparently on the advise of his army of astrologers, vaastu experts, palmists, and assorted others that the relentless fortune-hunter from Hassan consults, he has decided to shift residence to a locality closer to the Bengaluru-Mysore belt that the Gowdas dominate.
The residents of Padmanabhanagar are feeling relieved at the prospect of emerging out of Mr Gowda's shadow, and are sympathising with the residents of Rajarajeshwari Nagar who will now come under his eclipse.
Business of politics
Some Assam ministers who are alleged to be spending a lot of time on businesses owned by their close relatives have proved to be better entrepreneurs than politicians.
An FM radio station owned by a relative of state commerce minister Pradyut Bordoloi achieved breakeven rather quickly and is now registering profits, while a news channel owned by the wife of state health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is prospering. Mrs Sarma has, in fact, started an entertainment channel too. Insiders say that Mr Sarma's family is also planning to launch a regional airline soon. Likewise, a newspaper owned by a close relative of environment and forests minister Rockybul Hussain is doing brisk business while another language daily owned by former minister Anjan Dutta is launching edition after edition. A relative of militant-turned-minister Chandan Brahma has entered the vehicle business by setting up a showroom of Maruti cars. Whatever else may be the gripe, nobody can accuse these ministers of being "industry unfriendly".
Adieu Amar... and stars
Ever since Mulayam Singh Yadav accepted Amar Singh's resignation, the Samajwadi Party (SP) has been in a celebratory mood. SP leaders particularly those who had been facing the ire of the Thakur leader have been greeting each other with a boisterous "Badhai ho".
Mr Singh's photographs have disappeared from party posters and even kiosks selling party memorabilia at SP headquarters have erased anything related to the Thakur leader.
The real impact of Mr Singh's exit was especially evident when Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav took to the streets in Lucknow to protest spiralling prices. Samajwadis who had vanished into oblivion not only appeared suddenly on the scene but also participated actively in the agitation.
The only regret young Samajwadis have is that with Mr Singh out of the party, they will no longer be able to rub shoulders with Bollywood stars in apna Lucknow.
Buddha is smiling
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama's diplomatic skills were on display when he subtly steered clear of a controversy during his recent visit to Odisha.
Some officials in the state have been campaigning for the last decade to promote Kapileswar, a village on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, as the "real birthplace" of Lord Buddha. (Lumbini is considered to be Buddha's birthplace.) They claim to have "archaeological evidence" though this has been questioned by many scholars.
The Dalai Lama was duly briefed before his meeting with these enthusiastic officials. Realising that any response to this, either in affirmative or negative, could create an explosive situation, the Dalai Lama gave them a patient hearing and then said that it would be better to focus on Buddha's teachings rather than his birthplace. No wonder mighty China sees an intimidating rival in the smiling Dalai Lama.
A Darwinian trick
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution says that only those species survive that change with changing times.
Peons and junior staff in the steel ministry may not have heard about Darwin but they understand the importance of his theory.
Most of them are seen these days sporting the traditional Himachali cap worn by their new minister and former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh.
When queried, one of the peons who serves tea to the steel minister said, "Till the time we have this minister we will keep this cap. When the minister changes, we will also change the cap". This would have made Darwin proud.
LOVELY IN MEMORY
BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
Reading the obituaries of Jyoti Basu, one was intrigued not so much by Basu, but by the nature of memory. What do people remember? Why do they praise him? Is it only because he was Bengal's only tolerable export? One was intrigued by two questions in particular: Firstly, nowhere in the reports is there a detailed sense of Basu's own memory of the death of Communism, the breakdown of the Soviet empire. What did it mean to a generation of ideologists to see an entire edifice crumble? Did Basu see it or did his mind perform the act of refusal? B.R. Ambedkar once called Indian Communists a bunch of old Brahmin boys. Did Basu in his Brahminic orthodoxy see Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and others as "impure forms of life"?
There is a similar closure in response to Basu. This man is read as the parliamentarian. Yet this same man was associated with years of ugly violence of literal mayhem between the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Congress, between the CPI(M) and the Naxals. Murder was stock in trade and brutality was common currency. The question one has to ask is, can one brutalise a state and a society to remain parliamentarian at a federal level. The CPI(M) regime constituted one of the dark ages of corruption and violence in India and there is Basu appearing in the media like an advertisement for a Fair & Lovely ideological cream.
The memories of Basu are in-fact, cosmetic. The history he created was brutal and harsh but people erase it to remember the great parliamentarian. In that sense, Basu's great political act was to be a trickster of memory. He cons history into thinking he is a benign figure, a benevolent uncle of secular politics.
Basu and the death of Basu is a pretext for that wider text. Let us begin with the Partition. The political scientist Chandrika Parmar once wrote about an old man who watched the film Gadar 55 times. She explained that after five decades of silence, Partition suddenly came alive to him. He pleaded with his children to go and see it. The stunning thing about the Partition is its silence. If the Jewish holocaust screams for attention, our Partition sighs in silence. There is no monument to Partition and it took 50 years to break through this veil and wall of silence. Parmar argues that this multiplicity of stories of victims and perpetrators is a forest of diversity. She notes that those who lived through the Partition have complex memories of the time which avoids demonology of the enemy. It is only those with ersatz, invented memories who became prey to Communalism as an architectonic of false memory.
Violence is a form of erasure. Therefore, survival demands testimony and witness. The riots in Gujarat, in fact, demanded that the remaining survivors became a community of witnesses. People disappear and often do not come back to their homes. The riots, in fact, have become a form of displacement where the minorities disappear from history. The legal process more than being a process of justice becomes a ritual of memory.
Stereotypes are comfortable vehicles for memory. Collective memory is often stereotyped, but stereotypes stifle the marginal, the personal and the idiosyncratic. The republic of stereotypes is caught best on the parade on January 26.
The parade is a classic representation of the Indian nation state. It evokes memories of power, technology, defence, the Army and of the will to development. Each tableaux is a consensual stereotype of the nation state. Tribes, peasants, ethnic group are presented as embroideries on the fabric of the nation state. The question is what if the tableaux on dams included the displaced; the tableaux on Bengal included the Naxalbari violence. Is there a place for the disposed and displaced in this textbook model of development? Are margins and our minorities a part of the memory of development? The tableaux does not answer such questions. In signing its tryst with science, technology, security and development, it remains silent about the defeated and the erased.
There is a battle going on between history as archive and the oral nature of memory. Indians seems indifferent to monuments and archives, preferring to carry memory as a prized possession. Think of it, Bhopal has few mnemonics, just a park, a trial and a set of photographs.
The displaced of Narmada have no place in history except oral memory. The question I am raising is that the nation state rushing to development needs a compost heap of memories without which citizenship, rights and culture get disembedded. My stories are told only as invitation to rethink memory at this moment of history.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist
PAY IT FORWARD, AND THEN WATCH
BY AMRIT SADHANA
"Pay It forward" is an idea started by Catherine Ryan Hyde who wrote a book by this name in 2000. It's an action plan within a work of fiction.
Reuben St. Clair, the teacher and protagonist in the book, starts a movement with this voluntary, extra-credit assignment: "Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action". Trevor, the 12-year-old hero of Pay It Forward, thinks of quite an idea. He describes it to his mother and teacher this way: "You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to "pay it forward". To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do 27". He turned on the calculator, punched in a few numbers. "Then it spreads out to 81. Then 243. Then 729. Then 2,187. See how big it gets?"
Since the book was released in January of 2000, a real-life social movement has emerged worldwide. This idea speaks to the hunger so many of us feel for something to believe in that can give us hope. If the success of Harry Potter suggests that many of us yearn for magic, Hyde's book delivers an even more profound vision of what it may be: The simple magic of the human heart. The dark crevices in the human mind where insecurity, loneliness and despair dwell, can be redeemed by the light of awareness and compassion.
In this vicious world where everybody is thinking of paying back in the same coin, this idea of doing good without expecting anything in return comes as a breath of fresh air. And it is not difficult to practice. Just open your eyes and look around, the world is full of needy people.
Once on a busy street of Mumbai I was touched to see a smart young man with a laptop dangling on his back, holding a hand of an unknown old woman who looked like a maid, and leading her through the sea of cars. My gaze followed them: they crossed the road and parted ways.
There are hundreds of ways in which you can pay forward to others and feel the heart expanded. Practicing the "pay it forward" principle will make you alert to unexpected kindness from strangers towards you, and that will inspire you to be kind to someone unknown.
It will be a heart to heart connection. You may find yourself becoming more grateful for random kindness from people you don't even know.
Can one positive idea change the world?
Absolutely! Osho says, "The journey of 1,000 miles is done by the simple step one step. You cannot take two steps at a time. Step after step, just a single step can be stretched to 10,000 miles or to infinity. One seed can make the whole earth green".
Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.
'CLEANING UP' MUMBAI
CONGRESS GRABS THE SHIV SENA LINE
THE Congress has never displayed a divisive agenda more glaringly than in an impetuous order in Maharashtra to restrict taxi permits to those residing in the state for at least 15 years and knowing how to speak Marathi. That the order was later amended to include Gujarati and Hindi after a storm that could have blown also from Delhi does not remove the questions about the possible motives. By also imposing a tax on pubs and restaurants playing western music, the chief minister, Ashok Chavan, is speaking in the voice of the Thackerays who have denounced occasions like Valentine's Day as being intolerably alien. Anger at outsiders driving taxis in Mumbai has erupted into violent attacks in the past and by making it official the administration not only deprives thousands of their livelihood but could well be flirting with the Constitution. Clearly, there is a political dimension when the state's transport minister talks of "local perceptions'' in tune with the "changing scenario'' though he would not want to link the sudden decision to revive an act of 1989 requiring taxi drivers to be familiar with the city to a desperate attempt at marginalising the Shiv Sena and MNS. While there is every reason to fear that loyalists of both the senior and junior Thackeray may take advantage of the move to produce another round of terror, Congress leaders outside Maharashtra ~ even spokespersons who are otherwise articulate ~ have sought shelter in catch phrases like the party's "intrinsic spirit'' of all-inclusiveness. The question is whether it could have been simply a state Congress initiative with next year's municipal elections in mind, keeping the high command totally in the dark.
There is, by all accounts, a strong Marathi lobby that needs to be weaned away from the Shiv Sena and MNS. That still doesn't answer basic questions ~ why must the Maharashtra Congress adopt the crudest method of trying to reinforce its popular credentials and why must "outsider'' taxi drivers be singled out? It would be more frightening if this were to be the beginning of a more vigorous cleansing drive. Nor does the transport minister explain why one needs to know Marathi in order to drive a taxi in Mumbai, where people from around the country visit and where Hindi is widely spoken. As for the ban on playing Western tunes, the state government is being pathetically disruptive. Indian music lovers have no reason to be delighted by the bias that has political rather than cultural references. The Congress is disgracing itself.
WEATHER ALONE NOT TO BLAME
EVEN if only preliminary for the present, truly damning are the observations of the Commissioner for Railway Safety (North East Circle), Lucknow, on the 2 January collision between the Gorakhdham Express and Prayagraj Express near Tundla that resulted in 12 deaths and 48 serious injuries. For what the investigation reveals is that neither engine-drivers (stupidly re-designated loco-pilots during the Lalu Prasad regime) nor movement controllers at a higher level have adequately responded to the need for special safety measures during conditions of low visibility. These conditions are by no means rare during winter in northern India. The immediate cause of the collision, the probe established, was that the driver of the Gorakhdham Express did not halt for the prescribed two minutes at a red signal on the automatic block section: then instead of proceeding at the upper speed limit of eight km an hour under such conditions accelerated to 40 km per hour, which meant that the mandated 150 metres distance between two trains was not maintained, resulting in the mishap. Importantly, the Safety Commissioner said that drivers "in general" did not understand the implications of the instruction to maintain a safe separation distance, nor did those who train and monitor their operational functioning. Equally significantly, it was regretted that a recommendation after a previous collision that not more than one train be run in a single block section when visibility was low had been ignored by the higher authorities. A layman's inference would be that this "accident" was really the result of negligence. And the recent decision not to permit passengers to travel in the last carriage (which bears the brunt of a rear-end collision) is an admission of incompetence.
What all this adds up to is a callous attitude of the railway authorities to accident-prevention. They have been as slow in installing anti-collision devices as they have been in doing away with unmanned level crossings, or replacing track and rolling stock. The political leadership has also failed on that front, despite strident statements and tall promises after each mishap. Most ministers focus on new trains in the hope that they will fetch some political mileage ~ safety measures protect lives but do not generate the inexpensive popularity upon which netas thrive.
BLITZ IN KABUL
'TALIBAN IS NOT FOR SALE'
An outrage can be spectacular, as witnessed in Kabul last week. The Taliban have conveyed a message and with devastating effect. The targeting of Afghanistan's centre of authority, barely 100 metres from the presidential palace where Hamid Karzai was swearing in his cabinet, was intended to emphasise their ability to strike the American-backed fraudulently elected government in no less a place than the country's capital. Strategically, therefore, it was significant enough. However mortal the consequence, the outrage was in a sense the Taliban's response to the joint proposal of America and Afghanistan to "reconcile and reintegrate" the militants into mainstream Afghan society. Indeed, it is part of Barack Obama's strategy to turn the tide of hostilities and thereby facilitate the outward march of US forces. Beefing up the force level to 30,000 troops was arguably provocation enough for the Taliban. Clearly, the militant movement has regrouped despite the formidable presence of Western forces. The US President's plan, scheduled to be unveiled at the international conference in London later this month, is now in tatters. As much is clear from the Taliban spokesman's bluster immediately after the intrepid assault on Kabul: "The world community and the international forces are trying to buy the Taliban, and that is why we are showing we are not for sale." The timing too is critical; it follows the very recent drone attack that might have killed its leader. For every militant killed, two are born. If the USA has a long-term strategy to being about a measure of stability in a fractious land, so too, it appears, does the Taliban have a political plan. It definitely has evolved beyond the standard Western perception of a coalition of warlords to a formidable adversary. There is no denying that the suicide bombings were as well-planned as they were coordinated. Afghanistan's political fragility stands exposed. Civil strife has only intensified since 2001 when US troops entered the country to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden, to quote the words of George Bush. The man has been as elusive as the WMDs in Iraq. The intervening years have only steeled the fanatical fury of the Taliban.
USA HEADED TOWARDS ANOTHER MIRAGE
KURT JACOBSEN AND SAYEED HASAN KHAN
DEMOCRACY, like money, is almost as hard to hold on to as it is to obtain. That is the only similarity between democracy and money. Big money disdains and corrodes democracy. What's the point of having a lot of loot if you can't do whatever you please to whomever you please? Throughout the ages those who possess wealth could not help believing that they are divinely, or genetically, entitled to rule those who lack it. So even in good economic times the economic elite, and their obliging servants, strive relentlessly to rig the game.
The success of the cumulative corrosion of democracy in the US over the last several decades was never so starkly in view as during this first demoralising year of Obama's reign.
No one, of course, who overtly threatened this recent steady upward shift of wealth would ever be allowed within shouting distance of the seats of power. That's a given. Today elites, and even many small property owners, believe they are entitled to a revival of the intoxicating but unsustainable bubble in asset prices of yesteryear and are acting so as to generate another one. Goldman Sachs, a key culprit in causing the 2008 crash, threw a ton of money into Obama's campaign early on and wound up running his administration's economic policy. How does this odious outcome come to be viewed as perfectly natural?
The economic system
IN the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan had begun rejigging the economic system to funnel all new wealth to the top strata, one of us was a lecturer at a leading US university. The Provost one day rang to ask if visiting politician Michael Dukakis, not yet a Democratic Party presidential candidate, could participate in a classroom discussion of public policy problems. We welcomed him. Despite a roomful of well-prepared students itching to have go at him, Dukakis came across as sharp, frank, humourous, and clearly a deeper thinker than most politicians. He had a touch of the technocrat about him, as others observed, but he was as decent a human being as the system was likely to allow. So, years later in 1988, we were pleased when he became the Democratic Party candidate for President.
Though not our first choice, Dukakis looked like a straightforward, articulate and humane leader after eight long years of Reagan's disastrous pretence to be one. Yet as the campaign opened in a no-holds-barred swing, Dukakis' admirable leadership qualities vanished as he waged awful milquetoast campaigns and frittered away a 17-point poll lead to end in a huge loss against George Bush (senior). We were baffled at the time. The man choosing his words so prissily and cautiously on the campaign trail was not remotely the highly intelligent man we spent an afternoon with a few years before. What happened?
A few years later, a friend recounted how he had helped to cater to an annual big bankers' jamboree in San Francisco where hired speakers sashayed in to tell the financiers that they were doing terrific things for a population unworthy of them. It amounts to routine legalized bribery. In return for their wit and wisdom over a single hour, the speakers walk off with what was a full year's salary for an average employee. One of these esteemed speakers was a Harvard Business School lecturer. It turns out she had been Dukakis' chief economic adviser. That was the clinching evidence.
It was a band of advisers such as she who boxed in Dukakis then and who do so to Obama today. This fact would be exculpating except that both men they chose as their advisers, largely as a signal to rich constituencies that their interests would be protected foremost.
Even the most vulgar Marxist spouting cliches about capitalists ravaging the world looks like a sophisticate these days, given the reckless behaviour of elites. The rich not only run US domestic and foreign policy, they don't care if most citizens are realizing it. They do what they like. After eight years of Bush, it is a hard habit to break. Elites stay in line only if they are concerned about popular legitimacy. Obama appears to prove that both parties have been hijacked. Average citizens no longer can hope to change anything by casting a vote. That's a dangerous underlying message that this administration is delivering. The feckless banks will be rescued, futile wars will escalate, private insurance companies will pick everyone's pockets, and the system will go on as before.
The radical truth that no one gets is that, logically speaking, there was no real prosperity in the last decade, or the one preceding it. All we got were pretty bubbles; a dot.com bubble, a stock market, and the much-beloved housing bubble. They all were con games by which to shift money upwards. Wages used to grow with productivity but that ceased in the 1970s.
Magic of the Market
RISING wages meant growing demand, high employment, and therefore an incentive to invest. The 'Magic of the Market' mantra spouted by every media mouthpiece aided the corporate attack against living standards, worker protection, prudent regulation of banks and firms, environmental protection and fair shares in productivity rises.
Social progress halted after the 1960s, a decade vilified precisely because it saw advances for minorities and more rights for everyone. Since then all productivity increases have gone to the tip of the income pyramid. Instead of rising real wages, asset price inflation and borrowing was used to keep the economy in motion. Privatization and deregulation were the siren songs heard everywhere. Labour flexibility is another name for attacking workers' rights. Each cycle since 1980 depended on asset price inflation, not wages ~ a process inherently favouring those with the largest holdings. Household debt rose 117 per cent from 1999 to its peak in early 2008. It was a smoke-and-mirrors performance, but one from which the orchestrators salted away high profits before the bust. All they want is to do it again.
No longer dependent on rising middle class incomes, the economic system is based on punishing hapless workers through globalization, deregulation, and a downsized state intent on disciplining, not helping, them. The answer? Grassroots organisation is badly needed, and under way, to pressure the Democrats and perhaps to push a third party movement from the Left.
Strong unions, a higher minimum wage, stronger regulations, a revitalization of manufacturing, rebuilding the infrastructure and a real national health system paid from general taxation are the goals of genuine reform. By contrast, the effervescence and high spirits animating Obama's 2008 campaign only presage another bubble, another mirage.
MARRIAGE MAKES WOMEN FATTER: STUDY
London, 24 Jan: It's official, marriage makes women fatter ~ as scientists have claimed that marital bliss or peace of mind for a woman comes at a price ~ an expanding waistline.
Researchers at the Queensland University, in Australia, who studied about 6000 women aged between 18 and 23 over a period of 10 years, found after moving in with a partner, a woman tend to put on at least 2kg over a decade, and about 4kg more if she has a baby.
During this period, the researchers found that every tenth woman in the study gained 20 pounds (over 9 kg) if she had a partner and baby, 15 pounds (nearly 7kg) if she had a partner and no baby, and 11 pounds (nearly 5 kg) if she was childless with no partner, the Daily Mail reported. On an average, every woman gained nearly 2 kg of excess weight after her marriage and more than 4 kg after having a baby in the study period of 10 years, found the research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
There was a time when the commerce ministry was the most important economic ministry, surpassing even the finance ministry. It controlled imports with a heavy hand; even a sparrow could not enter the country without an import licence in its beak. Its lucrative business collapsed in 2002, when the United Progressive Alliance government abolished import licensing. But the commercial bureaucrats had not been in business for 63 years for nothing; they knew a trick or two. They went into the business of export promotion; in its name they started giving subsidies and incentives that made slaves out of inefficient businessmen who could not export without help. Subsidies and import restrictions become negotiable in international trade rounds. That does not suit the commerce ministry. So Kamal Nath, when he went into the Doha round negotiations, kept repeating that he would never sacrifice the interests of his poor farmers. That put paid to the round. The prime minister, who won his spurs with liberalization, could not afford to be branded a protectionist. So Mr Nath was relegated to building roads, and Anand Sharma was promoted in his place.
The global downturn brought down exports, and gave the commerce ministry a fresh incentive to try out complicated, corruption-prone incentive schemes. Thus last year, it included 39 new countries in the focus products scheme. Recently, it added 2,000 products to the list of focus products eligible for subsidy. What is not realized is that by now, a substantial proportion of exports is eligible for bureaucratic manipulation. It may seem common sense that subsidies would help exports. But the rigmarole that exporters have to go through to get those subsidies out of the commerce ministry reduces their number; only small businessmen who have the patience and the inclination to bribe the commerce ministry clerks bother to export. And they are the exporters with whom the commerce ministry plays games. It selects products made by small industry, and avoids those made by big industrialists who have the prime minister's ear and may go and complain if harassed.
The tragedy is that these small industry products are produced by thousands of producers. These are labour-intensive, and capable of creating considerable employment. The thwarting of their exports by the commerce ministry's red tape militates against the growth of output and employment, which should be the particular concern of the government. Around the subsidies grow up vested interests which resist their dismantling; this is how the commerce ministry has reduced the country's freedom of manoeuvre in trade negotiations. After making unreasonable demands for four years, Mr Nath wrecked the Doha round. Mr Sharma expressed the hope that it would be resumed and concluded by the end of 2010. But his ministry will have nothing to give in the round, and unless it is prepared to yield something, it can gain nothing for the country.
FOOD FOR DEBATE
The now-familiar debate over Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified food crop almost poised for commercial production in India, posits greater productivity and resistance to pests against health and environmental concerns. A new semi-debate has been generated by the decision of the Union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, to conduct public consultations across the country at which scientists, non-governmental organizations, and representatives of consumer bodies may present their views. Scientists in favour of the GM brinjal that was cleared for commercial production by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee are strongly against this move. Science and technology decisions cannot be made by popular vote, one has said. Public consultations on the matter are "unwarranted".
The situation raises questions regarding access to full information, the right to choose, and the place of the "public" in a democracy. Prejudice and superstition should certainly not be encouraged. But if the "public" is making a mistake, the more informed must put the Doubting Thomases in the picture. This cannot be done by dismissing all objections as ignorant; it is, after all, their own health and the environment that the dissenters want to protect. Everyone has the right to ask who is gaining from a new product. Long-term gain for agriculture is obviously desirable. The introduction of an approved GM crop could be accompanied by full information, vigilance in testing, and clear labels on the market shelves. This could have been done even without public consultations. But the scientists' fear, that the loud voices of dissenting "truckloads" will carry the day, can only come true if the government responds with politics, not science.
MAKING OF A SUPERPOWER
INDIA MUST DO THE THINGS NECESSARY TO GIVE ITS PEOPLE A GOOD LIFE
COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO
In the 1990s, many predicted that by 2010 India would be a superpower. Are we now or likely to be one in the foreseeable future? What is a superpower? For some centuries, Britain commanded the world. After World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States of America were competing superpowers. Russia, has many nuclear weapons but is by no means a superpower; nor is Britain. Empire strengthened the British economy; it stretched the Russian economy whose people sacrificed consumption. Neither economy could take on the burden of commanding the world. The US economy is far larger and more resilient. A superpower is "a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes in more than one region of the globe at a time". The US, in the last decade, slipped some notches. Heavily in debt to China, it now pays grudging respect. The US is declining but can still influence the world.
High gross domestic product growth for most of the last two decades gives us the conceit that India is well on its way to becoming a superpower. Since 2004, India has grown each year at 7.5 per cent, 9.5 per cent, 9.7 per cent, 8.8 per cent and 6.4 per cent. This year it might approach eight per cent and in future years nine per cent or more. This growth has consistently come principally from services (trade, hotels, transport, communications, finance, insurance, real estate, business services, community, social and personal services including government). Since 2004 to now, services growth has been 12.79, 14.15, 15.73, 17.44, and 19.13 per cent. Agriculture and industry have lagged far behind in all years.
Services dominate the American economy. The US has already reached high manufacturing and agricultural production levels. Almost all the population has high levels of consumption of products and services, unlike India. Almost 500 million Indians have no access to electricity and live on the margin of starvation. Consumption of manufactured goods and of foodgrains, sugar, pulses, edible oils, milk and so on, apart from fast-moving consumer goods and durable consumer goods, is very low in relation to population size. So is access to sanitary facilities, pucca housing, healthcare, and a good education. The real economy of goods and services consumed by the majority of the people is pitifully small.
The US, Germany and Japan dominated world trade. China has now overtaken them to become the largest exporter. Its status as a large creditor of the US has compelled toning down the aggressive rhetoric against China on its undervalued currency and poor record on human rights. India is not such a major factor in international trade, it is mostly a net importer of goods and, in most years, deficit in the balance of payments. China has attracted substantial foreign direct investment. India has had uncontrolled inflows by foreign institutions that escape the short-term capital gains tax, resulting in a volatile rupee exchange value. This brings tremendous volatility to our stock markets, making it a casino for such investors. Our foreign exchange reserves rose to over $309 billion in 2007-08 and have remained relatively static since. China has over two trillion dollars.
Infrastructure (power, roads, ports, airports) is our great weakness. It has held back industrial and agricultural growth. Restrictive labour laws have kept labour intensive product exports at a fraction of China. Procedure-ridden bureaucracy with no individual accountability has hindered substantial investments in industry and infrastructure, hampering their growth.
The other great neglect is of agriculture which has had negative investment growth by government in real terms. It remains as dependent on the monsoon as it was at Independence. Unrestricted groundwater usage, stimulated by electricity supplies below cost or even free in some states, has led to groundwater depletion, diversion to water intensive crops and growing salinity of land. There is no national programme for watershed development, checking dams, irrigation canals, and rational water pricing. Productivity for most crops is falling and effects of climate change will make matters worse.
Government deficits have been rising sharply, encouraged by subsidies on fertilizers, food, petroleum, electricity, kerosene, gas, and so on, and inefficient and wasteful expenditures. Along with encouragement to volatile overseas fund inflows, these have perpetuated the spectre of inflation and kept interest rates at high levels in relation to most other countries. This also has adversely affected industrial growth. But GDP growth will boost tax revenues and the deficits can, over a few years, be controlled.
India has advantages as well: a large and growing youthful population, which does not rebel at huge disparities in living standards, its quickness to learn, and willingness to work. The sheer size of the population enables an inadequate and variable quality educational system to produce a rising output of qualified technical and trained people in a variety of disciplines. The "software" of industry is well developed: management, advertising, market research, economic forecasting, design capability, and so on. The government in recent years has also become proactive in trying to reach the really poor with employment, education and health. The entry of the private sector into education at all levels is accelerating and should improve the skills of the population. An economy oriented towards services has perhaps made us more customer-oriented and will stimulate industry when our industrial policies are more favourable. India's advantage is that we can leapfrog technologies, as we have done with mobile telephony, or be at the beginning of new industries, like biotechnology or stem cell research. We can learn from the experiences of others and take the latest innovations in ideas. Climate change and the thrust for renewable energy also gives us an opportunity to innovate for our own and the global good. We can hope to lead in new industries and technologies.
The top priorities for reform are the administration, agriculture, infrastructure, education, health and opportunities for the poor and marginalized. The present United Progressive Alliance government has begun thinking on all these, and except for administration, taking action (albeit hesitantly and inefficiently) on the others. We can expect results perhaps over the next 20 years, that is, around 2030. By then our population would have stabilized at around 1.4 billion and urban population might near 50 per cent.
Reform of administration includes specialization in functions, reduced numbers, and higher work expectations. Performance evaluation, rewards related to performance, individual goals and accountability for achieving them, severe penalties for corruption, will reform the management of the government's human resources. Change in systems and procedures, with much more use of information technology and modern communications, with transparency in administration, is essential. The Right to Information Act will help. Stakeholders' involvement requires decentralization to enable local communities to have a greater role in services delivery. To take most local decisions, urban and rural local bodies must have authority, funds, capacity and training to deal with teacher attendance, teaching quality, health-centre functioning, expenditure on facilities, distribution of cheap fertilizers, electricity, and so on.
Many good ideas go into planning and programmes. Few are implemented fully. We have to achieve inclusive growth despite threats from terrorism, hostility from Pakistan, neighbouring China that has Pakistan as a surrogate against us, climate change and its effects, the Maoist insurgency, competition for global resources and other major challenges. Far from boasting of being a superpower, India should focus on doing the necessary things to provide a good life to its people.
The author is former director- general , ational Council for Applied Economic Research
ANOTHER EMPTY PROMISE
FIFTH COLUMN - GWYNNE DYER
Is it megalomania or just a political stunt? Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade, may not even know the answer himself, but his offer to let quake-stricken Haitians resettle in his West African country certainly qualifies as the most flamboyant response to the tragedy in Haiti. "The repeated calamities that befall Haiti prompt me to propose a radical solution: to take measures to create, somewhere in Africa, the conditions for Haitians to return," the 83-year-old Senegalese president said recently. "They did not choose to go to that island. It is our duty to recognise their right to come back to the land of their ancestors."
Well, some of their ancestors anyway. The slave populations of all the Caribbean islands were deliberately drawn from different parts of West Africa, so that they would speak a variety of languages and find it harder to rebel. But the vocabulary of Haitian Creole suggests that there were many Wolof-speakers (the most widely used indigenous language in Senegal) among the slaves of Haiti. Educated Haitians also speak French, as do educated Senegalese, so it's not as though Turkey or Sri Lanka were to offer a new home to Haitians. But it is nevertheless mighty peculiar: just where does Abdoulaye Wade propose to put them all?
He does sound serious about his offer, and he says that large numbers would be welcome. His spokesman, Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye, explained, "The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin. If it's just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region." Now, it's true that 90 per cent of Haitians would leap at the chance to leave their country, the poorest in all the Americas, but the destination they have in mind is Miami or Montreal. Senegal is one of the best-run and most democratic countries of Africa, but it does not feature prominently on Haitian wishlists.
It is also true that most Senegalese feel that their country is quite full enough without a large influx of Haitians. Moving a million Haitians to Senegal would relieve the intolerable pressure on Haiti's badly degraded land and it would cause chaos in Senegal."If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region," said the president's spokesman, adding that it would be in a fertile part of the country rather than in its parched deserts. But there is no fertile region of Senegal that is not already fully populated by people whose families have lived there for many generations. Where is the president planning to put them?
So yes, it is a stunt, not a real offer, and what gives the game away is the fact that Senegal is offering "voluntary repatriation" to Haitians, not assisted passage. They are welcome to come to Senegal if they can find the money for the airline tickets but how many Haitians can do that?And what of Haiti? As hard as you might look for signs of hope amid the ruins, you will not find any. The earthquake is a dramatic interlude of natural disaster in a long history of tragedy whose sources were mostly human. What has devastated Haiti is politics, much of it imposed from outside by foreign governments: the French in the 19th century, the United States of America in the 20th and 21st. No honest and competent Haitian government has survived more than a couple of years.The denuded land, the runaway population growth, the unskilled and illiterate population, the universal corruption: all these are due to failures of policy, not to some fundamental flaw in the character of Haitian people. But by now there have been generations of despair and neglect, and it is getting difficult to see how Haitians might turn it all around. Most of them want to leave. But most of them never will.
"THE TRUST OF NEWSPAPER READER IS VIOLATED."
The Election Commission's notice to Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan seeking his comments on the charge that he spent money on paid news during last year's Assembly elections is the first action by the EC to deal with a widely reported problem of media misconduct and corruption. The issue is not just one of independence and integrity of the media but of interference in the free and fair conduct of elections. According to reports, Chavan claimed to have spent only Rs 5,379 on newspaper advertisements but a number of newspapers published many reports in his favour and some of them were the same. Such coverage, which ran into several full pages for many days, could be taken as only camouflaged advertisements. They violated electoral laws and editorial ethics. In fact, many politicians have admitted to buying news during elections.
The problem of sale of news space is not new. During the Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2007 it was noticed that some newspapers sold favourable news to parties and candidates in return for money. Last year's Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh saw the malpractice being resorted to on a wider scale. It became much more blatant also. It was seen that cases of individual corruption, which had always been there in the media, became institutionalised as policy. Coverage packages, with different rates for different levels of favourable coverage, were on offer; those who paid the money got coverage and ensured that their rivals got negative or nil coverage. Election coverage became a commercial endeavour. Not only print media but television news channels were also making cash deals for such coverage.
The commercialisation of the editorial functions of the media had started much before this with some newspapers entering into financial arrangements with companies. The paid news phenomenon is a natural culmination of that trend. By eliminating the dividing line between advertisements and news it violates the basic principles of journalism. The trust of the reader is violated and the credibility of the media suffers. Professional bodies like the Press Council of India and the Editors' Guild are seized of the matter but they are unable to take any effective corrective steps. The EC can disqualify a candidate who has misrepresented his poll expenses, as Chavan has possibly done. Even if the EC does that, that amounts to punishment for only one party to the crime.
"BRMS WOULD CATER TO THE HEALTH NEEDS IN VILLAGES."
The Union health ministry's proposal to start a new medical degree course of shorter duration to produce doctors who will serve in rural areas is a realistic move. Efforts to persuade doctors who qualify from medical colleges to serve in rural areas have consistently failed. Governments have employed methods of compulsion and temptation to make medical graduates do rural service. A mandatory short-term rural service, incentives in the form of high monetary rewards and quotas in post-graduate courses and even penalties for refusal to work in villages have not had much impact. Most doctors are either from an urban background or find it professionally and commercially better to practise in towns and cities. Since it has become clear that these attitudes cannot be easily changed, it is better to look for other methods to meet the health needs of the rural sector.
The plan, which has been approved by the Medical Council of India, is to start a medical degree course of three-and-a-half years exclusively for students from villages who will serve the rural population. The course, to be called Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS), will be oriented to the medical needs of villages. The students will be coached in nodal medical institutes to be set up in rural areas and will be trained in district hospitals. The programme is similar to the Licentiate Medical Practitioners (LMP) scheme which existed in the country before independence and discontinued later in favour of a single medical course. Efforts since then to create professionals who would meet the needs of the rural areas in medicine, midwifery, nursing, etc have not succeeded.
A shortened course would be enough to cater to the basic health needs in the villages. The heath care system is most deficient and dysfunctional at that level, with the result that nearly 80 per cent of the population goes without basic health care. People in many villages still depend upon untrained people or quacks for their medical needs. The national rural health mission is not making progress because of the lack of qualified personnel willing to work in villages. The proposal has been under discussion for some time. It is well-conceived, though all the details are yet to be finalised. If the details are properly worked out and the scheme implemented well, it will give a big boost to the health care system in villages.
PRICE OF POWER
EVERY PRIME MINISTER AFTER RAJIV GANDHI SOUGHT AND GOT M K NARAYANAN'S ADVICE.
BYLINE M J AKBAR
As they say, it's a no-brainer. Trust and loyalty rank much higher on Delhi's power graph than integrity. The working definition of loyalty is discretion. The system works on silence. This holds true for both politician and bureaucrat, although the public image of the former is synonymous with a gabfest and the bureaucrat is increasingly becoming prey to the siren call of the camera. In any case, it is extremely rare when a veteran with a career stretching across five decades achieves an indisputable reputation for discretion and integrity.
M K Narayanan did not set out to win any popularity contest when he joined the Intelligence Bureau in 1961, although his understated sense of humour won him more friends than you might imagine. From virtually the start he occupied a room in the sanctum sanctorum of India's power pyramid, the South Block on Delhi's Raisina Hill.
MK's career coincides, almost exactly, with the maturing of the Indian state through a series of existential crises. Till 1961, the worst problem was communal riots, interspersed with troubles over state formation: difficult, certainly, but hardly formidable. Within a year of joining IB, MK was working with his legendary boss B N Mullick to find out how the Chinese had blown massive holes in our security across the Himalayas. Communists were part of his brief and he sent the topmost leaders to jail because their ideology took precedence over their nationalism. It is ironic that he should now be sent as governor to a state run by Marxists.
He might equally easily have been sent as governor of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, it would have been more relevant to do so, for this state began to blip loudly on his professional radar in 1963, with the disappearance of the Mo-e-Muqaddas, the holy hair from the Prophet's beard preserved in Srinagar. Mullick was the first IB chief to write a memoir, so we know that the recovery of the holy relic was an IB triumph. But we have not been told how precisely this happened. MK knows. And he has kept quiet.
Move from 1963 to 1965: The war launched by Pakistan to seize the Kashmir valley was a major challenge to IB. Kashmir, Punjab, Bluestar, Indira Gandhi's assassination, the conflagration in the Northeast, the Lanka catastrophe, Rajiv Gandhi's tragic death: MK's experiences constitute what might be called a covert history of India. He was extremely close to Rajiv Gandhi and maintained the relationship with the 'family'. Every prime minister after Rajiv sought and got his advice. His appointment to PMO on the return of Congress was inevitable.
What was certainly not inevitable was his sudden departure from PMO to the senior citizens' rest home, a Raj Bhavan. No one has offered an explanation. A year ago there was a reason. There was a demand for his resignation after the terrorist onslaught on Mumbai. But neither Sonia Gandhi nor Manmohan Singh would even consider this. MK had, more than anyone else, shepherded the nuclear deal through domestic and international minefields. There was visible harmony between the PM and him. How and why has this harmony been suddenly ruptured?
Reason not clear
Home Minister P Chidambaram's discomfort with him is not an explanation. Power equations are not a love affair. A high table always needs different voices, and MK would always add high value to any discourse. In any case, this was a prime minister's decision, not a home minister's. Nor do seasoned prime ministers suffer from mercurial likes and dislikes.
The last five years have shown a pattern. While Singh keeps an eye on the wide spectrum of governance, to the extent that is humanly possible, he reserves his core energy for a single policy focus. In his first term this was the nuclear deal. MK was an eminently suitable partner in that enterprise. The second term is clearly going to survive on a separate heartbeat. The PM seems to have put peace with Pakistan at the heart of his new agenda. The nuclear deal will seem a picnic compared to a Pakistan and it requires courage to even attempt it. MK has spent five decades protecting his nation from the intricacies and duplicity of an often-hostile neighbour. Perhaps the PM wants someone with less memory. That is a mistake. Vision without a reality check is an incomplete construct.
US SUPREME COURT BLOW TO DEMOCRACY
COMPANIES ARE GIVEN SPECIAL PRIVILEGES, INCLUDING DIFFERENT TAX RATES, JUST TO MAKE MONEY.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
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.
The US 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 vs Federal Election Commission radically reverses well-established law and erodes a wall that has stood for a century between corporations and electoral politics.
The founders of the 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.
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 vs 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 mobilise 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.
DUKHU OF DANAPUR CLUB
WITH HIS VAST EXPERIENCE, DUKHU ALWAYS HAD CAPTIVATING STORIES TO TELL.
BY D K HAVANOOR
There is no dearth of historical places and institutions in Bihar: One such institution was a barman at centuries-old officers' institute at Danapur cantonment near Patna; the second oldest cantonment in India. His name was 'Dukhu,' and he personified the hospitality in Danapur club, for more than six decades. He had put in 62 years of service as 'Abdar' in our club when I had a short stint in Danapur in the mid 90s. As a 14 year-old boy he had started working as the barman at the officers' club; there were probably no anti-child labour laws then, in fact the British Indian Army itself had the practice of enrolment of boys.
I was a regular visitor to the club, not to have a drink but to know the history of Danapur club and how the Indian Army had transformed over six decades. Standing behind the bar counter, he had seen how things had changed since the early 20th century in the army and would narrate events and anecdotes. He would recall his early days of service nostalgically and describe how the British officers enjoyed their life in general and club life in particular.
He always had captivating stories to tell, right from how fashion and politics had changed to how wars are fought, from what differentiates people to what the high class has that the low doesn't! One interesting story in particular was about cycles, which we now consider as base. But in those days, officers used to proudly commute on their own bicycles as bicycles were a status symbol. Motorcycles came in much later and only a select few had cars.
I once met Dukhu in the dining hall and asked him why the antique dining chairs had a high back rest. He smiled and said that it was a matter of British insecurity. He explained that since the British were rulers the Indian Army was officered by Britons. And these officers were scared of somebody stabbing them from behind while they ate, hence high back chairs. Furthermore, Dukhu said, while the officers ate dinner, the piper-band boys who used to go round the dining table playing different tunes were supposed to be an additional layer of security. He laughed and added that this British vestige is perpetuated even now at the time of special dinners although it holds no significance. The post-independence Indian Army probably adopted this British legacy as a tradition.
'Abdar' Dukhu expired a few years ago at the age 84. Among other things, Danapur officers' club had the great fortune of being his workplace for seven decades. What better tribute could there be than remembering him as an 'institution within an institution.'
THE JERUSALEM POST
PR 101 FOR CHARITIES
A few days ago, for the first time ever, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services made public the amount of shekels it contributes to Israel's third sector.
While the announcement of the NIS 1.5 billion its spends on outsourcing projects to local non-profits was not newsworthy enough to make big headlines, the willingness of a government office to share information on the charity industry was a welcome change for a sector that is growing increasingly secretive about its inner workings.
In an attempt to encourage local media to publish this data, ministry officials pointed out that non-profits are very quick to cry poverty and bemoan a drop in their fund-raising but often very slow to acknowledge those who do support their activities.
Among the organizations listed as receiving large sums from the government for various social welfare projects were the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO); the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, Alut; Emunah, the national-religious women's organization; and Akim, the association for the rehabilitation of the mentally handicapped.
Obviously non-profit organizations freely publicize the outstanding charitable work they undertake and are rightly happy to talk about the positive aspects of their activities. Most are fairly pushy with their fund-raising methods; a minority have even been known to employ questionable or unethical tactics to entice donors.
Of course, running such charities and fund-raising for them is not easy. Over the years it has become something of an art, requiring real expertise. Without such work, the charities simply would not be able to finance their essential activities.
Over the past year it has become increasingly clear that many non-profits - both big and small - are struggling financially due to the economic crisis. It is no secret either that all types of charities are being forced to make difficult choices about the scope of their programming and being pushed into making structural changes to their projects and long-term goals.
While full disclosure about charities' heartwarming activities is obviously beneficial, so too is transparency and full disclosure, and not just messages of woe and pleas for help, about fund-raising.
While not wanting to admit that your organization is hurting financially is understandable, for fear of undermining confidence and out of concern that your backers will jump ship, contrastingly "public relations 101" dictates that openness is crucial in order to keep your supporters... supportive. Cutbacks and new directions taken by non-profit organizations should be thoroughly discussed with donors, and openly detailed in the press. The truth will out, and far better that it be the accurate account that the organization can disseminate rather than partial and distorted revelation via the online rumor mill.
AT A conference in California earlier this month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserted, not without justification, that the increase in use of social media means that privacy is no longer a social norm.
"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," he said. "That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."
With individuals indeed opening up their private dealings and publishing them for all to see, it is high-time that charities, especially those whose outreach relies on and touches thousands of people, realize that maintaining traditional secrecies may not prove acceptable anymore.
One development that might force a change in the near future is the creation of the online portal GuideStar Israel (www.guidestar.org.il). A joint initiative by the Ministry of Justice, Yad Hanadiv (the Rothschild Foundation) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee-Israel, GuideStar, which is not yet active, aims eventually to provide a forum for all non-profits in Israel to list their activities and share information, as well as reach out to donors.
It is a free service that we hope will highlight how being transparent and sharing information, far from being damaging to an organization, could actually be beneficial for all.
THE JERUSALEM POST
REALITY CHECK: SHAKING THINGS UP
Let me admit straight away that I have no sympathy for Sara Netanyahu. Just as the Victorians believed that children should be seen and not heard, the same is true for the partners of Israel's political leaders. Although the prime minister's wife has lowered her public profile during Bibi's current tenure as prime minister - some would say she's been hidden - she still plays a powerful behind-the-scenes role in his office and is a legitimate target of journalistic interest.
There is though a weary sense of déjà vu surrounding this latest Sara Netanyahu scandal. We've been through it all before during Netanyahu's first premiership: the sacked nannies, dismissed housekeepers, the temper tantrums and so on.
Back then, Netanyahu supporters were quick to blame his political rivals for these stories and the same is true today, but now with a new twist: Netanyahu's defenders also claim that Yediot Aharonot's breaking of the scandal and the prominent front-page coverage given to it has more to do with the growing competition Yediot faces from the new newspaper on the block, Yisrael Hayom, than any serious news agenda. In return, others are describing Yisrael Hayom, a newspaper that is distributed for free, as a danger to our democracy.
In terms of its rapid growth, there is no doubt that Yisrael Hayom has been a great success. In its latest weekend edition, it proudly boasted that it had upped its weekend print run by 100,000 copies, to 350,000. Uniquely for a free newspaper, it offers distribution right to the reader's doorstep in certain areas, providing a level of service to rival that of any paid-for newspaper.
So where's the problem? Why is the emergence of a new paper seen by some as a threat to democracy? The answer lies in Yisrael Hayom's owner, US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, for whom money seems to be no object if it is spent on furthering the political agenda of his friend, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The closeness of the two men could be seen at the swearing-in ceremony of Netanyahu's new government, when Adelson had a front-row seat in the Knesset gallery.
ACCORDING TO its critics, Yisrael Hayom has only one aim: to provide Netanyahu with a positive press. They point out that unlike other Israeli newspapers, it does not need to make a profit because Adelson is prepared to subsidize its losses from profits from his property and gambling businesses.
This indeed seems to be true, for there is little, if any criticism of Netanyahu in Yisrael Hayom while, according to industry insiders, the rates it charges for full-page adverts are far below the norm. Moreover, when Yisrael Hayom first hit the streets during Ehud Olmert's premiership, it was blatantly hostile to Olmert, with its star commentator Dan Margalit repeatedly being given space on the front page to call for the former premier's removal from office.
But then there is nothing new in a newspaper owner sustaining losses in return for the prestige of owning a newspaper or for the ability to push a certain political agenda. Many newspapers around the world, some of them very prestigious, could be defined as vanity projects, existing only because their publisher derives a nonfinancial value from his ownership of them.
The novelty of Yisrael Hayom has been its success in changing the face of the local newspaper market. For the first time in decades, a newspaper has sprung up that provides serious competition to Yediot's monopolistic domination of the market. At the same time, it is also sounding the death knell for Yediot's one-time competitor, Ma'ariv, which is sinking fast. Why pay for Ma'ariv when you can receive a free newspaper, even delivered to your door, that is almost exclusively staffed by former senior Ma'ariv journalists.
To be sure, the disappearance of a newspaper with a proud history would be a sad development, but then it wouldn't be the first time this has happened here. Over the past couple of decades Davar and Al Hamishmar were forced to close but our democracy has still managed to stay vibrant.
Ma'ariv has been on its last legs for a number of years; the emergence of Yisrael Hayom is merely hastening its
demise. And at the same time, somewhat ironically, the right-wing Yisrael Hayom is actually helping to balance the books at the left-wing Haaretz, which prints and distributes the paper for Adelson.
Yisrael Hayom is far from a perfect paper. Its uncritical stance toward Netanyahu (and his wife) makes it a dull read, and readers will eventually tire of its one-dimensional analyses, but it is still a welcome development in the media world.
For too long, the Yediot empire ruled the local media landscape, something that was neither good for the standards of its journalism or for Israeli society as a whole. Yisrael Hayom is definitely not the most impressive newspaper ever to come off the printing press, but it has shaken up a market that had become too complacent. That in itself is a good thing.
The writer is the former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE REGION: F FOR FAILURE
We must now face an extremely unpleasant truth: Even giving the Obama administration every possible break regarding its Iran policy, it is now clear that the US government isn't going to take strong action on the nuclear weapons issue. Note that I didn't even say "effective" action, I'm saying that it isn't even going to make a good show of trying seriously to do anything.
Some say that the administration has secretly or implicitly accepted the idea that Iran will get nuclear weapons and is now seeking some longer-term containment policy. I doubt that has happened. It is just not even this close to reality.
From its behavior, it still seems to expect, incredibly, that some kind of deal is possible with Teheran despite everything that has happened. Then, too, it may hope that the opposition - unaided by America - will overthrow the Iranian government and thus solve the problem. And it is too fixated on short-term games about seeking consensus among other powers; two of them - China and Russia - are clearly not going to agree to anything serious. This fact was clear many months ago, but the administration still doesn't recognize it.
Not only is the Obama administration failing the test but it is doing so in a way that seems to maximize the loss of US credibility in the region and the world. A lot of this comes from the administration's philosophy of unprecedented concepts of guilt, apology, defeatism and refusal to take leadership never seen before among past liberal Democratic governments from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.
Yet the British, French and Germans are ready to get tough on Iran, yearning for leadership and not getting it.
All of this is watered down in media coverage, focused on day-to-day developments and swallowing many of the administration's excuses plus its endlessly repeated rhetoric that action is on the way. When the history of this absurdly failed effort is written, the story will be a shocking one.
IT WAS totally predictable that the Iranian government would not make a deal. It was totally predictable that Russia and China weren't going to go along with tougher sanctions. It was totally predictable that a failure by the US to take the leadership on the matter and instead depend on consensus would lead to paralysis. And it is totally predictable that a bungled diplomatic effort will produce an even more aggressive Iranian policy along with crisis and violence.
First, the administration set a September deadline for instituting increased sanctions and then, instead of following a two-track strategy of engagement alongside pressure, postponed doing anything while in talks with Iran.
Second, it refused to take advantage of the regime's international unpopularity and growing opposition demonstrations due to the alleged rigged June election for the presidency. On the contrary, it assured the Iranian regime it would not do so.
Third, the administration set a December deadline should engagement fail, then refused to recognize it had failed and did nothing. It is the failure even to try to meet this time limit by implementing some credible action that has crossed the line, triggered the point of no return.
Fourth, the US government kept pretending that it was somehow convincing the Chinese and Russians to participate, while there was never any chance of this happening. Indeed, this was clear from statements repeatedly made by leaders of both countries. Now, this duo has sabotaged the process without any cost inflicted by the US while making clear they will continue doing so.
Fifth, high-ranking US officials still speak of their continued eagerness to engage Iran and mention at least six months more of discussion efforts before anything is done about sanctions.
Sixth, the administration now defines sanctions as overwhelmingly focused on the Revolutionary Guards, who it cannot hurt economically, thus signaling to the Iranian regime that it will do nothing effective to hurt the country's economy. This means that even if and when sanctions are increased, they will be toothless.
All of these steps tell Iran's regime: full speed ahead on building nuclear weapons; repress your opponents brutally and the US will do nothing.
After these six failures, the US is now - in effect - resting. And that is the seventh failure. There are no signs that anything is changing in Washington.
To believe that the administration has learned anything, we would have to see the following: An angry US government which feels that Iran's regime made it look foolish; a calculating administration that believes the American people want it to get tough and gain politically from being seen as decisive; a great power strategy that would make an example of Iran to show what happens to a bunch of repressive dictators who defy the US and spit on its friends and interests; and a diplomatically astute government that understands the uses of threats and pressure to force its opponent into a compromise.
There is not the slightest indication that the Obama administration holds any of these views. On the contrary, without any apparent realization of the absurdity of the situation, high-ranking officials keep repeating in January 2010 as in January 2009 that, some day, the US might do something to put pressure on Iran. Perhaps those in the administration who do understand what's wrong don't have the influence to affect the policy being set in the White House.
This is going to be a case study of how failing to deal with a problem sooner, even if that requires some diplomatic confrontations, will lead to a much bigger and costlier conflict later involving military confrontations.
THE JERUSALEM POST
A MEDICAL MISSION OF PRIDE AND PROMISE
In recent days, the international press covering the relief operations in Haiti has been awash in astonishing reports commending Israel's tremendous work in medical disaster response and setting up a field hospital operation that has other nations looking on in awe. Even as these reports have left us feeling intense pride in our soldiers sent on this remarkable mission, our reaction back home has been one of far less surprise.
From CBS to CNN to MSNBC and numerous other outlets across the media landscape, wide-eyed medical reporters have been witnessing the Israeli operation with an underlying tone of combined admiration and jealousy.
Why is it that of the dozens of countries contributing to the relief effort, with delegations of all shapes and sizes, it's the Israelis who travel halfway around the world and within hours have a fully operational hospital in place? Journalists point with amazement at our mobile imaging machinery and sedated patients on ventilators and ask outright why anyone else can't be doing this.
THE REASON we're not surprised is because we know that we've been training for years for just these types of scenarios. We can also appreciate that Israel sees part of its mandate as a military and medical leader to make sure that expertise and know-how will benefit the international community should the opportunity present itself.
And so, as much as our enemies desire to paint the IDF solely as a hawkish, war-seeking powerhouse, this mission shows just the opposite to be true.
Admittedly, our adeptness in launching these types of operations stems from a history of confronting hostilities and being prepared to address every possible threat. I personally recall from my days as commander of a field hospital in the First Lebanon War that we set up such a field medical facility within hours and that "real-life" training was just one of many invaluable tests that would benefit the IDF Medical Corps in the future.
Over the years, the brave men and women of our army have recalled those lessons on all too many occasions, both here and just as often in ports of call in other parts of the world.
So when the news came across the wires last week that Haiti had been rocked by a devastating earthquake, the question was never if Israel would be there to respond, but only how soon.
Those of us involved in emergency management and disaster response know all too well that Israel has a unique advantage over most, if not all, nations in this discipline. Rarely does a week go by where somewhere in the country a major drill is not held in one of our hospitals in this specific area. Our protocols and emergency departments have become models for hospitals all around the world.
Despite our relatively small size and urban landscapes that pale in comparison to most of the West, our Home Front Command has made it a principal training objective to remain ever-ready for all types of disasters.
EVEN WITH the very limited traditional communication tools that exist between Israel and our rescue teams in Haiti, I have had the chance to be in touch with my colleagues from Shaare Zedek on a couple of occasions since they landed in the earthquake zone. The underlying tone that comes across is one of overwhelming shock at the scope of the disaster they face, yet they admit that they felt as prepared as humanly possible for the medical realities they were confronting.
What has been most challenging without a doubt has been the emotional experiences. Many of those in the field hospital are seasoned veterans of the military and have treated hundreds if not thousands of victims of warfare and terrorism.
However, they report that perhaps more than ever before, in Haiti desperate questions of medical ethics are being asked even before the ones over the best course of treatment. Each patient must be judged based on the chances for his or her survival. The medical process will then only commence if the doctors and nurses believe that this case has better stakes for a positive outcome that the victim that lies immediately next in line.
These are devastating questions for even the most hardened medical professional and ones that are challenging Israel's medical teams countless times each day.
Beyond these stories of disaster and loss, the Israeli experience in Haiti still promises to be one of hope and promise. The world has quickly learned that the "successes" we are achieving there have come because we appreciated the continuous need for this type of training. Even more so, it is recognizing that we have a role in contributing to the greater welfare of the international community.
Perhaps it's unfortunate that it's taken the devastating tragedy in Haiti for the world to understand this invaluable lesson that Israel has an enormous amount of good to contribute, both in good times and bad. Yet, we can also be hopeful and confident that it's one it won't soon forget.
The writer is director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. At present three Shaare Zedek physicians and its head nurse are involved with medical relief efforts in Haiti.
THE JERUSALEM POST
A FORUM FOR ASSAULTING ISRAEL AND AMERICA
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has become a forum for assaulting freedom and the rule of law. It should surprise no one - and distress anyone who cares about democracy - that a criminal complaint has been filed against former US president George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and much of the former US administration.
The complaint was filed by a radical professor from the University of Illinois College of Law, Francis Boyle, whose obsequious appeal to the ICC's prosecutor expresses "doubt... that the accused would have inflicted these criminal practices upon 100 white Judeo-Christian men."
Boyle, who has previously argued that the US should stop illegally occupying Hawaii, that Iran should sue the US to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities and sanctions, and that Israel practices genocide, accuses US officials of extraordinary rendition and torture, among other things.
The US is not a party to the ICC precisely because political considerations would make Americans the likely target of absurd attacks like Boyle's. Ridiculous as it is, however, because the complaint alleges that illegal acts occurred within nations that are parties to the ICC, the court's prosecutor could technically consider launching an investigation and eventually try to assert jurisdiction.
While it is unlikely that the US would ever extradite American officials to The Hague for trial, one never knows with the current administration. And either way, it puts former American officials, who must contemplate, at the very least, whether to hire legal counsel or to provide any sort of response, in a difficult position.
The Obama administration has taken a far more sympathetic view of the ICC and other international bodies that are critical of the US, while opening the door to possible domestic prosecutions for alleged torture. Yet, it would be a huge mistake not to condemn the latest effort to slander America at The Hague - not the least of which is because Obama is likely to face similar charges someday for the same "extraordinary rendition" practices.
Moreover, complaints like Boyle's are an attack on American sovereignty, our Constitution and the legitimacy of our legal system. The executive possesses certain constitutional Article II powers as commander-in-chief to wage war, and no foreign court should pronounce what the limitations of those powers are.
THE ICC craves credibility and legitimacy, which it cannot get without some degree of US support. The current administration should make it crystal clear that if the ICC pursues Bush officials, America will not cooperate with any investigation and it will preclude any possibility of future US cooperation or ratification of the Rome Statute.
Thus far, the administration, however, has refused to do so or to publicly speak out against efforts to use the same tactics against Israel, which has also refused to join the court due to political fears. The same left-wing post-colonialists who blame America for the world's ills, have been urging the court to prosecute Israelis for responding to terrorist attacks with military force in Gaza last year.
The campaign against Israel, embodied by the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report and the UK arrest warrant issued for former foreign minister and current Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, attempts to weaken Israel where political and military efforts have failed. No accusation is too bold for these armchair prosecutors to make or fact too insignificant to ignore in their attempts to isolate and discredit America and its most important ally.
In the end, this lawfare campaign is most likely to discredit bodies like the ICC for political and legal overreach, as well as the individuals attempting to use law as a political sword. At the very least, hopefully, it will awaken freedom-loving persons everywhere who believe in the sovereignty of nations and the inherent right of them to forcibly protect themselves from terrorism. Make no mistake, they are under attack.
The writer is an attorney and author in New York City.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHEN GOOD DEEDS ARE WORSE THAN DOING NOTHING
When sending two jumb-jets of aid, and setting up a field hospital with hundreds of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel is met with scorn, you know something isn't right.
While most of the mainstream American and British news networks reported extensively on Israel's reaction to Haiti's devastating earthquake, unfortunately we were also reminded just how entrenched some of the world's hatred for the Jewish state really is.
While the fact that most of the Arab world donated mere pennies, or nothing at all, has escaped mention, Israel's attempt to save lives has been labeled by many as nothing but a PR exercise. The sad truth is that the the anti-Israel hard left has done such a great job of dehumanizing Israelis, that the idea they could be doing good deeds is totally incomprehensible. It's true - Israel's actions in Haiti are creating good press, but that's what happens when you do good things.
The assertion that Israel should somehow have to apologize for coming across positively is absurd, and grounded in anti-semitism. As Kevin Myers writes for the Belfast Telegraph, "They are perhaps the only people in the world for whom extenuating circumstances are routinely cited in explanation of their charitable deeds".
WHILE IT'S no surprise that the Islamist, anti-semitic Iranian mouth-piece Press TV accuses Israeli doctors of using the Haiti emergency to harvest organs, one should not expect to read the headline "Israel's double standards over Haiti," in Britain's Guardian newspaper, except, of course, in the comparison between Israel's efforts in Haiti and the efforts of any of Israel's neighbours. Unfortunately it comes as no surprise to those regularly inflicted with the Guardian's bias that the piece is, of course, in reference to Israel's treatment of Haitans and those it is at war with.
Israel's commitment to saving lives in disaster zones has nothing to do with Gaza. Israel has shown its amazing commitment to the preservation of life in India, Indonesia, Kenya and many other nations, Gaza war or no Gaza war. There is simply no comparison between the response shown to a people at the mercy of horrific natural events, and a people who have effectively been at war with Israel since its birth.
It's truly astonishing that part of the mainstream British press has found itself unable to differentiate between a helpless Haitian people in desperate need of aid, and the Palestinian people who elected a terrorist organization into power.
While no one in their right mind would deny the widespread suffering of the Gazan people, drawing any moral equivalence between Israel's relationship with them and those trapped under rubble in Haiti is truly perverse. When the attitude toward Israel is so widely based on anti-Semitism and hate, what evidence is there to believe things would change with an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement? For peace to be possible, Israel rightly has to believe that its concessions and sacrifices would be met by more than continued hatred, that peace with the Palestinians is also peace with the world.
As things stand, Israel is the only country in the world - bar none - that has to justify giving aid and saving lives. As long as Israelis (or perhaps simply Jews) are viewed as incapable of doing anything good, in a sentiment propagated by so much of the world media, then Israel will be in no position to make concessions for peace.
No one is asking for the world to kiss Israel's feet for acts which are in line with its own moral code, but when Israel provides more per capita than any other nation in the world and is met with scorn, and the world's worst and wealthiest human rights abusers give nothing and are met with silence, well, something isn't right.
The writer has been a frequent observer of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and is now based in the United Kingdom.
SAVE THE PEACE
The diplomatic stalemate and the provocations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in East Jerusalem harm not only the chance for peace in the future but also past fruits of peace. Fifteen years after the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed, the two countries are now deep in a crisis the government is doing nothing to resolve.
As Barak Ravid reported yesterday in Haaretz, there is almost a complete lack of communication between Netanyahu and King Abdullah II. The situation is no better on the lower echelons: the Jordanians are boycotting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and hold few meetings with senior Israeli officials. Joint economic projects between the two countries are also on hold. Ties, if they exist at all, are only related to sensitive security issues and water.
Jordan is more concerned than ever about increased Israeli pressure on the Palestinians in the West Bank, which could undermine internal stability in the Hashemite Kingdom. King Abdullah is therefore worried about the absence of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israeli activities aimed at increasing the number of Jews living in East Jerusalem - where Jordan was promised special status at Islamic holy sites according to the peace agreement.
The Jordanians do not trust Netanyahu, and hold his conduct during his first term as prime minister against him, when he ordered the assassination of senior Hamas official Khaled Meshal on their soil.
As opposed to Turkey, whose prime minister openly attacked Israel, Jordan prefers to handle the crisis discretely and has made do with diplomatic protests. But quiet on the media front does not mean the seriousness of the situation may be dismissed or ignored.
Israel has always considered strong ties with Jordan as having supreme strategic importance. Sacrificing these ties for the sake of the Netanyahu government's harmful actions in East Jerusalem demonstrates a severe deficiency in the management of foreign and security policy.
The prime minister must realize the diplomatic price Israel is paying for his attempts to placate the right, stop provocations like the "planting of the university center in Ariel" of which he so proudly spoke yesterday, and place rehabilitating relations with Jordan at a higher priority level.
His bureau's comment - that Netanyahu would be happy to meet with the king "whenever the need arises" - shows dangerous indifference in light of the erosion of Israel's status in the region, and gratuitous arrogance toward a country whose friendship is essential.
WHAT WOULD NETANYAHU DO WITHOUT PERES?
BY AKIVA ELDAR
Last spring President Shimon Peres went all the way to the White House to convince the heads of the U.S. administration that "peace is at the top of the agenda" for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps this is what U.S. President Barack Obama meant when he told Time magazine that, had he foreseen earlier the political problems between the two sides he would have been careful not to place expectations so high.
If the "architect of Oslo" testifies that the man who spared no effort to throw the agreement into the trash bin of history "is seeking a historic peace," why should anyone doubt his intentions? Not long ago, Peres managed to convince even the skeptical Egyptians that before Netanyahu says "good morning" to his wife Sara, he asks her: "What should we do today for the sake of historic peace with our neighbors?"
So, really, why is there no peace? The answer depends on whom you ask. According to Obama, both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, are finding it difficult to resume substantive negotiations. In the Time interview, the American president spoke of Hamas breathing down the neck of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and of Netanyahu's problematic coalition. Abbas, as is well known, refuses to include Hamas in his government because of the group's refusal to adopt the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders. On the other hand, the prime minister's government and even his own party include many supporters of the position that the country must not be divided. Moreover, Netanyahu (and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) prefer a coalition with the extreme right wing to a government of national unity that would include a centrist party like Kadima.
According to Peres, only Abbas is to blame. Not Netanyahu in any way. The Palestinians are the ones who "climbed a high horse" on the issue of freezing construction in East Jerusalem. During his visit to Cairo two months ago Peres promised that, immediately after negotiations begin, Netanyahu will not only make do with an absolute freeze on "legal" construction in settlements, but will also evacuate the illegal outposts. This is simply unbelievable! The prime minister is genuinely willing to fulfill Israel's international obligations (the road map), which Israel signed seven years ago? He really deserves a medal from the Peres Center for Peace.
And what will happen in East Jerusalem after negotiations begin (according to Peres' plan, during the first stage there will be no discussion of Jerusalem or the refugees)? Nothing. Is the president willing to promise that when Abbas leaves a meeting with Netanyahu, he will not hear on the radio that a new Jewish neighborhood was just built on the Mount of Olives? If the president can handle controversial political issues, why is he careful to maintain "official silence" on moral issues like tossing out the 1948 refugees from East Jerusalem from their homes in West Jerusalem? Has anyone heard Peres say anything on the arrest of a handful of leftist activists protesting the ridiculing of justice in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah? And has he nothing to say on his new friend Barak's decision to upgrade Ariel College?
Perhaps the president is busy making another attack against Judge Richard Goldstone, ahead of the deliberations scheduled for next week at the United Nations on his report on Operation Cast Lead. What would Netanyahu do without Peres? Why send to the General Assembly the problematic foreign minister he selected, when a Nobel Peace Prize laureate is always willing to put out the flames? Peres moved from Mapai to Rafi, went back to Ma'arach, tried to run for prime minister on behalf of Meretz, was in the Sharon government and moved to Kadima with him. It's totally natural that he'd be willing to serve a Likud government. But last week Peres managed to surprise.
According to a Haaretz report, the president warned Abbas not to "play with fire," as continuing the political stalemate could result in a third intifada. Instead of riding the wave of support from the "people" - on which he prides himself to this day - and courageously facing the Israeli public and warning them against continuing the occupation and the dangers facing Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, the president is passing the responsibility for the failure in the peace process on to the Palestinians and preparing the "public relations" campaign for the next round of violence. Indeed, Peres is one of a kind.
OBAMA CHASING RAINBOWS WITH TWO-STATE SOLUTION
BY MOSHE ARENS
I'll be honest with you, this is just really hard. This is as intractable a problem as you get ... We overestimated our ability to persuade them ... If we had anticipated some of these problems, we might not have raised expectations as high," U.S. President Barack Obama confided to Time magazine last week, regarding his efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East. He is clearly disappointed, but insists he will continue to work on a two-state solution.
It is not just that, during this past year, Obama has learned what old Middle East hands have known all along - that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an intractable problem - but also that intractable problems do not easily get solved, if they are at all soluble, even when the president of the United States weighs in with full force.
It is hard to be optimistic regarding the continuing U.S. efforts in this matter, since the president seems to have his mind set on the two-state solution, "in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty." That aim has been pursued by many ever since the ill-fated Oslo Accords signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat in Washington, D.C. almost 17 years ago. Whereas there might have been some reason to expect at the time that Arafat, who seemed to enjoy the support of most of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as in much of the Arab world, would be able to implement any peace agreement he might eventually sign with Israel - it turned out that he had no intentions of reaching such an agreement, and those who knew the Palestinian leader realized even then that he had no such intentions. It was another case of wishful thinking being applied to attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There were many more to follow over the years. The continuing infatuation with the idea of a two-state solution is at the bottom of most of these naive dreams. The idea seems eminently appealing: In a Solomonic move, western Palestine is to be divided between Israel and the Palestinians, and Jews and Arabs will live peacefully ever after.
However, people who engage in wishful thinking prefer to neglect the difficulties imposed by the lack of symmetry between the State of Israel and the Palestinians in their present condition. Israel is a nation-state, with a democratically elected government empowered to negotiate an international agreement and enforce its provisions. The Palestinians are divided between the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, who have no intention of reaching a peace agreement with Israel, and the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria, where Mahmoud Abbas, the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, does not exercise full control. Abbas, who is vainly being asked by Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, is in no position to implement any such agreement he might sign, and is probably not even in a position to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to Israel. So how can you reach a two-state solution?
And who will tell Obama that in seeking a two-state solution, he is chasing the rainbow? Where is the person who - like the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen's tale who saw the emperor was not wearing any clothes - will tell the U.S. president that the two-state solution, at least for now, is an impossible dream, and that if he continues to pursue this dream he is in for more disappointment? It is not going to be any of his advisers, who urged him to demand a total freeze on building in Judea and Samaria and Eastern Jerusalem - thus making it possible for Abbas to stall on any negotiations with Israel. It is not going to be Obama's friends at J Street. And Netanyahu has evidently decided to play along, rather than confront Obama with alternate ideas.
What might these ideas be? The grain of an idea appeared the other day when Abbas suggested that the United States negotiate with Israel in his place. That, of course, won't lead anywhere. But how about Jordan negotiating in Abbas' stead? That would return some symmetry to the intractable problem, and correct the present asymmetry that continues to haunt the situation.
WANTED: IMMIGRATION POLICY
BY SHLOMO AVINERI
The prime minister should be congratulated on his plan to construct a physical barrier along the border with Egypt. The porous border attracts thousands of people who enter Israel illegally. Though Israel has a deep-seated Jewish and humanitarian obligation to provide refuge for those fleeing the genocide in Darfur, it also has the right, like every other country, to secure and control its borders.
But as usual around here, the decision was made without taking into account the underlying problem: Israel has no immigration policy. As a result, refugee-related issues arise only in times of crisis - and are then dealt with under public pressure which is sometimes subject to manipulation.
That was the case with the planned deportation of the children of foreign workers. Whose heart didn't break, whose Jewish conscience wasn't aroused at the sight of the children - some of whom were born here and have never ever been to another country - whom the authorities were threatening to deport? But for all the emotional baggage, the problem, of course, isn't the children but the parents, who are living in Israel illegally.
In a discussion on the Thai laborers working in the Arava region, the farmers offered good Zionist reasons - "How can we have an agricultural industry in the Arava without these workers?" - and they won. But in this case too, the problem goes beyond the issue at hand.
The High Court of Justice has yet to rule on whether Israeli Arab citizens have the right to marry women from the territories, who would then be allowed to live in Israel and receive Israeli citizenship. Here, too, there are heartrending cases. The existing interim legislation - which is discriminatory and security-minded, in the negative meaning of the word - cannot resolve such a multifaceted problem, which has to balance norms of universal human rights with treating citizens of enemy countries or residents of hostile areas.
Israel's Law of Return is one of its cornerstones as the Jewish nation-state. But when the law was passed in the 1950s, no one thought Israel would be a magnet for non-Jewish immigrants. The legislative reality today is intolerable. Instead of there being a single clear policy, chaos reigns, along with an absence of judicial clarity, insufficient checks and balances, administrative arbitrariness, an infringement of human rights and harm being inflicted on crucial interests of the State of Israel.
Instead of putting out fires all the time, Israel must adopt a basic policy on foreign workers, asylum seekers and those who want to move here to get married. These are problems that every democratic European country is pondering now, due to waves of immigration from the third world. We can learn from their experience, even though our problem is worse - as Israel is the only developed nation in the world all of whose land borders are with third-world countries.
The Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought recently prepared a draft immigration policy for Israel, with a guiding principle that is "tough on the outside, easy on the inside." In other words, migrant laborers would have to meet strict criteria to enter the country for a limited number of years, but as soon as they get in, they would receive all the benefits they deserve and would not have to rely on intermediaries. As for refugees, Israel would pass the necessary legislation to make sure it upholds the UN Refugee Convention, to which it is a signatory.
What is needed now is for the cabinet to agree to discuss this proposal, along with others, and to make brave decisions - without waiting for the next crisis.
THE VERDICT ON MAZUZ
BY ZEEV SEGAL
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is about to end a tenure of six years in his highly influential post. Lacking experience in criminal law, he started off with a hasty and incorrect decision not to indict prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Greek Island affair, rejecting the recommendations of the highly experienced then-state prosecutor and now Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel. His decision jibed with an attitude that seemingly played down the importance of prosecuting public figures on charges of governmental corruption.
Nevertheless, Mazuz later internalized the message conveyed by the Supreme Court, presided over by then-chief justice Aharon Barak, in convicting the former director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Shimon Sheves - thus stressing that the criminal justice system must be used as a weapon in the struggle against corruption in high places.
Deciding whether to prosecute - this is the issue the attorney general addresses that is most in the public eye, and the one that attracts most attention. Mazuz is therefore departing with the reputation of a fighter against public corruption, worthy of the utmost esteem.
Indeed, on the criminal level, the balance tips in his favor, although it is hard to say he did enough to protect the rights of garden-variety interrogated and accused persons. The indictment against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former finance minister Abraham Hirchson, and former labor and welfare minister Shlomo Benizri are nothing to sniff at. Those indictments, reached thanks to the assistance and support of State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, demanded courage and independence from the influence of politicians.
However, the AG's actions in the criminal-law sphere in general have sometimes evoked surprise, and cannot be allowed to go without criticism. For one thing, he was the prime mover in attempts to reach an unusual plea bargain with former president Moshe Katsav. And he was hasty in indicting former justice minister Haim Ramon for his "ministerial kiss," and after the trial Mazuz opposed launching a serious investigation into the roles of the police and the prosecution in concealing from the defense the fact that a wiretap had been carried out.
The picture is still more problematic when it comes to both the nature of the counsel Mazuz gave to the cabinet and government ministries, and the positions the state took in opposing petitions to the High Court of Justice. Three examples of this are when the court canceled the "Intifada law," which denied Palestinians the right to sue for damages caused by the army in non-warlike operations; when only the narrowest majority of six justices to five upheld the legality of an amendment to the Citizenship Law, absolutely barring family reunification in Israel between Palestinians and Israelis ; and when the court annulled the total ban on Palestinian use of Highway No. 443, because it was disproportionately severe in security terms. Another strange position defended by the state involved the private prisons law, which was struck down by the High Court.
Although Mazuz is not responsible for Israel's overall policies in the occupied territories, since drafting policy is not within his purview, one cannot ignore the timidity of his voice in responding to the Goldstone Report, or his support for certain positions enabling disproportionate infringement of basic rights. Nor can he wash his hands of responsibility for the increasingly salient phenomenon of people disobeying various High Court directives.
There's not enough room here to discuss the entire gamut of the AG's functioning as the legal adviser to the government, the head of the prosecution and the state's representative in the courts - which add up to a surfeit of powers that embody a built-in conflict of interests. Mazuz ardently defended this state of affairs, although it imposed a heavy burden upon him and led to unreasonable delays in making decisions and in moving certain matters forward.
On the eve of his departure, he chose to defend public servants from cabinet ministers and directors general, and he complained of the latter's inability to follow an orderly process of decision-making and their tendency to find someone convenient to blame. He himself worked long and hard, but seems to have fallen victim to a lack of experience in criminal cases, to a desire to be involved in too many areas, and to the unreasonable burdens borne by the holder of this important and multifaceted position.
One feels that only if Mazuz issues a detailed report on the counsel he gave as AG will it be possible to make a comprehensive and intelligent assessment of his activities - including those that were concealed from the public's eye more than they should have been.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
IN FROM THE COLD?
Killing Taliban fighters won't be enough. If there is any hope of defeating the insurgency, Afghanistan's government will have to persuade a large number of militants to put down their weapons.
At an international conference in London on Afghanistan this week, President Hamid Karzai is expected to unveil a plan to try to bring low and midlevel Taliban fighters in from the cold. Any plan will need strong financial backing. The cost is expected to be about $1 billion to provide jobs, security and other benefits for the Taliban defectors. Allies that refuse to send more troops to Afghanistan should pledge more cash.
Money alone won't be enough. The government must persuade defectors that they will be protected and given a political voice. The initiative will surely collapse if the first Taliban who lay down their guns are assassinated by former comrades or current neighbors.
The plan will also need a clear set of principles. Rehabilitation should be on offer only to Taliban members mainly foot soldiers who joined up because they needed jobs or were bullied into it. True believers will have to prove that they have renounced not only violence but also the Taliban's brutality and medieval values. The government must make clear that it is not going to cede an inch, especially when it comes to education for women and girls.
We find it worrying that Mr. Karzai and his aides have been talking about reconciling with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and removing his name from the United Nations' terrorist blacklist. (He has shown no interest in reconciliation.) Ruthless leaders like Mullah Omar, who gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda before 9/11, deserve to be brought to justice, not given a free pass or a seat at the table.
Mr. Karzai has made it far too easy for the Taliban. His government's corruption and incompetence have driven thousands of Afghans into the arms of the insurgency. To prevent thousands more from joining, Mr. Karzai's government will have to quickly improve its performance.
Many fighters are unlikely to even think about switching sides until they see the military balance shifting. That is supposed to start happening this spring or summer when the bulk of the 30,000 additional American troops are on the ground. President Karzai, the United States and other partners must have a comprehensive reconciliation plan before then. They also need to be crystal clear about what's on offer and what's not.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RESTARTING FINANCIAL REFORM
In calling for new limits on the size and activities of big banks, President Obama has given the effort to enact serious financial regulatory reform something it lacked: a rational starting point.
The premise of the White House's earlier approach to reform was that behemoth multitasking banks were an immutable fact of life and the best way to cope with them was to ensure that their failures would not endanger the rest of the financial system. As a response to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, "make the world safe for giant banks" was unsatisfactory.
It ignored history, and suggested a devotion to the status quo that made real reform seem unlikely. It also ignored that large and complex banks are a problem long before they fail: an overgrown banking sector diverts resources from more productive uses and, in the process, amasses riches at the expense of everyone else. The entire country can see the evidence of that in stagnating wages, disappearing retirement savings, vanishing home equity and taxpayer-supported bonuses.
Mr. Obama's new proposals begin to correct those problems. They would ban banks with federally insured deposits from making risky bets in the capital markets. And they would prevent the banks from owning, investing or sponsoring hedge funds and private equity funds. Mr. Obama has also called for new caps on the size of banks, to limit the damage that a failure could inflict and to promote healthy competition.
Affected banks would include giants like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank. Goldman Sachs and
Morgan Stanley would also fall under the new rules because they were converted to bank holding companies during the crisis so they could qualify for help from the Federal Reserve. But if regulators allow them to drop their bank charters, they would escape the new rules.
The new proposals have yet to go through Congress, so it is not yet clear exactly how much they would restrict or shrink today's banks. But it is clear that they could separate the casino of Wall Street from the banking system on which everyone relies.
That, in turn, would reassert the principle lost through the bailouts that the government does not support or stand behind Wall Street-style trading. The proposals would also enshrine in law the principle that the nation does not want and will counter outsized banks with huge concentrations of the nation's financial assets. At the very least, a cap on size could stop a dismaying trend of big banks getting ever bigger and more powerful.
Of course, it's not enough to be right on principle. But with core and credible principles reasserted and reflected in law, the other pillars of financial regulatory reform take on a coherence that has been missing.
There are several ways to pursue the bedrock principles of controlling size and risk, including higher capital requirements, the regulation of derivatives and the creation of an independent consumer financial protection agency. It is also imperative to develop a resolution authority that would force shareholders, creditors and the financial industry to bear the cost of failures, while precluding the government from rushing forward with bailouts.
Now that Mr. Obama has set the stage and committed to leading the effort, those and other crucial reforms may yet happen.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
STILL WAITING AT THE T.S.A.
Wanted: a smart, honest, tough-minded administrator to head up the Transportation Security Administration before the country faces another terrorist threat.
Erroll Southers, the White House's nominee for the job, threw in the towel last week, after failing to tell Congress the truth about a worrying incident in his past. He was right to withdraw. But the post has now stood vacant for a year. And the White House and Congress, which are also culpable in the delay, need to agree quickly on a strong leader and get him or her into place.
The administration was at fault for waiting until September to nominate Mr. Southers, a respected, apolitical police and homeland security professional. And Senator Jim DeMint was egregiously at fault in blocking the nominee's progress with a partisan, red-herring warning that the Obama administration was intent on unionizing airport security workers.
Mr. Southers did not help his or the country's cause when he misled a Senate hearing about an incident 20 years ago: he was censured for accessing a police database without authorization to check on his estranged wife's companion. Initially, he testified that he asked a colleague to check. When this was challenged, he confirmed he had twice gone into the database himself.
While the Senate committee members accepted his explanation that this was an inadvertent memory lapse and approved the nomination, other Republicans did not. Administration officials said the discrepancies weren't known until they were reported in The Washington Post in November.
Mr. Southers's story is another costly example of the need for rigorous vetting of nominees and a reminder that people who aspire to public trust must tell the truth to be worthy of that trust. "Rigorous" cannot be an excuse for bureaucratic foot-dragging or self-serving politicking. The country needs a strong T.S.A. chief now.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
As huge corporations merge and get even huger, we find ourselves yearning for some old-fashioned competition, and maybe a little diversity.
Banks have gotten so big that they can unleash havoc and bill us for the pleasure. Big Oil is so big that Royal Dutch Shell is the world's 25th-biggest economy, bigger than Norway. Four -fifths of the chips in the world's PCs come from Intel. In the United States, AT&T and Verizon account for over half of all cellular phone customers. Big companies are likely to become even bigger. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of big mergers reported to American antitrust regulators doubled to 2,201. Though merger activity fell during the financial crisis, it is expected to rebound sharply. There is already another behemoth lumbering toward consumers: Big Food.
The latest news is Kraft's planned purchase of Britain's Cadbury to create a mac-and-cheese-to-candy-bar megalith with combined worldwide sales of nearly $55 billion. It comes on the heels of Heineken's purchase of the beer operations of Mexico's Femsa to create a $25 billion megabrewer. These aren't even the dominant companies in their business. Switzerland's Nestlé is almost twice as large as Kraft. Heineken will now be about the same size as the brewing colossus built in 2008 when Belgium's InBev bought Anheuser-Busch. At the end of 2008, 10 companies accounted for two-thirds of the world's beer sales, up from 40 percent in 2000.
Consolidation is sold by corporate gurus as rich in synergy and efficiencies that eventually trickle down to consumers. But the supposed consumer benefits are often unconvincing. Pennzoil's acquisition of Quaker State led to more expensive motor oil, Procter & Gamble's purchase of Tambrands led to more expensive tampons, and General Mills' purchase of the Chex brands led to more expensive cereal, according to one study. Despite limits imposed by antitrust regulators, the merger between Guinness and Grand Metropolitan to create the food and drink giant Diageo led to substantial increases in the price of Scotch.
Price isn't the only concern. Whether you quaff a Baisha in China, a Diekirch in Luxembourg or a Paceña in Bolivia, you're paying the same company that sold you that Bud. Call us pessimists, but chances are it won't be long before they all taste the same.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BERNANKE CONUNDRUM
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
A Republican won in Massachusetts and suddenly it's not clear whether the Senate will confirm Ben Bernanke for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman. That's not as strange as it sounds: Washington has suddenly noticed public rage over economic policies that bailed out big banks but failed to create jobs. And Mr. Bernanke has become a symbol of those policies.
Where do I stand? I deeply admire Mr. Bernanke, both as an economist and for his response to the financial crisis. (Full disclosure: before going to the Fed he headed Princeton's economics department, and hired me for my current position there.) Yet his critics have a strong case. In the end, I favor his reappointment, but only because rejecting him could make the Fed's policies worse, not better.
How did we get to the point where that's the most I can say?
Mr. Bernanke is a superb research economist. And from the spring of 2008 to the spring of 2009 his academic expertise and his policy role meshed perfectly, as he used aggressive, unorthodox tactics to head off a second Great Depression.
Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. Before the crisis struck, Mr. Bernanke was very much a conventional, mainstream Fed official, sharing fully in the institution's complacency. Worse, after the acute phase of the crisis ended he slipped right back into that mainstream. Once again, the Fed is dangerously complacent and once again, Mr. Bernanke seems to share that complacency.
Consider two issues: financial reform and unemployment.
Back in July, Mr. Bernanke spoke out against a key reform proposal: the creation of a new consumer financial protection agency. He urged Congress to maintain the current situation, in which protection of consumers from unfair financial practices is the Fed's responsibility.
But here's the thing: During the run-up to the crisis, as financial abuses proliferated, the Fed did nothing. In particular, it ignored warnings about subprime lending. So it was striking that in his testimony Mr. Bernanke didn't acknowledge that failure, didn't explain why it happened, and gave no reason to believe that the Fed would behave differently in the future. His message boiled down to "We know what we're doing trust us."
As I said, the Fed has returned to a dangerous complacency.
And then there's unemployment. The economy may not have collapsed, but it's in terrible shape, with job-seekers outnumbering job openings six to one. Nor does Mr. Bernanke expect any quick improvement: last month, while predicting that unemployment will fall, he conceded that the rate of decline will be "slower than we would like." So what does he propose doing to create jobs?
Nothing. Mr. Bernanke has offered no hint that he feels the need to adopt policies that might bring unemployment down faster. Instead, he has responded to suggestions for further Fed action with boilerplate about "the anchoring of inflation expectations." It's harsh but true to say that he's acting as if it's Mission Accomplished now that the big banks have been rescued.
What happened here? My sense is that Mr. Bernanke, like so many people who work closely with the financial sector, has ended up seeing the world through bankers' eyes. The same can be said about Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, and Larry Summers, the Obama administration's top economist. But they're not up before the Senate, while Mr. Bernanke is.
Given that, why not reject Mr. Bernanke? There are other people with the intellectual heft and policy savvy to take on his role: among the possible choices would be my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman, and Janet Yellen, the president of the San Francisco Fed.
But and here comes my defense of a Bernanke reappointment any good alternative for the position would face a bruising fight in the Senate. And choosing a bad alternative would have truly dire consequences for the economy.
Furthermore, policy decisions at the Fed are made by committee vote. And while Mr. Bernanke seems insufficiently concerned about unemployment and too concerned about inflation, many of his colleagues are worse. Replacing him with someone less established, with less ability to sway the internal discussion, could end up strengthening the hands of the inflation hawks and doing even more damage to job creation.
That's not a ringing endorsement, but it's the best I can do.
If Mr. Bernanke is reappointed, he and his colleagues need to realize that what they consider a policy success is actually a policy failure. We have avoided a second Great Depression, but we are facing mass unemployment unemployment that will blight the lives of millions of Americans for years to come. And it's the Fed's responsibility to do all it can to end that blight.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ITALY'S AFRICAN HEROES
BY ROBERTO SAVIANO
WHEN I was a teenager here, kids used to shoot dogs in the head. It was a way of gaining confidence with a gun, of venting your rage on another living creature. Now it seems human beings are used for target practice.
This month, rioting by African immigrants broke out in Rosarno, in southern Italy, after at least one immigrant was shot with an air rifle. The riots were widely portrayed as clashes between immigrants and native Italians, but they were really a revolt against the 'Ndrangheta, the powerful Calabrian mafia. Anyone who seeks to negate or to minimize this motive is not familiar with these places where everything jobs, wages, housing is controlled by criminal organizations.
The episode in Rosarno was the second such uprising against organized crime in Italy in the last few years. The first took place in 2008 in Castel Volturno, a town near Naples, where hit men from the local mob, the Camorra, killed six Africans. The massacre was intended to intimidate, but it set off the immigrants' anger instead.
In Castel Volturno, the immigrants work in construction. In Rosarno, they pick oranges. But in both places the mafias control all economic activity. And the only ones who've had the courage to rebel against them are the Africans.
An immigrant who lands in France or Britain knows he'll have to abide by the law, but he also knows he'll have real and tangible rights. That's not how it is in Italy, where bureaucracy and corruption make it seem as if the only guarantees are prohibitions and mafia rule, under which rights are nonexistent. The mafias let the African immigrants live and work in their territories because they make a profit off them. The mafias exploit them, but also grant them living space in abandoned areas outside of town, and they keep the police from running too many checks or repatriating them.
The immigrants are temporarily willing to accept peanut wages, slave hours and poor living conditions. They've already handed over all they owned, risked all they had, just to get to Italy. But they came to make a better life for themselves and they're not about to let anyone take the possibility of that life away.
There are native Italians who reject mafia rule as well, but they have the means and the freedom to leave places like Rosarno, becoming migrants themselves. The Africans can't. They have to stand up to the clans. They know they have to act collectively, for it's their only way of protecting themselves. Otherwise they end up getting killed, which happens sometimes even to the European immigrant workers.
It's a mistake to view the Rosarno rioters as criminals. The Rosarno riots were not about attacking the law, but about gaining access to the law.
There are African criminals of course, African mafiosi, who do business with the Italian mafias. An increasing amount of the cocaine that arrives here from South America comes via West Africa. African criminal organizations are amassing enormous power, but the poor African workers in Italy are not their men.
The Italian state should condemn the violence of the riots, but if it treats the immigrants as criminals, it will drive them to the mafias. After the Rosarno riots, the government moved more than a thousand immigrants to detention centers, allegedly for their own safety, and destroyed the rudimentary camp where many of them had lived. This is the kind of reaction that will encourage those immigrants to see the African criminal organizations as necessary protection.
For now, the majority resist; they came to Italy to better themselves, not to be mobsters. But if the Africans in Rosarno had been organized at a criminal level, they would have had a way to negotiate with the Calabrian Mafia. They would have been able to obtain better working and living conditions. They wouldn't have had to riot.
Italy is a country that's forgotten how its emigrants were treated in the United States, how the discrimination they suffered was precisely what allowed the Mafia to take root there. It was extremely difficult for many Italian immigrants, who did not feel protected or represented by anyone else, to avoid the clutches of the mob. It's enough to remember Joe Petrosino, the Italian-born New York City police officer who was murdered in 1909 for taking on the Mafia, to recognize the price honest Italians paid.
Immigrants come to Italy to do jobs Italians don't want to do, but they have also begun defending the rights that Italians are too afraid, indifferent or jaded to defend. To those African immigrants I say: don't go don't leave us alone with the mafias.
Roberto Saviano is the author of "Gomorrah: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System." This essay was translated by Virginia Jewiss from the Italian.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
JAGUARS DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
BY ALAN RABINOWITZ
EARLIER this month, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would designate "critical habitat" for the endangered jaguar in the United States and take the first steps toward mandating a jaguar recovery plan. This is a policy reversal and, on the surface, it may appear to be a victory for the conservation community and for jaguars, the largest wild cats in the Western Hemisphere.
But as someone who has studied jaguars for nearly three decades, I can tell you it is nothing less than a slap in the face to good science. What's more, by changing the rules for animal preservation, it stands to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
The debate on what to do about jaguars started in 1997, when, at the urging of many biologists (including me), the Fish and Wildlife Service put the jaguar on the United States endangered species list, because there had been occasional sightings of the cats crossing north over the United States-Mexico border. At the same time, however, the agency ruled that it would not be "prudent" to declare that the jaguar has critical habitat a geographic area containing features the species needs to survive in the United States. Determining an endangered species' critical habitat is a first step toward developing a plan for helping that species recover.
The 1997 decision not to determine critical habitat for the jaguar was the right one, because even though they cross the border from time to time, jaguars don't occupy any territory in our country and that probably means the environment here is no longer ideal for them.
In prehistoric times, these beautiful cats inhabited significant areas of the western United States, but in the past 100 years, there have been few, if any, resident breeding populations here. The last time a female jaguar with a cub was sighted in this country was in the early 1900s. (Jaguars the world's third-largest wild cats, weighing up to 250 pounds, with distinctive black rosettes on their fur are a separate species from the smaller, tawny mountain lions, which still roam large areas of the American West.)
Two well-intentioned conservation advocacy groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to change its ruling. Thus in 2006, the agency reassessed the situation and again determined that no areas in the United States met the definition of critical habitat for the jaguar. Despite occasional sightings, mostly within 40 miles of the Mexican border, there were still no data to indicate jaguars had taken up residence inside the United States.
After this second ruling was made, an Arizona rancher, with support from the state Game and Fish Department, set infrared-camera traps to gather more data, and essentially confirmed the Fish and Wildlife Service's findings. The cameras did capture transient jaguars, including one male jaguar, nicknamed Macho B, who roamed the Arizona borderlands for more than a decade. But Macho B, now dead, might have been the sole resident American jaguar, and his extensive travels indicated he was not having an easy time surviving in this dry, rugged region.
Despite the continued evidence, the two conservation advocacy groups continued to sue the government. Apparently, they want jaguars to repopulate the United States even if jaguars don't want to. Last March, a federal district judge in Arizona ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its 2006 determination on critical habitat.
The facts haven't changed: there is still no area in the United States essential to the conservation of the jaguar. But, having asserted this twice already, the service, now under a new president, has bent to the tiresome litigation. On Jan. 12, Fish and Wildlife officials claimed to have evaluated new scientific information that had become available after the July 2006 ruling. Lo and behold, they determined that it is now prudent to designate critical habitat for the jaguar in the United States.
This means that Fish and Wildlife must now also formulate a recovery plan for the jaguar. And since jaguars have not been able to reestablish themselves naturally over the past century, the government will likely have to go to significant expense to attempt to bring them back especially if the cats have to be reintroduced.
So why not do everything we can, at whatever cost, to bring jaguars back into the United States? To begin with, the American Southwest is, at best, marginal habitat for the animals. More important, there are better ways to help jaguars. South of our border, from Mexico to Argentina, thousands of jaguars live and breed in their true critical habitat. Governments and conservation groups (including the one I head) are already working hard to conserve jaguar populations and connect them to one another through an initiative called the Jaguar Corridor.
The jaguars that now and then cross into the United States most likely come from the northernmost population of jaguars, in Sonora, Mexico. Rather than demand jaguars return to our country, we should help Mexico and other jaguar-range countries conserve the animals' true habitat.
The recent move by the Fish and Wildlife Service means that the sparse federal funds devoted to protecting wild animals will be wasted on efforts that cannot help save jaguars. It also stands to weaken the Endangered Species Act, because if critical habitat is redefined as any place where a species might ever have existed, and where you or I might want it to exist again, then the door is open for many other senseless efforts to bring back long-lost creatures.
The Fish and Wildlife officials whose job it is to protect the country's wild animals need to grow a stronger backbone stick with their original, correct decision and save their money for more useful preservation work. Otherwise, when funds are needed to preserve all those small, ugly, non-charismatic endangered species at the back of the line, there may be no money left.
Alan Rabinowitz, the president and chief executive of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group, is the author of "Jaguar: One Man's Struggle to Establish the World's First Jaguar Preserve."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DEMOCRATS, GET DOWN TO BUSINESS
BY HAROLD FORD JR.
SCOTT BROWN'S victory last week in the Massachusetts Senate race, following the Republican gubernatorial triumphs in New Jersey and Virginia, marked the third time in three months that the Democratic Party has lost the support and trust of independent voters.
The message these voters sent was clear. With one out of five Americans unemployed or underemployed, President Obama and the Democratic Party need to shift attention away from health care and toward a bold effort to create jobs, improve the economy and rein in the size of government.
Here are four simple steps we must take immediately to put us, and the nation, on a better course:
First, cut taxes for businesses big and small and find innovative ways to get Americans back to work. We can start by giving any companies that are less than five years old an exemption from payroll taxes for six months; extending the current capital gains and dividend tax rates through 2012; giving permanent tax credits for businesses that invest in research and development; and reducing the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
America's primary job-creating machine the private sector needs to be rejuvenated. Democrats must lead now on job creation or risk forfeiting Congressional majorities in November.
Second, we should pass a more focused health reform bill that restructures current health care costs before spending more, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, enacts responsible reform on malpractice suits and extends health coverage to all children. And we must allow states to have input into the expansion of health coverage, as they will have to pay for much of the reform themselves.
This program isn't all that Democrats wanted from health care reform right now, but it's what the country wants. And it's what the country can afford.
Third, we should reform our immigration policy to ensure that those who contribute to our economy, especially foreign math and science graduates of American universities, have a clear path to citizenship.
Finally, we need to address budget deficits now rather than waiting for some ideal future economic situation. It's a good sign that the Obama administration is following the advice of Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Evan Bayh of Indiana and other Democratic fiscal pragmatists who embrace the idea of a bipartisan commission to recommend spending cuts to rein in deficit growth. But we must be sure that the administration and Congress heed the commission's advice.
By focusing on job creation and deficit reduction, we can expand our economy and balance the budget. We've done it before: When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he inherited a record fiscal deficit after years of Republicans in the White House. After eight years in office (and 22 million jobs created), President Clinton had balanced the budget and left his successor with a surplus. This can be done again.
To be sure, President Obama has achieved some important successes. His policies prevented the financial system from collapsing, saved America's auto industry from extinction and avoided a depression. But that extreme crisis is over what our country needs now is better, not more, government.
A Democratic Party refocused on revitalizing our economy, protecting the United States from terrorism and re-establishing itself as the party for the middle class is what Americans are demanding. If we do this, victory at the polling booths will take care of itself.
Harold Ford Jr. was a United States representative from Tennessee from 1997 to 2007.
I. THE NEWS
TORTURED AND SLAUGHTERED
The torture and death of a 12-year-old maid in Lahore has caused a stir. Protests have been held and police are reported to have arrested the main accused - a lawyer - and seven others. The president and the Punjab chief minister have both taken note. The child, forced into work by poverty, was brutally exploited by the middleman who hired her and the employers who murdered her. Such trafficking is certainly not unknown. Similar, sordid stories have emerged before. The story of the girl's life - and death - is now known because her father refused to remain silent despite attempts to bribe him. Now that an outcry has been raised, action has been taken against the policemen who neglected to act.
Indifference and apathy of both government and society is one reason why such crimes take place. Statistics show that 70 per cent or more female domestic servants suffer abuse in some form. All domestic servants remain unprotected by labour laws with no regulations in place as to their hours of work, leaves and other rights. The many young girls hired to perform domestic chores and tend to children more privileged than themselves are especially vulnerable. They have nowhere to turn when subjected to violence and abuse. Measures must be put in place to protect this category of workers. We need specific laws and mechanisms that allow domestic workers to set up unions. Those responsible for murder in the latest case must be made to pay for their crime. Many like them have escaped unpunished. It is this failure to bring such people to book that leads to more such brutalities being committed each year and to the untold suffering that continues behind closed doors. Now that the matter has been taken up at the highest levels it is vital to put in place a system that can save other children from ending up dead at places where they are forced to work.
I. THE NEWS
At a time when good news is as rare as feathered rabbits we note with approval that the Punjab University (PU) is considering going into the publishing business with a view to printing affordable books for its students. Books are increasingly expensive, and their purchase often a significant disincentive to poorer or lower middle-class families who seek higher education for their children. The PU vice-chancellor made the suggestion recently at a two-day international seminar held on the eve of the 100th death anniversary of the renowned Urdu prose writer, Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad. The idea is to make available books for students which are affordable but outside the range of their curricular reading, giving them an opportunity to expand their knowledge base and broaden their world-view.
It has been said in recent years that Pakistan has lost the habit of reading. Perhaps what has been lost is the habit of quality reading. Much that is published is poor-quality populist fiction, and it is easy to see why. It sells well and makes a profit whereas serious reading is much harder to turn into a healthy bank balance. Getting affordable good quality fiction and non-fiction to a wider readership will expand their skill-set and knowledge base, widen choice and open eyes and minds. Opening the minds particularly of the younger generation to positive imagery should be a national priority, and if this worthy suggestion bears fruit we will follow its progress with interest. If a success, it may be the foundation for a wider initiative aimed at the population beyond the university; and an opportunity for the academic establishment to repair its somewhat tarnished record. Good books deserve to be read whatever language they are published in, making them affordable, even if only to university students at the moment, is ultimately to the benefit of all of us.
I. THE NEWS
We are a poor nation, with levels of poverty and food insecurity that remain stubbornly high after 62 years with successive governments being unable to contain or reduce them significantly. There are staples in our lives, in every household, but less and less today in the poorer ones. Flour, sugar, oil and eggs are everyday items and increasingly out of the price range of the common man earning less than the national minimum wage. In south Punjab eggs cost Rs10-120 a dozen and in Karachi they cost Rs80-84 a dozen. Ten kilos of flour in Punjab is typically Rs300 (it was Rs450 for 20kg last summer) and between Rs310 and Rs350 for 10kg in Karachi. And then there is sugar. Where it can be bought - and that is by no means everywhere - it will cost between Rs60 and Rs80 a kilo and is predicted to rise to Rs100 a kilo by June. Rather like death and taxes inflation is something none of us can avoid entirely, even in Pakistan. We are now in a deadly spiral of decay linked to the inflation of staple prices that has gained considerable momentum in the last six months.
The reporting of various 'crises' - power, sugar, water, gas for instance - is usually in isolation and rarely takes an overview and considers one crisis in relation to another. Yet these crises are not separate entities, all are linked in some way and the linkage finds its focal point in the lives of the vast majority of the population who do not have the wealth to insulate themselves from their worst effects. Millions upon millions of us are driving deeper into poverty, debt, food insecurity and desperation. There seems to be little attempt to evaluate and monitor the mood of the population, to take the national temperature, and it is thus difficult to be definitive about how close we are to a social tipping point, the point at which rioting becomes revolt; but as winter passes and the heat rises so will the numbers of poor and hungry. Sooner or later those without sugar, fuel to cook with, power to light their homes or the jobs to put the food they cannot afford on their tables are going to decide they have had enough; and 2010 could be the year they decide to do it in.
I. THE NEWS
A SEDULOUS RULING
(LEGAL EYE)PART II
If Asif Zardari has no convictions pending against him the day he qualified as candidate for president, he can sleep much better after the NRO judgment. And if he can nurture the ability to seek the counsel of sensible, forthright individuals, the political temperature can be brought down to sustainable limits and the country will not need to suffer his imprudent public outbursts.
In 1958 the Supreme Court of Pakistan held that if a superstructure is built on a rickety foundation, the entire structure of such rights comes tumbling down in the event that the foundation is found illegal. Most legal minds agree that if Asif Zardari was not qualified to be a candidate for president in the absence of the NRO, he could be found ineligible to have become president and consequently stay president after the court declared the NRO void ab initio. Zardari's team has, however, consistently claimed that there were no convictions against him that were quashed due to the NRO. If this is indeed the factual position, Asif Zardari is home safe as far as the law is concerned. In the NRO ruling the court has dilated on Section 31-A of the NAB Ordinance that prescribes punishment for absconders.
The court has held that a conviction for being an absconder must be reversed separately in appeal, and does not automatically go away even if the conviction for the main charge has been suspended or reversed. During the NRO Case hearings, lawyer A K Dogar had pointed out to the court (on the basis of a news report) that while the main conviction of Zardari in the BMW case had been suspended, his conviction in the same case for being an absconder still stood. The court has now clarified the legal position. Whether or not such elaboration of the law adversely affects Asif Zardari would depend on his individual circumstances. If his lawyers were negligent enough not to appeal his conviction as absconder under Section 31-A of the NAB Ordinance, he could be in trouble.
Other than this, there could only be three judicial mechanisms to push Asif Zardari out of the Presidency and the court has shut such windows through the NRO Case and the PCO Judges Case.
One, Article 62 of the Constitution could be interpreted in such an expansive manner that the candidature of any parliamentarian (and also the president) could be challenged for being dishonest, even in the absence of an order of conviction passed by the tribunal or court adjudicating the charges of corruption. In this regard, the court has reiterated its past interpretation of Article 62 and confirmed that mere allegations of corruption are not sufficient to question the eligibility of a parliamentarian under Article 62.
Two, the court can hold that Article 248 (that affords the president immunity against civil and criminal prosecution when in office) is against the principles of equality and social justice as enunciated by Islam and applicable under Article 2-A. And thereafter, applying the test of repugnancy, strike or water down the immunity afforded to the president under Article 248.
But in the NRO Case addressing the issue of any perceived conflict between Article 2-A and Article 45 (the president's authority to grant pardon), the court held that it doesn't have the power to apply the text of repugnancy and strike down any part of the Constitution for being in conflict with Article 2-A. This has clarified that the Supreme Court is in no mood to dress up the Constitution with creative interpretations that could produce immediate political consequences for Asif Zardari.
And, three, in the NRO Case as well as the PCO Judges Case the apex court has expounded its doctrine of constitutionalism, democracy and limited powers. The court has held that in interpreting and applying the explicit provisions of the Constitution it will bear in mind the objects of our fundamental law to represent the collective aspirations of the people and protecting their interests. But that as a creature of the Constitution it can only exercise such authority as vested in it by this fundamental law and therefore has no power to venture outside the framework of the Constitution even on grounds of saving the interests of the people of Pakistan.
The import of this doctrine of unbending fidelity to the text and spirit of the Constitution is that the present Supreme Court has expressed its inability to "validate" any extra-constitutional or praetorian initiatives. This, together with the fact that the court has not reinterpreted the meaning of Articles 41, 47, 62, 63 and 248 (that determine the qualifications, eligibility, protection against prosecution and mechanism for removal of the president), the claims that the court has issued a person-specific judgment is incomprehensible.
What the court has done in elaborating the conscience and morality of the Constitution is highlight the universal principles of honesty, integrity, equality and justice that are reflective of our cultural values and enshrined in our fundamental law. The fact that upholding such principles impacts disproportionately some individuals who have not abided by such principles in the past does not make the ruling person-specific.
Further, the fact that our history is ridden with ugly precedents and our elites have been able to flout the law and get away with it is a poor argument for continuing to condone illegality. The muffled allegations that the court is acting on behest of the establishment or the army to cut Zardari down to size are partly rooted in our chronic cynicism as a society and zealous adherence to the proverb that "the more things change, the more they stay the same."
The generation that grew up in an independent Pakistan, saw it cut into half and is presently at the country's helm, seems to suffer from an utter lack of faith in its own ability to change. This sense of imminent doom, together with sustained political disempowerment due to repeated military interference in politics, seems to have engendered a now incurable syndrome of psychological disempowerment.
This thinking throws to doubt the very concept of individual autonomy i.e., an individual can actually do what he or she thinks is right without being someone else's underling. Consequently, even when the apex court roots its decisions in the unambiguous principles and provisions of our Constitution, we see such decisions as tools for implementing a conspiratorial scheme against the civilian government.