media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 28, edition 000415, 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
- A SPLENDID VICTORY
- NO NEWS ISN'T GOOD NEWS
- CAN'T HAVE TERROR AND CRICKET TOO - SHOBORI GANGULI
- BURQA A BARRIER TO INTEGRATION - HARI KAK
- AL QAEDA'S SHADOW ARMY - SHASHI SHEKHAR
- CHINA GOES SNOOPING ON THE NET - B RAMAN
- MOVING TOWARDS A NEW GREEN WORLD ORDER - CAROLINE BOIN
- EXPAND AND REFORM THE POLICE FORCE AS WELL
- RAJPAKSA VICTORY
- MUMBAI MONORAIL
- A WIMPISH R- DAY SHOW - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- QUANTUM LEAP - DINESH C. SHARMA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- RAJAPAKSA WINS
- READING BUG
- HOW TO BE A SPORT - BORIA MAJUMDAR
- PARTIES MUST NOW WALK THE TALK
- INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY - REEMA MAITY
- MY NAME IS CRATER - BACHI KARKARIA
- AND THE WINNER IS... - ANEESH A
- IT'S ALL IN THE STARS
- WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING
- TRAGEDY OF ERRORS - DARRYL D'MONTE
- SWAMY AND FRIENDS - SAMAR HALARNKAR
- AFTER THE VOTE
- WHAT'S THE BUZZ
- MODELLING AMBITIONS
- HINDI-CHINI, BY AND BY - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
- AN ISLAND STILL DIVIDED - SHYLASHRI SHANKAR
- MY ENEMY'S ENEMY, NOW MY FRIEND - SANDIP KUMAR MISHRA
- A GIFT TO THE NATION, ANOTHER TO 'PAA' - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- VIEW FROM THE RIGHT - SUMAN K JHA
- IT WAS THE FOREIGN HAND - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
- HIKE AND PAY
- MAKING SENSE OF SENSEX
- IN THE INTEREST OF RECOVERY, KEEP RATES LOW - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- INDUSTRY IS GROWING, BUT NOT SPEEDING - MADAN SABNAVIS
- MARUTI BEATS SUZUKI - YOGIMA SETH
- SRI LANKAN DENOUEMENT
- UNEVEN RECOVERY
- 'CRIME FICTION IS ABOUT SOCIAL INEQUALITY'
- INSURGENCIES IN MANIPUR: POLITICS & IDEOLOGY - M.S. PRABHAKARA
- FRANCE: ATTACK ON THE VEIL IS A HUGE BLUNDER - RAPHAEL LIOGIER
- TAINTED MINISTERS
- WORTHY OF HONOUR?
- NO PERMANENT PEACE - R JAGANNATHAN
- UNDERTRIALS WILL FINALLY TASTE FREEDOM
- RAJAPAKSA RETURNS
- HARDLY CRICKET
- HOPES FROM DAVOS
- WAITING FOR PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN - BY MAJ-GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA (RETD)
- SCHOOL NICKNAMES - BY HARISH DHILLON
- GROWING LAWLESSNESS ON INDIAN ROADS - BY RAM SINGH
- LET'S NOT WASTE GROWTH - BY HAMISH MCRAE
- ATHENS EXHIBITION INSPIRES PASSION - BY ANTHEE CARASSAVA
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- GOVERNOR'S CALL
- UNDERBELLY EXPOSED
- DEEPENING CRISIS OF ULFA IMBROGLIO - TALMIZUR RAHMAN
- REMEMBERING DEVAKANTA BARUA - BABUL TAMULI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- PREPARE GROUND FOR MEXICO MEET
- EASY MONEY, BAD LOANS
- FIDELITY SWAN SONG
- BANKING ON BAILOUTS - NEERAJ KAUSHAL
- SUFFERING AN ARTISTIC REALITY - RAKESH BEDI
- FACE YOUR FEARS WITH SELF-RESPECT - PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
- HOCKEY IS AN ATTRACTIVE MARKETING PROPERTY
- KEEP AN EYE ON PUBLIC BORROWING - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
- I COME HERE TO LEARN AND ENJOY: RAHUL BAJAJ IN DAVOS - SIDDHARTHA DUBEY
- 'ANAGRAM BUY WILL HELP US FILL THE GAP ON RETAIL SIDE' - ASHWIN J PUNNEN
- WE'RE AN AFFORDABLE LUXURY BRAND: ANDRE J HOFFMAN, PRESIDENT, APAC, L'OCCITANE - NEHA DEWAN
- CHIEF'S CHALLENGE
- PEOPLE'S DEMOCRACY
- LITERACY MATTERS
- A FEDERAL PERSPECTIVE IS IMPERATIVE - AJAY K MEHRA
- KOREA'S INDIA STRATEGY
- CONCERN OVER DEATHS IN DELHI
- SWINGING IN A SARI - INDRANI BARUA
- SACRED TEXT
- CLEAN SLATE
- SECURING INDIA - AMITABH MATTOO
- THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK - REENA SEN
- PURE, NAKED AND CAST OUT
- A THOUSAND HURTS - ANUSUA MUKHERJEE
- ANGRY WOMEN - IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY
- GO BEYOND WORDS
- ON THE EDGE
- MEETING OF STREAMS - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
- HOPES PINNED ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT POLICY - BY SHASHIKALA SITARAM
- FOND MEMORIES - BY LASYA SHASHIMOHAN
THE JERUSALEM POST
- THE CASE AGAINST THE GOLDSTONE REPORT - BY ALAN DERSHOWITZ
- FLYING IS SAFER THAN YOU THINK - BYEDWARD H. KAPLAN AND BOAZ GOLANY
- BADGE OF TERROR
- MAZUZ'S BIG SHOES - BY ARI SHAVIT
- HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE IS A BOON FOR ISRAELI PROPAGANDA - BY GIDEON LEVY
- THE REBIRTH OF THE AUTHOR - BY MOSHE SAKAL
- ISRAEL'S FORGIVENESS OF GERMANY WAS PAID FOR IN CASH - BY ISRAEL HAREL
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE SECOND YEAR
- JAPAN AND THE AMERICAN BASES
- SO IT'S GRANNY'S FAULT?
- INTERNET VOTING, STILL IN BETA
- KIDS IN CRISIS (BEHIND BARS) - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- UNITED WE RANT - BY GAIL COLLINS
- THE FED'S BEST MAN - BY ALAN S. BLINDER
- BLACK DAY FOR BLACK COATS
- THE BURQA BAN
- MEETING INDIA'S MILITARY CHALLENGE - MUNEER AKRAM
- IS ARTICLE 227 INDISPENSABLE? - NAEEM SADIQ
- DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE - SALEEM RIZVI
- SECRETS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS - KAMILA HYAT
- STINGING REBUKE - M SAEED KHALID
- WHY IS INDIA BUILDING TENSION?
- DYNAMISM OF BANKING SECTOR
- PLIGHT OF POOR GAZA PEOPLE
- NATION'S PRAYERS ANSWERED - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- "AMAN KI ASHA" MISSION MAY FLOP! - SAEED QURESHI
- ACHIEVEMENTS OF OPERATION RAH-E-NIJAT - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- NATO, WILL IT SURVIVE IN FUTURE? - RUKHSANA BIBI
- THE WEST'S UNCERTAIN AFGHAN STEPS - SIMON TISDALL
- SENTENCE UPHELD
- BACK TO PARLIAMENT
- AUSSIE IN THE HOUSE..!
- BANGLADESH POLITICS 2010 - FORREST COOKSON
- CAPITAL MARKET AND PROGOTI INDUSTRIES - MD. ASHRAF HOSSAIN
- BANKERS' PAY: FINANCIAL EVIL? - STEVEN N KAPLAN
- STATES PUSH UP HOUSING COSTS
- THE POLITICS OF VIRGINITY
- AT LAST, SOME COOL HEADS ON GLOBAL WARMING
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- MOVING GOALPOSTS IN BUYING A HOME
- POLITICS IN A VACUUM
- SRI LANKA'S POLL OPENS A NEW POLITICAL DIVIDE
- TEACH FOR AUSTRALIA HAS GREAT MERIT
- APPLE'S IPAD: THE MAGIC TOUCH
- IN PRAISE OF BRADFORD
- AFGHANISTAN: MORE TALKS, MORE WAR
THE KOREA HERALD
- N.K'S TRUE INTENTIONS
- MINIMIZE CONTROVERSIES
- GET STARTED ON RECONSTRUCTING HAITI - JEFFREY D. SACHS
- REDESIGN EU ENERGY SECURITY WITH RENEWABLE SOURCES - WILLIAM MARTIN/JONATHAN GILLMAN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- THE RECONSTRUCTION OF HAITI
- IT'S BETTER TO HELP ARM TAIWAN THAN DEFEND IT - BY DOUG BANDOW
- IT DOESN'T PAY TO APPEASE CHINA - BY MA JIAN
- REBUILDING HAITI FROM DAVOS - BY KANAYO F. NWANZE
THE JAKARTA POST
- POPULAR, BUT NOT LEADING
- THE DEMISE OF PRESIDENT YUDHOYONO'S FIRST 100 DAYS - WINARNO ZAIN
- FOCUSING ON BANK SUPERVISION
- REVITALIZING THE CUSTOMS BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS - MOHAMMAD TSANI ANNAFARI
- INDONESIAN BANKING AND GLOBAL RECOVERY - DARMIN NASUTION
- RECONSIDER THE WAY OUT
- RESPECTING PUBLIC OPINION
- ARE ALL OFFICIALS CORRUPT? NO, SAYS SCHOLAR - BY KU MA (CHINA DAILY)
- NEW US-RUSSIAN NUKE TREATY SO NEAR YET SO FAR - BY TENG JIANQUN (CHINA DAILY)
- OTHER VOICES ON CLIMATE CHANGE - BY QIAN WEIHONG (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS PROFITABLE - BY KONSTANTIN SONIN
- PREVENTING NEW GAS WARS - BY SIMON PIRANI
A SPLENDID VICTORY
SRI LANKA VOTES FOR RAJAPAKSA
The race may have been a tad too close for comfort, especially in the last lap, but there never really was any doubt that Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa would win Sri Lanka's presidential election held on January 26 and whose result was declared on Wednesday. His opponent, Gen Sarath Fonseka, who resigned from his job as chief of the Sri Lankan Army last year following differences with the Government over issues that were largely political and not military in nature, would have done well to gracefully concede defeat and retire from public life former Generals, no matter how highly decorated, are not ideal candidates to head national Governments. Instead, he has chosen to contest the outcome of what was clearly a free-and-fair election with 70 per cent voter turnout. Sore losers are known to attribute their defeat to elections being 'rigged', but Army officers are expected to show greater integrity than that has been on display in Colombo. This is all the more surprising because Gen Fonseka has done exceedingly well in a poll which was supposed to be heavily loaded in favour of Mr Rajapaksa, the hero of the successful war against the LTTE whose popularity ratings surpassed those of previous Presidents. That Gen Fonseka should have garnered 40 per cent of the vote is truly remarkable Mr Rajapaksa was expected to sweep the election but could manage just short of 58 per cent of the vote. This only proves that democracy is alive and doing well in Sri Lanka, or else the Opposition would not have been able to put up such a spectacular fight. In a sense, Gen Fonseka's performance belies his claim that the election was "rigged" had it been so, there's no way he could have got so many votes. Mr Rajapaksa, having delivered his country from the LTTE's tyranny, deserved to win this election. And the people of Sri Lanka have not let him down.
While dramatic developments like Army personnel surrounding the hotel in which Gen Fonseka has been closeted with his advisers may momentarily distract us from the central message of this election, it must nonetheless remain the focus of Mr Rajapaksa's new administration: Consolidating the gains of peace through a political resolution of the genuine grievances of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. On more than one occasion Mr Rajapaksa has promised suitable amendments in the Constitution to secure the political and economic rights of Sri Lanka's Tamils. He could have initiated the move in the months following the LTTE's justly deserved decimation, but has chosen to drag his feet he is widely perceived to have done precious little to keep his promise. It is possible that he was apprehensive of a Sinhalese backlash and wanted to secure a fresh term in office before moving in that direction. Now that he has won a splendid victory, he has no reason to delay purposeful action on allaying Tamil fears and addressing their grievances. There is a consensus, cutting across the Sinhalese-Tamil divide, that lasting peace can be achieved only through a political resolution of a problem that has been festering for three decades. For the first time since 1972, Sri Lanka has had a peacetime election. But this does not mean that issues that pitted the minority against the majority and unleashed a bloody civil war that lasted 25 years have dissapeared. They still exist. Mr Rajapaksa must now walk the talk and prove that he is committed to a lasting peace.
NO NEWS ISN'T GOOD NEWS
SILENCE ON ANTI-MAOIST OPERATION MUST END
The Maoist menace has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the biggest internal security challenge facing the country. The Government is supposed to be undertaking a massive anti-Maoist operation that covers six Maoist-affected States and involves a huge joint security force of paramilitary troops and State police units. The operation is suppose to take place in stages and will initially see large troop deployment aimed at overwhelming Maoist fighters. It is believed that the first phase has been underway for close to a month in the districts of Kanker and Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra while the process is beginning in Jharkhand and Odisha. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, in a recent meeting with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil and the operational heads of paramilitary forces in Raipur, reiterated that the goal of the anti-Maoist operation was to reassert the authority of the civilian administration in areas where the Left extremists have usurped control. According to this plan, once the Government troops move in, the Maoists, hopefully, will melt away, clearing the way for significant infrastructure development of the backward areas. It has been decided that the troops will avoid armed confrontation with the Maoists as far as possible, leaving the door ajar for their leadership to abjure violence, lay down arms and come to the negotiating table. This, the Government believes, will prevent the Maoists from playing up casualty numbers to gain sympathy as well as force them to think about options other than violence.
Notwithstanding the nitty-gritty of the Government's anti-Maoist strategy, there has been total silence on the operation itself. There was no official announcement of the commencement of the operation nor is it known how successful the anti-Maoist measures have been so far. All that one has been able to get out of Mr Chidambaram is that in some areas Maoists have been retreating while in others they are engaging the Government forces. No specific details have been given. Security experts say that the Government is maintaining a tight lip because a certain amount of secrecy is needed for the operation to be effective. This is a logical position. But there is no harm in being transparent about the degree to which the operation has been successful without mentioning operational details. This would require the Government to be more forthcoming about the results of the anti-Maoist measures. For, the people would like to know if we are succeeding in the war against the Left extremists. The Government has made defeating the Maoists a priority. It would be better if it kept the public and the entire political establishment in the loop about its progress. This will increase awareness and further boost hope that the Maoists can and shall be defeated.
CAN'T HAVE TERROR AND CRICKET TOO
They first complain about their players being snubbed by IPL team-owners at a free-and-fair auction; they then lob rocket-propelled grenades at Indian forward posts at the border. Politics has besmirched sports, they accuse, all the while flouting every good neighbourly rule in the book. From expounding conspiracy theories to blatant violation of border ethics, Pakistan's conduct in recent days clearly explains why its cricketers were ignored at the IPL auction. Even Shahrukh Khan, co-owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, who said ignoring the Pakistani cricketers at the auction was "humiliating", had to admit that, "There is an issue, let's not deny it. Every day we blame Pakistan, every day they blame us, it is an issue."
Indeed, we must accept the reality that, more than any other sport, cricket in the sub-continent is subject to the region's political climate. And this climate is prone to extremes. Currently, relations between India and Pakistan are at their coldest. Coldest, because in a conventional war India at least has an identifiable enemy while diplomatic engagement has hitherto had a Government face. Today, New Delhi is unsure of its negotiating partner in Islamabad. In such an atmosphere cricket bonhomie cannot be used as a substitute for much-needed, sorely missed diplomacy and hard talk.
Admittedly, none can deny that the 11 Pakistani players put up for the IPL auction are some of the best in the game today. After all, they are the reigning champions of the Twenty20 World Cup. Two, their papers, visas, etc, were in perfect order. Three, IPL is a privately funded tournament that is not under any direct Government pressure to toe the official line. Despite these factors, if all eight team-owners ignored the Pakistani players, there is reason to believe that, as citizens of civil society some of whom directly felt the impact of Mumbai 26/11 they decided to send Pakistan a clear signal on its growing pariah status. That message has indeed hit home.
Within hours of the IPL "humiliation", street rage in Pakistan led to effigies of IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi being burnt. The Government took personal affront at the "deliberate" exclusion of the players and promptly aborted a parliamentary delegation's visit to India. Pakistan is now considering boycotting both the World Cup hockey tournament and the Commonwealth Games in India later this year. In making it an official issue, Pakistan has only confirmed why its players were left unsold. Sports and politics get inextricably linked in the sub-continent and no amount of soft diplomacy can alter this reality. Poets and singers can easily meet; writers and artists can merrily cross borders; actors and film-makers can exchange endless notes. But when it comes to the sub-continent's great English legacy of cricket, battle-lines are clearly drawn.
Given Pakistan's conduct in the past decade, it is evident to most that hopes of peace between India and Pakistan and dreams about a happy future flowing from a sense of 'collective history' and nostalgia about a 'past of togetherness' can at best find space in ineffectual seminar circuits, concert halls and conference rooms on either side of the border. The Government of India cannot subscribe to the policy of turning the other cheek each time Pakistan posts a stinging slap on this country, like Mumbai 26/11, or brazen border violations, like this Tuesday at Akhnoor.
It may be recalled that exactly a decade ago, following Kargil, the Vajpayee Government decided to abort an Indian cricket team's pre-planned tour of Pakistan to send an unambiguous message that India was unwilling to pretend 'all is well' with Pakistan. Admittedly, India-Pakistan cricket never was, and never will be, politically neutral. In fact, even in peace times, India-Pakistan matches have been nothing short of a combat. The IPL may have brought in international glamour to the game and made it cosmopolitan and carnivalesque but few can deny that cricket evokes mass passion in the sub-continent, a passion that translates into a combative spirit in a one-on-one India-Pakistan match, the rivalry often reflecting the disturbed political relations between the two countries.
It is not as if India has never tried cricket diplomacy. In February 1999, a few months ahead of the Kargil betrayal, cricket was employed by the two Governments as a political bridge-builder. The Foreign Ministry initiative was clearly visible on the faces of the captains of the two teams, Wasim Akram and Mohammad Azharuddin, who flashed broad smiles and posed for the cameras alongside then President KR Narayanan, aware that they were the special envoys for peace in the region. The otherwise combative spirit of an India-Pakistan sports encounter was diluted beyond recognition. With 24x7 news channels on the job, there was intense focus on the feel-goodness of the event. The event underscored the view that, indeed, sports in the sub-continent cannot be divorced from politics, either negatively or positively; here was a positive instance. However, that goodwill never really translated into a meaningful political engagement, Pakistan soon betraying India's confidence in Kargil.
Although the IPL team-owners now seem embarrassed by their decision to ignore the Pakistani players they must bear in mind that sports often helps send a political message otherwise difficult to convey or understand. Did politics not inform the decision of cricket-playing nations to boycott South Africa right through its apartheid years? It was only in 1991 when Nelson Mandela rose to lead the nation, signalling the political end of apartheid, that South Africa was finally welcomed as a legitimate member of the international cricket club. If sports were so divorced from politics, South Africa under the White regime need not have faced the isolation it did despite possessing one of the better cricket teams in the world. Similarly, the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics by Western nations was an unadulterated political message to the Soviet Union on the Afghanistan issue. Again, the Tibet issue nearly aborted the 2008 Beijing Olympics. If apartheid, Afghanistan, or human rights in Tibet are reasons enough to restrict sports interaction with a nation, the blood of thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers is more than reason enough for Indian IPL team-owners to boycott players hailing from an offending nation.
It's all very well to encourage people-to-people exchanges, run cross-border buses and trains, and play host to each other's creative artists and sportspersons. However, it would be rather venturesome to presume that these can act as substitutes for political diplomacy and engagement because that is where the Pakistanis speak a language India does not understand and vice versa.
BURQA A BARRIER TO INTEGRATION
The Supreme Court judgement upholding the Election Commission's directive that Muslim women must remove their burqa in order to be photographed for electoral roll verification, highlights how significant the veil has become in the Indian Muslim community. Of the different versions of the veil, the controversy centres on the full veil or burqa as worn by Muslim women in India.
Going back to the origins of the veil we find that the Quran merely mentions the need for women to clothe themselves decently. Nowhere does it mention the burqa. A passage from the Quran reads, "O prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested: Allah is oft-forgiving most merciful" (Sura 33, Ayaat 59).
Another verse also enjoins women to guard their modesty and not to display their jewellery "And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons or their sisters' sons or their women or the slaves whom their right hands possess or male servants free of physical needs or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments" (Sura 24, Ayaat 31).
The fast-growing popularity of the, burqa, even among educated, liberal Muslim women, is worrisome. Many suggest that it is not due to any religious diktat but a perceived sense of siege that the Muslim community believes it is facing.
Dr Kalam Siddiqui, president of the British Muslim parliament succinctly put it, "By wearing a veil, one is just not a face in the crowd but carrying the flag of Islam." This is truly ominous and does not bode well for inter-faith harmony.
AL QAEDA'S SHADOW ARMY
ILYAS KASHMIRI HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS THE CHIEF OF AL QAEDA'S SHADOW ARMY OR LASHKAR AL-ZIL. SINCE THEN, THE SPOTLIGHT HAS BEEN FOCUSSED ON ILYAS KASHMIRI'S ROLE IN A RECENT WAVE OF ATTACKS. THE PLANNING BEHIND THE DEADLY BOMBING OF THE CIA'S FORWARD OPERATING BASE CHAPMAN IN KHOST HAS BEEN ATTRIBUTED TO LASHKAR AL-ZIL AND ILYAS KASHMIRI
The Chicago conspiracy case that saw Pakistan-born American David Coleman Headley and Chicago-based businessman Tahawwur Rana brought to trial on charges of planned terror attacks in India and Denmark has taken a decisive turn. For the first time details of funds transfer and reconnaissance activities conducted by David Headley have been brought to light. Also both Headley and Rana have been explicitly charged for the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. It is interesting to note that the new details also reveal the role of four still unnamed operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and one unnamed individual in the funding, coordination and planning for the Mumbai 26/11 attacks. Additionally, the charges also reveal the disbursement of funds from the Lashkar to Headley over the three year period for expenses towards reconnaissance in India.
While the new revelations are interesting in their details of when and how much money was disbursed to Headley, there is little new on the more significant questions of the identity of the unnamed Lashkar operatives and their alleged role within the Pakistani military establishment. There also is not much new insight on the dual role of retired Major Abdur Rehman straddling the military jihadi faultline in Pakistan by simultaneously collaborating with both the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade.
The most significant development in the Chicago conspiracy case, however, is the FBI's decision to file formal charges against Ilyas Kashmiri for the planned attacks in Denmark.
As noted by this writer, Ilyas Kashmiri was recently described for the first time as the chief of the Al Qaeda's shadow army or Lashkar al-Zil. Since then more spotlight has been focussed on Ilyas Kashmiri's role in a recent wave of attacks. Two prominent observers of jihadi terrorism in Pakistan, Syed Saleem Shahzad and Amir Mir ascribed the planning behind the deadly suicide- bombing of CIA's Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, to Lashkar al-Zil and Ilyas Kashmiri.
Subsequently, multiple media reports in Pakistan have speculated that the wave of suicide bombing attacks in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have also been orchestrated by the Lashkar al-Zil lead by Ilyas Kashmiri. It is important to note that PoK had been relatively terror free over the past few years. Amir Mir observes that till June 2009 in fact there had not been any anti-establishment terrorist attacks in PoK. Since then however there have been four incidents mostly targeting security targets with the exception of the anti-Shia attack during a Muharram procession. All four attacks have been attributed to jihadi groups within the Lashkar al-Zil fold.
According to Amir, the Lashkar al-Zil now comprises of Tehrik-e-Taliban, led by Hakimullah Mehsud, the Azad Kashmir chapter of the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami led by Ilyas Kashmiri, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi led by its jailed leader Akram Lahori, the Afghan Taliban militia led by its Amir Mulla Omar, the Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan led by Gulbadin Hikmatyar and the Haqqani militant network.
With the sustained drone attacks in Waziristan since the suicide bombing in Khost targeting the CIA and the pressure on Pakistan to nab Ilyas Kashmiri, there is considerable speculation on Ilyas Kashmiri's whereabouts. Two recent news reports point in opposite directions. Syed Saleem Shahzad's report in the Asia Times on December 24, 2009 hints at Ilyas Kashmiri being based in Afghanistan. A week earlier on December 19, 2009 the Daily Excelsior quoting an alleged letter from Ilyas Kashmiri to the Muttahida Jehad Council and Command Council a conglomerate of all major militant outfits based in Islamabad, lists the 313 HuJI Brigade office at Main Madina, 14/118, No. 17, Kotli in PoK. The letter quotes Kashmiri asking the councils to replace 'general mujahideen' (normal militants) with fidayeens and push them into different parts of India, including Jammu & Kashmir for carrying out the terror strikes.
With speculation rife on Ilyas Kashmiri's plans for further Mumbai like fidayeen attacks inside India, it would be prudent for the Indian security agencies to also pay specific attention to Ilyas Kashmiri's cyber trail.
In recent weeks a Pakistan-based jihadi online discussion forum has come to light that is actively frequented by members of Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade. This discussion forum set up allegedly by members of a madarsa that was the target of Pakistan military action in Lahore back in 2007 is notable for attracting mostly anti-establishment jihadi sympathisers in Pakistan. A curious refrain in this forum is the deep distrust harboured by participants towards Hafiz Saeed-led Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba both of which are viewed as proxies of the Pakistan state and the ISI. Of particular interest is one participant in this forum who describes himself as a soldier of Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade who was one of the first to affirm news of Ilyas Kashmiri being alive after speculation of Kashmiri's death in a drone attack back in September 2009.
It is important to note that while news of Ilyas Kashmiri being alive was widely reported in the media only in mid-October 2009, the FBI transcripts in the Chicago conspiracy case quoted Headley and Abdur Rehman exchanging notes on September 30, 2009 on Kashmiri being alive. Significantly, September 30 was also the date when the above jihadi forum carried news of Ilyas Kashmiri being alive.
As India looks to revamp its security architecture we are being told by the outgoing National Security Adviser of alleged cyber attacks orchestrated from China. From smoking out the cyber trail of anti-India terrorists like Ilyas Kashmiri to defending our strategic assets from cyber attacks originating in China we are once again reminded of the growing significance of the Internet in national security.
The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.
CHINA GOES SNOOPING ON THE NET
IF INDIA TRULY ASPIRES TO EMERGE AS A REGIONAL POWER AND WISHES TO COMPETE WITH CHINA, THEN IT CANNOT IGNORE BEIJING'S INCREASINGLY AGGRESSIVE ATTEMPTS TO SPY ON OTHERS VIA THE INTERNET
In recent months, there has been considerable focus rightly so on Chinese cyber-snooping and disruption. The intensified debate on the subject started in governmental circles of the West, particularly in the US, and has since been given greater credibility by Google's open allegations against the Chinese of indulging in cyber-snooping against anti-Beijing political dissidents and Tibetan nationalists patronising Google mail. It has been reported that the Chinese cyber-snooping and disruption attempts were orchestrated in such a manner as to make it appear that they originated from servers in Taiwan. Google claims to have established that they actually originated from China.
The Chinese authorities have countered this by flatly denying these allegations and by making counter-allegations of US cyber-snooping and disruption attacks directed at China by using servers allegedly in Iran. They have also been disseminating stories of the close links of Google with the Obama Administration. They have alleged that Mr Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, was among the first to endorse the presidential bid of Mr Barack Obama, that Google was the fourth largest corporate contributor to Mr Obama's funds for the presidential campaign and that its CEO acts as an adviser on science and technology to the President. The attempted Chinese insinuation is that Google and the Obama Administration are acting in tandem in their attempts to create fears about the Chinese cyber capabilities and that the entire campaign is motivated politically as well as commercially.
India as the neighbour of China with a long-pending border dispute and as an aspirant for a leading position in Asia on par with China an aspiration not liked by Beijing has to take note of the increasing reports on the Chinese interest in the use of the cyber space for advancing its national interests. Modernisation of its information warfare capabilities has been an important component of China's military modernisation ever since the first Gulf war of 1991.
The Gulf war of 1991 and the US-led military campaign in Iraq in 2003 showed that in modern wars between states, the decisive blows may come in the very beginning if one has the capability to render the adversary information-blind by disrupting, if not destroying, the adversary's information systems. With its information networks paralysed, Saddam Hussein's Army had to literally grope in the dark in its futile attempts to stop the US advance.
If the Iraq war demonstrated the decisive role played by information warfare capabilities in a military campaign against a state adversary, the US-led military campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the AfPak region for nine years now has demonstrated that modern information warfare capabilities cannot be decisive against a non-state adversary, not dependent on networked information systems. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have been able to use the Internet for their own campaigns without creating a dependence on them which could increase their vulnerability. As a result, the US's superior information warfare capabilities have been of very little use to it in its military campaign in the AfPak region.
Two concerns have been the driving force of the feverish Chinese acquisition of information warfare capabilities since 1991. The first concern relates to Taiwan. They are worried that in the event of a military conflict Taiwan may do unto them what the US did unto Saddam Hussein's Army. China's protective cyber security architecture is meant to defend their networked systems from a surprise attack by Taiwanese information warriors either acting on their own or with the collusion of the US. At the same time, they are acquiring an offensive information warfare capability against Taiwan. They are aware of their limitations vis-à-vis the US and do not have any pretensions of being able in the near future to disrupt the US information systems. Their interest in the case of the US is limited to collecting intelligence through the Internet and preventing cyber-snooping and disruption by the US against China.
The second Chinese concern arises from the increasing use of the Internet by political dissidents to discredit the one-party rule and by the Tibetans and the Uighur separatists to destabilise Tibet and Xinjiang. The disturbances in Tibet two years ago and in Xinjiang last year added to the Chinese alarm. Even before these disturbances, the Chinese have been paying attention to creating in their intelligence agencies a capability for cyber intelligence and counter-intelligence and disruption through cyber covert actions. The alleged Chinese attacks against Google seem to have been an outcome of the aggressive Chinese attempts to strengthen their information warfare capabilities against non-state actors to strengthen their internal security.
The capabilities, which the Chinese have been developing since 1991 primarily for use against Taiwan and non-state actors, can be used with equal ease against our own information systems as well as those of the US and other countries. Normally, information warfare capabilities are of universal application. They are not nation or adversary specific. However, offensive architectures have to be developed in a country-specific manner even though ultimately they become amenable to universal application.
India's needs are: First, a protective architecture, which can protect us from cyber attacks of any origin. Second, an offensive architecture, which could give us a first strike capability against China and Pakistan in the case of a war with either or both of them and third, a cyber intelligence, counter-intelligence and covert action capability for use against state and non-state actors in times of peace as well as military conflict.
The writer is a former top official of R&AW
MOVING TOWARDS A NEW GREEN WORLD ORDER
THE FAILURE AT COPENHAGEN SHOWS THAT RICH COUNTRIES CAN'T AFFORD TO IGNORE DEVELOPING NATIONS
Everyone is blaming everyone else for the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown blames something entirely different: "The lack of a global body with the sole responsibility for environmental stewardship." This idea for getting around pesky Governments and voters is shared by many European and some developing countries.
Last September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying: "We must make use of the momentum provided by Copenhagen to make further progress toward the creation of a World Environmental Organisation."
But the momentum stopped dead at Copenhagen because not all nations have the same priorities. Those struggling to fight poverty are unsympathetic to green nagging from Europeans. Before proposing yet another huge international bureaucracy, fans of a WEO should look at the current one and why these different priorities mean global stewardship just will not work.
The United Nations Environment Programme was set up as "the environmental conscience of the UN system," after the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm in 1972, to publicise problems and coordinate policy, globally, regionally and within the UN.
But UNEP is a weak institution, with a small staff and budget just over $ 270 million in 2006-2007. That may sound a lot but by UN standards it is paltry. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation gets some $ 900 million a year and the UN Development Programme about $ 5 billion.
UNEP's weakness is not an accident: Governments do not want an autonomous international body to interfere in politically-sensitive national issues. A great deal of that resistance comes from the developing world, starting at the Stockholm meeting in 1972. Later, they demanded that the Earth Summit in 1992 shift from focussing on the environment to "sustainable development" a concept that includes economic growth.
The proliferation of 'Multilateral Environmental Agreements' introduced by rich countries over the past decades with over 700 in force today has put an increasing economic burden on developing countries while they have made clear they want more emphasis on economic and social goals.
A World Environmental Organisation would be modelled on the World Health Organisation, to coordinate funding, research, new technology and Government action. But India, the US, Russia and China have already made clear they will not join.
It is true that most developing countries jumped on the Copenhagen bandwagon, knowing that a successful deal would grant them more foreign aid and technology-transfer, without requiring emission cuts from them. They had everything to gain and little to lose. But for those economies just escaping mass poverty, such as China and India, the story was very different: They faced demands for massive cuts and refused a deal.
UK Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband denounced after Copenhagen the "impossible resistance from a small number of developing countries, including China, who did not want a legal agreement." But that "small number" will only grow as more developing countries follow China and India down the road of economic growth the single best defence against present and future climate threats.
Under a WEO these few defiant nations would multiply into dozens. For example, South American nations want credits for forest conservation under a climate treaty but they have always rejected rich nations' demands to sign up to a global treaty against deforestation. Environmental problems are so diverse that any global diktat will generate endless grounds for complaints, exceptions and disputes, especially from poor countries desperate for growth.
A good thing too. It is not clear why rich states on the other side of the world should have a right over Amazonian rainforests or Pacific coral reefs. Mr Brown says: "Never again should we face the deadlock that threatened to pull down those talks." But what he calls deadlock is national sovereignty.
No global bureaucracy will overcome the basic problem haunting UNEP, Copenhagen and international cooperation today: Political hostility to top-down one-size-fits-all solutions. As US delegate to Copenhagen Jonathan Pershing said: "The UN didn't manage the conference that well," adding diplomatically, "I am not sure that any of us are particularly confident that the UN managing the near-term financing is the right way to go."
The failure of Copenhagen shows that rich countries need to respect poor nations' need for growth if they want cooperation for a greener planet. The rich must replace their posturing and restrictions with positive policies for growth and adaptation to climate change.
The writer is a Project Director at International Policy Network, London, an independent think-tank working on economic development.
EXPAND AND REFORM THE POLICE FORCE AS WELL
THE UNION government's plan to recruit 650 Indian Police Service officers through a special competitive exam for those already serving in police forces is welcome news.
While the internal security challenges have increased exponentially, the intake of IPS officers has not kept pace.
This is a good occasion to look at some of the larger issues related to policing in India. We have an abysmal police- population ratio of around 120 policemen per 1 lakh population ( the sanctioned strength is a little higher).
This is nearly half of the United Nations recommended ratio for peace- time policing and far thinner than what developed countries maintain. This does not only mean that there are far fewer policemen taking care of the safety and security of citizens than are required. Many of the ills associated with policemen in India torture, extrajudicial killings also have a link with their being overstretched because of manpower shortage, having to do long hours with poor resources at their disposal.
As for police reforms, they have been hanging fire despite the recommendations of the National Police Commission and promises of various governments. Even model police bills have been drawn up but nothing has concretely changed for the better. The Supreme Court in 2006 laid down a set of seven directives for states to free police from political interference and probe complaints against men in uniform.
But the directives have been flouted or diluted by most states.
The expansion of the IPS cadre is part of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's muscular approach towards internal security.
He must now ask the police leadership to come up with plans to clean up and reform their respective forces. In other words, the average citizen of the country must get the payoff from this effort.
THE victory of Mahinda Rajpaksa in the Sri Lankan presidential elections should have been an occasion to put an end to the tension and turmoil that has roiled the island nation for the past thirty years. But it does not quite look that way as yet.
Observers have not reported any largescale malpractices, but the level of violence in the run up to the elections was significant, especially in the Tamil- majority areas of the North and the East. The staterun media, too, was used extensively on behalf of the ruling party.
Though it was the Sri Lankan Army under General Sarath Fonseka, the opposition candidate, which defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan people clearly saw Mr Rajpaksa as the principal victor. He has proved his mettle as a war leader, but it remains to be seen whether he can take his country back to the era when Sri Lanka was the best off country in South Asia and a peaceful democracy.
The war has cast a long shadow on civil liberties in the country. The once vibrant and free media in the country has come under great pressure from death squads and goons believed to be linked to the official establishment.
The challenges before Mr Rajpaksa are obvious restore normality in the war- torn areas of the island and evolve a political formula that will enable the Sri Lankan minorities to take their legitimate place in the nation's affairs.
THE showcasing of Mumbai's upcoming monorail project is a welcome development if only because it seeks to address the city's ever- growing transportation problem. The first phase of the Rs 2,460 crore project from Wadala to Chembur is expected to be complete by November. One advantage of the monorail network, according to planners, is that it will reach congested areas.
Given the requirements of the city, this is a palliative that sidesteps the main issue of designing a much larger and integrated system. Mumbai, perhaps more than any other Indian city, needs to move faster. One figure says that the city's traffic moves at an average speed of 15 km an hour. Surely, the country's financial capital deserves better.
Public transportation offers a way out and planners must aim to integrate bus services, local trains, the Metro and the monorail for a long- term solution.
A WIMPISH R- DAY SHOW
REVEALS A UPA FAILURE
BY MANOJ JOSHI
THE MEDIA reactions to our 61st Republic Day parade have been purblind: "The nation once again displayed its armed might" has been their theme. You would have had to look really hard to see any "armed might", and that was not just because of the fog. Never in recent memory has there been a parade as wimpish as the one we witnessed on Tuesday. A light fighter and a missile system still in the development stage, two Arjun tanks of somewhat questionable ability, two Russian- origin multiple rocket launching systems, a couple of infantry combat vehicles and an invisible flypast of two fighters and a tanker about summed up the armed might on display, if you discount the ceremonial marchers.
Other countries also have military paradesFrance, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and China to name a few. Since they are about the military, they do them well. The French combined the ceremonial and the practical in the parade last July where an Indian contingent also featured. The Chinese celebration of their 60th anniversary was designed for shock and awe and it did achieve its purpose.
In its essence, the Republic Day parade is meant to be a military show. The floats and the marching children are meant to be an adjunct to it. The show of military might is meant to evoke awe in adversaries and provide reassurance to the citizens of the country who look on. Tuesday's parade, admittedly washed out by the fog, did neither. The news that the tricolour was not hoisted at Lal Chowk in Srinagar only underscored that image.
What would it have cost the country to have put a squadron of T-90S tanks, some towed artillery (because the mighty Indian Army has yet to acquire a real self-propelled gun) and a few more BMPs ?
Actually, the de- rating of the military component of the parade is only a metaphor for the larger message coming from the Congress- led UPA government: The armed forces are an inconvenient necessity, a financial encumbrance on the nation. This is the message that has resonated since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and its central theme has been that government policy is aimed at conflict avoidance, not deterrence through strength.
At another level, it is not surprising that there was little displayed, because the country has not acquired anything new in recent years to display. The last artillery guns bought were 20 years ago, the self- propelled guns are yet to be bought, as is the case with new attack helicopters, light- weight howitzers and so on. It is also significant that it was the DRDO which displayed the Agni and Shaurya missiles and the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft; because these are still products under development.
It would have been significant if this equipment had been paraded by the services. In all likelihood, the missiles in question were probably full- scale models, rather than the real thing that Pakistan and China are wont to parade.
A great deal of blame for this state of affairs must fall on Union Defence Minister A. K. Antony. His leadership of the department since 2005 has been uninspiring, if not downright disastrous.
His sole aim, critics say, is to preserve his image as " St Antony", the honest. So, no major defence acquisition has been finalised in his term as yet.
Antony's two big failures have been, first, his inability to carry out the much needed deep reforms in the organisation of the armed forces; and second, to set in place a proper defence acquisition policy. The Ministry of Defence ( MoD) came up with one policy in 2005, revised it in 2006, 2008 and again revised it last October. The problem with any policy is the bureaucratic culture of the MoD and the stranglehold that the DRDO and the Defence ordnance and public sector units have on it. The result is the strange contortions that occur when Tata and Ashok Leyland trucks are bought as knocked down kits and assembled in overstaffed ordnance factories.
The offset policy where a foreign vendor is committed to invest or spend 30 per cent of the value of the contract in India sounds nice, but is not easy to implement.
For example, the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the only defence public sector unit in aviation, will receive offsets worth $ 0.5 billion per annum for ten years from the MMRCA fighter programme. But can a company whose annual turnover is $ 1.5 billion absorb that sum? The task of channeling offsets in the desired direction of promoting the indigenous defence industry is challenging and complex and requires the kind of skill and flexibility that the MoD lacks.
As it is, its cavalier treatment of foreign vendors is leading to a great deal of heartburn.
Take the case of Singapore Technologies Kinetic ( STK). The MoD imposed a ban on it and seven companies after the May 2009 arrest of Ordnance Factory Board Chairman Sudipta Ghosh on corruption charges. The company was the only bidder left for the new generation towed howitzer.
This month the MoD lifted the ban to allow the gun to participate in trials, but it has refused to lift the ban on STK's Pegasus 155mm ultralight howitzer needed by our mountain divisions. The result is that there is only one vendor left the American BAE Systems M777. STK has actually had the ignominy of having its Pegasus gun sent for trials in 2008 seized and put in army " custody." Another instance, this time the fault of the Finance Ministry, relates to the Indian Air Force. The MoD approved the IAF's choice of the Airbus 330 to replace the Russian Il- 78 as flight refueling aircraft. But the Finance Ministry deemed the choice inappropriate because of the cost. The argument that the Airbus had lower lifecycle costs because of its more sophisticated engine and systems did not wash.
The Mumbai attack brought home to the UPA the need to strengthen the internal security mechanism of the country.
Indeed, till the shock of the attack, the UPA government was carrying on with business- as- usual despite a mounting crescendo of attacks. Since then, a tough Home Minister has begun the process of overhauling the internal security mechanism.
Will it take another Kargil- like shock to do the same with regard to external threats ? There is nothing that the UPA has done in the past five years to suggest that it is taking serious note of the rising challenge, especially from China. Yes, there are plans and projects in the pipeline, but there is no sense of the needed urgency. No effort has been made to reform the armed forces organisation, recommendations of the NDA government on creating a Chief of Defence Staff to begin the process of integration of the armed forces have been ignored.
Acquisitions remain on a slow track. The situation is not dissimilar to the manner in which the Congressled government handled the pre- 1962 situation.
Then, as now, there were important plans to establish a domestic arms industry, many plans and projects that fructified only after the war.
There are people who will argue that the Republic Day military parade is an anachronism for a peaceable, democratic republic like ours. In that case, it would be a good idea to drop the military portion of the parade altogether and celebrate the occasion like July 4 in the US, with citizen parades and fireworks.
But keep in mind that India does not live in the peaceful neck of woods that the Americans do.
This republic confronts multiple threats from enemies within and without.
One major military parade in a year has the value of saluting our armed forces who lose hundreds of lives every year in defending the country. It also has the not inconsiderable purpose of warning adversaries and reassuring citizens. The US does not really need to demonstrate its power. We do, at least, on occasion.
manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in
DINESH C. SHARMA
A SOLAR operated car, collapsible cycle, sensorbased system for irrigating fields, low cost fridge for rural areas, pollution control device for diesel generators, improved silencer and air intake system for motorcycles, new cardamom variety, solar mosquito destroyer, inter-locking bricks, automatic paddy planter, single finger pen, temperature regulated fan and so on.
If you are thinking that these innovations are a work of the topnotch Indian Institutes of Technology or our national laboratories, you are completely off the mark. These innovations, some of them having huge commercial potential, are the work of India's grassroots innovators illiterate farmers, school dropouts, technicians, clerks, teachers and young students.
The innovative devices, machines and systems have been developed by these people on their own, in their houses, tiny workshops or roadside shops. They come from the other India from Madurai to Motihari and not from our metros. And all of them have been developed in response to felt needs. For instance, 47-year-old-A Murugananathan of Coimbatore developed a semi-automatic mini sanitary napkin making machine which can churn out up to 1,000 pads per day, when he came to know that poor women use old cloth as a replacement for sanitary napkins as they can't afford them. He has so far sold 80 units of machines and made sanitary napkins affordable a set of 10 pads for Rs 15. Virendra Kumar Sinha, 58, of Motihari in Bihar developed a unique pollution control device to contain noise and fumes coming out of his diesel generator set when his neighbours raised objections.
Every innovation has a story to tell. Scouting such innovations, validating the claims, providing technical inputs, improving design, protecting the intellectual property of innovators and finally taking them to the market is the tough job that the Honeybee Network and National Innovation Foundation (NIF) has been handling for ten years now. Over the years, the database of grassroots innovations has grown to 140,000. NIF has filed about 230 patent applications including seven in the US. Some 60 technologies have been licensed to industry and enquiries from around the world keep coming.
"The journey from the mind to the market is not easy. We try to help many in adding value to their technologies and in some cases succeed in finding licensees for their technologies. But big business in India is yet to see a potential in these grassroots innovations. So far only small entrepreneurs and companies have shown interest", pointed out Anil K Gupta (photo 1), professor at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and founder of the Honeybee Network and NIF. For the fifth round of NIF awards, some 37,000 ideas were received some of the awarded ideas have been featured here.
HYBRID CAR:Kanak Gogoi, 47, of Tekelbora village in North Lakimpur district of Assam has developed a car by integrating motorcycle and Maruti car engines, which runs with compressed air. Kanak claims to get a maximum speed of 120 km/h in this car. He has several transport related innovations to his credit including a gravity operated cycle, a personalised three wheeler and a solar operated car.
POLLUTION CONTROL DEVICE:
Virendra Kumar Sinha of Motihari has designed an attachment that drastically reduces noise as well as pollution from a diesel generator ( photo 2).
The exhaust gases, which enter the unit, strike against the array of protruding fins and perforated tubes continuously, resulting in their break up into carbon particulates and oxygen.
In tests conducted at BIT Ranchi, 30 percent reduction in exhaust gases was found.
RURAL FRIDGE: Mansukhbhai Raghavjibhai Prajapati, a potter in Rajkot, has developed Mitticool a clay- made fridge for rural areas ( photo 3). The principle of cooling in this fridge is the same as in traditional matkas . Water stored in the upper chamber helps in cooling lower compartments which can store about 5 kg of vegetables, fruits and milk. Tests on the fridge showed that the temperature inside was 4 to 5 degrees lower than room temperature and the shelf life of vegetables was four to five days. The design was improved with help from the National Institute of Design and the innovation has been featured in UK and Germany.
Praakapati now wants to fit a Reverse Osmosis unit to improve the quality of drinking water. His other innovation is a non- sick clay tava , which has sold 50,000 units so far.
DUAL FAN: Abdul Razzak of Madurai has improvised on an existing table fan, by extending the shaft to the other side and fitting another set of fan blades to it ( photo 4). This dual table top configuration can be placed centrally. When switched on, it can fan air all around using nearly the same energy.
PRESSURE COOKER COFFEE MACHINE: Seeing electric coffee making machines at marriage dinners inspired Mohammed Rozadeen of East Champaran to develop his own version of a coffee maker that can be used by roadside vendors and does not use electricity. He modified a pressure cooker, incorporating a copper delivery pipe on its lid to transfer the steam generated inside to a container outside. The low- cost coffee maker has become popular in the region and Rozadeen has sold some 1500 units to roadside stalls and dhabas.
MOTORISED WEB CLEANER: Think of the times we have frowned at the sight of cobwebs in the corners of our rooms, which refuse to go away completely with traditional cleaners. Ankush Kumar of Dhanbad has the answer a motorised web cleaner. It has a 6V DC motor, soft plastic brush, long plastic pipe, extendable wires and one electric switch. It can be powered by four pencil cells or an AC supply. When switched on, the shaft rotates the bush, which winds up the cobwebs.
IMPROVED SILENCER: Bhagwan Singh, a 23- year- old postgraduate in geology from Bhopal, has modified the silencer of a motorcycle in which part of the exhaust gas is used to pre- heat the air and charge leading to increased combustion efficiency of the engine ( photo 5). It results in an increase in the mileage by 25 to 30 per cent, say tests conducted at BIT Ranchi. Singh is a serial innovator, having developed several novel gizmos including an e- bicycle and a multipurpose jogging machine.
SOLAR MOSQUITO KILLER: Mathews K Mathew of Kottayam has come up with a very interesting device solar mosquito trapper cum destroyer ( photo 6). This device makes use of the smell from the septic tank to attract mosquitoes.
Once the mosquitoes get trapped inside the device, the heat built up inside it, as a result of direct sunlight exposure, kills them. Though it looks simple, it took several years for Mathew to execute his idea. The device is ideal for schools, hospitals and other such places.
VENKY SNEERS AT THE COACHING CULTURE IN INDIA
Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has ridiculed the concept of entrance examinations and coaching classes prevalent in India. " You have these elite institutions that everybody wants to get into and so the schools are teaching for that. But that's not enough. Now people take entrance exams to get into a coaching school which prepares you for the next entrance exam. Next you're going to have an entrance exam that prepares you for the entrance exam to get into the coaching school. It's kind of ridiculous. That mentality is counterproductive," he has observed in an interview with Indian scientific journal Current Science . He says Indian children spend most of their time in schools and then coaching classes, leaving little time to think about science. Children should have much less homework, because excess homework kills the imagination. It may be difficult to have a law to ban coaching classes, but in his view, it would help " if people develop a culture where they sneer at people who go to coaching classes, where parents and educators realise. . . And maybe the questions could be changed so that going to a coaching class won't really help you". In the interview, he also said that the one question that he does not like is: " Would you consider working in India?" He says his children are in the US and he is already away from them in the UK. " If I came to India, it will be even further away.
My father, sister, my wife's family all live in the US. They know that my wife is not an Indian and has never been to India. So why are they asking me that question?"
Dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Mahinda Rajapakse seems headed for a second consecutive term as president of Sri Lanka. That's not a bad outcome from the point of view of New Delhi, which has a working relationship with him. The election, despite the acrimonious campaign, was a reasonably successful affair with a high turnout of over 70 per cent. Hopefully, the post-poll tension evident in the stand-off between government forces and supporters of General Sarath Fonseka, the opposition candidate, will not flare up. Colombo needs political stability now to recover from the scars of a three-decade-long civil war.
An element of drama was introduced into the presidential election when Fonseka, who led the Sri Lankan armed forces in the last phase of the war with the Tigers, entered the contest as the candidate of a joint opposition including many Tamil parties. That prevented a runaway win for Rajapakse. Both Rajapakse and Fonseka are Sinhala nationalists who have projected a unitary vision of Sri Lanka. Together they won the war against the LTTE, but Colombo lost the support of the international community due to well-documented allegations of large-scale human rights violations against the Tamils. Rajapakse's aggressive posture against the international community's views on the war helped him to consolidate his position among the Sinhalese. General Fonseka didn't find favour with this section of voters to the same extent. Clearly, Sri Lankans seem to credit the success in the war to the civilian leadership. Fonseka may be a war hero, but perhaps Sri Lankans are not yet convinced of his credentials to head the government.
For New Delhi, the re-election of Rajapakse will mean continuity in the relations with Colombo. Bilateral ties have been on the upswing in recent times and the two countries must build on the relationship, especially on matters of business and security affairs. New Delhi should also use its working relationship with Rajapakse to nudge him towards a settlement of the Tamil issue.
The low turnout in Tamil areas only 20 per cent of the people voted helped Rajapakse extend his lead over Fonseka. Interestingly, a poll boycott declared by the LTTE had helped Rajapakse in his first presidential election. Now that Rajapakse has won his gamble of an early election and acquired political legitimacy, he needs to address Sri Lanka's deep social divide between Sinhalese and Tamils. Besides relief and rehabilitation measures, Rajapakse must work out a political package of devolution of power to the Tamils. Or else Sri Lanka's political problem, of which the civil war was the fallout, will remain.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The five-day Jaipur literature festival, which ended on Monday, can claim to be not only the biggest such event in Asia but also one of the prime attractions in the world literary festival circuit. Over 200 authors, many of them stars of the literary world, attended the event. In a very short period the festival has become a huge crowd-puller, drawing an estimated 30,000 people this year. It's only right that India, the fastest growing market for English language titles, is playing host to such a significant international literary event.
Unlike say the Frankfurt or Kolkata book fair, the Jaipur festival is not about buying and selling. Though there were a few bookstalls in Jaipur this year, it's all regarding discussions and conversations about books. Since entry to the festival is free there is no bar on book lovers to walk in, listen to discussions and then interact with their favourite authors. From literary hotshots to children in school uniforms, they were all lapping up the fare at the festival. The democratic ethos and mela-like atmosphere are what make the Jaipur festival stand out. While there might not be much by way of sales at the festival, if it helps in sparking interest in books and writing it would have done its job.
The popularity of the festival is testimony to the growing appetite for books in India. Though the market for books in India has plenty of catching up to do with the US or the UK, the number of titles being released by publishing houses in India is a sure indication that demand is growing. This is of course bound to happen as more and more Indians become literate and catch the reading bug.
It is quite likely that while people will continue to read they might not do so in the way we are used to. This was a subject that came up for discussion at the Jaipur festival. With palm-held devices such as Amazon's Kindle or its many competitors which can electronically store up to 1,500 books flooding the market, over time a considerable number of people might switch from reading books the traditional way. As of now the prices of these devices are high, but they will come down when the market is big enough. These are changes that publishers will have to take into account. But as long as the habit of reading whatever be the format continues to flourish, festivals such as Jaipur will be in business.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HOW TO BE A SPORT
The entire country continues to watch in horror as Indian hockey keeps plummeting to new lows with every passing week. First, it was players revolting against the powers-that-be, demanding better pay and a graded system of payments. Now it is an all-out war between former Olympian Pargat Singh and IOA president Suresh Kalmadi. Amidst all the mudslinging, one somewhat ignored but profoundly important comment had serious future ramifications for Indian hockey. It came from the International Hockey Federation vice-president, Antonio Von Ondarza, who was to oversee the February 7 elections now deferred for overtly political reasons for control of Indian hockey.
In a recent public debate, Ondarza threatened the players and suggested that their strike would find no sympathy among the FIH rank and file and that they would do well to get back to practice. Even Indian hockey officials were uncomfortable with a comment that had a clear stamp of power written all over it. Made in the run-up to the hockey federation elections, it signalled a clear case of interference by FIH in the internal matters of a country's federation. More, it was a throwback to the 1970s when FIH president Rene Frank acted similarly, heralding an unprecedented crisis in Indian hockey.
The striking similarity between the two cases isn't mere coincidence. In the 1970s too, Frank's interference came at a time when two factions in Indian hockey, led by M A M Ramaswamy and Ashwini Kumar, were fighting for control over India's national sport. In their desire to enlist the FIH's support, Indian administrators refused to protest the move to astro turf before the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
During a visit to Montreal in 1973, venue of the 1976 summer Olympics, the FIH president and other leading administrators realised the impossibility of organising the Olympic hockey competition. None of the grounds picked as possible venues was up to the mark. It was apparent the organisers weren't capable of making the grounds fit for play in the fickle Canadian climate. So, Montreal's mayor Drapeau and the vice-president of the Montreal Olympics Organising Committee came up with the idea of using an artificial turf pitch in place of the traditional grass surface. This, it was suggested, would enable the tournament to go on without hindrance.
The FIH, based on its president's highly favourable recommendation, consented in a few months to allow the tournament to be played on artificial turf. India did not raise even a feeble voice of protest. Having succeeded in gaining control of the Indian Hockey Federation with the FIH's full support, the administrators were in no mood to oppose the move even if it spelt doom for India. Indian star Ajit Pal Singh's statements about astro-turf being a "costly affair" fell on deaf ears. For the historian, the entire episode is a clue to the politics controlling Indian sport in the 1970s. Sadly, nothing seems to have changed as shown by the current imbroglio.
A temporary truce was recently arrived at with the men's team paid a crore at the initiative of Kalmadi. But it was apparent this was at best an ad hoc solution. First, this money can't be paid from Hockey India coffers. This explains the latter's inability to prevent the women's team from staging a revolt soon after. Again, the question remains as to why our administrators haven't till date corporatised the sport of hockey, sought sponsors, created stars out of the performers, injected value into the game and converted it into a profitable industry. The much-repeated argument that India's poor performance at the international level has pre-empted such an attempt is not entirely correct. When the Indian team won the gold at the Asian Games in 1998, an opportunity presented itself to our administrators, especially with cricket reeling under the match-fixing scandal at the turn of the millennium. But little was done to take advantage of the situation.
Also of concern is the way the current crisis has been handled. There's little doubt that pressure on the national team has increased with its demands fulfilled. A poor performance in the forthcoming world cup (if India is allowed to compete, that is) and critics will be out to label the players as overcome by greed and lacking patriotism. With India starting their campaign against Pakistan at a time bilateral relations have reached a new low, the players could have done without this increased pressure.
The question foremost in the minds of Indian sports enthusiasts is: what is the way forward for Indian hockey? Are we to persist with ad-hocism wherein states and corporates when confronted with a crisis dole out funds as a corrective? How long will former Olympians and sports administrators indulge in mud-slinging on national television? Maybe it is time for us to take a radical step and privatise the sport. Many entrepreneurs are waiting to pick up the baton and run with it it is time we use their services. Indian hockey deserves much better than what it gets at the moment.
The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
PARTIES MUST NOW WALK THE TALK
Sonia Gandhi deserves to be lauded on the sentiments she expressed on the occasion of the Election Commission's diamond jubilee celebrations, that criminals shouldn't be allowed to contest elections. Such sentiments, however, have been heard before, but few concrete measures have been taken so far. We have in the current Lok Sabha 153 MPs with criminal cases pending against them, 74 of them with serious charges such as murder and robbery. This disheartening situation will continue if the problem is viewed entirely in legalistic terms. It is up to political parties to walk the talk and impose their own safeguards.
As it stands now, the law bars anybody who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to two years or more in prison from standing in elections. But this is not foolproof. For instance, if a politician is sentenced to five years by a lower court, he can appeal in a higher one. As the sentence is often suspended pending appeal, the politician can then use this stay to circumvent legal provisions and fight polls. The other problem is that if a serving MP is convicted, his tenure is not terminated. He is merely barred from standing in the next elections.
From a legal point of view, it may be difficult to plug these loopholes. But while the courts might be bound by legal provisions, parties are not. If one of their members stands accused in a case, even if he has not been sentenced, they must take a judgement call on whether or not he should be allowed a ticket to contest on or to finish his term. Their instituting and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy would be a far more effective way to clean up politics than depending on the judicial system. The time when criminal elements could offer tangible benefits in the electoral process is fast ending. Violence and booth-capturing are at a minimum and voters are focusing on effective governance as never before. It is time the political parties showed they recognise this.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY
In an ideal world, political leaders wouldn't have criminal backgrounds. Nor would they generally be accused of grave crimes. But this isn't an ideal world. Else, the entire political class wouldn't have been up in arms when certain election commissioners in the past tried to crack down on money and muscle power in politics. If today's netas self-flagellate on the issue periodically, they're either doing PR exercises or making a public display of naivete. Neither is necessary. As of now, people charged but not convicted of serious crimes can contest polls as well as hold high office. For, the law debars only such candidates who have been convicted and sentenced with imprisonment of at least two years. To demand more keep people out of political activity on mere implication in criminal cases is excessive.
Our justice system upholds the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'. That applies to a suspected pickpocket as much as to a murder accused. Whether or not it can be misused politically, this presumption must be a moral imperative for action in any civilised society, since guilt can't be assumed without fair trial. Again, India's judicial system is excruciatingly slow. Trial in a single court can be of long duration. A person can also appeal if convicted. Should accusations alone serve as disqualification, someone may have to wait years, even decades, for acquittal before he can launch or resume his political career. This is why, in some cases, even when a candidate is sentenced for over two years, he may be allowed to contest polls, pending appeal, with a suspended sentence.
Third, if mere taint suffices to debar someone from poll contests or important posts, adversaries with axes to grind can get false cases instituted against politicians, accusing them of serious crimes like rape, kidnap or murder. Clearly, while crusading for clean politics, we must guard against the unintended victimisation of innocent people. It's true that politics has never been a squeaky clean profession, but every trade has its bad apples. Why single out politics?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MY NAME IS CRATER
Don't dismiss it as a loony idea, this business of naming a moon crater after the King Khan. It's the most fitting honour for a country that eats, prays, loves and belches Bollywood. As in any puja pandal, so in the multiplex pantheon, clear differentiators must set apart the central deity from those of the mere entourage. So, while lesser screen gods are entitled to have a starstruck following, the supernovas must have nothing less than the moonstruck.
Indeed, Shah Rukh Khan fans, rotating insanely on their axis, might think that a crater is a downright insult. Surely, the Badshah of Bollywood deserved a lunar peak, if not the entire moon. Achha, this is how humiliated that fellow Amar Singh must have felt when his own idol, Amitabh Bachchan, was made to sit several rows behind their hero at a film function in Dubai.
The International Lunar Geographic Society may have acceded to a 'deluge of petitions' when it coupled the crater with SRK, and created its own version of 'Rab ne Bana di Jodi'. But it isn't going to be a Sea of Tranquillity. The messy business of 'What's in a name?' has not been adequately resolved ever since it rose into public consciousness over 400 years ago. One man's naming ceremony is another man's name-calling.
Already, the move has stirred up a lunar storm over why this heart-throb should have been thus honoured and not the longer-running Big B. Some explanation could lie in Amit-ji having already enjoyed the fruits of our demographic dividend when, by overwhelming polling demand, he was voted the BBC's star of the millennium. You don't have to be a mathematical genius to know that it's our numbers that count.
Badshah or Shahenshah, national pride must override pettiness. Since there is no power but soft power, and Bollywood is its profit, it is heresy to make it lag behind Hollywood. If the latter is the opiate of the masses wherever America rules, Hindi movies are our LSD, Ecstasy and Heroin No 1 as well. So, as space scientist Mahank Vahia of TIFR diplomatically put it, "While it may not be too appropriate to name (the crater) after SRK, we are acknowledging that the Indian film industry is getting the same recognition as Hollywood."
This levels the lunar surface, and puts Shahrukh in the same league as Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Michael Jackson. To say nothing of Leonardo Da Vinci, Christopher Columbus and Jules Vernes, in addition to our scientific trilogy of CV Raman, Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai. Thus you might say that this is small step for our man, but it is a giant step for Bollywood. It calls for a celebratory Chaiyya Chhaiya -- on top of a space shuttle.
But whadyouknow, our hero has already been there, done that --even if this feat demands the elasticity of imagination patented by his industry. Remember, way back in 2001, SRK sat in a model of the lunar vehicle brought along to Mumbai by Eugene A Cernan, the last man to stand on the moon. And weren't large swathes of Swades shot at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre?
Now that SRK has not just this crater, but also a piece of the moon, bought for and gifted to him by a besotted fan, he can provide both to end a bigger controversy. Since he has publicly stated that he felt 'humiliated' over being unable to bid for Pakistani all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, he could offer his lunar property for the next IPL season.
Security would not be a concern up there. And if hi-tech terrorists still manage to turn Aman ki Asha into an Aman ki Smasha, it would provide us viewers with Special FX more spectacular than Star Wars. Howzzat?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
AND THE WINNER IS...
They are out on the streets; they are in your homes; they are inside airports; they have organisations fighting for their rights; they have special clothes and toys designed for them. And in some uber-affluent places, they have even hotels exclusively for them. It's very evident that a dog is man's best friend for a good reason. If my best friend fed me, clothed me, pampered me, and picked up after me, i would stay loyal to him forever too. And if you read sarcasm into this, it's not driven by any kind of hostility towards dogs. Canines and i have had an understanding for the last two decades. I don't mess around with them and they don't mess around with me. However, what boggles my mind is people's obsession with making dogs more like humans. Recently, a good friend of mine took her dog, Pebble, to a dog show. Pebble, whom she loves and treats like a sibling, participated in a number of 'athletic' events. He won gold medals in two events he had no idea he was in and lost the coveted crown due to one tiny mistake: he flinched and let out a bark when the judge examined his genitals.
Now, i'm not quite sure how beauty pageants for humans operate across the world. But if winning involves staying still while the judge gropes you, i'd much rather not know. Despite finding my views about mankind's perverted dog obsession abhorrent, my friend did agree that her dog was very confused as to what was happening around him. He merely did as he had been trained to do. As i was pondering this, i saw something on TV that shed some light on the situation. It was a talent hunt for children, where kids as young as seven or eight were dressed up in ridiculous outfits and tonnes of make-up. They hopped around and did what they had been trained to do while their owners sorry, parents sat in the crowd smiling proudly. It was then i realised that using other creatures to gain fame and money for ourselves is part of human nature. There was no reason for me to feel awkward about it. What i had to do was embrace this trait. And that's why i have signed up my pet snail for the 100-metre dash in the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
IT'S ALL IN THE STARS
Gone are the days when nervous students used to toss and turn in fitful sleep over impending exams, dreaming of evil schemes to steal question papers. From the abolition of Class 10 Board exams to public denouncements of rote-learning, much is afoot these days to put young minds at ease. It turns out that Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is not alone in prescribing placebos to treat exam psychoses. Tired of the terms 'student' and 'stress' being used too often in the same sentence, a Noida school is busy turning career counselling on its head.
Noida's Marigold Public School has invited astrologers to counsel students based on their horoscopes. Perhaps, they figure, if an entire nation's future can be based on the astral charts of a handful of individuals, what's a little starry-eyed hope for harried students? So now, all that students need to do to zero in on their bright futures is ask someone to shine a helpful light on their planetary patterns. The idea behind this wonderful scheme is that horoscopes can help map out a student's strengths and weaknesses, and help select courses most suited for success.
Which then begs the question: why hold any exams at all? Why can't we just simplify our school system by dividing classrooms on the basis of sun signs and then assigning careers based on personality types? Shy Cancerian? Off to the back-end operations room to crunch numbers, you. Adventurous Sagittarian, eh? You should go on and be a mountaineer the first one to climb Mt Everest without any formal training, with the aid of nothing but your natal chart! Chatty Aries? Public relations it is! Now, those of you frowning over the state of our school system, just send us your birth date and time and we'll prescribe remedies and mantras to make you stop worrying and start living it up.
WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING
This is an election that could have gone any way. It was fought between two war heroes, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his former army chief Sarath Fonseka. Both men can claim credit for the end of the war in Sri Lanka. But now that Mr Rajapaksa has been declared the victor by a handsome margin, it is clear that the Tamil minority vote did not play a major role in the electoral process. Not by a long shot. However, with such a major mandate, Mr Rajapaksa can play a very important role in national reconciliation. There are many unresolved issues that Mr Rajapaksa has not addressed. He conducted the war against the Tamil Tigers in a ruthless manner. A very large Tamil population caught in the crossfire is still in temporary camps with very little facilities for a return to normal life. Mr Rajapaksa has many problems that he will have to deal with. One is the economy, which is doing well, though there are a huge amount of jobs going down the the tube thanks to a wrangle with the European Union. Health and education, which were once strong points in Sri Lanka, have not been looking up in recent times. The textile industry is not doing too well and this will mean that many jobs will be lost. Mr Rajapaksa cannot be unaware of the fact that there is a considerable amount of anger at his nepotistic behaviour. Just about every one in the government is from the Rajapaksa family.
But the issue that will now have to be settled is that of Sri Lanka's Tamils. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is now history. But the issue of devolution, namely the 13th Amendment, is still on the cards. This was mooted by Rajiv Gandhi and never really took off. It is not unreasonable for the Tamils to expect some sort of resolution to the problem that has been festering for decades.
The Tamils are really caught between a rock and a hard place. It would seem that at the moment, it is in no one's interest to come to any agreement with them. The Tamil demands are not totally without reason. It would be in Mr Rajapaksa's interest to see that these are fulfilled. Since he now has unprecedented power in his hands. It is very much in the interest of the Sinhala majority, which both major candidates professed to uphold, that a proper reconciliation is effected. The military victory that his army has secured should be very soon turned into a political accord very soon for an equitable solution for all in the island nation.
TRAGEDY OF ERRORS
Like an avalanche, the groundswell of scepticism regarding the melting of Himalayan glaciers threatens to demolish conventional wisdom to the contrary. To be sure, the deadline of 2035 by which these glaciers would be severely threatened has now been proved wrong. It could be a typographical error, as the Russian scientist whose paper has been used mentioned 2305. Or it could have been licence on the part of some scientists, WWF-India and journalists, who recycled this error.
The mistake ought to have been spotted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which reiterated it in its 2007 assessment report without verification. The section on glaciers was compiled by a team, not a single author, which should have put in place the customary checks, including peer review. It is conceivable that since WWF-India cited it, the IPCC gave it more credence than it deserved. While the credibility of the IPCC has been eroded to an extent, it should not be erased by this slip.
At the end of the day, the IPCC comprises the research of some 2,500 scientists from around the world, who cannot have vested interests on specific issues. If anything, it has always been accused of erring on the side of caution and stating ranges of temperatures and forecasts, rather than specifics. Climate science, by its nature, is extremely complex and that concerning glaciers even more so, particularly in the Himalayas, where researchers have only recently been conducting studies with sophisticated equipment. The IPCC makes no policy prescriptions whatsoever.
If one sees the sequence of events, it does appear that vested interests using British media are seeking to discredit the IPCC. They first sought to tarnish R.K. Pachauri's reputation by alleging that he was corrupt in accepting fees from a number of institutions. The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) has shown how all these fees, which it listed, were paid directly to Teri, and not to him. The media even questioned his supposedly lavish lifestyle, which the clarification regarding fees demolishes. The Centre for Public Integrity reports that 770 companies and interest groups have hired 2,340 lobbyists to influence the US government's climate policies in recent months. In Britain, Christopher Monckton has led climate skeptics who have been targeting Pachauri, even at Copenhagen.
The most recent allegation by the British media about Teri profiting from the IPCC's erroneous claims about Himalayan glaciers by obtaining grants to research this issue from the EU and Carnegie Corporation only heightens the suspicion that a smear campaign is being launched to undermine Pachauri, and ultimately the IPCC, as the most authoritative source of scientific knowledge on climate change. While the IPCC has got the 2035 date wrong and may be challenged on other facts, no one has been able to question its broad assessment: that global temperatures are rising inexorably. Last week, Nasa reported how the last decade has been the warmest in recorded history.
Since temperatures are rising, it is obvious that glaciers will melt. But scientists are wary about public pronouncements, while lobbyists have no such inhibitions. If the smear campaign succeeds in scuttling UN protocols to obtain funding for developing countries to cope with climate change, it'll be a huge tragedy.
Darryl D'Monte is Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (FEJI)
The views expressed by the author are personal
SWAMY AND FRIENDS
He doesn't hide his 13-year career as government clerk and cashier, the spartan two-room flat he shares with a friend, the I-don't-really-care attitude to travels that take him to Ukraine, Japan and Taiwan, and an ambition that involves quitting his job leading a team of eight engineers on the cutting-edge of technology.
Like his namesake in R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends, the 35-year-old Narayana Swamy M.K. is a small-town, ghee-rice-loving South Indian. "I hate Bangalore from the core of my heart," says the amiable, self-taught software expert from Cypress Semiconductors, a multinational headquartered in Silicon Valley and increasingly Bangalore.
It is easy to dislike India's technology heartland, the city that lets Swamy live his dream; the pensioner's-paradise-turned-technopolis that led his country to the centre of the flat world. Glass-and-steel buildings sprout like weeds, uprooting grand, old rain trees in once-lush residential neighbourhoods. When there is no vacant land, buildings less than a decade old are torn down to make space. Garbage is everywhere. A land mafia rules Bangalore, and successive governments, whether Congress, Janata Dal or the present BJP, have proved venal and gloriously ineffective.
The Indian CEO of a European company tells me how he was blandly asked to pay Rs 18,000 as a bribe to get his flat's electricity line transferred to his name. On Tuesday, a gathering of the city's industry associations warned the Karnataka government it was "killing industry" by "cutting the hands and legs" of efficient officials and letting governance collapse in this city of 6 million. "Nothing happens here unless hands (sic) are greased," says J. Crasta, president of the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Despite the growing slide into third-world chaos, how does Bangalore continue to be a metropolis on steroids, home to 1,358 technology companies (according to state records updated in 2009), adding an average of three new companies every month?
Last month, Barack Obama warned young people in the US that they would increasingly compete with folks in Bangalore. He was right. The eclipse of the era of the software coolie and the call-centre has begun, as the transfer grows of senior-level US jobs to my old home town. At his company, Cypress Semiconductor India Pvt Ltd, Swamy rubs shoulders with IIT and IIM graduates, his intuitive ability and passion valued over his lack of educational pedigree (His only qualification is a one-year course in data and software). As the West slows, companies know they need innovative brains to make the next, big leap out of Bangalore into the world's tough emerging markets.
As late as 2006, Swamy's life revolved around the central excise department in the former royal city of Mysore. In his spare time, Swamy and two friends tinkered in home workshops and did some consulting. Geethesh N.S. was a former lecturer in a Mysore college, later unemployed. Ganesh Raja sold hand-made electronic lights. They knew hardware, Swamy knew software.
Over 2003 and 2004, they combined talents to win competitions building computer systems (a traffic-light controller and a digital front-panel for motorcycles) around a bunch of microscopic silicon circuits carved onto a Cypress chip called a P-SOC, or programmable system-on-chip.
Swamy quit his government job in 2006 when Raja saw his Rs 6,000 pay cheque and asked, "Is this what you work for?"
Cypress asked Swamy to move to Bangalore and build P-SOC applications. These included programming the chip for coffee makers and satellites; for Adidas sneakers that can tell you how long you've run and how fast; for the ingenuous scroll-wheels of Apple iPods, which respond to touch, or capacitive sensing (Cap-sense in techie jargon), a frontier technology that allows machines to interact with humans.
Today, Geethesh and Raja too work at Cypress, where Swamy manages the Cap-sense team, which, till a month ago, was in Seattle. Cypress' Bangalore office sits in a quiet, lakeside tech park. At one end, defence scientists are working on gas turbines for warships. At the other, a residential neighbourhood struggles with unpaved roads and uncollected trash.
Swamy has little use for the Bangalore beyond his beloved P-SOC chip. "I am passionate about it, I love it," he says. "It's the only reason I am here in Bangalore."
Every Friday, Swamy boards the 6.15 pm Chamundi Express to Mysore, heading home to his wife, two children and parents. He is back on Monday, figuring out how to make his silicon circuits respond to the needs of customers across the world.
Swamy may abhor Bangalore, but he loves his country. On Republic and Independence Days he salutes the tricolour. There is much he seeks, and so Swamy does not intend to be a Cypress employee forever. The company doesn't mind: His ambitions revolve around their chip. "I want to give employment to at least 500 people, based on P-SOC," says Swamy. "My only rule it must all be in Mysore."
AFTER THE VOTE
The victory may not be as emphatic as Mahinda Rajapaksa expected when he advanced the presidential election by almost two years. His main opponent, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, is reported to have taken about 40 per cent of the vote in a campaign that assembled a rainbow coalition of Rajapaksa's political opponents. Rajapaksa and Fonseka, his army chief who successfully ended the LTTE insurgency last year to abruptly retire from his post and announce a presidential bid, had positioned themselves as war heroes looking to clinch the peace. But given the circumstances rumoured coup, etc that informed Fonseka's retirement, the contest was predictably personal. And the worry now is that this personal confrontation could polarise the post-election, and importantly post-civil war, politics on very partisan lines.
Sri Lanka today faces the monumental task of converting the end of the LTTE's 26-year civil war into the end of the conflict. The last year has been bruising. When victory finally came, it came at a huge cost, in terms of civilian deaths and displacement as well as economic setbacks. Moreover, it is not clear that the paces of the contest for the president's post have in any way addressed the kind of political gestures that are necessary to consolidate the post-civil war peace in formerly LTTE-dominated areas. That task is still pending. As the victor, President Rajapaksa should realise that the faster Sri Lanka's politics exits from post-result fractiousness, the easier he will win the confidence of the international community. He needs to acknowledge that the civil war is over by signalling an end to the authoritarian temptation that's dominated Colombo and that threatens both Tamils and the Sinhalese. The victory moment demands that he focus on peace with Tamils and the transition of Sri Lanka towards an inclusive democracy.
India cannot dictate Rajapaksa's agenda, but it can nudge Sri Lanka along a positive agenda. New Delhi has carefully kept distant from partisan politics, but post-elections it too must signal an exit from the security-dominated outlook of the LTTE years. As Sri Lanka's nearest neighbour, India is invested in hopes for reconciliation and political calm in that country. The two countries now also have the opportunity to cooperate more coherently on trade and infrastructure development.
WHAT'S THE BUZZ
Imagine a policy intervention that, at one stroke, could increase school completion by more than 10 per cent; add another half-percentage point to India's growth rate; benefit all groups, including women and Dalits, equally; and save us billions of dollars annually and many, many lives. That, one would think, is something India should push very hard for, and be vitally interested in. But vaccination against malaria the possible policy intervention that would deliver these near-miraculous results hasn't got the attention it deserves here. And, so, Bill Gates' recent statement that he believes a partial vaccine might be available a mere three years from now needs a closer look.
One of independent India's finest and most forward-looking attempts was the effort, in the '50s, to control malaria. Malaria had kept India poor, and was one of the biggest killers responsible for 10 per cent of the deaths of working-age adults. But an aggressive and efficient government programme lowered that to 1 per cent (reducing workdays lost, too), and so we have become accustomed to thinking of malaria as nearly a non-issue. But while India is not as badly hit as is Sub-Saharan Africa, the most recent estimates are that malaria kills hundreds, costs us billions a year and, in some underdeveloped areas, cuts significantly into already low growth and critically impoverishes the sufferer, who loses an irreplaceable few weeks of work.
Bill Gates, when he decided to give away all the money he had made, decided that malaria eradication was
where it would be most effective. The '50s effort didn't complete the job: it used DDT to spray breeding areas. Resistance has built up, both mosquitoes and the virus itself have slowly mutated since, and India has, post the mid-'90s, started suffering through epidemics again. Gates points out that only a vaccine can truly eradicate the disease. Even as he spoke, an Indian-born scientist in a Florida university announced his lab may have developed a low-cost dual vaccine against malaria and cholera. Many such initiatives exist, and will come to fruition in the next few years. Our policy-making should prepare for a massive roll-out of those vaccines when they become available.
Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi wants Bhilwara to be a "developmental model" for the rest of the country. The ministry has poured nearly Rs 300 crore into the area, making sure it receives a concentrated dose of all the government schemes on offer, fine-tuning their application and ensuring that they work perfectly in sync from NREGA to the rural livelihoods mission, the backward region grant fund and more. In short, Bhilwara will be a petri dish of government largesse. All fringe benefits to Joshi, whose constituency it is, are purely coincidental.
The electoral fray is Joshi's natural element he is widely credited with the Congress's surprising and satisfying win of 19 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats across Rajasthan. Though he stewarded the party's state unit to victory, Joshi gave one-man, one-vote a whole new meaning when he lost out on chief ministership by a single vote. That psychological blow probably explains why Joshi is leaving nothing to chance this time, lavishing attention on his capricious constituency and keeping his own interests paramount even as rural development minister. And indeed, rural development is a grab-bag of patronage opportunities, there's something for everyone. The rest of India should be so lucky.
While Joshi is certainly not the first politician in power to tend his constituency like a fragile plant, what's particularly dissembling is the way he claims Bhilwara could show the rest of the country how it's done. In fact, it would be misleading and inaccurate if these interventions feed into larger conclusions about the schemes themselves. Pilot projects must necessarily be randomly assigned, for any meaningful evaluation. So let's just call it what it is: an exercise in favour-mongering, narrow politics-as-usual.
HINDI-CHINI, BY AND BY
India and China will mark 60 years of diplomatic engagement between the two countries with several events through 2010. India's relationship with China has been a turbulent one over the years. But as the engagement has grown, particularly in the last decade, we no longer have a singular lens with which to view China from an Indian perspective. It is, in fact, easy to identify at least three different strains of thought on China coming out of the establishment in India.
The first is a perspective that dominated news headlines through much of 2009, that of China as a large,
menacing neighbour that occasionally sends a group of soldiers sauntering into Indian territory. Concerns about unsettled borders, competition for zones of influence in the region and the Dalai Lama dominate this perspective, and are bound to weigh heavily on the strategic and foreign policy establishment.
There is a second, very different perspective that views China in brutal economic terms as a very large market soon to be the world's second largest economy where instead of troops in uniform India needs to send troupes of businessmen and women to capture a significant share of the market in the world's fastest growing economy. The need to gain traction in term of business in China has only been made more urgent after the global economic crisis has badly damaged our more traditional targets for trade and investment the economies of the developed world.
Curiously enough, this was the dominant mood among both Indian business delegates and Indian government representatives from the commerce ministry, at an India-China Trade and Investment Forum meeting in Beijing last week. Interestingly, India hasn't gained much of a foothold either in terms of exports or investment in China thus far. Our trade deficit with China is the largest we run with any single country, and 50 per cent of our exports consist of iron ore, a low value commodity. Industry and government blame the high level of tariff and non-tariff barriers imposed by the Chinese on our most competitive goods and services, including IT, pharma, agricultural goods, power equipment and films/ entertainment. In an unusual and aggressive step, the commerce ministry of India issued a stern note of protest to their Chinese counterparts demanding specific action on a number of barriers to Indian exports after a meeting of the Joint Economic Group between the two countries failed to yield enough concessions.
But resolving disputes in trade are not likely to be anywhere near as protracted as resolving longstanding political differences. For one, there is plenty of room for quick give and take on both sides. It is in China's interest to concede some ground on trade barriers, as they have a big stake in market access to the Indian economy. As China's biggest market, the US, continues to grow slowly, China desperately needs newer markets to return to double digit growth growing at 7-9 per cent per annum, India is too attractive a market to be shut out of. China also wants its workers to be granted more visas to work on projects in India, something India can use as a bargaining chip to gain more market access. So unlike the bilateral political relationship that is arguably skewed in favour of China because of its superior military prowess and greater clout as a member of the P-5, the bilateral economic relationship gives India more room to manoeuvre, without having to up the ante to a "war cry" or to talk completely submissively about Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai.
The third view of our engagement with China deals with the interaction between the two countries at multilateral forums. Until recently, we dealt mostly with an uncooperative China at the United Nations on Pakistan, on a permanent Security Council seat for India and so on. However, three recent multilateral initiatives have considerably changed the India-China dynamic climate change, G-20 and Doha trade talks.
At the climate change talks in December, climate negotiators from China and India along with Brazil and South Africa forged an effective coalition to protect their interests and corner the developed world. Earlier, at the WTO's mini-ministerial in Delhi in September, China and India again found much common ground. And in the new global club of the G-20 which met at various points throughout 2009, finance ministry officials from both China and India closely allied to get a greater say for both countries (and other emerging countries) in any new architecture on global financial governance.
Unsurprisingly, what binds us more tightly than anything else at these forums is the weight of our economies, particularly when we put our combined economic interests up against the economic interests of developed countries.
In fact, at some multilateral forums, notably on climate change and WTO, India may even have the upper hand on China. At both these forums, China arguably needs us more than we need them. For once, being the larger and faster growing economy renders China more vulnerable. The developed world will obviously expect sharper emissions cuts from China than from India just as they would want greater market access to what is by far the bigger market. India, on the other hand, could strike a "sweetheart" deal with the West in both climate and WTO that would leave China without any political cover.
The real challenge for the Indian government is to form a more holistic policy towards China that incorporates all the different dynamics of the engagement between the two countries, some which are indeed very recent, across different spheres. The problem with the government is that it more often than not gives the impression of operating in silos, for reasons that may actually be no deeper than superficial turf battles.
So the MEA, for example, may not automatically take inputs from the ministries of commerce, environment and finance, all of which are also engaged in important diplomacy with China. This is obviously not a China-specific division of turf, but given that our relations with China are more complex than with most other countries, some coordination across different departments of government can only help. Some of the give and take associated with negotiations in different policy spheres can surely be done cutting across silos.
With an old China hand being appointed the new national security adviser, this should change.
The writer is a senior editor at 'The Financial Express'
AN ISLAND STILL DIVIDED
Elected by over 60 per cent of the voters, Mahinda Rajapaksa has retained the presidency of Sri Lanka. In a tense electoral battle, which saw over a 70 per cent turnout, Rajapaksa beat his rival and erstwhile army chief Sarath Fonseka by 1.8 million votes.
Rajapaksa won comfortably in many parts of the Sinhalese-dominated south and central provinces, but Fonseka emerged a clear favourite in the Tamil-dominated north and Muslim- and Tamil-dominated eastern province.
However, Rajapaksa's victory portends a number of worrying scenarios for the island nation. First, the president is likely to view the broad margin of victory as signifying the people's approval of his policies. He has been accused by civil rights activists of misusing the military and police to trample on the constitutional liberties of citizens. For instance, on Wednesday, the Sri Lankan military surrounded Fonseka's hotel and sparked allegations that the president was trying to intimidate the ex-general and prevent him from contesting in the upcoming prime ministerial elections. (The continuing state of emergency in the country gives the president immense powers, which is a worrying sign for the future of rule of law there.)
Second, in the face of Rajapaksa's decisive victory, the rainbow coalition of opposition parties, which had half-heartedly backed Fonseka, will be unable to act as a check on Rajapaksa.
Third, Fonseka's victory in most parts of the minority strongholds of the north-east will not endear the Tamils and Muslims to Rajapaksa. The interesting point to note is that by backing Fonseka, the minorities tried to reduce
Rajapaksa's victory margin. Only 18 per cent of registered voters turned up in Jaffna of which two-thirds reportedly have voted for Fonseka. In the east, turnout was higher, between 50 and 60 per cent, and a majority backed Fonseka. The low voter turnout in the Tamil and Muslim bastions of the north and east is a worrying sign that the minorities continue to feel isolated.
A boycott by the minorities would not be surprising; both candidates Rajapaksa and his erstwhile commander-in-chief, Sarath Fonseka have been accused of human rights abuses of civilians in the north-east during the conflict with the Tamil separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Tamils and Muslims, who account for 25 per cent of the electorate, were not, in the end, key swing voters.
Fourth, and most worrying, is that Rajapaksa's 14-point 2010 manifesto makes no mention of rights, poverty reduction or minority rights but seems to envisage top-down Singapore-style state-led economic development. The manifesto, an expanded version of his November 2005 Mahinda Chintana (The thinking of Mahinda) manifesto, is subtitled: "A brighter future, with the promise to put Sri Lanka in a prominent position in Asia and the world, and work towards a political solution to the ethnic question within a united Sri Lanka."
Rajapaksa's brighter future involves an economic transformation of the country into a "Wonder of Asia" and to "develop our motherland as a Naval, Aviation, Commercial, Energy and Knowledge hub, serving as a key link between the East and West". But a $2.6 billion loan from the IMF to stave off a balance of payment crisis comes with the compulsion that the budget deficit be slashed by four per cent in 2011. This has obvious implications for government spending when the country needs to urgently undertake reconstruction in the north and the east.
Rajapaksa's political solution is disturbing, too, because it does not seem to envisage decentralisation: "a unitary state, not to be divided" is one of the 14 points. Over a quarter of a million Tamils were locked up in camps after the May 2009 "victory" of the Sri Lankan military against the LTTE. The continuation of the military occupation of the north-east coupled with economic deprivation could spark a spiral of communal tensions and discontent.
In the 2005 elections, Rajapaksa promised peace, more jobs, and improvement of living standards. His detractors would say that he broke his promises by plunging the country into war with the LTTE, which sent young men and women to their deaths and worsened the country's economic situation.
But his champions would argue that he has kept his promise of peace by ridding the island of the LTTE, and is now working to accomplish his pledge to jump-start the economy.
Regardless of which view one chooses to believe, one thing is clear: Rajapaksa has used and will continue to use the might of the state to accomplish his goals. The state of emergency continues and the size of the police and the military remains intact even though the war is officially over.
The writer is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
MY ENEMY'S ENEMY, NOW MY FRIEND
SANDIP KUMAR MISHRA
The South Korea President Lee Myung-bak's visit to India and his being the chief guest for the Republic Day celebration this year are symbolic of a growing proximity and diversifications of relations between the two countries. The bilateral relations, which had more economic overtones with the opening up of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, has been gradually deepening and diversifying into several other areas of cooperation. The need to have a more comprehensive partnership has already been recognised by the both countries.
Both the countries started negotiations for a comprehensive partnership after the former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's visit to India in 2004 and Indian President A.P.J. Kalam's visit to South Korea in 2006. The next South Korean President Lee Myung-bak also recognised the significance of India in emerging Asian dynamics (even during his campaign for the Presidential election); he visited India in late 2007. His present visit to India is an important step in the same direction.
India and South Korea's economic relations are the bedrock of their mutual cooperation. Both the countries have worked enthusiastically to arrive at a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which was signed during Commerce Minister Anand Sharma's visit to South Korea a few months back. The agreement is expected to provide further impetus to their growing economic relationship. It is pertinent to mention that bilateral trade between India and South Korea already surpassed $15 billion in 2008 and has gone far ahead from the volume of India-Japan bilateral trade. It is spectacular if we remember that our bilateral trade in 1990 was a meager $0.5 billion and even without the CEPA, bilateral economic relations have grown leaps and bounds. The growing economic exchanges between the two countries could be attributed to their mutual complementarities. South Korean capital and technology along with Indian cheap labour and a growing middle class market, make economic cooperation beneficial for both the countries. In the IT sector also, Indian expertise in software and Korean advancement in hardware gel quite well with each other. Apart from bilateral trade, both countries have shown interest in the FDI sector. Whereas, South Korean conglomerate POSCO has been patiently working for a $12 billion investment in a steel plant in Orrisa, TATA has invested in Daweoo Motors. At the multilateral fora also, both countries have been working together, such as in ASEAN+3 framework.
In recent years, India and South Korea have been working to evolve a common approach towards various political and strategic issues in regional politics. There are several push and pull factors which have forced both the countries to take a common stance on these issues. The most remarkable among them is growing strategic understanding between India and the US. South Korea, which has been a close ally of the US since its very inception, now shares various common concerns with India. The old political equations of the Cold War have given way to new thinking and adjustment and it has definitely brought both countries closer to each other. The emerging Asian strategic landscape has also brought India and South Korea together in which the "rise of China" has been looked at as a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge for both India and South Korea, if China tries to dominate regional politics and resorts to any aggressive intention. However, both countries could work together and try to persuade China to abandon any aggressive posturing and evolve a cooperative security framework in Asian politics.
India and South Korean strategic perspectives also converged with the emergence of the problem of nuclear and missile programmes of North Korea and Pakistan. It is a fact that North Korea and Pakistan provided technological know-hows to each other, in which North Korea provided missile-related technology to Pakistan and in return, Pakistan provided nuclear weapons related technology to North Korea. India and South Korea are quite troubled by their neighbours, which have shown even less responsibility in recent years. There is scepticism about the domestic instability in North Korea and Pakistan and accidental use of nuclear weapons in case of desperation or last resort. India and South Korea want the issue to be dealt with in a delicate but firm manner.
In the strategic calculus of Asia, India could also benefit from South Korea by forging an understanding on the issue of civilian nuclear cooperation. South Korea, which is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), has been less adamant than Japan on the issue of providing nuclear technology to India. There are speculations that South Korea President Lee Myung-bak and India would probe the possibilities of a formal understanding and agreement between the two countries. Another area of future cooperation between the two countries could be cooperation on environmental and energy related issues. South Korea has been working on its project for "green development" and could provide valuable technologies, help and advice to India including assistance at arriving at a safe nuclear energy option. It is important to note that more than 40 per cent of the energy requirement of South Korea comes from nuclear energy and South Korean expertise and assistance to India could be very crucial.
Overall, it could be said that South Korea and India appear to have realised the mutual benefits of bilateral cooperation, and both need to move closer for mutual benefit and regional stability and prosperity.
The writer is assistant professor at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi
A GIFT TO THE NATION, ANOTHER TO 'PAA'
"An idea can change your life", claimed the tagline. Last seen, Abhishek Bachchan had taken this to heart and transformed himself into a tree trunk with well-developed branches. Did someone suggest his acting is wooden? What an idea. sirjee.
That's not all to have befallen the poor chap. Since that recent Idea TV commercial, he's shrunk, visibly. Like other film stars, he's reduced himself to a TV game show host. He's now playing Bingo because as he put it, "No kaam, only aaraam" (Colors). Hope that's not a description of his professional career. The show opened, Saturday, with Abhishek and "my idol, my hero, my Paa". He repeated the latter each time he addressed his first guest (guess who!) which was every other word. Okay, sentence. Okay, paragraph. Talk about promoting your films. Nobody does it better than a Bachchan. Lost count of the number of promos Amitabh B is appearing in, currently, for his next release, Rann.
Meanwhile, he's trying to further the fortunes of his previous film, Paa and his son's career. As Abhishek's Bingo guest, he didn't have to exert himself. All he did was guess whether the number on the coloured ball that fell out of a gigantic bubble would be more or less than the one on the previous coloured ball that fell out and was ably gathered up by a slim lady Abhishek called "the very gorgeous" Rashmi (Aishwarya, were you watching and listening?). AB ended up winning Rs 26 lakhs. Such generosity deserves a return present so Mr Greybeard recited lines from his father's poem Madhushala, his "Dinanath" dialogue from Agneepeeth (Abhishek joined in as the chorus), described how Abhishek may never have been born but for the success of Zanjeer (find out for yourselves), and generally behaved like an ageing superstar who wants to acts young.
Abhishek played the ideal foil or sidekick. He's relaxed, genial with a tendency to speak in drawn out sentences like the audience is hard of hearing or, understanding. What's there to understand? They call out the ball numbers, we check them out on our downloaded forms and Bingo, if your luck's in. Is this something you'd want to watch on Saturdays? Yes, at least until Aishwarya puts in an appearance!
Watched the Republic Day parade. One of the narrators said all things bright and beautiful adorned Rajpath. We had to take her word for it. Little was visible through a dense fog darkly. It didn't help that so many in the audience were dressed in shades of grey.
Spent the afternoon trying to sing '"the song of the nation". "Phir Mile Sur" is an updated version of the 1988 classic public service anthem, "Mile Sur". Old timers will prefer the latter that began so movingly with Bhimsen Joshi and ended with children creating the Indian flag. The new one represents the new generation: it has all our then and now Bollywood superstars, some of our Olympic stars but no cricket star worth the name or an IT guru either. Odd. Also, what was Deepika Padukone wearing? Her fifth birthday party dress? Never mind, the singing was lovely, the music mellifluous and it made you want to stand up and salute. If you'd made the mistake of watching Zoom, you'd have been on your feet all day as the song, the making of the song ran late into the afternoon.
Times Now is a real newshound: it's always chasing after someone, something even if it is a chimera. First, it was in hot pursuit of Lashkar terrorists in Pakistan. Then, it followed Chinese invaders on the eastern border before it sped back to the terrorists in Pakistan and then before it could catch up with anyone, it rushed off Down Under. That is where it was to be found on Republic Day evening, in yet another impassioned debate on alleged Australian racist attacks. Far better to watch Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor chasing after, no not each other, but the hamper on a replay of Koffee with Karan (Headlines Today).
VIEW FROM THE RIGHT
SUMAN K JHA
RANGNATH MISHRA REPORT
The editorial in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser's special issue on the Sachar and Rangnath Mishra reports, titled "Hindus: Deprived, Discriminated and Robbed" says: "There is a lesson for the patriotic people of this country as we celebrate yet another Republic Day. Sachar and Ranganath Reports are just the tools. To keep the Muslims alienated from the national mainstream, separatist Muslim fringe groups in the late eighties used to raise these demands. All the nationalist parties then had frowned at such fundamentalist assertions. Even the Congress Party under the late Rajiv Gandhi had criticised them. But Congress has now adopted that divisive Muslim charter of demands wholesale. This is a carbon copy of the demands of the pre-Partition Muslim League of Mohammad Ali Jinnah".
The editorial in the RSS journal adds: "Poverty has no religion. We have no doubt that the UPA is out to create a class war in the country. Like the British, the UPA is smelling its chance in a divided, weakened and shattered India. One should not think the Ranganath Mishra Report presented in Parliament during the winter session is the last in a series of duplicitous vote bank ploys The UPA rural development minister announced that all Muslims in India will be included in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) list. This will accrue them extra benefits, he said. The minister says this is necessary so that the automatic inclusion in the BPL list would ensure all benefits of Central and state-sponsored schemes like Indira Awas Yojna, NREGS, old-age pension, special loans etc. These are over and above Sachar and Ranganath".
The RSS mouthpiece further adds in its editorial: "They are not interested in the progress of India or the welfare of minorities. What they want to do for the Muslims, these days they cloak under the subtitle 'minority', so as to camouflage and deceive the Hindus. The Muslims should be protesting for characterising all of them as living below poverty line. No self-respecting community would accept that sobriquet."
In an opinion piece titled "There should only be one identity. That is Indian" Arif Mohammed Khan writes: "India has always nourished and cherished diversities in matters of faith, language, customs and rites to the extent that one of our great sages Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa declared 'yat mat tat path' meaning: 'There are as many ways as there are individuals'. Our civilisational heritage has declared in most emphatic terms that 'the Reality is One and those who know it describe it variously'... If for more than hundred years of its domination, the British government pursued a policy of encouraging group identities and used them to strengthen its power, it was understandable. What is strange is that even now the political establishment has not totally jettisoned the methods of the colonial masters".
He adds in his piece: "The past experience is that whenever the government shows some special concern towards the welfare of one group of people, particularly Muslims, then it is mostly part of a strategy of political management of a constituency rather than uplift of the community. Whether it is Sachar Committee or Ranganath Mishra Commission, these are constituted on the eve of some political event like state elections... The consequence of Mishra Commission recommendations, if accepted, shall be that the Muslim backwards who today constitute almost 30 per cent of Mandal Commission beneficiaries shall be grouped with their more advanced coreligionists and forced to compete with them. Today whatever benefits they enjoy is on the basis of backwardness applicable to all without distinction of religion. This certainly does not enhance the consciousness as a religious community. On the other hand, Mishra Commission's recommendations are a sure recipe to enhance 'religious community consciousness', engendering reaction among others and opening up a new Pandora's box of communal and divisive politics".
He further writes: "I consider it a duty of every patriotic Indian to oppose any recommendations or measures that have divisive potential. Mishra Commission must be opposed because it will open the way to reduce India into a confederation of mutually-warring religious communities. It must be opposed because it will give impetus to the rat race where each religious community shall strive to secure for itself special secular rights and privileges which it shall deny to others. Mishra Commission must be opposed because it will once again release the Frankenstein of communal politics that has harmed India enough already".
IT WAS THE FOREIGN HAND
S.M. Krishna and Gen. Deepak Kapoor are back in Delhi after their official visits to Nepal. Krishna promised all help leaving it to the Nepalese to decide its kind in the completion of the peace process and that of constitution writing. But this visit also marked the high pitched anti-Indian tirade launched by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), with its chairman Prachanda announcing that India is out to use the Nepal army to expand its "hegemonic and expansionist design" in Nepal.
There may not be too many takers and widespread support to the Prachanda line of nationalism, with anti-Indianism as the most dominant dimension of it, but the failure of India's Nepal policy in the past four years, is something widely talked about and acknowledged in Nepal. After all, it was India that's generally perceived and officially acknowledged by none other than Pranab Mukherjee as having brought Nepali Maoists and the pro-democracy parties together on the pro-republic agenda. There are political parties and a section of the Nepali intelligentsia that believes that involving Nepali people in fundamental shifts from monarchy to republic, from Hindu Nepal to secularism and from unitary to federalism was a mistake, and they have started blaming the key Nepali actors as well as India. And India bashing gets further legitimacy after the man India pampered, promoted and patronised all this while said publicly and literally that India treats Nepal like a colony. S.M. Krishna may have tried to politely deny Prachanda's charge when the two met, but that has not stopped Prachanda from continuing with his campaign.
Nepal's peace process is fragile, and its inability to have the new constitution promulgated by the May 28 deadline is not only likely to bring Nepal's legitimacy into question in the world outside, but internally there will be questions raised about the validity of the changes that the 2006 mass movement brought about. Maoists have already said India wants President Rambaran Yadav to takeover with the help of the Nepal army, but that seems neither constitutionally nor practically feasible. In brief, chances of fundamental shifts look hard to institutionalise.
Prachanda's anti-India campaign, on the face of it, may look like something inspired and endorsed by China, but he is certainly banking on the value of anti-Indian propaganda that sells in Nepal. China's growing presence in Nepal and its insistence in a treaty of peace and friendship signed with Nepal (almost at par with the one that exists between Nepal and India) is telling. By discarding his long association with Baburam Bhattarai, the party's ideologue and main architect of the Maoist and pro-democracy parties alliance in close consultation with India, Prachanda indicates that he is keen to form a new political alliance in Nepal provided China supports and endorses it.
In that move, Prachanda is smartly trying to bring together all the individuals if not parties who for one reason or the other are unhappy with India. Nepali Congress leader G.P. Koirala has of late, been in favour of China and India working jointly on Nepal's political stability. But all these moves appear tactical to usurp power.
Bhattarai has taken up cudgels against Prachanda, but he has also made his prime ministerial ambitions clear and public. When Prachanda was blaming India, Baburam declared from another platform that neither the peace process nor the constitution-writing will be completed within the deadline without Maoists heading the government. And certainly, he was speaking for himself this time. Gen. Kapoor and Minister Krishna's assessment and the anti-Indianism they saw in Nepal may influence their respective institutions that India's Nepal policy needs a thorough review. But it is perhaps time that Delhi at least lets Nepalis know what was the commitment it secured from the Maoists in private and orally before it initiated drastic policy changes. From G.P. Koirala to Prachanda, the visible faces that assembled in Delhi to sign the 12-point agreement that talked about a peaceful, democratic, republican and economically-prosperous Nepal, are now pointing their fingers towards Delhi for all that has gone wrong.
HIKE AND PAY
The general consensus among market participants and researchers tracking the macroeconomy seems to believe that RBI will begin a tightening of monetary policy in earnest in its quarterly review on Friday. For the majority, the only suspense that remains is whether RBI will hike only the CRR, or whether it will also hike repo and reverse repo rates. It is our considered view, expressed on a number of occasions in these columns, that it is still too early to begin a monetary tightening. Of course, RBI must worry about inflation but before it tries to fix the problem it must diagnose its precise cause. It seems amply clear that inflation is still being driven by high food prices, which are a supply side phenomenon. There is no strong evidence as of now, as is also argued by our columnist on the left today, of inflationary expectations taking serious hold in the rest of the economy. Instead, what there is, is strong evidence of the still nascent stage of the economic recovery. That is what should still take primacy in RBI's thinking, not inflation.
The global economic environment on growth remains uncertain. The West may have statistically come out of recession but recovery lies some months away. China has already begun a monetary tightening to arrest asset bubblesthat will take a toll on growth. In India, there isn't a convincing case on asset bubbles eitherforeign inflows, which had been of concern, don't seem to be showing any significant surge. Importantly, if the West continues to stutter and China slows down, we will have to rely on internal sources for propelling growth. But for the moment there is little indication of overheating in Indiagrowth in bank credit continues to be significantly below the targeted rate. Industry may be showing impressive growth in recent IIP figures but the low base of the previous year must be factored in before we pronounce a complete recovery. Also, the role of fiscal and monetary stimulus in driving this growth should not be blanked outit isn't clear if industry can maintain this rate if the fiscal and monetary stimulus is withdrawn. In terms of exit, there may indeed be a strong case to withdraw sector-specific fiscal stimulusauto, for example, is doing well enough not to be accorded a tax concession. However, auto's boom has been driven more by lower interest rates on loans than tax concessions. And a monetary tightening will only kill demand that has been building up. So, the best decision RBI can make at Friday's review is to do nothingstatus quo for a while longer is necessary to keep the growth momentum going.
MAKING SENSE OF SENSEX
In just six trading sessions, the benchmark BSE Sensex has now lost close to 1,200 points. On Wednesday, bears completely weighed in on the markets with the Sensex shedding around 500 pointsthe biggest single day fall since August last year. How does this slide tie in with the impressive third quarter corporate results that have largely showed robust topline growth across industries? For one, a potential hike in interest rates may have dampened sentiments. Indian markets are gradually factoring in the risk of tighter monetary policy as a Bloomberg poll of market analysts shows they have dropped their 'buy' ratings to 49% of the total recommendations, the lowest level since 1997 and down from 59% last year. Second, concerns remain on the profitability of companies in the quarters to come because of the steep hike in commodity prices, which are now building pressure on operating margins of companies. Stocks of metal, auto and consumer goods have taken a major beating at the boursesthese were the stocks that saw a major rebound last year and companies in these sectors have been reporting an all-time high bottom line growth this past quarter. Basically the earnings cue is over for them; the market is pricing the stocks on expected future returns amid costlier funds and possible withdrawal of tax cuts. Investors are taking their money off the table. This is also visible in the sell-off in the bond market, though it recovered slightly on Wednesday.
Local concerns aside, global cues also played a part in the slide of the markets amid concerns that China will curb bank lending to prevent any inflationary shock and mounting speculation that the US Federal Reserve may soon consider raising interest rates. The Obama proposals on banking regulation have also sent markets tumbling this past week. In India, of course, it is reasonable to assume that after a huge run-up in stock prices and earnings, there would be some scope for investor fatigue. The government hasn't announced any major reform measures thus far and disinvestment is still a piece of work in progress. The markets will now look for positive cues from the budget especially on indirect taxes, but also on other reform announcements. On the FIIs front, there is clearly some regional selling in India, which is also affecting domestic institutional investors demand. The year 2010, for now, therefore looks tepid for Sensex, which had reported an 81% return last yearthe second best in two decadesas investors decide to likely limit their exposure to what are perceived to be somewhat overvalued markets.
IN THE INTEREST OF RECOVERY, KEEP RATES LOW
While markets seem to be anticipating policy rate increases at the third quarter review of the RBI's 2009-10 monetary policy, we have a contrarian view, arguing that a status quo at this juncture has merit. The main point is that the channels for a policy tightening getting traction on containing inflationary expectations remain unclear, while the potentially adverse effects on a latent economic recovery are much more concrete.
First, the central issue of inflation. While making it amply clear that the current inflationary pressures are largely driven by food prices, there is an increasingly divergent viewpoint that this is likely to diffuse into 'core' inflation. The first mechanism is through the indexation of part of salary increases to cost of living indices and through negotiated attempts to protect real wages. This is the standard wage-cost spiral and the phenomenon that central bankers fear and try to fight against. But the root cause of this will be rising prices of manufactured products.
Analysts point out that manufactured products now comprise an increasingly larger share in WPI inflation. True, but till now a large part of this increase is due to prices of manufactured foods. Will price pressures now start spreading to other manufactured components via prices of fuel, metals and industrial commodities, as India's economic recovery gains strength? It is here that the causation starts getting weaker. India largely remains a price taker in these commodities, with domestic prices driven more by global demand and supply imbalances than by Indian conditions. Most certainly, a rapid increase in Indian demand conditions will increase prices of steel and cement. But this is not likely to be sustainable. For instance, we have heard for some time now of a burgeoning excess capacity of cement plants. Unless there is a liquidity-fuelled rally in, say, crude, global inventories and demand is likely to remain contained in the near future. Why?
The global environment seems to have deteriorated surprisingly rapidly. It is now clear that growth will be very weak in the developed markets in 2010, and policy authorities in China will actively seek to moderate the seemingly reckless credit growth that has become a support for at least an Asian and Oceania recovery. If this call is correct, it is quite obvious that India's export markets are not going to be helped until well into 2010.
Is India's domestic recovery on a sound footing? A large component of the current growth is derived from public spending. Revenue expenditures have increased consumption spends, plan expenditures on infrastructure and Capex. This fiscal component will not be terribly jolted by a tightened monetary policy, although the costs to the government for this delivery will increase, as explained below.
What might be the adverse impacts of a tightened monetary policy? First, the increasing cost of funds for borrowers. A 50 basis points (bps) CRR combined with a 25 bps reverse repo hike is sure to raise short-term rates by around 50 bps, even factoring in the expectations that bonds markets have already priced in interest rates. Back of envelope calculations indicate that with Rs 30-odd lakh crore of bank credit outstanding, a large part of which is subject to rate resets, a 50 bps increase in cost of funds is likely to increase borrowing costs by over Rs 10,000 crore per year. Bank credit is about two-thirds of domestic funds that borrowers access. Then, add the direct additional cost of Rs 3,000 crore for central and state government borrowings in 2010-11, due to rising interest rates.
The added cost to borrowers might also have larger systemic ramifications. In a relatively weak credit environment, higher debt repayment burdens might result in increasing stressed assets for the financial sector, further constraining credit delivery, partially due to higher capital sequestering.
Bank credit and government spending bring us to the third critical decision factorliquidity. The broadest operational measure, M3, had increased at 17% at mid-January, the lowest growth since 2005. This is both due to low bank credit growth and very tepid RBI intervention in currency markets (foreign capital inflows do not per se increase domestic liquidity; only central bank intervention does). The more relevant measure for liquidity, which manifests itself in banking LAF surpluses, is the high-powered reserve money, M0, whose growth is down to 15%, also the 2005 levels.
Bank LAF surpluses have come down from Rs 1.2 lakh crore levels in early December to around Rs 77,000 crore today, probably due partly to increasing credit and as a response to regulatory disapproval of parking funds with mutual funds. A small part of this is needed as a frictional cushion over the fortnightly funds regulatory management cycle for banks. Over and above this, a prospective increase in a requirement of funds, both for private credit offtake and government borrowings (front-loaded in FY11), requires a buffer in bank funds.
There will be multiple other impacts, via exchange rates, risk aversion, and second and third order effects. In this environment, the case for a pre-emptive increase in policy rates is considerably weakened.
The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal
INDUSTRY IS GROWING, BUT NOT SPEEDING
The economic indicators announced in the last month or so have been very encouraging. The IIP growth number for the first eight months of the year was 7.6% with growth in November being 11.7%. In fact, in the last six months, the month-on-month rate has exceeded 7% and crossed the double-digit mark thrice. Exports have started showing an about-turn, though just for one month. But, given that the world economy is improving, there is reason to believe that all may be well. However, the industrial picture begs certain questions that need to be answered.
The first is that the closest indicator of industrial growth, bank credit, has not exhibited a parallel picture. Growth in bank credit is sluggish at 8.8% for the first nine months of the year as against 12.5% last year. Either industry does not demand the funds or banks are not lending easilyeither way the result is that growth is low. This quick indicator of industrial activity does not quite gel with the numbers witnessed in the real sector.
The second is that growth in bank deposits, which still constitute around 45-50% of domestic household savings, is down at 9.8% as against 11.7% last year. This is a proxy indicator for investment taking place as savings get translated into investment. As this number is low, there is some concern here, even though in terms of equity raised in the market, the picture is more sanguine at Rs 87,146 crore in the first nine months of the year as against Rs 30,517 crore last year.
The third concern here on the industrial front is that the corporate performance is not what it should be. Detailed information on corporate performance for the third quarter, and hence the first nine months, would be available only after February. But, if one looks at the first six months' performance of industry and the corporate performance, there is a disconnect.
Industrial growth has been moderately high at 6.3%; but according to RBI's latest study on financial performance of companies for the first half of FY10, sales for a sample of 1,752 manufacturing companies had declined by -1.6% while net profits were up by 9.6%. Curiously, profits increased mainly due to the sharp cuts in raw material costs by 9.3%. Stocks, too, had registered a sharp decline during this period. Hence, it is difficult to reconcile declining sales and stocks with growing production.
A similar picture is witnessed at the disaggregated industry level, where sales growth in industries such as chemicals, paper, rubber and machinery was lower than the equivalent IIP growth numbers. This is really a conundrum for interpretation because the IIP numbers that show production growth are not getting reflected in the sales performance.
Another related factor that provides important support to industrial growth is the electricity sector. This number has been relatively low at 6.1% in the first eight months and at 3.3% as of November. Typically, the power sector output should be rising dynamically with that in manufacturing.
The fourth anomaly in the industrial performance can be viewed from the sharp decline in non-oil imports. This is again significant because normally any growth recovery in the economy must get reflected in higher imports. Normally one would expect imports of raw materials and capital goods to increase to support industrial growth. This is not yet visible and the growth rate as late as November has been negative. The consolation here is that the decline in imports has been low at 6% as against double-digit rates during the year.
The fifth indicator of state of industry is the movement in prices. Growth of manufactured segment prices is still low at around 5%, which comes down further to around less than half per cent if food products are excluded. Normally when industrial growth picks up, prices also increase for two reasons. The first is the demand factor that pulls up prices. The other is high manufactured goods inflation is a precondition for industrial growth to take place. The absence of such price increases is again not supportive of the growth hypothesis.
The last anomaly that cannot be fully reconciled is tax collections. For the first eight months of the year, corporate tax collections increased by 6.6%. However, customs & excise collections were down at 31.2% and 20%, respectively. Quite clearly, the tax payments have not been coming in at the same pace of production. While lower tax rates could be part of the explanation, even in the last two months the drop in excise collections is significantthis was the time when rates were relaxed by the government in 2008.
Given these anomalies in related scenarios, it may be prudent to wait and watch before being convinced that industry is really back on its feet.
The author is chief economist at NCDEX Ltd. Views are personal
MARUTI BEATS SUZUKI
Maruti Suzuki India has pipped its parent company Suzuki Motor Corporation (SMC) of Japan in annual vehicle production in 2009. But this is not very surprising. This development is in line with SMC's strategy to ensure that developing countries are utilised as bases that serve both domestic as well as export markets. The low cost of manufacturing in India lends weight to this strategy.
The development provides, however, a clear reflection of the rapidly changing dynamics of the global auto industry. It takes place against the backdrop of demand shrinkages in developed countries in the aftermath of the global economic recession. While the Japanese auto market shrank 10% last year, the Indian market grew at about 19%. Such a trend can also be attributed to the extremely low penetration levels in developing countries like India and China.
It makes better sense to manufacture in India and then export out of this country. For one, various state governments like Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand are offering huge incentives to auto giants to set up facilities in a sector that is highly labour-intensive and also a huge contributor to the overall government kitty.
The growing popularity of Indian designers and engineers has also resulted in some of the leading auto manufacturers setting up large R&D centres in the country in order to centralise their entire operations. No wonder we have global products being designed and manufactured in India and the latest is the RIII concept showcased by Maruti Suzuki India at the recently concluded Auto Expo.
All this makes the India story really attractive. Players who have recently begun eyeing our market because of its huge growth potential include Ford, Honda Siel, Toyota Kirloskar, Renault and Nissan. While Ford will use India as an export base for Figo, Honda and Toyota will launch their global small cars in 2012 and will eventually export from here. Renault and Nissan are jointly developing an ultra low-cost car in association with Bajaj Auto. All these companies are betting big on these small beauties to enhance their global presence.
SRI LANKAN DENOUEMENT
Mahinda Rajapaksa's victory in Sri Lanka's presidential election has exceeded all expectations, including the most optimistic projections made within the President's camp on the basis of hard-nosed pre-election opinion polls. The 17.73 percentage point margin of win is a reaffirmation of the maturity and good sense of ordinary voters who, given a choice between an experienced political leader in the saddle and an unpredictable adventurer sponsored by an unnatural combination of political irreconcilables, made it a virtual no-contest at the national level. The divergence in the voting behaviour of the Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority was as striking as it was expected; in turnout as well as choice of candidate, they behaved as polar opposites. This gives us a measure of the trust gap in the polity that needs to be bridged if Sri Lanka is to do well in future. Unfortunately, the election was also unusually bitter, with unsubstantiated allegations, personal attacks, and conspiracy theories flying thick and fast and the challenger, retired General Sarath Fonseka, introducing a paranoid note into the campaigning.
Everybody knew in advance that it was the successful ending of the 26-year-old civil war and the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a politico-military formation that had pre-determined the character of a presidential election brought forward by two years. Everybody also knew that Army Commander Fonseka commanded the respect of his men and had a reputation for professionalism as long as he stayed a soldier. The problem was that, from time to time, he crossed the lines and betrayed vaingloriousness, chauvinism, foot-in-the-mouth disease symptoms, and hints of political ambition. The last thing Sri Lanka needed at this juncture was yet another South Asian variant of Bonapartism, or any more politicisation of the military that we have witnessed in recent months. Instead of waging a good political and ideological fight, the combined forces of the Opposition the centre-right United National Party, the ultra-left Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the minor league Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana wing), and the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance showed appalling political judgment in lining up behind a candidate whose agenda for change was so vague, so empty-headed, and so self-contradictory that it made no political sense and, in fact, damaged the credibility of his sponsors. It is by no means clear that a serious UNP candidate like Ranil Wickramasinghe would have fared worse than General Fonseka, who is not even a registered voter, in a presidential contest. After this drama, politics in the island can return to a more normal state ahead of parliamentary elections, which are due in April 2010. The hope is that the campaigning will be on real issues, most importantly, a just and sustainable political solution to the Tamil question based on genuine devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka, and revitalisation and development of the war-ravaged areas of the North.
In the most recent update of its World Economic Outlook, the IMF is distinctly more upbeat on the prospects of the global economy than at any time during the past two crisis-ridden years. Economic recovery across the globe is faster than previously estimated. From a negative growth in 2009, the world economy is projected to grow by 3.9 per cent this year and by 4.3 per cent in 2011. The IMF has revised upwards almost all its forecasts made in October 2009, quite substantially in many cases. For instance, in October it had projected the world economy to grow by just 3.1 per cent. In keeping with the observation that has become fairly routine in reports of world bodies including the IMF and the World Bank, China and India are in the forefront of the recovery, with a projected growth rate of 10 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively in 2010 and 9.7 per cent and 7.8 per cent in 2011.
In contrast, the advanced economies will grow by just 2.1 per cent this year. This certainly will be a vast improvement over 2009, which saw a contraction. But it is not good enough to warrant a roll-back of the strong policy-backed stimulus measures. On the positive side, consumption has been unexpectedly strong, especially in the United States. An appetite for risk is re-emerging and equity markets have rebounded in many countries. In the industrial countries, inflation is not an immediate threat and investor confidence is picking up. But high unemployment rates, rising public debt and, in some countries, weak household balance sheets pose major challenges to recovery. The recovery has been helped by the corrective steps the central banks and governments have taken. But, sooner than later, private demand will have to take over. A withdrawal of these measures in the immediate future carries the danger of pushing these countries back into a recession. Given the fragile nature of recovery, fiscal policies need to be supportive of economic activity in the near term and the fiscal stimulus planned for 2010 should be implemented. However, in the face of mounting fiscal deficits that may not be sustainable very much longer, many countries are already planning appropriate exit strategies. Given the varying pace of recovery, the retreat has to be timed and calibrated according to the situation obtaining in each country.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
'CRIME FICTION IS ABOUT SOCIAL INEQUALITY'
IAN RANKININ CONVERSATION WITHPRAKASH KARATABOUT THE REBUS NOVELS, NEW TRENDS IN CRIME FICTION WRITING, POLITICS IN INDIA, AND MORE.
Ian Rankin is the best-selling writer of crime fiction in the United Kingdom, accounting for 10 per cent of all its crime book sales. The Edinburgh-based Scottish writer is best known for his 17-novel series featuring Inspector Rebus, which has been translated into 22 languages and won him a worldwide following. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who studied political science at Edinburgh University, describes himself as an "avid Rankin fan." He has read every Rankin novel and has impressive knowledge about recent trends in crime fiction. The Hindu arranged for a conversation between the writer and his fan in Chennai, with the help of the British Council. Like a Rankin novel with multiple plotlines that encompass many ideas, the discussion covered subjects from crime fiction writing to politics in India.
Prakash Karat: It's a pleasure to meet you. I have read all the books in which [Inspector] Rebus figures. What accounts for the phenomenal popularity of Rebus?
Ian Rankin: I wish I knew. Because then I could pass the information on to other people. The books weren't successful in the beginning. The first book came and went and it was hardly reviewed by anybody and sold very few copies. It wasn't put forward for any prizes.
Karat: That was Knots and Crosses.
Rankin: Knots and Crosses. It didn't even get shortlisted for the Best First Crime Novel of the Year Award. Then I brought Rebus back. That was meant to be just the one book. It was never meant to be a series. But I brought him back because I got intrigued by his character. I found him quite a complex individual with a lot of problems and of course that makes somebody interesting to write about. But the books were still very unsuccessful right up until Black and Blue, which was I think book number eight or nine in the [Rebus] series and something like my 14th or 15th novel.
It just clicked. It sold four times as many copies as previous books. Word of mouth helped. A lot of booksellers were very good. People would come in and say, 'I'm looking for a crime novel.' 'Oh, have you tried this guy' or 'If you like Ruth Rendell, you may like Ian Rankin' and that was useful as well.
And the books became better and better as I learnt the craft. So the books did get better. So I guess all the early novels were an apprenticeship and the apprenticeship was leading to Black and Blue.
Karat: Like Rebus, you belong to the coal-mining country or working-class Scotland. How much of that has pervaded your books?
Rankin: A fair amount, I think. Rebus's background or upbringing is very important. It is what made him. He's a self-made man. Unlike me, he didn't go to college or university. He represents the way my life could have gone. My parents were working class. My dad worked in a dockyard. My mum worked in a factory canteen serving up food. They never owned their own house. They never had a car. They didn't do much travelling. And I was the first member of my family to go to university.
By the mid-Seventies, the coal mines were finished, mining was uneconomic. So the time we grew up in Cardenden was depressed and a lot of people were out of work. And about the only jobs that were available were with the police or the armed forces. Rebus does both. He starts off leaving school at 15 and joining the armed forces and then when he leaves under a cloud, he eventually gets taken on as a police officer. So maybe that is me saying this was the alternative life waiting for me, if I hadn't been the black sheep of the family and gone to university.
Karat: You introduced Rebus and policing in Knots and Crosses. How did you get interested in police affairs or police work?
Rankin: I wasn't interested in crime fiction. I am the only crime writer I know who wasn't a fan of crime fiction before I became a crime writer. What interested me is what a police officer could do the access that was available to him. I wrote to the Chief of Police in Edinburgh, 'I'm writing my first novel and it's about a detective and can you help me?' He sent me to a police station in Edinburgh, where two detectives were waiting. Sadly for me, it turned out that the plot of my first novel, Knots and Crosses, was very similar to a real crime they were investigating at that moment. So in my first foray in research I became a suspect in a murder inquiry! The first Rebus novel I did research. Two, three, four, I didn't do any research. And it wasn't until a detective came up to get a book signed, at a book shop in Edinburgh, and said, 'Ian, I like your books but you make some procedural mistakes,' that I started to get the details right. He became a friend and he became a good source of information.
Karat: I studied at Edinburgh University in the late Sixties. In your books, Edinburgh is so different from the popular perception of being a picture postcard city. You write about the underbelly of Edinburgh the criminal enterprises, the gangs. That comes as a surprise to many people who don't know Edinburgh. Was Edinburgh like this some 30 or 40 years ago, or has it become like this now?
Rankin: That was part of my original intention. I started writing stories, poems and eventually novels about Edinburgh to try and make sense of the city. This was at a time in the early Eighties, when Edinburgh had the worst per capita problem with heroin and AIDS/HIV in Europe. But nobody was discussing it, nobody was writing about it, and nobody seemed to be trying to change the situation. Edinburgh also had housing estates that were so run down. The politicians didn't seem to be doing anything about it. When you arrive in Edinburgh, if you arrive in the centre, it's almost like Disneyland. You know, there are monuments, museums, the castle, the history, the tradition Old Edinburgh, tourist Edinburgh, is ringed by problem areas that the tourist never has to see. What I really wanted to say to people was that Edinburgh was a more complex city than you think, and that it's a city that despite appearances has a lot of social issues and problems. And again, crime fiction is perfect for discussing those problems.
Karat: Crime fiction as a genre is now doing very well. And you and Henning Mankell in Sweden and Michael Connelly in the United States have been at the forefront of this new breed of crime fiction writers over the last two decades. Is crime fiction being taken more seriously?
Rankin: It is being taken more seriously than it was previously. But it is still the case in some cultures, and the U.K. is one of them, there is still a certain literary snobbery. A lot of people won't read crime fiction, because they think it means Miss Marple it means obscure poisons used to kill the cardinal in the billiard room. I'm afraid crime fiction has moved a long way from there now. What I like about crime fiction is the sense of place. You are right to mention Michael Connelly and Henning Mankell. If I want to find out about contemporary Sweden or contemporary Los Angeles, I will go to these writers. Not to the literary writers, but the crime writers.
The situation has changed in perceptions about crime fiction, because crime writers are writing better and better books that deal with serious issues and big moral questions. The quality of writing has improved since the early days of crime fiction and I think the moral core of the books is stronger than ever. So I think because better writers are writing crime fiction, doing it with more serious intent, it is being taken seriously. You can now study my novels in high school in Scotland. There are various literary courses at the universities in the U.K and beyond where you can study crime fiction. This is a good example of how the situation has changed. There is a Professor of English at the St. Andrews University who has written a book about my books. Thirty years ago, when I went as a young man to the University of St. Andrews, in my final year at high school, to ask them what modern literature would I study here as a student, the answer straight-faced, no irony was John Milton. Paradise Lost! That was modern. Now you can study the novels of Ian Rankin. So there have been changes, and the changes in academia will eventually translate into changes in popular perception. And then the prizes will start to consider the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer in America will start to consider crime fiction.
Karat: I've read a book on Black and Blue, written by Gill
Rankin: Gill Plain! The very person I'm thinking of!
Karat: Oh I see, right (laughs). Are we going to have to get used to a world without Rebus now that you've retired him?
Rankin: I don't know. I mean the Rebus series did something fairly unusual in crime fiction allowed the detective to age in real time. You get very little sense that Poirot or Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes or many previous characters in crime fiction get older or learn from the experiences, learn from the cases they're involved in. I knew that Rebus would be changed by every case he worked on and also I wanted him to live in real time, so that I could trace the way Edinburgh was changing over time. I couldn't see how the city could change and the main characters remain exactly the same. So come 2007, when he was 60, he had to retire, because that is the retirement age for detectives in Scotland. This was problematic for me because I didn't feel I'd finished with him, and he didn't want to retire. But he had to. I've since learned that there are various ways that he can come back.
Karat: In your books there's always something about the contemporary situation, about politics. So what exactly is your politics?
Rankin: Well, a television interviewer tried to find out a while ago. I was going to go on a show called 'Question Time,' which has mostly politicians on the panel and people ask them questions. They interviewed me for an hour before the show to try and discover my politics. And they said, 'It's very difficult Mr. Rankin, very difficult. In some ways you're liberal, in some ways you're slightly to the right, and in others you're quite far to the left.' That's how I feel; like a lot of people, I think, I slide between issues and I slide between parties. I think it's possible to like one MP and think that you agree with them but you don't agree with their party. I guess I'm independent if I'm anything, and I want to feel independent. But the closest friendships I have in politics are with the Left, from Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, to Alistair Darling, who's currently in charge of the Treasury, who lives very near me in Edinburgh, to the local MPs and MSPs [Members of the Scottish Parliament]. But I also know liberal MPs and MSPs, and one or two on the right, one or two Conservatives, not too many.
Karat: I think a good crime fiction writer cannot be right-wing. All of them deal with real problems in society and being right-wing, I imagine, would make them look at issues in purely black-and-white terms.
Rankin: I think you would be surprised. I am never sure with P.D. James. If her politics is to the right, centre-right, I think. She's in the House of Lords. Ruth Rendell sits in the House of Lords on the Labour benches. P.D. James, I think, is a cross-bencher, which means she isn't affiliated to one particular party. In America, I know several crime writers who are quite right-wing, I mean several Republicans. James Ellroy, I think you would find if you talk to him, he would be Republican.
Karat: He likes your books (laughs).
Rankin: I know he likes my books (laughs). But you don't need to like the person's politics to like his books! You don't need to like the writer sometimes to like his books. In the U.K., a thriller writer like Jeffery Archer is a Conservative politician. And Frederick Forsyth, very famously, is also of the right.
Karat: But they are thriller writers.
Rankin: You are right, thriller writers. Thriller writers in the U.S. tend to be right-wing. That is an interesting distinction perhaps.
Karat: You have been in India now for a few days. Do you think there is a serious readership for crime fiction? You have met quite a lot of people in different places now.
Rankin: Well, I would say there is. I have had very good audiences, very passionate audiences who not only know my work but know the work of my contemporaries and of course other writers from round the world. There is now a burgeoning crime fiction scene, there are young writers in India beginning to write crime novels. I have picked up a couple of them that I will read when I get home. I think crime fiction is almost like a product of capitalism. It's about social inequality. Why do people do bad things to each other? Much of the time, it's economic. It's to do with basic human nature greed, a sense of injustice, other people having things that you want, a sense of grievance that something's happened at work. That's what I like about crime fiction specifically. It tells us that the civilised world is just a veneer, a very thin veneer. And the things that tie us together as a society can be torn apart at any second torn apart by domestic terrorism, by international terrorism, by uprisings, by disasters that are human-made like the earthquake in Haiti. It took only a few days for the veneer to break down, and for people to start fighting each other for food and looting. We do have the potential for goodness, the potential to do wonderful things. But we all have the potential to do bad things. That's why I am fascinated by Jekyll and Hyde. All my books are really about reworking the basic theme of human beings containing within them the ability to do terrible things as well as good things.
Karat: Do you have anything to ask me about Indian politics? Or the Left in India?
Rankin: Indian politics, I'm only just beginning to scratch the surface. It's such a huge country. I have been asking people there must be distinction between national politics and regional politics. Because with a country this size, I think you can't have a centrist approach. Different areas will have different [characteristics]. Then you're very dependent on the people working locally. Do you have a popular grassroots approach?
Karat: There is a very strong trend working for a more federal India. Because the real India is in the various States. We have a wide variety of regional politics and regional parties. Here in Tamil Nadu, for example, the governments have been run by regional parties for more than four decades. None of the national parties has been able to win elections here. At the centre, you have to have coalition governments because the regional parties also have a lot of clout in their own States. The Left has its own spheres of influence; we have three State governments. Therefore, it's become more decentralised in one sense. At the same time, it is still, according to us, too highly centralised and we want more decentralisation, more autonomy for the different States. It's ongoing work, to try and restructure the Indian state.
Rankin: What I'm very impressed by is that India actually works. Because you've got different cultures, different religions, people of different political colour, all trying to work in this huge vibrant country. As technology comes in, as the middle class becomes established, a much broader middle class than used to exist, I think some vast changes are under way in this country and it's up to the politicians to keep it together.
Karat: We've just done 60 years as a Republic today. We have a democratic system which works, at least. We've made it work in these last 60 years. I think that's the biggest achievement.
Rankin: That's fantastic. Scotland has just had devolution for 10 years. We've got a certain amount of autonomy from the government in London. And we've got a nationalist party in power for the first time ever in Scotland, which would very much like to take Scotland forward to full-scale independence. I mean, that's the whole reason a nationalist party exists. People in Scotland seem to be very happy with the way the nationalists are running the country as part of a devolved government. They don't seem to be so happy with the notion of independence.
INSURGENCIES IN MANIPUR: POLITICS & IDEOLOGY
THE PEOPLE OF MANIPUR HAD 'HISTORIES' AND 'MEMORIES' THAT WERE LONGER AND DEEPER THAN THOSE OF MOST OTHER INDIANS WHEN INDIA ATTAINED INDEPENDENCE.
Every time one travels to Manipur, one returns humbled. This has been the case since my first visit in the late 1960s, long before becoming a journalist. Active insurgency was not even on the horizon then though some resentment against 'India' was evident. Between 1983 when I joined this paper and mid-1994, I visited the State at least once every year more than once during some years. In the last eight years I have returned four times. The feeling of inadequacy to confront and understand the complex situation in Manipur, the whys and wherefores of the insurgencies (the plural is advisedly used), the resilience of the ordinary people whose amazing creative energies thrive in the midst of all the pain and violence manifest in every walk of life, has only increased.
Thirty-eight years ago, on January 21, 1972, Manipur became a full-fledged State of the Indian Union. The status was conferred belatedly and grudgingly, a most underwhelming gift. In the popular perception, this was no big deal. Manipur in its historical imagination was an "independent kingdom" since 1st century AD. Its people had 'histories' and 'memories,' longer and deeper than those of most other Indian people when India attained independence. The use of the plurals is necessary, for this historical imagination is not commonly and equally cherished by all the peoples of Manipur. While the Meiteis, the majority inhabiting the Imphal Valley, shares these histories and memories, the peoples in the outlying Hills cherish other memories, other histories.
In reality, Manipur ceased to be an "independent kingdom" in 1891 when, following the killing of some officials who were part of the British official presence with the connivance of the Manipur court, Britain took over the Kingdom after a brief war. The Battle of Khongjam, a major battle in the conflict, is even now officially commemorated every year on April 23. Another day connected with the war, August 13, 1891, when two leading participants, Thangal General and Tikendrajit Juvaraj, were hanged in public in the heart of Imphal, is commemorated every year as Patriots' Day.
This is only one instance of the appropriation of one kind of historical imagination by the modern State of Manipur whose very legitimacy is challenged by persons and organisations that claim to be the true inheritors of that history and cherish another kind of historical imagination the insurgencies in the Imphal Valley that seek to restore the sovereign status of Manipur.
The defeat at the hands of Britain came to be accepted as part of British India's expansion to secure its eastern frontier in which the independence of Manipur became an inescapable casualty. The fact that Britain did not annex the Kingdom, as was done in the case of Assam in 1826 after defeating Burma that had invaded and ravaged Assam, also helped in the acceptance of the fiction that Manipur remained an independent kingdom, albeit under British protection. The reality was that Manipur was, for all practical purposes, just another native State with its administrative and political control limited to the Valley, with Britain administering the outlying Hill areas inhabited by tribal people. The subordinate status of the "independent kingdom" was further underlined by the presence of a British Resident.
At the time of Independence, however, some of the resentment that had remained dormant came to the fore, now that a local elite with the potential to intervene more actively was to become the successor authority in Delhi.
Two developments added to this renewed resentment, while the cherry on the top has been the virtual militarisation of the administration whose defining element is the terrifying Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). First, the circumstances under which the annexation/merger of Manipur into the Indian Union was achieved or manipulated. These did little credit to any of the participants in that squalid drama. Following the anti-feudal struggle led by the Manipur Mahasabha, among whose leaders was the legendary communist Hijam Irabot Singh, Maharaja Bodhi Singh set up a committee to draft a Constitution in March 1947. The Constitution was adopted in July 1947. Thus when the transfer of power took place in Delhi, Manipur became an independent country under a constitutional monarchy, with a Constitution of its own that provided for universal adult franchise.
Indeed, the developments between the adoption of that Constitution and the annexation/integration of Manipur into the Indian Union on October 15, 1949 as part of the process of 'Integration of Indian States' even now rankle in the historical imagination of the people, in particular the Meiteis. The resentment has been a crucial element in the ideology and politics that have animated the insurgencies in the State, though quite different perspectives of sovereignty linked to the Naga national imagination, whose first eloquent articulator was A.Z. Phizo, lie at the root of the Naga insurgency in the Naga-inhabited areas in the Hills.
There is a sub-text to this anti-feudal struggle that has contributed to the resentment as articulated by the more 'radical' of the insurgents. In parts of India, especially in those States where feudalism was most oppressive, the CPI was engaged before and after the transfer of power in militant anti-feudal struggles which in some instances, as in Telangana in Hyderabad state, became armed struggles. The participation of Irabot Singh in the anti-feudal struggle in Manipur which never became an explicit armed struggle, though the authorities were apprehensive over such a possibility, has to be seen against the larger background in which the CPI was a leading player.
When the CPI-led armed struggle persisted in Telangana even after the transfer of power, it was ruthlessly crushed. Eventually, the CPI abandoned the line and approach adopted by it, followed by significant changes in its leadership to indicate that the party had forsworn its earlier view.
In Irabot's case it was never clear if he saw the struggle against feudalism in Manipur as part of a larger 'armed
struggle' to secure 'independence' for Manipur. According to Noorul Huda, veteran communist leader of Assam who was closely involved in the political developments of those days in Manipur, "there was no evidence of Irabot opposing the merger agreement of 15 October 1949." However, in a strange reconstruction of historical imagination, Irabot is being appropriated as an icon of the separatist armed struggles for Manipur's independence.
Two, the formalisation of the ceding of the Kabaw Valley, always viewed as an integral part of Manipur, to
Burma, though Burma had been in de facto control of the territory as part of the truce negotiated after the Anglo-Burmese war of 1826. The final humiliation was the 'gifting away' of the territory to Burma by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953, during Prime Minister U Nu's visit to India.
The resentment over the formalisation of an arrangement that had been in existence since 1834 when the territory of the Kabaw Valley was leased to Burma 120 years later, may seem strange. However, it was natural when viewed in the context of anxieties over the 'territorial integrity' of the State, most dramatically demonstrated by the " June 18, 2001 uprising" in the Valley to protest against the extension of the ceasefire agreement with the NSCN (I-M) to Manipur. This again is an issue that evokes quite different responses among the majority and the minority population of tribal people inhabiting the five 'outlying' districts Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul.
While the historical imagination as evoked by the Valley-based insurgencies sees Manipur as an independent state, with its present territory intact, and with the Kabaw Valley at some point in the future incorporated into the motherland, the historical imagination and the territorial imperative of the Naga insurgency necessarily involves the disintegration of the present territory of Manipur.
The totality of these perspectives, involving conflicting constructions of the historical imagination covering the last 60 years, animates the ideology and politics of the Valley-based insurgencies in Manipur, that its people have been "at war with India" since 1949.
FRANCE: ATTACK ON THE VEIL IS A HUGE BLUNDER
After more than six months straining to convince itself of the immense, nationwide danger of a phenomenon that involves fewer than 0.1 per cent of France's Muslim population, a parliamentary committee yesterday recommended the banning of the full veil in many of France's public places. There is nothing eccentric about asking why they are getting so bothered.
As usual, when France confronts such debates, a panoply of intellectuals, politicians and artists gasp their indignation over an alleged assault on 'our values," wheeling out their rhetorical big guns to denounce the "philosophical scandal" of refusing to show one's face publicly.
We have been systematically treated to five justifications, all hammered home with the aim of getting the full veil banned for good: the feminist, the theological, the humanistic, the securitarian and, finally, the prophylactic. None of these justifications has been convincing. For a start, the vast majority of women concerned have clearly actively chosen to wear the veil, sometimes in the face of opposition from their family. Moreover, many see their veils as a means of expressing independence, even sometimes as a vehicle of feminine empowerment.
In the 70s, Muslim women who had recently arrived from north Africa were often kept behind suburban doors by the heavyhanded control of their husbands. Sometimes they were forced to wear the veil, but we hardly gave a damn. But, paradoxically, once the veil had emerged as a voluntary item during the 80s, visibly flaunted in the street by a new generation of determined young Frenchwomen, concern began to rise. Pseudo-feminist rhetoric cannot conceal the fact that it is indeed the voluntary veil which is being fought, and not the imposed article. As to the second, theological justification, it is almost laughable to see members of the government and the president himself arguing that such a veil is not truly Muslim, as if more knowledgeable than the Muslims themselves about the orthodox prescriptions of their own lifestyle. A peculiar facet of so-called French secularism sees government ministers assuming the fashionable role of imams.
Others will opine that one cannot be a true citizen if one hides one's face, because one is thus refusing human interaction. Yet some people wear dark glasses out of shyness or pure obnoxiousness, and nobody would think of denying them their right to humanity. The security-based objection, requiring one to bare one's face in order to have the right to pick up one's children from school, for instance, or if so required by a police patrol, is legitimate in the abstract, but only if one conveniently forgets the fact that in practice, the new generation of women among the many we have surveyed do not in fact refuse to comply.
It is no coincidence that the debate on French national identity is occurring simultaneously, for they are tactically complementary picking on Muslim women, or Muslims in general, or all immigrants, as scapegoats, so we can avoid facing our current symbolic crisis. The French are confronted every day with the declining influence of their language, art and cinema moreover the "grey panther" generation is realising that their own children could not care less, deeply enmeshed as they are in the globalisation of culture.
To compensate for such losses, people over 40 are to be heard chanting mantras about the importance of French universal values and pointing fingers at those guilty of threatening them from inside France. In fact, they are thus digging into a deep narcissistic wound, their helplessness facing globalisation and the waning of the "French exception," driving them blindly to trash our most sacred fundamental values while pretending to defend them.
Whatever form the committee's recommendation takes in law or decree, it will probably not be enforced, but a symbolic gesture, and a symbol of capitulation. The French Republic has become so weak, so morally corrupted, that it is ready to kick over its most cherished principles: liberty, equality, fraternity, on the part of the political elite, out of cynicism and petty tactics; on the part of the general public, out of irrational panic, even hatred for Muslims. The worst about all this fuss is that we are completely off target. Women donning the full veil are not against modernity but represent rather its sophisticated product, just like westernised Buddhists. The veil, surprising as this may seem, is good news for modern values. This deep western social movement is no threat to modern values, but rather vindicates the latter under unexpected aesthetic guise.
It is a massive blunder to fight this new, ultra-modern Islam. And it is not only France that is heading towards a colossal error of understanding, politically capable of spinning into historic proportions, but also Europe, the U.S., and all the other post-industrial countries, blinkered by Islamophobia, who turn out to be incapable of catching up on their own deep cultural changes and recognising their own best interests. It is a kind of collective, generational jet lag.
(Note: Raphael Liogier teaches at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques d'Aix-en-Provence and edits the Observatoire du Religieux www.world-religion-watch.org )
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's pre-Republic Day message to the nation that election candidates with criminal records should be barred from contesting would be welcomed if it was not so full of irony. The Congress party currently has 41 Members of Parliament with criminal records. It is a close second to the Bharatiya Janata which has 43 MPs with charges against them. The BJP's Sushma Swaraj agrees with the Congress president, a rare concurrence for two politicians who contested against each other once.
Practically every political party in India is similarly guilty. And, interestingly, the answer to the problem also lies with them. All they have to do is stop giving tickets to criminal candidates or to those who have criminal cases pending against them.
However, this is where politicians bring up the arguments in their own favour and create complications. Many of these cases, as they point out, are themselves politically motivated. It could be that their political rivals lodge false cases against them to trip them up. Or they could have been arrested during a political protest and this becomes a criminal charge against them.
To some extent, this argument can be understood and even tolerated. But the objection from the voting public is not about a few odd politicians taking part in dharnas and processions. We are talking about rapists, murderers and gangsters sitting in all our legislative assemblies, with impunity and impudence. We're talking about complete lack of probity, accountability and responsibility in political life.
Sonia's remark would hold more weight if she now banned all candidates with criminal pasts or records being given tickets by her political party. That would set a fine example and a standard which other parties might even be forced to emulate.
As for those politicians who are falsely accused or are involved in merely "political" crimes, they may either be sacrificed for the greater good until the scourge is satisfactorily removed from Indian political life or, alternatively, "political" crimes can be recast into some other category.
This is a very serious matter and requires serious deliberation and intent from Indian politicians. Well-meaning statements can only be applauded if they are followed up with concrete action. The Congress president can lead the way.
WORTHY OF HONOUR?
The issue of Republic Day awards has been hotly debated in the recent past and this year has been no different. The decision to give US-based Indian hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal a Padma Bhushan has landed the Congress in a soup and its spokesman Shakeel Ahmed was at a loss for words when asked to explain.
He said tainted people should not get the award and that the government should answer for its choice of Chatwal. It's not clear whether Congress disagrees with the government's choice and whether it has uncharacteristic reservations of its own. It is indeed the case that the bureaucrats and the politicians behind them who are engaged in the intricate business of drawing up the lists of awardees are not always the best of judges and their choices often fall below par. Chatwal's choice has become doubly controversial because of the alleged financial irregularities imputed to him though the hotelier has denied that there was any wrongdoing.
But the government's annual honours list, Chatwal aside, does need to be debated. For example, should badminton player Sania Nehwal have been given the Padma Shri this year? Is it too early in her career? Is it fair to give a Padma Shri to actress Rekha along with Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan who came so long after her into films? These choices may appear to be harmless but since they represent high honours given by the government of India, explanations are in order.
There is the inevitable element of partisanship and that casts a shadow on the worth of the award and that of the recipient. The general sense is that the state awards is a kind of spoils system where the party in power rewards those it wants to. It is not necessary to indulge in self-flagellation and believe that this is something that plagues Indian public life alone. In Britain, the choice for the Queen's Birthday honours is drawn up by the party in power and the biases are barely hidden. Even republican France has its system of the Legion d'honneur. There is enough controversy surrounding that as well.
At the end of the day it could be argued that there are no bad choices only debatable choices. These awards are a way in which the nation acknowledges its achievers. However, there is certainly need for improving the procedures for choosing the Padma recipients so that they are worthy of the honour bestowed on them.
NO PERMANENT PEACE
The ground is being meticulously prepared to take us up the garden path on Kashmir. No good can come of stupidity, but that is where we are being led by the US, our own government and some media groups that think this is the way to build Indo-Pak friendship.
We are told that peace will be facilitated by increased people-to-people interactions. The argument is beguiling. Look, they are simple ghazal-loving, pan-chewing people like us. Indians are always treated like royalty when we visit friends in Pakistan. So let's ignore the warmongers in our two countries who want us to remain in a permanent state of tension and talk peace.
The truth is different. The constituency for peace has always been larger in India than in Pakistan. We just want to forget about Pakistan and get on with life. This is exactly what Pakistan's mullahs and powers-that-be are counting on. And this is why we should be wary of falling into the trap. We refuse to learn from history.
If Pakistan is talking about the possibility of peace, there is only one reason: it is under intense international pressure. It needs the breather of talks to recoup its strength before launching it next covert war against India. With Obama focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan being arm-twisted to fight its own creation, the Taliban, the country is squirming. It needs time to rethink its war strategy with India which has Kashmir as the key goal. The other player in this game the US is backing Pakistan on talks for its own reasons. Obama wants to score some gains in Afghanistan in the shortest possible time. He has willy-nilly bought the Pakistani argument that India needs to make concessions on Kashmir if it is to help the US tackle the Taliban. This is a bogus argument.
Pakistan calculates that if we refuse to talk, it need not do much about the Taliban, because it can claim tension on its eastern border. If we do talk, Pakistan presumes we will have to give in somewhere. It's win-win for Pakistan, lose-lose for us.
Peacemongers in India need to remember one basic thing: Pakistan is 10 times as motivated on Kashmir than India. This makes it a dangerous peace partner. We need to ask ourselves why we think Pakistan will ever accept status quo on Kashmir now when it has not done so for 63 years? Even in 1971-72, when a defeated Pakistan had every reason to accept peace on our terms, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not give in on Kashmir. The Shimla accord was dead the minute 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war left Indian soil. Even after Pokhran-2, when a ground war should have been unthinkable, Pakistan risked one at Kargil.
We should by now have understood that Pakistan will do anything to gain Kashmir, and so peace talks are just a ruse. This does not mean we shouldn't hold talks the atmospherics of peace are important to cater to world opinion but we should always be prepared for the next round of Pakistani perfidy. Strategically, our goal should be to keep Pakistan off-balance permanently to have at least half-peace.
To have a durable peace, our focus must be different. We have to defeat the idea of Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan is that Muslims cannot live in secular society, and that wherever there is a Muslim majority, as in Kashmir, that state must be Islamic. India is built on the opposite premise. When ideologies are in conflict, only the better one should win. The problem of Kashmir is not territorial, but ideological. Kashmiri separatism is one of a piece with bigoted thinking, which is why the Pandits have been driven out through a process of ethnic cleansing. The logic is clear: once the Pandits are out of the way, the cry of azadi will never be challenged, and the whole battle will be posed as one between Hindu India and Muslim Kashmir.
To say that false ideologies must be defeated is not the same as a call to war. Nor is it a call against the people of Pakistan, or even a call to dismember it. But the war against regressive ideologies must be won decisively if the world is to become a saner place. There can be no permanent aman with a state built on wrong ideas. We have to prosecute a propaganda war the same way the Americans did during the cold war. They made no bones about the fact that they were against authoritarian communism even while they did peace deals with the USSR to avoid direct conflicts.
Friendship with an unreformed Pakistan, or accommodating its views on Kashmir, means explicit abandonment of secularism. Pakistan will settle for nothing less than the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, leaving Buddhist Ladakh and largely Hindu Jammu to us. If we accept this, we might as well accept religion as the basis of nationhood. We should have no quarrel with Hindutva, too. Is this what we want?
UNDERTRIALS WILL FINALLY TASTE FREEDOM
On January 26, in one of those nice moves that we encounter on Independence and Republic Days, the Government launched a programme to release about 2,00,000 undertrials from jails across the country. Two lakh undertrials, you gasp? Actually, we have about 3,00,000 of them locked in jail. Union law Minister Veerappa Moily has declared that two-thirds of all undertrials will be released in six months that is by July 31. Hundreds were released on Republic Day, launching this laudable process of reducing injustice delivery.
The process is simple. Undertrials who have spent more than half of the maximum prison time they could have been sentenced to if convicted would be released, if necessary on bail or on a personal bond. This would not apply to grave offences like murder or rape, and would not apply to those in preventive custody. It would be for those accused of minor offences who make up the bulk of undertrials. The security of the nation, or of you and me, would not be affected.
In fact, our security may be enhanced, because this would decongest jails and help bring criminal justice back on track. Right now, our jails are stuffed primarily with people who are innocent in the eyes of the law. About 70 per cent of those in jail are undertrials, only 30 per cent are convicted prisoners. India has one of the worst prison situations in the world perhaps the worst in a respectable democracy where appalling overcrowding leads to horrifying human rights abuses and lack of basic prison amenities, including sleeping space.
Forcing an accused, who may be innocent and is presumed to be innocent until convicted, to undergo the horrors of a protracted jail sentence undermines the law and often turns innocents into criminals. It is a serious human rights abuse, and for decades India has been trying to clear up its backlog of undertrials.
Back in 1977, the Law Commission had taken up their cause when the respected legal activist Shanti Bhushan was law minister, submitting its recommendations in 1979. More than 30 years later, the number of undertrials has tripled, their condition worsened and we are still floundering.
But committed human rights lawyers and activists keep the issue afloat. In 1996, the Supreme Court's judgement on the Common Cause petition had ordered that undertrials booked for minor offences that attract a maximum jail term of up to seven years be freed if they had been incarcerated for more than six months or a year, depending on the length of prison time they could be sentenced to. The Supreme Court directed the high courts to implement the order through criminal courts. Nothing moved. Undertrials remained locked up for years, prisons got more congested by the day.
A decade later, Parliament passed the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2005, which came into effect in 2006. This introduced Section 436A which entitled an undertrial to be released with or without sureties if he had been detained for more than half the period of imprisonment that he could be sentenced to. Those accused of an offence which could attract the death penalty did not qualify for this. Again, nothing much happened.
But now we have the prime minister, the law minister and the Chief Justice of India backing this move. Hopefully, this time the political will to free undertrials will win over the lethargy of the criminal justice system and the corruption and laziness of the administration.
Besides, now that the jails are bursting with legally innocent people (perhaps lakhs of them genuinely innocent) and there is hardly any space for convicted criminals, the government may be forced to urgently decongest jails. Demands of logistics could deliver results where the demands of justice or humanity failed.
Anyway, let's not be cynical. This is a splendid move by the law ministry. Let's hope it works this time.
NATIONAL RECONCILIATION MUST FOR SRI LANKA
The bitterly contested post-LTTE presidential election in strife-torn Sri Lanka has provided another opportunity to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to concentrate on attempts for national reconciliation and on the economic development of the island-nation. During his first tenure as President, which began in 2005, he earned the reputation of running a government knee-deep in corruption and nepotism. This was highlighted by his challenger, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, during the campaigning, but in vain. Mr Rajapaksa won nearly 59 per cent of the votes cast on Tuesday because of his emergence as a hero for successfully leading the fight against the LTTE. Mr Fonseka's claim that he was the real hero, as it was he who commanded the army that eliminated the LTTE, was found unconvincing. There was much enthusiasm among the voters, who came out in large numbers to exercise their right of franchise, resulting in over 70 per cent polling. As expected, the large voter turnout went in favour of Mr Rajapaksa. He had opted for the elections to cash in on his popularity though he still had two years to go before his present term would end.
Voting was by and large peaceful. The Opposition alliance led by Mr Fonseka failed to split the Sinhalese vote. The Opposition could get over 40 per cent votes with much difficulty. The former army chief had caused a stir during the military drive against the LTTE by claiming at one stage that he was fighting for a Sinhalese-Buddhist nation. This made him unpopular among the Tamils and the Muslims, who mostly voted for Mr Rajapaksa. The incumbent President is believed to have got the maximum support from the Buddhist-Sinhalese in the rural areas, who consider him as the protector of their economic and political interests.
Sri Lanka now needs peace more than anything else. India hopes that the government and the Opposition will play their legitimate roles for their country's stability and economic growth, hit hard during the crisis caused by the LTTE's emergence as a force of destabilisation in 1972. This can only be achieved in an atmosphere of harmony which is possible if President Rajapaksa makes sustained efforts to bring about national reconciliation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.
IPL AFFAIRS NEED TO BE PROBED
When all 11 Pakistani players were given the go-by in the IPL auction on January 19, the organisers had darkly hinted that there were "security and availability" issues. But Home Minister P. Chidambaram has punctured that balloon by saying that there was no "hint" or "nudge" to overlook the Pakistanis. Not only that, he has called the exclusion a "disservice to cricket". So where did the "suggestion" come from? If the government is out, then it has to be the IPL authorities themselves which precipitated such a furore and almost an uncalled for row between India and Pakistan. Even the franchisees have now come out to guardedly insinuate that the IPL was to blame. Shah Rukh Khan, the owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, has said that it was "humiliating" to see none of the Pakistani players being picked up and the issue could have been better handled.
He has revealed that he and KKR captain Sourav Ganguly wanted to pick up allrounder Abdul Razzaq but "I am not going to be the one who is opposite from what everyone else is doing," he told NDTV. Rajasthan Royals coach Darren Beery went a step further and lashed out at the IPL authorities for "humiliating" the Pakistani players and alleged that "politics and foreign affairs got in the way of cricket decisions". His team was eying Umar Akmal.
All that leaves enough circumstantial evidence that it was all the IPL's doing. Given the dubious track record of its Chairman Lalit Modi, the allegations need to be taken seriously. There is need to investigate whether there was something hanky-panky in the incident. If there was cartelisation, as the circumstances indicate, then the tendency must be curbed with a firm hand. After all, the IPL is not just any private jagirdari. Its affairs must be fully above-board and transparent. If some officials want to maintain a veil of secrecy, then ways and means must be found to show them the door and to ensure that the working of the entire IPL set-up is subjected to a probe.
HOPES FROM DAVOS
GO BEYOND EMPTY TALK
The World Economic Forum meeting this year (January 27 to 31) at Davos in Switzerland will be a much more relaxed affair than last year's when bankers were conspicuously missing as countries, big and small, grappled with the financial crisis, dubbed the biggest since the Great Depression. The economic pain has eased since then and the world is witnessing a recovery, though sceptics still talk of a double-dip recession. The atmosphere over-all is friendly. There is no more talk of globalisation on the retreat. Few question the future of capitalism or offer alternatives. No immediate fears of financial institutions crumbling. There may, however, be pressure from the true believers to return to free trade and lift barriers that countries had erected to fight recession.
The US usually sets the agenda. This year bank regulation and reform of financial systems may gain the centrestage as President Barack Obama is still fuming at Wall Street excesses and pushing measures back home to curb excessive risk-taking by banks and financial firms. Bankers are expected to return to the Swiss mountain this time not as much for socialising and networking as to fight back reformers who propose stringent requirements on capitalisation and debt ratios to avoid a repeat of 2008. The reformers have the support of the Group of 20, which has also pressed for a cleanup of the global financial sector.
The annual talk show has often invited derisive comments from critics. If those participating in the Davos jamboree want themselves to be taken seriously, they should shun needless confrontation and work to remove structural deficiencies that have crept in the regulation of global financial institutions. What British Prime Minister said at the last Davos summit still holds true: "This is a global crisis and we need global cooperation and action to cope with it". Since world leaders are already wrestling with global warming, Davos can lead the way by promoting green technologies and pledging equitable growth that does not sacrifice environmental concerns.
WAITING FOR PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN
REGIONAL COOPERATION CAN HELP
BY MAJ-GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA (RETD)
The stunning attack this month in Kabul due to intelligence and security lapses in the Red Zone near the Presidential Palace when the new Cabinet was being sworn in shows that the Taliban movement is winning the war. The attack was on the eve of the international London conference of 63 countries on Afghanistan, mainly to work out "the transfer plan" to Afghan command and control from ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) when US troops start withdrawals in July 2011.
Despite announcing the exit time-line, the US has followed a policy of ambiguity dictated by political, not military, considerations. It is insisting there will be no cut and run; the transition and transfer of responsibility will begin after measuring progress against an elaborate mechanism of benchmarks. The military surge - clear, hold, build and transfer charge - will be accompanied by a civilian surge underscoring a US-Afghan partnership.
Organised confusion has followed from the lack of clarity in both military and political objectives. The main issues are rightsizing the Afghan National Security Forces, (ANSF) creating CIS and policing capacities, shoring up governance, reducing corruption and reconstructing infrastructure. An immediate problem is about holding of parliamentary elections or extending the term of Parliament through a constitutional amendment. For militarily marginalising the Taliban, disrupting its sanctuaries in Pakistan is essential. But with friends like Pakistan, who needs enemies?
Scenario builders have painted three contingencies based on two assumptions: that the ANSF will acquire the requisite skills and motivation to contain the Taliban and the West, including the ISAF, will not pull the plug prematurely. There is wide consensus that Taliban rule is not acceptable to the majority of Afghans and virtually all of the international community, including even Pakistan.
The scenarios are: staying the course; gradual withdrawal commensurate with progress on benchmarks; and muddling through after an impromptu deinduction of the ISAF.
There is a fourth contingency: breakup of Afghanistan-Pakistan on ethnic lines straddling the Durand Line into Pakhtunistan or Pakhtunkhwa. The first contingency is not likely, the second most desirable and the last best avoided. In 1992, everyone thought that the Najibullah regime would collapse in two weeks against the onslaught of the Mujahideen, but it survived for three years.
The third review of Af-Pak later this year has to come up with more realistic time-lines of a phased withdrawal with benchmarks for measuring progress. Training and motivating Afghan forces from scratch and equipping them with skills and artifacts for CIS will take time, patience and perseverance.
The fate of Afghanistan has been in the hands of Western powers the US, the UK and their NATO allies. The march of NATO eastwards to defeat Al-Qaeda (and the Taliban) is its first out-of-area mission, well thought out with an eye on Central Asia, Iran, China and Russia. The strategic investment in the region will preclude a precipitate withdrawal, rather a long-term commitment is on the cards. It is up to regional powers to create the conditions for Western forces to vacate by ensuring an orderly transfer of power and resources to Afghanistan.
As the US-led Af-Pak strategy continues with the empowerment of Afghans in peacebuilding, security and stabilisation, a regional initiative must be ready and equipped to occupy the space vacated by Western forces. Many Pakistanis and some Afghans believe that the presence of ISAF in Afghanistan is the key driver of insurgency though this reasoning has diluted following the socio-economic development programmes undertaken by the UN, the coalition forces and India. Many Afghans now want ISAF to stay longer to keep the Taliban off their backs.
A military solution in Afghanistan is impossible. While targeting Al-Qaeda and keeping the Taliban at bay, efforts have also to be made to mainstream the resistance much in the manner that the Maoists were brought into the reconciliation process in Nepal. The Japanese who have pulled out of their refuelling of ships mission off Afghanistan are hosting a $ 5 billion programme for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the Taliban. The UK, the US and Saudi Arabia are already engaged in direct and indirect talks with the hard-core Taliban. India is totally opposed to the idea of reconcilable Taliban but lately has softened its position.
Five types of the Taliban have been identified: ideologically motivated hard-core insurgents; those disaffected by the government; the financially underprivileged; those fed on drugs money, possess weapons and are paid more than government soldiers; and the foreign Taliban. Reconciliation is best achieved at the local level by village elders, but the good old tribal system has broken down.
The Mehsud tribes in Waziristan boast they can make a suicide bomber in six minutes. Indoctrinated youth, graduated from madarsas and served with the Taliban take an average of four years to detoxify. Nearly 15,000 Taliban insurgents have to be neutralised either by the gun or through the lure of dollars. Al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters are not eligible for reconciliation.
At some stage in 2012, the US should transfer its responsibility to a contact group under the UN auspices comprising Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Central Asian Republics, Pakistan and India. It will ensure that the prescribed benchmarks are achieved. Once the reconciliation process is activated, qualified Talibs will be rehabilitated and their leaders inducted into Parliament and democratised. Again the Maoist model in Nepal is a useful reference point. The Japanese and the Norwegians have valuable experience in mainstreaming of rebel groups, but the ownership of reconciliation and the political process must return to the Afghans in substance and perception.
How proactive must India be to shape its future role in Afghanistan? In a recent Gallup poll, India topped the list of countries doing good work in Afghanistan. Pakistan figured last and at least 33 per cent of Afghans saw Islamabad supporting the Taliban. In another poll, India also was number one among the countries with good relations with Afghanistan.
At present, Delhi has no intention of expanding its footprint beyond the use of its soft power. On several occasions, the US has noted that India is doing a great job which in no way impinges on Islamabad's security concerns. The view from South Block is that it is cognizant of Pakistan's legitimate concerns though doing more by way of training the Afghan Army will not constitute any overreach. A more vocal minority is advocating offering upto two divisions of troops for North-West Afghanistan and gifting military equipment for arming two divisions of the Afghan Army. The rationale is that as the Taliban pose a direct threat to India, it must be confronted at source. The difficulties of maintaining two divisions without any logistics corridor will be enormous. Many Pakistanis recognise that as a regional power, Delhi has legitimate interests and goals and since the Taliban factor is a common threat for all three India, Pakistan and Afghanistan they should unite to fight terrorism. In the transition phase, Delhi must plump for the regional mechanism to dilute Islamabad's centrality in the Af-Pak area. At the same time, India and Pakistan must reopen the composite dialogue process at the earliest so that their mutual concerns on Afghanistan can be allayed. Focussing on trilateral cooperation within the regional compact will help promote peace and stability in Afghanistann
BY HARISH DHILLON
THE subject of school nicknames could be a rich field of study in itself. School nicknames can be of many kinds. They could originate in physical attributes. For instance, a huge fat boy could be called "Katta" and a bald headed teacher could be called "Eggie". They could originate from the individual's attitude towards life. For instance, an individual who is very cocky could be called "gassy" and, as an extreme example, one who exhibits great lassitude could well end up being called "dead".
Nicknames can also be contractions of names. For example when a child says "Ahloo and Gobi came to dinner at my parent's place," he is not talking about the vegetables at all but about two individuals with the names 'Ahluwalia' and 'Gobind'.
School nicknames also tend to be generic. For example, a girl who had buck teeth was called 'Tusky' and when her younger siblings joined school, they in turn were called 'Tusky' and 'Chut Tusky'. Incidentally, there was also a 'Katti' who was sister of 'Katta' and yes, a 'Chut Dead'! This generic trend is not necessarily limited to blood relatives. There was a time when all boys with the surname 'Gupta' were called Chappu only because there had once been a boy named Gupta who had earned that nickname.
The wonderful thing about school nicknames is that they may have originated with derogatory connotations but with frequent use all negativity is worn out and sometimes replaced by very deep and warm affection. When I was in school we had a very young, new history teacher who had a huge walrus moustache. He was immediately given the nickname 'Mucho' and there was a tinge of amusement in this christening. Over the years he rose to be the Deputy Headmaster and one of the most enduring legends in the School's history. Today when former students refer to him as 'Mucho' they do so with tremendous respect and equally tremendous love.
In my own case I was nicknamed UD. I was told that it was because when I initialled the pupils' notebooks my 'H' looked like a 'U'. I didn't believe this my handwriting was bad but not so bad. Then I wrote a letter to someone in Solan, H.P. After months of travelling around and a long stint in the dead letter office the letter came back to me.It had travelled to a host of places like Sitapur, Shajahanpur and Ballia all in UP. I had to finally admit that my 'H' did read like a 'U'.
I know that my nickname too originates in a faint contempt for my inability to write legibly. But with long and frequent usage this contempt has been worn away. Almost 30 years after I taught him, one of my former students, who runs a chain of educational institutions, sent me a corporate new year gift a personalised copy of the year planner, only it did not have my name 'Harish Dhillon' stamped on the cover. Instead, it carried the initials 'UD'.
GROWING LAWLESSNESS ON INDIAN ROADS
BY RAM SINGH
The first week of every New Year is observed as the 'road safety week' throughout the country. The traffic police launches campaigns to sensitise people and make them obey the traffic rules.
However, any semblance of civilised driving disappears soon after, even before the official rituals are over and campaign-hoardings are pulled down.
For the rest of the year, road users need three things to return home safely: good brakes, a good horn and, most importantly, good luck!
In civilised societies, vehicles stop to give way to vulnerable road users like pedestrians. In India, it's the other way round. Indeed, lawlessness is at its worst display on Indian roads.
As a result, the accident rate is intolerably high; 35 per thousand vehicles. In contrast, for several developed and developing countries it is in the range of 4-15. According to the World Road Statistics, the per vehicle casualty rate is the highest for India.
With just one per cent of the world vehicles, we account for 10 per cent of fatalities. On an average, more than 400 people die or get permanently incapacitated in road accidents everyday!
Even by conservative estimates, economic costs of accidents and congestion are at least 3 per cent of the GDP. The actual numbers are much larger since many accidents go unrecorded.
The omnipresent road-chaos aside, the country has a law known as the Motor Vehicle (MV) Act. The law has two stated objectives: to minimise the number of accidents and to provide just compensation to victims of road accidents.
The Supreme Court has declared the law welfare legislation. The 1988 amendment to the MV Act had adopted several measures to check the accidents' menace. Among others, it increased the fines for traffic offences and also the ex-post accident liability of injurer drivers.
The result, as an analysis of accident data has revealed, was a structural and downward shift in the accident rate. These measures worked notwithstanding the popular beliefs about the corruption in the traffic police and judicial delays.
But the amendment has outlived its utility. While the per capita income has increased more than threefold from Rs 11,899 in 1988-89 to Rs 38,084 in 2008-09 fines have remained stagnant at ridiculously low levels.
Most of the fines have remained in the range of Rs 100-400. So it is not surprising that accidents have gone up from little over two lakh in 1988 to more than four lakh in 2008. During the last 4-5 years the annual rate of increase has been 8 per cent or more.
The intended legal objectives can be realised only if the executive enforces traffic rules that are apt and effective. And the judiciary provides timely relief to victims. Unfortunately, both organs of the state have failed society.
Courts have failed to ensure an expeditious settlement of disputes and to provide adequate compensation to the victims. As a result, the accident liability has no deterrent effect on the arrogant, drunken and reckless drivers.
However, the failure of the executive in enforcing and updating the traffic rules is more serious. It has resulted in excessively large number of accidents and the resultant legal disputes. This, in turn, has compounded the problems created by judicial delays and has further undermined the victims' entitlement to timely relief.
Several measures by the Central and state governments can help in the matter. For instance, a majority of the victims on city roads as well as highways are pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users.
In the absence of exclusive lanes, these people fail to dodge dangerously driven vehicles. Provisioning of sidewalks, cycle-tracks and side-lanes can drastically reduce fatalities by making roads safer.
Also to apprehend the reckless drivers, more policemen and high-tech equipment can be deployed. Unfortunately, these crucial measures are costly and, therefore, get postponed year after year.
However, enhancing the existing fines is costless to impose and perhaps prove more useful. In fact, in the absence of effective fines the other measures may help. To illustrate, during 2009 the Delhi Traffic Police launched several awareness drives. Besides, it used more of men as well as machinery to apprehend offenders.
Consequently, the number of challans issued went up from 34.1 lakh in 2008 to 41.77 lakh in 2009. Yet, the number of accidents declined only marginally.
In fact, the number of fatal accidents in 2009 was 12 per cent higher than in the previous year. Why? Because fines are negligible. Police efforts would have been more successful, had fines been substantial.
Regrettably, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, in its present form, leaves much to be desired. The proposed increases in fines are nominal. For example, for excessive speeding the fine has been increased only by Rs 100, and there is no effective increase in fine for dangerous driving! In addition to the higher fines, the prospective law should provide for a scheduled increase in fines over time to offset their depreciation.
The writer teaches in the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.
LET'S NOT WASTE GROWTH
BY HAMISH MCRAE
Some growth at last... but it is a measure of the dire state of the economy that even a minuscule 0.1 per cent rise in economic activity should be greeted with relief. Even if the official figures understate what is actually happening, and most economists expect them to be revised upwards as more data comes through, it is clear that this recession will roughly equal what was until now the worst of the postwar recessions, that of the early 1980s.
This recession is not unprecedented, but it has by any standards been grave. As anyone who can recall the early
1980s will know, recessions generate huge swathes of human misery, with many people's lives wrecked though no fault of their own.
This leads to two sorts of discussion. One is the practical one: what will happen next and how we might avoid getting ourselves into similar messes in the future. But there is another deeper set of issues that, as growth is resumed and sustained, is worth exploring.
These concern the nature and purpose of economic growth: not just how to get richer but the nature of the wealth that is generated, how it is shared between people and between generations, and the benefits and costs it brings with it. We need to learn how, as far as we can, to avoid the slumps; but we also need to work out how to make the best of the booms.
We have I hope learnt some things over the past couple of years and by "we" I mean the entire developed world, not just those of us who happen to be involved in the 3 per cent of the world economy that takes place on these islands. One lesson is that growth is better than decline.
To most people that would seem pretty self-evident but one of the troubling aspects of an economic downturn is that the voices advocating a "zero-growth society" seem to chime louder. This comes in all sorts of guises, from people saying they can't see why others need more income or that people should not be allowed to work harder even if they want to, to those who believe family size should be limited the latter group usually having had several children themselves.
Well, we are experiencing a zero-growth society in the sense that it will take another two or three years before we regain the level of GDP we reached at the peak, the early part of 2008. Four years of no net growth means not just fewer new cars or fewer foreign holidays. It will mean closing more hospitals, fewer places at universities, more people on the dole.
There is a bit of the puritan in most of us and recession brings it to the forefront. Conspicuous consumption will look out of place for some time yet and maybe that is no bad thing. But as we draw up the balance sheet of this period of zero growth we will surely find that the list of minuses is much longer than the list of pluses. Pity we need the experience of recession to remind us of that.
There are, however, more positive lessons that we can draw, things we should keep at the front of our minds as growth resumes. One obvious one is that growth in economic activity has to be environmentally sustainable. We have had a scare in the surge in energy prices, in particular oil and gas, and though these have now fallen back a bit, we have come to appreciate that oil in particular is likely to be in short supply, probably for ever. The world will have to find other sources of energy. Meanwhile, we had better use what we've got as sensibly as we can.
A second thing we need to be more aware of is intergenerational equity. Here in the UK the government will have more than doubled the national debt. So we have loaded the costs of recession, and the costs of unfunded current public spending, on future generations of taxpayers: young workers, children and the unborn.
There is a new book examining this out next month. It is called The Pinch How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future And Why They Should Give It Back, and what gives it legs is that it is by David Willetts, shadow minister for universities and skills.
His argument, that the generation born between 1945 and 1965 have behaved selfishly and need to make amends, will I hope help shape policy under the next government. But the government will only be able to rebalance fiscal policy if voters grasp that unfunded public spending is both unjust and indeed immoral, and will impoverish our children and our children's children.
The third issue is why the last boom led to rising inequality just about everywhere. As a crude rule of thumb, inequalities within counties rose, while inequalities between countries diminished. To some extent governments have been able to mitigate the worst effects of rising inequality by progressive tax policies and subsidised public services, but that is to put a patch on a social wound. Better far not to have the wounded society in the first place.
The reaction of people to rising inequality tends to become quite political, which is a shame because to see the
issue through a political prism is to fail to delve into its underlying economic causes. So let's just observe that this is a phenomenon evident in places as diverse as China and the United States, India and Sweden, and it is something that needs open-minded examination during the upturn.
And finally there is that tantalising, difficult, will-o'-the-wisp notion of happiness. Insofar as it can be measured, we have become less happy as a result of recession, but even during the boom it was not clear that added wealth was bringing much of an increase in happiness.
Lord Layard, the economist and Labour peer, has argued that governments should seek to reduce wealth differentials as inequality increases unhappiness, but since one thing almost everyone is agreed on is that they dislike government interference in their lives, I am not sure that is a great idea. The Tories talk in terms of economic "wellbeing", a thought in the same broad area but again I am not sure that this is something governments can do much about. Maybe they should do fewer things and do them better and then we would all be happier.
The big point, though, is that growth is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to do better next time. The more growth, the greater the opportunity. So welcome it and hope it lasts.
By arrangement with The Independent
ATHENS EXHIBITION INSPIRES PASSION
BY ANTHEE CARASSAVA
A giant marble phallus. An ancient brothel. A seductive statue of Eros and Psyche exchanging a passionate kiss. This is the untold story of love in antiquity, revealed in a stirring, spine-tingling exhibition in Athens.
Dedicated to Eros the winged and whimsical god whom ancient Greeks adored for aeons the exhibition takes an unabashed look at an attitude to love and lust. It might have set many modern Greeks blushing, but the show's startling success in its opening month has the Louvre yearning to bring it to Paris, city of love.
Organisers say they are considering the offer, but it would mean having to cut short the Athens show, which has proved to be a popular addition to the tourist trail since it opened at the Museum of Cycladic Art last month.
"We want to show the sweeping scope of love in ancient times," said Nicholaos Stampolidis, the museum's director. "But for this to happen, visitors must have their eyes and minds wide open."
With its 272 artefacts that span a millennium from the sixth century BC to early Christianity, it is the first major exhibition on this theme. Organisers spent three years researching and surveying items before convincing 50 other museums to collaborate.
"It's easy to read and write about love," Mr Stampolidis noted. "But it is extremely difficult to convey love through art, and the project, altogether, was a challenge."
From phallic-shaped lamps, vases and urns depicting men and women gnarled in sexual scenes, to a 2,500-year-old love note and the incised text of a jilted lover's curse, the display documents the changing perceptions of Eros from the 8th century BC when ancient Greeks idolised him as an omnipotent god, to Roman times, when less potent and renamed to Cupid he became a mere companion of Venus.
The show is divided into nine sections ranging from the birth of Eros, his upbringing by Aphrodite, the status of women in ancient society, and love in religion and marriage.
The crowd-puller, though, is the second floor. There, visitors face up to the bold and bawdy attitude that the ancient Greeks and Romans had towards homosexuality, prostitution and even bestiality or, to use the organisers' euphemism, "bucolic love affairs".
Indeed, in room after room, viewers gaze at a cornucopia of vases, charms and trinkets depicting graphic scenes of erotic play between an unimaginable combination of partners in unthinkable positions. Tucked away in the inner sanctum, the exhibit also hosts a life-size recreation of an ochre-coloured Roman brothel unearthed in Pompei, Italy.
The exhibition is open to schools and children, although a discreet sign leading to the second-floor advises parents to accompany children under 16. "This doesn't mean that the particular section is barred," Mr Stampolidis said. "It's just best to have a teacher, parent or curator along to answer questions appropriately, allowing no room for any misinterpretation."
By arrangement with The Independent
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Assam Governor JB Patnaik, in his Republic Day speech, renewed appeal to the militants to give up violence and come to the negotiation table for solution of their problems if they truly love the State. He also said that Assam could have made more rapid progress had it been free from insurgency and violence and revealed that concerted efforts are on to bring the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and other militant groups to the negotiation table. However, the Governor did not spell out the steps taken to bring the militant groups including the ULFA to the negotiation table. Over the years, the efforts made to bring the ULFA to the negotiation table failed to yield the desired results and now talks seem to be unlikely in near future with both the Government of India and the militant group adopting a rigid stand. The Government of India made it clear that talks must be held within the framework of the Constitution of India, while, on the other hand, the ULFA is insisting that sovereignty of Assam should be the core issue for talks. It is a fact that the ULFA suffered severe setbacks in recent times because of the tough stand of the Government of Bangladesh and senior leaders of the outfit including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa were picked up by the security forces of the neighbouring country and handed over to India. But several armed wing leaders of the ULFA including the commander in chief Paresh Baruah are still at large and if the Government starts the process of talks with only the jailed leaders, such effort may not help in restoration of permanent peace in Assam. On the other hand, the NDFB once signed a cease-fire pact with the Government and only after the serial blasts on October 30 , 2008, the militant group was divided into pro-talk and anti-talk factions. Though the Government started talks with the pro-talk faction, it is doubtful whether talking to only one faction will yield the desired results.
The Governor was right in saying that insurgency is one of the main causes of underdevelopment of Assam and the Government should try to educate the masses about the bad effects of insurgency to mobilize public opinion against militancy and violence. Unfortunately, so far, the Government is concentrating more on counter-insurgency operations with little effort to mobilize public opinion against militancy. The support base of the militants is definitely on the wane and with little more effort from the Government, political parties and social organizations, the militants will definitely find it hard to get the support of the common masses and no militant organization can survive if the members of the outfits do not get shelter in the villages and the outfits do not get youths who are ready to join them. From time to time, the Government comes up with statements against militant groups, but concerted efforts must be launched to make the people aware of the ill effects of violence in different fields including implementation of development projects, tourism, economic development, etc with relevant data so that all sections of people of Assam are aware of the real facts and take decisions for themselves on whether to support the militants or not.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Chance favours the prepared mind, and conversely tragedy is invited by ignorance and apathy. The latter half of the truism best describes the Assam Government's attitude with regard to the security of the State's people and assets. Its response to improve monitoring and security cover on the Brahmaputra and adjoining stretches has been found wanting by police and intelligence personnel who believe that riparian settlements have emerged as spots vulnerable to terror attacks. They reason, as policing in the river is low in several areas and almost absent in others, both criminals and extremists could make use of the river to gain access to cities like Guwahati and Dibrugarh which contain dense population concentration apart from a number of high value assets. Although the Government for obvious reasons would not accept, the problem is compounded by the fact that Brahmaputra offers easy access from several large river islands, or Chars, many of which have abysmal police presence, enabling subversive elements to move around with relative ease. Police and intelligence operatives point out that the increase in the number of vessels plying in the river is emerging as another challenge, because many of those operate outside the ambit of a monitoring network. The threats, in their view, have been heightened by recent developments in which security around key terrestrial routes has been improved, compelling extremists to think of alternatives.
A former chief of the Assam Police told this newspaper that the threat that could emerge from the river was indeed serious, and could not be countered by ad-hoc measures. An immediate review of the situation was required that would have to take into account all the aspects related to a security blanket extending over the river and settlements in its close proximity. Those with first hand experience of the situation are unanimous in their belief that better monitoring and intelligence is a must in the riparian areas if the designs of criminals and extremists are to be foiled. They indicate that a review must provide ample inputs to reinforce the river police in a suitable manner by bringing in more manpower with adequate arms, providing all weather transport, and robust communication gear. Efficient flow of information between police on the ground level and senior decision makers is also a must if the threats have to be countered, something that tragically did not exist in the Guwahati serial blasts of 2008.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
DEEPENING CRISIS OF ULFA IMBROGLIO
A militant leader without guns and that too behind bars is in effect as wretched as a serpant without fangs. Barring its commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, virtually the entire top brass of the ULFA, including its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, now in jail, have apparently been reduced to a spent force. With the government seemingly in the driver's seat, the down-to-earth reality appears to be that these rebel leaders have no option other than abiding by government diktats more sooner than later for their own good. ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa's statement before reporters around the time he was produced at the Kamrup CJM's court that he and others had not surrendered and never would was nothing more than a cry in the wilderness devoid of any effective meaning.
The jailed ULFA leaders, charged with commission of heinous crimes, are fully aware of the Sword of Democles overhead if the law is allowed to take its own course. While political maneuvers in this country have the potential of making the law to fall by the wayside, it is very much likely that in the coming months the government would resort to the 'carrot and the stick' policy to rope in the jailed ULFA leaders to come for 'talks' and sign a government-tailored 'deal'. All tall statements and rhetorics apart, the ground reality is that the top brass of the ULFA presently in jail are totally at the mercy of the government for freedom and survival or else face the bitter music of harsh punishment that may even extend to life imprisonment and death.
With the ULFA leaders caught between the devil and the deep sea, it seems that the only area left open before the jailed rebel leaders to bargain for during any 'talks' may be nothing more than asking for a deal that may at least look honourable in the eyes of the people, although in effect it may be another piece of trash like the Assam Accord.
On the other hand, if dynamics of history is any indication of the shape of things to come, it would do well for the Centre as well as the State government to appreciate that in a situation of insurgency, it is the guns that speak from both ends and can be silenced only through constructive talks with rebel leaders with guns and not with those behind the bars. That in turn brings the entire issue round to Paresh Baruah, the elusive, shrewd and maverick commander-in-chief of the ULFA. While the general opinion is that with almost all the top ULFA leaders in jail and A and C companies of the 28th Battalion having come overground, the fire power of Paresh Baruah has immensely dwindled. However, it may be utterly foolish to imagine that he has ceased to be a force to reckon with. One can never be sure about the quantum of fire power the ULFA C-in-C still commands or the number of middle-rung leaders and cadres under his control.Recruitment is another area for Paresh Baruah to bank on and in this respect the widening economic disparity may prove to be a prolific ground to the advantage of the ULFA. Again, keeping in mind that disinformation has come to stay as a potent weapon in a scenario of war or armed confrontation, it is significant to note that reports of Paresh Baruah recruting Bangladeshi youths in the outfit and also engaging Manipur's PULF rebels to indulge in insurgent activities in urban centres, including Guwahati, are already in the news, though the same has been denied by the ULFA. While it may be extremely difficult to verify the authenticity of these news, if at all the same is true, it only reflects the astute deftness of Paresh Barua to confront a situation or execute his blueprint by resorting to any means available for the porpose. Further, if various media reports and government statements on Paresh Barua that have hit the headlines over the years are to taken as yardstick, the ULFA C-in-C has sound links with various insurgent outfits of the North East as well as international arms dealers. Hence it may be foolish to rule out regrouping and rebuilding of the outfit by the ULFA C-in-C.
It is significant to note that in just over a month of captivity, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has reportedly expressed his desire for talks with the government, but as a free citizen and not as a prisoner. Such willingness, however, was an alien factor over the decades when he was basking in the cosy comforts of his Dhaka residence. On the other hand , it may not be surprising if under some pretext, the government effects a conditional release of the top leaders for the 'talks' to be 'successful'. Meanwhile, it might have dawned upon Paresh Baruah that the jailed ULFA leaders have run out of steam and may have to abide by government diktats to save their skins. Perhaps Paresh Baruah's latest 20-point threat is a manifestation of this realisation. The ULFA C-in-C possibly tried to send home the message that presently he was the supremo of the outfit. Again, while the impression is gaining ground that the ULFA's strength has vastly dwindled, Paresh Baruah might have been at his wit's end to tell the world that the outfit was as strong militarily as ever before. His latest e-mail appears to be in slight variation from his earlier mails in the sense that it has outlined the security forces, the oil installation, anti-socials, corrupt officials and intellectuals, to name a few, as the outfit's targets and is conspicuous by the statement that the common people would be kept out of the ULFA radar. While the Assam Police DGP has reacted by stating that it was a run-of-the-mill threat, a close analysis makes one feel that Paresh Baruah would desperately try to display the fire prowess of the outfit by triggering subversive activities in the coming days as threatened through his e-mail. In this respect the soft targets as outlined in his 20-point threat may be more prone to attacks as the hard targets like the security forces or oil installations may prove to be inaccessible in view of beefed up security. In respect of the hard targets, the confidence of the police and the security forces is further boosted by the fact that suicide squad is not known in the ULFA unlike the LTTE or the Taliban.
Again, perhaps feeling the heat of the government spadework for talks with the jailed ULFA leaders, Paresh Baruah reacted to possibly drive home his likely contention that any 'peace deal' struck with Arabinda Rajkhowa and others might be an exercise in futility. Whatever be the exact nature of the gameplan of Paresh Baruah, now that he has issued the 20-point threat, one can safely presume that the ULFA C-in-C will leave no stone unturned to trigger violence in the coming days and months. It needs no mention that he is fully aware that any failure on this count would reduce his stature to that of an e-mail tiger.
That being the emerging scenario, by any assessment the ULFA imbroglio has now scrambled down to square one. While the e-mail by the ULFA C-in-C amounts to declaring a war of sorts, the pertinent question that arises is : Will this 'war' have any final outcome? It is high time Paresh Barua gave a serious thought if the ULFA can militarily achieve its target of a sovereign Assam. Likewise, the government may do well to consider if a mere military option could solve the ULFA imbroglio. Unfortunately, in respect of both, the answer seems to tilt heavily towards the negative. History reveals that it is not adamancy but a certain degree of flexibility on the part of all parties to a confict that can yield positive results.
Be that as it may, it is imperative for both the ULFA and the government to remember that nobody has the right to make the people suffer by making them the pawns of the 'war'. Unfortunately, almost as a rule, over the years the innocent have suffered the most and the present confrontation is no different. It only appears to augur many more killing fields, encounters and fake encounters for the people of Assam, while peace suffers the blackest of eclipse.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
REMEMBERING DEVAKANTA BARUA
With his infamous remark 'India is Indira, Indira is India,' Devakanta Barua became the most controversial person in Indian politics. Many political analysts are still trying to find out the reason that evoke a person like Devakanta to compare the country with his political mentor Indira Gandhi. Though he was known as an ardent loyalist of Indira Gandhi, he joined the anti Indira camp when the Congress party was divided into two factions. after ending of the Emergency in 1977. Many political 'pundits' attribute it as the main cause of his debacle in political career.
Devakanta Barua was the only Assamese person who by virtue of rare personality, statesmanship, wisdom and knowledge reached the pinnacle of honour as the president of Indian National Congress, the biggest political party of the country. At a most critical period when the country was under the shadow of the Emergency, he led the party with courage, conviction and determination.
Before adorning the top post of the Congress in 1974, Devakanta Barua served the country as well as his home State Assam in various capacities. He was the speaker of Assam Legislative Assembly from 1957 to 1959. From 1962 to 1966 he was the Education Minister of Assam. In 1973 he migrated to the national politics and became the Minister of Petroleum, Chemical and Fertilizer in the Union Cabinet led by Indira Gandhi. From 1971 to 1973 he was the Governor of Bihar He also acted as the Chairman of the public sector oil company, Oil India Limited from 1968 to 1970.
But Devakanta Barua did not reach the top rank of the Congress within a night. Starting his political career from grassroots level he occupied the top post of the party. He joined politics at an early age of 16. Passing the Matriculation Examination in 1930, he jumped into the freedom movement of the country. He was arrested and thrown into the jail for six months. He took active part in the 'Quit India' movement of 1942. The British government arrested him and again confined him in the jail for another six months. The authorities of Cotton College at Guwahati and Presidency College at Kolkata denied him admission into their respective colleges due his involvement in the freedom movement of the country. Therefore, he got himself admitted into Benaras Hindu University and obtained the degrees in arts and law. Returning home he again joined the freedom movement of the country following the call of Mahatma Gandhi.
Among the Assamese people Devakanta Barua was more popular as a poet than a politician. Writing only 35 poems which were included in his only poetical anthology Sagar Dekhisa, he carved a niche for himself in the world of Assamese poetry. Shifting its trend from romanticism, Devakanta Barua open the door of modernism in Assamese poetry. Therefore he is regarded as a poet of transition time. Incorporating dramatical monologue in the style of English poet Robert Browning, he exhibits a dexterity in the art of blending the sensuous and the romantic in his poetry. He was one who had the capacity to give graceful and revealing the expressions to love, beauty, passion and humanity.
The history of journalism movement in Assam is incomplete without mentioning the name of Devakanta Barua. He was a pioneer in journalism movement in Assam. He was editor of Dainik Asomiya, an Assamese daily published from New Press at Guwahati. Under his stewardship Dainik Asomiya became very popular in every nook and corner of the State. With his prolific pen Barua brought to light many burning problems of the State. But due to political pressure he left Dainik Asomiya in 1948 and joined Natun Dainik as its editor. With his holistic vision, broad outlook and view Natun Dainik became a-household name across the State.
Devakanta Barua showed his extraordinary brilliance both in the domain of politics and literature. But the politician Devakanta was quite different from the poet Devakanta. Both were like two poles of a same magnet with opposite nature, one always directing towards the north and other toward the south. -As a politician Devakanta was very strict, disciplined punctual and reserved person. But as a poet, he was very simple, amiable and soft-spoken person vocal to the down=trodden masses of the society.
Devakanta was not popular as a politician or a poet among his friends and followers. But he was popular for knowledge, wisdom and wit. His wide range of study made him a treasure trove of knowledge. Citing quotation, notation and references he could speak at a stretch for hours on any subject. 'My knowledge on Islam history is unchallengeable' once he admitted to a friend. For him, study of history was more interesti than story. Admiring his encyclopedic knowledge, renowned Indian English writer, novelist, columnist and intellectual Khushawant Sing in an essay called the Laughing Buddha - D K Barua writes ' He reminds you of the porcelain figure of the Chinese laughing Buddha... He is remarkably well read. His conversation ranges over a wide variety of topics-, : history, literature, art, architecture, religion, politics comes last.
(Published on the occasion of D K Barua's death anniversary)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PREPARE GROUND FOR MEXICO MEET
It is notable that the Basic Group (BG) of nations Brazil, South Africa, India and China have reiterated their support for last month's Copenhagen Accord on global warming, and have, going forward, pledged cooperation for operationalising global action on climate change.
For India, the case for proactive policy is unexceptionable. Regardless of how fast Himalayan glaciers are receding, we need to rev up energy efficiency, boost usage of renewables and, generally speaking, end widespread energy poverty.
It is also notable that the BG sees the accord as no more than a promising political statement of purpose, which it certainly is. The idea of the accord as a legally-binding text, floated by Denmark in its capacity as president of the Conference of Parties (COP) in 'Hagen and backed by European nations, needs to be nipped in the bud simply because it lacks the specifics to be a legal document.
In any case, what's needed is enabling legislation by key parties for a globally-binding pact. More important, in the run-up to the next COP, in Mexico later this year, we need to have a framework ready as per the Bali Roadmap agreed in 2007.
The point is that the Annex I Parties as per the Kyoto Protocol, the developed economies, and the US, need to be upfront in committing emission reductions of gases causing the greenhouse effect.
In tandem, it makes perfect sense for the BG to voluntarily commit to progressively reduce their (carbon) emission intensity of output. It would shore up energy availability. But it is vital that the industrially-developed nations commit on absolute reductions in emissions.
Meanwhile, we need to purposefully step up efficiency levels in thermal power generation, plan towns to minimise commutes and energy consumption, tighten combustion norms for automotive fuels and have in place 'green' guidelines to rationalise energy usage in buildings.
The plan to declare 30 solar cities pan-India to aim for 10% deduction in conventional energy is a move in the right direction. We also need to phase out the warped subsidy regime for fossil fuels.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EASY MONEY, BAD LOANS
The deterioration in the overall asset quality of banks gross non-performing assets (NPAs) are reportedly 27% higher at the end of December 2009 than at the end of December 2008 is not surprising. Any slowdown in growth is bound to trigger a rise in NPAs as more and more companies default on loan repayments.
The effect would be pronounced when the slowdown coincides with a severe global recession. But for the restructuring of loans permitted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on fairly generous terms, NPAs would have been still higher. Prudent banks that took care while sanctioning loans and then monitored the post-sanction disbursement diligently should be able to weather the crisis .
But it is one thing to have NPAs rise because of a cyclical downturn, it is quite another to have NPAs rise because of policy errors that are entirely within the realm of policymakers. And this is what we need to guard against. Excessively low interest rates skew the risk-reward equation by making projects that are actually not viable appear viable till interest rates reverse and the same projects cease to be viable!
It is now well established that long periods of unduly low interest rates encourage banks to take more risks. A low interest rate regime driven by an easy money policy rather than macroeconomic fundamentals leads to excessive expansion of credit. It incentivises banks to take on more risk in search of higher returns and to misprice risk.
Central banks everywhere need to be on guard against this. The People's Bank of China has woken up to this danger and begun reversing its excessively-accommodating stance. The RBI has not. Its challenge is to try and separate cyclical accommodation, which is needed, from interest rates that are lower than what macroeconomic fundamentals warrant.
Analytically, this separation is easy; not so in policy articulation. Its challenge will be to continue with cyclical accommodation while making it amply clear that interest rates will not stay lower than warranted, once the cycle turns.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FIDELITY SWAN SONG
That it's splitsville for Brangelina will not raise too many eyebrows as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have both 'been there and done that' when it comes to partnerships , matrimonial and otherwise. Far more earthshattering , however, is the news that Sarindi dumped Saruni and turned up at his usual winter lakeside retreat with Sarind instead.
Just as observers were about to consider fowl play, Saruni turned up at the same place with a new partner, Surune, looking pretty unruffled. Moreover , the former pair proceeded to studiously ignore each other though they were practically beak-by-jowl everyday in the same watering hole.
These are not filmstars by the way, but white Bewick's swans who fly in from Siberia every winter to milder British wetlands. And the 'divorce' is alarming because in the 40 years that the lives and loves of this species have been observed by wildlife experts as closely as the paparazzi monitor the Jolie-Pitt shenanigans this is only the second time that these petite white swans with distinct black and yellow beaks have found new partners for any reason other than the death of one.
For, contrary to what people may think, these birds are not by nature flighty, even if they do aerially traverse continents every year. Sadly, the permissive mores of today's world have clearly breached this final bastion of fidelity.
Not willing to stick their necks out too far on this sudden swanning about by a supposedly committed couple, experts say a possible reason for the swans' break-up is the lack of a cygnet to cement their two-year 'marriage' . The stars, of course, do not have that problem , considering their six-year relationship has seen their brood of offspring grow to six, biological and adopted.
Unfortunately, we have no accurate method by which to deduce what really transpired between the swans; the stars will probably bare all to Oprah, Ellen de-Generes or Jay Leno eventually anyway.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKING ON BAILOUTS
Just as war is too important a matter to be left to the generals, banking sector reforms and regulations are too important to be left to bank executives, bank-executivesturned-policymakers or those who pretend to understand the intricacies of modern-day finance.
As Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, once said, the only useful recent banking innovation was the invention of the autmatic telling machine (ATM).
All else is gambling with other people's money stating with a bit of exaggeration , of course. Investment bankers and hedge fund managers played the most damaging role in bringing the world economy to the colossal financial meltdown from which the economies of Europe and the US have yet to recover . They should not have a say in how the financial sector should be regulated.
At the hearings of the Financial Crisis Enquiry Commission in the US, last week, the executives of the top American banks appeared clueless, or pretended to be, of what caused the financial meltdown. If pretending dumb is the price they have to pay to save themselves from financial liability, they were all most willing to do so.
One executive compared the financial crisis of last year to a natural disaster that nobody could have predicted. Another said that financial crises happen every five to seven years so get used to them. Consult these gentlemen about how banks should be regulated and there will certainly be another man-made financial disaster in the next five years.
The primary aim of the banking and financial reform should be to prevent the next financial disaster from happening . Policymakers need to check the weak spots in the system and install checks and balances to strengthen them, and avoid any systemic failure.
The regulators should ensure that no bank or financial institution should be allowed to be too big to fail. The ones that are too big already should be subjected to scrutiny so that taxpayers do not have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to bail them out.
The most often expressed fear among opponents of banking regulation is that too much regulation will stifle growth. The issue is: whose growth? If it means, restraining the growth or even shrinking the size of the financial sector, that's a desirable outcome.
In the past half a century , in most rich countries, the financial sector has become too large for the real economy. According to a report in the Economist , relative to the size of the economy banks in the UK are 10 times bigger now than they were 40 years ago. In general , banking sectors in most rich countries are too big, and should be cut in size.
Sadly, the message that the financial sector appears to have taken from governmental bailouts in Europe and America is that banks do not have to fear about failures; governments will always bail them out no matter what is happening in the rest of the economy. Such an attitude makes the banking and financial industry even more callous and irresponsible, and the next disaster more likely than before.
In addition,tobringeconomiesfrom recession, governments in rich countries have been pumping cheap money into their economies through the banking sector. In return, whenever they get a chance, banks just pass on the cheap credit they receive as higher bonuses to their employees, in organising retreats and buying private jets.
The behaviour of bank executives seems so excessive that it sometimes appears that while everyone else has suffered from the financial meltdown, bank executives have benefited from it. To avoid the next financial disaster, governments have to install policies that send the financial sector the message that bailouts will not be free in future.
In the US and in Europe governments are trying to figure out how to create automatic checks and balances in the system to ensure that the next financial crisis is avoided. So far attempts have been more serious in Europe than in the US.
However, it appears that the democratic debacle in the recent senate elections in Massachusetts and unfavourable ratings of Obama in several recent public opinion polls have sent a message to the US president that he needs to take the business of banking regulations and reforms more seriously. Last week, Obama announced what he called 'the Volcker rule' to ban proprietary trading by commercial banks.
Indeed, proprietary trading should be banned for all investment banks and financial institutions, who pose the threat of creating a systemic risk.
Last month, a number of legislators also proposed that the Glass-Steagall Act that limited the scope of banks' operations should be reinstated. The Act was passed in 1932 in response to the banking crisis that triggered the Great Depression, and repealed in 1999 by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton.
The Obama administration has also proposed a tax on financial institutions called the 'financial crisis responsibility fee.' The tax is expected to raise $117 billion to cover the projected bailout losses. A long-term solution would be for governments to charge an insurance tax on banks a fee for insurance against future bailouts.
Most importantly, banks have to increase their capital so that the chances of failures are minimised.
In last week's hearings of the Financial Crisis Enquiry Commission, bankers and legislators debated the issue of how big is too big for commercial banks.
Bankers, of course, argued that the government should not impose any limit to the size of financial companies so long as there is a regulatory framework that ensures that the taxpayers do not bear the burden of a banking failure.
However, even the smallest of the bank failure does not happen in isolation. It creates contagion effects that spread to other banks and then to the rest of the economy and the entire society. Thus to avoid failures, banks that appear too big should be banned from indulging in activities that would result in risks that can lead to systemic failures.
In today's global economy banks and financial institutions are hard to regulate as most operate in many countries. They are most likely attracted to countries with least regulation. Thus governments have to cooperate for any effective regulation of the banking industry
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SUFFERING AN ARTISTIC REALITY
When Vincent van Gogh sliced off his left ear with a razor after an altercation with fellow painter and roommate Paul Gaugin, he wrapped up the fragment in a newspaper after washing it up and went to a brothel and gave it to a woman named Rachel and asked her ''to guard this object very carefully." Rachel, of course, fainted and van Gogh's ear was bottled up in police custody and lost, unlike his paintings, to history.
Why did van Gogh put his severed ear in a newspaper and hand it to a prostitute? Surely, the Yellow House in Arles in south of France, in which he and Gaugin stayed and painted and drank, must have had other random receptacles for that mutilated part of the body. Van Gogh was avid for murder and crime stories the newspapers ran during the time. Jack the Ripper was at his murderous best those days.
These daily unfailing confrontations with reality excited him, but in his manic depressive head, van Gogh had luminous and lucid visions of paradise. Not an erotic paradise, but a spiritual paradise. He satiated his erotic hunger by frequenting the brothels but his spiritual craving remained unfulfilled. For him, a healthy spiritual appetite was always more compelling than an erotic thirst.
In a moment of calm clarity, he wrote "a paradise (erotic) is beautiful but Gethsemane is even more beautiful" . Gethsemane is a reference to the Garden of Gethsemane and the distressing drama of Christ's capture, something van Gogh was reading at the time he lopped off his ear.
In his head glorious, fascinatingly colourful visions were germinating but in his heart, reality febrile, flagrant and fabricated was festering. In his failed sexual conquests, in his fights with Gaugin and in his frighteningly fulminating readings of papers. Rough and rabid reality that made his heart reel.
Van Gogh's response, in an acutely manic episode, was to slash at a part closest to his head and cover it, washed of all the gore and blood, in a newspaper, that continual carrier of ruthless reality which troubled his heart so much and give it to a woman who again had cast a spell on his heart.
A spiritual sacrifice washed of all blood. Cloaked clean in reality. It was apt that van Gogh shot at his chest and not his head where most of his madness as seen by the real world but not by him resided.
Ernest Hemingway, too, killed himself by blowing his head off. In Hemingway's case, his head had become void of all visions.
It housed nothing but untamed and uncontrollable fears on which he had no grip at all. All his manliness melted away in these fears. But Hemingway composed most of A Moveable Feast, his book on his paradisiacal years in Paris, after the onset of his madness.
His heart struggled to regain some of the glories that had all but left him. He fought for some time and then shot his head off. Reality, his métier, evaporating into unmanageable fears. For a ferocious man who prided the realness of his books it was a loss too hard to take. Hemingway could only face it by voiding himself from the world.
Head-versus-heart is a constant in all artists. They strive for balance but when the relationship refuses to be symbiotic, which in most cases isn't, and unravels, it's difficult for the artist to weave the tangled skein. The pain arising out of these bonds that break fast produces dazzling work but when everything goes asunder, the pounding pain hurtles them to death, at their own hands or at the hands of their inexorable fate
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FACE YOUR FEARS WITH SELF-RESPECT
A person whom we call courageous is not one without fear, but one who has learnt to face fear without fear. Fear is the fight between faith andbelief in oneself on one hand, versus the negative idea or expectation you have about your future on the other hand.
You are literally fighting with your own positive and negative energies.
On a dark night, a man was walking on a narrow path. Suddenly , his foot hit a rock and he stumbled and slipped down. He managed to catch hold of a branch hanging over the rock. The man tightly held onto the branch. He shouted for help but the only response was his voice echoing back. Hearing the echo, the man was terrified that he might be at the mouth of a huge abyss.
The night seemed endless and the man was desperately holding on, hoping he could get some help. Finally dawn arrived . The man looked down to see how deep the abyss was, but there was no abyss, just two feet down was a big rock!
Your fears are exactly like this, you think it is an abyss but it is actually just a few feet. If you can face your fears, you see they have no depth. Because you magnify the fears, you imagine them to be an abyss. It is your choice to let go of the branch and the fear, or to keep clinging onto it and torturing yourself. Every time you feel fear, do not disrespect yourself . Don't lose confidence or condemn yourself thinking, 'What kind of a being am I?'
The fears that you have about your life, be it fear of failure, fear of losing your near and dear ones, fear of losing your wealth, fear of the unknown and every fear can be used as a door to enlightenment . If you understand the true nature of fear, it can be considered a blessing. If you are courageous enough to face the fear, it can lead you to liberation. Sometimes , just by switching your attention to something else, you can come out of fear. But that is not fearlessness.
Fearlessness means taking a quantum jump into the consciousness where you will never experience fear of losing anything ! Fearlessness does not mean non-existence of fear. It means the fear is there, but you have tremendous energy or courage to live with it and face it. Fearlessness means having the energy or the courage to live even with the maximum fear. It is going beyond that fear and being neither attached to nor detached from the fear. Be Blissful!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HOCKEY IS AN ATTRACTIVE MARKETING PROPERTY
No. At the Beijing Olympics, hockey celebrated its 100 years as part of the Olympic and was among the top 10 sports shown live in China. There has been a constant increase in the number of countries playing this beautiful game. The number now stands at 127. So there's no reason why Hockey can't be a great marketing property.
Sponsors and corporates globally do not hesitate to be a part of this game which is full of exciting skills, hard running, robust body play and colourful playing kit. The artificial surfaces, which comes in various form like the Astro Turf Polygrass Polyethylene, Super Turf, make excellent television viewing and is a delight for sponsors. The 70 minutes of electrifying high-voltage game keeps the spectators, players and officials on their toes.
Hockey, due to its popularity, appeal and electrifying atmosphere, has always had one of the largest viewerships at the Olympic, World Cup, Asian Games and Champions Trophy. Can one forget the Premier Hockey League in India which drew packed crowds in thousands at the stadium in Chandigarh, Chennai, and Hyderabad? What about any all-India hockey tournament that draws a sellout crowd?
If Hockey is not a popular sport in India, then why was India given a chance to host the World Cup? Why would Hero Honda, Sahara and Sail sponsor the World Cup? And what about manufacturers of sports goods and corporates who would be displaying their logos during the event?
Hockey is our national game and every individual sponsor, corporate house who need mileage, publicity will only get double the mileage once they start sponsoring it. Sponsors and India Inc should not go by the present situation of hockey, but look at it as an attractive marketing property that has been ignored wrongly.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
KEEP AN EYE ON PUBLIC BORROWING
If the impending Great Depression has been averted and has taken the shape of a more-manageable Great Recession, the reason, in large part, is due to the phenomenal fiscal and monetary easing the world witnessed in the past few months.
Countries such as Iceland with debt-GDP of 300% and Japan (200%) might be a bit of an exception; but there's no disputing that the sharp run-up in public sector debt is likely to prove one of the most enduring legacies of the 2007-09 financial crises in the US and elsewhere. Since 2007, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development government deficits have risen by 7% of GDP to just over 8%. Debt, excluding contingent liabilities, has risen by about 25% of GDP to just over 100%.
Fears over sovereign risk have risen sharply in the past few months as investors have become increasingly alarmed over rising budget deficits and record levels of government bond issuance needed to repay public debt. As a result, the cost of insuring against the risk of debt default by European nations is now higher than for top investment-grade companies.
Outsized deficits and epic bank bailouts may be useful in fighting a downturn, but what is the long-run macroeconomic impact of high levels of government debt?
In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper, Carmen M Reinhart and Kenneth S Rogoff look at new data on 44 countries spanning about 200 years and covering a wide range of political systems, institutions, exchange rate arrangements and historic circumstances to assess the long-term consequences of such debt.
Not surprisingly, they find that contrary to widespread belief that a return to robust growth will see debt burdens shrink, countries seldom 'grow' their way out of deep debt burdens. In reality, high government debt extracts a toll in terms of both lower growth and higher inflation. Over the past two centuries, debt in excess of 90% has typically been associated with mean growth of 1.7% versus 3.7% when debt is low (under 30% of GDP) and over 3% for moderately-indebted countries with a debt-to-GDP ratio of between 30% and 90% of GDP.
The same result is seen for emerging markets. During the period 1900-2009, for example, median and average GDP growth hovered around 4-4.5% for levels of debt below 90% of GDP but median growth fell markedly to 2.9% for high debt (above 90%). The decline is even greater for the average growth rate, which fell to 1%.
Debt thresholds are importantly country-specific; nonetheless, the paper finds that as debt levels rise towards historical limits, risk premia begin to rise sharply, presenting highly-indebted governments with difficult tradeoffs. As a result, even countries that are committed to fully repaying their debts are forced to dramatically tighten fiscal policy in order to appear credible to investors and, thereby, reduce risk premia.
However, there the similarity with advanced economies ends. When it comes to inflation, while advanced countries as a group show no apparent link between inflation and public debt levels though some like the US have experienced higher inflation when debt-GDP is high emerging markets with higher debt levels show significantly higher levels of inflation. In fact, the median inflation rate more than doubles from less than 7% to 16% as debt rises from a low (0 to 30%) range to above 90%.
The authors add a couple of caveats. First, the relationship between government debt and real GDP growth is weak for debt-GDP ratios below a threshold of 90% of GDP. Second, emerging markets face lower thresholds for external debt (public and private). When external debt reaches 60% of GDP, annual growth declines by about 2%; for higher levels, growth rates are roughly cut in half.
Either way, with or without the caveats, there's no getting away from the grim warning.
(Growth in a time of debt: NBER Working Paper No. 15639,January 2010, Carmen M Reinhart, University of Maryland, and Kenneth S Rogoff, Harvard University)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
I COME HERE TO LEARN AND ENJOY: RAHUL BAJAJ IN DAVOS
DAVOS: Rahul Bajaj points out that he does not do a stroke of work during the five days of the World Economic Forum in Davos. "From 1979 I have done no business in Davos. Not that I didn't want to. I didn't need to. I came here to do two things only. Learn and enjoy."
Tucked away in the eastern Swiss Alps, Davos, has become a yearly 'talk shop' for corporate decision makers, intellectuals and hordes of journalists who gather the World Economic Forum.
And for the past 32 years without a break, Rahul Bajaj, Chairman and Managing Director of Bajaj Auto Ltd. has been attending WEF.
"Those who say it's a talk shop shouldn't come here. Because they don't understand what it is."
Bajaj justifies his attendance by explaining the World Economic Forum is the only gathering that brings together the world's top CEOs, policy makers and heads of state under one conference centre.
"Klaus Schawab is doing a great job in getting these people together."
This year Rahul Bajaj is attending the WEF with his family. But he is quick to point out that he does not bring the family to Davos, despite being its head.
"It's a very independent family. Neeraj comes as Chariman and MD of Mukund. Shekhar comes as Bajaj Electricals chairman. We consult here, we talk to each other."
When asked if he thinks the world's biggest economies are looking better than last year, Rahul Bajaj says he is not overly bullish on recovery. He however does not subscribe to the opinion there will be a 'double dip' ecession. ( Watch )
"Not even Mister Doomsday Roubini," believes the United States and developed economies will slip back into recession. The key, Bajaj points out is how to withdraw stimulus, while keeping the pace of recovery and growth. Especially in India.
"Food prices! Now if sugar goes from 15 rupees a kilo to 50 rupees a kilo; how much subsidy can you give? A decrease in excise duty on other products including vehicles is not gonna help."
Bajaj believes that next month's national budget will show continuation in the growth process with stimulus left intact.
His recipe for Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee is -- increase excise duty on two-wheelers and cars by two percent and bring back the service tax to 12 per cent.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'ANAGRAM BUY WILL HELP US FILL THE GAP ON RETAIL SIDE'
ASHWIN J PUNNEN
Edelweiss Group on Wednesday announced the acquisition of Anagram Capital, marking its entry into the highly-competitive retail broking space. The combined entity, which has a daily turnover of over Rs 5,500 crore, will be the largest broking house in the country. And now Edelweiss is firming up aggressive plans, including an investment of Rs 100 crore, to scale up the business. Edelweiss chairman Rashesh Shah spells out his retail plans in an interview to ET NOW. Excerpts:
What is the rationale behind this acquisition and how is Anagram going to fit into your scheme of things?
We are strong on institutional, corporate and HNI (high net worth individuals) side of the business, the only gap in the portfolio was retail. Anagram offers us the opportunity to scale up the business and fill the gap on the retail side. Anagram has 1.8 lakh customers and 135 branches and a very wide and diversified client base.
We are strong on the F&O (futures & option) side, while they are strong on the cash side of the business. In our case, institutional business currently is around 80-85% and our internal objective is to have 50:50 institutional and retail business.
We currently trade around Rs 4,600 crore a day and Anagram does another Rs 800 crore a day, so together we should do about Rs 5,500 crore of average daily trading volume which should make us the largest brokerage house in India.
You have paid Rs 164 crore for buying a 100% stake in Anagram. On a price-to-earnings basis, how much valuation are you giving the company?
Anagram has an equity base of Rs 65 crore. We paid slightly under Rs 100 crore as a goodwill value. The total revenue for the year should be between Rs 125 crore to Rs 145 crore. On that basis, we paid 1.1 times the
revenue of the company.
How are you planning to integrate Anagram into your business and how are you going to scale
up the business?
We will run Anagram as a 100% subsidiary of Edelweiss. We will continue with the management team and the brand 'Anagram' as it has a strong recall with the clients. For scaling up the business, we have an internal approval for investing more than Rs 100 crore, which we will invest over the next couple of years. We are looking to create capital products for retail clients and reformulate our research to cater to them.
Any plans for more inorganic growth?
We are always happy to grow organically and inorganically. Currently, there are 8-10 million investors in the market directly or through IPOs, I think this will grow by three times in the next 5-7 years. So, 21 million to 30 million people should be investing in the market, which is still a small number, considering India's overall population.
We are very hungry for growth. So, if there is something that allows us to grow inorganically we will look at it. We are fortunate that we have a strong capital base and balance sheet and an internal culture to be able to acquire and integrate the business.
What is your broad view on the market? Do you expect a pre-budget rally?
The global cues are in a correction phase, as liquidity is getting tight globally. There is selling from the foreign institutional investors and some fresh equity issuances are coming into the market. That is putting pressure on the market and a cap on any upside.
We expect the index to remain in a trading zone this year, investors should not expect a big upside on the index side. But, there will be upside in individual stocks and it is going to be a stock-pickers' market. Stock-picking in small and mid-cap segment will be the theme of this year.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE'RE AN AFFORDABLE LUXURY BRAND: ANDRE J HOFFMAN, PRESIDENT, APAC, L'OCCITANE
French luxury skin care and beauty brand L'Occitane has lined up major plans for India. Founded in 1976, the brand today operates out of more than 1,200 boutiques across 90 countries. A global player offering high quality fragrances, skincare and bodycare products, L'Occitane claims to have clocked growth even during recessionary times. In an interview L'Occitane Asia Pacific president, Andre J Hoffman , outlines the company's long-term plans and India's expanding luxury market. Excerpts:
Why did it take you so long to enter the Indian market?
We did enter the market in 2001 with Ravissant through a distributorship model. Now, we have re-entered the market in a joint venture with Kolkata-based Beauty Concepts. The elaborate laws and high duties in India makes it difficult for a brand to set up shop. We had to bring in the right management as well to ensure that all aspects are in sync with each other. All that took time.
Did the economic downturn have any impact on your business worldwide?
We were not recession proof, but definitely recession resistant. We have had product launches, marketing initiatives and promotions even during recession. In many ways, it was a record year for us. We managed to perform well and clocked a double-digit growth on a global scale for our group. About 49% of our global business comes from Asia Pacific. In fact, Japan accounts for 25% of our business.
What are your expansion plans for India?
Last month, we opened a store at Khan Market in New Delhi, and now we have opened another one in the DLF Promenade Mall. Our strategy is to expand to Mumbai and other cities. Over the next five years, we plan to open 20 stores. India is a long-term project for us. We have started with two shops and if get a positive response, we will open more soon. We opened 50 shops in China over the last four-and-a-half years after seeing the fantastic response. Our original plan was to set up five shops in three years. The strong customer reaction made this expansion possible in China. We hope to achieve similar results in India as well.
Who is your target group here? What pricing strategies have you adopted here?
We are targeting the class A and B+ consumer. We have priced our products competitively. However, we have made a conscious decision to be an affordable luxury brand. We want to build a strong consumer base here and realise that a lot of Indians are very value conscious.
CRITICAL TASK FOR GEN. VK SINGH
INCOMING chiefs of the Army, Navy or Air staff customarily spend the period between the announcement of their appointment and assumption of high office preparing themselves to tackle demanding situations such as modernisation and re-equipment, keeping borders inviolate, tackling militancy, revamping manpower utilisation and other "operational" issues. Fortunately, the resource crunch is not as severe as in the past. However, Lt-Gen Vijay Kumar Singh, who will be redeploying from Fort William to South Block, has a task that would never have been imagined by some of his early predecessors ~ restoring to the uniform the respect and dignity it had commanded when it adhered strictly to the code of conduct preached and practised by "fellow Rajput", Cariappa. Having taken an upright position on the infamous Sukhna land scam, in contrast to the brass in New Delhi's seemingly underplaying it (there is little point in the defence minister expressing dismay, he must intervene and ensure appropriate action), the incoming chief has raised expectations among defence observers.
Will his tenure mark the end of the army's state of denial, refusal to admit that from within have triggered the influences and examples that have corroded that much vaunted military ethos? And simultaneously cost the uniform the aura and credibility it had long enjoyed. Only those who refuse to "see" will not discern a troubling trend that runs from the rape of a student in a park in the Capital, through the "ketchup colonel", complaints of sexual harassment, dubious promotions, scandals in the procurement of not just munitions but also clothing and foodstuffs, that has now peaked in the Darjeeling foothills. Worse, they have not seen any effective or sustained effort by the brass to try and redeem those obviously falling standards. Is it not disgraceful that more than once in recent times the defence minister (inept though he may be) has publicly expressed concern in this regard? Time was when no politician dared question the integrity of the military, but now the exhortation inscribed on Chetwode Hall is honoured only in the breach: izzat and iqbaal are sentiments rendered hollow by current officer-conduct. It would be in the lasting interests of the force that Gen VK Singh initiates a process of moral re-armament, for the breakdown of what "army" once represented cannot be camouflaged by all the spit and polish on display on Republic Day.
ZARDARI ON AN OVERDRIVE
Hobbled by last month's ruling of the Supreme Court that stripped him of his amnesty from charges of corruption, President Asif Ali Zardari is now on an overdrive in terms of public relations. And significantly, both within the country and across the Radcliffe Line. Pakistan's "Mr Ten Per Cent" may be speaking the language of a political scientist when he says that "one democracy must not fear another". He may be right, but only theoretically. If post-independence history is taken into account, India remains ever so embedded in democracy. At another remove, Pakistan has known military dictatorships all too often. Even as an exercise in contrived bonhomie, Zardari's recent presentation in Lahore is thoroughly unconvincing. Not least because as the central political authority debilitates, the ambitions of the GHQ in Rawalpindi will get sharper still. Within the country, the beleaguered President may be conveying the impression of fighting back, but there is an element of playing to the gallery as he strives to reach out to the grassroots in dominant Punjab, in his native Sind and in volatile Baluchistan. He seems intent on clinging on unabashedly to the presidential pedestal for some time yet, taking advantage of the absence of any court directive to resign. However spurious his election, the concept of presidential immunity may yet protect him from prosecution. Despite the formidable array of opponents, his speeches are becoming increasingly defiant. Not that there is much substance in what he has had to say in recent weeks. He can't be unaware of the fact that Pakistan, tormented since its creation, stands to be governed by a severely indicted, even a thoroughly dubious, President. There is no mistaking the studious calculation that has marked his recent presentations, notably the choice of provincial languages and the sartorial changes that match the region to which he comes calling... from Lahore to Sind to Baluchistan. There is a decidedly populist overtone in such outpourings as: "I can hear the voices of the poor!" The opulent white and gold Punjabi turban or the skullcap ~ in place of the immaculate jacket and tie ~ didn't quite match the impoverished surroundings. It is an open question whether Zardari will be able to garner popular support, let alone revitalise the Pakistan People's Party. There is little doubt that he has been driven to the wall by the Supreme Court order that applies to the country's interior and defence ministers as well. Zardari seems desperate to placate the grassroots across the country as the average Pakistani is acutely aware that the establishment stands indicted.
BECAUSE TRINAMUL HAS FOUND A POPULIST PLATFORM
When the state president of the Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad talks of starting a literacy drive in the same breath in which he claims the democratic right to fight student union elections against "CPI-backed hooligans'', it should be more than clear what kind of education Mamata Banerjee has asked her party men to spread. It is revealing that her party has an education cell to conduct camps and take up schemes that normally falls within the purview of the school education department. The suggestion is that the opposition party has swung into action because the state has failed in its basic duties in the education sector. That may be true but the question survives whether Trinamul can proceed to hijack the government's responsibilities before it has achieved its objective of leading a victory procession into Writers' Buildings. In the context of all that has happened, it is possible that Miss Banerjee has instructed enthusiastic party workers to launch a "democratic movement'' in colleges where they allege that the authorities are hand in glove with the CPI-M-backed Students Federation of India to prevent opponents from filing nominations for the students' election. If the allegation is even partly true, the "democratic'' steps proposed to be taken could escalate into more tensions. Already campuses where elections have been fiercely fought have erupted into war zones. A more organised effort to reaffirm the process of change could turn into a nightmare for those who have no concerns other than their academic pursuits. A literacy drive is too serious a matter to be taken up at the level of party workers. Even before a formal announcement from the party, the students have given themselves the noble task of shedding light in areas controlled by the Maoists and fulfilling the twin objective of becoming self-reliant and politically conscious. Again, this seems part of an agenda lifted from the tense scenario in the districts, and tensions can only grow as elections to 82 municipalities draw closer. While districts like Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore may have suffered from pathetic neglect, the question is whether political activists are qualified to teach or have the infrastructure at their disposal. The Trinamul leader may have hit upon yet another populist measure. But this one has disaster written all over it.
A FEDERAL PERSPECTIVE IS IMPERATIVE
AJAY K MEHRA
THE incompetence and chaos with which the horror of 26/11 was handled at every level has provoked experts to hold forth on the country's internal security. However, this is the first time that the union home minister has come up with 'concrete plans'. For the first time in recent years, some concrete thinking appears to have been spared on the subject of internal security, and optimistically at the level of the minister. Hopefully, follow-up action will be taken. Commendable, indeed!
There are three aspects of Mr P Chidambaram's presentation at the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture on 23 December 2009. Beginning with the police ~ the foundation of internal security ~ he dwelt on the role of the central police organisations. Notably, he suggested that the union home ministry be restructured.
First, taking a departure from the horror of 26/11, he highlighted the significance of the police. This has been constitutionally incorporated in List II (i.e. state list, item 1 and 2) of Schedule 7, qualified since the 42nd amendment in 1976 by Item 2A of the Union List. This brings in the role of the Union Government in the deployment of Central forces, a possibility that existed under Article 355 that has never been used. Without blaming the states directly, he referred to a human resource deficit. A billion-plus nation is in a tearing hurry to assume 'world power' status with only 130 policemen per 100,000 population, against the international average of 270. He pointed out that 400,000 constables needed to be recruited immediately in a free and fair manner.
HE also referred to the technology deficit in policing. The police stations function in a technological vacuum despite the introduction of computers and mobile phones. He pointed out how community representatives were significant to 'intelligence gathering'.
Second, he referred to the chaotic multiplicity within the union government ~ specialised policing organisations (CRPF, CISF), para-military organisations (BSF, ITBP), commando units (NSG, SPG) and specialised job organisations such as intelligence agencies, record keepers and research bodies. There are several coordination committees that complicate the functioning at critical junctures ~ be it 26/11 or confronting the Maoist insurgency.
Before blaming the states, the Centre needs to put its own house in order. Mr Chidambaram outlined a new coordinated structure for dealing with terrorism and extremism. The proposal to set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) has been mooted.
Finally, the home minister referred to how unwieldy his own ministry had become. A valid point, but the fact remains that internal security is linked with a whole range of other functions.
The debate on internal security in India has been polarised between the need to make the country secure and the lack of physical and human security. This has resulted in a wide gap. The tussle between the Centre and the states has made matters worse. Given the pronounced trend towards federalisation despite the strong-Centre framework, the home minister followed the dictum that discretion was the better part of valour.
What Mr Chidambaram did not mention explicitly was corruption and politicisation in recruitment and postings at the police station level. This negates the system of training. Under-qualified, if not the unemployable types, get recruited. The training procedure hasn't been sufficiently streamlined though this aspect is routinely mentioned in reports on the police and administrative reforms.
Not all the recently created states have police training institutes. It may be easy to recruit 400,000 constables across the country? But how will they be moulded into an efficient and vigilant force?
India needs to think on federal lines at every level, and beyond the compulsions of partisanship in a fiercely competing multi-party democracy. It must develop a multi-partisan approach towards federal issues, particularly one as crucial as internal security. The "security architecture" that Mr Chidambaram has proposed calls for a political consensus.
The Congress, since the late 1960s till it lost its dominant party status in the 1990s, has been guilty of partisanship and politicisation of the police. As the only truly national party, it must take the initiative to correct its mistakes and instill confidence in parties across the board. New and small states may find it unviable to have so many institutes for training. These centres can be region-based with appropriate assistance from the Centre.
The police are in the frontline to face public ire. And this despite being poorly trained and having to polish the shoes of the superiors. We need to look deeper into the malaise. The number of IPS officers, convicted for such crimes as murder, forgery, rape and molestation is mind-boggling. Officers have been seen dancing at a party hosted by a don in Mumbai. The officer guilty of molesting Ruchika Girhotra had gone sufficiently high up the service ladder. He was even decorated with medals. We need to ask: Where does the rot begin? Where does it end?
The investigation into the Nithari and Arushi Talwar cases was botched up at senior levels. It was highlighted by the media. Yet there are instances to which the media didn't react. The role of the police in tackling riots, notably the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, will forever remain open to question. A large segment of the state's populace, had ignored the alleged culpability of the police.
Stemming the rot
THE rot can be set right politically and collectively. And, without stemming this rot, it is impossible to set up a sturdy "security architecture". Therefore, the two related aspects are police reforms and political consensus. Only then can Mr Chidambaram's suggestions fructify.
The states have been reluctant to carry out the orders of the Supreme Court on police reforms. Senior Central officers point to the way in which the states either divert or squander funds earmarked for police modernisation.
Under the circumstances, they may not be willing participants in the home minister's planned exercise unless a multi-partisan consensus is built on the issue.
There could be little disagreement over creation of a National Counter Terrorism Centre. However, a large and complex country such as ours needs a regionalised and well-coordinated approach towards dealing with internal security threats, including terrorism and insurgency. And such an approach is possible only with the active participation and coordination of states, irrespective of political dispensations.
The reorganisation of the Home Ministry with a separate internal security wing is a good idea. It would be worthwhile to consider a separate Ministry of Internal Security, which can also coordinate with the states.
Finally, the people have to be factored in any internal security construct. Community policing, as an instrument of crime prevention, is an internationally tested strategy. The colonial mould of the police will have to change.
And this is possible only with greater public participation in internal security.
The writer is Director, Centre for Public Affairs, Noida. He is also a member of the Task Force on Criminal Justice, National Security and Centre-State Cooperation, constituted by the Centre State Relations Commission.
KOREA'S INDIA STRATEGY
Korea's India strategy is part of its historical quest to follow an independent foreign policy which articulates the diplomacy of "safe-distance'' from outside powers, says Jitenndra UttamIn response to India's "Look East'' policy, Korea has developed a coherent "India strategy'' which was on display when President of Korea, Mr Lee Myung Pak, received guard of honour at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi. This is a rare honour bestowed only to a select few, signalling India's proximity with the guest nation. Till recently, India was largely unaware of Korea, particularly its phenomenal transformation from an agrarian to a mature industrial economy. However, in a decade, most Indian households have bought at least one product made by Korea. Form nail clippers to chewing gum, from ships to semi-conductors, from automobiles to air-conditioners, Korean products are transmitting technological and scientific progress of a nation that houses global brands such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai.
The making of Korea's "India strategy'' begins with three path-breaking events end of the Cold War, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the economic rise of China which set the stage for a significant shift in Korean foreign policy leading to a transition from "US-centricism'' to "Sino-centricism''. A movement away from the US took a marked turn during the Roh Moo Hyun administration when public opinion in Korea shifted decisively to China. Some observers started to think that Korea has re-entered the Chinese World Order.
A decisive turn in Korea's Sino-centric approach occurred when China's north-east Asia history project suggested that Korea's Goguryo dynasty had its origin in China, hinting at a possible claim to present-day North Korean territory. With this gross misinterpretation of history, Korea's love affair with China took a beating. A period of review of Korea's "China-exclusive approach'' was followed by a "Chinndia strategy'', which argued for a new strategic rebalancing between two Asian giants, China and India.
In the backdrop of wider shifts and turns in Korea's foreign policy, India's structural change beginning with the 1991 economic reforms coupled with the rising information technology industry provided a new momentum to Korea's engagement with India. Buttressed by a new hope that a country of more than a billion people has seen a turn in its economic fortunes, Korea grasped the nitty-gritty of the "India story''. Responding to the unfolding saga of Indian consumerism, Korea initiated a "market-seeking approach'' which made a profound shift in Korea's thinking about India.
Korea's India strategy is also part of its historical quest to follow an independent foreign policy which articulates the diplomacy of "safe-distance'' from outside powers. Korea's history of leaning on China, Japan and the United States has generated a nationalist response that argues in favour of Korea's new status in the international arena based on its success in the economic sphere.
India's economic position has been complemented by the two facts - the absence of any political problem between the two countries and the historical connect through visits of various Korean scholar-monks to India and more so by the myth of an Indian princess from Ayodhya marrying a Korean king of the Kaya dynasty.
Korea's India strategy has become operational in three distinct phases: the market-seeking phase from the early 1970s to the late-1980s when Korean corporations were only interested in exporting consumer electronics, textiles and light engineering goods to India; the production-seeking phase from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s which witnessed a renewed interest from Korean conglomerates to establish production facilities by controlling 100 per cent equity stakes; and finally the cluster-seeking phase from the late-2000s to present which has signalled the dominance of managerial logic in creating Korean industrial clusters in Delhi-NCER, Mumbai-Pune, Chennai, and Orissa.
Korea has started to view India as an important factor contributing peace and stability in the Asian region. In the evolving new Asian balance of power, India's role is very much recognized by Korea. Moreover, Korea's emerging military-industrial complex, which reported more than a billion dollars of exports last year, sees India as a potentially big market of Korean military equipment. In the past, when Korea had doubts about Sino-US detente after President Nixon's visit to the mainland in 1971, it looked to India for strategic understanding, including nuclear cooperation.
Korea's deepening strategic relations with India have gained wider significance in the evolving Asian order where the US-led "strategic triangle'' consists of Japan and Korea. This is being increasingly encroached upon by the China-led emerging strategic corridor involving Russia and North Korea. Against this backdrop, economic, political and strategic understanding between New Delhi and Seoul has the potential to provide diversity in the region.
The writer is assistant professor in Korea Studies, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
CONCERN OVER DEATHS IN DELHI
A UN independent human rights expert has voiced concern over deaths from a cold wave and has underscored the need for adequate shelter to protect people in Delhi from harsh weather. "The lives of hundreds of homeless people in India are at risk as temperatures near zero degrees", said Raquel Rolnik, on the right to adequate housing.
The UN noted that 10 homeless people have lost their lives in New Delhi last month, while some 100 people have reportedly died in northern India due to the freezing cold. Ms Rolnik pointed out that the number of homeless people in India has grown since 2007, but the number of shelters has plummeted from 46 to 24 in New Delhi.
She said that the Commonwealth Games appears to have caused the closing down of shelters in New Delhi, with public authorities evicting homeless people and tearing down their places of residence in spite of the frigid temperatures.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi demolished a temporary night shelter on Pusa Road, left 250 people without shelter and this allegedly resulted in the deaths of two people, according to a press release issued by her office. In spite of an order by the Delhi High Court on 7 January for immediate restoration of the shelter and the protection of the uprooted families, the authorities have yet to help them, she added.
Some 400 people were evicted from a shelter at Pul Mitahi, where many construction workers for the Commonwealth Games and Dalit families, were living.
Ms Rolnik welcomed the Delhi High Court's ruling and urged authorities to "halt the demolition of homeless shelters, to provide immediate assistance and adequate shelter to the affected persons, and not to evict homeless persons in the winter, on humanitarian grounds".
Human trafficking: UN and other partners are meeting in Myanmar to fight the war on human trafficking, sexual slavery and labour exploitation as officials from six countries of South-East Asia's Mekong region also took part. "It is only through this kind of coordinated approach and solidarity of the counter-trafficking community that we can make a real difference in the lives of people who are suffering the cruel consequences of human trafficking and exploitation", the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking regional manager, Matthew Friedman, told the 7th Senior Officials Meeting of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking in Bagan.
China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking of Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Asean and NGOs and donors are attending the conference.
According to ILO estimates, 9.49 million people were in forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region as of 2005, with a significant number believed to be in the Mekong region. The countries have put in place legal and cooperative frameworks to prevent human trafficking taking place, prosecute traffickers and exploitative employers and protect victims, helping them return home safely and with dignity.
The Bagan meeting will take a fresh look at regional approaches to counter trafficking, review plans and priorities, and discuss future joint actions, focusing on law enforcement and the recovery and reintegration of victims.
Damages in Gaza: Israel has paid the UN $10.5 million for damage to its properties in Gaza during Israeli offensive against Hamas last year. Israel said that it launched the attacks in response to rockets launched by Hamas. Israeli shells struck the UN's main centre in Gaza City, destroyed a warehouse with tons of food and medicine, and three UN schools run for Palestinian refugee children were attacked.
The incidents were investigated by the Board of Inquiry early last year, after which Israel and the UN held discussions over compensation. "With this payment, the United Nations has agreed that the financial issues relating to those incidents referred to in the terms of reference of the Board of Inquiry are concluded", UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said at a news briefing.
"The Secretary-General would like to record the cooperative approach that the Government of Israel has shown in the course of the discussions that led to this settlement," he added.
Blue helmets for Haiti: The Security Council has authorized 3,500 additional peacekeeping troops to Haiti after a call by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts after the devastating earthquake. Mr Ban asked the council for extra 1,500 police officers and 2,000 troops to reinforce the mission, to augment its 9,000 uniformed personnel on the ground.
The Council took that action, "recognizing the dire circumstances and urgent need for a response" to the quake that left one-third of the country's population of nine million in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. Mr Ban voiced his gratitude to the Council for its swift action. "By approving my proposal the Council sends a clear signal the world is with Haiti", he told reporters.
The UN peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, said a pledge for 800 troops has been received from the Dominican Republic and more pledges are expected soon. The additional forces are needed, Mr Le Roy said, to escort humanitarian convoys, to secure humanitarian corridors that are being established, and to constitute a reserve force "in case the situation unravels and security deteriorates."
Corruption: According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, violence and poverty are the major challenges confronting Afghanistan, but 60 per cent of the population said that corruption is their biggest concern. The report stated that Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes over the past 12 months. "The Afghans say that it is impossible to obtain a public service without paying a bribe", said Antonio Maria Costa, a UN offocial.
The report is based on interviews with 7,600 people in 12 provincial capitals and over 1,600 villages on their experiences between autumn 2008 and autumn 2009. It indicated that one Afghan out of two had to pay at least one kickback to a public official.
More than half of the time, the request for the bribe was explicitly demanded by the service provider, and in most cases, the bribes were paid in cash. The average bribe is $160 in a country where the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is just $425 per year. Afghans paid out $2.5 billion in bribes over the past 12 months, equivalent to almost one quarter of the country's GDP. This is similar to the revenue accrued by the opium trade in 2009.
"Drugs and bribes are the two largest income generators in Afghanistan: together they correspond to about half the country's GDP", Mr. Costa noted.
It found that public officials are seen as the biggest culprits, with 25 per cent of Afghans saying they had to pay one bribe to police and local officials during the survey period, while between 10 and 20 per cent had to pay bribes either to judges, prosecutors, or members of the government.
SWINGING IN A SARI
Seven long yards of plain cloth can often work wonders. It's amazing to see the changes it can bring about in a person. I remember well how my tomboyish younger daughter had got almost paranoid with the thought of having to don a sari when she went to senior school in the new academic year. Every single day had begun with her grumblings about the unfairness of it all. According to her, saris were so constricting; they were an affront to her fundamental right to free movement. "Why, boys don't have to wear a lungi to school?" she had complained.
It was a tough time for the rest of the family who had to bear her tantrums with patience. Her older sister advised her to accept the inevitable and practice draping a sari round her slim frame. She even offered to teach her the tricks of the trade. Then for some days there was peace. Now every day there was a new demand. She needed a starched sari to practise with and I readily agreed to this small price for a little peace. By the end of a week's rigorous practise under sis, who was herself very meticulous about the length of the pallu, the exact number of pleats in front, the length of sari that must be tucked in, the number of safety pins to be kept ready etc. the younger one felt confident. "I still feel like a mummy though. Only that special cream is missing", she grumbled to her father when he had timidly inquired about her progress with the sari.
The day before the reopening of school was a trying time for all of us. Even the pep talks of older sis couldn't bolster up her sagging confidence. "What if the sari gets undone suddenly as I get up to answer some question? What if my sari winds round the spokes of the cycle while I'm going to school and I fall and am late and on the first day too! Oh dear, what will happen if someone chases me and I can't run away as I used to?..." Doubts like these seemed to assail her.
On the day school reopened she woke up at 4 o'clock in the morning and with her the whole family. Her sis was already helping her patiently as she fretted and fumed. "You said there should be six pleats in front. Now you have made just five! Don't you think the pallu should be a little bit longer?" And finally ~ "Oh, what have you done! I can't walk!" We had to hastily smother our smiles under a seriously concerned expression as we watched her "waddle" to her cycle. It seemed she was going to waddle-walk all the way to her school!
Throughout the day I pondered over the unfairness of it all. Why should girls be forced to wear some dress if they don't want to? A lot of city schools have realised this and have removed this dress code for the girl students. It was really too much of a hassle when those girls had to struggle through jams, traffic, crowded buses, potholes, ankle-deep water. Though in Santiniketan these were absent, the girls had to face the dripping rainy season in the new session and looked miserable most of the time. Salwar-kurta, I felt convinced, was a much better option.
And then she returned, radiant and demure, as if she had conquered half the world. Her "waddle" was a nice smooth swing as if at last the butterfly had got the feel of her wings. Her hair was smooth and tidy. There were no scratches on her elbows and there were no mud-stains on her sari. "The boys in my class said I looked nice in a sari and I didn't fight with them even once. In fact, they gave me half their share of the guavas as I couldn't climb the trees, you know. And it's strange but somehow I felt quite grown-up and responsible when I looked at the younger girls in skirts. And the teachers (here she named some of her favourite teachers) said I looked quite mature and you know XX even called me 'a lady'!" she smiled with genuine happiness.
"Wasn't it bothersome?" I asked. "Oh well...", she drawled, "it's not too bad really. I think I'll manage."
The Constitution of India, unarguably the republic's most hallowed text, represented a great churning of ideas. That churning itself was the product of the bigger social, economic and political upheaval articulated in the Indian national movement. But nationalism did not tie down the makers of the Constitution. They tried to enshrine certain universal values that they considered to be important for democracy and for India. The result was a huge, and perhaps even an over-written, document. Unfortunately, the intellectual response to the Constitution has been somewhat tardy. There have been points of procedure that have been debated but, other than the famous Kesavananda Bharati case that reiterated the supremacy of the Constitution and rejected the idea of absolute parliamentary sovereignty, very few really fundamental issues relating to the Constitution have been discussed in any intellectual or academic forum. The case just mentioned threw up the notion of the "basic structure" of the Constitution, which is inviolate. This notion is itself a contentious one since an ambiguity inheres in the idea of a "basic structure".
The prevailing ambience is that the Constitution is a closed book. This may well be a travesty of the intentions of some of the founding fathers who wanted the Constitution to be the subject of debate since it is the fount of democracy. In more ways than one, independent India has failed to live up to the intellectual challenge held out by the text that enshrined the spirit of independent India. There have been attempts in the recent past to set up a body to review the Constitution, but these have always lacked the intellectual weight to carry out such a project. The requirement is not for people who know the details of the Constitution sub-clause by sub-clause, but for persons capable of unravelling the philosophical assumptions that underpin the Constitution. What is demanded is the courage to question and debate these assumptions. To take one example: what was it that prompted the founding fathers to opt for bicameralism, and has the Upper House served the purpose for which it was established? Questions, however uncomfortable for the status quo, need to be asked. Their absence would suggest that Indian society has become intellectually sterile and is not pursued by self-doubt. Nothing could be more dangerous for democracy.
Knowing what is right does not always mean doing it. The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, seemed to have struck a chord across the board at the diamond jubilee of the Election Commission when she said that political parties must "evolve a consensus" on barring candidates with criminal records from contesting elections. Her sentiments were echoed by leaders of her own party as by those of others, emphasizing the prime minister's point that there was unanimity on this issue. Ironically, there is unanimity in action as well. Reportedly, there are 150 members of parliament with criminal backgrounds in the 15th Lok Sabha, with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party boasting the two highest numbers, the BJP running a close second to the Congress. The theme of "money and muscle power" corrupting politics is a well-worn one. Numerous discussions and pious intentions of successive governments have not made a jot of difference; a non-governmental organization's account shows a gradual increase in the number of elected candidates with criminal backgrounds.
There is a convenient vagueness about the phrases "criminal background" and "criminal record". Do these mean someone who has been convicted in the past and been freed after he has paid his debt to society, someone against whom criminal charges are pending, someone who is defending such a charge, or all of these? If it is a question of charges alone, anyone can be charged with anything under the sun. Should charges be established as cause for a bar, it would become a marvellous weapon against rivals for all politicians. On the other hand, given the dilatoriness of India's courts, if the charge itself is not a bar, conviction can be put off time and again and a potential convict can happily contest the polls. And is it fair to bar someone who has already paid the penalty? Yet the solution could be simple enough. If political parties were only to shed their hypocrisy, they could also unanimously declare that they know, as does the public, which among the aspiring candidates are directly associated with criminal activity. The parties are responsible for the choice of candidates; if their judgment were to be geared towards ethics rather than money and muscle support, it would not be difficult to "clean up" politics. Neither would there be any need to announce good intentions at every anniversary.
IT IS TIME THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHITECTURE WAS OVERHAULED
Rarely before in recent history has India had the unique opportunity to help shape the future of the world. Simultaneously, at few times since Independence have the security and strategic challenges been greater than they are today. The new national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, is faced with a world that is taking India more and more seriously, and yet the Indian State still lacks both the will and the capacity to make use of this extraordinary opening. In addition, the open Indian secular, pluralistic democracy is increasingly vulnerable to a range of threats that could potentially undermine the very idea of India. The NSA, in addition to being the principal security adviser to the prime minister, needs to help India face up to an extraordinarily turbulent world while charting out clear policy goals based on a long-term strategic vision, a grand strategy. This will not and cannot happen until virtually a new security architecture is put in place; radical reform, not piecemeal incrementalism, is indeed the need of the day.
With an unsettled neighbourhood, an increasingly aggressive China and an ambivalent Obama-led United States of America, India's external strategic environment is defined by uncertainty. Nowhere is this clearer than in India's neighbourhood. Consider this conundrum. India's military and economic prowess is greater than ever before, and yet India's ability to shape and influence the principal countries in South Asia is less than what it was, say, 25 years ago. One successful Sheikh Hasina visit, unfortunately, does not make for a harmonious South Asia. An unstable Nepal with widespread anti-India sentiment, a triumphalist Sri Lanka where Sinhalese chauvinism is showing no signs of accommodating the legitimate aspirations of the Jaffna Tamils, a chaotic Pakistan, which is unwilling to even reassure New Delhi on future terrorist strikes, are only symptomatic of a region that is being pulled in different directions.
Do we not need to have a long-term strategic vision of South Asia? Will India really be taken seriously as a global player if it is unable to settle its own neighbourhood? How do we ensure that our South Asia policy based on five principles bilateralism, non-reciprocity, non-interference, economic integration and irrelevance of borders will work without effective instruments and expertise? How do we further the prime minister's vision of a grand reconciliation with Pakistan, so essential also to heal communal relations within the subcontinent? What are the incentives and sanctions that can make Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence directorate review its blinkered policy of bleeding India by affecting a thousand cuts? How does one confront radical jihadi Islam and prevent it from spreading its contagion in India? These are critical questions that the NSA cannot afford to ignore.
China's recent assertiveness, acknowledged even by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is symbolic of not just China's rise, but it also signals that Beijing will be in the future, at best, our greatest challenge and, at worst, a security nightmare. A rising China is, of course, now a challenge for the entire international system. It is being increasingly recognized that there is a new generation of leaders in China who no longer believe in Deng Xiaoping's 24-character strategy of hiding their light and keeping their heads low. China, as we know from its history, is prone to take risks, especially when it believes that the balance of power is in its favour. At Copenhagen, as Fareed Zakaria reminded us recently, China even "displayed an unprecedented level of disregard for the United States and other western countries." A member of the delegation of the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, wagged a finger at President Barack Obama and shouted at him, which was so offensive that the Chinese premier had to ask the interpreter not to translate the words into English. Do we have a strategy for coping with a hegemonic and potentially belligerent China? Do we have a clear alternative vision of Asian stability and the security architecture needed to support it? And do we have the instruments, together with like-minded Asian States and perhaps the US, to ensure a balance in Asia and to prevent it from being submerged by Chinese interests and values?
Unfortunately, precisely at this moment of turbulence, India has to deal with a woolly-headed US, with no clear sense of geo-politics. Not surprisingly, a Heritage Foundation scholar recently described Obama's first year as the 'Audacity of Hype', playing on the title of the president's autobiography, Audacity of Hope. Notwithstanding the extraordinary reception that the Indian prime minister was given by President Obama in Washington, it is clear that the best outcome over the next few years would be to ensure a consolidation of the gains made during the Bush years. But, increasingly, there will be sparring between Indian and American negotiators over issues ranging from trade to climate change to non-proliferation and disarmament. We need a clear strategy to ensure this consolidation and to prevent, for instance, American back-peddling on the nuclear deal from having a wider ripple effect amongst other members of the nuclear suppliers group.
But security is more than just external challenges. In its essence, the objective of national security is to ensure for the country and its citizens freedom from fear. And the challenges on this road to comprehensive security are manifold: internal insurgencies including Naxalism, energy deficit, environmental decay, pandemics, migration and internal displacement, terrorism and particularly the threat of "nuclear" terrorism. These issues are far too important to be left to individual ministries. Indeed, even counter-terrorism cannot be just the domain of only the home ministry or the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre. The NSA must, by definition, be the principal assessor of major national security threats and provide the main security briefing to the prime minister and his cabinet team. It is vital, therefore, that the chiefs of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau have direct access to the prime minister through the NSA.
Fortunately, in Shiv Shankar Menon we have an outstanding officer with tremendous experience and a wealth of expertise. Most important, he enjoys the confidence of Manmohan Singh and shares his vision of India and its role in the neighbourhood and in world affairs. But to be an effective NSA, he will not just need to assert himself in unprecedented ways, but will also need to ensure that the moribund national security structure is revitalized. How often has the national security council met as the NSC and not as the cabinet committee on security? How often does the strategic policy group meet, and what has the follow-up been on its deliberations? Has the NSC secretariat not often been used to accommodate superannuating senior officers or to position those who may have missed out on plum postings? Should the NSCS not be restructured in a way that truly reflects India's aspirations of playing a global role, by including far more area experts? Is there not a danger that the national security advisory board may descend into becoming an 'old boys club' of former diplomats, civil servants and superannuated officers of the armed forces? Should the NSAB not, instead, become a vibrant platform for providing the best advice to the NSA by those outside government on critical issues facing the nation? Finally, and most critically, there should be a dedicated cell within the NSCS which provides long-term assessment of the threats facing the nation, which may build on some of the work already done by the directorate of net assessment in the headquarters of the integrated defence staff and the former task force on long-term threats.
The author is professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK
FIFTH COLUMN -REENA SEN
In the mid-1970s, a small group of parents and their friends started the first school for children with cerebral palsy in two rooms in the Ballygunge military camp. The premises were on loan from the army and time-bound; all efforts at getting an alternative site had come to nought. A friend and well-wisher, Shankar Gupta, a young leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), introduced us to Jyoti Basu, and we appealed to him to help us locate a suitable tract to build a school that could be accessible for children with multiple disabilities.
Basu listened to us carefully and asked many questions. Perhaps it was our earnestness and passion that convinced him about the credibility of the cause, and he promised to help. A few weeks passed, and then there was a call from Writers' Buildings informing us that there were a few plots that seemed suitable and we should have a look. What we did not realize then was that Jyotibabu would also come with us to see the land.
When I went to Writers' Buildings, Gupta said that Jyotibabu was coming with us. I was completely speechless. As we got into the car, I remember sitting on my hands to prevent them from shaking and I kept giggling like a nervous school- girl. I have no idea what Jyotibabu made of this infantile behaviour but he appeared not to notice and for that, I was grateful. We saw a number of plots, and one seemed absolutely ideal opposite the zoo, where the Taj stands. Unfortunately, it didn't work out as an esteemed judge from the high court opined that the presence of children with disabilities in the neighbourhood would be detrimental to the animals in the zoo. Jyotibabu did not give up. He was determined to help and it was because of his efforts that the Calcutta Port Trust agreed to give us, on long lease, an acre on Taratala Road.
Jyotibabu was our quiet benefactor for years, offering unconditional support and brushing aside effusive words of thanks. He was there at the bhoomi puja and laid the foundation stone; he donated the first rupee for our 'buy-a-brick' campaign; he visited our new school and approved of what he saw; he released a special commemorative book; he acknowledged our letters and the children's cards, the little mementoes we sent him from time to time and remembered to congratulate those of us who got higher degrees in special education and even said we were "good girls".
To us, this compliment felt like the ultimate recognition. A man not known to smile very much, his face broke into a smile whenever he met a child or adult with disabilities during his many visits to our institute. We remained in touch through the years, even after he had passed on the mantle of chief ministership.
The last time we met, it was at Indira Bhavan where we had gone to present him a special issue of our newsletter that included many photographs of his visits to our organization. He was frail and unwell but his face broke into a smile as we greeted him. He spoke little but leafed through the pages and we knew he was happy to see us. Later, when he was in hospital, we sent him a card and we were delighted when we heard the card had been shown to him and he had asked for the contents to be read out. I had spoken to Joykrishna Ghosh in late December, asking for an appointment to meet him so we could present him with a copy of a book on the river Hooghly we had commissioned. Ghosh said he was not well, but if we waited for a few days he would see if we could get a little time to meet Jyotibabu. Unfortunately, time ran out. Jyoti Basu will live on in the smiles of our children, in our hearts, minds and prayers. We will remember him as a great man who was also a kind human being.
PURE, NAKED AND CAST OUT
Read between the lines, ancient texts reveal sources of women's rage that society would like to wish away
Her skin was the colour of red hot iron; her hair bronze-tinted. She was of heavy build, powerful, invincible, and had mastered magic. She was outspoken, even foul-mouthed at times. Such was Surpanakha. Being a rakshashi, she had never fully understood the ways of humans. She did not know, for example, that in the human world women are supposed to hide behind a façade of modesty, that they are not supposed to express pure, naked desire. Which is why she had come out from behind the bush and had approached Ram, aroused by a crushing desire for his lithe, muscular, honey-skinned body.
She was not really good with words. Her proposal to Ram for sexual intimacy was so direct that had she said the same in 2010, the likes of the Shiv Sena would have staged a furious protest. "Tumi sundar purush, ami tomake dekhibamatro kaamer bashabartini hoia upasthit hoiachhi (You are handsome, I was overcome by sexual yearning for you the moment I saw you, so here I am)" she said to Ram. Should she have been more subtle? Had it not been for Surpanakha's unabashed candour, the war of Ramayan might not have taken place.
It is but obvious that both Ram and his brother, Lakshman, found Surpanakha repulsive. She was not exactly beautiful, at least not in the conventional sense. But what really annoyed the two brothers was her brazenness. A typical 'womanly' proposal, shy, elusive and indirect, would have been easy to evade for the noble Ram. But here was a woman who expressed her desire as directly, and with as much arrogance, as a man would have. Ram did not know how to deal with her. The best he could do was mock her crudeness. So the two brothers decided to play a game with her.
Ram told her that since he had his wife, Sita, with him, he could not indulge Surpanakha. He advised her to approach Lakshman instead. Surpanakha the desire for a male body burning inside her did not really care which of the two brothers she went for. As she approached Lakshman, he sent her back to Ram saying, "I am just his servant. You will be better off as his second wife than my first." Thus Surpanakha was left begging the two brothers, one after the other, to sleep with her. Yet, she was not the least ashamed.
Failing to make her realize her folly, the two brothers decided on a different method. They pitched Sita against Surpanakha, in the hope that the latter would back off realizing that she was indeed no match for the former in terms of beauty. But Surpanakha, being ignorant of human ways, failed once again to comprehend that the only ground on which two women could compete in a human world was beauty. She tried to display her strength instead by attacking Sita, hoping to defeat her in a fight. Lakshman drew his sword and slashed off Surpanakha's nose and ears in response. It is hard to say whether he did this to protect Sita or to punish Surpanakha for daring to show off her might in front of two men.
Bathed in blood, Surpanakha ran through the forest howling in despair, numbed by grief and scorched with anger. This is when she understood human ways. She decided to seek Ravan's help to avenge Ram. At last, she had learnt the womanly trick of indirectness. A villainess was born in her. This is the villainess we so religiously hate when reading the "Aranya Kandya" of the Ramayan. She is seen as the ugly, sex-starved woman. I too hated her when I read the Ramayan for the first time as a child. It was a second reading at a more mature age that made me discover the woman in Surpanakha without being judgmental.
The recent furore in Andhra Pradesh over the depiction of Draupadi as a woman enjoying sex in the book, Draupadi, by Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad, shows how preconceived notions plague our reading of the epics. Society wants mythical heroines like Draupadi to be 'pure', with no sexual hunger, and the likes of Surpanakha face the wrath of Valmiki and his readers for the sheer blatancy of their craving for another human body. Perhaps it is time for us to grow up and face the real woman.
A THOUSAND HURTS
In the book, Let There Be Clothes: 40,000 Years of Fashion, Lynn Schnurnberger describes the "typical day of a Greek housewife" thus: "7:05 Rises. 7:08 Eats small piece of bread soaked in wine. Is still hungry, but must be careful about her figure. 7:09 Pecks husband on cheek and sends him off to the agora. Sighs. Looks at the four bare (slightly tinted) walls. Rarely allowed out of the house, she prepares for another day at home.... 8:30 All dressed up with no place to go, she wanders into the kitchen, eyes a piece of honey cake. Resists.... 12:15 Husband arrives, chiding her about the foolishness of make-up. Pretends to agree. Husband leaves at 12:22. 3:00 Instructs daughter on her duties of being a wife. 8:05 Husband and wife sit down at low table to dinner; bread, oil, wine, a few figs, small portion of fish (only 320 calories) and beans. She hears about his day. He tells her she should not bother about the affairs of men.... She is too hungry to argue. 10:10 Falls asleep. Does not dream of tomorrow."
Notwithstanding the tongue-in-cheek quality of this account, it cannot be denied that there is some truth in it.
Democracy might have originated in Athens in Greece, but women, like slaves, were not considered a part of the electorate. No wonder then that most of the prominent women in Greek mythology whether a doomed girl such as Cassandra or a vengeful wife such as Medea are thwarted figures who linger on the margins.
The most beautiful woman in Greece was Helen, on whom rests the onus of having caused the Trojan War. She was half-divine, being the daughter of Zeus and the mortal Leda. Her sister was Clytemnestra, of husband-slaying fame. In spite of having such a formidable genealogy, Helen disappears after the Trojan War. If, as some legends say, she led the rest of her days in wedded bliss with her rather dull husband, Menelaus, then it cannot be said that she had an enviable life. Her notorious sister, Clytemnestra, although discredited as a 'manly woman' by Aeschylus, still had some credit as a mother, since it was the sacrifice of her daughter, Iphigenia, that spurred her on to kill her husband, Agamemnon. But one does not associate even the softer emotions of motherhood with Helen. It is as if history wiped her off collective memory once she had performed her role of launching a thousand ships loaded with heroes.
Of all the portraits of Helen, the one I like the best is by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Frederick Sandys. His Helen is a pouty-lipped, podgy lady who looks more like a child than a mature woman. With an unspecified hurt in her eyes, she scowls at somebody outside the frame perhaps Paris, perhaps Menelaus, perhaps history. The artist, much like the author who inscribed Helen's story in her face and then forgot her, has to find a way of containing her rage even as he acknowledges it, lest it becomes threatening like Clytemnestra's. So he makes her childlike angry, yet powerless.
"Beneath the sterile or impotent fathers lie angry women," Wendy Doniger observes of the Mahabharat in her book, The Hindus. Draupadi spits fire at the Pandavas, who watch while her clothes are unravelled at the Kaurava court, and Amba swears to destroy the celibate Bhishma, who had abducted her for his brother. If they are desired, they also desire others. It is the hunger and rage of these women that drive the story of the Mahabharat. Two of the angriest women in the epic give birth to the Pandavas.
Pandu, with characteristic boorishness, once shot a pair of mating deer. This brought down a curse on his head if he ever tried to make love to his wives again he would die. Desperate for an heir, Pandu pleads with his wife Kunti to beget children with an approved Brahmin. Kunti then reveals that she knows a mantra that can summon the gods. Dharma, Vayu and Indra are invoked, begetting Yudhishtira, Bhima and Arjuna, respectively. Pandu's second wife, Madri, who is also taught the mantra, calls the Aswins and gives birth to Nakula and Sahadeva. Trouble ensues when Madri, presumably eager for more children, wants to be told the mantra again. Disgruntled at the fact that the younger queen had called two gods at one go, Kunti refuses to do so.
One day, a few years later, an amorous Pandu follows Madri as she goes to bathe. Unable to contain himself, he makes love to her and dies in the throes of passion. As the elder queen, an irate Kunti prepares to immolate herself on the funeral pyre when Madri volunteers to go in her stead. Her desire has not been satisfied, Madri says, she would rather join Pandu in heaven and continue with their interrupted lovemaking. Kunti stays behind to look after both their children.
One detects a sullen defiance in Madri, a rebellion against her role as the meek second wife and against Kunti's diktat. She is also frank about her sexual appetite. The assertion, "I want", that is implicit in this, is an articulation of desire as well as of agency. Madri chooses her own death at her husband's funeral pyre, motivated by lust rather than piety. By doing so, she effectively subverts the ritual of sati. Maternal concerns do not stand in the way of what she wants either.
It is up to Kunti to ensure the survival of the clan. This queen, who could summon the gods, already had a child before she was married. In a spirit of quite cavalier curiosity, she had first tried out the mantra by calling the Sun-god. The result of this torrid encounter was Karna, who grew up to fight on the side of the Kauravas. It is perhaps because of this adventurous curiosity about sex that Kunti thinks it natural for Draupadi to be married to five husbands.
The dangerous power of Kunti's mantra had been successfully harnessed for the perpetuation of the clan. Kunti identifies herself as a "kshatriya nari" and even maternal instincts must be set aside for the kshatriya code of valour and heroism in battle. Bhima is ruthlessly sent to deal with the bakarakshasa. Yudhishthira, according to her, needs to forget his tiresome preoccupation with dharma and be a more robust warrior-king. Karna, the child she had forsaken, is remembered only when she is afraid he will fight against the Pandavas. Kunti wants a say in things to do with the State and with warfare. Throughout her life, she would seethe with the desire for a voice outside her role as wife and mother. Pandu's two queens are not doting mothers or virtuous wives; they enjoy their sex, they want impossible things, they like getting their way. The potent rage that ensues changes the course of their world.
GO BEYOND WORDS
'SONIA HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE ELECTORAL SYSTEM.'
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's call to curb the use of money and muscle power in elections will not be opposed by anybody. She made the call appropriately at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission of India which has the task of conducting and supervising elections and ensuring that they are held in a free and fair manner. It has conducted 15 Lok Sabha and 326 assembly elections, though it has been less successful in containing the influence of money and muscle power. It has monitored the expenditure of candidates and has campaigned against criminals joining the fray. But its efforts have had little impact, as everyone who has observed the recent elections knows and as the bio-data of candidates and elected representatives show. Mrs Gandhi's call also underlines the fact.
The irony is that Mrs Gandhi can do more than the Election Commission or anybody else to implement her own call. She is the leader of the country's largest party and she controls the government. There are at least 150 MPs in the Lok Sabha with criminals charges against them and 41 of them are Congressmen. The party is only marginally behind the BJP, which has 42 MPs in that category. The dubious distinction of having an MP facing the maximum number of criminal charges also goes to the Congress. All these MPs faced these charges before they contested the election. The Congress and Mrs Gandhi could well have denied them the ticket. More than one-third of the candidates in the recent Jharkhand elections faced serious criminal charges and many of them were from the Congress. The number of crorepati MPs in the present Lok Sabha is 300, which is twice the number in the previous Lok Sabha. To be rich does not prove that money power was used to influence elections. But the fact that more numbers of richer people get elected sends out a clear message.
It is not as if there are no laws against the use of money and muscle power in elections, though they can be made stricter. But for them to be effectively implemented, the political and government leadership should have a stronger will. It is dishonesty and hypocrisy on the part of leaders to make such a call without trying to do what they can.
ON THE EDGE
'IT'S TIME TO FIND A SOLUTION TO THE ETHNIC QUESTION.'
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's victory provides him with another six years to address the multiple problems that confront Sri Lanka. He has won the elections by a huge margin. Still, given the bitterness that accompanied the campaign and the deep political polarisation in the country, it is likely that the emphatic mandate will not automatically translate into unquestioned political authority for Rajapaksa during the second term in office. So much so, the combined opposition has even started questioning the poll verdict. There are also fears of post-election violence between supporters of Rajapaksa and his main rival and former army chief Sarath Fonseka. The drama that unfolded in Colombo on Wednesday morning, with heavily armed troops surrounding a hotel where Fonseka was staying is reason for more concern. There are dangerous signs of the Lankan army getting increasingly politicised. A defeated Fonseka immediately made known his lack of confidence in the army that he once led as one of his close aides sought protection from 'a neighbouring country.'
In his first term, Rajapaksa chose to pursue a military solution to the ethnic conflict. While he was successful in defeating the LTTE on the battlefield, the ethnic question remains. It is eight months now since the Tigers were defeated, yet the President has taken no steps towards a political settlement of the problem. He cannot afford to drag his feet any longer, as Tamil alienation from the state, evident from the low voter turnout in Tuesday's polling, remains almost complete.
The political polarisation in the island nation can go out of hand unless Rajapaksa extends a reconciliatory hand to the opposition. General elections to parliament are due by April. The political divide and stirring of ethnic and political sentiments might help his party win votes but it can lead to unprecedented violence. Sri Lanka is justifiably proud of its democratic tradition and the successful conclusion of the presidential election is undoubtedly a significant achievement. Yet, elections alone do not make a democracy. Sri Lanka's democracy has been steadily weakened over the years by a trend of the militarisation of society. The press has been muzzled and political dissent is not tolerated. Rajapaksa too has a role in this. The resounding mandate gives him an opportunity to restore these democratic rights as indeed another chance to find a lasting solution to the ethic question.
MEETING OF STREAMS
LITERARY FESTIVALS TEACH HOW TO CONNECT ONESELF TO THE SOCIAL MASS CULTURE, IF ONE IS DOING THE TRANSFORMATIVE WRITING.
BY KANCHA ILAIAH
I have just returned from the Jaipur Literature Festival having spoken at two sessions, 'Outcaste and public conscience' and 'The journey to childhood.' A group of writers and artistes has been holding this conference for five years now. The attendance at the conference was amazing. Intellectuals from several fields had gathered in that city of history and culture of its own.
As I participated in this festival for the first time, that too as a speaker on a subject caste and untouchability it opened my eyes for two reasons. One, it had shown me how big is the literary world. Two, it also has shown me how small is the presence of Dalit-Bahujan writers and readers in such a globally visible conference.
It had drawn writers, poets, artists, painters, actors and playwrights from all over the world. Of course, the focus was by and large India. Apart from the writers in English language there were some Hindi writers. By all standards it was an elite conference but one could see writers whose interests and commitments went beyond their elitism.
For the first time I realised that literary festivals also teach how one should connect oneself to the social mass culture, if one is doing the transformative writing. Though the writing for pleasure and fun would also have some transformative element in it, the writers who write for radical transformation of the society need to work with a different language and idiom.
I was trying to learn from my readers surprisingly there were quite few of them in that conference how my English language and idiom was communicating. I met a cross section of my readers both from India and abroad.
A Bhutani woman writer told me that though she was a writer herself with a vast reading she never knew that caste was such a big problem in India. Of course the responses vary depending on the caste background, age and experience of the readers. But one common point was that the Dalit-Bahujan writings have shown them a different India.
In a conference where the presence of Wole Soyinka to Gulzar-Girish Karnad to Christophe Jaffrelot to Mark Tully to Omprakash Valmiki and P Sivakami (both well known Dalit writers) very different and varied experiences of writing and the themes that they work got discussed.
India revealed itself in many different ways. In a country, where the upper caste elite including the writers do not have a sense of shame and guilt, such literary festivals work as a place for exchange of ideas. This is a country where sex is discussed and written about from Vastayana days onwards but caste was an issue of shame about which they never wanted to discuss and write about.
When Nayantara Sehgal (Nehru's niece) said at a panel discussion on Edwina and Nehru's relationship that the copyright holders of Nehru's letters to Edwina wanted to hide the simple fact that "our politicians too have sexual organs," she was just making a known point.
But this is the same country that had hidden the fact that it has a horrendous system of caste and untouchability from the rest of the world. For all these years the copyright of caste remained with them and they never allowed it to be written about and published.
The caste and untouchability was/is there as part of our day to day life for so long but any writing about it shamed them and they have hidden their guilt as it involved an immoral intercourse between two human beings a Dalit and a Brahmin. At least this literature festival has lifted the veil.
After Valmiki, Sivakami and I got off the stage there were several young people, who rushed for our autographs. Though I did not ask them about their caste background, there was no way that there could be many Dalit/OBCs among them. Such a response from the upper caste English medium educated youth certainly opens a page of hope.
No positive writer, who writes for the transformation of the society like India, wants a civil war for its own sake. But the change could be smooth and peaceful only when the upper caste intelligentsia begins to act on its sense of shame and guilt. A transformative book writing is meant to work both ways. It is meant to embolden the weakest and also meant to weaken the spirit of exploitation of the oppressors.
If writing helps even a section of oppressors to stop oppressing the oppressed and they begin to understand the point of view of the oppressed the role of writing becomes more meaningful. The Jaipur festival has shown the signs of such positive exchange of views.
But this is only one side of the story. There could be another side as well. The Dalit-Bahujan literature is not yet seen as part of the mainstream. To make the Dalit-Bahujan literature mainstream literature either the streams need to be changed radically or the small steam should become big enough so that the others have no way but cross it by swimming, and not jump it over.
HOPES PINNED ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT POLICY
THE URBAN LOCAL BODIES CONTINUE TO DEPEND ON THE STATE AND CENTRE FOR FUNDS.
BY SHASHIKALA SITARAM
Karnataka Urban Development Minister Suresh Kumar is in the limelight for initiating the first-ever urban development policy in the country. The carefully drafted policy document is being discussed at various forums, inviting public consultations before it is finalised. That the spirit of the 74th Constitutional Amendment would be upheld and the urban local bodies will be strengthened to become urban local self-governing bodies is the affirmation given by the minister.
The Amendment, noted as the landmark legislation ushering in urban decentralisation, was passed in 1992. Many of the concepts of the draft policy reinstate the constitutional amendment forming of district planning committees, metropolitan planning committees, ward samithis, neighbourhood committees and the like.
The stress is on formulating city mobility programmes in first class cities. The pedestrian, who is often forgotten in the urban infrastructure programmes would now be kept in focus. There is also a proposal to abolish the urban development authorities and bring them under the umbrella of urban local bodies.
Directly elected mayor
The draft document recommends a rethinking on election of mayor. There should be either a directly elected mayor or mayor-in-council, with a five-year-term and with executive powers. This falls in line with the recommendation earlier made by the Kasturirangan Committee, which highlighted the need for direct elections to the mayor's post in Bangalore City Corporation. But this has not been found appetising by politicians. And with reason! The to-be-formed council in Bangalore will have 268 members 198 ward members, 20 nominated corporators, 27 MLAs, 11 MLCs and 12 MPs. It would be bigger than the state assembly with 224 members.
The policy document recommends transfer of all the 18 functions listed in the 12th Schedule of the Constitution to local bodies, in a systematic manner. So far, very few functions like street lights, water supply, solid waste management are being performed by the local bodies. Why has there been a delay of more than 15 years is a question that is worth asking. The often sighted reason for this is the lack of capacities of the municipalities to perform the functions. Most of the municipalities are understaffed.
With the functions, will the functionaries from various departments be transferred to the municipalities? The policy document needs to address, in great detail, the specificities of the staff and the line of control. The approach of the state has always been one of perpetuating the bureaucratic control, this would work against the principles with which the present changes are being envisaged. In Kerala the confidential report of the commissioner or chief officer of the municipality and the other staff is being written by the mayor.
The urban local bodies have continued to depend on the state and Centre for funds. Very little resources are being mobilised as 'their own'. Ironically, it is only for these resources that the local bodies can plan, make budgets and spend according to their need and discretion. The funds from the state and Centre come with specifications. The local bodies end up performing the job of 'post man'.
Even the untied amounts released 'from above' are to be spent following the guidelines, an issue opposed by some of the presidents who participated in the seminar.
A basic tenet of the 74th Amendment has been the conduct of regular elections, once every five years to urban local bodies. But the election to the Bangalore City Corporation is proposed to be held on February 21, 2010, after a gap of three and a half years. The last time the council met was on November 23, 2006. There have been umpteen announcements and postponements, with strictures being passed by the high court on the state election commission for the delay. The EC could do little to avoid the delay as the state took time for delimiting and reserving seats. This was necessary in view of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike becoming Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, with an area increase from 226 sq km to 800 sq km and increase in wards from 100 to 198. In Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal, the election commission has been empowered with the work of delimitation. The draft policy would do well to look at and deal with various interconnected issues.
The word local self-government itself has been used differently in different documents. Local government, local bodies, local self-governing bodies are often used interchangeably. One should realise that these are not jugglery of words but have serious connotation for the very way in which the entire concept of governance is viewed and implemented.
AS I PASSED CHILDHOOD AND TEENS I RECALL A HAZE OF IMAGES A DRIBBLING MILK SOAKED ROTI DRAGGED TO THE CARPET TO BE EATEN, A GENTLE LICK ON THE NOSE WHEN ONE RETURNED FROM SCHOOL AND LATER: COLLEGE, FUN, FROLIC AND DOGGIE JIGS.
BY LASYA SHASHIMOHAN
Why would a young lady endlessly mourn the loss of Rs 250? Of what Herculean significance is a 'paltry' Rs 250 in this day and age of splurge happy people? It is the sum an urban Mr or Ms would casually splurge on a simple t-shirt or an unplanned trip to an eatery. I believe (this is only hearsay, mind you), the ITians chuck double the amount in a beggar's bowl without a moment's thought after all Bangalore's not the Silicon Valley for nothing! Now before I meander any further let me put forth my query again. Why would I inconsolably lament the loss of a 'meagre' Rs 250?
Rs 250 is what our teeny little pom had come for many an autumn ago, when a feisty little girl had thrown such a passionate tantrum for a pet that her skeptical parents had to give in. When we welcomed the furry 'ball of teeth' to the family, a self-professed animal expert of a neighbour had advised us to tuck the pup up cozily in a box along with a concealed timepiece so that the little one confused the clocky tick tack for it's mamma's heartbeat and didn't cry for her. But to our surprise Goofy snoozed as if this was the land of the nod!
As I passed childhood and teens I recall a haze of images a dribbling milk soaked roti dragged to the carpet to be eaten, a gentle lick on the nose when one returned from school and later: college, fun, frolic and doggie jigs.
I recall a time when Goofy had become the toast of our locality. The invincible little one had stood no less dauntingly than the mythological gate keeper of the other world Anubis; fiercely guarding his territory when robbers had tried to barge in. It had even taken a bite of their thieving legs! Goofy was exhausted but still limped slowly to greet us with its tail wagging. Nothing in the house had been touched. We thanked god that our brave little pint-sized champion was safe.
Now it lies peacefully beneath a mound of earth. Goofy passed away at age 14. Surprisingly, I shed only a few tears. To all, I seemed to have come to terms with the demise.
But why does the heart still ache when I brush off a doggie hair that still clings to my cardigan? In the blurry haze between sleep and wakefulness, I have the deceptive feeling that Goofy has gone on a walk with dad and will return soon. When I go out I look through people but greet dogs. And try to assemble my Goofy through them. On odd days when conversation at home lags I dread to look in my parents' eyes dread to see my own pain and loss reflected in them.
So what does it mean to me? A period of joy that ran its course; a lifetime of memories that will stay forever.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE CASE AGAINST THE GOLDSTONE REPORT
BY ALAN DERSHOWITZ
A careful review of the report makes it crystal clear that its writers applied totally different standards, rules and criteria in evaluating the intent of the parties to the conflict.
The Goldstone Report is much more scurrilous than most of its detractors (and supporters) believe. According to the report, Israel used the more than 8,000 rocket attacks on its civilians merely as a pretext, an excuse, a cover for the real purpose of Operation Cast Lead, which was to target innocent Palestinian civilians - children, women, the elderly - for death. This criminal objective was explicitly decided upon by the highest levels of the Israeli government and military and constitutes a deliberate and willful war crime. The report found these serious charges "to be firmly based in fact" and had "no doubt" of their truth.
In contrast, the Mission decided that Hamas was not guilty of deliberately and willfully using the civilian population as human shields. It found "no evidence" that Hamas fighters "engaged in combat in civilian dress," "no evidence" that "Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack," and no support for the claim that mosques were used to store weapons.
The report is demonstrably wrong about both of these critical conclusions. The hard evidence conclusively proves that the exact opposite is true, namely that: 1. Israel did not have a policy of targeting innocent civilians for death. Indeed the IDF went to unprecedented lengths to minimize civilian casualties; and 2. That Hamas did have a deliberate policy of having its combatants dress in civilian clothing, fire their rockets from densely populated areas, use civilians as human shields, and store weapons in mosques.
What is even more telling than its erroneous conclusions, however, is its deliberately skewed methodology, particularly the manner in which it used and evaluated similar evidence very differently, depending on whether it favored the Hamas or Israeli side.
I have written a detailed analysis of the Goldstone Methodology, which is now available online. (http://www.alandershowitz.com/goldstone.htm) It is being sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations for inclusion in critiques of the Goldstone Report received by the United Nations. This analysis documents the distortions, misuses of evidence and bias of the report and those who wrote it. It demonstrates that the evidence relied on by the report, as well as the publicly available evidence it deliberately chose to ignore, disproves its own conclusions.
THE CENTRAL issue that distinguishes the conclusions the Goldstone Report reached regarding Israel, on the one hand, and Hamas, on the other, is intentionality. The report finds that the most serious accusation against Israel, namely the killing of civilians, was intentional (and deliberately planned at the highest levels). The report also finds that the most serious accusations made against Hamas, namely that their combatants wore civilian clothing to shield themselves from attack, mingled among the civilian populations and used civilians as human shields, was unintentional. These issues are, of course, closely related.
If it were to turn out that there was no evidence that Hamas ever operated from civilians areas, and that the IDF knew this, then the allegation that the IDF, by firing into civilian areas, deliberately intended to kill Palestinian civilians, would be strengthened. But if it were to turn out that the IDF reasonably believed that Hamas fighters were deliberately using civilians as shields, then this fact would weaken the claim that the IDF had no military purpose in firing into civilian areas. Moreover, if Hamas did use human shields then the deaths of Palestinian ivilians would be more justly attributable to Hamas then to Israel.
Since intentionality, or lack thereof, was so important to the report's conclusions, it would seem essential that the report would apply the same evidentiary standards, rules and criteria in determining the intent of Israel and in determining the intent of Hamas.
Yet a careful review of the report makes it crystal clear that its writers applied totally different standards, rules and criteria in evaluating the intent of the parties to the conflict. The report resolved doubts against Israel in concluding that its leaders intended to kill civilians, while resolving doubts in favor of Hamas in concluding that it did not intend to use Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Moreover, when it had precisely the same sort of evidence in relation to both sides - for example, statements by leaders prior to the commencement of the operation - it attributed significant weight to the Israeli statements, while entirely discounting comparable Hamas statements. This sort of evidentiary bias, though subtle, permeates the entire report.
IN ADDITION to the statements of leaders, which are treated so differently, the report takes a completely different view regarding the inferring of intent from action. When it comes to Israel, the report repeatedly looks to results and infers from the results that they must have been intended. But when it comes to Hamas, it refuses to draw inferences regarding intent from results.
For example, it acknowledges that some combatants wore civilian clothes, and it offers no reasonable explanation for why this would be so other than to mingle indistinguishably from civilians. Yet it refuses to infer intent from these actions. Highly relevant to the report's conclusion that militants did not intend for their actions to shield themselves from counterattack is that the Mission was "unable to make any determination on the general allegation that Palestinian armed groups used mosques for military purpose," "did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities," did not find evidence "that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes," and did not find "that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat actives from United Nations facilities that were used as shelters during the military operations."There is, however, hard evidence that Hamas did operate in mosques and, at the very least, near hospitals. Circumstantial evidence (precise weaponry) was used to prove Israeli intent. Regarding Hamas, the circumstantial evidence even stronger in inferring intent. It is beyond obvious that militants do not fire rockets in the vicinity of mosques or hospitals because it is easier to launch rockets near community institutions. Rather, they do so only because of the special protections afforded to hospitals and religious centers in war.
The report - commissioned by an organization with a long history of anti-Israel bigotry, and written by biased "experts," with limited experience and a pre-ordained result - is one-sided and wrong in its fundamental conclusions. This should not be surprising since conclusions can be no better than the methodology employed, and the methodology employed in this report is fundamentally flawed.So now it is up to Richard Goldstone to explain the evidentiary bias that is so obviously reflected in the report, and that is documented in my lengthier analysis available online. The burden is on him to justify the very different methodologies used in the report to arrive at its conclusions regarding the intentions of Israel and the intentions of Hamas. Failure to assume that burden will constitute an implicit admission that the conclusions reached in the Goldstone Report are not worthy of consideration by people of good will.
THE JERUSALEM POST
FLYING IS SAFER THAN YOU THINK
BYEDWARD H. KAPLAN AND BOAZ GOLANY
In spite of the Christmas near-miss over Detroit, the real risk of flying is truly tiny, with or without the added terror scare.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly succeeded in downing a Northwest passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas Day. President Barack Obama has laid the blame for this egregious security breach on the inability of US intelligence services to sew together individual pieces of information that, viewed collectively, would surely have raised an alarm. Others have suggested that Israeli airport security practices as exemplified by El Al need to be implemented to prevent such violations. But in spite of Abdulmutallab's attempted briefs bombing, we think that flying remains safe.
Consider Israeli passenger screening, which certainly is different from the typical US experience. All passengers are interviewed by smart, young (some would say hip), alert and regularly rotated (and refreshed) agents, with second and third round questions dependent upon answers to earlier queries. Is this your first trip to Israel? Where are you going and why? Have you any relatives there? What city do they live in? What neighborhood? What street address? What was the last holiday you celebrated?
Throughout such interviews, the manner in which these (sometimes intrusive) questions are answered matters more than the answers themselves - is the person calm or nervous, does a person take offense when offense should be taken (why are you wearing that star around your neck?) - with the goal of detecting contrasts to a set of carefully constructed and validated profiles of persons who travel safely to and from Israel.
And indeed, those of us who regularly fly El Al recognize that the most dangerous part of the trip is driving to the airport.
BUT ISRAEL is not the United States. About 10.5 million passengers pass through Ben-Gurion Airport each year; in the US, more than 60 million passengers take to the skies each month. And, while putting together profiles for typical visitors to Israel is challenging enough, what exactly would be the profile for someone flying to JFK, O'Hare, LAX or, for that matter, Detroit? There is no question that in retrospect, Abdulmutallab seems like an obvious case, but with 60 million passengers flying around the country each month, what sounds like a failure to connect the dots after the fact might be more akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack beforehand.
This is not to say that improvements are not possible. There are two main systems for preventing terrorists from attacking passenger flights. The first includes the visa application process, various terror watch and no-fly lists and additional reports from intelligence and law enforcement partners, while the second is the "last minute" defense provided by on-site airline security screening. President Obama has expressed his concerns with the former; here we speak to the latter. Technology has improved and certainly should be deployed where it can help.
Full body scanners do have the capability to detect explosives such as those Abdulmutallab had placed in his underwear (as do other scanners such as millimeter wave detectors), yet some are offended by the use of such technologies on the grounds of modesty or invasion of privacy. But the images produced by such scans are not equivalent to pornographic photos. While a person might recoil at the sight of such an image knowing that it was (s)he who was scanned, the reverse does not work - if presented with many scanned images, one would be very hard pressed to identify oneself as the person in the picture, let alone have others do the same.
Proposed practice would completely separate the scanners reading the images and the scannees being checked, so there is no serious fear of somehow "confronting" the person who just "saw you naked." We believe that such scanning should receive the same respect accorded to necessary physical medical exams. And in any event, such private offense pales relative to the improvement in safety such scans would offer us all.
NO SECURITY screening system is foolproof, whether based on psychology or technology or individual pieces of hard won intelligence. Just as businesses change their products in response to the demands placed upon them by consumers, terrorists change their tactics in response to the demands placed upon them by homeland security and counterterrorism measures. As long as terrorists seek to inflict harm upon us, no amount of security screening will totally eliminate the threat of terrorism in the skies just as no amount of screening the blood supply can guarantee the elimination of blood-borne infections.
The real question is, what level of risk are we willing to tolerate in exchange for the benefits we gain from taking such risks? In principle we could eliminate road accidents if we just stopped driving; similarly we could eliminate airborne terror if we just stopped flying. And that latter exchange would signal victory for the terrorists.
So where are we left? In spite of the Christmas near-miss over Detroit, the real risk of flying is truly tiny, with or without the added terror scare.
It is not even obvious to us that the intelligence community suffered a systemic failure. After all, though unannounced and never tabulated, think how many times the system has truly worked by deterring would-be attackers from even attempting to cross security in the first place. Concern about airline safety has its place, but we have no time for fear. After all, we have a plane to catch.
Edward H. Kaplan is the William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Management Sciences at the Yale School of Management. Boaz Golany is the dean of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management and Samuel Gorney Professor of Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Together they codirect the Daniel Rose Technion-Yale Initiative in Homeland Security and Counterterror Operations Research.
BADGE OF TERROR
There is no way to describe the West Bank settlers' attack on the Palestinian village of Bitilu but as a well-planned terror attack. The settlers' "military" organization and violent resistance to the cabinet decision to destroy the illegal outpost of Givat Menachem, as described by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz yesterday, are no different from the activities of other terrorist organizations. This includes the incitement, ranting and raving preceding the act of vengeance on Bitilu, the attempt to set a house on fire, the injuring of villagers with stones, and the threat to continue these violent tactics.
These are not unusual acts. Israel Defense Forces officers report a significant increase in the number of settler attacks on Arab villages and communities following the decision to freeze construction in the settlements. The term "price tag" - once coined in reference to the IDF's policy toward terror organizations - has long been adopted by the settlers and transformed to mean retaliation against the Israeli government's policy.
The decision to dismantle the Givat Menachem outpost is commendable, although it is not sufficient in itself to implement Israel's commitment to take down all illegal outposts. Still, one cannot but be amazed by the IDF Spokesman Office's watered-down response to the settlers' terror attack.
"This activity is improper legally, morally and normatively," the spokesman said. "Central Command is determined to take full, legal action against the rioters." Is this merely improper activity? Would the IDF describe a similar act this way if it were carried out by Palestinians against a Jewish settlement? Wouldn't the army impose a closure and immediately make arrests, not to mention shoot the perpetrators?
But the IDF's evasive terminology is not to blame when the Knesset is enacting a law to pardon the transgressors who rioted during the Gaza disengagement. This law, which will even expunge the criminal record of those who assaulted soldiers, is now legitimizing the "price tag" actions. These terrorists already know, thanks to this distorted legislation, that they will not have to pay for their actions.
The government is not permitted to protect these offenders and must treat their actions as acts of terror, unless it wants to be seen as their partner.
MAZUZ'S BIG SHOES
BY ARI SHAVIT
Even on the final day of Menachem Mazuz's tempestuous term as attorney general, Israeli citizens are still unaware of the debt they owe him. For the last six years, as efforts were made to break the neck of the rule of law in Israel, Mazuz stood guard at the gate. For six years in which governmental corruption threatened to overwhelm Israel, Mazuz stood in the breach. For six years during which Israel became embroiled in a deep normative crisis, Mazuz was the keeper of the seal of integrity, decency, relevance and purity. Even when he erred, he did so with the best of intentions. Even when he displayed excessive stubbornness, he did so for the right reasons, for the sake of the right values.
Since Aharon Barak, no other attorney general has made a greater contribution to Israeli democracy than Mazuz.
Other jurists have been put to the test in the past. The most noteworthy were Yitzhak Zamir, who was attacked by the political leaders of his day for insisting that senior Shin Bet security service officials be indicted over the killing of two captured terrorists and the subsequent cover-up, and Dorit Beinisch, who was assailed by Shas for deciding to indict Aryeh Deri.
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But no previous attorney general ever faced what Mazuz did. The assault this time was sweeping and unbridled. The battle was not over a single issue, but system-wide. The forces attacking the rule of law did not come from the margins of society, but from its true centers of power. Had Mazuz not been forged of steel, both he and the entire law enforcement system would have collapsed. Israel would have turned into a banana republic with no law, no judges, no shame and no norms.
Mazuz's achievement is unprecedented. During his term, more than 30 public figures were indicted. Of these cases, 25 ended in convictions - and none has yet ended in acquittal. During his predecessors' terms, reverberating acquittals undermined confidence in the system. But under Mazuz, there were virtually no failures - because his approach was businesslike, not persecutory, and he therefore had no hesitation about closing many cases. Mazuz boldly ran both the war on governmental corruption and the war on organized crime from the massive desk in his office - the desk that will soon be manned by the new attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein.
At first glance, Weinstein's appointment is puzzling. The veteran defense attorney is an expert in criminal law only. Unlike Mazuz, he has no understanding whatsoever of administrative or civil law. And even in the criminal sphere, Weinstein has a handicap: Some of the protagonists of the worst corruption scandals have some sort of tie to him. Thus in his field of expertise, he will sometimes be barred from making decisions, and in the fields where he can operate freely, he will not always have the expertise.
Moreover, Weinstein is not the late Amnon Goldenberg or Dori Klagsbald. He is not one of those top lawyers whose professional prestige was unassailable. Weinstein is liked, respected, well-connected and gets good press. But he is not the outstanding jurist dreamed of by those who preached in favor of finally appointing a first-class private-sector lawyer as attorney general.
Yet precisely because of these weaknesses, Weinstein may surprise us. Just as the outgoing attorney general failed to satisfy the expectations of the minister who appointed him, the same could happen with the new attorney general. Just as the outgoing attorney general acted without fear or prejudice, so can the incoming attorney general. It often happens that the job makes the man. It forces the holder of the office to grow into it. Mazuz's shoes are big ones, but there is no reason why Weinstein could not step into them, fill them and take them another step forward.
But in order for Weinstein to leave no less of a mark than his predecessor, he must read the map. He must understand that yesterday's criminal attack on the Supreme Court president was no chance occurrence. The shoes were thrown by a nobody, but the real assailant was former justice minister Daniel Friedmann. The degree to which Friedmann delegitimized the entire justice system is what let the evil genie out of the bottle.
That is why both the Supreme Court in Jerusalem's Givat Ram neighborhood and the Justice Ministry on the capital's Salah a-Din Street are still under siege.
Therefore, the incoming attorney general's test will be his ability to defend the system, to preserve its independence and guard its integrity. Mazuz passed this test. Now it is Weinstein's turn.
HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE IS A BOON FOR ISRAELI PROPAGANDA
BY GIDEON LEVY
Israel's bigwigs attacked at dawn on a wide front. The president in Germany, the prime minister with a giant entourage in Poland, the foreign minister in Hungary, his deputy in Slovakia, the culture minister in France, the information minister at the United Nations, and even the Likud party's Druze Knesset member, Ayoob Kara, in Italy. They were all out there to make florid speeches about the Holocaust.
Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and an Israeli public relations drive like this hasn't been seen for ages. The timing of the unusual effort - never have so many ministers deployed across the globe - is not coincidental: When the world is talking Goldstone, we talk Holocaust, as if out to blur the impression. When the world talks occupation, we'll talk Iran as if we wanted them to forget.
It won't help much. International Holocaust Remembrance Day has passed, the speeches will soon be forgotten, and the depressing everyday reality will remain. Israel will not come out looking good, even after the PR campaign.
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On the eve of his departure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Yad Vashem. "There is evil in the world," he said. "Evil must be stamped out at the beginning." Some people are "trying to deny the truth." Lofty words, said by the same person who only the day before, not quite in the same breath, uttered very different words, words of true evil, evil that should be extinguished at the start, evil that Israel is trying to hide.
Netanyahu spoke of a new "migration policy," one that is evil through and through. He malevolently lumped together migrant workers and wretched refugees - warning that they all endanger Israel, lower our wages, harm our security, make us into a third-world country and bring in drugs. He zealously supported our racist interior minister, Eli Yishai, who has spoken of the migrants as the spreaders of diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, AIDS and God knows what else.
No Holocaust speech will erase these words of incitement and slander against migrants. No remembrance speech will obliterate the xenophobia that has reared its head in Israel, not only on the extreme right, as in Europe, but throughout government.
We have a prime minister who speaks about evil but is building a fence to prevent war refugees from knocking at Israel's door. A prime minister who speaks about evil but shares the crime of the Gaza blockade, now in its fourth year, leaving 1.5 million people in disgraceful conditions. A prime minister in whose country settlers perpetrate pogroms against innocent Palestinians under the slogan "price tag," which also has horrific historical connotations, but against whom the state does virtually nothing.
This is the prime minister of a state that arrests hundreds of left-wing protesters against the injustices of the occupation and the war in Gaza, while time grants mass pardons to the right-wingers who demonstrated against the disengagement. In his speech yesterday, Netanyahu's equating Nazi Germany with fundamentalist Iran was no more than cheap propaganda. Talk about "degrading the Holocaust." Iran isn't Germany, Ahmedinejad isn't Hitler and equating them is no less spurious than equating Israeli soldiers with Nazis.
The Holocaust must not be forgotten, and there is no need to compare it with anything. Israel must take part in the efforts to keep its memory alive, but in doing so it must show up with clean hands, clean of evil of their own doing. And it must not arouse suspicion that it is cynically using the memory of the Holocaust to obliterate and blur other things. Regrettably, this is not the case.
How beautiful it would have been if on this international day of remembrance Israel had taken the time to examine itself, look inward and ask, for example, how it is that anti-Semitism has reared its head in the world precisely in the past year, the year after we dropped white-phosphorous bombs on Gaza. How beautiful it would have been if on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu had declared a new policy for integrating refugees instead of expulsion, or lifted the Gaza blockade.
A thousand speeches against anti-Semitism will not extinguish the flames ignited by Operation Cast Lead, flames that threaten not only Israel but the entire Jewish world. As long as Gaza is under blockade and Israel sinks into its institutionalized xenophobia, Holocaust speeches will remain hollow. As long as evil is rampant here at home, neither the world nor we will be able to accept our preaching to others, even if they deserve it.
THE REBIRTH OF THE AUTHOR
BY MOSHE SAKAL
When they started talking about electronic books, I said to myself that I didn't want to see that revolution. It was clear to me that unlike music and film, the world of literature needs to remain free of all digitization. After all, there is no replacement for a book: the feel of the pages, the smell of the printing press, the pleasure of wandering through bookstores.
As an author, it also makes me a bit uncomfortable. Will readers be introduced to my book while they are hunched over a flashing instrument that dulls the senses? No, in my 30-something years there have been more than enough technological revolutions. Let us leave this revolution to others.
Then one day I ran across the instrument itself, and from the minute I held it, it was clear to me that in the world of literature too, the revolution was only a matter of time. I remembered the prediction of the person who foresaw, somewhere back toward the end of the 19th century, that in the not too distant future all the streets of London would be blocked by horse droppings. He made his calculations and found support for his intestinal apocalypse theory. All he was missing was the knowledge that one day the automobile would be invented, leaving behind gasoline fumes and smog instead of horse droppings.
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When I thought about the issue more deeply, I realized that the e-book could solve one of the most serious problems of literature in Israel: an almost ridiculously short shelf life. Today, thousands of books are published a year, competing for limited space in bookstores and getting caught in the fight to the death between the Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim bookstore chains. A book published a year or two ago is considered old junk, and only in the most exceptional cases can they be found in bookstores. Sometimes, a new book's shelf life shrinks to a few weeks, or even days.
But if in a few years the e-book changes the rules, the term "shelf life," literature's worst enemy, will become meaningless. At the push of a button we could find a book published two years ago, 10 years ago, 30 years ago or more. Suddenly it will be possible to obtain, for example, a rare translation of a Thomas Mann novel or a book of poetry by Jacob Steinberg that disappeared from the stores years ago. And what about contemporary authors who could expand their readership, and even find new readers for their older works?
Not that the digital revolution does not raise questions that require thought and preparation. There are those who worry that the e-book will only strengthen the power of the chains and pull the rug out from under the publishers once and for all. Others say that as soon as authors can publish their works themselves, they will make do without the crucial work of professional editors. The readers, for their part, will be confounded by the flood of books and will not know what's good - and what isn't. And of course, the question of copyrights and intellectual property will appear in all its fury.
But in the end, the new situation may actually contribute to strengthening the status of authors. Writers will be more involved in the publishing and distribution process, and their royalties will be higher than the ridiculously low sums they get now when their books are sold for a reduced rate. Readers will need critics' recommendations and editors with good taste more than ever, and that is certainly a good thing. And as for intellectual property rights, it will be possible to fight the pirates with attractive prices for the public, appropriate legislation and intelligent use of digital rights management systems.
The death of the book? Maybe just the opposite. In any case, in a lot of ways it is the rebirth of the author.
The writer is responsible for literary projects at the Israeli Center for Libraries.
ISRAEL'S FORGIVENESS OF GERMANY WAS PAID FOR IN CASH
BY ISRAEL HAREL
Many Israelis, and many Germans too, are proud of Shimon Peres. In his speech yesterday, the president did not forget to mention the Nazi past (without once mentioning the word German in this context) of the country whose legislature he was addressing. And all in Hebrew.
Undeniably, the speech was perfectly staged. The giant German eagle overlooking the proceedings could have been as happy as the Israelis were, proud of their reconciled and conciliatory president. But even at the moments of emotion, and there were some of these, there was no way one could ignore the stark fact that between the lines the president of the Jewish state, standing beneath the German national emblem, was granting the Germans forgiveness, and not merely when he stated that their country was "enlightened" and "different" from what it had been.
His audience, of course, thanked him with a warm ovation. The man who declared that he was speaking in the name of the Jews, both the living and the murdered, gave great satisfaction to the members of the Bundestag, whose fathers almost wiped the Jewish people off the face of the earth. But just look at how Peres has forgotten the last words of many of those who perished in the Holocaust, words that were in fact their last testament: "Vengeance." "Never forgive, never forget." These are words that are fraught with significance, to which our representatvies, Peres among them, pay mainly lip service.
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In the first years, Israelis implemented the testament of vengeance through the Reparations Agreement; immediately afterward, under the "Never forget" imperative, came the dispatch of delegations, with the stress on youth groups, to Germany. According to the Israeli initiators and the German funders, these youngsters would grow up and disseminate in Israel the good news of the "different Germany" (how right they were is being made clear these very days). At the same time, intellectuals developed a thirst for the living waters of that glorious culture, and what nation could match the Jewish people's lust for the funds and delights of German culture?
The process of forgiveness that Peres' speech brought to a new peak was fully paid for by the Germans, in cash. Alongside the many survivors who pledged never to set foot on German soil and certainly not to defile themselves with the bribes of the "different Germany," and who fulfilled that pledge, there are many others who are not able to turn aside the bribes or the pampering platforms granted them by the Germans, such as taking part the night before last in a state banquet at the residence of the president of the Federal Republic.
These days, in Berlin and Warsaw, in Auschwitz and Jerusalem, it is becoming clear that we do not know the secret of restraint, the meaning of "Stride forth boldly in silence," in the words of Haim Nahman Bialik. Realpolitik with Germany can be conducted without all the public ritual, and the memory of the Holocaust can be kept alive without all the endless verbiage, especially coming from those who have made it into a tool for advancing their own interests, like soulless, shallow mouthing. In his work "Neder" ("Vow"), the Hebrew poet Avraham Shlonsky urged us to "forget not a thing." The forgetfulness he is admonishing us against in his poem is not a gap in historical knowledge. The connotation is ignoring - not forgetting - the imperative of remembrance. Woe unto us, he warned, if the flow of life brings about a distortion in the meaning of the biggest of catastrophes, which the Jewish nation should carry unto the 10th generation. And we are only in the third generation, or at most the fourth.
"I swear," he wrote, and well he knew the nature of his people, which even the Holocaust never changed at all, "I shall not go back to my wrong ways, and this time again learn nothing."
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SECOND YEAR
The union is in a state of deep and justifiable anxiety about jobs and mortgages and two long, bloody wars. President Obama did not create these problems, and none could be solved in one year. But 2009 offered powerful and, at times, bruising lessons for a new president struggling to fulfill the seismic promise of his election.
Mr. Obama used his first State of the Union address to show the country what he has learned and how he intends to govern in the next three years.
He was right to make the creation of jobs and the reform of the far too vulnerable financial system his top priorities. And Mr. Obama made it clear that he would not be cowed by Washington's venomous politics, his own mistakes, or the Massachusetts election into giving up on health care reform. It was a relief to see him challenge the Senate's Republicans for their obstruction and his party for tending to "run for the hills" rather than wield the power of its majority.
Watching Mr. Obama, we were also reminded of the world's relief that he is very much not George W. Bush. He is managing the necessary exit from Iraq. His decision to send more troops to Afghanistan was courageous and sound. On Wednesday, he rejected "the false choice" between security and the rule of law.
At home, Mr. Obama won an economic recovery bill that was too small but staved off an even deeper recession. He raised fuel standards for cars and appointed Sonia Sotomayor to a Supreme Court that had been drifting dangerously rightward. That is good, but not enough, and the president acknowledged that before Congress and the nation on Wednesday night.
Like Mr. Obama, we, too, would like to see bipartisan cooperation. But all too often Mr. Obama has underestimated the Republicans' determination to block anything he proposed. When the economy was imploding only three Republican senators voted for the absolutely essential stimulus bill; none agreed to back health care reform or even vote to end a filibuster.
So it was good to see him get tougher and clearer about going forward. If the Republicans want to continue to block bills that the country wants and needs, he should let them filibuster so the public can take notice. We would have liked to have heard a more forceful demand rather than a polite invitation for the Republicans to either support his health care reform plan or produce their own plan, one that provides real security for all Americans and has a real chance to reduce costs.
After their taxpayer-financed bailout, Mr. Obama was right to call for additional taxes on the big banks. (And he should support the drive in the House to tax bankers' obscene bonuses.)
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama said he would veto any financial regulatory reform bill that was not strong enough and warned that lobbyists in the Senate were weakening the version passed by the House. To our minds, the House bill was not good enough creating a weak consumer protection agency and leaving loopholes in derivatives regulation. We hope Mr. Obama quickly spells out his bottom line for the reform package.
Mr. Obama acknowledged Americans' anxiety about the deficit, and he was right to announce that he would create a bipartisan panel to come up with ideas to address it now that Senate Republicans have rejected the idea without a vote. But the first priority must be creating more jobs and helping more Americans with their mortgages.
The private sector seems unlikely to propel a self-sustaining recovery any time soon. That means more stimulus spending, not less, much more than the $154 billion jobs bill the House has passed. Mr. Obama offered some additional ideas, lending money to small businesses and giving them incentives for capital investments. The country will need to hear a lot more about that and how he plans to keep Americans in their homes.
We respect Mr. Obama's deliberative nature. But too often in the last year he lingered on the sidelines, allowing his opponents to define and distort the issues and, sometimes, him as happened last year in the health care debate.
His speech Wednesday was a reminder that he is a gifted orator, able to inspire with grand vision and the simple truth frankly spoken. It was a long time coming.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
JAPAN AND THE AMERICAN BASES
It took the United States and Japan a decade to negotiate a deal that would reduce the number of American troops on Okinawa and reposition those that remain. Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is refusing, so far, to commit to the agreement, and the Obama administration is being less than patient. Before any serious damage is done to this important alliance, both countries must work harder to find a compromise.
2006 agreement was designed to lessen tensions between Okinawans and the more than 20,000 American troops they host. The deal includes moving 2,000 Marines from the Futenma United States Marine air station in the city of Ginowan to the less populated Nago on Okinawa's northern coast, and relocating 8,000 other Marines to Guam.
Before his party's landslide election in August, Mr. Hatoyama called for moving the base off of Okinawa or out of Japan altogether. The Pentagon got off to a bad start by insisting that Tokyo abide by its commitments. Mr. Hatoyama now says that he will defer any decision until May. Nago's newly elected mayor has announced that he doesn't want the Marines to move to his city.
We hope the Obama administration shows flexibility and patience when two senior officials visit Japan for security talks this week. They should encourage Mr. Hatoyama to prove his commitment to being an "equal partner" by offering solutions. And the United States must make a more compelling case for stationing troops in Japan. (There are another 20,000 American troops stationed elsewhere in Japan or just off the coast.)
The alliance is more important than the basing agreement. But the longer the agreement is in limbo, the more it stirs questions about the future of the alliance. There are worrying signs that many of Japan's new leaders and its postwar generation don't understand the full value of the security partnership.
A half-century of American protection remains a bargain for the Japanese. In much of Asia, it's seen as an essential balance against a rising China and a defense, if needed, against North Korea. The United States must respect Mr. Hatoyama's desire to strike a more independent course, including by seeking improved ties with China. A strong and equal partnership between Tokyo and Washington is in both countries' overwhelming interest.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SO IT'S GRANNY'S FAULT?
With its trysting governor and "you lie!" congressman, South Carolina has suffered more than its share of politician-induced embarrassment. Now Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has topped them, cruelly equating government help for the poor to "feeding stray animals."
Mr. Bauer, who is running for governor, told a conservative political crowd about his grandmother's warning against feeding strays. "You know why? Because they breed!" boomed the popular Republican. "You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."
He eschewed what he described as political correctness and sternly called for the state to "curtail that type of behavior" by taking away assistance if the parents of children receiving subsidized lunches don't show up for school conferences. "You show me the school that has the highest free and reduced lunch, and I'll show you the worst test scores, folks," said Mr. Bauer.
In casting himself as the candidate of heartless civics, if not nitwit eugenics, Mr. Bauer at least stirred an encouraging furor. Outraged residents point out that South Carolina has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, with unemployment rising to 12.6 percent in a Great Recession the poor hardly caused. Fifty-eight percent of the state's students receive subsidized lunches.
Now watch Mr. Bauer backpedal. He insists he was a victim of the media, not his own overreach in the politics of class resentment. But his words are out there. With a lieutenant governor like Mr. Bauer in the wings, it's become clearer why the South Carolina Legislature declined to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford for going AWOL at taxpayers' expense in pursuit of his mistress. Voters should make Mr. Bauer eat his words.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
INTERNET VOTING, STILL IN BETA
Internet voting is in its infancy, and still far too unreliable, but states are starting to allow it and the trend is accelerating because of a new federal law that requires greater efforts to help military and other overseas voters cast ballots. Men and women in uniform must have a fair opportunity to vote, but allowing online voting in its current state could open elections up to vote theft and other mischief.
It is often hard for military voters to get ballots, and because of distance and unreliable mail service, it can be difficult or impossible for them to meet election deadlines. A year ago, the Pew Center on the States found that more than one-third of states do not provide military voters stationed abroad with enough time to vote, or are at high risk of not providing enough time. To address this problem, the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states in most cases to get ballots to military and overseas voters well in advance of regularly scheduled federal elections.
But the value of removing roadblocks is undermined when votes are put at risk, which can happen when ballots are returned by e-mail or are actually cast on a Web site. Massachusetts recently enacted a law allowing service members to vote by e-mail overseas. According to Verified Voting, a group that works to ensure reliable elections, 16 states allow some form of Internet voting, and more than a dozen including Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois and Washington are considering it.
E-mail can be intercepted, and voting Web sites can be hacked or taken down by malicious attacks. There are not even agreed-upon standards for what safety measures are necessary.
In many cases, it is not possible to ensure a secret ballot when votes are cast online or by e-mail. That is a particular concern for military voting, where soldiers could come under pressure from commanding officers about their choice of a candidate.
The Internet can help improve overseas voting if it is used wisely. It can be a good way to get information about elections and candidates out to faraway voters, and to deliver blank ballots. Right now, those ballots should not be returned online.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
KIDS IN CRISIS (BEHIND BARS)
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
We all have blind spots, and I think one of mine shared by many other Americans, perhaps including you has to do with prisons.
Over the years, I've written many columns about Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and torture, not to mention the abuses that go on in Chinese and North Korean prisons. But I've never written about the horrors that unfold in American prisons especially juvenile correctional facilities on a far larger scale than at Guantánamo.
Consider Rodney Hulin Jr., who was a 16-year-old when he was convicted of arson. A first-time offender and a slight figure at 5 feet 2 inches tall and some 125 pounds, he was sent to a men's prison. There, he was the smallest person around. Within a week, he was raped, according to an account by Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group. The prison doctor ordered an H.I.V. test, since up to one-third of the inmates were H.I.V.-positive.
Rodney asked to be placed in protective custody, but he was denied. His father, Rodney Hulin Sr., picks up the story: "For the next several months, my son was repeatedly beaten by the older inmates, forced to perform oral sex, robbed, and beaten again. ... He could no longer stand to live in continual terror."
Rodney Jr. hanged himself.
Maybe Rodney would have been safer in a juvenile correctional facility, but then again maybe not. A stunning new Justice Department special report, released just this month, underscores how widespread rape is in youth correctional facilities. It found that almost one youth in eight reported being sexually assaulted while behind bars in the last year.
That means that a child in custody is about twice as likely to be raped as an adult behind bars, based on similar surveys of adult prisoners. As The New York Review of Books wrote on its blog, we face a "crisis of juvenile prison rape."
The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a blue-ribbon panel that issued its final report last year, described how a 14-year-old boy weighing 98 pounds was assaulted after he was made to share a cell with two older teenagers. Both were 6 feet 2 inches, and one weighed 160 pounds and the other 195 pounds.
Surprisingly, the new survey suggests that the biggest predators are not other inmates but prison staff and female staff members offend as much as the males do. More than 10 percent of boys in juvenile correctional facilities said that they had had sex with staff, most of whom were women.
Among girls, almost 5 percent said that they had engaged in sexual activity with staff, most of whom were men.
Reggie Walton, a federal judge in the District of Columbia who led the prison rape commission, said that the figures may even be an undercount because of the stigma of rape. "I was shocked at the level of abuse," he said.
One lesson from the surveys is that we should rethink the way male guards are sometimes assigned to female inmates, and female guards to male inmates, without sufficient respect for inmates' privacy or dignity. That won't stop same-sex violence or inmate-on-inmate abuses, but it would address one important component of the abuse problem.
By some accounts, the majority of guards at women's prisons are now men. Investigators at one juvenile correctional facility found that a male guard watched as girls showered, while a woman watched over boys showering.
Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, also a member of the prison rape commission, described a Virginia prison where men were stripped naked and asked to spread their buttocks in front of a female officer. When a male inmate asked to be searched in front of a man instead, Ms. Fellner said he was Tasered.
In the last few years, a growing number of states have limited the ability of guards to strip-search members of the opposite sex or watch them showering. And a landmark law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, created Judge Walton's commission, which has made excellent recommendations to reduce violence and abuse behind bars. The Obama administration should quickly implement those recommendations.
Surveys have found that well-managed prisons and correctional facilities with strong accountability have almost no rape, by guards or inmates. Others have astonishingly high levels. If we want to rehabilitate young offenders and help them get their lives in order, a starting point is to end the criminal abuse of them.
The legacy of Rodney Hulin Jr. should be a concerted drive to end the way inmates are raped with impunity behind bars. The survey results indicating the ubiquity of sexual assault behind bars, often by guards, should be an awakening and an end to this blind spot that so many of us have shown. We need to be as alert to human rights abuses in our youth correctional facilities as to those at Guantánamo.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
UNITED WE RANT
BY GAIL COLLINS
My fellow Americans, the state of the union is angry. Also strong. Presidents usually say the state of the union is strong. But this year you would have to go with strongly angry.
In his speech on Wednesday night, President Obama actually dropped that traditional state-of-the-union-is rhetoric completely in honor of the new irascibility. "We all hated the bank bailout," he said in one of his first big applause lines.
Yes, the one good thing you can say about our highest elected officials is that they are ticked off at so many people that sooner or later they've got to climb up on some common ground. The House hates the Senate. The liberal Democrats hate the moderate Democrats. The normal conservative Republicans hate the hyper Tea Party-types. The Tea Party-ists are having so many internal fights that there's a definite danger of broken crockery.
And, of course, everybody hates the bankers, except the Republicans who sat on their hands when the president called for taxing them.
Obama does not really do angry. Peeved, yes. He looked pretty peeved when he was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News the other night. If he can't manage mellow with Diane Sawyer, what's he going to do on Friday when he has scheduled a meeting with the House Republicans? Have you ever seen all the House Republicans in one place? It's like a herd of rabid otters.
Looking out at the motley crew seated before him for the big speech, the president seemed at times to be pretending that he had never seen these people before in his life. "Washington has been telling us to wait for decades," he complained at one point, as if he was a visitor from the heartland with a petition that he wanted to deliver if only he could get an appointment with someone on the appropriations committee.
Obama Year One began with euphoria. At the start of Year Two, crankiness rules. The House Democrats jumped up in triumph whenever the president dissed the Senate for holding things up. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid has Harry Reid had a single sunny moment in the last year? got caught yawning by the cameras. There were occasionally scattered Republican jeers, although it probably counts as an improvement that nobody shouted a full insult at the president this time around. When Justice Samuel Alito took exception to the president's assault on the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decision, he shook his head and mouthed "not true."
Justice John Paul Stevens, who hated that decision more than anyone, was absent for the speech. There are rumors that he's planning to retire. And can you imagine how Congress is going to behave if Obama has to try to name a successor? There isn't a single jurist in the United States who doesn't hold some opinion that 41 members of the Senate would find outrageous. Maybe they can locate a nice 50-year-old lawyer who was plunged into a coma on the day he or she passed the bar, and emerged only last week.
On Wednesday, the things that seemed to elicit the most bipartisan reactions were: hope (standing ovation), cutting the capital gains tax for small businesses (ditto) and Obama's plan for deficit control, which caused a cold breeze to blow from both the Republican and Democratic camps.
Democrats hate the proposed freeze on discretionary spending because they like discretionary spending. Republicans say it's too little too late, and, besides, it's their issue. Hands off.
While the reaction certainly suggested this idea is a goner, it's likely that Obama's most conservative proposals are still the ones with the best odds of survival. The last few presidents had their best and often only luck getting big domestic bills passed when they were the other party's programs. Bill Clinton got welfare reform. George W. Bush got No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug plan. Both of those were basically Democratic ideas, although Bush added his own personal twist of not paying for them.
But Obama insisted he was going to hang in there and fight the good fight for health care reform and energy and good for him getting rid of the military's don't-ask-don't-tell rule. Plus, he urged Congress to reform itself and regulate lobbyists and campaign donations. (Silence ruled.)
He also threw in a call for earmark reform. Although those porky earmarks are certainly an undesirable thing, ever since John McCain's presidential campaign I have regarded calls for their reform as a small sign of desperation. On Wednesday, earmark reform got more time than immigration reform.
Obama has been saying that he'd rather be "a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." Being a good one-term president probably sounds great to him right now. Run the Obama Foundation and never have to deal with Joe Lieberman again.
But he's definitely going for the double. For one thing, there is no such thing as a really good president who walked away after one term. James Polk? Barack Obama did not leave Hawaii to wind up remembered as the James Polk of the 21st century.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE FED'S BEST MAN
BY ALAN S. BLINDER
A SENATE vote on President Obama's nomination of Ben Bernanke for a second four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve is imminent. Rejecting him would be a big mistake, for it would both flog a distinguished public servant who helped avert catastrophe and turn the Fed chairmanship into yet another political football. Washington has plenty of political footballs already.
The case for Ben Bernanke starts with his keen intellect. But perhaps more important in these trying times, he has demonstrated great creativity. He has also displayed the courage to put his head on the chopping block for policies he thinks right. And he is now battle-tested. (Disclosure: I am a long-time friend and former academic colleague of Mr. Bernanke.)
Critics frequently point out that Mr. Bernanke has not always made the right calls. It's a fair complaint, but who has always been right? Yes, he initially allowed the Fed to continue the regulatory laxity bequeathed him by Alan Greenspan. No, he did not foresee the full depth of the impending financial implosion. But who did? And, in my view, he and Henry Paulson, then the Treasury secretary, made an egregious error by letting Lehman Brothers collapse. (On the other hand, there were no good options.)
But his job performance since, say, October 2008 has been superlative. To cite just a few examples, Mr. Bernanke led the Fed to lower its interest rates to virtually zero in December 2008 and then to hold them there. The central bank also invented approaches to lending and purchasing assets that breathed some life into moribund markets like commercial paper and mortgage-backed securities. It led the highly successful "stress tests" of 19 large financial institutions last spring.
The success of these policies is demonstrable. The simplest and most objective measures of financial distress are the differences, or "spreads," between various (risky) interest rates and the corresponding (risk-free) Treasury rates. During the worst of the crisis, in September to November 2008 and again in February to March 2009, these spreads skyrocketed to dizzying heights. Since then, they have fallen remarkably, providing direct evidence that the Fed's cure is working.
Success in righting the "real" economy has naturally been slower; financial markets always move much faster than gross domestic product, incomes and jobs. But it's palpable nonetheless. The economy was nearly in free fall during the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, dropping by 5.4 percent and 6.4 percent in real terms, respectively.
Then the moves by the Fed and the Obama administration took hold: G.D.P. barely declined in the second quarter of 2009; and by the third quarter it began to rise. As this was happening, the job loss rate, which was staggering last winter, fell by more than three-quarters. On Friday we will get the initial estimate of fourth-quarter G.D.P. growth, which analysts expect to top 5 percent. And there is a good chance that job growth is about to resume.
This rapid improvement came faster than almost anyone expected. The plain truth is that, as bad as the recession was, it turned out to be less horrific than expected, and Ben Bernanke is one of the reasons. Unfortunately, "it could have been much worse" doesn't buy you much in politics.
Finally, senators should think of the institution instead of the man. The Federal Reserve System is one of the great legacies of the Progressive Era. The Fed is not flawless and has made its share of errors over the years. But since the 1950s, it has developed a well-deserved reputation for competence, integrity and, above all, nonpolitical decision-making in what may be the world's most political town.
The Fed does not do Congress's bidding, nor the president's. When necessary, it can and does take politically unpopular actions. It can move quickly and decisively in emergencies. If the Fed's political independence is compromised, the nation will lose something valuable.
There are several threats to that independence right now. But perhaps none is as potentially damaging as turning the nomination of the Fed chairman into a political circus. Doing so would be a sharp break with history, for Fed nominations have not been partisan affairs. Jimmy Carter put Paul Volcker in office, and Ronald Reagan re-nominated him. Mr. Reagan's choice, Alan Greenspan, replaced Mr. Volcker and was retained by the next three administrations. Mr. Obama now proposes to keep in office a Republican chosen by George W. Bush.
None of these nominations were politically contentious until now. No nominee for Fed chairman has ever been rejected by the Senate. Even no votes are relatively rare. In fact, the nominee who received the most negative votes in history was Paul Volcker, who won re-confirmation in 1983 by an 84-16 margin. Yet, in the eyes of many, Mr. Volcker was the greatest Fed chairman ever. Those 16 senators look pretty foolish in the eyes of history. There may be a lesson there.
Alan S. Blinder, a professor of economics at Princeton, was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1994 to 1996.
I. THE NEWS
BLACK DAY FOR BLACK COATS
The brutal murder of a 12-year-old housemaid in Lahore has forced many to shrug off their collective apathy and take notice. That the individual allegedly responsible for this unnatural death is a prominent lawyer and a former president of the Lahore District Bar Association has added an ironic dimension to this human tragedy. As if all this weren't bad enough, on Tuesday a mob of lawless lawyers, reportedly led by the incumbent district bar association president, decided to become a law unto itself. In a deliberate, misguided sense of fraternal compulsion, a large group of thuggish lawyers forcibly prevented the family and relatives of the little victim from attending the court proceedings. They then abused and manhandled media persons, accusing them of maligning an 'honourable lawyer'. The electronic media teams in particular were not allowed to even come close to the courtroom or take any pictures of the lawyer charged with the murder of the child. The police, according to media reports and eyewitnesses, also facilitated the marauding lawyers. It was indeed a black day for law, a black day for justice, a black day for lawyers themselves.
It was only a few months back that the unity of lawyers helped create the miracle of the restoration of the chief justice of Pakistan. Then black was beautiful, black was honourable. Not so anymore? The charge of the media creating unfair hype is ridiculous to say the least. The media simply did its job of reporting facts; and if the legal fraternity is perturbed about the main accused being a fellow lawyer then there is not much we can do here. One would expect the legal community to differentiate between the legal community's problems and an individual lawyer's personal legal woes. We respect genuine lawyers, but let there be no doubt that the free media shall never bow to the tyranny of coerciveness, whether of khaki or black hues. Surely this unruly mob does not reflect the character of the overwhelming majority of the legal community but we wait and see how the legal fraternity itself chastises these hooligans. We want to witness the majority denouncing the deplorable conduct of the few. Will the lawyer community stand up for principles of justice or fall for misconceived petty camaraderie? The jury is still out on this one.
I. THE NEWS
THE BURQA BAN
In a report to parliament, French lawmakers have called for a partial ban on the burqa and proposed that it should be outlawed at public places including buses, schools and hospitals. If the suggestions are indeed converted into law, a woman wearing the veil could in theory at least be denied treatment in an emergency room or prevented from entering her children's school. This is absurd. The west's focus on the burqa as a means to deprive women of their rights has been in evidence again and again since 2001. But this misses the whole point. The issue is of imposing any dress code on women, rather than one of the burqa alone. Denying a woman the right to wear one is as bad as forcing her into the blue garments favoured by the Taliban. It is also a fact that the burqa does not rank as a major issue for women; many of course embrace it by choice. For others, illiteracy and lack of empowerment are often far bigger issues.
French legislators seem not to realise too that their measures will exacerbate the divide that is emerging in France where a gulf already exists between the Muslim minority and mainstream society. It will not, in any way, act to liberate Muslim women or ensure greater rights for them. What is necessary is that discrimination against Muslims be ended as a means to build a more harmonious society. France must adopt flexibility in its effort to hold on to its secular values and accept that the world we live in is a rapidly changing and increasingly multicultural one.
I. THE NEWS
THE BURQA BAN
In a report to parliament, French lawmakers have called for a partial ban on the burqa and proposed that it should be outlawed at public places including buses, schools and hospitals. If the suggestions are indeed converted into law, a woman wearing the veil could in theory at least be denied treatment in an emergency room or prevented from entering her children's school. This is absurd. The west's focus on the burqa as a means to deprive women of their rights has been in evidence again and again since 2001. But this misses the whole point. The issue is of imposing any dress code on women, rather than one of the burqa alone. Denying a woman the right to wear one is as bad as forcing her into the blue garments favoured by the Taliban. It is also a fact that the burqa does not rank as a major issue for women; many of course embrace it by choice. For others, illiteracy and lack of empowerment are often far bigger issues.
French legislators seem not to realise too that their measures will exacerbate the divide that is emerging in France where a gulf already exists between the Muslim minority and mainstream society. It will not, in any way, act to liberate Muslim women or ensure greater rights for them. What is necessary is that discrimination against Muslims be ended as a means to build a more harmonious society. France must adopt flexibility in its effort to hold on to its secular values and accept that the world we live in is a rapidly changing and increasingly multicultural one.
I. THE NEWS
MEETING INDIA'S MILITARY CHALLENGE
During US Defence Secretary Gates' recent visit, we have again heard the refrain of our Western friends that terrorism and the Taliban, not India, pose an 'existential' threat to Pakistan.
But India's own actions and pronouncements belie these Western assertions. For the past year, India has refused to resume "composite dialogue" and has regularly threatened military action against Pakistan in the event of another Mumbai-like incident. And, while protesting loudly about pro-Kashmiri militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, India has been busy fomenting dissension and insurgency in Balochistan, FATA and other parts of Pakistan.
It was hardly helpful that Secretary Gates virtually endorsed India's belligerence when he told reporters in New Delhi that "it's not unreasonable to assume India's patience would be limited were there to be further (Mumbai-type) attacks." It would have been better if India was told that it is its posture which risks an Indo-Pakistan conflict and that anti-Indian violence will end once New Delhi halts its suppression of the Kashmiri people.
Any lingering doubt about India's hostile intentions and policies towards Pakistan should have been set to rest by the new military doctrine outlined recently by the Indian army chief. General Kapoor identified five thrust areas for the Indian military build-up: the ability to fight a two-front war against Pakistan and China; optimise capacity to counter asymmetric and sub-conventional threats; enhance capabilities for strategic reach and "out-of-area operations from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits; acquire strategic (intercontinental) and space-based capabilities and ballistic missile defenses, and ensure a technical edge over adversaries (that is, Pakistan and China).
The new doctrine reflects India's great power aspirations. But, the greatest danger for Pakistan emanates from the concept of the so-called 'Cold Start' strategy, propounded by General Kapoor, to mobilise and strike fast (within 96 hours) at Pakistan "under a WMD overhang". At its meeting on January 13, 2010, Pakistan's National Command Authority "took serious note of recent Indian statements about its capability to conduct conventional military strikes under a nuclear umbrella" describing this as "oblivious to the dangerous implications of adventurism in a nuclearised context."This is, of course, not the first time India has contemplated a limited war or a conventional attack against Pakistan after South Asia was nuclearised. Indian leaders and military officers have often threatened 'hot pursuit' and 'lightning strikes' against training camps across the LoC in Kashmir. But they could not ignore Pakistan's stance that no war between India and Pakistan could be conceived as a limited war. In 1987, and again in 2002, India contemplated a full-scale attack against Pakistan. On both occasions, India discovered that it did not have the capacity to overcome Pakistan's conventional defences.
India no doubt hopes that with the western weapons faucets now open to it, it can, in the near future, acquire the capability to defeat Pakistan in a conventional conflict. All the new capabilities and weapons systems acquired by India, whatever the proffered rationale, can and will be deployed and used against Pakistan in the event of a future confrontation or conflict. Today, over 70 per cent of India's military capabilities land, air and naval are deployed against Pakistan. There is no reason to believe that this proportion will change in the foreseeable future.
Pakistan cannot, of course, afford to match India's military build up. Its response will have to be defensive, asymmetrical, innovative, and achieved at much lower cost. Pakistan's forces may need to do some tactical rethinking. For example, an Indian tank force can be more effectively destroyed by drones and missiles rather than a matching tank force. A large surface navy can be seriously damaged by submarines and mobile missile-boats. The eight Indian "battle groups" may be more mobile; but they would also be vulnerable to encirclement and destruction. Rather than spread themselves thin to defend the entire Eastern border, Pakistani forces could adopt an offensive-defensive strategy, focusing a thrust into Kashmir to bottle up half a million Indian troops there.
Following the post-Mumbai situation and the emergence of India's Cold Start strategy, Pakistan's armed forces have undertaken extensive war games to counter this threat. If the Indians have watched these closely, they should be clear in their minds that the danger of conventional adventurism escalating to the nuclear level cannot be ruled out. This was the general conclusion in 2002 -- confirmed among others by Pentagon war games. The Indo-Pakistan "composite dialogue" was restarted in 2003 on the basis of the mutual recognition that a military conflict between the two nuclear-armed countries was too dangerous to contemplate.
The critical question which arises, therefore, is what has given Indian military planners the confidence now that a conventional attack will not escalate to the mutually disastrous nuclear level? There could be three possible reasons for India's "new" confidence:
First, India may believe that the new capabilities it is acquiring Israeli AWACs, US-Israeli-Russian ballistic missile defence systems, advanced strike aircraft can effectively neutralise Pakistan's nuclear strike force of missiles and aircraft. This would be shallow strategic thinking since Pakistan could ensure penetration of Indian defences through multiplication of its missiles and warheads.
Second, Indian plans may envisage, together with a Cold Start conventional attack, a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan's strategic delivery systems. This is likely to push Pakistan to maintain at least a part of its strategic capabilities in a state of readiness to respond to a pre-emptive counter-force strike.
The third, and most ominous, possibility is that India has come to believe that foreign powers will prevent Pakistan, by threats or military means, from escalating a conventional conflict to the nuclear level.
If India launches a Cold Start strike, the world community would first try to halt the conflict. India may count on making quick military gains and then accepting a ceasefire. But, the priority western goal would be to prevent Pakistan from resorting to its nuclear deterrent. If diplomatic demarches and threats do not work, even more drastic measures could be contemplated.
Numerous media stories have mentioned the existence of US plans to seize or neutralise Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the event of their threatened take over by Islamic radicals. These plans, if they exist, could be executed also in the context of an Indo-Pakistan conflict.
An article which appeared in the Foreign Affairs Quarterly (November-December 2009), "The Nukes We Need", is also worth noting. The two writers argue that "The United States will sooner or later find itself embroiled in conventional wars with nuclear-armed adversaries" and should have the "ability to launch precise, very low-casualty nuclear counter-force strikes." This would enable the US "to deter nuclear attacks" as well as have "retaliatory options." The writers point out that the US already has such low-yield nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
Despite the present counter-terrorism alliance with the US, Pakistan needs to factor in these scenarios into its deterrence posture and doctrine. As the Foreign Affairs article, cited above, asserts: "If not backed by the capability and credibility to execute threats, deterrence is merely a dangerous bluff."
To preserve the credibility of their nuclear deterrent capabilities, the major nuclear powers adopt some or all of three options: first, keep at least part of their nuclear-strategic weapons systems in a state of "high alert"; second, deploy a sufficient number of nuclear-armed missiles in hardened silos, deep underground, at secret and dispersed locations; and third, possess nuclear powered submarines as a credible second-strike nuclear force.
These objectives deserve the highest priority in Pakistan's response to India's new military doctrine. Pakistan's response should also be accompanied by robust diplomatic action. This should include:
* A dialogue with China to coordinate an effective response to India's new doctrine and capabilities at the diplomatic, strategic and tactical level.
* Press India's weapons' suppliers to refrain from providing it with the capabilities to execute its "adventurist" strategy; and
* Activating efforts to promote a South Asia restraint regime that provides for nuclear restraint, conventional balance and resolution of conflicts, especially Kashmir.
A clear and visible response by Pakistan is essential to convince India, and the international community, that Pakistan is determined to defend its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and that "cold start" could end in a hot finish.
The writer is a former Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations.
I. THE NEWS
IS ARTICLE 227 INDISPENSABLE?
If the Taliban were to come to power in Pakistan (which is what their struggle is all about), what would they do to the Constitution? The answer is: they would retain Article 227 and discard the rest of the Constitution. This single article of the Constitution would be sufficient for them to run the country. Their interpretation of this Article would be: "All laws to be brought in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as perceived by the Taliban."
They could arguably use the article to make laws to kill a barber for a haircut, bomb a school if it was attended by females, gouge the eyes of those who watched television, lash people for wearing shorts and cut off hands for theft, and to slaughter those who differed with the Taliban's brand of religion all in the name of Islam. Thanks to Article 227, all this would be well within the ambit of law and the constitution. The Taliban could not have conceived a better, simpler and more accurate one-liner constitution.
From types of governance to the nature of personal laws, nations, groups and individuals differ widely on what they consider to be in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. The constitution of Saudi Arabia (for some a role model for an Islamic state) calls for a monarchical system of government. It further requires that the monarchy be passed on to the sons of the founding king, Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman al-Faysal al Sa'ud, and to their children's children. Many scholars do not consider this prescription to be a recommended Islamic practice. Others will not agree with the constitution of Iran, another great Islamic country, that declares (in Article 12) Islam in accordance with the Jafariya school to be the official faith.
On the other hand, Muslim Bangladesh on becoming an independent country in 1971 chose a secular constitution, and more recently has banned all religion-based parties from politicking on religious grounds.
In the case of Article 227, Pakistan's experience with it has added to the strife and polarisation of its citizens and society, rather than providing any benefits. It has been used by both civilian and military rulers to maintain their hold on power through appeasement of religious groups. In a fit of religious fervour, ours became the only parliament in the world to acquire the divine right to declare which Pakistani citizens were Muslim or otherwise. We must now nervously look to our parliament (often a gathering of people renowned for their questionable integrity) in case it decides which one of us is next to be removed from the pale of Islam.
Gen Zia's Zakat Ordinance deserves special mention here, as it is an object lesson in why not to engage in religious lawmaking. The 1980 ordinance was strongly resented by members of the Fiqh-e-Jafariya, who felt it was not in accordance with their own beliefs. Forced to concede, but also not wishing to lose face, the government responded in a grossly unethical manner. On the one hand, the Zakat Ordinance was amended to include a provision that enabled all recognised sects to seek exemption from compulsory deduction of Zakat. On the other, confidential administrative instructions were issued that declarations filed by Shia Muslims were to be accepted while similar declarations filed by Sunni Muslims were to be rejected. (Paragraph 11 of PLD 1991, Karachi 335, Sindh High Court.)
There was hardly an individual who did not wish to seek exemption from compulsory Zakat deduction. Between 1980 and 1999 (when the Supreme Court upheld the Sindh High Court decision), millions of Muslims kept on providing fake affidavits of belonging to Fiqh-e-Jafariya, or simply withdrawing their money a day before the announced date for deduction of Zakat.
Unfortunately, the cumbersome bureaucratic practices of the Zakat Ordinance continued to hassle and inconvenience ordinary citizens, who must fill the CZ50 Zakat affidavit and have it signed by a notary public and two witnesses. No one ever questions the science by which a witness verifies the sect of a person. Today, one must prove one's faith by real or fake affidavits in order to prevent the government from making financial deductions in the name of religion.
Zakat, like prayers, is a personal obligation. Turning it into a public law makes it come into direct conflict with Article 20 of the Constitution that provides every citizen the right to practice his or her own religion. It also violates Article 8 of the Constitution that declares any law to be void if it is inconsistent with fundamental rights.
Why did Pakistan need to include Article 227 in its Constitution? Have the actions taken under the umbrella of Article 227 made Pakistani society better or worse? How well have we performed on matters of human rights, equality of citizens, security of individuals, violence against women or dignity of people? Are all these guarantees not already provided for by Articles 8 to 28 of the Constitution?
How is it that scores of nations with no 227-like articles in their constitutions have done far better than Pakistan on the counts of human rights, equality and justice? Pakistan, on the other hand, has fallen prey to deep societal divisions and become vulnerable to the forces of extremism. In its effort to compete on the ideology market, Pakistan has to constantly (and unnecessarily) keep pace with the unmatchable standards of the clerics of Lal Masjid, the Fazlullahs of Imam Dheri and the Baitullahs of Waziristan.
It is time for the state to formally and firmly give up provisions that empower it to legislate (almost always wrongly and in discriminatory manner) matters that are exclusive between an individual and the Lord. The ordinary people of Pakistan will continue to be just as good Muslims as they have always been. Do they really need to be further divided or exploited by Article 227 being invoked?
The writer is a management systems consultant, with active interest in social and environmental issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE
In democratic societies national interests trump personal interests. Public discussions on matters of national interest foster transparency and accountability, but the moment a public debate loses its focus and turns personality-specific objectivity becomes the first casualty. The current discussion on the dead NRO is one such example. The deafening noise around this issue has turned the focus from what lies in the larger national interest to what is good or bad for one individual.
No matter how hard one may try to manipulate the truth in the aftermath of the NRO judgment, the question remains: is it in the national interest to continue to defend those who have lost the protection of the NRO?
The NRO was a glaring example of bad laws. It was an appalling act of a falling administration which desperately wanted to prolong its political life by any means possible. How can the people of Pakistan forget the slyness with which the NRO was designed, completely shrouded in secrecy and without a shred of public discourse or input?
The people of Pakistan now demand that the process of accountability be completed. No one should be above the law. Why should a crucial national interest be thrown out the window in order to protect the personal interest of some in high places? The people's quest for justice is unwavering, for justice has eluded them for so long. The NRO was an instrument of usurpation in a country whose populace was denied an equitable share of power and resources for long.
Time and again the powerless and disenfranchised Pakistani masses were kept from protecting their national interests, with the tacit involvement of the higher judiciary which frequently relied on pseudo-jurisprudence to strengthen the hands of the powerful. But this time around, the people were in an entirely different mood, and the higher judiciary took full notice of it. How could it not? After all, the present higher judiciary is the direct beneficiary of the civil society's long struggle for the advancement of a democratic, egalitarian and forward-looking Pakistan.
The Supreme Court, as the final arbiter on constitutional issues, has already hammered the last nail in the NRO's coffin. By declaring the NRO void ab initio, the Supreme Court erased it as if it never had existed. The term "void" means something of no effect. It is important to note that the court did not simply declare the NRO void. It took an added step and made it "void ab initio." In simple words, "void ab initio" means that the action, document or transaction in question is null and void from the beginning.
Therefore, if the NRO had no validity right from the moment of its inception, then it is natural to conclude that it cannot confer any legal rights upon anyone who used it to his or her benefit in the first place. What is now the legal status of those in public offices who were not eligible to contest for public office were it not for the NRO? The instrument with which their deeds were protected has now shattered, leaving them exposed with pre-NRO charges or convictions. If they were not eligible to run for the positions they are holding now, their eligibility to hold on to such positions cannot be justified by the spirit and letter of law, or by any stretch of imagination.
If the government finally opts to seek an appellate review, it must do it on the strength and merit of its underlying argument. A frivolous appeal would accomplish nothing but prolong the agony. If such a review is sought, one wonders what would be its purpose other than the ostensible desire to have the infamous NRO resurrected. How can one even consider seeking an appellate review, given the appalling purpose for which the NRO was manufactured? Would the decision, if any, to seek an appellate review serve any national interest? Or is it another convoluted attempt to protect a flock of odd individuals who have long been wanted for the commission of a variety of illegal acts, ranging from civil breaches to outright criminality?
One must not forget that the NRO was not even amnesty. It was impunity of the most flagrant type. Amnesty is not offered without qualification and conditions. It is generally given to those who, after accepting their wrongdoing, seek forgiveness in the interest of broader national good. In civil cases, amnesty seekers are made to undo the damage that they have caused or made to pay a fine where the damage cannot be reverted. Unqualified, unconditional and unquestioned amnesty is nothing but impunity in disguise.
Would it not be an honourable way if the accused seek their day in court to clear their names, instead of hiding behind an illegal curtain of protection? According to an old Chinese proverb, "A clear conscience never fears a midnight knock."
The process of accountability is always multi-dimensional and multi-fold, and thus demands the participation of all branches of government for its execution; it is an integral part of good governance. Courts cannot do everything. No matter how justly and expeditiously courts dispense justice and render a judgment, it remains a piece of paper if it not enforced effectively.
The wheel of justice can only move forward if its movement is carefully calibrated and supported by all others involved. Our nation's history is cluttered with innumerable selfish episodes when national interests were pushed aside to protect personal interests. At this turning point in our nation's history, it is about time for us to learn from the horrendous experiences of our past, and set out on a path to fulfil the dreams of our founding fathers.
The writer is an attorney based in New York. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
SECRETS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
The story of the abuse and murder of a 12-year-old maid servant, working at the home of a lawyer in the Defence area of Lahore, is unusual simply because it has attracted widespread media coverage and consequently drawn the attention of the top leadership.
But surely these persons cannot be totally oblivious to the fact that harassment, molestation and occasional murder are a routine part of the life of many domestic servants. This is a documented reality. According to the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA), comprising a group of organisations working against the harassment of women in the workplace, 91 per cent of female domestic workers say they have suffered sexual abuse at one point or another. Those like the unfortunate Shazia, who are young and belong to a minority community, are especially vulnerable.
Each year, there are indeed complaints of abuse from other maids. Few are able to persuade anyone to hear them. A few months ago, a group of wealthy women in Lahore 'helped' a young girl who complained she was being 'rented out' almost each night to friends of her employer, in exchange for money paid to him, to find other employment. What they did not do was initiate any action against the man and his wife who, it would appear, abetted him. It is this immunity from the law that allows such crime to continue. The failure of police to act as in the case of Shazia is after all not unusual. The powerful rarely face punishment.
There are many examples of this. Some years ago, in Mozang, a four-year-old boy, employed as kitchen help, was beaten to death by the woman for whom he worked. His crime: he had taken too long to pay a visit to the bathroom located away from the house.
The child's body was then dumped on a garbage heap by his employer and her husband. Here, media coverage of the matter ends. We do not know if the couple parents themselves ended up in police custody or if they were put on trial. It is thought they may have escaped. The parents of the boy may have accepted a bribe. After a brief media flurry, the trail runs entirely cold. The headlines grow smaller and then fade away. This of course is a fact in other cases too. It explains why such crimes continue; why those responsible remain confident they can get away with rape or murder.
The president has, in the case of Shazia, offered up Rs5 lakh to her family as 'compensation'. This then is the price of her life. But what we really need is some kind of regulatory set-up that can offer protection to domestic workers. In the first place, the employment of children, least able to protect themselves, needs to be stopped. There are tens of thousands such children who perform the mundane chores of households, sometimes in exchange for little more than a single meal a day. Cases are documented each year of servants children and adults alike who are accused of theft and then denied a wage to 'recover' the loss. An employee at a fast food restaurant where birthday parties for the offspring of the elite are regularly hosted says he feels compelled to smuggle food to the small maids who watch their charges eat, some saying they survive only on kitchen scraps. He has seen scars inflicted by beating on scrawny arms. There are maids who regularly work a day that lasts 16 hours or even more, and who suffer beatings, verbal abuse and worse. The events that take place behind the doors of grand households are after all hidden from the public. The lack of laws to protect domestic workers leaves them without any cover at all.
This is of course not unique to Pakistan. The abuse of domestic workers has frequently been reported from the Middle East, India and indeed other nations. But it is true too that in other places, unions of domestic servants have been created and legislation written up defining their rights as well as their responsibilities. We need to move towards this. A single case, and action on it, in the longer run, changes nothing at all. What is essential is that it be used as a lever to put laws in place and initiate a wider process of reform, backed by the assemblies.
But the fact is that even laws on their own are quite insufficient. The failures to implement them are after all widespread. Nevertheless they represent an important step forward. Our government must, however, also assess what else is wrong. Poverty is frequently cited as an explanation or justification for child labour.
This is wrong. Indeed, work by children, who often receive next to nothing as wages, perpetuates poverty within families. It can also not be used as an excuse to push children into the workforce. Their lack of schooling drives on the cycle of deprivation. The increasing discrimination against non-Muslims too needs to be taken up as a priority. It is inflicting terrible havoc on society and threatens to cause still more harm.
These are issues that now need to be looked into. The intense media focus on the latest murder has paid dividends. But the fact is it cannot last. We saw this too in the recent case involving the death of a small girl at a hospital. Today, laws to regulate medical care in the private sector are being resisted. With the TV cameras searching out other topics, the pressure has shifted.
There are lessons here for the media. While its attention span is necessarily short in a world of rapidly changing news, perhaps there is some need for means to be found to lengthen this and to conduct campaigns that extend over time, moving towards ushering in real change.
But perhaps, more realistically speaking, this is a job for the government. The murder of Shazia has highlighted the inability of the state to protect those who most need its support. It is these issues that need to be taken up by leaders. The gaze of the government must then look beyond the child who died in such terrible circumstances in Defence and find ways of preventing other little girls from meeting the same fate.
I. THE NEWS
M SAEED KHALID
The stunning Republican victory in Massachusetts last week, depriving the Democrats of the US Senate seat occupied by the late Edward Kennedy was a stinging rebuke to President Obama, on the first anniversary of his inauguration. In electing the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, the voters, who had supported Obama in the November 2008 presidential election, appear to have shown their frustration at the meagre results his administration has produced.
One year on, Obama has fallen in popularity, as both his economic and health reforms have sputtered. His election did not result in the expected turnaround of America's policies in Afghanistan or Iran. The changes he had promised would be a time-consuming process in which he would have to contend with military strategists and a defence secretary inherited from the Bush administration.
Obama agreed with the partisans of a surge in US forces in Afghanistan. He announced a date for starting the withdrawal of forces, but without giving a timeframe for its completion.
After one year in office, Obama failed to meet the voters' expectations for a change in America's domestic and foreign policies to the level where they could vote for the Democrats in the special polls in Massachusetts, with mid-term elections due in November. If the US economy improves in the months ahead, and the health plan is adopted, the electorate may overlook Obama's slowness and lack of innovation on Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that leaves in the cold Afghans and Pakistanis, who are direct or collateral victims of US operations.
In announcing a dual approach to the conflict raging in Afghanistan, Obama has addressed a message to the Taliban that the US and its allies are in no hurry to quit and are prepared for a holding operation. By not giving a date for the completion of the withdrawal, Obama is signalling to the Taliban that the final position would depend on the outcome of efforts to reach a negotiated settlement in some kind of power-sharing arrangement. If that goal remains unachievable, then Obama may want to carry out a low-intensity war with a tolerable level of losses to prevent the Taliban from overrunning the urban centres, especially the provincial capitals and Kabul.
Will 2010 bring a significant change in the Taliban's attitude to negotiations with the US? If their declaration to mark 30 years of Afghanistan's invasion by the Soviets is an indicator, there can be little hope for resolution of the conflict. The only way of de-escalation in Afghanistan can be the reduction of foreign forces and the interposing of a peacekeeping force with an international mandate. Together with the Taliban joining a broad national coalition to govern Afghanistan for a period of five years to undertake a process of national reconciliation, which in turn would lead to the establishment of a new constitutional set-up on national consensus.
Pakistani officials and diplomats with experience of dealing with the Afghan Taliban do not believe the Taliban would be capable of coming forth with that kind of broad vision. The stalemate in Afghanistan would, in turn, egg on the Pakistani Taliban to pursue their hard line approach, thus keeping the two nations in the throes of violence for years to come.
There could be light at the end of the tunnel if President Obama shows courage of conviction by demonstrating imagination and innovation in the coming months. That should be matched by the Taliban, who would thereby prove that Muslims are not only good at fighting but also possess the wisdom to embrace peace to embark on reconciliation and reconstruction.
The writer is a former ambassador.
WHY IS INDIA BUILDING TENSION?
AS Pakistan armed forces are fully and wholeheartedly engaged on the Western borders and some internal pockets, something ominous was brewing up on the Eastern front where Indians are resorting to unprovoked firing on the Line of Control and other sectors. The provocation led to heavy exchange of fire on Tuesday and Pakistan had to summon Indian envoy to lodge a strong protest. Earlier too, India resorted to similar shelling on this side of the LoC resulting in martyrdom of two Pakistani soldiers.
These are not stray incidents and one can understand the whole scheme of things if the entire scenario is taken into consideration. Indian Army Chief hurled naked threats on Pakistan and China a few weeks back, and New Delhi hiked its defence budget by over 30% this year to acquire latest lethal equipment and technologies. It was in this backdrop that during his interview to the Turkish Radio and Television, President Asif Ali Zardari urged India not to escalate arms race in the region. We apprehend that India, in collusion with its Western mentors, was on a collision path and bent upon doing some mischief. This was evident from the recent statement of American Defence Secretary Robert Gates in New Delhi about danger of action against Pakistan by India if there was re-run of Mumbai like incidents in future. This is highly regrettable as Pakistan has diverted its military sources from the Eastern to the Western borders at the instance of the United States and Western countries, which want presence of Pakistani troops in good numbers on the Western front to make life easier for their occupation troops in Afghanistan. Both Washington and London had been pressurizing Pakistan to accept the illogical notion that the country faces no threat from India but recent developments bear testimony to the fact that Pakistan's threat perception (from eastern border) was based on ground realities. Ever since the unfortunate Mumbai attack, India has thrown all its energies in trying to paint bleak picture of Pakistan and is grossly interfering in Balochistan and FATA to fan trouble. On the one hand it is trying to destabilize Pakistan by way of sponsoring terrorism and violence and on the other it is adopting aggressive military posture on the Eastern front where Pakistani troops have thinned out because of their involvement in mitigating the security threats posed by extremism and terrorism. There are, therefore, reasons to believe that India was gradually building tension to put Pakistan under more pressure and this calls for a comprehensive review of our military strategy and the need for a diplomatic offensive to expose Indian designs.
DYNAMISM OF BANKING SECTOR
IT should be a matter of pride for every Pakistani that the banking sector of the country has shown impressive performance over the years despite adverse local and global developments. No one would disagree with the State Bank of Pakistan that this dynamic growth of the banking and financial sector had been made possible because of prudent policies of the Government and the Central Bank.
This miraculous achievement is not just a coincidence but outcome of innovative and far-sighted policies of the State Bank, leadership of various banks and financial institutions that set high goals for them and realized these targets with sheer hardwork and vision. Banking sector's growth is reflected by the fact that deposits of the banks have gone beyond Rs. 4.1 trillion and advances to Rs3.3 trillion. It is a happy coincidence that the incumbent Finance Minister Mr Shaukat Tarin, a banker par excellence, is providing an enabling atmosphere to the banking sector for its further leap forward. Banks as profitable ventures attracted close to over $4 billion of foreign direct investment during 2006-2008 which is a clear proof of the confidence that the investors have in the prudent banking policies of the country and prospects of the sector in future. According to some estimates about half the assets of banks are now owned by foreign banks that are introducing innovation and technological improvements. Re-capitalization and sagacious lending supported by strong regulatory and supervisory framework afforded by the Government and State Bank have lowered net non-performing loans to historical lows. It is because of this that despite economic shock and stress in stock market, the banking system has shown an increase in profitability. Pakistan's banking industry and the broader financial sector has enormous potential to support faster economic growth and development and we are confident that it is destined to play this role provided the existing policies are sustained over the years.
PLIGHT OF POOR GAZA PEOPLE
ISRAEL has rebuffed the UN call for a special probe into the last winter's Gaza offensive during which more than 1400 Palestinians including 900 civilians were killed. Large chunks were devastated and have not yet been repaired because of an ongoing Israeli blockade.
An Israeli Cabinet Minister Tuesday reacting to the UN call said instead the Jewish State would submit a document to the world body that deals with its own investigations about the three-week war. This is not for the first time that Israel has rejected a UN call for a probe and diplomats say now an international war crime proceedings could be initiated against it. In the past too the Jewish State with the strong backing of the United States had turned down many UN resolutions for the settlement of the Palestinian issue. A UN report authored by veteran war crimes prosecutor Goldstone accused Israel of deliberately targeting Gaza civilians and intentionally destroying infrastructure, homes and livelihood. It is unlikely that Israeli probe report would satisfy the UN's call for a credible investigation and there is a strong case for the world body to refer the case to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. However there are concerns among the diplomats at the UN that US would block such a move. But such a move by Washington would lead to more anti-US feelings not only among the Palestinians but also in the entire Muslim world. President Obama who at the beginning of his Presidency a year back had committed to reaching out to the Muslim world and resolve the lingering disputes including that of Palestine need to evaluate the progress his special envoy George Mitchell has achieved and take urgent steps for the fast track progress. We believe the only realistic solution to the conflict is Land for Peace formula that King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia had mooted in 2002 to bring an end to the sufferings of the Palestinians and for lasting peace in the Middle East.
NATION'S PRAYERS ANSWERED
The prayers of Pakistani nation which has been suffering under the yoke of an incompetent government seem to have been answered by God. The Supreme Court in its detailed judgment has described NRO not only discriminatory but most of all un-Islamic.
The court declared that no law which condoned corruption and perpetuated corrupt practices instead of eliminating exploitation is against the basic principles of justice in Islam. The President, who is under oath to protect the Constitution, in this case former President Musharraf, is not competent to promulgate an Ordinance in the name of national reconciliation which is beyond the scope of the Constitution.
The judgment authored by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and endorsed by the full bench of 17 judges is a landmark document which puts Mr. Musharraf, President Zardari and some others in the loop of accountability or punishment. The judgment further said that any action by the President which negated the dictates of the constitution, including fundamental rights, would amount to promulgation of a law which is not acceptable to the nation nor to the world. President Zardari , who had gone into hibernation at the Aiwan-e-Sadr ever since his installation as Pakistan's Head of State suddenly burst out and started making rambling speeches in Sindhi and Punjabi as the Acting Chairman of PPP. He tried to copy the rebel rousing style of his late wife and his father- in-law Mr. Bhutto. But he failed. He could not create their rhythm nor could he invoke enthusiastic crowd response, naturally because he is neither a politician nor a public speaker.
The sum total of his speeches was that he is caught in a web of conspiracies by mischief mongers who want to overthrow the democratically elected PPP government. These include some politicians and some pen pushers and TV talk show hosts. This is a typical excuse for the rulers who fail to govern well and solve peoples' problems for which they had been elected. They develop a persecution complex, blaming others for their failures. President Zardari seems to be suffering from this complex. He refused to restore the judges of the Supreme Court who were illegally dismissed by former President Musharraf till he was forced by a historic national movement led by the lawyers and opposition political parties, notably PML (N). Mr. Zardari who has been tainted with charges of corruption ever since his late wife came to power in December 1988 has always had a lurking fear of accountability when he was installed in the President House by a sheer stroke of luck. That was the reason for his dilly dallying of the restoration of apex court judges. But now he is facing the judgment of the Supreme Court which has struck down NRO as a discriminatory and un-Islamic law with all his corruption cases wide open staring in the face.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry recently declared in an address to the lawyers that time has come to root out corruption from Pakistan which has eaten into the vitals of the nation and is the main cause of all its miseries, political, social as well as economic. Some lawyers believe that provisions of the Article 248 of the Constitution provide immunity to the President against reopening of corruption related cases against him, this may not be so. Even if it is, what about the conditions laid down for the office of the President in Article 62F that he should be "sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and "ameen". Some body may petition that Mr. Zardari does not fulfill this condition. Besides the Swiss court where Mr. Zardari's 360 million dollars are lying dormant has also perked up to decide the fate of this huge amount.
The Prime Minister says the government will not let occur any collision with the judiciary, but at the same time President Zardari has paved the for such a collision by refusing assent to CJ's proposal to elevate Mian Saqib Nisar, senior judge of LHC to the Supreme Court seat fallen vacant after the retirement of Justice Khalil ur Rehman Ramday. The government's stand is that LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif is the most senior judge and therefore it his right to be elevated to the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister often says that people who are waiting for a clash between institutions and subsequently any intervention are mistaken. The government can avoid clash between institutions with treading this thorny path carefully but it cannot avoid the pressures of ground realities which are getting worse every day. People are demonstrating in large numbers against the increasing load shedding of electricity and rising prices of every day use items including sugar. The Government has failed to solve these essential problems causing resentment among the people who are the final arbiters in a democracy. Recently, the government announced an austerity program in government expenses which was welcomed but not a single step has been taken so far to implement this program. This amounts to deceiving the people which creates trust deficit.
President Zardari is very much in the news since the announcement of the Supreme Court judgment in the NRO case. In a recent comment the New York Times says, "President Zardari remains a weak unpopular leader leaving the larger question for Pakistan unchanged. When will the elected leaders be capable of solving the vast assortment of crushing economic, security and social problems facing the country"? This comment says it all.
"AMAN KI ASHA" MISSION MAY FLOP!
Aman Ki Asha (hope or aspiration for peace) indeed is an august and a pious initiative undertaken by the media giants of both India and Pakistan. I wish it fructifies and it ought to. But the ground realities suggest that such a patently well intentioned move may falter and abort as the time passes. The skepticism or lack of hope with regard to the success of this otherwise landmark mission is grounded on two fundamental arguments. Let us first of all not be swayed by the very sublimity of this unique effort that aims at paving peace between the two overly hostile and bellicose neighbours. The predominant desire is that such a lofty endeavour must see the light of the day and there must be a decisive breakthrough to bring peace and tranquillity between the age-old inveterate adversaries.
Firstly, it's the siege mentality on both sides of the divide that has been nurtured ever since both the states became independent from the British colonial rule in 1947. The very partition of the colonized Indian subcontinent into two distinct states was based on the perception that the Hindus and Muslims cannot live together because of a sea of mutual contradictions, predominantly based upon religion, and religious based culture. During partition, the genocide of the countless human beings for their identities as Hindus and Muslims or Sikhs is a tragic and traumatic memory that instead of being forgotten or cast away has remained fresh all these years.
There is always a lurking lust on both the sides, even on people's level, to tear each other into pieces and commit orgies of blood if similar occasions come by. This has happened several times after independence mostly in India and to a lesser degree in Pakistan. The genocidal thrust, beastly revenge and the wild urge to cannibalize each other has remained dormant but never vanished from the minds of the people especially among the extremist religious and ethnic segments of the society.
This mindset of deep seated hatred and undiminished hostility is a vile hang-up of the past but undeniably it is there. No amount of efforts how sincere and humane these might be, can erase the mutual suspicion and distrust and a wild penchant to destroy each other for being Muslim, Hindus or Sikhs. It is precisely these gory realities or sordid facts that do not give much credence to the hope for peace between India and Pakistan. The process of dialogue has remained in vogue for six decades now. Where has it landed: on further complicating the mutual relationship? The ambition or hope for peace should remain alive and this is manifest in the latest media blitz launched with profuse fanfare by the outstanding media groups, the Jang group in Pakistan and the Times of India group in India.
However, even an imbecile knows that the substantive and cardinal issue that keeps the two nations in a state of perpetual mode of sabre rattling and that led to three major and two minor wars between them, is the settlement of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has, all along, been wishing that once this festering issue was seriously addressed and resolved, the climate of hostility could drastically subside and the visible peace and veritable amiability could surface. It is, therefore, not possible to even imagine that any breakthrough towards permanent peace can be worked out between the two traditional rivals simply by the initiatives taken by the media channels no matter how widely read, watched or circulated they are. The statement of the India Army chief General Deepak Kapoor flys in the face of these earnest drives and cordial enterprises in that he claims of the Indian forces' capability to counter both China and Pakistan. He warned and hurled challenges both at China and Pakistan to be prepared when the time comes for two pronged military miracle produced by the Indian armed forces.
My argument may look plausible and even convincing when read along with the response of the Pakistan's COAS General Ashfaq Kiani and Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani to General Deepak's unusual daring outburst. General Kiani expressed his resolve to defend Pakistan and mildly berated his Indian counterpart for issuing such irresponsible and irrational statements. Only yesterday, Prime Minister Gilani stated on the floor of the National Assembly that Pakistan would not hesitate even to use the nuclear option if it was inevitable to save the country. Such strong sparring from the military and poltical leadership leaves very little room to be optimistic about any awesome breakthrough as is being drummed by the overzealous proponents of this exceptional goal.
Actually what is most pivotally needed is the unwavering political will and the real change of hearts to hammer out a meaningful thaw between India and Pakistan. That poltical will or initiative, unfortunately, has remained lacking between the countries in all the parleys on Kashmir dispute since they attained independence. The political will must demonstrate itself in addressing the most volatile Kashmir issue which once resolved to the satisfaction of all the three parties involved, namely Kashmiris, Indian and Pakistan, would generate a self propelling momentum and evolve an effective modus operandi towards speedy normalization of relations between the two mutually suspicious neighbours. Any initiative or effort without the resolution of thus far intractable Kashmir dispute would remain a no-starter and any statement to normalize relations between India and Pakistan would look farcical, subjective and mere pious platitude.
Interestingly, much to the liking of India, the first step towards "Aman Ki Asha" is to hold a major trade and industry conference in Karachi in February this year, in which the largest business houses of India and Pakistan would participate. The trade ministries from both the countries will also attend the conference. India plans to conduct a weeklong literary and cultural activity in January with artists participating from Pakistan also. Now such steps are perfunctory and are far-removed from the resolution of the grave issues of Kashmir, border disputes, Siachen, Kargil and water.
Actually in the past, India has been emphasising solely on such measures that benefit her more than Pakistan. In the trade agreement earlier brokered with India, Pakistan was dumped with substandard industrial and agricultural exports. India looks at Pakistan as an easy, accessible market because of less hassle for being a neighbour. The common demonstration of cultural affinity can only flourish if the backlog of other serious problems is also lifted. The culture harmony and togetherness would pave way for the Indian movies and other facets of Indian bustling showbiz to overwhelm Pakistani society which in plain words can be called cultural invasion.
So the underlying objective, which the leading media outlets are trying to attain, is going to be a ham-handed affair and would fizzle out if not beefed up and followed by tackling other ticklish and serious issues that have ever kept the relations between these two major states of the subcontinent, on tenterhooks for so long. For this the poltical leadership from both the sides must come together and resolve the long standing contentious matters as speedily and earnestly as possible. All other benefits would follow automatically. Thereafter, no deliberate initiatives by the private catalysts such as the current one would be needed for capturing the hitherto elusive "Aman Ki Asha".
ACHIEVEMENTS OF OPERATION RAH-E-NIJAT
ASIF HAROON RAJA
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) established by Baitullah Mehsud in December 2007 with the help of his foreign mentors spread its tentacles in whole of FATA and some settled parts of NWFP including Fazlullah led TNSM in Swat and also gained access in South Punjab . Swat Taliban lost public support when they refused to de-weaponise and abide by Swat agreement signed in February 2009 and let Nizam-e-Adl get introduced. Occupation of Lower Dir and Buner led to launch of Operation Rah-e-Rast on 28 April. Successful Swat operation and return of 2.5 million displaced persons to their homes turned the tide and forced the militants to run in panic. Establishment of linkage of militants with foreign powers and ongoing spate of acts of terror brought Taliban in bad books of public and demand for uprooting their main base in South Waziristan (SW) grew louder. The public as well as all political parties less JI, JUI and TI stood behind the Army.
Additional troops had started to move into Waziristan from July onwards in anticipation to a decisive battle in SW. USA had been exerting extreme pressure on our government to commence operation in Waziristan in conjunction with Swat operation. Army disfavored opening of two fronts simultaneously particularly when troops were engaged in Swat, Lower and Upper Dir , Buner, Shangla, Bajaur, Mohmand Agency, Khyber Agency and Darra Adam Khel. It would have amounted to dilution and dispersion of resources thereby losing concentration of effort in all sectors. It took its time to allow consolidation of gains made on Swat front.
Period from July to mid October was judiciously utilized for gaining intelligence to formulate plans, getting to know strength and weaknesses of militants, acclimatization of troops and familiarization of area of operations, completing its operational deficiencies, tying up nuts and bolts and streamlining drills how to confront challenges of IEDs, militants adept in guerrilla warfare and rugged terrain. For the first time, the army was not launched in haste and given adequate preparation time and moral support. During preparatory maneuver, troops continued with their creeping forward policy to isolate and encircle targeted area from multiple sides. This tactic curtailed liberty of action of Hakimullah led militants and gave psychological ascendancy to the military. At the same time, both Maulvi Nazir in SW and Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan (NW) were kept under tight control and no deal was made to keep them friendly.
Once go ahead was given by the government, operation Rah-e-Nijat was unfolded from three directions on 17 October. One prong moved from north to south along axis Razmak-Makeen, second from southeast to northwest along axis Jandola-Kotkai-Srarogha, the third from south to north along axis Shakai-Shrawangai-Ladha. Balanced force was employed on each axis of advance and movement made on broad front to overcome opposition with speed and to home on to vital complex of Srarogha-Ladha-Makeen. Three pronged maneuver aimed at outmaneuvering and encircling the adversary and blocking all avenues of escape or reinforcement from elsewhere. Soldiers climbed the rugged mountains like mountain leopards and rolled down to rupture the positions occupied by militants on hilltops.
Within fortnight, considerable progress was made on all axes causing disarray among militants. Wireless intercepts indicated signs of chaos among them. Many among them shaved their beards and trimmed their beards and ran for life. Troops on Razmak pincer secured Kot Azam and Cheena and then leapt towards critical position of Makeen. On Jandola axis, troops captured important places of Spinkai Roghzai, Kotkai which is hometown of Hakimullah and Qari Hussain and then over ran the pivotal position of Srarogha. On Shakai-Shrawangai axis, Shrawangai, Khaisura, Torwam Bridge and key town Kunigram were captured. Troops on this axis attacked vital target of Ladha, 8 km ahead of Kunigram on night of 3/4 November where after intense fighting in the streets, the town was captured on 5 November, much ahead of scheduled 7 November. Soon after, this force was asked to clear Makeen and link up with the force coming from direction of Kot Azam which it did with admirable speed and efficiency.
Although the militants put up stiff resistance at each point, however the resolve and determination of assaulting troops led by officers was so strong that they had to give in. Rapid successes made by the brave-hearts shattered centuries-old myth of invincibility of tribesmen of this region. Terrorists are failing and will fail because they are fighting for a wrong cause and at the behest of foreign powers. Huge caches of arms, ammunition, explosives, suicide jackets and material required for suicide jackets have been seized; chemical factories making IEDs taken over. Five truckloads of Indian origin arms, ammunition, medical equipment and literature were apprehended from Shrawangai. One laptop of 1000 GB with external drive containing all sorts of data, training lessons, and videos of criminal activities of so-called Taliban recovered.
Tunnels laden with armaments in hundreds have been discovered in captured areas. One of the tunnels in Kotkai was 500 meters long. These tunnels were in use for treating injured, for rest and refitting, for training and hiding suicide bombers and for making escape good. Houses with compounds and high mud walls where suicide bombers were imparted training have also been unearthed. Weapons and equipment seized include heavy MGs, RPGs, 12.7mm and 14.5mm guns, 107mm rockets, AK-47 rifles, SMGs, missile launchers, anti-aircraft guns, grenades, anti-tank mines, chemicals, explosives, wireless sets, jamming equipment. These were mostly Russian and Indian made.
It was foreseen that battle within Ladha-Makeen complex will be the hardest where top leadership of TTP is based and where majority of militants uprooted from forward positions would withdraw and would give last ditch battle. Large numbers have been killed and arrested. Most survivors have moved towards the western Shawal Range or into dense jungle northwest of Makeen. Occupation of critical triangle of Srarogha-Ladha-Makeen together with main communication lines has dismantled the TTP network and it is no more in a position to put up an organized fight except for sporadic raids. Maj Gen Rabbani led Division has made further progress west of Shrawangai-Kunigram-Ladha towards Shawal Range through search operations and cleared more militant nests and made more recoveries of armaments.
Although border security check posts along Afghan-Pakistan border were deviously vacated by US-Nato troops with sinister motives at a crucial time when operation had just begun, the scheme backfired. Much to the disappointment of detractors of Pakistan , Afghan Taliban categorically stated that they would abide by their policy of not confronting Pak Army. Spate of suicide attacks from September onwards were undertaken by bombers already launched from SWA. Involvement of Blackwater and RAW in terrorist activities in major cities of Punjab , NWFP is evident. India is desperate to ease pressure on beleaguered TTP since its massive investment is going waste.
New battlegrounds in NWA and Karachi are being created to stretch the Army. Orakzai Agency, which had become another breeding ground for suicide bombers, has been controlled through a focused FC operation resulting in curtailment of suicide attacks. Militants in Mohmand, Bajaur and Khyber Agencies too have been given no respite. Simultaneous and strenuous efforts by the Army and FC have begun to pay dividends. Tribal jirga of Mahsud tribe have agreed to hand over TTP chief as well as wanted 377 other militants and has announced its full support to the government.Successful completion of Rah-e-Nijat would help in curbing terrorism to a great extent. The Army having played its part commendably, it is now the turn of political Administration to play its part to win the hearts and minds of the affected areas through relief and rehabilitation works together with development works and adopting people friendly rather than US friendly policies. FATA should be freed of presence of CIA and RAW agents and foreigners.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst.
NATO, WILL IT SURVIVE IN FUTURE?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty which was signed on April 4, 1949.NATO constitutes a system of collective defense whereby its member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party. After World War II, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. occupied much of Europe. Most the continent's governments had fallen to the Nazis during the war, so the two superpowers were left with the responsibility of setting up new governments. Each promised to allow free elections, but in the end, did not. This left eastern and Western Europe divided by style of government (eastern was communist, western was not) and left Germany divided between the two superpowers.
When the Soviets began withdrawing from other countries around the world, it became evident that they were not going to go quietly. The USSR demanded oil concessions from Iran in exchange for withdrawal, but did not get them. In a similar manner, the Soviet leaders demanded that Turkey allow them to utilize its resources to spy on the western world. The Soviets also supported a communist revolution in Greece that led to a bloody civil war. Soon after that, there was a communist coup in Czechoslovakia, which was not a Soviet initiated venture, but quickly received full Soviet support. Western European nations countered this chain of events and the apparent growing Soviet threat with the Brussels Treaty, which defensively linked Britain and France. The expansion of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe and the threats against Greece and Turkey aroused growing alarm throughout Western Europe. As a consequence in accordance with the United Nations Charter, 12 nations established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to coordinate the military defenses of member nations against possible Soviet aggression. NATO has succeeded in what it set out to do back in 1949.
No NATO member was ever attacked in the years of NATO's existence communism has ever set foot on the territory of the alliance and NATO was also able to keep its second purpose of maintaining the detente between the West and the East. Is NATO success or fail after the fall of the Soviet Union? Has NATO become an irreplaceable institution now when facing the new threats and world order today? The faith of NATO was largely defined by the Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Macedonia conflicts in the 1990s, which are largely considered a success. But to popular (and rightful) believe its faith will be sealed by the outcome of the war in Afghanistan.
The attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001, gave a new face to the threat the world faced. The attacks led to the invocation of the collective security of the NATO's Charter, and extended NATO's geographical reach even further away from its borders. Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour were the first two official operations out of eight that were undertaken by the alliance in Afghanistan. "14 NATO allies were directly involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, providing Special Forces units to work with U.S. Special Forces as well as planes and ships for surveillance, interdiction and interception operations. European countries play a major part in these operations, providing more than half of the forces on the ground in Afghanistan. One of the most crucial problems facing today is the unwillingness of some of the members to commit soldiers and equipment. The brunt of the fighting has been borne by just a few countries, principally the Americans, Canadians, British and Dutch (and non-NATO Australians). Other countries stationed their troops in the safe areas of the north and west, unwilling to commit equipment or troops. A few countries cannot pull the weight of all the members for long.
In the light of that, it is important to note, that the Article 5 of the NATO charter, gives the members the freedom to choose how they respond to an attack against any member, which does not necessarily mean that it has to be a military response. As a result, many decided to stay behind the backs of the few. The futures of Afghanistan and of NATO are inextricably linked and therefore the survival of NATO depends on its success in Afghanistan. Consequently, the success in Afghanistan will largely depend on further cooperation of the members and their willingness to commit to the task at hand. Yet to achieve success, simply winning the military fight in Afghanistan will not be enough. Rebuilding the country, installing a stable government, putting infrastructure in place, and civil justice will be NATO's future tasks after its military one ends, which will require NATO's cooperation with other relevant international organizations. Inability to Deter Terrorist Attacks, Both the U.S. and NATO play a role in this, the U.S. brought it on upon itself and NATO failed to deal with these dangers because NATO was never structures to address the latter. This brings a question in mind, whether or not NATO will survive and if it will, how? Future of NATO is depend on it ability that how it can adjust itself according to the new dangers, it needs to reform, and even more than it already has.
For half a century, NATO has been the main manifestation of the transatlantic link between the North America and Europe but is it still important? In the light of the terrorist attacks in Europe, and United States unilateralism, one must pose the question of whether NATO's link of both continents is still important. Despite some down sides, it is important. NATO remains the world's foremost military alliance, because the years it has spent working together, planning, training and designing forces and equipment that can operate jointly. NATO members continue sharing common ideologies and values and even if they no longer face one common enemy, they face common dangers. Therefore looking at the importance of the alliance, it is clear that NATO must be reformed and its success in Afghanistan will play a big role in its credibility, and future.
THE WEST'S UNCERTAIN AFGHAN STEPS
Karl Eikenberry's leaked cables raise fundamental questions and do nothing to bolster confidence in US leadership It's just possible that Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Kabul who opposed Barack Obama's Afghan troop surge, suddenly realised the error of his ways. Perhaps he woke up on 1 December, just as the president was about to unveil his plan for 30,000 US reinforcements, and thought: "Silly me! I've been barking up the wrong tree all along! Stan McChrystal is totally right. I take back everything I said."
It's also possible, and more plausible, that Eikenberry was told to pipe down or decided to toe the line once last year's administration policy debate was over and Obama had made his decision. The envoy has since told Congress his concerns have been addressed. "I am unequivocally in support of this mission,"he said in testimony on 8 December, sitting next to General McChrystal, the US Afghanistan commander and chief surge architect.Eikenberry's distancing of himself from his previously strongly held views, either out of loyalty to Obama or for fear of losing his job, does not mean those views are invalid or irrelevant, then or now. Two diplomatic cables authored by Eikenberry last November and published in full today for the first time raise fundamental questions about US and Nato strategy that remain germane, disquieting, and largely unresolved.
The decision by an un-named "American official" to leak the cables to the New York Times ahead of Thursday's critical London conference on Afghanistan also suggests that policy disagreements within the US government, involving the White House, the state department, and the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership, are still simmering away.
Somebody on the inside in Washington (where the report originated) is playing politics with the war, and it's not just the Republicans. That's a disturbing message for America's allies and regional leaders as they gather in London for one last, big effort to jointly force a way through the Afghan morass. And it is one more piece of evidence that confidence in American leadership on Afghanistan, meaning Obama's leadership, both at home and abroad, is not what it might be at this crucial juncture.
Eikenberry that is to say, the former, unreconstructed Eikenberry says, in short, that McChrystal's much trumpeted counter-insurgency strategy is so much baloney and won't work. Sending additional forces will only increase the Afghan government's dependency syndrome and plunge the US further into a quagmire, he argues. The incorrigible President Hamid Karzai is not a competent or trustworthy strategic partner; the Afghan security forces will not come up to scratch for many years, if ever; and the whole escapade will cost tens of billions of dollars the US cannot afford.
Echoing regional analysts who also question were the US and Nato are heading, Eikenberry wonders aloud whether it would be better to concentrate instead on bolstering Pakistan, strategically more important, vastly more populous, and potentially much more dangerous. There is a risk, he concludes, "that we will become more deeply engaged here [Afghanistan] with no way to extricate ourselves short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos".
Whew! as diplomats say. Maybe it's not surprising the ambassador was told, or volunteered, to button his lip. For his cables precisely articulate the worries that are currently inducing leading Nato combat troop contributors such as Canada and the Netherlands to pull out. Here, laid out in black and white, are troublesome issues that to this day persuade France to hold back and convince a reluctant and affronted Germany that its troops must stick to non-combat roles.
Obama's pledge to start reducing deployed US forces by mid-2011, almost as soon as he had increased them, was a political compromise, designed to placate White House advisers and Democrats who view the war as a vote-loser while giving the military most of what it says it needs. But ever since he uttered it, the pledge has been hedged, parsed and shaved. Now the date is a "ramp", not a "cliff". Handing over territory to Afghan control as part of this transition is, whatever Gordon Brown may say, an "aspiration" or a "goal".
Officials now insist the summer of 2011 will not mark the beginning of a "withdrawal". Their preferred word, as the stabilising western role "evolves" towards training and support, is "drawdown". But whatever the language used, and however it is phrased, surely the watching Taliban and assorted foreign jihadis, perhaps only a few thousand in number, know its true meaning and can smell the fear.
It's plain the western alliance, for all its vaunted might, is unsure of its footing. Like the grand old duke of York, it is uncertain whether to go forward or back, it is neither up nor down. It is scared it may stumble; it dreads defeat; and it would really rather not be there at all. London is an attempt to steady the nerves. But there's no hiding the fact: just when it is most needed, confidence in America's leadership is fading.The Guardian
With Wednesday's dismissal by the Supreme Court of the review petitions of the five convicts, guilty of murdering the founding father of the country Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the long legal process for their execution has now been completed. Under the constitutional provision, the convicts, however, can pray for mercy to the President as a last resort. Three of them reportedly sent their mercy petitions which have already been rejected by the President. If the other two now also seek mercy, they may obviously meet the same fate. In that case the convicts will be sent to the gallows by January 31, according to Law Minister Barrister Shahfique Ahmed. Now all we want is that due process is followed and no hasty step is taken till the execution of the sentence.
While the successful conclusion of this awfully delayed trial brings part of a most black episode of our history to a close, we still have some unfinished job on our hands. This concerns the hunting down the other convicts remaining at large. To its credit, the government has already started contacting its counterparts abroad to bring the fugitive convicts back to face the gallows.
The nation is now poised to come out clean on an issue that has hung like the dead Albatross around the Ancient Mariner's neck. At long last an opportunity is there before us to make some amend for what we all became a party to by not clearing the way for a fair trial. The bottom line is to establish the rule of law where no one can get away with such heinous crimes. In fact the indemnity that prevented the killers of Bangabandhu and members of his family and those of the four leaders in the jail from facing justice, had sent a wrong message to the entire nation and the outside world. The long-awaited punishment of the criminals will act as redemption for us all.
BACK TO PARLIAMENT
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is finally getting politically wise - it is making noises that sounds like that they will be joining parliament soon. This is a desirable development and there has been articulated demand for it from the civil society for long. But then that alone is possibly not the only reason or the principal reason for BNP deciding to change course. Apparently, they are also running out of time.
The law in Bangladesh says that a member of parliament (MP) will lose his or her membership if he or she is absent from the legislature for 90 consecutive working days. Most opposition legislators have reached that point or are on the verge of it. This would mean that in a few weeks' time most may be without their coveted positions. This is something they definitely do not want. In the past, too, opposition MPs have joined parliament only to retain their membership. This is a travesty of the spirit of the law but then that is something that is never a factor here.
According to the BNP think tank it is better to challenge the Treasury Bench in parliament rather than outside, particularly as the "hot" issue of the Indo-Bangladesh joint communiqué is dear to the hearts of the BNP followers. Besides, what is not being said is that the BNP along with its allies have also failed to whip up any significant street agitation. Therefore, the only viable option open to it is to register its protest in parliament.
Whatever the reasons, whether the BNP will opt for joining the parliament willingly or is being forced to do so by circumstances, the fact remains that their expected return to JS sittings will be more exciting in the days to come. But how long it will remain so is anybody's guess.
Despite the long tradition of opposition boycott in parliament it is important to remember that nobody boycotts the standing committee meetings. One wonders why? Is it not possible to replicate the success of the standing committees in parliament? One should seriously think about it.
AUSSIE IN THE HOUSE..!
Yep, there's a new fridge in the house! "How'd you get here?" I asked. "The same way you got here!" he said cheekily. Now I'm a tolerant sort of fellow and give a person a long rope to hang on but when a fridge acts saucy on the first day it's come in then I got to admit I got a short fuse.
I opened it's door roughly to bang it shut and show the fellow who's the boss, when it grins and I looked behind and I saw the wife, "What're you doing Bob?"
"Opening the fridge!" I told her meekly.
"You know something?" she said, "You have to handle it gently. Like this."
Now I've seen fridges and I've seen fridges, but this chap was actually smirking as the wife showed me how to handle him. "This is how you do it," she said and gently, ever so gently, she pulled its door open.
"Oh," I said, "May I try now?" And I held the door and was going to pull the fellow open when the wife screamed, "No!"
"No what?" I asked as the fridge, it started grinning bigger.
"You haven't washed your hands!"
"I've never washed my hands before opening a fridge!" I said angrily, "What's so special about this fridge?"
"It's from Australia!"
"Australia!" I shouted looking at the smirk becoming a sneer and the sneer turning into the beginnings of a jeer, "Why did we have to get a fridge from Australia?"
"They're the best!"
"They're not," I shouted. "They're "
"Ssshhh!" said the wife, "Wash your hands!"
I washed them as the new guy in the house, Australian fellow grinned at me. "Now," said the wife, "Open the door gently, let's see you do it Bob!"
"Okay!" I said and held the handle, and pulled ever so gently, it didn't budge. I pulled a little harder, it still didn't move though I could see grin widen. I pulled with a mighty show of muscle, the fridge, Australian, opened suddenly and flung me to the other end of the room.
"Are you hurt?"
"No!" I whispered then saw it was the fridge the wife was addressing.
"Racist!" I shouted as the fridge grinned even more.
"What are you doing?" screamed the wife as I pulled it outside the house and hauled my old dear fridge back.
"Bad enough giving us problems Down Under, now they've come into my own backyard? Out!" I shouted and felt an old man, leader of a political party grinning at me, "Now you know why I throw their cricketers out!" he said as I nodded in agreement and patted my old fridge.
BANGLADESH POLITICS 2010
CRYSTAL BALL 3
The year 2010 will be a calm year in Bangladesh politics. After the tumult of 2007 and 2008, and the emergence of the Awami League Government in 2009 we anticipate that 2010 will be rather quiet year in the political arena in Bangladesh. In 2009 the AL established its Government, managed the revolt of the BDR, and saw the final upholding of the conviction of these accused of murdering Sheikh Mujib and his family. The Appellate Division upheld the judgment on the 5th Amendment, and the PM prepared for her important trip to India. The Government faces a number of serious issues that are fundamental to the political development of the country. There are six major issues that should keep the political climate heated, but never boiling. These six all deal with important problems related to the political evolution of the nation. In addition there are some hidden issues within the Election Commission.
Role of the opposition
Continuing the traditions of Parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh the opposition will not return to Parliament in 2010 other than to ensure that they continue to be paid. Rather they will concentrate on trying to develop a "movement" but ultimately they will back away from this, realising that it would achieve nothing and risk failure that would signal continued weakness of the opposition. The opposition will recognise that the economic prospects are more important than their movement and will back off agitation that might disturb the expansion of the economy. Indeed one of my friends asked why are the members of the opposition being paid since they are not doing the work for which they were elected.
Interestingly, the opposition always has the idea that they should be able to force the ruling party out by demonstration and win the subsequent election. But this has never happened in the democratic system here. Condition now are much different than 1991. The two Begum Zia terms and the one Sheikh Hasina term all went the full length. It is pie in the sky to think that an elected government can be driven from power by movements, street agitation, etc. An opposition party has only one possible strategy: Rebuild through hard work at the local level and hold the party together by responsible opposition to the actions of the Government. Eventually the opposition's turn will come. Indeed based on the Bangladesh experience it will come five years after the election, give or take some time for the caretaker government. The years 2010 will give some indication if the opposition has the will to do the hard work around the country of organising and discipline itself to begin to issue reasoned responses to government policies. Our forecast is that in 2010 the role of the opposition will be a continuation of what was seen in 2009.
The Government will move forward towards war crimes trials concentrating on the preparations for such legal actions. In particular, the preparation will include review and codification of the rules of evidence and trial procedures to meet international standards. While I believe that the Government is determined to go forward with these trials, it is also in the interest of the Government to ensure that there is international acceptance of the process. Existing evidence rules are certainly not appropriate and require revision. In the same way the procedures, rules of appeals, rights of the accused, legal support for the accused need to be resolved. A wise Government would seek international advice from those involved in war crimes trials; the Government could wisely consult with the other political parties. There must be reasonable consultation if not agreement. These war crimes trials are a very serious business and should not be political football.
The issues of responsibility for war crimes and the meaning of the compassionate action of Sheikh Mujib seem to be complicated; we forecast that the nation will struggle hard to understand these and their meaning for continued actions against war criminals but no resolution. The trials will not start in 2010.
Role of the military
Since 1991 the Bangladesh army stayed in its barracks until 2007. Then a two year army controlled Caretaker Government conducted an election and turned power over to a civilian government. But looking back to 1971 we see that the military has ruled the country a very large percent of the time. The political leaders all believe the role of the military is to stay in the barracks and follow orders. The reason for having the armed services is to defend the country from external forces and in the current world to provide peacekeepers. The army should have nothing to do with the politics of the country; let me call this the British view. But is this the view that senior military officers have? In Pakistan the army feels that the civilian rulers are corrupt and only out for themselves, it is the Pakistan army that carries the responsibility for guiding and protecting the nation. The Pakistan army stays in the barracks only so long as the civilian rulers behave themselves and provide to the army sufficient opportunities for fattening. What is the role of the military in Bangladesh? Will 2010 see any clear resolution of this? I am confident that the army will not seize power in 2010, but the long-term role is still uncertain.
The government faces two very serious issues in 2010 with respect to the army: What is the best way to achieve justice with respect to the BDR mutiny and the murders of the army officers and how to achieve justice for those officers who were responsible for the 1/11 incident and the abuses that followed? Both appear very difficult but in fact are simple-follow the rules and obtain justice whatever that might be! People have been killed, women have been abused, and persons have been tortured. These crimes have to be resolved through a just resolution. I am confident that 2010 will see that both of these issues are handled with every effort to achieve a just outcome. Justice and transparency must heal these gaping wounds in society.
The court judgments related to the Fifth Amendment have opened a Pandora's box of problems. The Appellate Division has essentially disposed of the issue and although at the time of writing there was not written judgment available it is enough that they have left stand the judgment of the High Court. There are many, many implications of this judgment. During 2010 the consequences will begin to emerge. Thus the land transactions involving the Government-the root of the case and judgment-from that period in the past may now all be undone. What chaos will follow is unclear but somehow that will untangle. More interesting is the future of the Jamate Islam and the other Islamic parties. This is a real hot potato for the Government. By the end of the year there will be no resolution; some will be calling for the dissolution of the Islamic parties; others will argue that this is not a necessary consequence of the abrogation of the Fifth amendment. The Government will be considering all of this and is unlikely to be hurried into any decision. So this will pass into 2011 on an ocean of words, but no decision as to which way to go.
Some will argue that this is a legal issue, but very clearly it is political. The American way to think about this would be one of two approaches: One view is to try to think about what the authors of the Constitution thought. Since the Constitution is quite new there are people around who worked on it and there is written material on what people thought at the time of Bangladesh's birth. The answer to the question of the status of the JI rests in the views of the authors of the Constitution on the words that they wrote. The second view is that interpretations must recognise the conditions and circumstances of society as it is now. Looked at this way is the JI a legitimate expression of the will of a significant number of persons in Bangladesh? If so can their political rights be denied? Constitutional issues are political!
This issue is not really settled and will rise up again to haunt the AL Government in 2010. A squabble continues over the Law Ministry and the staffing of that Ministry. But now the courts have to deal with determination of compensation levels for judges and judicial staff; and just as serious, reduce the continuing very long delays in managing civil and criminal cases. The delays are getting longer and longer. No significant progress has been made in trying to raise the efficiency of the courts. Public discontent with these delays is pervasive and undermines the confidence of the people in the judicial system. When the new Chief Justice takes office later this year he will introduce far reaching changes in case management, the first step towards trying to speed things up. But this issue will keep coming back-the driving force is the current inability of the judicial system to provide justice within a reasonable time.
Relationship with India
On the surface the relationship with India is one of the most demanding problems facing the Government. The recent visit of the Prime Minister was an important first step in improving a relationship of tremendous importance for Bangladesh. Based on this first step, in 2010 we can expect follow up actions reaching water sharing agreements on one or two rivers; a work programme for electricity imports will get underway and modalities for Indian use of Chittagong and Mongla ports will be agreed. A joint effort will identify expected freight flows through the ports enabling planning for needed support structures. We can expect steady improvements in Bangladesh - Indian relations. There will be much resistance to these actions and the opposition will use these developments to attack the Government. However, I predict the public will support the Prime Minister on this one. The public is really quite intelligent and understand cooperation is superior to conflict.
The next election seems far way but in one sense it is not. Time flies. The Election Commission task of delivering free and fair elections has numerous facets but there are some aspects that one can expect the EC to manage only if it starts in 2010. In 2010 the EC will begin upgrading the voter list. The voter list is now almost 18 months old. People come of age, move to another location or die. The EC realises that making corrections of the list cannot wait or the voter list will quickly get out of date and may require starting over. To date no one has really been able to keep the voter list up to date. There is a secret here, the voter list as it is contains many errors. The EC should be busy correcting these errors; instead they continue to claim the list was perfect. There are probably 4-5 million corrections to be made every year as well as 4-5 million on the existing list.
If the EC does not keep up then the voter list will have to be largely redone with cost, chaos, and conflict.
Another action the EC will begin this year is preparing for delineation of the constituencies after the 2011 census results are available. With an election in early 2014, the census results should be ready (at least the population counts) by mid 2012 giving the EC time to correct the constituencies. Given the complexity and controversy of these efforts, the EC will start in 2010 to complete this task; revised constituency boundaries should be available well before the 2014 election.