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Friday, January 29, 2010

EDITORIAL 29.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 29, edition 000416, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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























  1. EC AT 60
















































  2. ONE-UP







Defence Minister AK Antony has done a great service to the nation and more so to the Indian Army by making a purposeful intervention in what has come to be known as the 'Sukna land scam' to ensure that those found prima facie guilty of being involved in it are not spared the punishment they richly deserve. A court of inquiry ordered by the Army's Eastern Command, based in Kolkata, had found four high-ranking officers — three Lieutenant Generals and a Major General — guilty of nearly succeeding in transferring 71 acres of land adjacent to the military base at Sukna in Darjeeling district of West Bengal to a bogus realty firm which had claimed association with Mayo College in Rajasthan. After Mayo College denied any such association, the land transfer was aborted. But for that denial, security concerns would have been ignored and rules short-circuited by these senior officers to favour a fly-by-night operator for reasons that do not require elaboration. It's a sad comment on the system that has come to replace fair play for which our defence forces were famed that one of the officers accused of being involved in the Sukna land scam, Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, was appointed as Military Secretary by the Army chief, Gen Dipak Kapoor. It's no less distressing that instead of placing honour and integrity above all other considerations and doing the morally right thing, Gen Kapoor should have thought it fit to try and save Lt Gen Prakash from disciplinary action, virtually allowing him to go scot-free. Strangely, Gen Kapoor has argued that initiating disciplinary action against Lt Gen Prakash would 'demoralise' the armed forces. That's hogwash. If anything, by seeking to whitewash Lt Gen Prakash's transgressions, Gen Kapoor has invited ridicule from fellow officers and the ranks; he should know that. By reversing the Army chief's decision and recommending that Lt Gen Prakash should face disciplinary action, which means court martial, Mr Antony has not only set right a grievous mistake but also sent out a clear signal: Lack of integrity will not be tolerated in the defence forces.

This will no doubt shake up the military establishment, but more important, it will serve the larger purpose of enthusing middle-level officers who had begun to become cynical about the waywardness of their seniors. Mr Antony, in his own way, has restored the primacy of the true purpose of joining the Army, Air Force and Navy: To serve the nation and not feather one's nest. The premium attached to the integrity and honour of men and women in uniform has been reasserted. However, this alone may not prove to be sufficient to bolster the morale of the defence forces. It is no secret that all the three services are running dangerously low on modern hardware, ranging from guns to planes to ships. Mr Antony, it must be said, is perceived as dragging his feet on acquisitions that can brook no further delay without compromising our defence preparedness. Ostensibly, he wants to steer clear of any controversy over military purchases, but that's a lame excuse. If there is sufficient transparency and rules are followed, nobody will cast aspersions or level allegations of a supplier being favoured over another, especially given his blemish-free record. Mr Antony is often referred to as 'St Antony' on account of his unimpeachable integrity. But India needs Raksha Mantri Antony in South Block, not 'Saint Antony'.







The rape of a nine-year-old Russian girl at a beach in north Goa once again underscores the increasing rate of crime that has gripped the popular tourist destination. In the recent past, numerous cases of sexual assault against foreign tourists visiting the State have made headlines. Starting with the infamous Scarlett Keeling case in 2008 wherein a 15-year-old British girl was drugged, raped and killed, things have gone from bad to worse. Only last month, a Russian woman was allegedly raped by a local politician. This was followed by the case of the two Russian women who had to hide in a forest for four hours to get away from goons who had tried to rape them. Needless to say that these incidents have tarnished the image of Goa as a safe tourist destination. In fact, given that many of its citizens have been victims of these crimes, the Russian Government has said that unless prompt measures are taken to remedy the problem, it would soon be issuing a travel advisory telling Russian holidaymakers to refrain from visiting Goa. This would no doubt dent the tourism industry in the State, something that is bound to hit the local economy.

If Goa is to maintain its status as a prime tourist destination, its police force must get its act together. The rising rate of crime is indicative of the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with the State's law and order apparatus. This can also be gauged from the nature of the crimes and the daringness with which they are being carried out. The State's police force needs to switch over from a reactive force to one that is able to deter crime. Having said that, it is also true that the last decade-and-a-half has witnessed rampant infusion of criminal elements at every level of Goan society. The reason for this is primarily the clout that the land and the mining mafias in the State have been able to accumulate. Once firmly established, these mafias have gone on to infiltrate the political establishment of Goa, thereby, consolidating their hold on the State. This set into motion a chain reaction that spawned several criminal trades such as racketeering, extortionism, the flesh trade, etc, while taking the illicit drug trade to new heights. And with criminals increasingly buying political patronage, fertile conditions have been created for crime in general to flourish. Hence, the malaise that plagues Goan society is deep-rooted and, therefore, needs to be cured from within. For a start, the nexus between politicians and criminals needs to be broken. In this regard, the people of Goa need to put their best foot forward and not elect those with criminal records to public offices. Decriminalisation of politics is a must. A massive social movement for change needs to be mobilised in order to restore Goa its pride.



            THE PIONEER




The Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister's churlish behaviour with the Turkish Ambassador, Mr Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, would have made sense only if Israel were preparing to wage war against Turkey. Sir Ernest Satow, the pundit of protocol who wrote Satow's Guide to Diplomatic Practice, defined diplomacy as "finding the right words when the sword might be the alternative". He would have regarded Mr Danny Ayalon's use of wrong words as only the precursor to hostilities.

That was not, however, the Minister's objective. Mr Ayalon merely let emotion run away with good sense because a Turkish TV show had depicted the Israeli security forces poorly. Instead of returning the compliment via TV, he summoned Mr Celikkol, received him without smile, handshake or any sign of the Turkish flag, and seated him on a sofa over which his own chair towered. This was an insult in several languages. "Your head is higher than mine!" the King of Siam would have bellowed in The King and I. Koreans, Communist or capitalist, would have been equally mortified. At the Panmunjom talks after the Korean war, delegates of the North and South kept pulling out higher and higher stools to establish precedence. In Satow's book, Turkey should have withdrawn Mr Celikkol for 'consultations'. An ultimatum might have followed.

Symbol and subtlety are not Mr Ayalon's forte. Nor does he believe that seeing is believing. Lest any of the Israeli TV crew he had summoned to witness the Ambassador's humiliation missed the point, he explained in Hebrew that the snub was intentional. But though the episode made headlines round the world, it didn't quite make history. Satow notwithstanding, diplomatic give-and-take has reached a lower — or higher — pitch in many countries over the years.

Subimal Dutt as India's Foreign Secretary recorded the tantrum that Portugal's Ambassador threw when he was politely invited to discuss the future of Goa, then still a Portuguese colony. China's record was even more inglorious during its Cultural Revolution. Two young Indian diplomats, K Raghunath and P Vijai, who were declared persona non grata and expelled on trumped up charges, had to run the gauntlet of a howling mob of Red Guards who punched and knocked them down at Beijing Airport and spat upon them.

Spit is the ultimate insult. After leading Ashley Eden, the British envoy, a merry dance among hill and jungle in 1863, the Bhutanese not only spat on him but forced the spit-spattered envoy to sign a treaty in their favour. So far so good — for Bhutan at least — but then the Bhutanese unwisely let Eden return to Calcutta where the British promptly repudiated the treaty. They also invaded Bhutan, confirming how thin is the borderline between diplomacy and war.

International relations have changed greatly since then and even since 1917 when Satow, a British diplomat who spent most of his career in Japan, China and Thailand, becoming a well-known Asian scholar, wrote his Guide. It's the nearest we have to an international code on how sovereign nations should behave with each other. Diplomatic loot (duty-free purchases to be profitably resold) seem more pertinent than diplomatic immunity. Fast communications and globe-trotting Foreign Ministers have rendered those grand personages — ambassadors extraordinary and envoys plenipotentiary — virtually redundant. Pragmatic Singapore saves money by appointing non-resident Ambassadors (retired diplomats or businessmen) who pay only periodic visits to the countries to which they are accredited. But no diplomat can afford to forget that the punctiliousness Satow recommends ensures that molehills are not blown up into mountains. That's why the manual surfaced last year in a sixth edition of more than 700 pages.

The many editions prove that protocol matters. Diplomats draw distinctions between a 'note verbale', a 'proper paper' and a 'non-paper'. Gestures have to be finessed, words chosen with care. When a reporter asked at the British Foreign Office before the Falklands war if the Argentinian Ambassador, whose car had been seen driving away, had made a representation, the answer was "No, he represented his country's position." Earlier at one of Mr Henry Kissinger's Harvard seminars, I had observed while watching a Republican Party conference on TV that so-and-so had walked out. "There was no walk-out," corrected the gravelly Germanic voice. "So-and-so walked out." Apparently, he went to the loo.

The hapless Mr Ayalon needs to study history's famous snubs and learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. For instance, a diplomat who is seated below his rank at a formal dinner doesn't smash the crockery or throw the cutlery around in temper. He sits quietly at his assigned place, the picture of propriety, but refuses to touch a morsel of food or sip of drink. The host is expected to notice and take note. Satow doesn't say what the aggrieved guest should do if the host's only response is pleasure at the food and drink saved.

The phrase 'diplomatic toothache' came into use in 1958 when Nikita Khrushchev pleaded a dentist's appointment not to receive the visiting Harold Macmillan. Khrushchev was only copying Maharaja Hari Singh whose excuse for not seeing Lord Mountbatten in Srinagar just before the Pakistani invasion was that a stomach ache had confined him to bed. Mrs Indira Gandhi always turned her back on Harold Wilson at international conferences after the latter's unfriendly remarks during the 1965 war with Pakistan were reported to her. When Queen Elizabeth and Ms Michelle Obama put arms round each other in Buckingham Palace, it was a sign of cordiality. But when Mr David Miliband put an arm round our Mr Pranab Mukherjee, it was seen as patronising.

The most famous snub in European history was in 1077 when Pope Gregory VII kept the German Emperor waiting in the snow for three days before granting him an audience. The Germans got their own back by invading Rome. Gregory died an exile.

Israel's real problem will arise if and when it exchanges Ambassadors with a sovereign Palestine. Both envoys can expect to be regularly summoned by the appropriate foreign office. Members of both embassies are likely to be charged with conduct not befitting their diplomatic status and expelled. Both sides will make representations, present notes verbale and withdraw their Ambassadors for consultations.

The fun and games will raise no cavil so long as it averts a return to diplomacy by other means. That's the purpose of diplomacy.







The list of 131 Padma winners for this year has one major omission. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah should have been an automatic choice. It is unfortunate that personalities like Mr Habibullah and Mr Arvind Kejriwal, who has been honoured with the Magsaysay Award, are being ignored in their own country. Perhaps it is because of the discomfort caused by the RTI Act to Government functionaries that they are being given the cold shoulder.

So far, the selection of Padma winners has been carried out in total secrecy, even though the Central Information Commission has found the selection process highly discretionary. The Union Home Ministry is duty-bound to make the selection process public as per the directions contained in the CIC verdict dated 21/10/2009 in appeal number CIC/WB/A/2008/00976-SM. It will be better if details of the selection process like the complete list of nominees along with the names of those recommending these names and the date of recommendations should be put on the website of the Ministry.

Information revealed earlier under the RTI Act has exposed that the norms and guidelines set by the KR Narainan Committee formed under the directions of the Supreme Court were largely flouted in the selection of Padma awardees.

To effectively check irregularities in the selection procedure, Opposition leaders in Parliament should have an equal say in the process. Members of the Awards Committee should be selected by the consensus of the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition. Also, the list of Padma aspirants should be short-listed by first seeking clearance from intelligence and tax authorities before presenting it before the Awards committee. It is improper to grade about 131 Padma awardees in three variants in a country of more than a billion people. This degrades the value of the Padma Shri in comparison to the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan. Merging the three variants is a better idea.








Why do political parties pay lip service to the cause of price rise? Politicians know that millions of those who live below the poverty line suffer from lack of jobs. In such a scenario, spiralling prices of essential commodities like wheat, rice, milk and pulses are adding to their woes.

The Congress, which came to power on the slogan "Congress ka haath aam admi ke saath", is leading the UPA Government for the second term. A world-renowned economist is the Prime Minister of the country for the past six years. An experienced administrator and a seasoned politician is the Agriculture Minister. Monsoon had also behaved well until last year. India has been experiencing a high growth till last year. Despite all these, the rising prices are a great concern.

Food price inflation has been in double digits for a long while now and recently it has touched 20 per cent, the highest in last 20 years. Potatoes are selling at Rs 25 a kg, tomatoes at Rs 20 a kg and green peas at Rs 23 a kg. The price of sugar has gone beyond Rs 50 a kg while dal is sold at Rs 120 a kg and other pulses are scarce. The minimum support price of wheat has more than doubled in the past three years. Moreover, the drought and delayed monsoon this year has made the matters much worse. The more Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar admits that the prices of milk, sugar and other essential commodities are going to increase, the more hoarders and black-marketers get into action.

In such a scenario, who will bell the cat? All political parties are busy passing the buck. The ruling Congress wants to make Mr Pawar scapegoat because he is heading the Ministry of Agriculture. Whereas, Mr Pawar, stung by criticism, counters that he alone could not be blamed as the whole Cabinet had taken decisions on the prices. So the ruling combination's whipping boys are the Opposition-ruled States like West Bengal.

The Oppposition's weak response to the issue of price rise can be attributed to a division in its ranks and its low morale after the humiliating defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The Opposition raises the price rise issue as a routine subject in every session and does not launch a sustained campaign. Is it because none of them care for the common man? Is it because there is a stable Government at the Centre with no threat of facing election for the next four and a half years?

The Congress is smug after the recent poll victory in the Maharashtra Assembly election where the ruling Congress-NCP combine has come back to power despite the price rise and the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. The Congress had everything going wrong, yet it has won and has emerged as the largest party that too without any iconic figure in Maharashtra.

Further, the Centre and the States are putting the onus of fighting price rise on each other. Chief Ministers like Ms Mayawati, Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Naveen Patnaik, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mr Parkash Singh Badal do not miss a chance to blame the Centre for the spiraling price rise. In West Bengal not only the CPI(M)-led Government but also the Trinamool Congress, which is part of the UPA Government, is blaming the Centre for the food crisis. They accuse the Centre of adopting wrong economic policies and liberal export regime, which, according to them, have caused the current crisis. What is the response of the Prime Minister or the Agriculture Minister? They blame the States for not adopting an effective public distribution system.
However, the question that arises is: How could the alarmingly widening gap between the wholesale prices and the retail prices of commodities be bridged?

Though the Centre has convened a meeting of Chief Ministers on February 6 to come up with a combined strategy to bring down the rising food prices, it is to be seen whether they can arrive at a consensus.

Instead of brooding over past mistakes, the Centre and the States must ensure that these are not repeated in future. First of all, the States and the Centre should act tough in booking black-marketers and hoarders. With a weak monsoon, the Government should have taken all steps to ensure that essential commodities were available by intervention. Mill owners had started building up their stocks as soon as they realised that there was going to be a weak monsoon but no remedial action was taken. The Government also resorted to more imports, benefitting some big importers. The Centre also allowed export of rice which led to the present shortage. Despite good sugar production in the last two years, buffer stocks were not built up. The Government must supply sugar, pulses and edible oils through PDS outlets at cheap rates. Futures trading in all food articles must be immediately banned. The Government must release cereal stocks through the PDS by increasing the rice and wheat quotas for the States. The food security legislation should be tabled without any further delay. The Government must reflect on why there is such high food inflation when the country is sitting on record food stocks of 55 million tonne.


The Opposition has finally woken up to the fact that the Government needs to be held accountable. With the Budget session beginning next month, the Opposition is getting active. The BSP, BJP, the CPI(M), the RJD and the SP are planning separate agitations. While the Congress is putting Mr Pawar in the dock, he has managed to get the support of the RJD and the SP against the Congress attack.

The Congress is planning for a Working Committee meeting in which Mr Pawar will be blamed for the fiasco. Finally, the CWC meeting will end by appealing to the Government to check the price rise. With all these political drama ahead, what should aam admi do? Wait patiently for the political drama to get over and prices to come down.







Congratulations to the Human Resource Development Ministry for getting the Right to Education Bill passed within its first 100 days. However, legislation without infrastructure is like aspiration without ability. One cannot ignore that schooling is patchy in New Delhi. In other States, especially in villages, there are other problems galore. A few flashes of what goes on in the nation's capital are mentioned below:

In 2005, in an unaided school in New Delhi, two teachers happened to have a fight. Allegedly, one hurled castiest abuse at other while the other, a woman, accused her colleague of molesting her. Complaints were made with the local police and eventually criminal cases were filed. Meanwhile, the school suspended both the teachers. The Department of Education promptly asked the school to withdraw the suspension or else face derecognition. The High Court overruled the DoE's threat.

So can the DoE interfere with the working of unaided schools? Empowered by the Delhi School Education Act, 1973, passed by Parliament, the DoE so ignores court judgements that every time a school is pulled up, it has to consider approaching the High Court. The rules framed under the Act total 225 in number plus over a thousand sub-rules; they read like a penal code. The NCR budgeted Rs 2,030 crore for 2008-09 on schooling; there being 924 schools run by the DoE. The teachers total 28,600; there are 5,035 vacancies. The teaching in most of these Government institutions is such that even poor people stretch their pockets to send their children to private schools.

The DoE has platoons of staff at each of its 26 zonal offices plus its headquarters at the Old Secretariat. More of their time and energy are spent on monitoring unaided schools rather than on managing their own institutions. The 1973 Act would have to be changed no sooner than the recently passed Right to Education Act, 2009 is ready for enforcement. That apart, many a reform would have to be made if the Government intends to properly educate all the children.The first step should be to reduce the Government's current responsibility, so that it can perhaps promote new schools.

All schools should be permitted to conduct two sessions, morning as well as afternoon; although 256 state-run schools are permitted, the private sector is not. If the teaching hours per day have to be reduced, the number of teaching days should be increased to say 240 days per year. This reform would double the school capacity in the country. Thereafter, the economically weaker sections could be issued a voucher by the Government of say Rs 1,500 a month per child. The voucher would enable parents to try any school of their choice by adding to the voucher money from their own pocket if need be. The scheme would painlessly transfer many a student from the public to the unaided sector and enable the Government schools to accommodate new children.

The Government should give on lease its weaker schools to those unaided institutions which have proved efficient and are popularly sought after. The leases initially could be for say 10 years on a modest rent. The Government would then earn some money per school rather than spending large sums. In this regard, right to education is retrograde and should be amended. It expects the managing committee of every school to have 75 per cent members who represent parents. Who would like to promote a school if the overall management control is to go to others.

If private investment is to be attracted, then Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal needs to bifurcate the education department — one section to manage the Government sector and the other to monitor the working of unaided schools. Only then the oppression and the litigation caused by the combined department, as for example in New Delhi might cease. The flip side of this interference is the negligence of the Government schools, the proof of which is their declining standards and the inclination of even poor parents to avoid Government schools. With the proposal of 25 per cent economically weaker sections being taught in unaided schools, the Government sector would empty out further.

It is clear from the right to education that the landmark TMA Pai judgement has not been kept in mind. That order was categorical on the autonomy of schools. To quote from the judgement: "In the case of unaided private schools, maximum autonomy has to be with the management with regard to administration, including the right of appointment, disciplinary powers, admission of students and the fees to be charged. At the school level, it is not possible to grant admissions on the basis of merit. It is no secret that the examination results at all levels of unaided private schools, notwithstanding the stringent regulations of the governmental authorities, are far superior to the results of the Government-maintained schools. There is no compulsion on students to attend private schools. The rush for admission is occasioned by the standards in such schools...".

Mr Sibal's intervention is needed before rules are framed under the Right to Education. According to figures quoted above, the department in New Delhi spends approximately Rs 15,000 a year per child taught in a Government school. In fact, this figure is already outdated. With the salary increments made under the Sixth Pay Commission, this figure would have gone up to say Rs 21,000 per annum. Would it then be fair to impose upon taxpayers such expenditure without upgrading the quality of teaching?







The current tide of scepticism against the reality of climate change is such a recent phenomenon that people, accustomed since long to dire warnings about the grim consequences of global warming and shifts in weather patterns, are unlikely to find this sudden turnaround after the Copenhagen meet credible. The abrupt shift in stance is being ascribed by observers to concerted lobbying against the theory of climate change by 'vested interests', consisting of various business groups and industries that continue to follow the course of ecologically hostile development. The wrangling between two opposing blocs over the issue of climate change - one aggressively pushing sustainable development by advocating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by countries, especially the developed world, and the other opposing this stand - has brought an interesting fact to the fore. This is the role of lobbyists in shaping economic and environmental policies, as much as global opinion on matters that affect the collective destiny of mankind and the very survival of the Earth.

Nothing illustrates this better than the sudden tirade launched by a section of the media against proponents of cuts in carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its head RK Pachauri are being specially targeted as the most aggressive advocates of sustainable development. The irony is that in the first flush of the triumph over winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with former President Al Gore, for their path-breaking work in the field of climate change, they were feted in equal measure. The present exercise to discredit the IPCC and its findings are somewhat strange, given that it is an internationally respected body, staffed by 3,000 atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, ice specialists, economists and other experts. It was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme to study the repercussions of climate change. The Nobel Prize was given, to quote from the citation, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

Now, the sudden anti-climate change blitzkrieg, orchestrated by a section of the British Press, with some in the Indian media toeing this line, raises suspicions about the timing of the outburst. As pressure by the climate change lobby mounts for the comity of nations to agree to binding emission cuts, doubts are being expressed in the opposite camp about the genuineness of the very premise of climate change, and whether natural disasters such as floods, untimely rains, hurricanes and so on are actually a fallout of shifting weather patterns. However, this is tantamount to ostrich-like shutting out reality by hiding one's head in the sand. Nature and wildlife television channels have documented the disastrous effects of global warming by showing how the melting of polar caps is impacting the survival of polar bears, seals and other species. This, in turn, will inevitably affect the food base of people, native to those areas. Similarly, ISRO has cited satellite imagery that shows a 1.5-km retreat of the Gangotri glacier over the past three decades, though it refrains cautiously from ascribing the retreat to global warming.

In his own defence, Mr Pachauri has referred to the influence exerted by anti-climate change lobbyists. He can draw solace from the fact that many in the First World share his views. The New Yorker, a respected American magazine, in an article, titled "Exit Through Lobby", dated October 19, 2009, reported on the spate of resignations by prominent companies such as Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM resources and Exelon from the US Chamber of Commerce because of the Chamber opposing global warming legislation.

While acknowledging that investments in renewable energy may have motivated some of the resignations and dissent, the article clarifies: ". . . global warming is simply too big an issue to get wrong. . . We assume that lobbies always recognise what's best for their members. But they don't and in the case of climate change, they may very well be missing what the companies that have resigned in protest have said: Global warming isn't just bad for the planet; it's bad for business".








There is something unique about the way the human mind periodises time; about the way populist thinking develops categories and about the way we try to read meaning into the random experiences of life.

One does not take a genius to realise that time is indivisible. And it does not take a seer to understand that time is without beginning and without end. It is, therefore, significant that we believe that there is such a thing as a 'new year'. It is also significant that each community in India has its own new year. Stating this is not by way of regret but by way of recognising that the ultimate quest remains the quest of identity.

If one gets into the material basis or underpinning of the new year, one would recognise that at least the various new years originating in Indian society have something to do with an agricultural cycle and more particularly the harvest. It is a celebratory ethos and environment. Be it a Sankranti, be it Vishu or be it Gudi Padwa. They all are related to an agricultural society. That at least marks a watershed in the life-cycle of the people.

I am not quite sure what has January 1 got to do with marking a watershed. Be that as it may, the months of January, February has several new year festivities. By the same token, these two months have conventionally become the season for some awards, including the National Film Awards and others. Invariably, they bring in their own train, their controversies and in their own way their own backlash.

Writing on this theme on an earlier occasion, I remember having commented that it is also a fact of life that while honours and celebrations of an individual abroad are far more respected and admired, in India we do not honour our own achievers. As time rolls on, I am beginning to understand part of the reason why this happens.

Almost every announcement of an award gives an impression that while it may be somewhat useful to be an achiever, to gain recognition takes something much more. Illustratively, one has to have the right contact or indeed a good pedigree (pedigree always helps building contacts).

The recent Padma Awards are no exception.

Typically, some weeks ago, there was a controversy over those who are tainted retaining their badges of honour. The argument being that honour is indivisible and if you are just reputed in one area, you cannot be considered worthy for an honour which would also involve all-round accomplishment. Typically, a punishment by a court would automatically mean a situation emerging where the honour would have to be surrendered. There was a lot of talk in the media but apparently nothing came out of it. Indeed one heard apologists of various shades standing up for the contrary view.

Now, it appears a person could defraud a public financial institution of financial correctness and yet be conferred a recognition which the nation is supposed to applaud.

The worrisome part of such a state of affairs is that it demonstrates that eminence in one field can lead to omniscience everywhere else. This is a dangerous precedent. If the facts put out by the media are right, it is an encouragement to create a divide between what the powerful can get away with and what those who do not have influence cannot get away with.

Similarly, if one olympic medal awardee can get a Padma award, there is very little reason why another olympic medal awardee should not be recognised with the same kind of celebration. From what I can make out, evidently somebody somewhere in the process has some special reasons for this kind of a discrimination which is not known to the public. In a democracy where public accountability is such a celebrated virtue and indeed rightly so, some explanation needs to be coming forth for discrepancy like has been pointed out above.

The number of awards in the category of Padma Vibhusan and Padma Bhusan has increased and I have heard it argued in the last two days how the category of Padma Vibhusan awardees this time are of a different level than in the preceding years. Surely, some parity of standing has to be kept in mind from one year to another if these awards are to draw the respect which they would be otherwise entitled it.







THE shocking rape of a nine- year- old Russian child in Goa, the latest in a series of sexual attacks on foreigners in the tourist haven in recent times, must wake the state government and the Centre out of their slumber. We accuse Australia of not doing enough over attacks on Indian youths there, but are hypocritical enough to play down horrific assaults on tourists in our own country. Why else would a Goa Congressman declare in Rajya Sabha that foreigners who mixed freely with strangers and suffered rape or sexual abuse should be treated differently from rape victims in general? All such attacks are not stray incidents.


There is good reason to suspect that there are organised rackets operating in Goa that target foreigners in different ways, often exploiting their vulnerability in an alien land to even initiate them into prostitution and drug trafficking. And that the law enforcement agencies could be going soft on them is evident from the fact that in two of the recent such attacks on foreigners, politicians or their kin have been allegedly involved.


That the police have failed to protect tourists is clear. What is less known is that they have not been doing enough to prosecute the guilty. There is frequently an attempt by the police to water down the charges. The Goa minister's son who was accused of rape has been charged only with sexual and mental abuse. In the case where a Russian girl was found dead on railway tracks, the police have tried to pass it off as an accident, neglecting evidence that suggests otherwise.


Goa needs to clean up its act if it wishes to retain its status as a global tourist destination.


If its political class is unwilling to do this, then perhaps the Union government should intervene.






THE execution of five ex- army officers convicted of killing Bangladesh founder and first president Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975 marks the end of a long and traumatic period in the country's history. Not only did the disgruntled officers kill Sheikh Mujib who they accused of nepotism and corruption, they also executed the president's wife, three sons, two daughters- inlaw and some 20 others.


The issue here was not politics but a brutal power grab assisted by the killing of not just the president but his entire family. It was only by chance that two of his daughters who were out of the country escaped assassination. One of them, Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister of the country, has pursued the case through the ups and downs of her own political life as well as the short turbulent history of her country.


The consequences of that event have divided Bangladesh because the man who succeeded him, Gen Ziaur Rehman, began to project himself as the premier fighter for the country's independence. He was also assassinated and his wife Begum Khaleda has led the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party. But relations between the BNP and the ruling Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina are toxic.


The terrible judicial vengeance should be a warning to all those, especially those who sport a military uniform, who think they can short- circuit political processes with the help of a gun. Hopefully the execution will have a cathartic effect and help heal the wounds on the country's polity.







THE Apple iPad was arguably the most awaited gadget ever, but its arrival has disappointed.


It is not the convergence device we were all hoping for. It seems to be a jazzed up, storage- upgraded version of the iPhone. The thing about Apple's product releases, especially after Steve Jobs returned to head the company in 1997, is that they are super- secretive and that they usually exceed expectations. In the case of iPad, this has not happened.


With the current iPad the only difference Apple will probably make in the market is to scare the wits out of Amazon's Kindle ereader.


The iPad's design may be stunning, but it is surely not going to transform the world. Instead of taking that one giant leap towards convergence — the Holy Grail of communications technology — all that Apple has done is help the collective will of mankind take a few small steps towards it.








JANUARY 26, 2010: Sri Lanka goes to polls to elect its all- powerful Executive President.


January 27, 2010: The election results reveal it was a one horse race; and the much anticipated close fight remained a mirage, with the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa securing nearly 60 per cent of the popular vote, and establishing huge leads in 8 out of ten provinces of the Island- State. On January 28, 2010, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the President's younger brother, threatened to set fire to the pro- JVP Sinhala language weekly Irida Lanka . Police have continually harassed Irida Lanka over the past six months and its staff have been arrested several times. And the criminal investigations department summoned its editor Chadan Sirimalwatta thrice over during the run- up to the elections. It may sound alarmist to take this timeline as an indicator of the things to come, but all signals that are emanating from Colombo are stark giving little hope for democratic space for dissent.


Mahinda Rajapaksa's consolidation of power has three distinct strands: a) decision making has become a family affair of the Rajapaksa brothers, and the party has very little say on any issue; b) opposition parties have been rendered weak by effecting en- masse defections; and c) alliance partners of the ruling coalition have been systematically marginalised as they failed to deliver votes in their respective areas.


The biggest worry is that none of the political parties could manage to transfer their traditional votes in favour of their chosen candidates, and this may have a serious impact in the Parliament elections to be held in a couple of months. Former President Chandrika Bandranaike Kumaratunga came out in the open to support General Fonseka. She has been the patron- in- chief of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party- Mahajana, ( SLFP- M) the breakaway party from the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by President Mahinda.


But, the SLFP- M, failed to convince voters even in Gampaha and Kandy, the pocketboroughs of the Bandaranaikes for well over half a century. The JVP, the ultra- left Sinhala nationalist party, played a key role in securing Mahinda's victory in 2005, and had been growing in strength since 2002.




But, in this election, they failed to get any of their traditional supporters to vote for General Fonseka.


Mahinda has literally emerged as the icon of the Sinhala hard- line base, thus rendering both the JVP as well as the Buddhist Monks' party, JHU, irrelevant.


Mahinda's own alliance partners— the three Tamil parties— too failed to convert their traditional votes in favour of their candidates.


Douglas Devananda, a senior minister in Mahinda's cabinet, watched in horror as the news filtered in that in all the electoral districts in the Northern Province the people had voted in favour of Fonseka. Karuna, one time LTTE's lethal commander and now the vice- president of Mahinda's ruling SLFP and a cabinet minister, failed to enthuse people of the eastern province to vote for Mahinda. The Ceylon Workers Congress, representing the plantation Tamils of Indian origin, was always known for its enbloc voting, but its present leader, Arumugham Thondaman, grandson of the legendary Soumyamurthy Thondaman, failed to secure Nuwara Eliya, the heartland of plantation Tamils, in favour of Mahinda. However, the biggest failure was reserved for Sivajilingam, a pro- LTTE Tamil Nationalist, who contested the poll as an independent candidate representing Tamil nationalism.


He secured less than 10,000 votes ( 0.02 per cent of the total votes polled).


The overwhelming fear of this total marginalisation of all the political parties is that the forthcoming Parliament elections may secure a two- thirds majority for Mahinda- led SLFP, an eventuality that could not have been even dreamtoff in the proportional representational system of Sri Lanka's Constitution.


Unlike the wise electorate of Britain, who retained Winston Churchill as the wartime Prime Minister, but voted for Clement Atlee in peacetime, the world has changed considerably in endorsing a war leader to head the national affairs in peacetime too. Whether it was Atal Behari Vajpayee's win after the Kargil war or the third term for the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, or the second term for President George W Bush, war now ensures electoral gains. And precisely, here lies the Gordian Knot of restricted space for reconciliation and reconstruction.


In Mahinda's case, war was clearly a pretext to restrict civil and democratic spaces, to gag the media and to intimidate and eliminate journalists, to unleash a slander campaign against political opponents using the state media and to erase the distinction between the legislature, government, judiciary and independent bodies like the Election Commission. The fact that the war is over has not helped to withdraw emergency, the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, the dismantling of the High Security Zones, or paving the return of people indentured in various camps. A brief opening was given to the people of Sri Lanka in the run- up to the elections, but the huge lead he has secured now has been articulated by his inner circle as an endorsement for his " firm actions", an euphemism for state excesses.


If the loss of the democratic space is the point of convergence between the Sinhala- dominated South and the Tamil- dominated North and East, the point of divergence is the question of legitimate political aspirations of the Tamils.


Unlike Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinge, who acknowledge that there is a need to address the legitimate political aspirations and looked at a range of devolution models for power sharing, Mahinda Rajapaksa does not believe that there is a Tamil question.




The ease with which one " D" word ( Devolution) replaced the other " D" word ( Development) in the political lexicon that is gaining currency in Sri Lanka is a worrying factor.


There were two sets of pre poll agreements: one between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Douglas Devandanda and the other between R Sampanthan of Tamil Nationalist alliance and General Fonseka. The key elements of Mahinda- Douglas agreement are: " Starting with the implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution […] to progress towards more and more power sharing in stages marching towards the political target of a unified government in the centre with Regional Autonomy; speedy re- settlement of our displaced people in Vanni and others who were displaced due to the setting up of High Security Zones, in their own area; speedy implementation of action- plans designed to ensure their rights to livelihood; steps to be taken to withdraw the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations that have been in force for the past 30 years, plus the upholding of the democratic rights of the people in a violence- free society; General Amnesty and Rehabilitation to all who have been arrested and detained for political reasons and those who have surrendered; steps to be taken to locate, and to find the truth about, persons reported missing."




The operative portion of the agreement between TNA and Fonseka is: " To lift the state of emergency and PTA; release all the persons who are in detention without any evidence within one month of coming to power; grant of general amnesty to those who were members of the LTTE and help in their rehabilitation; dismantle high security zones progressively; restoration of civil administration in North and East; allow displaced persons to return to their original homes and to provide alternative accommodation when necessary; and a political solution to be found through a newly elected parliament." Careful readings of both the agreements reveal that the Tamils are for a united Sri Lanka but not for a unitary Sri Lanka. Mahinda's victory, many Tamils fear, would erase this crucial but vital aspirational difference.


India, with its 1987 accord with Sri Lanka, is committed to ensuring the fulfilment of the democratic aspirations of the Tamils. Will it still exert pressure on Mahinda to deliver on this crucial question?


The writer is the Executive Director, Panos South Asia, based in Colombo








THE CONFLICT between the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the government of President Asif Zardari is gathering momentum. Skirmishes have broken out on several fronts. And a make or break showdown is round the corner, unless the SC steps back — which may be desirable — or Mr Zardari throws in the towel — which is unlikely.


Maulvi Iqbal Haider, a maverick lawyer whose reputation as a puppeton- strings precedes him, has filed a petition with the Chief Election Commissioner ( CEC) asking him to reexamine President Asif Zardari's qualifications to be a member of parliament in light of the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO) judgment. The petition asks the CEC to investigate whether Mr Zardari was ever convicted under any circumstances at home or abroad or fulfils the constitutional requirement of being of sound mind or a good Muslim. Should Mr Zardari be guilty of either sin, he can be disqualified from being a member of parliament and his nomination as president of Pakistan can be held to be null and void.


The facts are slightly murky. The National Accountability Bureau ( NAB), which filed the cases of corruption

against Mr Zardari during the regimes of Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf, says he was never convicted, in absentia or otherwise. The President's spokesman insists likewise. But a section of the media and the bar reports otherwise. So we shall have to wait for the CEC to determine the facts of a case — avoiding 5 per cent import duty on an imported BMW car — that goes back to 2005. If the fact is that he was never convicted, he will be off the hook on this front.


BUT THE question of being a good Muslim will have to be settled, one way or another, before the SC. There is a precedent.


In 1985 a petitioner challenged the Islamic credentials of a competitor in an election. The CEC held in his favour. But the judges of the Supreme Court threw out the petition with the contempt it deserved, arguing that it was well nigh impossible to determine who was a good Muslim or not. Therefore, given the charged political environment, this SC would have to risk its credibility enormously if it went against the grain of an earlier SC decision on such a contentious issue.


Of course, if it turns out that Mr Zardari was once convicted in absentia, however absurd or trumped- up the charges, then we shall have a problem on our hands. Under the NRO judgment, he can be technically knocked out. But once again the SC's credibility will be seriously eroded in light of earlier SC judgments that insist on the unfairness and unjustness of any trial and conviction in absentia. Either way, notwithstanding the anti- Zardari mood of the establishment, opposition and a section of the media, the SC will be widely perceived, especially in the provinces, to be on a witch- hunt against one popular party and its leadership.


So nothing good can come of any judicial attempt to throw out Mr Zardari and risk plunging the country into a political quagmire.


Unfortunately, however, this line of reasoning hasn't sunk into the establishment so far. Indeed, the courts seem bent on giving the PPP government and its ministers a hard time. But the crunch will come when the SC directly targets the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, for not carrying out its order to direct the Swiss government to reopen the money laundering case against Mr Zardari that was closed on the request of the Zardari government after the NRO was executed by the Musharraf regime in early 2008. In this context, an attempt was made on January 28 to whip up a section of the anti- PPP lawyers against the government for dragging its feet on implementing this SC order. But it was thwarted by a bigger section of the lawyers which feels that this accountability is pretty one sided and the SC is overstepping its domain and creating unacceptable political ripples that could undermine the political system.


Understandably, the army's leadership is coming in for a bit of flak. Until now, Mr Zardari and a section of the independent media had pointed fingers in the direction of GHQ, alleging that the khakis had destabilised the government on the issue of the Kerry- Lugar Bill some months ago and might be winking at other anti- Zardari elements to go for his jugular. Now Maulana Fazal ur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema Islam has openly accused GHQ of political meddling and warned that the democratic system is in danger. This is no mean allegation. Maulana Fazal is normally a very careful and circumspect man who never strays too far from GHQ. Something must be terribly amiss for him to be thundering against the " agencies". The fact is that the popular mood in the country is changing. Few people like Mr Zardari. But more and more are becoming convinced that he is being singled out for some sinister motives by the Punjabi establishment and that getting rid of him will not necessarily usher in the long- awaited salvation promised by his opponents.


I NDEED, the increasing fear is that by targeting him to the exclusion of the other political, military, media and khaki rascals, the establishment may end up alienating the smaller provinces and open up a Pandora's Box of national contradictions that invite hostile foreign powers to intervene and dismember Pakistan.


Something like this has finally got into the mind of Nawaz Sharif who is no longer sure that he will be a beneficiary of the successful outcome of the Get- Zardari campaign. A split seems to have emerged in the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, with one section urging Mr Sharif to give one final push to Mr Zardari and go for a mid term election, and another that is cautioning restraint lest the powerful army and the resurgent judges and media make common cause against all politicians and devise a new caretaker system antithetical to them all.


In the next few weeks, media pressure is likely to increase on the army to show its hand. Does it stand with the government, as ordered by the constitution to do so under all circumstances since the organs of the state are supposed to obey the legitimately elected government and parliament of the day, or with the SC that is increasingly perceived to be " going after Zardari" with unconcealed vengeance?


The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)





ASAF ZARDARI came to Lahore so I laft it. I went to Abu Dhabi, then China, then New Yark. Members of Pakistan Muslim League ( N) New Yark chapter came to receive me at John F Kentucky Fried airport.


Since there were many of us, President PML N New Yark chapter drove limo, another member sat in front seat with my PA on his lap. Two members were in the behind with me. And yet another was in diggy.


I said to PML N president New Yark chapter that oye, drive faster. He droved car so fast that it spluttered and stalled. PML N President New Yark chapter tried to start car again and again but it would not. Finally, I gave order, " try once more. If it doesn't move forward, drive backward." Somehaw, we got to city where I stayed at Plaza Cinema Hotel and PA and others stayed at Rooh Afza Hotel owned by PIA. Every night in dream Princess Diana came. I said to her great sorrow is, what an untimely death. She smiled. On your last death anniversary I said I wanted to go and do sorrow with Queen. Princess Diana made face and said, " Who, her? Forget it!" I said, oh ho, after all, she is your saas. Yes, she shouted back, but she forgot that saas bhi kabhi bahu thhee. I said ok, ok, leave it ji. Then suddenly, Princess Diana went and Tiger Woods came. What you are doing Sher Saab, I asked. Playing golf, he said. Who these others are? They are also playing golf, he said. Why so, I asked. Because, he said slowly, they are playing for the cup. Who will get the cup, I asked. Whoever wins, he said. What about the others, will they also get cups if they don't win? No- o- o- o, he said ever so slowly. Then why they are playing, hain ji, I asked. Tiger Woods started crying. I said don't cry, it is all God's doing.


In my hearing it is coming that fauji is calling Shbaz Saab again and this time excuse was belated Eid greetings. Take, hear more! Lo, aur suno. I told Shbaz Saab not to take call. Then when I was sitting in drawing, servant came and stood. He looked like snake had smelled him. " Why your winds have flown?" I asked. He stammered that it is fauji on the phoon for you. I picked up phoon and after AOA he said we don't want to derail democracy. You will win next election; we will see to it that even floating voters go to you. Floating voters, I asked. Why? They cannot swim? Fauji said what I am trying to say is that we will make sure you win the next elections.


" HONESTLY?" I asked with joy in my voice. " Oho, why bring that up?" said fauji.

Aur line cut gayee







THE US on Thursday underlined the need for a probe into possible violations of election laws in the Sri Lankan presidential polls while welcoming the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa.


" The United States congratulates Sri Lanka for the first nationwide election in decades and President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his victory," the US Embassy said in a statement in Colombo on Thursday.


" We also note, however, some reports of possible violations of election law during the campaign, voting, and counting, and we urge a thorough investigation of these allegations in accordance with Sri Lankan law," it added.


P. J. Crowley, the US assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said in Washington: " I think it's important to recognise that this was the first nationwide election in decades." He added that participation was high, the process was generally peaceful, though there were incidents of violence


" I think it is remarkable when you consider what Sri Lanka has come through recently.


There is a process for resolving electoral disputes. We're obviously aware there have been claims of victory and counterclaims," Crowley said.


Sri Lanka's election commission on Wednesday declared Rajapaksa the winner with 57.8 per cent of the votes against former army chief Sarath Fonseka's 40 per cent.


Fonseka refused to accept the official results and told the election authority in a letter that he would initiate legal proceedings to have the January 26 vote annulled.


The US also underlined the need to ensure the safety and security of all candidates in When asked about allegations by Fonseka about violations of electoral laws, Crowley said the independent election commissioner had not given a ruling yet. " So we will wait … and have further comment when the election results are finalised," he said.


The Lankan authorities have withdrawn the army security cover given to Fonseka who feared for his safety in the aftermath of his defeat.


Rajapaksa said his former army chief would have no problems.


can always get in touch with me on matters related to his security. After all, he was my former army chief," the president told reporters when asked about Fonseka's apprehensions that he may be arrested.


The 64- year- old Rajapaksa also took a swipe at those in Lanka and abroad who had condemned his handling of the final military offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels in May. " The overwhelming mandate given in this election has given the answer to these critics," he said in a statement.


Rajapaksa pledged to seek reconciliation with minority Tamils but did not indicate how he would deal with their demand for greater rights.


Centre mulls grading system for Class XII


By Mail Today Bureau in New Delhi


THE government is mulling over introducing the grading system for Class XII students of the Central Board of Secondary Education ( CBSE).


The government has already replaced grades with marks for Class X CBSE students and done away with Class X board exams.


These steps had been taken as part of the human resource development ( HRD) ministry's measures to de- stress the system for students.


A round- table for school education, which also has university representatives on board, has discussed the proposal for replacing marks with grades at the Class XII level. A task force has been set up to deliberate on the matter.


HRD minister Kapil Sibal on Thursday said: " The idea has been mooted and a group will examine how grading could be introduced at the Class- XII level." " We had a brainstorming session. Lots of ideas came up. No decision has been taken," he added.


The group will take three months to present its report, which will then go to the Council of Boards of School Education in India, and the Central Advisory Board for Education. It will then be open for discussion.


" We want to create an environment where the quality of education can be improved," Sibal said.





UNION minister of state for information and broadcasting Mohan Jatua has allegedly been giving a tough time to Press Information Bureau ( PIB) officials in West Bengal.


Apparently, Jatua has a habit of summoning PIB photographers and correspondents to cover tours in his home state. The problem does not lie there. On private visits, the upright Trinamool Congress leader does not avail of his official car — thus forcing the poor PIB man to ride pillion on a motorcycle with the minister. They have reportedly sent an SOS to senior minister Ambika Soni.



VINAY Sahasrabudhe, director of the RSS- sponsored Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini in Mumbai, is a quintessential Sangh Parivar ideologue and apparently maintains a distance from the latest trends in Bollywood. No doubt he was genuinely confused when a senior BJP leader referred to him as " Virus". That is before someone enlightened him about engineering teacher Viru Sahasrabudhe, the character played by Boman Irani in 3 Idiots.



NITIN Gadkari is apparently keen on ensuring that no damage is inflicted on the environment during the threeday national council session of the BJP in Indore.


The party chief has instructed a senior minister in the Madhya Pradesh cabinet to provide bicycles to the delegates for transportation. The use of cars will be restricted only to very senior leaders and no plastic will be allowed inside the venue. These apart, the delegates will stay in tents.



THE BJP's Arun Jaitley and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi were among the first politicians to land at the Samajwadi Party office on Copernicus Lane to express condolence over the demise of Janeshwar Mishra. But the duo was at a loss because the office was empty with the sole exception of Ramjilal Suman, who was walking on the lawns. Naqvi tried to make himself useful — getting the chairs removed and creating a solemn ambience befitting the occasion. Even after that, no one turned up.



NARAIN Dutt Tiwari has floated an apolitical front. The former Andhra Pradesh governor, who resigned following a sex- tape expose, is heading the " Nirantar Vikas Samiti" ( constant development association).


Tiwari's detractors feel the real objective of the association is to queer the Congress's pitch in Uttarakhand as the former chief minister has pockets of support in the hill state.








In less than a week, two meetings have taken place to decide plans for Afghanistan's future, the first in Turkey, the second in London. Although different when it came to their participants the former brought together Afghanistan's immediate neighbours as well as UK foreign secretary David Miliband and US representatives while the latter had on its roster as many as 60 countries there was one common factor. For almost a decade, the Taliban has been inextricably linked to al-Qaeda as the enemy. Now, the US and its allies have given a clear indication in these two meetings that they are willing to make a distinction and deal with the former, or at least some sections of it. New Delhi may need to adjust to this new reality if it is to remain a stakeholder in Afghanistan.

So far, Washington had been in consensus with New Delhi that the good Taliban, bad Taliban theory was a pernicious one. However, war-weariness is growing in the US. The danger now is that New Delhi may be cut out of the Afghan reconstruction process if it takes too rigid a stand on the issue. It had no presence at the Turkey meeting, thanks to Islamabad's manoeuvrings and Ankara's tacit consent. A shift of stance on the Taliban issue may be the most pragmatic course, while insisting that any rapprochement with moderate Taliban elements must be within the present structure of governance in a unitary Afghanistan. Otherwise New Delhi could find itself left out of the process entirely, leaving Islamabad to position itself as interlocutor between the US and the Taliban and pursue its objective of gaining strategic depth.

There are a host of reasons motivating the militants fighting against western forces in Afghanistan. Some, such as Mullah Omar, do so because of radical ideological leanings. But others are motivated by Pashtun nationalism, resentment or simply the need for livelihood. By ensuring its continuing relevance, New Delhi can direct reconciliation attempts in a way that splits the latter from the former. Wars can be won by weaning away less ideologically motivated sections within the enemy's fold. They can also be lost through undue appeasement.

By staying part of the process, New Delhi can make sure that the latter is not confused with the former. It also needs to emphasise to the international community the danger of leaving Afghanistan to its own devices. Regardless of what professions the Taliban may make with respect to al-Qaeda, an unstable Afghanistan will always remain an incubator of radical Islamic terror. And no concert of regional powers to stabilise Afghanistan can succeed if India is left out.







Moses came down from a mountain bearing a tablet, on which God's laws were written. Now Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's talismanic CEO, is hoping to rewrite the laws governing the market for personal gadgets, by releasing the company's own version of the tablet the iPad. Not quite a phone and not quite a laptop or desktop computer replacement, the tablet seeks to exploit a space between those gadget types. It could also change the way that media is consumed, and eventually provide a new business model to the publishing industry. If it catches on other companies are bound to follow suit, releasing their own version of the tablet.

Although phones are more and more becoming multimedia devices capable of playing videos, taking decent pictures and listening to music, the screen size which, by necessity, cannot be too large limits consumer enjoyment of these activities. And laptops are too cumbersome to drag around just to watch videos or read books. So the tablet could offer an alternative. Not as heavy as a laptop and with a screen that enables an intimate multimedia experience, such a device can cater to our need to always be connected.

One way to regard the tablet is to consider it direct competition to e-book readers like Amazon's market-leading product, the Kindle. With an intuitive touchscreen interface, colour display and additional Web browsing capabilities, tablets pose a threat to purpose-built gadgets which do just one thing. The e-book reader market is just hotting up, with several electronics companies releasing different versions. There was already a market for cheap, portable computers, as the success of netbooks has proven. Consumers don't just use computers to work or study, but also to interact with friends via social media, watch videos, read newspapers and blogs and browse the Web. The latter are things a touchscreen tablet would be great at doing.

There is hope that the device would provide newspapers and magazines with a viable new business model that allows them to start charging for content, while the movie industry is watching keenly to see if the device had the potential to be an iPod for movies and television shows. The new device may not transform distribution models just yet, but the potential is there. And consumers are only going to benefit if more companies get in on the act with their touchscreen tablets.








Pakistan is no longer characterised by anti-India fanatics and, despite the widespread problem of terrorism (which is also becoming a major threat for Pakistanis themselves) and the history of enmity between our two countries, there is a growing constituency in Pakistan which wants to live in peace with India. It is also important to remember that if India has to emerge as a major power in the 21st century, we cannot remain a country living in tension with any of its neighbours.

Some facts related to Pakistan should be of value in determining India's attitude to that country. Firstly, there is clear evidence that the ideology of jihad apparently does not hold as much appeal for the average Pakistani as it did, say, five years ago. This, of course, does not minimise the threat that the Taliban or al-Qaeda and several other organisations opposed to peace and security in that country pose to India. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that perhaps the widespread appeal that these organisations had and the success they had achieved in recruiting volunteers for their distorted cause have clearly declined.

Even more significant is that attitudes in Pakistan have undergone change. A series of Gallup polls in Pakistan in recent months reveal that only a small percentage of those polled say they feel most threatened by India. It is to the credit of the Indian people and our government that in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008 the entire country acted with great restraint and did not indulge in retaliatory military action. This act of sober and mature forbearance has obviously not been lost on the Pakistani people. But there is a much deeper change that has taken place. Having travelled to Pakistan on some occasions, i recall that two decades ago newspapers in that country referred deprecatingly to the "dhotiwalas across the border". There was an arrogance and cockiness on the part of Pakistanis which gave them a sense of superiority and a conviction that they could vanquish a soft state like India both economically as well as militarily.

Today, on the part of a large number of Pakistanis, there is a grudging respect and even admiration for what India has been able to achieve. In the case of Pakistanis overseas, the expression of warmth towards Indians is in fact touching and deeply emotional. It is not uncommon on the streets of New York or Chicago to run into a Pakistani cab driver who refuses to take any fare from an Indian, particularly if the passenger strikes up a conversation in Hindustani.

Should India now extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan when it is possibly going through its worst crisis? That country today has a large number of citizens who would like to live in peace with India, and the prime minister's offer of unconditional talks would strengthen their hands.

But perhaps the most important reason for extending a hand of friendship lies in the asset we have currently of Manmohan Singh as prime minister. Pakistanis of all shades have a great deal of respect for him and deep trust that would be an essential ingredient for normalisation of ties. The village Gah where Singh was born celebrated with great joy and fanfare on both occasions when he was appointed prime minister, and the uniqueness of this situation should not be lost. Such an opportunity is not likely to come again, particularly once those who are born in the region which is now Pakistani territory are no longer on the scene.

We Indians need to accept and assert our destiny as a major global power, and the view that we have had of Pakistan as the country of only Jinnah and jihad needs urgent reassessment. We also need to consider the enormous strength that South Asia would be able to acquire to the mutual benefit of India and Pakistan if we move towards peaceful relations. We have many more serious global challenges to tackle jointly, not the least of which are ecological and environmental problems that could prove disastrous to all of South Asia. The most dominant of these is the challenge of climate change, which could bedevil even the Indus Waters Treaty. Surely some of these problems would only lead to greater tension, unless we arrive at a spirit of accommodation and friendly relations built on good neighbourly behaviour and some degree of trust.

As in several other such situations, civil society must now mobilise action by which the people of the two countries start coming closer together, and the media on both sides must highlight the benefits and potential of lasting peace and specific initiatives to bring it about. Perhaps this would provide adequate momentum in due course for the prime minister to visit Pakistan and the village of his birth, Gah. That would be the high point of ushering in a new era on the subcontinent.

The writer is director-general, The Energy & Resources Institute, and chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change







The National Award for best feature film has gone to Antaheen. The decision has taken everyone including its shy young director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury by surprise. With just two films Anuranan and Antaheen, Aniruddha has emerged as the voice of a new Bengali cinema. He talks to Subhash K Jha:

Did you expect the National Award for Antaheen?

I don't make my films for any other reason except to tell a story. I don't think of success or awards. But suddenly when you get a pat on your shoulder like the National Award you are elated. The entire team of Antaheen is over the moon. It's very difficult to believe that my film has been declared the best film made in India.

At the box office too Antaheen had done well, thanks to the melodious music by Shantanu Moitra and other glossy elements. I want to reach out to a wider audience than conventionally permitted to Bengali film-makers. We film-makers get peanuts to make films in Bengal. I want to make Bengali films that reach out to a wider audience. And it's happening.

How did you manage to infuse so much gloss into your product within such a limited budget?

Everyone cooperated. Shantanu Moitra didn't charge me a single penny for the music. Rahul Bose returned the money i paid him. Sharmila Tagore didn't charge a single paisa. We didn't have money to hire studios. So we shot on actual locations in the sweltering heat of Kolkata in July. The money we had went into production design. Everyone was so supportive. My writer Shayamal Sengupta understood my thoughts although i am the most inarticulate person in my unit. Abhik Mukhopadhyay who has won the National Award for cinematography also contributed considerably to my vision. Everyone owns Antaheen.

Antaheen moves away from Bangla literature and the Hindi film formula, the two favourite cinematic playing fields in Bengali cinema?

Antaheen spoke the language that we know. If we go back to the Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen starrers 30 years back, they also had the same kind of format. Both my films so far Anuranan and Antaheen were based on my own experiences. My third film, Aparoopa, too will be a love story based on my own experiences. I'm also adapting two stories of Sunil Gangopdhyay. So i've three films on the anvil.

Do you feel the National Award will give the film a renewed life?

I'd like that. Bengali cinema should be released across India without the clumsy dubbing. Antaheen was shown in a Bangla version in Mumbai, and it was liked. The impact of a film should not depend on the spoken language.







'MMS creating ripples in the US', read a newspaper headline recently. I thought, oh, another sleaze scandal. But hold on, this wasn't how it seemed. MMS actually referred to our prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Can you imagine! It didn't stop here. I had the opportunity a couple of days later to sample another one 'SMS helps Assam school'. I wondered how an SMS could help a school and scrambled to read the report. It turned out to be a similar story to the one before. SMS referred to Sardar Manmohan Singh, who had sent Rs 40 lakh to rebuild a school in his constituency. Way to go! I agree that acronyms are catchy and convenient. But the peril is that sometimes you don't know what is being conveyed and that's the most dangerous bit. A friend of mine used to add 'b4n' at the end of every conversation. I could never decipher what it meant. But since one had seen her smirk in the recent past when enquiring what 'tq' meant, one did not dare ask her what this latest one was all about. By the way, for the uninitiated like me, tq stands for thank you. I chose, therefore, to give b4n a skip.

Meanwhile, the SMS (meaning short messaging service, the SMS as we know it) was creating ripples around the world, thanks to Tiger Woods and his ilk. But the big ripple effect of SMS has been how we have become a generation of abbreviation-hunters. Too many of these have been talked about, but many more keep getting added on, so much so that one day, 'abbreviation' itself will remain the longest word ever while every other word and phrase would have been abbreviated already. I called a dear friend the other day and she texted back, 'ttyl'. Now what on earth could that mean? I called her up to find out what she meant. Perhaps it was some new restaurant we were supposed to meet at for lunch? She said, ''I told you i'll talk to you later.'' I said, ''OK'' and hung up. Eureka! I SMSed her minutes later. ''Hmmm, so ttyl actually means talk to you later.'' To which, she said: ''See, GMTA,'' but before i could be bamboozled once again, she explained it Great Minds Think Alike. And now for those, who are inspired to go on a personal abbreviation-hunting spree, it's b4n from my side. Bye For Now, folks!







Last week Delhi disappeared. One moment it was there, large as life and twice as unnatural - with its VVIPs in pooh-paah cars and its child beggars, its stray dogs and strayer human beings, its killer buses and its road rage, its Metro construction and its unending rubble of excavation, its scams and its scandals, its power brokers and its power cuts, its Lutyens' bungalows and its garbage heaps, its gracious tree-lined boulevards and its men pissing in public, its pomp and its pomposity, its pageantry and its piffle - and the next moment - poof! - it was gone. Just like that. Disappeared. Whatever could have happened to it? It was an enigma that had the whole country wondering.

Had some magician, a great jadugar like the legendary P C Sorcar 'vanished' the whole city, the way he is said to have once 'vanished' the Taj Mahal? Had aliens from outer space zoomed down in their UFOs and abducted Dilli in its entirety, Rashtrapati Bhavan, jhuggi-jhopris, polluted Yamuna, women molesters and all? But would aliens - no matter how alien they were - want to abduct the damn thing?


Mind you, Delhi had a long history of disappearing itself. In fact, if historians were to be believed, Delhi had disappeared itself some eight times, only to be reborn in a new avatar, Indraprastha, Shahjahanabad and so on. So had Delhi disappeared itself for the ninth time? And if so, what would it reappear as? Commonwealth Village? Gameswalabad? But according to a whole lot of people ^ reportedly including Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit - barring an act of God the 2010 Commonwealth Games were going to be the biggest non-event in the history of sport. In which case, would the disappeared Delhi remain forever in embryonic limbo as a never-to-be-born Kalmadigaon named after Suresh Kalmadi?


Then the mystery cleared. Delhi's disappearance had nothing to do with magicians, or with aliens. Or indeed with Suresh Kalmadi. Delhi had disappeared because of fog. Not just fog, but the worst fog in 20 years. Some said it was the worst fog since either Delhi or fog had been invented. Whatever the case, for almost the whole of last week, fog - so thick and impenetrable that you felt you could cut it into huge chunks that would help replace all those melting Himalayan glaciers that R K Pachauri's been carrying on something fierce about and which mayn't be melting after all - smothered Delhi in a total white-out and wiped it off the face of the map.

In fog-blind Delhi, planes couldn't land or take off. Trains were cancelled. Road traffic ground to a standstill. Thousands of Dilliwallas were stranded outside Delhi and couldn't get back into the city, and thousands of non-Dilliwallas were stranded within the city, unable to get out.And because of what? One three-letter word: fog. As in: Fog you too. Which is what a lot of all those stranded people kept saying as they camped out for hours and days at non-functioning airports and railway stations and bus depots waiting for visibility to return. Was this the pride of India, the showcase capital on which thousands of crores are being spent in the name of Commonwealth Gamesmanship? Some show, some case.

And then, miraculously, the fog lifted. The sun returned, blushing with shame for having gone awol and causing all the pother. And - poof! - as suddenly as it had disappeared, Delhi reappeared. Yes, by golly, there was Delhi back again. Delhi with its VVIPs in pooh-paah cars and its child beggars, its stray dogs and strayer human beings, its killer buses and its road rage, its Metro construction and its unending rubble of constant excavation, its scams and scandals, its power brokers and its power cuts, its Lutyens' bungalows and its garbage heaps, its gracious tree-lined boulevards and its men pissing in public, its pomp and its pomposity, its pageantry and its piffle, its...

Oh God, make the fog come back again. Please?







The national capital region (NCR) has, according to a news report, overtaken Maharashtra in the number of registered companies. Delhi and Haryana house 209,000 companies, ahead of Maharashtra's 187,000. Read that alongside another statistic that the Delhi airport is handling more passengers than Mumbai and a trend is discernible. Although Mumbai's financial heft is unchallenged still, the economic centre of gravity is shifting. Companies based in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida brought in one in four rupees earned by the country's 500 biggest firms. And they made every third rupee of profits. With the largest number of start-ups anywhere in the country, these shares can only grow. The question is how fast?


Four of the five biggest private companies in the NCR did not exist before 1980. Delhi's economy is in large measure a fall-out of economic reforms while Mumbai Inc belongs to an earlier generation when brick and mortar companies commanded the industrial landscape. Yet that era is not over. Maharashtra still contributes 13.6 per cent of India's national income and Mumbai alone yields the government every fifth rupee it collects in taxes. Nearly half of the business done by the 500 top listed companies is conducted out of Mumbai's boardrooms. Private enterprise runs Maximum City: strike off the state-owned behemoths and the capital's corporate czars lose much of their muscle.


When start-ups in the NCR outnumber those in Maharashtra four to one — since April 2009, 44,000 companies were founded in the Region — the story is about the spread of entrepreneurship. Delhi offers a healthy climate for new investment in the services sector and, to an extent, in manufacturing. Government largesse ensures its physical and social infrastructure outclasses that of any other Indian city. But the differentiator in the long run is politics. Both Mumbai and Delhi feed off large-scale migration to sustain their growth momentum. Where Delhi scores is in its openness to outsiders. Mumbai owes its current pre-eminence to the communist blockade of capital into Kolkata. Much the same result could ensue if Maharashtra's politicians succeed in erecting entry barriers for labour. Mumbai is steadily losing its cost competitiveness in rents and wages. The next wave of India's industrialisation, fed by foreign capital, could give the city a miss if this is not arrested.







The best thing to have happened in the fight for free expression since loaves were sliced against conventional wisdom is Rakhi Sawant taking on the Censor Board of India. It is a landmark event because overwhelmingly in India, the complaint comes from some Johnnie who's upset that some scene in some film has 'hurt the sentiments of a community' or is a 'vulgar depiction that goes against our culture'. Well, Ms Sawant has lobbed a grenade from the other direction and we're cheering her on. She served a legal notice against the Board's decision not to allow the music video of her song, 'Kameeni tera bhoot chad gaya re' to be aired on telly. No, not because the video's too raunchy. What made the Board ban her song? It seems it is the word 'kameeni'. 'Kameeni' is the female equivalent of 'kameeney', literally 'a low life' or 'rascal' in Hindi but said with the emotional force of the English epithet, 'bastard!'


Ms Sawant is bang on with her argument when she says that the Board's decision boils down to gender hypocrisy. As she points out with the precision of a Sorabjee, male actors have been using 'kameeney' for ages, Dharmendra making it his signature tune. The censors had no problem with Vishal Bharadwaj even naming his film, Kaminey (the translation of a standard conversation thereby becoming: "What film did you watch today, Auntie?" "Bastard").


To add fuel to her jhatka, our very own Sophia Loren-cum-Germaine Greer has stated that she'll go on a hunger strike to protest the ban. We, of course, know what the real problem is: the Board doesn't want to be seen as being 'uncool' about Ms Sawant's display of her assets, so they state an innocuous, universal exclamatory word in its feminine gender to be the issue. And by Ms Sawant's assets we mean her freedom of expression and creativity, of course.








When Yudhisthir's four brothers, who had gone to fetch water, did not return for a long time, he went looking for them; and was immensely grieved to see them lying dead by a pool of water.


As he was lamenting their sudden and untimely death, the guardian Yaksha of the pool spoke out, "Your brothers did not deign to answer my questions and disregarded my warning. Answer my questions and you can drink the water, and I may give life back to them." 


These set of questions and their answers have come down to us as the hallmark of deep study and contemplation.


One of the most celebrated and, and my favourite, is the Yaksha's question —'Ka Panthah', meaning what is the path of conduct which human beings should follow for their enlightenment and  salvation? Yudhisthir's answer too is classic, "O yaksha, there is multiplicity of authority and texts. They do not converge into a homogenous understanding. Further, the interpreters of these texts, learned though they may be, differ in their interpretation. The written or oral corpus of knowledge may have limitations as a path. In my understanding, the path is the one trodden by the great men —'Mahajano Yen Gatah Sa Panthah.'


Reflecting on this, we see Buddha, the greatest analytical thinker of all time, proclaiming 'be your own lights', meaning the path of truth is experiential and unique to each one. Krishnamurti too said almost the same —'Truth is a pathless land'.


Similarly, Acharya Rajnish also did not believe in the esoteric world of convoluted theories and mere ritual. His took a bold statement that that truth was to be experienced and not discussed. The reason being that the field of conduct leading to human enlightenment and salvation is a matter utterly beyond any text, interpretation or tuition. It is solely and exclusively in the domain of experience. And this is the path trodden by all great men of all ages; but, what is important, a unique path for each one of them.


This was what Yudhisthir was essentially saying.








After spending a few hours with Sant Singh Chatwal discussing his continent-hopping pursuit of wealth, I popped the delicate question: how did the charges of default and tax evasion against him get settled? The air around his bright-red turban suddenly turned a shade frosty that hot day in 2004. Chatwal shuffled in his red leather shoes and said: "Would Bill Clinton have come to my house if I had done anything wrong with the US authorities?" Indeed, the Clintons were reported to have visited the Chatwals' New York penthouse in 2000 — it was, after all, a fundraiser for Hillary. But then, the Clintons are said to have befriended a number of people who even Homer Simpson would avoid. So… the cases? "You ask my friends about me." He offered the numbers of a couple of Indian industrialists. Sure, but the cases? Not surprisingly, the conversation soon winded up. I promised him I wouldn't write the story until he explained the cases.


And I haven't. That is, till now, when those questions are being raised again.


The portrait of an upwardly mobile son-of-the-soil Chatwal painted that day is worthy of Amar Chitra Katha. "When I owned a bicycle, I wanted a car; when I owned a car, I wanted to pilot an airplane," he said.


Chatwal's mobility started over games of bridge. A bored Maharaja of Faridkot would call a young Chatwal to draw a few deals. One deal led to another. With the hope of "relocating his kingdom", the Maharaja had bought large tracts of land in, of all places, Ethiopia. Chatwal soon found himself in Africa, managing a hotel.


After the death of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, his properties were nationalised. Chatwal shifted to another Punjabi city, Montreal, where he founded the Bombay Palace hotels. When he could leverage those properties, he moved to New York. And the Bombay Palaces, subsumed under the Hampshire Hotels brand, came to own "the largest number of rooms in Manhattan".


If there was one thing the hotelier craved for, it was 'respect' back home. He was in Delhi preparing for the marriage of his son Vikram to a Delhi socialite. I quoted a piece from The New York Observer that called his son a "turban cowboy" and said that he had dreams of settling down in the Caribbean. "What? Certainly not," he thundered. Pointing to the suite's room where the son was sleeping off the previous night's indulgences, he said, "We raised him as a good Sikh boy... He wanted marry a girl from 'home'." It's then that, avoiding a question about the tattoo of 'G' the son had inscribed for model Gisele Bündchen, I asked about the cases. And there we were, staring at the red leather shoes.








'Believable change.' That was disaffected General Sarath Fonseka's Obama-like assurance for the future when he shed the Sri Lanka Army uniform in November to stand — and stand up — against President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential elections. Fonseka had told Lankans that he would bring in change for the better — from a high cost of living, corruption and family rule. Indeed, Fonseka appeared to be riding a surge of popularity and promise during the two-month poll campaign.


A day after the election, however, the surge turned out to be a trickle. By early Wednesday, postal voting trends showed a healthy lead for Rajapaksa. The former army chief, the man who promised change, changed home instead, moving to a five-star hotel, fearing for his life.


Fonseka could not believe it but Lanka's majority Sinhala community had brought back Rajapaksa to power. In simple terms, it seemed that most Sinhalese saw Rajapaksa as the one who brought to an end the 27-year-old ethnic war against the Tamil Tigers. This was their 'gratitude vote'. The verdict: it is difficult to live in expensive times and under a corrupt government, but at least there are no bombs going off in the markets and young Sinhalese boys are not 'missing in action'.This was the very tacit impact that Fonseka himself thought he would generate among the Sinhala majority. After all, photographs of his battle-scarred body were displayed generously on poll pamphlets. But it was Rajapaksa who improved his 2005 tally (which he had won on a less than 2 per cent majority). This time, the gap was more than 17 per cent and a whopping 2 million votes. (Fonseka has since alleged that polling wasn't free or fair and threatened to go to court.)In November, when Fonseka entered the election arena after a high-pitched resignation drama as the chief of defence staff, he appeared to be a man in uniform reluctantly entering the wily world of politics for cleaning it up. He was backed by  major political forces in Lanka: the United National Party, the radical Marxists, the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, and the Tamil National Alliance.


It was expected that Fonseka and Rajapaksa — the two 'macho' war heroes who put to sword the mighty Tamil Tigers — would equally divide the majority Sinhala vote, making the minority vote crucial. (There are 22 electoral districts in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese are in the majority in at least 16 of them.) The two did split the majority vote. But the twist in the voting tale was that Rajapaksa was the one who pulled in the lion's share. For Fonseka, it did not help that he bagged the overwhelming majority of the minority — including Tamil — votes from districts like Jaffna, Vanni and Trincomalee. Rajapaksa simply proved way too popular in the rest of the country.


Take the Colombo district. Fonseka easily won from Colombo city where Tamils, Christians and Muslims are in a majority. But in the rest of the district, where the Sinhala are more in number, Rajapaksa won. Fonseka lost in his own home district of Ambalangoda where Rajapaksa received 62 per cent votes. The broad picture of the voting pattern was that in Sinhala-majority areas of Sri Lanka, Fonseka's 'believable change' campaign did not work.Then take the Anuradhapura district in central Sri Lanka. This district has been drought-hit for months — making it fertile ground for the opposition to sow anti-incumbency seeds. But over the years, it has also been hit several times by the LTTE's suicide cadres. The result: Rajapaksa won 66 per cent of the votes here.


The Tamils believed Fonseka would address their plight. But in the end, the Sinhala majority community did not believe that this was the right time for change. Believable or otherwise.








Indo-Pak cricket, like diplomatic relations between the two countries, suffers from schizophrenia. Rewind to January 1999 when a Chennai crowd gave a standing ovation to Wasim Akram's men after they had just beaten India. Six months later, the two countries met again in a world cup match against the backdrop of the Kargil war and fans of both sides abused each other. In 2004, we were treated to a Pakistani crowd singing, "Balaji, zara dheere chalo" every time he ran in to bowl. Eight years earlier, I had watched a Karachi crowd hurl bottles on the field when their team lost to India in a dramatic last over. Two years ago, Sohail Tanvir was the toast of the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL). Today, Tanvir and his other Pakistani teammates find themselves unwanted by their IPL owners.


Predictably, the latest controversy over the exclusion of the Pakistani players has set us off on another emotional roller-coaster. The Pakistanis say they are "outraged" at what they perceive as a "humiliation" of their national pride. Perhaps, justifiably. If the star Pakistani players were considered good enough to be listed for an auction on January 6, what suddenly changed within a fortnight for them to be seen as a risky proposition? How can Pakistani cricketers with official visas become virtually persona non-grata?


There are equally indignant questions that we in India could ask. Where, for example, was the collective 'outrage' in Pakistan in the aftermath of 26/11? Why has the Pakistani establishment been reluctant to prosecute Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed?


Since both sides claim to have legitimate grievances, competitive rage is easy to manufacture in the Indo-Pak context. There are enough hate-mongers in both countries who thrive on conspiracy theories. Any attempt to try and ease tensions is viewed with mistrust, even hostility. Which is why any criticism of the IPL franchisees should be tempered by the reality that they are only taking their cue from the Indian state, which has been equally inconsistent in its approach to dealing with Pakistan.


Remember Sharm el-Sheikh barely six months ago? An Indo-Pak summit was held against mounting criticism of Islamabad's failure to act against the masterminds of 26/11. In the very week, that the home minister charged Pakistan with 'sheltering' Saeed, the prime minister was reaching out to Islamabad and offering to 'delink' terror from talks. The seemingly contradictory stands taken by the government was enough for the PM to find himself being accused of  having 'capitulated' to the Pakistanis. While the drafting of the joint statement left enough scope for anxiety, to accuse Manmohan Singh of a 'sell-out' is typical of the exaggerated responses that have prevented any rationality from creeping into the relationship.


Rationality would tell us that the Indo-Pak engagement cannot be a one-night stand. It requires a sustained dialogue, carefully crafted one step at a time. High-profile summits like Agra or a Sharm el-Sheikh or made-for-tv events like the Lahore bus yatra are doomed for failure  because they attempt to compress years of conflict into a 30-second photo-op. What is needed is a calendar of 'routine' meetings at different levels of government that eventually help break the walls of suspicion on both sides.


To draw from the cricketing experience again. Perhaps, the calmest period in Indo-Pak cricket was between 2004 and 2007 when the two countries played each other in a series of one-dayers and Tests over an extended length of time. By the end, we had almost miraculously reached a stage where matches were no longer a war, where a defeat was not seen as catastrophe. Because both sides knew that there was always another match to be played. It wasn't as if there were no terror attacks in this period — the Mumbai train blasts occurred in 2007 — but there seemed a desire to engage each other on the cricket pitch, almost as a riposte to the terrorists.


Mumbai 26/11 has, however, seen us return to an earlier era where we appear confused as to how to deal with Pakistan. Perhaps the anger that followed the terror attack has so rattled India that it doesn't know just how far it can go in reaching out to Pakistan without attracting public criticism. Even the PM, who had shown the willingness to stay the course, appears uncertain in his approach, perhaps unnerved by the fact that even his own party refused to back him after Sharm el-Sheikh. And, of course, there remains the fear of another Mumbai-style attack.


And yet, a diplomatic vacuum is just as dangerous as a cricketing apartheid. By not choosing Pakistani players in the IPL, we have only alienated those voices across the borders who are seeking some 'normalcy' in an environment of daily violence and terror. At the same time, by refusing to resume any kind of dialogue with Islamabad, we run the risk of further weakening the political authority in that country, thereby making it even more difficult to ensure that tangible action is taken against Pak-based terror groups. This is not a time for 'jhappis', but neither is it a period for jingoism to get the better of common sense.


Post-script: the schizophrenia extends to us in the media too. While newspaper campaigns advocate 'aman ki asha', some news channels are calling for war with Pakistan. You can't have it both ways.


Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network


The views expressed by the author are personal








Terrorists and their target societies evolve in response to each other. What the David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana investigation and trial have done is connect India's terror narrative with global trends in terrorist recruitment and their increasing sophistication. The other refrain of this narrative is the complex response of a pluralistic society and democratic state to persistent terror. If we have known since 9/11 that jihadi recruits used against Western targets could be from educated, assimilated and affluent immigrant families, it still is worrisome that the Lashkar-e-Toiba — which is specifically designed and programmed against India — too has now demonstrated its graduation to indoctrinating and recruiting educated and intelligent individuals — with identities that may not arouse suspicion.


In brief, and as detailed in this newspaper, Daood Gilani, alias David Coleman Headley, visited India nine times between September 2006 and March 2009, used local contacts and undertook extensive surveillance, devastatingly used in 26/11. He did similar work in Delhi and other cities. Together, Headley's multiple and Rana's single visit connect many dots on how the November 2008 attack was planned and executed, and how difficult it remains for the state to prevent recurrences. Perhaps Indian authorities could have done more — an American citizen of a Pakistani father, travelling Pakistan International Airlines (who subsequently was found to have used false references and quick switches of residence), should have been flagged by immigration.


Nevertheless, how should a democratic state and open society respond? Steve Coll, journalist and Pulitzer-winning author, argues that the jihadi threat India faces is greater than other countries, and implies that India will not find it as easy to continuously meet it. The post-26/11 revamp of India's security apparatus is ushering in changes which should, in the long run, significantly improve our detection and apprehension capabilities. Yet, groups like Lashkar are now capable of "spectacular game-changing" attacks, as Coll puts it, drawing on a resource pool that has expanded and diversified to include scientists and others from the so-called intellectual professions. Tying together 26/11, Headley-Rana, and India's security alerts is our vulnerability to an omnipresent threat. But there is a lot that policing and diplomacy can do. For the authorities, there must be investment in constant and comprehensive vigilance. India's terror problem may be largely externally engendered, but the challenge is to build, and constantly upgrade, defences from within.







When, recently, the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra decided that Mumbai taxi drivers were not Marathi-speaking enough and proposed changing that, most immediate reactions focused around how this was another attack on the idea of the multi-ethnic, accepting Indian city. Understandable; urbanisation will be the major defining social force of the coming decades. But that silly decision was also an entry into another conversation we should have: about how incomplete is India's post-1991 relaxation of the licence raj. In particular, about how the state's dealings with regular people — and small entrepreneurs or the self-employed, like taxi drivers — has not been freed up as much as has its dealings with corporate India. How interesting that it should be someone near synonymous with corporate India — Mukesh Ambani, speaking at the launch of a book co-published by The Indian Express — to point that out.


It is certainly true that questions should be asked not only about the intent underlying the attempt to get Marathi-speaking taxiwallahs onto Mumbai streets but also about the methods that they assumed should be used. They did not consider, for example, making it easier for working drivers to try and learn another language. No, they went straight to the most statist response: a rigid control over the number of permits issued, and strict restrictions on who would be eligible for those permits.


The fear is that this is representative of the response of too many ministries and governments, at both the state and the Central levels, to anything they might view as a problem. Control, regulate, license. Post-1991, an understanding may have built up that big enterprise, much-needed large-scale investment, will suffer if the state's interaction with it is premised on the need to control. But that lesson has not been extended to how the state handles those a lot less large, whether as individual or as entrepreneur. In order for the gains of liberalisation to truly impact everyone in India, to deepen and broaden those gains, the ideological shift needs to be completed. A reformist mindset benefits us all. Our politics must make that point repeatedly. Only then will governments not reflexively believe they can control every Indian.







Change in China is so often announced through sport that the danger is that the feat at the Australian Open will now be over-invested with analysis. Signalling their arrival, two Chinese women, Zheng Jie and Li Na, made it to the semi-finals of the Grand Slam tournament. Li, who went down fighting to Serena Williams, had earlier knocked out Venus Williams in a great come-back and will now be the first Chinese tennis player to be ranked among the top 10.


Both women have emerged from China's remarkable sport training network. Interestingly, last year the country's top four tennis players, among them Zheng and Li, were liberated from its system of strict control over sportspersons. Now they can plan their careers independently, while adhering to a loose earning sharing formula. It is a template which is expected to be followed in other sports. But it is in tennis that the change is interesting. At the high noon of the Soviet-led communist bloc, sportspersons from East Europe and Central Asia dominated the Olympics medal tables. But they could never quite replicate that dominance on the tennis circuit. In fact, it was after the break-up of the Soviet Union that the great influx of players from Russia and East Europe began to define the Grand Slams. The Chinese authorities for long frowned upon individualism, as some of their top divers found out, but they have relaxed in the past few years. Basketballers like Yao Ming enjoy immense freedom — and while an iconic athlete Liu Xiang is served like a national asset, his flamboyance is indulgently tolerated. And now, as Li's press conferences show, China's tennis players are keeping folks interested with an uninhibited glamour.


Could it then be that sportspersons in China are the flag-bearers of a new individualism?








Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Clarke's third law acquires a whole new force when it comes to Apple Inc. No matter how mundane its improvements, the company exerts a special, disturbing kind of sorcery.



On Wednesday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs ended eight years of speculation and finally showed us the iPad — a seductive slab that promises to upend all our computing expectations. Seen his way, the iPad is a just-right Goldilocks device. It's handier than a laptop, better than a phone, much more than an e-reader, and cheaper than anyone expected. Unlike netbooks, which are lesser laptops, the iPad promises to be a new and constant multimedia companion. It could teach us all how to read anew, game differently, and it could reduce Kindle to ashes.


It could stop the newspaper industry from keeling over and dying. It is a solid advance in Apple's touchy-feely interface revolution.


Or not. As David Pogue put it, the iPad is thus far "a vessel, a tool, a 1.5-pound sack of potential." Whether it supplants existing devices or goes the way of all tablets so far (an awkward third device you don't want to tote around), one thing's obvious. Steve Jobs has done his best convincing us that there is an iPad-shaped hole in our lives.


How does this unique Apple thraldom work? Much as I disapprove of the company's control-freakish ways, I must confess an irrational, techno-bimbo addiction for all things Apple. From the first moment I touched a Powerbook with wary, wondering fingers, I was sold on this silver thing of beauty. The keyboard was moulded to my touch, the dock jumped with eagerness to serve. Like many other Mac users, it was not the engineering chops that mattered; and in fact I use the tiniest fraction of its offerings. And I'm pretty sure that many, many of those who stayed up Wednesday night to slaver over the iPad as it was unveiled, were exactly like me. Not geeky, just superficial.


Why is Apple-love so much more than the sum of its parts? You could call it aura, craving, the feeling that you can't completely possess the Apple thing, no matter how many Apple things you have. Every Macworld, Apple's annual trade show, triggers the same cycle of anticipation, rumour, discussion and, more often than not, anticlimax. Wired cites HBS professor David Yoffie's claim that the iPhone launch, for instance, resulted in headlines worth $400 million in advertising.


Let's face it, the stuff is not even all that pretty. Design-wise, should not Apple-fatigue have set in by now? The same palette, the same brushed-metal and egg-shell surfaces, the now ubiquitous touch-screen. They are not exactly beautiful, bespoke offerings. But that does not deter the growing tribes of Apple addicts, the maddened chatter on Macforums, the consensus that owning a Mac is somehow hip and special (even in professions where everyone uses a Mac, there is some obscure pride attached to this fact.) It's hard to convince Apple users to switch, no matter how much more functional other laptops or phones are, how useful, say, an End key could be, how you are losing out on all the software accoutrements and network benefits that a PC person takes for granted. In India, this attachment is ever more inexplicable, with the spotty service, the expense, and Apple's obvious indifference towards the market. And yet, we carry on resentfully, unable to end this unequal relationship.

Although, over the years that it moved from genius computing to consumer appliances, Apple's had its share of disappointments and damp squibs. Some, like the personal digital assistant Newton went nowhere, but begat the Palm PDA. Some recent stuff like the iPod Touch and the Macbook Air made splashy entries, but failed to grab the imagination. And remember Apple TV? On the other hand, the iPod and the iPhone have been prescient, spectacular successes. If creativity is pure novelty, Apple does not qualify — after all, digital music players existed before, as did music libraries — but if it is refining and recombining innovations into a single, defining product, then Apple's got that covered. The iPod is the perfect example of a device that locks you into a tight, suffocating clinch with Apple — hardware, software and Web services work together, leaving you little option outside their appliances. Jonathan Zittrain, tech and law scholar, has crusaded against Apple's sterile products, which are pre-programmed and controlled by their designers to a frightening extent. Unlike previous "generative" technologies that let users mould them to their own ends, those possibilities have been completely inscribed into the tools themselves. And the iPad, if it manages to live up to the mad glint in Steve Jobs' eye, holds out even greater possibilities of lockdown — what will Apple's bookstore look like? Will it end up playing the same gatekeeper role between publishers and readers that it currently does for music, with iTunes?


But then again, there's no denying that Apple simply bends the market to its will, creating products you did not know you wanted, but simply cannot live without. Fetishising and myth-making aside, there's no way it could sustain that kind of loyalty if it did not create objects of unprecedented utility. And the iPad might well be all it's cracked up to be — if the list of its partners in the publishing and entertainment world is any indication, it might be impossible to ignore it. And this is only the beginning of a new kind of device — expect all kinds of tweaks and iterations, just like the iPod went through. Like it or not, there's no escaping Apple's enchantment for now.








Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa convincingly defeated his main rival, former army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, by 58 per cent (6.0m votes) to 40 per cent votes (4.2m) — a margin of 18 points — in the island's presidential election held last Tuesday. The turnout was high: of the 14m registered voters 74 per cent turned out to vote. But the large margin of victory was a surprise to many.


The Sinhalese account for 75 per cent of the electorate, Sri Lankan Tamils of the north and east for 12 per cent, "plantation" Tamils 6 per cent and Muslims 7 per cent.


Rajapaksa campaigned mainly on the war victory against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in 2009 and on a promise to develop the economy. Fonseka tried to blunt Rajapaksa's attempt to claim credit for the war victory by pointing out that he was the commander who led the forces to victory. He also criticised the Rajapaksa administration for corruption and high cost of living.


Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was a coalition of parties dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that he headed. In contrast, General Fonseka was a political novice invited to contest the election by an improbable coalition that formed last November. He had the backing of, among others, the right-of-centre United National Party (UNP), the Marxist-Nationalist People's Liberation Front or JVP, the Tamil National Alliance or TNA — which many regarded as a surrogate for the LTTE — and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. The plantation Tamil political leadership was also mostly with this coalition. And just before polling day, former president Chandrika Kumaratunga urged her supporters to vote for Fonseka.


The results of this election show a nation deeply divided by both ethnicity and social class. Rajapaksa's victory was thanks to overwhelming support from rural Sinhalese-Buddhist voters, who voted 65 per cent to 35 per cent in his favour. Outside the north and east he won 16 of the 17 electoral districts.


Fonseka won the five electoral districts in the north and east where Tamils and Muslims are in a majority, and Nuwara Eliya — the only district outside the north/ east that has a majority of Tamils.


In Rajapaksa's 58 per cent share of the total vote only around 5 percentage points (equal to about one quarter of the total minority vote) came from the minorities. In Fonseka's vote share of 40 per cent it is likely that around 15 percentage points were minority votes.


The question is: what now? By April this year, parliamentary elections will have to be held. The president would like to have a two-thirds majority in parliament so that he has a free hand to amend the constitution. However, that will be very hard to achieve unless the opposition in the south collapses.


The main opposition party, the UNP, demoralised and in disarray until a few weeks before the election, gained a new vitality during the campaign. Whether this could be translated into votes in the next parliamentary elections given how the presidential election turned out eventually, remains to be seen.


The JVP's political future, however, appears clearly to be at risk. It has a national vote base of around 250,000 to 300,000 which on its own won't secure, at most, more than two or three seats in parliament. The recent UNP-JVP alliance was a marriage of convenience. UNP has little to gain electorally from a coalition with the JVP and the two have unbridgeable ideological differences to have a lasting coalition. It is likely that a few JVP parliamentarians may defect to the Rajapaksa camp for survival. The TNA, meanwhile, is likely to contest on its own in the north and east to revive Tamil politics that has been moribund in the last two decades.


Rajapaksa himself, whatever the parliamentary outcome, has promised to concentrate on the economy and improve governance in his second term. A "peace dividend", in the form of reduced military spending, will help him achieve this goal. But he will also need international help. Sri Lanka is at real risk of losing the GSP+ duty concession from the European Union unless the government agrees to governance reforms as per EU demands.


The US and India have both been uneasy about the perceived reliance of the Rajapaksa administration on China. Last December China signed an agreement to lend $410m for infrastructure development. Not to be outdone, India agreed to provide a loan of $425m to rebuild the railway in the north. China is also constructing a deep water harbour in Hambantota in the south, which India and the US are eying with concern. The US Senate recently recommended to the Obama administration a "more broad and robust approach" to Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa's challenge is to achieve a fine balance between these competing interests to get the best possible deal for his country.


The writer is executive chairman of Global Vision in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and teaches Economics at Tulane University in the US






A US 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.


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 Bernanke.


Critics frequently point out that 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, 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 US economy was nearly in free fall during the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, dropping by 5.4 per cent and 6.4 per cent in real terms, respectively.


Then the moves by the Fed and the Obama administration took hold: GDP 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 GDP growth, which analysts expect to top 5 per cent. 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.


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. 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. Reagan's choice, Alan Greenspan, replaced Volcker and was retained by the next three administrations.


Obama now proposes to keep in office a Republican chosen by George W. Bush. None of these 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, Volcker was the greatest Fed chairman ever. There may be a lesson there.


The writer, a professor of economics at Princeton, was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1994 to 1996.

The New York Times







In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court chastised the courts for ignoring the plight of the common man, bemoaning the influence and effect of globalisation and liberalisation on citizens. The judgement notes that a view has gained currency that courts are no longer "sympathetic" to the plight of workers and notes a discernible "shift" in the attitude of the court. Has there actually been such a "shift"?


In the context of labour law, the scope of its applicability, its breadth and its beneficial aspects were first expounded in the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board case. At issue was the scope of the word "industry" and consequently the benefits that would follow. Justice Krishna Iyer's view is still the law of the land. Justice Iyer pointed out to the provisions of Directive Principles in the Constitution, which enjoined the state to provide for means of livelihood and related benefits. The caution held out by the Supreme Court in the recent case was abundantly made clear in the case of Bangalore Water


Supply case 32 years ago . But this was not a one-off case, restricted to the definition of "industries" or merely the view of a single judge. In the case of Hussainbhai v. Alath Factory, the scope of the expressions "employer" and "employee" were examined and the Court speaking through Justice Iyer held that the Court could not ignore the duties cast on employers in terms of the provisions in the Directive Principles.


With the evolution of fundamental rights, the rights of workers came to be recognised and protected not merely under the relevant statutes (Industrial Disputes Act, Minimum Wages Act etc.), but also in collateral proceedings — winding up of companies. The rights of workers to participate in winding up proceedings and in revival measures has been recognised and repeatedly upheld. Parliament has also not been completely oblivious to the rights of workers under such peculiar circumstances. In an effort to protect their rights, section 529A of the Companies Act was added, giving an overriding title to workmen's dues. The Law Commission of India went a step further and in its report of April 2009 noted that much needed to be done on the subject of welfare legislations, and their "tardy implementation" made the nation "lag behind" — the onus was manifestly on the legislature and the executive.


Indeed, if this is the law, what precipitated those observations from the Bench? Perhaps the reasons may lie elsewhere, in the context of economic measures taken by the government. In these cases — disinvestment, land acquisition, auctions and tenders etc. — courts have cautiously refrained from interfering with the "prerogative" of the state. The reason is simple, as reiterated by a long line of precedents, that, " ...the legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people" and consequently, "the presumption of constitutionality is indeed strong."


Undoubtedly, courts have been more inclined to interfere when there has been a manifest violation of fundamental rights — clean air, water, land, education etc. The pros and cons of economic measures involve too many imponderables in which the legislature and the executive are better placed with greater resources to make an informed opinion. In this context, the Supreme Court rightly held in BALCO Employees v. Union of India that, "Wisdom and advisability of economic policies are ordinarily not amenable to judicial review unless it can be demonstrated that the policy is contrary to any stuttered provision or the Constitution."


Have courts and judges therefore abandoned or forgotten their obligation under the Constitution? Have the rights guaranteed under the Constitution been forsaken for illusory benefits of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation? The view expressed by the Bench seems cynical. After, all, the petitioner in that very case, was reinstated — on the basis of the existing law of the land.


The writer practices law in the Supreme Court of India








The Centre has been strongly criticised for its failure to check rising prices. In an editorial Rashtriya Sahara (January 23) writes: "The biggest problem with regard to rising prices has been the statements of Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar himself, who keeps on giving statements about possibility of rise in prices of a certain commodity, and this possibility is immediately converted into a reality by black marketeers, hoarders and traders who rob the common people... What is the objective of the statements of Pawar, who proves hollow all claims of the government about checking prices and who himself is, consciously or unconsciously, becoming a cause for increasing the hardships of the people.."


Jamaat-e-Islami's Dawaat (January 22) is equally critical: "Couldn't the government have thought earlier of the steps it is contemplating now to control rising prices? Why was there a wait for the situation going out of control? Was it to benefit the corporate sector?" Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Dehradun-based daily Sahafat on January 15 writes: "In fact all these hardships are the product of the chosen road to capitalism. The road to capitalism in our country was prepared with the implementation of the policy of economic globalisation. The greatest supporter of economic globalisation, Bill Clinton, used to say that capitalism and democracy were also developing along with economic globalisation. According to him, the two things are two sides of the same historical coin. But his loud proclamations are wrong".


Noted Islamic scholar and commentator, Maulana Nadeem-ul-Wajedi, in his column in Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express (January 18) talks of the Islamic view of hoarding and profiteering as different from doing honest business for profit. He cites a few Hadeeses (traditions and sayings of the prophet Mohammad) that quote the prophet: "Any person who keeps foodgrains away from Muslims and sells at high prices is cursed to become poor and inflicted by a dreadful disease (jazaam, or leprosy)... Hoarding is done only by sinners... Those who bring commodities from other cities are blessed, whereas a hoarder deserves to be cursed."



The bosses of IPL have been blamed by many newspapers for any Pakistani cricketer not being picked up by the franchisees of IPL-3. Hyderabad's leading daily, Siasat, in its editorial on January 23, writes: "Cricket and other games were a source of maintaining relations between the two countries. But the authorities of IPL have, demonstrating their narrow-mindedness, made the country a victim of unforeseen conditions. It is true that the IPL teams have the right to take the services of players of their choice. But the Pakistani cricketers do not lack in the standards on the basis of which cricketers are chosen. This type of politics in the field of sports and games can be described as extremely improper and there can be a fall in sympathy for India found in the entire world. The IPL authorities should have adopted a responsible attitude and kept in view the interests of the country."


Rashtriya Sahara, in its editorial entitled, "Politics on Sports" (January 22) writes: "The most negative aspect of this matter is that firstly names of Pakistani cricketers were included in the list for auction, but no buyer came up at the time of the auction. Who is responsible for this situation? Those owners of teams who were bidding for players? Obviously, if such an action was taken by them, there must be some reason for this." The paper adds: "The attitude of leadership and political parties in both the countries with regard to sports can not be described as responsible."


Daily Jadeed Khabar, in an editorial (January 25), queries, "does Pakistan want to damage its relations with India making cricket as its basis?", and says, "the beginning of the process of damaging relations with India has always been made by Pakistan."


Glowing tributes have been paid by most Urdu papers to the CPI (M) leader Jyoti Basu who passed away recently. Headlines like 'Ek roshan charagh tha, na raha!'(a bright lamp is no more!); 'Aisa kahaan sey laaein?' (where to find someone like him); 'Ishterakiyat ke Soorma ka inteqaal' (death of brave-heart of Communism); 'Sitaara doob gaya' (the star has set); 'Mulk ke sab sey qad aawar siyasatdaan ka inteqaal' (death of country's tallest politician), have been used. Apart from issues like his great success with coalition governments and achievements in land reforms, he has been especially praised for his sense of sacrifice in bowing before the party discipline and declining the offer of the country's PM-ship even though, in retrospect, he considered it a "Himalayan blunder". Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj, on January 23 writes: "Jyoti Basu had dedicated himself to his country and its people in his life. By donating his eyes and his body for research after his death too, he has set an example of a sense of service and sacrifice that will not be forgotten..."








When Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz's commented that war is a tool for achieving political aims, or "merely the continuation of policy by other means", he was not trying to define war. By placing state violence in a political context he was, actually, attempting to rationalise an otherwise irrational act. This throws up the question: to effectively plan and conduct war, must a senior military leader also have expertise in politics?


A predictable reaction would be one of horror, since we in India pride ourselves on a strong democratic tradition underpinned by our apolitical armed forces. But this issue has assumed salience in the light of intense and unfair media criticism directed, in recent times, at our military leadership for allegedly speaking out of turn. The military will happily face enemy fire, but is, unfortunately, rendered "hors de combat" before the Parliament, media and the public because of government and self-imposed restraint. But should the political leadership or security establishment not come to its rescue in such morale-sapping situations?


If the armed forces are to remain apolitical (and they must), the government has to provide them a layer of insulation, not just from the rough and tumble of politics, but also from the barbs of  some sections of an ill-informed media. The best way to achieve this would be to do what the other democracies in the world have practiced for decades: subsume the armed forces headquarters within the central bastion of the government  by making them an integral part of the Ministry of Defence. This is a huge breach in our national security edifice that the new NSA must redress at the earliest.


Reverting to the Clausewitizian tenet mentioned earlier, one assumes that it would be eagerly embraced, both, by Indian statesmen as well as our national security managers, because it clearly upholds and reinforces the principle of civil control over the armed forces.  And yet our politicians have historically baulked at issuing  guidance and directions to the country's military leadership for any operation since Independence.


The absence of a strategic culture in India has been under discussion for over a decade now, since the American analyst Tanham published a monograph on the subject. An emergent line of thinking attempts to make a virtue of this critical inadequacy in our culture, society and political leadership. This thought-process seeks to deride grand strategy or the quest for a coherent long-term vision per se on the grounds that unpredictable threats, changing priorities or compulsions of India's capricious politics would disrupt it, at some stage.


The diagnosis of strategic myopia at the top is substantiated by an account, which says that when the government ordered the unprecedented mobilisation of India's million strong army, post the Parliament attack, the army chief asked for specific directions. He was allegedly told at the highest quarters: "baad mein batayen ge" ("you will be told later"). A year later the forces were de-mobilised, with the nation no better off,  and the chief no wiser! This seemed to consecrate Narasimha Rao's priceless comment that "not taking a decision is also a decision."


Our bureaucracy and diplomats are fond of blaming the Indian politician's limited horizon for their failure to evolve a long-term vision in any area. While the democratic process in our country does demand that a politician devotes sufficient time to micro-issues relating to party, Parliament and constituency, it is for this reason that huge bureaucracies exist to deal with issues such as intelligence, foreign affairs and security.


The post of NSA was created in 1999 to coordinate these inputs and to continuously brief the prime minister, while offering him policy options all along. However, such policy options would emerge only from an ongoing process of strategic analysis, net assessments, and contingency planning, which is underpinned by a long-term strategic vision of India's future. While the NSA lacks a planning staff, the organisations which specialise exclusively in such activities — the army, naval, air and integrated staffs  — are rarely tasked with them, because of the politico-bureaucratic apartheid imposed on the armed forces.


Indians, as they look back at crucial junctures in recent history — Kashmir 1947, NEFA 1962, Tashkent 1966, Shimla 1972 and Pokhran 1974 — are now beginning to experience a nagging sense of disquiet about why and how we blundered at the grand-strategic level.  The modus operandi of our adversaries provides further cause for unease.


The Chinese leadership is now within sight of two objectives which they obviously set for themselves at the end of the Civil War in 1949; firstly, to establish military and economic dominance in Asia, brooking no rivals; and secondly, acquiring nuclear weapons capability at the earliest. Having achieved both, the Chinese strategists have turned their gaze seawards.


Gwadar deep sea port in Pakistan and the Hambantota container terminal in south east Sri Lanka are just the early manifestations of an India-specific Chinese grand-strategy which encompasses the creation of a set of footholds in the Indian Ocean region to facilitate its implementation. If the planning and gestation period of these projects is 8-10 years, one can imagine how long ago this strategy was conceptualised.


In the case of Pakistan, its strategic brains-trust is the directorate-general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While this agency may evoke fear and revulsion in India, one has to acknowledge the vision and planning skills which have enabled it to produce an unending series of Machiavellian plots and plans to subvert, destabilise and balkanise India.


An operation of the kind launched by the ISI on 26/11 in Mumbai would have required planning, reconnaissance, intelligence-gathering, training and rehearsals over a period of 18 months to 2 years. We need to remember that this attack was only a sub-plot in the much larger grand-strategy of inflicting "a thousand cuts" on India which has been underway for the past decade, and must have been evolved by the ISI 20-25 years ago.


With adversaries like these, the new NSA must use all the cards dealt to him. Continued exclusion of the huge intellectual and planning resources of the armed forces out of the national security decision-making process would be akin to voluntarily donning a pair of blinkers — and refusing to take them off.


The writer, a retired admiral, was chief of Naval staff








It did not take Mukesh Ambani more than two sentences to pinpoint the key hurdles that continue to obstruct growth and development in India. Speaking at the launch of the NK Singh authored and Express Group-Penguin co-published, Not By Reason Alone: The Politics of Change in India, in London on Tuesday, Ambani first said what politicians of all hues in Maharashtra hesitate to say: that Mumbai belongs to all Indians. And then, with direct reference to the recent controversy over cab drivers in Mumbai, he pointed to the fact that while big industry had been liberated from licence raj, taxi drivers were still stuck in it. The comments are of much significance even when taken out of the particular Mumbai-Maharashtra-taxi driver context. And they go right to the heart of the kind of political economy reform—tougher than straightforward economic reform—we need in India if we are to achieve double-digit growth in the near future.


One of India's greatest strengths is the size of its market. But in order to actually reap the benefits of a large market, we have to ensure that it is a genuine single market with no obstructions to the movement of goods, services and people across the borders of different states. Here the problem is not so much of a minority of chauvinistic politicians who want to keep non-Maharashtrians out of Mumbai, but bickering states that continue to resist the implementation of a uniform structure of indirect tax across the country. The GST has no intellectual opponents of significance, just problems of political will and cynical political one-upmanship, particularly at the level of the state governments. Someone from the Centre needs to rise above it and persuade the broader political economy that it is in everyone's interest that India becomes a single market, sooner rather than later. By maintaining differential taxation across states, we end up damaging our economic prospects from within. On the second point, it is a matter of concern that the UPA in its second avatar has decided to go slow on reform. Big industry may indeed be free from controls, but individuals and smaller entrepreneurs are not. Cab drivers aside, look at the way access to finance is distorted by stringent regulation. Big firms can easily borrow from banks or from the market or overseas, but smaller borrowers who don't have access to stock market finance or overseas borrowing aren't given good deals by banks. RBI, through its own licence raj, simply doesn't allow the kind of competition necessary for banks to begin lending more to entrepreneurs of the future. That needs to change.






Two of America's biggest showmen went head to head on Wednesday, in a bid to grab the most eyeballs and interest. In the long scheme of things, the President may have had the easier job. Barack Obama was trying to convince his countrymen that he was serious about creating more jobs for them, about reforming healthcare and the financial system, and about balancing the budget. His primary audience is going to judge Obama's delivery in the short term. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was promising the entire world a "truly magical and revolutionary product," something fanboys had nicknamed the Jesus Tablet in advance of its release. Obama rode in on the wings of change only to get albatrossed in problems that he patently hasn't been able to resolve in a year, even if under his captaincy the 'worst of the storm has passed' the US. But Jobs has a history of delivering on his promises. He rode Apple through the home computer revolution of the eighties, and then went on to transform the music industry with the iPod and mobile computing with the iPhone. There were duds along the way, such as the Newton and Apple TV. But they didn't keep the company from becoming a byword in innovation. Time after time, it offered a novelty of design and defied user-expectations—offering real life competition to the fictional worlds of Arthur C Clarke and Hollywood science fiction. When the US economy started shrinking, Americans started losing their jobs and global credit markets went into a deep freeze, this innovative aura kept Apple in good spirits. It has just ratcheted up its most profitable quarter ever.


So, will the iPad change life as we know it? Will it transform the future of publishing, from print to video? Will it stir up the video game business into a completely new shape? Record companies crib about the profits that come in through iTunes, but Apple did provide them a way to make profit online. The likes of Penguin and Simon & Schuster were happy to be on stage (figuratively) with the iPad because they hope, like the newspapers, that it will give them a better deal than Kindle and the like. Consumers hoping to merge their laptops and smartphones into a single entity can take hope from the fact that Apple has defied most predictions by pricing the iPad at around the price that was originally demanded for the iPhone. If enough consumers are seduced by the iPad's unique interfaces, then businesses will follow suit. But your guess about whether or not this device will waltz to popular success is as good as ours.







The World Bank has just released Global Economic Prospects (GEP) 2010. Indian real GDP growth is expected to be 7.6% in 2010 (calendar year) and 8% in 2011. (A different table says 7.5% for the fiscal 2010.) Barring China, these numbers are higher than most developing countries. There is one sentence in the GEP that is bound to be quoted. "Growth in the East Asia and Pacific region (particularly in China) as well as in South Asia (particularly India) has been resilient, buoyed by a massive fiscal stimulus package in China and by India's skilful macroeconomic management." Most people won't dispute the numbers.


While question marks can be raised about what contributed to 7.9% in Q2 of 2009-10, we had 7.3% in the first six months of the current fiscal so 7.5% in full year is eminently feasible. Indeed, 2009-10 may show growth closer to 8% and 2010-11 closer to 8.5%. But what does the bank mean by India's "skilful macroeconomic management"? Is it a reference to monetary stimulus and the speed with which it was introduced? Elsewhere in the document, there is the statement, "Substantial fiscal stimulus measures were introduced in India (including pre-election spending)" and yet another statement, "Countries that entered the crisis with stronger fundamentals, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India, weathered the crisis better."


One can't say these statements are lucid. If stronger fundamentals mean stronger base-line growth, the statement is true. But if one means stronger fiscal fundamentals, the statement is hardly true. GEP also has some poverty projections. Consider the $1.25 a day poverty line first. Using this, the poverty ratio is estimated at 41.6% in 2005, 23.6% in 2015 and 20.3% in 2020. Absolute numbers are 456 million in 2005, 295 million in 2015 and 268 million in 2020. With a $2.00 a day poverty line, poverty ratio is estimated at 75.6% in 2005, 58.3% in 2015 and 51.9% in 2020. Absolute numbers then are 828 million in 2005, 728 million in 2015 and 686 million in 2020. There are two reasons why drops may actually be faster. First, income (or expenditure) distributions are log normal, they aren't symmetric. Consequently, when the thick part of the distribution passes above poverty lines, sharp drops are possible. However, bank projections incorporate this distribution angle. All such projections are based on growth. But if PPP dollar is the numéraire, PPP exchange rates are pertinent and with India's growth, rupee appreciation is inevitable. Poverty projections don't factor this in.


IMF's World Economic Outlook (WEO) update is also recent and projects Indian growth of 7.7% in 2010 and 7.8% in 2011. This isn't remarkably different from the World Bank's. What's interesting in the assorted projections is that since the 7.9% number of Q2 came in, most projections have been revised upwards by around 1.5%. This is also true of internal projections within India. No one expected 7.9%.


Therefore, in its last report dated October 2009, the PM's Economic Advisory Council projected 6.5% in 2009-10, with a range between 6.25% and 6.75%. Consensus for 2009-10 is around 7.5% now, well above upper limit projected by PM's Council. However, consensus is still elusive beyond 2009-10. For instance, for 2010-11 and 2011-12, external forecasts rarely exceed 8%. But Montek Singh Ahluwalia has spoken of 7.3% in 2009-10, 8% in 2010-11 and 9% in 2011-12. The CEA has spoken of growth between 7.5% and 7.8% in 2009-10, 9% from the last two quarters of 2010-11 and India overtaking Chinese growth in 4 years. At the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the PM was more guarded, speaking of 9-10% in a couple of years. Let's leave aside overtaking China. That's not going to happen in a hurry.


Beyond 2009-10, there is dissonance between the conservative 8% and the government's 9%. There are two reasons for this. First, global markets and exports still don't show recovery and 9% is contingent on that. (8.2% month-on-month dollar growth in November 2009 is on a low base and April-November is still negative.) Second, there will be an exit from stimulus measures, with some negative impact on growth.


Substantial fiscal exit won't likely happen in February 2010 and may have to wait for the 2011-12 budget. However, with the inflation spectre, some monetary tightening is inevitable. RBI's quarterly policy review is due today. At the moment, all that may happen is a 0.5% (or thereabouts) hike in CRR. This won't affect growth. But food price inflation won't go away; endemic reasons remain, reinforced by some manufacturing inflation. That monetary tightening won't help fight food price inflation is neither here nor there. Irrespective of that argument, policy rates are certain to be hiked a few months down the line. Thus, with a 1 or 1.5% hike in interest rates, it is safer to bet on a trend of 8% rather than 9%.


The author is a noted economist








The day of reckoning for RBI is here and it needs to sort out a lot of riddles and carefully calibrate the options before arriving at a decision on monetary policy tightening, even as the market participants strongly argue for a 50 bps increase in the CRR, which is likely to withdraw around Rs 22,000 crore of liquidity from the system, to arrest inflationary expectations. However, there is a small camp that includes deputy chairman of Planning Commission, Montek Ahluwalia, which feels that 'excess liquidity' is not fuelling food inflation and that pass-through of food inflation into the general price level of the economy is likely to be limited. As a result, a hasty policy decision at this juncture could prove to be detrimental, particularly as the recovery is still not broad-based, and a 'wrong' policy step could risk derailing the recovery process. Even as headline WPI inflation had been on the climb, it's not associated with any sharp rise in the money supply or currency in circulation.


I agree with the view that it could be a risky proposition for RBI to withdraw liquidity from the system immediately and to tighten monetary policy just by looking at inflation dynamics. True, inflation has firmed up recently and is possibly headed to a 9% zone by end-March 2010, much higher than RBI's October 2009 predictions of 6.5%. But we must realise that a bad monsoon at home coupled with crop failures globally have led to inflationary push. For wheat, Y-o-Y growth in prices till December 2009 was 12.04%, while in the same period last year it was 4.83%. Similarly, for pulses it was 41.58% (12.59% last year); for vegetables it was 39.22% (7.65% last year), while for potato it was 123.85% (-24.75% last year).


Government policies may have also fuelled the inflation on the primary side by buffering the loss of income from lower agricultural output through income generated by the NREGA programme. This has kept domestic demand for food products on the higher side even as supply side crumbled. Indeed, trends starting from 2007 have indicated that states where there was higher expenditure on NREGA have seen the largest increases in the CPI. The problem of higher food prices is also compounded by higher MSP prices fixed by the government, which though have helped to compensate farmers for their income loss due to a lower agricultural produce.


Prices of industrial inputs such as metals have indeed moved higher. However, my sense is that the pressures from this side might not sustain for long, as China has already moved in to cool the economy and this could lead to some cooling off of the prices of industrial inputs. Further, with expected removal of liquidity from major economies the speculative price action in these commodities could be lower.


It does make me a bit nervous to talk of withdrawing liquidity immediately via a CRR increase, with global risks and uncertainties still prevailing in big doses and especially when the surplus LAF liquidity has come down sharply to an average of around Rs 80,000 crore from the previous average of around Rs 1,20,000 crore. I would estimate that around Rs 10,000 crore of this LAF could be spurious liquidity and is due to the arbitrage window between the LAF rate of 3.25% and the CBLO rate of 2.75% to 3%. Further, around Rs 15,000 crore of LAF amount represents fluctuations in maintaining CRR products by banks, i.e., the LAF amount goes up when banks maintain daily CRR below 100% of NDTL. This, too, is transient liquidity and hence a cushion is needed always to meet this fluctuation.


More importantly, it could still be early days to call an end to financial market uncertainties. The recently published Financial Stability Report of the ECB points to "further deterioration in commercial property market conditions" as a reason for the Eurozone banks to write down an additional euro 187 billion. Surge in government indebtedness and the continued reliance of the EU banks on emergency funding are highlighted as risks to financial stability of the region. Worse, there are rumblings over Greece's indebtedness and we do not know immediately the repercussion it might have on global financial markets if any risk were to precipitate from this source. Given the uncertainties of time, RBI might find it relevant to stay prepared for eventualities of capital outflows, say to a moderate extent of $3-5 billion.


After accounting for all the above, the available liquidity in the system could be just right at Rs 30,000-40,000 crore. If a CRR increase of 50 bps is employed on this, this would lead to a sucking out of another Rs 22,000 crore of liquidity and there might not be an adequate amount left on the table to account for an expected credit growth in the remaining part of the fiscal and also advance tax outflows of March. Especially with the advance tax outflows, there could be a serious risk for the overnight rate to be at the upper end of the interest rate corridor, something that in my opinion could be detrimental for the economy and should be avoided by RBI under the still uncertain environment.


The author is chief economist, Kotak Mahindra Bank. These are his personal views







Foreign institutional investors (FIIs), who started the year 2010 with a buying spree in the Indian equity market, have now done a volte-face. While at a net level they remain buyers to the tune of $0.78 billion, the overall selling has been pegged at around $1.1 billion. Such selling was last witnessed in the month of January 2009, the period of crisis, when over $1.3 billion was pulled out.


So, just when all looked gung-ho for Indian equity markets, several concerns seemed to have popped up. From a global perspective, concerns over China's move to curb lending coupled with the proposal of the US government to restrict bank's proprietary trading operations and investment in hedge funds and private equity, have impacted the movement of equity markets in Asia. The rub-off effect was felt in India as well.


Then there were concerns over the high run-up on the valuations. These valuations had run-up expecting strong results from the Indian corporate sector and the results have been mixed, and certainly not in line with the high expectations that were built up.


Also, with inflation rising to uncomfortable levels, there is now an expectation that rates would be hiked and, therefore, take a toll on profitability in the coming days. The last eight times the wholesale price index climbed above their long-term average, the Sensex posted average losses of 5.6%, says a study carried out by Bloomberg.


In the year 2009, FIIs were net investors to the tune of over $17.17 billion, which was the highest inflow in a single year. The speed of inflows from FIIs went up sharply after the results of the general elections were announced in mid-May 2009, with investors reassured by a strong coalition government at the Centre that could take forward the reform process.


Not only the FIIs but also domestic insurance firms had been the biggest buyers of Indian equities in 2009, with retail investors not really having invested much in the equity market. Even now, domestic institutional investors have made up for some of the slack created by the exit of FIIs. The slide may otherwise have been sharper.








After overseeing 15 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the Election Commission of India, in its diamond jubilee year, can with justifiable pride claim to have nursed and strengthened the electoral processes of a nascent democracy. The successes have not been consistent or uniform, but over the last six decades the ECI managed to make the world's largest democratic process freer and fairer. One of the instruments of this success is surely the Model Code of Conduct. D esigned to offer a level playing field to all political parties, it has been used to neutralise many of the inherent advantages of a ruling party in an election. Although the model code was originally based on political consensus and does not still enjoy statutory sanction, it served as a handy tool for placing curbs on the abuse of the official machinery for campaigning. While there have been complaints of excess in the sometimes mindless application of the model code, the benefits have generally outweighed the costs. Under overreaching Chief Election Commissioners such as T.N. Seshan (1990-96), the ECI did seek to extend its jurisdiction beyond constitutionally acceptable levels, but such attempts have been short-lived. After the Election Commission was made a three-member body, its functioning became more institutionalised and more transparent with little room for the caprices of an overbearing personality.


The diamond jubilee is also an occasion for the ECI to look at the challenges ahead, especially those relating to criminalisation of politics and use of money power in elections. Neither of these issues is new. What is clear is that the efforts of the Commission to tackle them have generally lacked conviction and have not yielded any significant results. Although the political system and players must take a major share of the blame, and the ECI's powers are constitutionally circumscribed, these will have to be noted as failures. The dominant role of money in elections, which is taking newer and more outrageous forms, is deeply worrying. Instances of politicians paying for news coverage and bribing voters were widespread in the 2009-2010 elections. Another pressing issue relates to the powers of the Chief Election Commissioner vis-À-vis the two Election Commissioners. CEC Navin Chawla has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking that the Constitution be amended to equalise the removal process for the CEC and ECs. Against the background of the unseemly controversy over the previous CEC's attempt to have his colleague removed on baseless and subjective grounds, an amendment that makes it explicit that the ECs too can be removed only through impeachment is an institutional imperative.








With depressing regularity, Indian antiquities are stolen from archaeological sites and traded. The recent Interpol alert on the six most-wanted art objects lists yet another exquisite artefact missing from India. It is clear that existing measures to safeguard antiquities are incapable of doing the job. Illicit removal of cultural objects is a double jeopardy: stolen antiquities are irreplaceable by themselves; secondly, when they are illegally removed from an archaeologi cal site, crucial historical information about the place and time is lost. To argue that inadequate funding alone accounts for this dismal situation is disingenuous; the dated legal regimes and non-performing institutional mechanisms are at least as culpable. They are unimaginatively restrictive; suffer poor enforcement; lack incentives to encourage reporting of finds; and inhibit community participation in caring for artefacts. The Indian Treasure Trove Act, last amended in 1949, is obsolete beyond belief. Any object worth more than Rs.10 and found hidden in the soil is designated as a treasure. A public-spirited person who dutifully reports the find is often made to go through a cumbersome procedure. The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act mandates that antiquities in private possession must be registered and the person trading in them must get a licence. It is honoured mainly in the breach.


Best practices in England and Wales show that it helps to have an amended legal framework that is accommodative and forward-looking. They also demonstrate that the practical way to enhance protection is to involve communities in reporting and protecting artefacts. The Portable Antiquities Scheme, implemented in England and Wales, is one of the biggest success stories of recent times. The scheme encourages local communities to voluntarily report and register the discovery of artefacts with the help of experts. The resulting data base is placed in the public domain. So far it has documented 400,000 archaeological finds, including the remarkable eighth-century Staffordshire Hoard. The functional features of such schemes can be modified to suit Indian conditions but there must be sincere and diligent implementation. Efforts in Italy demonstrate that enhanced and dedicated policing and the aggressive pursuit of stolen antiquities abroad is equally necessary. In 2009, Italian art police recovered about 60,000 pieces of looted antiquities and helped reduce art theft by 14.5 per cent from the previous year. Comparable results can be achieved in India if protective measures are professionalised and creative partnerships developed with local communities.









President Mahinda Rajapaksa has scored a stunning victory in Sri Lanka's presidential election. While the winning margin of 17.73 per cent is remarkable, the opposition candidate, retired Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, has asked for an annulment of the election, alleging intimidatory violence, misuse of the government machinery, especially the state-owned media, and 'vote rigging.' These accusations have been strongly denied by government circles. Had the result been close, these allegations may have been treated more seriously, but the huge majority garnered by President Rajapaksa has deprived them of potency.


Elected executive President on November 17, 2005, Mr. Rajapaksa had two more years to complete his first six-year term. The decision to cut short the first term and advance the next presidential contest by two years — which the Sri Lankan Constitution allows — was a shrewd political move. The idea was to cash in on the popularity gained from the total military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009.


Bringing forward the election seemed a very bright idea until the emergence of the Fonseka factor. The former Army chief, who was widely regarded as a brilliant commander, began nursing ambitions of becoming President on the strength of the military triumph, for which he claimed sole credit.


His entry electrified the 2010 presidential campaign. What was seen as a one-horse race turned into a real contest. With a cross-section of opposition parties ranging from the right-of-centre United National Party (UNP) to the ultra-left Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and minority community parties like the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) backing the general, the race was perceived as being neck-and-neck.


Initially, the electoral battle was all about who deserved the greater share of laurels for the magnificent military victory. With the backing of opposition parties, General Fonseka then repositioned himself as a candidate for 'believable change.' His campaign aimed at exploiting subterranean resentment against the Rajapaksa regime on account of alleged corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power. With unprecedented crowds flocking to see and hear the challenger, his camp was optimistic about edging out the incumbent.


The Rajapaksa campaign countered this by reiterating the need for continuity and stability and spotlighting the incumbent's political experience and accomplishments. The landslide for the President has shocked the pro-Fonseka forces and shattered illusions of an achievable regime change. The election was certainly not perfect. But not even the opposition parties have so far challenged the legitimacy of the outcome or suggested that the several flaws the process suffered from sufficed to negate the people's verdict.


What should not be lost sight of, however, in the euphoric aftermath of Mahinda's magnificent triumph is the mixed nature of the result. Quantitatively, the mandate seems overwhelming but qualitatively it appears fractured. The ethnic divide in the voting is impossible to overlook. Both candidates received support from the three main ethnic groups — the Sinhalese, the Tamils, and the Muslims. But there was ethnic polarisation, with the Sinhala majority preponderantly voting for the incumbent and the Tamils and Muslims for the challenger.


The five electoral districts of Jaffna, Wanni, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Amparai (Digamadulla) in the Northern and Eastern Provinces polled in favour of General Fonseka. Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims comprise more than 95 per cent of the North and 75 per cent of the East. In the hill country, Nuwara-Eliya district, with its large population of Tamils of recent Indian origin, was also taken by the general. In addition, several electoral divisions in the highlands and Colombo with substantial concentrations of Tamils and Muslims recorded majorities for him.


The President's electoral district-wise successes were in the 16 districts with a Sinhala majority. In a sense, it was a replay of 2005 when Mahinda Rajapaksa's victory was enabled by greater support from the Sinhala majority while the minority ethnicities backed opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe. It was estimated that in that close contest, roughly 60 per cent of the Sinhala votes went to Mr. Rajapaksa and the rest to Mr. Wickramasinghe. This time the preliminary assessment is that about 70 per cent of Sinhala votes were cast in favour of Mr. Rajapaksa.


Such a sharp ethnic divide in the pattern of voting does raise anxiety about the country's future. It is imperative that President Rajapaksa address the legitimate aspirations and redress the real grievances of the Tamil and Muslim people. The total military defeat inflicted on the LTTE and the re-capture of territory retained by it does not automatically or even necessarily mean the extinction of ethnic estrangement. A political settlement rather than a military solution would help conquer hearts and minds.


Another facet of the fractured verdict is the urban-rural divide. It will take some time before a detailed analysis is available. But preliminary assessments indicate overwhelming support for President Rajapaksa in Sinhala rural regions while General Fonseka performed better in urban and semi-urban areas. There is little doubt that Mr. Rajapaksa, with his strong rural roots and an aura of rustic simplicity, exercises far greater appeal in the villages.


But there is also the class dimension. A hallmark of the upper and upper-middle classes, as opposed to those drawn from the less privileged strata, is the usage of the English language. Although a comprehensive demarcation cannot be made on these lines, there has been a tendency to categorise class through this linguistic definition. The election campaign revealed a hiatus between the Sinhala- and English-speaking sections of the electorate. It can at least be surmised that the English-speaking classes rooted heavily for the general while the astute politician projected himself successfully as a man of the Sinhala-speaking masses.


Against such a backdrop, some observers feel that the election outcome revealed a difference in support along class lines too. The sharp urban-rural divide adds credence to this belief.


All this demonstrates that the electoral verdict, although conclusive on the whole, has some cracks in parts. As the President of the whole country, Mahinda Rajapaksa must take the initiative and reach out to those sections of the people who have been alienated in terms of ethnicity, class, and the urban-rural divide.


Aside from these issues, the country is afflicted with a deep-seated malaise, the symptom of which was unambiguously revealed by the Sarath Fonseka phenomenon. It is extraordinarily rare for an erstwhile Army chief to challenge his Commander-in-Chief in an electoral contest held in the aftermath of an impressive military victory. It is as improbable as Bernard Montgomery taking on Winston Churchill immediately after the Second World War ended or Sam Maneckshaw contesting against Indira Gandhi in the wake of the Bangladesh triumph. But this extraordinary development, however controversial it may be, cannot and should not be viewed in isolation. Rather it has to be seen as the logical culmination of a long process.


There have been two processes under way in Sri Lanka during the past few decades. On the one hand, there has been a politicisation of the military and, on the other, a militarisation of politics and society (albeit to a lesser extent). Both processes have been complementary; they were not mutually exclusive. Although these processes began in the 1950s, the prolonged savage conflict with the LTTE enlarged and hastened them.


Both processes gathered tremendous momentum under the current dispensation because of its all-encompassing, total commitment to the goal of eradicating terrorism by annihilating the Tigers. Despite the military success gained through this single-minded pursuit, an undesirable consequence has been the acceleration and expansion of the process of the military being politicised. This process reached new heights in the shape of ex-Army chief Sarath Fonseka aiming at the presidency.


By throwing his beret in the arena of the contest for the presidency, the general caused tremors in both the political and military establishments. In consequence, the Army was embroiled in politics in a way never seen before. A vivid example of this was the spectacle of troops surrounding the hotel where the general was staying after the presidential poll. Earlier, the country witnessed distasteful scenes of serving military officers participating in election propaganda. In this context, the political defeat of General Fonseka could usher in an end to the process of politicisation of the military. Reversing this process and restoring highly professional, apolitical standards should be taken up as an urgent institutional task.


Several unfinished tasks and imperatives are on the table of the newly re-elected executive President. The great hope is that Mahinda Rajapaksa, the amiable leader with a kurakkan-coloured shawl, will face up to those tasks with political skill, responsibility, and sincerity.








Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist whose books such as A People's History of the United States prompted a generation to rethink the nation's past, died on Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., where he was travelling. He was 87, and lived in the Newton village of Auburndale.


His daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, said he suffered a heart attack.


"He's made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, said on Wednesday night. "He's changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can't think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect."


Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn's writings "simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation."


"He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant," Chomsky said. "Both by his actions and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement."


For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. A People's History of the United States (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers — many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out — but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and the union organisers of the 1930s.


As he wrote in his autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994): "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."


Certainly, it was a recipe for rancour between Dr. Zinn and John Silber, former president of Boston University. Dr. Zinn, a leading critic of Silber, twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers "who poison the well of academe."


Dr. Zinn was a co-chairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against "the BU Five" were soon dropped.


In 1997, Dr. Zinn slipped into popular culture when his writing made a cameo appearance in the film Good Will Hunting. The title character, played by Matt Damon, lauds A People's History and urges Robin Williams's character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbour of the Zinns when growing up.


"Howard had a great mind and was one of the great voices in the American political life," Ben Affleck, Damon's longtime friend and his co-star in Good Will Hunting, said in a statement. "He taught me how valuable, how necessary dissent was to democracy and to America itself. He taught that history was made by the everyman, not the elites. I was lucky enough to know him personally, and I will carry with me what I learned from him — and try to impart it to my own children — in his memory."


Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, The People Speak, which ran on the History Channel in 2009, and he narrated a 2004 biographical documentary, Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train.


"Howard had a genius for the shape of public morality and for articulating the great alternative vision of peace as more than a dream," said James Carroll, a columnist for the Globe's opinion pages whose friendship with Dr. Zinn dates to when Carroll was a Catholic chaplain at BU. "But above all, he had a genius for the practical meaning of love. That is what drew legions of the young to him and what made the wide circle of his friends so constantly amazed and grateful."


Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on August 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and was working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when he met Roslyn Shechter.


"She was working as a secretary," Dr. Zinn said in an interview with the Globe nearly two years ago. "We were both working in the same neighbourhood, but we didn't know each other. A mutual friend asked me to deliver something to her. She opened the door, I saw her, and that was it."


He joined the Army Air Corps, and they courted through the mail before marrying in October 1944 while he was on his first furlough. She died in 2008.


During World War II, he served as a bombardier, was awarded the Air Medal, and attained the rank of second lieutenant. After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University on the GI Bill as a 27-year-old freshman. He worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor's degree from NYU, followed by master's and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.


Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and a lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women's institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had," and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.


During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.


Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.


The focus of his activism became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at many rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese. Dr. Zinn's involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967) and Disobedience and Democracy (1968). He had previously published LaGuardia in Congress (1959), which had won the American Historical Association's Albert J. Beveridge Prize; SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964); The Southern Mystique (1964); and New Deal Thought (1966).


In addition to his daughter, Dr. Zinn leaves a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaughters; and two grandsons. Funeral plans were not available. — © 2010 The New York Times News Service








Should a devoted mother who kills her own son because she can't bear his pain be lauded for her courage or be condemned as a monster? Should she be judged by conventional moral and legal standards or does her action, borne out of her compassion for her son, elevate her to an altogether higher realm where normal rules don't apply?


That's the debate ("A cold-blooded killer or a loving mum" as one newspaper asked) triggered by the story of a British working class mother who killed her 22-year-old son by giving him a lethal heroin to end his "living hell" after an accident left him brain-damaged and in a vegetative state with little hope of recovery.


The story of 57-yearold Frances Inglis, a trainee nurse, and her son, Tom, has dominated headlines in recent weeks. When she was jailed for life last week, it sparked a wave of sympathy for her and revived calls for a review of Britain's current laws which ban assisted suicide or "mercy killing."


The jury was heckled for rejecting her defence that she acted out of love for her son and simply did what he would have liked her to do if he were in a position to speak. The verdict was greeted with cries of "shame, shame" from Ms Inglis's family members and, on the net, bloggers called for the concerned judges to be "sacked."


Family support


While she herself showed no emotions except to insist that she was "not a murderer" and did "not regret" her action, her family — including her estranged husband and Tom's girlfriend — hailed her as the "brave one," and said they supported her "100%."


"All those who loved and were close to Tom have never seen this as murder, but as a loving and courageous act," her oldest son, Alex, said calling for a complete rethink of existing laws that affect people like Tom.


Questioning the life sentence handed down to Ms Inglis, one critic asked: "How is it in the public interest for Frances Inglis, by common agreement a devoted mother, to be punished in this way? She has not been proved evil and she is not a danger to society."


Her friends, describing her as a "pillar of the community" who was always willing to help others, argued that she could not be treated as a common criminal.


"It has been said that she was obsessive and wouldn't listen to anyone. But I defy anyone to see their child like that and not want to do the same. She took his hell," Tom's aunt Jean Bruin told a newspaper.


During her trial, which gripped the nation for weeks, Ms Inglis often came across as a figure from a Greek tragedy torn between her love for her son and the "society's conventions," as the judge, passing the sentence, noted.


"We can all understand the emotion and the unhappiness that you were experiencing. The fact is that you knew that you intended to do a terrible thing. You knew you were breaking society's conventions, you knew you were breaking the law, and you knew the consequences," Judge Brian Barker told her.


The court heard how this frail woman pursued with single-minded determination her resolve to put an end to her son's suffering. After she failed in her first attempt to kill him in September 2007, she was arrested and barred from having any contact with him. But a year later, she struck again and this time succeeded in administering a fatal dose to Tom.


In the court, Ms Inglis sobbed uncontrollably as she recalled her despair at the "horror, pain and tragedy" of her son's helpless condition.


"For Tom to live that living hell — I couldn't leave my child like that," she said denying that what did amounted to murder.


"I don't see it as killing or murder. The definition of murder is to take someone's life with malice in your heart. I did it with love in my heart, for Tom, so I don't see it as murder….I believed it would have been Tom's choice to have been allowed to die rather than have the intervention to keep him alive," she said.


Victim of a system


Many see her as a victim of a system that while outlawing assisted suicide allows for the family of a coma patient to apply to the court to withhold his/her food and water — and if the court permits doctors can starve the patient to death by withdrawing the sustenance. When doctors told her that the only way for her son to be allowed to die legally was for her to go to court, she said she couldn't "bear the thought of Tom dying of thirst or hunger."


It is the latest in a series of cases where parents have secretly helped their terminally-ill relatives, including children, die. Last year, in a widely reported case parents of a young British rugby player Daniel James, paralysed after a training accident, agreed to take him to a suicide clinic in Switzerland to die in order to fulfil his desire.


Indeed, because of Britain's stringent anti-euthanasia regime, it has become routine for terminally-ill Britons to travel abroad to die. While assisted suicide still remains illegal in Britain, under new guidelines relatives of patients who help them kill themselves would not face prosecution so long as they do not "maliciously" encourage them and are simply fulfilling someone's "clear, settled and informed wish" to die.







A U.S. judge has granted political asylum to a German family who said they had fled the country to avoid persecution for home schooling their children. In the first reported case of its kind, Tennessee immigration judge Lawrence Burman ruled the family of seven have a legitimate fear of prosecution for their beliefs. Germany requires parents to enrol their children in school in most cases and has levied fines against those who educate their children at home.


Christians Uwe Romeike, a piano teacher, and his wife, Hannelore, moved to Morristown, Tennessee, in 2008 after German authorities fined them thousands of euros for keeping their children out of school and sent police to escort them to classes, Romeike said. They had been holding classes in their home.


Along with thousands of torture victims, political dissidents, members of religious minorities and other persecuted groups who win political asylum every year, the Romeike family will now be free to live and work in the U.S.


"Home schoolers in Germany are a particular social group, which is one of the protected grounds under the asylum law," said Mike Connelly, attorney for the Home School Legal Defence Association, who argued the case. "This judge looked at the evidence, he heard their testimony, and he felt that the way Germany is treating home schoolers is wrong. The rights being violated here are basic human rights." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010








Sir, With reference to the article 60 years on, our tryst with destiny continues (January 26) by S. Nihal Singh, where he says that socialism, secularism and non-alignment were the three pillars of the Indian state on the proclamation of the Republic. But the meaning of a "free, secular, democratic republic" has not been clearly understood by Indians. Our politicians must be held responsible for misconstruing the meaning of these words. Our politicians don't realise the true meaning of "communal harmony". They contest polls in the name of language, caste and community. Promises made in the name of "democracy" have ceased to deliver the very basic rights to Indians. What we have today is autocracy rather than real freedom because justice and law have been reduced to "mute spectators".

Ashok Jayaram

Via email



Sir, The Supreme Court's decision that burqa-clad women will not be given voter identity cards if they refuse to remove their veil for the photograph challenges the constitutional right to freedom of religion of Muslim women. This amounts to instant disenfranchisement of a citizen without any recourse to any legislated law of the land. For 63 years, Muslims women had been most enthusiastic in lining up to vote. The burqa, naqab or hijab of the Indian Muslim woman has never been a problem. There is a conscious attempt to neutralise the crucial Muslim votebank in as many ways and on as many pretexts as possible by some with vested interest. While at one point Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari has been rooting for compulsory voting to ensure that Hindus too vote en masse and thus neutralise block voting by Muslims, the wording of the judicial judgment in this case has some intended or unintended corollaries that call for a swift review.

Ghulam Muhammed

Via email



Sir, Pakistani cricketers are raising a hue and cry over the trivial issue of their exclusion in the Indian Premier League-3 auction. Whatever may be the reason, the franchisees have done the right thing in excluding players of Pakistan as they were worried about their availability. Also, we must not listen to what players like Javed Miandad have to say. Miandad, who has a stupendous batting record against India, had once remarked that whenever he goes to bat against India, he remembers Pakistani soldiers fighting their Indian counterparts on the border.

B.N. Bharath

Via email



Sir, It is lamentable that hockey, our national game, which brought us Olympic gold medals, has been brought into disrepute. Both the men's and women's hockey teams, have not been given their due, so much so that they had to go with begging bowls to meet their daily expenses. Some state associations have come to their rescue with offers, but this is not adequate. The concerned higher authorities in charge of the game should act without further delay and pay the players their legitimate dues in the interest of the game.

T.V. Ramamurthy

Via email







In 2009, after having done prolonged anti-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden for a year, a retired Chinese Admiral publicly propounded the need for the Chinese Navy to acquire a base near this strategic region so as to overcome numerous logistics-cum-maintenance problems and also allow some rest to its sailors. At present Chinese warships operating over 4,500 nautical miles (nm) from their home bases are deployed for four to six months in the Gulf of Aden, without access to ports. Given the international concern about China seeking bases in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Chinese government distanced itself from the retired admiral's proposal. However, the fact is that the farsighted Chinese already have a suitable base available (Gwadar port they built in Pakistan), and will soon have another one in Sri Lanka (Hambantota port, which they are building), even as media reports hint at another Chinese-built port that is to come up in Burma.


The Chinese, as part of their "string of pearls" policy of having suitable bases in the IOR, not only helped Pakistan to build the Gwadar port, but practically provided all the funding. This strategically-located port on the Balochistan coast, near the Iranian border, some 180 nm from the exit of the strategic Straits of Hormuz, will enable Chinese oil tanker ships to offload crude oil from West Asia at this port. From Gwadar, a proposed rail, road and pipeline will transport oil and other goods to China, thus avoiding the Malacca and Singapore straits which can be closed during wartime or are vulnerable to piracy. This port also provides another option to Pakistan for ensuring oil imports, should Karachi get blocked during wartime.


Work on Phase 1 of Gwadar port commenced in March 2002 and was formally completed in March 2005, though ships had started using it by 2003. The total project cost of this phase was $248 million (of which the Chinese contributed $198 million). The Gwadar port has a 4.5 km approach channel of 11.5m depth, and three multipurpose berths. Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have stated that "in the event of war with India, Pakistan will not hesitate to invite the Chinese Navy to Gwadar".


Phase 2 (adjacent to Phase 1), was completed in January 2006, with nine additional berths and the approach channel was deepened to 14.5 m, thus permitting larger ships of about 50,000 DWT (deadweight tonnes) to enter and leave the port. The port was formally inaugurated in March 2007, and Pakistan Navy was reported to have set up a base at the port. It may be noted that all oil tankers from the Gulf bound for India's Vadinar Oil Terminal in the Gulf of Kutch generally pass about 40 nm south of Gwadar Port and would be vulnerable to interdiction by Pakistani or Chinese units based in Gwadar. Some unconfirmed media reports indicate the possible presence of a Chinese electronic "listening post" at Gwadar.


To fully understand the serious strategic implications for India, we need to note that 70 per cent of India's oil imports come by sea, from the Gulf (with tankers exiting through the Strait of Hormuz). Seventy per cent of our imported oil arrives at ports in the Gulf of Kutch, the Gulf of Cambay and the Mumbai port. Indeed, in 2007, the Gulf of Kutch received 1,100 oil tankers (passing some 40 nm from Gwadar), and this number will grow to 2,100 by 2012 and over 4,000 tanker ships by 2025, when India's oil imports would have quadrupled to 320 million tonnes (China's imports would also rise to over 600 million tonnes and hence the possibility of conflict of interests between these two largest consumers of oil). Similarly, the ships carrying imported oil from the Gulf to Mumbai Port and ports in the Gulf of Cambay, would increase manifold, with some shipping being diverted to other Indian ports.


The global strategic implications are also serious since the Gulf region has 75 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves and 50 per cent of the world's proven gas reserves. About 16 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz daily on tanker ships (worth over $200 billion annually). This amounts to over 90 per cent of the oil exported by the Gulf region and over 40 per cent of the entire world's oil trade. All this oil passes in vicinity of Gwadar port whose facilities can be assumed to be made available to the Chinese Navy in an emergent situation. Notwithstanding the facts, to allay fears of neighbouring countries regarding Chinese intentions in the region, the Pakistani government signed an agreement with Singapore's PSA Corporation in March 2007 to operate Gwadar port under a 40-year agreement. PSA's concession holding company (CHC), a subsidiary that operates 22 ports in 11 countries, will invest $550 million in the next five years in the port.


While India's security and intelligence agencies deserve a pat on the back for ensuring that 2009 and Republic Day 2010 were largely terror free, we cannot be complacent.


The present peace may be the proverbial lull before the storm, given the fact that Pakistan is continuously receiving arms from the Chinese at "friendship prices" and from the Americans as "gifts", with the recent gift of F-16 (Block 52) fighter jets and a dozen UAVs. The Chinese Navy's activities in the IOR need to be monitored as closely as we monitor Pakistani-based terrorist moves. China now imports more oil from West Africa (Nigeria and Angola) than it does from West Asia, and this oil will still need to move by sea through the Malacca and other straits in Southeast Asia (Sunda and Lombok). However, in a crisis situation, China does have the option to move this West African oil to Gwadar port and then pump it to China via the proposed land oil pipeline. So the Indian Navy needs 200 ships and 500 aircraft to deal with all our security problems in the IOR. And since naval power takes a long time to build or import, we need to immediately overcome critical shortages in our inventory, specially the well-publicised case of our dwindling submarine force.


Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








Shivshankar Menon comes to his new assignment as National Security Adviser (NSA) with many proven credentials, but the one advantage that may have slipped past the notice of many is that he is about 15 years younger than his predecessor. This makes him more contemporary with his international peers and they will speak to each other in the same idiom. In some ways this is a generational shift in a country where wisdom is considered directly proportional to age. America's NSA is the personal appointee of the President and does not have to go through the usual route of getting congressional approval for his appointment. This is for good reason because no Chief Executive and no country can afford to have the two of them functioning on different wavelengths. Mr Menon has taken charge at a very crucial time for India as the next decade will determine whether we finally make it to the Big League or will be destined to remain a potential global power — the perennial best man. Many of the geopolitical problems that confront India are well known.


The United States, still by far the strongest military, economic, technological and cultural power, has begun to face the reality of limitations of military power and that the taller the rhetoric, the harder the fall. There is a realisation and sotto voce admission among America's leaders that they can no longer act unilaterally. China, possibly acting under premature hubris, seeks space for itself while the US finds it is unable to have the kind of free run it had earlier. It is this assessment that may have led to Zbigniew Brzezinski's formulation of the Group of Two (China and US) as global arbiters. US President Barack Obama had leant backwards while in Beijing when he accommodated China in South Asia. Taking a cue from this, influential US thinktanks have now suggested that for US policies to succeed in Afghanistan, it is essential to solve the India-Pakistan tangle of Kashmir and for that it is necessary to involve China in a tripartite arrangement.


A significant power shift is likely to take place in Asia in the next few years. Whether or not India can make the triangle of US-Russia-China from Lisbon to Vladivostok into a rectangle that includes India will depend on India as much as the other players. There is a great churning of the oceans that has begun in Asia with the rise of China, the emergence of India and reawakening in Japan. The next few years will see continued struggle and competition for markets and vital resources that will shape military policies of nations and choke points will remain unstable.


The Indian Ocean has been an attraction for most empires in the past and the Czarist thrust for warm waters, or the later Soviet thrust into Afghanistan reflected this. Today the Indian Ocean acquires another strategic importance as it provides vital sea lanes to China and the rest of East Asia. China, despite the vastness of the Pacific, feels landlocked without control over the Indian Ocean. Its deep pockets have helped it acquire vital energy sources and routes that take gas through the Central Asian land mass into China, but the vast majority of energy-producing countries — Russia and West Asia — still look to the West as their main buyers. India ranks a poor third in this race.


Our own neighbourhood is likely to remain unstable and Afghanistan will not get sorted out in the foreseeable future, much less by mid-2011. It is not known how many and for how long will the Western forces remain in Afghanistan. Talks with elements of the Taliban have begun at some level. Pakistan's quest for "strategic depth" — which at best means control over the Pushtun on both sides of the Durand Line — will keep the region unsettled and increasingly Talibanised. Consequently, Pakistan will, in the next few years, become increasingly irrational in its attitude, and flail before it threatens to fail.


Handling our new-found relationship with the United States and our old friendship with Russia is going to be a challenge and an opportunity. We must accept that the US, whatever its level of desire of friendship with India, will overlook Pakistan's India-specific delinquencies and will not even remotely jeopardise its own interests in and with China. In fact, on Pakistan, there seems to be a strong level of understanding between the two even though this may become the next battleground between both of them in the unfolding Great Game. The US has concluded that the only points of departure between the US and India are on trade, climate change and Iran. They do not think that India's sensitivities on Pakistan's continued support to terrorism in India and the US continuously soft-pedalling this is a serious point of departure. Behind all the conviviality and bonhomie with the US, there lurk suspicions about the various defence-related acronyms like CISMOA (Communications Interoperability Security Memorandum of Agreement), EUMA (End-Use Monitoring Agreement), Logistical Services Agreement (LSA) and Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (BECA), and their small print.


Pakistan is unlikely to give up its policy of using terrorism as a force multiplier as long as its leadership does not have to pay a price for this. The tactics of terrorism will become more complicated where attacks will be planned in one country, financed from another, terrorists recruited elsewhere in another country and targeted somewhere else; they will be more sophisticated and lethal in the next few years; cyber-terror by terrorists and cyberwarfare by states will be more common. There are many players in the field today — the fanatics, criminals, drug traffickers and human traffickers — which complicates even further the task of intelligence agencies.


Other global and regional issues will impact India's security. Issues like climate change, terrorism, energy security, water shortages, food security, migration, and some purely our own — our abysmal law and order, leading to insurgencies in many cases, health, education and infrastructure issues — will ultimately create security problems. Rapid economic growth will create socio-economic pressures arising from exploding expectations and demographic pressures on urban areas.


In a tangled and shrinking world, where various — and at times — contradictory interests coalesce, with different triangular or quadrilateral groupings overlapping, the new NSA will have to have the nimbleness of a Mizo Cheraw dancer, but one is sure he is surefooted enough for these intricacies. It will be useful to remember that the job is about advising the Prime Minister on national security in its widest connotation, which includes internal as well as external security matters. The NSA's job requirement should not include running the security and intelligence apparatus. The NSA is the ultimate consumer of intelligence, not its producer. If the NSA inadvertently becomes the man responsible for the product, then he ends up being its salesman, however shoddy the product. Instead, he should be looking for the finished product and customising his requirements.


Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency








I dislike clutter. Clutter of any kind — in my wardrobe, on my desk, around my work space, by my bedside.


At home, I try and arrange things in neat stacks — often unsuccessfully because other members of the family have different housekeeping ideas. I am a bit obsessive about symmetry. I like straight lines, squares and rectangles, and not arches, ovals and rounded edges. If the choice is between imitation Scandinavian and faux antique furniture, I would blindly choose the former for its neat, straight lines. My small fish pond is square. It bothers me when I see uneven spacing between frames on the wall. And left to me, I would re-arrange the dishes in the fridge and the jars and bottles in kitchen cupboards.


I also double-check door locks and appliances such as geysers and airconditioners to be sure that they are locked/switched off. And when in the kitchen, I have often glanced at the knobs of the cooking range — just in case the gas is not turned off.


In a neighbourhood grocery shop I almost rearranged two items on a shelf that I thought did not belong there. I say almost because I realised what I was about to do, took a deep breath, and stopped.


If there are more than 50 emails in my inbox, I tend to delete the extra ones or put them away in another folder. It's the limit I have set for myself; there's no logic behind the number. The same goes for the 24 icons on the computer screen. I am used to seeing that many and no more. I have often deleted temporary folders from my desktop in a hurry, only to regret later because I needed the information. And I empty out the recycle bin as if it's causing me dust allergy.


I have many more examples of my fetish for order and symmetry. I am told there's a word in Bengali for people like me: peet-petay, meaning a finicky person. People at the receiving end of my idiosyncratic behaviour, however, tell me that I suffer from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). According to popular medical websites, OCD is an anxiety-related condition that "causes people to have unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and to repeat certain behaviour (compulsions)". In friendly conversations, the term is often used to define a crotchety person with habits such as those described above.


I am so used to being made fun of that I have never even bothered to check the exact symptoms — till I read a news item recently that dogs too suffer from OCD, and there is a gene that causes it.


A team of scientists at Tufts University, University of Massachusetts and MIT compared the genomes of dogs with compulsive behaviour with those of normal dogs, and have identified a gene that makes breeds such as Dobermans and Bull Terriers susceptible to what they call "Canine Control Disorder". It makes them "chase their tails, lick their legs till they become infectious, snap at imaginary flies and go round and round their food".


Humans, too, have the same gene and researchers are now studying a group of some 300 people who have OCD (nearly two in every 100 humans are said to suffer from it), their relatives and those without the psychiatric disorder to see if the gene is linked to obsessive-compulsive behaviour.


According to the OCD Foundation website, the symptoms in humans include a phobia of germs that makes them wash their hands and bathe many times a day, compulsive dusting and cleaning, a fear of causing harm to others, of making mistakes, a need for order and symmetry — behaviour that gets in the way of their daily lives. They are constantly governed by the rules they make for themselves.


In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson suffered from OCD. He follows a set routine day in and day out, and wouldn't step on joints in the paving. Entertainment websites say that Leonardo DiCaprio, too, has a thing about stepping on sidewalk cracks, Charlize Theron likes to tidy drawers and David Beckham wants everything in pairs. If he has three of something, he will either discard one or buy another to make an even number.


Some people with OCD tend to hoard useless things; they have a problem getting rid of stuff. I read a story of a woman, a retired college professor in New York, who accumulated so much clutter that she had trouble entering her apartment. She was embarrassed. Doctors say that in most cases people with OCD are aware of their obsessions and compulsions.


But what horrified me was the debilitating effect it can have: "OCD is a cruel taskmaster", reads one comment on the New York Times story on the new research. "It casts doubt on every decision… If something works out or is a pleasure, it brings up a different, unsolvable problem and destroys any good feelings…"


I don't know if I can control my compulsive traits. All I can say is I am now more conscious of it, and I am trying to resist the urge to realign furniture and empty the ashtrays. But I must confess it isn't easy.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at









Union defence minister AK Antony has, rather uncharacteristically, acted decisively to overrule army chief Deepak Kapoor and asked for action against Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, his military secretary, for his dubious role in the Sukhna land scandal. Prakash is found guilty by a commission of inquiry and will now be put through the court martial procedure. If the charges are made to stick, he could end up losing rank, pension and other benefits. The minister's decision establishes the primacy of civilian authority over armed forces, and also emphasises the fact that there is no place for wrongdoing, favouritism and corruption in high places in the armed forces.


Compared to instances of land scandals involving politicians and bureaucrats, the Sukhna case, where Prakash and other officers have been found to have played favourites in the transfer of 70-and-odd acres to a developer next to an army base, may appear to be a relatively minor affair. But it was something that needed to be nipped in the bud. The army had acted promptly by setting up a commission of inquiry which did not waste time in pinning down the guilty. It is unfortunate that the army chief gave the impression of protecting a three-star general accused of corruption. Gen Kapoor sure had the right to exercise his discretionary powers and there is perhaps no need to impute motives. However, luckily for the prestige of the army, the civilian minister stepped in and ensured that justice is seen to be done.

It would be gratuitous to bemoan the fact that the armed forces — presumably the last bastion of uprightness — are also falling prey to the vitiating influence of corruption that has spread it tentacles in the rest of society. Corruption is unacceptable in any part of society and it needs to be fought with equal vigour everywhere. One of the lessons to be drawn from the Sukhna case is the way the army dealt with it, quickly and without much ado.


The media have played a creditable role in focusing on the story relentlessly. The issue has been raised consistently and Gen Kapoor's decision to go lenient on Prakash's misdemeanours has been roundly criticised. The media have generally handled the armed forces with kid gloves in most cases but no quarter was given when it came to corruption. This is a rare instance where the army, the political boss and the media have each followed the case scrupulously without unleashing public hysteria about it.







Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa's impressive re-election does not come as too much of a surprise. A grateful nation has expressed its confidence in the man who has led the successful war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There are, however, many ironies and ambiguities in the verdict. It is now clear that the majority of Sinhalas have overwhelmingly voted for Rajapaksa. Opposition candidate Gen Sarath Fonseka's attempt to win the Tamil and Muslim vote has come a cropper. The minorities have voted for the general but they could not carry the day because the Sinhala vote did not split. In ordinary circumstances, this kind of electoral division would not have been ominous, but in a country that is yet to find the peace that should come at the end of a hard-fought fratricidal war, it is disturbing. It would seem that the civil war has ended on the battlefield but it has not in the minds and hearts of the people. Reconciliation is yet to be achieved.


Rajapaksa is a populist — not in the bad and diabolical sense — who knows the majority mood and he is willing to play along. He is not the popular leader who can overcome majority prejudice. It is for this reason that doubts persist about whether he can turn the military and electoral victories into a national victory for all the people of the island-nation — Sinhalas, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.


He does not also face much pressure on the international front to deal fairly and justly with the Tamil minority.The anti-terrorist mood in the world in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US have made it easy for Rajapaksa to pursue the war against the LTTE without having to look over his shoulder. The LTTE was indeed a scourge, but this should not be taken to mean that there are no legitimate political grievances of the Lankan Tamils which need to be addressed. Lankan mainstream political parties have generally been insensitive to the issue of Tamils and it is this which had given rise to the monstrous LTTE.


Rajapaksa has now the mandate to do what is right for the country's future by bringing the Tamils into the political and economic mainstream and to check the partisan and fanatical politics of the Buddhist clergy in the country. This would require Rajapaksa to use his second term as president in the long-term interests of Sri Lanka.







In the first flush of Indian Independence, the rich and poor alike set off on a cause to build a strong, proud and independent India, with its indigenous industrial base and a foreign policy that could not be dictated to either by the capitalist West or the socialist East.


From the early 1990s onwards nation building took a back seat and crass money hungry and power-crazy politicians came to power. Thus began the decline into despair for the people of India.
By the 61st year of the Republic, official surveys and expert reports of the Arjun Sen committee and the NC Saxena committee appointed by the Centre revealed that 70 per cent of the population are below the poverty line in terms of theminimum standard of food intake of 2400 kcalories per person per day, a standard set by the Planning Commission in 1979. Over 50 per cent of all women and children are malnourished. This is the spectre of starving India.


Education for all was quickly jettisoned. Thus while fancy educational institutions multiply and student fees rise many times over, poor students learn under trees without schools, text books and often without teachers. The Supreme Court in TMA Pai's case made a disgraceful decision opening the doors for commercialisation and privatisation of education and casting a shadow on the earlier decision in Unnikrishnan's case correctly providing for strict state regulation and prohibition on commercialisation.


Similarly, while some of the finest health facilities in the world sprung up in the cities of India, public health facilities went into a tailspin. The public health centres lacked medicines, doctors, testing equipment, beds and food for poor patients. Despite the jurisprudential exhortation that the right to public health care, free drugs and indigenously manufactured medicines is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, the rot set in and is too deep to reverse.


The shift in ideology away from social democracy towards what was quaintly called "globalisation" affected the judiciary as well. Senior judges who were derisive of the post-Independence emphasis on socialism used the enormous power of the judiciary to undermine social policies of the government, bypass binding precedents and generally stripped the working people of constitutional law protections. In the Steel Authority of India Limited case the apex court made it possible for capitalists to convert their entire labour force into contractual labour thus effectively taking away all their protection under labour laws. In Uma Devi's case persons who were employed and were working for decades in permanent work positions on a pittance, were denied regularisation, thus giving a legal cover to slave labour.


Marvellous environmental jurisprudence meticulously put in place by Justice Kuldeep Singh and others in the SC was systematically dismantled by subsequently appointed judges in the courts who used the quite dubious doctrine of "sustainable development" to allow for all kinds of environmentally destructive industrial activity quite unmindful of its effect on the environment. As a result the forests have been cut, the cities are polluted, lush green areas have been mined, the rivers of India turned into sewage drains and water shortage has become so acute that in the years to come social upheavals will centre around this deprivation. The great Indian nation is being turned into a desert.


When the tribals, Dalits, workers, slum dwellers and the dispossessed of this country protested, often feebly, they were met with fierce repression. Police torture is widespread and has become the principle forensic tool for the investigation of crimes. The average rate of conviction in the country in cases of atrocities against Dalits has sunk to 1 per cent. Despite the right to housing being declared a fundamental right by the SC in Nawabkhan's case and although the UPA manifesto specifically includes a ban on forced evictions of slums, about a million of the urban poor every year have their homes bulldozed without notice, compensation or
rehabilitation to make way for the skyscrapers of the rich.

Nothing symbolises the break up of the country into two India's more than the Union home ministry-directed operations of the security forces in the tribal areas of the northern states. In the guise of going after the Maoists who purport to be the army of the poor, the army of the rich loot, pillage and destroy tribal hamlets much like the American forces did in Vietnam. The military operations are designed to further the interests of these mining companies. Contracts between the state and these companies if carefully perused will show that the mineral wealth of India is being siphoned away for a pittance.


It's a period of despair. The lust for money that globalisation brought with it has depleted spirituality, morality, togetherness, comradeship and justice. Only a national uprising will reverse this trend.







'Sexy' is an adjective I wouldn't dare use for writers. Or, for that matter, affix to intellectuals or to those from the creative field, barring, of course, the performers. Until now, that is.


Freshly returned from the happening that was the Jaipur Literature Festival, I am beginning to see published authors in a different light. Well, not exactly light: make that the gentle glow that the halos escorting our star writers bathe them in. Especially those who swagger about petulantly or look intensely into the eyes of autograph-seekers, packing a lot of charisma into their gaze — as royalty and film stars are wont to. Of course, the moment they have moved on to the next, you have been dropped into oblivion.


They now walk the earth like gods, the way those who have achieved instant celebrity status have long done: rock stars, movie stars, television stars, sports stars, even models in our celebrity-besotted nation.


Writers are the latest breed to enter the pantheon of the 'sexy' in India. They were preceded into this hallowed space by artists. When the prices of works of art began to shoot up like blood pressure, painters became the new hotties in town. And, if I may be allowed to play round with one of TS Eliot's oft quoted phrases: women came and went, talking about, if not Michelangelo, the cute curls on the head of Subodh Gupta and what his latest steel utensil sculpture went for at Sotheby's or Christie's.


Socialites made a beeline for them. Patronesses and patrons vied with each other to take them under their wings. If you could get Subodh Gupta or the bindu-man SH Raza home for dinner you had arrived. And if Anish Kapoor, the India-born British artist currently being feted the world over, graced your soiree, you could hold your nose up in the air, forever.


Last week the Beautiful People from Bombay, Delhi, and Goa, and even further afield, our NRIs from across the oceans, descended on Jaipur for the litfest. Just as they do en masse in Goa for New Year's Eve.


This mela is fast becoming a pilgrimage spot to tank up on fuel for the mind. I read, therefore I am — cool.


For many the Jaipur festival was like a spa for the intellect: hide the grey on your hair but put your little grey cells on view. Tucking half-a-dozen autographed copies of books by hot authors under your arm has acquired the cachet of flaunting the latest (not yet arrived on Indian shores) Louis Vuitton bag.


Book sales have gone up over 5% in India — as the publishers assembled for a session in Jaipur tell us. And listening to big-ticket international, desi, or diasporic desi stars obviously bestows brownie points in certain social circles where, not too long ago, when somebody told you that they read the classics, they meant Dan Brown and John Grisham.


However, something else seems to be going on, beneath the surface. The wannabe writers are coming out of the closet. Amongst the hundreds of students, housewives, bureaucrats, designers, socialites, and journos, there were those who thought they had a book in them. Like the socialite who wanted to write her autobiography and sought tips on how to do so.


Interestingly, it wasn't only the sessions that promised sensational gossip that were jam-packed. Certainly, Tina Brown talking about Princess Diana or Catherine Clement and Nayantara Sehgal discussing the romance (did they or didn't they?) between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten brought in the crowds, as did Om Puri and his wife Nandita discussing her tell-all book about her thespian husband.


There wasn't even any breathing space in sessions with luminaries like Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka — or for controversial writers like Hanif Kureshi. But even poetry readings and sessions about ancient texts were packed far beyond capacity.


Move over, glitterati: the literati have arrived.






EC AT 60



It goes to the Election Commission's credit that it has completed 60 years of service to the country. A hallmark of its glorious innings is that it stands tall over other institutions for its notable role in conducting free and fair elections ever since 1952 when free India's first general election was held. While the legislature, the executive and the judiciary — the three important pillars of democracy — have all drawn flak for their malfunctioning, the Election Commission's image and reputation remain intact. Significantly, the Supreme Court has been lending a helping hand to the commission by upholding its decisions which, in turn, have enhanced the people's respect for the commission. Indeed, after every general election, the people's faith in the commission has only increased.


This is in sharp contrast to the steady decline and falling standards in other institutions. Consider Parliament's style of functioning. Empty benches during the tabling of important Bills are a common sight. Question Hour seems to have lost its relevance because of the members' lackadaisical attitude to this important method of keeping the government on its toes. Fisticuffs and walkouts have become common in many State Assemblies. The bureaucracy is in a mess. It is riddled with corruption, red tape and insensitivity to the common man. As for the judiciary lately, the less said the better. The criminal justice system has crumbled and mounting backlog of cases has added to the judiciary's burden. Moreover, the Dinakaran episode and the Ghaziabad PF scam have shaken the people's faith in the judiciary.


True, despite its successful innings, the commission is yet to resolve issues like the entry of criminals and the role of money power in elections which are a blot on the polity. There is need for an all-party consensus on banning criminals at the entry stage itself. The parties should refuse tickets to criminals. They need to shun them even if they lose an election. The Centre is yet to act upon the commission's recommendations on banning criminals. At present, a person convicted in a case with a sentence up to two years can contest elections pending appeal. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has hinted at a national consultation in June. There is no shortcut to free and fair elections. The Centre needs to hasten major electoral reforms to cleanse the polity of systemic ills. 








AN "advice" from the Defence Minister asking the Army chief to virtually reverse his decision in a corruption case is unprecedented, but was unavoidable. It looks like General Deepak Kapoor as good as asked for this reprimand when he went extraordinarily soft on Military Secretary Lt-Gen Awadesh Prakash in the Darjeeling land scam case. The army chief okayed disciplinary proceedings against Lt-Gen PK Rath, which can lead to a court martial, but recommended only a milder "administrative action" against Lt-Gen Awadesh Prakash and two others, Lt-Gen Ramesh Halgali and Major-Gen P Sen. There was no explanation why different yardsticks were applied, in spite of the fact that all evidence indicated that it was Lt-Gen Prakash who was instrumental in the issuance of a no-objection certificate to a private establishment that falsely claimed to be establishing an affiliate of the well-known Ajmer-based Mayo College on land adjacent to the Sukna military station in Darjeeling district.


What made this soft approach all the more untenable was the recommendation of the Court of Inquiry ordered by the Eastern Army Commander, Lt-Gen VK Singh, who is set to be the next Army chief, that Lt-Gen Prakash be sacked. The tainted Lt-Gen Prakash is the topmost brass in the Army and as Military Secretary enjoys tremendous clout. If anything, enforcement of rules should have been stricter in his case instead of being mild.


The Army is one institution which still evokes confidence and respect because of its integrity and uprightness. As such, it is very important that where there is even an iota of doubt about senior officers' conduct, a thorough investigation must be conducted and the guilty punished. Whatever General Deepak Kapoor's motive might have been in giving him only a gentle rap on the knuckles, it would have given the impression that the Army is willing to look the other way if there is any wrong-doing by those in its upper echelons. The cracking of the whip by Defence Minister AK Antony has luckily foreclosed that dangerous possibility. 








With the execution of five of the 12 assassins of Bangladesh founder President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, justice has finally caught up with them 35 years after a group of young army officers mowed him down in cold blood at his residence along with most of his family members. Of the others, while one convict had died abroad in the intervening period, six are still holding out overseas. It was truly a sad chapter in Bangladesh's history that the military regime that succeeded Mujib issued an ordinance granting immunity to the killers and even assigned some of them to diplomatic jobs abroad. The assassins openly boasted that they had gunned down the father of the nation and yet there was no action forthcoming.


The wheels of justice started moving again in the case 21 years later when Mujib's daughter Hasina who survived because she was abroad at that time became the country's prime minister and revoked the indemnity ordinance clearing the way for the trial that culminated in the executions now. While the original complaint had identified 20 accused, 15 of them were convicted in 1998 of which only four were in the country and a fifth was extradited by the US in June 2008. While Sheikh Hasina was out of power from 2001 to 2009, her bete noire Begum Khaleda Zia soft-pedalled the case. The case got a boost with the return of Sheikh Hasina to power. That during Begum Khaleda's regime various judges recused themselves from the case only indicates the fragility of democracy in the country. It is heartening that some of the guilty have finally been brought to book but would this have been possible if Sheikh Hasina had not returned to power and picked up cudgels to avenge her father's assassination?


Prime Minister Hasina deserves the support of all right-thinking people in her efforts to bring the remaining assassins to justice. Her rivals in the opposition and outside would doubtlessly try their best to destabilise her. It is no secret that some of them have the backing of Pakistan's ISI. But justice must continue to be done.









India witnessed unprecedented food production in the 1970s and the 1980s, and this phenomenon was dubbed as the Green Revolution. The country was transformed from a food-deficient nation to a food-sufficient nation. The seeds of the Green Revolution were sown when Dr M.S. Swaminathan invited Dr Norman E. Borlaug to India in 1963. Borlaug provided to Indian scientists, including those at Punjab Agricultural University, seeds of some improved wheat varieties developed in Mexico. India achieved self-sufficiency in wheat in 1972 and in rice in 1974. This happened on account of the scientific achievements of agricultural scientists who developed new crop varieties and corresponding farm technologies, hard work of farmers, and government policies conducive to agricultural growth.


Mira Kamdar, a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, New York, from 1992 to 2006, wrote in 2008: "If a single institution can take credit for bringing the Green Revolution to Punjab, it is Punjab Agricultural University." Today, agriculture is the source of livelihood for more than 65 per cent of India's population. Agriculture accounts for 27 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) and contributes 21 per cent to total exports. Agriculture also supplies raw materials to industries.


For many years, India has been comfortable in its ability to produce food and feed people. It has had surplus foodgrains too. The nation appears to have achieved "food security". The main food security crops are wheat and rice, produced in Punjab, Haryana, and Western UP — the "Food Bowl" of India. For more than a decade now, Punjab has been consistently contributing to India's Central grain reserve at least 60 per cent wheat and up to 40 per cent rice. The contribution of the "Food Bowl" states to the Central grain reserve is 98 per cent wheat and 65 per cent rice. This remarkable achievement has come at a cost though - underground water table has gone down drastically and soil health has been adversely affected.


Today, a trip through Punjab and Haryana would show that after harvest foodgrains (wheat and rice) lie in the marketplace (mandis) in the open for months to rot. Last year, during a meeting with Union Finance Minister Parnab Mukherjee I brought to his attention the issue of lack of adequate grain-storage facilities and consequent wastage of foodgrains in the mandis. There was an increased funding for the development of storage facilities in last year's budget. Unfortunately, millions of tonnes of foodgrains are still being "stored" improperly in the open. We can ill afford such post-harvest losses. We are wasting the precious water and other inputs used to produce this grain. Much more needs to be done in the area of foodgrain storage.


For agriculture to serve as an engine of growth and poverty alleviation, we must ensure that agriculture grows. Agricultural growth cannot be achieved without investing in agricultural research and development. In an article, "Reducing Poverty and Hunger in India: The Role of Agriculture", Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, writes, however, that public investment in agriculture began to decline in the 1980s and that initially the decline was offset by increasing private investment in agriculture. He further states, "Since the mid-1990s private investment in agriculture has stagnated while public investment has continued to decline."


Research and development are the prerequisites to the development of new technologies. Agricultural universities in India have proved this, as their R&D led to the development of new crop varieties and new technologies. Agriculture aside, if we simply look at India's overall investment in R&D, a very gloomy picture emerges. India lags behind other nations in spending on R&D. For example, India's per capita R&D investment is $5.5 as compared with $11.7 for China and $705 for the US. According to a UNDP 2008 report, India's allocation for R&D was just 0.8 per cent of its GDP whereas that of China was 1.2 per cent and that of the US 2.7 per cent. Japan spends more than 3 per cent of its GDP on R&D.


A strong commitment is required on the part of the Government of India to improve the R&D scenario, particularly for agriculture. Here one is reminded of a speech by John F. Kennedy that he delivered during the joint session of the US Congress in 1961, requesting funds for the space programme. He said, "First, I believe that this nation should commit (emphasis added) itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." This vision became a reality when man landed on the moon in July 1969. This type of commitment is needed in the case of agriculture in India.


Alarm bells are ringing in various quarters about India's vulnerability in sustaining foodgrain production to feed its ever-growing population (about 15 million new faces are added every year).


Mira Kamdar commented on Punjab's role in Indian agriculture as follows: "With just 1.5 per cent of India's land area, Punjab produces 20 per cent of the country's wheat and 12 per cent of its rice. It provides 60 per cent of the Central government's reserve stocks of wheat and 40 per cent of its reserves of rice, the country's buffer against starvation. Punjab's amazing productivity made it possible for India to feed most of its growing population that tripled from 350 million when the country became independent in 1947 to more than 1.2 billion people today."


She further wrote, "In 2001, India even began to export grain, though critics claim this impressive achievement was gained at the expense of India's poor. Only two years later, in 2003, India had to reverse the funnel and import grain, something it had not done in decades. Every year since then India has imported more and more of its food."

Dr. Sanjay Rajaram, a former Director of CIMMYT"s wheat research programme, revealed while speaking at a seminar in October 2007, "Between 2004 and 2007, the average production of wheat was around 72 million tonnes in India. By 2020, India would need 100 million tonnes. Between 2002 and 2007, productivity was around 2.8 tonnes per hectare. By 2020, it should be 3.8 tonnes per hectare. If India fails to enhance production, leading to a huge gap between supply and demand, there could be social upheavals and rampant hunger and malnutrition." This should alert us all to the possibility of India slipping down the "food security" ladder.


Recently, Dr Swaminathan stated, "We are on the verge of a disaster. We will be in serious difficulty if food productivity is not increased and farming is neglected." He warned that the country would face a food crisis if agriculture and farmers were ignored. Is India's food security vulnerable? Many think so. At a recent annual meeting of the vice-chancellors of Indian agricultural universities, a serious concern was expressed about India now being on the verge of becoming a foodgrain-importing country. Only a couple of years ago, India did import some wheat from Australia. Do we want to become an importing nation again? If we do not want to go that route, we must invest more in agricultural development.


India's position is precarious in food production because of erratic rainfall patterns. For example, in 2000-01, foodgrain production was 196.8 million tonnes (rainfall was 91 per cent of the long-term average or LTA). In 2002-03, foodgrain production was down to 174.8 mt because rainfall was 81 per cent of the LTA. In 2005-06, foodgrain production went up to 208.8 mt (rainfall being 99 per cent of LTA), and in 2007-08, it reached 230 mt. India has not exceeded 230 mt in the last one decade. By 2021, however, India will need to produce 276 mt of foodgrains to feed its people. By 2050, the country will need to double its foodgrain production. It will be an extremely difficult task if India does not increase its outlay for agricultural R&D and simultaneously take appropriate measures to reduce population growth.

The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.








Like they have confession boxes in the churches, to have the "sinners" unload their chests, before "His" representatives on earth for redemption, our ancestors too had Kop Bhavans (anger management or sulking chambers), for purgation of the self, employing and effecting a kind of catharsis. I marvel at the wisdom of our forerunners, who gave enough importance to curing the wounded self in their own way, if one was to suffer the pangs of a tragedy, agony or anguish.


If you refer to the Indian scriptures and books of history, you will find mention of Kop Bhavan, which used to be a compartment in the palaces, mansions and stately homes of rich and mighty in earlier times, where one would convalesce, lament, brood, grieve, sulk or even cry to come to terms with oneself. This closet was also used to invite attention of someone who mattered, and also for seeking favours from him.


Kop Bhavans provided the desired calmness of ambience to cope with the malaise troubling his or her mind. Step-mother of Ram, Kaikayee, removed herself to Kop Bhavan in order to invite concern of her husband Dashrath, who in order to console her and fulfil a promise he made to her for saving his life once, agreed to banish Rama to jungles for 14 years. Later, Dashrath himself died in Kop Bhavan, grieving separation of Ram, Sita and Laxman.


If you are not able to rein in your emotions on being a little overwhelmed, you always give in to the incessant and uncontrollable flow of tears, but generally not in full view of everyone around, unless the intensity of your agony compels you either to scream, shriek or cry.


To cope with your predicament then, either you hide your face with your hands; or you turn it the other way. Or you look below; or relegate yourself to a corner. Deposit yourself in the store, or even the washroom. And then being all by yourself, you weep or cry or sob. You mostly recover and regain your resilience and put up a fresh face, trying to cope with your agony.


And here does "kop" become "cope" in its pronunciation and meaning too. On a lighter note, I was rather wondering why they should not have Kop corridors near the courts, police stations, hospitals and tax departments! Parliament and assemblies too could have their separate "Kop Lounges" for these places are full of souls who are the most troubled either at the hands of the electorate, or their opponents and detractors. Kop cabins near wells of legislative houses would stop many an unruly member bent on tormenting the Speaker.


We need Kop Corridors near famous playgrounds and stadia where large number of sports-lovers on losing a match by those who they rooted for, could nurse their wounded psyches in preference to burning the houses of their sports icons.









Tributes are, more often than not, a trite affair. Homages paid to the deceased, in particular, hardly make a provocatively new point. The flurry of eulogies, following veteran leader Jyoti Basu's demise, however, fall in a different category. The accolades for the man and the Marxist actually articulate a far-from-approbative message.


There is no doubt, of course, about the nationwide response to the symbolic event that Basu's end was. The leader from West Bengal was one of the very few – arguably just three – from the Left to have acquired a national stature. Both similarities and dissimilarities marked the political careers of Dange, Namboodiripad and Basu.


All of them started as nationalists – Dange as a crowd-controller for Lokamanya Tilak, Namboodiripad as a pioneer of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) and Basu as a student lobbyist in London for India's independence movement. All of them were to strike regional roots – Dange playing a major role in Maharashtra's creation, Namboodiripad in several Kerala-specific campaigns and Basu becoming West Bengal's symbol for decades. All of them took the regional route to national renown.


One of the dissimilarities was related to the internal debates that always distinguished the Marxist camp from other sections of India's political spectrum. Dange and Namboodiripad revelled in such debates while, Basu kept a certain distance from them, indeed airing an impatience with "intellectual" exercises of this kind, with the inverted commas displaying a disdain for them.


The second, and perhaps more important, dissimilarity related to political power. Dange never knew power. Namboodiripad held power twice in Kerala – holding on to it, in fact, for truncated terms. Basu stayed on as a successful chief minister for over 23 years in a state not tailor-made for stability and under an unfriendly Centre.


Two phases of Basu's political past have gone unstated or under-noticed in most media and other recapitulations since January 17 when his final struggle ceased. The first was his political arrival as an agitprop leader, with the tram strike of 1953 against a one-paisa fare hike, an illustration that some old-timers still remember.


The second was his story as a chief minister fighting the Centre, with his every visit to New Delhi evoking enormous regional pride at the rare spectacle of a state leader standing up and speaking on equal terms to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.


What sustained Basu through all this was, ultimately, an ideology. This is also what the tributes, from all but the Left and pro-Left quarters seek to deny.


They do it in different ways.The gambit consists in glorifying him, his family background, his starched clothes and his staccato sentences, among other things as "aristocratic". Even his pro-poor proclivities are presented as patrician, slightly and subtly guilt-ridden, almost like the politely apologetic air of a British peer of the realm, particularly while conversing with a plebeian commoner.


"A king among communists" – that is how a popular television channel titled its programme on the tributes. Basu had a hereditary, higher-class claim to posthumous tributes than the common run of communists.


Dinned into our ears over these days by the burgeoning tribe of Basu's panegyrists, including several past detractors, is the claim that his was no "doctrinaire socialism". They come to this conclusion because his state government banned "gheraos", as though the cruelly violent form of agitation were part of any socialist doctrine. It is also suggested that he was paying only lip-service to socialism, under party discipline, because he wanted industries in West Bengal and wooed investments there. A TV interviewer, known for irreverence, once told him to his face that his was only "social democracy" and not socialism.


Protestations by Basu in his lifetime went unheeded. His explanation that his state was "not a Republic of West Bengal but a part of India", that his government had to function "within a capitalist system" was not considered adequate. It is not going to be accepted now by those who seek to interpret his demise as that of the doctrine that guided his life, too. They can only laugh out of court any argument that limited reforms within a state can be part of a Left road-map for revolutionary advance.


One need not be an uncritical admirer of the Left or Basu to understand or appreciate this. Mr Ashok Mitra, a former finance minister of West Bengal's Left front government, wrote not long ago: "I feel sorry for Mr Jyoti Basu....His current state of an imprisoned Shah Jahan saddens the heart deeply." But he is clear about the assumptions and objectives behind the project of the parliamentary Left in a state where it can capture limited power.


The end of Basu is the end of the Left to Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee who says, "He was the first chapter of the Left movement and the last". According to the mega corporate sector and its mouthpieces, even before his end, Basu had begun to represent the end of ideology.


One section of the non-Left spectrum, however, has refrained from joining the anti-ideology chorus. Ironically, it is the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) that has chosen to pay a tribute to Basu's "commitment to his ideology". The party, berated by Basu as "uncivilised" and "barbaric" has sent its frontline leaders to attend Basu's funeral as if in answer to his invective. Has the BJP, however, made its point?


It tried to make a similar point on July 6, 2003, when then Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishan Advani spoke at a function in New Delhi to mark the 103rd birth anniversary of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the Jana Sangh (the BJP's parent). Advani pilloried the Marxists for "political intolerance", as none of them attended the function. He recalled that his first official engagement as Union Home Minister was to attend the funeral of E.M.S. Namboodiripad in Kerala on March 20,1998, at the behest of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


On Dr Mookerjee's next birth anniversary, which will fall two days before Basu's (July 8), will Advani and other BJP leaders recall how their far-right ideology did not prevent them from attending Basu's funeral?


Tolerance for an ideology of intolerance – which found a gory illustration in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 – is just not compatible with the world outlook that Jyoti Basu was widely associated with.








Here is a question for politicians: Why do our boys and girls have to go to countries such as Australia, where some of them get stabbed and even killed, to do low-rated courses such as cookery, hospitality, saloon management, accountancy and so on?


There are enough institutions in India where such courses are available. In fact, 26,000 seats are lying unfilled in the professional colleges in Punjab alone. Of these 4,500 seats are vacant in hotel management and architecture courses, and 11,300 in management, 1,500 in pharmacy and 8,000 in engineering courses. Like Punjab, thousands of seats are vacant in other states. Then why do students go to Australia and New Zealand? There are about six lakh foreign students in Australia and of these 1,20,000 are from India. Most of them are from Punjab.


They see a better future and a better quality of life in these countries. The sole objective of the 99 per cent students going abroad is to secure permanent residency status, a green card or other documents to settle there. After securing PR in Australia, there always remains a good scope to move to greener pastures such as Canada, the US and European countries.


Earlier, wards of rich, famous and royal families used to go abroad to study in Oxford or Cambridge University in the UK. Doing Bar-at-Law or study in the London School of Economics was a craze in the elite class. Some used to go to the US to study in big league universities such as Harvard. After study, most of them used to return to India to be a part of the ruling class or take over family business.


But now even commoners send their wards abroad. They sell their properties; secure heavy loans to achieve the objective of getting their wards settled in foreign lands. Their objective is different.


Going abroad on the basis of a study visa is only one aspect. There are thousands of other young boys and even girls, who, cheated by travel agents and human smuggling mafia, either end up in jails or have to live like fugitives until they are granted a general amnesty.


Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, who has been fighting against travel agents, claims that in recent years 1,800 Punjabi youths, duped and fleeced by agents, have died in various countries. He claims that a large number of Indian youths, most of them Punjabis, are living like criminals in countries like Spain, Indonesia, Lebanon, Cyprus, Iran and Algeria.


Why? Because our ruling politicians have failed to ensure a secure future to wards of the emerging and expanding middle class in our country. They have failed to give a just, corruption-free system.


When Nitin Garg or Ranjot is killed in Australia or someone else is attacked, our politicians shed crocodile tears, issue ritualistic statements and announce financial help for the bereaved families. But they should ask themselves: Why do our students go abroad to study and why Australians, Americans, Canadians etc are not coming to study in India?


The answer is obvious. Our politicians have let us down. Besides big corporate houses, others who have flourished fast in this country are politicians, bureaucrats and their agents.


First politicians make their own career secure, then take care of their sons and daughters and then of other relations. They do not bother what happens to others. As the political and bureaucrat class is busy securing the future of its sons and daughters, others are left to fend for themselves.


There are many politicians who tell us from the roof-tops that our economy is growing at a rapid rate of 8 per cent or more. Whether has such growth improved the quality of life of people living in cities, towns and villages? Has it made people financially secure? Has it given better health care at affordable prices? Has it made education available at a low price? The answer is a clear no.


From a growing insecurity among the common people has born the desire to settle abroad where they expect life would be better for them. Facing a shortage of working hands, developed countries are "importing" people from India.


If we want to save our Nitins and Ranjots, we should endeavour to throw up a selfless political class which should think first about us and later about its own kin.








IN his speech at the inauguration of his second term, President Karzai declared a commitment to "bring to justice those involved in spreading corruption and abuse of public property." He must now turn those words into deeds.


Last week's survey from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime showed the true extent to which corruption affects Afghans. Six out of 10 people said that corruption was the biggest problem they face. The problem of corruption is not simply one of perception.


In a country where the average annual wage is just over $300 per year, the average household pays as much as $160 in bribes a year. Altogether, the UN survey suggests that Afghans paid out $2.5 billion in bribes over the past 12 months – equivalent to almost a quarter of Afghanistan's GDP.


The loss of faith in public officials is forcing ordinary Afghans – who feel they have no redress – to look elsewhere for their security and welfare, driving them into the arms of insurgents. Corruption is also restricting growth in the Afghan economy, damaging the confidence of would-be investors. That is why the international community is looking to President Karzai's Government to show leadership and renewed determination to tackle this problem.


President Karzai has already committed to establish an independent anti-corruption commission with powers of investigation and links to prosecutors. That commission and all of the bodies responsible for tackling corruption – from police teams to judicial tribunals – should now be provided with a legal guarantee for their long-term independence from the government, to ensure freedom from undue interference.


To verify progress on tackling corruption, the international community and the Government of Afghanistan is expected to agree to establish a panel of international, independent representatives to monitor the Government's anti-corruption efforts. Such a panel would report to the Afghan government as a critical friend, to the Parliament and the Afghan people as an aide to calling their government to account, and to the international community to inform investment decisions.


In return for clear commitments from the Government of Afghanistan to tackle corruption, the international community should work together to support the establishment of an effective, enduring Afghan state. That means donors keeping their promises on investment, as the UK has done. While we have delivered on all of the aid pledges we have made over the past three years, close to a quarter of all international commitments previously given have not been met.


Donors should also work more through the Afghan government, rather than around it. While corruption creates a natural desire among donors to avoid delivering through the Government, evidence from around the world shows that doing so is more expensive and less effective. And we must remember that our aim is to support the people of Afghanistan to build a state that can provide basic services to its people – not to provide those services ourselves.


In 2001, just one million children across Afghan-istan had access to education – all of them boys. Today, more than six million children, a third of them girls, are in school.


With clear and credible action on corruption, the Government of Afghanistan could safeguard the international investment it currently receives and begin a new phase of partnership with the international community. It can show the people of Afghanistan that it is the government – not the Taliban-led insurgency – that is committed to delivering a more prosperous, more secure and more just nation.


By arrangement with The Independent








The National Crime Records Bureau's report on farmers' suicide from 1997-2008 makes grim reading. According to it almost two lakh farmers have committed suicide within this 12 year period, taking the national average to one suicide every half hour. While farmers who grow cash crop such as cotton show highest number of suicide casualties, the Big-5 States, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh account for the majority of the suicide cases. Around 67 per cent of total suicides for the country occur in these States, thereby earning the contiguous area the dubious sobriquet of "suicide belt." Most disturbing is the fact that this tragic phenomenon has been exacerbated, rather than contained through the years since identified in the 1990s despite measures by the Government to combat it. From 1997-2002 the Big-5 accounted for 55,769 farmer suicide cases which increased to 67,054 from 2003-2008, a rise of nearly 1,900 a year on average. From 1997-2002 Maharashtra, the worst affected State had an average of 8 farmer suicides per day, which has risen to an average of 11 suicides per day in 2003-2008. This is testimony to the inability of the Central and State Governments to tackle one of the biggest challenges confronting contemporary India, particularly in the context of growing threat from the Maoists, who thrive on the underlying agrarian problems.

These' problems indeed are many, thereby weaving a complex sociological mesh not easily untangled. At the heart lies the fact that even today the Indian farmer is absolutely dependent on the vagaries of the weather, particularly the timely arrival and adequacy of the monsoons, for survival. Thus, apart from isolated pockets, alternative modes of sustainable harnessing of water resources are non-existent, leaving farmers stranded during drought. Since farmers do not earn enough to save part of their income for rainy days, one bad harvest can spell disaster by initiating a cycle of debt and destitution. No doubt the Government has liberalised bank loans, but these are given only once and not renewed until paid back in full, thereby driving farmers to local money-lenders and a life time of subservience. Declining productivity of land and consequent failure of crop, low yield, increased input costs and absence of alternatives during lean days lead farmers to take the last resort, something that they might not have done until exhausting all avenues of support. Farmers too are more dependent on agents of fertiliser and pesticide companies for information on their usage rather than bona fide Government agencies. Some remedies tried out have been the creation of an insurance safety net, elimination of middlemen and direct purchase with support price, schemes to generate rural employment etc. That these so far have not stemmed the increasing trend of farmer suicide testifies to administrative failure at many levels that needs urgent rectification.







Article 244 (2) of the Indian Constitution makes it clear that for ''the administration of the tribal areas in the State of Assam'' it is the provisions of the Sixth Schedule which will apply. The Sixth Schedule is ''a self contained Code for the governance of the tribal areas.'' When the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi got the 73rd amendment for empowerment of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) passed in 1992 ''the tribal areas referred to in Clause 2 of Article 244'' were expressly left out of the coverage of Article 243, contained in Part IX of the Constitution. Of course, a separate provision in Article 244 (4) provides for extension of Part IX to the Sixth Schedule areas by an amendment of the Constitution. The procedure, however, is so complicated that it would be politically unwise to try to follow the same. Therefore, when the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) was set up with the former Chief Secretary H.N. Das as the chairman, the Sixth Schedule areas of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills Districts and the four Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri had to be left out of its purview. The Government notification in this connection expressly laid down that TASFC should make their recommendations ''after taking into account the transfers that are to be made by the State of Assam to the Autonomous District Councils constituted under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution''. TASFC recommended that the State Government ''may appoint a small Committee to go into the problems of (1) an institutional framework to carry out functions of rural and urban development and (2) the flow of funds to these institutions for rural and urban development''.

PRIs never existed in the two Autonomous Hills Districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills. PRIs which existed in the BTAD areas have been dissolved after BTAD was set up. There are a total of 16 Urban Local Bodies (ULB) in the Sixth Schedule areas. For both PRIs and ULBs of Sixth Sehedule areas provision should be made for local finance as in the cases of the general areas. Otherwise, these tribal areas will not be able to reorganise and revamp the delivery system under non-Plan which is required if the Plan projects, schemes and programmes are to be properly administered and implemented. The Government of Assam has not taken any steps in this direction although TASFC's report had been submitted 22 months ago. It may be recalled that while accepting this recommendation of TASFC the State Government had directed that the ''Hill Areas and WPT & BC Departments will take up the matter with GOI (Government of India)''. No such action has been initiated.







India's links with South-East Asia reached back into history and legend. The independence and security of this region always serve to strengthen India's own interests. In fact, India's approach towards South-East was marked by two basic postulates during the early years— firstly, colonialism must go and that all vestiges of imperial rule must be liquidated, and secondly, that no big or medium power should be allowed to dominate the area in the name of filling the vacuum. Country's present foreign policy has given due respect to its policy towards the neighbouring countries and its goal is obviously regional security and economic co-operation as well as commitment to democracy and world peace. In fact, as a part of the post-Cold War shift in India's worldview and its switch to pragmatism as the core of foreign policy, India-ASEAN ties have more than economic dimensions. They are key to the Look East Policy, whereby post-reforms India sought room for diplomatic maneuver beyond its South Asian confines. The interests of ASEAN, one of the world's biggest trade blocs, were equally served by engaging with an Asian counterweight to China. Trade and investment as well as cooperation on global issues have driven India's Look East initiative. Signing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the ASEAN nations began its continuing commitment to economic integration and political cooperation with South East Asia.

So the Malaysian Prime minister Najib Tun Razak's five-day India visit was significant to further strengthen India's Look East Policy. Malaysia is ranked 21st among the foreign investors in India as per the cumulative FDI approved from January, 1991 to January 2007, with more than 210 FDI approvals, valued at $1,836 million. These figures, however, do not include the substantial flow of Malaysian investment to India through the Mauritian route. Notable investments include those of Maxis Communications in Aircel and TM International in Spice Communications. During their bilateral meeting leaders of both the countries discussed regional and international issues of common interest and issues relating to road construction, education, information and communication technology, oil and gas exploration, pharmaceuticals, tourism and green technologies. In fact, the economic downturn is allowing Malaysian leadership to chip away at an affirmative action programme for Malay Muslims that has been considered virtually untouchable in the past. Soon after taking office in April, Prime Minister Najib Razak scrapped a requirement for 30 per cent Malay ownership of companies in certain service industries and cut the ownership requirement to 12.5 per cent for companies that want to list on the stock exchange. Dubbed the New Economic Policy, the programme gave preference to Malays in government contracts, business, jobs, and education and housing. Now, Najib is cautiously relaxing the requirement for the service sector.

Besides economic ties, Malaysia and India have defence co-operation. Thus quite expectedly concerns related to security featured predominantly during the dialogue between the Prime Ministers of two nations that amplified Malaysia's critical importance in the region. The Indian leadership asked their Malaysian counterparts to keep the Straits of Malacca, one of the world's busiest waterways safe for international passage and sought help to tackle terrorism. Thus as a major player in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia began to look upon India as a potentially indispensable partner. The political message is implicit in comments that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak made prior to his five-day visit to India. And, the message was that Malaysia sees India as a potential partner of the 10-member ASEAN itself in reshaping the existing East Asian economic order. Quite revealing was his answer to a question about the possibility of a new concert of Asian powers consisting of China, India, Japan, and the ASEAN.

So also, recently India and Myanmar deepened their bilateral economic relations with the finalisation of four economic cooperation agreements. The Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement (BIPA), the first of the four agreements, was intended to facilitate greater investment flow between the neighbouring nations by providing a framework for resolving disputes, extending national treatment, and repatriating investment and returns, among other things. In a related credit line agreement, the Exim Bank of India and the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank will contribute US$20 million towards the establishment of a manufacturing facility to help facilitate the expansion of Myanmar's power distribution network. Finally, the United Bank of India and the Myanmar Economic Bank signed an agreement aimed at facilitating the implementation of a border trade agreement between the two countries. Thus relations between the two nations has improved steadily since 2000. As a result bilateral trade between India and Myanmar reached US$ 590 million in 2005-2006. Currently Myanmar is striving to develop its hydroelectric potential; India, China and Thailand have thus far proven to be the biggest foreign investors. Malyasian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak has invited Indian investors to the growing Malaysian capital market.

So India's relationship with the ASEAN is central to her Look East Policy. The primary objective of the Look East Policy in the context of North Eastern Region of India is to take advantage of the new opportunities in trade and investment by improving socio-economic and political relationship with the neighbouring countries. The Look East Policy in the context of North Eastern Region is pursued in a multifaceted manner in diverse areas such as improved connectivity, promotion of trade and investment and cultural exchanges. The entry of Malaysia and Myanmar into the economic co-operation linking Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand called BIMST-EC in December 1997 can be regarded as timely and appropriate. Minister for External Affairs had also taken a high level meeting on the Look East Policy with the Chief Ministers of the North Eastern States and the Central Ministries concerned so as to formulate a strategy for a meaningful involvement of the North Eastern Region in the Look East Policy. The follow-up on the issue emerging out of the High Level Meeting on the Look East Policy are advocated by the Ministry of DoNER with the concerned Ministries and the State Governments as these evolve on the basis of India's on-going diplomatic initiatives with the concerned countries. A Task Force was also set up in the Ministry of DoNER to review the progress.

Considering the present development particularly India's growing relations with major ASEAN players it is a significant step forward as far as the issue of security and terrorism is concerned. It came at a time when the North East has become the new transit point of militancy in the country. It is also important amidst reports of changing bases by the militant outfits of the North East to Myanmar after the new Bangladesh government declined to provide asylum to the terror network and use Bangladeshi soil for their subversive activities against India. The policy adopted by the leadership in New Delhi is justified that obviously manifests one important point that India's Look East policy is going in the right direction and its productivity will be seen in the coming days.








Jatinga is a small village, 8 km south of Haflong town. Perched on the Haflong ridge which is an offshoot of the imposing Borail range, this village is known worldwide for its bird mystery, which is as difficult as the Bermuda triangle to understand. A visit to this place certainly enables one to enjoy nature's unbound bliss on human beings. The panoramic view of the Borail range can give one a feeling of being in paradise.

While the bird mystery happens to be the primary attraction of Jatinga valley, the fact remains that this place is also famous for its delicious oranges and pineapples. But more interesting are the people of Jatinga, enterprising as they all are, and telling stories that depict how disparities in development hal severely affected the lives of not just the Jatinga residents, but of the entire North Cachar Hills district.

"Our village used to be one of the richest villages around Haflong in the 1930s and 1940s. But we are no longer in that position now. Our people rely more on nature than on anything else. But, as the soil here has gradually lost its fertility, agricultural and horticultural production is witnessing a dangerous downslide. Oranges and pineapples used to be the backbone of our economy. But the output is very low now," said Sylvia Suchiang, a forward-looking lady of Jatinga, who is closely associated with the Jatinga Mothers' Association.

Established in 1905 by U Lakhonbang Suchiang, Jatinga is a unique village in various aspects. Its 3000-odd inhabitants are all Jaintias, and are Christians by faith. Traditional tribal people as they are, they have been making both ends meet by growing oranges, pineapples, betel-nut, bay leaf, betel-leaf, turmeric and ginger. Happiness being the prime indicator of well-being that is clearly visible in the faces of its women, Jatinga,however, does not depict the overall picture of villages in North Cachar Hills district.

Jatinga probably is the only village in Assam that can boast of 100 per cent literacy. No doubt every family, and more particularly every mother in this matriarchal society, ensures that every child goes to school and does not drop out. "In our village the gap between women and men is very thin. Unlike in urban areas, women and men here work together. They are equal partners in the jhum cultivation, as also in running the family," added Sylvia, who is a teacher in the Haflong Boys Higher Secondary School.

Women, however, do not find space in the village council. "But we do not feel left out from the decision-making process because a lot of things are also done through the church and at the traditional community level," she said. Not many residents of Jatinga have heard of the Total Sanitation Programme or Nirmal Gram Puraskar. But every house here has a sanitary latrine. No doubt Jatinga is an unbelievably clean village.

Evelyntice Sajem, is yet another interesting woman. A former principal of the Haflong Girls Higher Secondary School, she too has several interesting stories to share. "When I was in school, there were very few girls. We were only 11 girls against 65 boys. When I passed my BA examination in 1967, the then Education Minister J B Hagjer requested five of us to join the newly established school at Haflong. Those were times when one could get a job without even putting in an application or appearing in an interview," recalled Sajem with pride.

Sajem is also candid about the difference between her time and the present time. As a college-going student she had to walk a long distance, in addition to helping the family in collecting water from distant sources. "Certain things have improved, like piped water supply, pucca roads and transportation to the town. But that is not true with the entire district," she said, wondering when and how the overall situation in North Cachar Hills district would improve.

Empowered women like Evelyntice Sajem and Sylvia Suchaing understand what development means. Despite the tragic failure of governance, women like them have refused to give up the citizens' approach to development. "We do various things through the Church. Programmes like women's health care, child care and counseling among women about marriage, divorce and relationship have helped numerous families across the district. These women-related programmes cover both Christians and non-Christians," said Sajem, who is also in-charge of Presbyterian Women's Fellowship programme under the Cachar Hill Tribes Synod.

But while Jatinga paints a wonderful picture of one village, all is not well with North Cachar Hills district. Most human development indicators of the district are placed towards the bottom among all other districts of Assam. The Assam Human Development Report (2003) has certain very alarming data. About 13.37 per cent of the district's population is not expected to survive till the age of 40 years. More than 59 per cent of the population is deprived of a decent standard of living. While over 73 per cent do not have access to safe drinking water, more than 83 per cent have no access to sanitary facilities.

The status of children in the district is also a story of gross violation of rights. While hundreds of children in villages across the district are deprived of a primary school within the stipulated 1.5 km radius of their place of stay, hundreds of children lost several valuable months due to ethnic violence that uprooted several thousand people in 2009. If the State Plan of Action for Children (2003) had said that 85 per cent primary schools in the North Cachar Hills had no drinking water, 86 per cent had no toilets, 68 per cent had no boundary walls and 68 per cent had no playgrounds, then the situation is definitely no better.

The tragedy, however, is that one does not get to read, hear or see anything much about what happened to the thousands of women and children who were rendered homeless, widowed and orphaned by the mindless violence that affected the district in 2009. Have they all returned home? Have they been able to rid themselves of the trauma inflicted by violence? Do those declarations like Millennium Development Goals and Vision Northeast 2020 touch them at all? 








Anjum Rajabali talks about the need to regulate the producer-writer relationship with a Model Contract, now endorsed by leading Bollywood screenwriters


Two recent cases have stirred up a storm in the film industry. Chetan Bhagat's grouse against the makers of 3 Idiots, and the settlement case between Ram Gopal Varma and Sonal Mehta, have raised a crucial question about the status of writers in the industry: Why does the writer end up with a raw deal as far as credit and money is concerned?


The history of Indian cinema is witness to such dismal instances: a case in point is that of Satish Bhatnagar. The reputed screenwriter wrote more than two dozen films including Maryada, Raaz, Abhilasha, Seeta Aur Geeta, Hera Pheri and Satte Pe Satta. Today, when this inspiring stalwart is unwell, he is unable to pay for his health-care and medicines, and is surviving on the charity of friends and a meagre dole from the Film Writers Association. This, even as his films attract profits today from re-releases and from frequently being aired on TV channels.

 Contrast this with Hollywood, or any other reputed film industry, where a screenwriter's future is secure after writing a single film with continuing royalties. The world over, screenwriters are paid a percentage of the revenues collected from different formats where a film is exhibited and telecast.

 The point is simply that the    quality of the screenwriter's work is indispensable to the film's success. To ensure the health of the film industry and to accord due dignity to the screenwriters, it is imperative that they be treated as stake-holders in the film-making business.

The Indian film industry has been going through a commercial crisis for the last two-and-a-half decades, with more than 85 per cent of released films being unable to recover their costs at the box office. Now, 2009 is regarded as one of the worst years recently, with perhaps less than five films qualifying as genuine successes.


Barring one lone example, Lagaan, no Indian film has found appeal among global audiences. This, despite the fact, that India is the largest film producer in the world (an average of 825 films produced annually, as compared to less than 400 from Hollywood).

A primary reason for this is that scriptwriting quality hasn't measured up. Producers complain about poor work of writers and barring a few successful writers, most complain about the poor professional terms. The most serious consequence is that writers have no professional incentive to invest in developing their skills and craft.

 To redress this situation, a Model Contract has been drafted which will streamline and regulate the producerwriter relationship. It has been collectively crafted by the Model Contract Consultative Group set up by the Film Writers Association in April 2007. After drafting, we shared it exhaustively with about 575 screenwriters, who attended the Indian Screenwriters Conference in December 2008, and with their feedback, finetuned it further. This draft contract has been endorsed by the entire Hindi film screenwriting community.


Members include names like Javed Akhtar, Jaideep Sahni, Abbas Tyrewala, Vishal Bhardwaj and Sriram Raghavan, among others.

 As Steven Spielberg said, "If the scriptwriter doesn't do his job, the rest of the unit doesn't have a job." Internationally, the screenwriter's status is evident in the placement of credit and the fees and royalties. Here, the writer comes way below in the food chain. His fees, on an average, are about five per cent of what the director receives, and in several instances about one per cent. His credit is seldom assured. If the film goes on to become a big hit leading to healthy surpluses for the producer from satellite rights, remake rights and other revenue streams, the writer on whose work the film is based, receives no share of those additional profits. Any money from spin-offs over and above the film like merchandising, adaptation, character used by an ad agency, should be shared with the writer.

There is hardly any statutory protection available to them under the law. As the producers lobby is financially strong, there is scant bargaining power that an individual screenwriter can draw upon.

Moreover, since the film industry has functioned like an unorganised sector for so long, there is hardly any internal regulation or accountability. Too many new writers are being paid Rs 25,000 for a fullfledged script. Producers argue that the writer is new. But they're paying for the work, not the experience. When the corporates came in, we hoped that talent will be valued in an organized industry. What happened was that earlier, the exploitation was ad hoc, now it has been formalised. The contract says that the credit will be given on the discretion of the filmmaker. This is worse than the feudal system.

Given that we believe this is in the mutual interest of the writer and the producer (it makes both parties accountable), we see no reason why producers should resist.








The results season is upon us and the analysis of the results of an early crop of 665 companies is cause for optimism. These companies, it is true, represent only one-fifth of the universe of all those companies that report their quarterly results on a regular basis. The initial numbers also tend to get skewed by an occasional outlier. But the analysis of this early sample by this paper's research bureau is showing some distinct and heartening trends. The good news is that we are seeing improved profitability across sectors like automobiles, auto ancillaries, IT, cement and steel. On average, the operating margins are up from 10.1 per cent a year ago to 14.7 per cent. Of course, Q3 and Q4 last year were terrible, having borne the full fury of the credit crunch. Twelve months ago, it wasn't really demand destruction, but sudden freezing of working capital and postponement of orders that was the problem. So, to avoid the illusion caused by a low base effect, it is better to compare the latest set of data with those in the December 2007 quarter. Compared to the picture two years ago, operating margins are down by 2 percentage points. This provides some justification to why the finance minister should avoid an abrupt exit from the fiscal stimulus. It is, however, heartening to note that the December quarter margins are only slightly lower than those in the previous quarter, even though input costs have risen substantially. This means that profits have been sustained by significant expansion in revenues and prices. Higher pricing power for the producer also indirectly reflects increase in demand. In other words, the quarterly corporate numbers clearly reflect the changed growth trajectory in the economy.


The overall increase in top line by 22 per cent, however, is skewed by one large company — Reliance Industries Limited — whose revenues are up by a whopping 93 percent, thanks to the increase in production of its Jamnagar unit. If that is removed from the sample, the top lines have grown modestly at around 13 per cent, with some biggies growing only by single digits. Similarly, sugar companies as a group also have skewed the average somewhat, since sugar prices shot up by 82 per cent, causing margins to go up steeply. But the broad picture is that margins are improving, and this result is unchanged even if we remove banking and finance companies from the sample. Profitability is rising, but is still considerably lower than peaks attained in 2007. Going ahead, there is greater uncertainty about input costs (including interest costs) and sustainability of pricing power. Hence further sequential improvement in the next quarter is doubtful. The stock market is already getting jittery anticipating excise duty hikes in the Budget, but hopefully, sentiment will revive in time for the pipeline of PSU divestment.







The old saw, "Buy on rumour and sell on news", alludes to the stock market's tendency to anticipate events. Investors are driven by earnings expectations, rather than historic records. This is why equity cycles lead the real economy. For example, the Nifty hits its historic high in January 2008, two quarters before the economy lost momentum. It started recovery in March 2009, a quarter or so before the economic cycle bottomed. This lead effect is true for the broader financial economy. Changes in interest rates and liquidity have lagged effects on the real economy but the bond and forex markets respond instantly. Rising liquidity triggers rising price-earnings ratios as bond yields fall. Currency movements, which often reflect rate differentials, also play a role in influencing the perceptions of portfolio investors.


The stock market correction, which has knocked 10 per cent off index values in 2010, is explicable only in the above context since the real cycle is picking up. Macro-economic data suggests India's GDP growth will bounce above 8 per cent in the next 12 months, playing its part in a rebound where global GDP should grow at over 3 per cent in 2010. By and large, Q3 2009-10 (October-December 2009) corporate results have been good. Projections indicate a broad recovery with earnings growing at over 25 per cent in the next 12 months. However, this is "news" anticipated by investors, who collectively pushed the Nifty up over 70 per cent between March 2009 and December 2009. Some have now booked profits obeying another dictum, "Nobody ever went broke taking a profit".


Recent data also contains a few disquieting signals, which add up to liquidity reduction. Inflation has risen quicker than anticipated. Friday's policy review may see RBI hiking the CRR and, perhaps, policy rates as well. Interest rate futures and T-bill yields have already hardened in anticipation. Rate-sensitives such as banks, NBFCs, development financial institutions and real estate have been hammered at the bourses. Beyond the rupee's domain, the Chinese have started taking steps to prevent over-heating. China's realty values rose 60 per cent in the past 12 months. The Shanghai Composite Index is at an average PE ratio of 30+ (India's Nifty PE is at 20). China has raised domestic interest rates. It may modify its mercantilist policy and hike the Yuan's peg against the US dollar to prevent unabated investment inflows and consequent asset inflation.


The alternatives of either a bubbly China, or a potentially stronger yuan, are both frightening to portfolio investors. Some are migrating to safe, hard-currency assets, including the hardest currency of all, bullion. A deeper correction in Indian equities would not be a bad thing from the perspective of the long-term investor. The current PE of 20 offers some safety margin, if growth is not quite up to expectations. A Nifty PE of 15 would be positively attractive. There could be some negative impact on the disinvestment programme, but the economic recovery remains strong. There is also the chance that the market has over-reacted. If RBI doesn't respond quite as harshly as analysts expect, ditto China, there could be a sharp rebound in equity values. That would be a case of "sell on rumour, buy on news".








SBI was able to improve the share of low-cost Casa deposits, which rose 636 basis points year-on-year to 43 per cent. State Bank of India's (SBI's) December quarter results were slightly better than expectations in terms of its top-line growth. Its standalone net interest income (interest earned minus expenditure) rose 9.7 per cent to Rs 6,316 crore.


However, higher expenditure meant that net profit (at Rs 2,479.05 crore) was almost the same as in the year-ago quarter. The NII (net interest income) growth was aided by a decline in cost of funds and a 19.15 per cent increase in advances, especially in home, auto and international segments. However, a benign interest rate environment and lending at sub-prime lending rates, particularly in the home loan segment, led to a 62 basis points fall in yield to 9.80 per cent.


Notably, SBI was able to improve the share of low-cost Casa deposits, which rose 636 basis points year-on-year to 43 per cent — the highest in seven quarters. While this helped bring down the cost of funds, the reduction in yields was sharper. Hence, even as SBI's net interest margins were up 27 basis points to 2.82 per cent as compared to September 2009, they were lower than the 3.1 per cent reported in December 2008 quarter.


Robust loan book growth helped the bank's fee income rise 36 per cent. Higher costs on account of expansion of its ATM and branch networks and hiring of new employees led to a 12.5 per cent rise in operating costs to Rs 5,064 crore. Hence, operating profits grew just 3 per cent to Rs 4,618 crore.


Some surprise came from the slippage in asset quality on a sequential basis with both gross and net non-performing assets (NPA) rising 12 and 15 basis points to 3.11 per cent and 1.88 per cent, respectively. Along with restructured assets, analysts say the total problem assets work out to over 6 per cent of gross advances.


Banks are mandated to make provisions for bad loans. For the quarter, SBI's provision cover ratio fell from 59.14 per cent in the September 2009 quarter to 56.19 per cent, at a time when banks have been mandated to increase the same to 70 per cent by September 2010.


For this, SBI will have to provide about Rs 1,000 crore every quarter, which along with the need to provide for fresh NPAs, will keep profits under pressure for the next three quarters, say analysts. These concerns, coupled with the pressure on yields, have seen the stock underperform in the past three weeks, a trend which analysts believe will continue in the near-term.









For the December 2009 quarter, SAIL saw net sales at Rs 9,880 crore up 11 per cent year-on-year, in line with market expectations, even as seasonal impact saw sales dip 2 per cent sequentially. The company's steel sales was at 2.9 million tonnes (mt) in the recently concluded quarter against 3 mt in the September 2009 quarter and 2.4 mt in December 2008 quarter.


 Operating margins more than doubled to 26.59 per cent year-on-year helped by lower input costs. For instance, imported coking coal costs fell 35 per cent to Rs 3,820 crore. Realisations were steady even as the company announced two price cuts in flat products of Rs 750-1,500 per tonne and Rs 500 per tonne midway through quarter. Long product prices started moving up only towards the end of the quarter. Consequently, Ebitda margins dipped 291 basis points (bps) sequentially.


Helped by China's production global steel output has grown 30 per cent y-o-y in the December 2009 quarter and is clearly above the growth in demand according to analysts. China's robust production has titled the balance towards miners over steel producers, say experts, and rising input costs (for both iron ore and coking coal) and falling profitability is inevitable, unless producers raise prices in line with cost increases.


SAIL may spend as much as Rs 13,000 crore to expand capacity in 2010-11 compared with an estimated Rs 10,350 crore this financial year. It also plans to sell 10 per cent of its equity through a public offer to raise as much as Rs 5,000 crore, based on current prices. The stock was down over 4 per cent post results on 27 January, but made up some of the lost ground. At Rs 220, up 1.7 per cent from Wednesday's close, it is valued at a P/E of about 15.3 times its trailing 12 month EPS.










Although the strength of the US economy in 2010 remains uncertain, it is important to look ahead to its likely performance in the coming decade. The rise of GDP over the next 10 years will reflect the very positive effect of the eventual recovery from the current deep downturn, combined with a below-trend rise in the economy's potential output at full employment. When I add up all the key components, I conclude that the coming decade's annual growth is likely to be about 1.9 per cent, roughly the same as the average rate over the past 10 years.


To understand why, let's start with the cyclical recovery. I'll make the optimistic but plausible assumption that the economy will fully recover over the next decade, lowering the unemployment rate from the current 10 per cent to about 5 per cent. That return to full employment will also reduce the number of people who, discouraged that no jobs exist for those with their skills, have stopped looking for work (and are, therefore, not counted as unemployed).


That cyclical recovery of employment will cause GDP to rise by about 13 per cent over the next decade, or an average of 1.2 per cent per year. That represents a substantial turnaround from the past decade, when the unemployment rate rose from 4 per cent to 10 per cent and the labour-force participation rate fell from 67 per cent to 65 per cent, reducing GDP by about 1.6 per cent per year.


The full rise in GDP will combine the 1.2 per cent-per-year cyclical rebound with the increase in potential full-employment GDP. The growth of potential GDP will reflect the structural rise of the labour force, the increase in the capital stock, and the improvement in multi-factor productivity (i.e., the change in the output that results from improvements in technology rather than from increases in labour and capital). Although there are uncertainties about each of these components of growth, their performance in the coming years is unlikely to be as good as it was in recent decades.


Slower population growth and a demography-driven decline in the labour-force participation rate will reduce employment growth. Indeed, the US Department of Labor recently predicted that the labour force will grow by only 8 per cent between 2008 and 2018, down from 12 per cent in the previous 10 years. That growth of the labour force will raise potential GDP by only about 0.5 per cent per year.


Although the capital stock will benefit from a higher household saving rate, the increase will be offset by more government "dissaving" as budget deficits remain high. A reluctance of foreign investors to keep accumulating dollar assets will cause a smaller capital inflow from the rest of the world.


Finally, the change in potential GDP will depend on what happens to the rate of change of multi-factor productivity. According to the OECD, US multi-factor productivity rose at a relatively stable annual rate of about 0.75 per cent from 1985 to 2000, and then jumped to 1.4 per cent per year from 2001 through 2008. There is no way to know whether the rate of growth of multi-factor productivity will remain at its current level or will revert to the pre-2000 pace.


Assuming slower growth in the labour force than in the past decade, no rise in productivity due to capital accumulation, and a decline in multi-factor productivity growth to its pre-2000 average implies that annual potential GDP growth will be only 1.4 per cent. Combining these conservative assumptions about potential GDP with the effect of the cyclical rebound — an estimated 1.2 per cent annual rise in real GDP — would produce real GDP growth at an average annual rate of 2.6 per cent, which would be significantly higher than the 1.9 per cent rate in the decade ending in 2009.


But not all of the extra output produced over the next decade will remain in the US. If the trade deficit is reduced by 3 per cent of GDP between now and the end of the decade, the implied rise in exports and decline in imports would reduce output available for US consumption and investment by about 0.3 per cent per year.


The effect of a decline in the dollar over the coming decade could be equally important. If the real trade-weighted value of the dollar falls by 25 per cent over the coming decade, and the full effect of that dollar decline is reflected in import prices, the increased cost of imports would reduce the growth of US real incomes by about 0.4 per cent a year.


These two international effects would leave annual net growth of real goods and services available for US consumption and investment — both domestically produced and imported — at just 1.9 per cent, implying no change compared to the past decade. During those years, the rise in the volume of net imports just balanced the effect of the dollar's fall on the total cost of imports. As a result, the rise in the real value of goods and services available for US consumption and investment was the same as the rise of real GDP.


There are, of course, serious downside risks to this forecast, especially if the fiscal deficit remains high or adverse tax policies depress the rise in productivity. The government should take the weak 10-year projection as a warning and a reason to devote policies to reducing fiscal deficits and strengthening incentives for growth.


The author is a Professor of Economics at Harvard, was Chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors and President of the National Bureau for Economic Research










The Oberois of East India Hotels have brought in Analjit Singh as a white knight. ITC has acquired close to 15 per cent in the company — a few more shares to go for the mandatory open offer, and the Oberois could lose the business they have built painstakingly over three generations. They have done what we have always expected all businessmen to do: Protect their company.


But that doesn't always happen. Some time back, I had asked Anand Burman if it hurt when Dabur Pharma got sold to Fresenius Kabi of Germany. He thought for a while and said, "No." The answer, I must admit, surprised me. Dabur Pharma had been his baby from day one. He had made it a research-driven company, and Dabur Pharma was able to develop a niche for itself in the field of oncology. Not an easy task. Burman himself is a scientist. He has over three dozen patents under his belt, and the best days of his working life, he admits, have been spent in a laboratory. It didn't hurt him to sell a business he built from scratch? I was stumped.


This perhaps is the new fact of business in India. It is no longer a matter of shame to build a business and then sell it for a good price. The Oberois could find themselves in a minority. The idea of business, the argument goes, is to make money. So, if there is somebody who values your business more than you, what's wrong with selling it to him? Another argument says that if somebody else can run the business better than you, then let him do so; that's in the best interests of the business. It has become old fashioned to be attached to your business.


In the past, there were just a handful of serial entrepreneurs like C Sivasankaran or Amit Judge. Others would baulk at the idea of selling an asset they had built. (Some even drove their companies to sickness rather than turn it over to somebody else. Of course, any reference to the Board for Industrial & Financial Reconstruction meant you got the creditors off your back.) I had once asked the late Lalit Mohan Thapar if he would ever sell his grand house on the banks of the Ganga near Hardwar to any hotelier; he almost choked with shock. But that's not what the new lot thinks.


Take the example of Ranbaxy. Bhai Mohan Singh, who bought the company from Ranjit Singh and Gurbax Singh in a distress sale, would often call it his fourth son, after Parvinder, Manjit and Analjit. Yet, his grandsons, Malvinder and Shivinder, sold it to Daiichi Sankyo of Japan for close to Rs 10,000 crore. Apart from some old timers who felt bad, most others complimented the brothers on the timing of the sale — the Ranbaxy stock fell soon thereafter. The family could never have made so much money had it stayed invested.


Merchant bankers these days are flooded once again with mandates to sell assets — companies, land, factories, brands et al. The list of sellers they mention will shock anybody. These include some of the most venerated names of the Indian corporate landscape. Everybody knows that valuations are on a rebound and it is once again good time to sell. So, expect some big names to change hands over the next couple of years. Buyers though are still cautious — the valuations demanded by sellers, they feel, have like in 2006 and 2007, become unreasonable. But everybody knows that it's just a matter of time before they arrive at an agreeable price.


This is a significant mindset change from the past. Family silver was never pawned or sold, no matter how dire the situation may have become. This perhaps is the reason why hostile takeovers were unheard of in India till recently. There were never enough sellers in the market. In the mid-1980s, Swraj Paul came to India and found sitting ducks in Escorts and DCM. The promoters had small stakes in the company. The Shrirams of DCM (it was called Delhi Cloth Mills before the raid) had, in fact, been merrily selling shares to pay the punitive taxes levied by the government. It was only after the raid was called off (after substantial government intervention, of course) that businessmen realised how tenuous their hold was over their companies.


In the new scheme of things, when promoters are ready to "unlock value", businesses have come to be structured differently. It's an open secret that the company has always been the cash cow for most businessmen. The purchase function, for example, was always entrusted to a member of the family. I don't have to tell you why. The methods have now become more sophisticated. My advice would be to check out who owns the real estate where the company's offices are located, and who owns the security company that has been hired to guard the factory? The idea is that even if a company gets sold, a steady source of income should be there for the promoters.








As I visited the US last fortnight, one thing came home to me: The country has very little political will to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Policy-makers and media professionals talk about the climate change crisis. But any opinion on cutting emissions, based on historical or even current responsibility, is just dismissed. The public perception, seemingly carefully nurtured, is that it is runaway pollution in China and India that will devastate the world. Indeed, any talk about serious action by the US is hushed up, for it will mean playing into the hands of the Republicans. You are then sternly reminded that President Barack Obama is better than his predecessor, George Bush, on climate change. In other words, it is the responsibility of the world to now support his weak and meaningless actions. Else, the likes of Bush will be back. Talk about being held to ransom.


Currently, just to bring the reluctant US on board, the world is being asked to agree on the Copenhagen accord, literally a polluter's manual. With no targets for industrialised countries to cut emissions, it seriously undermines the world's fight against climate change. Under the accord, how much each country must reduce its emissions by is not based on historical and current emissions. It is self-chosen, voluntary; never mind if it adds up to nothing. The US has offered some 3 per cent reduction below what it emitted in 1990 — what is required of it is 40 per cent below 1990 levels. Add up all the current pledges and the world is on course for at least 3°C rise in temperature, says the UN itself.


Yet, according to US chief climate negotiator Todd Stern, the accord is really clever: "You cannot underestimate the importance of a breach in the firewall between developed and developing countries". The "breach" is that India, China and all others have to pledge what they will do to cut emissions (although in a separate schedule). Everyone is now part of the global deal to cut emissions. This in itself is not a bad idea. But the fact is our entry facilitates a process to wipe out the principle that action must be taken on the basis of equity — country targets apportioned on the basis of historical and current contributions. The accord, if it becomes the framework for future negotiations, will simply overwrite the principle of equity in burden-sharing.


The move also implies that once past responsibility is erased, industrialised nations will have no obligation to pay for the transition in the developing world or provide technology on favourable terms.


The burden of transition has already shifted. The UN's own estimate is that, based on the stated pledges of different countries, developing countries will cut double what Annex 1 countries will do by 2020.


Bluntly, the Copenhagen accord divides the world into "polluters" and "beggars". China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the like are being promised the right to pollute if they legitimise the right of the US and the rest to pollute. The rest of the world, small polluters and the like, apparently hungry for money, are promised funds for compliance. Remember how, the last night of COP15, the US and the UK openly told the Maldives and Bangladesh that they would not get money if the accord was not operationalised because of the intransigence of big developing countries. There is just no clarity on where this money will come from, and when. Fictional money, riding on a dishonest bribe.


But let's return to the US. Will this strategy work? Has the world stooped low enough?


Not enough, I suspect. Last week, the Democratic party lost a crucial seat — Ted Kennedy's constituency of Massachusetts — to the Republican party. With this, they lost their majority in the House. There's more excuse to do less. Already, talk (in the power-media corridors) goes that the present Boxer-Kerry Bill, which sets out these weak targets, will not go through the Senate. It is even said the Bill, being recast as an energy-efficiency law, will be even weaker (if that is possible) than what's on the table.


In short, the world will have destroyed its blueprint for effective action on climate change all for the US, which will still renege and ask for even more. This is not new. In 1992 (the climate treaty), 1997 (the Kyoto Protocol) and 2007 (the Bali Action Plan), all ambitions were whittled down, stuffed with loopholes and made inconsequential, all to suit the US. Still, the US walked out. How low will the race to the bottom take us now?


The news is not good. For instance, the US government has written to the World Bank saying it must not fund coal-based power stations in the developing world. Based on these "instructions", the first such project, in Pakistan, has been cancelled. But the US goes ahead with its plants.


So, how will the world deal with the US? That is the zillion-dollar climate question.








Obama: The White House political team loves comparing Barack Obama to Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, predecessors who easily won second terms despite early stumbles in their first ones. But the economic and fiscal pincers which constrain Obama are much tighter. None of the president's proposals in Wednesday's State of the Union speech can do much to free him.


Obama said high unemployment would be his number one focus this year. No wonder, as it is the issue of most concern to voters, and the biggest reason their support for the president and Congress is falling.


The president made some proposals — money for small business lending and a tax credit for hiring — which may help at the margins. But the new initiatives would probably cost less than $100 billion, a fraction of the $300 billion or so in stimulus spending so far, which has not prevented the unemployment rate from climbing to 10.0 per cent currently from 7.7 per cent at the start of 2009. Good luck finding an economist — even inside the Obama administration — who has great expectations from the proposed new spending.


On unemployment Obama is falling behind his comeback predecessors. Most forecasters see an unemployment

rate around 10 per cent heading into 2011. The first full year of the Reagan recovery in 1983 saw the rate fall by 2.5 percentage points, while Clinton inherited a growing economy and a falling unemployment.


Looking at the political damage caused be high joblessness, Obama would no doubt have preferred to announce something bolder. The liberal Economic Policy Institute has a $400 billion plan that takes in everything from tax credits to government make-work positions.


But that price tag doesn't go with the double-digit deficit, which spooks financial markets and independent voters. Obama nodded in their direction with a proposed idea-seeking commission and a very limited three-year spending freeze. While not exactly a frugal Hooverite response, it's not exactly New Deal II, either.


Forget Reagan and Clinton. One-term Jimmy Carter might be the better historical comparison


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The Uttar Pradesh chief minister's latest move would be considered unusual even in a country with a monarchial tradition like Britain, whose spies are said to be On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS). If the British parliament adopted a bill like the one recently moved by the UP government, OHMSS could even stand for On Her Majesty's Statue Service! A special task force (STF) of 1,000 policemen is to be set up to guard the 10 memorials in UP — 9 in Lucknow, one in Noida — featuring Mayawati's statues along with those of Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram.

The Supreme Court had stayed the construction of more such memorials, responding to a petition alleging expenditure of crores of rupees of public money on these statues. UP, whose ratio of policemen per every 100,000 people is among the lowest in India, will now have the world's best ratio for cops protecting statues, especially those of Ms Mayawati, who could cite Opposition leader Mulayam Singh's threat to pull down the statues, if his party regained power, to defend the new force.

Mayawati's advisers could well ask whether a squad of 1,000 cops is alone enough to protect these statues from all those harbouring nefarious designs. For instance, can a land-based force foil pigeons which relieve thermselves on statues in even the most developed nations? The historic statue in London's Trafalgar Square has to be scrubbed to remove traces of bird droppings so often that, four decades ago, the wife of the then British prime minister Harold Wilson wrote a poem which began, "They are cleaning Lord Nelson".

If Lucknow's pigeons are as poorly toilet-trained as their London counterparts, the only way to maintain the pristine purity of the Mayawati memorials would be to have a mini air-force of pilots in planes to chase away approaching birds. Competitions could be held to decide which is the cleanest memorial and the officer in charge could be fast-tracked for promotion!







Despite the acrimony, it is clear that Mahinda Rajapaksa has won a resounding victory in Sri Lanka's presidential election. Apprehensions do attend on this win, but there are two immediate positives: the prospect of political stability, necessary for the larger task of national reconciliation and devolution of power, and the fact that Rajapaksa is a known quantity for India. And New Delhi could certainly leverage the latter fact for implementing the complex reconciliation agenda. Then again, there is a question mark on Rajapaksa's intent and sincerity on that very count.

For, he has also symbolised the idea of a Sinhala majoritarianism that historically has denied the minorities their rights. Indeed, on that score, there was little to choose between the re-elected president and the opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka. Both are part of a political discourse that, at the core, envisages a military solution to the Tamil problem. Of course, that vision was also abetted by the intransigence and murderousness of the LTTE, which eliminated all possible Tamil political alternatives. And one of the more necessary and critical tasks now would be to allow and aid the articulation of a post-LTTE Tamil democratic political formation.

An indicator of how tough this would be was the low turnout in the Tamil-dominated areas. Until the Tamil population's humanitarian needs are met speedily, allowing them to move out of the camps and rebuild their lives, a package that is built around devolution of political power will remain an endlessly-deferred dream. Which, in turn, would legitimise inevitable calls for resurgence of Tamil militarism. The other question that impinges on this is whether Rajapaksa will now use his unquestioned political legitimacy to demilitarise Sinhala society itself or deploy it to seek an absolute majority in a possible early general election — with a view to tinker with the Constitution so as to enshrine a dynastic politics the Rajapaksa brothers have often been accused of. There has certainly been a streak of triumphalism to Rajapaksa. And New Delhi must do its utmost to convince Colombo that the route to a permanent solution does not lie through it.







The positive impact of the fiscal stimulus and operational efficiencies forced by the economic turmoil is all too evident in the December quarter performance of Indian companies. The performance of a sample of 750 companies shows that net profit climbed 60%, outstripping , by far, the 13% growth in net sales, over Q3 of 2008-09 , the worst quarter of the slowdown. More notably, net profit growth was not propped up by other income, unlike in the past. Rather, other income declined by more than 19% for this sample, comprising mostly manufacturing units and service providers, including information technology companies.

Decline in interest costs (-14 .3%) and a slower rise in salary expenses (5%) too helped. The performance — both net sales and net profit — was the best in four quarters following the onset of the economic crisis. Operating profits too impressed — rising by more than 38% from a year ago. Significantly, operating margins have been steadily rising, it was up 18% in April-June 2009 and 25.6% in July-September 2009 . But, it may be too early to call the performance robust — sequential growth was not particularly impressive. Net sales rose a little more than 4% and net profit by 5.7%.

The worst of the financial and the economic crisis may be over. A pick-up in demand should translate into more robust sales, irrespective of whether the government partly withdraws its stimulus measures. However, the turn in economic and business cycles will pose fresh challenges for companies, and put downward pressure on margins in the quarters ahead. The rise in commodity prices poses a future risk. With economies across the world reviving, commodities including metals are bound to rise further. Extracting more efficiency would not easy. Costs on human resources are already rising, with companies restarting hiring and the market for skills getting competitive again. The cost of funds too would climb, as the Reserve Bank of India would, sooner or later, have to tighten monetary policy, to prevent asset bubbles and manage inflationary expectations. Indian industry now needs to think of new strategies for growth.








The tax code comes in the economic background of over 400 million people being below the poverty line; with many areas disturbed due to underdevelopment; sustained policies of inclusive growth having reduced the poverty ratio but not absolute numbers; and a huge lack of infrastructure . The present tax laws have been one of the enabling tools for GDP growth of 8%. The accompanying table indicates the stupendous pending developmental task with a clear focus on lowincome states.

Economics with a pragmatic approach must therefore prevail over classical economic theory if it spurs capital formation , inclusive development, and employment . In India's context, this must be the litmus test. The code, while simplifying law and reducing tax rules and removing exemptions, appears to have been designed primarily as an instrument of plugging all loopholes even overturning legal tax-relief provisions and precedents; and giving unprecedented subjective powers for this. It simplifies and reduces personal taxes but with substantial deferred taxes on savings. Monetary stimulus helped India to overcome potential recession; similarly tax stimulus helped regional development and employment. A reading of the table will lay the bare facts. But the objectives of development and employment have not been the driving force of this code.

Consider incentives for infrastructure and industries in backward hill states. Presently they enjoy normal depreciation (approximately 90% in six years) as well as 100% and 30% tax holiday for specified periods from five to 15 years. This is being substituted only by 100% accelerated depreciation for infrastructure industries; generally their sale prices are controlled by regulators. Tax-holiday policy improved net returns (ROI) and hence drew huge investment into these sectors. Over 60% has come from fund investors. Secondly, infrastructure funds will lose pass through status thus increasing tax incidence. Minimum alternate tax (MAT) computed at 2% on gross asset book value (under company law accounts) without future set off will increase the tax incidence on book profits as accelerated depreciation is only computed for tax, not accounting.

These measures will impact ROI; product price; and cascade on downstream products affecting agriculture and manufacturing; where energy and transport costs are major cost elements. For example a 500MW power plant costing Rs 2,500 crore will bear 2% MAT of Rs 50 crore. This would raise the annual cost of power produced by the plant by 6% above Rs 900 crore. Can we afford to lose competitiveness for global fund flows in infrastructure? The power capacity growth lag is a moot witness. Further, is the economy ready for a cost push in basic goods which will affect global competitiveness of manufacturing?

Monetary stimuli averted national economic recession. Region specific tax stimulus measure of 100% direct tax exemption and indirect tax for specified periods boosted investment, employment and development of Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh, where it was supported by infrastructure and law & order; while failing in other places without the latter. It reduced migration and diverted youth from antisocial activities. The government should replicate this tax stimulus in Maoist areas. This author's plea is only for tax exemption to infrastructure undertakings anywhere and to manufacturing in disturbed areas.

THE employment:capital ratio and output: Capital ratio is much higher in the MSME units as compared to heavy industries. These have low capital assets and will exhaust accelerated depreciation in 4-5 years. The area-specific tax holiday stimuli should continue at least for MSME plants (if not to all) in disturbed areas if put up in next seven years (supported by holistic development) to stimulate fast employment generation. The Maoists will then lose their raison de etre. The code cannot be an island in itself; its framework must give this enabling power to the government. Mr P Chidambaram , the main author of the code, will perhaps support this as home minister.

The discussion note states — Para 12.23 — "Such area-based exemptions create economic distortions i.e. divert resources to areas where there is no comparative advantage... and lead to tax evasion and avoidance." In principle, in an ideal economy, we cannot dispute this. But large parts of India i.e. Bharat have not developed to that stage. The answer to tax evasion is faster computerisation and GST. VAT in excise duty and sales tax led to an over 25% boost in revenue and reduced evasion; process will be intensified with GST. Would you rather have inclusive development and employment or worry about allocation of resources and 5% evasion?

Reduction in personal income-tax is a welcome measure and will broaden the tax base. However, incentives for savings are being whittled down. EET is being introduced, capital gains tax reintroduced on quoted share/units investment transactions replacing the administratively much simpler security transaction tax. Investment in residential house as a means of capital gains exemption is being sharply curtailed . Interest on loans for housing can only be adjusted from rental income. Construction has been the highest employment generator the world over. The code is disincentivising this. Our savings rate at 36.8% is well away from China's 56% — an imperative for economic growth. Reduction in personal taxes will help; but will EET encourage consumption vis-à-vis savings? The substitution of STT system by the new system will divert savings from productive equity investment to rent seeking.

The LAFFER CURVE strongly demonstrates that tax revenue shall further increase with lower rates. The experience of many countries shows 20% to 22% to be an ideal rate leading to stronger compliance and higher economic activity. Stronger technology input in accounting and tax administration will curb evasion and boost revenue. In India's development situation, we need the proposed lower rates, combined with early GST and continuing a fine-tuned tax stimuli for regional infrastructure development and employment.

In seven years, we can again review the need for tax stimuli. In the interregnum , let us actively pursue the disinvestment policy to generate Rs 50,000 crore annually for budgetary resources to offset tax stimuli losses. Developed India should move towards classical system of low tax with no exemptions and developing India i.e. Bharat should be supported by tax stimulus which promotes inclusive development and employment with holistic development.

(The author is managing partner of S S Kothari Mehta & Co)








The story goes that when Seisetsu was the master of Engaku he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umezu, a wealthy merchant, decided to donate 500 pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. He brought it to the teacher and Seisetsu agreed to accept it. But Umezu was dissatisfied with this attitude. After all 500 ryo was 500 ryo and he felt he should at least be thanked for it. "Even if I am a wealthy merchant, that's worth a lot of money there," he reminded Seisetsu gently. "So do you want me to thank you for it?" asked Seisetsu. "You ought to," replied Umezu. "But why should I?" inquired Seisetsu. "The giver should be thankful."

Should the master have thanked his benefactor? Take an extreme example of giving which lies at the opposite end of the spectrum : a bribe. Normally, the person who gives the bribe is thankful and, whether he says it or not in so many words, it's taken for granted to be inherent in his attitude . The bribe taker, on the other hand, is usually never thankful for receiving it. At the most, if he's feeling ashamed or bashful for accepting it he may mutter something like, "Oh where was the need for this," or "You shouldn't have." There's a reason for this; the person genuinely thinks he deserves the money for the services he's offering in return. Illegal or immoral; it's fair enough.

Or take a more acceptable and legal form of financial transaction like salaries which are generally given after the services have been rendered. Again, no employer ever thanks the employee for receiving payment at the end of the month. Because, again, he thinks he deserves it. If anything , the employee is thankful because by investing in that human resource , his business could proper with more profits coming in.

To assign the best motive to Umezu, we could say he parted with his gold because he probably believed in the spiritual service the school was doing for the community and wanted it to grow more commodious and expand . In which case he must have been already thankful for its existence. Of course he should not have asked the master to thank him but by the same logic given earlier, we would also have to assume that Seisetsu didn't thank the merchant to begin with because he believed he deserved it for rendering those same services . How masterly is that?






Is the debate on a single regulator really worthwhile? We do have various players in different sectors who are regulated by four regulators in the financial sector. There are overlaps in product design, distribution channels and arbitrages in the areas of capital and channel reward systems. All the players mobilise household savings from a common pool. Banking companies have an elaborate distribution system of their own through their branch-network and their employees. Asset management companies (AMCs) have an open architecture distribution arrangement . The brokers who sell these products earn their fees from investors and are expected to be loyal to them. Insurance firms, on the other hand, use a substantial direct agency channel that engages more than three million people. AMCs and insurers also depend on the banking system for their distribution through their bank assurance channel.

Earlier on, Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIPs) were designed by an AMC. The element of protection cover on a back to back was written by the life insurer. With the emergence of private sector insurance companies , we now have insurers who have designed ULIPs and are mobilising savings through these products.

Despite the issues of the regulatory arbitrages, the financial services sector benefits through the optimum utilisation of distribution channels through innovative products which may overlap and fall within the jurisdiction of more than one regulator. There is nothing unusual about this. It does happen in many markets and there can be an efficient coexistence of different players as long as the larger purpose of mobilizing savings is served.

We do have, perhaps, peculiarities in the overlap due to a very flat tax incentive system. It does not distinguish or encourage savings in regards its size and the maturity period to any effective extent . What we do need is convergence of regulation rather than debate over the issue of a single regulator. The tax incentive structure should also go hand in hand with such a converged plan.







The Securities and Exchange Board of India is probably right in asking how life companies, whose basic dharma is to offer life cover, can straddle into pure investment products without adhering to the discipline that mutual fund schemes are subject to.

Integrated regulation, or super regulation, followed in about 30 countries, half of them in Europe, is, however, a response to market aberrations. Following the securities market scam in the nineties , our joint Parliament committee had voted against the need for a super regulator. There are sound reasons not to change this approach while we have demonstrated the robustness and competency of our regulatory system to the world.

Our regulators play a unique development role, not stopping with just regulation. In insurance and pensions, where public expectations are high to improve the affordability and penetration levels, sectoral regulators try to keep their ears close to the ground. The recent IRDA guidelines allowing product innovation through combi cover offered jointly by life and non-life companies is an example of regulatory-cum-development initiative. RBI has selectively used regulations to bar excesses of banks in capital markets. We need initiatives in micro insurance, micro finance, rural savings and investment products, which are better accomplished by sectoral regulators.

Better accountability and orderly behaviour of market participants can be achieved through improving the current high level coordination committee on financial markets, involving executive committees from multi regulators to promptly examine emerging issues and arranging joint inspection by regulatory teams to ensure compliance . Regulatory bodies (including the MoF) also need to undertake better capacity building, hire market experts and upgrade skill sets of their staff. As long as the bulk of our financial system is in the hands of public sector institutions, we should aim to handle turf wars and market aberrations through a consultative process instead of copying a model that may not suit our diverse and emerging needs.








It appears tax has to be withheld on all imports or payments to non-residents. A clarification is urgently required to resolve doubts. Zenobia Aunty was spotted the other day, staring dismally at the crashing waves off Marine Drive. She just doesn't seem to understand tax anymore or so she thinks. Her niece; this columnist decided to approach a friendly tax expert to find out the root cause of her Aunt's gloom. "If you want to pay a non-resident , just deduct tax at source," he snapped and booted her out.

The cause of this turmoil, faced by everyone in India and all those who do business with India, appears to be a recent decision of the Karnataka High Court, in the case of Samsung Electronics Ltd. The high court has held that on import of shrink-wrapped software tax has to be deducted at source in India. Earlier, tax tribunals in umpteen cases have held that payments made for import of shrink-wrapped software are akin to purchase of goods (a copyrighted article) and is not 'royalty' and no tax is to be withheld in India.

Interestingly, the high court did not answer the issue of nature of payment for import of shrink-wrapped software question but said that all payments for imports into India are subject to tax deduction at source.

Tax authorities asked for a lemon, but they have got a melon. The judgement has very wide ramifications. The implication of the Karnataka High Court's decision seems to be, that in all instances of import of any goods, irrespective of its chargeability to tax in India, tax must be withheld and paid to the Indian government and only the balance can be remitted to the foreign supplier.

The only scenario under which the payer (Indian importer in this case) shall not be under an obligation to withhold tax in India or may withhold tax at a lower rate, is when the payer obtains prior approval from the assessing officer by making an application under section 195(2) of the Income tax Act (Act).

The Karnataka High Court apparently has relied on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Transmission Corporation of AP. However, tax experts point out that the implications of the Supreme Court decision are quite different.

The tax expert called back to grumpily explain that the Supreme Court in the case of Transmission Corporation had held that tax is to be deducted at source only on the sum on which income tax is leviable and on which income could be assessed to tax under the Act. Thus, in his view, the payer has to determine whether or not the payment is subject to tax in the hands of the foreign recipient or supplier of goods or services. If income is not chargeable to tax in India, where is the question of deducting tax when making payment to the foreign supplier? There are CBDT circulars which the payer can still rely on and not deduct tax at source, if the income is not taxable in India, he stresses.

However, if one does not wish to take this stand, as suggested by the tax expert, it does appear that in all instances of payments , the taxpayer will have to approach the tax authorities for obtaining a dispensation order under section 195(2), an additional administrative burden! If the Indian payer does not do so, the payer will bear the consequences of non-withholding .

For example, an Indian company imports equipment, if tax is not withheld at source, the entire expense will be disallowed , even if in the view of the Indian company, there is no tax to be withheld in India as the foreign supplier does not have a permanent establishment (fixed place of business in India) . Such payment is not royalty or fees for technical services, which mandate a tax withholding. Plus, the home country of the foreign supplier may not give a foreign tax credit for taxes 'wrongfully' withheld in India. It sure puts a spanner in the wheels of international trade and commerce.

One can also visualise scenarios where the implications of this judgement stretch beyond import of goods. A Mauritius company, sells its shareholding in ABC Ltd, an Indian company to XYZ Ltd, another Indian company. Sale of shares of an Indian company by a Mauritius resident, under the 'capital gains' clause of the tax treaty, does not trigger a tax incidence in India.

However, will XYZ Ltd, as per the 'letter' of this high court decision, have to deduct tax at source, before remitting money to the Mauritius seller of shares? If this be the case, global restructuring will get a beating.
Even as Zenobia Aunty was dictating this column, a single member bench of the Mumbai Tax Tribunal has relied on the Samsung decision, however, this was done presumably without considering a favourable view of the Mumbai Tribunal's Special Bench. Zenobia Aunty learns that a similar issue will now come up before a Special Tribunal Bench in Chennai.

It may be some time before the Supreme Court can clarify this issue. Thus, the MoF must quell the doubts arising in the minds of global players. Else who would want to do business with India?

A recent decision by the Karnataka High Court has raised doubts on tax withholding in India It appears tax has to be withheld on all imports or payments to non-residents A clarification is urgently required to resolve doubts








Expect higher tax rates and massive disinvestment in the coming Budget to help reduce the huge fiscal deficit from 6.8% of GDP this year to 3% over the next five years. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will package his higher indirect tax rates as an exit from the fiscal stimulus of 2008-09 and a return to the path of fiscal responsibility.

Such sound finance will not, however, be politically popular, and critics will complain that it is inflationary. Hence, the tax hikes are likely to be introduced in small instalments — increases of 1% or 2% at a time — over a long period.

The finance minister is entering that part of the political cycle that calls for fiscal toughness rather than populism. When a government serves a full five-year term, its fifth and last budget is typically a giveaway budget, attempting to buy votes in the coming election. The first budget of a new government is also typically populist, to thank voters. But the second and third budgets have belt-tightening measures to make up for the earlier populism. And we are about to witness the second budget of the UPA-II government.

No changes in direct tax rates are expected till the Direct Tax Code is fully discussed, and that will take another year. But, given the high inflation of the past two years, the income tax exemption limit could be raised a bit to provide relief to middle-class families.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST), to replace the existing spectrum of indirect taxes levied by the Centre and states, cannot be implemented by April this year, as earlier hoped by the finance minister. The target date may be put off by a full year. State finance ministers are yet to determine what GST rates they will levy.

Optimists hope for GST rates of 8% each for the Centre and states. In that case, the Central excise duty can stay at its current 8% level, making any rollback unnecessary. However, the FM shows no sign of being so optimistic.

The Budget will assume fast GDP growth of up to 9% for 2010-11, with a correspondingly high boost in tax collections. Tax revenues could rise by over Rs 1,00,000 crore. At the same time, outlays on the government's flagship programmes such as Bharat Nirman and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) may be hiked only modestly, after steep increases last year.

The combination of these two factors, plus massive disinvestments of public sector shares, could reduce the fiscal deficit substantially.


The Budget may, however, have to provide a much higher sum for the food subsidy with the expansion of cheap food supplies under the proposed Food Security Act. Many state governments are already providing voters with cheap rice or wheat, and it is unclear how the burden of the Food Security Act will be shared by the Centre and states. The same is true for burden-sharing of additional costs entailed by the Right to Education.

Inflation is a political hot potato, and food prices have risen exceptionally fast. However, this cannot easily be countered as long as Indian food prices remain below global rates. Hopefully, a bumper monsoon, along with a good global crop, will bring down prices later in the year. However, metal and manufactured prices may continue to rise, as the world recovers from the recession. The base effect will tend to produce lower inflation figures as the year progresses. The FM may target an inflation rate of just 4% by the end of 2010-11.

Indian stock markets are likely to be buoyant, and this in turn should help the government raise unprecedentedly high sums by selling minority stakes in public sector corporations. Investment banker Uday Kotak expects inflows into the market of $15 billion (almost Rs 70,000 crore) each from foreign institutional investors and Indian insurance companies, plus another $5 billion (Rs 23,000 crore) from retail investors. This inflow can support disinvestments of well over Rs 50,000 crore, if the government gets its act together.

The Central sales tax is currently at 2%. Possibly, the finance minister will cut it to 1% in the Budget, and say it would be abolished when GST is introduced in April 2011.

There is no sign of the political will to abandon price controls — which translate into massive subsidies — for fertilisers, petrol, diesel and cooking gas. The Kirit Parikh Committee is looking into fuel pricing. But the recommendations of many earlier committees on the topic have been ignored, and the Parikh committee may not fare much better.








The pick up in economic activity is yet to reflect in the fortunes of real estate companies. The sector is dogged by an oversupply of residential and commercial units. KP Singh, chairman of India's biggest realty company DLF, spoke to ET about the hurdles slowing the recovery of this all important sector. Excerpts:

Do you think the government should assign more importance to the real estate sector and relax some restrictions?
Definitely. The government must recognise the importance of real estate in India. It contributes heavily to the GDP growth. It is also one of the biggest creators of employment in the country. I would say the government must take up reforms more aggressively.

Is the sector now out of the woods?

As I said earlier, there are lots of issues that need to be addressed. Currently, the sector is flooded with unauthorised players. Almost 60% of the total development in the country is unauthorised . This needs to be solved. But you can't just demolish all those buildings in a day. Also, in the current economic scenario, there is a problem of over-supply of residential and commercial units, which will go on for the next two years.

What went wrong with real estate development in India?

Ever since Independence, the government focused on a narrow growth pattern. It adopted a socialist approach to optimise usage. It adopted a 'think small policy' to manage shortage. At that point in time, it was the right decision. But after economic liberalisation was introduced in 1991, reforms should have been given importance. In today's scenario, the government needs to think big and create surplus. Also, another area where the government may have gone wrong is urban development, where it completely eliminated private participation initially. Perhaps the government didn't realise that it was not possible for a public agency to spearhead development . It was at that time that a lot of unauthorised players sprang into action.

Do you think the Padma Bhushan conferred on you will bring in a change the perception about Indian developers?
In my opinion, awards would not make a significant dent, but it would definitely give some importance to the housing and construction industry in India. But an actual change will happen if the finance minister makes a statement in the annual Budget, underlining the importance of the real estate sector. Do you think a regulator is required for the sector? In my opinion, there cannot be a central regulatory body controlling the entire housing and construction industry in the country. Real estate is linked to states and each state should ensure good regulation. Take Haryana, for instance . It is a state that has developed well and has adhered to stringent regulation. Other states should follow its model.

You have restructured the group. Besides, you have put some non-core assets on the block. Where are you heading now?

We are focusing on four areas — residential, commercial, retail and rental business. We intend to go into places where there is demand and will strengthen our position in these verticals.








Bharti Airtel CEO-designate Sanjay Kapoor i s taking over the reins of the company at a time when the telco is struggling to meet the high standards set by it. Its revenue growth and market share have slipped and the pace of customer additions has eased. But, Mr Kapoor does not think that the telecom party is over. He sees a wave of consolidation that will see the end of all but five large telecom service providers. In an exclusive interaction with ET Mr Kapoor talks about his vision for the company and how Bharti will retain its No 1 position in the world's fastest growing telecom market.

You have been elevated to the top job at a time when Bharti's revenue growth rate and profits have slipped considerably. How do you plan to steer the ship?

I am not an outsider who has been brought in because times are bad. I have been with Bharti for 11 years, was involved in setting up this company and have been part of its growth phase. I've handled the mobile business, and in my current role look after 90-95 % of the company. I've been gradually coming into the role. From a professional perspective, it is good to be part of both the growth phase and the hyper-competitive era - this brings out the professional best in people. It is a good time to get into the leadership role. These are challenging times and professionals are stimulated to do well. I have no complaints about the timing.

It has been long said the Indian market cannot support so many operators? Do you think the sector is ripe for consolidation? Will Bharti lead the way here? Is the telecom party over?

I would not say with finality that the telecom party is over. The hyper-competitive phase we are passing through does not allow super growth curves like in the past. Now, the behaviour of companies is not aligned to cost and hence revenue growth and profitability will remain under pressure . This is not sustainable and a correction is inevitable . This industry cannot accommodate 13 players for sure. Who will fall first is for all of us to watch. Most countries have gone though this curve and only 4-5 have survived. India being a large market may see 5-6 players survive.

But banks are lending to new entrants without any fear. Does this mean their business models are sustainable?
Banks may be lending to new entrants, but that does not mean companies have the passport to lose money. If this continues in the next 2-3 quarters, most companies and the boards will push their management teams to re-evaluate strategy. Most companies have said that these tariffs are good for a year and have not committed themselves to offering these prices for a lifetime. I don't want to comment on tariffs going up after correction, but business viability will push companies to come out with realistic tariffs.


Does this mean the bulk of the new additions are existing customers taking new SIM cards and not new customers coming on board?

Of India's total 500 million plus mobile subscriber base, 20-30 % are multiple SIM users. If you look at incremental customer additions every month, as high as 50% of these are new SIMs and not actual customers. The industry added 19 million new connections last month, of which only 10 million would be new customers while the rest are just multiple SIM users. This has to be true because most new operators are not present in rural areas where 60% of the real customer additions are coming from. They participate in urban territories where penetration is high. So they are only selling SIMs to existing customers.

There's lot of speculation that Bharti Airtel is looking at an acquisitions in the DTH space and could be talking to Dish TV or Tata Sky? The market has been abuzz with talk that DishTV and TataSky have approached you to buy them out?

This is all speculation. I cannot comment on that. You must ask the investment bankers as to which side this is coming from. We are doing fairly well on our DTH growth. As a philosophy we are not averse to acquisitions - we have grown organically and inorganically in the past - this philosophy is not just for mobile, but for all our businesses.

What are your top five priorities?

It is early days for me, but I need to be focused on mark-to-market parameters. We have often talked about our revenue market share (Bharti has a 32-33 % revenue market share as per data published by telecom regulator Trai). But in all facets of our business, I would like to concentrate on aligning my teams to mark-to-market parameters. Second, while our existing business models and organisation designs have brought us to where we are today , the time has come start all over again on our operating plans, our organisational synergies and productivity. The Third factor deals with transitioning Airtel from garnering a share of the telecom wallet to a share of customers' wallet - this will come when we move from voice dependability to data services in the future and also by bringing in new revenue streams. The fourth focus area is to make investments and augment the customer experience . We will also soon be sunsetting 2010 vision . We have done exceedingly well in all the parameters of our 2010 vision - of being loved by customers, partners and employees, of attracting the top talent and being the benchmark . It is now time for me to bring out a 2015 vision for the company , which will capture the essence of a lot of things we will be doing going forward.


A year ago, you said Bharti is on its way to becoming a lifestyle company. You talked about new revenue streams from m-commerce and entertainment. How much of this has happened ? What are the new other verticals that are coming up?

The transformation to a lifestyle company cannot happen in 3 -6 months. For entertainment and mcommerce verticals, we first need to create an organisation ecosystem that can translate into revenue opportunities. The last few quarters were about creating these organisations and we also did not have the skillsets and competencies to tap these into scaleable propositions. So, we had to hire from sectors that have been traditionally growing these businesses. We are still at the planing stage in building an organisation that will allow us to scale up. I cannot comment on the other verticals, but at least three new businesses are being looked into.

Is Bharti's size becoming a curse? Have you become too big today to lead innovation? From being the one whom the market followed, you now are the followers. Have you lost the freedom, the nimbleness that comes with being a small company?

The answer is yes and no. As you grow in size, you move away from being people dependent to process dependent. It then appears that processes takes longer, but this is relative. From where we were seven years ago, we may appear slower in our decisions . But, given our size, revenue streams and the impact that a decision will have on the company, it is important that we follow a process-driven regime. Even if it slows us down a trifle, I want a process approach . At the same time, we have taken a conscious decision to retain Bharti's entrepreneurial structure. When we started, we had EE striker where only entrepreneurs were there. Then few professionals come in we became 'EP' - entrepreneurial but little professional too. Then professionals started taking over the management and we had a 'PE' structure as entrepreneurs took back-seat . But, we will never allow this company to become a 'PP' , where it is completely managed and run by professionals as in the case of MNCs. Many senior executives , who come from MNCs to Bharti, are happier here. They are amazed at the extent of empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit that exists here and they relish working here.


You are being beaten by Tatas and other new entrants over the last couple of months with regard to customer additions, resulting in the perception that you are losing out? Do you feel that you were late to respond to the tariff cuts and this is reflecting in your customer addition numbers?

If you compare apples to apples then it is fair, but if you compare apples with oranges, it is unfair. In the newer circles and for the newer operator there is no concept of churn. Their gross and net figures for customer additions are the same. After a six-month period, the churn will begin to show for the new entrants too and then the real numbers will reflect. The annual churn for the industry is as high as 70% of the total SIMs in the market. This is because, most people do not know they can change their existing tariff plans. So, when a new connection or a SIM costs only Rs 10 and comes with a Rs 50 talktime - they buy new these promotional SIMs rather than buy recharge for their existing connection.


There is talk that you are looking to hive off your undersea cable business and enterprise arms into a new entity as in the case of Bharti Infratel? Is it true? You now sell bandwidth locally in Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. How may more locations will you be present in the next fiscal. What about your international calling card business? Bharti was scheduled to have launched it in the 10 countries with NRI population by 2009-10 , but after the first few launches, we have not heard much in this space. What about launching IPTV and DTH services in Sir Lanka and Bangladesh?

There are no plans for a hive off right now. But tomorrow anything can happen. With regard to calling cards, we have to be a little careful as the arbitrage for this segment is coming down and it is a low margin business. We are a little choosy here and we will rollout in more countries, but we will cherry pick the ones we want to enter. We will expand our global data business of offering bandwidth to carry wholesale voice and data to more countries. This segment is important to our revenues especially because it is bulk business. If this business segment were not so significant or scaleable, we would have entered in that space. This business will reflect in our balance sheet soon. We have no immediate plans to launch IPTV & DTH in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.







Uncertain times present their share of opportunities and India's largest apparel maker Madura Garments' premium formal wear brand Van Heusen's growth stands as evidence to this. The wedding segment, which was earlier not on the corporate-centric brand's radar, is now emerging as a key vertical. At a turnover of around Rs 400 crore, growing at 25%, the brand is etching out a bigger canvas for itself. Van Heusen COO Shital Kumar Mehta in an interview to Sarah Jacob says that the brand is set to expand youth offerings by spinning off its clubwear line V Dot through stand-alone stores. Excerpts:

Being positioned as corporate wear, how did Van Heusen cope with the slowdown?

The bulk of the slowdown impact was felt in the last two quarters of FY09. The sluggish sales were particularly true of the wholesale channel which had started down stocking. But we were completely unprepared for the sharp turnaround that began in April and sped up from August. Sales have gone ballistic since September, as we've reported same-store sales of 35%. This growth has not been witnessed for the brand since the past ten years. It is probably due to the buoyancy that's back in the market and consumer's spends which seem to have gotten unshackled. Much of it has also coincided with the increased brand visibility that was created due to the Van Heusen India Mens week in September 2009.

What route did the brand take to achieve this double-digit growth?

In bad times, you identify new things about the nature of your business. We realised that much of the business was in fact revolving around weddings. 2009 was a year of unprecedented weddings and our earlier cateogry expansion into suits and blazers capitalised on this festive period. Since around 50% of the sales at our retail stores were coming from this high-margin, low competition category we worked on expanding our turf in this market. Van Heusen introduced slim fit and high lustre suits to satisfy these needs. To grow this, we earmarked FY10 as a period of marketing aggression to support our expansion into new categories. Our media spends increased by 45% in the period. The brand is now poised to break out as Van Heusen is no longer dependent on selling just the formal shirt. Besides our existing corporate clientele, in the last 12 months, we've also got the wedding and youth segment on our side.

What role has your club wear line V Dot played in enabling a formal menswear brand lock on to youth connect?

Over the past few years, Van Heusen has itself gotten younger than its contemporary brands to appeal to any professional who wants to keep pace with fashion trends. This gave us the edge to tap into the more confident and social 25-26 year-old male's wardrobe with a clubwear category called V Dot, three years back. It is the first apparel line to clock revenue of Rs 25 crore in the first year of launch and Rs 50 crore in the subsequent year. Today every third shirt that is purchased at our stores is from the V Dot line and it is slated to post a turnover of Rs 80 crore in FY10. It already contributes around 20% to Van Heusen's sales.

Seeing the potential of V Dot, will it be demerged as a standalone brand at some point?

At this juncture, V Dot and Van Heusen are tied at the hips. We do not intend to separate them as they lend an element of differentiation to each other. Since we project V Dot to grow 40-50% at the retail level, our biggest foray this year is to extend V Dot's scope to a more casual lifestyle positioning. It is being conceptualised as a young fashion brand with trendy denims, shirts as well as cotton jackets and trousers but will be rooted in club wear. V Dot has grown from a product line to a sub brand which we intend to tap by opening 15-20 exclusive stores this year. In smaller cities, the aspirational consumer recognises Van Heusen as the makers of V Dot. Since club wear is a big draw in smaller cities, we are clear that it will help us gain a foothold there. Unlike Van Heusen which had a phased roll out, standalone V Dot outlets will reach metros and smaller cities at the same time.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Defence minister, Mr A.K. Antony, has all but pulled up the outgoing Army Chief, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, over handling of the Sukna land scam matter, in which four generals have been found wanting. It is the Army Chief's differential treatment of military secretary Lt. Gen. Awadesh Prakash in the episode that appears to have raised eyebrows in the defence ministry. Whatever his strengths and weaknesses as defence minister, Mr Antony has always enjoyed a sturdy reputation for probity, and was unlikely to be impressed with the chief's way of disposing of the case. After seeing the material on record, Gen. Kapoor recommended disciplinary action against some of the officers involved, but only administrative action against Lt. Gen. Prakash, who appears to have been the prime mover. Separate treatment for a senior officer who is said to have set off the corruption case — and is even alleged to have been involved with a businessman in the affair — can have an impact on morale. Assessing the same material that the chief weighed, the defence ministry concluded that all directly associated in the murky affair should have been placed on the same footing — in this case been up for court-martial. This, in a nutshell, is the instruction conveyed in the form of "advice" to the Army Chief by the defence minister. The good thing is that it indicates the minister's zero-tolerance outlook towards corruption, especially at the highest levels of the armed forces. There appears to be another consideration as well. In the weeks since the Army Chief's handling of the Sukna scandal came to be talked about, there seems to have been a worry in the upper echelons of the government — possibly at the level of the Prime Minister as well — about the possible emergence of favouritism and factionalism among the Army brass, detracting from the high level of professionalism which the armed forces have been known for. It was deemed necessary to put an end to any speculation in this regard. Mr Antony's communication to the Army Chief will hopefully scotch anxiety on this score. It needs to be said right away that Gen. Kapoor's own probity has at no stage been in question in this affair. Especially keeping this in view, perhaps it was desirable that the defence minister's intervention should have come before the Army Chief's instructions in the Sukna case were placed on record. A silent nudge in the right direction could have achieved the appropriate result. Were that the case, the issue of differential treatment would not have arisen at all, and all could have been spared some embarrassment. As matters stand, the defence minister virtually countermanding the Army Chief's order on an administrative issue comes in the fading days of Gen. Kapoor's tenure as chief of staff. Although civilian control of our armed forces is an established fact, and a cherished one, it is hard to think of another occasion in recent years when the chief has been overruled by the minister in such a public manner, especially when he is about to retire. Dissonance between the defence minister and sections of the Army brass had surfaced during the China conflict in 1962 when V.K. Krishna Menon was minister, but that was over wholly different issues.








In 2009, after having done prolonged anti-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden for a year, a retired Chinese Admiral publicly propounded the need for the Chinese Navy to acquire a base near this strategic region so as to overcome numerous logistics-cum-maintenance problems and also allow some rest to its sailors. At present Chinese warships operating over 4,500 nautical miles (nm) from their home bases are deployed for four to six months in the Gulf of Aden, without access to ports. Given the international concern about China seeking bases in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Chinese government distanced itself from the retired admiral's proposal. However, the fact is that the farsighted Chinese already have a suitable base available (Gwadar port they built in Pakistan), and will soon have another one in Sri Lanka (Hambantota port, which they are building), even as media reports hint at another Chinese-built port that is to come up in Burma.

The Chinese, as part of their "string of pearls" policy of having suitable bases in the IOR, not only helped Pakistan to build the Gwadar port, but practically provided all the funding. This strategically-located port on the Balochistan coast, near the Iranian border, some 180 nm from the exit of the strategic Straits of Hormuz, will enable Chinese oil tanker ships to offload crude oil from West Asia at this port. From Gwadar, a proposed rail, road and pipeline will transport oil and other goods to China, thus avoiding the Malacca and Singapore straits which can be closed during wartime or are vulnerable to piracy. This port also provides another option to Pakistan for ensuring oil imports, should Karachi get blocked during wartime.

Work on Phase 1 of Gwadar port commenced in March 2002 and was formally completed in March 2005, though ships had started using it by 2003. The total project cost of this phase was $248 million (of which the Chinese contributed $198 million). The Gwadar port has a 4.5 km approach channel of 11.5m depth, and three multipurpose berths. Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have stated that "in the event of war with India, Pakistan will not hesitate to invite the Chinese Navy to Gwadar".

Phase 2 (adjacent to Phase 1), was completed in January 2006, with nine additional berths and the approach channel was deepened to 14.5 m, thus permitting larger ships of about 50,000 DWT (deadweight tonnes) to enter and leave the port. The port was formally inaugurated in March 2007, and Pakistan Navy was reported to have set up a base at the port. It may be noted that all oil tankers from the Gulf bound for India's Vadinar Oil Terminal in the Gulf of Kutch generally pass about 40 nm south of Gwadar Port and would be vulnerable to interdiction by Pakistani or Chinese units based in Gwadar. Some unconfirmed media reports indicate the possible presence of a Chinese electronic "listening post" at Gwadar.


To fully understand the serious strategic implications for India, we need to note that 70 per cent of India's oil imports come by sea, from the Gulf (with tankers exiting through the Strait of Hormuz). Seventy per cent of our imported oil arrives at ports in the Gulf of Kutch, the Gulf of Cambay and the Mumbai port. Indeed, in 2007, the Gulf of Kutch received 1,100 oil tankers (passing some 40 nm from Gwadar), and this number will grow to 2,100 by 2012 and over 4,000 tanker ships by 2025, when India's oil imports would have quadrupled to 320 million tonnes (China's imports would also rise to over 600 million tonnes and hence the possibility of conflict of interests between these two largest consumers of oil). Similarly, the ships carrying imported oil from the Gulf to Mumbai Port and ports in the Gulf of Cambay, would increase manifold, with some shipping being diverted to other Indian ports.

The global strategic implications are also serious since the Gulf region has 75 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves and 50 per cent of the world's proven gas reserves. About 16 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz daily on tanker ships (worth over $200 billion annually). This amounts to over 90 per cent of the oil exported by the Gulf region and over 40 per cent of the entire world's oil trade. All this oil passes in vicinity of Gwadar port whose facilities can be assumed to be made available to the Chinese Navy in an emergent situation. Notwithstanding the facts, to allay fears of neighbouring countries regarding Chinese intentions in the region, the Pakistani government signed an agreement with Singapore's PSA Corporation in March 2007 to operate Gwadar port under a 40-year agreement. PSA's concession holding company (CHC), a subsidiary that operates 22 ports in 11 countries, will invest $550 million in the next five years in the port.
While India's security and intelligence agencies deserve a pat on the back for ensuring that 2009 and Republic Day 2010 were largely terror free, we cannot be complacent.

The present peace may be the proverbial lull before the storm, given the fact that Pakistan is continuously receiving arms from the Chinese at "friendship prices" and from the Americans as "gifts", with the recent gift of F-16 (Block 52) fighter jets and a dozen UAVs. The Chinese Navy's activities in the IOR need to be monitored as closely as we monitor Pakistani-based terrorist moves. China now imports more oil from West Africa (Nigeria and Angola) than it does from West Asia, and this oil will still need to move by sea through the Malacca and other straits in Southeast Asia (Sunda and Lombok). However, in a crisis situation, China does have the option to move this West African oil to Gwadar port and then pump it to China via the proposed land oil pipeline. So the Indian Navy needs 200 ships and 500 aircraft to deal with all our security problems in the IOR. And since naval power takes a long time to build or import, we need to immediately overcome critical shortages in our inventory, specially the well-publicised case of our dwindling submarine force.


n Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








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, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, actually dropped that traditional State-of-the-Union-is rhetoric completely in honour 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 US Senate Committee on Appropriations .
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 rumours 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 programmes. 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 healthcare 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 Mr 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.

Mr 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? Mr Barack Obama did not leave Hawaii to wind up remembered as the James Polk of the 21st century.









If the sun rises in Kohima at 4 am, it rises in Mumbai around 6. But India is a single time zone country. This means the two-hour time gap is overlooked. In the Northeast, working and sleeping hours get postponed as the real clock differs from the official clock. Daylight hours are wasted. Unlike in the country's west, no light is available after sunset, leading to higher power consumption. Biological clocks are disturbed.


Office starts in the Northeast six hours after daybreak as against only four in the rest of India. Because of the delayed start, the people here are less productive, less progressive, and less prosperous than those living to the west of the country's time meridian — say Delhi or Mumbai.


Work attitudes are affected. Productivity is not a priority. We did a survey which found that more than 50 per cent of the office-goers in the Northeast reach office an hour or more late, and more than 35 per cent leave office an hour or more early. Due to the extra hours of daylight available before office hours, office-goers either wake up late or engage in personal or domestic work extensively. So, it is a tired man presenting himself for work at the office. Productivity goes down.


Recently, when Bangladesh advanced its time by an hour, making it 90 minutes ahead of India, the people of the Northeast were shocked to find that Bangladeshis have already put in one and a half hours work by the time they commence theirs, although Bangladesh lies to the west of much of north-eastern India. This is resulting in a new feeling of alienation. People are beginning to feel that the Government of India has deliberately never looked into this matter of time difference as it does not want the Northeast to prosper.


Because they follow the Indian Standard Time, the people in the Northeast conduct all their activities at the wrong time. Working hours are frittered away as official time starts late. For two-thirds of the year office time spill over into dark hours. Family problems also ensue with people returning home late. With restricted interaction in the home, the transfer of values from generation to generation is disturbed.


The total loss of productivity in the Northeast since Independence has been calculated at 25 years and 10 months. Creating a new time zone is the only way out. Northeast Time should be seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, and the Mainland Time six hours ahead. This will bring in tremendous positive changes, not only for the Northeast but for the entire country.


Jahnu Barua is a noted filmmaker from Assam


Manoranjan Goswami


A separate time zone for the Northeast will be self-damaging and counter-productive. Let us not immediately think of the example of other countries that have separate time zones. India is a vast country with very different cultures, languages and varying education levels in different regions. We just cannot afford one more marker of separateness based on the notion of time. A separate time zone for the north-eastern states will drive the people there further from the "mainland", as some in the region call the rest of India. This is a psychological point, but should not be ignored.


The argument for demanding a separate time zone is that there is a distinct time difference between the rising and setting of the sun between eastern parts of India like Assam, and western parts like Delhi. People of Assam get more "morning hours" and also longer "evening hours" in their day-to-day life. As things stand now, people in the Northeast go to office when the sun is almost overhead. I agree that we waste a good part of our mornings. If that is the only reason for seeking a new time zone, it may be better to change the working hours in offices than change the clock.


Office hours can be from 9 to 4 instead of 10 to 5. The country can be made aware of this and no great inconvenience will be caused to the system on account of the change.


If we have different time zones in the country, the first casualty will be the all-needed coordination that is essential in the interface as between government and commercial and industrial establishments, media channels, communication modes, the security machinery etc.


I know adjustments can be made or worked out, but for the common man and for the simple rural folk, if "nine" in Guwahati means "eight" in Delhi, it will alienate him more.


There are many Central government offices and establishments in Assam that operate on wire and are in constant touch with the rest of India. They cannot be expected to follow the "local time". If they do, their productivity will definitely suffer. This will be against the interest of Assam and the entire Northeast, not to say the country. If you have more time in the morning, or if the evening is long, you can utilise it in better ways and frame the day's routine more fruitfully and productively, instead of blaming the sun.


Change the work culture, not the time — this should be the message to the people.


Col. (retd) Manoranjan Goswami is a prominent Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Assam








WE are nearing the end of January; yet there is not a scintilla of an effort to bring down prices, as pledged last month by no less a worthy than the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. In the interim, we have been treated by the establishment to an almost personal swipe, if couched in the language of constitutional practice. In the context of the burgeoning food inflation, Sharad Pawar could have spared us such deflecting thoughts as "the collective responsibility of the Cabinet and the parliamentary system" There is no mistaking that the touted wisdom was directed at the Prime Minister, and no less. This comes through in his statement that he "is not the only person involved in the process. The PM and all of us together decide the price policy". That might mirror the resilience of the Centre's coalition arrangement, but doesn't quite absolve his responsibility on the price front. On the contrary, the food and agriculture minister's supplementary that he hadn't attacked Dr Manmohan Singh is at best a damage-control exercise; at worst a conscious attempt to obfuscate a critical situation. Not to put too fine a point on it, the NCP heavyweight and sugar baron has made a feeble and disingenuous attempt to cover up his responsibility, one that he has discharged with calculated incompetence.

Of course, the government as a whole has a lot to answer for; but as the minister, Mr Pawar has made a mess of the food economy and the price mechanism, the latter directly responsible for the ballooning price of sugar and pulses. What matters most of all is the imperative to bring down prices and not a laboured enunciation of a constitutional position, still less a puerile debate. The goalposts ought not to be difficult to identify, and there can be no question of shifting them. As much as Mr Pawar's presentation of constitutional niceties, the damage-control by the Congress is no less distracting in the season of spiralling inflation. Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia's assertion that the country isn't short of foodgrain and other items of mass consumption has not been "collectively" questioned by the Cabinet. Indeed, the Prime Minister seems inclined to accept the position.
It devolves on Mr Pawar to initiate action against speculation and hoarding, cutting across the lobbies that he represents. And if he is unwilling or unable to do so, it is time he was moved out. Dr Singh must not make a habit of nursing inept ministers from Maharashtra in his Cabinet.







VIRTUE is something to which the Indian Premier League has never laid claim. Commercialised-entertainment, exploiting the craze for the game, is what it is all about. Hence the tie-up with that other Indian passion ~ Bollywood. So even if it does not always "play cricket" it would not be irrelevant to ask if it is valid to apply the norms of "official cricket" to the way the IPL does its obviously roaring business. Opinion will certainly be divided over the ignoring of players from Pakistan in the auction to fill a limited number of slots, but surely it is hypocritical for a couple of Union ministers, and some bigwigs of the foreign relations establishment to flay the exclusion of Shahid Afridi and his mates, particularly after the government had washed its hands off the matter? For are not those now mouthing sympathy for the Pakistani players actually thriving on a staple diet of Paki-bashing, insisting the there is no scope for resuming official dialogue until Islamabad takes what New Delhi deems appropriate action against the masterminds of 26/11? True there has been no official discouragement of people-to-people contact but the reality that political factors, deviously dubbed security considerations, have come in the way of official bilateral cricket (even in third countries) has created a certain climate.

  A climate in which IPL team owners could fear turbulence if they fielded players from Pakistan. Given the fact that IPL-II had to be relocated to South Africa because the home ministry refused to accommodate the league, the teams could not take security for granted. Not just the security of the players from Pakistan, but the smooth conduct of the matches themselves. 

There could also be apprehensions that incurring the wrath of the chauvinistic elements now calling the shots in Mumbai might endanger their filmi activities. Why are those ministers etc. silent on the threat to prevent Australian participation in the league in retaliation for the continuing violence against Indian students Down Under? Has speaking sympathetically about Pakistani individuals suddenly become politically-correct? There is only one way for Chidambaram, Tharoor etc, etc to prove they are not hypocrites ~ let them work for the resumption of cricket tours across the Radcliffe Line!







AS chairman of the North-East Federation of International Trade, RC Agarwal must be assumed to be qualified enough to back up his contention last week that the Look East Policy, since its inception in 1991, "has not benefited (the region) as much as it was claimed or should have been till date". Many will share his view. For one, during the greater part of the 1990s not much was heard of the policy nor the schemes it involved. It was only after Mani Shankar Aiyer took over as minister for the Development of (the) North East Region in 2006 that he started trumpeting its virtues. And then, two years into his ministership, he had the courage to admit that the dividends from the policy were, for the region, "virtually nil", the benefits instead going to other parts of the country, particularly the south. Agarwal has rightly pointed out that if India is serious about the policy, the main thrust should be on revamping infrastructure ~ roads, railways and air connections ~ to match those of the South-east Asian countries. 

Despite the allocation of funds for improving road communications, the Dimapur-Imphal Road (NH 39) ~ the vital link to Indo-Asean trade ~ is in such a bad condition that some time back tribal students in Manipur's Senapati district had to resort to a blockade to pressure the government into making immediate repairs.
Now with Bangladesh showing an interest by way of allowing use of its Chittagong port, priority must be given to completing conversion of the 180-km Lumding-Badarpur hill railway section, work on which was considerably slowed down because of insurgency in the North-Cachar Hills. Its early completion is of added significance because this will be the main link to South-east Asian countries until insurgency in Nagaland and Manipur is quelled. For the region's economic development and prosperity, the ongoing projects must be completed with a lot more speed, and dreaming up new schemes must involve less haste.








THE Prime Minister recently emphasised the need for judicial reform. Significantly enough, he hastened to add that the judiciary itself must initiate effective steps. 

The judiciary in India is facing a host of problems that need urgently to be addressed. These are related to the system itself and, hence, the judges cannot, by their own efforts, rectify them. It is primarily the duty of the two other organs of the government ~ the executive and the legislature ~ to undertake reforms.

First, there is the problem of delay. Before his retirement, Mr YK Sabharwal, the former Chief Justice of India, observed that our judicial system is on the brink of disaster as thousands of cases are pending before different courts. He warned that unless remedial measures were promptly adopted, the entire system would crumble.
In his "law-day speech" in 1985, another former Chief Justice, Mr PN Bhagawati, said: "The judicial system in the country is on the verge of collapse. It is crashing under the weight of arrears."

Road to justice

FOR the common man, the road to justice is as important as justice itself. But the road to justice is often blocked by inordinate and alarming delay. It leads to a huge accumulation of cases over time. As Mr GD Khosla, the former Chief Justice of Punjab, has remarked, the delay results in an accumulation of arrears which causes further delay, producing a snowballing effect.

It is a universal axiom that "justice delayed is justice denied". Going by the Law Commission figures, only 36 per cent of the cases raised in a year are settled. Hence the increase in backlog. The litigant, judge and lawyer may die, but the case verily remains unsettled, as if, forever.

Second, the prolonged system has made justice an expensive affair. As our judicial arrangement has a pyramidal structure, most of the cases reach the Supreme Court or High Court from the lower level. This not only entails excessive delay, but also increases the cost of litigation. When the poor  are compelled to move from one court to another, they feel that it is much better to bear with injustice than to seek legal redress. In fact, no attempt has ever been made to bring justice to the doorstep of the poor and downtrodden. Justice must be more readily accessible to the poor and the victims of injustice.

Thirdly, there is a constitutional lacuna. The judiciary will command respect only if the judges are honest, impartial and pious. Promotion within the judiciary should always be determined on the basis of seniority. Yet it bears recall that in 1973, AN Roy of the Supreme Court was made the Chief Justice by superseding three senior judges. In 1977, Justice MH Beg was likewise promoted after rejecting the rightful claim of Justice HR Khanna. It was officially declared that the "political philosophy" of the claimants would singularly matter in such a case and that only the "forward-looking" judges would get the opportunity of promotion. In the High Courts as well, the claim of the seniormost judge is often ignored.

This politicisation of justice creates a committed Bench and, hence, it doesn't augur well for a society in which the judiciary  must command public faith and reverence.

   Administrative lethargy is another factor.  The number of cases has increased with the rise in population and the complexities of modern life. But, the number of judges in different courts is just not sufficient. In consequence, the judicial procedure tends to drag. At a time when lakhs of cases are pending before the courts, a large number of judicial posts are vacant. Though additional judges are often appointed, the strength of the judicial staff is inadequate to cope with the heavy load. The Law Commission has rightly recommended that the number of judges should be rapidly increased in order to dispose of all the cases within a reasonable period of time.

One major procedural lacuna is the successive adjournment of cases on insufficient grounds. Often such an adjournment is prayed for by lawyers to whom the process is financially profitable. But their opponents seldom protest because it is  part of the game. If the judges strictly adhere to some specific norms or principles in the matter of adjournment, then such profitable ingenuity in legal procedure may largely be prevented.
The maintenance of the  judiciary's integrity and independence is of paramount importance. It is alleged that the standard of choice has not been uniform through the years; often the appointments have been the  prize for political services rendered. Though the Indian judiciary has so far been in the hands of many distinguished jurists, political pressure and personal favouritism have often influenced the ultimate selection. It is dangerous to inject politics into justice.

So, if the judiciary becomes an adjunct to the executive branch, the lamp of justice is sure to be extinguished in the darkness of despotism.


Even the Law Commission has admitted that  regional and religious considerations have influenced unfair appointments. It affects the judicial system in various ways. Judges who owe their appointment to executive favour, are less likely to show their independence. Incompetent judges take much more time to settle cases than what is normally needed.

The Indian legal system is not Indian in form, procedure, spirit, even in language. It is practically a legacy of the colonial system, which has little relevance in this day and age. Often, the lawsuit becomes a legal battle between two professional jurists. The litigants are only confused.

There is a wide gulf between the ordinary people and the judicial system. The traditional concept of the rule of law cannot meet the challenges of a modern welfare state which seeks to improve the lot of the masses. The law should be drafted in a language that is understood by the vast majority. The legal process should be simple, meaningful, inexpensive and speedy to ensure that it can be used for the redressal of injustice.
Indians have an abiding faith in judges. They are actually viewed as the exemplars of independence, truth, honesty and integrity. But, owing to various reasons, the judges cannot ensure justice to all. Nor can they, at their own behest, change the judicial system. This is actually the duty of the executive which must implement the reform measures introduced by the legislature.

The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata






Companies involved in the spread of genetically engineered crops make a strong plea claiming that the yield can be much higher. The claim is false since there is no basis for concluding that these crops give better yields on a sustainable basis, says BHARAT DOGRA


The debate on genetically engineered crops is becoming intense as public hearings on Bt brinjal are being held in various parts of the country. In Kerala a big campaign is already taking place against Bt brinjal. The fact that genetically engineered crops pose a major threat to safety and environment is widely recognised now. Despite this the companies involved make a strong plea for these crops claiming that the yield can be much higher. What these companies and their spokespersons say time and again is that in order to meet the food needs of the growing population, we have to increase yield and this can be done only or predominantly by spreading genetically engineered crops. This claim is false since there is no basis for concluding that genetically engineered crops are capable of giving better yields on a sustainable basis.

A Friends of the Earth report (year 2008) titled "Who Benefits From GM (Genetically Modified) Crops?" concludes on the basis of yield figures of crops like cotton and corn in the US starting from the 1980s that genetic engineering has been at best neutral with respect to yield. At the macro level, the report says, average cotton yields have stagnated since the adoption of Bt cotton in the US as in other countries like Argentina, Australia and Colombia.

Kavitha Kuruganti points out in a paper, Bt Cotton and the Myth of Enhanced Yield, "The 2008 yields of US soya bean (at 40 bushels per acre, as per National Agricultural Statistics Service of the USDA) with 92 per cent of such soya bean being genetically modified, are lower than the 1994 yields of 41.4 bushels (before GM soya bean was introduced)". It is important to note that the 1996-2000 period saw a sharp decline in yield in cotton - that is, the period when GM cotton increased to 61 per cent of the total cotton cultivation in the US.
A University of Nebraska study found that Roundup Ready GM soya varieties yielded five per cent less than their closest conventional relatives and 10 per cent less than high-yielding conventional lines. This implies a loss in a production of nearly 200 kg/ha. A study by Barney Gordon (2007) titled Manganese Nurition of Glyphosate - Resistant and Conventional Soya beans (published in Better Crops, Vo. 91-4), found in the context of Roundup Ready (GM) soya varieties that glyphosate applied to the GM crop was inhibiting the uptake of nutrients like manganese essential to plant health and performance.

Dr Jack Heinemann of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, has a decade-long experience of reviewing safety information from companies on their genetically engineered crops. He writes that the "Bt" trait does not increase yield, it just is becoming nearly impossible to source the best varieties without the Bt transgenes".

Why is this so? Dr. Heinemann says: "The yield benefit (in Bt cotton) comes from the use of high-yielding hybrids that are only available as GM varieties because genetic engineering companies like Mansanto control a large proportion of the seed supply and only offer them as GM cotton varieties".

This is confirmed by P V Satheesh, convener of South Against Genetic Engineering, "The final nail in the coffin of non Bt cotton cultivation was hammered in 2006 when the industry - by forming a corporate seed cartel - successfully threw out all non Bt cotton seeds from the market firmly shutting out all options for farmers except the cultivation of Bt cotton".

Jack A. Heinemann asks, "Where is the data that these same high yield varieties lacking the Bt trait and grown using sustainable techniques such as integrated pest management and agroecology perform less than GM varieties"? He answers, "There is none at all to my knowledge, while there is evidence that GM varieties undermine sustainable agriculture".

In Gujarat while yields of cotton have increased significantly in recent years, this is mainly due to the impact of good weather and improvements in water and moisture conservation and irrigation. What is more, as already pointed out, the increase in yield based on the control of high yielding seeds by a few companies should not be confused with any claims of yields relating to Bt trait or genetic engineering.

On the experience of the USA, Dr Heinemann writes, "The yields of Bt cotton in the US, for example, have not been consistently or sustainably higher than cotton produced using high yield varieties that were not genetically engineered, and GM varieties have contributed to financial losses for farmers. The high costs of genetically engineered seeds put farmers at financial risk".

Heinemann concludes, "Does India want to export control of its food? Then go with genetic engineering. If India wants to feed itself, then go with proven but so far neglected approaches that work, such as agro ecology".
In the very first year of Bt cotton's commercial cultivation in India (2002-03), the Andhra Pradesh department of agriculture concluded a study of 3,709 farmers growing Bt cotton. As many as 71 per cent of these farmers reported low yields with Bt cotton.

In Madhya Pradesh the average yield of cotton between 1996-2002 (before the introduction of Bt cotton) was 612.7 kg/ha. However, in the six years after the introduction of Bt cotton average cotton yield was reduced to 518.3 kg/ha.

Above all, given the high hazards, risks and uncertainties associated with GM crops, these can never be sustainable. Markets and consumers of several countries simply do not accept GM crops.

While the record of GM and particularly Bt. varieties in increasing yields on a sustainable basis is highly suspect, safer alternatives are certainly available. As Professor PM Bhargava, noted molecular biologist, pointed out recently, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research had not only favourably tested Integrated Pest management and bio-pesticides on 85 crops but also compiled as many as 4,000 traditional agricultural practices of which several had been validated and revalidated. Giving the example of Andhra Pradesh where at least one lakh acres are under organic farming, he said the yields here are equal to those farms of Punjab and Maharashtra where BT varieties are being grown.

The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi







A fire broke out at a slum in front of Muchipara thana at about 7.30 pm on 15 March 1909. I came to know about it from the column 100 Years Ago in The Statesman.

"... Mr PN Mukherji, of the Muchipara thana, drove to Lalbazar and gave information to the Fire Brigade, leaving orders in the mean time that Sub-Inspector AN Mukherjee was to proceed to the scene with the hand pumps of the thana. This injunction was carried out and all the available men of the thana played the hose upon the flames, thus controlling the progress of the fire ... The prompt action of the Muchipara thana officers saved the situation... Mr PN Mukherjee brought up the fire brigade with one engine at 8 PM, and the new arrivals succeeded in gaining complete control ove the conflagration. There was a panic in the bustees, and the poor people took out their belongings and stacked them in the road, which soon became knnee-deep in water. By 9 PM, the fire was totally extinguished."

How do our police compare with the great Mukherjis, PN and AN? Ah! That takes me back to a bleak morning in 2008.

Darkness had just begun to lighten. It was raining heavily when a loud noise woke me up. Some people were trying to break open the shutter of a tailoring shop just across the road. The shop was one in a row of tiny stores with asbestos roofs. Smoke was swirling out of the shuttered outfit. The owner of the shop lived elsewhere; people couldn't get in. A few young men were trying to break open the rolling shutter with iron rods and stones, braving the heavy downpour. And around 50 onlookers were standing around, suggesting more efficient ways of doing the job.

I dialled 101, the Fire Brigade control room. No one answered, I was cut off after some time. I tried again, the same result. Then I dialled 100. No response. I repeated the sequence twice, without success. Curious, I tried 102, just to improve my general knowledge. The ambulance service, if any, fared no better than the police and the fire brigade. But not everything was lost, at least our telephones were working!

The anxiety of the people was turning into panic. There were several contiguous shanties and stores, including a capentry workshop. It would be a disaster if the fire spread. People were shouting and running out of their homes.

I dialled 181, the directory assistance of Calcutta Telephones, hoping to find out the telephone number of the nearest fire station. "If you want to speak in English, press 1, if you want to talk to your mother-in-law, press 2, ... if you want to speak to our customer care executive, press 5." As I pressed 5, I was greeted with: "Sorry, all our customer care executives are busy. Please be on the line." All of them busy at 5 AM? OK, the poor blokes should be given time to wake up. I hung on. My call was timed out. Repeated the process. Same result.

By then, the intrepid young men had climbed up to the roof of the shop and broke the flimsy asbestos roof. A hole on the roof allowed the torrential rain to douse the fire within minutes.
Kolkatans needn't despair: There are still people who risk injury to save someone else's property. And if the civic systems fail
them, they can count on the saviour above!







Two weeks on, and they are still pulling people from the living hell of entombment in the rubble of Port-au-Prince. Each time it is proclaimed a miracle, the dust-caked survivors offering a tiny flicker of hope in the sea of human misery that is Haiti today.

But as search-and-rescue squads pull out of the city, and reconstruction teams move in, there is shock at the scenes confronting them. For this is a disaster with few modern parallels, the urban heart of a nation ripped apart with such ferocity that nearly all the institutions of governance and order have been destroyed.
The only comparisons are cities pounded by war. "I think Bosnia, Sarajevo," said J. Brian Atwood, who headed the US Agency for International Development under President Clinton. "Never have I seen anything this bad in one urban area."

For all the delays in getting help to those most in need and the bickering between rival relief teams, the global response has been heartfelt. Governments rushed aid to Port-au-Prince, entertainers are staging benefit shows, and millions shocked by scenes of desperation have sent in donations. But what happens once food reaches the starving and medicine gets to the sick?

Rebuilding shattered cities after an earthquake is a slow, arduous process even in countries with strong and undamaged institutions. It took four years and £35bn to rebuild the Japanese city of Kobe after an earthquake 15 years ago. In weaker states, it can take far longer: parts of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, are still in ruins from the 1972 earthquake.

And Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, where life was a terrible struggle even before nature unleashed its vicious fury. Patrick Delatour, a government minister and architect, estimated it will cost £2bn to restore the capital city to working order – three times the federal budget in a country dependant on foreign aid for half its revenue.

But it is not good enough just to rebuild collapsed buildings on firmer foundations. The real challenge is to rebuild the entire nation on firmer foundations so that next time there is a natural disaster the loss of life is much less. It was, after all, poverty that condemned thousands to hideous deaths in shoddily-built homes, that ensured the state response was so feeble and caused people to have so little food and water when disaster struck.
There are as many reasons why the nation of Haiti is plagued by poverty as there are experts. So take your pick from a catalogue of causes to suit your political complexion, ranging from the culture of voodoo to a brutal history of slavery, colonialism and despotism.

But the reason the nine million people of Haiti are poor is that they live in Haiti, where three-quarters of the citizens live on less than $2 a day and most are jobless. This may seem obvious. It certainly does to Haitians, which is why a Gallup survey last year found more than half wanted to leave the country.

Michael Clemens, an economist with the Centre for Global Development, a Washington think-tank, found that a man born and educated in Haiti enjoys a standard of living six times greater if he emigrates to the United States than if he stays in his homeland. "The difference has nothing to do with ability or effort; it results purely from where he is," he concluded.

This is why so many Haitians risk their lives to emigrate. Many head over the border to the Dominican Republic, whose archbishop responded to the earthquake with a marked lack of Christian sympathy by calling for tougher border controls, and to the United States. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Adviser, also issued a harsh warning after the earthquake. "Attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation."

How wrong she is. For if we really want to help Haiti recover from its trauma, we should offer a life raft to people caught in a tide of despair. Not just the distasteful idea of "rescuing" a few cute orphans. No, we should offer "disaster asylum" – the chance for thousands of entire families to rebuild their lives here.

Given the hysteria and misinformation over immigration, this may seem an incendiary suggestion. But the reality is that we could easily cope. Europe takes in about 1.8 million immigrants a year from outside its borders, with Britain alone granting citizenship to 125,000 non-Europeans in 2008. And reputable studies have consistently proved the economic and social benefits of limited immigration.

Britain, with a tiny Haitian community, could accept a one-off influx of perhaps 10,000 people, as could Germany and Spain. France, the former colonial power, could welcome a slightly larger figure to join the 80,000 Haitians living there. Countries such as Canada and the United States, with far bigger Haitian communities, could absorb significantly bigger numbers.
Offering a one-off "disaster asylum" would do far more to help Haiti in the long-term than pouring in vast amounts of structural aid, which has clearly had limited success in promoting development in recent decades.

Firstly, the exodus of thousands of Haitians would reduce some of the pressure for jobs, homes, food and water. And secondly, remittances sent home by migrants is the biggest and most efficient form of aid, bypassing wasteful bureaucracy of agencies and avoiding the grasp of corrupt officials to get straight into the hands of poor families. Studies have found the cash cuts household poverty, improves nutrition, keeps girls in school and leads to healthier babies.

Haitian migrants already send back £1.2bn a year, twice as much as the official aid going in and equivalent to nearly one-third of the nation's total income. Compare this with the £50m so far raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee, the umbrella group co-ordinating fund-raising in Britain.

Gordon Brown said that the scale of devastation caused by the Haitian earthquake was a test of the international community's compassion. If we are to match this challenge, we should throw open our doors to welcome in some of those whose lives face ruination. We have done it before. So why not do it again?

The Independent






The bestowing of national awards in India is always a dodgy business. This is because, as a general rule, Indians do not possess any standards of comparative excellence. So, often, figures with achievements in minor fields have the highest honours in the land showered upon them because they are popular or because they have contributed to popular culture. This is a point that is much more important than the current brouhaha over the award of Padma Bhushan to a hotelier from the United States of America who, in the past, had cases filed against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation. There is no denying that this particular nomination does not bring any special glory to the national awards. There are reasons to suspect that it may very well be the product of vigorous lobbying that made interests other than sheer merit prevail. It is also true that it is not the first time that such a blot has appeared on the entire idea of conferring awards. That awards should be free from lobbying and political patronage is a pious thought that is seldom adhered to in reality. What even this cynicism does not reckon with is the failure of standards.


Take two examples from the recent past. Both Lata Mangeshkar and Bismillah Khan were decorated with the Bharat Ratna, the highest award that the Indian State confers. One made her mark in a form of popular music that is utterly discordant with India's rich tradition of classical music. The other excelled in playing an instrument that was originally played on the nahabat and in weddings and thus never accorded the same status as the veena, the sarod and the sitar. The question needs to be asked if these two persons deserve to be on the same roll-call of honour that includes Ravi Shankar. The point is an important one. Edward Lear excelled in writing limericks and provided immeasurable enjoyment and fun to a large number of readers. But will anyone ever place him next to William Shakespeare or T.S. Eliot? The answer is obvious. In the arts, and possibly in other fields as well, there are genres that are almost by definition limited. However outstanding an individual's achievements in these areas, he or she cannot be considered for the highest awards. People who sit on the juries of award committees should keep this perspective in mind. Otherwise they might mistake a florin for a guinea. Even before a hotelier was decorated, it had become open season in the national awards landscape.








For Mahinda Rajapaksa, elected president of Sri Lanka for the second time with a thumping majority, the winning formula has worked. Mr Rajapaksa had preponed the presidential elections by two years in order to cash in on the euphoria generated by the successful conclusion of the war against the Tamil rebels in the north. It was a promise made to the electorate in 2005, and kept. The overwhelming gratitude of the population, predominantly Sinhala, was expected to translate into substantial support for the president's continuation in office. This simple calculation was upset by the belated entry of Sarath Fonseka into the fray. As military commander of the operation, General Fonseka laid equal claim to the success, and, therefore, its dividends. The election results show that he either failed to convince the electorate about the justifiability of those claims or the justifiability of claiming the post of president on the basis of those claims. For, whatever the rhetoric, there ought to be no confusion over the fact that the electoral contest in Sri Lanka was fought under the shadow of a single, overarching agenda — the evaluation of the war. The promise of hope and welfare for the minorities was the fringe element, as were the minorities themselves. If they at all entered the scene, it was because of the fear that the predominant population would be unable to give a clear verdict. It was this fear that drove the incumbent president to hasten rehabilitation and impelled his principal opponent to make pious promises.


Contrary to fears, however, Sri Lanka's electorate has been able to give a clear verdict. What made this possible was perhaps the complete lack of guile of the opposition — left, right and centre — which hurriedly clambered atop Mr Fonseka's bandwagon. The patchwork coalition of widely disparate political parties and the confused picture it presented could not diminish Mr Rajapaksa's popularity in vast stretches of rural Sri Lanka, although in urban areas and in the Tamil and Muslim north and east, it did build up an anti-incumbency and anti-corruption trend. That is where Mr Fonseka's votes came from, and also where his political future lies as a self-proclaimed proponent of greater democracy. Mr Rajapaksa has returned to office buoyed by an enormous Sinhala mandate. Hopefully, that will not discourage him from promoting welfare of the minorities and their political inclusion.









It is pretty pointless to try to discover a structure of rationality in social mores. A person may be a crook and a thief and guilty of a thousand other offenses, but as long he remains successful in politics and occupies one electoral office after another, the media will treat him with awesome regard. And in this era, the media, everyone knows, represent society. There is a proviso though. The person has to be careful: he must not get caught in sexual escapades. In the event of such a mishap, he will be immediately cast aside, the media will howl for his blood. It is no different for bureaucrats or policemen either. A police officer, corrupt to the core, may have piled up a fortune, acquired prize estate in more than one metropolitan city and even opened numbered Swiss bank accounts, and all such exploits are generally known. He will yet be able to prance around as cock of the road and get elevated to prestigious social positions. But should he, maybe in a slightly inebriated condition in a party, pass his palm across the rump of an unwary lady, that will be the end of the road for him.


Or perhaps not. For there is an almost religious respect in the community for power and wealth. Money matters, not how one makes it. Nobody stops to ask how a politician or a civil servant or a police officer could come to the huge wealth he had amassed; his background was so nondescript. Everyone already knows the answer to the mystery, which, however, is not going to be openly discussed. Once the person has acquired power or financial resources or both, these become his social legal tender, the chain of skulduggeries through which he has come to his money will not be mentioned. Money buys influence, it also buys silence.


This tribe of politicians and their hangers-on is generally a careful lot. It is only the greatest nincompoops amongst them who get caught. And, even when caught in a sexual peccadillo, they know the ropes of how to get out of it. If a politically powerful person is threatened with grave embroilment in a sex scandal, in 99 cases out of a hundred, the judicious deployment of resources in the right places will extricate him. Some innuendoes will float in the air for a while — so what? — he will be safe from public exposure.


It was no different in the pre-freedom days. The British ruled, they wielded near absolute power. Indigenous politicians, known as 'nationalists', formed a raucous crowd, but they did not rule and had no real power. Quite a few amongst them found sublimation in the unending power games taking place within the precincts of the Indian National Congress. The Congress was a curious animal. Idealists, honest and self-sacrificing to the core, would join it in large numbers and constitute its foot soldiers. But rich landlords and successful doctors or lawyers would join it too. The humble ones stuck to their spinning wheel and khadi apparel. The affluent set were of a different mould. They loved to establish control over the party's organization and engage in factional fights to achieve that goal. Intrigues were common and so were betrayals and double-dealings. In many cities, group rivalries within the Congress reached absurd heights. Persons swore allegiance to the same party, the Congress, which was leading the nation's fight for freedom. They were nonetheless constantly engaged in plots and conspiracies to do down their rivals in the organization. Each faction would be on the lookout to catch off-guard their enemies. They would even go to the length of manufacturing evidence which could damn their arch-enemies in the party. Most of them were moneyed people and were prepared to spend money like water for such high-minded purposes. At one point, Congress politics, particularly in Bengal, was reduced to exertions to discover the moral depravity of the opposing factions.


Thereby hangs a tale. Exactly three-quarters of a century ago, a girl in her late teens, who had done her matriculation from a mofussil school, Sujata Sarkar, took admission in a Calcutta girls' college that was founded by Keshub Chunder Sen. A wide-eyed, fresh faced young woman, Sujata immediately fell in love with the big city with its glitter and glamour. She wanted a good time here and sought advice regarding how to go about it. The city, though, had its flip side. She was soon ensnared in a racket she could not get out of. A close group of successful lawyers, doctors and businessmen — all confirmed bachelors — had formed a coterie within the provincial organization of the Congress. Their ardours for factional squabbles in the party apart, this group of bachelors had a weakness for clandestine evening meets, where there would be fun and food and drinks would be plenty. To make things livelier for the bachelor eminences, a bevy of comely girls would be there to provide company. The girls were chosen with some care to cater to the taste of the sophisticated and rich bachelors. One or two city colleges were targeted for recruitment. The prospect of meeting well-known people excited the girls. The lure of an expensive shawl or a gold necklace or an evening bag imported from Paris and perhaps the offer of some cash too: the girls succumbed. A number of them became regulars at these evening occasions; Sujata Sarkar was one. With Sujata, however, what began as an innocent romp ended in a tragedy. The gaiety went too far one evening, she did not realize what was happening to her, she was in the family way. Members of the bachelors' coterie — affluent, influential people, social celebrities so to say — panicked. A hurried abortion was arranged in a private nursing home. The surgery went awry and Sujata Sarkar died on the operation table. All hell let loose. Someone from the opposing camp in the Congress got scent of the matter, an anonymous telephone call reached the police. Men of law arrived on the scene, seized the body of the dead girl and gave the management of the nursing home a harrowing time. A case was registered and investigations were on. An elder brother of Sujata, a bit of a scoundrel, turned up and started blackmailing the group of eminent bachelors who constituted a big chunk of Calcutta's social register. Since they were all big shots in the Congress too, it would be catastrophic if their names appeared in the newspapers. Money began to flow like water. About everybody with proximate or not so proximate knowledge about what had exactly happened made money: doctors and nurses attached to the nursing home, managers and staff of hotels where the exotic evening parties used to take place, bearers, porters and gatekeepers, lawyers, journalists, and, of course, members of the police. The Sujata Sarkar case was the talk of the town. Given the pressure of public opinion, the police had to chargesheet the management of the nursing home. Hearing started in a city court. Newspapers, and not just the Bengali rags, reported the daily proceedings, including every word of the examination and the cross-examination of witnesses, spread across four or six pages. But no names got dropped. Salacious gossip was, of course, conducted in offices, marketplaces, buses, streetcars and trains. Such gossip did indeed whisper names, but the newspapers behaved, they did not stray beyond dropping innuendoes.


All is well that ends well. No names were mentioned in the open court either. The bounder of the elder brother disappeared with his stash of money. Newspaper editors wrote stentorian editorials full of indignation at the debauchery in high places and expressing disappointment with the unsatisfactory conclusion of the case. But no names were named, and the management of the nursing home got off with a light sentence. Quite a few of doctors, lawyers and policemen built imposing palaces in south Calcutta with their earnings from the Sujata Sarkar case.


Now that the epoch of management education has arrived, the file of the Sujata Sarkar story, if re-assembled, would make a first-rate case study in scandal management. Money talks. Money also silences. Politicians with money can silence the truth today; they did the same thing three-quarters of a century ago. Sujata Sarkar, poor girl, she perhaps only wanted to own a Murshidabad — not even a Benarasi — silk sari. For that avarice, she had to pay with her life. One or two of those responsible for her death went on to hold important political positions in post-independence India.








The brouhaha over the Padma award for Sant Singh Chatwal has neither been loud enough nor emphatic about the fact that he does not deserve the third highest honour India bestows upon some of the best and the brightest. Whether he has been acquitted of charges of fraud or not is irrelevant because he just is not the kind of 'icon' who should be awarded an honour by the president of India. As a citizen of India, I could not care less about the facts that he happens to be a fund-raiser and therefore a 'friend' of the Clintons, or that he worked hard, at some obscure, non-intellectual level, to give India its 'due respect' in the eyes of the American establishment, (which, in itself, speaks volumes about that establishment), or that he happens to be the 'Indian face' of the Democratic Party.


Lobbyists of the United States of the America, who have been patted on the back by the government of India for operating surreptitiously and extra constitutionally, have no business at all to be awarded the Padma Bhushan. The same holds true for doctors who have attended to the ill and the infirm within the top ranks of the bureaucracy. This is an insult to India. Why are we demeaning these honours consciously by making them handouts for the inner coterie of 'friends, helpers and extended family' who will use these 'accolades' to pull ranks in the public domain? The names of the doctors and lobbyists, recommended by the group mandated to prepare a final list, were cleared by the prime minister, by T.K. Nair and by others in the Prime Minister's Office, before being forwarded to the president. The judgment and responsibility rest with them.


Save face

Padma awards are meant to celebrate excellence of thought, action and skill, not political lobbying. The 'list' this year has been polluted by at least a dozen non-entities with dubious backgrounds. If Chatwal had played a critical role in seeing the nuclear deal through the corridors of power of the Bush administration by being a good pal of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and if he was indispensable to the entire negotiation, then why not appoint him the foreign minister holding the card for persons of Indian origin? Why dilute the Padma Bhushan? As a citizen, I would like to know whether the likes of the doctor whose name is in the Padma list have adhered to all norms and regulations while building their hospitals and institutions. Whose physicians are they? Who recommended their names? Why are there no real people in the list who work against endless, unmitigated odds, to deliver health, education, justice and dignity to Indians who have no 'voice' or lobbies? Since Chatwal is so 'powerful', he should be mandated by the government to spend five years in India, using his finely-tuned skills to 'lobby' furiously with the babu to ensure that municipalities work sans corruption.


The retaliation of the home ministry to the public outcry against the Padma list was predictable. What was interesting though was the response of the Congress, which immediately distanced itself from the furore, and quite correctly too. It was a government of India decision, taken by a committee endorsed by the PMO and by the prime minister. What makes the situation far worse is that one never expected Manmohan Singh's office to deliver such a substandard 'blow'.


The moment seems right to discontinue such awards since they are increasingly being determined by the ridiculous reasonings of rather strange bureaucrats who have a different agenda that has nothing to do with excellence. This stranglehold, manipulated by the imperious senior babus, has managed to alienate Indians from the idea of India. It is a great shame. Will the PMO ask Chatwal to return the Padma Bhushan and thereby save face?



******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD





The recommendation by defence minister A K Antony to court martial two Army generals and to punish two other generals for their alleged involvement in a land scam is clearly aimed at taking the sting out of a corruption case that could potentially prove embarrassing for the UPA government.

But Antony's act of deliverance may not in itself redeem the Army from a growing public perception that all is not well with the institution. The virus of corruption has crept deep into the institution and superior officers have come under the corruption cloud from time to time, including in contracts for hardware acquisitions. The land scam, for which three lieutenant generals and a major general will face disciplinary and administrative actions, is a rare opportunity for the UPA government to clean up the armed forces which are extremely reluctant to make any earnest commitment to free themselves from corrupt practices.

The barren stretch of land spread over an area of 72 acres in Sukna in West Bengal's Darjeeling district was in the process of being handed over to the Army by the state government. Technically, therefore, the Army had a say in any privately-driven development project on the land in question. The generals, primarily Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, allegedly bent rules and procedures to ensure that a realtor, believed to be his relative, got possession of the land close to the headquarters of the 33rd Corps. They also allegedly lobbied hard for the Mayo college brand name for a school which the realtor wanted to set up. On the face of it, this might appear to be a chicken-feed scam when compared to some of the highly controversial deals made during the Kargil war and sundry other tainted acquisitions the three defence services have made in the past. These have tarnished the image of a fighting force, reputed to be one of the meanest on the battlefield.

A minister of impeccable integrity, Antony's attempt to clean up the Augean stables is a signal to the three armed services that the government will not allow corruption to wreck the defence forces, especially a bloated Army, which must have competent and professional leadership. India's military management has a poor track record. Successive governments have erred on the side of caution over the desirability of seeking transparency and accountability in the armed forces. Time has come to address these issues.








President Barack Obama has made his first state of the union address in a difficult political and economic environment when his popularity has sharply plunged. The message that he has sent out is a mixture of populism and hard talk which may boost his ratings but may not ultimately help the economy or lessen his political troubles. He has concentrated on the domestic agenda and sidestepped most of America's problems abroad. He has also diagnosed the major problems as America's soaring budget deficit, spendthrift ways and the inability of the economy to create more jobs. The revival of the economy is still shaky and unemployment is at a high 10 per cent. But the solutions that he has offered may not be the best, especially the proposal to disincentivise and even to penalise outsourcing of jobs.

Obama has returned to his populist campaign theme of preventing loss of American jobs to foreign nationals. In May last year he had made a call to say no to Bangalore and yes to Buffalo and ended tax incentives to American companies that created jobs abroad. The same populist streak is there behind the proposal to give tax rebate to companies that create jobs in America. American companies outsource jobs in areas where skilled manpower is scarce or not available. It has only helped the economy, and increased curbs can be counter-productive. The plan to tighten financial regulation, as seen in last week's move to restrict the activities of banks, may help to prevent malpractices, which triggered  the economic downslide two years ago. Obama has reiterated his commitment to healthcare and educational reforms which had suffered a setback after the recent political reverses in Massachusetts and New Jersey.


Financial reforms and the proposed three-year freeze on domestic spending to bring down deficit, can be the mainstays of revival, if the plans can be implemented effectively. But Obama will have to face serious political impediments and fight against lobbies to make the plan a success.

The challenging and determined tone of the address and the rhetoric that Obama has been famous for may help to brush up his image. But a realistic and sustained programme, without populist tilting at windmills like outsourcing, will be a better and surer recipe for economic recovery.








From President Barack Obama to US defence secretary Robert Gates, the one message which is drilled in is that terrorism can destabilise the countries in South Asia. Governments and peoples living in the region know it too well. They do not have to be warned against what is so obvious.

Yet America has seldom admitted its own nefarious role. It is Washington which decided several years ago to train and arm terrorists and used them to bleed the Soviet Union during the cold war or to create a bulwark of fundamentalism to defeat communism. The result is that the fire of bigotry which the US ignited is consuming stable and democratic forces.

The visit of Gates to the region was significant. For the first time the US used the Indian soil to send a warning to Pakistan on terrorists. He said that the patience of New Delhi was running out and that any attack like the one in Nov 2008 on Mumbai could result in a war. It was a provocative statement.

On an earlier occasion, New Delhi preferred patience to petulance, although the hawks favoured strategic air strikes. War is not an option when both countries are nuclear powers. America is unnecessarily clouding relations between India and Pakistan in the name of helping them to sort out their differences.

Gates reportedly conveyed the same warning personally to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani when the two met at Islamabad. Gilani was said to have told Gates that when Pakistan had not been able to protect its own nationals against terrorists, how could he guarantee that another 26/11 would not take place from the soil of his country?

The reply of India's Foreign Minister S M Krishna too was unfriendly. He said that India would react if there was another 26/11. Doesn't it amount to a threat? It is India's foreign minister speaking, not a junior government servant. Soft-spoken Defence Minister Antony has also warned his countrymen that there might be a terrorist attack and has drawn attention to the 'violations' on the line of control (LoC), both on the Kashmir and Amritsar borders.

Incidents look like escalating on the Kashmir side and threatening to become bush fires. Islamabad would have 'a just reason' to reject the proposal of Gates that it faced an 'existential threat' on the western border with Afghanistan rather than on the frontier with India. No amount of convincing can change Pakistan because it considers India an enemy. This is a tragedy.

Yet the disconcerting aspect is the language used by Gilani, Krishna and Antony in their statements. They are couched in words reflecting mistrust and bias. Such expressions are lessening the space for conciliation between the two countries. True, they cannot coo peace. But they do not have to be jingoistic in their observations. They can at least be civil.

Since New Delhi is almost convinced about the attack on India, it might help the situation if Islamabad is given the information we have. Whatever be the status of relationship, no government can ignore the factual report that such and such group was planning an attack at such and such place.

Gates was correct in assessing that al-Qaeda has adopted different nomenclatures for operation in the three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. And all the terrorists are together while planning and executing the attacks. It goes without saying that there has to be a regional approach to fight against them. But the glue for cooperation is an equation between Islamabad and New Delhi. And that possibility is receding day by day.

The manner in which the Pakistani cricketers were rubbed on the wrong side during the Indian Primer League auction shows that India is still not alive to Pakistan's sensitivities. The government should have intervened to see that the bias against Pakistan players was rectified. My point is that if any annoyance was to be shown, it should have been against Australia where 1,500 attacks have been made on Indians in one year.

When the IPL took matches to South Africa last year, one felt bad because our security system was not considered good enough to protect the players. This time the IPL is said to have bought peace. It has placated the Shiv Sena which had reportedly threatened to disturb matches if the Pakistani players were allowed to participate. Who is running the Indian government, the Shiv Sena or the Congress?

In the process, an important clue to unravel the 26/11 imbroglio has been lost. In the conversation intercepted between the assailants on Mumbai and their instructors in Pakistan, some Hindi words were used. Obviously, the speakers included Indians. This only strengthens the general belief that there were 'sleepers' in the country when Mumbai was attacked. New Delhi has said everything about the attack but not a word about the persons who helped terrorists.

However, the entire scenario between India and Pakistan is tough on those who are trying to build bridges between the two countries. Whatever the structure of goodwill is raised it comes down tumbling because of indiscretion or provocative statement by one side or the other. The peace seekers should not feel discouraged because theirs is a commitment to friendly relations between India and Pakistan.









The failure of US envoy George Mitchell to secure the resumption of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis amounts to a dangerous development. If Washington does not engineer the emergence of a Palestinian state before Barack Obama leaves the White House, it will be too late.

Israel is accelerating its drive to colonise the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas the international community has designated for the Palestinian state. Along with Gaza, these areas, occupied by Israel in 1967, constitute 22 per cent of geographic Palestine. It is the minimum the Palestinians and Arabs are prepared to accept in exchange for ending the 62 year-old conflict with Israel.

While Israel has repeatedly pledged to halt colonisation, its governments — whatever their political hue —  have trebled the number of colonists since the peace process was launched in 1991. Israel's powerful western allies have done nothing.

Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has laid down what he sees as the shape of a deal with the palestinians. His remarks consist of a series of 'nos': no Palestinian capital in occupied East Jerusalem, no Israeli withdrawal from large colonies jutting deep into the West Bank, and no Palestinian control of the border between the West Bank and Jordan. His vision is of a 'state' consisting of unconnected Palestinian enclaves (comparable to bantustan in apartheid South Africa) surrounded by Israeli-controlled territory.

Game plan

These enclaves would resemble the Gaza Strip today where Israel controls access by land and sea as well as airspace. Israel's ultimate aim is to squeeze the 2.5 million East Jerusalem and West Bank Palestinians into these enclaves and put pressure on them to emigrate.

Instead of attaining peace, Israel would remain a fortress state armed and financed by the West, a destabilising entity in a deeply hostile neighbourhood. Such an outcome is totally unacceptable to Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and the international community.

However, the Palestinians are too weak to prevent Israel from acting out this scenario, the Arabs have been rendered toothless, and the powers-that-be take no action against Israel.  Consequently, the world is certain to reap the whirlwind of Arab and Muslim fury.

The Obama administration — unlike its predecessor — understands that anger over Palestine unites Muslims from many countries and backgrounds and must be given credit for trying to do something about it. But Israel and its supporters in the US reject the administration's call for a colonisation freeze and the Palestinian Authority can not afford to negotiate until a freeze is in place.

Muslims have many other reasons, both medieval and modern, to hate the West. But failure to resolve the Palestine conflict, the contemporary font of Muslim anger, means that resentment in the world-wide Muslim community, the Umma, will continue to grow.

Little wonder that the latest comments attributed to Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, dwell on the sufferings of Palestinians in Gaza while laying claim to the Christmas day bomb attempt on a US airliner landing in Detroit. "The United States will not dream of enjoying safety until we live it in reality in Palestine. It is not fair to enjoy that kind of life while our brothers in Gaza live in the worst of miseries."
Earlier tapes said to have been made by Osama have not focused on Palestine, revealing that exploiting Gaza can be profitable politically — even for Osama bin Laden. Since Israel's 2009 war on Gaza, Muslims from Europe, the Indian Subcontinent, the US, Turkey and Malaysia have joined peaceful campaigns protesting Israel's siege and blockade. Some could opt for violence.

Resentment provides a pool of ready recruits for militant groups, particularly among alienated educated young people like Omar Farouk Abu Mutallab, the upper class Nigerian educated in London who staged the Christmas attempt. No more than a few score bombers are needed to unsettle and shake governments perceived by Muslims as hostile. Last weekend, with no evidence of any imminent plot, Britain upgraded its 'terrorist threat level' to serious.

Muslim resentment over Indian policies in Kashmir has so far been largely contained to the subcontinent in spite of Pakistan's efforts to exploit and internationalise the problem.  Fortunately for India, Pakistan has long been dismissed by Muslims as a protege of the West.

Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen head the list because they are occupied or targeted by the largely Christian West, which has been seen an enemy of Muslims since the medieval Crusades (1095-1291). This perception has deepened since the western colonial powers, expelled during the last century, have returned to or intervened in Muslim countries.









Are you dyeing or dying? I hadn't bargained for this when I switched on the radio. A talk by a renowned doctor of Bangalore on the ill-effects of lead on humans was what I expected. After explaining the ways in which humans ingest lead, such as vehicle exhausts, paints, cosmetics, etc and how even micro quantities of it hampered mental and cognitive development in children, kidney damage etc, the doctor went on to speak of lead in hair dyes and hair colourants.

Then suddenly the doctor sprang this startling question, "Do you want your blood pressure to increase, your kidney function impaired, your risk of cancer increase manifold?" Unwilling to entertain macabre thoughts, but those words still ringing in my ears, I did some mental exploration on this dyeing business.

Firstly, why do we, er, dye? Obviously, to hide those irritating grey strands. For what? Stupid, I tell myself. What else for, if not to look younger and smarter? Grey hair adds to your years. You look older than you really are. Colleagues give you a pitying sort of look, as if they are pooling money for the send-off party. The boss looks much younger in his, yes, dyed mane, whereas you look like his father. The middle aged lady wants to compete with the pretty young thing. Never mind if her sagging skin and ungainly gait give the game away.

I still remember the time when all this dyeing began. Little sticks of a black, sticky stuff formed the arsenal of people against the onslaught of age. This had to be applied by hand and one had to skillfully smear it evenly, lest there be an uneven coverage. One had also to be careful in leaning against walls, seats, etc, for fear of leaving a black impression. Now, we have a range of liquids, gels, etc.

As it wears off over time, the dye needs reapplication. The white partition at the forehead, the cheeky white strands at the nape of the neck, the stubs of white at the moustache all reveal the dyeing malfunction. With all this, why do we still dye? Can't we age gracefully? Anyway, I still haven't died, oops, dyed!









There is a lesson for the Palestinians in Israel's Haiti rescue outreach: If you're in trouble and you're not trying to kill us, there's no one like the Israelis to help you out.



Israel went into action the moment the scale of last Tuesday's earthquake disaster in Haiti began to become clear.


That same day, the IDF dispatched a five-member preliminary team to establish what assistance Israel could most usefully provide and to work out the logistics for providing it.


While other countries dithered, countries both nearer and far better resourced, Israel utilized the experience born of its previous earthquake rescue missions - to Turkey, Greece, Armenia and Mexico - and got down to business.


By Friday, its field hospital in Port-au-Prince was, literally, operational: Israeli surgeons were saving Haitian lives. Almost a week later, it remained the best hospital in the blighted Haitian capital.


That same Friday, the IDF's canine rescue teams were already searching for survivors in the rubble of a destroyed city, as was the Zaka rescue unit, which quickly extricated eight students from a collapsed university building. It wasn't only earthquake expertise that the Israeli experts were calling upon, of course. It was also the bitter experience learned over years of grappling with Palestinian terrorism.


OUR "LIGHT unto the nations" Haitian relief effort encapsulated much of what is best about our country - and encapsulated certain other aspects of our familiar reality, too.


It demonstrated our heartfelt desire to come to the assistance of others in the time of their greatest need, with no desire or expectation of reward. Crowds of Haitians cheering "Good job, Israel," over and over, as an Israeli team brought a survivor safely out of the wreckage of a Port-au-Prince building earlier in the week; the joyous, impulsive decision of Gubilande Jean Michel to name her new-born son "Israel" after doctors at the field hospital had ensured a healthy delivery - these were all the thanks the rescuers could have wished for. That, and the kind of simple, heartwarming "Shalom"s that our reporter in the disaster zone, E.B. Solomont, received whenever she mentioned that she was working for The Jerusalem Post. Shalom. Hello. Peace. One more Hebrew word than Haitians might have been expected to know.


The Israeli mission to Haiti also underlined our capacity to think and act fast and effectively - to pull together and surmount obstacles at a time of crisis. American TV stations reported that the US initially sent medical staff with no instruments. More than two dozen countries ultimately got involved in the relief effort, but most spent the most precious first hours and days working on plans to help, or running into all kinds of logistical difficulties - including finding the means to physically land their rescue planes in the post-quake chaos at the airport. Meanwhile, the Israeli teams, quietly, efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss, collected their personnel, their equipment and all their other essentials, somehow circumvented or cleared all the obstacles, and went to work.

As this week continued, the prospect of finding survivors diminished. But even when local Haitians called out to an IDF crew at one locale on Monday that "they are all dead," the rescue teams insistently maintained their search. A senior Israeli medical official had acknowledged early in the week that finding survivors as long as five days after such a disaster was just about possible, and after six days almost impossible. But day six came and went, and still the teams criss-crossed the capital. And they were vindicated, with survivors still pulled from the wreckage on day seven.


The US and others will doubtless contribute a great deal more than Israel can to the long-term process of rebuilding Haiti, but the Israeli medical efforts will also continue long after the international media spotlight has moved on. For while the hunt for survivors may be drawing to a close, the medical needs are far from fully addressed. As of mid-week, well over 2,000 people had found their way to the field hospital. IsraAID/FIRST and Magen David Adom teams were also overwhelmed at the scale of the requirements, with the IsraAID team treating 700 injured Haitians in the first four days of its work. Many Israeli medical personnel expect to be on the ground in Haiti for weeks more.


THE ISRAELI teams certainly didn't go out seeking glory, but their mission also constituted extraordinary

public relations.


The powers-that-be here had decided that one Israeli newspaper, one Israeli TV station and one Israeli radio station would be chosen, ostensibly by lottery, to send a representative to fly out with the Israeli rescue teams and distribute text, audio and TV footage for their colleagues. To the surprise of nobody at all, the Israeli newspaper that "won" the lottery just happened to be the powerful Yediot Aharonot; to the surprise of nobody at all at the Post, our efforts to explain to the authorities that it might be in Israel's interest to have a journalist there who could write and speak English, and tell the story of the Israeli effort to the watching English-speaking world, fell on deaf ears.


Fortunately, Solomont, our indefatigable New York correspondent, got to the scene fast and, although Israeli diplomats in the neighboring Dominican Republic were less than helpful, American diplomats in Haiti helped her out, and she was graciously looked after by the IDF mission once she had arrived in Port-au-Prince, so no harm was done to our capacity to report. Officially hosted Yediot Aharonot, meanwhile, decided that a lawsuit filed by a former employee of Sarah Netanyahu merited as much coverage on the front page of its newspaper last weekend as the deaths of tens of thousands of Haitians and the efforts of Israeli rescue to save and treat the survivors.


Fortunately, too, the sheer efficiency and expertise of the Israelis, flying in from 16 hours away, when contrasted with the relatively slow response and meager capabilities of some other nations, proved a news story that international outlets happened upon by themselves. NBC's Nightly News ran a three-minute feature on the Israeli field hospital, reported by its chief medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman, MD, who termed the Israeli field hospital "the model of medical disaster response." Snyderman highlighted its vital neo-natal intensive-care unit - "that can handle Haiti's most vulnerable" - and showed a young father there keeping watch on his tiny baby, the sole survivor of triplets.


CBS branded the Israeli hospital the "Rolls Royce" of medical installations in Haiti. A BBC report hailed the Israeli rescue efforts. ABC sent a letter of thanks after the Israeli hospital delivered a baby to a woman whom its own reporter, a doctor, had first tried to help himself.


Most awestruck of all was Elizabeth Cohen, a CNN correspondent in Port-au-Prince. On Monday, Cohen came across American doctors at another, hopelessly ill-equipped hospital and heard directly from Dr. Jennifer Furin, from Harvard Medical School, speaking on camera there, that her patients were dying "a slow death from their rotting flesh because the infections are out of control and they need surgery."

"The situation is beyond desperate at this point," said Furin. "Patients were so thankful to have lived through the quake and now they're slowly dying in these hospitals."


Added Furin: "No one except the Israeli hospital has taken any of our patients."


Intrigued, Cohen went to check out the IDF field hospital for herself. "I'm just amazed at what's here. This is like another world compared to the other hospital," she marveled as she walked from Israeli tent to tent. "My God, they have machines here! They have actual operating rooms! It's just amazing!"


Back with Dr. Furin, Cohen asked: "So the Israelis have set up a field hospital. Have the Americans, has the American government, set up a field hospital?"


Furin: "Currently, not yet."


Cohen: "The Israelis came from the other side of the world?!"


Furin, spreading her hands in bafflement: "It's a frustrating thing that I really can't explain."


Another American doctor chipped in: "It makes you almost embarrassed to be an American."


JUST AS there were those who rose up to criticize America for a purported heavy-handed takeover of the Haiti relief effort, there were some, too, who turned on Israel for its response to the disaster.


A few critics within Israel asserted that we had, in the words of one Ynet Internet columnist, "raced to be first" simply to garner PR points, and, "like Everest climbers," had placed our "national flag at the peak to prove that the site has been conquered," but that our rescue effort had been of little real value.


Considerably more perniciously, one T. West from Seattle posted a video on YouTube reiterating the lie of Israeli organ harvesting, and urging Haitians to beware that they not fall victim, which was quickly picked up by anti-Israel Web sites.


Here and abroad, predictably, there were also those who accused Israel of hypocrisy over the disaster, claiming that we rush across the world to save some people while oppressing others on our own doorstep.


This, too, of course, is all part of the familiar Israeli reality - of charge, and counter-charge, and distortion.


We can argue endlessly, and do, about the policies we adopt when grappling with the Palestinians. But there is one thing that our Haiti rescue outreach made emphatically clear, and that the Palestinians might want to ponder: If you're in trouble and you're not trying to kill us, there's no one like the Israelis to help you out.


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Only rarely does the introduction of a new technological device stir interest and expectations throughout the world. Apple enjoyed such global attention with the introduction of its iPad tablet Wednesday, following weeks of leaks and rumors about the product and its characteristics.

The founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, has a proven record as a technology entrepreneur whose products have changed how humans and computers interact (for example, the mouse and the graphic operating system), how people listen to music (iPod), and cellular telephony (iPhone). His new product has stirred a great deal of interest amid expectations that it will also cause similar changes in the way books and newspapers are read - shifting from their printed format to the digital medium, as has happened with photography, games, music and movies.

During the past year, a number of electronic book readers were introduced on the market such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, but they were regarded as exotic toys for gadget aficionados and did not create a new reading culture. However, the high Kindle sales during the U.S. holiday season and the introduction of the iPad and competitors that will follow suggest that a change is underway. Printed books are likely to become collector's items - like vinyl records and film cameras - giving way to computers capable of storing entire libraries.


The Internet and the cellphone revolutionized human communication, which relies - more than ever in history - on written language. The expectation that television would destroy readership was proved false; in the 21st century we write and read electronic mail and are fed news and views on the Web. The electronic book, when connected to the Internet and cellular networks, will be different from the books we have known: It will include references to Web sites, presentations, visual effects and probably advertisements as well.

The new technology will democratize the book market and enable unknown authors to reach a broad reading public without having to rely on publishers for printing, distribution and marketing. Data collected by Amazon demonstrates the success of unknown authors who released their creations for free to Kindle buyers.

Readers in the digital era will enjoy complete and immediate access to every book ever published, anywhere. Complex questions about creative rights, copyrights, royalties and new reading technologies will appear, as has happened with electronic music and movies moving to three-dimensional modes. Newspapers will also benefit from a second chance through a digital distribution network that will gradually replace print editions.

In view of the approaching reading-habit revolution, political struggles in Israel to "rescue" the book market and print journalism seem to be lost battles of an old technology, battles that will soon give way to a different consumption culture through new distribution channels. No lobbying in the Knesset will free newspapers and publishers from the need to confront this new technological challenge.







I can't recall a Labor candidate for the premiership who was elected with as much enthusiasm as Ehud Barak in May 1999. Many people, mainly young people, came out to vote, and the best talents were enlisted to help. At the time he was not plump as he is now, his aura as a decorated soldier preceded him, and what's more, they praised his high IQ.

High society joined the campaign. At magnificent parties he promised the country's wealthy that even after his election he would take part in their victory celebrations, as is customary with U.S. presidents and the elite who help elect them. Some compared this enthusiasm to the kind John F. Kennedy received.

Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, appeared in a Labor Party election broadcast and declared that "Barak will not divide Jerusalem." With that he delivered a mortal blow to the campaign slogan of Likud, his party at the time. Labor members like Uzi Baram and Dalia Itzik contributed quite a bit to Barak's adoption by the party.

But Barak did not take part in a single victory party he had promised to attend. Moreover, Olmert wanted to meet with the prime minister on city matters, and to his astonishment Barak put off responding to his request, to the point where Olmert asked a member of the Dahaf polling institute, and even this writer, to urge Barak to meet with him.

Just before Barak's election, builder Alfred Akirov invited VIPs to the launching of his luxurious office, including the people's choice. Barak secluded himself in a side room and summoned a few Labor officials for talks, one at a time. Itzik emerged from the conversation with tears in her eyes. "He asked why I think I'm suitable to serve in the cabinet," she said. Baram, who gave him the push that led to his warm reception in the Labor Party, emerged from the conversation with a long face and told me that Barak didn't want him in the cabinet.

Barak, who aspired to be the second Yitzhak Rabin, behaved like a tyrant, or as Ophir Pines-Paz, who recently resigned from the Knesset, put it, "he doesn't see a person right in front of him." Already at the start of his term he made enemies in the party, even among his close supporters. The only one who has accepted him as he is and has held out is Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who adopted the axiom that "he suffers from too much intelligence, and that's better than foolishness."

The ambitious Barak, who failed throughout his term as prime minister, was defeated by Ariel Sharon by half a million votes - the greatest defeat of any party ever. Instead of taking responsibility and staying on as party leader to rehabilitate the party, he left to tend to his personal affairs. Wealthier, closer to the penthouse in Akirov Towers, with two pianos, Barak regained control of Labor, a push here and a push there, quite aggressively. Just ask Moshe Shahal.

But Barak failed to understand that his popularity did not stem from being the head of Labor, but from serving as defense minister. When Moshe Arens was defense minister he once admitted to journalist Nachman Shai that he did not understand how a modest person like himself received such high ratings. Shai replied that the defense portfolio comes with high prestige.

That explains why people prefer Barak as defense minister rather than as prime minister. There has never been a politician who started out with 19 Knesset seats, went down to 13 - and now the glorious Labor Party has five to eight seats. He dismembered his party with as much talent as he has for taking apart watches. If he ever becomes prime minister again, I'm a monkey's uncle.

Operation Cast Lead should have been considered a success. Had it not lasted so long and had the destruction not been so great, we would not have become pariahs in the eyes of the world. The truth is that Barak wanted to stop the war earlier, but Olmert refused. When this information was leaked in Haaretz, Olmert summoned Barak and reprimanded him.

Relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak are close. Not a day goes by when they don't talk. But it's not clear who influences whom. Barak approves a university in the settlement of Ariel. "Where we are we will remain," he says. "Failure to set a clear border between us and the Palestinians is the most serious threat to Israel, even more serious than the Iranian bomb," he adds.

People understand less and less what Barak wants. First he says he is proud to be in the government that agreed to two states for two peoples, and then he doesn't bother to halt construction in the territories and remove illegal settlements. And the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit - is it yes at any price or not at any price?

Barak is a brilliant person and a strong military leader, but probably a seasoned businessman as well, judging by the millions he made so quickly.

Perhaps he has even despaired of becoming prime minister. All he wants is to continue to serve as defense minister, a great job, even under Netanyahu. The main thing is to have that lamb on his shoulder like Sharon in that photograph.








Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is in love. He is in love with "the greatest achievement we have seen here in the past 30 years - the passing of the two-year budget."

But if that's the greatest achievement, what about ending hyperinflation in 1985, opening the country to imports in 1991, removing supervision over foreign currency in 1998 and taking the provident funds out of the banks' hands in 2006?

Of course, Steinitz is greatly exaggerating. The two-year budget was not revolutionary at all. It was a result of necessity. We reached the middle of 2009 without an approved budget due to the election campaign, so there was no point in voting on a budget for only six months because we would have had to begin the process of approving the next budget immediately afterward. That's how the two-year budget was born; nothing to write home about. But Steinitz is in love.


Now he wants to turn this random accident into a regular practice and pass the state budget only once every two years.

It's true that a two-year budget has one advantage: MKs can extort the treasury only every other year. But it also has one major shortcoming: It does not allow for an immediate response to changes taking place in the economy: sudden growth, an unexpected crisis, a military operation or a technological change. The fact is, not a single private company dares opt for a two-year budget. They all understand that in our dynamic and uncertain world, you have to be as connected to reality as possible.

The two-year budget exacts a high price from us; because of it there is no Economic Arrangements Law this year. As a result, we are not pushing through important reforms concerning water, health, communications, employment, airports and seaports. So growth is harmed.

Therefore, instead of continuing to make love to the two-year budget, Steinitz should take action in several other areas.

He must prepare the Economic Arrangements Law for 2011 now, because this law is the only avenue for passing reforms. Every time any issue is excluded from the Economic Arrangements Law it gets stuck in the Knesset and becomes extinct. After all, in the current Knesset we have no coalition confronting an opposition. There is only a populist government. Everyone is opposed to any reform. Everyone is seeking newspaper headlines. The prime minister does not control a single MK, not even "his" MKs from Likud. They listen to lobbyists more than to him. All MKs run for the primaries from the moment they are elected, so populism reigns and reforms don't pass.

If Steinitz and Udi Nissan, the treasury's budget director, surrender and give up on the Economic Arrangements Law for 2011, they will go down in history as the ones who destroyed economic reforms, and therefore growth as well.

The second issue on which Steinitz must confront Benjamin Netanyahu like a lion is the prime minister's railroad craze. Netanyahu, under the influence of his economic adviser Uri Yogev, wants to cover the entire country with a rail network, like a Lego game - from Eilat to Kiryat Shmona, Haifa to Beit She'an.

He knows how popular that is. He knows that a railroad gives a politician an image of "activity" and "vision." A train photographs beautifully. It has power, and it is far more attractive than an ordinary nondescript bus line. However, every transportation expert says a national rail network is not suitable for a small country like Israel. A railroad is not suitable for outlying areas. In these regions it is better to widen roads and provide a cheap, efficient and flexible bus service.

But Netanyahu wants a "train for every worker." He wants to invest NIS 45 billion in railroads over the next 15 years - a tremendous waste of money that will be missing elsewhere. Steinitz has to stop it.

The third critical issue is wages. The chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, has declared that the industrial quiet is over, which means that the strike season is steadily approaching. Steinitz has to learn from a big mistake made in the economy in 1994, when the Histadrut applied pressure and the treasury gave in and handed out huge wage hikes to the public sector, which created a large deficit in the 1996 budget. As a result, economic stability was undermined, inflation began to rear its head and the balance-of-payments deficit increased.

To stop the inflation the Bank of Israel was forced to raise interest rates sharply, and the government was forced to cut infrastructure budgets. The result was a serious slowdown from 1997 to 1999 and an increase in unemployment - a steep social cost. Steinitz must prevent this, and that means standing firm against Eini.

The problem is that even if Steinitz behaves like a lion and does everything necessary, he cannot succeed because he has no backing from the prime minister to get involved in tough and unpopular battles. Netanyahu doesn't want wars. He doesn't want revolutions. He wants quiet. He only wants to survive.

That's why Steinitz is doing the accounting for himself and is fondly returning to his great love: the two-year budget.






Given the weight of the issue, even scholars from the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based right-wing think tank, were invited to brainstorm at the Prime Minister's Bureau. On the agenda - a tree. What species will the prime minister plant when he treads through the land of the Jewish settlers? Only someone entirely unfamiliar with the culture of government would allow him to lay a hand on just any tree, particularly one which doesn't bear symbolic fruit. After all the entire world will be watching, trying to figure out what the planter is trying to signal with his planting.

Bureau chief Natan Eshel sat at the head of the table - not only in his official capacity, but also because his surname means "tamarisk" and because he is familiar with the family tree. He knows better than most what the household members are allergic to - and they rely on him to select the tree that suits the place and the time, one which will not cast a shadow on the festivities.

Participant X proposed an olive tree, which presumably ought to be the first and natural choice: a symbol for after-the-deluge, for Israel's clinging to its land and for the desired peace; it was even chosen to adorn the state symbol. The moment this suggestion arose, though, it was shot down, lest it be interpreted as a provocation just for the sake of provocation. What is the prime minister doing planting an olive tree in a place where they are uprooting olive trees, cutting them down and burning them as a "price tag"?


Participant Y, who wished to restore the pioneering spirit to its former glory, proposed a eucalyptus, but then he himself had second thoughts. The eucalyptus tree is a foreign element in our land, brought here from Australia; there aren't any leftover swamps here to dry out, while the new swamps are liable to be attributed to the planter himself, whom some see as a kind of King Narcissus.

Another participant proposed a fig tree, another proposed a date palm and yet another proposed a pomegranate tree - all from the seven biblical species, the first fruits of which were brought to the Temple as a gift to the priests. Then someone issued a warning: Rahm Emanuel is going to see this as a reference to the Third Temple and, perfidious Jew that he is, will tattle on us to Barack Obama.

Thus, after a lot of weighty discussion and a process of elimination, the cedar was chosen. But was the matter indeed carefully considered? This is not certain. First of all, the cedar is also identified with the First Temple, in which "all was cedar, there was no stone seen" (1 Kings 6:18). Second, cedars are associated with King Solomon, who had 1,000 wives. Third, cedars are linked to wealthy people, who dwell in "houses of cedar," in contrast to the poor who are the mold on the walls (Moed Kattan, 25B). And fourth, cedars are closely identified with Lebanon and therefore they will be considered "foreign seedlings" (Isaiah 17:10) in Judea and Samaria, just like the planters themselves.

When presented with the choice, the prime minister liked it and suddenly felt like Theodor Herzl at Arza (though what Herzl planted there was actually a cypress). However, no woodcutter will come up against his tree (Isaiah 14:8).

The Israeli nation is renewing its days of yore, and not as a stump (now there's a strong sentence that should have been taken to Poland this week, which is even better in Hebrew because it rhymes). The Jewish people is putting down roots and growing a sturdy trunk (here the speaker should raise his voice and his leg and mark out territory). The day will come when like Honi HaMeagel, the circle drawer from the Talmud, we will see the tree of the occupation bear rotten carobs and realize we fell asleep for 70 years.








Since the division of the country into two viable states is no longer possible, there is no choice - from the point of view of anyone who favors equality - but to support a democratic binational state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, claims Meron Benvenisti (Haaretz, January 22).

In my opinion, exactly the opposite is true: Since it is clear that the state Benvenisti recommends instead of Israel will not be democratic and binational, anyone who favors equality (as opposed to anyone who believes in the need to surrender to Arab chauvinism) must adhere to the principle of two states for two peoples. This solution is definitely possible if both sides really want it. Yes, the Palestinian side too, whose contribution to the present situation Benvenisti is careful to not examine.

The "one state" under discussion would be a state with a solid Arab-Muslim majority (which would quickly be created by taking advantage of the right of return) in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. To believe that this state would really be binational you have to assume that the Arab-Palestinian nation would agree, over the long haul, to be the only Arab nation that would not have a clearly Arab character and would not be officially defined as an Arab state or as part of the Arab world.


You have to assume that Fatah and Hamas would agree to this concession - which no Arab nation has made for the benefit of the region's minorities - for the benefit of the Zionist "foreign implant," whose very presence in the region is considered a colonialist invasion.

To understand how unrealistic this scenario is, there isn't even any need to ask tough questions about democracy and the attitude toward minorities in the Arab world and Palestinian society. It's enough to listen to the discourse of all the significant groups in Arab and Palestinian public opinion: Even those who declare their adherence to democracy swear allegiance to Arabism.

For a binational state to exist, it's not enough for the Jews to give up a Jewish state; the Arabs have to give up an Arab state in the Palestine that would exist after the abolition of the Zionist state. A binational state is a very rare form of government in the democratic world and is nonexistent in the Middle East. There is no reason to assume the Arabs would introduce this innovation here for the benefit of the Zionists, of all people. And nothing written in this state's constitution would be of any use in the face of the true balance of power that would be created in and around this state. We have already seen all kinds of constitutions.

Nobody has yet suggested a reasonable, egalitarian and non-chauvinistic answer to the question of why the Jewish people's desire for national independence is less legitimate than other nations' aspirations for independence. But regardless of the ideological debate on this matter, the alternative to a Jewish state, as suggested by Benvenisti, is simply meaningless. Even someone who has no interest in Jewish nationalism or in any nationalism has to be aware (if he is honest with himself) that under the current conditions, the continued existence of the State of Israel - with all its shortcomings and tremendous advantages - is the way to guarantee maximum freedom and equality and the maximum well-being for the maximum number of people. We are not referring only to the good of the state's Jewish citizens. In effect, Benvenisti is suggesting that we do to all the Arabs in Israel something that horrifies the residents of Umm al-Fahm when we suggest it: imposing a Palestinian regime on them.

The claim that the settlements have made the occupation irreversible and that there is no escaping a binational state is based entirely on the assumption that a Jewish minority cannot exist in a Palestinian Arab state. After all, the Palestinians have no demographic problem - they are assured a large Arab majority in their state, even if the settlers, or at least some of them, remain under its sovereignty.

Why doesn't Benvenisti suggest such a solution? Apparently he does not have much confidence in the chances of honorable coexistence between an Arab majority and a Jewish minority in one state, although in the name of this ideal he suggests abolishing the State of Israel.

In fact, there is good reason for skepticism on this issue, in view of the sad regional experience. But if there is any chance for such coexistence, it is conditional on a Jewish state existing alongside the site where this experiment would take place. And this Jewish state must be willing to absorb any Jew whose life on the outside becomes impossible (as happened to Jews all over the Arab world).

The solution is therefore a division, based on the principle that a Jewish minority can exist in the Palestinian state - a principle that will do away with the irreversibility of the occupation, which the settlement enterprise wanted to place before both peoples.








Defense Minister Ehud Barak's announcement of his intention to implement a five-year-old government decision to recognize Ariel College as a university unfortunately elicited the usual "Judea and Samaria delenda est" (the settlements must be destroyed) invective from the left. Such polemics unfortunately only divert us from addressing the need to reevaluate higher education priorities and policies.

It is difficult to respect the intellectual honesty of critics such as Hebrew University Prof. Yaron Ezrahi (quoted in a report by Or Kashti in Haaretz, Jan. 24), who called Barak's move "a dangerous precedent in which a general is establishing a university," adding that "such a thing only exists in totalitarian countries."

Ezrahi and others who resort to such cheap shots know full well that the army's status as legislator is a byproduct of the unresolved status of Judea and Samaria. If the settlement of Ariel were to be annexed today, Barak would be out of the picture in terms of both higher education and housing freezes there. And if Israel had not legally reunified Jerusalem, the roads to Ezrahi's campus would also be governed by a general.


Ezrahi charges that Ariel College was established to promote the ideology of right-wing settlers. In all the years I taught there, I encountered colleagues from all colors of the political spectrum. However, even the most ideological rightist would never have dared to present a right-wing equivalent to an M.A. thesis branding Israeli soldiers as racist because they don't rape Arab women - a thesis sponsored by the former head of the Hebrew University's Truman Peace Center.

For argument's sake, however, let us concede Ezrahi's thrust. Obviously, if academics of his persuasion boycott Ariel as "an academic settlement in occupied territory," the faculty there would likely be to Ezrahi's right. So what? Must we resign ourselves to the situation that exists at Tel Aviv University, where Prof. Nira Hativa, who is in charge of reading students' teacher-evaluation forms, got the distinct impression that, "Lecturers with rightist opinions (I assume we have some of those) fear to express these positions in their classes while lecturers with leftist opinions, in all scales of extremism, feel completely free to do so" (quoted in Haaretz Hebrew Edition, Nov. 9, 2009)?

Will academic freedom always be defined by Ben-Gurion University's Neve Gordon and Tel Aviv University's Anat Matar - senior lecturers both of whom call for an international boycott of Israel - or does it also extend to those who endorse Israel's right to Judea and Samaria?

Critics of Barak's decision warned that establishing a university at Ariel would fuel the academic boycott of Israel, and rushed to interview British academics like Haim Bereshit and Sue Blackwell, who were quite happy to lead such an effort even before the Ariel announcement. Bereshit obliged by promising Ynet (January 21) to scourge Israel academia "if they eat this vermin" (sic and sick). Ariel will probably mitigate the problem by serving as a lightning rod for "righteous indignation" boycotts, allowing the Europeans to distinguish between "decent" Israelis and ost-of-the-Green Line juden.

MK Shelly Yachimovich, though an unabashed representative of the left, displayed her customary fair play by acknowledging her party's paternity in creating the city of Ariel, and affirming that accreditation should be exclusively predicated on academic criteria. This is both praiseworthy and goes to the heart of the issue.

Barak's approval and the prior government decision will remain on paper, pending approval of the Universities Planning and Budgeting Committee. This committee (part of the Council for Higher Education) is dominated by the established universities, which don't want to share the preferential budgetary pie with another university. A committee spokesperson has already announced that many steps still need to be taken before Ariel can be accredited as a university.

We need transparent criteria for accreditation that would on the one hand determine why it's yes to Ariel and no to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, and on the other hand, prevent interested parties from blackballing potential competitors. It could also pave the way for a more equitable division of resources between universities and the colleges where the majority of Israel's students are now enrolled.

Given budgetary limitations, expansion and tuition have to be more attuned to national priorities. It is only now that we are getting a new medical school in Safed. Despite the statistics predicting an imminent shortage of physicians, that new school was blocked for some time due to vested interests. One result was that both the Sheba and Soroka Medical Centers have recently established training programs to reintegrate the hundreds of Israeli medical students compelled to study abroad, particularly in Hungary.

This illogic also works the other way: In a country with a plethora of lawyers, why should a legal education at a university be more heavily subsidized than industrial engineering studies at a college? If we bewail Israel's falling standards in math, shouldn't the training of excellent math teachers merit a greater investment, irrespective of which school they study at?

These are some of the important questions raised by the Ariel decision. However as initial reactions proved, it is easier to engage in ideological grandstanding than to tackle them.

Dr. Amiel Ungar is a columnist for the Makor Rishon daily and Nekuda.








Reading about Israel's deportation last week of Jared Malsin, an editor for the Palestinian Ma'an news agency, I'm not surprised that his relatively short journalistic career has reached this impasse. Malsin and I were students at Yale University, where both of us were columnists for the Yale Daily News. He was an outspoken activist for leftist causes, ranging from support for the school's intransigent unions to opposition to the war in Iraq; I defended the university and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. There was hardly an issue on which we agreed. But it was with his criticism of Israel that Malsin, like so many left-wing American Jews, made his mark.

I don't remember the specifics of his involvement with anti-Israel activities on campus, which included protesting Israeli policies and debating them at the Yale Political Union, but then, as now, he used his Jewishness to portray his views as being more meaningful than those of any gentile agitator ("Who if not the Jews should express their opinions and feelings about Israel?" he told YNet last week).

So when I heard, several years ago, that Malsin had taken advantage of a Birthright trip to get a free ticket to Israel, I groaned. He then used a series of three-month tourist visas to remain over the past two and half years. When detained by immigration officers at Ben-Gurion Airport last week, he said he was considering aliyah, according to an Interior Ministry official interviewed by The Washington Post.


Despite Malsin's attempt to game the system, he did nothing illegal. And despite the government's denials, it appears that it was the tone of his journalism that prompted his forced exile. "They judged me to have anti-Israeli politics," Malsin told the Post. "It's outrageous that would even appear in a legal argument, that a person's politics would be a relevant issue."

Although it pains me to agree with Malsin, he's right: His treatment at the hands of Israeli authorities was outrageous. One expects this type of behavior from Middle Eastern police states, whose systematic human rights abuses Malsin and his left-wing compatriots downplay or ignore - not from the region's sole functioning democracy.

At the same time, one can understand the Interior Ministry's apprehensions in dealing with Malsin. He wouldn't be the first young Western leftist to travel to Israel and the terrorities to "report" on alleged abuses of human rights. Over the past decade, political tourists have become a phenomenon, descending upon Israel partly due to ideological fixation, but for a more quotidian reason as well: Israel has the freest media in the Middle East, an irony to which Malsin and those of his ilk are utterly oblivious. For the open-minded, spending time in the region can alter preconceived notions. But with these young ideologues, witnessing the perilous situation Israel confronts does little to shatter their illusions.

In that vein, it may be tempting to compare Malsin with Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American accidentally run over by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while acting as a "human shield" near a Palestinian home used for smuggling weapons. While the two share similar worldviews (antipathy toward Israel, fervent anti-Americanism, patronizing naivete about Arab and Muslim societies, etc.), their differences are more important. Malsin is a reporter, and while the line between activism and journalism has become increasingly blurred (particularly in his case), his job was to cover events in Israel and the territories, not agitate against the Israeli government. Ma'an is a respected news outlet (as far as Palestinian media go) and receives funding from the U.S. government. Corrie, on the other hand, was affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, which has provided material support to terrorists.

The primary reason Israel garners sympathy in the United States is because it's a vibrant democracy in a region plagued by tyranny. And a fundamental component of democracy is a free press. Jared Malsin may be an obnoxious and cynical nuisance who uses his Jewishness to add a veneer of respectability to his anti-Zionist agenda. But there are plenty of such people living in Israel today (many of them native-born). A Jewish-American leftist traipsing around Ramallah, credulously scribbling down accusations of Israeli barbarity a la the authors of the Goldstone report, is an annoyance, not a threat. Israel is strong enough not to resort to the drastic and illiberal measure of deportation. That it has done so indicates a weakness of resolve - ironic, given that those who made and defend the decision purport to be the most passionate of Zionists. Predictably, Malsin has become a hero of the anti-Israel left. But despite his ordeal at Ben-Gurion and the week he spent at a detention center there, he's no more courageous than the American liberals who gained phony accolades for their "bravery" and "heroism" in criticizing the Bush administration.

Rather than report disproportionately on supposed Israeli repression, Malsin could have spent the past three years showing real bravery by writing about the abuses and corruption of the Palestinian Authority, or venture undercover to Damascus and Tehran, to describe the horrors those regimes inflict on their people. That he chose to fritter away his post-collegiate years delegitimizing Israel was his choice to make. Sadly, the government's stupid and clumsy behavior will only reconfirm his negative views.

James Kirchick is a contributing editor of The New Republic and an online columnist for the New York Daily News.








The recent unpleasant political rhetoric between Israel and Turkey, part of a worrying pattern that has been repeated during the past few years, made me think of the people who stand on the front line in Turkey when their government exchanges taunts with Israel: the country's Jews. I had the privilege to spend a weekend with a group of Turkish Jews in October, at the fifth annual Limmud Istanbul conference.

Addressing a broad range of topics relevant to contemporary Jewish life, the conference drew 1,200 participants of all ages - no less than 6 percent of the entire Turkish Jewish community, and the organizers had to turn away others for lack of space. In comparison, the 25-year-old British Limmud conference, on which the Istanbul one is modeled, draws an average of 2,000 people, from a community that is 10 times the size of Turkey's.

Although the event took place two months before the embarrassing confrontation between Israel's deputy foreign minister and Turkey's ambassador to Tel Aviv, and the angry response from Ankara, the toll that worsening bilateral relations is taking on Turkish Jewry was already palpable. At the same time, the well-organized gathering provided an impressive demonstration of the Turkish Jewish community's cohesiveness, as well as its continued creativity, energy, intellectual curiosity, and spirit of volunteerism. More than 150 speakers and artists took part in the program, which dealt with a wide range of subjects: education, Jewish history and sources, international relations, economics and finance, architecture, theater, music, dance, film and



Not coincidentally, the conference was entitled "Selam/Shalom" (in Turkish and in Hebrew), a reference to Turkish Jewry's intense desire for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, since last year's Gaza war, Turkish Jewry has been pulled further, for better or worse, into the conflict. In essence, a Gordian knot has been tied between developments in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere and the status, and even future, of Turkish Jewry, particularly regarding the attitudes of Turkish Muslim society toward it.

During the last year, the Jewish community was deeply shaken by manifestations of overt and covert anti-Semitism. Discussions during Limmud, both formal and informal, reflected a weakening of the community's long-standing sense of security and well-being, and a growing belief that it is at a crossroads. These feelings are widespread among all members of the community, of all generations. Young people related to me that their non-Jewish friends in public schools blamed them for what was taking place in Gaza, essentially identifying them with Israel.

Over the course of Operation Cast Lead, Jews witnessed daily demonstrations and burnings of Israeli flags in Istanbul's streets, and feared that the protesters would turn their anger toward them.

The businessmen who constitute the bulk of the Jewish community have experienced a slowdown in activity, among other reasons due to the fact that the authorities give preference for business licenses to Muslims. As a result, for example, the Jews of Izmir, who in the past were a prosperous community, are fast disappearing, heading either to Istanbul or abroad.

The message trickling down from the authorities, and primarily from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, does not add to local Jews' sense of security, to put it mildly. To be sure, his attacks are mainly focused on Israel itself, but from time to time, his speech also contains anti-Semitic hints: For example, in an appearance at Yildiz University in early October, Erdogan praised the Jews' commercial skills, but his comments had an unpleasant overtone.

While most of the Turkish Jewish community experiences a feeling of uneasiness and even threat, it has not agreed on how to respond. Some of Istanbul's young Jews believe that immigration to Israel is the best solution to their problem, some are looking to make their way to Europe and the United States, and still others insist on remaining in the city. The elderly view themselves as being firmly grounded in Turkish soil and unable to uproot themselves, particularly to Israel; most do not have a good command of the Hebrew language. It is the middle generation that is the most troubled. Some have concluded there is no future for Jews in the country and have begun searching for alternatives. Another important segment believes it is imperative to stay and to fight for their positions and views in order to change the larger society's attitudes about Jews and Israel. It must be remembered that among the Jews of Turkey, there are leading intellectuals who can speak their minds even on such sensitive issues as anti-Semitisim. Such a leading voice is Rifat Bali, a Turkish author and editor of long standing.

The Limmud conference was a most appropriate response to the challenges facing Turkish Jewry. Notwithstanding the community's apprehensions and doubts, one should certainly not view it as broken, or as having lost its way. In fact, Limmud's success testifies to the continuing vitality of Turkey's Jews, and their desire to take their fate in their own hands and even to seek to influence Turkey's overall future direction. Turkish Jewry is clearly deeply connected to the Turkish Republic, while also seeing itself as a bridge of good will between its country and Israel. The alternative to being a bridge is being caught between the hammer and the anvil.

Prof. Ofra Bengio is a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, at Tel Aviv University. She is author of "The Turkish-Israeli Relationship: Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders" (2nd edition, 2010).








This year, Tu Bishvat, which we celebrate tonight, falls during the first month of 2010, a year the United Nations has declared as the International Year of Biodiversity. This day, the 15th of Shvat, originally marked the beginning of the agricultural fiscal year, but in recent decades it has evolved into something of a Jewish Earth Day, challenging us to embrace our responsibility to "repair" the earth. Perhaps more crucial than any other aspect of maintaining a healthy environment for us and future generations is maintaining biodiversity. One of the great casualties of climate change is the ongoing loss of species.


The importance of diversity is also recognized in Judaism. No fewer than four times in the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis do we find examples of diversity's significance. Genesis 1 describes the divergence of creation as "good," teaching that everything created before human beings has intrinsic value, even beyond what we may attribute to it. After humans are created, the adjective used is not "good," but "very good." An anthropocentric reading might say this is because the world was created for us and we can do what we want with it. A biocentric and less hubristic reading understands "very good" to suggest that when humans were introduced, Creation was complete, as the last piece of the biological puzzle was put in place.

This latter interpretation is supported by the fact that if humans were to disappear from the earth, all that was created before us would continue as before, and probably would do even better without the human footprint. We know that many of the smallest species and their descendants, such as butterflies, bees and amoebas, that were created before humans, actually are responsible for the survival of other life forms. Unlike other species, we have the power to destroy the earth's life-sustaining biology if we do not protect those smaller creatures.

We are at a critical stage in our biological history, with one-fifth of the world's mammals, one- eighth of the birds, and one-third of all amphibians facing extinction, among others. The dangerous destruction of the variety of life on earth has already begun, and humanity is responsible for it.

The importance of diversity is also emphasized in the story of Noah's Ark. Noah is told to bring pairs of each species so that after the flood they can replenish the earth. After the rain stops, God places a rainbow, now a symbol of diversity, in the sky to represent his promise that he will never again destroy the world.

God's promise, however, doesn't mean humanity can't destroy life on earth. The worldwide effects of climate change indicate this. Reading a bit further in Genesis, Noah's story is followed by that of the Tower of Babel, where we find another hint of the importance of biodiversity. The babble of languages created at the story's end is usually understood as punishment for humanity's presumptuousness in trying to reach the sky. The late philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz offers a different interpretation: Babel, he suggests, represents a fascist totalitarian state in which the regime's aims are valued higher than those of the individual. In such a society, diverse thought and expression are frowned upon. The text tells us that everyone "had the same language, and the same words."

Before the tale of the tower, the "nations were divided by their lands, each one with its own language, according to their clans, by their nations." Leibowitz sees the babble of languages not as a punishment but as a corrective return to how things should be.

That is still our challenge today. Diversity is the way of the world. We know that an indicator of the health of an ecosystem is its species diversity. That is also true for humanity. We are better off because of the different religions, nations, cultures and languages that comprise the human family. The darkest chapters of human history are when efforts are made to wipe out that diversity. Understanding the importance of diversity is essential for our survival as a species. Environmentalist Bill McKibben, a voice of the global biologist consensus, warns us that unless we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause unprecedented and irreversible damage to the earth, including the further destruction of its diverse life forms. The bleaching of the coral reefs in the Gulf of Eilat - which means they are dying - is one indicator of this dangerous trend.

This Tu Bishvat, worldwide carbon dioxide levels stand at 387 ppm and rising. If we want future generations to still be able to celebrate Tu Bishvat, we must act now.

Rabbi Michael M. Cohen is the director of special projects for the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies