media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 26, edition 000413, 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
- LIFE BEGINS AT 60
- CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS
- CONGRESS BIGGER THAN DYNASTY - A SURYA PRAKASH
- TRYING TO BE TOO CLEVER BY HALF - PRIYADARSI DUTTA
- AMERICAN DOUBLESPEAK - RAJIV DOGRA
- CLIMATEGATE AND AFTER - GWYNNE DYER
- WHITHER SOCIALISM IN INDIA? - CP BHAMBHRI
- FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, AS ALWAYS - ASHOK PARTHASARATHI
- HELPING THE POOR IS WHAT MATTERS MOST
- WINTER GAMES FIASCO
- FOOLISHLY BRAZEN
- GATES HAVE YET TO BE UNLOCKED - BY KANWAL SIBAL
- PATNA DURBAR - GIRIDHAR JHA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- LET'S TRANSFORM THE COUNTRY IN THE NEXT 20 YEARS
- FAST-TRACK TO JUSTICE
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY INDIA - BALA CHAKRAVARTHY
- THIS IS OUTMODED THINKING
- QUALITY COUNTS, NOT QUANTITY - NARAYANI GANESH
- JUST WANNA HAVE FUN - VIVEK ATRAY
- MARX AND THREE IDIOTS - SANJEEV AGA
- SELL-OFF PICKS UP SPEED
- THE USUAL SUSPECTS
- OFF THE RECORD
- IT JUST DOESN'T ADD UP - RUKMINI BANERJI
- THE NSA'S ROLE HAS BEEN DOWNSIZED - PANKAJ VOHRA
- INNER ALCHEMY - P.P.WANGCHUK
- BY THE BALLOT
- ON THE SAME WATCH
- RULES ARE FOR OTHERS
- THE RECOVERY OF INDIA - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- A REPUBLIC OF CITIES - GAUTAM BHAN
- 'INDIA'S SECURITY PROBLEMS ARE GRAVER THAN AMERICA'S IN RELATION TO JEHADI TERRORISM'
- REPUBLIC OF ENTREPRENEURS
- BASIC COMMITMENTS
- LISTEN TO VOLCKER ON REGULATION - JAYANTH R VARMA
- KOREA CAN BE INDIA'S GATE TO ASIA - RENUKA BISHT
- AUTO, SPEEDING - SAIKAT NEOGI
- STRENGTHENING KYOTO
- RUSSIA ON ROAD TO REFORM
- OBAMA NEEDS A PRO-UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
- OVERHAUL, DON'T SCRAP, DEEMED UNIVERSITY SYSTEM - R. SETHURAMAN
- AID RISKS BEING TWISTED INTO A TOOL OF WAR - MADELEINE BUNTING
- A SMALL CITY ELECTION PUTS PRESSURE ON U.S.-JAPAN TIES - MARTIN FACKLER
- WE, THE PEOPLE
- INCONVENIENT TRUTH
- AT MILESTONE 60 - FALI S NARIMAN
- THE CURRENT POLITICAL LULL IS SIESTA TIME - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
- AD IN BLUNDER LAND
- GRAPPLING WITH TERROR
- UNWANTED, UNCARED FOR
- MODI DOESN'T DESERVE SUPPORT - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- SILENT SENTINEL - BY TEJINDER SINGH SODHI
- INTERNAL SECURITY SCENARIO MAY DETERIORATE - BY GURMEET KANWAL
- THE CLOAK OF DARKNESS - BY YASMIN ALIBHAIBROWN
- DELHI DURBAR
- DAY FOR INTROSPECTION
- OIL SECTOR REFORMS
- VALUE OF THE NEHRU LEGACY - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- CM'S MICROFINANCE SCHEME - NAMITA DEVI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
- SENSEX DEPENDS LESS ON GLOBAL TRENDS
- TACKLE BALLOONING SUBSIDY BILL - THE RATHORE SMILE
- COMPETITION COMMISSION OF INDIA: A GAME CHANGER - ARVIND PANAGARIYA
- ON BEING PATRIOTS WITHOUT BORDERS - MUKUL SHARMA
- REV UP ENERGY PRICE REFORM - JAIDEEP MISHRA
- HCL TO FOCUS ON VOLUMES TO DRIVE MARGINS, SAYS VINEET NAYAR - PRAMUGDHA MAMGAIN & PANKAJ MISHRA
- A YOUTHFUL REPUBLIC, AT 60, LOOKS AHEAD
- A DAY THAT DEFINES INDIA - BY ASHOK MALIK
- 60 YEARS ON, OUR TRYST WITH DESTINY CONTINUES
- A SENSE OF FREEDOM - BY SUNEEL SINHA
- BUILD CYBER BULWARKS - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- POWER OF YOGA - BY YOGI ASHWINI
- BP SAHA
- AFTER THE SPLIT
- AL QAIDA IN BIHAR
- TRAGIC TRUNK CALL
- SINGULAR SNIPPETS - SUNRIT MULLICK
- GREEN REVOLUTION AND BEYOND
- VOTE WINNER
- VOICE OVER
- THE NEXT GROWTH DRIVER - ASHOK V. DESAI
- SHUT OUT FROM THE NATION - MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
- JOURNEY THROUGH THE UNDERWORLD - ANUSUA MUKHERJEE
- THE SIGH OF PHANTOM TRAILS - IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY
- MAGIC CIRCLE - INSIYA POONAWALA
- CHANGING REPUBLIC
- FALSE ALARM?
- ASPECTS OF GOVERNANCE - BY B G VERGHESE
- BEYOND DISCONTENT, THE SPRING OF HOPE - BY P N BENJAMIN
- AN UNSUNG BRAVEHEART - BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
THE JERUSALEM POST
- FROM CRETE WITH HATE
- BORDERLINE VIEWS: OUTDATED SECURITY THINKING - DAVID NEWMAN
- NO HOLDS BARRED: THE FUTURE OF CHABAD - SHMULEY BOTEACH
- WHO WILL BLINK FIRST? - AZAR AZADI
- IT'S NOT JUST ISRAEL: HOW OBAMA UNDERMINES US ALLIES - ABRAHAM KATSMAN
- GIVE THE MAN A BREAK - MICHAEL SUSSMAN
- POPULISM IS NOT A POLICY
- A NUTTY STATE - BY YOEL MARCUS
- SOMETIMES NETANYAHU IS RIGHT - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- IN THE WEST THEY SAY IT'S RAIN - BY AMIRA HASS
- NORTHERN CODE - BY AMIR OREN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- DON'T GIVE UP NOW
- NEW YORK COULD USE THE $700 MILLION
- A LEGAL PUZZLE: CAN A BABY HAVE THREE BIOLOGICAL PARENTS? - BY ADAM COHEN
- OBAMA'S CREDIBILITY GAP - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE POPULIST ADDICTION - BY DAVID BROOKS
- A PAYROLL TAX BREAK FOR JOBS - BY CHARLES E. SCHUMER AND ORRIN G. HATCH
- THE POPULIST ADDICTION - BY DAVID BROOKS
- PRICE OF POWER
- FLYING LOWER
- THE LOGIC GAP
- COULD THE TALIBAN RECONCILE WITH KABUL? - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- FIXING PAKISTAN'S ELECTION COMMISSION - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- CONCERNS OF AJK - MARVI MEMON
- ANALYSING BUDGETARY RISKS - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- FMCT AND STRATEGIC STABILITY - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- LEGALLY OFFENSIVE - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- LAWYERS' STRIKE MAY BE ON FRIDAY INSTEAD OF THURSDAY
- THE MURDER OF SHAZIA
- SCIENTIST AND THE PHILOSOPHER - KHALID SALEEM
- US AND PAKISTAN, STRANGE ALLIES - DR HUMA MIR
- THE REAL PROBLEM IN AFGHANISTAN - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- AMAN KI ASHA, PEACE DRESS REHEARSAL - I A PANSOHTA
- AFTER MASSACHUSETTS MASSACRE - FRANK RICH
- EC GROUND RULES
- 'ATCHOO' SNEEZED OLD BOOK..!
- WORLD ECONOMY 2010
- SOLUTION TO GROWING TRAFFIC IN DHAKA - DR MIR MUHAMMAD HASSAN
- A GREEN WORLD ORDER - CAROLINE BOIN
- GREAT ACHIEVERS WHO HAVE EARNED OUR ADMIRATION
- IMPOSING RULES NOBODY NEEDS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- WE'VE GOLDEN SOIL AND A QUIET DAY OFF
- SRI LANKA AT A CROSSROADS
- CLIMATE SCIENCE MUST STICK TO FACTS
- DON'T TAINT NATIONAL PRIDE WITH PREJUDICE
- ELECTION 2010: SOUND AND FURY
- IN PRAISE OF TETRIS
- OSKAR LAFONTAINE: NOT MUCH LEFT
THE KOREA HERALD
- KOREA-INDIA TIES
- SAT SCAM
- THE HIGH COST OF FINANCIAL DISTRUST - LEE JAE-MIN
- ENGINEERING GLOBAL FINANCIAL STABILITY - ROBERT J. SHILLER
THE JAPAN TIMES
- RELIGIOUS SITES ON PUBLIC LAND
- FAULT LINES IN THE SINO-INDIAN FRONTIER DISPUTE - BY GREGORY CLARK
- GOOGLE WALKOUT WILL EXPAND THE POSSIBILITIES - BY ESTHER DYSON
- COOL HEAD FOR THE HOTTEST ISSUES - BY CHRIS PATTEN
- OUR FRIEND INDIA
- STOP CHURCH BURNING
- PART 1 OF 2: INDONESIA AND THE WORLD 2010 - MARTY M. NATALEGAWA
- REFLECTIONS ON AUSTRALIA DAY - DEWI ANGGRAENI
- PEDOPHILIA AND THE POVERTY OF THE MIND - DYNA ROCHMYANINGSIH
- ROLE OF PEOPLE'S CONGRESS
- FACING POTENTIAL RISKS
- SPELL OUT CRACKDOWN ON PORNOGRAPHIC TEXTS - BY YAN YANG (CHINA DAILY)
- HEALTHCARE REFORM MAY NEED REBALANCING ACT - BY MICHELE GERACI (CHINA DAILY)
- COOPERATE TO MAKE WOMEN ACTORS OF PEACE AND SECURITY - BY CATHERINE ASHTON, ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN AND MARGOT WALLSTROM (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- GLASNOST WITHOUT PERESTROIKA - BY NIKOLAI PETROV
- PUTTING POLITICAL MODERNIZATION IN DEEP FREEZE - BY VLADIMIR RYZHKOV
- RESET IN DANGER OF BEING SET BACK - BY DAVID J. FIRESTEIN
LIFE BEGINS AT 60
LET THE YOUNG LEAD SO INDIA CAN ROAR
Sixty years ago, the founders of our republic were keen to see India survive as a nation and as a democracy with a Constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all, irrespective of faith, gender or creed. They had the vision and foresight to put in place a system that could not be supplanted by dictatorship either benevolent or tyrannical. Twenty-five years after the birth of the Republic of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi tried to subvert the system and supplant democracy with dictatorship; she failed. Indeed, it would be instructive to compare our success with the abysmal failure of many other countries that became independent in the 1940s and 1950s. While we have achieved economic prosperity, political stability and social progress, others have floundered Pakistan best exemplifies this point. Of course, India is not without its share of political, economic and social problems, but no nation is entirely free of them, nor should these be the benchmarks to judge success and failure. If the founders of our republic did a fine job with preparing the roadmap for India's journey into freedom without losing sight of the goal of creating a state which would abide by the noble concepts of liberty, equality, justice and fraternity, those who have managed the affairs of the world's biggest democracy since then, barring a few exceptions, have fulfilled their task with due diligence. The transition from a state-controlled economy to a market-driven economy, the reforms and unleashing of the Indian genius that have placed India in the forefront of the Information Revolution, the admiration (and envy) for the Indian economy which continues to prove sceptics wrong, and the rapid transformation of our people into a forward-looking, forward-moving society have been achieved seamlessly. Sixty years is not a long time in the life of a nation-state, but there is every reason to be proud of the progress we have made in the last six decades. There is no reason to be distracted by Cassandras, of whom there has never been a dearth at home and abroad.
Yet, 60 years is too long a time for the past to decide the course of the future. India's profile has changed radically as has its demography. Today, it's a young India where those under 35 are in a huge majority: It's time we allowed their ideas to blossom so that they can chart the future course of the country as it prepares to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the 21st century. Their aspirations must be addressed; and, the best way of addressing them would be to let them emerge as decision-makers. It has worked well with the national economy, especially in the flourishing private sector. The voice of the young has begun to increasingly matter on social issues and shaping the contours of our society. There is no reason why they cannot be trusted with the national polity. The Prime Minister, it must be said to his credit, has repeatedly urged the young and the talented, the bright and the skilled, to join politics and thus become a part of the decision-making process in our democracy others should take a cue and encourage the inclusion of new faces with fresh ideas, the infusion of new blood. With India completing 60 years as a republic, leadership now belongs to those who can make the 21st century into an Indian century, and not those who have shaped India's destiny in the preceding decades: They must now step back.
CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS
BURQAS AND DEMOCRACY DON'T MIX
The Supreme Court's observation that it is essential for Muslim women to remove their burqas in order to be photographed for electoral roll verification is only logical. That petitioner M Ajmal Khan sought to challenge this essential practice on the ground of 'freedom of religion' is ridiculous to say the least. Mr Khan's contention that it is against the basic tenets of Islam for Muslim women to show their faces to strangers in this case polling officials holds no water. This is especially true if one considers the absurd alternative Muslim women being issued voter identity cards with their veiled photographs. Given what Mr Khan is suggesting, it is easy to brush off the matter and find comfort in the knowledge that the apex court has shot down yet another silly petition. But the issue is bigger than what it seems. Freedom of religion, though a constitutional right, cannot be stretched to a point where it hinders the functioning of democratic processes in the country. In other words, India being a democracy, democratic processes should always have primacy over everything else. There should be no confusion in the minds of the citizens of this country that India is not a theocratic state like Saudi Arabia. In any event, the burqa, the hijab and the niqab have nothing to do with Islam Muslim women who do not cover their body, head or face are not any less religious or faithful than those who are forced to don what is arguably a costume of suppression.
In many Muslim majority countries and those which are declared Islamic states, Muslim women find it perfectly comfortable to not be covered from head to toe whether in public or otherwise. In fact, in the Islamic Republic of Iran a country that is ruled by an all-powerful clergy and is extremely conscious of its Islamic identity women have no problems about being seen in public without a burqa, something that was amply demonstrated during the street protests against the presidential election last year. These women are no less Muslim than their burqa-clad co-religionists. Hence, the argument that Muslim women cannot do without the burqa, even for the purpose of being photographed for an important proof of identity, has no basis whatsoever. It is welcome that many Muslim organisations have come out in support of the Supreme Court's decision. The Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind has said that Muslim women can show their faces to strangers in exceptional circumstances and instances of need, and that the context in which the apex court has made its view known does not clash with the teachings of Islam. Although the Supreme Court does not need validation of its rulings from the Islamic clergy, it is a positive sign that the ulema have not denounced the recent ruling. It would be best if the clergy would take a similar position in future in the interest of India, and in the interest of Muslims.
CONGRESS BIGGER THAN DYNASTY
A SURYA PRAKASH
Speaking at a function to mark the 125th foundation day of the Congress last month, party president Sonia Gandhi said that over the next year, the party "will recall those remarkable men and women without whose sacrifices and contributions, we would not be where we are today; we will also mark those events that have defined contemporary India, events shaped by our leaders that have left an indelible imprint on the nation's social, political and economic history". According to her, the party has been extraordinarily fortunate "to have had men and women of courage, integrity, sagacity and dedication to lead us".
During her speech, Ms Gandhi showered fulsome praise on Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, 'generously' devoted two lines to Lal Bahadur Shastri (lest her partisanship become obvious) but made no mention of PV Narasimha Rao, who was one of our greatest Prime Ministers. Since we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of our republic, all citizens who take pride in India becoming an economic powerhouse in the 21st century will be doing a signal disservice to the real heroes of India if they allow Ms Gandhi's deliberate omission of Rao's name to go unchallenged.
The facts are as follows: Rao became the Prime Minister on June 21, 1991. The country's economy was in a shambles when he entered office. Foreign exchange reserves had plummeted to precarious levels and the rate of inflation was 13 per cent and eventually rose to 17 per cent. The predecessor Government, headed by Chandra Shekhar, had pledged gold to the Bank of England to raise $ 200 million because India was on the verge of defaulting on payments. We had just Rs 2,100 crore in foreign exchange barely enough to pay the import bill for two weeks.
When Rao passed away in 2004, the country's foreign exchange reserves were $ 140 billion (Rs 6 lakh crore). In the last week of December 2009, when Ms Gandhi felt that Rao was not worthy of a mention at the Congress's 125th anniversary, India's forex reserves were close to U.S $ 285 billion (Rs 13 lakh crore !). Apart from this remarkable turnaround on the forex front, the country has achieved spectacular results in terms of per capita income and GDP growth. The media and communication boom that one sees today has its origins in Rao's decision to end the Government's monopoly in these sectors. India is now the second fastest growing economy and every nation in the world is keen to have a slice of the action. In short, Rao was ahead of Mr APJ Abdul Kalam in igniting the minds of Indians.
The second but equally commendable achievement of Rao was the grit and sagacity with which he tackled the problem of militancy in Punjab. The seeds of separatism were sown in Punjab during the tenure of Mrs Indira Gandhi and continued unabated during Rajiv Gandhi's prime ministership. The situation in Punjab appeared to be spiralling out of control when Rajiv Gandhi demitted office in 1989. It needed a cerebral and gutsy Prime Minister like Rao to retrieve ground. But for the firmness displayed by him, Punjab could well have become the first State to secede from India. Yet, Rao is not worthy of a mention by the Congress president.
The Nehru-Gandhis have always been parsimonious in acknowledging the contributions of national leaders other than those who belonged to their family. This is a trait that is obvious from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, when everything was done to suppress the contribution of Sardar Patel, who successfully integrated 564 princely states and gave us a united India, and BR Ambedkar, who presided over the Constitution Committee.
The same trend continued when Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were at the helm. Ms Sonia Gandhi is obviously carrying forward the family tradition. That is why although she says the party will remember leaders who have left "an indelible imprint on the nation's social, political and economic history", she makes no mention of Rao.
Further, although she says that the party has been fortunate "to have had men and women of courage, integrity, sagacity and dedication to lead us", she lacks the grace to acknowledge the contribution of a man who displayed both courage and sagacity at a crucial time.
But, the suppression of Rao's achievements is not the only thing as far as this speech is concerned. The bigger problem is the attempt by her to credit Rao's signal achievements on the economic front to Rajiv Gandhi. There is another family trait, it appears, to appropriate the achievements of others, be they those of Sardar Patel, Ambedkar or Rao. She makes the extraordinary claim that Rajiv Gandhi ushered in the information revolution and that the party's manifesto of 1991 became the basis for economic policies over the next five years, "which imparted new strength and direction to our economy and society", meaning thereby that Rao deserved no credit at all for what he achieved as Prime Minister.
We need to examine this claim. Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister for five years from October 31, 1984. Just a year after he demitted office, India was desperately pledging gold to the Bank of England for a measly $ 200 million and Ms Sonia Gandhi wants us to believe that he ushered in our economic recovery! Yet another claim made by her is that "he brought peace to troubled parts of our country". Nothing can be more fatuous. Rajiv Gandhi defended the pogrom against Sikhs in his infamous speech at the Boat Club in New Delhi in November 1984. During his prime ministership, Punjab militancy was at its height and there were scores of killings and bombings. In those days, it required real courage to venture into a cinema hall or to travel by public transport in Punjab and Delhi. The man who saved Punjab for India and brought back peace to that State was Rao.
Finally, although Ms Gandhi's speech at her party's anniversary is loaded with omissions, it may have its uses. It can enter textbooks dealing with the law of evidence as a classic example of 'suppressio veri, suggestio falsi'!
TRYING TO BE TOO CLEVER BY HALF
It's a pity how one gets trapped trying to be too clever by half. In 'Dons of Drama' (Vivacity, January 25) thespian Girish Karnad makes an irresponsible remark by claiming that Indian classical drama was an anti-Brahmanic movement. He claims that Kalidas, Bhavabhuti and Shudrak although they wrote in Sanskrit belonged to lower castes.
If that is true then the perception that people belonging to lower castes were prevented from learning Sanskrit should go. They apparently not only learnt Sanskrit but also wrote immortal works in the language. However, the name Raja Shudrak itself appears to be intriguing. In the invocation of the play Mricchakatikam (The Toy Cart), he claims himself to be a high-class dwija (twice born), meaning a Brahmin. But after the discovery of Vyasa's Charudattam, the mystery deepened. Mricchakatikam appears to be an improvisation of Charudattam by a latter-day author. Shudrak, thus, is a pseudonym. Charudutta, the protagonist of the play, is an altruistic Brahmin, although trader by profession. A character named Aryak is a herdsman who becomes the king.
Sanskrit dramas were marked by harmony among castes, something secularists like Karnad try to deny. The character of Vidushakas, intelligent comedian, is always that of a Brahmin. The storyline in Sanskrit dramas revolved around upper-caste people much like today's television soaps and were also written by upper-caste people. King Harsha, a Kstriya, wrote three plays, Nagananda, Priyadarsika and Ratnavali. But the presiding deity of drama is Shiv, who himself moves in the company of outcastes, animals and spirits. Sankrit almanacs or panchangs still have auspicious dates for beginning of production/show of a drama.
Predictably, Karnad is reluctant to mention the one thing that destroyed Sanskrit drama: The advent of Islam. The religion forbids writing and acting as Allah is the only author of earthly play. Apart from temples of worship, temples of acting were also destroyed by the Turkish invaders. These included the school of arts in Ajmer founded by Raja Bishal Deb Chauhan and the Sankrit College in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. Mosques were built in their place.
IT WAS AND REMAINS A PRACTICED PART OF THE AMERICAN ROUTINE TO SAY IN INDIA WHAT GOES DOWN WELL WITH THE INDIAN MEDIA. HOWEVER, AS SOON AS AMERICANS ARE ON PAKISTANI SOIL, THEY RECRAFT WHAT THEY SAID IN INDIA. THAT'S PRECISELY WHAT US DEFENCE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES HAS DONE
Alas, we are easy to please. Otherwise we would have known that what they say here isn't how they reassure there. Like the British during the days of the Empire, Americans feel that they now have the international licence to pontificate. By and large the world too falls in line; with the exception of China which has recently taken to hitting them back with equal vehemence.
But turning back to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates' recent visit, just look at the ecstatic response he got from us when he said in New Delhi that "India would find it difficult to show the kind of restraint it did after 26/11 if there was another attack from the Pakistani soil". We failed of course to recognise that it was a practiced part of the American routine to say in India what goes down well with the media here.
However, as soon as they are on the Pakistani soil they nuance that same statement differently. There, they are under intense scrutiny, and not just by the media. According to Dawn, after addressing Pakistan's National Defence University Mr Gates commented that his statement in India had been misunderstood.
And just to make things amply clear to the American visitor, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reportedly told him, "Pakistan is itself facing Mumbai like attacks almost every day and when we cannot protect our own citizens, how can we guarantee that there wouldn't be any more terrorist hits in India."
This of course should not come as a surprise because from the very beginning Pakistan has perfected 'denial' into an art form. And when cornered, as it nearly was after 26/11, it pretends injured innocence. No wonder then that time and again Pakistan has been let off the hook by the international community.
Thus emboldened, Pakistan keeps pursuing its strategy of inflicting a thousand cuts on India. There is little reason to believe that Pakistan will abandon that low-cost, minimum risk but high returns terror enterprise either now or in the foreseeable future.
If Pakistan has been consistent in its approach, so it seems are we. Ours, however, is the uniformity of the timid.
Despite Mr Shashi Tharoor's withering view of aspects of Jawaharlal Nehru's foreign policy, it will be hard to disagree with Nehru's observations on a policy file at the height of tensions in Kashmir in December 1947. After sketching out Pakistan's aggression, he reflected on India's response, "It seems to me that our outlook has been defensive and apologetic, as if we were ashamed of what we were doing and we are not quite sure of how far we should go. I see nothing to apologise for and a defensive way of meeting raiders seems to me completely wrong."
Then, as now, his assessment rings true. Had Nehru been alive today, wouldn't he have written similarly on the policy files of Ministry of External Affairs?
Essentially our response remains the same; tepid, just along the lines of Nehru's lament. Be it the terrorist attack on Parliament when we lined up troops futilely along the border, or the Kargil war when we refrained from crossing the LoC, or 26/11 when for long we kept insisting that it was the work of non-state actors; the essence of our response remains half-hearted and apologetic.
But having written what he wrote in 1947, would Nehru have handled any of these situations differently; a bit more firmly?
Nehru himself provides a clue as to how he may have reacted. In that same note of December 1947 he goes on to add, "Are we to allow Pakistan to continue to train new armies for invasion and allow its territory to be used as a base for these attacks? The obvious course is to strike at these concentrations and lines of communications in Pakistan territory. From a military point of view this would be the most effective step. We have refrained from taking it because of political considerations. We shall have to reconsider this position because a continuation of the present situation is intolerable This involves a risk of war with Pakistan. We wish to avoid war, but it is merely deluding ourselves to imagine that we are avoiding war so long as the present operations are continuing on either side."
This was no moralistic running commentary. It was hard headed realism, yet he held back. The point at issue is not war, but the nature of our response. Why was it that having diagnosed correctly and having made the right prescription, Nehru refrained from taking the action that he had advocated? Doesn't that signal weakness? Isn't this a major reason why deterrence is not seen by others as a part of our armoury?
Call it complacence, fatalism or supine acceptance or whatever else you wish; but one thing is clear. This lack of an effective response on our part has nothing to do with the caste, creed or belief. It is simply a product of the benign Indian soil. Any one of our one billion would probably be equally soft and forgiving. Perhaps, this attitude has more to do with a deeply ingrained desire not to displease the other.
The confidence that we will not strike back, and hurt, is a major reason why India has suffered foreign rulers for over a thousand years. While our response, or lack of it, has remained static others have diversified.
The nature of aggression has changed; terror has been added as an important new dimension to war since that first invasion of Kashmir in 1947. State and non-state actors are coordinating their strategy brazenly; look for instance at the frustrating way Pakistan keeps asking India for more, and yet more evidence, when everything that happened in 26/11 was planned on the Pakistani soil. The nature of targets has changed too. It is no longer simply a case of conquest of territory. Pakistan uses to the full its capacity to befuddle the west, with consequent pressure on India to accommodate and concede.
A manifestation of this tactic is the rumours afloat currently that India will initiate the dialogue. There is also the increasingly frequent talk that autonomy for Kashmir is a matter of time. But others warn grimly that autonomy would be the thin end of the Pakistani wedge. They doubt that Pakistan's gameplan is limited to Kashmir; otherwise the targets of its terror would not have principally included India's economic centres.
That it should be so is natural, because the world over there is growing recognition that India is poised at the edge of economic greatness. But prosperity, and economic heights, cannot be sustained in isolation. To remain truly great, a country must be powerful and should be perceived as so by its enemies. It is a historical fact that financially rich, but militarily weak, nations are tempting targets; just as India was so often in the past.
Therefore, it will be simplistic to presume that goodwill alone will safeguard our prosperity. Or that conceding demands like autonomy will be the end of our troubles with Pakistan. In fact it may mark a new beginning of them; for the simple reason that while India has consistently used democracy as a tool for nation building that has not been the case on the other side.
Pakistan's birth was based on the ideology of exclusion. To complicate matters further its leaders have consistently reared Pakistani people on a diet of envy. Till Pakistan gets over that envy and its hatred of India, we are condemned by our benignity to live by its whims.
-- The writer is a former Ambassador.
CLIMATEGATE AND AFTER
DISBELIEF HAS BEEN TURNED INTO AN IDEOLOGICAL BADGE
Last November we had 'Climategate', in which somebody hacked into the e-mails at the University of East Anglia and discovered that Professor Phil Jones, head of the university's Climate Research Unit, had been trying to exclude scientific papers he regarded as flawed from being considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"I can't see either (paper)...being in the next (IPCC) report," Mr Phil Jones wrote in 2004. "Kevin (one of Jones's colleagues) and I will keep them out somehow even if we have to redefine what peer-review literature is!" Bad Phil! Slap wristies!
Scientists can be rather unworldly, but within their own little world they are highly competitive and capable of considerable nastiness towards their competitors. (Question: Why are scientific politics so nasty? Answer: Because the stakes are so small.) It is not clear whether Mr Phil Jones was being serious or only mock-serious in his e-mail, but he certainly could have been planning to do exactly what he said.
Mr Jones was forced to step down as head of the CRU, the hacker (probably a Russian) walked away counting his money and the blogosphere lit up like a Christmas tree with claims that this incident proved that climate change was a fraud.
Now we have 'Glaciergate', in which it is revealed that a prediction in the last IPCC report that the Himalayan glaciers could all disappear by 2035 was wildly exaggerated, Some of the biggest glaciers in the Himalayas are so massive and so high that it would actually take them 300 years to melt.
It was a grievous error, and the way it got into the IPCC's 2007 report only compounded the offence. It was based on a casual remark by a single Indian scientist, Mr Syed Hasnain, that found its way into a World Wildlife Fund study (which gave it the respectability of appearing in print), and thence into the IPCC's 2007 report.
Very unprofessional, and particularly so on the part of IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who initially dismissed the work of the geologists who challenged the IPCC's assertion about glaciers as "voodoo science." The blogosphere went wild and a recent opinion survey in the United States showed that only 57 per cent of adult Americans accept the scientific evidence for global warming, down from 77 per cent two years ago. Worse yet, only 36 per cent of Americans believe that human activity is the primary cause of the warming.
People who know science and scientists will be disappointed both by the behaviour of Mr Phil Jones and by the glacier incident, but they will not be surprised. This sort of thing happens from time to time, because we are dealing with human beings. But it does not (as the denial brigade insists) discredit the whole enterprise in which they are engaged.
Not all the Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2035, but a lot of the ones at lower altitudes will including some of the ones that keep the great rivers of Asia full in the summertime. That is important, because when they are gone, people start to starve. And we have all met people who are clever in theory but stupid in practice, like Foolish Phil.
The weight of the evidence rests overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that climate change is real and dangerous. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight per cent of scientists active in the relevant fields are convinced of it; all but a couple of the world's 200 Governments have been persuaded of it; public opinion accepts it almost everywhere except in parts of the 'Anglosphere'. The US, and to a lesser extent Australia, Britain and Canada, are the last bastions of denial.
From being the least ideological countries 50 years ago, when much of the rest of the planet was drunk on Marxist theories, these countries have become the most ideological today. Disbelief in climate change has been turned into an ideological badge worn by the Right, and evidence is no longer relevant.
This wouldn't matter much if the countries in question were Bolivia, Belgium and Burma, but one of them is really important. Without the US, we are not going to get a worthwhile global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. It is starting to look like we won't have the US on board.
US President Barack Obama will do what he can, but his chance of getting even a very modest Bill on emissions cuts through the Senate this year has just dwindled to near zero. The American public, worried about its jobs and its healthcare, doesn't want to hear about it and if it does hear, it doesn't believe.
If the US is out of the game, then China is out too. Without the participation of the world's two biggest polluters, jointly accounting for almost half of the human race's CO2 emissions, there's not much point in trying for another Kyoto-style deal, even a much better one. If you have any money lying around, put it on geoengineering techniques for keeping the heat down. We're going to need them.
The writer is a London-based independent journalist.
WHITHER SOCIALISM IN INDIA?
UNITY IS INHERENT IN THE LOGIC OF SOCIALISM WHICH CALLS FOR UNITED MASS STRUGGLE. BUT SUCH A MODERNISING IDEOLOGY HAS BEEN DIVIDED AND FRAGMENTED BY CASTE-BASED POLITICS
Amar Singh, in his reason for resignation from the Samajwadi Party, stated on January 19 that he would "try to be a Samajwadi" and not a "Mulayamwadi". Mr Singh's comment has once again brought into sharp focus the fact that all regional parties, including the SP of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, are feudal outfits under the control of feudal barons. Mr Singh further elaborated this fact of one person controlling his party by publicly stating that the people believed that the SP was a family-controlled affair. Mr Yadav never tires of reiterating that he is a true "disciple" of Ram Manohar Lohia and by implication an inheritor of Lohiaism or Lohia socialism. In fact, he is not alone in asserting so. Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr Sharad Yadav and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan have also associated themselves with socialism.
The question is: Why are these socialists of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar unable to unite and become a formidable political force? Why is Mr Nitish Kumar, another socialist leader, competing against the RJD chief? Why is it that the socialist movement has always been fragmented? Mr Singh's walking out of the SP has once again brought this conundrum to the fore.
The socialist movement in India has a long and chequered past. In the post-independence phase of competitive politics, many socialist leaders contested Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections from multiple platforms. Ram Manohar Lohia tried to find an alternative to Russian Communism and Western capitalism and had suggested the idea of Asian socialism whose backbone was the peasantry. Lohia concretised his theoretical idea in the context of India and the pillars of his thinking were anti-Nehruvianism, pro-peasantry and pro-Hindi. But even when Lohia was alive and active in politics, the socialist movement was highly factionalised.
Lohia could not create a large and politically viable alternative around the ideology of socialism because his 'peasant socialism' was not attractive enough for many people. His socialist party split during his own lifetime. Another socialist, Jayaprakash Narayan, met with the same fate and ended up a completely broken man when his own creation, the Morarji Desai-led Janata Government, could not survive. If the JP movement was a grand struggle against Mrs Indira Gandhi's authoritarian Emergency regime, it must have shattered committed JPites like Raj Narayan that the same Mrs Gandhi came back to power by liquidating JP's creation.
Further, Lohia socialists had always been votaries of the right of backward castes. But when VP Singh in 1990 accepted the Mandal Commission Report on reservations in public services and institutions for backward castes, he created a fertile situation for backward caste parties and leaders to come to power. The complete casteisation of politics in the 1990s created a situation which was quite favourable for these leaders who were adept at playing caste politics.
It is ironical that a forward-looking, modernising ideology like socialism has been appropriated by caste leaders like Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, etc. Unity is inherent in the logic of socialism which calls for united mass struggle. But castes divide and fragment. The Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar or the Jats of Rajasthan or Haryana all have their own separate identity. This is the main reason why socialists have been divided. Thus, votes are exercised in favour of caste and not on the basis of an ideology like socialism which many find hard to grasp.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, AS ALWAYS
EVER SINCE INDEPENDENCE, MOSCOW HAS BEEN A TRUE FRIEND OF NEW DELHI, WRITES ASHOK PARTHASARATHI
The six agreements signed during the Prime Minister's recent visit to Russia are all not just comprehensive, warm and close as usual. But they encompass a nuclear cooperation agreement of unprecedented and unique character as their centre piece of a Russian '123' which puts the 123 with the US to shame!
First, the Russian commitment that, even if we undertake further nuclear weapons tests at any time nuclear cooperation in all respects would continue undisturbed in particular continued supply of nuclear fuel not only for Russian supplied nuclear reactors but for even French supplied and our own indigenous reactors and all nuclear technologies. The latter would include the super hi-tech and extremely tightly held uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction from spent fuel from reactors (reprocessing) technologies which the US has categorically refused.
Furthermore, such fuel and technology supplies would continue even if the cooperation agreement is not continued for any reasons!! Contrast this, with the Hyde Act of the US Congress and US 123 Agreement derived from Hyde. They would not only cease cooperation immediately including all nuclear fuel supplies, (dislocating our entire nuclear power programme) but our returning all supplies of nuclear reactors, spent and unspent nuclear fuels, etc, to the US and stringent and comprehensive sanctions against us.
The differences are monumental and glaring. Moreover, no nuclear cooperation agreements of any kind between any two countries contain such enormously liberal provisions as our Russian deal.
To those like me who have worked with the Soviet Union / Russian Federation, this fundamentally, vastly different treatment of us, right across the board and particularly the highly sensitive nuclear area is no surprise at all. For almost 40 years our relations in hi-technology nuclear, space, defence, intelligence gathering and interpretation have made even the so called US UK special relationship look like a tea party. The first post-independence steel plant at Bhilai was built with Soviet assistance. When Western oil companies said there was no oil in India, Soviet assistance helped us discover and develop the Ankaleshwar oilfields in Gujarat. When the West refused to transfer technology to set up heavy manufacturing plants, the Soviets came in repeatedly.
Perhaps the most significant area has been defence and national security. Starting with the first supplies of MiG-21 planes as far back as 1963 to the Sukhoi-30 MKI, we have been offered the best fighters. Right from 1965, broad-based supplies were made of most military systems to us. These culminated in our realization, jointly with huge teams of Soviet and later Russian submarine designers, engineers and manufacturers, of the Arihant 5000 tonne class ballistic missiles firing nuclear submarine, publicly launched four months ago. Three more Arihants will now be built in a special production facility set up with extensive Russian assistance. The Russians have leased us their frontline nuclear submarine Nerpa.
This impressive broad-based, ever deepening and ever expanding assistance in the area of military hardware is complemented and supplemented by provision of continued intelligence pertaining to both China and Pakistan. Moreover, Russia has given us massive technological and material assistance to build highly-specialised and secret facilities and training our own personnel to ourselves acquire such intelligence.
This brief account would indicate that our entire independent foreign and security policy is fundamentally based on an incalculably invaluable and ever deepening and ever widening debt to the Soviet Union/Russian Federation. The new agreements are a massive indication that the Russian Federation continues to be absolutely central to our very existence as an independent nation state.
The writer is a former Secretary to the Government of India who has served in various scientific departments and as Scientific Adviser to Mrs Indira Gandhi.
HELPING THE POOR IS WHAT MATTERS MOST
INDIA is a federation of states. So, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ms Mayawati is in her rights to set up her own list of below poverty line ( BPL) persons and nearly double the total number of such persons from 1.7 crore, as identified by the National Sample Survey Organisation, to 3 crore. We must be charitable and assume that Ms Mayawati's motives are pure and that the change is aimed at assisting the " real" poor, who are often ignored in aid programmes.
There is nothing inherently wrong in relooking the poverty data. In December, Suresh Tendulkar, headed a committee that came up with dramatic new estimates suggesting that 37.2 per cent people all over India were poor, not 28.3 per cent, the working figure used by the Planning Commission. The facile conclusion was that poverty in India had increased, and that too in the years of high economic growth.
Actually the real reason for the change in the figures arose from the way in which poverty had been measured in the past and so the new estimate cannot be strictly compared with the past ones.
Actually the issue is more about getting help to those who are really poor, not merely counting them. In this, as is well known, the administrative machinery is not merely ineffective, but downright corrupt.
The really poor fall through the cracks anyway.
Ms Mayawati would do signal service if she could ensure that the assistance meant for BPL persons actually reaches them. Second, she would do even better if she decided to speed up her state's economic growth so that people came out of poverty through their own labour, rather than through some politicians' dole.
WINTER GAMES FIASCO
AFTER all those alarming stories about the 2010 Commonwealth Games we now have to hear that the Organising Committee for the South Asian Federation Winter Games to be held in Uttarakhand also needs to do a lot of explaining about the delay in holding the event and the way in which it has utilised public money put up to build the infrastructure. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has indicted the Uttarakhand government for the shoddy way in which it has gone about this work, resulting in repeated postponement of the event involving eight countries of the region.
It isn't just that an event that was supposed to be held in February 2008 has now been rescheduled for December 2010, though this obviously implies a serious loss of face for the country. The CAG has also found that despite Rs 72 crore having been spent on building infrastructure at Dehra Dun and Auli, the two venues for the event, it is far from ready, with several aspects of the work already done failing to meet the standards laid down.
A pointer to the problem can be had from the fact that two foreign consultants were paid in full even before they fulfilled their commitments, though their services were found below par.
There is every reason to suspect misappropriation of public money here. The central government, which bankrolled the projects, must order a time- bound probe to get to the bottom of the matter.
ILLUSIONS of political immunity can sometimes prove counterproductive. This seems to be the case with Union women and child development minister Krishna Tirath whose ministry used the photograph of former Pakistan air force chief Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed on an advertisement to endorse the government campaign against female foeticide.
Instead of apologising for what was obviously an error and closing the issue, she decided to defend her ministry and gave the controversy a fresh push. The minister ought to have taken the cue from the Prime Minister's Office which regretted having Ahmed's photograph in a government advertisement and apologised for it.
But, speaking after the PMO intervened to quickly end the controversy, she decided to brazen it out. A good politician knows when this can be done. Ms Tirath clearly did not and was rightly made to backtrack by her bosses for making a hash of things.
GATES HAVE YET TO BE UNLOCKED
PROMOT BY KANWAL SIBAL
With the hype gone nothing of substance came out of the recent low profile visit of the US Secretary of Defence
LAST week's visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates does not seem to have advanced the India- US defence agenda visibly. The deliverables from the visit haven't surfaced publicly. Three defence related agreements have been under discussion for some time now: the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement(CISMOA), the Logistical Services Agreement (LSA) and the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement(BECA).
But these have remained unclinched even as India has already begun purchasing big ticket US defence items. India has not yet been persuaded of the value of signing these agreements. The US will therefore "do a better job of putting on paper and using concrete examples of the benefits to India of all these agreements", according to Gates.
The issue is not so much one of US convincing India on the material and technological merits of signing these agreements, it is of India convincing itself of the political desirability of doing so at this point in time.
According to Gates these agreements are enablers, in that they will provide to India the highest quality equipment and systems. CISMOA would allow, for instance, the highest US cryptologic information to be provided along with the C-130Js that India has bought. BECA, in the geospatial area, would provide the aircraft India has acquired with the highest technology in terms of navigational capability and targeting.
The point about benefits and protection of technology made by Gates publicly have surely been made in greater detail during several exchanges at various levels between the two sides all these years. It is hardly likely that any new decisive argument remains to be made.
Now that India has already bought advanced transport and maritime aircraft from the US, the implication of Gates's remarks is that India has not obtained the " highest technology" along with them. Assuming, however, that India would not buy such platforms without an acceptable level of technology, the question therefore is whether India would want the " highest technology" if it is accompanied by conditions that are too onerous, or politically problematic.
Earlier, the US side considered the End- Use Monitoring Agreement( EUMA) indispensable for transfers of its arms and technology.
India's acceptance of EUMA earned the government considerable political flak, as it meant, in the eyes of the critics, accepting conditions that impinged on our sovereignty by subjecting us to the oversight that the US enjoys on the use of US arms by its allies.
If India can obtain satisfactory levels of defence equipment and technology under existing conditions, why should it want to accept agreements that seem intended essentially to strengthen operational defence cooperation easier interoperability and easier logistics in the identified areas of joint training exercises, counter- terrorisming it, places terrorism against India in a context larger than Pakistan and the solution to this problem as well. A call to India to cooperate with Pakistan to meet this common threat is also implied.
Such an analysis is quite at variance with India's view of the issue, especially the close links between the Pakistani establishment and the LeT. On the danger of a repeat Mumbai like attack Gates reacted publicly with unexpected realism, admitting that " Indian patience would be limited were there to be further attacks". He did not offer the facile, and for India the annoying, counsel that India should continue to show restraint etc. This intelligent position would help the US in private to continue to dissuade India from retaliating militarily, while sending a subtle message to Pakistan to exert more to prevent such an attack as an Indian reaction would be difficult to stop.
In Afghanistan the US is willing to acknowledge the positive role India is playing in providing development assistance, but it remains sensitive to Pakistan's concerns about our intentions and goals. While extolling India's developmental effort, Gates ruled out any Indian role in training the Afghan military.
Surprisingly, he drew a questionable equation between Indian and Pakistani activity in Afghanistan, mentioning the " real suspicions in both India and Pakistan about what the other is doing in Afghanistan". Calling for " full transparency towards each other in what they are terrorism efforts and maritime security? The logic of the agreements under discussion is a stronger defence partnership for facilitating joint operations as well as US operations in the region through easier access to Indian port facilities.
This might explain why India is dragging its feet on these agreements. It may be wary of being caught in the web of a military relationship with the US that may exceed politically prudent limits. It may want to calibrate the pace of the defence relationship, given the conditions attached to US arms supplies, restrictive US practices with regard to technology transfer and the political risks of interruption of supplies in a conflict situation. US arms supplies to Pakistan that are suitable more for use against India rather than for counter- terrorism purposes remain an irritant, and these concerns were expressed officially shortly before Gates's visit.
The nuances of Gates's pronouncements in Delhi on Pakistan and the issue of terrorism are important.
In his view it is the Al Qaida that is orchestrating attacks in Aghanistan, in Pakistan through the Tehrik- e- Taliban and in India through the LeT. The objective is to " to destabilise not just Afghanistan or Pakistan, but potentially the whole region by provoking a conflict perhaps between India and Pakistan through some provocative act or terrorist act". Success against a single group will not help as they are all linked in a " syndicate of terrorism". Therefore a " high level of cooperation among us all" is needed.
This analysis presents Pakistan as a victim of terrorism, absolves it of any responsibility in promot by doing" suggests that Pakistani paranoia apart, the US itself has concerns about some dimensions of India's role. That with full knowledge of Pakistan's duplicitous role in Afghanistan vis a vis the US itself, its strategic ambitions there, its connivance at the bombings of our Embassy in Kabul itself, the US should put India and Pakistan in the same basket in Afghanistan is objectionable.
Gates stated suo motu at the press conference that he had discussed China with the Indian leaders, though not at length. Views on China's military modernisation programme, its implications, and the intentions behind it were exchanged. In China's context, the security of the Indian Ocean and the global commons, including cyberspace, were discussed in generic terms. That this was said publicly on Indian soil by a US Defence Secretary is significant. At the very least the pretence of China's peaceful rise is being punctured.
Gates's visit turned out to be, surprisingly, relatively low profile, with nothing of real substance emerging.
Whether it signals the maturing of the relationship, in the sense that such visits should become more routine, without expectations of major announcements each time, or it signals a lowering of euphoria about the transformation of India- US ties and the relationship settling down at more realistic levels, has to be assessed.
The media reports that we raised with Gates the issue of continuing US sanctions on Indian defence PSUs and DRDO laboratories contrary to the strategic relations that India and the US are building might support the latter view.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary ( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)
LALU STAKES ALL ON HIS STIR AGAINST PRICE RISE
RASHTRIYA Janata Dal ( RJD) president Lalu Prasad is in for his toughest political battle yet. He has launched a campaign not only against the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar but also against the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA) regime at the Centre on the issue of price rise.
In what is being dubbed as his valiant " comeback bid", Lalu's campaign aims at killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand, he wants to take on the Nitish government with all his might and, on the other, he does not want to spare the Congress, which is trying its best to relocate its moorings away from Lalu's shadow in Bihar, for the first time in more than a decade.
Interestingly, Lalu has chosen price rise as his common plank against both his political opponents.
Holding them equally responsible for the spiralling prices of essential commodities, he apparently thinks that this will help him easily re- connect with the masses because price rise affects everybody. Under the present circumstances, he probably realises that price rise would be a stronger issue to kick off his campaign with than deteriorating law and order, division of the Dalits and the confusion over implementation of the land reforms commission report in the state.
Lalu has gone to the extent of announcing that his agitation would be similar to the one launched by the late Jayaprakash Narayan in the mid- 1970s against the erstwhile Congress regime. To begin with, he has given a call for Bihar bandh on January 28, threatening to throw normal life out of gear across the state.
But he also realises that it may not be an easy task to mobilise mass support for the bandh.
After all, his party was largely inactive in the past five years in Bihar because of Lalu's preoccupation as the railway minister in the previous UPA regime.
Since losing the 2005 Bihar assembly polls, the RJD has not launched any major agitation as such against the Nitish government's policies. That left Nitish with an open field to consolidate his base in the state, riding on his development agenda.
Lalu's new agitation course, undoubtedly, is a litmus test for him. It will help him assess the ground realities ahead of the crucial assembly elections this year. He is, therefore, leaving no stone unturned to make his Bihar bandh call a resounding success. Though Bihar has been reeling under an intense cold wave for nearly a fortnight, Lalu has been touring the different districts drumming up people's support in his " war on the scourge of price rise". Braving icy winds and dense fog, he travels far and wide wielding a megaphone in his customised van to tell people how the governments in the state and at the Centre had deprived the poor of even daal- roti ( basic meal).
Lalu is leading by example, as he sets out to galvanise his supporters into action and fine- tune his party apparatus. He knows it pretty well that an unimpressive show during the Bihar bandh will marginalise him politically and dent the confidence level of his party men. It will, to all intents and purposes, determine whether he still has his grassroots following intact or if his charisma has waned over the years in the state.
His opponents, however, are not impressed. Nitish says that " Big brother ( Lalu)" is eyeing the chief ministerial bungalow once again. " But I will not vacate it so easily," he said. The chief minister has asked the people to remain alert and foil his plans.
It will be interesting to see how the people respond to his appeal for the battle royale for the next assembly polls has already begun in Bihar.
PUJA AS A TIME TO REAP VOTES
THE recent Saraswati Puja provided the politicians of the state an opportunity to relive their student days in Patna. From Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan to Bharatiya Janata Party's local MP Shatrughan Sinha and the Bihar Congress president Anil Sharma, everybody made it a point to pay obeisance to the Goddess of Learning at different college hostels. Lalu visited the hostel of his alma mater, Bihar National College where he had honed his political skills by joining the students' movement led by the late Jayaprakash Narayan while his electoral ally Paswan hopped from one puja pandal to another.
Patna Sahib MP Shatrughan Sinha headed to J D Women's College from the airport before he landed at Patel Chhatravas, not far from his alma mater Science College which he visits every year. While visits to the campus meant a trip down memory lane for some, it helped others to seek the support of the students in the all- important assembly election year.
NITISH KUMAR HEADS A CABINET ON THE MOVE
BIHAR chief minister Nitish Kumar has become an " outdoor man" these days, or so it seems.
Ever since he undertook a tour to the remote villages of the state as part of his statewide " Vikas Yatra" last year, he has gone out of the state capital a number of times to stay overnight in different districts.
He is now going to stay for a few days in Gaya. Only ten days ago, Nitish had spent four nights at Vaishali, the ancient cradle of democracy, as part of his " Pravaas Yatra". This had come close on the heels of Nitish's tour to Rajgir where he had gone to spend the last week of the last year. Nitish had also organised a cabinet meeting atop a hill in Rajgir.
His apparent intention was to bring into focus the importance of the historical town, which even finds a mention in the epic Mahabharat . But this was neither the first nor the last cabinet meeting held by Nitish outside the state secretariat. In February last, Nitish had carted a busload of ministers and bureaucrats to organise a cabinet meeting at Barbighi, a dusty hamlet in Begusarai district.
Another cabinet meeting was held aboard a floating restaurant on the river Ganga on the Makar Sankranti day in Patna.
The opposition has often scoffed at Nitish's propensity for " outdoor adventures" calling them a drain on the state exchequer but Nitish rubbishes such charges, saying the Opposition is not expected to undestand such things.
giridhar. jha@ mailtoday. in
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LET'S TRANSFORM THE COUNTRY IN THE NEXT 20 YEARS
Six decades ago, many wrote our fledgling republic off as a post-colonial upstart with constitutional pretensions. Yet here we are, as committed to democratic, secular and egalitarian principles as in 1950. Down the years, Indians have not only elected their leaders but, when let down, also kicked them out. And, once so food-insecure that it lived ship to mouth, India's now a growth story drawing global whistles. Yet, on a day that equally recalls the unfinished tasks of hard-won freedom, India can't rest on its laurels.
For one thing, we're yet to defeat divisive forces or eradicate socio-economic disparities. For another, megalopolis or rural hinterland, India's news-hungry, cellphone-wielding citizens are more clued in than ever before. Our very successes the telecom revolution, for instance have created an aspirational society marked by an expanding entrepreneurial middle class. Also, the growing ranks of a young, productive population our famed demographic advantage mandates an enabling environment in which they can flower. Such a society is a tough tiger to ride for those wielding power in its name.
If the tiger isn't to run away with us, inclusive growth must keep lifting living standards. But while NREGS-style affirmative action serves social justice, it's no surrogate for equality of opportunity. That's why the coming years must wean away disadvantaged groups from government largesse. That means delivery on a war footing of education, healthcare and economic opportunities. To alleviate poverty and distress, let's think beyond food subsidy and loan waivers. Let's create manufacturing jobs on a mass scale to stem casualisation of work and absorb rural labour. 21st century India can no longer delay labour reform, modernisation of agriculture or the trimming of wasteful subsidies. Equally, it needs better infrastructure roads, power, communications to sustain high growth.
New India needs government as enabler, not patron. Let government get out of running hotels, airlines and coalmines. Let it focus on attracting investment and facilitating business by, say, creating that common market we keep talking of. Let it think of citizens' rights, not group-specific loyalties wrested by political paternalism. To be fair, with RTI or right to education, this policymaking shift is visible. Also, social schemes driven by economic criteria are weakening a caste-based quota regime that's past its sell-by date. Today, Nitish Kumar talks of empowering the poor across the social board. Mayawati backs promotion of English as key to socio-economic uplift. Impressive growth in many laggard states suggests increasing political responsiveness to public demand for good governance and development.
Let's strengthen these currents by getting tougher on corruption and criminalisation of politics that sap the vitality of our democratic institutions from within. Finally, these institutions themselves need to focus on actual delivery of public services. With its track record of democratic practice and growing economic clout, India can play a leading role on the 21st century global stage. For that, it not only can make the next 20 years or so even more transformative than the past 60, it must do so. Let's get cracking today.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FAST-TRACK TO JUSTICE
The recommendation in the 229th Law Commission report, suggesting three additional Supreme Courts be set up in the cities of Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai, needs to be taken up by the law ministry. The number of cases pending in our courts are a staggering three crore. The proposal, which has been seconded by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, would mean the creation of Supreme Court benches which would act as the final courts of appeal in their respective regions. Also recommended is the setting up of a federal or constitutional court in Delhi that would hear cases only on matters of grave constitutional importance.
An inefficient judiciary not only denies the common man access to justice, it also discourages investment in the country. If faith in the judiciary is to be maintained, systems have to be put in place that would help the judiciary run smoothly and efficiently. Given the vastness and diversity of the country, a separate Supreme Court for north, south, west and east would go a long way towards making justice more accessible. A case in Kanyakumari, for example, need not be referred to Delhi for final adjudication.
While the Constitution does have place for the setting up of four Supreme Courts, a federal court in Delhi which would hear only constitutional matters may require an amendment of the Constitution. If that is what it takes to push through judicial reform, there's no harm in such an amendment. It ought to be a bipartisan issue and necessary political will should be mustered for this purpose. As Balakrishnan has pointed out, South Africa has a separate constitutional court with nine judges. In the Indian case, besides constitutional issues, such a court could also deliberate on disputes and crimes of a federal nature, as well as inter-state river water disputes.
The judiciary in India is still regarded as a reputable institution that has admirably defended the rights of citizens against a negligent executive. But people's faith in it has been shaken in recent times, not only due to accusations of graft but also due to lengthy delays in the system. Reforms of this kind would go some way towards clearing enormous backlogs and bringing justice closer to the people.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HAPPY BIRTHDAY INDIA
India is 60 years young today. While it became independent on August 15, 1947, it was not until January 26, 1950 that India had its written Constitution. Sixty is an auspicious age in India. On turning 60, a man or woman would be expected to shift gears and go into a different stage of life. While for humans it is a shift to a lower gear, for the country it has to be a higher gear. That acceleration will only come from innovations that bridge the vast opportunities in India's product market with its vast pool of unemployed and underemployed human resources in its talent market.
Travelling through India, with its 22 official languages and several other dialects, is like traversing through a linguistic and cultural kaleidoscope. India is more diverse than Europe. But while Europe struggles to strengthen its union, the Indian Union or the United States of India (of which there are 28 states and seven Union territories) has stood the test of time. Is it a perfect union? No, far from it. But the fact that it is held together by the goodwill of its peoples, and not by dictatorial forces, is in itself a miracle.
However, for an average Indian this kind of adulation is meaningless. There is grinding poverty as well as caste and communal tensions especially when fanned by politicians. The civic infrastructure is woeful and corruption is rampant. In the shadow of towering apartment buildings housing India's rich and even their automobiles in air-conditioned comfort, the cooks, maids, gardeners, drivers, sweepers and security guards who service these rich subsist in decrepit housing, with intermittent power and water. Unfortunately slum dogs become millionaires only in Hollywood movies!
IMD's World Competitiveness Centre publishes an annual yearbook ranking countries' competitiveness. India has been steadily rising in these rankings, but not as fast as China. Whereas the Chinese growth is helped in large part by well coordinated government actions, Indian growth comes from its businesses. It is hard for coalition governments (the reality of Indian governance over the past two decades), stitched together as they are from differing political ideologies, to make the swift and sweeping changes that are needed.
Despite these shortcomings, the Indian economy has bounced back after the financial crisis and is projected to grow at a rate between 7 and 8 per cent. There are two facilitating conditions that can accelerate this growth: size of the Indian market and the richness of its talent pool. But innovation is the key spark that is needed to leverage both.
The Indian market opportunity can be segmented into tiers. The global product market tier represents customers that are other multinational companies as well as select Indian customers who are willing to pay global prices for products and services, which have been created primarily to serve customers in developed markets. The glocal tier consists of customers who are unwilling to pay global prices but seek products and services that are close to global standards. The local tier represents customers who are happy with less sophisticated and often lower quality products and services but offered at local prices that are considerably cheaper than global prices. The country's growing middle class belongs mostly in the local tier, with some moving up to the glocal tier. The final tier is the so-called Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). This tier represents customers who have been traditionally excluded from the market.
It's possible to identify similar tiers in the case of the talent market. The conventional approach of multinational companies has been to operate at the global tier of the product and talent markets. Some have also transitioned to the glocal tier. But these tiers are not the big opportunities in India. If business stays only with these tiers, India will not alleviate its poverty. What is needed is business innovation that finds creative ways of serving consumers at the bottom of the pyramid using an unskilled and semi-skilled workforce from lower tiers of the talent market.
Indian companies have started offering products and services that appeal to the local and BOP tiers. The innovative Indian company Bharti offers the world's cheapest telecommunication service at just one cent per minute. This service is offered through local retailers and micro entrepreneurs who sell prepaid telephone cards in every nook and corner of India. It is service for the poor by the poor!
For slightly more affluent customers, Tata Motors has launched the Nano, the world's cheapest car priced at $2,500. The company hopes one day to ship the Nano in knocked down units to local garages for the cars to be assembled in these distributed "factories". Here again it will be the local talent tier creating products to serve customers in the local product market tier. India needs more innovations of this kind.
These are healthy signs for the Indian economy. Indeed more such examples are needed. The birthday gift that India craves for is more business innovation.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THIS IS OUTMODED THINKING
Studies cautioning against the rapid changes brought about by evolving technology seem to be popping up every week. This one carried out by researchers at Oxford University makes sweeping assertions that seem to draw on everything from anthropology to sociology to biology. It is built on another study carried out in the 1990s by the same researchers. The theory they came up with then Dunbar's Number claimed that we are limited to social circles of a maximum of 150 people because of the size limitation of the neocortex part of our brains. Establishing a direct connection of this sort to come up with a concrete number strains credulity in the extreme.
This correlation, apparently, was established by studying social groupings in societies ranging from Neolithic villages to modern offices. From there, the new study has taken off to consider if the same limits apply to relationships via social networking sites. And therein lies the rub. As technology evolves, so does society. To judge social relationships by the same models that might have existed decades leave alone millennia ago makes little sense.
Tied to this is another problem with the way online communication in general is perceived. Suspicion lingers that friendships created or sustained via the internet are somehow not genuine. Little wonder that the researchers seem to be trying to prove their Dunbar's Number theory by tracking the traffic on networking sites. Would the strength of a friendship in the 'real' world be judged solely by the number of times two people met or spoke via phone? Yet, for the researchers, this shallow measure seems to be adequate to base their hypothesis on.
A far more plausible theory one based simply on daily experience and something that would be recognised by everyone used to online networking is simply this: the number of friends we have is limited only by the time available and the effort it takes to keep in touch. And evolving communication technology is rapidly affecting both of these.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
QUALITY COUNTS, NOT QUANTITY
There are those who brag about the hundreds of "friends" they've made on social networking sites. In an alarming trend, cyber social networkers even determine their popularity and friendship quotient on the basis of the number of e-friends they notch up for themselves on these sites. It threatens to become a yardstick of social standing, even of self-worth. Looking to widen one's circle of friends in virtual terms only tends to undermine the very meaning of the term `friendship' as it has been understood for ages. It is not for nothing that distinctions are made between strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, friends and family. For none of these categories are interchangeable though one may transform over time from one to another.
Most surfers who put in a request on social networking sites for acceptance as friend to someone they've never known before are perhaps doing so out of sheer boredom or because they have oodles of time to spare and for no good reason. In this context, the study conducted by researchers at Oxford University, that it is near impossible for the average person to have a social circle of more than 150 people, comes as a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, the research and its findings will bring in a much needed sobriety on the part of those who make claims on behalf of social networking sites and their users.
This is not to say that online social networking sites are all a waste of time far from it. They help bring like-minded people together to rally in unison on issues of utmost importance; they are potent tools for marketing ideas as well as raising users' consciousness on topical social issues; even influencing public policy as has happened several times. However, as the study points out, you cannot have thousands of friends online for the simple reason that friendship demands a great deal of time, energy and understanding from both parties. So to claim that you are creating, nurturing and sustaining such relationships on a bigger scale than before due to new technology is just a tall one, no less.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
JUST WANNA HAVE FUN
Whenever my wife and i have to attend a party, there is enough chaos before we leave home for the kids to roll their eyes and for the maid to pull out her hair. Gifts have to be wrapped and clothes have to be ironed and worn, with seconds to go before the designated time of our departure. When we finally get into the car, we're normally quite late and there has been many an argument along the way which has resulted in that much more tension. An even tenser situation results, however, when we have a 'do' at our home and when we have to put up our best performances as please-all hosts. The scene at our humble abode, just minutes before the guests are to arrive, resembles that of a sabzi mandi. One of us is usually busy with the laptop (me), another is shouting at all and sundry while running around the house (my wife), the kids are on tenterhooks and the TV is blaring. The maid and the borrowed 'help' look as if they've had enough and are never going to be part of any party again. Indeed, the pressure is really on!
Opinion is divided about the precise moment when i usually coax myself to leave the computer and join the frenetic clean-up operations on such occasions. Whatever be the truth of the matter, the fact is that there is a frenzied period of activity just before the guests arrive that is akin to the last over of a T20 thriller. Our best efforts to host the perfect party have the tendency to go awry, however, due to a variety of disruptive influences. Sometimes unwanted visitors arrive minutes before the party is scheduled. On other occasions, long telephone calls hold up preparations. One gaffe is to underestimate the quantity of food required. Some guests evidently find our food so delicious that they polish off bowl after bowl of the stuff. The result is that a few diners are left staring at empty pots on the table! Even such errors are pardonable, but not what happened last time. A certain gentleman and his wife turned up for dinner one evening and we kept scratching our heads because they were not on our list. An examination of my cellphone later revealed that i had texted him the invitation instead of the intended person with the same name!
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MARX AND THREE IDIOTS
Chance found me, three years ago, at the end of a brilliant summer day in Leeds, seated at dinner next to a distinguished gentleman, vice-chair of a venerable UK bank. Introductions done, i strove to get a conversation going. Where, i asked my neighbour, had he trained and spent his years in banking. He had not, as it turned out. My dinner-time neighbour had been up at Cambridge studying history, and had variously been the British ambassador to Japan among other countries. The position on the bank board was after a long career in the British Foreign Service. As talk turned to national traits, my neighbour complimented me handsomely on the remarkable felicity of the Indian mind for mathematics in particular, and the quantitative disciplines in general.
Well, i know this is a popular view in our country. So what if it sounds pompous! In the last decade, the view has gained traction across the world. But i have always struggled to square this with what my eyes have seen. I hark back to my childhood chums, my extended family, my schoolmates. All wonderful blokes, no question. Many have gone on to do very worthy things in life. But place a pair of simultaneous equations among them, and you are placing a cat among so many pigeons. Boy Archimedes in India are as endangered a species as indeed in modern Greece. The touted mathematical gift of the Indians on the one hand, my friends and family on the other. It just did not add up. I said so.
Surely you are mistaken, said my neighbour. By now he was all ears. Why, he pursued, his own bank had visibly found Indians excelling in functions demanding numerical fluency. And not just in the English-speaking countries, but in branches across the globe. There is no reason to believe different races could not be differently genetically wired, he argued.
Two glasses of fine wine under my belt, by now i was combining lack of learning with fearless eloquence. I held forth on Naipaul and the influence of ritualistic learning in disciplining the mind. I expounded on the post-colonial experience of a poor nation, the shortage mindset, the frenzied competition for select courses. I reasoned that the survivors did not constitute a representative sample. Give two generations of relative affluence, said i, and they will turn out no different from today's descendants of the race of Isaac Newton.
My friend twitched an eyebrow. It is a very interesting point you make, he said, a very... Marxist viewpoint. I turned quiet. I was chuffed. I masked my elation. No one had called me a Marxist before. Come to think of it, no one had called me anything before! And Marxists are a cerebral bunch, are they not? Perhaps Prakash Karat had a point about the nuclear deal after all, which we all continue to miss.
Last week i was one of the millions who watched 3 Idiots. What explains its runaway success? Is it just cinematic virtuosity? Or did it also catch the pulse of our times? If the economic despair of the 1960s explains the Angry Young Man cult of the 1970s, could not the hope generated by high GDP growth in urban India over the last 15 years account for the 'All is Well' syndrome? What if our nation could sustain and make this growth fairer, and what if we could turn the Indian rope trick to include our rural brothers and sisters. In one generation, we could change the face of India.
My mind went back to that tipsy, balmy summer evening in Leeds. Would our great Indian mind then lose its fabled mathematical gift? But let the non-Marxists among us worry about that.
The writer is a corporate executive.
SELL-OFF PICKS UP SPEED
As the Indian republic turns 60, the United Progressive Alliance government has finally got the mandate to sell off bits and pieces of the business the State has come to own since Independence. UPA II has lost little time in unlocking a significant revenue stream over the next five years to fund its ambitious social security agenda. The 13th Finance Commission has valued public undertakings in India at $300-400 billion, while independent estimates, although less optimistic, reckon their combined worth at around $150 billion. The equity market seems to have an appetite for a pipeline of issues by the 60-odd State-owned companies that make the cut for stake sales and this could help bridge a fiscal deficit nudging 7 per cent of the gross domestic product.
The exchequer is well on its way to generating Rs 30,000 crore this year through minority stake sales in National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, Oil India, National Thermal Power Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation, National Mineral Development Corporation and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam. But the serious money will roll in next year when the big guns Coal India, Bharat Sanchar Nigam and Steel Authority of India are put on the block. Initially, the sell-off proceeds will be re-routed into the Consolidated Fund of India to get the fisc back into shape. The logic being that budgetary support to public enterprises shows up as expenditure in the government's books. Again, as a one-off, increasing the floating stock of the profitable State-owned companies will lower their demands on the Centre for capital expenditure. Steel Authority of India, for instance, is in line for a follow-on issue because it needs to raise its capacity by 60 per cent over the next two years.
Purists might argue the disinvestment being undertaken is faux privatisation the managerial efficiencies built into the latter do not obtain in the former. But public enterprises stand to gain from even minority stake sales. Listing requires quarterly disclosure, a more accountable way of doing business than the annual statements presented by these companies to their single shareholder. The tighter scrutiny of market players, both local and global, imposes a higher discipline in boardrooms and makes political interference a shade less pervasive. Tied to a move to have more floating stock from private as well as State-owned companies, disinvestment dons an impervious market-reform halo. More floating stock makes for deeper capital markets and the government is leading India Inc by example to spread the gains of rapid growth to a wider section of society.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
The who's who of whodunnit is in Jaipur for the literary festival. And Sherlock Holmes revisited is the talk of the town. But, clearly Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith are missing the pertinent point, namely that they are redundant. Now they may be of the old school of detective fiction where, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, we need to seek the culprit here and there. But Osama bin Laden has put paid to that sort of writing. Detectives need no longer look long and hard among clues and stray remarks to find the culprit. Osama says that he, and he alone, is responsible for nearly every crime that we can think of.
Before the Americans spend a vast fortune trying to find out the antecedents of the failed attempt on the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas comes news from Osama that he had masterminded the whole show. This opens up exciting vistas for all the intelligence agencies across the world. They can downsize their staff since all they need is a core force to try and track Osama in his cave, but then again, we are not sure whether he exists or not. Geographically speaking, this should not be such a difficult task. Still, it is a heartening piece of news that every big ticket crime in the world can now be attributed to a cave in Bora Bora. This means that the rest of us can get on with our lives.
The day of the super sleuth has passed, it is now time for the super suspect. And here there are no surprises. We now learn that the Indian embassy received a bomb in the post in Italy. Don't bother to splash out on an expensive investigation. It is just Osama up to his old tricks again.
OFF THE RECORD
ON THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
The 1991 batch of the Indian Foreign Service is waiting in the wings to get their promotions and postings as joint secretaries, but there is a technical hitch. The 1990 batch of IFS are already joint secretaries, but their batchmates in the Indian Administrative Service are yet to get this position. Some inquisitive diplomats, not wanting to take a chance, double-checked with friends at the Department of Personnel and Training, the government's human resources manager. It seems they'll have to wait for at least three more months to climb the slippery pole of bureaucratic hierarchy, for that's when the 1990 batch of IAS officers will get their promotion.
IN BITS AND PIECES
The Amar Singh episode has led to speculation that the Samajwadi Party may now split, with the celebrities in the party threatening to part with Singh. "There will now be a Samajwadi (Y) and a Samajwadi (B),'' quipped a Congress leader; the 'Y', of course, referring to the Yadavs who form Mulayam's main support base and the 'B' to Bollywood icons like Sanjay Dutt, Jaya Bachchan and Jaya Prada Singh's ardent supporters. Singh himself had initiated the name-game when he spoke of henceforth being a "samajwadi" and not a "Mulayamwadi".
LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL
The Special Protection Group sure knows how to keep the schedule of its protectees away from curious scribes. Earlier, one look at the paper covering the sealed lock on the office doors was enough to know about Congress president Sonia Gandhi or general secretary Rahul Gandhi's last visit to the AICC headquarters. But now the rooms are opened for airing at regular intervals and a fresh sheet with a new date is duly pasted on the locks by the SPG. In Rahul's case the SPG has abandoned the practice of sealing the lock so no one knows if and when he comes there. As it is, Rahul prefers interacting with party workers at his Tughlak Lane residence.
NOT COMING A CROPPER
It is unusual for Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to lose his cool. But recently, he couldn't control his temper when a representative of the lobby opposing the introduction of Bt brinjal questioned the integrity of scientists evaluating the crop. Representatives at a consultation in Kolkata alleged scientists evaluating the crop had been bought over by Monsanto, the multi-national company that researches and sells genetically-modified crops. The irony, of course, is that, in the past, Jairam Ramesh too has had concerns about GM food. Word travelled fast within the NGO circuit with the result that consultations in other cities did not witness any unsubstantiated personal attacks on the scientists.
HEARING IS NOT BELIEVING
'Bangaru Judeo Party' is how a senior Congress leader referred to the BJP when his attention was drawn to an audio CD that allegedly contains the recorded voice of HP Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal ordering state vigilance chief D.S. Manhas to tap the phones of Union Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh and his wife Pratibha Singh. "This is yet another episode of the CD series that featured Bangaru Laxman and Dilip Singh Judeo," he said.
IT JUST DOESN'T ADD UP
The sixtieth anniversary of the Indian Republic is a good time to take stock of the progress we have made in equipping future generations to face the challenges that lie ahead. The fifth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) was released in New Delhi on January 15. Over the last five years, more than 100,000 citizens have participated in this unique annual effort. ASER is the largest survey of what children are learning in India. Every year in every rural district, ASER measures who goes to school, who can read and who can do arithmetic. What children are learning is a key outcome of the education system. Currently, for India as a whole, there is no other source of information at the district level that gives us this basic information every year. The five years of ASER experiences and evidence raise some critical issues for the country.
Each year a simple test of reading and arithmetic is used. Children are asked to read letters, words and simple sentences at Standard I level and an easy paragraph at Standard II level. In arithmetic, children are asked to recognise numbers from 1 to 100, do a two-digit subtraction sum with borrowing (Standard II level task) and divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number (Standard III or IV level task in most states). The assessment is kept simple; not because we think that children should not know more but because we need to understand how many children are still below this basic level in different grades.
ASER data from 2005 to 2009 indicates that in many states, children's ability to read simple text or do basic arithmetic operations has remained low for the last five years. When there is change, or where levels are relatively higher, the change is slow and is often not sustained. Currently, almost 48 per cent of children in Standard V cannot read Standard II level text. This means that roughly half of all children reaching the end of the primary stage are at least three years behind where they need to be. This also means that only half the children finishing the primary stage are really literate. The situation is even more dismal in arithmetic.
Lant Pritchett, a Harvard professor, refers to this low equilibrium as the "big stuck"; almost all children are enrolled in school but at least half of all children in school are very 'behind'. This 'falling behind' is not very visible; children are going to school and are automatically promoted, year after year, at least through the primary stage. And there is very little publicly shared, widely discussed comparable regular measurement of children's learning levels in primary school.
ASER is like a thermometer. It only records the temperature. It is for others to diagnose and suggest treatment. But a few thoughts can be shared here. There are at least two main underlying causes. One, 50 per cent of rural school-going children's mothers are not schooled themselves. So, on the one hand, parental hopes and aspirations from education are very high; but on the other, such children cannot get learning support at home. The family is not equipped to figure out that their child is not making adequate academic progress.
Second, teaching in our schools is geared to finishing the syllabus rather than ensuring that children have understood and are keeping pace. There are no in-built mechanisms in school for identifying children who are not learning, which can help them to catch up. This is true of government schools and most private schools as well.
ASER data points to some notable exceptions. In Madhya Pradesh, there was a large and rapid rise in basic learning between 2005 and 2006; similar increases in the basic ability to read and do arithmetic are visible in Chhattisgarh between 2007 and 2008 and in Himachal Pradesh. These states had decided that basic learning is an important goal and aligned their macro goals with their delivery mechanisms to ensure that achievable learning goals were being targeted. Alongside the government, there were large-scale community-based efforts to improve learning as well. These trends show that change is possible even in a short amount of time if all forces are aligned and aiming for the same target.
The Right to Education Bill proposes to have no examinations till Standard VIII. It specifies that teachers must regularly assess the learning level of each child and regularly apprise every parent/guardian about the progress of learning and development of his child/ward studying in the school. It is the responsibility of the 'competent academic authority' to conduct learner evaluation in a continuous and comprehensive manner, so that it tests the child's ability to apply knowledge rather than rote learning.
It is very important in this context to have simple tools that can be used both by teachers and parents to start and engage in a productive dialogue on how to work together to improve the children's learning. For basic learning, the ASER measures, methods and mechanisms which have been used by many thousands of people across the country for the last five years may serve as a useful model.
The new school year will start in a few months' time, for which the Annual Work Plans for elementary education are being formulated right now. Most likely, the Right to Education Bill will be notified and operationalised before then. It is essential for us as citizens, and for the government as well, to concretely think of where we want our children to reach in the next school year and in subsequent years. There is a huge backlog of learning that has to be addressed. At least a million children are several years behind where they need to be. This 'big stuck' has to be urgently dealt with on a national scale, if our children are to have a fighting chance for real universal elementary education.
Rukmini Banerji is Director of ASER Centre/Pratham. The views expressed by the author are personal.
THE NSA'S ROLE HAS BEEN DOWNSIZED
Former National Secrity 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.
If it could happen to Buddha, why not you? Well, I am not saying that, though I would have loved to! This is the title of a book, with a subtitle, Understanding the Ancient Secrets of Self-awareness.
Written by Vasant Joshi, an Osho expert, the book showcases the ways to get into one's innerself, and asks one to ask, 'Who I am', and 'Why I am here'. Joshi says the 'insights' that he got during his 'spiritual walk' have worked for him, and he hopes he could help his readers by sharing his 'insights'.
One must realise that unless one is aware of the purpose of life, and tries to achieve consciousness, it is a wasted life. It is a golden opportunity lost forever.
The route to consciousness can be simple or complex, depending on the individual's bent of mind. It becomes simple if one understands the futility of giving 'I' the kind of importance it does not deserve. 'I' is the barrier that one has to tackle, and it is best done by what Joshi calls 'inner alchemy'.
This process of inner alchemy involves transcending the mind, and changing one's psychological barriers. This transformation involves the awareness and recognition of three things: 'I am the problem,' the reality of life, and 'I am consciousness.'
One's problems do not come from outside, they are one's own creation mostly unconsciously or unwillingly. The external factors only aggravate one's problems. So, try to learn the first lesson in life: Don't blame others for your problems.
Secondly, the reality of life is such that one's expectations do not or may not necessarily match with those outside. In such cases, one has to understand and accept the reality. Otherwise, you would land yourself into a difficult realm of frustration and misery. Thirdly, recognising consciousness and not the mind is of paramount importance.
One must be aware that body and mind have attributes but consciousness has none. It is, as Joshi says, invisible like energy. And, in Osho's words, consciousness is only 'is-ness.'
BY THE BALLOT
When Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to return to the people for a fresh mandate on January 26, almost two years before the end of a six-year term, the result was expected to be a mere formality. Having ended the civil war after vanquishing the LTTE insurgency and bringing the entire country under Colombo's direct rule, the making of his image as a war hero, and thereby sturdy nationalist, was seen to be complete. Subsequently, when Sarath Fonseka, the country's army chief who saw out the final phase of the anti-LTTE operation, stepped down from his post and then announced his candidature for the presidential election, his presence was seen to be a curiosity that would add spice to an otherwise one-horse race. The voters will decide, but no matter how the result goes, the presidential campaign has certainly reconfigured Sri Lanka's politics.
The presidential election comes at a time when Sri Lanka is still working out the paces of its rehabilitation and reconstruction after the wounding last days of the military effort. To secure the peace the island nation needs inclusive political and administrative mechanisms. Given that both Rajapaksa and Fonseka are seen to be fighting for the nationalist space at a time when nationalist sentiment is exceptionally high could have meant the sidelining of minority issues. But the coalition that has coalesced around Fonseka has, inadvertently, accommodated diverse views from hardline Sinhalese parties to the Tamil National Alliance, in the past perceived to be pro-LTTE. To this coalition, that includes the main opposition party (Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNP) has come last-minute support from Chandrika Kumaratunga, indication of a whittling down of Rajapaksa's influence in the ruling SLFP.
How long this coalition of the willing, as it were, lasts is anybody's guess, based as it is in part on Fonseka's promise to reduce presidential powers. But no matter who wins, Sri Lanka is headed for a crucial phase in its political remapping.
ON THE SAME WATCH
The number of time zones a country must have is not merely a question of how many longitudes its expanse covers. It is as much a political matter as it is of industry and commerce. In other words, a question of proportion: the optimum balance between productivity (and growth) and ease of governance. So when filmmaker Jahnu Barua calls for a separate time zone for Northeast India voicing a demand raised periodically since the mid-'90s does he have a case?
From the eastern borders where the sun first rises on Indian soil to the Rann of Kutch where it last sets, is a distance of about 2000 km and 28 longitudes, and a time difference of about 2 hours. Everyday domestic activities get delayed in the Northeast, as also industrial and commercial ones though the "tea garden time" does offer some respite. By the time one gets to work, several hours of daylight are already lost, while offices and institutions remain open several hours after sunset, wasting energy. For a country that doesn't practise DST (Daylight Saving Time), the loss is voluminous; and the Northeast, according to Barua (a former ISRO scientist), has lost almost 26 years of productivity since independence by following IST. The 2004 report of the ministry of science and technology did not recommend change, opining that the gains did not match the "practical problems" and "confusion". But the debate was reopened in 2007, with regard to power conservation in the Northeast.
Big states like the US or Canada are synonymous with multi-time zones. While Russia, long proud of its 11 Babel-lite time zones, has actually been considering a reduction given problems of governance and commerce. Gigantic China's single time zone may be a conspicuous political choice, but there's little reason why two zones cannot work for India, whereby the Northeast, as well as the eastern states, will use a meridian east of 82.5° E. As for "confusion", we will have to
invest in enlightening citizens, institutions and other nations.
Historically, British India adopted a central meridian only on January 1, 1906, but Kolkata and Mumbai retained their time zones for a while longer even after 1947. Modern India, too, has been no stranger to temporal multiplicity.
RULES ARE FOR OTHERS
The HRD ministry's decision to review and quality-check the recent rash of deemed universities has landed 44 institutions in trouble. And as it happens, at least 11 were shooed in by the University Grants Commission, which completely disregarded the counsel of local experts in the states where these institutions were based.
When an institution is deemed to be a university, it enjoys near complete operational and financial autonomy. The UGC, which recommends them to the Centre, is responsible for keeping up educational standards. And that is where the UGC has transparently failed, as the new review committee has revealed, and undercut its own mandate. While only 29 institutions made the cut in the decades between 1956 and 1990, a staggering 36 were deemed to be universities in the last five years, empowered to set their own curriculum and terms of admission, fees, etc. There is a good reason for this sudden eruption of deemed universities encouraging educational entrepreneurship and quality, and credentialing them is important, given the patent need to expand higher education. In fact, many stellar institutions, from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani to Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, have taken this route. But there is a bad reason, as is evident in the list of those cleared by the last HRD ministry no-name colleges that added a couple of courses and aspired to university status. Many state governments deemed institutions unfit to be universities because they failed to measure up in research and teaching standards. But according to the latest audit scrutiny report of the UGC, at least four more institutions did not meet eligibility requirements, but the UGC rammed them through anyway, despite the explicit objections of expert panels in various states. These institutions fell short in several ways, like not maintaining a minimum corpus, or not having been around for the minimum 10 years.
What has this shown us? That education is too important to be left to our current education regulators, whether it is the All India Council for Technical Education, the Medical Council of India or the UGC.
India's higher learning institutes have to be pried away from the grip of flabby, inept and often outright corrupt regulators which enjoy great discretionary power with minimal accountability. Replacing this regime with a transparent super-regulator, and making sure that money and influence cannot twist our educational system to its own ends, is the obvious course of action.
THE RECOVERY OF INDIA
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
Constitutions not only allocate authority, define the limits of power or enunciate values. They also constitute our sense of history and shape a sense of self. They often mark a new beginning and define future horizons. Despite the centrality of the Constitution to our social and political life, it has been ill served by our historical imagination. In a very mundane sense, with a handful of exceptions, there is no serious or deep historiography associated with our Constitution, one that can put it in proper historical and philosophical perspective.
But this is in part because the promulgation of India's Constitution was made possible by a sensibility that few contemporary historians can recover. The simplest way of characterising this lack is that while the Constitution was an extraordinary work of synthesis, our historical imagination is given to divisiveness. There is no more striking example of this than the way in which members of the Constituent Assembly have been divided up and appropriated rather than seen in relation to each other. Ambedkar, Patel, Nehru, Prasad and a host of others are now icons in partisan ideological battles, as if to describe Ambedkar as a Dalit, or Patel as proto-BJP, or Nehru as a Congressman exhausts all that needs to be said about them. The greatness of each one of them consists not just in the distinctive points of view they brought
together, but their extraordinary ability to work together despite so many differences. The Congress itself facilitated the entry of so many people with an anti-Congress past into key roles in the assembly. It takes a wilful historical amnesia to forget the fact that the men and women of the assembly worked with an extraordinary consciousness that they needed and, in some senses, completed each other. We have taken this sensibility too much for granted. Just look at Nepal to see what happens when this is absent in constitutional deliberations.
But this ability to work with difference was also complemented by another quality that is rarer still: the ability to acknowledge true value. Part of this was facilitated by the sheer intellectualism of so many of the members. Their collective philosophical depth, historical knowledge, legal and forensic acumen and sheer command over language is enviable. It ensured that the grounds of discussion remained intellectual. But what was also remarkable was their ability to acknowledge greatness in others. It was this quality that allowed Nehru and Patel, despite deep differences in outlook and temperament, to acknowledge each other. Their greatest act of statesmanship was to not let their differences produce a debilitating polarisation, one that could have wrecked India. They could combine both loyalty and frankness. Even as partial a biographer of Nehru's as S. Gopal conceded that what prevented the rupture was their "mutual regard and Patel's stoic decency". But its foundation was a powerful sense that you did not have to agree with someone to acknowledge their greatness. Nothing has marred historiography more than its penchant for simple-minded litmus tests that condemns or appropriates individuals at the altar of slogans.
The third sensibility so many leaders of the Constituent Assembly carried was a creative form of self-doubt. They were all far more self-conscious that they were taking decisions under conditions of great uncertainty. Was it that easy to know what the consequences of a particular position were going to be? And to an extent they understood their mutual vulnerabilities. Nehru's answer to Patel's worry that Nehru was losing confidence in him was that he was losing confidence in himself. And anyone who has read the tortured last pages of The Discovery of India will understand how much Nehru meant it. Much of the cheap condescension of posterity heaped upon these figures would vanish if we could show as much self-awareness and a sense of vulnerability that our founding generation did. Many of them made mistakes of judgment. But you have more confidence that they were more likely to acknowledge that, than most of those who comment upon them.
Even a cursory reading of the '50s will give you a vivid sense of men and women struggling to make sense of their own responsibilities. And despite the fact that we had inherited a state from the British, so much of what we were undertaking was experimental. It is, for instance, fair to worry that the courts in the '50s were conservative. On the other hand what did it mean for a court in a parliamentary system to carve its own authority, without being impotent on the one hand, or overreaching on the other? How do these complex negotiations take place? Our retrospective judgments have more than likely impeded our ability to understand the true depth of many of these dilemmas.
The fourth sensibility which we have lost sight of is the importance of form. We are all instinctive Marxists in the sense that we think of institutions, forms, laws as so many contrivances to consolidate power. To a certain extent this is the case. But this was a generation with a deep sense that forms and institutions are not merely instrumental to an immediate goal, they are the enabling framework that allows a society the possibilities of self-renewal. Forms also allow trust to be built; they give a signal that power, even when it seeks to do good, is not being exercised in a way that is arbitrary. This is why they took the assembly and its deliberations seriously.
The fifth feature of their sensibility is a sense of judgment. This is a very intangible political quality. Part of this is the ability to deliberate in a way that takes on board all the relevant considerations, and does not make politics hostage to a single mission. Part of this is ability to judge one's own power and place in relation to others and the public at large. This gives a better sense of when to compromise and when to press a point, when to curb one's ego and when to project power.
The Constitution was made possible by a sensibility that was liberal at its core. Not liberal in the eviscerated ideological sense, but in the deeper virtues from which it sprang: an ability to combine individuality with mutual regard, intellectualism with a democratic sensibility, conviction with a sense of fallibility, ambition with a commitment to institutions, and hopes for a future with due regard for the past and present. Much as we have internalised the benefits of the Constitution we risk losing sight of the dispositions needed to sustain it.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
A REPUBLIC OF CITIES
Independent India was built, imagined and judged by its villages; by gram swaraj. The nation was rarely, if ever, imagined by its founders to be led (Chandigarh aside) by its cities. Cities were spaces of the other of colonial empires and cantonments, of a modernity that had come first in the garb of colonialism separate from the "inner" nation, which, authentic and unsullied, lived on in the villages. As Nehru once famously said: "we want to urbanise India's villages; not take away the people from villages to towns."
This ambiguity over the city and the reductive stereotypes it inhabits has had a long innings; and yet has begun to change. The urban has begun to rise not just demographically but politically, electorally, socially, culturally and economically to become the defining problem space of the "new India".
What Mumbai's taxi drivers remind us of, however, is that this emergence is a deeply contested and fraught one.
This is only the latest contest in a series that will continue as
India urbanises. A long-held myth holds that urban conflicts are economic and technical
ones over resources and infrastructures while rural conflicts centre more on identity and community politics. The corresponding myth is that urban challenges require better technical planning and governance, not political or cultural interventions. It is time to put these myths to rest.
As resident welfare associations lead public interest litigations against the poor for being "dirty" and "criminal"; as Mumbai's taxi drivers must learn Marathi; as the Sri Rama Sene polices southern Karnataka's streets to ensure cultural purity; as anti-migrant, anti-Bangladeshi and anti-poor campaigns dot our urban landscapes; as malls are allowed to encroach on protected forest areas and protected forest areas are allowed to encroach on the homes of the poor; as imaginations of the world-class city transform built environments and budget lines, it is time to realise that politics has come to the city.
How should we think of this urban politics? There is an old frame long applied to the nation that offers itself for a much needed urban reclamation: citizenship. Cities were the original sites of citizenship long before the nation-state. In its essence, citizenship implies a sense of belonging and membership to a community. It is an identity to be constructed and exercised, not simply to be passively possessed. Constructing citizenship in the city means asking difficult questions of inclusion, exclusion, equality and belonging the very same ones we asked for the nation through the Constitution. It is these questions that we must now ask instead of looking to new and different versions of planning. There is no Master Plan, no matter how technically competent, that can fix a city without a sense of itself because there can never be a solely technical answer to a political question.
Our cities today lack a shared imagination of what and who can belong to them, what our urban vision is. They are often just a collection of fragments pitched against each other and our debates are thus, in turn, fragments. We do not speak of housing, but instead RWAs file legal petitions against settlements. We don't think about ways to integrate different kinds of land use and different uses of the built environment, we simply "seal" those who innovate and try and work and live out of the same space. We don't think of sustainable use of our urban environment, we create museum-like parks and find culprits and communities we simply declare "dirty". We do not speak of the need for different classes of public and private transport, but make an effort like the BRT become about cars versus buses, as if the riders of each do not live in the same city. We are unable to speak of the city with each other, so we speak simply to our fellow city residents through and within the courtroom.
We must instead think of an urban citizenship one where presence in the city, work and contribution to the city, a claim to city identity based on a sense of belonging are extended to all who are here and all those who come. No city in history worth remembering has ever prospered by closing its doors and denying itself to those who seek it. An urban citizenship is not an equality of assets or resources equality is never that simple. It is about the right to have one's own story in the city. The right to migrate to the city. The right to aspire, innovate and grow within the city and the right to be infrastructurally, culturally, economically and politically supported towards this aspiration. Urban citizenship is given to all those that are determined to be here. It is a
testament to presence, not a test of it. We must, 60 years into the Republic, remember to earn our citizenship once again, this time in a new urban battleground.
The writer works on urban policy
'INDIA'S SECURITY PROBLEMS ARE GRAVER THAN AMERICA'S IN RELATION TO JEHADI TERRORISM'
Steve, from the time you were in India, 1989 on, there was trouble in Afghanistan. We travelled for some of those stories together. Those look like such innocent times now.
They do. It was an accident of professional assignment to be travelling in that first jehad and understand how complicated it was and what the structures were that were feeding this pattern of radicalisation during that war, particularly in Pakistan. And because US policy was so heavily involved in the first jehad, in the anti-Soviet jehad, and I was out there for The Washington Post, my colleagues thought I was a little obsessed with subjects like ISI, and how the pipeline worked and what the political choices were. A whole generation of journalists that grew up in that time understood after 9/11 the sort of deep structures that had created that.
So we all became terror junkies or intrigue junkies or ISI junkies.
ISI junkies, yeah. But for many journalists who travelled there, Afghanistan itself sort of gets under your skin. It's a place apart. I have travelled just about everywhere and there is really no place quite like it. Its independence, the way geography has sort of encapsulated the culture, the fact that it is a fairly young modern state but also a very old culture. There is something about it, in war time too, that shaped the experiences of at least my generation of foreign correspondents. Lot of colleagues lost their lives, you saw a lot of suffering among Afghan civilians...this was a country that had been broken by outsiders but it was also very powerful.
Also, it is a very strange country where every tribe is like a sovereign republic.
But the other thing that happened during that timeespecially the period in the early 90s, after the Soviet left but before the Mujahideen triumphed in 1992was that under President Najibullah, there was a state, however weak, however limited, in Kabul. There was a state that was shared by Afghans of all sorts of tribes and language groups and ethnic traditions. And so, the idea that there really was an Afghanistan worth fighting for did somehow survive. After 9/11, it was common in the United States to see Afghanistan as an ungovernable space dominated by tribes that would submit to no one. And I think a lot of journalists, who had been around in that period when we were there, recognised that while tribal identity is important in Afghanistan, there is also a state.
And there is an Afghan nationalism.
Very powerful. Why is Afghanistan resilient under the pressure that it has faced and despite policy failures? It is because Afghans themselves are still trying to reclaim their own state.
Is that understood in Washington?
I think, partially. The one thing that has happened in the US since 9/11 is that in the military, there are a lot of Americans who have now spent a lot of time on the ground in Afghanistan. They have now started to understand the place at the level of depth that was not available inside the system before 9/11. But, there is still an argument in Washington about what we were discussing, which is, is
there really an Afghanistan that is worth investing in?
We started by saying we are a generation of ISI-obsessed reporters. No city in the world is more obsessed with the ISI than New Delhi.
The ISI is a state within the state in Pakistan. It is a deep structure that has affected Pakistani history and constrained the space in which Pakistani elites make very important decisions about their own national security doctrine. (But) the more you scrutinise ISI, the more you realise that like the Pakistani state itself, it is constrained by its own blind spots. It has internal diversity, there are arguments, there is corruption, there are multiple motivations going on at the same time. So, it is not as powerful as I think it sometimes gets represented as being, but its place today in a very important debate in Pakistanabout what kind of country Pakistan wants to be and what kind of defence and national security doctrine it wants to pursueis still as powerful today as it was in the 80s.
On which side of that debate do you think the ISI belongs to now?
My impression from recent travel in Pakistanthat is over the last five-six yearsis that since the Red Mosque incident (the July 2007 siege of Lal Masjid in Islamabad) and the emergence of domestic insurgency in Pakistan, ISI, like the Army, has no one view. There is an argument about where Pakistan's interests lie exactly, with which group. What should we do with these groups tomorrow? What are the costs and benefits of pursuing the use of jehadi groups as an instrument of regional policy? Should we pursue it with some groups and not the other groups? And you see this playing out in the actions they are taking. So they will go after the Tehreek-e-Taliban, because those groups have explicitly made war against the ISI and the Pakistani states. But they are undecided, I would say, about the other groups, like Lashkar.
I have been writing that the Pakistanis, and the ISI in particular, are now indulging in a game of double nuancing. So they have got three sets of groups. They have got the Pakistani Taliban, who they will fight because they threaten the Pakistani state and the Pakistani Army. There is the Afghan Taliban, who they will help the Americans fight a little bit but it does not suit them to have the Americans winning it. And then there is the Lashkar and the Jaish, who are still seen as a tactical and strategic asset or a force multiplier against India. Do you think that is still reasonable?
That's still reasonable. I think that I would add a couple of layers to that observation. One is that if you look at ISI's own history, it is obvious that a pattern of failure is that they cannot control or categorise these groups as successfully as they would like to. And I think they become aware of the limits of their own "client management skills". So, they have lost control of the lines of categories in this movement and they are aware of that because people they used to trust have walked into their cantonments and detonated themselves and taken the lives of their colleagues.
So, the ISI is getting caught or getting lost in the fog of the war it has created.
It is certainly true in reference to the western groupsto relationship between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, remnants of the al Qaeda group, group from Punjab that have migrated up to the border and now fused themselves with Tehreek-e-Taliban. That's a mess. Unfortunately, they have not made a fundamental break with the idea of using these groups against India.
I am sorry to use the Clausewitzian concept of 'fog of war' because a war that ISI is fighting is not a war that strategic theorist Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz would have imagined.
Yeah, there was a suicide attack in Muzaffarabad the other day, first time in years. It shows that the old structure is in turmoil and the ISI is not in control in the command booth the way it used to be. I am hopeful, though not optimistic, that there is a debate going on among Pakistani elites about where their self-interest lies as individuals, where their corporate-interest lies as an Army, as an institution and where the national interest lies.
That is the question. What will drive them?
Well, I think if you look around the world, there is no conflict like this one. There is no state like India and Pakistan.
There is no state like Afghanistan. God never made one.
But there are lots of examples of very large countries that were debilitated by conflict, by internal conflict and by Frankenstein's monsters that they created themselves that found their way out of that box through economic integration. So, I think the only answer that will create these motivationsindividual self-interest; corporate self-interest, that is the Army's self-interest in access to enough GDP growth to be able to modernise, and national self-interest, the sense of how Pakistan can possibly survive and succeeddepends on normalisation within there. That is where Pakistan's national self-interests lie. The trouble is that the institutional arrangements in Pakistan have collapsed.
The only functioning institution is the Army.
and it has got its hands full. The experience of Pakistan that is felt by the Army today is not only dominated by the very active insurgency that is targetting themassassination attempts against brigadiers, suicide bombers penetrating cantonment perimetersbut they are also politically under siege. After Musharraf's collapse, you meet young officers and they would talk very openly about the hostility that they met on the street in that period. The Army was discredited. Now, they have started rebuilding their position but they are back-footed in significant ways.
But do you see a change? What happens when they look at India? Is there envy, is there admiration or is there still insecurity and hatred?
Let's talk about the Pakistani elites more broadly than the Army. So, let's include the globalised political parties and the rising middle class, media culture and let's think about Karachi and Lahore, not just the core command. In that Pakistan, there is a profound understanding of where India is and where it is going. And a combination of envy, desire to be a part of that sub-continental transformation... So I think something important is changing in the broader mindset of the Pakistani elites and Pakistan. But the Army, as a corporate institution, still feels that it is engaged in internal competition, and still wonders about its place, if it accepts a different narrative about India.
And what could India do to help? Because that is really what we want. We don't want a military victory over Pakistan.
Of course, it is in India's interest to have Pakistan succeed in this way. So I think that all the evidence of the history of the Indo-Pakistan conflict and comparable conflicts elsewhere is that progress comes not government-to-government but business-to-business, people-to-people, travel, opening up of borders, forcing this sense of debate into the Pakistani system by enabling it through cross-border interactions. It is very difficult, as Musharraf and Manmohan Singh discovered, to do this top-down, as a big, grand bargain between two relatively isolated cabinets. It is hard to do it that way.
Interesting that you say this because that is why the decision of the IPL franchises of not buying Pakistani cricketers is such a shocker and
People's expectations have changed on both the sides. People in both the countries want to live in societies where it is possible for Pakistani cricketers to play in the IPL and not be bothered about visas and travel and the rest of it.
Give us a sense of how different Obama's understanding of the terror problem is. Is there a feeling that he is not quite sure he wants to go all guns blazing because that was what Bush was doing? Is he being seen as soft?
I don't think that is his political problem. His problem in the US is very specific, which is, that the Independents that sent him to the White House expected two things. That he would concentrate on their economic insecurity and that he would change the way of Washington, attack the culture of corruption, attack the role of money in politics. And he has done many of the things he said he would do. He said he would responsibly draw down on Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan, he said he would deliver health care reforms, that he would deliver new energy policy. He has done all the things he said he would do, except that he has not been able to fix the job picture very rapidly. It may not be in the power of any President to do so.
But is he seen as soft on terrorism?
He is not, not yet. He weathered the criticism that was delivered against him by the Republican Party during his Afghan policy review and after the Christmas Flight 253 incident, the underwear bomb. His communication wasn't always perfect but he recovered from some initial hesitation and I think was able to demonstrate that America has learnt something about
terrorism and is not inclined to overreact or to think about an attack like Flight 253 in 2010 the same way we thought about it as a country in 2001. And India is a model for this. A lot of other democracies have dealt with the problem of persistent terrorism without surrendering their values.
In your article in the New Yorker, you said America is now changing as a democracy, it is becoming better at dealing with terrorism and that al Qaeda is declining. You also use India's examplethe way Manmohan Singh dealt with 26/11, keeping restraint and his re-election. How are democracies getting better at dealing with this?
I think India's security problems are graver than America's in relation to jehadi terrorism. But the larger point that I was trying to draw was, I think anyone who has lived in democracies where terrorism has been present over a long period of timeGreat Britain, Israel, India, even places like Spain, Indonesiayou can see a pattern in which a democracy goes through stages of learning about how to deal with the persistence of terrorism. And the United States essentially began that learning process on 9/11. Having said that, the United States is quite fortunate, because the jehadi terrorist threat is quite small in comparison to what India continues to face. So, in that sense, we can afford to be resilient because we are not challenged the same way. But I do think that Obama is speaking for a majority, when he saysas Blair said after 7/7we are not going to let them define us every time they attack. We are going to be vigilant, we are going to be aggressive in our forward defence, but we are not going to play their game. I think Americans support that general idea of how to respond to that threat.
In India, the feeling is that Obama is a bit fuzzy-headed. Maybe that comes with having dealt with Bush, who had no clutter because he had no detail. Also, his fixing a time-limit for the withdrawal of forces (from Afghanistan) has not worked very well.
A lot of young presidents, without previous experience of executive leadership on the international stage, learn in the first year that the world does not conform to the plans they had during the campaign. So, if you look at Obama's first year, his strengths abroad have been the things that he planned to do, speeches he had already written in his head, the Cairo speech, the Nobel speech. Those kinds of things he is brilliant at and he has represented the US abroad in the ways that he had promised to do and certainly changed the equation between US and Europe in a very constructive way. So those things, he has done well. A lot of first year presidentsGeorge W Bush, Clintondiscover that the world has its own shocks and its own surprises.
The US caught David Coleman Headley and he would have carried out an attack in Europe. Has that been worrying youAl Qaeda being able to attract or recruit more and more non-conventional ethnicities?
That threat has really been present since 2002 and I think the US government has been aware of it all that time and has been trying to think about how to defend against it. The difficulty in Europe is that the barriers to movement and formation of talented cells are smaller than they are in the US. The thing that worries me about al Qaeda is its pattern of being able to put together really talented people who are determined to die in an attack. That was the 9/11 groupthose guys were not nuclear physicists but they were well-educated, smart, determined, careful and willing to learn. So you ask, where is the talent that al Qaeda can recruit?
Or the Lashkar
To me, the Lashkar's style of talent is more worrying in terms of the kind of spectacular game-changing attack that it might be able to produce. I am more worried about India, frankly, than I am about Europe or the US because there is a lot of talent in these Lashkar groups. Some of those proselytising networks have been able to recruit and radicalise scientists, doctors and other talented people. So, if they can get from here to there and from there to here, then as we saw on 26/11, they can wreak a lot of havoc. And that was not a representation of the highest level of talent that those groups can put together. That was a sort of medium talented group I would say.
Steve, all I can say is, the story is not dying out.
Transcribed by Shivani Kala
REPUBLIC OF ENTREPRENEURS
Much of the conventional academic literature on democratisation, past and present, doesn't place a high probability on poor, under-educated developing countries establishing a consolidated system of liberal democracy. India chose to defy the conventional wisdom when it adopted a democratic constitution, based on universal adult franchise, and other freedoms, including the guarantee of fundamental rights of citizens, on January 26, 1950. Barring the brief inglorious period of an attempted subversion of the Constitution between 1975 and 1977, Indian democracy has held out well, even if the quality of institutions of various arms of the state has been undermined on occasion by meddling politicians. That the state has often failed to deliver on what the Constitution expected it to do, especially on the matter of economic welfare and social upliftment, is a reality. But the people of India have over 60 years learnt to distinguish between voting out ineffectual governments and overthrowing the constitutional system that underlies government in general. In fact, in recent times, as the Indian voter has become more aspirational, governments that are seen to perform have been re-elected, debunking the anti-incumbency hypothesis that had been built up over the last two decades.
Unlike in the political sphere where the Constitution served as a vanguard of freedom and political rights, where we went horribly wrong in the first 40 years as a Republic was in not according similar freedoms to individuals in the economic sphere. There is no milder way to put it than to say that India stagnated badly and fell behind many other emerging economies, particularly in Asia, in its quest to be a socialist economyinterestingly the term socialist as a description of the Republic in the Constitution was only added by an amendment in 1976. The last two decades, beginning with the economic reform of 1991, have done much to free the economy from the stranglehold of the state. Entrepreneurship has blossomed, economic growth moved to a higher plane and poverty has declined. All the fears of not being able to compete in the global economy have been proved decisively wrong. Unsurprisingly, India has emerged with great resilience from the global economic crisis. Still, much remains to be done to bring economic freedom on par with political freedom in India. The state still overregulates the economyRBI is perhaps the best example of an institution of the state holding back enterprise and further acceleration of growth. The public sector, despite recent noises on disinvestment, is still too large and employs far too many people to be efficient. On the 75th anniversary of the Constitution, 15 years from now, how much the country has achieved in terms of eradicating poverty and scaling up economic growth even more, will probably depend on the state's ability to grasp the need for economic freedom to accompany the much admired political freedom we already have.
The BASIC blocBrazil, South Africa, India and Chinawas at the heart of the Copenhagen accord. Its ministers met in New Delhi over the weekend and issued a joint statement flagging 1) theirs is not just a forum for negotiation but also for cooperating on mitigation and adaptation, 2) they will work closely with other members of G-77+China to ensure ambitious and equitable outcomes in Mexico, 3) they have already announced voluntary mitigation actions for 2020 but will communicate the same to UNFCCC by January 31 as they had committed at Copenhagen, and 4) developed countries should not delay delivery of the $10 billion pledged to help the least developed countries, small island developing states and African countries. What do we take forward from this meeting? There has been no movement either on the standoff between developed and developing countries, or on BASIC's solidarity. But what's being indicated now is that this bloc may be willing to pick up the slack of which the developed countries stand accused. Indian minister of forests and environment said BASIC was discussing how to provide technological support to least developed countries, even as it decided how to deepen cooperation on science, forestry management and other forms of mitigation action between member countries. The fate of the Copenhagen accord also seems clearer now: there is little likelihood of its being built up into a legal document.
It was Ramesh's comments on the sidelines of the BASIC meet that were quite interesting. In a wide-ranging interview with FE, which was published yesterday, the minister made the point that India's thinking on climate change has hitherto been dictated by international negotiations. The corollary effect of the fact that we have not had a strategic domestic agenda has been that investments in green technology haven't received the kind of intense attention that's observed in China. Yet, some of the greatest business opportunities of today and tomorrow lie in green businesses. And there is no reason why a country that came from nowhere to take global IT by storm can't do the same in green technology. What's necessary is a change of mindset, both at the level of policy and entrepreneurship. As an incentive, a recently released UN report on the global green new deal estimates that investing just 1% of current global GDP in environment-friendly initiatives could spur significant returns ranging from stimulating innovation and job growth to making strides towards curbing poverty. South Korea, by the way, is setting aside nearly $40 billionor 3% of its GDPtowards its green new deal that could generate almost one million new jobs.
LISTEN TO VOLCKER ON REGULATION
JAYANTH R VARMA
President Obama has proposed the 'Volcker rule' preventing banks from running hedge funds, private equity funds or proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving their customers. Simultaneously, he also proposed size restrictions to prevent the financial sector from consolidating into a few large firms. While this might look like unwarranted government meddling in the functioning of the financial sector, I argue that, in fact, free market enthusiasts should welcome these proposals.
Obama has chosen to frame the proposal as a kind of morality play in which the long-suffering public get their revenge against greedy bankers. While that might make political sense, the reality is that the proposals are pro free markets. To understand why this is so, we must go back to the moral hazard roots of the global financial crisis.
These roots go back to 1998 when the US Fed bailed out the giant hedge fund, LTCM. The Fed orchestrated an allegedly private sector bailout of LTCM, but more importantly, it also flooded the world with liquidity on such a scale that it not only solved LTCM's problems, but also ended the Asian crisis almost overnight.
LTCM had no retail investors that needed to be protected. The actual reason for its bailout was the same as the reason for the bailout of AIG a decade later. Both these bailouts were in reality bailouts of the banks that would have suffered heavily from the chaotic bankruptcy of these entities.
Back in 1998, the large global banks themselves ran proprietary trading books that were also short liquidity and short volatility on a large scale like LTCM. A panic liquidation of LTCM positions would have inflicted heavy losses on the banks and so the Fed was compelled to intervene.
From a short-term perspective, the LTCM bailout was a huge success, but it engendered a vast moral hazard play. The central bank had now openly established itself as the risk absorber of last resort for the entire financial sector. The existence of such an unwarranted safety net made the financial markets complacent about risk and leverage and set the stage for the global financial crisis.
Those of us who like free markets abhor moral hazard and detest bailouts. The ideal world is one in which there is no deposit insurance and the governments do not bail out banks and their depositors. Since this is politically impossible, the second best solution is to limit moral hazard as much as possible.
If banking is an island in which the laws of capitalism are suspended, this island should be as small as possible, and the domain of truly free marketsfree of government meddling and moral hazardshould be as large as possible. Looked at this way, the Volcker rule is a step in the right direction. If banks are not shadow LTCMs, then at least the LTCMs of the world can be allowed to fail.
The post-Lehman policy of extending government safety net to all kinds of financial entities amounted to a creeping socialisation of the entire global financial system. The Volcker rule is the first and essential step in de-socialising the financial sector by limiting socialism to a small walled garden of narrow banking while letting the rest of the forest grow wild and free.
What about the second part of the Obama proposal seeking to limit the size of individual banks? I see this as reducing oligopolies and making banking more competitive. Much of the empirical evidence today suggests that scale economies in banking are exhausted at levels far below those of the largest global banks, and there is some evidence that scale diseconomies set in at a certain level.
There is very little reason to believe that banks with assets exceeding, say, $100 billion are the result of natural scale economies. On the contrary, they appear to be the result of an artificial scale economy caused by the too-big-to-fail (TBTF) factor. The larger the bank, the more likely it is to be bailed out when things go wrong. It is therefore rational for a customer to bank with an insolvent mega-bank rather than with a well-run small bank.
This creates a huge distortion in which banks seek to recklessly grow to become eligible for the TBTF treatment. Well-run banks that grow in a prudent manner are put at a competitive disadvantage. This makes the entire financial sector less competitive and less efficient.
The Obama size restrictions will reduce the distortions created by the TBTF factor, and will make banking more competitive. One could argue that the restrictions do not go far enough because they legitimise the mega firms that already exist and only seek to prevent them from becoming even bigger. Nevertheless, it is in the right direction. It does not undo the damage that has already been done, but prevents further damage.
The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad
KOREA CAN BE INDIA'S GATE TO ASIA
Both Indian and South Korean commentators have been heralding President Lee Myung-bak as the chief guest for our Republic Day by quoting Rabindranath Tagore's ode to a country he called the 'lamp-bearer' of Asia's golden ageKorea. Penned in 1929, the ode was reflective of the bard's broad pan-Asianism. It's taken 80 years but global constellations are finally lining up for Asia to integrate, meaningfully.
From bankers to sociologists, people from different disciplines are flocking to agree that a new world order is coming into being. Lee is fond of saying that Asia is the growth engine of today, and it's expected to account for 35% of the world's GDP within 10 years. IMF expects the continent to grow at almost double the rate forecast for the global economy next year. Over the next two years, South Korea is expected to outpace all but China and India among the world's 15 largest economies. Admitting that there are challenges aplenty, common sense demands the pursuit of greater regional integration. And after a recent election victory, Japan's new Prime Minister has joined the latest in a queue of Asian leaders announcing that he will be seeking to upgrade economic, security and cultural relations with his neighbours in the East.
What India recognises is that the likes of South Korea, China and Japan have a headstart on working in concert. A shared dismay over falling levels of trade and investment from the US and Europe has pushed them to seek out formal structures of collaboration. An alternative to the EU is in the air, and historical differences are being put aside. Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula through the first part of the 20th century has left scars that can make the India-Pakistan narrative look like a fairytale, but the two countries are now considering an undersea tunnel that will put the one connecting the UK to France to shame. Why? Because it will bring down the cost of transporting containers from Osaka to Busan.
With reference to such a spirit of regional teamwork, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between New Delhi and Seoul that has come into effect this month is definitely a step in the right direction. How serious are both sides about CEPA? Signing it was one of the first foreign policy acts of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after UPA-2 assumed power. On the part of President Lee, this is the first such agreement to have been signed between South Korea and a Bric country. The pact is expected to, on average, boost two-way trade volumes by 15% a year. It reduces South Korean tariffs on 90% of goods from India, while India cuts 85% tariffs on South Korean products. Let's also trace CEPA's name back to the Indian concern that public opinion doesn't favour FTAs on this shore. Not a bad corollary to the corporate sensitivity, pragmatism and customisation that we see in the fact that LG Electronics advertises in a dozen Indian languages. Or in the fact that Hyundai equips its Indian autos with stronger horns and more robust air conditioners because, let's face it, we like to be loud when we feel hot.
Lee has emphasised that CEPA is different from the other FTAs signed by his country because it has a chapter on the exchange of professionals. CEPA gives 163 categories of professionals from India and South Korea greater liberty to work in each other's countries. This is noteworthy because an Icrier study suggests that trade in services is increasing rapidly between the two countries, and this is where the future possibilities are strongest. In sectors like IT, this is a reflection of complementarities. The South Koreans are recognised for their electronic and hardware industry while the Indians have proved their mettle in software. As for Indian investments in South Korea, Tata Motors set an important benchmark when it signed an agreement for acquiring Daewoo Commercial Vehicles in Gunsan in 2004. More broadly, South Korea can provide Indian industry an important gateway into the APEC region.
As the boss of Hyundai Construction in his pre-political avatar, Lee was nicknamed 'Bulldozer'. He has been pushing forward his chosen agenda, including a New Asia Diplomacy, with force. Much like the Indian PM staked his political capital on the nuclear deal with the US, Lee recently pegged his reputation on securing a $20-billion contract to build four nuclear reactors in UAE. He won that bet waged against Western contractors, a testimony as much to his grit as to South Korea's ability to deliver nuclear power cheaply. Lee has also made green technology a cornerstone of his presidency. This year, his government will be offering a host of tax incentives, subsidies, credit guarantees and other kinds of support to the likes of hybrid cars and green buildings.
In seeking a partner for expanding its Asian footprint, India really couldn't have asked for someone more suitable.
The Indian automobile industry is riding the crest of a new wave. After record sales during the festival season, retail demand continues to remain strong, driven by new product launches and declining interest rates.
As production of passenger vehicles for the period April to December last year increased 24% compared to the same period in 2008 and domestic sales grew 23%, results of Maruti Suzuki for the quarter ended December 2009 show the best ever bottomline growth. Buoyed by a strong export market and focus on cost reduction in operations, the market leader's net profit increased by a whopping 222%, compared with the quarter ended December 2008.
Even two-wheeler manufacturers are witnessing robust sales. Bajaj Auto reported a 189% increase in net profit in the quarter ended December 2009, compared with the same quarter in 2008. Component manufacturers also reported all-time high bottomline growth in the quarter.
Going ahead, concerns remain on hardening interest rates, roll back of excise duty cuts and rising prices of steel, rubber and aluminium, which may dent margins of auto companies. The appreciation of the rupee will also be a major concern for export revenue. Analysts say if the government rolls back the 4% reduction in excise duty offered to the industry as a part of the stimulus package in 2008, as it should given the robust growth in auto, the move would only have a short-term impact on demand, as the increase in cost will be entirely passed on to consumers. In fact, Maruti Suzuki has already increased prices between 0.12% and 1.9% across various models because of a rise in input costs. But the real challenge will be the change in emission norms to BS-IV in 11 leading cities and BS-III in others parts of the country from April. This would increase the cost of vehicles but is an opportunity for higher sales in the ongoing quarter before the change in norms.
With the recovery in the global economy auguring well for export demand, credit ratings agency Fitch expects the Indian automobile industry to grow around 12% this fiscal and the recovery will be led by passenger vehicle segment at 14%, as against 6% growth in the commercial vehicle segment. The key for companies would be to tap new destinations and increase sales through differential pricing in their existing foreign markets.
The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the Second Meeting of Ministers of the BASIC group countries on climate change in New Delhi is notable for the sober message it sends to the developed world and the United Nations: that progress on climate talks will depend on a reassertion of the central principle of common but differentiated responsibilities outlined by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The cohesive response of China, Brazil, South Africa, and India underscores the view of the developing world that the Copenhagen Accord chose to give insufficient importance to this central tenet. Instead, it tried to get the developing countries to accept a regime of iniquitous emissions cuts. The UNFCCC process must now correct this fundamental distortion and set future negotiations firmly on an equitable path. That road map, drawn up earlier in Bali, emphasises the importance of long-term cooperative action while affirming that economic and social development and poverty eradication are global priorities. Clearly, the development imperative needs to be centre-staged again to give the climate conference to be held in Mexico later this year a fair chance to chart the future of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol, who make up the developed bloc, must now take the lead and announce quantified emissions reductions for themselves. In parallel, they must give form to promised funding mechanisms for mitigation and adaptation. Such leadership is vital to get other high-emission countries on board, and create the $100 billion annual fund that is envisaged by 2020 to help the least developed and most vulnerable countries. It is significant that as an expression of their sincerity, the BASIC Four have affirmed their intention to submit voluntary national mitigation actions to the UNFCCC by January 31. The onus now lies on the developed world to do its part. The demand that there should be several rounds of discussions leading to the Mexico conference is wholly justified. These should be inclusive and transparent. The absence of such transparency at Copenhagen resulted in a highly visible crisis of credibility for the entire process. Early action is also needed on another front. The funds from the $10 billion pledged under the Copenhagen Accord for countries most vulnerable to climate change impact must start flowing quickly. There is yet another important and positive outcome to the common strategy adopted by the BASIC countries. It has fostered active South-South cooperation among the developing nations to advance science. Given that intellectual property rights on technology remain a major barrier to achieving higher energy efficiencies, such joint efforts involving India and China hold great promise.
RUSSIA ON ROAD TO REFORM
The Russian Federation's recent endorsement of reforms to the European Court of Human Rights the judicial arm of the 47-member Council of Europe (CoE) signals Moscow's deepening engagement with a system of governance based on democratic values, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. The development comes close on the heels of the Russian Constitutional Court's extension of the decade-old moratorium on executions, and the country&# 8217;s continued exclusion from other global institutions two decades after the end of the Cold War does seem incongruous. Moscow's ratification of Protocol 14 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the foundational charter of the CoE, means that states can be brought before the Strasbourg Court for failure to implement its rulings. This is indeed a bold commitment to enhancing accountability and transparency for a country that has drawn flak for its handling of the situation in Chechnya and its military intervention in Georgia. Another significant reform in the new Protocol is the improvement in the court's powers to filter the applications and weed out repetitive cases. The issue has acquired urgency as clearance of the huge backlog, a quarter of which relates to Russia, has emerged as a formidable challenge.
Since 1998, the court has functioned full time to keep pace with the growing demands. The expansion of membership of the CoE, which has more than doubled following developments after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the provision for individual applications to the Court also contributed to the mounting volume of petitions. Insofar as political and democratic reforms are predicated upon the stage of economic development and vice versa, Russia's long pending bid for accession to the World Trade Organisation could boost investment and ease barriers to its exports and sustain the momentum for all-round progress. Similarly, Moscow's application for membership of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development would deepen its commitment to greater integration into the global economy. The work at the Council of Europe is of no mean significance for countries such as India where the human rights standards formulated by it inform the internal debate on the evolution of the legal framework. To that extent, recent concerns over the dilution of the authority of the Council could have implications far beyond European borders.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
OBAMA NEEDS A PRO-UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT
POST-YUSHCHENKO, UKRAINE IS POISED TO REDRAW THE GEOPOLITICS OF EURASIA. THE DEFEAT IN MASSACHUSETTS SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGES THE POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT IN WASHINGTON.
Two game-changers within a week is a rare happening in world politics. Last week was a defining moment for the Barack Obama presidency. The two elections in far-apart places Ukraine and Massachusetts in northeastern U.S. between January 17-20 have a lot in common.
They are both strong public rebukes handed down by furious voters who were promised change and reform and saw zero improvement in their lives. Neither is a political tectonic shift, yet they are grassroots-rebellions and watershed events. They debunked the "colour revolutions" in Ukraine in 2004 and in the U.S. in 2008. For Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, this is the end of the road. For Mr. Obama, the New England defeat bruises his presidency, which reaches a crossroads. Both the elections were about populist anger when passionate hopes and impossible expectations were belied. However, they are also game-changers for world politics. Post-Yushchenko Ukraine is poised to redraw the geopolitics of Eurasia. And the defeat in Massachusetts significantly changes the political environment in Washington, which is bound to impact Mr. Obama's policies at home and abroad.
No matter who wins the February 7 runoff in Ukraine frontrunner Viktor Yanukovich who won 35 per cent of ballots or Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who garnered 25 per cent the result of the first round on January 17 signifies a repudiation of the "Orange Revolution" of 2004, which was masterminded by the U.S. as a smart move in the containment strategy toward Russia. Mr. Yushchenko's stunning rejection he polled just 5 per cent of the votes also underscores a rejection of his principal foreign policy plank of Ukraine's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. He consistently opposed any Russian participation in Ukraine's gas transportation system. He sub-served U.S. regional policies in Eurasia NATO's expansion as the global security organisation, control of the Caspian and Central Asian energy sources and counter to the Moscow-led integration processes on the post-Soviet space.
Arguably, Ukraine has restated its close ties with Russia. Both Mr. Yanukovich and Mrs. Tymoshenko favour repair of ties with Moscow; neither is obsessed with Ukraine's NATO membership; both draw political sustenance from the Ukrainian big business that is tied to Russia, especially in the all-important energy sector. But both are essentially "pro-Ukrainian". Mr. Yanukovich said recently, "Ukraine, quite simply, has been and will be a state outside any blocs We will not aspire to enter either NATO or the ODKB [Russian acronym for Collective Security Treaty Organisation] We will follow a pragmatic and balanced foreign policy. We will continue to develop the process of Euro-integration. But its basis will be the modernisation and transformation of Ukraine internally."
The Ukrainian election result provides an underpinning for the preservation of Russia's interests in the Caucasus. The Orange coalition's "split" in September 2008 was largely due to disagreements over Russia's conflict with Georgia. Mr. Yushchenko sought a forceful condemnation of Russia while Mrs. Tymoshenko refused. Equally, a friendly government in Kiev will abandon Mr. Yushchenko's aggressive drive (tacitly encouraged by Washington) to evict Russia from its Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. A flashpoint is approaching as the Russia-Ukraine agreement regarding Sevastopol is due to expire in 2017 and Mr. Yushchenko was bracing for a showdown with Moscow. Sevastopol is critical for Russia's effective presence as a Black Sea power. Mr.Yushckenko's departure, therefore, amounts to a setback for the U.S. strategy to convert the Black Sea into a 'NATO lake'. The first-ever U.S. military bases in Romania and Bulgaria already pose some challenge to Russia's traditional supremacy in the Black Sea region.
Ukraine's gravitation back to Russia has implications for energy security. The restoration of Russia-Turkmenistan energy ties; Russia's forays into the Western monopoly over Azerbaijan's energy reserves; Russo-Turkish concord over the proposed South Stream pipeline to southern Europe and the Balkans these trends get accentuated with the regime change in Kiev. Mr. Yushchenko has been spearheading the idea of promoting Ukraine as a transit country for the Caspian energy, bypassing Russian territory. The Central European countries at present depend on energy supplies to meet 50 per cent of their requirements. The U.S. agenda of forming a cordon of "New Europeans" in the middle of Europe doggedly opposing Moscow can never gain traction so long as they remain heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies. Ukraine was a vital chip in the U.S. geo-strategy.
Thus, the regime change in Kiev has serious fallouts for Russia's overall relations with Europe, although the equations are not to be seen in zero-sum terms either. A pragmatic economic-energy relationship between Ukraine and Russia that Mr. Yanukovich and Mrs. Tymoshenko espouse suits Western Europe whose priority is to avoid the repetition of the spats between Moscow and Kiev that led to "gas crisis". Again, Mr. Yanukovich and Mrs. Tymoshenko share a common desire to foster ties with the EU but EU is reticent about getting overstretched and would rather allow Russia remain a stakeholder in Ukraine's stability. Also, Europe is wary of annoying Russia by drawing Ukraine into the Western orbit.
Unlike in 2004 when Moscow unwisely took a public stance supportive of Mr. Yanukovich, it has been savvy enough to keep to the background. Conceivably, Moscow is equally comfortable with Mr. Yanukovich and Mrs. Tymoshenko. The surge in clan politics and Moscow's nexus with the dominant clique of Ukrainian oligarchs ensure that Washington will be hard-pressed to rival its influence in Kiev. The oligarchic clans coalescing around a dozen or so powerful financial-industrial groups dictate Ukrainian politics. Paradoxically, this is also where Western opinion fundamentally erred in the halcyon days in 2004. The neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration propagated the Orange revolution to be some sort of a political catharsis that ushered in a seamless era of liberal democracy although in reality it was a regrouping of the oligarchic clans.
No one knows the Ukrainian oligarchs better than the Kremlin. They invariably seek Moscow's backing. However, Moscow also faces a dilemma insofar as Ukrainian politicians cannot be called "pro-Russian" forces, either. The Ukrainian industrial-financial interests who bankroll Mr. Yanukovich and Mrs. Tymoshenko strongly defend their economic interests with both Russia and the West. Curiously, Ukraine is set to follow the same path that Russia took. As a leading Russian commentator Anton Orekh put it, "the existence of freedom of expression and free media in no way compensated for the lack of sausage and bread on the table Russians felt sufficiently disappointed with the democrats to accept a person like Putin. Ukraine is moving in the same direction Ukrainians already feel prepared to have their own Putinyuk, or Medvedenko [popular Ukrainian names]."
Of course, Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili must feel a terribly lonely man in Eurasia today. The Georgian constitution forbids a third term for him. The big question is whether Washington can afford to see him walk into the sunset when the power calculus in Eurasia is palpably shifting. A poll conducted by the U.S. National Democracy Institute on January 4 came up with the timely finding that 60 per cent of Georgian respondents favour another term for Saakashvili in the election due in 2013. Significantly, last week a delegation of U.S. senators led by Senator John McCain arrived in Tbilisi for a show of solidarity with the only surviving progeny of colour revolution on the planet.
However, Georgians are notoriously pragmatic. They have an old saying: "If a bear grabs you, call him daddy. If a nearby hunter does not help you by either killing the bear or rescuing you from its grip, maybe it's better to call him daddy." The NATO's recent overtures to Moscow; Obama's offer of reset U.S.'s ties with Russia; Europe's advice to Tbilisi to resolve tensions with Russia Georgian political class has a lot to brood about. Meanwhile, Georgian opposition has initiated a "dialogue" with Moscow. Incipient forces that give priority to ties with Russia are appearing in Tbilisi as well.
The setback in Ukraine comes at a sensitive juncture in the U.S.-Russia relations. It becomes a litmus test of Washington's willingness to recognise Russia's special interests in the territories of the former Soviet Union. If Washington confronts the rising curve of Russian influence in Kiev, it will derail the U.S.'s reset of ties with Russia, which Mr.Obama promised. But if it reconciles with Russia's predominance in Ukraine, the Republican right will berate the Obama administration for failure to stand up to "revanchist" Russia. The signs are ominous. Mr. Saakahsvili conferred on Mr. McCain Georgia's highest award in token of his rock-like support to Tbilisi's war with Russia. Mr. McCain responded: "Of all the honours I've received in my life, the National Hero Award is among the most meaningful and it is one that I would cherish for ever."
There is a Third Way for Washington to deal with Ukraine. In the highly strategic environment in which Ukraine is situated, what serves the U.S. best will be a "pro-Ukrainian" president in Kiev rather than a "pro-American" president. But it is an audacious thought and is politically risky, and the Massachusetts defeat leaves Mr. Obama vulnerable to criticism.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)
OVERHAUL, DON'T SCRAP, DEEMED UNIVERSITY SYSTEM
TO ELIMINATE A TIME-TESTED POLICY WITHOUT DIAGNOSING THE REASON FOR ITS SICKNESS WILL BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE OF ACHIEVING QUALITATIVE GROWTH IN HIGHER EDUCATION.
The intention of the Union Human Resource Development Minister to improve the quality of higher education is in the right direction. However, his recent announcement on the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill to scrap the concept of deemed universities should be made applicable only to new institutions that aspire for this status. To apply the bill to the existing universities will mean hijacking a sound concept that has supported th e growth of the higher education system. There are good deemed universities offering innovative degree programmes, engaging in quality research leading to publications, and providing high-quality teaching. The government's role must be to identify and encourage such deemed universities and similar institutions by conferring the deemed university status. To eliminate a time-tested policy without diagnosing the reason for its sickness will be counterproductive of the main objective of achieving qualitative growth in higher education.
The Radhakrishnan Commission (1948-49) devoted a chapter in its report to deemed universities and said the government should consider a method of creating university charters similar to what obtains in many countries, where universities are set up not through acts of legislature but through charters granted by the head of the state. "This course may also be adopted in our country, at any rate, with regard to the new Universities, which are established by the conversion of existing Institutions." Thus was born the concept of deemed university under Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956.
It was in the best interest of higher education that the Commission encouraged the creation of deemed universities. It insisted on firsthand appraisal of competence, spirit and achievement and not on arbitrary rules and regulations during the time of conferment of the status. Between 1956 and 2004, 92 institutions were granted the deemed university status. Between 2004 and 2009 an additional 36 institutions, excluding NITs, were notified as deemed universities. This five-year-period saw an explosive growth (by 40 per cent) in their number.
The virus that spread during 2004-09 was in the manner the status was conferred ignoring the conceptual purpose of deemed universities and the relevant provisions in the statutory bodies. Were not institutions that did not have adequate facilities, required faculty and were not engaged in research granted conditional deemed university status in the hope that they would make good the deficit after becoming university? Can a driver's licence be issued conditionally, hoping that the licensee will learn to drive within one month? Off-campus centres and sister institutions run by a parent deemed university were brought within its ambit a case of backdoor entry. It is undeniable that the ad hoc, arbitrary and non-transparent process between 2004-09 has damaged the system This is the right time to set right these anomalies and ensure that the deemed university system is put on the right track. But removing the very concept of deemed university as envisaged in the proposed bill will only perpetuate inefficiencies. The proposed bill will only put the system back in a closely regulated and regimental framework with little scope for innovation and academic independence. Just as there are bad deemed universities, there are equally bad government universities.Why should a good concept be messed up by the creators and then scrapped because it was messed up? Misuse and abuse of power (by some government and private participants) has rattled the boat. The government must steer the boat through troubled waters without destroying it. It is easy to destroy but difficult to create.
(The writer is Vice-Chancellor of SASTRA University, Thanjavur)
AID RISKS BEING TWISTED INTO A TOOL OF WAR
BRITISH WORK IN AFGHANISTAN SUGGESTS A DANGEROUS TREND, IN WHICH AID IS MILITARISED, SUBSUMED TO WESTERN STRATEGIC INTERESTS.
On January 27 there is a crucial international meeting on Yemen squeezed in ahead of the London conference the following day on Afghanistan, and at both, the U.K.'s Department for International Development (DfID) will play a major role. Key to the discussions on these fragile states will be the task of "state building", or how external actors can build "capacity", as the lingo goes, and help governments to win legitimacy, keep peace, raise tax es and provide the rule of law. Much of this is increasingly seen as DfID's fiefdom; in Afghanistan it is the lead U.K. department on economic development and governance. It works closely with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and, with a budget more than three times that of the Foreign Office and, ring-fenced from cuts, it will soon more than quadruple its former parent department DfID is a frontline player in foreign policy. Since the primary objective of the latter is counter-terrorism, this now plays an increasing role in what British aid is all about.
That is not quite the public image of a cuddly DfID, an unqualified Labour success story of exemplary altruistic internationalism: all cherubic African children safely immunised and getting an education. That still goes on, but bundled in with this good news story is something very subtle but entirely different, and it is about how aid is being used to secure western strategic interests. Seven major non-governmental aid agencies working in Afghanistan will say in a report published on Wednesday that they are "deeply concerned about the harmful effects of this increasingly militarised aid strategy" in the country.
In the U.K., there are vigorous efforts to ensure that DfID's pronounced aims cost-effective poverty reduction are not compromised, but the mission drift is already evident, and likely to become even more pronounced under a Conservative government. The pressure from the U.S. is clear; Hillary Clinton in a speech earlier this month was unapologetic: "Development ... today is a strategic, economic and moral imperative as central to advancing American interests and solving global problems as diplomacy and defence." It is "time to elevate development as a central pillar of all that we do in foreign policy".
The reasoning behind such a statement is at first glance plausible: poverty causes conflict and development brings peace. It is the theme Tony Blair took up in the aftermath of 9/11 when he talked of "draining the swamps", resolving the economic problems which might prove a fertile ground for terrorism. But as Professor Chris Cramer of the School of Oriental and African Studies points out, development itself can cause conflict, creating winners and losers; besides, there is no clear causal link between poverty and extremism. Many of the 9/11 bombers, and the Christmas Day bomber, came from wealthy families.
What worries critics is that the militarisation of aid is a dangerously slippery slope whereby development aid is distorted or even entirely subordinated to achieve military objectives.
Huge increases in DfID budgets for Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and 2003 indicate how the priority of poverty reduction (enshrined in a 2006 act) gets eroded. Countries with comparable or higher poverty levels get less funding. There are inevitable tensions: is DfID in Afghanistan to reduce poverty or help end a war? DfID argues forcefully that the two are mutually reinforcing and best achieved by building capacity in government, training police and extending the rule of Kabul. But the argument is riddled with questions. The Russians poured aid into Afghanistan, did plenty of "capacity building" and still lost the war; the Afghan economy has grown considerably but it has done nothing to build confidence in the Kabul state. Propping up a corrupt regime in Afghanistan or Yemen will do little to alleviate poverty. But no, insists a DfID official, "don't let the best be the enemy of the good". Fair enough, except that this justification sounds worryingly familiar from the cold war.
Look closer at the DfID budget and hundreds of millions go into "governance" budgets such as training police, compared to a tiny sum spent on water resources. That is not quite what Make Poverty History campaigners in 2005 were trying to achieve. Unwittingly, the increasing aid budgets have proved a useful resource for counter-terrorism. When international attention landed on Yemen's links with al-Qaeda at Christmas, who at the London roundtables had a budget line which could pay for "state building"? DfID. It puts a whole new light on the Conservatives' oft-repeated pledge not to cut DfID funding.
U.S. General Stanley McChrystal who is leading the surge in Afghanistan argues that modern warfare is not fought around people but among them: the key objective is the people. That makes development in certain contexts particularly in the eyes of insurgents, but even Ms. Clinton seems to accept this a tactic of war.
It makes for some extremely uncomfortable relationships. Social scientists are in demand by defence departments in a bid to improve intelligence; the U.S. is expanding its human terrain teams, recruiting anthropologists, sociologists and other development experts and sending professional bodies such as the American Anthropological Association into a moral tailspin. One moment you are an obscure Ph.D. student researching gender relations in a remote Muslim country, the next your knowledge is as valuable to the military as the latest weapon wizardry.
You could argue there is nothing new here, that this is simply a slow return to form. Aid in the cold war was notoriously used to prop up unpalatable regimes the world over. But part of Labour's DfID story is that it has put all that behind it and now aid serves much more honourable intentions. DfID insists that our moral responsibility to help the poor and our interests neatly coincide to intervene in fragile states.
But given that the accepted DfID analysis is that the single biggest determinant of long-term poverty reduction is political stability, then all manner of interventions to secure that stability can be justified as reducing poverty. The aims of British aid policy prove to be very flexible. For instance, how about a trick question like this: is aid to be focused on reducing infant mortality or securing a regime which can contain terrorism? What makes this territory such a quagmire is that the latter can be argued as a way to achieve the former.
Organisations such as Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres are increasingly outspoken. MSF says that the blurring of military "stabilisation" strategies and humanitarian assistance has made the last decade the most dangerous for its workers in its history. The space for neutral humanitarian engagement is dangerously shrinking. Aid workers are seen as complicit with western intervention and become targets; indeed Colin Powell made that explicit in a now infamous phrase when he commended humanitarian NGOs as "force multipliers for the U.S. government". But that is not all; the projects themselves the schools and clinics become battlegrounds. Surely this is the most cruel of outcomes, when children and the sick become targets. Vickie Hawkins of MSF describes how health clinics in Helmand have been attacked by both sides; those who accept donor funding are attacked by insurgents, those who refuse are regarded as suspect and attacked by the international security assistance force. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
A SMALL CITY ELECTION PUTS PRESSURE ON U.S.-JAPAN TIES
A candidate who opposes the relocation of an American air base on Okinawa won a crucial mayoral election on Sunday, raising pressure on Japan's Prime Minister to move the base off the island, a move opposed by the United States.
The election in the small city of Nago could force Japan to scrap, or at least significantly modify, a 2006 deal with the United States to build a replacement in Nago for the busy Futenma U.S. Marine air station, currently in a crowded part of the southern Japanese island.
The fate of that deal has already become the focus of a growing diplomatic rift between the United States and Japan, its closest Asian ally. The Obama administration has been pushing Japan to honour the deal, but the new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has said he will take until May to decide whether to support it or name a new site.
Political experts have said losing Nago as a site for the base would complicate Mr. Hatoyama's decision, because few other Japanese communities appear willing to host the base and its noisy helicopters. This means that Mr. Hatoyama could try to merge the Marine base with a nearby U.S. Air Force base, or move it to Guam; both are options that the Obama administration has resisted.
Before his Democratic Party's historic victory in national elections last summer, Mr. Hatoyama campaigned on promises to move the base off Okinawa or out of Japan altogether. In doing so, he was tapping deep misgivings in Japan about the 2006 agreement, which was signed by Mr. Hatoyama's predecessors, the Liberal Democrats. Many Japanese say the move to Nago would cause excessive environmental damage and impose an unfair burden on Okinawa, where almost half of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan are located.
On Sunday, Susumu Inamine, the city's school board chairman and an opponent of the base, defeated the incumbent mayor, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who supports it as a source of jobs and investment. © 2010 The New York Times News Service
WE, THE PEOPLE
January 26, the anniversary of the day that India became a republic, is usually marked by a display of military strength. The President of India, as commander in chief of the armed forces, inspects the troops at a grand parade. However, January 26 is much more than a day for the armed forces; it is when we acknowledge that we have become a republic. That is, we are not a monarchy, the people elect the government and most significantly, we have a Constitution based on which government runs. If 1947 started us on a historic journey, 1950 gave form and focus to that journey and the ideals of justice, freedom and equality became the cornerstones on which our nation started to build itself.
There is a subtle but significant difference between what we celebrate on August 15 and on January 26. The first represents victory in a gargantuan and unique effort to become free of a colonial ruler. Independence Day is truly that the day when every Indian was free and sovereign within his own country. January 26 cemented that sovereignty. We were now a republic from the Latin 'res publica' or 'public matters or business' and we had a head of state and a Constitution. We owed no allegiance to any monarch, local or foreign. This was a symbolic step forward for a nation which was ancient and great in civilisational terms but young and green in democratic terms.
To be a republic is not quite the same as being a democracy either. The former also alludes to civic virtue, rule of law and individual rights. These are important so that a democracy does not become anarchy. Philosophers have argued since Plato through the ages about the differences between republican and democratic values and between republican and liberal values. The world today is also engaged in a debate about nationalism, which is only natural when barriers and borders are being broken down in a number of ways from the Internet to trade agreements to inter-governmental cooperation.
But for India today, the celebration is for the fact that we have with some degree of success established ourselves as a democratic republic. We have a Constitution which has served us well and given us the power to change that which we no longer need or agree with. The triumph of Indian democracy is celebrated with every election; our triumph as a republic is what brings us together today.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its chairman RK Pachauri have been caught on the wrong foot twice in the last few days. First, it was the error with regard to Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035. It is now revealed that this was a speculative view of Syed Mohammed Hasnain which a New Scientist a British weekly devoted to popular science reporter incorporated into an article in 1999. This was in turn used by the IPCC in its 2007 report. The second, and more serious, revelation is that the IPCC has incorporated without scrutiny and verification that increase in natural disasters from the 1960s and the 1970s is due to global warming caused by human activity. Again there is no hard evidence to back the claim.
There are rich, influential and powerful people politicians, industrialists, rich countries who would want to deny the climate change crisis because it does not suit them. The British media that has been digging up the dirt on the IPCC is not doing it exactly for the glory of truth. But if the IPCC and its chairman Pachauri had been less than exacting in verifying the facts, then it goes without saying that the inaccuracies verging on lies need to be nailed. Climate change is an important issue and the policies that need to be pursued to deal with it cannot be based on half-truths which have turned out to be inconvenient truths for those who have been so eager to purvey them with evangelical zeal.
Error is an inherent part of scientific methodology and it is no great folly to be wrong in science. As a matter of fact, sometimes important scientific breakthroughs occur even while on the wrong trail. But that is an accidental outcome. The problem with the IPCC has been that it has turned itself into a political lobbyist and has used the climate issue to plead on behalf of the poor countries and poor people. It is indeed laudable to speak up for the weak and underprivileged and against the existing warped economic status which needs to be redressed. But this cannot be done by invoking doomsday and pretending that the prediction of apocalypse is based on science.
The best thing for Pachauri and the IPCC to do is to plead guilty that they have been overzealous rather than rigorous and revise the report based on peer-reviewed scientific research. Also, the world needs some clarity on all the suppositions based on the premise that global warming and climate change are about to destroy the planet.
AT MILESTONE 60
FALI S NARIMAN
The most significant words in the Constitution of India 1950 are the first three: "We, the people " They are also the opening words of the world's oldest constitution that of the United States. The justification for those opening words was given, by an American Congress woman yes, it took a woman's insight to discover it. "We the People is a very eloquent beginning" she said. "But when that document was completed on September 17, 1787, I was not included in "We the People". I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But I realise that it is through the process of interpretation and court decisions I have been finally included in "We the People"."
So too in India with one decision after another, the judges of our Supreme Court (over the decades) have broadened the reach of the Constitution and included within the range of its beneficent provisions those who were not born when India got Independence. By interpreting our document of governance the Court has sustained and given new meaning to a Constitution that was framed for only 330 million people, most of whom are not even alive today. This is why our 1950 Constitution remains a "living document".
The philosopher Karl Popper once said that democracy is a means to remove those in power without bloodshed. Under our democratic Constitution the longest in the world we have regularly held elections every five years on the basis of adult franchise: as many as 600 million people went to the polls just nine months ago. Despite many shortcomings, whenever governments have been voted out whether at the Centre or in the States, transfer of power has been strictly in accordance with its provisions. To the nagging question as to what we in India have done since the British left in 1947, our detractors (there are many) would like to say "they have barely survived". Uncharitable remarks but so be it. Not a bad thing to have survived with the same Constitution after 60 years in a vast subcontinent, considering that during the same period, constitutions of so many of our neighbouring countries have been so frequently scrapped.
When, after imposing an Internal Emergency in June 1975, Indira Gandhi called for elections in January 1977 and lost, most people were concerned: would she call in the army? To her credit, she did not. Would she respect the mandate of the people? Despite the advice of some distinguishedlawyer-politicians, she did!
I recall UK prime minister James Callaghan's tribute to this event in our political history. He said that the ultimate mark of a true democracy is the willingness of a government defeated at the ballot box to surrender power peacefully to its opponents. That is what happened when Indira Gandhi was defeated at the polls in March 1977, and that is what happened again when her opponents (the Janata Party) were in turn defeated at the 1980 elections, and Mrs Gandhi came back to power.
Mercifully, we have so far pulled through with our 1950-Constitution. And happily, we have remained one nation. What we appear to have lost over the last 60 years is the spirit in which the Constitution itself was drafted the spirit of consensus, so wanting now in all fields of activity.
There is another problem. The rich in India are getting richer and flaunting their wealth.And the poor have not yet made it to even basic middle-class comfort-levels. In the early 1990s, the Asian Wall Street Journal
mentioned the significance of our large population (we were then 170 million less than we are now!). It said that India should not make any special effort to carve out a role in the world: "If the 850 million people start living a normal life that itself will make the necessary impact (!)". But we can be truly proud of our increasing numbers only when we secure to the vast majority of the people the opportunity to make an honest livelihood to lead "a normal life".
Though a fundamental duty of the State under our Constitution this has not yet been provided for by those in governance. According to the Economic Survey of India there are more than 60 million well educated young people in India who are unemployed: providing them with the means of a decent livelihood is the supreme challenge of our times.
In the Philippines they say that the elimination of poverty is an "unfinished revolution": we in India must regard it as such and give it top priority: otherwise, a different type of revolution, too ghastly to contemplate, may engulf us all.
THE CURRENT POLITICAL LULL IS SIESTA TIME
PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
The CPM had moved into the post-Jyoti Basu mode long before the long-time West Bengal chief minister had died last week. There are not many post-Basu adjustments to be made in the party that is getting ready to lose the next assembly elections in the state. Basu was no theorist and he did not lay down any rules or ideas which are to be changed or altered. In reality, the Marxist party has become like any other bourgeois party, whose sole aim has been to win the next election, plot for plausible alliances at the national level whether they work or not. The Marxists will have to spend all their energy battling Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) and that leaves them with little energy and no ideas about national issues, if there are any.
The BJP, which has suffered two consecutive parliamentary defeats, has managed to get a new president for itself, Maharashtra politician Nitin Gadkari, who is bracing himself to face the uphill task of doing something with the national opposition party that does not know what it has to do and what it wants to do. Whether the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is pulling the strings and whether Gadkari is a RSS nominee is not much of interest because it does not add much to the big political picture. What is evident is that both RSS and the BJP are adrift. They are not inclined to redefine or reinvent themselves. They do not have anything meaningful to say either about what needs to be done about the economy? Protesting against price rise and pleading for Telangana seems to keep most of their leaders busy.
The Congress party is most comfortable in this kind of an unchallenging situation. It does not agonise over a lull. It loves the status quo and its leaders are happy to be dealing with the day-to-day demands of administration. Union home minister P Chidambaram is engaged with issues of internal security, counter-terrorism, Maoism. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is happy grappling with issues of taming the deficit and playing round with possibilities thrown up by disinvestment. The economy is running on its own steam again and all that he has to do is to give it a push now and then to keep it going.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh has time to think of improving ties with Pakistan and talking to separatists in Jammu and Kashmir. All this gives a respite to party president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi. Telangana can become a headache but Mukherjee, party general secretary Digvijay Singh and law minister Veerappa Moily will handle it as best they can, until the next crisis erupts.
What happens to Mulayam Singh and his Samajwadi Party (SP), Lalu Prasad Yadav and his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is neither of much interest or consequence at the moment.Is this a deceptive political lull? Is there a storm brewing? The storm, if any, can only be created by the follies of the politicians and the political parties and those they can commit anytime and anywhere.
At the moment, none of the political parties are making any effort to prepare for what is to come. They are not interested and incapable as well of gauging future challenges. The inane statements that minister for human resources development Kapil Sibal makes about reforming the education scene or Moily about the judiciary show that the picture of the future remains irritatingly hazy. The political lull then is just a lull. It is siesta time of sorts.It is not a good sign for the country because when the future is upon us we will find ourselves caught unawares. The cities that need to be made liveable, the villages that need help will remain untended. There will not be enough schools or colleges or hospitals or roads or houses. At the time of the next political rush hour, politicians will not have time to think of these things. They will be busy fighting elections.
AD IN BLUNDER LAND
PHOTO GOOF-UP SHOWED CASUAL APPROACH
Till it actually happened, nobody would have believed that the use of the photograph of a former Pakistan air force chief in an advertisement of the Government of India was conceivable. Well, the impossible happened last week, causing consternation all around, particularly in the Indian Air Force. So strong was the reaction to the goof-up that the Prime Minister's Office was forced to express regret and order an inquiry. Perhaps that was the first instance of the PMO having to tender an apology for a newspaper advertisement, but then this kind of blunder had also never happened in living memory. The publication of the photograph of former Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed in uniform in a newspaper advertisement issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development smacked of extreme casualness. The Pakistani official shared space with pictures of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, besides several Indian icons from various walks of life.
The PMO may have issued an apology, but Union Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath initially did not see anything disastrously wrong in the advertisement and tried to explain it away. "Message is more important than the image. The photograph is only symbolic. The message for the girl child is more important," she reportedly said. It was only much later that she agreed that it was a mistake.
One hopes that the inquiry that has been ordered would not be just a pretext to buy time. There is need to fix responsibility and take strict action. Incidentally, the DAVP has already washed its hands off the issue, saying it was never in the picture. The advertisement came to them for release as part of a four-page package brought out by a newspaper group and the ministry. There should be no passing the buck and those who caused such a big embarrassment to the country must be pinned to the lapse. Only then can there be some hope that there would be no repeat.
GRAPPLING WITH TERROR
INDIA NEEDS PEACE TO GROW FAST
In her address to the nation on the eve of the 60th Republic Day President Pratibha Patil has focussed on terrorism, which is quite natural as the epicentre of terrorism continues to be in our neighbourhood. Last year the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai found their echo in the President's speech as she was forthright in rejecting Pakistan's contention that it was the handiwork of non-state actors. This year she has reiterated that India will continue to "work with the international community to combat this menace". The Naxalite and Maoist threat is also growing. The government has strengthened its internal security setup. A non-performing Home Minister has been replaced. Now Mr P. Chidambaram is putting in place a new security architecture, downsizing the National Security Adviser in the process.
Another important issue President Pratibha Patil has highlighted is the need for inclusive growth. Empowerment of the disadvantaged is a recurrent theme in the speeches of the President and the Prime Minister. But what has the government done in this regard? As a Finance Minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government, Dr Manmohan Singh had suggested a social safety net for the poor. This still remains an unrealised dream. Large amounts are disbursed as subsidies at the Central and state levels in the name of the poor but how far these reach the needy is anybody's guess. The delivery system is notorious for leakages.
India cannot achieve a double-digit growth rate in the absence of peace. Apart from favourable policies a congenial environment is crucial for moving up the economic ladder. In addition to causing the loss of precious lives and damage to property, terror attacks dent India's image as a business-friendly country and scare away foreign investment. Therefore, the President's advice should not be taken lightly as a Republic Day ritual. Policy makers should incorporate her ideas in workable plans.
UNWANTED, UNCARED FOR
BIAS AGAINST GIRL CHILD MUST END
India celebrated National Girl Child Day on January 24. Still, the girl child remains as uncherished as ever, more so in Punjab which has one of the worst sex ratios in the country. Discrimination against the girl child is so widespread in the state that even her health is not a priority. According to the information gathered under the RTI Act, the number of girl children taken for treatment to hospitals in Punjab is at least 25 per cent lower than boys. In some districts the situation is more dismal, revealing deep-rooted bias against daughters. It is shocking that even in the 21st century girls are not treated on a par with boys and denied basic needs such as proper healthcare.
The government and society have been trying to fight gender bias through various schemes and campaigns. In Punjab, initiatives like the SGPC's Nanhi Chhaon and government schemes like Balri Rakshak Yojna, a welfare scheme for the cause of the girl child, may have made some headway in denting prejudices. Still, by and large, the obsession for the male child shows little signs of abating. While the abominable practice of female foeticide is still rampant, bias against the female child persists in many other ways and has affected the nutritional status of the girl child.
It is imperative that policies lay greater emphasis on the girl child's healthcare. Indeed, there is need to go beyond tokenism. Observing National Girl Child Day may seem significant but will not be able to transform patriarchal mindsets that continue to value sons over daughters. What is needed is a movement against female foeticide. While society has to wake up to the menace of female foeticide and redress the gender imbalance, parents too must learn to cherish and value their daughters as much as sons. Daughters must not only be given the right to live but also must have equal rights, including the right to a healthy life. Punjab, where nearly 65 per cent women are anaemic, cannot take chances with the health of its girls who are the key to its future.
MODI DOESN'T DESERVE SUPPORT
SAVE INDIA'S PLURAL ETHOS
BY KULDIP NAYAR
It is hard to understand why actor Amitabh Bachchan and top industrialists are bent upon giving credibility to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi when the Supreme Court is doing its best to expose his misdeeds. He is said to have planned and executed the killing of more than 2000 Muslims in his state in 2002.
Only a few days back the Supreme Court ordered reopening of the case of false encounter in which Sohrabuddin and his wife were killed. The apex court has been so horrified over the intentional closure of riot cases by the state machinery that it has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the cases of ethnic cleansing which Mr Modi's plotters had covered up.
When Mr Modi knows that the state's involvement is an open secret, why does he not cooperate with the SIT and give the information sought? The SIT had to seek the Supreme Court's intervention to get even a copy of his speech made soon after the carnage. His lawyer's plea that the speech is not relevant to the investigation is a hindrance to the process of probe. The text of the speech is required because Mrs Zakia Jafri has complained that her husband Ahsan Jafri, a former Congress MP, was killed by a mob in the Gulbarg Society complex. Her allegation is that the communal riot was allowed to go on in the state with the Chief Minister, Cabinet ministers, the police and the bureaucracy abdicating their constitutional duty to protect the lives of citizens irrespective of their caste and religion.
That Mr Modi is doing everything possible to block the probe or to prove that the business is as usual is understandable, but why those who enjoy clean reputation should associate themselves with him? One is at a loss to understand why Amitabh Bachchan undertook the journey to Ahmedabad to call on Mr Modi. The apparent reason of the actor's visit was to screen his movie, Paa, for the Chief Minister. There must be something more than what meets the eye.
Amitabh's visit gave credibility to a person whose hands are stained with blood. Mr Modi is shunned by the liberals and human right activists because he wears communalism on his sleeves. Amitabh is not so naïve that he does not know the crimes committed by Mr Modi and the furore his doings have created not only in India but also around the world. Amitabh's own credentials on secularism are not in doubt. But when he meets Mr Modi for the sake of a film, if that is all, the actor spoils his good name and he will have to live down with that image for the rest of his life. He has tried to condone the murders committed by the Gujarat state led by Mr Modi, and Amitabh should realise it.
It must be admitted that Amitabh's visit came at a time when people like me had not regained their composure after the concerted support given by the captains of industry, including Ratan Tata and Sunil Bharti Mittal. They specially gathered at Ahmedabad to pronounce their judgment that he should be India's Prime Minister. With their vision limited to making money, they have no idea of the country's ethos. Pluralism is not a matter of policy but of faith with us. We would not be able to develop ourselves as a powerful nation if we do not ensure that the minorities in the country have the same status and the opportunities that the majority enjoys. The constitution has consecrated the ideas and the industrialists should have faith in secularism. Incidentally, Wipro chief Azim Premji, a Muslim, correctly stayed away from the gathering.
The industry captains argue that Mr Modi's state was the best administered. One fails to understand how Gujarat comes under that category when Muslims do not feel safe. The government has not yet rehabilitated thousands of Muslims who were looted and uprooted during the riots. When the minorities do not feel protected and when there is no law and order for them, how can the state be classified as a well-administrated state?
In fact, the industrialists' support for Mr Modi makes them ungrateful since the billions they have made is due to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's economic reforms. His policy of globalisation has benefited them, although he has conveniently forgotten the word "socialist" included in the preamble to our Constitution. The industrialists never had so good, and despite Dr Manmohan Singh's repeated assurance of an inclusive economy, the development by and large is exclusive. And it goes without saying that the industrialists who gathered at Ahmedabad that day were conscious of the credibility which they were giving to Mr Modi. Their unthinking act has not only sullied their image but has also given justification to Mr Modi's pogrom.
One wishes one had faith in the Nanawati Commission looking into the Gujarat riots. Whatever it has said on the killings so far has not touched the core problem of Mr Modi's involvement. Justice Nanawati was evasive in his report even on the 1984 Sikh riots and felt shy of naming the person who inspired the riots. However, Justice Nanawati admitted that the Sikh riots were planned and executed with the help of the state machinery.
The only hope is the Supreme Court, which has reopened many cases. Its observations are an eye-opener. In a recent case, it has said: "We cannot shut our eyes and allow the state police to continue with the case." The court further said that Gujarat police probe "was not impartial." This is the severest indictment of any government. It appears as if many more skeletons will tumble out of Mr Modi's closet.
No doubt, he wants to establish that the state is normal. In a way, it is. But normalcy does not mean that the minorities should live in fear. For that, the government of India is responsible. It has not lifted even a finger to arraign Mr Modi for his complicity in the Gujarat riots. The inaction by the BJP government was understandable, but not that of the Congress. Politics of vote banks has disfigured the country's ethos of pluralism.
BY TEJINDER SINGH SODHI
Silent stands the historic Ghanta Ghar (clock tower) of the famous Lal Chowk area of the Srinagar city, witness to various important events of the history that unfolded at this commercial hub of the Kashmir valley.
This clock tower has seen leaders like first Prime Minister of free India Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi making historic speeches.
Since the eruption of the armed conflict in the valley 20 years ago, Ghanta Ghar stands witness to large-scale bloodshed, violent protests, bomb blasts and what not.
At times the place gets converted into a battlefield where everyone wants to gain domination. On every Republic and Independence Day the entire area is sealed off and the security force unfurls the Tricolour on the tower, but there is also clandestine unfurling of the Pakistani flag on various occasions.
These days nobody looks towards the clock tower to see the time, but it has become a symbol of the very identity of not only Lal chowk but the entire Srinagar city.
When the entire world was still in a festive mood to welcome New Year, the clock tower saw another bloody battle between security forces and the armed militants to gain supremacy in the area.
The area has always remained a target of the militants and this tower has seen many bomb blasts in which many innocent lives were lost. It seems to have become immune to these attacks as it has seen life returning to normal after every militant attack.
It stood helplessly during the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandit community and it waits silently with its arms wide open for the day when it would welcome the community back.
The clock tower was also witness to large-scale security deployment in the past when separatists appealed to the people to march towards it.
Many times the place has remained out of bound for common people and ahead of Republic day, there is again large-scale security bandobast to foil any militant attack.
Amidst all this bloodshed and violence, the clock tower waits patiently for the day when normalcy would return to the Kashmir valley and when people would again look towards it only to know the time.
INTERNAL SECURITY SCENARIO MAY DETERIORATE
BY GURMEET KANWAL
Though the year 2009 witnessed a marginal improvement in India's external security environment, internal security continued to deteriorate in view of the heightened activities of the Maoist-Naxalite terrorists. The unstable regional security environment, unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan and continuing internal security challenges pose serious national security threats to India.
Future conventional conflicts on the Indian subcontinent will flow out of unresolved territorial and boundary disputes in Jammu and Kashmir and along the unsettled border with China and will be predominantly land battles supported extensively by the air force.
While the probability of a conflict with China is low, patrol face-offs in no-man's land are common and these could result in armed clashes, leading to another border conflict. Such a conflict is likely to be limited in area and the application of force levels.
Though the conflict is likely to be predominantly a land battle, air power will need to be employed extensively, including attack helicopters and armed helicopters.
An extensive use will be made of artillery firepower from 155mm Howitzers and long-range rocket launchers. The Chinese may resort to the employment of conventionally armed SRBMs against the Indian forces, communication centres, logistics installations and choke points such as bridges.
Though a conflict at sea is highly unlikely in the 2020-25 time frame, the PLA Navy may be expected to begin operating in the northern Indian Ocean region by about 2015, ostensibly to safeguard China's sea lanes for oil, gas and trade.
Consequently, Indian Navy ships are likely to be shadowed by PLA submarines and occasionally even by surface ships, particularly during naval exercises.
It is now emerging clearly that the Pakistan army is unlikely to allow the new civilian dispensation to govern unfettered. Hence, hostility towards India will remain a key objective of Pakistan's security policies.
The present ceasefire along the LoC will hold only as long as it suits the Pakistan army's interests. The Pakistan army and the ISI will continue to encourage, aid and abet infiltration across the LoC.
The most likely conflict scenario is that of retaliatory Indian air and ground strikes across the LoC if there is credible intelligence of the involvement of any organ of the Pakistani state in a future Mumbai-type terror attack anywhere in India.
While India will calibrate its response carefully to control escalation, a short-sharp conflict cannot be ruled out and it may be necessary to mobilise the armed forces again.
Another possibility is that of a Kargil-type misadventure. This time it may be executed by the Pakistan army with help from LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen sleeper cells by occupying terrain features in remote areas like Hill Kaka and the Shamsabari range north of Bandipur in Kashmir Valley. They may declare these as liberated zones.
India may choose to strike across the LoC at carefully selected targets with its Air Force. In this scenario large-scale conflict is unlikely as India will once again exercise restraint. Artillery firepower will be extensively employed on military targets on and across the LoC.
Fighting on the LoC is likely to be limited in scope. Rear area security will be a major issue and will require the deployment of large numbers of para-military personnel as terrorists will disrupt the move of army convoys and supplies.
The probability of the conflict spilling over to the plains sector is extremely limited. In the maritime domain, the Pakistan navy will adopt a defensive posture.
However, the Pakistan navy will lose no opportunity to encourage and even abet terrorist strikes on Indian assets such as oil and gas rigs and shipping. The Pakistan navy is likely to operate with a greater degree of confidence once Chinese PLA navy ships begin to use the Gwadar port as a naval base.
A low-grade insurgency will continue to fester in J&K despite serious government efforts at reconciliation. However, the situation in the North-eastern states will gradually improve due to socio-economic growth and political maturity.
The worst internal security challenge will come from the rising tide of Left wing extremism or Maoist/Naxalite terrorism as the state and central governments continue to waver in their approach.
The Maoists will challenge the state by bringing small towns in the tribal belt under their political and security control.
At this stage, the Army will be called in to stem the rot even though it neither has the numbers nor the wherewithal to intervene effectively over thousands of square kilometres of jungle-covered terrain. Countries inimical to India will exploit the situation by providing arms, ammunition, equipment and financial support to the Maoists.
Home-grown Indian jihadis are increasingly joining the pan-Islamic 'movement'. Groups like the Indian Mujahideen will become more sophisticated in their attacks. They will be more difficult to apprehend as they will form cellular structures in which no terrorist will know more than two other people.
Terrorists with software expertise may launch cyber attacks on computer-controlled communications, transportation, power and commercial networks to cripple the Indian economy. Maritime and chemical and biological terrorism will increase considerably.
While the probability of nuclear terrorism is low, radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) may be used to spread panic and create hysteria. India will also need to enhance its vigil over its island territories as South-East Asian terrorist organisations will use these as secure bases.
All of these emerging threats will require far greater intelligence effort than has been the case so far and comprehensive inter-ministerial, inter-departmental, inter-agency and inter-security forces coordination to defeat successfully.n
The writer is the Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.
THE CLOAK OF DARKNESS
BY YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN
It is gratifying that so many white liberals have come out to defend shrouded Muslim women. Their generosity of spirit and messianic belief in liberty makes them recoil from a state ban on the burka.
under Sarkozy is set to take this step to be followed swiftly, I am sure, by some other EU countries. In Egypt too, top theologian, Sheikh Tantawi, of al-Azhar university is pushing for an anti-burka injunction, and Turkey remains ferociously divided over the militant secularism instated by its founding fathers.
Here, we are reassured, such a ban would be impossible. OK, the bonkers UKIP lot and rabid BNP bang on about it; noisy nuisances, easily ignored. Liberals say it just isn't British to prohibit and limit the personal choices of freeborn citizens.
Really? The British never accept any curtailment of individual preferences? So how has it come to pass that in this green and free land, we have more state surveillance and imposed restrictions and regulations than any other EU country ?
Why, we can't even take snaps in the streets without a hand of authority falling on the shoulder. Could it be that authoritarianism is not resisted because the British are naturally obedient, following social rules and legal sanctions?
From queuing, to drink-drive laws, most of us do what is expected. We surrender personal autonomy, sometimes for reasons that are clearly for the greater good the anti-smoking laws and sometimes because our rulers, like all rulers, wish to grab more power.
Naturists would love, I'm sure, to wander down Oxford Street, just window-shopping of course. They can't, because for most people that would be too much out there. Women in the full burka are the other side of that same coin. They give too little out there and, using passive violence, disconnect from the humanity around them.
Then the creed of liberalism, that passion for freedom and choice which sustains and vitalises Western civilisations. Ever more precious and fragile in today's world, I can see why it must be honoured and sheltered from the armies of repression.
However does liberalism have any duty to those who use liberal values as weapons to promote illiberalism? Is it obliged to become a suicide bomber, to self-destruct to prove itself?
We Muslims worldwide are engaged in ideological struggles against the Saudi Wahabis who have the cash and cunning to lure disenchanted middle-class and impoverished, powerless Muslims into their caves, where light itself fears to enter.
Yet some liberal Westerners take dilettante positions on freedom because their own lives are unaffected. Instead of standing with modernists, the staunchest defenders of freedom, they defect to the enemy. The retrogressive Muslim Council of Britain is now back in bed with the Government.
You people who support the "freedom" to wear the burka, do you think anorexics and drug addicts have the right to choose what they do? This covering makes women invisible, invalidates their participatory rights and confirms them as evil temptresses. Does it stop men from raping them? Does it mean they have more respect in the home and enclaves? Like hell it does. I feel the same fury when I see Orthodox Jewish women in wigs, with their many children, living tightly proscribed lives.
Progressive Muslims come out daily against the burka, and against mothers who bind and swaddle their young girls in preparation for their eventual incarceration which they will accept without a cry both un-Islamic customs. Yes, the burka will be used by racists against us. But while fighting racism we cannot allow ourselves to become apologists for another, abhorrent injustice.
I also understand that as society becomes less restrained, fear makes Muslims opt for separation. Used as a political protest, veils have potency but the price is too high. Farzana Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress wants the burka banned because gender equality is non-negotiable.
British Muslims for Secular Democracy (of which I am chair) are against a ban but do support restrictions in key public spaces, and point out that during the Haj pilgrimage no woman covers her face, that the burka makes women more, not less, conspicuous, and that communication is unequal because one party hides all expression.
Last Thursday a woman in the cloak of darkness got off the Tube train and stepped on some toes as she rushed. The looks that followed, pure hatred, and then the mutters, some from other Asians: "Stupid women, giving us all a bad name. They should send them back." Others joined in. It was awful. I felt for her and against her for living in darkness, and for her effect on the easily destabilised social environment and on the faith I hold dear.
By arrangement with The Independent
POLITICIANS AND THEIR GAMES
Several eye brows were raised in the BJP the other day when Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan attacked the politician-cricket nexus. BJP insiders were left wondering who he was targeting. The BJP has the maximum number of politicians managing games. There is Arun Jaitley heading the DDCA.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has also muscled his way into the cricket association of his state. Anurag Thakur, son of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, is the other cricketing politician from the BJP. On the other side, there are Kirti Azad and Navjot Singh Sidhu, from the cricket world to become politicos.
Chauhan also pronounced his preference for hockey to cricket by offering Rs 1 crore to the Indian Hockey Federation. He does not let go an opportunity to contrast his personality and activity with Modi, giving a sneaking suspicion that he is shaping up as the more acceptable successor to Gadkari/Advani for the 2014 general election.
Talking of cricket, it took two days for both the Congress and the BJP to react to the tirade from Pakistan against the IPL's snub to the Pakistani cricketers. Then they spoke almost simultaneously and apparently in one voice. Enough has been said about the merits of the action as also of the angry outbursts by the Pakistanis over the shabby treatment meted out to the Pakistani cricketers before the two parties woke up to react.
Now it is common knowledge that despite his association with the BCCI, Arun Jaitley has actively supported Lalit Modi's IPL. When Home Minister P. Chidambaram withheld security and, implicitly, permission to Modi to hold his cricket jamboree in India during the last general election, Jaitley was livid with Chidambaram.
Since the Pakistani outburst was not exactly against the Government of India or even the Indian people, there seemed to be an initial reluctance on the part of two main political parties to react to the Pakistani indignation.
A hot debate is on in legal circles on the recent remark of Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan that a decision on appealing against the Delhi High Court ruling on the Right to Information (RTI) Act will be taken in consultation with all the apex court judges. The High Court opined that the CJI office fell within the purview of the RTI Act and as such citizens could seek information from the SC under the Act.
Attorney General of India GE Vahanvati has gone on record stating that it is for the apex court to decide whether it should appeal to itself challenging the HC verdict. Personally, he felt there was nothing wrong in it as the issue involved several constitutional aspects on which the apex court was the ultimate authority.
Several apex court lawyers, however, would not agree with him. They feel that once all the SC judges decide in favour of challenging the HC verdict, they lose the moral authority to hear the case, having pre-judged the case. Well, the SC seems to be in a catch-22 situation.
Contribtued by Faraz Ahmad and R. Sedhuraman
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
DAY FOR INTROSPECTION
Our nation is at that critical point of time when idealism is being more and more replaced by ritualism both amongst the governed as well as those who govern. Spectacular parades along the Rajpath and elsewhere, therefore, accord harmoniously with the myth created by vested interests that India is scheduled to become a superpower by the year 2020. The itch to compare her to China is all pervasive amongst our leaders and economists and provides the motive-power for myth-creation propensities. But the reality is that China is way ahead of us as far as global power and reach is concerned, the authoritarian nature of its regime being functionally more 'efficient' in getting things done and keeping in check unsavoury aspects such as corruption. In contrast, the corruptive power of power so to say, both morally as well as monetarily, has become a marked feature amongst our law makers and bureaucracy, proving the greatest impediment to the creation of an egalitarian and progressive society. No doubt some have sought to reinforce the illusion of a superpower status by pointing out to the 'resilience' of the Indian economy which had been able to take a battering due to the global meltdown yet remain stable. But the truth is that the Indian economy had been able to withstand the onslaught only because its bigger, self-sustaining component remains outside the reach of global economic undertows.
It has been also pointed out by the pundits that India's gross domestic product has grown consistently during the last couple of decades, sure indication that we are set to become an economic powerhouse in the foreseeable future. What such assertions hide is that the figurative overall growth has not come from the crucial agricultural or industrial, but the service sector, most pertinently information-technology. So lagging behind are we in terms of infrastructure, especially power-generation and communication, that we might have to by compulsion arrive at a plateau whence the infrastructure will collapse due to the burden of growth. The fruits of whatever economic progress we have made are being enjoyed by a privileged section of the urban middle class; that almost two lakh farmers have committed suicide within just over a decade testifies to the reality of unequal disbursal of wealth. Over a quarter of our population still live below the poverty line; a vast number are not provided with adequate health care, housing and education. It is all very well for politicians to spout rhetoric and the bands in parades to play rousing patriotic tunes, but Republic Day should be more of a hallowed occasion for meaningful introspection than for celebration. Above all, it should be a day to renew our commitment towards the ideals of social justice and secularism that had inspired the founding fathers of the nation and pledge to work towards these.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
OIL SECTOR REFORMS
The long advocacy of economists for dispensing with administered price-support to petroleum and petroleum products has come back to the fore once again. Recently a study made by Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad on oil sector has suggested a radical reform of the sector, including complete deregulation that could free the public and private sector firms to arrive at competitive pricing of the fuel depending on market forces of demand and supply. It may be noted that the Central government has so far not allowed the three PSU retail oil firms, viz, the Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum to raise rates of petrol, diesel, domestic LPG and kerosene despite the cost of crude oil input jumping upward. LPG presently reaches more than USD 80 per barrel and the three firms are projecting to lose Rs 44,300 crore of revenue on fuel sales in current fiscal. Presently, these three firms are selling their products at a loss of Rs 3.06 for a litre of petrol, Rs 1.56 for a litre of diesel, Rs 17.23 per litre of kerosene and as high as Rs 299.01 on account of an LPG cylinder. In spite of this, the three State-run oil firms in public interest had to reduce the jet fuel prices in three consecutive fortnights by 1.6 per cent on the last day of December, 2009 to Rs 38,697 per kilolitre from Rs 40,434 in November to reach the level prevailing in last August. While reform of the oil sector is long overdue, its problem emanates from the structure of Central taxes and the system of subsidization through administered prices as the Centre is currently controlling prices of petrol and petroleum products while compensating the public sector firms through a complex mechanism that has sucked liquidity at the hands of retailers and also drained resources of up-stream firms like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation which are made to make good a part of the losses of oil firms by way of discount on crude oil that they sell to the three PSU oil firms.
India's oil subsidy policy is certainly a short-sighted means because such shifting of the burden to future generations is clearly unsustainable for both the government and the PSU oil companies. Such subsidy not only affects their financial health but also puts pressure on Centre's fiscal position since the already issued off-budget oil bonds of Rs 61,000 crore and the Centre's current thinking of issuing more such bonds will have to be accounted for budgeted expenditure pushing up, thereby, the present quantum of fiscal deficit to the order of 6.8 per cent of GDP. Thus, the social and fiscal costs arising out of the current method of subsidization have severe consequences. Since there is at present sufficient degree of competition in refining, marketing and retailing to ensure that fuel prices across locations do not vary by more than the difference in logistic costs of delivery to the locations from the cheapest sources, government subsidization and public distribution of kerosene do not merit justification. Perhaps, political difficulty, particularly in the present juncture of high food inflation and some Assembly elections to be faced next year is the only roadblock for government at the moment though the Petroleum Ministry is likely to propose deregulation of petrol prices and gradual phasing out of subsidies on diesel to ease the burden of PSU oil marketing companies. The sooner the Union government decides to rise above political considerations and accept oil ministry's suggestion of subsidy reduction, the better it is.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
VALUE OF THE NEHRU LEGACY
Two relatively young Ministers of State in Dr Manmohan Singh's government have distinguished themselves by their contrarian stances and penchant for controversy. They are well-educated, intellectually capable, technologically savvy, and exceptionally articulate like good college-style debators. They are also extremely opinionated, incurably ambitious, personally narcissistic, and desperate to get attention to the point of being exhibitionist. They have tried to shape policies in their respective areas in a broadly pro-Western and pro-United States directionwithout quite having the political mandate to do so.
These men are MoS of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh and MoS of External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. Ramesh is responsible, second only to Dr Singh, for leading India into the disastrous Copenhagen Accord, a collusive compact between the US, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) and a few other States, which absolves the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters of the responsibility to fight climate change. Ramesh has executed any number of policy turns, all ultimately resulting in pro-corporate and pro-West decisions.
Tharoor was parachuted and imposed on the Congress by its High Command after he lost the election for Secretary General of the United Nations. Since winning the Lok Sabha election, he has dutifully courted controversy through his actions, speeches and Twitter.com messages. He refused to occupy the bungalow allotted to him until it's expensively refurbished. Most Indians would consider the bungalow palatial. But Tharoor thought it was a dump and checked into a 5-star hotel, like his Cabinet Minister SM Krishna, for which he wanted the public to foot the bill. It's only when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee publicly reminded him that the government is committed to austerity and won't foot the bill that he moved out.
However, that didn't stop Tharoor from complaining about austerity, including the rule that Ministers should fly economy classor, as he put it, travel "cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!" This is obnoxious in a country where less than 3 percent of the population has ever flown. His messages are designed to stir things, snugger at official decisions and trigger controversy. He challenged his government's new tough visa regime by saying it wouldn't improve security and that the November 2008 Mumbai "killers had no visas". His Officer on Special Duty Joseph Jacob's nasty Tweet against Foreign Minister Krishna smacks of dubious intentions.
Through his obsessive malls, Tharoor is cultivating a constituency to build up his political career. This would be unobjectionable if it didn't involve repeated breaches of the democratic principle of Ministers' collective responsibility to the Cabinet and the occasional use of offensive language. But it involves exactly that. Tharoor will soon have to decide whether he wants to be a responsible, serious politician, or behave like a frivolous second-year college kid who delivers a running commentary and takes pot-shots at the government.
In the latest episode, involving a debate on India's foreign policy in the early post-Independence period, however, Tharoor's right to express dissident views in a semi-academic forum like the Indian Council of World Affairs in Delhi must be defended. Tharoor was commenting on a talk by Professor Bhikhu Parikh on India's Place in the World, which criticised India's foreign policy as deriving from "misplaced righteousness". Regardless of the merit of this judgment, there's nothing wrong with Tharoor's description of the lecture as "great". He was also right to criticise the media for distorting what he said.
However, how valid is Tharoor's view that Indian foreign policy, shaped by the special contribution by Gandhi and Nehru pertaining to "our civilisational heritage", enhanced India's global standing, but it "also earned us the negative reputation of running a moralistic commentary on world affairs"? Although Tharoor has tried to "balance" the two perceptions, he is clearly inclined to the negative view.
In his more considered remarks in his 2007 book India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond, he disparages non-alignment and economic development based on planning and public investment. He says Nehru "based his nationalism on a complete rejection of all things British and all their works. His letters ... reveal greater sympathy for the 'extremists' in the Indian National Congress than for the `moderates'."
The first proposition is factually false. Nehru learnt and took a great deal from the British, including Enlightenment ideas of progress and science, modernism and political liberalism and, above all, Westminster-style democracy. The second proposition too distorts reality. Congress "extremists" were not flaming radicals, but plain nationalists who wanted full independence rather than "home rule". Tharoor is right to say that Nehru "saw the imperialism that had subjugated his people as the logical extension of international capitalism, for which he therefore felt a profound mistrust". Indeed, British colonialism couldn't he separated from capitalism's predatory pursuits.
Nehru was right to be "sceptical of Western claims to stand for freedom and democracy when India's historical experience of colonial oppression and exploitation appeared to bear out the opposite". But he's wrong to say that Nehru established "a moral equivalence between the two rival power blocs"NATO led by the US, and the Socialist bloc led by the USSRinto which the world split after World War II. Tharoor is even more disastrously wrong to think that while non-alignment might have given India self-confidence and stature, the Indian people "arguably might have fared better in alliance with the West".
Tharoor's view of non-alignmentin line with what's becoming fashionable within Indian conservative opinionis profoundly mistaken. It misrepresents the post-War world. By the mid-20th century, only a handful of colonies like India had become independent. Much of Asia and most of Africa was still under the colonial yoke, and the Spanish/Portuguese/British/Dutch influence in much of Latin America and the Caribbean was still very powerful.
The world was extremely skewed, with income differentials of 1:30 between rich and poor countries. It was also in the grip of coercive hegemonies and conflicts set off as part of the Cold War. Mass poverty, widespread deprivation, illiteracy and severe underdevelopment prevailed within the international order marked by unequal terms of trade and rising corporate domination. Even international institutions were exclusionary. The United Nations was set up by just 53 countries.
Non-alignment was a logical, rational and ethical response to this polarisation and pervasive iniquity. Non-alignment didn't mean passive neutrality, but the active pursuit of options that might reform the world by accelerating decolonisation, reducing inequality and expanding space for the self-reliant development of the former colonies. Third World countries that chose align with the Western bloc turned into Banana Republics or lost out on both democratisation and development and became anemically dependent on the West. Nehru called them "Coca Cola countries".
India's non-aligned policy offered it options through which to pursue its national interest while providing moral-political leadership to the Global South. Its genius lay in recognising the limitations of both the Western and Soviet models and trying to devise an autonomous, new model for India, with a different notion of global power.
Nonalignment was not a "moralistic running commentary" on the world. It did have a strong moral content, but it also meant a creative exploration of different economic, diplomatic and strategic options and prompted the peaceful resolution of conflicts, greater equality and more development space for the South. This doesn't argue that Nehru was perfect.
Nonalignment, along with the other pillars of the Nehruvian consensusdemocracy, secularism and self-reliant equitable developmentretains much of its relevance. Today's world is even more conflict-ridden and unequal than in 1950, with income differentials of 90:1. If India is to do any good to the world, it must promote the agendas of equality, justice and peace and speak for the poor and underprivilegedand not ape the West.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CM'S MICROFINANCE SCHEME
The Central and State Governments are implementing various developmental schemes for the welfare of the weaker section of the society. But, owing to many factors including non-association of grass-root institution in implementation, the programme could not yield the expected result. Most of the programmes were based on top down approach and did not consider the needs and requirements of the poor. Activities for poverty alleviation in most cases adhered to fund-based development approach where there was little space for attaining people's sense on ownership which affected negatively the sustainability of the initiatives. Considering the large number of people still living below the poverty line, there is no doubt that the resources used for poverty alleviation and provision of subsidies in the name of poor had not been much effective in achieving the goal. Keeping in view, the importance of micro-finance on poverty alleviation, the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi on December 6, 2009 formally launched the Chief Minister's micro-finance scheme 'Khudra Reen' at a function held at Assam Administrative Staff College, Khanapara, Guwahati. Against the above mentioned backdrop, micro-finance through Self-Help Group has been recognised as one of the most promising and effective tool of poverty alleviation in most of the developing countries of the world. The success story of Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has been an eye opener to many countries of the world. The experience of Grameen Bank proved beyond doubt that the assumption of the traditional banking system of poor being non-bankable and non-credit worthy is false. They are bankable, trustworthy and have saving potential. They are required to be properly guided and monitored by the NGOs or Self-Help Promotional Institutions (SHPIs).
Our Chief Minister's scheme is aimed at providing low cost fund to the Self-Help Groups (SHGs)/Joint Liability Group (JLG's) through MFIs/NGOs for livelihood promotion and economic empowerment of the poorer section of the society. The Government of Assam has made available a fund of Rs 10 crore to Assam Financial Corporation which is the implementing agency for the scheme. He informed that the Government has given maximum stress on micro-financing for solving the unemployment problem and to help rural poor who cannot avail any financial assistance from financial institutions/banks. The poor people and especially the poor women have traditionally not been recognised as creditworthy or able to save and thus they are not perceived to be a profitable market for credit. This has pushed them to fall in the vicious circle of everlasting high interest and high collateral loan from money lenders. Therefore, the need comes for an innovative credit delivery system which deviates from formal collateral oriental lending institutions and formal structure. In a State like Assam with vast magnitude of unemployment and high level of poverty, only the micro finance programme is expected to mitigate the problem of the State.
Assam is an agricultural State of which 51.65 per cent of population is engaged in agriculture as a source of livelihood and it is the largest State in the North-eastern region in terms of population and accounts for 68.7 per cent of total North-East population. In Assam 36 per cent of the population are under below poverty line and 88.9 per cent of the population live in rural areas. Growth of population and stagnation in rural productivity with limitation of employment opportunities are sure to lead to greater indebtedness. The State's economy is characterised by long standing poverty. With the increase in population, growing inequality of income and increased price-level the degree of poverty in Assam started to increase as the number of occupation could not grow satisfactorily.
Micro-finance can play a key role in an economically backward State like Assam, where more than one third of the population is still living below the poverty line and where more than 21 lakhs people are unemployed. More significantly, microfinance approach can give financial autonomy to the womenfolk and given them the much needed self confidence to venture into different kinds of entrepreneurial activities. Micro finance is relevant to owe economy because a large portion of the State is rural where bank branches are sparse and are not flexible enough to cater in a timely manner and with adequate credit. The Government of Assam has given primary importance to the upliftment of poor thereby facilitating the formation of SHGs throughout the State. The State Government is conciously making an effort to assist these SHGs by providing a revolving fund and subsidies under the central scheme of SGSY in rural areas. In Assam, Banks are consider extending credit to SHGs that have opened saving accounts with them. Government of Assam consider the Anganwadi workers by involving them for pormotion of SHGs and extending the waiver of stamp duty to SHGs for availing Bank loans. In fact, in the year 1997-98, micro finance had really begun in Assam. Although the performance of the microfinance is not satisfactory as compared to some of the States in the country like Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal which recorded significant increase in micro-finance during the last few years. Of course, the growth rate of both the number of SHG linked to Banks and also the credit disbursed has been quite impressive in Assam. Therefore it is proved that if the poor are properly motivated and sensitised through education and training, they themselves can generate some funds for setting up micro-enterprise, which if effectively monitored by a dedicated NGO, can go along way in improving condition of the poor and marginalised, besides conferring self respect and dignity on themselves.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
For all the grand build-up, the meeting between the PM and the junior ministers to discuss 'work allocation' turned out to be quite an anticlimax. When MoS in the ministry of commerce and industry Jyotiraditya Scindia expressed concern over his state of relative underemployment, many others refused to play along. While Sachin Pilot and Jitin Prasada found no reason to speak at all, R P N Singh, Pallam Raju, Purandeswari and Palanimanikkam said they respect the seniority of their respective Cabinet ministers and were happy with their learning experiences'.
Ajay Maken even issued a statement, saying he was delighted to work in home ministry. E Ahmed and M Ramachandran, whose number of years in active politics exceeds the age of many "Gen Next" MoSs also made it a point to air their respect for seniors. Though Pratik Patil, Muniyappa and Sugata Roy murmured some sense of unhappiness, and some guidelines on work allocation are on the anvil, the real post-meeting gossip was that royalty still walks, and walks alone.
Mamta Banerjee's histrionics that saw her boycotting Jyoti Basu's last journey and then sulking over Congress president visiting Kolkata to pay her tributes to the departed leader have left the Congress party amused. The BJP camp, which had the first hand experience of Mamata's temperamental circus during the NDA regime, just can't stop gushing over the rumblings on the Delhi-Kolkata 'secular rail service' and, is hoping it will eventually get derailed. But then the experienced Congress leaders assert that the BJP's hopes on Mamata's instincts to undo the UPA-2 would go down the drain just as their secret hope of Prakash Karat doing the demolition job on UPA-1 had gone for a six.
The Congress camp says for all her "angry woman acts', Mamata knows too well that the Writer's Building is well within her reach, provided she doesn't burn her Congress bridges to reach it in the final lap. So Congress attended the Basu condolence meeting despite Mamata's sulks. But then, what is the fun in coalition politics, if sound-byte entertainers like Mamata or a Karat don't lead desperate doomsayers up the garden path?
Can Shibu Soren give up his strategic ties with Naxalites to help its ally BJP save face? Sensing that the Congress attack on the Soren regime's refusal to join the Centre's anti-Naxalite operation is actually aimed at exposing the flip side of the BJP's hotpursuit mantra, the saffron party claimed it had forced Guruji to turn the guns on Naxalites.
But then it is easier said than done. Even a child in Jharkhand knows it was JMM's tacit understanding with Naxalites that helped it in the electoral race. Four JMM MLAs are said to have been outsourced by Maoists. As Guruji is aware of the perils of dismounting the tiger, some pro-Maoists NGO activists the usual pet hate of saffron camp are enjoying the delicate scene where Soren has co-opted both 'Naxalites' and 'Nationalists'.
Politics of inflation plays out in a curious manner. At the Centre, the UPA regime remains the focused target of the entire opposition parties. Move out of Delhi, it takes a different turn. So we saw, Mulayam Singh Yadav blaming the Mayawati regime for the price rise. Lalu Yadav-led RJD has called a 'Bihar hutdown' to target the Nitish Kumar regime for "its failure to check hoarding". Even the Congress staged a hartal in Kerala against the Left Front regime.
In West Bengal, BJP called a bandh against Centre's failure to bring down price-line, and ended up targeting the ruling CPI-M. Since the party is in power only in 10 states, AICC makes it a point to daily blame the 'state governments' for failing to check hoarding. Amidst this regional turn, Congress is cheering Sharad Pawar emerging as the 'national villain' of inflation politics.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SENSEX DEPENDS LESS ON GLOBAL TRENDS
Despite strong quarterly corporate results beating market expectations, the Sensex fell 5% in the last week. The main reason is that fears of slow global growth or a double-dip recession have depressed markets across the globe, and India has fallen along with the others. Some will say that this fall does not reflect India's fundamentals, but this is wrong.
India remains substantially dependent on exports to fuel GDP, on external commercial loans to fuel investment, and on foreign institutional portfolio inflows to fuel its stock markets. So, linkage to global trends has become a new economic fundamental of India. Now, the country survived the global financial crisis exceptionally well, demonstrating that it could be resilient during global travails. But resilience is difference from independence.
If the global economy falters because of rising defaults in commercial real estate and credit card loans, or because of a premature withdrawal of financial stimulus and premature raising of interest rates in G-7 economies then India will be impacted too. Even if the global slowdown is modest, it can suffice to stop India Inc from beating market expectations, and that alone will depress markets.
India-specific factors have also led to the recent market decline. India's growth prospects being strong, the market had driven up Indian stock prices sharply. India's Sensex trades at 20 times estimated earnings for 2010, a higher ratio than in China (18 times), Brazil (13 times) or Russia (9.2 times). So, global investment banks are reducing 'buy' recommendations for Indian stocks, and FII inflows have dropped or reversed in the last week.
Pessimists worry that the RBI may raise interest rates on January 29. Apprehensions of global difficulties have led, as usual, to financial flight into safe-haven US securities, strengthening the dollar and weakening the rupee and other currencies.
The good news is that market inflows from Indian financial institutions are now as strong as from FIIs: the market has risen on many days despite net FII withdrawals. So, in the event of a global slowdown or stagnation, India will exhibit considerable resilience, but not independence.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TACKLE BALLOONING SUBSIDY BILL
The Centre reportedly wants to continue providing subsidy to consumers for cooking gas and kerosene for five more years. This is not good news from the point of view of reining in the fiscal deficit. Mounting subventions for subsidies mean diversion of savings by the government from investment to consumption, raising the cost of capital in the process.
The government must cut expenditure on subsidies to create more fiscal space for investments in both physical and social infrastructure. It should outline a plan for comprehensive reform in major subsidies including petroleum, food and fertilisers and set goal-posts. For one, there should be more transparency in the accounting of petroleum and fertiliser subsidies.
The government offsets a part of the underrecovery by oil marketing companies the difference between the retail price and the actual cost and its dues to fertiliser companies by issuing bonds, which then are not accounted for in the Budget, understating the actual level of the fiscal deficit. Of course, the most sensible solution is to abandon the administered pricing of petro-fuels and allow competition to hold the price line.
On food subsidies, the final goal of reform should be competition in the physical distribution of food grains and direct transfer of subsidy to the target beneficiaries. The government has also signalled its intention to move to a regime of nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy, transferred directly to farmers. However, it has not shown the courage to move from intent to action.
Subsidies as a percentage of gross domestic products (GDP) stood at around 1.8% of GDP in 1990-91 and fell to 1.4% of GDP in 1999-2000. The next decade saw a surge in the subsidy bill, marked by rising procurement prices and a surge in world prices of fertiliser and crude.
The big hit came in 2008-09 when subsidies were increased substantially to insulate consumers from the unprecedented surge in the economic cost of fertilisers and petroleum. The government had budgeted subsidies at Rs 66,537 crore, but the bill shot up nearly four-fold to touch Rs 2,19,582 crore a whopping 4.1% of GDP. Reforms are the only way out to reverse this trend.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE RATHORE SMILE
One wonders whether former Haryana DGP S P S Rathore, currently being interrogated by the CBI, is living up to the statement he recently made to the media that he would continue smiling even if things got worse. Rathore, of course, maintains that it was India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had inspired him to keep smiling. The Rathore smile some call it a smirk was telecast on December 21, 2009, the day he got immediate bail after being convicted and sentenced to six months for molesting 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra in August 1990.
The smile or smirk call it what you will inspired Ruchika's father and her friend Aradhana Sharma to continue with their campaign to get justice for the schoolgirl who committed suicide in 1993, shortly after her teenaged brother was picked up by the cops on charges of car-lifting which, the Girhotra family says, were fabricated in order to pressurise her into withdrawing the molestation complaint.
Affluent celebrity defendants in the US do not generally smirk or smile after being convicted. Consultants teach them to look penitent if they plead guilty or to project indignation if they continue to maintain their innocence even after being convicted. The right expression at the right moment says it all. After all, didn't Shakespeare, whom Rathore may have read in school or college, quip in his play Hamlet that "One may smile and smile and be a villain".
If Shakespeare is too high brow, there is even a limerick that goes, "There was a young lady from Niger/Who smiled as she rode on a tiger/They returned from the ride/With the lady inside/And the smile on the face of the tiger." Tigers, of course, are innocent unless proven guilty!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
COMPETITION COMMISSION OF INDIA: A GAME CHANGER
Recently, when a customer petitioned the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to intervene on his behalf against prepayment penalty on a loan imposed by his creditor bank, a senior Reserve Bank of India (RBI) official was quick to tell an ET (Oct 17, 2009) reporter, "We will direct banks to do away with the prepayment penalty in case of loans disbursed in future."
For years, customers had complained to the RBI about excessive prepayment penalties ranging from 1-4% of the loan value but without notice. The game changer this time around was the pending petition by the customer to the CCI. The commission, which began its full operations in April 2009, is required by the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2007 to protect the interests of consumers against anti-competitive practices of all market entities.
Because a prepayment penalty works as a barrier against refinancing of an existing loan at a lower interest rate offered by another bank, it has a good chance of being ruled as anti-competitive. The RBI, which has had the exclusive sway over all bank regulation till now, perhaps feared the entry of the CCI as a competing regulatory agency and wanted to pre-empt it by announcing its intention to end prepayment penalties.
From an economic standpoint, the advent of the CCI on the scene is perhaps the most important reform to take place during the six-year rule of the United Progressive Alliance. The Competition Act gives the commission wide powers to enforce efficiency and competition. Its jurisdiction extends to the entire economy including sectors such as banking, capital markets, insurance, telecommunications, roads and ports that already have sector-specific regulatory agencies. If the commission acts wisely so far it has given no reasons to suggest it won't and the government allows it the independence it must have to achieve the objectives laid out for it in the Competition Act, it can turn into the most important instrument of promoting efficiency and consumer welfare.
No doubt, the existing sector-specific regulators will view the entry of the CCI as an assault on their turf. They will likely lobby the government to deny the CCI jurisdiction over their sectors arguing that multiple regulatory agencies would only create confusion. Despite some truth in this argument, the government must deny such demands.
Sector-specific agencies often work closely with the companies they regulate and can be captured by them. In sectors with large public sector players such as banking, insurance, stock exchange and telecommunications, the problem may be especially acute since the sector-specific regulator may have an incentive to protect the profitability of public sector operators at the expense of the consumer. Prima facie, the soft attitude of the RBI towards prepayment penalties for years may have resulted from this moral hazard. Being at arms length from the companies, the CCI is better positioned to act in favour of the consumer.
The greatest challenge the CCI will face in promoting efficiency and consumer welfare will come from the existing government agencies and policies. For example, in the market for goods that are internationally traded, market power is difficult to exercise even when the number of firms operating in the domestic market is small. The availability of imports at competitive prices is often sufficient to restrain the market power of the firms.
A common failure of this mechanism results from anti-dumping actions of the government that force the most effective foreign competitors out of the market. In this case, the CCI has the unenviable task of taking on to the antidumping authority, which routinely ignores the interests of the consumer in favour of domestic producers.
Another major exception in the goods market arises in agriculture. Once again, the key source of the problem originates in the government: the monopoly of agricultural produce marketing committees on the purchases of certain products from farmers and their sales to retailers shortchanges the farmers, retailers and the final consumer. The CCI has a clear role to play here in opening the door to competing private agents to whom farmers can sell their produce and from whom consumers can directly buy it.
Numerous other areas in which the CCI can potentially play a role in promoting efficiency and consumer welfare relate to anti-competitive practices of the government. Procurement by government agencies lacks transparency resulting in excessive prices paid to suppliers. This hurts the taxpayer. State governments provide electricity free of charge to farmers, at prices below unit cost to households and at above-cost prices to the industry. This is an anti-competitive practice that shortchanges the industry and the taxpayer who must bear the burden of the implied subsidy.
In Mumbai, local authorities practice rent control, which benefits existing renters but creates shortage of rental space for those looking for rentals. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai fixes the floor-space index (the ratio of floor space in a building to the area of the plot) at excessively low level thereby adding to the shortage. The denial of rights to lay off workers under any circumstances by large firms impedes entry of large firms in labour-intensive sectors forcing workers into informal employment at low wages. Farmers lack legal title to land and therefore cannot fully utilise it as collateral. Industrialists and state governments often do not pay farmers true market price when acquiring land under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
In principle, these are all cases in which the damaged parties should be able to petition to the CCI. But it is unlikely the government will allow it to admit such petitions. Even so, it can play an important advocacy role explicitly assigned to it by the Competition Act and sensitise the government to the acute need for policy reforms to correct these problems. It is altogether possible that where the rants of economists and journalists have failed to attract the government's attention, criticisms by the CCI would succeed.
(The author is professor at Columbia University and Non-resident Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ON BEING PATRIOTS WITHOUT BORDERS
The Republic Day parade is meant to be a show of inner and outer strength and the country's militaristic and developmental wealth. The social scientist, Shiv Vishvanathan calls it a classic representation of the Indian nation state, evoking visions of power, technology and defence, and the will to progress with each tableau being an iconic stereotype of the most comfortable collective memory available. But what, he asks, "if the tableaux on dams included the displaced; the tableaux on Bengal included the Naxalbari violence... are margins and our minorities part of the memory of displacement?"
Obviously not, since we remain silent about the defeated and the erased.
To take that argument further, we also remain silent during the event about our boundaries, those lines of actual or assumed control that in fact define us. For what are we without our surroundings? A huge part of our political lifestyle and bluster would at once become makebelieve for instance if our only neighbours were living thousands of kilometres away in Paraguay, Iceland, Borneo, Sweden or New Zealand. Wouldn't it make more sense, therefore, if the whole parade was started or rounded off by tableaux representing Pakistan, Nepal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar?
The audience would at least get a more complex sense of its particular place in the sun. If the authorities could invite these countries, like they invite other heads of state, to also send and showcase their best available collective memories in the form of pageantry floats, they too could be appreciated and contextualised into India's history and contribute to its annual preen.
After all, we're already doing it during trade fairs aren't we? (Scoffers and cynics please note that any hostile neighbour would immediately be forced to "retaliate" by inviting an Indian tableau to participate in its own display of nationhood.
Getting such a free chance to show off soft power during this explosive period of globalisation is a bad thing or what? Not to speak of terrorist threats being diminished.) To paraphrase John Donne, no country is an island, entire of itself; all are of one world and one volume, and their sorrows should diminish us because we ought to be involved with them. We might even learn from this that all boundaries are inclusive and not made up of borders that automatically eliminate others.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REV UP ENERGY PRICE REFORM
It is notable that the chairman of the Thirteenth Finance Commission Dr Vijay Kelkar has called for proactive energy price reform and thorough overhaul of the open-ended subsidy regime for oil, power et al. We need to focus on 'relative prices': the price of a good or service in terms of another (read the ratio of two prices). The phrase can also denote the ratio between the price of one particular commodity say usable energy and a weighted average of all other goods available in the marketplace.
What needs to be emphasised is the high economic costs associated with the prevalence of energy subsidies across the board. As various studies show, the overall costs are likely to be far greater and would merely exacerbate resource allocation economywide. Now, in an accounting sense, energy subsidies are massive: adding to over 1% of GDP.
Reportedly, the 'under-recoveries' on account of subsidised kerosene (SKO) and cooking gas (LPG) sales would total over Rs 31,000 crore this fiscal; and current distribution losses of power utilities would amount to upwards of Rs 20,000 crore per annum if we had up-to-date figures. Further, there are other reported under-recoveries, such as those on account of petrol and diesel sales. But true economic costs would still be higher. Subsidies for consumption, by lowering end-use prices by fiat, can perversely discourage conservation and come in the way of more efficient energy use.
Worse, it can mean that much of the subsidised item is in effect diverted for fuel adulteration, as in the case of SKO. Also, the subsidy on LPG is appropriated by the non-poor. It is a related matter that by reducing energy prices as a matter of policy, it would stultify returns and payback, and so may well curtail and restrict the investment behaviour of producers. The weak finances of power utilities and the consequent investment backlog is a case in point.
There are still more ill-effects of energy subsidies. For instance, subsidies can and do reduce the incentives to rev up efficiency improvements, say in the logistics chain in the supply and delivery of petroleum products. In a regime of administered prices there's a general lack of transparency in the retail pricing of petro-products, with enough scope for cost-plus padding and the like. Anyway, direct subsidies for oil products basically open-ended consumption subsidies are a drain on government finances. In a poor country, the funds are better spent on other deserving heads, such as the social sector. Energy subsidies too can give rise to a panoply of untoward activities like smuggling of fuels across the border.
There are likely to be additional economic costs. For example, given the volumes in oil and regular 'under-recoveries' on account of retail sales, the unscheduled borrowings of oil companies can soak up resources and mean dearer cost of funds for all and sundry. So there would be both fiscal and monetary effects of an unreformed energy subsidy regime.
Besides, subsidies in fossil-fuel usage end up needlessly revving up the relative price of renewables and alternative energy sources like solar power. It would hamper the diffusion and commercialisation of emerging technologies, at huge national cost. In any case, while on paper energy-subsidy schemes are supposed to add to the purchasing power of poor households and provide access, the ground reality is that the poor can actually end up worse off with the subsidy disproportionately used by others. Leakages can be rampant. Note that after decades of politically mandated power tariffs and giveaways, at least 40% of rural households lack power, and the quality of supply is generally unreliable.
The point is that we need urgent policy reform on energy subsidies. There may be a sound case for limited subsidy to improve access for the poor, especially when social security and income support is non-existent or minimal, but these need to be well targetted for the greater good. What's required is subsidy design that does not disincentivise producers and does not otherwise distort supplies, energy efficiency or have sooty polluting effects. What's needed is a pan-India scheme to phase out subsidy on SKO with purposeful diffusion of solar lamps and better-designed cooking stoves. Also required is doing away with the subsidy on LPG, and parallel marketing to bring down costs, improve logistics and shore up productivity gains in the output value-chain.
Further, the retail oil market for petrol and diesel needs opening up and reform. We need independent retailers to end the extant 'ring-fencing' in oil marketing. Also, we need to rationalise taxes on petro-products, and do away with cascading taxes in oil. High taxes are plain distorting. Additionally, we need a proper market for power, complete with mandatory corporatisation of power utilities and incentives for stockmarket listing, for transparency in accounting and returns. About time too.
Open-ended energy subsidies entail high economic costs across the board. There would certainly be unsustainable fiscal and monetary effects of an under-reformed energy policy. We need to urgently rationalise taxes on petro-products even as we reform the oil subsidy regime going forward.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HCL TO FOCUS ON VOLUMES TO DRIVE MARGINS, SAYS VINEET NAYAR
PRAMUGDHA MAMGAIN & PANKAJ MISHRA
For Vineet Nayar, chief executive of HCL Technologies, chasing aggressive growth by expanding market share ranks higher on priority than seeking to maintain profit margins in excess of 25% a strategy adopted by larger rivals such as Infosys. Nayar, who took over as the company's chief executive in 2007, is now preparing to restructure HCL by exploring newer leaders. In an interview, he talks about how HCL managed to add nearly $466 million in incremental revenues during calendar year 2009 at a time when TCS, Infosys, Wipro and IBM Services witnessed negative revenue growth because of a worsening economic crisis. Excerpts.
Many would argue that HCL is chasing high volume growth and more market share at the expense of profitability. How do you approach growth versus profit dilemma?
We are not necessarily in any 'margin trap.' For us, volume will drive margins too. HCL's market share story last year, when we had $466 million in incremental revenues, was driven primarily by new customers. In fact, all $2 billion worth of deals we signed in 2008, and which started coming as revenues in 2009, were from new customers. Existing customers started cutting budgets, and unlike rivals , we keep our focus on the new customers. So, last year, we gained because almost all our existing customers were new ones.
Is there any management restructuring on the anvil?
In 2000, almost all Indian IT companies were in the range of $100-150 million, and nobody could have said that HCL was going to make it this big. Now everybody is talking about the next set of companies which will grow at 30% or more for the next 5-10 years. Is that going to be an Amazon, Google, or an Indian services company, only time will tell.
What is important is that my business cannot be based on '2000' model, and we will have to reorient. We are in for the 'mother of all' restructurings and are trying to understand the contours around which we need to restructure. This process is not yet over. This restructuring will be aimed at 2010 to 2015 and beyond, the next five years in the medium to short term. Over next 6-9 months we will be working on this.
Meanwhile, at the mid management level, restructuring is an ongoing process. As new ideas come up and new opportunities emerge we keep on moving people, including senior managers towards newer opportunities.
What are your views about the workforce of tomorrow? You seem to have adopted just-in-time hiring, will it have any impact on your workforce mix in terms of freshers and lateral hires?
We do not give guidance, however, in the past freshers with one year experience have been less than 40%. Freshers will continue to play a role but laterals will jump start us getting into transformation projects.
On workforce of tomorrow, it will be skill, competence and capability based and not experience(or lack of it) and location based. It will demand respect and trust and cannot be taken for granted. It will be the most important difference between success and failure in coming years.
Is this recovery for real, and sustainable?
Demand is linked to economy recovery and as per the latest government's forecast, recovery will be robust from the middle of the next financial year. Also, it is purely based on S&P 500 analysis of projected growth. As per S&P 500 data, 80% of the companies in April-June quarter will show positive growth. Moreover, IT budgets are being finalised and are likely to be on a higher side. But, none of these factors will have a large impact on the market share.
HCL's market share will be driven by development of new services in the engineering and enterprise application space. Even amidst slowdown and low IT budgets, HCL demonstrated 23% y-o-y growth because it reconfigured services as per customers' demand.
A YOUTHFUL REPUBLIC, AT 60, LOOKS AHEAD
The Republic at 60. There is a paradox built into the Indian situation as we pass this milestone today. Most Indians who are putting in the hard work to take the country forward at the republic's mellow age of 60 are well below 30. Seen in any light, this is a sign of great good fortune. Whether, as a people, we seize the opportunity that a young population offers, the energy it brings to every enterprise, and the elemental dynamics of ideas that emanate from youthfulness, will matter for the country and the world. The only reasonable way of economic expansion that is not prejudicial to social cohesion is to remain inclusive in approach. If this is lost, a young population will be a squabbling young population with fratricidal thoughts. It will not be our anticipated source of strength; instead, it will be a pool of negative energy that will encourage centrifugal tendencies. This will be a hindrance to advancement in the new century when we have such high expectations of ourselves and the world thinks of us as a cornerstone of stable thought and action a society and polity whose efforts help lift people. It goes without saying that if India rises responsibly and without internal frission, it will benefit not only itself but also its neighbours, the region in which it is geographically placed, and the world. For all of this to happen and for a benign dynamic to flow from our actions, it is imperative that our policies should be specifically geared to lift the country's poor from the abysmal darkness that has been their lot. There is a shaming paradox we deal with here. After growing at approximately eight per cent for a decade, we find that about a third of the country lives below the poverty line, no matter what definition one cares to use, and that more than three-quarters of the population survives on Rs 20 a day, according to an official report. Whether we are able to change this state of affairs within a reasonable time will depend to a considerable extent on the lead given by our political parties, those that are in government at the Centre and in the states and no less those that sit in the Opposition. It is important to forge a working consensus on ways to defeat poverty, the big enemy we have confronted less than convincingly for 60 years. We believe in the strength of our political system and are optimistic about the abilities of our parties and our senior politicians to grapple with new modes of thought. If we show the resolve to drive out poverty, we will find that new education, new science, new production processes, and new forms of international conduct on our part will be forged as a corollary and all of them will be in the positive mould. These will change the face of India. The path of large-scale transformation has never been smooth. In India, however, apart from coping with the parameters and obstacles that usually attend societal change, the responsibility does lie with the government and the political class as a whole to deal with issues pertaining to extremist religious and political ideologies. Not to put too fine a point on it, coping with extremism whether born within the system or pushed in from outside by those that do not wish us well is likely to occupy us for some time to come. This could take the form of terrorism or any other kind of fanaticism that seeks to cleave our common fabric. If our young population finds ways of coping with these, it will be going ahead with seven league boots.
A DAY THAT DEFINES INDIA
BY ASHOK MALIK
In his book Working a Democratic Constitution: The Indian Experience, the American scholar Granville Austin describes the key symbolic moment on January 26, 1950, when the old order passed and the new took charge, and when "began the great enterprise of nationhood".
Ceremonies commenced with federal court Chief Justice Harilal Kania administering the oath of office to Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. The President then swore in Jawaharlal Nehru, as the first Prime Minister under the Constitution, and the members of his Cabinet. Finally, President Rajendra Prasad administered the oath of office to Harilal Kania, as Chief Justice of the new Supreme Court. This was the magic moment. "The country's new government", as Austin writes, "was in place".
The same jurist who headed the federal court would now head the Supreme Court. His legal acumen, his sense of jurisprudence, his commitment to justice and fair play nothing had changed. So what was the difference about? It lay simply in the source of Chief Justice Kania's authority. This no longer derived from a colonial government or a dominion of the British Empire; it no more treated all residents of India, prince and pauper, British officer and Indian civilian, as segmented classes. His authority was now derived from the People of India and every citizen would thereafter be equal and non-segregated.
As one of history's photo-ops or iconic memories, the delicate interplay between Harilal Kania and Rajendra Prasad stands little chance when compared to the midnight of August 15, and with Nehru's majestic oratory: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny " This ends up telling on how the average Indian tends to treat January 26.
For the vast majority, Republic Day, like Independence Day, is simply a welcome holiday. Indeed, it is often a genuine day off, as opposed to, say, a religious festival that may still require household chores and customary duties. Yet, even within the framework of India's two most important secular festivals, there is a clear hierarchy. In public perception, January 26 is the poor cousin of August 15.
Part of the reason lies in what the individual dates commemorate. Independence Day is easy to understand: it is the day foreign rule ended and India became free. Freedom is defined here in a strictly political sense, as a transfer of power from a British head of government to an Indian one.
Republic Day represents a layered and complex phenomenon. You can explain freedom in the popular idiom, but how can you translate constitutionalism and the republican ethic? "The day we became free" is a simple phrase; "the day we became a republic and inaugurated our Constitution" is simply not so.
Politicians and political thinkers alike have long pondered this. Making constitutional questions and debates intelligible to a mass audience is always going to prove a challenge. Take an example. The battle for freedom can be represented in Hindi cinema in the form of a fearless revolutionary who goes down battling the British Raj in, say, 1942. This battle also has a happy sell-by date: 1947.
In contrast, the battle to uphold the Constitution is abstract as well as ongoing and eternal. January 26, 1950, was only a milestone, though admittedly a very important one. No Hindi film is likely to be made on the struggle in the Supreme Court to insulate the "basic structure" of the Constitution from legislative amendment. Outside the editorial pages of newspapers, Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala (1973) can never invoke the drama and passion of Chandrashekhar Azad's heroic last stand.
Several attempts have been made to relate the Constitution to the people. Some have been clumsy, others nuanced, but all of them have fallen short. This year, the Gujarat government is marking the 60th anniversary of the Constitution by placing a replica of India's Big Fat Book on an elephant and taking it on a yatra around the state, making it a subject of veneration as would be the case with a religious text.
Yet, even this has its shortcomings. Such a yatra can convey the message that the Constitution is the defining text of the inclusive idea that is India. It cannot, however, entirely convey what the text stands for.
This is unfortunate. In a sense, January 26, 1950, is much more momentous than August 15, 1947. Independence Day celebrates one aspect of freedom the political. Republic Day pays tribute to a much wider expression of freedom the freedom from hierarchy, actually multiple hierarchies.
It was the day the princely kingdoms ceased to exist as even an idea. It was the day India gave itself a President and a set of public servants who would not be defined by inheritance, family or traditional sources of power. To that extent, it inaugurated the quest for a meritocratic society. The 60 years since then have been a process of expansion of that quest. Gradually, little by little, they have cut down so many of our old hierarchies princely privileges, caste-based suzerainty, unequal access to law and justice.
No doubt, the process is imperfect and incomplete. Royal families have been replaced by political dynasties; the law is the same for every one of us billion Indians but the legal system is slow moving and expensive; caste differentiation has not been entirely effaced. Yet, who would argue that Indian society is not freer and less hierarchical today than it was on January 25, 1950? That is the true import of the republican revolution. It can never cease; it can only gain momentum, relentlessly till the end of time.
Ashok Malik can be contacted at email@example.com 
60 YEARS ON, OUR TRYST WITH DESTINY CONTINUES
If secularism, socialism and non-alignment were the three pillars of the Indian state on the proclamation of the Republic 60 years ago, non-alignment has lost its relevance with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, socialism lost out to globalisation and consumer society and secularism survives in a battered state.
The truth is that 60 years is a long time in the grooming of a new nation state, with Jawaharlal Nehru's memorable words of a tryst with destiny then still ringing in our ears. And it must surely be to the credit of the Indian state and people that, but for a brief aberration during the Emergency, democracy has not merely survived but also been invigorated by the flowering of civil society and its empowerment through private television channels and the Internet and its progeny, Twitter and Facebook.
But we have lost out in some of our values. Consider the levels of corruption prevailing in the political and bureaucratic fields and in civil society. Partly, it is the result of the temptation of a new consumer society, the can-do mood of sections seeking success and the mounting expenses involved in contesting elections. If election money is the root of evil, no one has found a solution to the malaise, with the proposal for state funding of parties worse than the disease because it would denude the exchequer of considerable amounts while candidates and parties would top up campaigns with surreptitious money.
Perhaps the most abiding changes we have seen in the political landscape in these 60 years are in the field of secularism and the rightward tilt in the political spectrum. Both these phenomena are linked to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of the ashes of the Jan Sangh. Once the BJP achieved power for the first time in New Delhi as the leader of a coalition, it had arrived. The fact that parties that claimed to be secular were prepared to join the BJP in a government meant that the communal stigma that had been attached to it was largely washed away. Even the Congress Party became wobbly on occasion in holding aloft the banner of secularism.
The first party to achieve power at the Centre on the basis of an alternative anti-Congress ideology would inevitably leave its mark. The BJP did not believe in the merit of a "socialistic pattern of society" and although it flirted with vague concepts such as "Gandhian socialism" to make itself more acceptable, it was the Ayodhya fuse lit by L.K. Advani and his infamous rath yatra that brought it the votes to lead a coalition in Delhi.
The BJP has waxed and waned in expounding its Hindutva concept, but its essence is in invoking Hindu India and its values to make the modern nation state in the image of its picture of a distant past. In the process, as Mr Advani so graphically demonstrated during his original rath yatra, the BJP was tapping into the tragedy of the Partition and the bloodshed accompanying it to demonise the Muslim in India and its neighbourhood. Together with the vague longing for an India of a supposedly golden age, the mainspring of the party's urges was a regressive social philosophy confining women to an inferior status (under the guise of worshipping them) and banning and demonising any progressive form of art if it was interpreted as denigrating Hindu sensitivities. This brew was matured in the cask of nationalism and policed by members of the Sangh Parivar.
The surprise is the root these pseudo-concepts have taken among sections of the urban middle classes. Recurring waves of terrorist activities inspired by and emanating from Pakistan serve to buttress the BJP's propaganda over the large Muslim population in India. The urban Indian today is certainly more conscious of religion and caste than he was at the birth of the Republic. Yet the electorate rejected the BJP twice in national elections since its stints of six years in power.
A young Indian today is far more self-confident than his parents and his outlook is tinged by an optimism that older folk can only marvel at. He is largely free from colonial complexes but, despite flashes of revolt, he remains socially conservative. Political parties have still to come to terms with the empowered civil society employing technology to make its voice heard through the Internet and by TV channels taking up issues and replaying old segments of pronouncements later repudiated by politicians.
There is still a long way to go to empower the poor and the unfortunate while a beginning is being made to move towards a more inclusive society. But the concept of democracy has held up, warts and all. The answer is that there is no viable alternative to governing a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-regional society of innumerable linguistic groups. The BJP's rejection in elections is proof that people do not wish to tilt the nation to a philosophy of no return.
A SENSE OF FREEDOM
BY SUNEEL SINHA
The meaning of freedom is losing its way in just 60 years.
How many men or women do you know who are really free despite the fact that you live in a nation that is independent? The collective freedom of a people must be the sum of individually free people. So the question is, are we really free in the most basic sense of the term, or are the generations after January 26, 1950 born free, as Rousseau said, but in chains everywhere?
The desire to be free is born of a basic emotion: ego. It is the reason brave men have fought foolish battles, it is why oppression has been met with bloody revolution, and once with a fistful of salt, and why men and women holding candles and armed with a song have marched along knowing they would be cut down.
There are, of course, many ways to interpret what inspires one to the goal of freedom. But almost all these ways find their way back to ego. A revolution is an uprising that occurs more often than not against domination. All the suffering, pain and injustice heaped upon a people are but catalysts, the oxygen that feeds an explosion. The real reason why one person, or ten, or a thousand, stood up and said "Enough!" is not always because the pain was impossible to bear but because of a feeling deep down that said you are as good, if not better, than the other. Ego. The fire was always there, flickering, may be, but always burning.
This feeling has described some of history's most important moments. Ego, in one form or another, was why Spartacus rose against the Roman Empire. Brutus was swayed by Caesar's assassins to inflict the cruellest wound in his friend's breast and a turbulent English priest, Becket, was murdered by knights on the orders of his lord, liege and friend for much the same reason. Jane Eyre was written by a woman seeking to break free of corseted Victorian England. History is strung together by people on this common thread.
Two Indians, in this writer's mind, stand out as having been truly free. There will be countless others, but space for once is finite. Porus and Gandhi. The king who dared Alexander at the Jhelum over two millennia ago was a free man when he did so. When I say free, it also means free will. He had the choice of whether or not to stand and fight. He must have known he could not win. Ego, and the resultant love of freedom, decided otherwise. But there is a paradox here. Porus was never freer than when he was vanquished, never more than when he told Alexander he wished to be treated as a king. It was a shining moment. But it passed into vassaldom, much like the freedom granted us over half a century ago is in chains today the links of which are made up of poverty, hunger and deprivation. Alexander was impressed not because of the force of an Indian king's words but because he understood that freedom lay in the mind, that it was an idea that he could not kill. Alexander, of course, had both ego and luck, or else he should never have have reached the Beas.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, on the other hand, became free the day he was thrown out of a train in South Africa for being the wrong colour. The difference between these two men was that for Gandhi there would never be any vassaldom from that point. The Mahatma would live free and die free. The tragedy was that when he fell to an assassin's bullets he was already wounded by Partition and the knowledge that there were many shackles still to be thrown off. Many of those fetters remain today.
There were other free souls. The Rajput alliance at Panipat; Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, who would ride to certain death but would choose to do so in Gwalior's pearls; Tipu Sultan, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad to list them all would need a wall substantially larger than the monument at India Gate.
Before the French Revolution ushered in the Modern Age, people were governed by the elite. Society accepted the Lord of the Manor as their superior. All that has changed. Or has it? In today's free India, the Constitution guarantees us certain freedoms. We call them rights. There are also duties. For most Indians, in practical terms, the promise of the Constitution remains unfu-lfilled. The human condition in India will not change until more people display the singular quality that links the men and women who dared. Will you, dear reader, dare to dream that you are an equal?
BUILD CYBER BULWARKS
BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
As the Republic of India turns 60 today, it is pertinent to ask if a repeat of 26/11 is already under way, this time as a cyber-offensive? The portents are disturbing. In China, the Internet company Google is reportedly making plans to move out of the country after electronic mail accounts of human rights activists were allegedly targeted in cyber attacks from official Chinese sources. In India, there are reports about the collapse of the air traffic control radar system for several hours at New Delhi's busy Indira Gandhi International Airport, crippling the country's premier nodal centres for an appreciable period, while "systems crashes" have become a regular phenomenon at airline and railway reservation counters as well as banks. A number of reasons are periodically put forward for these failures, but the common factor in all these is the existence of malfunctioning computer networks.
The Prime Minister's Office has recently denied reports about attempts to hack into its computer systems, saying that no sensitive information had been illegally accessed, but the news stories on the subject persist. There had been earlier reports of such hacking attempts from portals located as distant as in California, Russia and Brazil, while a spate of similar reports in 2008 about the alleged cyber penetration of computer networks in the ministry of external affairs led to a flurry of denials. The sources of these incidents involving Indian government networks were allegedly located in the People's Republic of China.
Are there more to these intermittent mishaps than meet the eye, and could these sporadic cyber incidents be hostile action probing India's cyber firewalls? Such conjectures can certainly be dismissed as farfetched and hyper-imaginary, or could there just possibly indeed be something gathering out there in cyberspace? India's setbacks, whether at Kargil in 1999 or Mumbai's 26/11, were attributed to "intelligence failure". Do we have adequate information about the implications of these cyber incidents, or is the country heading for another "intelligence failure"?
Cyberwarfare is a slow poison silently administered by non-attributable, physically non-intrusive ninjas, largely non-detectable, except by highly specialised agencies. In a "hot peace" environment of proxy wars and plausible deniability, cyberwarfare offers an attractive non-invasive strategic alternative. It can be covertly originated from cyber-portals in third countries as "murder with a borrowed sword", about which the involuntary host countries may be genuinely unaware. Cyberattacks enhance the overall disruptive impact of terrorist actions, and like other forms of terrorism, prefers soft targets which are generally totally open to even the most rudimentary forms of intervention.
Military cyber facilities and systems are important targets, but at the overall national level it is the almost totally unprotected and vulnerable public cyber systems which constitute the critical strategic targets for disruption. These include the networks controlling financial, transportation, medical, administrative and other public support systems, whose crash would bring the entire nation literally to a standstill and make governance totally non-functional. This is particularly so in India, where awareness is almost totally lacking in the general public domain about cyber threats and the need for protective security.
Even where there is some degree of awareness, it is limited to theoretical aspects and its practical applications are highly inadequate. Efforts to develop such capabilities are disjointed and sporadic. A national cyber security policy must be formulated and disseminated at the earliest. There are deficiencies in organisation, and a need for trained and experienced personnel along with the requisite technical equipment.
China, on the other hand, is one of the leading countries in the world in defensive and offensive cyberwarfare, designated "computer network operations" (CNO) by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which has formulated its operational doctrine of "Integrated Network Electronic Warfare" synergising CNO and electronic warfare. This is integrated into the PLA's core military strategy of "local wars under conditions of informationalisation" propagated for future conflicts, which are visualised as border wars to reclaim territories historically considered as Chinese. Among the potential flashpoints in such an eventuality are the disputed areas along the Sino-Indian border, most particularly Arunachal Pradesh, India's "Land of the Rising Sun", recently reappropriated by China as "Southern Tibet". China's organisations for cyberwarfare have in effect returned to the country's Maoist roots of "people's war, incorporating faculties and facilities of civil universities and academic institutions to create armies of amateur cyberwarriors, a "people's militia" of academics and talented amateurs organised to undertake offensive cyber campaigns. Their primary task is hacking into targeted networks, either to gain information or to deface the sites, a gigantic effort whose full dimensions are as yet unknown. Some estimates put them as a corps of over 3,00,000-4,00,000 dedicated hackers supported by government and academic resources.
Cyber attacks are almost tailormade for Pakistan's "long war" proxy operations against India, with a definite possibility of covert coordination with China. Skirmishes in cyberspace between Pakistani and Indian hackers have been reported, and there have been "hits" on Indian networks.
Although belated, there appear to be stirrings of comprehension within India on the potential threats of cyberattack. The country is claimed to be a powerhouse in information technology, but even over 62 years after Independence these remain confined to software, without any corresponding strengths in hardware, especially in the critical strategic area of manufacturing electronic chips. Due to this single basic deficiency, India's information technology capabilities are highly asymmetric, almost totally dependent for vital components on foreign sources located in Taiwan, South Korea and the People's Republic of China. There is nothing in place in this country even remotely resembling the planned harnessing of knowledge power into a comprehensive cyberwarfare "people's militia" like China's. India's defence services are well behind their Chinese counterparts in development of integrated joint service cyberwarfare capabilities.
On Republic Day 2010, the country's strategic and scientific community must take serious stock of our cyberwarfare capabilities, which remains an underexplored dark continent and a gaping void in national security.
Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament
POWER OF YOGA
BY YOGI ASHWINI
If we look around whether its our neighbourhood, our country or the state of the world today all we can see is chaos. People are struggling over trivial issues. They are struggling to fulfil their ambitions and aspirations, at the workplace, in relationships or tackling larger issues of terrorism and safety concerns.
Peace or shanti has become such a rare concept that people receive Nobel Peace Prize nominations for attempting to address such an issue in daily life. The concept of peace is thousands of years old and was given at the time, by Vedic rishis, when modern historians believed the world to be inhabited by barbarians or nomads. The first mantras to be chanted amongst daily prayers began with praying for shanti first for the universe, the planet earth, amongst the vegetation and the energies that surround us and then for oneself as the rishis very well understood that the world can be a beautiful place to live in only when there is peace and harmony between the inhabitants and the environment that surrounds them. While modern textbooks preach the "survival of the fittest" and push the present generation to become achievers by leaving the crowd behind, the followers of the Vedas were selfless who gave importance to other's well-being.
The highly evolved beings of those times had a thorough understanding of various aspects of energy. This energy was responsible for the proper functioning of the creation. One such energy is agni. While the "primitive man" was discovering fire, there were subtler aspects of fire that the rishis used in their practices to achieve higher states of physical as well as etheric existence of human being. Let us take forward this series of knowing more about Vedic wisdom and various aspects of agni.
Each finger represents an element. The thumb represents fire, index finger air, the middle finger ether, ring finger water and the small finger earth. The tip of the thumb which represents fire element can be used to alter the states of other three elements air, ether and water in the body. If body shows symptoms of sluggish digestion, constipation or slow peristaltic movement, touching the tips of the last two fingers to the tip of the thumb and maintaining this mudra for 20 to 30 minutes facilitates peristalsis and digestion. Various yogic techniques and texts like Hatha Yoga and Sanatan Kriya talk at length about physical and subtler aspects of agni, which is also one of the major constituents of the physical body one of the five mahabhutas.
Techniques of yoga are so highly developed and complete that without the aid of any modern instruments, the yogis had a thorough understanding of not just the physical body but also the subtle elements and there sub-elements and methods to manipulate them to suit the needs and requirements of the body. That is how even today, though rare is a chance for a normal person to locate them, yogis in a state of dhyan can go on for months and years without clothes or food.
Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Santan Kriya: 51 Miracles...and a Haunting.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org 
PAROLE is a conditional release of a prisoner for a brief period. It is a gesture, rooted in compassion, and one of the correctional measures to bring a convict into the mainstream of society. Generally, parole is granted to a prisoner by the government once a year for 30 days. However, it can be extended at the discretion of the administration.
A convict's application for parole is forwarded to the IG Prisons, who verifies the grounds, the capacity of the prisoner to furnish the bond or surety guaranteeing his return to the prison when the parole ends. The impact of the parole on other prisoners is also assessed and the opinion of the police sought. In a word, parole is granted with abundant caution.
Additionally, the IG Prisons is empowered to release a convict on furlough for a maximum of 15 days in a year. Further, the Governor of the state may grant mercy or clemency to a convict by reducing the length of conviction on the recommendation of the government. Such concessions are based on the prisoner's conduct, self-control, and submission to prison discipline. The government must be convinced that he will not commit crime again. The prison officials are also competent to remit sentence annually to a limited period, once again depending on behaviour.
Manu Sharma case
RELYING on experience, I submit that the power of granting parole is often blatantly misused by the government. In many cases, political influence, the connections of the prisoner and his family are the determinants. The antecedents of the prisoner are hardly considered. Adverse inquiry reports, filed by the prison directorate, are often ignored under political pressure. Similarly, suitable reports are sought from the police, bypassing the established procedure.
Manu Sharma, the killer of model Jessica Lal, is serving a life sentence in Delhi's Tihar Jail. The Delhi government granted him parole for a month and the extended it by another 30 days. The grounds were: (i) to look after his family business matters; (ii) grandmother's death; and (iii) mother's illness. An inquiry by the police revealed that Manu's business was thriving, that his grandmother had passed away a few months back and her kriya ceremony was also over. Also, his mother wasn't ill. The inquiry report was undermined, parole was granted and the convict stepped out of Tihar Jail on 22 September 2009.
Incidentally, on 8 November 2009, Manu Sharma was seen at a late night party in Samrat Hotel's night club, called Lap. He had shot Jessica dead in a hotel when she refused to serve him drinks. He tried to tamper with evidence, pressured the police to destroy vital clues and investigate the matter casually. Result: he was acquitted in the lower court.
In the face of a public outcry, the Appellate Court sentenced Manu to life imprisonment. His politician father pressured the Delhi government to provide him temporary relief. And the chief minister asserted that "all has been done according to rules". She was unable to explain that in Tihar Jail, 98 parole applications are pending for months, awaiting inquiry. Last year, less than 10 per cent of the prisoners who applied were granted parole. Yet Manu was promptly released on parole despite the bogus grounds furnished.
Incidentally, Manu's mother, Sakti Rani, held a press conference at the family-run Piccadilly hotel at Chandigarh, belying his claim that she was "very sick". The sequence of events confirms that the Delhi chief minister's defence was unconvincing. It illustrates how political connections can frustrate equity, fairness and the spirit of impartial public service.
Delhi High Court's observation that the government has been according selective priority to parole applications trashes the chief minister's claim to fairplay and adherence to rules.
The safety and security of the prison and prisoners are exclusively in the hands of the jail warders and the hierarchy. The police have no role in the matter. They just have to obtain the court's permission to enter the jail for interrogating an undertrial. Jail officials want to avoid a confrontation with the inmates. Instead they prefer the policy of quid pro quo, providing the prohibited articles such as mobile phones, food, and letters against payola.
BEFORE the sun sets, the prisoners are put inside the barracks and kept under lock and key. Warders patrol the area. But the staff are generally poorly trained. The level of corruption in the jails department is astonishingly high. Visitors have to pay a fee to meet a prisoner, which itself is an illegality. The sanctioned food ration is siphoned off and sold in a clandestine manner. Even medicines for the prisoners are pilfered. Jailbreaks and escapes occur in connivance with the staff.
It has often been the practice to place the jail directorate under a senior civil surgeon from the medical officers' cadre. He is neither trained nor experienced in security matters, recruitment, training, enforcing discipline, and handling weapons. Of late, state governments are posting IAS or IPS officers to head the prison directorate, and the result has been encouraging.
The jail manuals for every state were drafted by the British. They are exhaustive enough. Local sentiment, ethos, the welfare of the prisoners, correctional measures, rehabilitation and remission of sentence were issues that were accorded priority. The chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice Ranganath Mishra, had attempted to draft a central jail manual, common for all states. After some progress the exercise was abandoned because the existing manuals were found to be comprehensive and meaningful.
One major hurdle is the acceptability of the convicts in the family and society. The next of kin are hardly keen on getting a convict rehabilitated, let alone grant him social recognition. Most families view a released convict as a burden, and try to get rid of him on any pretext. No wonder why convicts above a certain age are reluctant to leave the jail for fear of insecurity, neglect and social persecution. In the jail, safe shelter, meals and medical care are guaranteed.
Prison reforms and correctional measures are imperative. However, social prejudice, political pressure, misuse of power, discrimination and corruption are the major impediments. Civil society must also be convinced that once released the person is entitled to equal rights, respect and recognition. This will call for a dramatic change in mindset.
AFTER THE SPLIT
BATTLE OF THE LOSERS IN SAMAJWADI PARTY
HOWEVER brave the face Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh may present separately after parting ways, both have a lot of ground to recover to establish who has won after the dramatic developments in the Samajwadi Party. Just as the party's main trouble-shooter did not resign as general secretary purely on medical grounds, as he had claimed, but on account of sharp differences with those around the former chief minister, Mulayam can hardly be seen to be honest if he includes his trusted lieutenant of many years among "people (who) keep coming and going (which) makes no difference to the fortunes of the party''.
There was a glimmer of hope that Amar Singh would reconsider but it was clear that Mulayam has a new coterie that is not happy about his former lieutenant calling the shots within the party and hogging the limelight outside. This is more so after the humiliating defeat of a member of the Mulayam household at the hands of a Samajwadi rebel, Raj Babbar, reportedly due to an opportunistic link with Kalyan Singh at Mr Singh's initiative. In his absence, the party has to engage in damage control just when the Congress is thriving on a resurgence and Mayawati still considers Mulayam as her main rival and will be spared the backstage games that Mr Singh played best. While the coterie has won the first round, there is no guarantee that the party will regroup into a fighting unit by the time the assembly election comes around.
All this does not leave Amar Singh in a happier position. If he had been so sure of an alternative, he may have resigned from the primary membership. Instead, he claims to remain a Samajwadi man but with the face of a rebel who can turn down a request to attend the party's annual mela. He cannot risk expulsion by being too vocal but makes it clear that his USP is two-fold: the ability to marshal available resources and assemble a substantial amount of glamour. Even then, it would be a miracle if he were to receive any feelers from the Congress despite the record of having bailed out the first UPA government after the Left had withdrawn support. But it would be equally surprising if he were to continue to cite health reasons for sitting on the sidelines. His bargaining position has weakened but what survives is his skill as a power broker. That could prompt parties outside UP to test him ~ if they are convinced that he is not too hot to handle.
AL QAIDA IN BIHAR
DECLINING CRIME GRAPH NEUTRALISED
THE decline in Bihar's crime graph under the Nitish Kumar dispensation has been neutralised and to a forbidding degree by the infiltration and presence of terrorists of the Af-Pak-Bangladesh variety. The arrest of an Al Qaida operative in Purnea district, while in transit from Nepal to Bangladesh, reaffirms that the militant network is ever so entrenched across the border. Also, that Bengal, Bihar and the north-eastern states are convenient corridors.
Having acquired experience in Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps in Nepal as well, Ghulam Rasul was on his way to Bangladesh. And this despite the recent crackdown by the seemingly secular Awami League dispensation. More the pity, therefore, that such specifics as the dangers of a porous border didn't figure in the recent Mammohan Singh-Hasina meeting, not to mention fake currency. However critical the recent agreements to spruce up the infrastructure in Bangladesh, there is no effort by either side to address the contentious issues.
It is a comforting thought that the visit and the agreements mark a new chapter in bilateral relations. Equally does the arrest throw up the larger question of terrorist infiltration in Bihar. Viewed in the perspective of the arrest of LeT operatives in Kolkata a few months ago, the problem is assuming forbidding proportions. It may be just a coincidence that Ghulam Rasul was tracked down soon after the red alert on infiltration was sounded in Bihar. The state has seldom been so vulnerable.
The plot thickens with the seizure of the maps of oil refineries - prime assets of the state ~ from two nationals of Afghanistan and Bangladesh, arrested earlier. It is imperative that security is strengthened in Barauni, home to one of the country's largest refineries. It is now only too obvious that the militants have designated targets to strike. And this goes beyond using Bihar as a transit lounge as it were between bases in two countries.
TRAGIC TRUNK CALL
Britain has been urged to oppose demands from Tanzania and Zambia to lift the ban on tusk sales and conservationists fear the move will intensify the slaughter of elephants. MICHAEL McCARTHY reports
TWO African countries are trying to open a new breach in the worldwide ivory trade ban, which conservationists fear could lead to more African elephants being slaughtered by poachers.
Environmental campaigners have called on Britain to take a clear lead in opposing the proposals by Tanzania and Zambia to sell their ivory stocks, which will be voted on at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Qatar in March.
Other African countries, led by Kenya and Mali, are strongly opposed to the idea and are sending representatives to Brussels this week to urge the European Union not to support it. If it goes ahead, the sale will be the third "one-off" auction of ivory since the world ban came into force, 20 years ago last week.
The ban was initially successful in halting the huge scale of elephant killing of the 1980s, when Africa's elephant population crashed from 1,300,000 to 625,000 in a mere decade. But following the most recent sale, in November 2008, of 100 tonnes of ivory owned by Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa bought by dealers from China and Japan there has been a notable upsurge in worldwide seizures of illegal ivory, and of elephant poaching. It is thought that the resumption of any trading creates a market into which illegal poached ivory can be laundered, thus boosting demand for it.
In some Central and West African countries this is now pushing elephant populations to extinction. Chad is thought to have only a few hundred elephants and Senegal and Liberia may have fewer than 10. Sierra Leone's last elephants were wiped out by poachers in November.
In Kenya, whose wildlife protection measures are among the strongest in Africa, the number of elephants killed by poachers rose from 47 in 2007 to 98 in 2008 and 214 in 2009. Reports suggest that at least 15 tonnes of African ivory tusks and pieces the equivalent of up to 1,500 elephants were seized in, or en route to Asia in the past year.
Yet the British government has declined to offer unequivocal opposition to a new one-off sale. "The global ban on international trade in ivory imposed in 1989 remains firmly in place and the UK strongly supports this," said Wildlife minister Huw Irranca-Davies. "Cites is assessing the likely effects of another one-off sale, but rigorous enforcement of protection for the planet's endangered species must be paramount, and be the driving force behind Cites' recommendations."
Conservationists say Cites' recommendations regarding the last two sales, in 1997 as well as 2008, were that they should go ahead, and in both cases Britain, as part of the European Union voting block within the convention, did not oppose them.
"The African elephant population is in crisis, and it's not enough for the British government to take a 'wait and see approach'," said Caroline Lucas, leader of Britain's Green Party. "Instead of hiding behind advice from officials, ministers should show leadership by giving a clear guarantee now that they will oppose a further one-off sale."
Allan Thornton, head of the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Washington and London-based pressure group that provided much of the evidence of poaching which led to the original ban, said, "The present level of poaching as a result of the illegal ivory trade is already devastating and wiping out elephant populations across Africa. If this new sale went ahead it would be throwing fuel on the fire. Britain is represented on the standing committee of Cites and should take a lead role in opposing this."
Tanzania and Zambia want to sell their stocks of legally acquired ivory (from culling, or from elephants which have died naturally) that amount to 90 tonnes and 22 tonnes respectively, worth a total of $16 million. They also want their elephant populations "downlisted" from Cites' Appendix 1 (which prohibits all trade in the species) to Appendix 2 (which allows trade if it is monitored).
When Cites sanctioned the last ivory auction in 2007 it was agreed that there would be no more such one-off sales for at least nine years, and Tanzania and Zambia are seen as having reneged on this. Their move has aroused resentment and anger among other African states which have elephant populations and wish to protect them. Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Rwanda and Sierra Leone have tabled a counter-proposal for the March meeting, calling for a 20-year moratorium on any such sales, from the date of the last one.
And delegates from the 23-government African Elephant Coalition are in Brussels aiming to persuade the EU Commision, the European Parliament and EU member-states to oppose the new sale, with Kenyan forestry and wildlife minister Noah Wekesa giving a press conference to detail recent poaching.
"This is really the last call for elephants in Africa," said Bourama Niagate, director of parks and natural reserves in Mali. "The devastating poaching of the 1980s first controlled through Cites is now so prevalent that the African elephant is all but extinct in some countries. This is because limited legal sales were allowed in the recent past, providing the perfect cover for illegal trade in poached ivory.
"If we do not let elephant populations recover over the next 20 years by stopping the trade entirely, there will be no more African elephants outside a few zoological specimens in reserves in southern parts of Africa. Europe needs to do the right thing and back our stance now because it is nearly too late."
1989: Member states of Cites agree at their meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to place the African elephant on Cites' Appendix I, meaning all trade in elephant products is banned around the world.
1990: The ban comes into force, halting the rapid crash of elephant populations caused by poaching. Poaching levels drop substantially across Africa.
1997: Led by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, four southern African states with substantial elephant populations Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana get Cites to agree to a "one-off" sale of 50 tonnes of ivory.
Britain goes along with it. Poaching rises.
2007-08: The same four African states get Cites to agree to another "one-off" sale, this time of 100 tonnes. Britain goes along, despite warnings that it will increase poaching. And China is allowed by Cites to become an official ivory buyer, in spite of harbouring the largest amount of illegal ivory. Britain goes along with it, despite warning that this, too, will increase poaching, which soars.
2010: Tanzania and Zambia seek a third "one-off" sale. Will Britain go along with it? Time will tell.
THIS would be a nice opportunity to raise a hue and cry about some of the howlers that appear in our daily newspapers. When the British left us, they also left behind several oddball government notifications such as a "Hue & Cry Notice" that, I'm sure, you've never heard about, unless you work in an obscure police station poring over the dusty files of crime and criminals. A couple of years back, Delhi's Chanakyapuri Police Station issued such a "Hue & Cry Notice" in a local newspaper, informing the general public of one Raju Doss having "Complexion Shallow, Face Round, Built strong and an old injury mark on his left leg and his two fingers of his leg has been missed due to old decease who has been died in an accident".
It is apparent that the policeman who wrote the notice for publication in the newspaper gave two hoots about the agreement of subject and verb, singularity and plurality, homonyms and subordinate clauses, but he got the message across, and one could argue that ultimately that's what matters. But what intrigued me is why, since the said Raju Doss was deceased in an accident, the police station thought it fit to raise a hue and cry over the said Raju Doss.
But the case of Chandramathi Amma of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, is different. I learned about her from a "Lookout Notice" in a newspaper last year in which she was described as having a "White" complexion and wearing a nose stud. Amma apparently "collected crores of rupees as deposit from the public by offering high returns". We were told to be on the look out for Amma since she "cheated the depositors and absconding soon after registration of the case". In the accompanying photograph, Amma looked like a typical amma, but that's exactly what you have to be aware of about fraudsters: they look like you and me.
Our own Kolkata Police has finally made it official: there is a place in this city that's called "Red Light Area" since that's where an unknown male dead body was found, according to the "Information Wanted" notice in a local newspaper. If you want further details about the subject location, I suppose you'll have to contact the cops.
Recently, our hoary city institution, Calcutta Telephones, announced with great glee the following, "Do you know! Now get BSNL Broadband (Calcutta Telephones) at doorsteps in your area with unbelievable speediness. Just call only following executives under jurisdiction of the respective Area Managers. Else, simply SMS Landline Number to 9433444888. No Landline, then SMS BB to 9433444888. Explaining details, collecting documents from you, BSNL Executive will arrange your Broadband/Newline according to your convenience." Like the policeman at Chanakyapuri Police Station, our man at Calcutta Telephones evidently got so carried away with this new service of BSNL that he threw grammar, punctuation and all out of the window, and with unbelievable speediness deposited the advertisement to the newspaper office for immediate release. I would love to meet the guys who draft these notices, just to see what they look like.
Last year I happened to be in the Common Room of Lady Keane College, Shillong. Waiting for the ladies to congregate to hear me speak, I bided my time looking around me. On the board, I read this notice, "1. Do not shout or scream because it disturbs the ongoing classes. 2. Do not rub lipstick/lime on the walls." Shouting and screaming college ladies is more or less okay, but the second got my eyebrows screwed up. After I finished my talk, I asked a couple of the ladies who, if you've travelled in the North-east, are always turned out as though walking the ramp, what the second admonition meant. It appears that since the ladies are constantly chewing paan or betelnut or both, when they need lime to go with the stuff, they rub it off the limestone walls of the room with their lips, leaving red "lipstick" all over the walls; and if they have an excess of lime which they've brought in from outside, they simply rub it back on the walls.
On another visit to Shillong more recently, while sauntering down the road near Police Bazar, there was this notice at a Pay-and-Use facility, "Toilet for ladies only. Urine Rs 1. Latrine Rs 2. Bathroom Rs 5." Now that is what is called leaving nothing to the imagination.
I'll bet you didn't know this: about "Christmas Puja" at Belurmath, a reporter wrote that "the bhog offered to Jesus Christ (comprises) soft drinks (to stand in for wines), cakes, cookies, sandwiches, chocolates and cigarettes". Apparently, a monk told the reporter that they were "trying to get brands like Benson and Hedges and 555 from abroad. Swami Vivekananda was a smoker and we routinely offer him cigarettes, so too for Christ". Boy, the monks of this order are sophisticates of a very high order; except that nowadays smoking is considered injurious to health.
By the way, did you know babies cry in their mother tongue? That's exactly the case, as reported in a local newspaper recently. A study found that the screams of a five-day-old French baby have a distinct Gallic twang, while German babies have a Teutonic quality to their yells. The French baby's cries tended to start low and then rise in pitch, the German baby's cries tend to start high and then drop in pitch. Whicht explains why, when our son was five days old, his mother knew exactly what he wanted while I scratched my head.
Let me sign off with this howler from a report about the slum in Ultadanga that caught fire a couple of weeks back. "Mr Rampada Sardar, a shanti-dweller, said several people fell ill due to heat and smoke. While the firemen were struggling to douse the fire, a scuffle broke out between the shanti-dwellers and the shopowners of the adjoining market. The shanti-dwellers even argued with the firemen for their alleged ignorance of dousing flames in the shanties. The shanti-dwellers even gheraoed Mr Pratim Chatterjee " But why blame the reporter? If the plural is "shanties", the singular must be "shanti"
GREEN REVOLUTION AND BEYOND
25 JANUARY 2010
SHYAMAL K CHAKRABORTY pays tribute to the genius of Norman Borlaugh
WHEN Norman Borlaug passed away on 12 September last year, it did not make headline news, quite in keeping with the general ignorance about this lifelong crusader against hunger, but Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Programme, aptly summed up his contribution by reminding us that Dr Borlaug "saved more lives than any man in human history" a staggering one billion, according to some estimates.
Old-timers may recall the severe food shortage in India in the early '60s, when we led a "ship-to-mouth existence", to quote Dr MS Swaminathan. The spectre of famine and food riots loomed large in the subcontinent and imports through the PL-480 fund from the USA drew flak from some quarters. Then a miracle of sorts took place. Borlaug, who had already become famous by making Mexico self-reliant in food with his high-yielding, semi-dwarf wheat, resistant to the rust disease, was invited to India.
In 1962, some of his dwarf spring-wheat, adapted to tropical and sub-tropical climates, was sent to the Indian Agriculture Research Institute at Pusa, New Delhi, by the US department of agriculture for multilocation field-testing. Borlaug came to India in March 1963, accompanied by Dr RG Anderson. Promising varieties of wheat were sent by the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation soon thereafter. High-yielding varieties like Lerma Rajo and Sonora 64, among others, were instrumental in Mexico's wheat revolution, were brought in and they became instrumental in making India and Pakistan self-sufficient in wheat. Importantly, extensive field trials by Borlaug and a dedicated team of plant breeders led to the development of high-yielding semi-dwarf Indica and Japonica rice strains at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and at the Hunan Rice Research Institute, China. The Green Revolution was launched and within a decade India became self-sufficient in food. Today, however, we have again begun importing food, but that is a different story.
Borlaug emphasised that high yield obviated encroachment of marginal and forest lands for farming activities; that organic farming per se could be desirable, but fell short of the quantum yield needed to feed a burgeoning population. Farmers across the world needed to have access to high-yielding crop production methods, complemented by new biotechnological breakthroughs in the production of transgenic crops. Such crops harboured genomes from alien species. He sought to allay misplaced fears on genetically engineered foods by reminding us that our common wheat was already a transgenic of three wild grasses produced by nature; maize is another product of natural transgenic hybridisation (possibly Tripsacum and Teosinte). It took about 10,000 years from the Neolithic age to expand food production to 5.5 billion tons per year. By 2025, this production level will have to be doubled to feed a projected world population of 8.3 billion.
Borlaugh found criticism of genetically modified crops by certain well-financed but ill-informed environmental groups untenable, anti-science, elitist and coming from those who did not need to worry where their next meal came from. He believed civil society should, instead, force governments to address concerns related to the access and equity of genetic ownership and control of conventional as well as transgenic agricultural products.
This was because Borlaug witnessed hunger and deprivation from close quarters in his early student days during the Great Depression in the USA. After World War II, he went to Mexico to find a remedy for rust disease that destroyed the wheat crop in that country and large parts of North America. Armed with a doctorate in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota, he set about conducting field trials, convincing and training farmers, advising students and field workers, and under the mentorship of his teacher and renowned plant pathologist, Professor Charles Stackman, he bred rust-resistance in dwarf and stout, high-yielding wheat and removed the scourge.. Later, he founded and headed the international Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Medico between 1963 and 1979 and then turned to teaching, first at Cornell and then A&M University, Texas.
Dr Swaminathan recalls that Borlaug, during his lectures in Indian agricultural colleges, frequently urged students to go to the field and not sit in the laboratory. In fact, he received news of his Nobel Prize award from his daughter while he was working a field in Mexico. Gary H Toenniessen, director of agricultural programmes for the Rockefeller Foundation, adequately summed up his contribution to humanity when he said about half of the world's population went to bed each night after consuming grain descended from one of the high yielding varieties developed by Dr Borlaug and his team.
The writer is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Botany, Bidhannagar College, Kolkata
Sixty years ago, India decided to leap into the unknown. The founders of the Indian Republic decided that the fledgling democracy would be based on full adult franchise. Most people then thought that this was a very courageous decision which indeed it was and an experiment that would fail which it did not. Elections since the time they were first held in 1952 have been an object of wonder to most observers. This is because of their sheer scale in terms of both geography and demography. That the elections are held successfully and more or less peacefully is due to the work of the Election Commission, a body created by the Constitution and thus currently celebrating its diamond jubilee. The work of the first election commissioner, Sukumar Sen, has become the stuff of history since he supervised the operation among a population that hardly knew what it meant to vote and participate in the democratic process. Through the last six decades, the extent of the participation by the people in elections has both broadened and deepened. More and more sections of the population, who were previously ignorant of their rights, have become aware of the power of the ballot paper. This has been India's quiet revolution under the aegis of the EC.
This revolution, like all other similar transformations, violent or otherwise, was not without serious problems. Individuals and political parties, unfamiliar with the niceties of democratic practice, often abused the system. Booth capturing, false voting, intimidation, tampering with voters' lists all these emerged as regular blots on the copybook of Indian democracy. From the 1980s, such abuses were so widespread that people began to question the very validity of elections since they were marred by these evils. Again the EC tried, especially when it was under the leadership of T.N. Seshan (1990-1996), to bring elections in India back on the rails. The EC devised and imposed very strict codes of conduct for political parties and candidates. The abuses that had once plagued elections in India have now by and large disappeared. One fallout of this has been the decision to hold elections across the country in different phases. To counteract this drawn-out process, counting has been made swifter by the arrival of the electronic voting machine. The EC deserves the plaudits it receives.
There is no denying that there was an extra edge in the voice of the Pakistan prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, when he recently warned Robert Gates, the secretary of defence of the United States of America, that Mr Gilani's government could not prevent another 26/11 on Indian soil. Mr Gilani was reacting to Mr Gates's assertion in New Delhi that India was unlikely to show restraint if another terror attack emanated from Pakistan. Pakistan's response to any attempt, whether international or Indian, to make it own up to its responsibilities has been growing noticeably shriller. Mr Gilani has taken this note several notches higher by announcing that Pakistan could not be expected to guarantee that tragedies of the scale of Mumbai would not revisit India when it could not prevent terror attacks on its own soil. This sabre-rattling which invariably draws unqualified adulation in Pakistan would have covered Mr Gilani with glory had he not paired it with the admission of an enormous failure of governance. Mr Gilani's words may be taken to mean that a government which has failed its people cannot be trusted with the job of ensuring peace in the region. This is a matter of shame that no government would have worn as a badge of honour. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the exception is the norm.
If Mr Gilani cared to look beyond the brownie points that his jingoism scores for him, he would have perhaps noticed that the reason terror attacks may go on, within and without Pakistan, is his government's obduracy in refusing to follow the pointers which the Mumbai attack has revealed. The event and its aftermath have repeatedly shown up the links between terror organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Sipah-e-Sahaba among others operating as a syndicate as also the links between these and the Pakistan establishment. Yet the Pakistan government has acted against only a few of these that it sees as going against 'national' interests (mostly on its northwestern frontier) and steadfastly refused to clamp down on those which are believed to further Pakistan's strategic advantage. Despite the many dossiers from India, Gilani's government is yet to throw the LeT kingpin, Hafiz Saeed, behind bars and has repeatedly hindered the trial of the other terror suspects. To prevent terror, Mr Gilani needs to recover his will to act, and not merely his voice.
THE NEXT GROWTH DRIVER
DEFICIT SHOULD BE BROUGHT DOWN TO ZERO IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS
WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI
The budget season approaches. The finance minister has just held his conclave with distinguished economists, businessmen, farmers, trade unionists and other worthies. The wisdom of his advisors was reflected in the finance ministry's mid-term review, published at the end of 2009; it will be burnished and re-exhibited in the Economic Survey next month. I indulge in economy reading once in a while, for fun and to prevent the skills from rusting. Here are the results of the latest indulgence.
Measured as change in rolling four-quarter totals, growth in gross domestic product at factor cost fell from 9.8 per cent in the last quarter of 2007 to 5.9 per cent in the second quarter of 2009. In the third quarter it jumped to 7.4 per cent. The figures are slightly different from the quarterly year-on-year growth figures that officials prefer, but the trends are about the same. They suggest to the official mind that the downturn is at an end, and that India is back on the way to nine per cent and beyond. It is the religious duty of government types to be optimistic. I would not draw conclusions from a single quarter's figures, so I remain sceptical.
I find the figures of gross national expenditure more interesting. Its growth fell more precipitately from 9.9 per cent in the last quarter of 2007 to 4.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. The last two quarters' figures are 5.6 and 6.4 per cent slightly stronger evidence of the end of the downturn.
Why did growth turn down? The official version would be that the international economy went through a downturn, which was imported into India through the balance of payments. This has some support if we look at the trade account: the visible deficit rose from about eight per cent of GDP till the end of 2007 to about 12 per cent thereafter. That should have decelerated the economy. But the trade account is only part of international transactions; one should really look at the total including trade in services. The current account, which includes both, shows little worsening. So the evidence for believing that the downturn was imported is weak.
The second part of official mythology was that a government "stimulus" bailed the economy out of the downturn. It is perfectly true that government expenditure growth did not slow down together with GDP growth; in this sense, it moved against the trend. But its growth neither rose as GDP growth fell, nor fell as it rose. The government cannot achieve perfect anticyclicality in its expenditure since GDP figures are not known with a lag of three months; but even if we introduce such a lag, government expenditure did not vary anticyclically. It shows an enormous rise in the last quarter of 2008, and relatively lower rates of increase in other quarters. Hence if government expenditure worked against the downturn, that effect was largely accidental.
What explains the downturn? We must look for series that move with the downturn and lead it. The prime such series is the one for manufacturing. From a peak of 9.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2007, manufacturing growth fell continuously till it reached -1.4 per cent (that is, manufacturing production fell) in the first quarter of 2009. This fits and leads the downturn. Then it recovered abruptly to 9.4 per cent in the third quarter of 2009. There is one other series which behaves similarly, namely construction. But the fluctuations in its growth are less extreme, and its timing less well-coordinated with overall growth. It fell from 12.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2007 to 4.1 per cent in the last quarter of 2008. Taking the two sectors together, we can say that the downturn was led by the material sectors, namely industry and building.
These are productive sectors; what caused their growth to fall? For an explanation we must turn to expenditure on production. Here, three series fit the bill. One is private consumption, whose growth fell from 9.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2007 to 1.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2009. Another is fixed investment, whose growth came down from 15.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2007 to 3.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2009. The third is inventories, whose growth declined from 61 per cent in the second quarter of 2007 to -37.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2009. Inventory changes are really derivative from production and purchases, so we can ignore them. The best summary of what happened is that private expenditure, on both consumption and capital formation, explains the downturn.
Thus the most accurate description of what happened is that India saw a classic industrial boom between 2005 and 2007. As investment continued at high levels of 35 per cent of GDP and more, capacity was built up. It finally began to outrun demand, at which inventories began to accumulate. Then investment slowed down; as income growth fell as a result, so did consumption growth. In the past two decades, services have grown rapidly and have come to dominate the economy. So it would have been easy to believe that industrial booms and slumps had become obsolete. The conjuncture of the past five years shows this belief to have been wrong.
The above analysis is based on GDP statistics. It is mirrored in the index of manufacturing production, whose growth fell from 17.8 per cent in March 2007 to -1 per cent in December 2008. In recent months it has risen close to 10 per cent. Individual series do not mirror this course; but metals and cement do. They support the hypothesis of a classic, investment-led boom and slump.
What of the future? All the series suggest that the downturn has ended. They do not support the belief that growth will soon return to eight or nine per cent. That is a matter of faith, which we can leave to devout officials. But even an agnostic privateer would say that growth does not have to be the overriding concern any more.
Nor is inflation, according to national income deflators. But they are not available after September; subsequent retail and wholesale price indices suggest that inflation is rising rapidly. Hence the coming budget should focus on it. It should bring down the enormous deficit that was run ever since the Congress came to power. The finance minister should bring it down to zero in the next four years, and should press state governments to bring their deficits down.
They will then reduce their pre-emption of savings, and permit our substantial savings to go into productive investment. And once the government stops forcing banks to invest in government loans, they will be forced to look for borrowers in industry and services. Instead of industrialists chasing banks, banks will chase savers. Financial markets will develop and increase the efficiency of investment. In the 1990s, India freed foreign trade. Then came exports of information technology. Both those stimuli have run their course. India needs a new driver to continue high growth. Finance can be that driver in the next decade.
SHUT OUT FROM THE NATION
MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
It is Republic Day and one retreats to 1950 when India became a republic and was moulded and fine-tuned by men and women who had a dream; a dream to create, nurture and bring to maturity a fledgling nation state that had been exploited by invading armies and colonial masters for centuries. Bharat was an ancient civilization and India was the contemporary extension of that plural and complex human and cultural mosaic. In 2010, one wonders why the dream lies mutilated, and the larger composite culture brutalized. Why did Indians themselves destroy their freedom and liberation? Why did we fail as a people yearning for dignity and civil society?
Our leaders have become insular and callous, our decision-making, thoughtless. Slogans of aam aadmi and garibi hatao, both potent and 'populist' by nature, have been misused by politicians, and Indians feel let down and humiliated by the fact that an attempt to keep the many promises was not made. As the decades rolled on, elected leaders operated the system like small-time feudal potentates had done in the past, but this time without a territory and with no concern for 'their' land and people.
They were stakeholders without a stake in what they 'ruled'. They settled into the comfort of being surrounded by administrators, who led them to believe that a good idea could not be implemented because of some silly rule. At Independence, the bureaucracy retained regulations that undermined the 'native' and the Indian civil service did not change that attitude.
This week, when Delhi was fogbound, international and national flights could neither land nor take-off till the sun appeared in the morning. The backlog mounted and the delays were long and tedious. Earlier, on December 21, the skies cleared at 10 a.m. and at 10.30 a.m. just after some flights were cleared for take-off the government, in its supreme 'wisdom', shut the airport arbitrarily because it needed to rehearse the ceremonial air show for the parade on Republic Day. A rehearsal at the cost of tax-paying voters who were held captive at the airport without an honest explanation, all for some unnecessary and hugely expensive ceremonial display that makes a mockery of the reality on the ground. The army, the ministry of defence and the civil aviation authority are responsible for this kind of dictatorial, unthinking decision that smacks of disrespect for the citizen who lives at their mercy.
Other countries have ceremonial occasions, but they do not administer them in a careless manner. In India, the babu needs to be radically retrained. The complete disconnect among the political and administrative class with India and its people is beginning to pall. The exploitation of goodwill and patience is unacceptable, and is becoming untenable.The truth is dismal and the cracks in the system are dangerous. But what is truly scary is the inability of the top leaders to see what is happening in their name around them. If the prime minister and his colleagues were to spend one week as normal, law-abiding citizens, they would be appalled at the manner in which 'governance' has been ruined. It would be sheer joy to interview them thereafter on national television.
Their flashy motorcades removing ordinary people from view, the clearing of roads for their vehicles to pass by pushing pedestrians towards open gutters and uncovered manholes, the corrupt representatives of law-and- order; each of these reflects the worst feudal norms. Indians long for the day when leaders in Delhi will conduct themselves with dignity and integrity, essential hallmarks of good, tall leaders, and set the standards that are sorely missing in the public domain today.
JOURNEY THROUGH THE UNDERWORLD
Travelling in Calcutta is full of surprises, as bustling compartments spur people on to reveal their true natures and empty seats yearn for patrons, all at the same time
On any given day, a ride in the Metro Railway can yield rich material for a study in human behaviour. The meek housewife who gets suddenly transformed into a virago as she tries to squeeze herself into the ladies' seat, the young girl who would rather hold her boyfriend's arm than the handrail for support, the child who diligently kicks the commuter sitting beside him with his shoe-clad feet as his mother looks on admiringly, or the man who stares wistfully at the bosom of the woman standing before him all these can become characters in a novel. Methinks that the inadvertent displays of the truer side of human nature during Metro rides has got something to do with the descent into the bowels of the earth. Armed with the golden bough that is the Metro ticket often tucked with tender care under the wristwatch strap every commuter becomes an Aeneas making the heroic journey to the underworld, that might expose him in unexpected ways.
I have discovered on my Metro rides that Bengalis prefer English to Bengali when it comes to expressing extreme states of emotion. Once acrid-smelling smoke started drifting into the compartment of the train I was travelling in. The passengers panicked, and everyone, including confirmed Bengali bhadraloks and bhadramahilas, shouted "fire, fire" instead of "aagun, aagun", which I thought would have been more natural in the circumstances. I sat still, pondering the misfortunes of a people who have such fondness for the colonizers' language and yet are prevented from learning it properly in state government schools. My theory regarding the Bengalis' penchant for resorting to English when overwhelmed was confirmed when I heard some nubile nymphets from Calcutta exclaim "deer, deer" on spotting a herd in the forests of north Bengal.
Not only Bengalis, but people from other states also tend to reveal interesting aspects of their character in the Metro. Often large groups of people from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh take Metro rides, probably as a part of conducted tours of the city. These groups usually consist of dozens of excited women and children led by a single man who watches over his brood and guides them in and out of the train. They come carrying the scent of distant realms, hold one another's hands, and get mysteriously tangled up while trying to disembark.
A few days ago, on the day of the holy dip at Gangasagar, an excited cluster of women, possibly from UP, lorded over by a bespectacled old man who was wrapped from head to toe in various layers of woollen clothing, got into the train at Kalighat. The women promptly placed themselves on the floor. As soon as the train left the station, they brought out their combs and ribbons, and started preening themselves. The representative male smiled benignly at the vanity of the female species. Since the women were probably used to train journeys lasting for hours, they were obviously not in a hurry to get off.
Come Maidan, and the news that they would have to get down at the next station passed from the lord to his women like a shiver. Outraged at this abrupt termination of the ride, some of the ladies grudgingly scampered off the train right at Park Street, only to re-enter with remarkable alacrity through the other door of the compartment as the train started moving out. They received a sound berating from the man in the course of the journey from Park Street to Esplanade, where they finally got off. All the passengers heaved a collective sigh of relief as soon as they were gone. Some of them, especially the women, wore a beatific smile, which seemed to confer extra blessings on the punyarthis from another world.
After the Garia extension, the Metro now requires one to be proficient in survival skills to emerge unscathed from a ride. Each day there is much jostling, elbowing, name-calling, stepping on toes, and other unspeakable horrors that have to repressed regularly if one is to get on to the train again.
On a day just before last year's Puja, when I was still unaccustomed to tackling the rush, I missed my station, thanks to a surge of commuters who butted their way in at Kalighat, pushing those trying to get off into the deepest recesses of the compartment. When I realized that the door was about to close, I protested weakly while desperately trying to make my way out. On seeing my distress, some women, in their benevolence, gave me a solid push, which would have caused me to fall on my face on the platform had the door not slammed shut in time. From that day onwards, I have become wary of the kindness of strangers, especially if they happen to be of the belligerent breed that uses the Metro.
THE SIGH OF PHANTOM TRAILS
As the train ground to a halt at the sleepy Biman Bandar station, Pinaki Ghoshal hurried out to make his way to work. From a distant compartment, one other passenger got out. The train had been emptied of all its occupants. A gaggle of children instantly climbed into one of the compartments, as if embarking on an adventure. It proved to be short-lived, however, as most of them clambered out in a second. Down at the ticket office, an attendant snoozed peacefully.
The overhead train link connecting Dum Dum Cantonment and the airport had been flagged off by Lalu Prasad in 2006. At Rs 112 crore, it was an expensive project. The train would connect the city with its peripheries and be a vital link to Dum Dum airport. The creaky, mournful locomotive at the Biman Bandar station was supposed to fill the part of this astounding modern convenience. Less than four years after its inauguration, the 'ghost train' will be laid to rest.
"We have four or five monthly passengers who use the train regularly," says Sandhya Datta, who sells tickets at the Cantonment station, "On a daily basis, we sell between 12 and 15 tickets." Then there are the gleeful fugitives. "They are just schoolchildren, probably in Class V or VI," Sandhya says indulgently. Ticket sales for the shuttle average Rs 150 per day, she estimates.
The shuttle train is enigmatic about its timings. Personnel at the Cantonment station insist that there are two shuttles daily, one at 7:05 a.m. and the other at 14:04 p.m. At Biman Bandar, one is told there are three: two in the afternoon and a third one at 5:42 pm. The schedule at the station tells another story.
As the empty train pulled into the Cantonment station, the general response was one of mystification. "Does this go to Sealdah?'' some asked hopefully. Pinaki Ghoshal, an Air India employee, is one of the few regulars. "It's always this empty," he says. "The timings are bad and it is not well-connected. Nobody who gets off this train actually catches a flight at the airport."
The airport seems to be the centre of a number of ambitious schemes. At the other end of town, outside the Tollygunge Metro station, a gleaming, red Volvo bus waits for passengers. An initiative of the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation, these buses ply on two routes: Tollygunge-Airport and Airport-Shantragachhi.
"There is a bus every half-an-hour. At the moment, the first bus starts at 9:15 am and the last bus is at 6:00 pm," says Indrajeet Auddi, an enthusiastic young bus conductor. Fares start at Rs 20 and go up to Rs 60. A couple of passers-by climb into the bus but leave once they are told of the rates. When asked if the fares are a bit steep, Auddi is defensive. "The total price of this bus is Rs 95 lakh. That rear-view mirror alone costs Rs 25,000," he declares triumphantly. Evidently, this is no substitute for ordinary local buses.
The bus eventually sets off with just a handful of people. Only a few more passengers board at the stops on the way. Inside, the atmosphere is festive. The radio is turned on loud, a couple of friends take turns to pose for pictures, a pair of lovers giggle at the back, two girls get down at Mani Square, evidently eager for a shopping spree.
The empty seats, however, are ominous. With high running costs and few passengers, it remains to be seen how long this service can be sustained. In spite of the jaunty exterior, one is reminded of the doomed Airport shuttle, of the sigh of train wheels across the city.
An improbable thought occurs. Despite its local trains bursting with people and oranges and its traffic-crazed streets, Calcutta is a city veined with desolation. Like its abandoned projects, its erratic timetables, its trains that rush into oblivion and its hollow bluster of buses, it is perhaps an elegy of vacant seats.
Every year, come winter, relatives would visit us in Calcutta. All of us children were taken for a ride on what my father called the "toy train". The best part was that each of us would get a window seat, as the compartments would be empty, and for once, I would not have to sacrifice my seat to my younger brother, who would invariably have got the privilege were there just one to spare. I do not recall from where we boarded the train, but in about 20 minutes it would be time to get off, and memories of an annual pilgrimage to Scoop now tell me th Every year, come winter, relatives would visit us in at the stoppage at which we alighted must have been the Prinsep Ghat station of the Circular Railway.
Imagine trains that hurtle into the city of Calcutta from its far-flung suburbs and, quite literally, go around it. When the idea of the Circular Railway had first come up, it was mainly to bring the workers living in the districts to the factories along the Hooghly, to the government buildings and the shops clustered around the commercial district of Calcutta, Dalhousie Square, and other such urban centres.
As I waited for the 'Hasnabad local' at the Dum Dum station last week, an elderly gentleman on the platform took out a battered suburban railway time table and leafed through it. "Dosh-ta chhottirish," he announced for all and sundry to hear: ten-thirty-six. Clearly displeased at himself for having missed the 9:56, which would have taken him all the way up to Hastings, he sat down on a bench, looking shifty and uneasy. The next train from Hasnabad would take him only as far as Prinsep Ghat.
Once the train pulled into the platform at Dum Dum, I lost the man to the crowd and was myself hurled to one side of the alley near the door, where I remained parked for the rest of the journey for lack of space to move anywhere else. The train started and passengers deftly manoeuvred themselves in and out of the compartment at various stoppages. If I stood on tip-toe and looked over the heads of men, I could see the river beyond a line of goods-carriages piled with bags of cement. I looked around for the grumpy gentleman of the station, but perhaps he was sulking in some corner. Although I would have liked to take the train that went to the last stop as well (I was travelling merely to get a sense of the Circular rail), I realized that his problem was way graver than mine he was possibly late for work, and missing the 9:56 meant he would have to travel to Kidderpore by bus from Strand Road.
In its present avatar, the Circular Railway, for most of its journey, runs on the existing stretch of lines that are a part of the Southeastern Railways network. These trains start from places like Kalyani, Barrackpore and Hasnabad. They join the Circular Railway line only on reaching the Dum Dum junction. From here, in the original plan, the line was meant to bend southwards at Ultadanga and Shyambazar, then run parallel to the Hooghly near the stoppages named Sovabazar, B.B.D. Bagh, Eden Gardens, Prinsep Ghat or Hastings, to turn northwards at Majerhat, and reach the Dum Dum junction once again via Park Circus and Sealdah, thereby completing a full circle. The construction, however, has stopped at Majerhat. The Circular Railway of Calcutta continues to remain semi-circular for the two decades since it was started, in spite of various railways ministers claiming this to be their pet project.
'DEMOCRATIC IDEA OF GOVERNANCE HASN'T FAILED.'
When the Indian republic is at an inflection point of 60 years of age, it is poised at the crossroads of remarkable achievements and difficult challenges. Through six decades of its working, the republican idea has taken deep roots but has also been adapting itself to a fast-changing social and political environment. The Constitution that we gave unto ourselves three years after gaining independence laid down the basic structure of state and the processes of governance that we aspired for. While independence is a state of being, the republican framework is an act of becoming. Independence meant freedom, but the republic defined it, ordered it and shaped it, moving the idea of the nation to the reality of the state. The reality has undergone changes but it still holds itself on its own against internally-generated pressures and externally-induced threats.
The basic democratic idea of governance did not fail except during the brief interregnum of the emergency years. Emergency was an attempt to tame the forces unleashed by a democratic Constitution by suspending it. But the failure of emergency was itself proof that a diverse country where millions of aspirations and mutinies are rising by the day could not be ruled without the mediating role of the rule of law, assurance of justice and room for self-expression. That has fortified the democratic structure but the content has seen compromises down the years.
The democratic space has expanded through statutory empowerment of local self-government structures, rightful access to public information and better guarantees of basic rights. But the changes have not often been real and they have not always translated into a better life for most of the people. Political and official corruption threatens the moral imperatives of governance, the organs of state have lost much value and credibility and institutions have weakened. The party system has decayed. There is disintegration of larger social and political collectives and the rise of individualism unregulated by a sense of common purpose. The republic does not have sway over large parts of the country.
There is a crisis of faith and legitimacy haunting the republic and weakening its core. But its sustenance over six decades is itself proof of its strength and durability. It has been accommodative and flexible enough to respond to changes. It still represents, however imperfectly, the democratic idea and the will of the people. Expanding it and deepening it is the challenge in the coming years and decades.
'WHO SHOULD COME CLEAN ON THE VIRUS ISSUE.'
Serious allegations have been levelled against the World Health Organisation (WHO) for over-hyping the magnitude of the threat posed by the H1N1 virus. The UN health body had declared the H1N1 flu as a pandemic and raised a phase-6 alert, the highest last year. Critics are now accusing it of exaggerating the threat, of faking the pandemic. They have even alleged that WHO's policies were influenced by vaccine manufacturers who profited from the panic triggered by the pandemic alert.
WHO's director-general Margaret Chan had declared that all of humanity is under threat. This, within weeks of the outbreak of the flu in Mexico. Scenarios even likened the H1N1 pandemic to a 1918 flu epidemic that killed around 100 million people worldwide. Nine months after the H1N1 first made its presence felt and has taken the lives of 14,000 people worldwide India alone accounting for 1,152 deaths so far there is a feeling that WHO might have indeed exaggerated or at the least, over-reacted to the virus' deadliness.
It is possible that allegations against WHO are unfair. With public health crises, one can never be too careful. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Besides, there is a problem with WHO's pandemic rating system, which is based on geographic spread of the virus and not its severity. With WHO now admitting that the pandemic was not as serious as anticipated there is a need for it to examine the systems with which it is operating.
More worrying is the allegation that WHO had an ulterior agenda in pressing the panic button. It is believed that some of its officials might have raised the alert level under the influence of pharmaceutical companies eyeing windfall gains. The WHO alert prompted governments to stock up on vaccines. With the pandemic turning out to be not quite as serious, the vaccine manufactures have made handsome profits. India is among several countries that have demanded answers from WHO as to why it exaggerated the H1N1 threat. WHO owes the world an explanation. The role of pharmaceutical companies in influencing its decisions must be investigated. If WHO doesn't come clean on the issue, there is a danger that next time there is a serious global health crisis, WHO will not be taken seriously by the international community.
ASPECTS OF GOVERNANCE
THE SYCOPHANCY THAT ATTENDS OUR LEADERS WHEN ALIVE, AND EVEN AFTER THEY ARE GONE, PREVENTS US FROM LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE.
BY B G VERGHESE
Jyoti Basu was a fine individual whom the nation rightly mourns. But emotion appears to have overtaken reason in the kind of uncritical adulation accorded to the CPM leader who was chief minister of West Bengal for 23 years.
The fact is that apart from some initial good work done in the first phases of land reform and devolution of power to panchayats, the state's HDI indices and state of infrastructure deteriorated and there was disinvestment, de-industrialisation, mounting poverty and unemployment as a result of ideological rigidities. On any reckoning, the state was in decline during Jyoti Basu's long watch. It is fortunate that party ideologues did not permit him to move to Delhi as prime minister when this was mooted. Had he done so, the consequences might well have been problematic.
This may appear a harsh judgement on someone who has departed. But the sycophancy that attends our leaders when alive, and even after they are gone, is disconcerting and prevents us learning from experience. The secrecy attending archival policy is partly a reflection of the tendency to shore up reputations by precluding the world from prying too closely into the past of our heroes. A nation that does not learn from history risks repeating its mistakes.
G Parthasarathi's diary entry on Nehru's true view on Chinese attitudes during the 'bhai-bhai period' and of his Man Friday, Krishna Menon, just published by the former's son, Ashok, casts a flood of light on matters that it would have been better to know contemporaneously. The continuing classification of the Henderson-Brooks report on the 1962 debacle stems from the same desire to protect a legacy. Nehru is surely big enough to do without this shield.
Another problem of governance was aired recently by junior ministers in the UPA government who complained to the prime minister that they had little or no work. This is largely because of a tendency to centralise decision making with the result that secretaries to government do what could well be disposed of by their deputies while minister's usurp the role of their permanent secretary's. This often leaves ministers and secretaries, Central and state, with insufficient time for policy making, monitoring and evaluation.
The enlargement of cabinets to satisfy all manner of representational principles has also resulted in fragmenting sectoral responsibility without adequate coordination. In the first few governments formed after Independence many bright sparks were appointed deputy ministers or parliamentary secretaries who answered questions in parliament and assisted the minister in other ways, thereby gaining experience that equipped them to shoulder heavier responsibilities over time. Now everybody aspires to be a minister ab initio, if not prime minister or chief minister. This may be a matter of political culture but it certainly impinges on good governance.
Another issue of governance that calls for attention is the battle being fought over the right to access file notings under RTI. The RTI regime has certainly helped promote transparency and accountability in governance but there has been a difference of opinion on whether or not file notings should be made public as a rule. There is currently a dispute over an information commissioner's decisions to permit an applicant access to file notings pertaining to the decisions reflected in the Indo-Pakistan joint communiqué at Sharm el-Sheikh some six months ago which aroused much controversy over how it was to be interpreted.
Insistence on making public all file notings is misplaced as this could well inhibit officials and ministers from giving frank expression to their views. These would not be noted on file but recorded elsewhere or exchanged orally, resulting in double entry book keeping of another kind. Suffice it that a reasoned statement is made available so that a fair judgement can be made about the quality and ethical basis of the decision taken.
At a very different level, concerning public relations more than governance as such, is the unwise decision, fortunately rescinded, of the Maharashtra government to insist that new cabbies in Mumbai must have lived in the city for 15 year and read and write Marathi.
This was a misguided concession to parochialism, in competition with the Shiv Sena's petty localism. What any city needs is a good and honest taxi service rather than an indifferent one offered by cabbies speaking a chaste native tongue.
The default rule now incorporated in a new cultural policy for Maharashtra lays down that ministers should speak only in Marathi at official functions and converse with foreigners solely in Marathi, through interpreters. No language flourishes by fiat and these are pitiful rulings by small men.
Finally, the vice-president's call for making intelligence agencies accountable to parliament through a standing committee merits serious attention. There is today no intelligence oversight body, as the L P Singh Committee had recommended some 30 years ago. This need not imperil intelligence operations but could provide a safeguard against possible misuse and an independent monitor and sounding board.
BEYOND DISCONTENT, THE SPRING OF HOPE
IF THE PAST IS ANY POINTER TO THE FUTURE, THERE IS INDEED HOPE FOR THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA.
BY P N BENJAMIN
The declaration made on the banks of Ravi on January 26, 1929, symbolised our national will to be independent and sovereign. Sixty years ago, on this day, we proclaimed ourselves to be a Republic and gave unto ourselves a Constitution, enshrining the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. The remembrance of such a day should be more than an annual ritual. It is the day one should feel proud of being an Indian, proud of having been a part of that concourse of humanity that forced the alien ruler out!
The reality, grim and grinding, beckons the Republic to a desperate prospect on its 60th anniversary. There is distress all over the country. Hunger stalks the land; millions are unlettered and jobless. We have denied two square meals a day for the majority of our people. The enormity of the dehumanisation of the Republic is beyond words.
The economic hardships alone do not account for the mounting discontent. Much more is involved in the present complex situation. Deep-rooted fatalism, dumb acceptance of misery, a raging sea of poverty, and a few islands of vulgar luxury, inhabited by a few who behave as if nothing has happened. This is India today. And this should disturb every sensitive Indian. The situation is far more serious, the prospect grimmer. Sixty years of the Republic have widened the gulf between the rich and the poor and helped create a meaner, more selfish and more dangerously tense society the crushing poverty and misery. Today our society is disfigured by gross unfairness, which, without constant correction, feeds strongly upon itself.
The cancers that have grown in the vitals of India are so horrendous that whole limbs may decay and die before some sort of curative effort succeeds in the rest of the system. Corruption has become so entrenched that responsible national leaders justify it as a fact of global life. Parliament has become a shadow of what it used to be. Politics presided over the liquidation of the systems and values that nurtured this nation through its early years. Men of vision, integrity and merit were at the helm in those years. A different set of qualifications has now become necessary to attain and then retain office.
The welter of crashing values, the miasma of poverty, the insensate outburst of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, regionalism and casteism. It is chaotic. One is also shocked at the sight of brute force trampling upon the underprivileged, while the elite enjoy all the inevitable accompaniments of permissive morality, addiction to vicarious violence, erotic and narcotic fantasies.
But, in an atmosphere surcharged with cynicism on the one hand and despair on the other, we would do well to remind ourselves that our present predicament is not unique. There was a time when many Indians sold their souls to foreign overlords and many among us despaired of ever liberating the country from the grip of foreign rule and from the corruption it bred. Yet, our leaders were able to dispel the gloom when it was at its darkest and to show the way not only to freedom from foreign rule, but also from the vice that polluted public life.
Caught in the immediacy of the present we may be agonising over these maladies. There is still hope. If the past is any pointer to the future, there is indeed hope. As tyrants took over one banana republic after another, India kept the flag of liberty flying. Democratic traditions have struck roots even among the unlettered. The institutions of democratic governance, despite oft-voiced fears of erosion, have survived and gained in strength. The so-called fall in parliament's debating standards could also reflect a pleasant reality.
If past is any pointer to the future, there is indeed hope. There is resilience in our people, which no combination of adversities can kill. Our ideals and principles might appear to be in eclipse. But, eclipses are short-lived.
Like many other patriotic Indians, "I live today in the hope that a Saviour is coming, that he will be born in our midst in this poverty-shamed hovel which is India. I shall wait to hear the message he brings with him, the supreme word of promise he speaks unto man from this eastern horizon to give faith and strength to all who hear. I look back on the stretch of past years and see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilisation lying heaped as garbage out of history! And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man, accepting his present defeat as final. I shall look forward to a turning in history after the cataclysm is over." (Tagore 'Crisis in Civilisations')
Beyond the winter of our discontent there must be the Spring of Hope!
AN UNSUNG BRAVEHEART
SHE KNEW ALL THAT THERE WAS TO KNOW ABOUT DEATH AND LIVING.
BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
Every year, around the Republic Day, when I hear about the brave children, my thoughts go back to one child and her chilling act of bravery. "A simple child that lightly draws its breath what should it know of death?" asked Wordsworth. That may be true of the 'rustic woodland child'. But this one, born and bred in the dusty streets of a city, knew all there was to know about death, life and living.
I got acquainted with the family after our regular, 'iron-wallah', disappeared. As I approached this couple for the service, I noticed that beside the many bundles of clothes there was another little one with an abnormal infant inside. The woman told me that the tiny one was actually three years of age.
"I got the operation done after I got the boy" she said with tears in her eyes, "But he didn't grow at all. We spent more than Rs one lakh in various treatments. We took him to every indigenous 'vaidya' that people suggested. We visited every temple that we heard of. But God has not heard our prayers. Now we are deep in debt and only this one girl to support us in our old age."
I wondered what the skinny girl standing by and listening to it all, was thinking. A couple of months passed. Then for almost two weeks, the woman did not turn up to collect the clothes. Nor was the cart to be seen at the usual spot.
Then one fine morning she was at the door step again. Her voice broke when she told me that the baby had died. "It is three days today." She said. I offered my condolence and added that she should now focus on the girl. "She looks bright," I said, "she will study well and come up." "The poor child," the mother said wiping away her tears, "she already understands our difficulties."
She then gave the details of how it all happened. When the baby developed fever and convulsions, they admitted him to the government hospital. The mother and daughter stayed there while the man travelled up and down. Ten days of this and when they were completely broke, the mother got back to work, leaving the little girl to sit with the child.
The baby died that night. Apparently the night nurse told the girl to go home, and tell the parents to come with Rs 500, and take the body. "She knew we did not have the money. So when the nurse's back turned, she wrapped the baby in the sheet and slipped out of the hospital. She hid in various places at night and got the baby home in the morning".
The story left me literally speechless. How many people would have had the presence of mind and the courage to carry out such an act of bravery?
THE JERUSALEM POST
FROM CRETE WITH HATE
The Etz Hayim Synagogue on Crete was struck by arsonists on January 5 and again - more devastatingly- on January 16. Over the weekend, Greek police arrested four men described as bouncers and waiters for perpetrating the attacks, saying they were motivated by a dislike of Jews.
Attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions are up throughout Europe, attributable, say experts, to fury by extremist rightists, leftists and Muslims over last year's war against Hamas in Gaza.
As the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism - which comprises Israeli government offices, the Jewish Agency and Diaspora organizations - reported, the uptick in attacks reflects a further blurring of boundaries between Israel, Zionism and Judaism.
The BBC's Malcolm Brabant cited Etz Hayim's director, listed elsewhere as Nikolas Stavroulakis, as saying the attackers had not done their homework: The synagogue is a multi-faith institution which includes Muslim and Christian members and "many of the Jews who worship there are opposed to Israel's settler program and frequent incursions into Gaza."
Stavroulakis has devoted himself to memorializing Jewish life on the island, which dates back to biblical days. Today about 10 Jews live there. Yet Stavroulakis's comments reveal a certain naiveté - as if dissociating from Israeli policies, or embracing non-Zionist, even anti-Zionist positions, would inoculate a Jewish person or institution against anti-Semitic battering.
WITH President Shimon Peres scheduled to address the German parliament Wednesday for International Holocaust Memorial Day, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu concurrently in Poland to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, this is a good time to consider the distinctions between those who revile Jews; those who oppose the right of Jews to self-determination by denying Jewish peoplehood; and those who oppose particular Israeli policies.
In the West, vulgar Jew-hatred and Holocaust-denial meet with strong censure in the public square. No reputable voices would condone attacks on synagogues or holding Jews to standards gentiles are not expected to meet.
On the other hand, urbane anti-Israelism is all-too often treated as justifiable - even chic. While some of Israel's foes in academia, diplomacy and the punditocracy put their cards on the table, others hypocritically hide behind abstract assertions of support for Israel's right to exist and to self-defense based on preposterously impractical criteria. Thus anti-Israelism flirts with anti-Semitism when the Jewish state is held to a yardstick no other country is expected to meet on the grounds that "after all, you call yourselves the 'chosen people.'"
No one questions whether right-wing louts who burn Jewish houses of worship, beat up people who "look Jewish" or desecrate Holocaust memorials are anti-Semites. But those who reject the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, or who deny that Jews are a people, engage in a more subtle form of contempt. That some practitioners of anti-Israelism are themselves of Jewish ancestry matters not a whit. Anti-Israelism is further characterized by calls to boycott the Jewish state (aping the Arab League-instigated embargo which began decades before the first West Bank settlement was erected) and by the cynical manipulation of symbols and semantics - such as "apartheid," "genocide," and "Nazi" - to delegitimize Israel.
In these endeavors, ostensibly progressives are the strange bedfellows of fanatics and reactionaries - Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
WHAT ABOUT those who simply object to particular Israeli policies?
The late US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said famously that he could not define "hard-core pornography" but "I know it when I see it."
Similarly, Israelis have a knack for distinguishing between genuine friends who earnestly oppose this or that policy, and others who profess closeness yet whose counsel, if heeded, would place the country in mortal jeopardy.
Israelis engage in strident debates over settlements, religion and socioeconomic issues. We hardly expect outsiders - whether Jewish or not - to unthinkingly embrace government policies as a sign of fidelity. To suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous.
FROM the first pogrom in 38 BCE to the liberation of Auschwitz, haters have as a rule been candid about their motivations. In the 21st century, however, anti-Israelism has given our foes a pretext to obfuscate their motives. But we Israelis see them for what they are - morally no better than the hooligans who set the Etz Haim Synagogue ablaze.
THE JERUSALEM POST
BORDERLINE VIEWS: OUTDATED SECURITY THINKING
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's comments last week to foreign journalists that whatever the final outcome of a peace solution (assuming there is ever one), Israel would insist on retaining control of the border between a Palestinian state and Jordan signaled a return to a way of thinking about the future borders of the country thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.
Netanyahu argued that it would be essential for Israel to control this border as a means of ensuring that no weapons or rockets were transported from Jordan (or from places further afield such as Iran or Syria) into the new Palestinian state where they could be used against Israel - much in the same way as rockets have been fired from both South Lebanon and the Gaza Strip following the withdrawal from these areas.
The idea of retaining control over the border with Jordan is a throwback to the period immediately following the Six Day War. The unofficial government response to the new situation was to create a strategy which would allow for much of the conquered West Bank to be handed back to Jordan as part of an autonomous Palestinian region, while at the same time ensuring that the border between the West Bank and Jordan remain under direct Israeli military control. The Palestinian autonomous region was to be linked to Jordan through a territorial corridor which would run from Ramallah, via Jericho and over the Allenby Bridge. The entire autonomous region (most of the West Bank) would be closed to Jewish settlement so as to ensure that when the day came for such an agreement to be implemented, there would be no problem of Jewish residents within the Palestinian autonomy.
THE ALLON Plan, after its author, former Palmah commander, foreign minister and deputy prime minister Yigal Allon, could best be described as a pragmatic security plan. Recognizing the demographic implications of long-term control of the region, Allon did not want Israel to retain such control over the interior mountainous areas of the West Bank, densely occupied even then by Palestinians. At the same time, he wanted to ensure that the autonomous region remain isolated from direct contact with its Arab neighbors to the east.
With the exception of Jericho, to be located in the territorial corridor, the entire Jordan Valley was sparsely populated owing to the difficult arid climate. Allon proposed that the Jordan Valley be populated by Jewish settlements - agricultural kibbutzim and moshavim. This was part of a general policy which had been favored by all Israeli governments prior to 1967, namely that the establishment of civilian settlements were an integral part of the country's defensive strategy.
It was this thinking that led, in the early days of the state, to the setting up of the Nahal program, in which soldiers would combine military service with time spent establishing new agricultural settlements in remote border locations, with the intention that following the completion of their army service they would remain as full-time residents of these new communities.
In a famous article published in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs in 1976, Allon laid out his plan under the title of "Israel: The Case for Defensible Borders." Allon's plan remained the unofficial security-settlement plan for the West Bank for 10 years, until the Labor governments were displaced by the Likud government of Menachem Begin. It was Begin, and his settlement planners, such as Matityahu Drobless and Ariel Sharon, who gave the green light for the Gush Emunim movement (founded some years previously and developing a settlement plan which contested Allon's limited concept) and sought to establish settlements throughout the region, including - and especially - in areas which had been declared free of settlements by Allon.
This change of plan eventually gave rise to the settlement network of some 300,000 people which exists in the West Bank today.
But even during the 1980s and 1990s, most Israeli security experts agreed that the Jordan Valley would have to remain the defensive border well into the future. This only began to change after the mid-1990s, as negotiators in the post-Oslo Accords period realized that there could be no political or territorial solution with the Palestinians if Israel insisted on retaining control of such a huge area, effectively isolating a Palestinian state from its eastern neighbors.
Moreover, given the already densely populated region, the projections of even more rapid demographic growth in the future and the potential return of a large number of Palestinian refugees to the new state, the Jordan Valley offered the one area where new settlement and residential projects could take place.
WITH THE firing of rockets from Iraq into the heart of Israel during the first Gulf War, and more recently from south Lebanon and Gaza, security experts began to question the defensive significance of borders in general, and of the Jordan Valley in particular. These changes in technology, the removal of the eastern threat following the peace agreement with Jordan (in which the introduction of any foreign troops into the territory of Jordan would be seen by Israel as a legitimate cassus belli) and, more recently, the neutralization of any immediate military threat from Iraq, meant that for the first time in almost 40 years the Jordan Valley did not figure so prominently in Israel's security demands.
It is therefore surprising that Netanyahu has reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse. If most generals agree that this is no longer a prerequisite for reaching a peace agreement, it can only be interpreted as yet another hard-line statement which turns the clock back to a period and a policy which are no longer relevant. If there is to be any return to the negotiating table (which at present seems highly unlikely), the Palestinians will not accept any territorial arrangements which prevent them from gaining territorial contiguity from the border in the west (the Green Line or thereabouts) to Jordan in the east.
Did Netanyahu make his statement based on real security expertise, or was it just another attempt to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace?
The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.
THE JERUSALEM POST
NO HOLDS BARRED: THE FUTURE OF CHABAD
This week marks the 60th anniversary of the ascension of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, to the global leadership of Chabad. In that time, the organization has grown from a small hassidic group into a global powerhouse of Jewish outreach. But 15 years after our great rebbe's passing, and with Chabad firing on all cylinders, it faces a major decision as to its future. It will either continue to focus on horizontal expansion - opening more Chabad Houses and sending out more rabbi-emissaries - or it will begin focusing on vertical expansion.
By vertical I mean affecting the world media, governments, the broader culture and the non-Jewish world - areas where Chabad has had little to no influence.
Very few Jews have been untouched by Chabad. Whether you've put on tefillin on the street or attended a Chabad House Friday-night dinner, you have had some interaction with the warm and dedicated people of Chabad who have, over the past half century, breathed new life into a once-dying people. But for all that, Chabad remains utterly unknown to the vast majority of Earth's inhabitants. With the exception of the tragedy in Mumbai, Chabad appears in the news mainly through its own press releases.
In a world crying out for spiritual direction, this is a great shame. What Chabad offers is not merely a supermarket of Jewish observance. It also encompasses a system of deep spiritual thought with outstanding applications to modern challenges. The organization has mastered one of modern parents' greatest dilemmas - how to inspire youth to selfless communal involvement. From their early teens, Chabad youth are volunteering huge amounts of personal time to strangers. Rather than spending Jewish holidays in the comfort of family, young men and women travel the world to assist Chabad emissaries in staging Passover Seders and High Holy Day services. Why is the secret of such successful youth motivation not being exported?
Low birthrates are decimating Western countries. The New York Times Magazine devoted a cover story last summer to "Disappearing Europe," exposing how the deplorably low birthrate in France, Russia, Britain and Scandinavia means that the people of Europe are quite literally disappearing, the principal reason being the high cost of modern living. But Chabad continues proudly with large families, insisting that scarce resources be put into raising kids rather than buying Prada handbags.
LAST YEAR, greed nearly destroyed the American economy, and an overindulgence in materialism continues to suffocate the American spirit. Our society seems to love things more than it loves people, with men and women spending more time at shopping malls than at the family dinner table. So why isn't Chabad publishing treatises on how parents can learn to love having children more than prospering careers?
And how often do we see Chabad men stringing women along for years without marrying them? Chabad men and women look forward eagerly to the commitment of marriage. So where is the advice for a world in which the culture of womanizing and increasing female commitment-phobia leads to so many lonely singles?
Chabad uniquely raises women who are strong-willed but uniquely feminine and nurturing. That's saying a lot in a culture where the original feminist dream of women being taken seriously for their minds has sadly ended in the exploitation of female sexuality to sell cars and beer.
Chabad has answers to so many of these modern dilemmas. Yet it continues to be known only for the most practical outreach rather than its formidable wisdom. Want to buy a mezuza? Go to Chabad. But want a more spiritual life? Deepak Choprah is your man.
While Christian evangelicals have taken over the airwaves, attempting to convince us that the solution to the disintegration of marriage is opposition to gays, Chabad continues to operate shofar factories and erect Hanukka menoras. These things are profoundly important, but not to the exclusion of promoting Chabad as a profound collection of ideas that can rehabilitate one's family and rejuvenate one's spiritual life.
Even Chabad's greatest admirers praise it for its outstanding work rather than its outstanding wisdom. But possessed of the gem of hassidic thought, should Chabad be known as the most incredible place to have Shabbat dinner in Venice rather than for the practical philosophy people turn to when they seek a more elevated life?
THE SAME is true with politics. True, Chabad is not a political movement, nor should it be. But should Chabad really have no say when it comes to school choice, the tuition crisis and how not one dollar of religious parents' hard-earned tax money can go to even the secular departments of parochial schools? And does Chabad really have nothing to say about the genocide in Sudan?
Part of the problem has been the failure on the part of modern Chabad to create, with some exceptions, notable writers and thinkers, which is curious given the rebbe's towering reputation as an intellectual. The movement has become focused on creating fund-raisers rather than orators, builders rather than writers, outreach professionals as opposed to philosophers, and rabbis who know how to put together a minyan as opposed to keeping a marriage together.
Both are, of course, extremely important. But a movement that focuses only on horizontal expansion risks becoming ossified in more-of-the same predictability. Innovative thinkers and charismatic teachers will not arise in Chabad so long as there is thought-conformity in the movement. Yes, Chabad is an halachic movement, and it is to be expected that its intellectuals always conform to the norms of Jewish law. But a thinker must also be allowed broad leeway in challenging conventional norms rather than fearing ostracization for doing so. After all, the rebbe himself was arguably the most broad-minded hassidic rabbi of all time.
Sixty years later, let's embrace his example.
The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 22 books, most recently The Kosher Sutra and The Blessing of Enough. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley and www.shmuley.com
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHO WILL BLINK FIRST?
During the Cold War serious protocols were set to protect the Americans and Soviets in case of a first strike and even more vigorous protocols were in place regarding how to respond to it. Unlike conventional weapons, nuclear weapons are countervalue weapons, which do not distinguish between civilian and military targets - they will destroy all.
There has been a great deal of discussion on the prevention and deterrence of a nuclear strike on Israel by Iran. Most assume the missile would originate from Iran. But with US airpower in Iraq and Afghanistan, multitudes of Awacs and electronics in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, and with NATO ships with sophisticated electronics positioned in the Persian Gulf, it is doubtful that missiles could make their way from Iran to Israel. However, missiles could easily be launched from locations much closer to Israel. There is so much instability in the region that it would be easy for a rogue nation to entice one or more proxies to act on its behalf.
While Iranian plans for nuclear self-sufficiency were born in the early 1970s and are the focus of a great deal of national pride, achieving nuclear capability during President Ahmadinejad's tenure is said to be a mandate of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). With the IRGC's significant influence and control over the Iranian economy, security, public policy and military, the goal will undoubtedly be reached.
We cannot ignore the potential uses for this nuclear capability once it is developed. Perhaps one of the few things that could shift Iranian public opinion regarding weaponization of nuclear power, and cascade the current public opposition to the regime, would be a large-scale accident in one of IRGC's many nuclear facilities. This is a significant risk as the IRGC is rushing to get there and may be cutting corners in the process.
Operating a multibillion-dollar enterprise inside Iran and across the globe, while directing nuclear research and development, the IRGC would have little interest in an Armageddon, at least in the short term. Having said that, there is a significant desire to cause turmoil and damage to those who are perceived as enemies of the state - Israel and the United States being at the top of the list.
WITH IRAN on a fast track towards military dictatorship and swept up in serious expansionist ideology, the prospect of being a target for second strike as a direct result of attacking Israel would not be very appealing to the IRGC.
Given its significant investments in strategic planning in conventional and unconventional military engagement, and following established patterns (Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen), it seems unlikely that a IRGC would launch the first strike directly from Iran. It is more likely that this would be put into motion by an IRGC proxy much closer to Israel. The IRGC could then embark on conventional warfare to cover its tracks. With media and public opinion generally unsympathetic to Israel, it is not beyond belief that Iran could convince people or develop doubts in people's minds that the nuclear first strike was instead conventional warfare striking Israel's own nuclear war-heads and giving the impression of a nuclear attack.
A first strike on Israel would also present a convenient opportunity for Israel's enemies to engage in further destruction. Israel, perceived as weakened and vulnerable, might be seen as ripe for a multi-pronged attack by those who want to see the Jewish state destroyed. In fact it would be far easier for the IRGC to let the Arabs finish the job all on their own. Strategically, the IRGC's expansionist strategies would work perfectly in the aftermath of such events.
A first strike from a closer proximity would be devastating to Israel, possibly irrecoverable, considering Israel's size versus the coverage of the strike. Being somewhat larger, Iran would survive a second strike by Israel quite well. Not only might a first strike on Israel eliminate its capacity to launch a second strike from land, but Israel might also find it hard to justify launching an attack on Iran if the first strike originated from a third country. That would only bring more international condemnation of Israel. With any missile launched towards Israel from anywhere having potential to be "the one," Israel's future military success will be defined by how well it can address incoming missiles of any kind. Investment in anti-ballistic missile technologies will continue to be a priority.
A first strike on any location in Israel would have devastating impact on the Palestinian population as well, including those in the Gaza and the West Bank. A strike on Tel Aviv would not be felt only in Tel Aviv, but would have a much larger impact in the region, perhaps as far as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
Whether the IRGC uses the nuclear threat as a bargaining chip to deter any military action against it, or to strengthen its proxies such as Hizbollah and Hamas in the region, they all point to an expansionist agenda for the IRGC. Some may say that Israel, as the common foe, has united some Arabs with the Persians, and it wouldn't make sense to destroy the unifying force. On the other hand, the IRGC might find delivering the first strike to the most powerful country in the region an irresistible and impressive military demonstration of its own power.
At the end of the cold war the two superpowers realized that no matter how many nuclear warheads they aimed at one another, thermonuclear war would not be in their or the rest of the world's best interests. This realization resulted in further talks, and an understanding.
The Iranian administration will eventually realize that annihilation of Israel and 7.5 million Jews would have reciprocal impact on its own existence and that of its proxies, even if they use one of those proxies to launch the first strike.
The writer's name has been changed to protect his identity.
THE JERUSALEM POST
IT'S NOT JUST ISRAEL: HOW OBAMA UNDERMINES US ALLIES
For those worried that US President Barack Obama is particularly antagonistic toward Israel, there's good news and bad news: The good news is that Israel is hardly Obama's obsession; the bad news is that his administration's conduct toward it is consistent with its pattern of backing away from embattled American allies - a predictable byproduct of Obama's approach to foreign policy through dictator outreach.
Obama, more than any recent president, has made his own personality and identity cornerstones of American diplomacy. He assumes his potent charm can bend America's adversaries his way, that American history began anew on January 20, 2009 and that hostilities can be resolved through dialogue with him. His tactic of choice has been to visit a troubled region, apologize to the local authoritarians for America's sinful pre-Obama history, disavow acts of previous administrations and suggest that he brings with him a diplomatic "reset-button."
But there are dangerous repercussions to conducting such personality-focused foreign policy: By promoting his unique diplomatic touch as the key to rapprochement, any failure by Obama to harmonize hostile relationships indicates the insufficiency of his skills.
Accordingly, in practice, hostile governments have learned that Obama sets lofty diplomatic goals in public, but is willing to cut almost any deal to keep up appearances. He has made countless concessions and conciliatory gestures to Iran, the Arab world, China, Russia and Venezuela, vainly urging some demonstration of good faith in return. Yet time and again, seeing no downside, America's adversaries simply pocket the concessions without reciprocating.
Refusing to concede any error, Obama has instead doubled his diplomatic bets, paying in the currency preferred by the hostile regimes: by jettisoning the interests of US allies who are thorns in their sides.
Obama has vocally criticized Israeli security policy, coerced a settlement freeze and put the status of established Jerusalem neighborhoods in question. Yet the Arab governments and Palestinian leadership keep moving the diplomatic goalposts, making no concessions, knowing he will only increase pressure on Israel to restart the "peace process."
Obama's one-sided pressure against Israel has earned him, according to a Jerusalem Post poll published in June, the assessment of only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis that his administration is pro-Israel.
But it's not just Israel. In April he praised "the Czech Republic and Poland, [who] have been courageous in agreeing to host" a missile-defense system, promising deployment "as long as the threat from Iran persists." By July, though the threat from Iran certainly persisted, Obama caved in to Russian objections, abandoning the missile-shield along with those courageous Czechs and Poles.
In Honduras, his administration backed the reinstatement of a power-usurping, Chavez-allied anti-American president in spite of the legal democratic process which had removed him.
In Iran, Obama still talks of engaging the mullahs and slowing down sanctions even as the theo-fascists thumb their noses, ramping up their nuclear capability and mowing down democratic protesters holding signs saying "Obama, are you with us or against us?"
From China, Obama had high hopes for progress on human rights and cooperation regarding Iran and North Korea. He got nothing, save for an ironic lecture on fiscal responsibility from the communist government.
Is there a threatened ally he has ever stood up for? If I were Taiwan, I'd be worried.
OBAMA TRULY believes in his special persuasive powers. "I have a gift," he is famously reported to have said to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. During the campaign, the crux of his foreign policy was his eagerness to immediately meet the world's most brutal dictators and enemies of America, without preconditions; he would personally make them less antagonistic. He wants to hold a Muslim summit, since "I have lived in a Muslim country" [as a schoolboy], "I know it is possible to reconcile Islam with modernity and respect for human rights and a rejection of violence."
Well, that's a relief.
Obama's belief in his own powers was reinforced by a love-struck press. After his vaguely messianic campaign and inauguration, Newsweek's Evan Thomas typified the mood, hyperventilating that Obama was "standing above the country... above the world. He's sort of God." But once president, reality intruded: The leaders of Russia, China and North Korea don't believe in God. And the Islamist God is somewhat less warm and fuzzy than Barack Obama.
With nothing to show for his efforts, Obama's continued belief in his ability to pacify adversaries by personal appeal is as delusional as it is dangerous. Nations don't have personal friends; they have interests. And American interests are not advanced by presidential groveling, but by creating the right mix of carrots and sticks to induce desired behavior.
Obama's willingness to sacrifice embattled allies to appease hostile regimes ultimately weakens America. As Bernard Lewis has said: "A nation can make few mistakes worse than this: to be harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend."
Especially when that nation gets nothing in return. The writer is an American attorney and political commentator currently living in Jerusalem.
THE JERUSALEM POST
GIVE THE MAN A BREAK
As I sit in my biweekly Arabic lesson trying to decipher a complicated text, reciting the words like music - emphasizing the tedious final vowels - my teacher proudly smiles and says, "Easy in training, difficult in battle. At least that's what the soldiers used to tell me." This saying, in Hebrew, is loosely translated to mean "practice makes perfect." So mindful is this teacher of the warlike mentality that she refers to my education as training, claiming that during my time at graduate school I "was trained to be a writer and trained in Arabic."
Over time, this mentality has become a day-to-day reality here. In the country's 61 years of existence it has been involved in many wars. Its survival has always been dependent upon highly trained individuals.
Without the sweat and toil of its citizens, it is very possible that the country might not have survived to this day.
The lesson of "easy in training, difficult in battle" is one that the Obama administration should learn from in its effort to promote democracy, human rights and freedom around the world.
From his very inception as president, Barack Obama represented a turning point in international affairs. From small villages in Egypt to bustling cities in Asia, Obama impressed hope upon people all over the world for a brighter future. For many, he is not merely seen as an American president, he is a world leader who will restore and resurrect the rule of law and freedom that we all so badly desire.
With three simple words - "yes we can" - Obama promised to restore America's image from the often scorned policies of his Bush administration predecessors.
IN A world where actions speak louder than words, Obama has made significant efforts to advance the moral principles we aspire to. Presidential orders to shut down Guantanamo Bay were immediately signed. New diplomatic initiatives dealing with North Korea, Iran and other nuclear would-be threats are being undertaken. Suspected terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attack - have been given fair trials in American courts. In fact, they have even been given American lawyers to represent their interests.
Even after the Fort Hood massacre Obama did not waste an instant in reminding the world that "no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts." These attacks were committed by "twisted logic" and were not representative of the doctrines of any one religion." Obama's efforts have demonstrated to the world the importance of freedom and the rule of law.
Yet, despite Obama's valiant efforts to actualize our principles, Iran with its nuclear ambitions is closer to acquiring a nuclear arsenal. It has not bought into our international principles. In fact, its leadership has used the unwieldy time it takes for international diplomacy to take effect to further the development of its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, religious extremists are committing terrorist attacks in the US - even at heavily guarded army bases. And even under the due process of law suspected terrorists such as would-be Christmas Day bomber Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab fail to participate in their hearings. Our principles of freedom and the rule of law are heard; but, they are not being universally accepted.
The Obama administration has taken the first few steps in advancing humanistic principles throughout the world. First, Obama has injected people everywhere with hope for the future. Second, he has taken actions to actualize these principles. However, these two steps have still not produced the desired results.
Obama claims that "change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." However, our views of freedom and the rule of law are far from being universally accepted. Convincing people to give way to our beliefs will not come with the click of a pen.
To turn our ideals into reality we must undertake the difficult task of understanding the way our adversaries think. We must work hard to show them how freedom, human rights and democracy should prevail.
We must not allow the goodness of our principles to be used against us. Change is possible; but it involves hard work.
Prior to moving to Israel, the writer served as the special assistant to the Critic of International Cooperation in the Canadian House of Commons. In Israel, he has researched, written and edited papers for some of Israel's leading think tanks. He is currentlycompleting his thesis about modern reform in the Arab Middle East at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
POPULISM IS NOT A POLICY
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dramatic announcement on Sunday that Israel now has "a different immigration policy, clear and resolute," is laughable. It is hard to understand how this policy is either "different" or "resolute," aside from the promise to deport 50,000 foreigners a year; and one thing it certainly is not is "clear." Indeed, it is hard to dignify what sounds like an empty declaration with the term "policy" at all.
Netanyahu accused an ill-defined population of "foreigners" of creating security problems and being involved in drug crimes; he confused refugees and migrant laborers; and he incited the Israeli public against whose who are "taking jobs away from us." His populist promise that the children of foreign workers will not be harmed by the new policy did nothing to sweeten the bitter taste of his assault.
Apparently the new policy - which Netanyahu's bureau, as is its wont, termed a "reform" - will only make life harder with one hand for those whom the government will keep right on bringing here with the other. The government will, it seems, be satisfied with embittering the lives of the 120,000 foreign workers to whom it granted visas this year. This vertiginous figure is rivaled only by the number of visas granted to foreign workers during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister and during Eli Yishai's previous terms as interior minister and industry and trade minister.
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Given the chilling contradiction between the government's pronouncements and the facts - which demonstrate that Netanyahu and his ministers are actually encouraging foreign labor - there is no choice but to interpret Netanyahu's words as pure incitement, which is causing unjustified panic and encouraging xenophobia. Particularly outrageous is his obscene claim that the foreigners threaten the state's Jewish identity.
Even the figures he cites are controversial. According to Netanyahu, some 170,000 foreign workers are currently living here illegally, along with tens of thousands of asylum seekers. But the latest OECD report states that Israel has no clue how many migrant laborers and refugees are living here.
Netanyahu talks about 12 percent of the labor force, but the OECD lists the figure as 3.8 percent, which is less than the Western average. Yet even if the OECD is underestimating the phenomenon, it is not the migrant workers who are destroying the labor market, but the government, which grants middlemen - the manpower companies - broad power to import and exploit foreign workers, and thereby also weakens Israeli workers.
Israel needs a serious immigration policy, and it needs to create decent jobs. It does not need a campaign of fear-mongering.
A NUTTY STATE
BY YOEL MARCUS
Take a tape measure and check what Israel occupied itself with more - Sara Netanyahu and her housemaids, or U.S. President Obama's interview with Time Magazine. In the interview he admits his expectations of the Israelis and Palestinians were too high and that, "If we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high."
Despite Obama's admission of failure and the implications for us, Israel was still immersed in the Sara chronicles. Before we could digest the domestic help problem and the president's confession and its significance to our future relations - Minister Yossi Peled issued a warning that a war in the north is only matter of time.
This announcement was surprising on two accounts - 1. I didn't know Yossi Peled was a minister. 2. On what basis did he prophecy war when the Intelligence, GOC Northern Command, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say such a forecast is groundless? It's not clear whom he scared more - us
There is no doubt that the settlers and Likud extremists are pleased with Obama's admission of failure. But as far as the state's real interests are concerned, there is no cause for rejoicing. In any case, sooner or later we will have to end the occupation. The only question is under what circumstances.
When a Republican is elected instead of the Democratic candidate in Massachussetts - home to the Kennedy clan and a Democratic bastion - reducing the Democratic-aligned majority in the Senate from 60 to 59, this is not good news to Obama ahead of the November elections. As Israelis we should not jump for joy when a Democratic administration weakens.
For better or worse we gain from America not only defense assistance, but backing on the world stage. Many states court us because of these special relations. Strategically we need a strong, leading America.
On the other hand America needs us too. Obama has positioned us as a central pawn on his peace chessboard with Islam. In the tangle of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Iranian threat he sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a snarl that must be untangled.
Obama has already received a Nobel Peace Prize, but he must be angry with the parties that caused the coitus interruptus in his pretentious pan-Islamic peace campaign. He would probably prefer Jimmy Carter's lot - to be powerful enough to bring the Nobel Peace Prize to Bibi and Abu Mazen, while he himself is remembered in history as the one who ended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although Obama has lumped us in one regional package, the truth is that Netanyahu has made two important moves forward. He declared his willingness to negotiate on the basis of two states for two peoples and he came up with the initiative to freeze construction and development in the settlements for 10 months. The settlers' scuffles with the police and the army prove that he is keeping his promise.
The problem is that the Palestinians are not ready to open negotiations. Olmert and Livni negotiated for two years with Abu Mazen for less than that. Some will say that they are missing an opportunity yet again. But perhaps they are deliberately dragging their feet, with the intention of leading toward a binational state. With such a danger looming on the horizon we cannot let this stalemate go on. And if Obama wants us to make more good will gestures, it is important for Israel's leaders to do so instead of being insulted and scaring the Israeli people with threats of war.
Despite Obama's disappointment, the administration will find it difficult to keep the conflict on the back burner and wait for better times. The open threats and intelligence indicating al-Qaida and other Islamic terror groups are preparing to launch attacks on American targets inside and outside the continent, make a peace settlement in our region a vital security goal for America.
But in the wars between the Jews, from Sara, her dresses and housemaids through Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz to Ofer Paz-Pines and Barak, when the once balanced Israel looks like a state gone nuts, we should take Obama's disappointment seriously.
Before the president finds the timing for imposing a deadlock-breaking move, Netanyahu would do well to come up with his own initiative to break the impasse
SOMETIMES NETANYAHU IS RIGHT
BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
It's hard to be the prime minister of Israel. Even when you occasionally do the right things you face criticism from every direction, defamation and unfounded accusations.
If you try to shake up the last dinosaur, the Israel Lands Administration, to force it to sell off land to reduce prices, you're accused of acting in the service of "the real estate sharks." If you try to simplify and shorten the planning process to release the bottleneck in the construction industry - and in so doing halt the rise in housing prices - you become incorrigibly corrupt and a confirmed anti-environmentalist. If you encourage the reduction of income and corporate taxes to stimulate jobs, investment and economic growth, you are accused of knuckling under to the "tycoons."
And if you say that the number of foreign workers in the country should be reduced to allow disadvantaged populations in Israel to find a decent job, you are accused of cruelty, racism and "modern slavery," no less.
Data presented to the cabinet on Sunday show that Israel is nearly the global record holder for the proportion of foreign nationals in the workforce. There are around 300,000 foreign workers in Israel, 130,000 of them authorized and the rest unauthorized. That is about 10.4 percent of the workforce, compared with 4 percent in the Netherlands, 5.2 percent in both Sweden and France and 8 percent in Spain. Only Austria, at 12 percent, is ahead of Israel. The average for OECD countries is just 5.6 percent.
That is a genuine problem because the foreign workers who come here take the place of the same manual, blue-collar workers who once earned an honest living in construction, agriculture, industry, food service and cleaning. After all, you can't lament the bitter fate of the unemployed and complain about manual laborers' low wages while permitting and encouraging the entry into Israel of foreign workers who drive down salaries.
It wasn't always like this. Until 1993 there were relatively few foreign workers in Israel, and most were Palestinians. But after a series of terror stabbings that year, Yitzhak Rabin introduced a policy of extended closures that kept Palestinians from getting to work. Industrialists, farmers and building contractors began pressuring the government to allow the import of foreign nationals to replace the Palestinian workers.
The cabinet made a historic error by giving in to the pressure, effectively opening the country's borders to everyone; foreign workers began pouring in from every corner of the globe.
The result was a decline in blue-collar wages, and Israelis, especially in outlying areas, were thrown out of the labor market. The Filipina home healthcare aide whose job ended at the home of an elderly man turned into an unauthorized cleaner and housekeeper for the wealthy. Chinese construction workers became unauthorized restaurant workers and home renovators - and Israelis are pushed out of these jobs.
This has greatly hurt Israel's weakest populations, unskilled and uneducated workers. Unemployment among these groups has risen steadily, with increasing numbers of Israelis moving from employment to unemployment and welfare. Until 1994, for example, Israel's Arab communities were not even on the country's jobless map; since then they have been at the top of the list.
This week the cabinet approved a plan to reduce the number of foreign workers in Israel, especially the unauthorized ones. It's a good measure, but it must be aimed at employers. An "employers police" should be created to replace the "immigration police." Instead of chasing foreign workers around the city and wounding their dignity, the "employers police" should be permitted to enter workplaces and impose heavy fines, and even custodial sentences, on anyone who hires unauthorized foreign labor. That would be a true deterrent.
The time has come, too, to bust the myth that Israeli workers are unwilling to work in agriculture, construction, cleaning and restaurants. They are prepared to work in these areas, on condition that the farming and building sectors undergo mechanization, modernization and a rise in wages.
But why bother to change the accepted patterns of criticism when you can continue to vilify Benjamin Netanyahu? Even when he's right.
IN THE WEST THEY SAY IT'S RAIN
BY AMIRA HASS
Israel, via the Interior Ministry, continues to spit in the face of friendly countries, and those countries continue to admire the falling raindrops. The ministry's most recent gob of spit was the cancellation of the work visas that citizens of those countries who are employed by international NGOs have been getting for years.
Instead, they will be given tourist visas that restrict their freedom of movement and activity. These people are usually employees of humanitarian organizations that operate among the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
In taking this step, Israel is declaring its contempt for international aid organizations, as well as its ingratitude, because it is these bodies that put out the fires ignited by Israel's discriminatory policies against the Palestinians in the territories. It is the governmental, public and private foundations from those friendly countries, mostly in the West, that fix the damage done by the occupation, both in the past and present.
The donations to the Palestinian Authority and to international and Palestinian NGOs are ostensibly evidence that the outside world supports the Palestinians and their aspirations for independence within the June 4, 1967 borders. But actually, they are evidence of Israel's virtual inviolability. In 1993, the world did not demand that in the framework of what was named the peace process, Israel compensate the Palestinians for the damage wrought by the occupation. The friendly countries did it themselves, instead of Israel.
And today, they exert no real pressure on Israel to end its policies that restrict the development of the West Bank; policies that have created humanitarian disasters in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It is easier for Western governments to spend billions of dollars of their taxpayers' money than to make Israel honor international laws and resolutions so that Palestinian dependence on aid money will diminish.
The cancellation of the work visas is another expression of the way Israel unilaterally draws the borders of the Palestinian entity that it plans to define as a state; without the lands of East Jerusalem, of course, where efforts to reduce the Palestinian population are ongoing, and without the Gaza Strip. The separation fence, deep inside the West Bank, has already become part of the ostensibly moderate Israeli consensus as the "western border", and now a campaign is on for the annexation of most of Area C to Israel.
The Interior Ministry is doing its bit to create these facts on the ground. It takes pains to mention that its restrictions on foreign citizens are aimed at people whose destination is "the areas of the Palestinian Authority" - in other words, Areas A and B, or 40 percent of the West Bank. No Jerusalem, no Gaza, almost no Area C, where their work is limited anyway by the very restrictions on Palestinian development.
In the Oslo Accords, when travel and stays by foreign citizens are mentioned, the geographic reference is to the West Bank and Gaza. But the Interior Ministry distinguishes between "the boundaries of the Palestinian Authority" and "the boundaries of Israel." Israel's intentionally blurry borders are therefore being defined on the basis of the enclaves of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has no right to decide who enters its enclaves through the international crossing points, which are controlled by Israel. The Israeli Interior Ministry continues to prevent the entry of dozens of foreign citizens who have links of work, family or friendship with the Palestinian community.
"Israel has the sovereign right to impose restrictions on entry," is how foreign diplomats explain their governments' lack of intervention. That is, with their diplomatic laxity and financial generosity, the countries of the West, first and foremost the United States, are collaborating with the unilateral Israeli process of perpetuating the Palestinian enclaves.
BY AMIR OREN
The last time Israeli and Syrian forces clashed at the level of fighter-plane squadrons and ground divisions was in June 1982, apart from a brief aerial encounter in November 1985. For a quarter century the Syrian front has been quiet but volatile, as illustrated by the panic that seized the government and military command in the tense summer of 2007. Regaining the Golan Heights may not be Syrian President's Bashar Assad's top priority, but Israel holds no copyright on productions titled "The boss has gone crazy".
For the last three and a half years, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot has headed the Israel Defense Forces' Northern Command. When Maj. Gen. Udi Adam resigned, haunted by his failure in Lebanon, Eizenkot turned the post down. The defense minister at the time, Amir Peretz, wanted to give the job to Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant, head of Southern Command. But chief of staff Dan Halutz didn't agree, and Peretz came up with two retired generals, both over 60, Ilan Biran and Amiram Levin. (He also wanted to appoint retired general Uzi Dayan to head a supreme command at the Defense Ministry.) None of these plans materialized, and when Eizenkot was summoned once again to Peretz's office, in Halutz's presence, his objections to the appointment weren't so strenuous.
Although both the current chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, served as head of Northern Command during the seven years before Adam's tenure, Eizenkot is now the IDF's top expert on the northern front. He will have to command Israeli forces there if war breaks out. His senior subordinate will be Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, the commander of Corps 446. On Sunday, Eizenkot and Hacohen expounded on their views at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Both are thoughtful, experienced commanders who are excellent at analyzing situations and reflecting on their significance, but they are happy to make do with a public image of being narrowly focused subcontractors.
This northern duo remains silent while the political duo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leads Israel toward a political and security catastrophe. The quiet on the borders is illusory, similar to the quiet that put Israel to sleep in the early 1970s in the three years between the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. Barak, who was defense minister in the government that negotiated with the Palestinians on the Annapolis parameters, has now lent a hand to bury the process by making it possible for Netanyahu to kill off what he is trying to revive.
Without progress with the Palestinians, there can be no progress with Syria. The initiative has been abandoned to Assad, who could take military action in a number of ways: surface-to-surface missiles, commando raids on Mount Hermon or a Druze settlement in the Golan, or terror attacks by Hezbollah. In the last resort, he could move tanks up to the border. Pandemonium would break out, the Americans would intervene, and the process would resume with the Syrians determined to restore their dignity and land.
From the lectures given by Eizenkot and Hacohen, it's clear that the IDF has responses to various scenarios, but it doesn't have solutions. If Assad decides to imitate Anwar Sadat, who was his father's partner in 1973, and to strike Israel in order to wound it, its air bases, infrastructure and pride, Israel will not be able to prevent him from gaining a psychological and political victory, however heavy a military and economic price he must pay.
This is the code of the north that our commanders there are refusing to decipher for the public, who will suffer the consequences. To their credit, it may be said that the generals are unwilling to encroach on the no-man's-land between the military and political echelons, and that they fear divulging to the Syrians the IDF commanders' thinking. But on the negative side, they are shirking their supreme duty - preventing an unnecessary war.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
DON'T GIVE UP NOW
It would be a terrible mistake for Democrats to abandon comprehensive health care reform just because voters in the Massachusetts Senate race last week decided that they liked the Republican, Scott Brown, more than the Democrat, Martha Coakley.
There is no question that without a filibuster-proof majority it will be a lot harder to pass a bill. But it should not be impossible if Congressional Democrats and the White House show courage and creativity. Health care reform is too important to throw away, and it is not too late to persuade voters that it is in their interest.
Congress is achingly close to passing legislation that would cover most uninsured Americans and provide much more security for all Americans guaranteeing that if they lose their jobs they will be able to buy affordable policies and can't be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
If the Democrats quit now, so close to the goal line, the opportunity for large-scale reform could be lost for years. Meanwhile, the number of uninsured, currently more than 46 million, will keep going up and the cost of health care will continue to soar.
Many panicky Democrats see Mr. Brown's win as proof that angry voters will punish them in November if they press ahead with reform. We believe that is a misreading of what happened and what's possible.
Ms. Coakley ran an inept campaign. And the White House hasn't done enough to address voters' profound and legitimate fears about losing their jobs and their homes. But President Obama and Congressional Democrats have also clearly failed to explain why reform will make Americans' lives more secure not less.
What makes this all the more frustrating is that Massachusetts, which adopted its own very similar health care reform in 2006, is a compelling example of both the benefits and popularity of the effort.
A poll taken in Massachusetts after the election by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that a surprising 68 percent of those who had voted said that they supported their own state's plan, including slightly more than half of those who had voted for Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown, who promised to block reform in Washington, voted for his state's program in 2006 and did not campaign against it this year. Instead, he argued that since Massachusetts' citizens already have coverage, why should they help pay to expand coverage elsewhere.
That cynical I've-got-mine argument doesn't make a lot of sense even in Massachusetts. The Senate bill would funnel additional money into the Massachusetts program and federal efforts to rein in costs should ultimately benefit all of the states.
Democrats should take another look at what really happened in Massachusetts and then summon the nerve to enact comprehensive reform. They must make clear to voters that they have little to fear. Even the mandate requiring everyone to buy insurance doesn't kick in until 2014. And they must make clear that reform offers immediate gains, especially for middle-class Americans.
Once the bill becomes law, many dependent children could remain on their parents' policies until age 26. Insurers would no longer be able to set lifetime caps on the amount they will pay for health care. Children could not be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The gap in drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, known as the doughnut hole, would begin to close. And small businesses would immediately get tax credits to cover their employees.
Recent polls show that the public is divided, with more opposing the bills than favoring them. The negatives have been driven up by critics' distortions about a supposed government takeover of medicine and the tawdry deal-making necessary to win 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Still, a recent national poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that large shares of people became more supportive when told about such provisions as tax credits for small businesses that offer coverage, exchanges where people could choose among competing policies, and rules against denying coverage.
We are hearing a lot of talk in Washington, including from President Obama, about possibly paring down the current bills to cover many fewer of the uninsured and focus instead on reeling in the worst abuses of the insurance industry and reining in health care costs. That could be difficult technically; many of the parts are not easy to disentangle without undermining their effectiveness. And the politics on Capitol Hill where the Republicans are determined to oppose pretty much anything President Obama endorses are unlikely to get easier.
The most promising path forward would be for House Democrats to pass the Senate bill as is and send it to the president for his signature. That would allow the administration and Congress to pivot immediately to job creation and other economic issues. The Senate bill is not perfect, but it would expand coverage to 94 percent of all citizens and legal residents by 2019, reduce the deficit for decades to come, and create pilot programs to move the medical system toward better care at lower costs.
Rank-and-file House Democrats apparently won't accept the Senate bill without modification. So Congressional
leaders are looking for ways to commit both the House and the Senate to changes such as better subsidies to make insurance more affordable that could be approved through parallel "budget reconciliation" legislation that could be approved by a simple majority in both the Senate and House.
This is a once-in-a-generation chance. President Obama must explain to the American people why reform is essential to their health and security and this nation's future. And he must insist that Congress finish the job.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK COULD USE THE $700 MILLION
Because of a disagreement over charter schools, legislative leaders in Albany are in danger once again of letting hundreds of millions of federal dollars slip through their fingers.
Washington is making $4 billion in education funds available under a program called Race to the Top. The money is aimed at encouraging states to improve or close failing schools, keep the most-qualified teachers and expand well-run charter schools. New York's share could be as much as $700 million. The deadline for state applications was last Tuesday, and most states jumped at the opportunity. New York submitted its application, but it lacked a crucial ingredient: a plan that would allow for more charter schools.
A bill favored by legislative leaders would have doubled the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 400. But the bill was flawed and faced an almost certain veto from Gov. David Paterson. The big problem was that it would have undercut the schools' independence by transferring the power to create charter schools from local authorities to the Board of Regents, which is appointed by the Legislature.
This shift particularly offended Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He called the bill a "wolf in sheep's clothing." It would definitely have been a step backward from a system that has mostly worked well, especially in New York City. Charter schools are not without flaws. Their finances should be more transparent. And public-school parents often resent sharing much-needed space with charter schools. But none of these criticisms are a reason for Albany to undercut the whole system or give up on federal funds, especially during a state budget crisis.
A second round of applications for federal aid is due this summer. By then, the Legislature should be able to organize hearings and come up with a plan for the entire state. Otherwise, New York runs the risk of forfeiting, once again, money it needs badly. In 2008, Albany failed to approve even an experimental version of Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan that would have imposed fees on cars coming into Manhattan during rush hours. That cost the city millions of dollars in federal transportation funds. New York can't afford a repeat performance.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A LEGAL PUZZLE: CAN A BABY HAVE THREE BIOLOGICAL PARENTS?
BY ADAM COHEN
Scientists have created baby monkeys with a father and two mothers. Their goal was to eliminate birth defects, but increasing the number of biological parents beyond two could add a futuristic twist to an area where the law already is a mess: the question of who, in this age of artificial insemination and surrogacy, should be considered the legal parents of a baby.
Researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center were looking for ways to eliminate diseases that can be inherited through maternal DNA. They developed, as the magazine Nature reported last summer, a kind of swap in which defective DNA from the egg is removed and replaced with genetic material from another female's egg. The researchers say the procedure is also likely to work on humans.
The result would be a baby with three biological parents or "fractional parents," as Adam Kolber, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, calls them.
He mentioned the idea over lunch at The Times, and it provided plenty of grist for debate among law junkies: Could a baby one day have 100 parents? Could anyone who contributes DNA claim visitation rights? How much DNA is enough? Can a child born outside the United States to foreigners who have DNA from an American citizen claim U.S. citizenship?
One reason these questions are so difficult to resolve definitively is that, even in simpler cases, the law of parenthood is badly muddled. That has been true since the 1980s saga of Baby M.
Mary Beth Whitehead had agreed to a payment of $10,000 to bear a child for William and Elizabeth Stern. The baby girl was conceived with Whitehead's egg and Mr. Stern's sperm. After the birth, Ms. Whitehead sued to keep the baby.
The New Jersey Supreme Court declared Ms. Whitehead "the legal mother" and "not to be penalized one iota because of the surrogate contract." But it allowed the Sterns to raise the child.
In 1993, California came out the other way in a dispute between Crispina and Mark Calvert and a woman they had hired to carry a baby produced with their egg and sperm. All three courts that heard the case ruled for the Calverts, but each gave a different reason. The California Supreme Court finally decided that the person who intended to create the child and to raise it was the mother in this case, Ms. Calvert.
There is confusion nationwide. Some states have laws expressly permitting surrogate parenthood; others make it illegal; and others have no law at all.
The problem, as Janet Dolgin, a Hofstra Law School professor, wrote in the Akron Law Review, is that legal thinking is deeply divided over how to judge what makes a family.
Since the 1960s, there has been a shift toward recognizing people's intent in creating familial relationships, as reflected in the rise of no-fault divorce, prenuptial agreements and civil unions. But when it comes to deciding parenthood, courts remain deeply influenced by biology, even when it clashes with intent.
This concern is playing out now in A.G.R. v. D.R.H. & S.H., the biggest surrogacy case in New Jersey since Baby M's. A woman served as a surrogate for her brother and his male spouse, giving birth to twins conceived with the spouse's sperm and donor eggs. She signed a contract agreeing that her brother would adopt the children, but the trial court, saying it was following the Baby M decision, ruled that the spouse and the surrogate mother are the legal parents. The surrogate's brother was given no parental rights.
When technology transforms a legal field as the Internet is doing now for privacy, and digital music and video are doing for copyright judges and legal thinkers have to decide what are the important values.
Parenthood cannot be reduced to a formula, but the law should move toward a greater recognition that the intent of the people involved is more important than the genes. That would provide useful guidance for courts to think about fractional parents especially if the day comes when three or more people want to combine their DNA to create a baby.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
OBAMA'S CREDIBILITY GAP
BY BOB HERBERT
WHO IS BARACK OBAMA?
Americans are still looking for the answer, and if they don't get it soon or if they don't like the answer the president's current political problems will look like a walk in the park.
Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.
Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won't be able to close it.
Mr. Obama's campaign mantra was "change" and most of his supporters took that to mean that he would change the way business was done in Washington and that he would reverse the disastrous economic policies that favored mega-corporations and the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor.
"Tonight, more Americans are out of work, and more are working harder for less," said Mr. Obama in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. "More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach."
Voters watching the straight-arrow candidate delivering that speech, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, would not logically have thought that an obsessive focus on health insurance would trump job creation as the top domestic priority of an Obama administration.
But that's what happened. Moreover, questions were raised about Mr. Obama's candor when he spoke about health care. In his acceptance speech, for example, candidate Obama took a verbal shot at John McCain, sharply criticizing him for offering "a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits."
Now Mr. Obama favors a plan that would tax at least some people's benefits. Mr. Obama also repeatedly said that policyholders who were pleased with their plans and happy with their doctors would be able to keep both under his reform proposals.
Well, that wasn't necessarily so, as the president eventually acknowledged. There would undoubtedly be changes in some people's coverage as a result of "reform," and some of those changes would be substantial. At a forum sponsored by ABC News last summer, Mr. Obama backed off of his frequent promise that no changes would occur, saying only that "if you are happy with your plan, and if you are happy with your doctor, we don't want you to have to change."
These less-than-candid instances are emblematic of much bigger problems. Mr. Obama promised during the campaign that he would be a different kind of president, one who would preside over a more open, more high-minded administration that would be far more in touch with the economic needs of ordinary working Americans. But no sooner was he elected than he put together an economic team that would protect, above all, the interests of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, and so on.
How can you look out for the interests of working people with Tim Geithner whispering in one ear and Larry Summers in the other?
Now with his poll numbers down and the Democrats' filibuster-proof margin in the Senate about to vanish, Mr. Obama is trying again to position himself as a champion of the middle class. Suddenly, with the public appalled at the scandalous way the health care legislation was put together, and with Democrats facing a possible debacle in the fall, Mr. Obama is back in campaign mode. Every other utterance is about "fighting" for the middle class, "fighting" for jobs, "fighting" against the big bad banks.
The president who has been aloof and remote and a pushover for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, who has been locked in the troubling embrace of the Geithners and Summers and Ben Bernankes of the world, all of a sudden is a man of the people. But even as he is promising to fight for jobs, a very expensive proposition, he's proposing a spending freeze that can only hurt job-creating efforts.
Mr. Obama will deliver his State of the Union address Wednesday night. The word is that he will offer some small bore assistance to the middle class. But more important than the content of this speech will be whether the president really means what he says. Americans want to know what he stands for, where his line in the sand is, what he'll really fight for, and where he wants to lead this nation.
They want to know who their president really is.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE POPULIST ADDICTION
BY DAVID BROOKS
Politics, some believe, is the organization of hatreds. The people who try to divide society on the basis of ethnicity we call racists. The people who try to divide it on the basis of religion we call sectarians. The people who try to divide it on the basis of social class we call either populists or elitists.
These two attitudes populism and elitism seem different, but they're really mirror images of one another.
They both assume a country fundamentally divided. They both describe politics as a class struggle between the enlightened and the corrupt, the pure and the betrayers.
Both attitudes will always be with us, but these days populism is in vogue. The Republicans have their populists. Sarah Palin has been known to divide the country between the real Americans and the cultural elites. And the Democrats have their populists. Since the defeat in Massachusetts, many Democrats have apparently decided that their party has to mimic the rhetoric of John Edwards's presidential campaign. They've taken to dividing the country into two supposedly separate groups real Americans who live on Main Street and the insidious interests of Wall Street.
It's easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.
Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter.
Third, populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.'s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.'s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.'s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.'s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.
So it's easy to see the seductiveness of populism. Nonetheless, it nearly always fails. The history of populism, going back to William Jennings Bryan, is generally a history of defeat.
That's because voters aren't as stupid as the populists imagine. Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their heads at one time: First, that the rich and the powerful do rig the game in their own favor; and second, that simply bashing the rich and the powerful will still not solve the country's problems.
Political populists never get that second point. They can't seem to grasp that a politics based on punishing the elites won't produce a better-educated work force, more investment, more innovation or any of the other things required for progress and growth.
In fact, this country was built by anti-populists. It was built by people like Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln who rejected the idea that the national economy is fundamentally divided along class lines. They rejected the zero-sum mentality that is at the heart of populism, the belief that economics is a struggle over finite spoils. Instead, they believed in a united national economy one interlocking system of labor, trade and investment.
Hamilton championed capital markets and Lincoln championed banks, not because they loved traders and bankers. They did it because they knew a vibrant capitalist economy would maximize opportunity for poor boys like themselves. They were willing to tolerate the excesses of traders because they understood that no institution is more likely to channel opportunity to new groups and new people than vigorous financial markets.
In their view, government's role was not to side with one faction or to wage class war. It was to rouse the energy and industry of people at all levels. It was to enhance competition and make it fair to make sure that no group, high or low, is able to erect barriers that would deprive Americans of an open field and a fair chance. Theirs was a philosophy that celebrated development, mobility and work, wherever those things might be generated.
The populists have an Us versus Them mentality. If they continue their random attacks on enterprise and capital, they will only increase the pervasive feeling of uncertainty, which is now the single biggest factor in holding back investment, job creation and growth. They will end up discrediting good policies (the Obama bank reforms are quite sensible) because they will persuade the country that the government is in the hands of reckless Huey Longs.
They will have traded dynamic optimism, which always wins, for combative divisiveness, which always loses.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A PAYROLL TAX BREAK FOR JOBS
BY CHARLES E. SCHUMER AND ORRIN G. HATCH
WITH the national unemployment rate at 10 percent, and more than 15 million Americans looking for work, ideas to spur job creation are at the forefront of everyone's minds. While we may represent different political philosophies, we recognize that high unemployment particularly long-term unemployment is not a liberal problem or a conservative problem; it's a national problem that takes a huge toll on families.
The idea for some sort of jobs tax credit is percolating again, but the jobs credit that existed in the late 1970s was of limited success, and it was excruciatingly complicated. Recalling this experience, members of Congress from both parties have been lukewarm to such a credit, and the idea was dropped from the stimulus package last year.
We have an idea that is simple, straightforward and easy to explain and administer. In fact, it is so simple that the legislative text of the proposal is only a few pages long a rarity when it comes to tax policy.
Here's the idea: Starting immediately after enactment, any private-sector employer that hires a worker who had been unemployed for at least 60 days will not have to pay its 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax on that employee for the duration of 2010. The Social Security trust fund will then be made whole with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget between now and 2015. That's it. Simple to understand, and easy to explain.
The beauty of this proposal goes beyond its simplicity. Unlike a jobs tax credit of a specific dollar amount, this credit is "front-loaded" in that it provides an incentive for businesses to hire workers earlier in the year because the tax benefit will be greater. A $60,000 worker hired on Feb. 1 will save a business about $3,400 in taxes, while that same worker hired on May 1 will save it about $2,500.
Unlike some versions of a payroll-tax holiday, which provide a much bigger benefit for higher-paid workers, this proposal is not biased toward either low-wage or high-wage workers. Yes, if you pay people more, you save more in taxes but the savings as a percentage of pay remains constant. Under this plan, a business saves 6.2 percent on both a $40,000 worker and a $90,000 worker.
In the current environment, no business wants to wait until 2011 to receive a tax credit for someone it hires today. Another obvious benefit of this proposal to forgive payroll taxes is that it keeps money in a business's pockets, since the tax is simply not collected in the first place.
In addition, because the benefit starts on the date of hiring and does not have an arbitrary cap, more businesses will want to use it. And since it is an elimination of the employer's share of the Social Security tax for these workers rather than a fixed or capped dollar amount the complexities of making the incentive work with a firm's payroll software are greatly reduced because employers will know simply to zero out the tax for these workers.
To promote long-term employment as the recovery gains steam, we would also add the following bonus: For any eligible employee kept on payroll for a continuous 52 weeks, the employer would receive an additional $1,000 credit on its 2011 tax return. (This would apply to any worker hired in 2010.)
Our two-pronged approach would be a far more efficient use of taxpayer dollars than other proposals under discussion, all of which could cost many times more with very little guaranteed improvement in unemployment.
Imagine that three million unemployed workers were to be hired this year under our plan. If they all worked an average of six months in 2010 at a salary of $50,000, and every single one stayed on payroll for 52 consecutive weeks into 2011, the gross cost of the Social Security tax cut and the additional credit would be only $7.6 billion. And that's before we consider the offsets from income and payroll taxes paid by these workers.
There are some additional rules that would have to be put in place. For example, eligible workers would have to be hired for a minimum of 30 hours per week, and workers who are family members of the employer would not be eligible. The payroll tax reduction would be for private-sector jobs only; new jobs that are created by tax dollars in the first place would not be eligible. And any employer with a lower total payroll in 2010 than it had in 2009 would have to forfeit the benefit businesses shouldn't be allowed to shed jobs and still receive a tax benefit.
We urge Congress and President Obama to consider this idea to help jumpstart hiring and turn our focus back on jobs.
Charles E. Schumer is a Democratic senator from New York. Orrin G. Hatch is a Republican senator from Utah.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE POPULIST ADDICTION
BY DAVID BROOKS
Politics, some believe, is the organization of hatreds. The people who try to divide society on the basis of ethnicity we call racists. The people who try to divide it on the basis of religion we call sectarians. The people who try to divide it on the basis of social class we call either populists or elitists.
These two attitudes populism and elitism seem different, but they're really mirror images of one another. They both assume a country fundamentally divided. They both describe politics as a class struggle between the enlightened and the corrupt, the pure and the betrayers.
Both attitudes will always be with us, but these days populism is in vogue. The Republicans have their populists. Sarah Palin has been known to divide the country between the real Americans and the cultural elites. And the Democrats have their populists. Since the defeat in Massachusetts, many Democrats have apparently decided that their party has to mimic the rhetoric of John Edwards's presidential campaign. They've taken to dividing the country into two supposedly separate groups real Americans who live on Main Street and the insidious interests of Wall Street.
It's easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.
Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter.
Third, populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.'s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.'s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.'s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.'s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.
So it's easy to see the seductiveness of populism. Nonetheless, it nearly always fails. The history of populism, going back to William Jennings Bryan, is generally a history of defeat.
That's because voters aren't as stupid as the populists imagine. Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their heads at one time: First, that the rich and the powerful do rig the game in their own favor; and second, that simply bashing the rich and the powerful will still not solve the country's problems.
Political populists never get that second point. They can't seem to grasp that a politics based on punishing the elites won't produce a better-educated work force, more investment, more innovation or any of the other things required for progress and growth.
In fact, this country was built by anti-populists. It was built by people like Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln who rejected the idea that the national economy is fundamentally divided along class lines. They rejected the zero-sum mentality that is at the heart of populism, the belief that economics is a struggle over finite spoils. Instead, they believed in a united national economy one interlocking system of labor, trade and investment.
Hamilton championed capital markets and Lincoln championed banks, not because they loved traders and bankers. They did it because they knew a vibrant capitalist economy would maximize opportunity for poor boys like themselves. They were willing to tolerate the excesses of traders because they understood that no institution is more likely to channel opportunity to new groups and new people than vigorous financial markets.
In their view, government's role was not to side with one faction or to wage class war. It was to rouse the
energy and industry of people at all levels. It was to enhance competition and make it fair to make sure that no group, high or low, is able to erect barriers that would deprive Americans of an open field and a fair chance. Theirs was a philosophy that celebrated development, mobility and work, wherever those things might be generated.
The populists have an Us versus Them mentality. If they continue their random attacks on enterprise and capital, they will only increase the pervasive feeling of uncertainty, which is now the single biggest factor in holding back investment, job creation and growth. They will end up discrediting good policies (the Obama bank reforms are quite sensible) because they will persuade the country that the government is in the hands of reckless Huey Longs.
They will have traded dynamic optimism, which always wins, for combative divisiveness, which always loses.
I. THE NEWS
PRICE OF POWER
The government is said to be considering how to proceed following a report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which has rated power from Rental Power Plants (RPPs) as prohibitively expensive. The report has suggested that Independent Power Producers (IPPs) offer better terms, although in terms of pricing, the best option comes from hydel power projects which offer the cheapest power. The government's controversial plan to generate it using RPPs have led to allegations that the latest round of loadshedding, with power cut-offs extending across six to eight hours per day in Punjab, is intended to create a growing desperation for power and lead to people swallowing the inflation in costs that they have already suffered. What is astounding is the government's reluctance to make public the contents of the ADB report, apparently despite suggestions from the finance ministry that this happen. Such secrecy obviously negates the government's claims that it is eager to make the working of government transparent.
The suggestion of a difference in views within the government on the issue is also relevant. It is apparent that some within its ranks believe that all is not kosher in the deal with RPPs. We will certainly hear more of this matter. Sums of money are said already to have been mobilised to pay for some RPPs. A key concern for the government is also to protect persons involved in what is emerging as a major scam. The power issue is one that has gone on far too long. It has become impossible to determine what the real facts are. But the findings by the ADB, appointed as an independent evaluator, certainly suggest that things are amiss. The government has so far been unable to clarify the situation. It has refused too to allow the report to be freely circulated. It would be logical to conclude that there is a great deal that is being hidden. What is astounding is that the government should continue to attempt to stage a cover-up even now, when allegations of corruption fly everywhere. Surely if there was any interest at all in protecting its image, the government would now do all it possibly could to serve people in a genuine way. That even now there seems to be a focus on pouring pennies into pockets is disturbing to say the least.
I. THE NEWS
An audit report on affairs within PIA, submitted to the National Assembly by the Public Accounts Committee, states that a sum of Rs4.36 billion was embezzled from the airline during the 2007-08 fiscal year. This is not petty change. We have also heard allegations during the last 12 months of nepotism and corruption continuing within PIA. Mismanagement and dishonesty have been factors behind the organization's faltering fortunes. It is indeed a shame that PIA has been forced to swoop so low. With a continued monopoly over many routes, there is obviously a considerable potential for profit-making. It is also true that, despite the odds stacked against them, PIA personnel most often endeavour to offer the best service they can. But there is a limit to how far they can succeed given the problems at higher levels. The latest audit speaks of airline repairs being outsourced even though in-house facilities existed; of money allocated for upgradation of facilities being squandered. Other issues, such as over-staffing and hiring on basis other than merit, have existed for years.
Just a few decades ago, PIA was a source of national pride. In its time it had been rated as one of the best airlines in Asia. It is frightening to think how quickly this has changed. In some ways at least the story of the national carrier mirrors that of our nation. The time has come to try and save PIA. If this task is avoided any longer, it may prove an impossible one to achieve leaving us only to mourn over the ruins of an entity that has suffered the cruellest possible fate at the hands of its political masters.
I. THE NEWS
THE LOGIC GAP
Let's build a fire station close to the Boulton Market where there was a disastrous fire in 1998. Good idea. The Boulton Market Fire Station was duly inaugurated in 2002 to applause on all sides. But just a teensy problem emerged shortly thereafter it had no connection to a water supply and was thus about as much use as a bicycle is to a goldfish. After eight years of existence there was still no water connection at the fire station. It had no underground or overground storage to fill the tanks on the fire appliance based there and whoever designed and built the fire station had a logic-bypass installed in their brain. What were the firemen supposed to do? Extinguish fires by waving their hands at them? The appliance based at the station had to go to get water from the reserves in the Central Fire Station at Ranchore Lines if it was called out.
It is not that we are unable to provide fire and rescue services, and in Punjab there is a provincial service that has developed in recent years that is saving lives and property every day. There is a network of fire stations and ambulances, staffed by properly trained and equipped firemen and paramedics and the 1122 service has quickly attracted international attention for its efficiency and professionalism so why not in Karachi? Perhaps the answer lies in the words 'political will'. Somebody somewhere with their hands on the budget control lever has to want to make it happen, and nine times out of ten that is a politician. Fire and rescue, it would seem, is not high on the political agenda, at least in Karachi. The firemen fighting the fire in Boulton Market after the Ashura blast did not even have gumboots, nor the breathing apparatus that would have allowed them to get into the lower levels to fight the fire there. A further irony is that the Boulton Market Fire Station was destroyed by rioters. Perhaps when it is rebuilt if it is rebuilt it could be equipped with roof and basement tankage to supply the fire-engines. Or is that too much of a logic-gap to bridge?
I. THE NEWS
COULD THE TALIBAN RECONCILE WITH KABUL?
All who matter in Afghanistan are talking about reconciliation with the Taliban, but on the Afghan government's terms. Strangely enough, though, the offers of peace talks are being made at a time when 37,000 fresh US and Nato troops are on their way to the country in a desperate attempt to bring the conflict to a military end. This is a turnaround from statements from Western capitals in the past that the Taliban are terrorists and not worthy of being engaged in political talks or reconciliation.
President Barack Obama took the lead by emphasising the need for a political solution to stabilise Afghanistan. US defence secretary Robert Gates has been arguing that the Taliban were part of the political fabric of Afghanistan and thus needed to be included in its political mainstream.
Gen Stanley McChrystal, commander of the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan, has himself advocated a political solution. His "surge" strategy is based on an attempt to weaken the Taliban to compel them to agree to negotiations and a political solution. In fact, he does not rule out the presence of the Taliban in a future Afghan government.
However, the US, as well as its Western allies having soldiers in Afghanistan, have presented certain conditions for talks with the Taliban, including renunciation of violence and their laying down their weapons. The Nato members who deployed troops in the country and suffered losses would prefer to pull out only after ensuring that at least a few of their objectives in the region are achieved and Afghanistan doesn't become a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda once again.
On the other hand, the Taliban, who won't give up the fight easily after their sustained resistance against a formidable enemy for so long, demand that all foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan and without any agreement on the country's future and its system of government. So it would be naïve to assume that the Taliban would cut a deal with the US and its partners under pressure from Pakistan on terms that are more favourable to slamabad than to their leader Mulla Mohammad Omar.
The Western nations also want the Taliban to accept Afghanistan's constitution. British foreign secretary David Miliband has gone a step further when he publicly stated that the aim of the Western countries was to divide the Taliban and overcome their resistance. In fact, this is precisely the aim of all Western nations jointly fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and failing despite eight years of intense efforts involving significant human and material losses. Past attempts to create divisions in Taliban ranks have failed and now new strategies are being devised to win over low- and mid-level militants.
Referred to as a reintegration plan, it is the initiative of President Hamid Karzai. He isn't in a strong position to make a success of such a critical move despite his re-election for a second term, in fraud-tainted presidential and provincial council elections last August. In fact, he is now entangled in a struggle for power with an increasingly assertive parliament that twice refused recently to give a vote of confidence to 27 of the 41 ministers proposed by him. This tussle will now last longer as the elections for parliament have been delayed from May to September.
Besides, President Karzai and the fractious opposition groups in and outside parliament would continue to wrangle over the contentious issue of reforming the election commission before the polls, particularly in view of the rigging. That would sap the energy of Karzai's government and make it difficult for him to offer reintegration to the Taliban, and from a position of strength.
The latest initiative to wean away Taliban foot-soldiers and local commanders from the top leadership isn't really something new. The National Reconciliation Commission headed by former Afghan president Sebghatullah Mojadeddi was part of a similar exercise to persuade former fighters to lay down their arms and reconcile with the state. Mojadeddi, Mr Karzai's boss during the Afghan war against the Soviet occupying forces, had thought that in his capacity as a former Mujahideen leader and spiritual figure he would be able to prevail upon the Taliban and other militants to stop fighting, but he was unable to achieve much.
The only change, and a significant one, in President Karzai's new reintegration plan is the availability of more funds to pursue the goal of triggering defections from Taliban ranks by offering surrendering fighters jobs, education and protection. An amount of one billion dollars provided by the US is now available to fund this project, and other countries are willing to contribute to the effort once it gets the green signal at the international conference on Afghanistan being hosted by the UK in London on Thursday.
The cornerstone of this initiative is that a large number of Taliban fighters aren't ideologically motivated and are fighting because they are jobless or harbour grievances against the foreign forces and the Afghan government, and warlords who are part of the ruling dispensation. The main idea is to offer them money and jobs and, once they switch sides, protection from their former Taliban colleagues.
There is a strong belief in the West, and even in Kabul, that the Taliban are able to pay more to their fighters than the monthly salary of $101 that Afghan soldiers receive. This is unproven and misplaced, because those who have seen Taliban fighters would confirm their poor living conditions, lack of resources and the poverty of their families. If this commitment on their part is indeed the case, then the whole premise of buying off the Taliban to out down the insurgency is flawed and hence unlikely to succeed.
In fact, the Taliban have made it clear that no amount of money would weaken their resistance as they were motivated by the religious cause of jihad and were fighting to liberate their homeland from foreign forces. Though some fighters would certainly stop fighting in return for favours and the media would initially highlight it as a promising development, the majority, as in the past, would stay loyal to Mulla Omar and continue the resistance.
In the context of Pakistan, it was instructive to note that its offer to help the US and its allies in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table was immediately seen as proof in Kabul and some Western capitals that Mulla Omar, the Haqqanis and other top Taliban commanders had refuge in Pakistan and were under the influence of the Pakistani military, and that they were allowed to stay despite assertions to the contrary. The largely pro-government Afghan media went to town with talk shows and analyses on the issue and allegations were made that Islamabad wanted to appease the US and position itself to receive more military and civilian assistance by offering to use its influence with the Taliban to encourage reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Islamabad certainly has influence on the Afghan Taliban and some of their top leaders and commanders have been allowed to hide in Pakistan, as in the past when Afghan Mujahideen were given refuge and not stopped from operating from inside Pakistani territory.
However, there have been limits to Islamabad's influence on Mulla Omar's Taliban in the past when they refused Pakistan's requests to deliver Osama bin Laden to the US, not to destroy the Buddhas in Bamiyan, expel wanted Pakistanis hiding in Afghanistan under Taliban refuge and not to misuse the facility of the Afghan Transit Trade. Even now there would be limits as to what Pakistan can do to persuade the Afghan Taliban to agree to reconciliation in Afghanistan. It seems Pakistan's influence over the Afghan Taliban and credibility with them eroded following its decision to assist the US in invading Afghanistan in 2001 and removing Mulla Omar from power.
Pakistan will have to be careful not to argue the cause of the Afghan Taliban to such an extent that it leads to the strengthening of the Pakistani Taliban, because the links between these two militant groups cannot be broken easily. It is ironic that the West is keen to promote reconciliation and political dialogue with the Afghan Taliban while insisting on the military defeat of the Pakistani Taliban.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
FIXING PAKISTAN'S ELECTION COMMISSION
One of the most important organisations in Pakistan is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). It has a very, very difficult job. With limited resources and at the mercy of the military, the political and the bureaucratic elite of Pakistan, the ECP is supposed to somehow conduct free, fair and credible elections in Pakistan. With more than two dozen 24-hour news channels and a civil society umbrella group like the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), the ECP's job has become significantly easier. In the February 2008 elections FAFEN mobilised more than 19,000 observers on election day. Added to the hundreds of DV cameras, the thousands of voice recorders and the millions of mobile phones that both professional and part-time journalists were wielding, the February 2008 election was one of the fairest in memory. And yet it had serious flaws. This is because ultimately, no matter how vigilant and engaged a country's press and civil society is -- the work of holding elections to a certain standard is the responsibility of the ECP. The question of how well-equipped the ECP is to handle this responsibility requires very little assessment of the ECP itself. In the most important matters, it is not the ECP that disables elections from being truly free, fair and credible. It is the overarching culture of governance in Pakistan.
Beyond the obvious pre-poll, polling day and post-poll electoral fraud, one of the biggest problems in elections is the use of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud. This is a two-layered problem. The first layer is the fact that state resources are susceptible to misuse at all. The second is the fact that, given the availability of these resources, the mitigation of the risk of misuse tends to be extremely weak, and therefore, effectively negligible. Active misuse of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud is a function of both systemic gaps, and procedural gaps.
Systemic gaps are the shortcomings in the system of checks and balances that protects state resources from misuse or abuse. This public financial management system includes the range of institutions, organisations, mechanisms and processes that relate to the oversight of public funds, the formulation of budgets, appropriations decisions, and the audit and accounts functions. Procedural gaps that enable the misuse of state resources are specific to the processes that govern the planning, conduct and administration of elections by the ECP. If elections were to be administered with strict adherence to both the letter of the law and the spirit of fairness, the ECP could not possibly countenance the exploitation of the existing weaknesses in the public financial management system. Instead, for structural, cultural and operational reasons, the ECP is neither willing, nor able to stem the use of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud.
The threat or prospect of state resources as instruments of electoral fraud is not an abstract or conceptual one. There are three ways in which state resources are misused during elections.
The first is the misuse of office itself. Remember Gen Musharraf? In 2002, then Chief Executive Gen Musharraf conducted a referendum on whether he should hold office or not. After using state resources, including the Press Information Department of the Ministry of Information, as well as dozens of advisers and consultants, he won the roundly discredited referendum by an overwhelming 97 per cent. Subsequent elections were equally unfair, if not as widely discredited. In 2003, the finance minister was elected to parliament, so that he could take oath as prime minister, despite never having visited the constituencies he was elected from (again, with overwhelming margins). Parliament, the finance ministry itself, as well as the chief minister of Sindh were actively involved in that campaign.
The second manner in which state resources are misused is through the provision of cash or in-kind payments to citizens, for the purpose of achieving favourable electoral outcomes. Most frequently this takes place through social protection programmes. In the 2008-2009 election cycle, widespread allegations of the use of a short-lived instrument called the Kefalat Fund were corroborated. The Kefalat Fund was begun by Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi several weeks prior to the election, and continued to make payments well after the election was over (interestingly this fund was launched by the bureaucrats that now lead the federal government). The Kefalat Fund, whose sole purpose was to ensure that the chief minister's son won his election, provided Rs1,500 per household, mostly in the electoral constituency that the chief minister's son was running in. Ironically, the chief minister's son lost that election.
In the 2009 elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, quite apart from a bevy of administrative issues, the widespread use of the federal government offices by the ruling party was widely reported in the press. The PML-Q has alleged widespread misuse of the Baitul Maal fund, among a bevy of other allegations. Even without the PML-Q's allegations, the prime minister himself made a visit to the area to urge voters to turn out for his party, and in the process committed to ensuring that 50,000 Benazir Income Support Programme forms would be distributed to the area's residents.
Finally, the third manner in which state resources are misused is through the provision of employment in the public sector. Handing out jobs in the public sector represents a major problem for several reasons. Guaranteed job security and low accountability for employees aside, public-sector jobs represent a long-term liability for the public sector (salary, health coverage, pension), and a serious performance risk (government employees are unaccountable and inefficient generally, and those hired because of political connections, doubly so). Since most jobs are those of teachers, the liability is particularly important, damaging the education sector, and ensuring skewed allegiances on election day (since so much election administration is out-sourced to teachers). Those teachers that owe their jobs to local politicians invariably represent a risk to free, fair and credible elections. In the recent Gilgit-Baltistan election, the prime minister announced 8,000 new government jobs for residents of the area and Rs6,000 salary top-ups for existing employees of the government. In Punjab, though there is no election on the horizon, the PML-N government in the province announced the regularisation of all its contractual employees, even though it is in the midst of an unprecedented fiscal crisis.
While the overarching systemic weaknesses in Pakistan's public financial management system are not going to be reformed in the foreseeable future, the procedural weaknesses can be overcome by the relatively manageable realm of electoral reform.
To arrest the misuse of state resource in elections, five things need to take place urgently. First, a serious and comprehensive electoral reform process needs to be realised for ensuring a neutral, credible, efficient and empowered electoral institution. Second, the ECP needs to become truly independent from the executive branch. To gain this independence, the ECP needs to be fiscally autonomised. Third, in order to neutralise the impact of the use of public policy and budgetary processes as enablers of elections, all new development activities needs to be declared six months before an election is scheduled, including any kind of employment decisions outside the routine. Fourth, a national discourse on the fiscal implications of a constant growth in the size of government, and specifically of permanent employment in the public sector in Pakistan, needs to begin. Finally, caretaker governments need to be truly neutral. To achieve such neutrality, caretaker governments need to be made up of a mix of actors with diverse political backgrounds and sympathies.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com
I. THE NEWS
CONCERNS OF AJK
The Kashmir and Northern Areas Ministry (KANA) which administratively manages both territories, has changed its name to Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan (KGB) Ministry. What follows is my take on Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and KGB in my first visit to AJK as a member of parliament.
Prior to this trip, only two meetings had taken place in two years of the KGB National Assembly Committee and both were concentrated on Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Thus, it was only fair to have a meeting focusing only on AJK issues.
In the two-hour briefing from the officials of the AJK government, we got to hear about the region's history, constitutional status, developmental projects and reconstruction status. It was a presentation that left unanswered questions and gave us an agenda for the next couple of meetings.
We had a meeting with the President of AJK who discussed the Kashmir cause with us. The deliverables were certainly a realisation that even though this committee had been kept away from promoting the Kashmir cause, it was this standing committee's parliamentary duty to promote issue. While on an individual level, I had played the hawk on India and Kashmir, it was time to strategise as a committee with the AJK government. Secondly, it was felt that there was a need to push for a separate Ambassador for Pakistan to the EU to bring more focus to the issue.
A visit to the state of-the-art and high-maintenance CMH donated by the UAE government, where we visited the victims of the Ashura blast, brought home the concept of how we needed to assist the AJK government with the sustainability of all the high-tech projects Perhaps the most touching part of the trip was the media press conference and interaction with civil society. This was the first time they had been given ample time to interact with members of Pakistani legislature. We heard them in detail during which the following issues were discussed.
Firstly, the GB package announcement, without consulting AJK, had annoyed the latter since they thought it hurt the Kashmir cause. I explained that we had not been consulted either. Frankly, by giving a governor and chief minister only in name didn't satisfy the people of GB either, who would have been happier with an AJK style set-up with their own PM and president. They also felt that the PPP had not given a provincial set-up. It was a mere political gimmick intended to buy votes.
What I realised for the first time was that the people of AJK didn't consider their system to be model enough for GB to follow since they had the same issues with the KGB acting like the Soviet KGB.
Second was the issue of Neelum-Jhelum Hydel Project (NJHP), which would the reduce water flow of Muzaffarabad. I had come with the notion that this was a mega project of 969MW critically required for Pakistan. Having visited the impressive site at a cost of $2.1 billion, I was even more convinced. However, we insisted on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports so that AJK got ample water flowing through its rivers while sorting the sewerage issues. Moreover they wanted net hydel profit for NJHP. I agreed since I was an active proponent of the same for GB's Diamir Dam.
There were also complaints against the resistance of the people of AJK to the Kashmir Council which they claimed was a white independent elephant, answerable to no one. The committee had received a most unfortunate correspondence from the council's secretariat claiming we had no jurisdiction over it in terms of legislative authority. So it was clear why we were being blocked and what we had to do in the next couple of weeks in terms of privilege motions and investigations against the Kashmir Council secretariat.
Fourth were the complaints against ERRA and SERRA who locals thought were not answerable to the AJK government and who they thought had not performed on master plans of the three cities etc. Prior to this visit, ERRA was, in my mind, the big international winner who had turned adversity into opportunity, but the complaints made us as a committee put its issues on the agenda for investigation.
Fifth were the constitutional amendments, post-1974, of AJK Constitution which had diluted the powers of the government which they wished changed into a more independent set up. While they informed us that the PM had made a committee, they didn't seem very hopeful on this subject. It seemed like a classic case of provincial autonomy and the abolition of the concurrent list. Sindhi nationalists and the Kashmiri people sounded similar to me that night.
Sixth was the issue of exemption from development cuts for AJK which Mr Zardari had promised but which we needed to get implemented as a committee. I insisted the same be done for GB since they had seen massive development cuts too. Big schemes were promised with no funding plans since their national exchequers couldn't afford it.
While in such a short trip, we heard about many other issues, it seemed to me to be a classic case of how parliamentary oversight was badly required to balance the viceroy injustices in both GB and AJK. It was with renewed vigour that I will start my week as I realise that I have four provinces and two territories to fight for as a Pakistani legislator.
The writer is a PML-Q MNA. Email: marvi. firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
ANALYSING BUDGETARY RISKS
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
In my articles of June 9, 16, at the time of the presentation of the federal budget for 2009-10, I had clearly warned that banking on uncertain external inflows to finance a large fiscal deficit was highly risky. In particular, the heavy reliance on the pledges of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FODP) and grants for the internally displaced persons to finance the fiscal deficit was a source of anxiety and a major risk to Budget 2010. At the end of the first half of the current fiscal year (2009-10), my position has been vindicated. Budget 2009-10 is facing major risks on multiple fronts. The purpose of this article is to analyse various risks associated with Budget 2009-10.
Let me analyse first the revenue side. The Federal Board of Revenue had the collection target of Rs1,380 billion in 2009-10. The target was further enhanced in consultation with the IMF to Rs1,396 billion, as against the previous year's collection of Rs1,157 billion an increase of 19.3 or 20.7 per cent. The revenue target was grossly over-optimistic as the FBR was asked to raise its tax-to-GDP ratio from 8.8 to 9.3 per cent in a depressed economic environment. The Pakistani team which negotiated with the IMF did not do its job properly. The IMF, for its part, was unreasonable in forcing the government to accept the target.
During the first half of the current fiscal year (July-December), the FBR has collected Rs581 billion, which is only 4.9 per cent higher than the comparable period of last year. In order to achieve the revenue target (Rs1,380 billion), the FBR had to collect Rs799 billion, or a 32.5 per cent growth in the remaining half of the current fiscal year. If one compares it with the revised target, the task becomes even harder. The FBR needs to collect Rs815 billion in the second half with a monthly average of Rs136 billion, or a growth of 35.2 per cent. Can this revenue target be achieved? This appears to be a daunting task even in the midst of rising oil and electricity prices and a depreciating currency.
The chairman of the FBR appears to be confident, at least in the press, about achieving the target. While I have full sympathy with the chairman, my estimate suggests that the collection would be in the range of Rs1,300-1,330 billion. To achieve even this target, the FBR's tax collection must grow in the range of 19-24 per cent during the second half of the year.
Let me turn to the fiscal deficit and its financing. The underlying budget deficit for 2009-10 was 3.4 per cent of the GDP; a cushion of another 1.2 per cent was given against the Tokyo pledges, and yet another cushion was provided on account of expenditures on the IDPs. Thus, the overall fiscal deficit was targeted at 4.9 per cent of GDP, or Rs721 billion.
The financing of Rs721 billion was to come from external sources (Rs267 billion), domestic sources (Rs350 billion) and grants (Rs104 billion). Massive slippages on the financing side are emerging, giving rise to many risks to the budget. Firstly, on the grant side, Rs47 billion and Rs49 billion were to come from the Tokyo pledges and for the IDPs, respectively. Only Rs20 billion has so far been received for the IDPs and nothing came through the Tokyo pledges.
Secondly, under external financing, Rs161 billion was to come from the Tokyo pledges but only Rs25 billion has so far been received, thereby creating a financing risk to the deficit. Thirdly, Rs112 billion or $1350 million was to come from the United States under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). This amount has not yet been released by the United States, thereby creating a shortfall to the extent in total revenue with its implication to budget deficit and its financing. If there is a slippage the in budget deficit, the United States government will be equally responsible. Thus, total inflows worth Rs320 billion (CSF: Rs112 billion; FODP: Rs136 billion; grants: Rs20 billion) has become uncertain and created serious risks to the budget and its financing.
What are the options available with the government to achieve budgetary targets? Firstly, the FBR target is highly ambitious and is not expected to materialise. If the CSF is not available it would further reduce the revenue. Slippages in FBR's revenue and non-availability of the CSF would substantially reduce the overall revenue and if expenditure remains on the target, it would widen the overall budget deficit.
Secondly, the financing of fiscal deficit has become a major source of concern because of the heavy reliance of the government on uncertain external flows. Any further widening of the fiscal deficit would create serious budgetary and financing problems for the government.
There are two options available with the government. Firstly, an increase in tax rates for generation of more revenue. This option is not advisable, because this could cause more harm than benefit. Raising tax rates in an environment of depressed economic activity would be bad economic policy, and we must avoid taxing such a route. The other option is to cut inflated development programme. The government has already taken this route and released only 30 percent of the development budget in the first half of the year. This is the right approach and it must be followed in the second half as well. Funds may be released for projects which are near completion. New projects must not receive funding and slow-moving projects must be shelved for a year or two. Substantial savings can come from the Benazir Income Support Programme as Rs70 billion cannot be spent in a year. Some rationalisation of current expenditure will be required.
There is a lesson which needs to be learnt. Never prepare a budget on uncertain external flows and listen to people who have been dealing with such issues. There is also a need to strengthen the economic team which can negotiate with the IMF in a more professional manner.
The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: email@example.com