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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

EDITORIAL 23.02.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month february 23, edition 000437, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









































































The beheading of two Sikhs by the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal badlands is no doubt a ghastly crime which has understandably shocked the people of India. But it would be instructive to ask ourselves whether we expected the abductors of the hapless Sikhs to behave any better. Indeed, no purpose is served by expressing shock and revulsion at the Taliban's gross display of inhuman cruelty; that's what the adherents of Islamism are trained to do and that's what jihadis indulge in for pleasure. It would be deceitful to suggest that the Sikhs were murdered because their families failed to pay the 'ransom' that had been demanded by their abductors. The abduction of these Sikhs (and at least four others who are believed to be still in the custody of the Taliban) was not what is usually referred to as kidnapping for ransom by criminals looking for easy money. What the Taliban had demanded — and continues to demand — from the Sikh community, which is a designated minority in Islamic Pakistan, is jizya, or survival tax (call it protection money if you wish) that non-believers must pay to stay alive in an Islamic caliphate. Since the Taliban's ideology of hate extols the 'virtues' of puritanical Islam, it is only to be expected that they — as also the Islamic orthodoxy — should believe in the Quranic concept of dhimmitude and the right to treat dhimmis in the most appalling manner. We only need to recall the plight of the few remaining Sikhs in Afghanistan and the misery that is inflicted on Hindus in Pakistan. For further evidence we could look at Bangladesh where the Jamaat-e-Islami and its diabolical front organisations have targeted Hindus for atrocities committed in the name of Islam: The homes of Hindus have been looted, Hindu temples have been desecrated, Hindu women have been raped and Hindu men killed in cold blood, most noticeably when the BNP-Jamaat alliance was in power. The efforts of the Awami League Government to reverse the tide of Islamism are no doubt showing results, but a lot more needs to be done to restore a sense of security among Hindus and, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Buddhists.

It would be absurd to suggest that India has no right to take a stand on atrocities committed against religious minority communities in Pakistan, or Bangladesh for that matter. The outrageous murder of Sikhs by the Taliban or the hounding of Hindus cannot be glossed over as an 'internal affair' of Pakistan or Bangladesh. India has a moral responsibility towards followers of Indic religions in its immediate neighbourhood and must explore every possible means of ensuring their safety and security. If Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are unsafe in either Pakistan or Bangladesh, they must be provided shelter in India so that they can live with their honour intact; the onus is on us to give them the dignity which has been denied by their Islamic tormentors. It is unacceptable that the Government should think of squandering tax-payers' money on rewarding Islamic terrorists who have been waging jihad against India from safe havens in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, while expressing no more than faux concern over the plight of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in Pakistan and Bangladesh. India must act now and open its doors to the persecuted followers of Indic faiths without any delay.






The President's address to members of both Houses of Parliament on the first day of the Budget Session, which also happens to be the first session of Parliament in the new decade, might have been high on declarations and statistics but certainly does not reflect the ground realities. For all the praise that the President has heaped on the Government for doing a commendable job over the last eight months, whether in terms of the economy or national security, the truth is things couldn't have been worse for the aam admi. Even though the President has found it appropriate to pat the Government on the back for salvaging the country from the grip of acute food shortage, the fact is hunger and prices of essentially commodities have seen an exponential rise. At the same time, though the President has applauded the Government for overseeing an impressive annual economic growth — projected to be around 7.5 per cent — in the face of a global economic slowdown that has ravaged Western economies, the harsh reality is that the domestic job market is far from rosy. On the security front, the Government has spelt out measures to deal with Maoist and jihadi violence but there is little evidence to suggest that these have actually come off the drawing board and are being implemented at the ground level. The recent terror bombing in Pune and the barbaric attack on security personnel at Sildah in West Bengal have come as a rude reminder that far more needs to be done in order to provide real-time security to the aam admi.

At the heart of the problem lies the Government's attitude towards governance which is highly defocussed to say the least. Whether it is infrastructure development such as construction of roads, the social sector or the country's defence, the Government's policies have been ad-hoc and episodic at best. The way it chose to deal with the economic crisis is a classic example of this. What the Government essentially did was tinker with monetary policies to rein in spiralling inflation and counter contracting growth. It has neither bothered to address the fundamental reasons behind the crisis nor prepare the country for a similar economic downslide in future if it should happen. In the same vein, nothing has been done to tackle the problem of lack of artificial irrigation facilities for our farmers, the principal factor behind food scarcity due to an erratic monsoon. Reforms have been advertised but little has percolated down to the grassroots level in the form of systemic changes. All this betrays a severe lack of perspective planning on the part of the Government. The economy simply cannot be seen in isolation — the rich cannot get richer with the poor having to struggle to make ends meet. This Government has grossly failed to provide much needed direction to the country.



            THE PIONEER




The debate on the integrity of the electoral process when electronic voting machines are used to cast votes got a fillip recently when a group of concerned citizens organised workshops in New Delhi and Chennai and invited some international experts who have played a part in the abolition of electronic voting in some countries of Europe and in a majority of the States in the US.

Among these experts was Mr Rop Gonggrijp, a computer hacker from the Netherlands who hacked a machine on a live television show and became instrumental in the banning of EVMs in his country; Mr Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan and an authority on electronic voting security; and, Mr Till Jaeger, the attorney who argued against the use of EVMs before the German Federal Constitutional Court leading to the order banning of these machines in Germany. The Indian viewpoint on the vulnerability of EVMs was offered by Mr Hari Prasad, a noted 'hactivist' from Hyderabad, who first raised the red flag about the integrity of the EVM-based election process.

According to Mr Gonggrijp and Mr Halderman, EVMs can be tampered with either at the manufacturing stage or when they are stored in State capitals for deployment in elections or at the polling booths. They are convinced that Indian EVMs are no different from those that were deployed in the Netherlands, Germany or Ireland, before they were discarded in those countries. One of the ways to rig an election is to introduce a Trojan in the display section of the control unit. This chip would give 'fixed' results on the EVM screen. In other words, whatever the voters' preference, the control unit would display numbers as per the hacker's plan.

Mr Gonggrijp is a prominent campaigner for election transparency and verifiability, and his technical opinion appears to have clinched the issue against electronic voting in Germany as well. "When the vote count happens inside a machine and there is no way in which the result can be cross-checked, the election ceases to be transparent," he says. The lack of transparency appears to be the Achilles heel of electronic voting. Nobody knows what goes on inside these machines. This is the point on which the German Constitutional Court has held the deployment of EVMs as un-constitutional. It says the Constitution emphasises the public nature of elections and requires all essential steps to be open to public scrutiny.

While all these experts are categorical in their rejection of electronic voting devices, EVMs enjoy a great deal of credibility and public trust in India. This is so because the campaign about the unreliability of these machines is yet to get off the ground. However, politicians of various hues appear to be wary of these machines and have even accused rivals of 'manipulating' them, albeit without a shred of evidence to establish mischief.

However, there are those like Mr Hari Prasad who have been demanding that the Election Commission offer opportunities for them to demonstrate the vulnerability of EVMs. The EC initially went along with the idea but developed cold feet and abruptly stopped one such exercise by Mr Prasad and his colleagues last September. Why did the EC back out?

Two other Indians who have plunged into this campaign are Mr Subramanian Swamy, whose petition against EVMs is currently before the Delhi High Court, and Mr GVL Narasimha Rao, election analyst and author of Democracy at Risk — Can We Trust Our Electronic Voting Machines?. This book outlines the story of EVMs in India, Europe and the US, and describes how the non-response of the EC to questions raised by Mr Gonggrijp and Mr Hari Prasad has contributed in no small measure to the growing concern in political parties about the reliability of voting machines.

According to Mr Rao, among those who have raised doubts about EVMs are Mr LK Advani, leader of the BJP, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister and Congress leader who attributed his party's defeat in Odisha last year to "manipulation" of EVMs, Mr Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M), Mr Sharad Yadav, president of the JD(U), Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, president of the SP, Ms Mamata Bannerjee, president of Trinamool Congress, Mr Chandrababu Naidu, leader of the Telugu Desam, Ms Jayalalithaa, leader of the AIADMK, and leaders of the Pattali Makkal Katchi. One look at this list and you realise that there is a doubting Thomas everywhere — in every one of the three known national coalitions and in different regions.

Mr Karat has formally written to the EC. He has said there are several questions in regard to the reliability of EVMs. Among them are: Possibility of incorporating a Trojan in the chip; possibility of manipulation of the chip at the manufacturing stage; lack of EC control over the technical process; and lack of third party inspection. He has said the EC must control the manufacture of EVMs, allow third party inspection and randomly shift EVMs from State to State.

After talking to experts, Mr Rao lists eight situations in which EVMs can be rigged. The EC has sought to counter these arguments by saying that the Indian EVMs are standalone machines which are not part of any network. Therefore, any surmise based on operating system based EVMs would be completely erroneous.

These arguments have been countered by Mr Ulrich Wiesner, a physicist and software engineer, who was the petitioner before the Constitutional Court in Germany. In a statement that is part of the rejoinder affidavit filed by Mr Swamy in the Delhi High Court, Mr Wiesner has said that EVMs in the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland were also standalone machines with no connection to the Internet. He says, "It is common sense that someone who has sufficient access to open the machines and replace the software or hardware can implement virtually any functionality … that would not be spotted by tests."

The EC is a public body with a fat budget. If it is to command the confidence of all stake-holders in the democratic process, it must function in a transparent manner and answer the questions raised by these citizens and experts. The inflexible and non-transparent attitude of the commission is lending credence to the argument that possibly it has no answers or, worse, it has something to hide.






After serving an illustrious career spanning over six decades, economist, thinker and educationist Amlan Datta passed away on Thursday at his Salt Lake residence in Kolkata. His colleagues in academics and civil society, as well as his students across the world, mourned the death of an excellent teacher and social activist who was committed to the liberal ideals of Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore.

Apart from serving as the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University and the Vice-Chancellor of North Bengal University and Visva Bharati, his contribution to the study of economics, society and philosophy was enormous.

The author of several books in Bengali and English, his works drew inspiration from Tagore and Gandhi. Even Albert Einstein could not stop admiring Datta and praised the independence of his thoughts while commenting on his book In Defence of Freedom. Datta's The History of Russian Revolution is one of the most celebrated works by an Indian writer.

A critic of the CPI(M) model of socialism, Datta felt the need for co-operative socialism which, apart from promoting industrial development, would be merciful to the ideals of democracy. His ideas are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.

Throughout his life Datta strived to achieve the goals set by the liberal leaders of the freedom struggle. Towards that end, he not only severely criticised the West Bengal Government for its ineffective handling of the Nandigram and Singur disasters but also took on Muslim fundamentalists for opposing dissident Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's stay in India.

Datta represented India at many educational fora around the world. He regularly delivered lectures at universities in the US, Australia and China and was an authority on Gandhi, Tagore and economic development. He also represented India at the United Nations Social Development Commission in 1979.

Datta's student who is now West Bengal's Finance Minister, Mr Asim Dasgupta, said of his professor, "His remarkable clarity of exposition and his direct teaching methods encouraged innovative thoughts among the students." That was Datta's greatest gift.








THE offer by Avimukteshwaranand, the Shankaracharya- designate of Jyotirmath in Uttarakhand to buy the Loharinag Pala dam on the Ganga for the purpose of demolishing it is aimed at making a point, and it does so in a dramatic manner. There is an urgent need for the government to look at the plan to build a series of dams on the river from two major points of view.


First, the region is one of the most seismically active and ecologically fragile parts of the Himalayas. Second, the process of building the dams and diverting the waters through tunnels to generate electricity would seriously damage the ecology of the river system, as well as affect the livelihood and lifestyles of the people who live on its banks in Uttarakhand. The Ganga has all but disappeared from its original course between Gomukh and Uttarkashi because of being diverted through tunnels to a series of dams.


Dams do a great service to mankind in that they provide us a source of clean energy and enhance the productivity of agriculture through irrigation. Large parts of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have been irrigated by the impounded waters of the Sutlej and the Ganga at Bhakra and Tehri, respectively; and, in that sense, the dams have transformed the lives of the ordinary people. Reservoirs created by dams have also become a vital necessity as a source of drinking water. But all this has come at a price. The first to pay it usually have been the people who were displaced from the areas which are submerged in creating a reservoir. But they have also destroyed the riverine ecosystems by preventing the migration of various kinds of fish.


Several states in the US have begun taking steps to remove dams and restoring rivers to their pristine state. The reasons for the removal vary from demolishing old and obsolete dams that pose a danger to the populace downstream to the need to restore the severely damaged eco- systems above and below the dam.


India is not the US. There is a much greater need here to balance the needs of irrigation, drinking water and power from dams with the longer term interest of the health of the river's ecosystem. Perhaps the greatest need for caution arises from the fact that for most Indians, the Ganga is no ordinary river. For hundreds of millions of Hindus, it is a sacred river. It is dear to the sentiments of even the non- Hindus because of its role in the civilisation of the country as a whole.






IT IS not far- fetched to suggest that the beheading of two Sikhs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan may have a link with the upcoming dialogue between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan. The Taliban may appear savage in their ways — evident in the manner in which the Sikh men were killed after they reportedly refused to convert to Islam— but they very much have their finger on the pulse as far as events in the neighbourhood are concerned. An attack of this sort on Sikhs in Pakistan has the potential to poison the atmosphere in which the Indo- Pak dialogue is held and help the hardliners in Pakistan who are against any such exchange.


No doubt the victims are Pakistani citizens, but India has justifiable reasons to be interested in their well being. Besides the humanitarian concern at the brutal treatment of innocents, India must also take into account the feeling of outrage felt by its Sikh community which is already being manifested in protest demonstrations.


While the Sikhs were kidnapped for ransom, indicating the possible involvement of gangs that indulge in abductions and carjacking in the area and have links with extremist groups, the murders fit in with the general pattern of attacks unleashed by extremist groups against the minority Sikhs. Two years ago, there were reports of the Taliban imposing the jaziya tax on the Sikhs. Last year, militants took over the property of 35 Sikh families and arrested community leaders in Orakzai agency of FATA. Many Sikh families have already left the area, shifting to Peshawar and places further east. The Pakistani government must secure the release of the hostages still in captivity and also ensure the security and well- being of the minorities in the troubled region.







INDIA SHOULD be seriously worried about the the direction in which US/ NATO policy is headed in Afghanistan.


The willingness of the West to make a political deal with the Taliban as part of their exit strategy in Afghanistan should be the core concern. The exact import of US statements over the months on the need for a political solution in Afghanistan, as a purely military solution will not work, has become clearer now.

President Obama himself, in his two speeches last year outlining US's " Af- Pak" policy, focussed on the Al Qaida as the principal threat to US security and tellingly omitted any reference to the Taliban. This suggested caution in not closing the doors on a potential political settlement with the Taliban even as the US fought them on the ground in Afghanistan and launched drone attacks against its cadres on Pakistani territory. The two pronged policy seems to have been to contain and even roll back the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and from a position of relative strength negotiate a political deal with its leadership. Which is why the US has not really coerced Pakistan into acting against the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani and Hekmatyar networks. This strategy has suited Pakistan too as the Afghan Taliban are its strategic asset for restoring its influence in Afghanistan post a settlement there.




With the public support for the war in Afghanistan waning in the US, the state of its economy making the cost of the war increasingly burdensome and its electoral calendar imposing a short deadline for finding a " solution", the Obama Administration's policy in Afghanistan has wavered.


The unwillingness of key European countries to expend more human and material resources there has added to the confusion. The most disquieting upshot of these pressures is the western acceptance of the policy of reintegration and reconciliation with the Taliban.


In his November 19, 2009 speech on taking over the Presidency after the elections, President Karzai singled out reconciliation as one of the key priorities of his government. In December 2009 NATO issued a statement underlining that reconciliation and reintegration represent an essential component of a successful ISAF campaign to overcome the insurgency. Reintegration, it explained, would mean efforts at the tactical and operational levels to persuade low- level fighters, commanders and shadow governors to lay down their arms and to assimilate peacefully into Afghan society. Reconciliation refers to high level strategic dialogue with senior leaders of the insurgent groups designed to terminate their armed campaign against the Afghan people and their government. Both processes are to be Afghan led.


The 26 January, 2010 Istanbul meeting, from which India was excluded at Pakistan's insistence, extended support for this Afghan driven national process of reconciliation and reintegration.


The 28 January 2010 London Conference, to which India was invited but its views disregarded, endorsed the Istanbul meeting's support for reconciliation and reintegration and " welcomed the plans of the


Government of Afghanistan to offer an honourable place in society to those willing to renounce violence, participate in the free and open society and respect the principles that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution, cut ties with the Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and pursue their political goals peacefully" President Karzai has been advocating overtures to the Taliban since 2004, roping in Saudi Arabia to act as a bridge with the Taliban, but without success. His strategy may have been to enlarge his Pashtun base and obtain more political elbow room vis a vis the Americans, but can he realistically do this in the face of his failure to mobilise Pashtun support behind him all these years and emerge as a veritable Pashtun leader? Having emerged weaker from the last Presidential election, with the West accusing him of election fraud and, failing to organise a second round, reluctantly accepting the election result, but not without putting him on notice that his performance would be monitored for better governance and serious anti- corruption measures etc, what extra cards does he have in his hands? Why should the Taliban accept the leadership of a Karzai whose Pashtun support base remains feeble and whose western support base has slipped badly? Why should they be willing to share power with him?




What incentives will those opposing the Karzai government have to peacefully integrate themselves into Afghan society? Can better governance be provided by the Karzai regime by July 2011, the date when the US intends to draw down its forces in Afghanistan? Can economic development reach all corners of Afghanistan? Can employment opportunities be created in this short period? Where will the huge resources required for this come from? A Reintegration Fund of $ 500 million, with committed funds amounting to $ 140 million only, is clearly insufficient. Would it be physically possible to create a well armed and trained Afghan force of 171.600 by July 2011, capable of providing assured protection for those throwing in their lot with the government against any Taliban reprisals? Good governance, economic development and building up of capable and effective armed forces and police is a work of many years not a mere 18 months.




While the emphasis is on the reconciliation process being Afghan led, it is Saudi Arabia that is being invited to intercede with the Taliban. The mediatory role is being given to the most conservative Islamic country, one of the three that recognised the odious Taliban regime. Would the Saudis impress on the Taliban to respect modern values, democracy, women's rights, gender equality and abandon sharia- based punishment practices? Given the close nexus between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, is it conceivable that Saudi Arabia will not closely consult Pakistan and indeed help advance its interests in Afghanistan? In fact Pakistan will automatically get a role in these parleys with the Taliban as these groups are located on its territory and have close links with the ISI. An unstated aspect of this outreach to the Taliban leadership is an acknowledgement by the West of Pakistan's critical role in this exercise, and hence, as General Kiyani says, of the need to harmonise the interests of Pakistan and the West in Afghanistan, which would include Pakistan acquiring a form of strategic depth there.


Why President Karzai feels he can survive a political deal with the Taliban is unclear. The West has no particular attachment to him. It would have lived with an earlier Taliban regime in Afghanistan had it agreed to abandon the Al Qaeda. It would be willing to live with another post- Karzai Taliban like regime so long as it is not anti- West and it cuts off links with Al Qaeda, a point that the Saudis too will press on the Taliban leadership. All this shows once again that the fight against terrorism remains is not a collective one despite the rhetoric. The Taliban Foreign Minister, Vakil Ahmad Muttawakil, complicit with the IC- 814 hijackers, has been removed from the UNSC terror list without regard to Indian sensitivities. The conditions for the spread of an extremist version of Islam in our region are being created by this willingness to reconcile with the Taliban, with long term consequences for India's security.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)









BIHAR'S progress is churning feelgood stories everywhere.


From economists and industrialists to foreign diplomats and journalists, everybody is singing paeans to the underdeveloped state's remarkable turnaround in the past four years under the leadership of chief minister Nitish Kumar.


Bihar's growth rate of 11.03 per cent last year has elicited awe and admiration in all quarters because it invariably had a rockbottom position on the development index in the past. It is precisely because of its change of fortunes that Nitish has earned the sobriquet of " Vikas Purush ( Development Man)". Given his achievements, Nitish should have been sitting pretty in the final year of his term. But that does not seem to be the case at this juncture. Despite ushering in a new work culture in Bihar, he is facing challenges big enough to daunt even the most towering leaders.


Ironically, he is not up against a resurgent Opposition in the state planning to upset his applecart in the all- important election year. True, his arch political rivals in the state, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan, are on a mission to re- connect with the masses with their extensive tours across the state.


The Congress also looks to be in a revival mode, thanks to All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi's interest in Bihar.


But it is not Nitish's rivals from other parties who are posing problems to him these days. It is the ' enemies within' the Janata Dal- United who are trying to pull the rug from under his feet.


Many of his partymen have raised a banner of revolt against what they call Nitish's " autocratic" style of functioning. The party's state president Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh resigned from his post on the pretext of fighting for the rights of the grassroots party workers.


Other senior leaders of the party like Prabhunath Singh and Shivanand Tiwari have also fired salvos at the chief minister. All these leaders were on the best of terms with Nitish until recently but they are all part of the JDU's sulking brigade now.


BESIDES, a minister in his government, Jamshed Ashraf, went to the extent of alleging the complicity of the chief minister's secretariat in a multi- score scam in the excise department, giving the Opposition just the kind of ammunition it needed before the commencement of the Budget session of the state assembly on Monday.


The Opposition did not have many issues in the past to grill the state government but the bitter infighting within the JDU has exposed chinks in Nitish's armour.


Nitish has gotten into damagecontrol mode quickly by sacking his minister, trashing all his allegations.


He has refrained from attacking his senior party leaders who had questioned his leadership abilities. But, at the same time, he has refrained from mollycoddling anyone of them.


The Janata Dal- United looks like a house divided at present.


This has given the Opposition an opportunity to regroup and reassess their strength. This also means that Nitish cannot afford to get complacent because of his government's development- centric performance. He needs to play his political cards well and also set his house in order to prevent the benefits of his good work from being frittered away.



SHAH Rukh Khan may be " King Khan" at the box office elsewhere but his magic fails to rake in the moolah in Bihar. His muchhyped film, My Name is Khan , did not find many takers at the turnstiles in the state. Except for the first three days when Karan Johan's movie drew good crowds because of the Shiv Sena- related controversies, the theatres remained near- empty in many shows.


This was in contrast to the performance of Salman Khan's latest film, Veer . The movie ran to packed houses in the single theatres of Bihar, making it a far bigger grosser than Shah Rukh's MNIK in the state. Of course, the only film to have done better business than Veer in Bihar recently is Aamir Khan's 3 Idiots . This is not the first time when Shah Rukh's film has met with a lukewarm response in Bihar where his arch- rival Salman Khan is a bigger box office draw than him.



BIHAR'S art and culture lovers never had it so good in recent years. There is hardly a week when they do not get a chance to watch quality programmes. The state's Art, Culture and Youth department organises its music shows on weekends to give a platform to the talented, local artistes. There is a lot of theatre as well. The city's Kalidas Rangalaya has sprung back to life, staging many plays of late.


Another remarkable feature of this cultural reawakening is that noted Bollywood celebrities have also started visiting the state without any inhibitions.


Last week, Bihar's music lovers had popular singers — Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamuthy — in their midst. Hema Malini also performed yet again in Bihar. Her famous ballet on Radha Krishna cast a spell on her fans at Motihari.


This was not all. A four- day cine and theatre fest was also organised in Patna, which saw quality movies like Garam Hawa and Khamosh Pani being screened.



BIHAR has made rapid progress in the past four years in different fields. What has probably not changed is the profile of its legislators.


Regardless of their party affiliation, they keep doing the same things that have earned them notoriety over the years.


Janata Dal- United legislator Shyam Bahadur Singh organised a night- long programme of bar girls at his residence on Saturday to entertain the horde of Mahadalit supporters that he had brought from his constituency for the NDA's rally in Patna on Sunday.


But a few swigs of his favourite liquor later, he gave a tough competition to the bar girls with his dancing skills. It was only after he saw his own gig on the news channels the next morning that he got over his hangover.


Profusely apologising to the people of his constituency, state and the nation for his " mistake", he said that he got carried away because of the festive mood ahead of Holi. But he did not forget to remind the people that he belonged to the Ziradei constituency where the first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad was born.


Singh's performance has left the NDA leaders red- faced in Bihar because they used to associate such shows with the RJD culture in the state.


giridhar.jha@mailtoday. in








Barring stakeholders in the status quo, everyone admits that subsidies encourage wasteful use, be it of fuel, water, power or fertilisers. Such waste has negative environmental effects too. Yet, on fuel price decontrol, the UPA has all but chickened out. Its forward movement on fertilisers is welcome, but only insofar as a half-measure is better than nothing. Subsidising fertiliser firms, the government essentially pays manufacturers the difference between officially fixed retail prices and a 'retention' price required for businesses to be viable. Companies, therefore, commonly inflate costs of production, with taxpayers ending up subsidising unethical and inefficient enterprises, not poor farmers. Also, the system favours the cheapest fertiliser urea which isn't necessarily the best for farm practices.

Under the new nutrient-based subsidy regime, subsidies will go to nutrients in fertilisers, not final products. Manufacturers of non-urea fertilisers can also vary prices. Ideally, competing firms will unveil innovative products, giving farmers access to nutrients of their choice and safeguarding soil quality. But things may not work to plan. Since urea prices aren't decontrolled, firms can still gold-plate production costs. Besides, having okayed a 10 per cent hike in urea prices, the government now seems to want to limit price increase to 5 per cent. So, if freed-up nutrient-rich fertiliser prices spike, urea consumption will still be high. The government's solution seems of two kinds. One, it will informally arm-twist all firms on prices. Two, it'll intervene openly if prices rise beyond 'acceptable' levels. This hardly constitutes reform.

We should really be moving towards direct subsidy to farmers, by way of fertiliser coupons, direct cash transfers or issue of smart cards. Some experts say every farmer should be given a certain amount say, 200 kg of fertilisers free. This would protect small farmers while bigger farmers can buy at market prices. Whichever way farmers are subsidised, it's clear that partial price decontrol won't click. The case for full decontrol becomes stronger when we consider an estimate that sharp spikes in fertiliser subsidy which has crossed Rs 100,000 crore have led to no more than a paltry 1.3 per cent annual growth in agricultural production over the last 6-7 years.

Since the UPA is early into its second stint and has no electoral compulsions at present, this is the right time to introduce reforms in areas such as water, power and fuel pricing as well as the retail sector. Wasteful subsidies are short-term palliatives or tools of political patronage that do more harm than good. Apart from increasing fiscal loads, they promote misallocation of resources. Public money propping up the creaking subsidy edifice should be better spent on health, education and infrastructure. That's the way to genuinely empower citizens.







The weather report from the environment ministry is not very encouraging. Last week, the PM's special envoy on climate, Shyam Saran, bid adieu to his charge, apparently miffed over seniority issues. Now, another top negotiator, Chandrashekar Dasgupta, has quit as well. It's no secret that Saran and other negotiators, including Dasgupta, held differing views from that of environment minister Jairam Ramesh on India's negotiating position. These exits must be viewed in the context of the minister suggesting that India was willing to revisit its stance on per capita emissions.

What seems to have caused turbulence is that Ramesh has outsourced a study on a matter of such crucial national interest to Washington think-tanker Arvind Subramanium, who advocates junking the per capita emissions principle. Ramesh has also called a meeting of international experts and wants to consider whether India should redefine its long-standing negotiating stance, that the world share the burden of climate change by factoring in per capita emissions of all countries. Simply put, it means that developed countries, which have very high per capita emissions and are the world's leading polluters, take an equivalent proportion of action to combat climate change. And developing countries like India, while committing to grow responsibly, are not asked to make the same kind of cuts as developed countries. This is what is referred to as the 'equity principle' and it is enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol.

This is a just principle. Developing countries cannot be measured on the same scale as advanced countries, which have already reaped the benefits of rapid and widespread industrialisation. The US has tried to push for the abandonment of the equity principle for a while now. It also insists on setting a common baseline year for all countries from which they would have to count and cap carbon emissions. Of course, the US and other leading western powers refuse to make any substantial cuts of their own and are seeking to shape the debate to their advantage.

India is a responsible power and is committed to tackling climate change, but it also is entitled to grow and fulfil the aspirations of its people. Abandoning, or diluting, the equity principle is not in our interests. We hope the minister will not act in haste and will adopt a more consultative approach while articulating India's position on a matter of national significance.








Lagging employment recovery and continuing high levels of unemployment have marked the macroeconomic scenario in the United States. So, it is natural that the United States, which chaired the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, would use its privileged position as the host to invite the US secretary of labour, a well-known union activist, to convene a meeting of the employment and labour ministers on the jobs situation prior to the next G-20 heads of state meeting in Canada.

The macroeconomic aspects of the labour situation are indeed a proper focus of such a meeting. But the Pittsburgh declaration goes further and urges the G-20 countries not to "disregard or weaken internationally recognised labour standards" and to "implement policies consistent with ILO fundamental principles and rights at work".

Led by their federation, the AFL-CIO, the US labour unions have had a long history of pushing for a "social clause" into trade treaties at every forum. For international economists familiar with this history and the stranglehold the unions exercise on the Democratic Party and Congress today, the G-20 declaration constitutes a carefully designed trap. It is drafted in a way in which the US and the European Union can get developing-country employment and labour ministers unfamiliar with the agenda and influence of developed-country unions, to endorse measures that have a "feel good" fagade but are, in fact, a protectionist dagger aimed at our jugulars. Indeed, the US undersecretary of labour, Sandra Polanski, who has been put in charge of the meeting, is well known to us as a long-standing proponent of such measures and a relentless activist on their behalf.

When the unions in the US and the EU insist on a set of labour standards in the developing countries with which they compete for markets at home and abroad, they take an altruistic line: we are doing this out of solidarity; we are doing it for your workers. But when you push them hard, they always say: it is "unfair" to have to compete with others who do not have our standards. Now, the latter is an argument about competition; it is about losing out in trade. So it is an argument motivated by self-interest, not altruism.

The traditional demand by the American unions has been that others should have the same standards as the US does. But this argument is comic, were it not tragic. Is the US a paragon of virtue on labour standards? After all, less than 10 per cent of its private workforce is now unionised. And this is because the main weapon that unions have, the right to strike, has been crippled by the Taft-Hartley legislation of over 50 years ago. Even liberal universities have refused to let their administrative employees organise. In consequence, Human Rights Watch, which has investigated the right to unionise, a central feature of the ILO principles, has found that this is far from being guaranteed in the US.

So, US unions have shifted to asking for ILO "core standards" instead. But this will not wash either. The US has not even ratified many of these core conventions. So, in effect, this version is also to be aimed at others, not themselves.

The truth of the matter is that, frightened by competition from our exports, the American and European unions seek relief. This can be obtained by conventional import protectionism. But, if this is constrained by WTO obligations, then it can be obtained by raising the cost of production of the foreign rivals. Raising their labour obligations is one way of doing this. Therefore, we have called it a form of "export protectionism", like

the Voluntary Export Restraints, where the exporting country restrains its exports.

An alert must therefore be sounded and the matter discussed at the highest levels of the Indian government, with the labour minister fully briefed by trade experts and officials on the traps that await him at the impending meeting. We can also be sure that the US delegation will be assisted by Washington think-tank proponents of such protectionist proposals, many of them from the Carnegie Endowment (where Polanski sat during the Bush years), the Petersen Institute for International Economics (which has had a history of advocating trade-labour link), and the Centre for Global Development (which is captive to the protectionist notion of fair trade extending to labour standards in trade). Our best trade experts can effectively counter their arguments if only we use them.

But it is not enough to push back on proposals, which will harm us and the developing countries, more generally. India needs to be proactive and offer its own resolution that explicitly discourages the insertion of labour clauses into trade treaties and institutions. The intellectual argument is on our side on this issue. We should not be content to act as if we can eat at the banquet but have no say in the choice of the menu.

Bhagwati is university professor and Panagariya is professor of economics at Columbia University.






The Berlin Film Festival jury a panel of eminent authorities on cinema such as director Werner Herzog has decided to place artistic integrity and merit above political correctness by awarding Roman Polanski the best director prize. There is bound to be a hue and cry about the decision given Polanski's recent arrest 30 years after his sentencing for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. Incidentally, Polanski has now been publicly forgiven by his victim, who now wants the charges against him dropped. It is important to make a distinction between Polanski the man and Polanski the artist. Not even those who are the most strident in demanding that he pay for his crime contest that he is a great director. Neither has anyone quibbled over the merit of the movie for which he has won the prize, The Ghost Writer. Its reviews are almost universally favourable. The festival jury's verdict does not condone the crime Polanski has been charged with as it should not. It merely acknowledges his artistic vision.

It is a fine distinction but an important one. It is an unfortunate fact that artists of merit often live by a personal ethical code that is problematic or even beyond the bounds of the law. It's pernicious to suggest that their genius should spare them the legal consequences of their actions. But the proper forum for judging that is a court of law, not the jury of a film festival. The latter's remit is judging the artistic content of a film, and that's what it should focus on.

If Polanski's films are to be judged by the way he has lived his personal life, it follows that other artists must be judged the same way. Should Pablo Picasso's paintings be locked away because of the casual cruelty with which he treated the women in his life? Should Woody Allen's movies be condemned because of his relationship with his partner's adopted daughter? There would not be much left of art if this logic were to be followed.







It is ironic that, less than half a year after he was arrested while travelling to a film festival in Zurich to pick up an award, the jury at another film festival should see it fit to give director Roman Polanski another prize. In its wisdom, it has decided that the merit of his work is enough to outweigh the implications of his crime. When a man has spent three decades absconding from a country where he has been found guilty of having unlawful and allegedly non-consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl this reasoning becomes hard to follow. Does his work in fact have merit? Perhaps. But in the larger scheme of things, that is irrelevant. The Berlin Film Festival jury has done the film community and society in general a grave disservice.

One must keep in mind that this is not simply an instance of socially inappropriate behaviour, some enfant terrible scandalising a society that cannot keep up with him. Morally shameful as callousness towards women or certain types of relationships might be, they are not illegal. What Polanski did is. To suppose that the festival jury can award the director for his work and simply ignore this larger context is to be naive. As a German publication said after the announcement, awarding Polanski the prize is like giving him a general amnesty. A US media report stated that it is not possible to separate his work from his crime in the public consciousness. By doing as they did, the Berlin panelists sent a clear message. They care nothing for the sensibilities of anyone beyond their closed community. It is insensitivity of the worst kind.

Given the outpouring of support for Polanski from the film community after his arrest, this is precisely the wrong message to send. The common refrain from his peers seems to be that his genius excused him from abiding by the same norms that lesser mortals have to. This is both reprehensible and against the basic foundation of civilised society equality before the law. Yet, they seem bent on reinforcing that message rather than distancing themselves from it.







''According to recent research, women speak three times more than men...'' I was reading aloud to no one in particular when my wife snapped, ''Will you please read quietly and let me focus on more important stories?'' I said, ''You know how I like the sound of words.'' ''I don't like the sound of your headmasterly voice, especially in the morning,'' she said. Among the long list of attributes for which one keeps getting compliments from the wife, my voice has always been on top. The other day, when we were discussing throwing a lunch party for some friends, she said, ''Can't you talk quietly? If the domestic help overhears he will vanish to escape extra work.'' I have been practising how to eat quietly, watch a movie quietly, sleep quietly, walk quietly and sing quietly. But how could one talk quietly? And now she wanted me to read quietly. I let out an eloquent sigh and kept the newspaper aside. She relented. ''Do you want another cup of tea?'' she asked. I nodded yes. She went to the kitchen and brought the refills for the two of us. One sipped the tea with extra care so as not to be told, ''Can't you sip the tea without making any noise.'' But her mind was elsewhere.

''Which sari should I wear at the lunch we are hosting?'' she asked. ''Wear the mustard one that you bought on Diwali. It looks great on you,'' I said, choosing the words carefully. Saying 'you will look great in that' would have been catastrophic. ''That's so heavy! I can either mind the sari or the guests,'' she said. I suggested another sari, and then another and then yet another. She shot down all on one pretext or the other. I let out another sigh and recalled the time when I would pick out the sari and she would wear it without a second thought. I was pulling a long face and she asked me the reason for that. ''What made you reject all the saris proposed by me?'' I asked. She said she didn't want me to dictate what she should wear. I replied that it was only a suggestion. ''But who asked for your suggestion?'' she said. ''Didn't you ask which sari you should wear at the lunch?'' ''I was only thinking aloud, Mister,'' she said and left the balcony in a huff.







There are several theories about the use of yantras – whether in terms of energy and colour, or their association with certain mantras. Understanding our existence could throw some light on mantras and their significance.

There are seven layers to our existence: body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego and the Self. The first six are subject to change; they are impermanent. The physical body changes over time. The mind oscillates between past and future, likes and dislikes. The intellect is caught between agreement and disagreement. Memory experiences loss and gain.

Our circle of belongingness depends on the extent of our ego. The antidote to ego is being natural. This happens because of spiritual practices and the use of yantras and mantras. Yantras help to transcend body-consciousness and mantras uplift our consciousness.

What does it mean to transcend body consciousness? When you move from your limited identity and enter the unbounded, infinite consciousness even for a few moments, it energises and rejuvenates you completely. The phenomena of moving beyond the limited identity of body, form, shape, and location is described as transcending body consciousness. How does a yantra help us to do this?

Yantras are energy diagrams representing various energy fields. Yantras can have lines moving upward, downward or curved lines. They signify the flow of energy and nodal points of various energies. Let us say, we are walking on a hilly terrain. We are climbing, and then we go downhill, maybe we move on a curved path for a while. When we climb, the energy required is different from what is required while going downhill. The experience of walking along curves is different from that of walking on a straight path or uphill. In this way, we can understand various energy patterns governing our activities. Some patterns drain and tire us. Some energise us. If there is dullness, lack of enthusiasm and interest, inertia, and lethargy, we can correct our own energy field by focusing on a specific yantra. Which yantra would suit me? All matter is atoms grouping together in specific patterns. They give rise to the many substances in creation. Every form or substance has atoms but the patterns are different. Similarly, yantras are different patterns of the same energy. These patterns can be recognised only with heightened awareness. As each human being is unique, seers dedicated certain models for certain kinds of people based on the extent of refinement of their nervous system. To know which one is for you requires the guidance of a Master.

Yantras have a definite structure and organisation. The centre of the yantra is the bindu, the focal point of all energy, the seat of Divinity. All the cells in our body came from a single mother cell or bindu which differentiated into eyes, brain, heart and other parts of our body. That one cell contained knowledge of creation of the entire human body. Similarly, the bindu is the focal point of all energies that constitute Creation. Yantras are normally represented in two dimensions, but they could be multi-dimensional. The Vedas speak of the existence of several dimensions of space and time beyond the three dimensions of space and one of time that we perceive. Science is still on the lookout for that ultimate unified theory of the universe.

Movement from the bindu to the periphery is the journey from the subtle to gross, from within to the external world. The movement from the periphery to the bindu is dissolution -- the journey from the external world of sensory perceptions and objects to the infinite space within.

(The writer teaches meditation, Art of Living, Bangalore.)








For a change, it's not the self-righteous politician playing party-pooper. This time, it's the media that's been caught playing the disapproving-cum-cantankerous grandma who wants everybody, especially our political leaders, to behave as if they lived inside Parliament, or, as in the case of Shyam Bahadur Singh, inside the Bihar assembly, 24 hours a day. Mr Singh, a member of the Patna legislative assembly from the Janata Dal (United), had organised a fun'n'frolic dance programme in Patna for the entertainment of people from his constituency of Ziradei in Siwan district on Sunday. While the media, fed on rallies and programmes more in tune with the 'hoity-toity' babalog notion of what appeals to the masses (read: snore-inducing programmes involving speeches, patriotic songs and panel discussions), expected a certain 'decorum' from Mr Singh, the JD(U) MLA thankfully had other plans.


A few girls were trotted out to dance in the gathering, the crowd enjoying every bit of it, and Mr Singh, full of joie de vivre that most other politicians try to cultivate and fail to have, started dancing with the girls in the crowd. A section of the media, who would have preferred a classical dance recital, immediately accused Mr Singh of making "indecent moves". We saw the visuals of Mr Singh in full flow, and it's pretty evident that he was matching the girls 'step by step, move by move'. Most important, he was having fun -- something that our marmish media does not tolerate in our political class.


India has been straitjacketed in its prudish notion of how a politician should behave. And for that, the finger-wagging media are largely to blame. Why can't a minister break into dance? Why can't an MLA be seen at a bar nursing his drink? Why does our political class have to be squeakily fun-less? If there's any lesson that Mr Singh can teach the media in their nunnery, it is this: chill. No law was broken, no one was upset. So what is it that makes people think that politicians can't shake a leg or any other body part when the lights go down?







The budget session of Parliament gets underway with the Manmohan Singh government signalling it will continue economic policies that brought it back to power. President Pratibha Patil's inaugural address is heavily loaded with a reformist economic agenda that incorporates large-scale income transfers to those farthest from the growth orbit. Last year's financial crisis and drought provided adequate intellectual underpinnings for fiscal expansion. But with both behind us, the absence in Ms Patil's speech of a stated intent to return to prudent spending sticks out against an ambitious welfare programme. Growth alone will not deliver the funds we need for building physical and social infrastructure; to be a successful facilitator, the government needs to be able to manage its finances better.


Physical infrastructure — the necessary condition for sustaining medium-term growth rates in excess of 8 per cent — is critically dependent on our fiscal health, even if the government restricts itself to financing merely the viability gap. Independent observers reckon India could lose up to 10 per cent of its potential output in the later part of the decade if it continues to build ports, power plants and highways at the pace it is doing. Money for all of this is available — outside India, if not inside — but its flow depends on the State's commitment to meeting self-imposed targets. The goalposts, Ms Patil's address sets out, are too close and the audience would have been rewarded to learn how even these will be reached.


The sufficient condition for a self-exciting system is a healthy, educated workforce that is capable of contributing to, and benefiting from, an unshackled economy's growth impulses. The UPA's agenda for education, health and employment is a temporary, but necessary bridge between the reforms-haves and the have-nots. A more permanent structure is emerging — some would argue too slowly — as social welfare entitlements are increasingly being formalised. Some in the plethora of schemes Ms Patil has dwelt upon trace their history to half-a-century ago. A simpler set of programmes with legislative backing makes for a more accountable system. But as more social spending travels down, leaks in the delivery pipes can undo all the good economics and good politics the UPA has embarked upon.








The budget session of Parliament has begun with the customary address by the President. This address constitutes a balance sheet of the government's work in the past year and its projections for the coming year. This naturally would require a stricter scrutiny in the days to come.


It's only natural that the country's expectations revolve around the forthcoming budget. The foremost question that preoccupies most of India is whether the budget will be able to contain the runaway rise in prices of essential commodities and provide relief to the people. The budget, in fact, has very little to do in this direction. The government's failure to control this price rise is not because of any budget proposals. It is because of its refusal to undertake the obvious measures that are needed. For one, much of this price rise is due to speculative commodity trading. Trading corporates have reported profits ranging from 150-300 per cent while foodgrains prices have been rising at an annual rate of nearly 20 per cent.


Further, this rise in prices, particularly in the case of sugar, has been due to extremely injudicious decisions taken by the government. When all projections showed that sugar production would be much less than the anticipated demand, the government decided to export sugar instead of keeping a buffer stock. Worse, it has now decided to export 10,000 metric tonnes of sugar to the European Union (EU) despite the fact that sugar is selling at more than Rs 50 per kg at home.


One sure way of containing prices would have been to strengthen the public distribution system and sell foodgrains at controlled prices. Acting quite to the contrary, the government decided to reduce the release of foodgrains for above the poverty line population (APL) to the tune of nearly 70 per cent — for instance, Kerala was receiving 1.13 lakh tonnes at Rs 8.90 per kg, under this category which was reduced last year to a mere 17,000 tonnes. Now, all states are being offered to procure rice at Rs 17 per kg. Far from reducing prices, this will only compound the problem further. The people's expectation that this budget will provide relief on the price front will remain unrealised as the decisions have to be taken elsewhere, outside the budget.


Another expectation is on the continuation of the stimulus packages that are widely believed to have protected India from the global recession. The Rs 2.18 lakh crore stimulus in various packages was seen by the Reserve Bank of India as having increased the money supply in the economy, which provided grist to the inflation mill. It has, therefore, set out monetary policy measures aimed at reining in Rs 36,000 crore.


Concerns over the burgeoning fiscal deficit may well dampen the continuation of the stimulus packages.


While we will have to wait for the budget to see how the finance minister will address these concerns, the majority of the people are preoccupied with seeing if the budget will initiate a new process of inclusive growth that would be a departure from the last two decades of liberalisation. When Manmohan Singh as the finance minister ushered in the neo-liberal regime in 1991 with the budget that year, it was officially estimated that 34.5 crore of Indians were below the poverty line — or nearly 41 per cent at that time. In 2009, according to the latest Suresh Tendulkar Report, 37.2 per cent of India or 43.8 crore are below the poverty line today. While percentages may serve academic analysis, the real world sees absolute numbers. These two decades of neo-liberal economic reform have seen nearly 10 crore more Indians sliding into poverty.


The World Bank, however, estimates that India is home to one-third of the world's poor, with nearly 46 crore people or 42 per cent under the global definition of poverty. Forty six per cent of the world's malnourished children are Indian. In 1991, India ranked 121 out of 160 countries in the Human Development Index. Two decades later, we are at 134, among 182 countries. Therefore, the findings of the PM-appointed National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, which showed that 77 per cent of Indians survive on less than Rs 20 a day, are no surprise.


The big question for India before this budget is whether it will change the trajectory of the last 20 years and move meaningfully towards an inclusive growth path. While the images of an 'emerging' India rubbing shoulders with the G-20 at the high table dominate media attention and raise aspirations among people of a superpower status, a vast majority of our people continue to aspire to just get the next meal.


The takeover of public utilities and till-recently state-supported social sectors like education and health by the market forces have added to the woes of the people. The latest data of the National Sample Survey Organisation shows that nearly 4 crore people have been pushed into poverty due to expenditures on health alone. Will this budget attempt to reverse these trends? Mere rhetoric of flagship programmes of Bharat Nirman and concern for the aam aadmi will not provide any tangible relief to the people.


Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.


The views expressed by the author are personal. 








Athletes wrestle with this question as a matter of routine. Do the technological aids at their disposal make them better than their predecessors? To take an example, is Usain Bolt, with his habit of breaking the 100m sprint record, greater than Carl Lewis just on that basis? Or can Michael Phelps, with his eight gold medals and almost as many records at the 2008 Olympics, be rightfully acclaimed as the best swimmer ever, better than Mark Spitz, who took home seven golds at the 1972 Games? After all, swimming gear, Olympic pools and nutritional support are far more advantageous to speed today. But the question is not to force a trite comparison but to provoke an examination of the qualities embedded in a new generation's appraisal process.


So it is perhaps with an ongoing debate on how the Internet is affecting our intelligence. Two years ago, an article in the Atlantic Monthly pretty much set off a stormy debate on the subject. In 'Is Google making us stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains', Nicholas Carr argued that the Net is impacting our capacity for deep reading, and by extension concentration and contemplation. With more and more of our reading lives moved online, the temptation to skim, to glide from one thing to another through hyperlinks, our mental circuitry is being reset — and this, Carr implied, was not exactly a healthy change.


Now, in an online poll, a majority of respondents — said to be a mix of Web users and "experts" — have said that the Net will make users more intelligent and better readers and writers over the next decade. What is a better reader, of course, still depends on your point of view. Is she somebody who can read Roberto Bolaño's 2666 in tranquillity? Or is she is a quick aggregator of information? Be sure that the Net will facilitate a poll on that.








Aligarh Muslim University is an institution of international repute and its students go out with character.


Homosexuality is not good for them and so such act could not be allowed on campus" — so said the vice chancellor of AMU, justifying his decision to fire a professor, S.R. Siras.


Funny, because either a few of these students, so brimming with character, or a local news channel, seems to have installed a camera in Siras's home to film an act of consensual sex with another man (a rickshaw puller, the university spokesperson unnecessarily noted), and then passed it on to the AMU administration. Instead of turning upon those who filmed and circulated the clip in blatant violation of the professor's privacy, the university authorities chose to suspend the victim for "gross misconduct".


The Indian LGBT community's legal victory in the Delhi high court was a decisive and unambiguous one — as the court noted, "moral indignation, howsoever strong, is not a valid basis for overriding individual's fundamental rights of dignity and privacy. In our scheme of things, constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality, even if it be the majoritarian view." So whatever the vice chancellor's private opinion, he cannot take an action that dismisses Siras's right to love whom he loves, in the sheltered space of his own home. There might be many in Siras's context who share that sense of recoil and moral panic, which possibly explains why the professor (who was on the verge of retirement) has not been speaking for himself. His cause has been championed largely by others. In the US, the Lawrence vs Texas case that finally struck down the law banning sodomy hinged on the right to privacy and the extent to which government could regulate private lives. In India, the LGBT community has been galvanised into a politically conscious lobby, but homophobia is as virulent as ever. Such cases of persecution must be used as testing grounds and platforms of change. The AMU elders must realise that prejudice comes with a heavy price.







President Pratibha Patil's address to both Houses of Parliament at the start of the Budget Session reassured that the "senseless violence" perpetrated by Maoists will be tackled with "added vigour". Not that the Union home ministry's resolve was in doubt. But that said, there is still crucial and unfinished business. After the initial months of Operation Green Hunt, there lie states in the eye of the offensive that are doubtful and hesitant. There are politicians and parties unwilling to desist from exploiting the Maoists for local electoral points. It is their resolve that is questionable.


On the ground, a coordinated operation on this scale cannot succeed by half measures and the one-step-up, two-steps-back approach of states like Jharkhand. On the political front, giving space to Maoists through equivocal words and opportunistic moves, such as the Trinamool's, is suicidal. It is necessary to warn mainstream political figures that they cannot get away by using Maoists for political mileage. Of this, Mamata Banerjee, who is part of the UPA coalition and positions herself as West Bengal's chief minister-in-waiting, should take note. Ambivalence on Naxalism severely jeopardises life and liberty. That was on display during the seizure of the Rajdhani in West Midnapore last October, when, as Union railways minister, she failed to address the severity of the Maoist menace. She continues to give evidence of her inability to come to terms with reality as she routinely confuses all by her flip-flop on Maoists. Nor are her MPs blameless — Lok Sabha member Kabir Suman has gone on record protesting at Green Hunt and insisting that the Trinamool should have opposed it. That, of course, goes even against the party's line but Banerjee has to put her house in order. As a constituent of the ruling alliance at the Centre, the Trinamool and its chief must behave responsibly.


The Centre's task is unenviable. It must fully get on board reluctant states and UPA members on the inadmissibility of the Maoist modus operandi and ideology even as it coordinates the joint operations, hoping that states will ensure there's no potential Silda lurking anywhere. The state has a duty to protect citizens. It must be allowed to do that duty. The object lesson in how not to treat Maoists is the West Bengal government which, after years of being in denial, now finds itself at sea. That is pretty close a warning for Mamata Banerjee, one that her cabinet colleagues must keep alerting her to.









Tiger Woods played by the rules — in apologising, that is. He cut straight to the point, "I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behaviour," followed by a swift "What I did is not acceptable and I am the only person to blame" and then the path to rehabilitation: "It's hard to admit that I need help, but I do."


His apology was as control freakish as his personal life has been. A handful of carefully selected friends, colleagues and endorsers watched the fallen hero deliver what farcically resembled a State of the Union address. A no question policy operated, but then again, what really remained to be asked? How many women were there? We already know. Why was his wife absent? Tiger already answered that. The one question that actually remains a mystery is whether Tiger Woods is indeed sorry.


One thing Tiger's mea culpa has indicated is that there will be intrusions into the public lives of celebrities. The entire saga has shed light on the intricate connections between celebrity culture and popular engagement. Tiger's personal affairs are his own but with increasingly diverse media and agog audiences, celebrity culture is redefining what counts as a public issue.


Celebrities are seen as role models — as examples of those who struggle with identity, with sexuality and the like — and also integrated into the political sphere by politicians and their agencies. Thus the boundaries between news and entertainment — between the performer and his or her role in public debate are blurred. The performer or the athlete can no longer be disengaged from public issues.


Simply look at the prominence of "celebrity diplomacy". Celebrities use their power and status to bring about political change. Bono and Bob Geldof are classic examples — just look at their role in Red and Band Aid campaigns to see how much public support they garner. Recently the Haiti earthquake saw singer Wyclef Jean and Angelina Jolie mobilise public support and awareness. In fact, Tiger himself is politically involved through his foundation.


So naturally, the reaction to his apology has been mixed. Can a public figure so prominent in our lives be so close and yet so distant? Also, why did he mention the G-word (golf) only twice? "I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year." Here lies the catch: Tiger Woods needs golf, but golf needs Tiger more. Since the unravelling of his secret life, Tiger's endorsements have taken a major blow. It is these endorsements — the multinational corporations that used to back Tiger — that are the lifeline of the PGA. It's the giant management consultant firms like Accenture (which has now dropped Tiger), investment corporations and the like that sponsor the tournaments.


Before Tiger the game belonged to the rich man's world. Tiger changed that and, without him, the sport is likely to suffer.


What now? As he said himself, "I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled... I was wrong. I was foolish."


Now one wonders — why this uncharacteristic public display? Who was Tiger apologising to? The honest answer may well lie in the thousands of us who buy into the squeaky clean Tiger Woods image. Take a walk around New York's Time Square and you'll see a boyish Tiger promoting the luxury TagHeuer watches; or a drive in a London cab where the bold catch-phrase "Go on, be a Tiger" was promoted by Accenture, or walk into Nike in India where his range is stacked right on top. Tiger Woods did not become one of the wealthiest athletes in the world by being the best at his game — he got there by selling his image, allowing himself to become a product. A global name — one that he wants us to like.


The big takeaway from this entire sorry saga has been that the wall of no-questions has been penetrated. Has there been another athlete in memory that has been subjected to such scrutiny? Does this mean that athletes too will now be subject to the intense media gaze and accountability that politicians normally deal with?








The Draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill (NCHER) is quite simply the most outrageous proposal to centralise power in higher education that could be imagined. Instead of rationalising regulation, it creates a structure that makes the UGC Act look positively more benign. In its current incarnation, the bill conforms more to the dreams of a super UGC that Arjun Singh had floated than it does to the regulatory reform that the Knowledge Commission, Yashpal Committee and Kapil Sibal himself had promised.


The bill is deficient on so many grounds that it would take several pages to expound its infirmities. But to begin with, it displays minimal grasp of either the first principles of regulation or the context in which the debate for a new regulatory body had started. The problem with the current structure was three-fold. First, the UGC had acquired overweening powers. In its original and much better crafted 1958 Act, it was entrusted with "coordination" of higher education. Slowly, this was transformed into a mandate of "standardisation" and "homogenisation". Second, the UGC merged many functions: it became regulator, accreditation authority, funding agency, all rolled into one. And third, the whole institution seemed to diminish in authority, in part because of the politicisation of the appointments process. Instead of acting as a buffer between government and universities, it started doing the government's bidding. It started acting on the autonomy of public universities with impunity. And it had no transparent mechanism for authorising new institutions, resulting in the current deemed universities mess.


The new bill, except for making the appointments of some of the members of the new NCHER more elevated, does nothing else to alleviate any of the deficiencies of the UGC. It makes the problem worse. It retains the expansive ambit of the UGC, and adds considerably to its powers. The most egregious example of this is the proposal that appointments for vice-chancellors in all universities in India be de facto centralised. They will now have to be appointed from a national regis-


try prepared by a single collegium which will forward five names for a position. This is probably as much an infringement on federalism as it is a diminution of a university board's ability to take charge of its own appointments.


Second, the commission is entrusted with promoting university autonomy, and it drops the word on occasion (kind of oxymoronic when a central agency is required to promote autonomy). But the very section that speaks of autonomy gives the commission an indiscriminate mandate to regulate everything from syllabi, course structures, administrative protocols. These powers would greatly erode all slivers of autonomy that universities currently possess. The drafters seem to have very little conception of what a "university" means, and what powers that status must confer on an institution that carries that name.


The authors of this draft seemed not to have understood any of the reasoning in various committee reports suggesting regulatory reform. For instance, it makes sense to distinguish a funding agency from a regulator. An agency mandated with funding public universities, like the UGC, should not be the regulator. This draft retains the fusion of both functions, in addition to giving tribunal-like powers as well. It will also be required to do a job of a research funding agency, which should be done separately. Second, the administrative mechanisms envisaged in this act are, to put it mildly, impractical. The core collegium entrusted with a national registry, appointments, and extensive advisory functions shall consist of Indian Nobel Laureates or Field Medallists, Jnanpith award winners, national research professors or members of international academies. They will also co-opt members from each state on the recommendation of the state. Of this Nobel Laureates and Field Medallists is a tiny set that living abroad is unlikely to get its hands dirty with our system; why being a Jnanpith awardee gives you any special insights into running education institutions is not clear. This will leave a small group of national research professors, usually close to retirement or members of international academies mostly in the sciences. In addition there will be severe politics at the state level to secure nominations as a co-opted fellow, since the stakes are so high.


Apart from producing both centralisation and politicisation, this architecture ignores one crucial issue: appointments should have significant role for the highest body of an institution that has all the fiduciary responsibilities of that institution. Imagine what would happen if all of India's companies were required to appoint CEOs through a single collegium and registry. This draft does not even distinguish between public and private institutions.


This draft fails on all three measures that should be used to judge regulatory reform in higher education. It will do nothing


to improve public universities, because it is premised on a misdiagnosis why they are in bad shape. It pedals the illusion that centralising appointments of VCs is all there is to this game. Each public university has to be reclaimed one by one, and so far there is no strategy in sight of how to do so. It does not represent an improvement over the existing mechanisms for granting entry, except consolidation of regulators. And it fails to bring about a paradigm shift in how we think of regulation. Instead of empowering students and parents to make right decisions, it still pedals the illusion that a small six-member commission can produce greater accountability by acquiring more and more power over institutions. It does not understand that regulators like SEBI and TRAI work because they have very specific mandates, not indiscriminately open-ended ones. It is not even clear whether the powers the Central government has retained in the bill will allow for a fully independent regulator.


If this bill goes through, we will get centralisation instead of decentralisation, control instead of autonomy, homogenisation instead of diversity, bureaucratisation instead of suppleness, institutional rigidity instead of innovation, and a winner takes all approach to regulation. While we have a new minister trying to shake things up, this bill seems to reek of the mindset of the old education and bureaucratic establishment; the very same people who made the current system so dysfunctional seem to have conjured up a new command and control system. Indeed, one of the lessons may be that we are looking too much to laws and regulations to fix every problem. If Sibal does not empower the right people who have a genuinely liberal imagination in the widest sense of the term, what he will get is a travesty wearing the mantle of reform.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy research, Delhi






MY band is famous for music videos. We direct them ourselves or with the help of friends, we shoot them on shoestring budgets and, like our songs, albums and concerts, we see them as creative works and not as our record company's marketing tool.


In 2006 we made a video of us dancing on treadmills for our song "Here It Goes Again." We shot it at my sister's house without telling EMI, our record company, and posted it on the fledgling YouTube without EMI's permission. Technically, this put us afoul of our contract, since we need our record company's approval to distribute copies of the songs that they finance. It also exposed YouTube to all sorts of liability for streaming an EMI recording across the globe. But back then record companies saw videos as advertisements, so if my band wanted to produce them, and if YouTube wanted to help people watch them, EMI wasn't going to get in the way.


As the age of viral video dawned, "Here It Goes Again" was viewed millions, then tens of millions of times. It brought big crowds to our concerts on five continents, and by the time we returned to the studio, 700 shows, one Grammy and nearly three years later, EMI's ledger had a black number in our column. To the band, "Here It Goes Again" was a successful creative project. To the record company, it was a successful, completely free advertisement.


Now we've released a new album and a couple of new videos. But the fans and bloggers who helped spread "Here It Goes Again" across the Internet can no longer do what they did before, because our record company has blocked them from embedding our video on their sites. Believe it or not, in the four years since our treadmill dance got such attention, YouTube and EMI have actually made it harder to share our videos.


A few years ago, reeling from plummeting record sales, record companies went after YouTube, demanding payment for streams of their material. They saw videos, suddenly, as potential sources of revenue. YouTube agreed to pay the record companies a tiny amount for each stream, but — here's the crux of the problem — they pay only when the videos are viewed on YouTube's own site.


Embedded videos — those hosted by YouTube but streamed on blogs and other websites — don't generate any revenue for record companies, so EMI disabled the embedding feature. Now we can't post the YouTube versions of our videos on our own site, nor can our fans post them on theirs. If you want to watch them, you have to do so on YouTube.


But this isn't how the Internet works. Viral content doesn't spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, websites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.


The numbers are shocking: When EMI disabled the embedding feature, views of our treadmill video dropped 90 per cent, from about 10,000 per day to just over 1,000. Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping $27.77 credit to our account.


Clearly the embedding restriction is bad news for our band, but is it worth it for EMI? The terms of YouTube's deals with record companies aren't public, but news reports say that the labels receive $.004 to $.008 per stream, so the most EMI could have grossed for the streams in question is a little over $5,400.

Decisions like these have earned record companies a reputation for being greedy and short-sighted. And by and large they deserve it. But before we cheer for the demise of the big bad machine, it's important to remember that record companies provide the music industry with a vital service: they're risk aggregators. Or at least, they used to be.


To go from playing at a local club once a month to actually supporting yourself with music requires big investments in touring, recording and promotion — investments young musicians can't afford. My band didn't sign a contract with EMI because we believed labels magically created stars. We signed because no banker in his right mind would give a band the startup capital it needs.


Record companies, on the other hand, didn't used to expect that all their advances would be repaid. They spread the risk by betting on hundreds of artists at once, and they recouped their investments by taking the lion's share of the profits on the few acts that succeeded. At least, this was all true when we signed our deal in 2000. Today, as the record industry's revenue model has collapsed with the digitisation of its biggest commodities, companies are cutting back spending on all but their biggest stars, and not signing nearly as many new acts. If record companies can't adapt to this new world, they will die out; and without advances, so will the futures of many talented bands.


In these tight times, it's no surprise that EMI is trying to wring revenue out of everything we make, including our videos. But it needs to recognise the basic mechanics of the Internet. Curbing the viral spread of videos isn't benefiting the company's bottom line, or the music it's there to support. The sooner record companies realise this, the better — though I fear it may already be too late.


The writer is the lead singer and guitarist of the band 'OK Go'







In death, if not in life, a bond unites King Tut, Egypt's boy pharaoh, with the multitudes high — and especially low — through human history. Palace walls could not shield him from the enemy without: the anopheles mosquitoes infesting the Nile Valley with malaria parasites. A post-mortem on Tutankhamen's mummy, scientists reported last week, shows that malaria was one of the most probable agents of his death at age 19, in the 14th century B.C.


Tut's case may be one of the earliest established by genetic tests, but malaria was probably a common scourge then, as it still is. Last year, at least 250 million people contracted the disease, the United Nations estimates, and almost half the world's population is at risk, mainly in poorer tropical lands. The wasting fever is expected to kill 700,000 children this year.


Malaria courses relentlessly through narratives of history and literature. It blighted the greatness that was Rome, though it may have saved the city from a sacking by Attila the Hun, who may have turned back out of fear of the fever raging there. Archaeologists digging in cemeteries near former marshes around Rome have uncovered evidence of widespread outbreaks of the disease in the empire's waning years.


Indeed, the pestilence is so closely linked to Roman history that the word "malaria" comes from the Italian for "bad air." The "vapours" persisted almost to the present, as Henry James knew in writing his novella Daisy Miller. When the guileless young American took her fateful stroll by moonlight in the Colosseum, she ignored warnings and died a few days later of "a terrible case of the fever."


The sun never set on malaria death at British colonial outstations. If there is anything to the mummy's curse, it may be delivered by mosquitoes. Every mile and each lock in the Panama Canal came at the expense of life to yellow fever and malaria. Marines, soldiers and Seabees returned from Pacific jungles victorious but weak with fever.


Although malaria has been largely eradicated in wealthier nations, and is easily treatable with medicines, there was a time when half of the United States was in danger. In the 19th century, "Potomac fever" was no metaphor. Europeans gave their diplomats hardship pay to induce them to serve in vaporous Washington.


Diplomats still get hardship pay in places where malaria remains endemic — where people are too poor to feed themselves, much less treat the fevers killing them.








A few weeks ago, one of India's finest judges, Chief Justice A.P. Shah, retired from judicial office at the age of 62. The occasion of his retirement was marked by glowing tributes, even as the legal community deeply lamented the fact that he was not elevated to the Supreme Court. While Chief Justice Shah's retirement raises questions concerning the methodology of judicial appointments, the consequent debate surrounding the elevation of capable judges to the Supreme Court of India tends to underestimate the value of the high court judges of this country. What his retirement ought to do, however, is remind us that the Supreme Court of India is not the only place where the capable judge is found, or good law made.


Chief Justice Shah had an illustrious career, first as a senior lawyer, then as a judge on the high courts of Bombay, Madras and Delhi. The perseverance, intellect and integrity which he brought to his work stood out. However, Justice Shah's retirement as a "mere" high court judge should not be seen as an affront to his accomplishments. Many seem to believe that allowing a great judge of his stature to "languish" in India's high courts without an eventual elevation to the Supreme Court constitutes a "waste" of talent. However, the fact that Justice Shah was not elevated to the Supreme Court should be irrelevant in how we measure his accomplishments.


There seem to be two discernible schools of thought surrounding Justice Shah's retirement: first, that the Supreme Court of India is in some way qualitatively superior to the high courts and that therefore Justice Shah would have benefited by elevation; second, that elevation to the Supreme Court constitutes some form of reward to high court judges, and that Justice Shah was denied this privilege. Each of these beliefs is rooted in a questionable understanding of India's judicial system.


While Joseph Story may have been appointed to the US Supreme Court at age 32, most judges on the Indian Supreme Court tend to be significantly older: the primary criterion for appointment is seniority. This means two things. First, that judges in India are seldom appointed young; and second, that good judges may never get "promoted" if someone younger was appointed before them. That a judge's elevation would depend more on her age than her performance speaks as much to the near absence of qualitative standards for Supreme Court elevation as it does to the commendable insulation of India's judiciary from executive discretion. SC judges would therefore necessarily represent the oldest of the old, those fortunate enough to have been appointed at a young age, and with no judges even younger ahead of them. While the quality of the Supreme Court of India should not be underplayed, its qualitative "superiority" to India's high courts must seriously be questioned.


Indian lawyers often romanticise a Supreme Court practice, and judges dream of serving in its clustered courtrooms as a "reward" for doing good work, but we often confuse the fact of the SC's appellate finality with qualitative superiority. Indeed, our perception seems to have suffered a tectonic shift from what it once was: judges were often rumoured in the past to have turned down offers to rise to the SC, if they were in contention for the post of high court chief justice. Today, that post is viewed by some as a mere stepping stone to the Supreme Court.


However, experience tells us that it is not the court's "status" which determines the identity or quality of the judge. For example, the erudition that M.C. Chagla, former chief justice of the Bombay HC, brought to the judicial office stands out as a shining example not merely in the corridors of that court, but equally in the curtained courtrooms of India's Supreme Court. Similarly, although the opinions of Judge Learned Hand, a former American circuit court judge, did not bear the stamp of having originated in the US Supreme Court, they nonetheless carried the impress of his erudition and learning. In today's globalised world, judges such as Richard Posner of America's seventh circuit and Dennis Davis of South Africa's high court at Cape Town, are perhaps more widely respected than many of their brethren on their country's supreme courts. Even Lord Denning, arguably the most widely known judge in the Commonwealth, retired (after serving in the House of Lords) as a judge on the Court of Appeals. Chief Justice A.P. Shah, no doubt, belongs to this league of extraordinary judges.


The quality and calibre of a judge, thus, cannot be equated or confused with the court to which she belongs. Similarly, the elevation of a judge to the Supreme Court cannot be used as a yardstick to measure success. Let us not forget that the high courts have produced some of India's finest legal moments: during the Emergency, the high courts of Madhya Pradesh and Bombay recognised the writ of habeas corpus while the Supreme Court floundered, while the foundational "basic structure" theory in India's constitutional jurisprudence is said to have originated in a High Court.


Chief Justice Shah, despite being senior and able enough, may not have been appointed to the Supreme Court — but the hierarchy of the court on which he sat will not matter in how his judicial contributions are remembered. We must ask why high court judges retire at 62, when supreme court judges continue until 65. We must also seek greater transparency for the basis on which capable senior judges like Justice Shah are denied elevation. However, in so doing we must continue to celebrate Justice Shah not for the court on which he sat, but for what he achieved as a judge, and the example that he set for India's supreme yet fallible judiciary.


The writer worked as law clerk to a judge in Justice A.P. Shah's court in Mumbai.








This year, as happens every Budget season, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has gone through the detailed exercise of meeting interest groups who have a stake in the budget. And, as every time so far, this year too the finance minister has met the rich, who have a voice that can be heard not only in person but also through the print media, television and glossy reports and documents. The rich and the powerful have a serious stake in the economy and therefore on the budget, and are lucky enough to get their voice heard. Some of them include industry and trade associations, who get a slotted time to meet the FM and make their demands. Luckily for them, again, most of their demands get accepted.


Unfortunately for the FM, there is also another group, poor, disadvantaged, discriminated against and often facing oppression and "Operations" by the government, which has not got a slotted time or a hearing from him. Nor has the FM bothered to call any representatives of such groups. Unfortunately, again, the FM has to grapple with a post-liberalisation, post-globalisation, and crisis-strapped economy — and so conveniently ignores the poor and the disadvantaged. One thing the finance minister does not do every year at Budget time is to call the scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) MPs for a discussion, even on issues related to the SC component plan and the Tribal sub-plan. Even though the minister may not need to talk to these communities, the SC and STs are desperate to talk to him. Why?


These are testing times for India's hapless adivasis. The government has given a clear nod to eliminate the Naxals (or to eliminate adivasis?) through Operation Green Hunt. One section of opinion views this operation as an attempt to release the full potential of mineral wealth to private parties, a potential otherwise locked and blocked by adivasis — and accuses the present home minister (interestingly, a former finance minister) of having a personal stake in such an operation. So the poor FM, tethered neck and feet to the continuing privatisation regime, is helpless and does not even bother to plan interventions that would wean away adivasis from the Naxalites. The unprecedented urgency with which UPA-II has quickly drawn maps of the "red corridor" and the haste with which such an operation is pushed will make the entire effort counter-productive unless there is well thought-out planning and large-scale financing for adivasi upliftment. There is no question here of justifying the Naxalites' ideological and political infantile disorder — but a simple understanding does not penetrate the core of UPA-II: an operation to eliminate Naxalites will invariably eliminate a large chunk of adivasis. It will be like the elimination of the Tasmanian Aborigines by the Europeans who colonised Australia.


Therefore, before attempting to flush out the Naxalites to create the free entry of neo-colonial private parties there should be sufficient debate on the ways and methods of liberating adivasis from economic exploitation, social exploitation, deprivation, discrimination and denigration. Such planning, of course, starts with the FM: and one way is to invite Dalit and adivasi MPs for discussion before the budget. Before this invitation the minister should ensure that he has read the report of the national commission for enterprises in the unorganised sector instituted by UPA-I, the reports of the national commissions for SCs and STs, and the reports submitted by the parliamentary committee on SC/ST welfare. It is now a very well-known fact that the processes of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation have devastated the lives of Dalits and adivasis and made them far poorer than they were earlier. Such facts are often denied by corporate groups but they do not have any data to prove their denial — even after the famous report of the national commission on enterprises, where it was announced that 76.7 per cent of the population of the nation is poor and vulnerable, 55 per cent of the population is marginally poor and vulnerable. It is easy to understand that such poverty and vulnerability is induced by the policies of liberalisation and privatisation. Further, only 11.2 per cent per cent of SC/STs are "middle income" and only 1 per cent fall under high income shows that 87.8 per cent of Dalits and adivasis are poor and vulnerable. (45.2 per cent of upper castes fall under the middle and high income bracket.)


These are the facts; the failure of UPA-II to focus on integrating Dalits and adivasis into the economy is glaring. Only 1.4 per cent of adivasis and 2.8 per cent of Dalits have formal skills — yet "skill development initiatives" that have not seen the light of the day do not focus, from the very beginning, on skill impartation to Dalits and adivasis. The NREGS falls miserably short on work given to Dalits and Adivasis.


The exercise of SC and ST sub-plans has become mere jugglery of data and statistics to "prove" that sufficient funds are spent on Dalits and adivasis. The irony is that the overall allocation to the ministry of social justice and empowerment actually fell — including to core schemes such as post-matric scholarships, Rajiv Gandhi scholarships for PhD students, and others. Uplift through encouraging economic activity fails miserably — because the capital outlay for such schemes is set far too low. Ironically, banks do not fear that a Rs 100 crore loan to industry might become a non-performing asset, but are very scared that a loan of Rs 25,000 to a Dalit or an adivasi may end up like that. Similarly, the government handed thousands of crores to the corporate sector as a stimulus package but has not given a copper to Dalits and adivasi defaulters on loans.


Even now, the FM can address the concern of SCs and STs, significant stakeholders in the economy. They are not as rich and powerful as the corporate bodies, who, paradoxically, always have a standing invitation. Are you listening, finance minister? Will you listen to them too?


The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP, is National Secretary of the Communist Party of India








On Thursday, the International Sugar Organisation said that the global sugar output for the 2009-10 crop year will probably fall 9.4 million tonnes short of demand. In India, most analysts concur that deficiency in sugar production is here to stay, as are imports. Once the programme to mandatorily blend 10% ethanol in petrol takes off, pressure on sugarcane will rise even further. And every time the monsoon falls short of expectation, India's reliance on imports will build up. So, as the world's largest sugar consumer, it's only rational for India to develop synergies with the world's largest sugar producer and exporter. This happens to be Brazil, which also happens to be the world's second-biggest ethanol producer, behind the US, whose maize-based industry is, however, considerably less efficient than Brazil's sugarcane-based one. And Brazil has been actively scouting for new ethanol markets. All this is to say that we welcome the news that India's Renuka Sugars has entered into a definitive agreement for a controlling stake in Equipav of Brazil, which boasts large, modern and integrated sugar mills. Of course, this is another strong signal that Indian companies are rediscovering their appetite for global acquisitions. It also brings a leading domestic player closer to building a global sugar and ethanol business. India's leading integrated sugar manufacturer has been seeing strong profits and it has funnelled them in the right direction by pursuing an acquisition that will bring it cost-efficiency and scalable production.


If we put this new sugar story in the larger global context, what's at stake is how different countries are scouting the globe to best position themselves vis-à-vis resource shortages in the future. The China story is well known. On October 20, 2009, it nonchalantly announced the cancellation of 150 items of maturing government debt which 32 African countries owed it. Last year, it also overtook the US to become the biggest buyer of Brazilian products. Brazil itself is an enthusiastic seeker of African resources. As for India, our farmlands are shrinking on account of rapid urbanisation. Our yields have not been increasing fast enough. The most forward-looking companies have, therefore, been branching out. One of India's largest players in branded edible oils, KS Oils, has purchased 50,000 acres of land in Indonesia. Even India's leading edible oil maker, Ruchi Soya, is scouting for palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Edible oil companies initiated the move to acquire landholding and processing plants abroad, but other food industries have to do the same. As for the government, it needs to help finance such manoeuvring. As our lead column today suggests, the idea of creating a large fund corpus to facilitate leveraged buyouts remains an attractive one.






The President's address to Parliament as a roadmap of the government's annual plan has noted so few goals that one wonders if this is indeed just the second year of a team that has been returned to power. The speech was focused more on the achievements of the UPA government in successfully meeting the twin challenges of the global recession and monsoon failure in large parts of the country that arguably pushed up growth rates. Compared to the brisk agenda set in her maiden speech, this one is more keen to recount existing targets in different sectors or the ones already met. Thus, while the government has got an impressive story to tell in employment, housing, roads, telecom networks, water supply and irrigation in the rural sector, the speech dwells very little on the specifics for the future. For instance, in the power sector the government remains confident of adding in the 11th Plan three times the capacity addition made by the 10th Plan. But it just makes a passing reference to the national highways plan, where it aims to improve the pace of highway building to 20 km a day.


The only forward-looking promises of import were on legislation for food security, listing of profitable public sector companies through a public offer of at least 10% of the equity, establishment of a National Council for Higher Education and Research as an overarching regulatory body, and appropriate legislation for facilitating the participation of globally renowned and quality academic institutions in the higher education sector and for assisting foreign education providers for vocational training and skill development. Acceleration in the pace of listing of the public sector companies is welcome as it will not only help boost efficiencies but also help mobilise substantial resources for cutting down the fiscal deficit. Efforts for more efficient regulation of the higher education network and a greater role for foreign education providers do not come a day too soon given the dismal scenario where the most recent statistics show that almost half the workforce remains illiterate and that just 2.8% had availed of technical education. Though the five focus sectors listed for boosting growth to 9% in 2011-12 include infrastructure development, the attention seems to have shifted from special economic zones to the dedicated freight corridors and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project. But what seems surprising is the complete neglect of the crucial issue of land acquisition and rehabilitation, which can bring greenfield projects to a standstill. Equally disturbing is the government's resolve to provide the common man maximum access to gas and petroleum products, even as the excessively large subsidies have pushed up consumption and hampered fiscal management.







In financial parlance, the word 'leverage' often connotes risk. Leveraging denotes taking on more debt in the balance sheet. Of course, risk is inherent in all businesses. And leveraging higher amounts of debt may not be bad all the time. Indeed, there are periods in the life of nations when their economies get into a secular high growth phase for decades on end. In this phase, big businesses tend to pile up relatively high debt to achieve big leaps in growth. Indian big businesses are also in the process of leveraging more debt internationally to establish their global footprint. The relatively high debt financing by Bharti Airtel in its bid to acquire the African assets of Zain telecom must be seen in this context. Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is also in the process of acquiring a global footprint in petrochemicals and refinery. So RIL will also, in due course, take on more debt into its balance sheet. Earlier, the Tatas had to leverage their balance sheets a lot in their successful attempt to acquire a global presence in steel and automobiles. They will have to take on even more debt going forward as they expand their auto business globally, through organic as well as inorganic means.


The larger point to note here is that all these leading business groups are acquiring companies worldwide so that they can, at once, grow two to three times larger in size. Such non-linear growth simply cannot happen without leveraging higher debt in the balance sheets. So, there is certainly some risk. But isn't that par for the course in the world of business?


What really needs to be highlighted is that most of these business groups have achieved a rare cost efficiency level, which enables them to transplant their business models on a global scale. The Tatas have brought down costs in their global steel and auto ventures considerably. Bharti will do the same if its acquisition of Zain fructifies. To get an idea of how much more cost efficient Bharti can become in foreign markets, one only has to take a look at what it charges per minute for talktime. Till some time ago, Bharti was charging Rs 1 per minute whereas in Africa telcos charge roughly Rs 10 per minute. So if Bharti Airtel manages to take its low-cost model to Africa, the upside will be huge.


Mind you, it is not just the Tatas, RIL or Bharti who are in a position to do this. I would see this as an inflexion point in business history where thousands of Indian companies will emerge to impose their low-cost model globally. This opportunity arises because of inherent economic imbalances in the world. For various reasons, mainly labour protectionism in the developed world, businesses there are running unusually high-cost operations. This provides a rare opportunity for Indian businesses to do more leveraged buyouts. The debt component automatically gets reduced over a few years as cost efficiencies throw up much higher profits, which help in paying back the loans.


In fact, this rare opportunity for Indian businesses must be recognised by the government. The Centre could also create new funding mechanisms for such buyouts by Indian companies. Earlier, there was a suggestion that the central bank could use some of its rising forex reserves to facilitate such leveraged buyouts. The idea got shot down because our reserves are more in the nature of capital liability and have not been accumulated through current earnings from abroad, as is the case with China or Singapore.


Nevertheless, the idea of creating a large fund corpus to facilitate leveraged buyouts remains an attractive one. Such a fund could raise money globally and can do so relatively cheaply with implicit government guarantees. This is not unusual because developed nations did extend their global business footprint in the mid- to late-nineteenth century through high debt leveraging helped by governments.


The UK is a classic example in this regard. Economic historian Niall Ferguson says: "If you add up all the British capital raised through public issues of bonds between 1865 and 1913, you will see that the majority went overseas; less than a third was actually invested in the UK itself." At one time, the UK's gross foreign assets were 150% of its GDP, which was substantially funded by bonds. Can you get more leveraged than that?


In that phase of massive financial globalisation, leveraged British capital naturally went into creating productive assets in the highly underdeveloped parts of the world. Of course, much of it was colonised with military might. However, the same strategy is now being adopted within a peaceful framework by China and


India, whose businesses have begun to acquire assets in other emerging economies through various funding options, including debt. For instance, the Chinese government plays a very proactive role in acquiring assets in Africa. Our government has been far less proactive in this respect.


Of the early 20th-century UK, Keynes wrote: "A Londoner of moderate means scarcely required any effort to adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world." Some of the fast-growing emerging economies are perhaps in this Keynsian mode today. Leverage in no longer a dirty word.






Over the weekend, HDFC Bank raised deposit rates for maturities of between one and two years by 25-50 basis points while rates for maturities above three years have been upped by 150 basis points. Earlier this month, Union Bank offered savers 75 basis points more for one- and two-year money while IDBI Bank offered 25 basis points more for select maturities.


It won't be long before other banks follow suit. Credit growth in the fortnight ended January 29 showed an uptick—net non-food credit was up 15.2% year-on-year, which is a good 80 basis points higher than it was in the previous fortnight ended January 14. The quantum of the increase, of close to Rs 19,000 crore in a matter of 15 days, clearly implies that big companies are once again in the market for money. The IndusInd Bank head had indicated that his bank was almost approaching the peak levels of lending seen in July 2008.


A glance at the incremental credit-deposit ratio (CDR), on a three-year trailing basis, indicates that it bottomed out around July-August and has since picked up. Indeed, the latest data shows that the incremental CDR is running above 100%, which means RBI's 16% target for credit growth in 2009-10 may just be met.


So, it's not surprising that banks are readying for a pick-up in loans, because if the economic environment continues to improve, there will soon be more takers for money. Also, with Rs 36,000 crore estimated to be drained out of the system, thanks to the increase in the cash reserve ratio, by the end of this month, banks will need to make sure they have enough of a pool to lend from. As of now, though, there seems to be enough liquidity in the system with the State Bank of India chairman asserting once again that lending rates are unlikely to rise in the next three to four months.


This means that much like what has happened in the cycle that started in October 2004, when banks started increasing rates, this time, too, the hike in lending rates will follow rather than accompany the deposit rate hikes. At that time, it was almost January 2006 before prime lending rates started moving up but this time lending rates will move up faster because the competitive intensity, especially for retail loans, will be far lower this time around.


Again, after interest rates peaked sometime in July 2008, and started to move downwards, banks were reluctant to trim deposit rates quickly, so the prime lending rate (PLR) descended more sharply. That left most banks with large amounts of high-borrowing costs and since the cost couldn't be passed on in the midst of an economic downturn, it pressured their net interest margins (NIMs) in the first half of calendar 2009. Once deposit rates were reduced by 300 and 400 basis points, the lending spread (PLR/one-year deposit rate) moved up sharply.


In the past, for banks with strong liabilities or those with a big share of cheaper current and savings accounts (CASA), the rise in the blended deposit cost was much less—causing a pickup in lending spreads. A similar pattern should unfold in the current cycle except that the central bank has changed the manner in which interest will now be paid on savings balances. The hit to banks on their NIMs, once the new norms for paying customers interest on their savings balances are implemented, will be an estimated 10 and 15 basis points. But rising interest rates are always good for banks with a strong liability franchise because CASA does not get repriced and deposits reprice with a lag.


For obvious reasons, the 6% being offered currently on one-year deposits by most banks is clearly not sustainable over the longer term given that there are alternative investment avenues. The success of some issuances of corporate debentures indicates that people are willing to take on a little more risk for some more reward and willing to invest for five years with put-and-call options. Companies such as Tata Capital have been able to mop up five year money and L&T Finance, which is offering three year money at an annual coupon of 8.5%, should be able to raise a decent amount.


Any depositor today is earning a negative real rate of return since inflation is way above 6% and the steep cut in deposit rates is the main reason why term deposits are growing at their lowest rate—16% since 2006. That's way below the peak growth rate of just under 30% seen sometime in early 2008.







Once again the issue of the fate of regional stock exchanges comes to light. At the moment, of the 24 stock exchanges registered with the stock market regulator, the Securities & Exchange Board of India, around nine face losing their recognition, and the recognition for four has already expired. Of the 24 exchanges, around eight enjoy a 'permanent' status while the others have to renew their recognition. And even if most of these manage to renew their recognition, not many would be able to make a significant impact. Most of the regional stock exchanges have let the advantage of presence wither away.


Two decades ago most global exchanges were faced with a business dilemma and most reinvented themselves and passed through an evolutionary cycle, which started off with embracing technology, demutualisation, listing or value unlocking and then consolidation. Regional stock exchanges did not make a move to embrace technology and maintained their 'closed door' club image. It took Asia's oldest bourse, the Bombay Stock Exchange, several years to demutualise, which was in 2007. And while the regional stock exchanges were mulling their future, the National Stock Exchange, which had adopted new technology and is a demutualised entity, stole a march and captured market share.


In the stock exchange, business volumes and liquidity is the most priced factor. Around 80-90% of an exchange's revenues come through transaction fees. And the business of stock exchanges is still seen as a lucrative one. Analysts reckon that an exchange of a high degree of sophistication can be started with an initial investment of around Rs 200 crore and thereafter the investments are not high. And with operating profit margins of around 45-65%, the cash flow for exchanges is also very high. The only factor is 'liquidity' and regional exchanges have lost out on this. In fact, the Delhi Stock Exchange remained almost shut for six years and is now being revived. Many of these regional stock exchanges have now floated subsidiaries and these, in turn, have become members of the NSE and the BSE. There has been some effort by the BSE, with a view to garnering volumes, to get some of the exchanges together and share their expertise.


However, while this happens and this movement gathers momentum, a few regional exchanges are expected to wind up and pull their shutters down, if they have not already done so.








At the Bharatiya Janata Party's National Council meet at Indore, the new man in, Nitin Gadkari, scored high on style quotient. Summing up the mood were the lyrics from an old Bollywood song to which he swayed: life is a puzzle; it makes you cry and it makes you laugh. With two defeats in succession, the BJP has lately had more occasions to cry than laugh, and it was clear to those who watched the proceedings that Mr. Gadkari — his easy, genteel manner notwithstanding — was not about to let the drift continue. In his addresses, the BJP chief touched upon a multiplicity of issues: indiscipline in party ranks; the trend in the upper echelons towards ostentation and personal ambition; the need to widen the party's catchment area by roping in the poor, especially Dalits; and of course, the mandatory doffing of the hat to Ayodhya and the Ram Mandir. Mr. Gadkari set himself apart in other ways too, plainly telling partypersons not to touch his feet or flatter him in the hope of easy rewards.


For the BJP, Mr. Gadkari is its first bit of good news in a long time. Whatever the impact of his plain speaking on the party's squabbling second-rung leadership, it is a fair bet that the rank and file will welcome the shift towards commitment and hard work. Yet his objectives are easier outlined than achieved. Personal ambition and factionalism have taken deep root in a party once known for its difference but now self-avowedly revelling in "seven-star" culture. Nor can an innately exclusivist party suddenly train itself to embrace a broad-based, inclusive agenda. Mr. Gadkari's own words illustrate the inherent difficulty of achieving this transition. The BJP chief pleaded with the Muslim community to voluntarily hand over the Ram Mandir site to Hindus and, in the same breath, decried the "appeasement" of Muslims. A spokesperson's clarification that the reference was to the Congress general secretary, Digvijay Singh visiting alleged terrorists in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh made the meaning worse. It implied that visiting alleged terrorists amounted to appeasing Muslims. In setting a broader agenda for the BJP, Mr. Gadkari is simply trying to make a virtue of necessity. In truth, the BJP is in dire straits. Its May 2009 general election performance was its worst in two decades. The party's allies have deserted it and its equations with those that remain, including the trusted Shiv Sena, are shaky. And while Mr. Gadkari may have taken potshots at the Gandhi dynasty, he ought to know that that function is fulfilled in the BJP by its mentor in Jhandewalan.







Even ancient history does not stand still. Many of history's secrets lie locked inside the human genome. DNA studies have revealed patterns of early human migration around the world. They have shown that all of us probably descended some 60,000 years ago from a group of ancestors in what is now Ethiopia. In 1998, genetic tests on the descendants of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and Sally Hemings, a slave in his household, showed (alongside other evidence) that he is likely to have fathered at least one of her children. Now, and rather more dramatically, a battery of tests on 11 Egyptian mummies, including analysis of DNA samples and CT scans, has thrown up a fascinating body of evidence about the life and paternity of Ancient Egypt's best-known king — Tutankhamen (1351-1334 BC). The findings may disappoint some mystery writers and others who speculated about the boy Pharaoh's medical condition and end. The groundbreaking study, led by Zahi Hawass of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, shows that King Tut's death at the age of 19 was probably a result of malaria (complicated by a degenerative bone condition) and not murder. His death has been a subject of feverish speculation after X-rays of his skull in the late 1960s revealed a fracture (now known to be caused by the process of mummification). Various scholars, going on the basis of artefacts portraying him in an androgynous manner, speculated he could have died from a slew of rare illnesses, including Marfan syndrome.


The main objective of the study by Hawass et al — the results of which are published in the February 17, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association — was to determine the "familial relationship of the 11 mummies," including that of Tut, and to search for "pathological features attributable to possible murder, consanguinity, inherited disorders, and infectious diseases." Genetic fingerprinting has established a plausible pedigree that spans five generations. The study suggests his parents were the 'heretic' Pharaoh Akhenaten and one of his sisters, his great grandparents were Yuva and Thuya, and the two stillborn foetuses found in his tomb were likely to be his children. Tut was a relatively minor Pharaoh in ancient Egypt's history. His present fame is linked to the wonderful treasures retrieved from his tomb, which was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. Yet it was under the rule of Tut, aided by powerful advisers such as Ay, that the traditional priesthoods and gods, banished under the iconoclastic Akhenaten, were restored. What we have just learnt about King Tut and his kin is a demonstration of the awesome power of science to rediscover our past.










Inclusiveness is the catchword in the current political and economic discourse, following the 11th Plan prescription to incorporate those who have remained outside the margins into the mainstream of development. This is a confession of the failure of democratic governance, on the one hand, and of caste-class partisanship in the process of nation building, on the other. It also testifies that a substantial section has not yet come under the 'benevolent' umbrella of the nation. In a highly differentiated society, inclusiveness is indeed a process which takes place in three ways: politically through common struggles, socially by overcoming internal social barriers and culturally by identifying a common past by invoking indigenous cultural consciousness.


The attempt at inclusiveness is riven with internal contradictions, which account for the complexity, weaknesses and limitations of the inclusive process and tensions within nationalism. The concept of nationalism, in the Indian colonial context, becomes meaningful only when looked at beyond the overarching relationship between colonialism and the people, and the mutual relationship among different segments of society is taken into account. Overcoming these differences was integral to nationalism.


Inclusiveness, therefore, is a necessary strategy of nationalism, even with contradictory interests finding a place in it. The attempts to resolve the secondary contradiction within the umbrella of nationalism do not overlook the primary contradiction with colonialism. In this sense, the aim of nationalism was not limited to the attainment of freedom but, as Gandhiji envisaged, had to lead to the creation of a qualitatively different society, devoid of caste and religious antagonism. To a deputation of students in 1934, Gandhiji said: "The two things — the social reordering and the fight for political swaraj — must go hand in hand. There can be no question of precedence or division into watertight compartments here." Nationalism was thus conceived as a combination of political freedom and social emancipation.


What nationalism sought to achieve was togetherness. The very first session of the Indian National Congress recognised it by identifying its purpose as providing a platform for people to come together. What brought people together were political struggles and public agitations. The various streams within the movement with different strategies and modes of struggles were efforts to ensure their rightful inclusion in the nation. People, however, consisted of diverse groups, castes, classes and religions with widely differing interests. What was conceived as nationalism, therefore, was bringing the people together, regardless of the differentiations. Although the anti-colonial sentiment ironed out some of these differences and interests, they were so diverse and sharp that the national movement, functioning within a liberal framework, was not able to find an effective solution. Therefore, India emerged not only impoverished due to colonial exploitation but also socially divided.


That India was economically backward was not surprising, but the fact that nationalism did not succeed in ushering in social and cultural solidarity left a deep scar. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, architect of the Constitution, underlined this failure in 1949: "We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy… What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principle of life … On the 26th of January 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradiction. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life, we will have inequality." While pointing out the political success of the movement by which 'people' became members of a nation-state with democratic rights, Dr. Ambedkar was conscious that nationalism did not succeed in creating inclusiveness in the social, cultural and economic domains.


The roots of this failure can be traced to the early phase of national awakening, which suffered from a disjunction between political and socio-cultural struggles. To begin with, the renaissance which prepared the ground for the emergence of nationalism dissociated itself from political problems and, therefore, was unable to provide a critique of colonialism which warped the nature of Indian modernity. Most of the early renaissance leaders idealised development in the West. Hence, their ability to envision an alternative was limited. Later on, the national movement attributed primacy to political struggles, despite Gandhiji's constructive programme and untouchability campaign. Although both he and Tagore advocated the importance of cultural politics, the national movement concentrated its energies on political mobilisation.


Despite these early limitations, the importance of incorporating the marginalised sections and thus creating an inclusive society was on the agenda of nationalism. The different political formations which participated in anti-colonial struggles with different programmes and different social base were engaged in incorporating different sections into the mainstream of national life through participation in the anti-colonial struggles. Even when contradictions existed among them, they were struggling for inclusiveness in the nation. The social and cultural inclusiveness was sought through socio-cultural emancipation, economic inclusiveness through class struggles and political inclusiveness through political mobilisation. These three engagements of the national movement cover the history of the liberation struggle which was not limited to a direct confrontation with colonialism, but also aimed at the modernisation and democratisation of society although with limited success.


A major concern of the national movement was social inclusiveness. The divisive and oppressive character of the Indian caste system was antithetical to the spirit of nationalism and it was quite natural that only social awakening could address this question. Gandhiji gave equal, if not greater, importance to social issues and cultural struggles. In Gandhian programme, therefore, abolition of untouchability occupied a central concern. The ashrams Gandhiji set up and lived in became a symbol of social equality and also meant a subversion of the traditional, unequal social system.


The national movement was quite conscious of the importance of inclusion of the traditionally deprived groups for the actual realisation of the nation and initiated steps in social, economic and cultural fields to create conditions conducive for them to identify their interest with the nation. In pursuance of that, a series of struggles was conducted covering social, cultural and economic lives. Each one of them had the effect of creating a community, eventually forming a part of the nation. Although these struggles increased their social consciousness, none of them was sufficiently effective to transform the life conditions of the marginalised, possibly because these efforts were bridled by the interests of the 'upper' castes and classes. The marginalised sections, could not, therefore, identify themselves with the nation. They were sceptical and distrustful.


The consequence of this marginality was the emergence of movements among the traditionally subordinated groups fighting to gain their rightful place in society. That happened in all parts of the country and among all depressed communities. Satyasodak Samaj in Maharashtra in the 19th century, the Dravida Kazhakam in Tamil Nadu, the Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sabha in Kerala and, indeed, the movement led by Dr. Ambedkar are some examples. Emerging out of the oppressed sections, they did not subscribe to the 'upper' caste urge for reform, of either caste or religion, but stood for abolishing caste and superstitions based on religious sanction. In the vision of Dr. Ambedkar, the annihilation of caste was a necessary pre-requisite for social inclusiveness.


One of the weaknesses of the national movement was that it did not have an effective programme to ensure the inclusion of the depressed and socially excluded classes into the nation. Whatever was attempted in this field was very superficial inasmuch as it did not frontally contest the power of the 'upper' castes and classes, the legacy of which continues even today. That anti-colonial Indian nationalism was not sufficiently inclusive is possibly one of the reasons why a substantial section of the population is still not a part of the nation.


The making of the Indian nation, as Surendranath Banerji envisioned, can be complete only when nationalism becomes inclusive on a democratic, secular and socialist foundation. In post-independent India, this has remained an unrealised dream. Given the capitalist hegemony over society and middle-class control over administration, the present urge for inclusion may yet end up as another popular slogan.


(Based on the Foundation Day lecture delivered at Assam Central University, Silchar. Author can be reached at







  The government has raised the price of petrol and diesel 10 times in the last six years


  Revenue mobilisation through high indirect taxes on petroleum products must be stopped


The President's Address makes the startling statement that "higher prices were inevitable." This makes it clear that the United Progressive Alliance government has no intention of a course correction in the policies that have resulted in continuing high rates of inflation of food items, which reached almost 18 per cent (Wholesale Price Index) in the week ending January 31, 2010. The government has consistently refused to accept its own responsibilities and has sought to explain away high prices through fake alibis, one of them being that high inflation rates are a global phenomenon. A comparison of the consumer price index of the G-20 group of countries in December 2009 shows that India has the highest annual consumer price inflation at 14.97 per cent. Clearly, domestic, not international, factors are responsible.


Two sets of data available are a pointer to the differential impact of policy. The report of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs has assessed that in 2009, 13.6 million more people were pushed into the ranks of the poor in India because of joblessness and high rates of inflation. At the other end, the profits of 33 sugar companies (according to a calculation made by a national newspaper) showed a huge increase of 2,900 per cent from 30 crore rupees in 2008 to over 900 crore rupees in 2009, a record by any count.


The presidential address speaks approvingly of liberalised imports of sugar to tide over the shortage. It does not, however, provide any answers to why the government refused to build a sugar buffer stock when there was a bumper crop two years in a row till 2008. In fact, the government incentivised exports to the extent of Rs. 1,350 rupees a tonne of sugar from April 2007. The Maharashtra government added another subsidy of Rs. 1,000 a tonne. Considering that approximately five million tonnes of sugar was exported between 2007 and 2008 this would mean an export subsidy from the central government to sugar exporters of at least Rs. 675 crore. The subsidy from the Maharashtra government would also run into several hundred crores of rupees.


Exports were incentivised till December 2008 when an export ban was imposed. Once the shortages thus created started impacting on the higher prices of sugar in the market, the Central government incentivised imports by removing all duties, first on raw sugar and then on white refined sugar. There was no control on the prices importers charged from market sales. So money was made both ways by the powerful sugar lobbies, through exports and then through imports and sale in the open market at high prices. It is hardly surprising that the profit lines of sugar companies have soared while consumers have to pay exorbitant retail prices of nearly Rs. 40 to 50 rupees a kilo.


Earlier in an agenda note circulated at the meeting of Chief Ministers, the government mentioned the increase in "crude oil prices" as a contributory factor to food inflation. Hikes in prices of petroleum products do affect food prices and other essential commodities, but who is responsible? After peaking in mid-2008, international fuel prices have fallen sharply throughout 2009; from June-July 2008 they have fallen by over 100 per cent. Even though they have risen recently, the level is still far below the peak. The Central government's policies of frequent hikes in the prices of diesel and petrol have contributed to higher prices of food items. The UPA government has raised the price of petrol and diesel 10 times in the last six years, the last time in July 2009. The Kirit Parekh committee has recently recommended further substantial hikes and deregulation of the prices of petrol, diesel, and cooking gas. This will have a disastrous impact.


Linked to the issue of petrol and diesel prices are the excise duties and tax policies of the government. An impression is sought to be created that whereas the Central government is pro-people in its tax policies regarding essential commodities, it is the State governments that are imposing higher duties on fuel. The reality is somewhat different. Take for example the taxes on petrol and diesel. At present the crude oil price is $ 74 a barrel (160 litres). At the higher international price of crude oil, one litre of petrol would cost Rs. 21.46 rupees a litre and an additional 10 per cent for processing costs. So why should the Indian consumer pay almost double the price for a litre of petrol and Rs. 32 for a litre of diesel? This is because the Central government continues to maintain a high tax regime of central customs and excise duties.


For every rupee spent on petrol in Delhi, the cost of the fuel is 48.64 paise, central customs and excise duties comprise 34.69 paise whereas the State taxes are 16.67 paise. This can vary with different States but not substantially. So who is taxing the people more, the Centre or the States? The Central government must stop revenue mobilisation through high indirect taxes on petroleum products, particularly at a time when international prices are rising.


It is made out as though State governments were responsible for high prices of sugar because of the higher slabs of VAT on sugar, including imported sugar. However, 23 of the 32 States listed in the note have nil rate of VAT on imported sugar. Both West Bengal and Kerala have no taxes on imported sugar. On the other hand, Jharkhand under President's Rule had the highest VAT rate of 12.5 per cent, Congress governments in Rajasthan and Haryana and the DMK government in Tamil Nadu have 4 per cent VAT on imported sugar. A quick comparison made on the VAT rates on various food items (rice, green gram, chana dal, wheat, and salt) prevailing in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal reveals that it is the Congress-led State governments that impose a higher burden on food items.


The agenda note does not mention the food security legislation although this was a categorical assurance made in the first presidential address when the present UPA government took office. On the contrary, it relies on the dubious underestimate of poverty by the Planning Commission from the present 6.52 crore families below the poverty line to 5.90 crore families, to make out a case that it has been generous in not cutting allocations, according to the reduced BPL (below the poverty line) numbers. It does not even bother to mention that two official committees, the Saxena Committee and the Tendulkar Committee, however inadequate and incomplete their reasoning may have been, have advised substantial increases in the numbers of BPL families.


Equally unfortunate, in spite of the protest from almost all States to the Central government's policy of cuts in allocations to APL (above the poverty line) families to the extent of 75 per cent over the last few years, the note does not accept the demand for restoration of allocations. On the contrary it continues to push for sales to the State governments at almost double the issue price of APL foodgrains, in the name of additional allocations. State governments refused to lift the high priced stocks as a result of which out of the additional allocation of 20 lakh tonnes, only 1.71 lakh tonnes were lifted. If the Central government allots such grain at APL prices, the State governments would immediately lift the stocks. At a time when the government is holding buffer stocks of around 20 million tonnes, well above the buffer stock norms, its refusal to provide foodgrains at cheap prices to strengthen the PDS is rooted in its strong ideological commitment to allow free rein to the market forces regardless of the consequences.


It is for this reason that the defence and justification of government policy in the President's Address only adds salt to the wounds.


( Brinda Karat is a member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI-M.)







It was billed as the moment when, we were told, Britain would read out the riot act to Israel over Mossad's suspected link to the abuse of British passports by the killers of Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai last month.


But the first thing that the Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor did as he emerged from a meeting with the Foreign Office chief Sir Peter Ricketts last Thursday was to clarify to waiting journalists that he had come in response to an "invitation" and not summons — making a pointed distinction between being "summoned" (as in the "Iranian envoy summoned for a dressing down") and being simply called for a coffee.


The message Mr. Prosor wanted to get out — commentators noted — was that his meeting with Sir Peter was a routine diplomatic drill and there was no need to get too excited, or read too much into it. In other words, Britain was simply going "through the motions" to calm public opinion. A similar line was coming out of Israel where ministers were said to be "confident" that for all the tough talk Britain would "do nothing" to damage its "strategic" alliance with Israel.


"The U.K. is going through the motions of outrage, but our assessment is that they will do nothing," The Daily Telegraph reported an Israeli government source as saying. The British government, clearly embarrassed first by the disclosure about the misuse of its passports and then by Israeli bid to play down its fallout, insists that it is taking the issue "very seriously" and has ordered an investigation by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Foreign Secretary David Miliband described the theft of identities of six Israel-based British citizens and their use in the cold-blooded murder of Mahmoud as an "outrage."


"We want to get to the bottom of the issue of the fraudulent passports," he said.


He also sought to counter the impression given by Mr. Prosor that his meeting with Sir Patrick was just a fireside chat.


"Sir Peter made clear to Mr. Prosor how seriously we take any suggestion of the fraudulent use of British

passports — he also explained the concern we have for British passport holders in Israel,'' he said adding that Britain expected Israel to cooperate with its investigations.


On the face of it, the British government appears to have hit all the right buttons to express its outrage and, in fact, there is speculation that it might even scrap its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Mossad if it is found to have been involved in the Dubai affair.


So, what's going on? Is British anger just a lot of hot air as Israelis seem to suggest? Or, is the anger real?


The cynical answer is that, actually, we'll never know simply because we'll never know the truth about Mossad's involvement. For, notwithstanding the Dubai police claim that they're "99 per cent" sure it was a Mossad operation, Israel alone knows the truth and nobody seriously believes that it is going to accept responsibility.


"Policy of ambiguity"


Nor is the British investigation likely to go far without Israel's active and honest cooperation. But Israel has already made clear that it should not be expected to answer any questions saying that it has a "policy of ambiguity" on intelligence matters, and firmly rejecting any suggestion of Mossad's involvement.


"There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad, and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief," Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.


This is not the first time that Mossad has been involved in a row over British passports. In the 1980s, its U.K. operations were shut down by the Margaret Thatcher government after its agents were caught with British passports. It then gave an undertaking of good behaviour in future, though as The Times recalled : "No one really believed that Mossad would honour its pledge."


The Guardian pointed out that Mossad agents "routinely use…. forged western passports and when caught doing it Israel give assurances they will not do it again."


"Evidently these diplomatic assurances are worthless," it said branding the Dubai incident as a "breach of trust between two nations who are ostensibly allies."


The government has been accused of acting in a "supine" manner in dealing with Israel. There have been allegations of a possible cover-up with media reports claiming that Britain had advance knowledge of a Mossad plot involving British passports. It has also been reported that Britain knew two weeks ago that British passports were used by the killers of Mr. Mabhouh but kept quiet.


Predictably, the Government has rejected such reports as "completely untrue" and "nonsense" but it is under growing pressure even from uber Israeli loyalists to take a tougher line. Talk to sceptics, though, and they are likely to tell you to go and brush up your history of British-Israeli relations before entertaining such thoughts.






I invite attention to the article 'Policing thought, not controlling terror' (Feb. 22, 2010). I am afraid that the report is based on considerable misunderstanding and does not reflect the position correctly.


Conference Visa


The guidelines on Conference Visas have been in place for quite some time. These guidelines were revisited through a process of Inter-Ministerial consultations with the stakeholder Ministries/Departments concerned and revised instructions were issued in July, 2009.


As per the revised guidelines, prior security clearance from MHA is required


• in respect of participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan, foreigners of Pakistani origin and Stateless persons;


• if the participation involves visit to restricted or protected areas in India or areas affected by terrorism, militancy and extremism, etc. viz. Jammu & Kashmir and North-Eastern States;


• if the conference involves politically and socially sensitive subjects.


The participants from other countries can obtain Conference Visas from the Indian Mission concerned on production of


(i) invitation letter from the organiser,


(ii) event clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs,


(iii) administrative approval of the nodal Ministry,


(iv) political clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs and


(v) clearance from the State Government/UT concerned.


The above guidelines supersede all the previous instructions on the subject.


The fresh guidelines were put in place to streamline the procedure for grant of Conference Visas to bona fide participants. In the present scenario, security imperatives cannot be ignored. As security vetting is a comprehensive process to be performed within a prescribed time line, a period of six weeks has been prescribed to the organisers to submit the details of the proposals so as to ensure that the clearance from MHA is granted well in time for the event and for the participants so that they are not put to any undue hardship in making their travel plans to attend the conference.


The guidelines are intended to facilitate conferences, not to control free speech or thought.


Tourist Visa


The recent guidelines on Tourist Visas stipulating a gap of at least two months between two visits to the country on a Tourist Visa have been introduced with a view to curbing the abuse/misuse of Tourist Visa. This stipulation of two months gap does not apply to foreign nationals coming on any other type of visa. This also does not apply to people of Indian origin holding PIO and OCI Cards. In case a foreign national holding a Tourist Visa has to come to the country within the period of two months of his/her last departure due to any exigent situation, he/she may have to obtain special permission from the Mission/Post concerned after duly satisfying the Mission/Post about the exigency.


A provision has also been made for genuine tourists who have to re-enter India largely on account of neighbourhood tourism. In such cases, the Indian Missions/Posts abroad have been authorised to permit two or three entries, subject to submission of a detailed itinerary and supporting documentation (ticket bookings).


Furthermore, instructions have already been issued on 24.12.2009 authorising the Immigration authorities in all the Immigration Check Posts in the country to allow such foreign nationals on Tourist Visas arriving in India without the specific authorisation from the Indian Missions/Posts to make two or three entries into the country (need based), subject to production of an itinerary and supporting documentation (ticket bookings).


It has also been decided that in emergent cases involving re-entry of persons of Indian origin on Tourist Visa within sixty days, of their earlier departure from India, FRROs may exercise their discretion in allowing such passengers to enter into the country after being convinced of the genuineness of their visit.


Siddharth Varadarajan replies:


Mr. Ashim Khurana is right to say security imperatives cannot be ignored in the present scenario. But why does

the visit of a scholar from Europe or America trigger "security imperatives" only when she or he comes for a conference on "politically and socially sensitive subjects" and not when she or he visits India as a tourist? Obviously because the government believes a security threat is posed not by the scholar as an individual but by the views she or he has on "sensitive" subjects, a term so elastic it could cover virtually any topic. As for scholars from the eight blacklisted countries, India issues the maximum tourist visas to Bangladeshis and it is not difficult for a Bangladeshi academic to visit India for tourism. What is it about a "conference" that prompts the MHA to insist on security clearance for the scholar? Clearly, the ministry believes the exchange of ideas with foreign scholars has "security" implications.That is why I said what is being policed here is thought.


As for the two-month cooling off period for foreign visitors — a decision triggered by David Headley's frequent visits to India on a business visa — Mr. Khurana himself admits the stipulation of a two months gap does not apply to foreign nationals coming on any type of visa other than a tourist visa.


Despite all the safeguards and exemptions he has listed, many bona fide tourists and persons of Indian origin not holding PIO/OCI cards have been denied entry because of the new rule. The rule has also deterred potential visitors. Given the expense involved, tourists and Indian-origin visitors want an assurance that they would be allowed in and are unlikely to have confidence in the display of "discretion" by immigration officials.








President Pratibha Patil's address to the joint session of the two Houses of Parliament on Monday was reassuring in respect of several key areas in the social sector, notably schemes for advancement in rural areas in terms of housing, road connectivity, availability of gas and other petroleum products, as well as setting up of schools and colleges in the backward areas. The growth and development in this broad sphere is critical for the country's future progress.  However, where the address — spelling out the policies of the Union government — disappoints are precisely areas that pinch ordinary people the most, namely prices and the fight against terrorism.

The address gives the impression of glossing over the serious price rise question, which had begun to rear its head a year ago. The President's speech points out almost casually that the cause of the trouble lay in production shortfalls and the increased international prices of these commodities (which made imports meaningless). A year down the road, this sounds as an excuse, not a satisfactory explanation. The reason is that no concrete and meaningful steps were executed to check the unconscionable shooting up of the price curve. Worse, reports have come in which suggest that stocks in some cases, particularly for sugar, were allowed to remain uncollected, permitting unscrupulous business interests to make a killing. Another shocking observation is that the price rise in foodgrains is linked to increased demand owing to improved incomes in the rural sector on account of better procurement prices to farmers and greater public spending (say, through partial rural employment guarantee) on development programmes. This reflects a cruel irony. Surely, a rollback in prices cannot entail withdrawal of such schemes. The question may also be asked why a rise in rural purchasing power has not led to a comparable rise in the prices of non-food items. The government must do better than this. It had over a year to put in motion policies to tackle high prices at the level of production and distribution of essential commodities.

The issue of terrorism also concerns all Indians. After 26/11, the government has taken steps to better organise the internal security apparatus, and these find detailed mention in the President's address. However, insofar as the playing out of terrorism in India is to a considerable degree linked to developments in our neighbourhood, especially Pakistan, the nuanced reference to this factor that was needed unfortunately finds no articulation in the address. As such, the mention made of the forthcoming foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan later this week fails to expand our understanding of the factors in play. What is worse, the recent terrorist strike in Pune has been carefully insulated from the foreign secretary-level dialogue. What signal this will convey to Pakistan can only be speculated upon. The President's address also surprises by its reference to the situation in Kashmir. While it rightly suggests that the infiltration level from the Pakistan side is up, it asserts quite astonishingly that the security situation in Kashmir shows "significant" improvement. What parameters suggest this is left to the imagination.

The address has one especially bright spot — the emphasis supplied to the field of education, as widely understood. This naturally includes school and higher education as well as skills formation more generally. What is heartening is that investment in education has been seen as being important to inclusive growth. The address needed to say something concrete on raising agricultural production in the country, the absence of which will negatively impact growth and social development. While the positives in the document are only too obvious, the address on this occasion does leave the impression of being too mundane in its conception.







 This time when the Union Budget is presented, there is one particular reason why ordinary citizens will be listening: to see whether the government is finally going to act decisively to contain food price inflation.
The rise in food prices in the past two years has been higher than any period since the mid-1970s, when such inflation sparked widespread social unrest and political instability. Food prices have been rising by around 20 per cent even when the general price index (for wholesale prices) has been very low, and sometimes almost flat.

The table indicates the price increase in cities averaged across the major regions, for rice, atta and sugar, which are among the most essential food items in any household. Rice prices increased by nearly half in northern cities and more than half in southern cities. Atta prices have on average increased by around one-fifth from their level of two years ago. The most shocking increase has been in sugar prices, which have more than doubled across the country. Other food items, ranging from pulses and dal to milk and vegetables, have also shown dramatic increase, especially in the past year.

There are many reasons why food prices have risen at such a rapid rate, and all of them point of major failures of state policy. Domestic food production has been adversely affected by neoliberal economic policies that have opened up trade and exposed farmers to volatile international prices even as internal support systems have been dismantled and input prices have been rising continuously. Inadequate agricultural research, poor extension services, overuse of ground water, and incentives for unsuitable cropping patterns have caused degeneration of soil quality and reduced the productivity of land and other inputs. Women farmers, who constitute a large (and growing) proportion of those tilling the land, have been deprived of many of the rights of cultivators, ranging from land titles to access to institutional credit, knowledge and inputs, and this too has affected the productivity and viability of cultivation.

But in addition to production, poor distribution, growing concentration in the market and inadequate public involvement, have all been crucial in allowing food prices to rise in this appalling manner. Successive governments at the Centre have been reducing the scope of the public food distribution system, and even now, in the face of the massive increase in prices, the Central government is delaying the allocation of foodgrain for the above poverty line population to the states. This has prevented the public system from becoming a viable alternative for consumers and preventing private speculation and hoarding and allowed more corporate entities to enter the market.

Thus it has been found that the gap between farm gate and wholesale prices is widening. A similar story is evident from the gap between wholesale and retail prices. In rice, the gap between average wholesale and retail prices widened considerably — even doubled — across the four major zones of the country. Overall the margin increased from around nine per cent to more than 15 per cent. In wheat, the pattern is more uneven but the retail margins are very large indeed, as expressed by the difference between the wholesale price of wheat and the retail price of atta (which is the most basic first stage of processing). In the northern and eastern zones, the margin is more than 30 per cent, while it is around 20 per cent elsewhere.

So what exactly is happening? It appears that there are forces that are allowing marketing margins — at both wholesale and retail levels — to increase. This means that the direct producers, the farmers, do not get the benefit of the rising prices which consumers in both rural and urban areas are forced to pay. The factors behind these increasing retail margins need to be studies in much more detail. The role of expectations, especially in the context of a poor monsoon that was bound to (and did) affect the kharif harvest adversely, should not be underplayed. But that refers only to the most recent period of rising prices, whereas this process has been marked for at least two years now.

In addition to this, there is also initial evidence that there has been a process of concentration of crop distribution, as more and more corporate entities get involved in this activity. Such companies are both national and multinational. On the basis of international experience, their involvement in food distribution initially tends to bring down marketing margins and then leads to their increase as concentration grows. This may have been the case in certain Indian markets, but this is an area that clearly merits further examination.

Many people have argued, convincingly, that increased and more stable food production is the key to food security in the country. This is certainly true, and it calls for concerted public action for agriculture, on the basis of many recommendations that have already been made by the Farmers' Commission and others. But another very important element cannot be ignored: food distribution.

A properly funded, efficiently functioning and accountable system of public delivery of food items through a network of fair price shops and cooperatives is the best and most cost-effective way of limiting increases in food prices and ensuring that every citizen has access to enough food. Even before any promised food security law is passed, it is clear that emergency measures are required to strengthen public food distribution, in addition to medium-term policies to improve domestic food supply.

In a context in which inflation is concentrated on food prices, measures liking raising the interest rate are counterproductive because they affect all producers without striking at the heart of the problem. Instead, if he is serious about curtailing food inflation, the finance minister must provide substantially more funds to enable a proper and effective public food distribution system.







At a time when the combat power of the Indian Air Force is at an all-time low (29 squadrons, against a sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons and a required strength of 45 squadrons), two significant events connected with the enhancement of its capabilities are underway without much fanfare and are hopefully gathering momentum quietly, away from the public gaze.

The first of these is the commencement of evaluation trials by teams from the Air Staff Test Establishment (ASTE) of six top-of-the-line combat aircraft from different countries which are contending for the mammoth $10-15 billion contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) to be inducted into the Indian Air Force, to replace obsolescent aircraft in service and rejuvenate the fading combat strength of frontline squadrons.
The second is the maiden flight early this year of the Sukhoi-T50 (Pakfa), a fifth-generation fighter aircraft being jointly developed by India and Russia under an agreement between the two countries. The aircraft has been in the making since the early 1990s and is scheduled for production and induction into both air forces around 2015-2017. India is funding a percentage of the costs involved (between 25 to 50 per cent, according to different sources), and will also develop some of the integral software and hardware components.
The MRCA trials encompass the F-16 and F-18 from the United States, the MiG-35 from Russia, the Rafale from France, the Eurofighter Typhoon from a consortium of the European Union, and the Saab Viggen from Sweden, each a formidable contender in its own right. The trials will be under constant national and international scrutiny by the Indian government, the competing manufacturers and their governments as well as the aviation industry in general. Foreign intelligence services would also be undoubtedly watching from the sidelines, particularly of those countries with whom India's relationships have traditionally been adversarial. Needless to say, whichever aircraft is finally selected, the induction of 126 MRCA will provide a quantum jump in the capabilities of the Indian Air Force.

The overall process is undoubtedly complex, but evaluation of the actual equipment against finite parameters and criteria set out in the Air Staff Requirements is perhaps the most objective part of it all. However, military and technical performances of the contending aircraft and financial terms and conditions of the contract only provide concrete inputs into the selection process. A critical part of the final decision has to be evolved in the more amorphous realm of India's own geopolitical compulsions and strategic national interests, particularly with regard to the countries and blocs whose aircraft are being evaluated. These environments are necessarily unquantifiable and to that extent subjective, but nonetheless cannot be wished away.
In this broader geopolitical context, the ultimate selection of the aircraft will have to take into account the long-term relationships India wishes to maintain and develop with the vendor countries, in particular the United States and Russia, who are contesting the MRCA sweepstakes through their representative proxies — America's F-16 and F-18 and Russia's MiG-35. For these two countries, the contract has acquired the overtones of a prestige issue, and could even become a touchstone for future relationships with India, which at present is widely perceived as tilting towards the United States. Russia, on the other hand, is a valued and time-tested ally of long standing, though somewhat shaky on its feet after the end of the Cold War, but nevertheless a putative superpower and a potentially useful anchor for India in the context of the Sino-Pakistan axis.
Historical compulsions have created a strong Russian connection for the Indian Air Force, notwithstanding long-standing complaints at working levels in this country about difficult commercial negotiations with Russian partners. However, the government has nevertheless opted to link the overall future equipment profile of the Air Force with the Indo-Russian Sukhoi T-50 FGFA. This is where the evaluation trials of the MRCA interconnect with the development flights of the T-50 FGFA.

The Indian Air Force has traditionally suffered from excessive multiplicity of equipment and its associated problems. The same mistake should not be repeated in the case of the new MRCA. Logically speaking, therefore, the large fleet of the newly-acquired MRCA should not be inducted independent of future plans, but rather utilised as a lead-in series for the Sukhoi T-50 FGFA. This narrows down the field considerably, and there are some who suggest that instead of trials, India might as well have purchased the required additional numbers of Sukhoi-30 MKI, another outstanding aircraft from the same stable, already in squadron service with the Indian Air Force. The question that now arises is: Is the Russian fifth-generation aircraft, for which India has already committed financially, indeed the final choice for future aircraft for the Indian Air Force?
India has also to contend against itself and its institutionalised phobias of hyper-sanctimoniousness regarding defence transactions. The government has a record of abrupt and impromptu cancellations at the slightest of suspicions, no matter how grievous is the resultant self-inflicted injury on defence preparedness in terms of lost time and opportunities. While no right-thinking person can ever condone corruption, nevertheless a stage has also been reached when the country can no longer afford to throw out the baby with the bathwater by indiscriminately terminating entire series of trials of weapons under acquisition every time there is a suspicion of alleged wrongdoing, whether actual or imaginary. As these exceedingly complex trials of fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force get under way, it is to be sincerely hoped that they are not interrupted for any reason.
The country must evolve a more rational system of investigation and fact-finding, to target specific parties within the process found to be directly or indirectly involved in any wrongdoing without halting the entire process and delaying weapons acquisition. The ghosts of Bofors have created enough havoc with the country's defence preparedness. The time has come to finally exorcise them for the greater good of the nation.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

Shankar Roychowdhury









There is something unnecessarily circuitous about LK Advani being made the 'acting' chairman of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It has been clear for nearly four years now that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's frail health does not allow him to work as chairman of the alliance. The simple and straight thing for him, or someone on his behalf, was to issue a statement that he is stepping down from the post. Vajpayee's stature does not in any way depend on him being the leader of the alliance. Respect and ceremony have their place in the Indian cultural and social context but it does not make sense to carry it to absurd lengths.
The NDA is not what it had been in the years between 1998 and 2004 when it was in office. It seems more unsure of itself than even the BJP after the 2004 and 2009 parliamentary elections defeats. The alliance had about 20 parties as members when in office. It has now been reduced to a ramshackle formation of a few parties. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra does not owe much to the NDA. The alliance essentially came into existence when the BJP and the anti-Congress socialist parties felt the need to join forces to provide an alternative to the Congress as well as to the anti-Congress and anti-BJP parties of the United Front of 1996 and 1997.

The key to keeping the NDA alive is that the BJP will keep on the backburner its core issues like uniform civil code, Ayodhya temple and Article 370 pertaining to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP nurses dreams of coming to power on its own but knows full well that it cannot and that it needs to go along with its NDA partners. It is the same dilemma as that of the Congress, which would want to be on its own but knows it has to stick to the UPA. The NDA then has a good chance of remaining relevant and it needs to be kept going.
Is Advani the man for the job? Vajpayee was a natural choice because he was seen as the 'inclusive' leader who made the necessary moves to bring the other parties on board. The new Advani, who seems to have left behind his hard Hindutva days behind for good, may be able to hold the NDA together. But he will have to be more articulate about his made-over image if he wants to infuse fresh life into a dormant NDA.







The attitude of the Centre towards the issue of Telangana is getting, in the words of Alice as she wandered through Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser". Having succumbed to the pressure put on it by K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Centre announced that the state of Telangana would be formed. Having got Rao to end his hunger strike and having cooled down tempers in the region, it then discovered that the rest of the state and Hyderabad were not overjoyed at the idea. Since then it has tried to hop, skip and jump its way around the obstacles and has only managed to annoy everyone concerned.
The Congress governments at both the Centre and state levels are equally culpable here. The most curious is its attitude towards the protesting students at Osmania university. In spite of being rapped on the knuckles by the Andhra Pradesh high court for unnecessary violence against students by the police, students continue to be the main target. For now the ostensible reason is that these students are Maoists or Naxalite sympathisers. Of course, that may well be true and it has also been true at any university campus in India for the last 40 years. A major thrust for the middle class "intellectual" support for the Naxalites came from students in the 1960s.
In fact, by trying to confuse the pro-Telangana protest with the Maoist movement, the governments are playing a very dangerous game which may well backfire against them. No one who is part of the pro-Telangana movement will be fooled by the Maoist brush and the attempt to obfuscate may only inflame tensions and passions. As far as Telangana is concerned, having landed itself in the mess, the UPA may as well be as transparent as possible. If it cannot make its intentions clear then at least the deliberations of the Justice BR Srikrishna committee into the formation of Telangana state can be made transparent. This may go some way towards assuaging the strong emotions of all those concerned. As for university students, it would surely be wiser to keep watch on troublemakers without coming down on them like a ton of bricks. The issue is not so much about human rights as it is about the government fulfilling its responsibility towards its citizens.
If the Centre and state government both reveal more than they conceal about Telangana — and do not add a needless Maoist angle to their attempts to stifle dissent — the issue stands a better chance of being discussed clearly and democratically without descending into further mayhem and chaos.






Israel's continued aggression is no longer easily tolerated by the West

Everybody assumes that Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, carried out the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander, in Dubai last month. The Israeli government will neither confirm or deny it, but the average Israeli citizen is sure of it, and quite pleased by it. After all, who else was going to go after him?

Well, theoretically it could have been the rival Palestinian political organisation, Fatah, which has been more or less at war with Hamas for almost three years now. (Fatah runs the West Bank; Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.) Proponents of this theory argue that the Dubai hit was too clumsy and sloppy to have been a Mossad operation.
Would any serious spy agency put eleven people on a hit team? Why would seven of them be travelling on British passports borrowed or stolen from British-Israeli dual citizens resident in Israel? Would they let themselves be caught repeatedly on video surveillance cameras as they set up the killing? This was just not a professional operation.

It certainly was amateur night in Dubai, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Mossad was not behind it. The Institute for Espionage and Special Operations, to give its proper name, may be "legendary", but some of its past operations have been anything but professional. Take the case of the Norwegian waiter.

In the twenty years after Palestinian terrorists massacred eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Mossad killed more than a dozen people it suspected of involvement in the operation. Most of them had some link to it, but Ahmed Bouchiki had none at all.

Bouchiki was a Moroccan immigrant to Norway who worked in a restaurant in Lillehammer. Mossad mistakenly thought he was Ali Hassan Salameh, the planner of the Munich atrocity, so an Israeli hit team murdered him as he walked home with his pregnant wife. But the two killers committed the elementary error of driving to the airport 24 hours later in the same car they had used for the getaway (which had been spotted by the police).

They were arrested, and the woman of the pair broke down and confessed that they were working for Israel. The man had a telephone number on him which led the police to the safe house where the other three members of the team were staying. One of them had a list of instructions from Mossad on him, and they all ended up in Norwegian jails. Amateur night again.

This time the hit team, though ridiculously large, was less incompetent: the victim died, and they all got out of Dubai safely. The fact that they left enough evidence behind for the Dubai police to figure out what happened does not exclude Mossad from consideration: it has bungled operations before. The Dubai police say they are now "99 percent if not 100 percent sure" that Mossad was behind the murder, and most Western governments assume the same.

Four Western governments are especially angry: Britain, France, Germany and Ireland, whose passports were used in the operation. Israel will doubtless promise once more never to do that again, and the fuss will eventually die down.

The Dubai police chief, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, has asked Interpol for a "red notice" on Mossad head Meir Dagan, the usual preliminary to an arrest warrant, but Dagan need not stay awake worrying about it. What should be causing him sleepless nights is the fact that all these killings are counter-productive.
Killing off the leaders of Hamas — and of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance movement — does not improve Israel's security. For example, it assassinated Hezbollah's leader, Abbas al-Musawi, in 1992, and got the far more formidable Hassan Nasrallah as his successor. It also got the revenge bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, which killed 29 and wounded 242.

The leaders who get killed are replaced by others of equal competence, the cycle of revenge gets another push, and Israel's reputation as a responsible state takes another beating. True, Israel does nothing that the United States, Russia and several other great powers have not done when fighting insurgencies, but they are shielded by their great-power status. Like it or not, there is one law for the great powers and another for the others.
Smaller countries are expected to obey the rules. Many Israelis think they don't need to worry about this because everyone hates them anyway, but the wiser ones realise that the state's security and prosperity still depend heavily on the goodwill of Western countries. Actions like the Dubai operation, when they become public, erode that goodwill. But the wiser Israelis are not currently in the majority.







Will a good budget salvage a bad economy or a bad budget ruin a good one? Experts who are proponents of a free market economy — are they any others left in the field? — will argue that it is so on both counts. They will cite the recent example of how government's stimulus package in the wake of global recession helped Indian markets weather the downturn to support the first part and they will say that bad taxation — and in their view all taxes are bad and even punitive — can ruin a good economy to argue for the second part. There are enough contradictions to support either of them if one believes in a market economy which implies a marginalised government, if not a totally non-existent one, as far as the economy is concerned.


Perhaps this ideal state was in existence in the pre-modern state, which was more or less was a police state in the eyes of enlightened liberals. But in the modern day, the state is expected to do more for the citizens in the economic sphere. It is not just the ordinary citizen who looks to the state for succour. The captains of industry and business leaders too expect the state to do its duty by them. They — those who work the economy — do not ask to be left alone so that they can prosper on their own wit and wisdom alone. They want the government to be proactive in improving their enterprises. That is why the masters of the economy are seen petitioning the finance minister every year at budget time.

Indians are not too bothered about contradictions as long as they are able to get what they want. So, you can find a business tycoon arguing that she needs tax concessions and also argue that government should implement economic reforms — that is, not interfere in the economy. Similarly, free market economists and journalists who believe in the credo are quite vocal that the finance minister should do more economic reforms, not less. At the same time, they do not think that the stimulus package should not be withdrawn as yet. This kind of complicated positioning would bewilder any rational person anywhere in the world. But Indians are blissfully unaware of the inconsistencies in their views. So, the budget is more than a talking point in their worldview.
It is ironical that nearly 20 years into economic reforms we are still excited and worried about what the budget will all be about. Though everyone is convinced that government is bad because it is inefficient and corrupt, no one wants to turn away from it. They love hectoring government on what should be done and what should not be. And there is a burning desire on the part of all these people to influence policy even when they cannot frame it. Some of the brilliant free market economists in India are only too thrilled to find themselves on government panels.

It is really the poor people in the country who are not bothered much about the budget. First, they lack the literary tools to understand the debates. Second, the budget does not have any great impact on their daily lives. The tax concessions do not benefit them. Even those schemes which are ostensibly meant for them do not always reach them. So, the budget remains an esoteric affair as far as the poor are concerned.

The poor need government's help but they have no way of shaping the budget. They cannot even have a say in the welfare schemes which are meant for them. It is government and the experts who decide what the poor need. The industrialists and traders should be able to look after themselves and who pretend to do so. But it is they who get what they want out of a budget.

India will remain a government-centric economy for a long time, where government professes to address the poor but ends up meeting the demands of the well-to-do. When government and creamy layers succeed in what they do, the poor could be the unintended beneficiaries. The poor are the budget markers though they are not the budget makers.









The sporadic attempts to revive militancy in Punjab have been stepped up to an alarming level in the recent past. The Director-General of Police, Mr Paramdeep Singh Gill, had been warning of this mischief. The ugly face of the conspiracy has been exposed with the arrest of two terrorists of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) from Nabha by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Patiala police in coordination with the Intelligence Wing of Punjab. The arrested persons, Jasbir Singh alias Jassa and Harjan Singh alias DC, are also believed to be behind the planting of bombs near the LPG bottling plant in Nabha, outside the Air Force Station, Halwara, and the Ambala military area during the past one and a half months. These failed to explode due to technical reasons; otherwise these could have caused incalculable devastation. Explosives confiscated from the arrested terrorists were also capable of causing extensive damage. Making spectacular strikes is every terrorist's main aim and it is providential that they did not succeed.


The police needs to be complimented for the success in nabbing the terrorists. Adequate gathering of intelligence and acting on it in real time is the key to defeating the designs of the enemies of the nation. What must be noted is that while two militants have been arrested, many of their colleagues are still at large. Then there are many other groups aided and abetted from across the border which are up to the same mischief. The country cannot breathe easy till each one of them has been accounted for. The security agencies will have to continue mounting a strict vigil.


A dangerous trend that has come to light is that many of the militants have been visiting Pakistan via Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal and Bangladesh. While the efforts of the security agencies have ensured that they cannot go across the border directly, this circuitous route too needs to be plugged. Extreme care has also to be taken that Punjab militants are not able to coordinate with similar elements elsewhere in the country. The peace that has dawned on Punjab after several years of mayhem is too precious to be frittered away due to any complacency. 








Taliban activists have done it again. In a display of their beastly behaviour, they have behaded two Sikhs, who along with a few others had been kidnapped over a month ago in the Bara tribal area in the Khyber Agency in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Despite the recent military action by Islamabad in Swat and South Waziristan and the continuing US drone attacks targeting those associated with the Taliban, most areas in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan continue to be controlled by the extremists. The Taliban, as one report has it, kidnapped a few Sikhs and then demanded Rs 30 million as ransom for their release. They reportedly killed two of their captives, Jaspal Singh and Mahal Singh, after the expiry of the deadline for the ransom payment they had given. Another report said the innocent Sikhs were done to death after their refusal to change their religion.


Whatever the truth, the fact remains that the minorities in Pakistan are as unsafe today as they were ever. The killing of the Sikhs is bound to figure during the coming India-Pakistan talks, as External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishan said while condemning the gruesome incident. The Sikhs in particular have been victimised by the Taliban ever since the militant movement came into being at the behest of the ISI. In April last year, the Taliban razed the houses of 11 Sikh families in the Aurakzai tribal region following their refusal to pay "jizia" (the kind of tax Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb imposed on non-Muslims) in time. The Taliban had imposed "jizia" on the Sikhs in Afghanistan, too, during its brief rule in the war-ravaged country in the late nineties.


The outrageous behaviour of the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal area must be condemned by the international community as India has forcefully done. But condemnation alone is not enough. The Sikhs who are still in the Taliban's custody must not be allowed to meet the fate of their two unfortunate brethren. The Pakistan government must be made to ensure that the persecution of the Sikhs comes to an end. Targeting of defenceless people cannot be justified on any ground. 








The entry of the Central Reserve Police Force personnel into the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad — the epicentre of the pro-Telangana agitation in Andhra Pradesh — has expectedly drawn criticism from students and teachers of the university. Though pro-Telangana activists decided to lay siege to the State Assembly on Friday, the situation was brought under control following heavy deployment of the CRPF. One cannot normally support the entry of the police and/or paramilitary forces into educational institutions. However, if state government sources are to be believed, the Maoist cadres have allegedly infiltrated into the Osmania University students' hostels and are creating trouble on the Telangana issue. Indeed, it was on this ground that the Supreme Court had allowed the CRPF to guard the campus under the supervision of the state Home Secretary up to February 23, overruling the Andhra Pradesh High Court's order to the contrary.


Osmania University Vice-Chancellor Tirupathi Rao may have refuted the charge of the Naxalites' presence in the hostels. However, there is merit in the state government's contention that the very nature and size of the agitation suggested that it was not entirely student-driven and that it is only the CRPF personnel — and not an ill-equipped police force — who would be able to handle the hardened elements like the Naxalites. In any case, as the apex court has ruled, the state government should take care to ensure that the CRPF men tread with caution and do not exceed their brief.


Political parties — the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in particular — should play a constructive role on the issue. They should not instigate students to take to the streets for narrow partisan ends. Students should also refrain from indulging in acts like self-immolation. All political parties, students and other stakeholders would do well to extend their full cooperation and support to the Justice Srikrishna Committee appointed by the Centre to look into the problem of Telangana as well as the demand for a unified Andhra Pradesh. In a democracy, there is no problem that cannot be resolved peacefully through debate and discussion.
















There are many commonalities between the tragic terror strike of 26/11 in Mumbai and the German Bakery attack in Pune, but, apart from scale, there are stark differences as well. Two are noteworthy. First, the Mumbai attack galvanised the people across the country to determinedly fight cross-border sponsored terror, but we did not notice a similar outburst of public sentiment this time. Second, after 26/11 there was a clear voice both from the people and the government that there would be no talks with Pakistan till it dismantled the terrorist infrastructure and brought its perpetrators to book, but this time public opinion is divided while the government has decided to break the link. It is going ahead with talks on February 25.


Does the change in public attitude demonstrate an apathy and resignation with the government's inability to stem the terror waves and bring about any kind of pressure on Pakistan? The 87 per cent of those who participated in a polling on February 17 in Maharashtra held by a major TV channel were still against any talks with Pakistan; this could be the sentiment nation-wide. The government's decision was presumably dictated not only by the commitment in the Sharm-al-Sheikh statement, although Pakistan is sure to raise Balochistan at the February 25 meeting. This is the crux of the matter and the way India has found itself out-manoeuvred.


India had to acquiesce in the London Conference's decision to talk to and re-integrate the so-called "good" Taliban notwithstanding our experience when they were last in power. Obviously, India's reiteration of its position that there was no good and bad Taliban had no effect on the US and NATO. It was championed by none other than President Karzai whom we have supported since he took office. India was also excluded, at Pakistan's behest, from the preliminary Istanbul conference of Afghanistan's neighbours which charted the future political course for Afghanistan. Once again Pakistan has become the fulcrum for the US strategy in Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself.


Senator Johan Kerry, the powerful Chair of US Foreign Relations Committee, on his February 16 New Delhi visit, made no bones that the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan was critical to the overall US strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has even given up the Af-Pak nomenclature. We can expect to see all US efforts geared towards securing Pakistan's compliance and cooperation in its on-going military operation in Afghanistan's Helmand province, the nerve-centre of the Taliban. Its border with Pakistan makes such cooperation indispensable to the US strategy. This is where India comes in.


The 30,000 troop surge ordered by President Obama did not prevent the Afghan Taliban from laying siege to parts of Kabul, exposing the vulnerability of the government and ineffectiveness of the military operation to stem the Taliban tide. With the time-line being dictated by the forthcoming US state elections and the withdrawal date in early 2011 announced by President Obama, the US Administration saw no alternative to scaling down the goal of securing a military victory to a limited one of getting the "amenable" or "purchasable" Taliban inside an Afghan government. Considerable funds have been allocated at the London conference for this purpose.


Given the strong and negative Taliban reaction to the new US strategy, it was also realised that the Taliban would have to be softened to secure their compliance. This is what the major on-going military operation in Marjah intended to achieve. For the operation to succeed, Pakistan's cooperation in sealing its border with Helmand becomes crucial. The US cannot afford a repeat of General Musharraf's action in withdrawing his troops allowing for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to escape the US Tora Bora operation in the early days of the Afghan war. It still remains uncertain whether the Marjah operation will bring the Taliban to the table, and if so, the price that would have to be paid. Pakistan's cooperation and, more importantly, India's presumed role in making it possible now dictate US policy.


It was not long ago when the US and its allies were singing India's praises for the way in which we had committed large resources to successfully building up Afghanistan. The change of US strategy on dealing with the Afghan Taliban puts pressure on India and its role in Afghanistan:


Accepting Pakistan's contention that it needs a lessening of tensions on its eastern border (with India) for it to effectively seal its border with Helmand (Afghanistan) it has put us under pressure to resume the India-Pakistan dialogue regardless of repeated terror attacks in locations in India. On February 5 in Muzaffarabad the LeT had already mentioned Kanpur and New Delhi apart from Pune. And Ilyas Kashmiri has openly threatened attacks at the World Hockey Games and the Commonwealth Games later in the year.


By accepting that sections of the Afghan Taliban can be brought into the government, it opens the possibility for an eventual Taliban takeover which has always been an anathema, given its implacable hostility to India. The Kandahar IA hijack case cannot be forgotten so easily.


By making Pakistan again the fulcrum of this strategy, ignoring that it is the epi-centre of terror world-wide and committing billions of dollars to beefing up Pakistan's military capacity, it provides the unquestioned possibility for that country to guard its strategic interests in Afghanistan and launch proxy attacks on India's interests there, and on India itself.


It is time we faced up to the challenge of making our cooperation with the US in the successful outcome of its strategy count. As its global strategic partner, India must negotiate the "deliverables" if it decides to go ahead with the India-Pakistan dialogue in the present circumstances. Recognising and bargaining with the US on our core interests is unavoidable now.


We need our interests in Afghanistan safeguarded, Pakistan to hand over the perpetrators of the Mumbai and Pune attacks and disband the terror groups it nurtures, and secure the LoC and the international boundary and get US support for our permanent membership of the UN Security Council. That is what a strategic partnership means and as an emerging global player, it behoves us to put our cards on the table and not hedge as is our wont. Furthermore, there is an equal need to inform the Indian public by holding an all-party conference of the political formations represented in Parliament. India needs to speak with one voice now.n


The writer, a former diplomat, is Chairman, Kunzru Centre for Defence Studies and Research, Pune.








Passwords are as much a part of life today as are mobile phones, multiplexes, reality shows, T-20 matches and SMS promos. One needs them for almost everything; to log on to the computer, to e-mail, to use an ATM, for internet-banking and even to pick up movie tickets.


The result is that either one tends to select a single uncomplicated password or one tries to think up exotic and multiple ones for different outlets. The drawback of the former is that when one uses one's date-of-birth or the name of the wife's preferred hand-lotion, while both are easy to remember, they are also easy for a hacker or mischief-monger to detect!


On the other hand, the adventurous option could lead to uneasy and even unpleasant situations. For if one tries to innovate too often with passwords, in order to make each one unique and thus difficult to hack, one tends to forget the magic words when they're really needed.


I for one keep landing up in situations wherein I'm not able to recollect whether my bank balance can be checked by typing in 'Federer-is-the-best' or if 'Mulligatawny-soup' was the correct password. On other occasions I may end up staring at an ATM machine, and also swearing at it, while wondering why triple '8' does not work and neither does quadruple '6'. The result being that the queue of people outside the ATM booth transforms itself into a horde of unpleasant persons, as I spend ages inside the box, but still end up penniless and looking very sheepish as I exit with my ears firmly shut!


Creative passwords can also land one into trouble at times as I discovered when my wife called me one day and asked for my password in order to check an urgent email (I don't know why she never uses her own email ID!). As luck would have it, I had changed that password very recently and had used the name of a beautiful young heroine for it. Imagine my plight as I came out with it! Quite predictably my wife's tone changed dramatically on hearing it and she slammed the phone down.


The worst-case scenario came true, however, on the day when I had to make a presentation before a high-level committee. As my turn came, and I switched on my laptop, I realised to my horror that I'd forgotten my new password. I tried 'Tendulkar-is-supreme' and 'Kareena-Katrina' but they did not work. Still clueless after trying out many other fancy ones, I looked up at my select audience and noticed some of them whispering into each other's ears while others began to snigger.


"Not good!" was my only thought.


Gritting my teeth and summoning up reserves of memory hitherto undiscovered, I finally hit upon it and typed it in frantically.


'Rocket-Singh-is-King' clearly saved the day for me.








The Union Budget 2010-11 is confronted with conflicting tasks of sustaining economic recovery and reining in inflation, particularly the rising food prices. Besides, the budget has also to initiate vital structural fiscal reforms, both in direct and indirect taxes, viz. the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) with effect from April 1, 2010, and pave the way for passing the new Direct Taxes Code (DTC) unveiled by the Union Finance Minister in August, 2009. These tax reforms will have far-reaching implications for the states' financial health.


Coming first to sustaining economic recovery vis-à-vis raising inflation. When the country was confronted with a worldwide slowdown, the Central Government, in order to stimulate domestic demand, introduced various fiscal stimuli in the form of reduction in the Union excise duty by 4-6 per cent and the service tax by 2 per cent from 12 per cent to 10 per cent.


Public expenditure on flagship programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was also enhanced from Rs. 30,100 crore (interim Budget 2009-10) to Rs. 39,000 crore. However, these measures had adverse effects on government finances.


The revenue deficit, which was pegged at 4.0 per cent and 4.8 per cent in the interim and regular budgets, 2009-10, respectively, is expected to increase further compared with the zero per cent target set in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003.


Similarly, the fiscal deficit is expected to exceed 6.8 per cent against the target of 3.0 per cent. Coupled with supply constraints, this has led to an all-round increase in prices, particularly, the ballooning food prices, which increased by nearly 20 per cent during December, 2009. Even for the week ending January 16, 2010, food inflation was 17.4 per cent.


Of course, there is no sanctity to restrict the fiscal deficit to the 3.0 per cent level, depending upon the current economic situation the government can exceed this limit. Yet fiscal propriety demands that revenue deficit should always be zero, i.e., the government should meet its current expenditure needs from the current tax and non-tax receipts. It should not pay salaries and distribute subsidies by resorting to borrowings, raising in the process both the revenue deficit and the fiscal deficit.


In a country, where there is no evidence of poverty reduction, the government should continue to mobilise resources through the direct taxes, which are more equitable because their burden falls mostly on the rich. It is with great efforts that the ratio of direct taxes was increased to 56 per cent in 2008-09 compared with just 20 per cent in the early nineties.


Even in the current fiscal despite the adverse impact of drought and floods in different parts of the country, direct tax collections have jumped by 8.5 per cent during April-December 2009. Therefore, the new DTC's suggestion to impose a 10 per cent tax rate on the income slab of Rs. 1.6 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh, 20 per cent on Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 25 lakh and 30 per cent on above Rs. 25 lakh, compared with the present slabs of Rs. 1.6 lakh to Rs. 3 lakh, Rs. 3 lakh to 5 lakh and above Rs. 5 lakh respectively would be retrogressive.


Similarly, the suggestion to raise the exemption limit on savings from the present Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 3 lakh, once for all, needs to be debated as richer sections of society have a very high propensity to save.


Besides, it is the right time to lower the interest rate on the tax-exempted schemes, which will help containing revenue deficit in future. As tax-saving instruments are purchased mostly by the upper classes, lowering interest rates may also help checking inequalities.


Another debatable issue is the switchover to the EET (exempt exempt tax) mode from the present EEE (exempt exempt exempt) mode in case of all savings and social security investments. Given the precariousness of our social security structure and mandatory savings in such schemes as GPF, CPF, etc. the blind shift to the EET mode would mean taxing the forced savings.


Also more thought needs to be given to ensuring the economic security of senior citizens. No doubt the new DTC is a welcome step because the existing Income Tax Act 1961 with over 3,300 amendments has become outdated.


Therefore, in order to ensure simplicity and transparency some fundamental changes are urgently required in our direct tax structure. However, as altering the existing tax rates and exemption limits would have profound effects on states' finances, the states must be consulted before passing the new DTC law.


For the smooth functioning of federal financial relations, there should be a continuous dialogue between the Centre and states, particularly when fundamental alterations in the tax structure are envisaged.


Take the case of VAT, its smooth transition was made possible because of the active participation and interaction of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers with the Central Government.


Now, since 2005 this committee has held many meetings under the chairmanship of Asim Dasgupta to thrash out the GST, which the Centre wants to introduce from April 1, 2010. It is heartening to note that the empowered committee did not agree with the recommendations of the Kelkar Committee (July 2004) that there should be three GST rates-floor, standard and high. For the Centre suggested rates were 6, 12 and 20 per cent and for the states 4,8, 14 per cent respectively.


The empowered committee has rightly rejected the preferential rates for the centre. It is now considering to impose a simple two-rate system, 5 per cent for the Centre and 7 per cent for the states. In a revenue-starved federation, where all the elastic sources of revenue, particularly direct taxes like income tax, corporation tax, capital grains tax, etc. are with the Centre, states should not be deprived of their legitimate rights.


The writer is a former Professor of Economics and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala








I have long had this fantasy. With millions of true-born Brits reviling immigrants and blaming incomers for everything – unemployment, poor public services, crime, violence, social unease, widespread rape even – why not have an annual day called "Immigrants Out".


We who are thus pilloried, and our progeny, previous arrivals and their descendents too, should put down tools, shut up shop and march in our best clothes to show the many unappreciative citizens just what we do. We could pick the birthday of Mary Seacole, the Jamaican who nursed our soldiers in the Crimean War.


Mayor Boris Johnson should fund this carnival. It would make better sense than his proposed day to suck up to America. After all he supports an amnesty for migrants.


In all the hysterical, anti-immigration debates a question hangs like an eagle looking down from the clouds above. What would happen if the immigrants left?


At long last a media experiment tries to tease out some answers and you can watch the results at 9pm this Wednesday on BBC1. The presenter is Evan Davis, one of the interrogators on the Today programme.


The programme is set in Wisbech near Peterborough, once a prosperous English town which has attracted over 9,000 workers from central and eastern Europe who do factory and field jobs.


Over 2,000 locals are unemployed. They are none too happy. The place they say is "overrun with the buggers" and "they're pushing the English person to one side". Meanwhile employers claim they had to turn to migrant labour because they couldn't get good indigenous employees.


So the BBC took out a dozen foreign workers and replaced them with unemployed Brits looking for a fair chance. Jobs were made available in a factory, an asparagus farm, a building company and an Indian restaurant.


Half the British workers either failed to show up or turned up late on the first day. Thereafter, the tasks proved to be beyond the endurance of most of them. I sympathised with them initially – especially with Terry and Paul, mates who used to repair water mains, and Terry's wife who wept as she described how she feared they could lose their home. Paul, a single father, was learning maths from his 11-year-old daughter. It didn't seem fair, their suffering.


I wanted them to do well but couldn't stand the self-pity and anti-migrant bitterness. Paul refused to call his co-worker by his Portuguese name, he wouldn't respect a "foreign" supervisor. In the end they did shape up thanks to a feisty, young female English manager who didn't put up with their rubbish.


A resentful builder also started off badly but came right. But most of the rest failed miserably even with kind bosses. A chef at the Indian restaurant given the job of taking orders didn't survive a single morning.


The owner graciously invited him to have a meal before leaving. The youngest lads were the most useless. My English husband couldn't bear to see what the working classes had become – his own class in fact.


All the businessmen said they would like to provide jobs for the community – it just wasn't possible. They denied they were trying to keep wages down.


Pressure on services was also explored. It is indisputable that the new populations are adding demand to hard-pressed authorities. Yet one school head insisted: "Nobody suffers, everybody gains", possibly overstating the good news.


But witnessing "British jobs for British workers" in one small part of the country you understood how the services too would collapse without migrants.


Political parties now battling it out over the needs of the old will never be able to provide quality care for an ageing population using only home-bred staff. There are, no doubt, hardworking Brits across the land – like the manager at the potato factory – but too many who will not get out of bed for love or money or a job.


I know a number of lazy good for nothing migrants too. However, most of us immigrants feel insecure and vulnerable and can never take anything for granted. The survival instinct makes us push the work ethic into our kids.


I have been helping out occasionally at the café in the crypt of Marylebone parish church run by a chef, David Rowles, with whom I am trying to set up a small cookery business. I wash up and serve customers at the table.


When I get things wrong Rowles gets mad. That's fine; I am learning. One customer recognised me and was shocked. How could someone like me be doing this? I'm an immigrant I explained. We never think we are too posh for any job. She smiled and left a good tip.


 By arrangement with The Independent








Home Minister P Chidambaram was at his witty best during a meeting with women journalists at the Indian Women Press Corps in the capital the other day. So much so he chose to downplay his performance as in charge of India's internal security.


When asked how he would rate his faring as the Home Minister of the country, Chidambaram humbly stated: "Pretty close to zero".


To a question whether he was expecting a bigger role in the ministry, PC said: "I am actually expecting a much smaller role for myself."


At the end of the day, everyone just laughed off the comments. However, the women journalists could not laugh off what PC wrote on the women club's register. He described them as a "persistent precocious lot", considering he had faced more than 40 questions!


Uncomfortable in tents


The idea of roughing it out in tents at the three-day BJP jamboree in Indore, behaving like some boy or girl scouts, obviously did not appeal to the prima donnas and celebrities of the BJP. Vasundhara Raje gave it a complete miss. Her son Dushyant Singh and sister Yashodhara Raje were also not seen anywhere around, though the organisers made some lame excuses on Vasundhara's behalf.


Maneka and Varun Gandhi came, looked around disdainfully and left the same evening. Former MP Sangeeta Singhdeo was also conspicuous by her absence. Shatrughan Sinha and Hema Malini did present themselves for photos. But that's it.


Sinha at least was honest enough to say bluntly that he wasn't going to sleep in any of those tents. Hema Malini was smarter. She made no public announcements but preferred more comfortable accommodation. Actually very few known faces spent the whole night there. And it's not fair to blame them either considering the dismal toilet facilities in that sprawling complex.


Ambika Soni's lunch


It was with good intention that I & B Minister Ambika Soni hosted a lunch for journalists as well as officials connected with her ministry on Friday for a free-wheeling interaction. The venue was the Parliament Annexe.


Despite a tempting menu consisting of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian culinaries, many journos and officials left the Parliament Annexe quite peeved. The reason was the irritating security apparatus that has been put in place at the venue.


Security personnel would not allow anyone to go in without the invitation card from the minister even if he/she has a valid Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha press gallery card. They would not allow mobile phones inside.


Prasar Bharati Chairperson Mrinal Pande wanted to carry her mobile phone inside but was politely refused permission to do so. "We have grown reading her (Mrinal Pande's) articles but we have to follow the drill," one woman security personnel was heard saying. Many journalists were wondering how so many officials were allowed to bring in their mobile phones inside. After all, if a journalist's mobile is a security hazard, so is the mobile carried by an official.


Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja









For Harbhajan Singh, the urge to take a victory lap is uncontrollable. Against South Africa at Eden Gardens last week, he set off again – arms spread wide, tongue twirling out a cathartic expletive, throat providing a guttural, rasping background sound.

He ran left and jumped right, parts of his body working at cross purposes with one another, almost scared to preempt how unfeasible the next demand would be. Harbhajan didn't care. He was back, and he wanted the world to know. Over the years, I've been a staunch supporter of the wily off-spinner from Jalandhar. Humility may not be his strongest suit, yet unlike some of my cricket-writing colleagues, I've tried hard to overlook his personality traits and focus only on his skill sets.

There are times, however, when Harbhajan is morally indefensible. When he called Andrew Symonds whatever he did call him in Sydney two years ago, the nation was suddenly united in a gush of patriotic fervour. Harbhajan had been provoked, they said, forgetting that he never really needed much needling. The fallacy behind their justification was clear a few months later, when, after an IPL match, he slapped Sreesanth.


There are other stories about him in the not-so-public wires. People who move with the team often talk about how he is always aware of what is happening in the lives of those around him. He knows all the permutations, all the machinations – who likes whom, who cannot stand whom, who carries tales, who is too discreet to waste gossip on, and who will gain if who goes down.

Despite these seemingly unsettling qualities, Harbhajan somehow never makes his teammates too uncomfortable. Some put it down to the harmlessness of his intentions, some to his disarming smile, and some others to his ability of making up for his natural shrewdness off the field.

Still, Harbhajan is a player who needs to be doing well to be fully tolerated. Whenever his bowling slips, the negative aspects of his character, the overzealousness of his personality, come instantly under scrutiny. If the bad run continues, he starts to stick out like a sore thumb – over-aggressive, over-dramatic, and all in all, an overgrown show pony. Soon, his attitude is questioned, his statistics are listed on the sports pages, his commercial endorsements on the business pages, and the move to get him out gains momentum.

Over the last few months, Harbhajan had to endure another such wave of criticism. There was talk of how he his bowling was in permanent decline, and "informed sources" – the first, and often only, port of call of any reporter worth his salt – were leaking little bits of information on how he was a step away from being dropped from the team.

Harbhajan's critics often overlook three fairly obvious points regarding his position in Indian cricket. One, there really isn't any viable alternative. Two, his dips so far have been a matter of form rather than an overall deterioration. Three, even at his worst, his performance compares unfavourably only with what we expect from him because of his past record.

Perhaps the only area where he genuinely may not have done as well as one hoped is his inability to embrace the role of a 'senior' despite being the side's most experienced bowler. Zaheer Khan, for example, has truly emerged as an elder statesman in recent times. The other fast bowlers speak to him about what they're doing wrong, how they can improve, the pace unit is a happy place when he's in the squad.

In Harbhajan's case, his boisterousness and obsession with his own bowling combine to militate against him occupying a similar stature for younger spinners across the country. If there's anything Harbhajan Singh needs to improve 14 years into his international career, it is his image (and there's a lot of work to be done). On the skill front, however, there is little to worry.








Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has perhaps unwittingly raised the bar for herself for the coming Budget by unveiling a vision for the railways for the next 10 years which borders on the grandiose. If the railways' share of GDP is to rise from the present 1.18 per cent to 3 per cent, then the extra effort has to begin now. Ms Banerjee, as is her wont, has asked for a massive rise in budgetary support for the railway plan, by as much as five times the annual average of what was offered in the last five years, to fulfil the vision of rapid growth. But the Union finance minister has lost no time in bringing her down to earth, clearly indicating that the sharp rise in investments will have to be substantially funded by the railways themselves. Thus, the pressure will be on the railway minister to show that for its part the organisation has put in an extra effort to generate a higher surplus, thus creating the moral ground for demanding more form the general pool of resources. The benchmarks for this are clear. The operating ratio for the railways has sharply deteriorated from the last boom year, 2007-08, going up (expenses eating up more of revenue) from 75.9 per cent that year to 92.5 per cent in the budget estimates for the current year. Now that the slowdown is over and the economy is clearly returning to the earlier trend growth path of 8 per cent, the onus will be on the railways and its minister to slowly return to the earlier ratios. In fact, "better than the best" should be the motto but since the wages of a new Pay Commission will have to be borne, achieving the earlier ratios will be creditable enough.

 To get there, the minister should unambiguously raise passenger fares, which have stagnated for years and so added to the deficit that the rest of the organisation has had to bear. But since there is no signal so far that this will be done, the burden will have to be carried by freight earnings. The marketing people in the organisation will have to continue with what they have been successfully doing in recent years, incentivising higher freight offerings through attractive discounts and flexible tariffs. Ms Banerjee should focus on ensuring zero accidents and create a road map for it. Ms Banerjee has invested time and energy in creating a vision for the railways and in improving management systems. She has some good ideas that deserve implementation. Reports from West Bengal indicate that she is changing her old agitational ways and officials in Rail Bhavan are happy that she listens to them quite a bit. She should use her prime time Parliament speech to reveal to the nation a bit more of her rational self which she has so far chosen to hide from the public.







The decision of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to appoint Mr Lal Krishna Advani as its "working" chairperson, in the place of an ailing Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, could not have come a day sooner. It is time the main opposition alliance revived itself, stopped moping and whining about last year's defeat and started playing the role of a constructive and purposive opposition. It is possible that the NDA has woken up to the need for a more active leadership after watching the discomfort of some of the allies of the Congress party in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). But even if Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr Karunanidhi, Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav or Ms Mayawati come on board, it may still be difficult for the BJP to unseat the UPA government. While the numbers in the Lok Sabha do ensure stability of the government, the fact is that UPA-II has not been able to get its act together — both as a coalition in its present avatar and as a government. Perhaps a more credible and purposive opposition can breathe life into the ruling coalition and get the government moving. The Congress party and its allies have already wasted more than six months in office and an impression is gaining ground that a lacklustre opposition has induced complacency in the ruling coalition. The President's Address to the budget session of Parliament reads like a report card of UPA-I rather than a plan of action of UPA-II. Far too much about what is already being implemented, not enough about what the government proposes to do in the coming year.

This is not surprising because apart from a handful of senior ministers, most others give the impression of either not having settled down to work, or not being focused on it. The management of inflation and the food economy is only one glaring example of waywardness in policy. The country has heard that a minister for chemicals and fertilisers exists only after he opposed the fertiliser subsidy cut. Important economic ministries seem to lack the required high quality leadership, both political and administrative. In defence and foreign affairs, we have had more controversies than initiatives. Apart from inadequacies in governance and policy-making, the political management of the ruling coalition has also been unimpressive. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress party seems to have no clue about how to deal with a situation it created on its own in the one state in which it secured a resounding victory. In Maharashtra, its government seems to lack vision and maturity. A large part of this inertia in government and in the ruling coalition is a product of electoral hubris. But so far the sorry state of the ruling coalition has only been matched by the even sorrier state of the opposition alliance. It is against this dismal background that the budget session of Parliament has convened. But the NDA needs more than a working chairperson. It needs an agenda and a shadow cabinet to sound more credible. Rather than shout, walkout and disrupt Parliament, it must use the budget session purposefully so that the interests of the people and the economy are better served.








The case of the estate of Adrian Jacobs versus JK Rowling is swiftly summarised: the late Jacobs wrote about wizards and wizard school before Rowling did, therefore, she plagiarised him.

And the case of Helen Hegemann, the 17-year-old German literary sensation accused of plagiarising material from creative artist Airen's Strobo is just as swiftly summarised: there is no such thing as originality, Hegemann said, only authenticity.

Somewhere in between these two extremes, our definition of plagiarism as a literary crime will have to change.

Adrian Jacobs published The Adventures of Willy the Wizard: No 1 Livid Land in 1987, apparently through a vanity press. The author died in 1997. Jacobs' estate didn't file their plagiarism case earlier for technical reasons; now his lawyers charge that Rowling stole various ideas from Willy the Wizard, most notably for her book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Rowling called the charges "laughable" and rejected the plagiarism charges fiercely. But as one of the world's most successful authors, she is also inured to being at the receiving end of plagiarism charges.

A brief look at the excerpts from Willy the Wizard is enough to establish the vast, yawning gap between Jacobs' imagination and writing skills, and Rowling's far more intricate technique. Here is Jacobs in one of the contested passages — his lawyers allege that Rowling stole the idea of wizards playing chess on wizard trains from him:

"Willy had been on Cloud 84 which was for Wizard Chess Players. These were pullman-like trains made of see-through platinum, and inside the trains were chess rooms. Willie was handicapped 18. There were Wizard Chess Masters who were virtually unbeatable. Willie had made a daring move."

The Jacobs' case is based on a simple, naïve assumption: content matters more than style. Unfortunately, there are only eight original plotlines in the world, if you believe Aristotle, and with literary fiction, what really counts is what you do with your material. In journalism and in narrative non-fiction, plot and sources are key, which is why we have the tradition of footnotes, attributing quotes and giving credit to those who come up with original ideas and analyses. The rules change with fiction: Jacobs no doubt honestly believed that he was the only author in the world to come up with the idea of wizard colleges and wizard transport. (Terry Pratchett invented the Unseen University for wizards before Jacobs, and Jill Murphy came up with Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches back in the 1970s, to name only two of Jacobs' predecessors.)

If you followed the principle in Jacobs' lawsuit to its logical extreme — the first person to write about an idea has absolute moral copyright over it — Stephen King would have been unable to write horror novels, because MR James had preceded him, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings would effectively have been ruled plagiarism from the Norse sagas. The Jacobs' lawsuit will continue, but it is highly likely that Rowling will be able to prove the originality of her work.

Hegemann's case is strikingly different. Her novel, Axolotl Roadkill, has been critically acclaimed despite the plagiarism charges. Viewed dispassionately, Hegemann has done exactly the same as another teen wunderkind, Kaavya Viswanathan. Some years ago, Kaavya's runaway success, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed…, was withdrawn from the market after it was proved that the author had borrowed plotlines, characters and fragments of dialogue from several different sources.

Hegemann has never denied incorporating work from other authors into her novel; her defence is that attribution is unimportant, because she's remixed the material in a way that makes it her own. She and several commentators in Germany don't see this as a case of plagiarism so much as a case of lack of attribution: Hegemann said recently that she should have acknowledged her sources.

In the Jacobs-Rowling case, the battle is over what constitutes originality — and Hegemann's generation, brought up in the mashup culture, will inevitably challenge the sanctity of authorship. If literature can have several versions and multiple authors, just as a Web page is a constantly updating version of itself, then the yardstick will shift to the quality of the mashup, as you evaluate the author as remix artist. Airen, the author of the stolen work, was reported to be less than indignant about the theft and more concerned with attribution — and perhaps that's where the legal issues will eventually rest.

It's an intriguing and disturbing shift: a generation used to viewing the written word as so much raw material already has trouble understanding the need for attribution. Hegemann understands this better than most of us in the over-30 generation: this isn't about the death of authorship, but about the death of originality.







Sarojini Naidu famously observed that it cost India millions to keep Gandhi in poverty. It is harder to determine what this country pays to perpetuate Defence Minister AK Antony's reputation for honesty, but the monetary penalty alone is thousands of crores per year.

 Here's how it adds up. Antony's obsessive quest for unblemished weapons procurement has delayed the acquisition of artillery and anti-aircraft guns, fighters, submarines, night fighting gear and a host of equipment upgrades. With arms inflation at 15 per cent per annum, a five-year delay means that India pays twice what it should have. And when that equipment is obtained through government-to-government purchases and other single-vendor contracts, the cost is about 25 per cent more than it would have been in competitive bidding. Conservatively estimating that delays afflict just half of the defence ministry's Rs 50,000 crore procurement budget, India buys Rs 25,000 crore worth of weaponry for 125 per cent more than what it should have paid.

Over and above that figure is the cost to national prestige and the devaluation of India's military deterrent when — as in the wake of the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai — India's armed forces are unprepared for immediate strikes. That happened on Antony's watch.

To inconvenient questions about procurement delays, Antony declares that "India is a democracy" and "we have to ensure full transparency". Point out to him that many democracies manage timely procurement in a transparent manner, and you will get a patronising, "Don't worry, we are doing all that is necessary to safeguard the security of the country."

After five years of insensibility to Antony's disastrous custodianship of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Congress party seems to be realising that in India's deteriorating security environment, Antony's functioning might leave the party with having to account for a military embarrassment. Last week, Congress party spokesperson Manish Tewari wrote an opinion piece in a national daily, arguing for all the changes that Antony has assiduously blocked during his five disastrous years in office.

Tewari called for "reforms that are visionary"; treating Indian private industry on a par with the public sector; and "drastically retooling" the Department of Defence Production. Though qualified as his personal views, the article represented growing opinion within the Congress party.

Is it fair, Antony's defenders will ask, to pin the blame entirely on him? After all, George Fernandes had publicly declared that fear of the three C's — the CAG, the CVC and the CBI — held back MoD bureaucrats from making decisions. But Antony, like no other defence minister before him, endangers national security by his otherwise laudable fetish for probity. The message that flows out of Antony's office and seeps through the procurement department is: cancel an ongoing procurement at the first hint of irregularity. It does not matter whether the suspicion has been planted by a rival arms dealer; a paid-for Parliamentary question; or a letter from an MP which has clearly been dictated by someone who possesses every detail of the tender in question. Just put the process on indefinite hold.

One MoD official asked me: Point out one official who has been punished for delaying the procurement of even the most vitally needed equipment. But if I am seen to move a file quickly, the defence minister's office will ask, "What is the hurry. It seems almost as if you have a stake in that deal."

Then there is Antony's obvious bewilderment about the technical issues of the military, a crashing ignorance that cannot be condoned in India's top military decision-maker. Antony's apologists cite his preoccupation with party matters; but that is hardly convincing. His predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, who had an immeasurably larger role in the party and national affairs, handled the MoD with skill and knowledge.

At a lunch, three years ago, I asked the Australian defence minister why his air force was buying F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters when Australia was already in line for the futuristic F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which was nearing completion. His answer: Australia's ageing F-111 fighters would be retiring in 2010; since the F-35 project was running a couple of years late, 24 new Super Hornets would be inducted to retain Australian capability. (The Super Hornets are reaching Australia next month.)

Contrast that urgency with Antony's "we-will-consider" approach, even though India faces a greater chance of military confrontation with Pakistan or China than Australia does with New Zealand or Papua and New Guinea.

Antony's personal image and goals are damaging national security and the image of his party. If electoral seat adjustment and managing state-level dissidence is his particular skill, let him move out of that crucial corner office in South Block and give him a place in the Congress party office.

After Neville Chamberlain had miserably failed to reign in Hitler in 1939, British MP Leo Amery echoed the words of Oliver Cromwell in calling for Chamberlain's head at a memorable session of the British Parliament: "You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

Mr Antony?







At least three states have been in the throes of crises arising out of mining deals. In Jharkhand, there are questions about transparency in the grant of dozens of mining leases. In Orissa, a public interest litigation has asked the Supreme Court to stop blatant flouting of mining lease rules. The apex court appointed a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to look into the irregularities. In its preliminary findings, the CEC described the situation as a "can of worms". In Karnataka, there was a major political crisis — the ruling party had a near split over charges of illegal mining in Bellary. A fourth state, Andhra Pradesh, has its own mining woes, with opposition politicians gearing up to make illegal mining a major issue.

 This sudden outbreak of lawlessness in the mining industry is actually symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Although all the cases cited above relate to the mining of iron ore, which is linked with steel production, the story is about a larger issue of Centre-state relationship, and whether in the case of mining it has become dysfunctional. India is a country blessed with mineral riches, but those underground riches have not produced much prosperity for the states where these mineral deposits reside. Those states have among the poorest record in human development. India also has a unique four-way conjunction. Most of the mineral-rich areas are also homeland to adivasis (tribals), have water bodies below, and have precious dense forest cover above. Hence, untangling these issues wouldn't be easy even if there were no other complications. There are indeed complications arising out of unsatisfactory resolution of the four-way conflict. This becomes a fertile breeding ground for the scourge of Naxalism. But the backwardness of these regions is not merely the consequence of the "curse of resources", an oft-cited economic law. It is due to the interplay of muddled policy framework, strong vested interests opposed to reforms and unimaginable delays in decision-making and implementation. In the world of mining, decisions are measured in geological time. For example, an application for a mining lease with a state government can take anywhere from a couple of years to 40 (!) years to be even opened. Even renewal of mining leases, which presumably should be an uncomplicated process, can take ages. For example, the Steel Authority of India had to wait 12 years for its lease to be renewed. In fact, the controversy in Orissa has arisen because of charges that delays in lease renewals were used as loopholes to flout mining rules.

Except for crude oil, copper ore, sulphur and uranium, India has significant quantities of most minerals. The mining sector has been open to 100 per cent foreign direct investment for almost a decade.

Hence, we should have seen a lot of investment and technology pouring into mine development, reconnaissance, prospecting and mineral production. Yet there are hardly any takers. Foreign mining giants complain about lack of transparency and, most of all, inordinate delays in getting lease permits. Iron ore mining represents the toughest arena for policy clarity. The prime minister appointed a committee under Planning Commission member Anwar ul Hoda in 2005 to suggest comprehensive reform in mineral policy. The Hoda Committee report is the basis for reform of mineral policy in the country. But it has not yet led to a comprehensive reform legislation or simplification of regulation.

Meanwhile, the amended Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act (MMDRA) is in the public domain for discussion and feedback. It is likely to be tabled in Parliament in the current budget session. The draft Bill has already led to a heated exchange between the mines and steel ministry. The new policy aims to give greater autonomy to states, but the steel ministry fears that states will grant iron ore mining leases only on condition of putting up steel plants. This is disguised steel licensing. However, any attempt to centralise mining policy is seen as infringement on the state's autonomy. (Look what happened in sugarcane!). Moreover, there is no consensus on whether state boundaries should be respected for value-addition norms. Can you take ore from one state, and put up an industry in another?

The central issue is that mining lease, i.e. access to the land is the state's prerogative, whereas the mining rights, i.e. access to the mineral beneath is the Centre's prerogative. The process of getting a lease and a licence can take years. Big projects like AreclorMittal and Posco have been stuck for years in this lease-and-rights circular gridlock, made worse by problems of land acquisition. After more than hundred years, India's annual production of steel is barely 50 million tonnes, and much of this growth happened in the past 20 years. By contrast, in 50 years, Australia's proven iron ore deposits have grown hundred-fold. India opened up its mining sector for hundred per cent foreign direct investment more than 10 years ago.

Among the minerals, coal has a place of distinction since it is linked with energy security. Hence, coal mining is still a public sector monopoly. But we can't hide the fact that despite being the world's third-biggest depository of coal, we import more than 10 per cent of our consumption. And this trend is rising. Further, one-third of all industrial power is produced by captive power units. We have been unable to eliminate power shortages even though our endowment of coal should have enabled us to meet our power requirement. The reform needed is to have a transparent mechanism to allot coal blocks to legitimate end-users in an efficient manner. The government has indicated that it prefers to auction coal blocks to ensure efficiency and transparency. This is welcome so long as non-serious players and speculators are kept away. What needs to be kept in mind is that lower cost of coal translates into lower cost of electricity, a publicly regulated utility.

Mineral and mining policy reform in India is long overdue. This reform should not be held hostage to unending debates over captive versus merchant mining of iron ore or coal, or states' versus Centre's right to allot leases. What we need is transparency in pricing of mining assets, and drastically cutting down the red tape. There are other equally serious and knotty issues apart from pricing. These relate to environmental clearance, rehabilitation of affected communities and land acquisition. But unless this Gordian knot is cut with a firm blade of reforms, what lies beneath will remain there, and no prosperity can be unlocked from that buried treasure.

The author is Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group. Views expressed are personal








Extension services are in a state of disarray and this is responsible for the deceleration in agricultural growth.

On paper, India's agricultural extension system is one of the largest in the world. But a sizeable part of it, especially the extension agencies of state governments, is in a state of utter disarray, if not total collapse. This is one of the reasons for the recent bad patch in the country's agriculture — marked with deceleration in its growth and farmers' distress.

The bulk of the onus of technology and knowledge transfer from the agricultural research organisations to the farmers has, therefore, fallen on the institutions of the Central government. The private sector, too, is now getting into this field using modern means of communication.

On behalf of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which oversees the national agricultural research system (NARS), this onerous task is being performed chiefly by the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), or agricultural science centres, which now number around 570 and cover almost all districts of the country. In fact, the mandate of KVKs goes beyond demonstration and transfer of technology. They also have to ascertain the relevance of technology to the local situation and, if need be, the refinement of technology to serve that purpose.

Fortunately, many of these KVKs are doing a good job. This has led to widening of the role played by them in the 11th Plan to serve as resource and knowledge centres for supporting the agricultural development initiatives of public, private and voluntary sectors.

According to ICAR's Deputy Director-General (Agriculture Extension) KD Kokate, the kind of knowledge being sought by the farmers has changed in the modern context when the emphasis is on raising farm incomes and not merely production. "The farmers need to know the answers to questions like what to produce, when to produce, how much to produce, as also when, where and in what form to sell their produce to get good prices," he says. Besides, some farmers also seek information on operations like grading, packaging, storage, transportation and quality certification for their produce.

This apart, the extension agencies have to meet the specific needs of small farmers who outnumber the medium and large farmers. Many of the problems faced by them are entirely different from those faced by the large farmers. Their access to critical production resources as well as risk-bearing capacity are limited. They may seek low-cost and low-risk technologies to optimise their production and income.

Another dimension of Indian agriculture is the growing participation of women in farm operations. In fact, the number of women-headed farms is on the rise. This has necessitated generation and promotion of women-friendly farm technologies.

Thus, innovative methods of putting across group-specific know-how and other information, and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) have become important to satiate the farmers' hunger for knowledge. Realising this, the extension wing of the ICAR has already begun equipping the KVKs with electronic means of communication to ensure speedy transfer of information.

Over 190 KVKs and eight zonal project directorates, which coordinate their work, have already been linked through e-connectivity with other stakeholders, including farmers. Also, mobile telephone-based SMS advisory services are being provided to the farmers by some KVKs. Kokate said the KVKs in Pune and Ahmednagar have managed to bring about significant improvements in agriculture in these districts by disseminating information through ICT on weather, market conditions and other relevant issues.

The noteworthy progress made in the horticulture sector in Maharashtra can also be attributed in good measure to the efforts made by the KVKs in promoting horticultural crops to enhance farmers' income. The vital research support for generating suitable technology for these crops had come from the farm research system.

However, such success stories, albeit quite significant, are few in number. They need to be multiplied to be able to make a country-wide impact. The KVKs alone may not be able to do so unless state-level extension systems are also revamped and equipped with ICT tools for wider, yet cost-effective, outreach.

KVKs' personnel remain in touch with technological innovations because they are involved in trying out new technologies to assess their relevance to local conditions. But the state extension personnel usually do not have such exposure to the latest know-how. Therefore, they need effective backward linkage with research organisations to continuously update their knowledge to be able to do their job effectively.








Sure, they have hummed and hawed, added riders and conditions, but IMF economists have finally come out with a recantation: developing countries could, in some conditions, be better off deploying capital controls. This is welcome crumbling of an orthodoxy that had made the IMF, the world's lender of last resort, prescribe policy that made a crisis-stricken economy's problems actually worse.

Michel Camdessus, former managing director of the IMF, pushed to amend the Articles of Agreement to give the fund the mandate to promote capital account liberalisation. But the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the global financial crisis questioned the validity of the thesis that capital flows are always a good thing. Emerging economies, including India, have pushed further capital account liberalisation to the backburner. And rightly so.

Capital inflows in excess of an economy's ability to absorb them run the risk of creating asset price bubbles and can potentially impair financial stability. There is a fiscal cost to absorbing such inflows and problems of managing liquidity. Curbs, may, thus, have to be in place if capital inflows into emerging markets go beyond what they can productively absorb. Or the world economy could slump back into recession.

The IMF is bang on target when it says there is no onesize fits all solution to developing country problems. Every country must devise a policy tool that is best suited for it. Brazil taxed capital inflows while reviewing its macroeconomic policy in the aftermath of the global crisis . But that does not mean all economies should follow suit. The suggestion on the conditions that would warrant imposition of curbs on capital inflows also merits consideration.

"If the economy is operating near potential , if the level of reserves is adequate, if the exchange rate is not undervalued and if the inflows are likely to be transitory, then use of capital controls, in addition to both prudential and macroeconomic policy, is justified as part of the policy-tool kit to manage inflows," says the IMF staff paper. Curbs on capital should be a part of the policy mix and not the only instrument to prevent excessive risks in the financial system.







That the RSS had shifted from the 'remote control' position to assuming direct control of the BJP was already clear with the appointment of Nitin Gadkari as party president. The party's three-day national meet at Indore, thus, was little more than a ceremonial ratification of that fact. With that, the apparent ideological confusion within the party, stemming from its Vajpayee-era legacy of maintaining a relatively moderate facade while dependent on a fundamentally revanchist agenda , could be said to have been settled.

It is possible, given the compulsions of trying to regain power and be seen as a viable party of governance, the BJP might yet underplay some aspects of its core ideology. But the fact remains that periodic claims of the party having come of age as a centre-right entity will seem even more unfounded than before. And the conundrum which the BJP has faced for long now is likely to sharpen — of perhaps being aware that polarising politics can't yield a sustainable majority space in Indian democracy while needing the RSS and other organisations even at the purely electoral level.

With an RSS appointee in charge now, the BJP will hardly be able to maintain the old 'the RSS doesn't control the party' line with a straight face. Indeed , that fact also makes Gadkari's assertions in Indore, that it was the party structure that enabled a 'worker' like him to ascend to the top (in contrast to, say, the Congress' first family culture), sound misplaced.

The necessary 'generational change' image apart, appointing Gadkari is clearly the RSS' way of both asserting control and ending the factional infighting in the BJP while seeking to rejuvenate it after electoral setbacks. Indeed, as part of that, the saffron camp realises it needs to refashion Hinduvta to include 'lower' castes. Hence the marked mention of Dalit leaders in Gadkari's speech in Indore.

In the short term, then, as evinced in Indore, the 'parivar' may go easy on playing the Hindutva card and instead try to focus on issues like price rise or terrorism as emotive electoral planks. But the problem of essentially depending on the politics of communal identity management can only deepen.







Bihar MLA Shyam Bahadur Singh was criticised the other day for gyrating his hips along with bar girls at a function for Dalits. Such behaviour, critics said, was unbecoming of an elected representative of the people . And so what if people keep seeing telecasts of film stars gyrating their hips along with chorus girls not just in item numbers from movies but even on stage? Some channels even show children dancing filimi style with gay abandon in reality shows.

Shyam Bahadur Singh may have even thought that gyrating one's hips and shaking a leg was perfectly acceptable behaviour. So what if Norman Mailer wrote a book called Tough guys don't dance! The underworld gangster played by Shah Rukh Khan in the movie Don not only danced but made others dance to his tune.

These days, Shah Rukh is, of course, not so much dancing as talking incessantly on every TV news-channel in India. It may be a reaction to the Shiv Sena's gratuitous advice that moviegoers should stay away from his latest release My name is Khan merely because the actor had stated in his persona as the co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders that he would have liked Pakistani cricketers to play in the third edition of the IPL.

Last Sunday saw Shah Rukh appearing in yet another exclusive interview on yet another TV news-channel and talking non-stop about how one's best friend was silence! As a senior journalist quipped in a recent column, "He talks in torrents. There are no full-stops when he opens his mouth. Actors are narcissists. That's a given. My useless advice to him would be: talk less, act more." The only problem is that a silent but acting/dancing Shah Rukh can inspire the odd MLA in Bihar to emulate the Bollywood Badshah by doing the jig.








As Mamata Banerjee gets ready to present her railway budget on Wednesday, there is a red alert of sorts in the entire Left camp. With the West Bengal assembly elections to be held early next year, Mamata is widely expected to make this rail budget look something like an advance edition of Trinamul Congress' election manifesto.

In any case, she has already signalled her determination by pushing 20-odd Bengal-centric railway projects through the Union finance ministry by literally shedding tears to melt Pranab Mukherjee's economic reservations. The Left camp's problem is how to neutralise the imminent Mamata punch. If the comrades dismiss her budget sops as pre-poll gimmicks, then they risk being washed away by 'Bengal sentiments' and if they welcome it, they may be called Mamata's 'cheering crowd' . Indeed, a tricky Didi Poll Express.


At last week's CPI-M central committee (CC) meeting, senior leader W R Varadarajan quietly being axed wasn't the only significantthing many observers missed before the party itself made the tragic affair public. Many see a great deal of significance in the CC deciding to put off the next CPI-M Congress till after the 2011 West Bengal and Kerala assembly polls.

The official explanation that the meet has been delayed to help comrades prepare for polls makes sense theoretically. But, whispers are the decision was taken after a lively debate and after rejecting calls by an important section for advancing the party Congress ahead of the polls. So what's the big deal? Well, some say a post-poll party Congress could also mean a better chance of a thorough post-mortem of the Left's crisis — the post-nuclear deal Delhi isolation and the possible Bengal and Kerala washout — and fix individual responsibility from top to bottom. Smelling blood?


Third Eye has no intention to reflect on and analyse what BJP chief Nitin Gadkari's Indore edict — that party leaders who run down colleagues won't reach anywhere — actually meant and whom the warning was really meant for. For, that would be stating the obvious to those who know the abc of the BJP set-up . But, what is interesting is that Gadkar'si talk hardly surprised many party big guns who had prior knowledge of what was coming, given that 'erring' under-scrutiny saffron members were recently given a very private, no-nonsense pep-talk .

The message apparently was: now spin and snipe at your own peril. Specialist sniffers at BJP HQ are on a 24X7 alert since then. But, by the way, just what happened to that very enlightening in-house discourse/ crusade against RSS hegemony on BJP' ? As Gabbar said, 'jo dar gaya, woh.... '


As recession-time betting on a split in the AP Congress over Telangana produced only a comical withering away of the all-party joint action committe, one man was quietly at work in Delhi last week. No, we are not talking about the premature 'Father of Telangana' , KCR, who is now dealing with around a dozen "resigned TRS MLAs" , seeking an explanation for leading them up the garden path.

Our man is L Rajagopal, the very resourceful Congress MP who led the 'Telangana revolt' against the high command and was hailed as the new man to watch. A little bird says Rajagopal quietly wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker last week, withdrawing his resignation letter that was sent to her at the height of his show.








MUMBAI: With short-term yields firming up and likely to hold steady over the next few months, distributors are asking affluent investors to park their money in liquid funds managed by small fund houses.

According to investment experts, fund houses with small liquid fund pools have better chance to provide more 'per-investor returns' as their asset bases are small and the returns generated are to be distributed only to a lesser number of investors.

The sales pitch is pretty straight and simple. Assuming there are two liquid funds — fund A having a corpus or Rs 100 crore and fund B with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore — and both are generating similar returns (say 4.5%) currently . If fresh investments of Rs 25 crore each flow into both these funds, the percentage of fresh money in small fund will be 20% and that of large fund, (percentage of new money) it will be just about 2.5%. If both the funds invest in papers with same yields (say 5.75%), returns generated by the smaller fund will be much larger than the portfolio yield on larger fund (as the proportion of fresh money to overall portfolio is larger in the smaller fund).

"The difference in returns (between the small fund and large fund) could be even higher in current times, as yields on shorter duration papers are firming up after the rate hike by RBI," said Sujoy Das, head-fixed income, Bharti Axa Mutual Fund. However, Mr Das is quick to point out that large funds sitting on high cash levels will be able to match returns generated by smaller funds in such situations.

Yields of money market papers maturing within 3-6 months have gone up by over 125 basis points, post the CRR hike a few weeks ago. According to experts , despite the rising yields, most debt fund managers will not be investing their money in short-term papers, as they would be wary of corporate investment outflows to meet advance tax payments and bank redemption. This will further jack up yields temporarily for a brief period. If industry sources are to be believed, most fund houses are maintaining cash-levels between 40% and 70% of their liquid portfolio AUM.

"Theoretically, smaller corpus funds will provide high per-investor returns as their asset base is much lower and they will begin investing at higher yields. But then, in these times, even large funds will do well as most of them are sitting on high-cash levels and they will also deploy cash as yields go up," said Ritesh Jain, headfixed income, Canara Robeco MF. According to Mr Jain, large funds, sitting on cash, will only start investing once they get a clear idea about bank redemption and advance tax outflows in March.


From a retail investor's point of view, investors should do a cost/reward comparison before investing in smaller funds to jack up portfolio yields. "I'll stay away from such gimmicks. If I am a liquid fund investor, my sole aim will be to protect my corpus (before permanently investing somewhere else) and get some marginal return on it," said Mumbai-based financial planner Gaurav Mashruwala.

"If the investor still wants a higher return , he should look at the return differential (likely to be generated on a small fund pool and large fund pool) before adopting this strategy. If the gain (return differential) is just about 3-3 .5% per annum , it is not worthwhile to invest in a small fund pool," Mr Mashruwala added.







Nifty closed at 4,850 with discount of six points on Monday while March futures closed at 4,847, with a discount of nine points. India's Volatility Index, which opened last week at 28.3, moved up and closed at 31.9% on Friday (Feb 19, 2010).

This signals caution in the market with Nifty facing resistance at its short-term 20-DMA of 4,934. The options data for the active series showed highest open interest in Nifty's calls of strikes 4900 and 5000. Put positions observed short-covering at strikes 4700 and 4800, ahead of expiry this Thursday.

We see a trend-reversal from this range-bound market if Nifty goes below 4,770 or breaches the 4950 level, till then Nifty will trade with high volatility.

Shshank Mehta, Derivatives Strategist, Nirmal Bang Securities








The finance ministry is likely to allow FIIs to buy stake in commodity exchanges, such as MCX and NCDEX, through deals that are not executed on stock exchanges. This follows a request from the department of industrial policy & promotion (DIPP), which is gearing up to implement a 5% ceiling on foreign entities holding stake in commodity exchanges.

The department of consumer affairs and the forward markets commission have said the stipulation making it mandatory for FIIs to buy stake in these exchanges through the secondary market only should be relaxed and the finance ministry is of the view that this proposal can be accepted, highly-placed government sources said on condition of anonymity.

This rule will apply for commodity exchanges that are not listed, the sources said. According to the current FDI policy, FII can pick up stake in commodity exchanges only through the secondary market. Along with the 23% ceiling on FII holding in these exchanges, the government also imposed the 'secondary market only' restriction.

Based on the recommendations of the finance ministry, the government has imposed a 26% ceiling on FDI in commodity exchanges and stipulated that no foreign investor or entity should hold more than 5% stake in these exchanges. The deadline for complying with the ceiling for individuals is March 31, 2010.

Players who hold more than 5% in commodity exchanges, including Goldman Sachs, have pointed out that they are unable to trim their holding due to the 'secondary market only' stipulation. When a scrip is not listed, it is not possible to sell in the secondary market, they have pointed out. Intercontinental Exchange Holdings is facing a similar constraint, the department of consumer affairs has informed DIPP.

Since the March 31 deadline is considered final for foreign entities to trim their holding to the stipulated level of 5%, the DIPP is keen to bring out a modified policy in the case of unlisted commodity exchanges. The finance ministry's view has been sought since the department of economic affairs has the final say in this issue, the sources said. While it has been indicated that the proposal for relaxing the 'secondary market only' condition is acceptable, the DIPP is waiting for a formal clearance from the finance ministry.

The relaxation will be on similar lines as the provision made for FII holding in unlisted stock broking and forex broking entities through a clarification on the interpretation of 'secondary market'. During the discussions, it has been pointed out that SEBI has claified that investment by FIIs in infrastructure companies in securities markets that are not listed can be done through transactions outside stock exchanges. The only exception to this is initial allotment of shares.

Major commodity exchanges like MCX and NCDEX are not listed. The nod expected from the finance ministry will be followed by a policy clarification from the DIPP which will be part of the composite FDI policy document that the department plans to usher in. The policy change will enable the DIPP to enforce the 5% ceiling on foreign entities holding stake in commodity exchanges by the final deadline of March 31, the sources said. The ceiling was imposed in March 2008 and the initial deadline was June 30, 2009. Then it was extended to March 2010.








Why is the right to spiritual guidance not included (at least as far as this writer is aware of) in the constitution of any country which guarantees various other important fundamental rights to its citizens? Two initial objections can be dealt with immediately. The first is, almost all such countries that enshrine fundamental rights of this nature claim to be secular, that is, not extrinsically bound by monastic restriction , and, therefore , do not promote religiosity.

But spirituality is not religion. Something as simple and clear as being kind or caring for instance cannot by any logic or justification be the sole province of scriptural teachings.

The second is, the right to education already exists to a greater or lesser degree in these countries and it's taken for granted that some sort of moral instruction would, in that process , be imparted — perhaps even delivered through formal classroom hours. However the problem is, it devolves into tokenism and is never taken seriously either by the ones imparting it or by those at the receiving end.

More importantly, the exercises quickly take on shades of one or another religion which in itself should militate against the constitution of the country concerned . In the US the debate over the teaching of creationism or intelligent design as separate from biology is nothing but undisguised biblical Christianity.

Could it be that developing a spiritual dimension is not considered as important as education per se? Perhaps the state believes that inculcating such values in children should be the responsibility of parents. In that case why not educate children at home too instead of making it a compulsory feature of the right to education ? The answer is not far to see.

Either the state does not think it has the capacity to give spiritual guidance to its citizens or it believes parents are not equipped to educate their wards by themselves. It's true that a lot of parents do not necessarily possess the advantage of an education themselves or the wherewithal to instruct wards in their care as it should be instructed.

However, it's a sad commentary on the state if it thinks it does not possess the ability or aptitude to teach basic human values to anyone who wishes to learn them. What after all can one say about the supposed majesty of a Centre which cannot even differentiate between right and wrong?








The equity market is likely to be choppy during the first half of 2010 as governments across the world start rolling back their stimulus packages, feels L&T Mutual Fund chief executive officer Sanjay Sinha. In a chat with ET, he says that he is bullish on pharma, power and IT shares, and bearish on sectors like banking and real estate, which could react negatively to any rise in interest rates in the short term. Excerpts:

What is your outlook on the equity and bond markets in 2010?

There are a lot of uncertainties because of the sovereign debt issues facing Greece, Spain, Portugal and maybe, Italy too. There is also an apprehension that global markets may get unstable for a while as governments and central banks withdraw stimulus packages. The experience of 2008 has shown that while India may be relatively insulated from these issues, any irrational behaviour globally envelops our markets too.

While this will produce a good buying opportunity, I fear, the choppy equity markets in the first half of 2010 will continue to deter retail investors from taking advantage of attractive valuations. As far as the bond market is concerned, the short-term rates have hardened following the announcement of the CRR hike. Credit growth has surged to over 14% after falling to 10%. Inflation numbers are now above 8% and inching up. All these are pointers that interest rates will remain firm. Moreover, government borrowing may remain relatively higher.

What do you think is the stock market expecting from the Union Budget 2010-11 ?

The market is expecting a partial rollback of the (monetary and fiscal) stimulus, a clear time table on implementation of GST (goods and services tax), and some direction on the direct tax code proposals. Containing fiscal deficits and bringing it closer to the desired level of 5.5% of GDP will make both the debt and equity markets happy.

Which are the sectors you are bullish/bearish on?

Consumers (both durable and nondurable ), pharma and power look promising. I also have a contrarian call on the IT sector and expect it to do well in 2010 backed by volume growth and a dollar that may appreciate rather than depreciate this year. Interest rate sensitive sectors such as banking may be under pressure for some time. Till we have clarity on global growth and demand, metal shares will continue to be volatile. Real estate stocks may be avoided as a combination of rising rates and reluctance to drop prices may inhibit volume offtake.








Tommy Hilfiger, the international clothier whose fashions have veered from country club preppy to hip-hop baggy over the years, rode a robust distribution and backend network to weather the slowdown in India. Launched here in 2004 by the Arvind Mills-Murjani Group combine, the designer label has aligned itself to the cool, classic, American theme with a more sophisticated edge since 2006. This year, the brand is looking to ratchet up the number of outlets to 50 in India as it enters smaller cities such as Indore and Bhopal. Though the dust is settling on the global recession, wrinkles remain, primarily the burgeoning competition jostling for space in retail. Shailesh Chaturvedi , CEO and director of Tommy Hilfiger Apparels India, tells ET Bureau about the company's plans for the Indian market, which he thinks is big enough for all, from marketing to customer relationship management. Excerpts:

In a year when consumers opted for cheaper clothing lines across the price spectrum, how did your company, which is positioned in the super-premium category, perform?

Consumers downtraded from luxury brands to the super-premium level as well. But we grew around 50% in 2009, largely due to our back-end efficiency and quality of distribution as we added 15 outlets in the year. In our segment, if one decision on store opening goes wrong, it affects the profitability of four other stores and can put brands on the backfoot. The sales productivity in India is nearly half that of other global cities, which makes efficiency integral to our plans. But being here since 2004, our new store decisions have held us in good stead. At the same time, it's essential to fight the recession through innovation, and our cutting-edge collection helped last summer.

Where is the Indian apparel market headed today? Has the entry of other foreign players affected you in the super-premium category?

There is a constant upgradation that is happening in the apparel industry; which is why most brands are working on international inspirations. This is becoming a strong force within the segment as the growing Indian economy is pushing people to explore options beyond that of made-in-India or internationally-founded brands to those that are actually sourced overseas. All new apparel entrants that are positioned alongside Tommy Hilfiger are also focused on expanding this market. In fact, we expect all such efficiently-operating brands to benefit as consumers continuously upgrade from mid-level apparel brands to those positioned at our level. In the last year, however, we grabbed market share from many players.

What is Tommy Hilfiger Apparels India doing to capture brand commitment within the age group of 25-45 years?

The brand has been pushing the pedal on customer relationship management over the recent few months as we intend to bank on the 80:20 marketing rule. We see bounty in focusing on 20% of our vital few customers who deliver the majority of sales by increasing affinity for the brand through personalised services and privileges.

As you expand the brand's presence across smaller cities, will the merchandise mix vary to suit the customers there?

Very often, categories such as accessories have a head start over apparel retailing in smaller cities. For instance, Tommy Hilfiger's watch distribution tie-up with Titan Industries has made the brand visible across such markets. We believe in a 'unified global feel' that mandates consistency in our offerings from Mumbai to New York to Indore. Numerous social factors including frequent overseas travel, internet and films have fueled consumption even in smaller cities. These consumers are equally clued into the merchandise that is being retailed overseas and can get offended easily if they notice a gap in the offering. This is why we are true to the brand across cities and do not tweak merchandise mix and pricing.

How does Tommy Hilfiger's marketing strategy differ from competition?

We are an exclusive brand, which limits our user base to a small set of well-to-do families in each city. As a result, we don't see as much value in sinking investments into mass-media advertising channels, which leads to distribution losses. We have identified experiential marketing as a more favourable strategy as it allows us to rely on brand building at the store level. The signature feel stems from our imported table lamps, carpets, chandeliers and store windows that showcase the brand at the real touch points. In fact, even the new media packs in the affordability and high-usage factors effectively, allowing us to create impressions among a varying set of age groups. On one hand, it allows us to tap into the internet-friendly youth who now have deep pockets as well as the mature segment who are relatively well-off but are slowly logging onto social networks.

Do you then miss out on the aspirational user through such a streamlined strategy?

No, this is because our stores are present across key locations in high streets and malls, enabling us to lock on to the aspirational consumer. As against our denims, which begin with a price tag of around Rs 4,000, product segments such watches, perfumes and innerwear retail at a premium but a relatively lower price band. This allows consumer to enter the brand.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The President, Mrs Pratibha Patil's address to the joint session of the two Houses of Parliament on Monday was reassuring in respect of several key areas in the social sector, notably schemes for advancement in rural areas in terms of housing, road connectivity, availability of gas and other petroleum products, as well as setting up of schools and colleges in the backward areas. The growth and development in this broad sphere is critical for the country's future progress. However, where the address — spelling out the policies of the Union government — disappoints are precisely areas that pinch ordinary people the most, namely prices and the fight against terrorism. The address gives the impression of glossing over the serious price rise question, which had begun to rear its head a year ago. The President's speech points out almost casually that the cause of the trouble lay in production shortfalls and the increased international prices of these commodities (which made imports meaningless). A year down the road, this sounds as an excuse, not a satisfactory explanation. The reason is that no concrete and meaningful steps were executed to check the unconscionable shooting up of the price curve. Worse, reports have come in which suggest that stocks in some cases, particularly for sugar, were allowed to remain uncollected, permitting unscrupulous business interests to make a killing. Another shocking observation is that the price rise in foodgrains is linked to increased demand owing to improved incomes in the rural sector on account of better procurement prices to farmers and greater public spending (say, through partial rural employment guarantee) on development programmes. This reflects a cruel irony. Surely, a rollback in prices cannot entail withdrawal of such schemes. The question may also be asked why a rise in rural purchasing power has not led to a comparable rise in the prices of non-food items. The government must do better than this. It had over a year to put in motion policies to tackle high prices at the level of production and distribution of essential commodities. The issue of terrorism also concerns all Indians. After 26/11, the government has taken steps to better organise the internal security apparatus, and these find detailed mention in the President's address. However, insofar as the playing out of terrorism in India is to a considerable degree linked to developments in our neighbourhood, especially Pakistan, the nuanced reference to this factor that was needed unfortunately finds no articulation in the address. As such, the mention made of the forthcoming foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan later this week fails to expand our understanding of the factors in play. What is worse, the recent terrorist strike in Pune has been carefully insulated from the foreign secretary-level dialogue. What signal this will convey to Pakistan can only be speculated upon. The President's address also surprises by its reference to the situation in Kashmir. While it rightly suggests that the infiltration level from the Pakistan side is up, it asserts quite astonishingly that the security situation in Kashmir shows "significant" improvement. What parameters suggest this is left to the imagination. The address has one especially bright spot — the emphasis supplied to the field of education, as widely understood. What is heartening is that investment in education has been seen as being important to inclusive growth.








At a time when the combat power of the Indian Air Force is at an all-time low (29 squadrons, against a sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons and a required strength of 45 squadrons), two significant events connected with the enhancement of its capabilities are underway without much fanfare and are hopefully gathering momentum quietly, away from the public gaze.


The first of these is the commencement of evaluation trials by teams from the Air Staff Test Establishment (ASTE) of six top-of-the-line combat aircraft from different countries which are contending for the mammoth $10-15 billion contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) to be inducted into the Indian Air Force, to replace obsolescent aircraft in service and rejuvenate the fading combat strength of frontline squadrons.


The second is the maiden flight early this year of the Sukhoi-T50 (Pakfa), a fifth-generation fighter aircraft being jointly developed by India and Russia under an agreement between the two countries. The aircraft has been in the making since the early 1990s and is scheduled for production and induction into both air forces around 2015-2017. India is funding a percentage of the costs involved (between 25 to 50 per cent, according to different sources), and will also develop some of the integral software and hardware components.


The MRCA trials encompass the F-16 and F-18 from the United States, the MiG-35 from Russia, the Rafale from France, the Eurofighter Typhoon from a consortium of the European Union, and the Saab Viggen from Sweden, each a formidable contender in its own right. The trials will be under constant national and international scrutiny by the Indian government, the competing manufacturers and their governments as well as the aviation industry in general. Foreign intelligence services would also be undoubtedly watching from the sidelines, particularly of those countries with whom India's relationships have traditionally been adversarial. Needless to say, whichever aircraft is finally selected, the induction of 126 MRCA will provide a quantum jump in the capabilities of the Indian Air Force.


The overall process is undoubtedly complex, but evaluation of the actual equipment against finite parameters and criteria set out in the Air Staff Requirements is perhaps the most objective part of it all. However, military and technical performances of the contending aircraft and financial terms and conditions of the contract only provide concrete inputs into the selection process. A critical part of the final decision has to be evolved in the more amorphous realm of India's own geopolitical compulsions and strategic national interests, particularly with regard to the countries and blocs whose aircraft are being evaluated. These environments are necessarily unquantifiable and to that extent subjective, but nonetheless cannot be wished away.


In this broader geopolitical context, the ultimate selection of the aircraft will have to take into account the long-term relationships India wishes to maintain and develop with the vendor countries, in particular the United States and Russia, who are contesting the MRCA sweepstakes through their representative proxies — America's F-16 and F-18 and Russia's MiG-35. For these two countries, the contract has acquired the overtones of a prestige issue, and could even become a touchstone for future relationships with India, which at present is widely perceived as tilting towards the United States. Russia, on the other hand, is a valued and time-tested ally of long standing, though somewhat shaky on its feet after the end of the Cold War, but nevertheless a putative superpower and a potentially useful anchor for India in the context of the Sino-Pakistan axis.


Historical compulsions have created a strong Russian connection for the Indian Air Force, notwithstanding long-standing complaints at working levels in this country about difficult commercial negotiations with Russian partners. However, the government has nevertheless opted to link the overall future equipment profile of the Air Force with the Indo-Russian Sukhoi T-50 FGFA. This is where the evaluation trials of the MRCA interconnect with the development flights of the T-50 FGFA.


The Indian Air Force has traditionally suffered from excessive multiplicity of equipment and its associated problems. The same mistake should not be repeated in the case of the new MRCA. Logically speaking, therefore, the large fleet of the newly-acquired MRCA should not be inducted independent of future plans, but rather utilised as a lead-in series for the Sukhoi T-50 FGFA. This narrows down the field considerably, and there are some who suggest that instead of trials, India might as well have purchased the required additional numbers of Sukhoi-30 MKI, another outstanding aircraft from the same stable, already in squadron service with the Indian Air Force. The question that now arises is: Is the Russian fifth-generation aircraft, for which India has already committed financially, indeed the final choice for future aircraft for the Indian Air Force?


India has also to contend against itself and its institutionalised phobias of hyper-sanctimoniousness regarding defence transactions. The government has a record of abrupt and impromptu cancellations at the slightest of suspicions, no matter how grievous is the resultant self-inflicted injury on defence preparedness in terms of lost time and opportunities. While no right-thinking person can ever condone corruption, nevertheless a stage has also been reached when the country can no longer afford to throw out the baby with the bathwater by indiscriminately terminating entire series of trials of weapons under acquisition every time there is a suspicion of alleged wrongdoing, whether actual or imaginary. As these exceedingly complex trials of fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force get under way, it is to be sincerely hoped that they are not interrupted for any reason.


The country must evolve a more rational system of investigation and fact-finding, to target specific parties within the process found to be directly or indirectly involved in any wrongdoing without halting the entire process and delaying weapons acquisition. The ghosts of Bofors have created enough havoc with the country's defence preparedness. The time has come to finally exorcise them for the greater good of the nation.


Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament








OK, the beast is starving. Now what? That's the question confronting Republicans. But they're refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.


For readers who don't know what I'm talking about: ever since Reagan, the Grand Old Party (GOP) has been run by people who want a much smaller government. In the famous words of the activist Grover Norquist, conservatives want to get the government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub".


But there has always been a political problem with this agenda. Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programmes that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and social security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?


The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed "starving the beast" during the Reagan years. The idea — propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol — was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait and switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government's fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.


And the deficit came. True, more than half of this year's budget deficit is the result of the Great Recession, which has both depressed revenues and required a temporary surge in spending to contain the damage. But even when the crisis is over, the budget will remain deeply in the red, largely as a result of Bush-era tax cuts (and Bush-era unfunded wars). And the combination of an ageing population and rising medical costs will, unless something is done, lead to explosive debt growth after 2020.


So the beast is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And the US President, Mr Barack Obama, has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.


Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse — in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting social security. But they needn't have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with some actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr Obama established by executive order.


Why are Republicans reluctant to sit down and talk? Because they would then be forced to put up or shut up. Since they're adamantly opposed to reducing the deficit with tax increases, they would have to explain what spending they want to cut. And guess what? After three decades of preparing the ground for this moment, they're still not willing to do that.


In fact, conservatives have backed away from spending cuts they themselves proposed in the past. In the 1990s, for example, Republicans in Congress tried to force through sharp cuts in Medicare. But now they have made opposition to any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely the core of their campaign against healthcare reform (death panels!). And presidential hopefuls say things like this, from Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota: "I don't think anybody's gonna go back now and say, Let's abolish, or reduce, Medicare and Medicaid".

What about social security? Five years ago the Bush administration proposed limiting future payments to upper- and middle-income workers, in effect means-testing retirement benefits. But in December, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page denounced any such means-testing, because "middle- and upper-middle-class (i.e., GOP) voters would get less than they were promised in return for a lifetime of payroll taxes". (Hmm. Since when do conservatives openly admit that the GOP is the party of the affluent?)


At this point, then, Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they're not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programmes. And they're not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan — and there isn't any plan, except to regain power.


But there is a kind of logic to the current Republican position: in effect, the party is doubling down on starve-the-beast. Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn't enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state. So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe. You read it here first.








This time when the Union Budget is presented, there is one particular reason why ordinary citizens will be listening: to see whether the government is finally going to act decisively to contain food price inflation.


The rise in food prices in the past two years has been higher than any period since the mid-1970s, when such inflation sparked widespread social unrest and political instability. Food prices have been rising by around 20 per cent even when the general price index (for wholesale prices) has been very low, and sometimes almost flat.


The table indicates the price increase in cities averaged across the major regions, for rice, atta and sugar, which are among the most essential food items in any household. Rice prices increased by nearly half in northern cities and more than half in southern cities. Atta prices have on average increased by around one-fifth from their level of two years ago. The most shocking increase has been in sugar prices, which have more than doubled across the country. Other food items, ranging from pulses and dal to milk and vegetables, have also shown dramatic increase, especially in the past year.


There are many reasons why food prices have risen at such a rapid rate, and all of them point of major failures of state policy. Domestic food production has been adversely affected by neoliberal economic policies that have opened up trade and exposed farmers to volatile international prices even as internal support systems have been dismantled and input prices have been rising continuously. Inadequate agricultural research, poor extension services, overuse of ground water, and incentives for unsuitable cropping patterns have caused degeneration of soil quality and reduced the productivity of land and other inputs. Women farmers, who constitute a large (and growing) proportion of those tilling the land, have been deprived of many of the rights of cultivators, ranging from land titles to access to institutional credit, knowledge and inputs, and this too has affected the productivity and viability of cultivation.


But in addition to production, poor distribution, growing concentration in the market and inadequate public involvement, have all been crucial in allowing food prices to rise in this appalling manner. Successive governments at the Centre have been reducing the scope of the public food distribution system, and even now, in the face of the massive increase in prices, the Central government is delaying the allocation of foodgrain for the above poverty line population to the states. This has prevented the public system from becoming a viable alternative for consumers and preventing private speculation and hoarding and allowed more corporate entities to enter the market.


Thus it has been found that the gap between farm gate and wholesale prices is widening. A similar story is

evident from the gap between wholesale and retail prices. In rice, the gap between average wholesale and retail prices widened considerably across the four major zones of the country. Overall the margin increased from around nine per cent to more than 15 per cent. In wheat, the pattern is more uneven but the retail margins are very large indeed, as expressed by the difference between the wholesale price of wheat and the retail price of atta (which is the most basic first stage of processing). In the northern and eastern zones, the margin is more than 30 per cent, while it is around 20 per cent elsewhere.


So what exactly is happening? It appears that there are forces that are allowing marketing margins — at both wholesale and retail levels — to increase. This means that the direct producers, the farmers, do not get the benefit of the rising prices which consumers in both rural and urban areas are forced to pay. The factors behind these increasing retail margins need to be studies in much more detail. The role of expectations, especially in the context of a poor monsoon that was bound to (and did) affect the kharif harvest adversely, should not be underplayed. But that refers only to the most recent period of rising prices, whereas this process has been marked for at least two years now.


In addition to this, there is also initial evidence that there has been a process of concentration of crop distribution, as more and more corporate entities get involved in this activity. Such companies are both national and multinational. On the basis of international experience, their involvement in food distribution initially tends to bring down marketing margins and then leads to their increase as concentration grows. This may have been the case in certain Indian markets, but this is an area that clearly merits further examination.


Many people have argued, convincingly, that increased and more stable food production is the key to food security in the country. This is certainly true, and it calls for concerted public action for agriculture, on the basis of many recommendations that have already been made by the Farmers' Commission and others. But another very important element cannot be ignored: food distribution.


A properly funded, efficiently functioning and accountable system of public delivery of food items through a network of fair price shops and cooperatives is the best and most cost-effective way of limiting increases in prices and ensuring that every citizen has access to enough food.


Even before any promised food security law is passed, it is clear that emergency measures are required to strengthen public food distribution, in addition to medium-term policies to improve domestic food supply. In a context in which inflation is concentrated on food prices, measures liking raising the interest rate are counterproductive because they affect all producers without striking at the heart of the problem. Instead, if he is serious about curtailing food inflation, the finance minister must provide substantially more funds to enable a proper and effective public food distribution system.








Questioner: Sadhguru, can the fear of creating new karma itself be a new karma?


Sadhguru: Yes, yes definitely. Fear of creating karma is the worst of the karmas. (Participants laugh) So you must understand that karma is not your enemy. This must be understood. You are alive only because of your karma. Do you understand this? I think we have dealt with this in great detail in Mystic's Musings. How many of you have read "The only bondage" chapter?


Karma is not your enemy. The basis of your existence right now in the physical body is your karma. Right now if I just grab your karma and take it away; I can. If I take it away, this moment you will shed your body. It's like pulling the plug on you. Just dismantle your karma this moment and you will see this moment you would shed your body. You can't hold on to your body anymore. So karma is the glue; karma is that which has cemented you to the body. Do you want to lose it? Hum? So now what we are trying to do with the spiritual process is not just to wipe out all karma immediately. We want to bring a certain awareness to the process of what we're doing.


See, right now if you sit in the car, you seat-belt yourself. The seat-belt is a good thing — it could save your life, isn't it? But now suppose you seat-belt yourself in such a way that you can't open it when you want to.


Now, you know, this is your prison, isn't it? Now you get into the car, you close the door. It's a good thing, isn't it? But what if you get into the car and can't open the door, this is terrible, isn't it? You just want to know where the handle is. If you know where the handle is you collect a mountain of karma, what's the problem?


As long as your hand is on the handle, if you have a mountain of karma, what is your problem? No problem, isn't it? The problem has come not because of karma. The problem has come because you get entangled and enmeshed in it. Without karma your life is not rich, isn't it?


So where is the need to fear new karma or old karma? There is no need to fear new karma or old karma. What you need to do is find the handle, where it is.


— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is a yogi, and a visionary.









IT has been seen as a refreshing change in the style of a BJP president, but Nitin Gadkari may have decided on a casual meal at a Dalit home perhaps only to emphasise that a similar gesture by Rahul Gandhi was no more than barren tokenism. The Congress is focused on a comeback in Uttar Pradesh taking advantage of the split in the Samajwadi Party. The BJP has a tougher job after having seen its bases crumble and the party in the grip of a power struggle. Gadkari chose the national council meeting to devise a new course that puts party programmes above individuals, performance on core issues above personal ambitions. He has the advantage of setting new objectives, lending a human face to his job and bringing a simplicity and candour to put him in direct touch with workers. His appeal to Muslims to be generous in the position they have taken on a Ram temple must thus be seen in this light, as an effort to look beyond the saffron flock and expand his support base. The sweet ~ perhaps saccharine ~ reasonableness is a conscious departure from hardline Hindutva that his predecessors espoused and, quite naturally, invited a rap from the Shiv Sena boss. He may not be unnerved because he carries no baggage from the past. He has his priorities cut out and perhaps doesn't mind even ruffling a few feathers.

The downturn in the parliamentary election seemed a natural fallout of irreconcilable differences among senior leaders after Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee's illness had made him non-functional and Mr LK Advani's presence made no difference to the power games. Gadkari seems to have been given a free hand and has the advantage of associating with the grassroots worker and being a comparatively young leader who can spell out an agenda for reform with no questions asked. By appealing to Muslims on a Ram temple and making a concession on a mosque nearby, he preserves the party's core agenda but places it tactfully in the wider context of reaching out to groups traditionally outside the party's base. Seldom has a BJP president been heard talking as a people's leader in all earnestness about development, governance and national concerns rather than focusing exclusively on the temple or an "invisible hand' behind its election defeat. Whether or not it hastens a turnaround, Gadkari will have at least demonstrated that he has a point to prove ~ and would if necessary even adjust his goals.








EMBARRASSING the defence minister by necessitating his apologising to the people of Goa is the least worrying aspect of the public uproar that followed the sonic boom created by the Navy's new MiG-29K jetfighters that are based at INS Hansa. It is difficult to appreciate the Navy waiting for the matter to snowball into a mini-controversy that required ministerial intervention ~ the chief minister and the defence minister ~ to resolve. Surely concerns raised by people living in the vicinity of the premier naval air station ought to have sufficed to initiate a review of procedures? After all, the matter has been sorted out quite easily: that particular element of the training exercise (going supersonic) will henceforth be conducted some 20-25 kms off-shore. In fact those planning and supervising the air operations ought to have been alive to the fallout of the "boom" when the sound barrier is broken. Apart from scaring people, particularly in these times of frequent terrorist bombings, it does impact like a low-intensity earthquake. Causing doors and windows to rattle, even shatter glass panes ~ as happened in some buildings along Rajpath in the Capital some years back when in preparation for the Republic Day flypast IAF jets came a little too low when performing a "sonic salute". The IAF has developed its own code to minimise the public impact, and no one claiming to be an aviator would be unaware of India denying the Concorde ~ the first, possibly the last, supersonic commercial airplane ~ permission to overfly the peninsula. Was the Navy unaware of all that? In any case, ignorance is a poor alibi.
What disturbs even more than the boom itself is the insensitivity of the naval authorities to the comfort and interests of the local community. That this is rather typical of the attitude of defence personnel at large, or almost at large to be fair, is what must be slammed. Instead of subsequently making amends, or amendments to procedures, the military establishment must understand it has a duty to minimise the difficulties its functioning triggers for the people. Far too frequently is the argument advanced that the military station/firing range etc had initially been located far from urban areas, the town later engulfed it. The armed forces must abandon their "exclusiveness" ~ a colonial hangover. And strive to be both protector as well as good neighbour. Aspirations that are not entirely incompatible.









THE reported leak of the International Atomic Energy Agency's report is bound to cause a major flutter in the Western roost. Scheduled to be released next month, the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog's report has for the first time established that Iran may be on course to fixing nuclear payloads to its ballistic missiles. This knocks the bottom off Tehran's claim that its nuclear operations, however awesome, are civilian in nature. This must be another of the closely-guarded secrets of the regime. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, given to flip-flops on so sensitive an issue, has consistently ignored UN resolutions that the country must stop its uranium enrichment. In a sense, therefore, Iran has ignored world opinion. The IAEA is now set to rip the veil off its nuclear agenda. In the immediate geo-political context, the findings are bound to exacerbate Israeli-Iranian belligerence. One warning, in recent weeks, has countered another. Ahmadinejad's threat to "wipe Israel off the map" has been met with Israel hinting at a military strike as the country is within range of Iranian missiles. 

The IAEA report, drafted by its new director, Yukiya Amano, serves to mirror the concerns of the Western world. Which may also explain why Iran has consistently avoided negotiations on the issue. It bears recall that IAEA's previous head, Mohammad El Baradei, has consistently played down Western worries that Iran's touted civilian nuclear programme was merely a facade to conceal a chilling agenda. While the IAEA doesn't confirm US misgivings that Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme, it does refer to the continuing attempt at a cover-up. And this can only arouse suspicions of a military intent of Iran's nuclear programme. The leakage of the report, which comes ahead of the UN debate on the fourth round of sanctions against Iran, is bound to steel the resolve of the Western powers to enforce more crippling curbs. As in Afghanistan, the West is dealing with a leader flaunting a spurious mandate.









BEFORE the Indo-Pak foreign secretary-level talks begin on 25 February, terror struck Pune. This was followed by Maoist terror in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar. Was the timing of these terror strikes coincidental? Predictably criticism mounted in India against talks with Pakistan amidst continuing terror. There is justified criticism that Pakistan is not acting adequately to stop terror that weakens India. But hypothetically, even if it were, what then? Critics must ask if India is acting adequately to stop terror that weakens India. Over the years warnings issued by this scribe and other more qualified security experts have fallen on deaf official ears. Some past warnings may be randomly recalled.

On 20 November, 2005 this scribe wrote: "In 2004 India persuaded Washington to include People's War and the Maoists Communist Centre in America 's Terror Exclusion List. But India itself has no national policy or agency to deal with these extremists enjoying international support… Yossef Bodansky, Director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the U.S. Congress wrote this in an official report: 'Islamist subversion of several countries is intensified because of the strategic interests of a third party ~ the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) ~ and, to a lesser extent, of its close allies. However, it is the close allies ~ Pakistan and Iran -- who bear the brunt of the sponsorship of, and support for the terrorist escalation. They do so more because of the strategic calculations concerning the PRC. The intelligence services involved (are) the Iranian VEVAK and the Pakistani ISI.

Regional escalation

THE ISI terrorism support infrastructure in Bangladesh not only supplies and trains on PRC-made weapons and explosives, but the Bangladeshi military officers acting as instructors had received special commando and mountain warfare training in the PRC… The Chinese preparations for a regional escalation and major crisis under conditions short of a major war are thorough. Chinese instructors are directly involved in training Tamils and other Indians for terrorist, sabotage, and espionage operations.'"

Did Government respond adequately to this information? Is the current synchronization of the Pune terror and Maoist terror mere coincidence?

On 20 September, 2006 it was written: "To identify the enemy we must begin by recognizing that only a mastermind can coordinate diverse terrorist movements having a single aim and result… it is delusional to distinguish between separatists, revolutionaries and jihadis. They all serve the same master... they pursue the same goal: to weaken India to the point of capitulation… Responsible intelligence inputs confirm that LTTE cadres imparted training to Kashmir and North-East militants. Since there is no apparent ideological affinity among these groups, their coordinated action would imply a common command and a common aim. The overall larger aim may have little to do with the local demands that are touted. The larger aim is a full-fledged subversive assault on the Indian State … How is this to be countered? Not by hot pursuit, not by TADA or POTA, and not by giving the police free rein to shoot whom they please. To fight terrorism that has advanced so far, India will need to do nothing less than overhaul its system's working…consider two recent discoveries. Huge consignments of rockets were seized in Andhra Pradesh. The sheer quantity indicated that they were meant for Maoists spread across Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The rockets were manufactured in Tamil Nadu. Various Left extremist groups… all receive rockets from a common source. Does that not indicate a common higher command...? Similarly, in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district the police stumbled on the biggest catchments of crude RDX bombs indicating a nationwide network. This renders the previous air-droppings of arms by foreigners redundant. Now home-grown self-sufficient insurgency is being developed. But a parallel industry and huge funds are required for manufacture of these huge consignments. From where do the funds come…?    

Did Government ever seriously probe the source of this terrorism-related industry?
On 9 May, 2007 it was written: "In China , the military did not follow the corporate world. The corporate world followed the military… It was the PLA that liberated China and created the communist government…The PLA tended to act independently of the Chinese government… The PLA's mindset was revealed by its book, Unrestricted Warfare, authored by two Chinese colonels. The book outlines how multi-pronged subversion can weaken and destroy enemy nations."

Did Government take note of this information?

On 3 August, 2008 it was written: "(Fighting terrorism) can become meaningful only if there is an executive instrument capable of implementing policy. Does India have that…? The central government proposed a federal agency to fight terrorism… state governments are overwhelmingly opposing the proposal. They believe that the central government will misuse the proposed federal agency to derive political partisan advantage… Recall how the existing central agency, the CBI, has been used as a political tool by successive governments…The President alone, in the centre, has the democratic mandate and the moral right to decide on matters related to state governments."

 Did Government ever rethink the President's role?

Fake currency

ON 13 August, 2008 it was written: "The CBI has… claimed that the fake currency notes were brought into India through Nepal by Pakistan 's ISI. The CBI has also confirmed that the fake currency notes are of such fine quality that they are indistinguishable from genuine notes. That is why branches of the State Bank of India can pass off fake notes as genuine currency… this information has been written about explicitly and repeatedly by this scribe: he wrote these facts in March 2000, in June 2000, in March 2002, in July 2004 and in August 2006. All this time, the fake currency racket was expanding… It was pointed out that fake currency greatly facilitated terrorism -- that it was masterminded by foreign powers…"


Did Government ever consider demonetization to thwart the galloping fake currency menace?
On 3 March, 2009 it was written: "Regardless of which mask the enemy chooses to wear we should know by now that there is but one brain behind the mask… The enemy therefore is one… He seeks to destroy democratic South Asia … The victims of the enemy are divided. The governments of South Asia view each other with suspicion… Cannot the governments of the subcontinent see the looming threat and unite to wipe out the enemy…? The governments of South Asia can together accomplish what NATO cannot… " In the forthcoming talks between India and Pakistan the agenda is still unclear. US Senator John Kerry said recently that only a "grand reconciliation" could usher meaningful change. He said: " Pakistan is at the crossroads." It was an understatement. Entire South Asia is at the crossroads.

(The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist)







Taking advantage of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950 that allowed citizens of both countries to reside in each other's territory, Nepalese came to India to demand a separate state, says Dipak Basu Veteran Naxalite leader and the CPI-ML general secretary, Kanu Sanyal has expressed support for the ongoing agitation in the Darjeeling hills demanding a separate Gorkhaland state. The Maoist leader said his party had favoured the Gorkhaland demand earlier and supports it now as well. "Nepalis in Darjeeling have got every right to self-rule and the demand for Gorkhaland is very genuine''.

But how genuine is that demand? The fact remains that the Nepalese are not the original inhabitants of Darjeeling. Except for the few who were in Darjeeling before 1950, almost all of them are Nepalese citizens, that is, foreigners. After the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, they were allowed to stay in India. Does that treaty give them the right to demand a separate state?

If we look back, the Nepalese were in a mood for expansion. The Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16, was fought between Nepal and the British East India Company as a result of aggressive attacks by the Nepalese on both India and Tibet. The Gorkhas were originally from west-central Nepal. The Gorkha army, after occupying all of eastern Nepal by 1773, invaded Sikkim in 1788. In the west, the Kumaon region and its capital Almora, were occupied by the Gorkhas as well. To the north, however, aggression against Tibet forced China to attack Nepal in 1792 and occupy areas very close to the capital Kathmandu.

However, the Gorkha appetite for invasion did not stop. In 1803, the kingdom of Garhwal was occupied by the Gorkhas. Further west, even Kangra was occupied until in 1809, but Ranjit Singh the Sikh Emperor drove them out. Finally the British defeated them and drove them out of all these areas in India and Sikkim. After the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, Darjeeling was returned to Sikkim and Nepal lost Sikkim, the territories of Kumaon and Garhwal, and most of the lands of the Terai in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Darjeeling was annexed by the Empire of the East India Company in 1849 to create a sanitorium for British soldiers. Nepalese were recruited to work as labourers at construction sites, tea gardens and on other agriculture-related projects but their numbers were few. Thus, the Nepalese were never the original people of the Darjeeling area.

After Independence, Darjeeling was merged with West Bengal. The separate district of Darjeeling was established consisting of the hill towns of Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and some parts of the Terai region. When Tibet was occupied in 1950, thousands of Tibetan refugees settled in Darjeeling district. Darjeeling has seen significant growth in its population during and after 1950, when the Nepalese started coming in, especially since the 1970s. Annual growth rates were as high as 45 per cent in the 1990s, far above the national, state, and district averages. The Nepalese were mainly labourers as they could work at high altitudes. They stayed on in India but they still identify themselves with Nepali music, culture, art and tradition.

During the 1980s, encouraged by sections of the Congress, particularly Arjun Singh, who wanted to destabilise the Left government of West Bengal, a violent movement by the Gorkha National Liberation Front started demanding a separate state. As a compromise Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was given semi-autonomous powers to govern the district. Later, its name was changed to Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (DGAHC) although Gorkhas are not the original people but immigrants to Darjeeling from Nepal. The Lepchas and Bhutanese are the original people of Darjeeling. The Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950 allowed citizens of both countries to reside in each other's territory. The Nepalese taking advantage of that treaty came to India to demand a separate state. But would Nepal tolerate a similar demand by Indian citizens who are now settled in Nepal?
India is always a soft state without any strategy. It does not react but always gives in to demands by neighbouring countries. In similar circumstances in the 1950s, when large numbers of Indians were settled in Burma and Sri Lanka for more than a hundred years, they got expelled and India accepted them back without protest. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have expelled almost all non-Muslims. Tamils who are living in Sri Lanka for thousands of years wanted a separate state within Sri Lanka as a federal country with recognition of their human rights. In response, at least 80,000 of them were killed and their society was devastated by the Sri Lankan army. India is not doing anything to help. Now, when India faces a very violent country, Nepal, controlled by Maoists closely linked with China, the response is to offer more autonomy to these foreign citizens and allow them to come to India more and more to take over larger areas. The Nepalese demand today is not restricted to Darjeeling district any more; they are demanding practically the whole of north Bengal as part of their new state of Gorkhaland. Nepalese immigrants have already taken over Sikkim where they constitute more than 70 per cent of the population.

Two questions should be asked. How long would it take these Nepalese through immigration to take over parts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarachal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which they had occupied during the early 19th century? What would be implications given the close relationship between the present govenment of Nepal and China? The government of India does not care about this, but it is urging the West Bengal government to compromise although the creation of Gorkhaland as a Nepalese-controlled area threatens the link between India and the whole of the north-eastern India. The only realistic solution is to cancel the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, accept Nepal as a foreign country and Nepalese as foreign citizens with restricted permission to stay in India but without any political rights, as is the case with other foreign citizens.

The writer is Professor of International Economics, Nagasaki University







I never knew his name and everybody referred to him by his pet name that in Bengali means very young. But he was a middle-aged man, may be in his 50s, a devout Brahmin, of frail structure and enviable bright skin. He used to walk with a lathi in hand. We came to know him as he was the night watchman of the college building and my father, principal of the college, was provided the annexed single-storeyed building as his residence. The college had started at the impressive building that belonged to an English Indigo planter. It had very big rooms with French windows, big doors and a high ceiling. We used to play with a tennis ball in the verandah. A very big banyan tree stood there. Perhaps it was older than the building.

The night watchman announced the hours by hitting a round metal with a hammer. I used to count the strikes. Though his reporting time was 8 pm, he used to come before evening. On many days when I was returning home, I found him slowly walking lathi in hand and a small bag containing his dinner. He used to come to our house. There was no electricity in that small town and we saw him talking to my parents and enjoying a cup of tea. He was a very good storyteller. On occasion he talked to us about the days of Neelkar sahibs and the Independence movement. To us it always appeared as if he was a direct witness.

One day came Rabida from Kokata. He was a bright young man studying in a renowned college. This was his first visit to a small town. There was one room in the house that was used for studies and mother decided that Rabida would sleep there alone without any disturbance from us.

Before assuming charge the night watchman came to our house. That day seeing a new arrival in our house, he delivered the best story he had in mind. The story that day came as a shock.

The Neelkar sahib used the annexed building for his servants and one room was kept exclusively for his adventures with village girls arranged by his servants. The girl in the story when confined in the room cried and pleaded with every one to release her. But no one listened. That night the sahib came in, had his pleasure later, and left.

He started the story sitting on the floor. The lantern created a shadow, an ideal atmosphere for the story he was telling. But then he stood up. His long shadow on the wall with hands created an uneasy feeling in me. He continued, "Then it happened". There was a break. Then he resumed. "But not in this room (pointing to our parents' bedroom), not in that room (pointing to our bedroom) and not in that room either (pointing to another room). He paused and said: "It happened in this room". He straightway pointed to the room meant to be Rabida's bedroom. Now he again paused, not clarifying what he meant by "it"

He continued, "In the morning the door of the room was found shut from inside. It was broken and they found the girl". He paused and then said: "They found the girl hanging dead from the roof. She had committed suicide. There was no problem with the police who certified the death as normal and the case was closed. But things were never the same in the house. Apparently the girl took her revenge. At night the servants heard cries of the girl pleading for mercy regularly. Then suddenly the servant involved was found dead in his room one night. Everyone left the building and it was never used again."

Story finished, he slowly picked up the lathi and the bag containing his dinner and left for duty leaving a spellbound audience, including Rabida. I was interested to find out about the fate of the sahibs but he ended the story without that.

After dinner we went to the room with Rabida to organize his bed. All of us looked up and saw a hook on the roof. Surprisingly we had never noticed it earlier. Was it the hook from which the girl hanged herself? He kept quiet for some time and said "Let us spend the night in your room. It is not that I am scared, but I can tell you some interesting things about Kolkata if we share the bed".

Rabida left for Kolkata the next day though the original plan was to stay for a few more days.
A few years, our storyteller and night watchman was seriously injured in a freak accident. On his way to duty he found a boy trying to do some tricks with his cycle. He was an expert in cycling and told the boy: "I will show how to do the trick". What he did not remember was that he was no longer a young man. He fell from the cycle and broke his hip joint. He was bedridden for months, never recovered fully and thus could not join his duties again.






Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, along with UN relief chief John Holmes and UN envoy to Haiti on launched a $1.5 billion flash appeal to assist three million Haitians, the largest-ever humanitarian appeal in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Some 1.2 million people need emergency shelter and urgent sanitation and hygiene help, while 2 million need food aid in Haiti.

The $1.44 billion appeal was launched in New York by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and joined by Ambassador Leo Mérorès of Haiti. The revised appeal will fold in the $577 million flash appeal issued after the earthquake, which was intended to cover a six-month period. It is being expanded to meet needs for one year as the hurricane and rainy seasons approach, and its size reflects the scale of the catastrophe and takes into consideration the need for stepped-up early recovery efforts, Mr Ban said.

UN top military official in Haiti, Major General Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto, told reporters that despite losing 24 members of the UN Stabilization Force in Haiti, "the military component was not affected by the earthquake", playing a crucial role in the hours immediately after the disaster. "The military component has taken part in all moments and events of the Haitian life, providing not only security, but special assistance for whatever necessary, in difficult moments such as these that we are living right now", said Major-General Peixoto.

"No soft-pedalling'': UN political chief B Lynn Pascoe said that he held "friendly but frank" discussions during his visit to North Korea and stressed Pyongyang that it should return to multilateral six- party talks with preconditions. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr Pascoe, was speaking to reporters in New York reiterated that the UN was not in the country to negotiate on behalf of the so-called Six-Party Talks, of which the UN is not a member. "We were there to reconnect", he said about his four-day mission, noted that he was the first high-level UN official to visit the country in six years.

"Our effort was to open a high-level dialogue to see what we could do between this Organization and one of the Member States. We succeeded in doing that. It was quite clear that both sides were satisfied", he continued.
Climate chief quits: Head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer has made the "difficult decision" to step down from his position. He cited his desire to pursue new opportunities to advance progress on the issue in both the private sector and academia. The announcement came after the Copenhagen Accord was reached in December.

Yvo de Boer will stay onboard until 1 July, before joining the consultancy group KPMG as a Global Adviser on Climate and Sustainability and working with several universities, the statement said. "I have always maintained that while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business", Mr de Boer emphasized. He noted that countries did not reach a clear legal agreement in Copenhagen, but "the political commitment and sense of direction toward a low-emissions world are overwhelming. This calls for new partnerships with the business sector and I now have the chance to help make this happen".
Pakistanis stranded: UN relief agencies said that they are ready to help local authorities in Pakistan's Upper Swat region where 100,000 people need food, clothing, blankets and other non-food items after heavy snowfalls and avalanches blocked several roads and left some areas cut off from major towns. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that Pakistani Army has provided food supplies by helicopter and is clearing the roads.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, called on the international community not to forget the thousands of vulnerable civilians displaced by fighting in the tribal areas in the northwest, urged donors to contribute to a $537 million appeal to meet immediate relief needs.

Some 2,900 kits have been distributed to families in Kohat. In Hangu, OCHA and UNHCR facilitated the distribution of non-food items donated by a national NGO at Mohammad Khawaja Camp, including quilts, clothing for children and women and kitchen sets for around 216 families, it said in a press release. The number of IDP families from South Waziristan remains unchanged at 38,524 most living in winter accommodations or with host families, OCHA said.

Unicef has set up temporary learning spaces for 10 primary schools and started middle and secondary education in some parts of the Jalozai camp, while the FAO has been distributing fruit and forest plants to over 3,700 households in Buner, Lower Dir and Swat. They will be trained in various planting techniques, such as budding and grafting.

Polio vaccination: Unicef, WHO and UN mission in Afghanistan announced that millions of Afghan and Pakistani children will receive polio vaccinations as part of a coordinated effort to tackle the spread of the deadly disease. In a press release, it was stated that a three-day immunization campaign began in Afghanistan and a similar drive in Pakistan focused on the regions closed to their common border. The two countries are among the four in the world where polio is still endemic, the statement said. In Afghanistan, 2.8 million children under the age of five will be targeted by the new campaign, which will build on a series of national immunization days and house-to-house vaccination schemes that ran last year.

The agencies stressed that 3.5 million doses of bivalent oral polio vaccine have been provided for this campaign and will focus on 14 of 34 provinces – Farah, Uruzgan, Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Nimroz, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Nangarhar, Paktika, Khose, Paktia and Ghazni in Afghanistan.

Measles in Bangladesh: Unicef backed a measles vaccination campaign in Bangladesh to eradicate the deadly disease, according to a press release issued by the agency. Over 20 million Bangladeshi children will be vaccinated against measles over the next two weeks, the agency said Some 50,000 health care workers and 600,000 volunteers and NGO staff have been recruited for the immunization project which is set to run until 28 February.

All Bangladeshi children aged between nine months and five years will be given the measles vaccine while all children under the age of five will also be given two drops of the polio vaccine, Unicef said. This will be the first major nationwide campaign against measles in Bangladesh since 2005-06, when 35 million children were vaccinated.

Anjali Sharma







Few communists, in China and elsewhere, now care to read Liu Shaoqi's How To Be a Good Communist. But some communist parties periodically undertake rectification programmes for their members. A similar exercise currently under way in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) shows how futile and irrelevant it can be. What goes on in these campaigns are no more than morality checks on party members. An erring member may be expelled from the party or even hounded to death, as seems to be the case with W.R. Varadarajan, the CPI(M)'s central committee member. His death has now forced some leaders of the party to raise questions about the rectification programme. But the reactions so far suggest that they are asking wrong and inconsequential questions. Any political party expects its leaders and members to follow some basic norms of public life. That a public person should not indulge in corrupt or immoral practices has nothing to do with any political ideology. A serious introspection by a party has to involve bigger issues of policy and organizational functioning.


For the CPI(M), a worthwhile rectification drive should involve questions about some basic tenets of the organization as well as some old practices. It is time, for instance, the party asked itself if leaders not elected by the people should continue to hold party posts, including that of the general secretary. A communist party that chooses to work within the norms of parliamentary democracy cannot have a cabalistic approach to its own organization. This is an important issue because leaders without a popular mandate play crucial roles in deciding policies or strategies for governments run by the party. The punishment that apparently drove Varadarajan to his death should also raise questions about the charade of "democratic centralism" in communist parties. It is an open secret that this particular tool is used only to stifle dissenting voices within the party and is thus brazenly undemocratic, just as the party elections are stage-managed affairs. Such fundamental issues, and not moral or other aberrations of members in their private lives, should be the focus of any self-correction drive by the CPI(M). Not rectification, but a genuine reform is what the party needs. But then, the CPI(M) is so averse to changing its own ways that it would rather perish than reform itself.








A half-veiled senior policeman sitting at his desk and complaining to the press that a junior officer did not listen to him regarding as critical a matter as the risks facing the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp in Shilda is an unprecedented and ridiculous phenomenon. But with its backdrop of hideous tragedy, the police officer's act is singularly lacking in humour. There is no doubt that the behaviour of the special inspector-general (EFR), Benoy Chakraborty, violated every rule of professional correctness. Mr Chakraborty must have known that what he was doing would lay him open to any action the authorities thought fit. And also that covering his face would make him laughable. A police force cannot allow this kind of public breach of discipline among its senior officers. But, while measures against the special IG need to be undertaken, it also has to be asked why he decided to act so outlandishly.


Yet the government of West Bengal is no longer talking about show-causes and suspensions, but merely asking Mr Chakraborty for a few explanations. Ironically, it is precisely this kind of administrative spinelessness that emphasizes the lack of professional accountability Mr Chakraborty is complaining about. That the EFR camp in Shilda was retained in its vulnerable position in spite of various warnings allegedly to protect a group of Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders is a blatant illustration of the way the party has been using the police force as an extension of itself and in protecting its own interests. The truth of such allegations, or that of Mr Chakraborty's complaints that officers turned a deaf ear to his requests and instructions, is of less importance than the widespread perception of the party's dominance and the police's compliance. Even the self-absorbed state government cannot have missed the people's anger. Especially since it is growing a distinct political edge. Yet the home minister of the state has not managed to visit the site of one of the most brutal Maoist killings of uniformed men, or talk to the bereaved. It so happens that he is also chief minister. The pusillanimous leadership exhibits a matchless combination of fear for partymen and apathy for others, an attitude Mr Chakraborty has underlined by covering his face. He needs to protect himself. So does everyone else perhaps, in a state where the police move only at the bidding of the dominant party.









It is only in the last quarter century that mankind has begun to grapple with the fact that the earth's atmosphere is not a limitless resource. This stark reality has been brought home to us by climate change. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, mankind has been burning ever increasing quantities of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and the resultant accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the principal cause of global warming. Scientists tell us that if the progressive concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is allowed to exceed a certain range, it will lead to dangerous interference with the climate system.


In other words, the planet's atmosphere must be treated as a scarce resource. The current negotiations on climate change seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and thus, in effect, regulate access to the global atmospheric resource. Since fossil fuels are the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, a climate change agreement has major implications for the levels and patterns of energy consumption available to signatory countries.


For a developing country like India, it is essential that any agreement should be based on equity, that it should not slow down economic and social development and poverty eradication or perpetuate the vast economic divide between the developed and developing countries.


The vast bulk of the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere has originated in the industrialized countries as a result of their very high levels of consumption of coal, oil and gas. These countries are thus occupying much more than their fair share of atmospheric space. In order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, the developed countries must reduce their per capita emissions, releasing adequate atmospheric space for the development of poorer countries.


India has always maintained the principled position that every human being has an equal right to the global atmospheric resource. Per capita emissions of developing countries are a small fraction of those of the industrialized countries. For example, India's per capita emission is just a little over one tonne of CO2e, compared to more than 19 tonnes CO2 of the United States of America. Per capita emissions of poorer countries will rise as their energy consumption increases to meet the requirements of economic and social development and poverty eradication.


As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change notes, "The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs."


Equity demands that, over a period of time, the declining per capita emissions of the developed countries should converge with the rising per capita emissions of the developing countries, while compensating the latter for the excess atmospheric space previously occupied by the developed countries. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change requires the affluent industrialized countries to cover the incremental costs of mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries. The international community should combat climate change on the basis of equity.


The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has proposed that India's per capita emissions will not, at any stage, exceed those of the developed countries. This is not only a fair but even a generous offer. It is no more than an assertion of our right to utilize an equal measure of energy on a per capita basis as the developed countries, provided we adopt the same energy mix and technology as the advanced countries.


Perpetuating the vast disparity between the per capita emissions of the advanced and the developing countries would amount to perpetuating the huge differences in their per capita income levels. A climate change treaty that binds us to lower per capita emissions over the long term will also restrict our per capita use of coal, oil and natural gas to lower levels than those of developed countries, making it virtually impossible for us to close the income gap with those countries. Any climate change agreement that denies us our right to equal utilization of the global atmospheric resource would be an unequal treaty restricting our right to development. It would divide the world into two categories of countries: those who are rich and those who are poorer — and treaty-bound to remain poorer.


Not surprisingly, the principle of equity based on an equal per capita approach has served as the basic foundation of our position in the climate change negotiations, ever since they began in 1990. Every government in New Delhi has endorsed this approach, reflecting a national consensus cutting across party lines.


This consensus has now been challenged by the minister of state for environment, Jairam Ramesh. Earlier this month, major national newspapers carried the startling report that the minister of state had indicated that India may abandon the per capita approach. The minister added that the US-based economist, Arvind Subramanian, has been commissioned to prepare a paper on alternative options. This is not the place to critique Subramanian's writing on climate change; suffice it to say that he rejects the per capita equity approach. Jairam Ramesh also revealed that he plans to hold an international workshop in May, so that a new approach is ready before the climate change negotiations scheduled for June.


Rejecting the per capita principle would undermine the position of India and other developing countries on the question of climate equity. By proposing to "decapitate" the principle of equity, the minister has already inflicted severe damage to our credibility in the negotiations.


Ramesh's statement gives rise to a number of questions. First, did the minister of state consult the cabinet before questioning in public the basic foundation of our long-standing national policy? After all, the per capita approach has been regularly endorsed by cabinet decisions over the past two decades.


Second, does the minister of state plan to consult Parliament and, if so, when? Should a policy resting on a national consensus be reversed without reference to Parliament?


Third, does Ramesh propose to consult India's civil society and the Indian public? Would a national workshop not have been a more appropriate forum to debate a possible reversal of India's policy than an international gathering?


These disturbing questions require immediate answers. Our policy on a vitally important issue like climate change must rest on a national consensus. It cannot be arbitrarily refashioned on a personal whim. A major policy reversal, such as the approach contemplated by the minister of state for environment, should be taken only if it is approved by Parliament.


The author is a retired ambassador who has been closely involved in the climate change negotiations for many years. The article reflects his personal views, and not those of any official or non-governmental institution with which he may be connected








At the cost of sounding repetitive, I remain dumbstruck and increasingly suspicious of why some within the cabinet are protesting so vociferously against their own prime minister and the government's decision to put a moratorium on the introduction of Bt brinjal. For citizens who remain outside the closed doors of 'exclusive' governance in a robust society built on democratic and inclusive norms and values, this no-holds-barred attack on a government decision by certain cabinet ministers, aired aggressively on the front page of dailies, bodes ill for the government in power. Desperate cries for genetically modified products to be introduced here for ensuring future food security reflect inappropriate and unwarranted reasoning. This is dangerous, and clearly the internal divisions and lobbies for and against that are in full play indicate a fearful lack of strategic thinking on agricultural practices.


The 'desperation' also symbolizes much of what may not be in the public domain, making the issue far more sensitive. A moratorium for the moment will permit some probing and experimentation. Surely a more nuanced response makes sense. Why this inordinate rush? Sixty years of misgovernance and deteriorating agricultural policies and infrastructure never brought on this kind of strident protest from ministers in government. In fact, the recent mismanagement of sugar showed how rampant corruption is.


What has provoked this internal 'fight'? Were time-bound promises made to those propagating the crop? If so, people need to know the various dimensions of the commitment. In recent memory, there were only two occasions when members of the cabinet protested vociferously — on the nuclear deal, and, now, on GM crops.


Think through


If only the elected cabinet governed India with the same commitment, this nation would have already been a superpower. Instead, decades of misgovernance, malfunctioning, exploitation of the weak and the voiceless, self-aggrandizement, insular administration, isolated decision-making and so on have forced India into a quagmire. The men, some of whom have been in power for decades, should have led India. They failed to do so. And, for some strange, unknown reason, they are now hysterically endorsing an untested GM product.


Why did the minister of science and technology reply to a GM seeds query from the former minister of health by quoting extensively from a Monsanto document in support of the introduction of those one-time- use seeds into the Indian foodscape? Surely Monsanto documents are for Monsanto employees to quote from and not for cabinet ministers to use as 'empirical' evidence. This kind of lax response from a member of the council of ministers is unacceptable. The matter is far too important, and food security is a fundamental right that merits debate in the public domain since it affects every citizen. We need to understand the consequences within the larger agricultural spectrum that will set the markers for India's future.Unfortunately, as a result of squabbling cabinet members and contradictory statements from economic advisors and other interested 'parties', the faith in those who determine our future and present lives has dwindled. It is not right to hold the majority to ransom for all that motivates a 'few' people who are unconnected with the realities of India. Even Europe is not united on this one issue. So why expect India to accept the view of a handful of propagators? We need to think this one through and make sure we strategize carefully, irrespective of whims, fancies and 'political' leanings.







New Delhi and Dhaka must move in tandem to ensure that the recent agreements do not get caught in the bureaucratic web, writes Ashis Chakrabarti


Over the past one month, Bangladesh witnessed three major events. Five of the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were hanged, and the country's supreme court scrapped the fifth amendment of the constitution, thereby paving the way for a ban on religion-based political parties. The Sheikh Hasina government's actions on both were bold and prompt, although she knew the issues were sensitive and could be used by her political opponents in order to unleash another spell of political turmoil.


The third event — the signing of three agreements and a memorandum of understanding with India during Hasina's visit to New Delhi — was the result of an equally bold initiative. Given the sharp political polarization in Bangladesh, agreements with India are always hotly contested issues in domestic politics. Hasina and her Awami League have always been accused of being pro-India. So she knew of the political risks of signing the accords, but showed both courage and determination in going ahead with her plans.


For Bangladesh, not engaging with India is no longer an option. There were times when Dhaka could afford to prick New Delhi, hoping to get support from Pakistan, China and even the United States of America. The end of the Cold War, India's new equations with the US and the global concern over terrorism have changed not just the US's but also other Western countries' security and other priorities in South Asia.


For nearly three decades, the reduction of its poverty was the prime concern of Bangladesh's donors. The world was not too upset if the country sometimes posed security threats to India. The attack on America in September 2001 changed all that. The West could no longer ignore a country that had a religious leader who was one of the 12 signatories to al Qaida's first declaration of jihad against the West, and where a new slogan, "Bangla hobey Afghanistan, amra hobo Taliban (Bangladesh will be Afghanistan, we'll become Taliban)", reverberated not just in secret camps but on the streets of Dhaka. Even more worrying was the fact that the new crop of militants seemed to have the patronage of some sections in the government. Suddenly, Bangladesh was a country of great concern for the US and the other Western nations.


India presented a different picture. Its security concerns and its perceptions of threats from Islamist militants found an echo in Western capitals as never before. But something else made India's case even more important — the world came to see it, along with China, as an emerging economic powerhouse. Pakistan, on the other hand, worried the world as a failed state. This, then, was the backdrop in which Hasina signed the agreements with India this time. The context, today, is vastly different from 1996, when, in her first term as prime minister, she signed the agreement with India on the sharing of the Ganga waters.


The accords Hasina signed this time comprised three agreements, one MoU, and a cultural exchange programme. The agreements include one on "mutual legal assistance", another on "transfer of sentenced persons" and a third on "combating international terrorism, organised crime and illicit drug trafficking". It has also been agreed that India will be allowed the use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports for "movement of goods to and from India through rail and road". If the transit picks up momentum, it is estimated that Bangladesh can earn as much revenue as US $400 million a year. Bangladesh has been given transit for its goods traffic to Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory. Another accord says that Ashuganj in Bangladesh and Siliguri in India will be ports of call for inland water traffic. The two countries have also agreed to link Agartala with Akhaura in Bangladesh by rail, the line for which will be laid with Indian finance to be given to Dhaka as grant.


India has also offered Bangladesh a credit line of US $1 billion for overhauling and improving the entire railway infrastructure in that country. It is the largest sum of money India has ever offered as a soft loan to any country, and carries an extremely low interest rate of 1.5 per cent with a repayment period of 20 years. Other important accords relate to India's supply of 250 MW of power to Bangladesh, and dredgers to de-silt rivers in that country. As for contentious issues like the sharing of the Teesta's water, the construction of the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur and the trade gap, the communiqué issued after Hasina's visit promises to address Bangladesh's concerns.


Surely, there are areas that the accords have not covered. On two major issues, the sharing of water of the 54 rivers that flow into Bangladesh from India and the trade imbalance, Dhaka can legitimately ask for more. But Hasina's political opponents apart, independent economists and other analysts in Dhaka agree that this has been the most comprehensive push to bilateral relations between the two countries since the 1970s, and Bangladesh can benefit immensely if the accords are translated into action.


True, Bangladeshi businessmen are still unhappy about the tariff and non-tariff barriers on the export of their goods to India. India has offered to reduce the trade gap. But making it a political issue is not going to solve any problem. The fact of the matter is that Bangladesh's exports to India have increased five-fold, from US $60 million to US $300 million in the last 20 years due to India's trade concessions. Also, while India-baiters in Dhaka complain of the trade gap with India, not much is heard about China's trade surplus with Bangladesh, which is bigger than India's.


The accords in three areas are crucial to the transformation of Bangladesh's economy: the offers of the credit line to upgrade Bangladesh's railway network, dredgers to de-silt its rivers and supplying 250 MW of power. The massive power shortage, the drying up of rivers and the outdated railway infrastructure are among the major factors for Bangladesh's poverty. If, despite some success in poverty alleviation and an annual inflow of US $10 billion of remittances from Bangladeshis working overseas, the country has 44 per cent of its people living below the poverty line, the answer lies primarily in the backwardness of its infrastructure and the lack of modern industries.


But all agreements are statements of intent. It depends on the political leadership of both countries to ensure that the two countries plunge into action straightaway. Politicians and other vested interests will play their games. But if businessmen and the people in Bangladesh can see things happening on the ground, they will develop their own stakes in improved India-Bangladesh ties. A small step by India can help this process. It is a common complaint among Bangladeshis that the journeys on the trains and buses linking Dhaka and Calcutta are irksome because of the delays and harassment they face at the immigration and customs checkpoints in India. Sorting this problem is a small thing, but it can make a big difference by earning the goodwill of the Bangladeshis.


In an article in a Dhaka newspaper, Bangladesh's former foreign secretary, Farooq Sobhan, suggested that the prime ministers of the two countries appoint special envoys with the rank and status of a cabinet minister to monitor the implementing of the accords. It is a suggestion New Delhi will do well to consider seriously.









The White Paper puts the railways' performance in perspective


Mamata Banerjee calls it an exercise in introspection. Lalu Prasad, the former railways minister, calls it a 'black paper' out to discredit him and the 'turnaround' story of his ministry's finances. The document presented in the Lok Sabha by Banerjee on December 18, 2009, did not create a stir as it was the last day of the winter session. But the print and electronic media took it up, though only for a while, before consigning it to the history books.


Put together superbly, reportedly by Amit Mitra of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the White Paper attempts to put the performance of the railways in the correct perspective. Banerjee wanted to make sure that it would provide an important reference point when she presents the railway budget.


The White Paper, among other things, admits that the booming economic growth coupled with increasing carrying capacity of wagons had contributed to higher earnings. However, these had been inflated due to two 'accounting changes', along with other large chunks of payables being treated as surplus.


If accounting norms prior to 2003-04 were to be applied, the cumulative cash surplus before dividend — for five years, from 2003-04 to 2008-09 — dropped from Rs 88,669 crore to Rs 62,363 crore and further to Rs 39,411 crore if the consultant appropriation to depreciation reserve fund is taken as a part of working expenses.


Similarly the 'investible surplus' would drop from Rs 66,804 crore to Rs 43,220 crore and to Rs 20,268 crore, a far cry from the billions in surplus, which Lalu Prasad had been crowing about. Infrastructural giants such as the railways have to plan way ahead to attain growth, as their projects have long gestation periods. Unfortunately, successive ministers have been rather short-sighted, except perhaps for Lalu Prasad who took a bold decision to push through the concept of the multi-crore dedicated freight corridors.


The White Paper's contention that the generally accepted growth elasticity for transport was not met within the entire five-year period may be valid, but Lalu Prasad did not get the opportunity for a second term during the course of which he may have got somewhat close to achieving it with crores to be spent on the DFC. It is now for Banerjee to prove that she is capable of supporting something that she believes in, that is if she does not move base after the forthcoming elections in West Bengal.


The White Paper also mentions "Issues and Options", a subject first raised by Nitish Kumar as early as 2002 when he presented a 'Status Paper' on Indian Railways in the Lok Sabha. Seven years down the line, we have yet to address the core issue of whether the railways is a public service or should it be run on commercial lines.


Perhaps it is pertinent to point out that China has surged ahead in its infrastructural growth, with its railways leading the charge, although it carries half the Indian Railways' long distance passenger traffic. Freight occupies a commanding position in the economy as a preferred mode of transport, with over 2,700 million tonnes. India, meanwhile, is still struggling to reach 900 million tonnes.






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Union Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal's announcement of the introduction of a common entrance test for medical and engineering colleges and adoption of a core curriculum in mathematics and science across the country for students of Class XI and Class XII is welcome, as they will solve some major problems faced by students now. The benefit from the decisions will actually go beyond  providing convenience to students and can have a positive effect on standards of education too. The ideas are a part of the educational reforms being put in place, like making board  examinations at the Class X level optional. The single entrance test proposal will be implemented from 2013 after the common curriculum comes into effect.

The multitude of entrance tests in many parts of the country poses many difficulties for students. Many of them have to waste a lot of time and energy to chase tests from state to state. Sometimes dates of tests coincide, forcing them to leave out some. Students undergo much stress in these situations. A single test will help them to concentrate attention on their performance in that examination. A common exam at the national level is not possible without a common syllabus. The many examination boards in the country, like the CBSE, ICSE and state boards have different curricula, examination systems and teaching methods. Standards vary from board to board and from state to state. Students who study in systems where the standards are low find it difficult to compete with others in entrance tests. A common syllabus provides a level playing field and can ensure that students all over the country have the same standard at the same academic level.

This is possible only for science, maths and subjects like commerce. Humanities will continue to have different curricula. It is not advisable to standardise syllabus in subjects like history, as it has to have a local and regional orientation also. The HRD minister has said that all school boards have accepted the ideas of a common syllabus and single entrance examination, though some states have said they do not fully agree with the proposals. But it is clear that there is overwhelming support for the proposals. Students in some educationally backward areas may initially find it difficult to cope with the demands of a national level syllabus. Special attention should be paid to these areas. There is an opportunity now to improve their standards too.








The beheading of two Sikhs by the Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) underscores the heightened vulnerability of religious minorities in areas where the Taliban are in control. There is much confusion over why the Sikhs were killed. While some allege that the TTP had demanded that they convert to Islam others maintain that the two were among four Sikhs who were kidnapped for ransom over a month ago. Apparently the deadline for ransom expired and two hostages were decapitated. While this is the first time that the Pakistan Taliban has beheaded members of the Sikh community, intimidation and violence targeting the community is not new. In May last year, for instance, the houses of around 35 Sikh families in the Orakazai Agency in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) were burnt down and their belongings auctioned as they had not paid $2,00,000 in jaziya (tax imposed on non-Muslims) to the Taliban. Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan for centuries and have worked there as money changers, traders and businessmen. Ever since the eruption of the Afghan civil war, thousands of Sikhs fled to India. With a semblance of normalcy returning in 2004, some trickled back to Afghanistan. But with the situation in Afghanistan and particularly Pakistan's NWFP and tribal areas deteriorating sharply over the last couple of years, a heightened sense of insecurity gripped the Sikh community there again.

It is perhaps not their religious identity alone but their refusal to bow to the Taliban's diktat that is the reason for their targeting. Muslims too are suffering grievously, as millions of them have been killed by the Taliban or subjected to flogging or summary executions. It is public reluctance to follow the puritanical way of life dictated by the Taliban or pay ransoms they demand that marks people out for Taliban punishment. This is a war between the Taliban and its opponents.

As the war against the Taliban heats up, the militia can be expected to step up its brutal operations against ordinary people. As pressure on it mounts, it will increase its demands for money and allegiance from them. It is known to terrorise people into submission. Millions are fleeing the warzones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the Sikhs could join their ranks.







Biotechnology offers a promising pathway to higher productivity. Further, we must annually create 12 million jobs.


Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's moratorium on the introduction of Bt brinjal cleared last October by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of his own ministry is disappointing. In responding to 'popular sentiment' in a matter of "no overriding urgency or food security" and waiting for "independent scientific studies" to restore "public confidence and trust," he was more populist than persuasive. 

Three of his cabinet colleagues — Sharad Pawar, Kapil Sibal and Prithviraj Chauhan — have disagreed maintaining that sentiment cannot rule science. To hand a veto to sundry dissenters is to disregard reason.

And to hint that private research is somehow less reliable than public or public-private research (presumably on account of the profit motive) is contrary to fact. Public institutions were substantively involved in the Bt brinjal trials and the DG CSIR, heads of agricultural universities and scientific departments within state universities, and the PM's economic advisory council have expressed their disquiet.

Senior scientists have charged that the public hearings were rigged and that they were shouted down or kept out by protesters. Surely the issue must be debated and settled scientifically. Further, stagnant agricultural production and rising food prices render it urgent to make farming more profitable and productive through better seeds and higher returns per unit of land and water. Bt cotton has greatly enhanced yields with lower doses of fertiliser and pesticides. These are tangible gains that should not be denied or delayed.
Maybe the answer now lies in quick passage of the pending Bill to establish a National Biodiversity Regulatory Authority, with a wider remit than the present GEAC. Once in place, this body should review the Bt brinjal impasse and take a decision on Bt research based on the best science available.

The country has a fixed stock of land on which increasing demands are being made on account of mounting population and development pressures. Present day agriculture can no longer sustain the farm population with shrinking land-man ratios and current first green revolution technologies.

We must move to higher productivity levels for which biotechnology offers a promising pathway. Further, the country must annually create 12 million jobs to absorb the growing labour force, quite apart from coping with those currently under-employed and unemployed, including those increasingly moving off the land.

Whole hierarchies of new employment are required and there is no way large and mega infrastructure and industrial projects can be avoided to exploit economies of scale in a highly competitive, globalised world. It is also necessary to sustain 8-10 per cent growth that could eliminate poverty within the next decade, but with a smaller carbon footprint. Poverty is the worst polluter and human rights offender.

Future benefits

Urban and industrial expansion necessarily entails land acquisition with its concomitant environmental impacts and displacement. One cannot argue that past shortcomings presage future default. That would be a counsel of despair. It ignores the new awareness, stronger legal frameworks, stricter conditionalities, greater public auditing and increasingly better R&D, compensation and alternative livelihood packages, including participation in the future benefits for those affected.

Vedanta's Niyamgiri-Orissa Mining Corporation joint venture bauxite mine in Kalahandi-Rayagada in Orissa, awaits final clearance while the adjacent Lanjigarh aluminium refinery 3 km away, that it is intended to feed, has commenced partial production based on ore brought from other mines.

The case against the mine is that the Niyamgiri range is said to be sacred to the Dogaria Kandha, a primitive tribe, who will be displaced and suffer environmental hardship and a depleting water table. However, the Niyam Raja inhabits the entire 250 sq km range and is not confined to the 3.5 sq km mining location at an elevation of 1,300 m which is capped by an impermeable  laterite crust and is hence bare and uninhabited.
Given removal of the laterite overburden to win the underlying bauxite, the refilled hilltop will become permeable and forested. This will augment the aquifer below and enhance the environment. The facts challenge the prevailing fiction.

There will be no displacement at Niyamgiri while the 120 families displaced at Lanjigarh have already been resettled and are being trained for industrial jobs and other avocations. Additionally, under a supreme court directive, Vedanta is to provide five per cent of its net profit or Rs 10 crore per annum, whichever is more, in perpetuity for wider community development over a 15 sq km area.

This does not seem like vandalising tribal life. Yet, the benefits and multiplier from the larger 5 mtpa aluminium project and related investments are being needlessly delayed by misplaced opposition.

Tata's six mtpa steel plant at Kalinganagar, long delayed, may move forward this year while its related deep sea Dhamra port will soon be operational in collaboration with Larsen & Tubro. Posco's 12 mtpa steel plant and related captive port in Jagatsinghpur district is also held up by betel vine, cashew and prawn farm encroachers on the government-owned land allotted to the company. What is being defended by the Posco Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti is the existing livelihood pattern and way of life.


Can Orissa afford further delay and risk losing the bigger prize and huge opportunity for safeguarded development within its grasp?







NREGP is also about livelihood options and how the families get their rations.


Social audits (SA) are now receiving more public attention and in the wake of Right to Information and Transparency Act, people are agitating to know how our public programmes are managed not just to understand how the funds are used or misused but also know the impact of such programmes on the lives of our citizens.

Social audit of National Rural Employment Programme (NREGP ) in Rajasthan has hit the headlines. Now this programme is named after Mahatma Gandhi and there is all the more reason why SAs should become more widespread and cover not just NREGP but also other government programmes like Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, Rural Health Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and many others launched by the present government.

NREGP is the biggest programme involving Rs 30,000 crore of disbursal to the rural poor seeking work in public infrastructure programmes. In Bhilwara the social audit teams led by NGOs discovered missing job cards, fudged muster rolls, and diversion of funds through fake bills. In over 9,000 gram panchayats in Rajasthan as much as Rs 1.5 crore had been diverted. In Maharashtra in the Vidarbha region, job cards had been sold and the wages manipulated without any employment works.

Touch rural lives

What should be the thrust of the social audits and why do we need them? If the objective of NREGP is to promote wage-based employment and building up of the rural infrastructure like village ponds, desilting of silted tanks, rural roads, organised space for harvesting and not using the roads for harvesting and threshing, then it should go beyond NREGP and touch the entire gamut of the rural life and living.

If social audits are just confined to the NREGP and to find out how the machines vs materials are balanced in the works, we will miss many other aspects of employment generation in the rural areas. So far the audits have been done by NGOs and they have shown up massive corruption in the programme, but very little light has been thrown on how the women have been able to look after their new born, is there any facilities set up for their kids' care, nutrition support, etc.

NREGP is not just about the use of caterpillars and earth movers and how the wages were lost due to the use of mechanised power replacing the human labour. It is also about livelihood options and how the families were getting their rations and how the village ration shops used or misused their rations.

Social audits have been driven by NGOs and the gram sabhas are themselves in the nature of social audit bodies and are unfortunately not used and the NGOs get the limelight. Kerala panchayats are an exception, where even the ward sabhas are powerful and because of the high literacy of the panchayat members, social audit happens all the time regularly and invisibly.

Kerala is unique in setting up institutional mechanism for social audits like 'jaagratha samithis' (vigilance committees) for women's rights and keeping a watch on violation of human rights in both rural and urban areas.

Corporates talk of social accountability and corporate social responsibility and since all development programmes stop at the rural panchayat level or the urban 'nagarpalika' levels, that should be  the cutting edge for conducting all types of social auditing  and accounting.

The corporates are now talking of environmental sustainability, but there is no way of knowing its viability except at the village and urban ward level. Why not NGOs with urban and rural livelihood expertise conduct such social accounting in an integrated fashion so that all stakeholders are heard and not just the wage earners in the rural or urban sectors?

Then we have these environmental impact, audit and accounting tools which are being discussed in the context of environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources like water, soil and biodiversity. Who is to do such types of audits? What skills are needed? Are our all weather NGOs, who are described as 'jholawalas' capable of conducting such sophisticated social/environmental accounting exercises and bring out the truth?

There are stakeholders and shareholders and what we need to know more is about the wage earners as stakeholders and how their livelihoods are affected by a host of public and private sector programmes and not just sensational reports when something goes wrong in the public domain. Our local bodies both in urban and rural areas are best suited to doing social audits on a continuous basis, without giving the impression that they are some sort of witch-hunting, but keeping a proper tab on the implementation.







Clearly the rating czars don't appear to be parents of impressionable kids.


I'm at the video library toying with my choices for a weekend movie. One that I can watch comfortably with my teen daughters. I narrow my choices down to two movies. The first one is about a rebellious teen who's sent to boarding school to mend her ways. The second one is a WW II story of Polish Jews who survive the holocaust. I end up borrowing both: one for the girls and the other for my husband and me.

The teen movie is predictable. The travails of a 16-year-old — with all the drama of high school, rampaging hormones, rules meant to be broken, a Queen Bee added to the mix and the predictable moral coming through not so subtly at the end. Even as I try not to gag at the trite dialogue, my daughters are lapping it all up. My dour expression doesn't dampen their enthusiasm. They're already wondering if there is a sequel to the movie! When I declare, "But aren't these movies all the same..?" there's a stunned silence in the room. Then they roll their eyes wondering whether I inhabit the same planet as them.

In contrast, the other movie turns out to be a thoughtful, inspiring story. It's the story of a band of brothers who survive the odds, waging a guerrilla battle against the Nazis. Hiding in the thick forests of Poland for more than two years, they help thousands of their Jewish brethren escape death. The movie highlights how the courage and enduring humanity of a few helps many to overcome great adversity. My husband and I watched it, when the kids were not home, thinking the 'R' rating on the movie would make it inappropriate for our young teens. Much to our surprise, there was hardly any violence or profanity despite the war theme.

In hindsight the 'R' rated tale about the World War, was far more heartwarming, enriching and wholesome. The 'PG'-rated teen movie reinforced the worst insecurities and condoned the unhealthy behaviour that only adolescent girls are capable of. Clearly the rating czars don't appear to be parents of young and impressionable kids. Or perhaps I'm just a plain old-fashioned parent.









A decision by the PA to stamp out terrorism and incitement against Israel would constitute a huge step on the road to independence.  


About a hundred settlement activists trampled across eggplant fields and around date trees Sunday evening – grappling with IDF soldiers and border police along the way – to force their way into Jericho's Na'aran synagogue. Thirty-five activists were arrested for violating the prohibition against Israeli citizens entering Palestinian-controlled territories without permission.

Ostensibly, the move, which saw activists barricading themselves inside the 6th century synagogue, was aimed at "renewing the Jewish presence in Jericho."

Organizers claimed the move was loaded with symbolism.

"Rabin and his associates said 'Jericho first' as code words for surrender, during the Oslo accords," declared MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who was among the activists. "Now we're saying 'Jericho first' as code words calling for a return to our land."

Another activist noted the historical significance of infiltrating Jericho, the first city conquered by the Jews under Joshua, on Adar 7, the anniversary of the death of the biblical Moses, who never merited entering the land.

The activists might have added the symbolism of Purim's imminence: All of the cities that were walled at the time of Joshua's conquests – such as Jericho – read the Megilla one day after cities that were not.

Notwithstanding our appreciation for historic symbolism, however, a more rational set of criteria should guide political action. It is foolish and potentially dangerous to put a drain on limited IDF manpower operating in the Jordan Valley by traipsing into a closed security zone.

As one soldier reportedly put it while accompanying the activists into Jericho (having failed to block them and opted instead to ensure there were no confrontations with local Palestinians), "Instead of catching rock-throwers in [the nearby town of] Ujah, we are out here with these people."

And it is naive, at best, to expect to garner public support by using force and ignoring law and order. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak pointed out at the beginning of Monday's Labor faction meeting, "In Judea and Samaria there is only one authority – the state."

If access to Jewish holy sites located in Palestinian-controlled areas is what settlers want, the IDF and the Civil Administration regularly coordinate visits by Jews to the Shalom Al Yisrael (Peace on Israel) synagogue inside Jericho – as it does to Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, to Joshua's Tomb near Ariel and to other holy sites no longer under Israeli control. (Similar arrangements are made for Christians and Muslims interested in visiting their religions' holy sites.) Visits to the Na'aran synagogue could be coordinated as well.

MOST HEBREW media coverage has focused on the "good fortune" that there were no casualties among the wayward settlers who dared enter Palestinian-controlled territory. And indeed, there is reason to be fearful of entering Palestinian towns. Etched deep into the Israeli collective memory is the brutal murder of Yossi Avrahami and Vadim Novesche, two reserve IDF soldiers who in October 2000, at the beginning of the second intifada, mistakenly wandered into the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah. PA police did nothing to prevent a huge crowd from beating the two to death, throwing one of the bodies from the window of the PA police station, dragging them both to Manara Square and holding a "victory celebration" there.

Just two weeks ago, meanwhile, a Palestinian Authority policeman stabbed to death an IDF staff-sergeant near Tapuah junction in Samaria. Thus the IDF must take into consideration worst-case scenarios.

Still, assuming, as many in the Israeli media apparently do, that Palestinians will react in a violently Pavlovian way to any Jewish "provocation," is exaggerated and counterproductive.

There have plainly been marked improvements in the will and capacity of the PA's security forces, many of whom have now been trained within US-funded frameworks. Strikingly, they helped prevent an upsurge of violence against Israel in the West Bank during Operation Cast Lead a year ago. Senior security officials describe cooperation of late as relatively strong. Just yesterday, PA forces helped foil a rocket attack from the West Bank, notifying the IDF of the location of a Kassam positioned ready for firing near Modi'in.

A strategic decision by the PA to stamp out terrorism and incitement against Israel, of course, would constitute a huge step on the road to independent statehood. It would also obviate the need for concern when Jews sought to visit holy sites in Palestinian-controlled territory – a sadly improbable scenario, and hardly the one envisaged by the organizers of Sunday's mission to Jericho.


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Can the Twitter generation be tempted to exit cyberspace, put on walking shoes and head out to an archaeological dig?

Talkbacks (3)

Can the Twitter generation be tempted to exit cyberspace, put on walking shoes and head out to an archaeological dig at the site of an ancient Israelite city or visit a museum that documents the ingathering of our people after nearly two millennia of exile?

Can these young virtual explorers be expected to disconnect from the borderless universalism of the Web and reconnect to the cultural particularism and territoriality of their own history and nation?

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government seem to be convinced that teaching the leaders of tomorrow to appreciate their connection to the Land of Israel is not only an educational obligation, but also an existential necessity. We agree.

Symbolically, Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting took place at Tel Hai, the site of a battle 90 years ago during which Joseph Trumpeldor, the Russian Jewish military veteran and indefatigable Zionist, purportedly (new historians shed doubt on this) proclaimed, "Never mind, it is good to die for our country," before dying of wounds sustained while attempting unsuccessfully to beat back a contingent of Beduin marauders who had come to destroy the fledgling Jewish presence in the northern Galilee.

The centerpiece of Sunday's meeting was approving a six-year, NIS 600 million plan (one-third of which is to be funded by private philanthropy) called "Strengthening National Heritage Infrastructure."

The money will be used to refurbish existing historical sites like Tel Hai and to put into digital form a vast body of written, recorded or filmed documentation of national culture to make it more accessible.

Netanyahu had explained the rationale behind the program – which seems at first glance to be difficult to justify from a strictly fiscal perspective – in a speech earlier this month at the Herzliya Conference.

"The guarantee for our continued existence here," Netanyahu told the conference, "depends not just on advanced weapons systems or the strength of the armed forces, the economy or our ingenuity... It depends on our ability to explain the justness of our cause, to make our ties to this land undeniable, first for ourselves and afterward for others.

"We must remember that if this feeling of direction and purpose is lost, if the wellsprings of spiritual strength become cloudy, our future will be cloudy as well."

IN THIS post-modernist, post-Zionist era, Israel's enemies are frighteningly aware of our Achilles heel. Unsurprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad consistently ignores the Jewish people's deep ties to the land of Israel.

"The illegitimate Zionist regime is an outcome of the Holocaust," he said last year in Teheran on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. "... A political and power-seeking network... ruled that the survivors of this particular group of victims must receive compensation and part of this compensation was to establish the Zionist regime in the land of Palestine."

But even Israel's true friends avoid affirming, or forget to affirm, the Jewish people's deep ties to the land of Israel.

US President Barack Obama, in his speech in Cairo in June titled "A New Beginning," respectfully detailed the illustrious history of Islam, expressed his firm commitment to Israel,  detailed the history of Jewish persecution in exile culminating in the Holocaust, but failed to mention a central motif in Jewish history: Throughout those long centuries of exile, dispersed among the nations, the Jewish people yearned to return to its land.

Zionism is incomprehensible without acknowledging this. Pre-Holocaust Trumpeldor is just one example.

Another real friend of Israel, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, insisted during a visit to Israel earlier this month that "Israel is a part of Europe." He too mentioned the Holocaust ("after a visit to Auschwitz I said to myself, it is impossible not to be Israeli") but nothing about the Jewish people's historical ties to the land.

Perhaps it is the west's justifiable feeling of guilt for allowing the Holocaust to take place that pushes it, often, to tie Israel's right to exist solely to this tragedy.

But another problem, which the government plan aims to remedy, is our own unfamiliarity – and not just among the Twitter generation – with the rich cultural, religious and historical heritage tying us to this land.

And if we are not aware and convinced of our right to return to our homeland, how can we expect this from our friends, no matter how well-meaning?







The Catholic Church, looking for a bulwark against communism, supported what rose to become the genocidal regime of Nazi satellite Croatia.

Talkbacks (1)

The controversy over the canonization of Pope Pius XII concerns whether he spoke out enough against the slaughter of Jews during World War II. But that question is a red herring when trying to grasp the big picture of the Vatican's role during the war.

The real question is whether the Vatican supported the world order, or at least aspects of it, that the Third Reich promised to bring, a world order in which dead Jews were collateral damage - which Pius indeed regretted. The answer can be found in a region of Europe that is generally ignored despite being the nexus of world wars: the Balkans.

The Catholic Church was looking for a bulwark against expanding, ruthless, church-destroying communism, but in doing so it supported a Croatian movement called Ustasha, which rose to become the genocidal regime of Nazi satellite Croatia.

American historian Jared Israel points to a February 17, 1941 New York Times article which reported that the archbishop of Zagreb (Croatia's capital), Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, was holding conferences in Vatican City "seeking the freedom of Catholic priests detained in [pre-Nazi] Croatia in connection with the circulation of... 'Free Croatia!' pamphlets, attributed to Ante Pavelic." Pavelic, who once criticized Hitler for originally being too soft on the Jews, was the founder of the fascist Ustashas, who were engaging in terrorism all over Europe to "liberate" Croatia from Yugoslavia. He famously said, "A good Ustasha is one who can use a knife to cut a child from the womb of its mother."

Israel explains the significance of the understated Times article: "The arrested priests were agitating for a fascist coup d'etat," and if these had been rogue priests, "the Vatican would have disciplined them and perhaps issued a statement condemning them; it certainly would not have [held] top-level conferences to manage their defense."

At the time, Pavelic was being harbored in Mussolini's Italy - where his Ustasha soldiers were being trained - after France sentenced him to death for masterminding the 1934 double assassination of Yugoslavian King Alexander I and French foreign minister Louis Barthou. When Hitler invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, Pavelic was activated and became fuehrer, or "Poglavnik," of the new, clerical-fascist Croatia.

Archbishop Stepinac held a banquet for Pavelic, blessed the Ustasha leader and regime, calling them "God's hand at work," and the following month had Pavelic received by Pius XII. This was four days after the massacre in the town of Glina, where the Ustashas locked hundreds of Serbian Orthodox inside their church and burned it down, as became standard practice in Pavelic's Independent State of Croatia (known by its Croatian acronym NDH). Pius XII received Pavelic despite a Yugoslav envoy's request that he not do so, given the atrocities taking place.

In July of that year, Pavelic's minister of education, Mile Budak, publicly outlined the purification process, already being implemented against Serbs: Kill a third, expel a third, convert a third.

That August, more than a thousand Serbs had gathered inside another Glina church for conversion, after which Zagreb police chief Bozidar Corouski announced, "Now that you are all Roman Catholics, I guarantee you that I can save your souls, but I cannot save your bodies." In came Ustasha henchmen with bludgeons, knives and axes, killing all but one man - Ljuban Jednak - who played dead, then stole away from the mass grave he was dumped into.

Pius and Pavelic continued exchanging "cordial telegrams," as author Vladimir Dedijer - former cochairman of Bertrand Russell's International War Crimes Tribunal - wrote in his 1992 book The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican. The Croatian Catholic press consistently published approving articles about the regime.

In his forthcoming book The Krajina Chronicles: A Short History of Serbs in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, Dr. Srdja Trifkovic writes, "A part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy became de facto accomplices, as did a majority of the clergy. The leading NDH racial 'theorist' was a clergyman, Dr. Ivo Guberina... He urged Croatia's 'cleansing of foreign elements' by any means. His views were echoed by the influential head of the Ustasha Central Propaganda Office, Fr. Grga Peinovic.

"When the anti-Serb and anti-Jewish racial laws of April and May 1941 were enacted, the Catholic press welcomed them as vital for 'the survival and development of the Croatian nation'... Archbishop of Sarajevo [then part of Croatia] Ivan Saric declared... 'It is stupid and unworthy of Christ's disciples to think that the struggle against evil could be waged... with gloves on.'"

IN AN unusual move, Germany entrusted Croatia with running its own concentration camps, without oversight. Shamefully, clergy members took a voracious dive into the bloodbath, serving as guards, commanders and executioners at the 40 camps, most famously Jasenovac, the Holocaust's third-largest yet least spoken-of camp. There, they killed Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats. On August 29, 1942, a friar from the monastery of Siroki Brijeg, named Petar Brzica, won first place for killing the most Serbs in the shortest time, boasting 1,350 throats slit in one night.

Historian Carl Savich quotes an AP report stating that "a priest from Petricevac led Croat fascists, armed with hatchets and knives, to a nearby village. In the 1942 attack, they butchered 2,300 Serbs." Testimony from a survivor of that February 7 massacre, Selo Drakulic, reads: "Prior to killing the adults, unborn children were violently cut from their mothers' womb[s] and slaughtered. Of the remaining children in the village, all under the age of 12, the Ustashas brutally removed arms, legs, noses, ears and genitals. Young girls were raped and killed, while their families were forced to witness the violation and carnage. The most grotesque torture of all was the decapitation of children, their heads thrown into the laps of their mothers, who were themselves then killed."

Archive photos of sadism that would make horror filmmakers blush survive today: Ustashas displaying an Orthodox priest's head; an eyeless peasant woman; Serbs and Jews being pushed off a cliff; a Serb with a saw to his neck; and a smiling Ustasha holding the still-beating heart of prominent industrialist Milos Teslitch, who had been castrated, disemboweled and his ears and lips cut off.

Italian writer Curzio Malaparte in his 1944 book Kaputt offers this detail: "While [Pavelic] spoke, I gazed at a wicker basket on the Poglavnik's desk [which] seemed to be filled with mussels, or shelled oysters... 'Are they Dalmatian oysters?' I asked. [Pavelic] said smiling, 'It is a present from my loyal Ustashas... Forty pounds of human eyes.'"

In their 1991 book Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis and the Swiss Banks, reporter Mark Aarons and former Justice Department attorney John Loftus corroborate the grisly Croatian crimes, as does Genocide in Satellite Croatia 1941-1945 by Edmond Paris: "The Italians photographed an Ustasha wearing two chains of human tongues and ears around his neck."

It has been 60 years, and the world still doesn't know the story of wartime Croatia, where not only did the Vatican not speak out against crimes, not only was it complicit in the genocide of a million people, but it subsequently never expressed remorse for the spilled Orthodox blood as it's done for Jewish blood. Because the world never demanded it. Which points to the same apprehensions that have dogged Jewish groups about the Vatican's genuineness, especially with its reluctance to open archives about Pius's World War II conduct.

ONE CAN'T help wondering whether the Vatican as an institution was silently cheering the decimation of its Orthodox rival. Stepinac, who was photographed blessing the Ustashas before an upcoming battle or slaughter, reported in May 1944 the good news about 244,000 forced conversions to Pius. (Pius himself might have caught BBC broadcasts such as on February 16, 1942: "The Orthodox are being forcibly converted to Catholicism and we do not hear the archbishop's voice preaching revolt. Instead it is reported that he is taking part in Nazi and fascist parades.") Observing the liquidation of Croatia's Orthodox, Heinrich Himmler's second-in-command, Reinhard Heydrich, wrote a February 17, 1942, letter to Himmler stating, "It is clear that the Croat-Serbian state of tension is not least of all a struggle of the Catholic Church against the Orthodox Church."

It is not Jews to whom the Church owes the biggest apology over World War II, but Serbs. If by not speaking out about Europe's Jews Pius hoped to avoid endangering millions of Catholics, what could have been the reason for not speaking out about Croatia, which itself horrified the Nazis to the point that German and Italian soldiers started shielding Serbs from Ustashas? And what would have been the risk to the faithful inside Croatia?

A July 5, 1994, Washington Times article attempted to get to the bottom of why so little is known of the Croatia chapter of World War II, and why Jasenovac is so rarely spoken of: "For years the gruesome details... remained officially taboo. Although documents and eyewitness accounts were at first ignored, and then mysteriously removed from international archives... [i]t now appears that a vast international conspiracy involving Marshal Josip Broz Tito... [and] the United Nations, some Vatican officials and even Jewish organizations strove to keep the Jasenovac story buried forever... Tito's watchwords were 'brotherhood and unity,' and to pursue these high goals he tried to erase the chapter of Jasenovac. The West generally went along, particularly after Tito broke with Stalin in 1948. The Vatican wanted to protect Roman Catholic Croats, who had been willing Nazi proxies in the Balkans.

"The silence of Jewish organizations is less easily explained... [The late Milan Bulajic, of Belgrade's Genocide Museum, met] officials of the Holocaust Museum [in Washington to] find out why no one mentions the Yugoslav Jews who died there. He did not seem to get a clear-cut answer... When Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991... troops of newly independent Croatia briefly captured the site and, according to Serbian sources, blew up whatever was left of the camp and destroyed all remaining records."

An apology is also owed to Catholic clergy whose appeals the Church ignored. Archbishop Misic of Mostar, Herzegovina, asked Stepinac to use his influence with authorities to prevent the massacres. And Bulajic wrote of a group of Slovenian Catholic priests who were "sent to the Jasenovac camp because they refused to serve a mass of thanksgiving to Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic... One of the imprisoned Slovenian priests, Anton Rantasa, managed to escape... On 10 November 1942, he informed [Stepinac and the papal legate Ramiro Marcone]... on the crimes of genocide being perpetrated at Jasenovac. He was told to keep silent."

Similarly, historian Savich writes, "It bears noting that Stepinac was tried and convicted... by Roman Catholic Croats... under the regime of a Roman Catholic Croatian... Many of the historians who documented the Ustasha NDH genocide were Roman Catholic Croats, such as Viktor Novak."

In his 1950 book Behind the Purple Curtain, Walter Montano wrote of the Stepinac trial: "A parade of prosecution witnesses testified at Zagreb, on October 5, 1946, that Catholic priests armed with pistols went out to convert Orthodox Serbs and massacred them... Most of the witnesses were Croat Catholic peasants and laborers."

INDEED, JUST as blame for tacit approval of a genocide and subsequent escape for the perpetrators can't fall merely on "a few individuals," it's more than a few individuals who deserve credit for the opposite. For example, Jews were saved by the entire Catholic nation of Italy (in its sovereign pre-1943 form), including the commandant of the Ferramonti concentration camp, who "said his job was to protect the inmates, not kill them," as UPI reported in 2003. Not surprisingly, Italian soldiers also intervened in the slaughter of Serbs by Croats and Axis-aligned Albanians in Kosovo.

Unfortunately, rather than distancing the Church from Aloysius Stepinac, the Vatican-centered newspaper L'Osservatore Romano responded that the "trial was a trial against the Catholic Church." New York cardinal Francis Spellman outrageously named a parochial school in White Plains after Stepinac, and in 1952 Pius XII made him cardinal. Then, despite requests by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to hold off until the cardinal's wartime role could be better assessed, Pope John Paul II beatified Stepinac in 1998.

Croatian groups (and some Croatian Jews) even appealed to Yad Vashem to give Stepinac the Righteous Gentile title, since he saved some Jews on condition of conversion. To which Yad Vashem had to reply in almost absurd terms: "Persons who assisted Jews but simultaneously collaborated or were linked with a fascist regime which took part in the Nazi-orchestrated persecution of Jews, may be disqualified for the Righteous title."

The same should be said to Pope Benedict about his efforts to canonize Pius XII. Even as it denied Stepinac's well known association with the Ustasha, Pius's Vatican served as the conduit for smuggling the Ustashas out after the war. According to declassified US documents introduced in a recent class-action lawsuit against the Vatican Bank for laundering Ustasha loot - used to finance the Ustashas' escapes and postwar sustenance - Pavelic was hidden in a Croatian Catholic monastery in Rome, where the office of the American Counterintelligence Corps on September 12, 1947, reported that "Pavelic's contacts are so high, and his present position is so compromising to the Vatican, that any extradition of subject would deal a staggering blow to the Roman Catholic Church." From Rome, Pavelic fled to Argentina, where he became a security adviser to Juan Peron, who issued thousands of visas to fleeing Ustashas.

Haaretz in 2006 reported that Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, Pius's undersecretary of state and later Pope Paul VI, learned of "the investigation [that US Army counterintelligence agent William] Gowen's unit was conducting. Montini complained about Gowen to his superiors and accused him of having violated the Vatican's immunity by having entered church buildings, such as the Croatian college, and conducting searches there. The aim of the complaint was to interfere with the investigation."

A May 2007 press release from plaintiffs' attorney Jonathan Levy in the Vatican Bank case states, "To date, the Vatican attorneys... [are] insisting that the Vatican Bank's money laundering scheme for Axis plunder violated no international law, since the Ustasha's victims, mainly Orthodox Christian Serbs, were technically citizens of 'Independent' Croatia. The unrepentant tone of the Vatican bodes poorly for Pius XII and the current controversy involving his elevation to sainthood."

THE VATICAN'S ongoing World War II identity crisis was evident last September when, after prodding from Croatian leaders, Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic paid a 60-year-late visit to the Jasenovac memorial site, the first official representative of the Croatian Church to attend the annual memorial ceremony. Instead of an apology, Bozanic defended Stepinac and the Church, and used the long-awaited moment to also mourn the massacre of fleeing Nazis by partisans in Bleiburg, Austria - where an annual, Croatian government-sponsored commemoration ceremony is well attended by Catholic dignitaries. Bozanic was not reproached by the Vatican, which also doesn't reproach the Croatian Church's tolerance of the ubiquitous pro-Nazi symbolism in that country, which reemerged as Croatian "culture" in the early 1990s.

President Stjepan Mesic himself, who just left office after 10 years, had to recently ask the Vatican to pay closer attention to a bishop and military chaplain who regularly recites a violent poem that ends with the Ustasha saying: "For the fatherland, ready."

This is the Balkan country that's on the fast-track for EU membership. That's where decades of evasion, deflection and cover-up get us, something that contributed to John Paul II's own neglect of Jasenovac - the Balkans' largest killing grounds - during his three trips to Croatia. It also leads us to last December's spectacle of Pope Benedict having a private audience with Marko Perkovic, lead singer of the notorious clerical-fascist Croatian pop band Thompson, which regularly invokes "For the fatherland, ready" and had odes to concentration camps on earlier albums. Many Thompson fans engage in Nazi salutes, and nuns and politicians attend the "patriotic" concerts.

People bury history in order to repeat it. John Ranz, chairman of Buchenwald Survivors, in a 1996 letter to The New York Times, wrote: "Ironically, with US help, [1990s president] Franjo Tudjman was able to accomplish last year what the Nazis and their World War II collaborators could not, namely the uprooting of the entire Serbian Krajina population... The World War II fascist regime of Ante Pavelic is being officially rehabilitated in Croatia today. Streets and public buildings are being named after the architects of the Holocaust, Nazi-era currency revived, while the numbers and scope of the human carnage are being rewritten."

Had history not been dumped into a mass grave, Western publics might have been allowed a fuller understanding of the Balkan wars, given that by 1991 it was "normal to kill Serbs," as Zarko Puhovski, of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, put it. When Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in June 1991 - and the Vatican was the first to recognize it despite a UN resolution warning this could imperil a peaceful solution - survival dictated that the Serbs secede from the secessionists. "A few days after the Croatians declared war," writes historian Israel, Pope John Paul II "sent a letter to the Yugoslav government demanding it not suppress the rebellion." And so it was that in 1991 three Croatian soldiers saw "truckloads of bloated, stinking bodies, mothers and children blown up by bombs, and someone wearing a necklace made of ears," Reuters reported on January 28, 1998.

And so it was that president Tudjman was a prominent guest at the inauguration of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, despite saying that "900,000 died, not 6 million," and ranged from calling Jasenovac a "myth," to blaming Jews for the killings there, to offering a formal apology for the 20,000 Jews killed there - but not for the several hundred thousand Serbs. And so it was that in 1995, as Croatian soldiers with Ustasha insignia cleansed the Krajina of Serbs - under US air cover - the Glina massacre survivor Ljuban Jednak once again fled for his life, dying a refugee in 1997.

And so it was that in 2005, when then Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte learned that indicted 1990s war criminal Gen. Ante Gotovina was being sheltered in a Franciscan monastery in Croatia, the Roman Catholic lady found herself  "'extremely disappointed' to encounter a wall of silence from the Vatican" which, she told the Daily Telegraph, "could probably pinpoint exactly which of Croatia's 80 monasteries was sheltering him 'in a few days.'"

And so it was that at the 2006 inauguration of the spruced-up Jasenovac memorial, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff observed "the absence of any identification of the individuals responsible for the crimes described... I was amazed that none of the speakers mentioned... Croatia's greatest achievement in facing its Ustasha past - the prosecution and conviction of Jasenovac commander Dinko Sakic... Could it be that the punishment of such a criminal... is so unpopular, even in today's Croatia...?"

And so it was that Sakic was buried last July in full Nazi uniform, with a Father Vjekoslav Lasic - one of many who hold masses in honor of Ante Pavelic - officiating. "Independent State of Croatia is the foundation of today's homeland of Croatia," Lasic said. "Every honorable Croat is proud of the name Dinko Sakic."


When no Croatian official of stature spoke out against the display, Zuroff called on the president to condemn the organizers and remind Croatian society that Sakic brought it shame, not pride.

In enshrining the Church's divided World War II loyalties by canonizing the ambivalent pope at the time, the Church would be announcing to the world what it's made of. But the Church is better than the sum of its nastier parts. Canonizing Pius XII would be unjust to Catholics who did more than he, and an insult to Catholics everywhere. Pius shouldn't be demonized, but he shouldn't be sanctified.

The writer specializes in the Balkans, and is an unpaid advisory board member of the American Council for Kosovo.







The argument made in Washington that aggressive diplomacy with Syria was tried and failed and incentives must be the order of the day, is false.


President Barack Obama's recent decision to name a new ambassador to Syria is puzzling. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs explained, "Ambassador Ford will engage the Syrian government on how we can enhance relations, while addressing areas of ongoing concern." But the areas of "concern" with the Assad regime are deep and will not be improved or resolved by the return of an American ambassador.

There were many compelling reasons why the Bush administration withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005. The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was the brazen murder in Beirut of the pro-West Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri in an operation that bore all the hallmarks of a politically connected, well-funded, Syrian state-sponsored assassination.

But Hariri's assassination was just the tip of the iceberg. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, Syria has financed, trained, armed, encouraged, and transported foreign jihadists to fight against both coalition forces in Iraq and the fledgling army of the new Iraqi government. The Assad regime has pursued nuclear weapons and continues to support terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah in Israel and Lebanon, and remains tactically and strategically wedded to Iran.

While the White House says that appointing a new ambassador "represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance US interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people," nothing indicates that this form of engagement will yield positive results. In fact, a year into the Obama administration, it is becoming increasingly clear that the "direct engagement" he envisioned during his presidential campaign with regimes such as Syria and Iran has produced nothing more than an increase in Syrian support for terrorism and the ongoing spinning of centrifuges in Iran.

THAT IS because Obama's engagement strategy with Syria is based on several misguided assumptions. The first is that it is possible to effectively pry Damascus apart from its alliance with Teheran, which will make engaging with Iran and solving the nuclear issue easier for the United States. But the durable Syrian-Iranian alliance is not a reactive marriage of convenience. They seek to overturn the regional balance of power and undermine Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as the US. Furthermore, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is not dependent on Syria. Teheran's problem with Israel is not territorial; it is existential. Moreover, America's issues with Iran will not improve with a change in Syrian behavior.

The second faulty premise is that Syria is ready to sign a peace agreement with Israel that will be acceptable in Jerusalem and in Washington. But Assad's concept of peace with Israel was revealed last year in an interview with the Emirati newspaper Al-Khaleej: "A peace agreement," Assad said, "is a piece of paper you sign. This does not mean trade and normal relations, or borders, or otherwise." What would a cold peace with Syria look like with Hamas and Islamic Jihad's headquarters still open for business in Damascus while weapons continue to pass freely to Hizbullah in Lebanon?

The bomb that killed Hariri and brought about the withdrawal of America's ambassador to Syria weighed 1,000 kilograms and left a crater 10 meters wide in downtown Beirut. In addition to Hariri, the bomb killed 21 people, injured 220 more, knocked down several buildings, and set dozens of cars ablaze. This is Bashar Assad's preferred method of engagement and he has yet to be held to account. When Syria ended its nearly 30-year military occupation of Lebanon, it did so because of strong and sustained international pressure in the wake of Hariri's assassination. It was not the result of lengthy hand-holding and endless diplomatic engagement, but the real fear of consequences that could threaten the stability of the Assad regime.

The argument increasingly made in Washington that aggressive diplomacy with Syria was tried and failed and now engagement and incentives must be the order of the day, is false. American policy toward Syria has dithered since 2005 with neither a carrot nor a stick approach fully explored. Syria's rogue behavior is not the result of Washington's diplomatic communications skills; it is the result of strategic calculations and decisions made by Damascus. Syria should be presented with difficult choices that will unequivocally and irreversibly demonstrate that it has changed its worldview and behavior. Unfortunately, sending an American ambassador back to Syria will merely embolden the regime and those in the region that are opposed to peace.

The writer is the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC, and senior geopolitical analyst at IntelliWhiz LLC.








Every US president's first year term is problematic for Israel.

In January, President Barack Obama granted an interview to Time magazine to mark his first year in office. In discussing the Middle East peace process Obama admitted, "…the Middle East peace process has not moved forward. And I think it's fair to say for all of our efforts at early engagement, it is not where I want it to be. I'll be honest with you. This is just really hard."

This was hardly news in Israel. In the US, the similar response is "Well, duh." Yes, making peace in the Middle East is really hard, but Obama's frustration may actually reflect a historical and almost predictable truism about American Middle East policy in the first year of a president's term.

The following is an excerpt from Si Kenen's book Israel's Defense Line: Her Friends and Foes in Washington. Kenen, my mentor, was the founder of AIPAC. He wrote in 1981:

"During the first year of a new presidential term, the petro-diplomatic complex invariably pressures the incoming administration to downgrade Israel and to court Arab friendship. That has been true in every first year except 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was beyond Arab reach. After the election, dust settles on the [parties' pro-Israel political] platforms and Israel's foes use inoffensive euphemisms to urge Washington to be 'more impartial, more evenhanded.'"

Historians can verify Kenen's formula. Look at Dwight D. Eisenhower's pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Sinai in 1957, when he threatened to block contributions from American Jewish organizations to Israel.

The administration tried to divide the Jews of America with secretary of state John Foster Dulles inviting a group of major Jewish philanthropists, including leading non-Zionists, to use their influence to persuade Israel to accept the US position.

Jimmy Carter's term is another classic proof, with him pushing in his first year for a "comprehensive settlement" with all the parties to the conflict, including the Soviet Union. None other than Egypt's Anwar Sadat saw the folly of such a policy, and he and Israel's Menachem Begin succeeded in securing the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, despite Carter's initial objections. Carter went on to accuse Begin of lying on the issue of freezing settlement construction, claiming that it was to be an indefinite freeze. There are three sources to refute Carter's claim:

1. Sadat himself.

2. Notes/protocols from Camp David.

3. Members of Carter's staff.

They all backed Begin's claim that the freeze was to be for a duration of no more than three months.

EISENHOWER admitted years later that he was mistaken for pressuring Israel. In 1965 he told his friend and Jewish leader Max Fisher, "...looking back at Suez, I regret what I did. I never should have pressed Israel to evacuate the Sinai." What was the reason for the regret? First, perhaps he recognized that with the US making the maximalist demands on Israel, the Arab states had no reason to make any concessions in the peace process. Why should they?

Today, why would Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas be willing to demand anything less on the settlement issue than what Obama demanded just months ago - a full freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem?

I believe Eisenhower also realized that the withdrawal would lead to war, something we in Israel learned the hard way after the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Neither withdrawal was secured by negotiations with iron-clad guarantees or a change in the uncompromising hatred of Israel - in the 1950s and '60s it was Gamal Abdul Nasser's hatred that led to the 1967 war; in the last few years it was Hamas's hate that led to Operation Cast Lead.

Indeed, Obama's recent recognition that there is no quick fix for the Middle East conflict may be what we call in Jewish tradition, "reishit hochma," the beginning of wisdom. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated it February 14 at the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha. "This is hard work," she said. "I know people are disappointed that we have not yet achieved a breakthrough. The president, Senator Mitchell and I are also disappointed. But we must remember that neither the United States nor any country can force a solution."

The administration, as it starts Year Two, has also apparently learned that the linkage of Iran to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was a recipe for disaster. Half a year ago, a senior White House official reportedly declared, "Any treatment of the Iranian nuclear problem will be contingent upon progress in the negotiations and an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory." What a victory for Ahmadinejad was inherent in that alleged statement.

Since then we've come some way toward that "reishit hochma," the knowledge that there is no quick fix, and Israel's neighbors should pay attention to the messages now coming from Washington. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a close ally of the Obama administration, also spoke at the US-Islamic World Forum last week where he banished the utopian Pollyannish vision of the administration's first year: "Peace alone will not solve all the region's problems," Kerry said. "Ask yourselves: If peace were delivered tomorrow, would it meet the job needs of the entire region? How many more children would it send to school? Who really believes that Iran would suddenly abandon its nuclear ambitions? So we know that Israel/Palestine is central, but we must develop a much more practical partnership that extends well beyond regional conflicts."

With this more realistic attitude toward the region, there is reason for some optimism as the US and Israeli leadership begin their second year in office.

The writer is a consultant on public affairs and served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He serves as the strategic advisor to the Jerusalem Conference. He blogs at





The Jewish community should rid itself of religious one-upmanship and shed its insecurities, which tend to breed radically absurd suggestions.


Last week as I was flying back to Israel from the United States, I was sitting next to two elderly women. These ladies were very anxious as they explained to me that they were Evangelical Christians who were coming to visit Israel for the first time. As they reviewed their itinerary with me, I found their excitement contagious and I sincerely wanted them to enjoy themselves and forge positive impressions of Israel and the Jewish people.

Mid-conversation we were unexpectedly approached by a hassid who tersely asked me, "Are you Jewish?" followed by "would you like to put on tefillin?" When I informed him that I already put on tefillin, he moved on to the next man sitting in front of me. This man was very put off by the intruding question and dismissed the man, ordering him to move on, which he did. He continued to ask every man in our section the same question.

The ladies next to me looked confused and I could see by their expressions that they were uneasy with both the question that was posed and the reactions which followed. I was equally confused as I wondered if indeed the hassid was fulfilling God's mission. Would God be happy that it was being performed in such a forceful, insensitive and distasteful manner? I approached the hassid and asked him this question, to which he responded, "Nothing is distasteful or insensitive when it is done in the name of God in heaven."

This answer is unacceptable and detestable, because from a Jewish perspective if it is used liberally it is potentially dangerous.


An article was published recently claiming that a prominent rabbi and halachic authority within the haredi community in Israel ruled that braces on one's teeth are considered a "partition" and therefore disqualify any woman who wears them from dipping in the mikve (ritual bath). This rabbi explained that the water must come in contact with every part of the woman's body in order for her to immerse in the mikve and fulfill the commandment of family purity. This is despite the fact that immersing in the mikve is performed while one's mouth is closed; consequently the water would not touch one's teeth in any case.

Effectively this edict means that every time a woman with braces wants to go to the mikve she would have to get her braces removed, which is unreasonable and would deter observant women from seeking orthodontic treatment. It also has serious implications for those women who may have immersed in the past while wearing braces.

I CALLED a number of Torah scholars to ask their opinion. One suggested that many of these rulings are fabricated and don't really come from the rabbinical source quoted. While I began to ponder where the rulings actually did come from, I was willing to accept an oversight at least for the sake of preserving my reason.

However, the nonsensical would not go away, for the following day I read an article in The Jerusalem Post ("'Personal mehitzas' marketed for haredim," February 19) stating that haredi airline passengers are being advised to hang a new type of mehitza - a halachic barrier to separate the sexes - around the top of their airplane seats, to shield their eyes from immodest neighbors and in-flight movies. The Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation (something I never knew existed but now that I do I will certainly look at trains, planes and automobiles with much deeper and spiritual meaning) are encouraging the haredi community to purchase the traveler mehitzot which stick onto the fabric of the airplane chair and can be arranged to make a protective "shield" around the head and in front of the passenger's face.

As Rabbi Shimon Stern, spokesman for the Rabbinic Council for Public Transportation (yes, they have their own spokesman) called the travel mehitzot very cute and very practical, I found myself wondering whether my fellow observant Jews were either very confused or very cracked. Are we, the same intelligent Jewish people who are referred to as a light unto the nations, meant to pursue a Taliban-like existence defined by extreme behaviors as we isolate ourselves from the world around us? Can we honestly claim that these absurd suggestions and inventions are the correct way of fulfilling God's plan and exhibiting spirituality in the world?

Surely this was not what God had in mind. In fact I would not be surprised if God is looking down upon all of this and laughing hysterically. As I pondered these questions I convinced myself that perhaps these halachic restrictions were all part of preparing for the Purim spirit of humor and good fun.

God never asked us to live an ascetic existence, nor does He expect us to refrain from enjoying what the world has to offer. On Purim we eat, imbibe, sing and dance - all physical functions with a clear message. Purim reminds us that God allows the Jewish people to partake in what the world has to offer, but He does not want us to get lost or enthralled by it. God expects His people to arrive at a more sophisticated, spiritual consequence.

Purim represents a fine balance between the physical and the spiritual, between materialism and altruism. Purim restores a rare commodity that is slowly dissipating from the Jewish community. This commodity is called normalcy. The Jewish community should invest more in this commodity by ridding itself of one-upmanship when it comes to religiosity and by shedding its insecurities which tend to breed radically absurd suggestions and extreme licentious behaviors.

The writer teaches at Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a guest lecturer for the IDF Rabbinate. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education.









Education Minister Gideon Saar says that fostering scientific excellence among Israeli students is at the top of his priorities. When he took office, he undertook to improve the performance of Israeli schools in international comparative examinations in math and science, after years of declining achievements. He appointed professionals to key posts in his ministry, for which he won high praise.

But despite his solemn commitment to excellence and professionalism, Sa'ar made the mistake of naming Dr. Gavriel Avital the ministry's chief scientist. Instead of appointing, as his predecessor did, a prominent scholar in the field of education, he chose a Likud activist who ran on the party's slate in the last Knesset election. Avital is not an expert in education or in teaching the main subjects in the school curriculum, but an engineer who taught aeronautics at the Technion. But the main reason he is unsuitable for the post is not his lack of experience, but his opinions.

In a series of utterances disclosed by Or Kashti and Zafrir Rinat in Haaretz, Avital was exposed as an obscurantist Orthodox zealot who casts doubt on the validity of scientific research and rejects both evolution and global warming. He dismisses Darwin's theory because it leaves God out, and he has called environmental organizations "a fanatical religion with a great deal of evil." Avital promised to "scrutinize textbooks" to make sure that students are not exposed exclusively to "the opinion that man evolved from the ape."

Avital wants to push the education system hundreds of years into the past and undermine science's achievements in order to impart religious ideologies to Israeli students. His opinions flagrantly contradict the requirements of the chief scientist post and the state school system's striving for scientific excellence. His proposals that curricula undergo religious censorship to cast doubt on evolution are reminiscent of the notorious "monkey trial" that saw a teacher in Tennessee put on trial in the 1920s for teaching evolution.

The position of the Education Ministry's chief scientist should be filled by a top-notch scholar in the field, and not serve the minister as a way to pay off cronies and party hacks. Sa'ar should immediately get rid of Avital, whose appointment has made a mockery of the minister's lofty promises, and replace him with a true scientist.









Okay, it was a successful operation. Maybe here and there a bit clumsy. Amos Biderman's cartoon in Haaretz in which "our fine young men" were all wearing the same glasses because there was a sale at Opticana reflects our preoccupation with the killing of one Arab, dangerous and wicked as he may be. But it doesn't solve any of the really serious problems facing the country.

The media is full of fantastic stories about the tremendous success of the most widely reported secret operation ever. Britain's Sunday papers, known for their revelations, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspected the Mossad team himself (according to the foreign press, of course) and wished them success. Another newspaper "exposed" that training was carried out in a Tel Aviv hotel.

As a person who holds many meetings in hotel lobbies, I pictured all the characters I have seen with tennis rackets and shorts walking around the lobby and wondered - could I have stood face to face with one of them? Could that woman with the penetrating stare be the same one as in Dubai, in disguise?


As I was gobbling down these thrillers, my eye caught the report by Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz about the French-Spanish initiative for European recognition of a Palestinian state even before negotiations end. That story brings us down to earth to our real problem: Bibi's government has been in power for more than a year and nothing has moved ahead on issues of peace. Not with the Palestinians and not with Syria.

The Palestinians have concluded that another round of negotiations will not help. So have the Israelis. It's all because of Bibi. Meanwhile, nothing has happened and it's not clear what will happen in the year ahead. Luckil y for us, for the time being there is no terror - and that's working in Bibi's favor.

But the sense is that the Americans have moved aside a bit. Has anybody heard from special envoy George Mitchell lately? Have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's metallic tones been heard? No one can depend on the parties reaching an agreement. Under these circumstances, either an agreement will be forced on us or they will withdraw from the process. With Iran's nuclear developments threatening the whole world, it's more likely to assume that sooner or later they will force an arrangement on us.

If reports are true that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to renew talks, with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at his side - the man who rehabilitated the West Bank and the most serious potential leader on the horizon - we must decide how to translate Bibi's commitment in his Bar-Ilan speech into a two-state solution.

A precondition for the negotiations to succeed, if they take place, is that both sides give up on preconditions, because preconditions are like mines planted at the beginning of the road. A second condition: Before starting talks, each side should figure out how many concessions they are willing to make, so they can come to the table partially ready, at least within their own camps.

Are the Palestinians prepared to be flexible regarding permanent borders? Is Israel? Or more precisely, will Israel be able to move some settlements to other areas? Is it prepared to exchange territories? Has the Netanyahu government taken into consideration that the break-in to the Jericho synagogue is just a small sample of what the hilltop thugs are preparing for? Do Bibi and his government have the fortitude to use force to combat domestic insurrection?

If the French-Spanish initiative for Europe's recognition of Palestine before negotiations is serious, this should be seen as the tip of the iceberg of what can happen to us if we insist on presenting unreasonable conditions and we let the political right set policy. Partners more moderate than Abbas and Fayyad are not currently on the horizon.

The question is, how much longer will we deal with this cacophony over espionage? Without detracting from the Mossad's success, if it was responsible for the action, this was a pinpoint success. It's not a reason for the country to act like an ostrich burying its head in the sand and believing that the world has stopped turning.








The enormous traffic jam on the coastal highway Sunday morning tells the entire story. One truck overturned and thousands of drivers stood waiting for six hours in a traffic jam that stretched back many kilometers. Tens of thousands of work hours were lost, and the drivers were furious. But during those hours Benjamin Netanyahu went on pushing his railway vision.

This is because the prime minister does not focus on trivialities. He has no time to deal with some minor road that can't grab the headlines or for which a press conference can't be organized. He is looking for big things: to link the entire country with a railroad network from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat, from Haifa to Bet She'an - however much it costs.

Netanyahu does not care about the little driver whose only desire is to make it to Haifa from Tel Aviv - that same driver who only has a reasonable road to drive on as far as Netanya. After that it's third world, because from Netanya to Haifa the road shrinks to two patched-up lanes, without lighting except that found around intersections.

If the highway had three lanes in each direction, like the international standard, the accident near the Yanai interchange would not have caused a traffic jam on a national scale. It would have been possible to keep one lane open, and with the wide shoulders, thousands of drivers would not have been stuck in traffic for hours.

But dealing with the coastal highway is not a "vision." On the other hand, the grandiose plan, estimated to cost NIS 50 billion, is dramatic enough to provide Netanyahu with the image of a reformer - which he is so fond of. It will also give him a monument, like the pharaohs, or like something Herod built.

But trains are an efficient means of transportation only when they link large population centers and remove congestion from the roads. Therefore, it would be right to invest in railroads between Haifa and Nahariya in the north and Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon in the south. And, of course, a line linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There is a need to invest in suburban railroads in the crowded center of the country, and to finally build a subway for Tel Aviv and a light rail system for Jerusalem.

But building a railroad to Eilat, or one between Haifa and Bet She'an, would be a complete waste. There is also no point in a train from Acre to Carmiel, or for a track between Kiryat Shmona and Rosh Pina. On such connections there is insufficient population and no problem of traffic congestion. It will simply be a waste of public funds.

An example of a failed investment in railroads is the Be'er Sheva-Dimona connection. The planners said that 800,000 passengers would use the train between the two cities every year, but in practice four trains run the line each day, each with fewer than 20 passengers! Is there a bigger waste than this?

The problem of the outskirts of the country is not the lack of trains, but the quality of life. To strengthen the communities in the periphery, better-off populations are necessary, and this requires greater investment, first and foremost in education. People decide to move to a community based on the quality of education there, not how long the train tracks are. Also, it is necessary to create technologically advanced jobs in the periphery; for example, to move to the north the new factory Intel is planning, and to the south the IDF's new teleprocessing base. Thus, people with computer and engineering skills will live in the Negev and the Galilee, not only in Tel Aviv and Herzliya.

There is also a need to invest in culture, theater, cinema and malls so that young people will have something to do in their free time. It would also help if it would be possible to build houses at a reasonable cost - the dream of every young couple.

These are real plans that are capable of advancing the periphery. But they cost a great deal and require time. On the other hand, the train is quick gratification. A track is planned, billions are allotted, there is a ribbon to be cut at a ceremony. The problem is that trains will not help the periphery. They will even cause harm, because when the billions are put into railroads a la the 19th century, there will be no money left over for education, employment, housing or culture. Because there are no free lunches. After all, the budget is limited.

During the early 1970s, when Shimon Peres was transportation minister, he wanted to appeal to the general public. As such, he announced that soon "each worker will have a car." Netanyahu listened and learned. Now he is suggesting a "train for every voter." Because if populism is the game, why not go all the way?







Would the treatment that the religious Zionist Takana panel meted out to Rabbi Mordechai Elon, including the publication of serious allegations, have been so rigorous had it been discovered that an important rabbi was sexually abusing female students and not males? One member of the group who was asked this question said that "the forum handles all kinds of cases, this is a fact, but it could be that the intensity would have been lower. That's understandable. You don't expect this kind of thing from a rabbi, especially with people who were his students."

More than a week after the affair hit the headlines, the question of what Elon did exactly is still up in the air. I don't mean detailed descriptions - the panel rightly kept those to itself - but the accusers have not clearly convinced the public, and especially Elon's flock, that every aspect of the scandal it has created belongs in the public domain. Takana members are sparing with the details but generous with headline-making phrases like "protracted sexual relationship," "acts of great gravity" and "more than mere harassment." This leaves the public no choice but to believe that such respected public figures would not have dared to sling such mud at a rabbi like Elon without solid factual grounds.

Nonetheless, it has not been established whether Elon is "a public menace," as the Takana rabbis have declared, because he is a criminal offender or because in their eyes he is liable to trample ethical principles. Second, it has not been established what internal community codes he has breached, and third, it's not clear to what extent he "abused his authority over his students."

It's easy for the rabbis to explain Elon's responsibility when the person involved is a minor and a direct student of his, which is apparently the substance of one of the complaints. It's harder to explain this responsibility when the people are adults who were not direct students of his. And it would certainly be difficult for the police to see it as criminal behavior.

In the background of this affair is the controversy in Orthodox society over the dilemma concerning homosexual relationships, in particular the attempts by Orthodox gay men and women to meet with rabbis and receive guidance, "permission" or acceptance of their way of life. It's clear that this is also the implicit background of the Elon case both because he had advised young people with "contrary tendencies" and is alleged to have taken advantage of that counseling. Also, he is now "suspected" of being that way himself.

The rabbis strongly deny the claim that they came out against Elon because he is, apparently, a homosexual. They say they do not address "the purity of the camp, but only cases of abuse of authority." However, it's clear that they did deal with this matter. This emerges from what Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, the head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva and apparently the senior member of the panel that investigated the case, told his students last week.

He said that "I do not want to go into details. It's a matter of complaints about acts and behaviors that are not appropriate in a world of holiness and morality ... not between him and her, but between him and him. It's difficult to describe to you the sorrow and distress .... Since the first stories, seven years have gone by, and we had hoped that the man accepted responsibility and that surely now he was interested in overcoming these tendencies and had understood that it affected his situation and status. At that stage we acted gently regarding the steps we wanted to take so that the phenomenon would not spread and so that there would be a note of sanction and to convey the message of 'therefore shall thy camp be holy.'"

There are acts the Orthodox community cannot tolerate even if they are perpetrated by a rabbi in his own private space. But if what the Takana rabbis are talking about here are Elon's "tendencies," they should make that clear. They may have acted courageously by coming out against a rabbi with considerable influence in their community. Now they must also act with honesty and responsibility and persuade the public that the actions they attribute to him are indeed "grave."








Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's assassination and the Dubai police's alertness led to the Israeli public's criticism of the Mossad. But beyond the question of whether the Mossad, which foreign sources hold responsible for the act, is indeed "an outdated agency that acts with worrisome amateurism" (Nehemia Shtrasler, February 19), the speed with which we publish want ads for a Mossad head is interesting in itself.

In Israeli society heroes always enter through the front door, like those who reinstated the Mossad's glory days in this case. But they often exit through the back. Meir Dagan is not alone in his decline in popularity.

Less than two weeks ago, for example, an article about soccer coach Avram Grant was published in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz with the title "How did Avram Grant become the sad joke of English soccer?"


But when in 2008 Grant beat Liverpool on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day with a black band on his arm and elevated Chelsea to the Champions League final, we didn't see him as a joke. In fact, were quite moved.

The satirical television program "Eretz Nehederet" ("A Wonderful Country") is another example of the Israeli tendency to build up just to tear down. The show used to be called "the best satire in Israel," but at the beginning of this season it was slammed for its "weak script [and] ridiculous and stereotypical figures." Eretz Nehederet, too, was kicked into the crowded backyard.

But the backdoor of the Israeli public's sympathy is a revolving one. Being crowned and then beheaded doesn't mean you won't be king again. On the contrary, we want you back, just a little humiliated.

That's the whole point, and it has a name - making a comeback. The only way to recapture your place in the public's heart is by making a comeback. And we interpret everyone's return to our narrow field of vision as a comeback, whether it's a band, an actress, a businessman or a political leader who never really left.

Several prime ministers and leaders have caught on to this and learned to sit quietly until called back, knowing they will always look better through the softened lens of the second round.

In this sense Dagan's, Grant's and Eretz Nehederet's comebacks are a foregone conclusion, but only if they hold on and resist our impatience for the ups and downs of every political, artistic or serious professional career.

Not everyone is up to it. The price we pay for our bloodthirstiness is first of all the loss of our human assets. Some go into exile, while others become silent, looking for shelter, like Nissim Aloni, who never staged a play in Israel after "Eddy King," and Ephraim Kishon, who left Israel for an audience more forgiving toward those who dare to succeed. Kishon was granted the dubious honor of making a comeback in Israel only posthumously.

Seeing our heroes kicked to the curb may be pleasurable for a moment, but the sharp transitions between adoration and contempt impair our ability to accumulate and produce any tradition or system of passing on cultural, political and managerial expertise.

Public impatience and long-term memory loss prevent us from progressing as a society, a state and a culture. One review said "Eretz Nehederet's" problem was its "jumping on the bandwagon of its past glory." This is ironic, considering the fact that the only real glory an Israeli hero can hope for is past glory.





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES





Barack Obama came to Washington with the nation's hope for change riding on his shoulders. He promised to reform the health care system. He hired many of the country's top experts who had written brilliantly about how to do reform.


He immediately moved away from some of their ideas. This was understandable. America isn't Plato's Republic. It's not a nation governed by experts. It's a democracy. To get things passed, you've got to allow for political reality.


So President Obama promised to keep health insurance the same for most Americans. This meant it was going to be harder to bring down costs. This meant it wouldn't be possible to replace the fraying employer-based insurance system. But these compromises could be justified.


Then the Congress began its deal-making. There were special favors put in for certain senators. There were special arrangements made for big Democratic donors, like the trial lawyers. These were compromises, too. They were ugly, and they soiled everybody involved. But, again, they could be justified for reasons of political expediency. The bill that emerged from the Senate was not to everybody's liking. It wouldn't reduce the nation's overall health care spending.


But at least the Senate bill had some integrity. It would cover 30 million people without adding to the deficit. It did this in real ways. It included real Medicare cuts. Most importantly, it included an excise tax on luxury insurance plans.


The excise tax is one of those ideas health care economists of all stripes love. Currently, we have a perverse tax system that taxes salaries but not health benefits. This exclusion favors the rich over the middle class. It encourages extravagant health spending.


According to the Congressional Budget Office, taxing health benefits is one of the two most effective ways to bring down health care costs. Plus, it brings in a ton of revenue. According to the Lewin Group, a health care consulting firm, the excise tax in the Senate bill would bring in $957 billion between 2020 and 2029. This is what pays for expanding coverage. This is why the president could promise to veto any bill that adds a dime to the deficit.


But, alas, this is Washington, 2010. The muck rises. The compromises never stop.


As the year went on, health care reform grew more unpopular. If you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama's reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton's was as it died.


As the political costs rose, members of Congress squealed louder. Congress is not a bastion of courage in the best of circumstances. When it is asked to actually pay for its expenditures, it verges on hysteria.


Some Republicans campaigned against the excise tax. John McCain had made the excise tax a centerpiece of his reform plan. But Scott Brown of Massachusetts and others ran against it.


Unions went next. They demanded a special deal so their members would be exempt from the tax. The Democrats caved and gave it to them.


Blood was now in the water. Everyone smelled weakness. If the White House hopes to pass something in this atmosphere, it needs every Democratic vote it can get. It needs to cater to every special-interest plea. Right now, the White House has no leverage.


Efforts to kill the tax mounted. On Jan. 27, Nancy Pelosi told a group of journalists, "The excise tax has no support, very little support, in our caucus." The pollsters said it was a loser. That was a sign the Congressional leadership wanted it dead.


On Monday, the White House made another compromise. On the surface, it seems mundane. The imposition of the excise tax will be delayed until 2018, and the threshold at which the tax kicks in will be raised. In reality, the delay turns the tax into another Washington gimmick. Lord, give me virtue, but not yet.


The odds are high that the excise tax will never actually happen. There is no reason to think that the Congress of 2018 will be any braver than the Congress of today. It will probably get around the pay-go rules or whatever else might apply and it'll postpone the tax again. The excise tax will turn into another "doc fix." This is a mythical provision in which doctors are always about to get their reimbursements cut. But somehow they never do because the cuts are always pushed back, year after year.


So we've sunk another level in our tawdry tale. The White House, to its enormous credit, has tried to think about the long term. But it has been dragged ever lower into the mire by Congressional special interests that are parochial in the extreme.


This bill may be deficit-neutral on paper. But it has just become a fiscal time bomb. The revenue will never come. Compromises have to be made to keep it (barely) alive. But responsibility ebbs. Politics wins.








Pity the poor MNAs. This impoverished group of underpaid and overworked public servants has revealed the depth of their penury for all to see. Not only do they not have cars (and there is no record of any of them declaring a bicycle in their assets so presumably they walk to work), they don't have much by way of immovable property either, nor much in the bank. All of this tragic and heart-rending detail is revealed in the annual statements of assets and liabilities filed with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). One poor man, Jamshed Ahmed Dasti, is apparently truly pauperised as he has no car, no house, no cash at hand and no bank balance. You don't get much poorer than that. His single bank account is at the parliament building for his salary that he gets as MNA – which we hope is paid in a timely manner because otherwise he will be reduced to begging along Constitution Avenue. Maulana Attaur Rehman has a one-fifth portion in D I Khan and no bank account at all – which presumably means he is unable to draw his salary as a parliamentarian unless it is passed to him through the back door by a peon every month.

Most MNAs are not as strapped for cash as Messrs Dasti and Rehman, though there does seem to be an under-reporting of assets in general with one or two glaring anomalies. One such concerns the wife of Prime Minister Gilani – who at last has a house of his own but still lacks a vehicle. Whilst there is nothing particularly startling about the relative wealth of the prime minister, there is something distinctly odd in that his spouse was able to lay her hands on Rs45.521 million to clear a decade-old debt to the Zarai Taraqaiti Bank and thus avert a poke in the eye with a sharp stick by NAB. Presumably this was spare cash that just happened to be lying forgotten under a sofa. This annual declaration of assets, whilst clearly risible in some submissions, is nonetheless a step in the right direction of transparency and accountability. Not all MNAs have creative accountants, and some seem to have made an honest declaration – and in doing so exposed those who clearly have not. If nothing else the MNAs have for once given us something to laugh about, for which we should be duly grateful.







There is now no remaining high school in the Safi subdivision of Mohmand Agency. On February 21, the militants blew up the last two that remained intact. As a result, some 20,000 pupils now have no means to learn. It means that they have less opportunity to better their prospects in life or escape the hold of militants. Reports from various parts of the tribal areas tell us how young men with no way to occupy their time are recruited by the Taliban. It is not entirely far-fetched to believe that this could be one purpose behind their onslaught on schools.

So far, according to media reports, some 30 schools have been destroyed in Mohmand Agency. These include 12 schools for girls. Primary, secondary and institutions of higher learning have all been targeted. The pattern of attack suggests a uniform strategy and a single line of action. Indeed, despite the fierce operation against militants we hear regularly of continuing bombardment aimed at destroying schools. The Taliban thus continue their bid to push us all back into the age of darkness and deprive the people even of what limited access they have to basic amenities. We have seen this process continue for too long. The burnt, blackened ruins of schools stand in many places across the tribal areas. The time has come to ask how this destruction can be stopped. Perhaps communities, who seek education for their children, can be involved in the effort. But what is essential is that schools be protected so that even the limited chance to learn available to the children of these areas is not snatched away from them













The prime minister's breakfast meeting with the Sharif brothers and their key aides at Raiwind is yet further indication that the PML-N regards Mr Gilani as a man they can do business with. Lately, Mian Nawaz Sharif has made it a point to distance himself from the president. The old days of camaraderie, when the two men not infrequently exchanged handshakes, smiles and warm embraces seem to have faded into the past. It is the prime minister then who now stands at the centre of the relationships with the opposition. Quite evidently, the tone of the discussions in Lahore was warm. How much can actually be achieved is a matter of conjecture. The prime minister has once more promised that the 17th Amendment will be done away with soon. He has also spoken of the Charter of Democracy.

The question, however, is if these pledges hold any real meaning. They have not done so in the past. For all the pledges, and the wiles, the government seems to have had no compunction about simply ignoring them. Certainly, it is astounding that the 17th Amendment remains intact, even though we have heard so much about the sovereignty of parliament and the president's willingness to curtail his own powers. It seems obvious now that he is not really ready to do so. Already, the reluctance to do so has resulted in what is a devastating breakdown in trust and goodwill. The atmosphere of heightened political tensions that now exists in many ways hampers effective work. This has been most obvious in Punjab, where the governor and the government have consistently clashed. The federal government has repeatedly refused to intervene. The time has come for the prime minister to demonstrate that he is indeed a man of substance. Now that the matter of breakfast hospitality is over, he needs to show he is capable of translating promises into actions. After all, the patience of the PML-N cannot last indefinitely. The party has a right to expect that it will not repeatedly be deceived or offered false reassurances. At present it is quite apparent that the prime minister holds great responsibility. He must then show that he is capable of acting independently and honourably. If this does not happen we will face only further political turmoil as the sense of goodwill between parties essential for the effective working of any democracy begins to crumble.






Pakistan has suffered many tragedies since military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's fateful decision to become an ally of the US in the so-called war on terror and there is nothing to suggest that our sufferings are coming to an end. Every tragedy is a story waiting to be told as scores of families have experienced pain and misery following bomb explosions, suicide bombings, air strikes, misdirected rocket and artillery attacks and US drone strikes.

One such tragedy occurred on February 15 in Gang village in Bajaur Agency's Salarzai tehsil. The 80-year-old mother of Sahibzada Haroon Rasheed, a Jamaat-i-Islami leader and former member of the National Assembly from Bajaur, and his 20-year-old niece were killed when their house collapsed as a result of a powerful explosion triggered by the security forces while destroying the family's hujra, or male guesthouse. The hujra was being demolished by the troops to punish the family for its alleged links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The demolition of homes of militants and those suspected of supporting and harbouring them has become a standard policy of the government not only in the tribal areas but also in settled districts such as Swat. There has been no debate on this important issue and it is unclear how many houses have been destroyed to date in the NWFP and FATA and whether this is the correct approach to tackling extremism and terrorism. In fact, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had once taken the decision to stop this practice that punished the whole family for the crime of a single member involved in militancy and damaged more houses than intended, but the demolition of homes has continued with a greater vigour than before.

According to Major General Tariq Khan, the Inspector General Frontier Corps (IGFC) who is leading the military operation in Bajaur, there were ample reasons to take action against Haroon Rasheed's family due to its ties to anti-state elements and patronisation of Talibanisation in Bajaur. He told this writer that Rasheed's 27-year-old nephew, Asadullah, had been in the custody of the security forces since May 2009 for harbouring Taliban fighters and facilitating their activities in Bajaur. However, he insisted that the security forces didn't intend to kill his mother, niece or any other family member. He didn't rule out the possibility that the house fell due to the impact of the explosion caused by the troops while demolishing the adjoining hujra. However, he hastened to add that the collapsed house was old and in a dilapidated condition due to heavy rains and snowfall.

It had been snowing around noon on February 15 when army and FC troops arrived in Gang village, located about three kilometres from Bajaur's principal town and headquarters, Khar. According to Rasheed, the troops accompanied by some US soldiers came in 15 military vehicles and armoured personnel carriers, searched several houses in the village and found nothing objectionable and then planted 72 kilograms of explosives to blow up his hujra. He explained that the hujra was sited in the middle of a compound containing his house and those of his three brothers and it was obvious that the adjoining houses would be damaged if the guesthouse was dynamited. He said he had shifted his family to Peshawar while his brothers and their families were all living in their homes in Gang. He alleged that the troops didn't give sufficient time to his family members, including his old mother, and women and children to shift to a safer place despite requests by villagers and caused a huge explosion with a remote-control device while leaving the village.

The hujra was razed to the ground but the blast also brought down the verandah of the adjacent house, burying Rasheed's mother and niece under the debris. Another woman, the wife of Rasheed's relative, Salim, and her three-year-old son were injured and brought to Peshawar's ICRC Hospital. The villagers later pulled out the two bodies and performed the burial rites in pouring rain and heavy snowfall in Rasheed's absence. The former lawmaker has been unable to return to Bajaur due to a curfew and insecurity and is receiving well-wishers offering condolences to him at the Peshawar headquarters of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

This indeed is a tragedy as two innocent women lost their lives in an incident that could have been avoided. There are two widely divergent versions of the circumstances that led to the tragedy and prompted the Jamaat-i-Islami to call for countrywide protests. It is true that the security forces are operating in a difficult and dangerous situation, particularly in Bajaur where the military action started 18 months ago and has now entered a new phase with the advance of the troops into the Taliban strongholds of Mamond and Charmang. The troops have offered sacrifices in the battle against the militants and have made gains at a considerable cost. IGFC Major General Tariq Khan has been leading his men from the front, succeeding in raising the morale of his soldiers, many of whom deserted the FC and gave up the fight following ferocious attacks by militants during 2004-2009.

However, the occurrence of Bajaur-like tragedies, the accusations of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings against the security forces and the growing presence of US soldiers and spies in the area would continue to fuel the conflict and negate efforts to make Pakistan peaceful and stable. The lack of credible information about the situation in the conflict areas and the unawareness of most Pakistanis of the human suffering in places like Bajaur and Waziristan have prevented this tragedy from becoming public knowledge.

It is, therefore, necessary to probe the circumstances in which the mother and the niece of Jamaat-i-Islami's provincial deputy head Haroon Rasheed were killed. Rasheed has challenged the government and the security forces to provide evidence of his family's involvement in anti-state activities. Four members of his family, including his brother Muhammad Rasheed and his nephews Asadullah, Saeedullah and Khalid, are in the custody of the security forces and all stand accused of having links with the Taliban. The FC authorities even alleged that Rasheed's hujra was frequented by foreign militants and served as a centre for the Taliban. These are serious allegations and should be backed up by evidence to make them credible.

In his defence, Rasheed explained that his house and hujra were located on the roadside and approachable by paved roads from three sides, including the one from Khar town. Besides, he pointed out that the famous Baba Picket built on a hill and manned by FC soldiers overlooked his house and was within the range of a Kalashnikov rifle. He maintained that it was impossible for foreign or even local militants to seek refuge or use his house and hujra as a hideout because it was visible from the Baba Picket.

Rasheed, articulate and determined, also raised fundamental issues with regard to the ongoing military operations in FATA and the rest of the NWFP. He claimed that more than 90 per cent of the 7,000 people killed in the military action in the region since 2004 were civilians. In his native Bajaur, he contended that 99 per cent of the 3,000 tribespeople who lost their lives in the military operation were women and children and, therefore, innocent. Rasheed is ready to face punishment if his family is found involved in anti-state activities but he also wants those making accusations against him and his relations to be made accountable if they are proved wrong. Moreover, he wants a judicial probe into the civilian deaths in the military action and the US drone strikes in the Frontier. He is seeking an independent probe by judges, political leaders, the media and human rights activists into the so-called "collateral damage" resulting from the military operations and is willing to defend his viewpoint on all forums. On his part, he believes his hujra was demolished and his mother and niece were killed to punish him for consistently opposing since 2004 the military action in the NWFP and FATA. He considers it as an act of revenge, a claim that the security forces and the government would never accept.

Is there someone in the government and the military to accept Rasheed's challenge?

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai







Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is learnt to have whispered in the ear of a confidant that this was the last time he had come to the rescue of his beleaguered boss. Of course it can neither be confirmed nor endorsed from any quarters but subsequent events stand for its veracity.

A bruised president may be groping his way to play the next round. But it is time he hung his gloves, gave deep thought to his actions and received sane advice. Mr Zardari's dilemma is what options he is left with and whether he should follow the path that gives a lease of life to the PPP government.

By performing an acrobatic somersault on Feb 17, Mr Gilani saved the day for the president and perhaps bought a little more time for the PPP government after his boss committed mother of all the mistakes i.e. violation of the Constitution and law of the land. Such a foolhardy act was not the first of its kind.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani seem to have different wavelengths and are hardly on the same page on issues of national importance. Response to the NRO, cabinet reshuffle and how to deal with the judiciary, the media and the establishment are just a few of them. Till now Gilani has been truly abiding by what the boss said, but his decisions bounced back. The PPP government, apart from its hide and seek with coalition partners, is often found on a collision course with other pillars of the state.

The real problem that the PPP is facing is the duality of charge and lack of unity of command. If the PPP aspires to run the show as a democratic government, it is the prime minister who should have the command and reins of the government in his hands. So far, on almost all issues he played second fiddle. Every second day the print and electronic media show a picture of the prime minister briefing a proudly seated president, portraying an image that the president is calling the shots. Orders about important decisions are supposed to be signed and issued by the prime minister's office. The president's affirmation is often formal and a matter of routine, as is required in a parliamentary system of government. But it has always been vice versa. Orders which are often controversial are issued by the Presidency and then, as an afterthought, it is declared that the president had acted on the advice of the prime minister.

It's perhaps the last chance for the president to reverse the order and allow the PPP government a chance to survive. Zardari took the backseat and allowed Gilani to initiate the intricate process of meaningful negotiations on a fast track with the PML-N leadership.

Gilani is perhaps one of the last shining stars on the PPP horizon. He possesses brains and the brawn to make it possible. He has proved his ability to get along with other stakeholders of power. But he won't be able to get along now unless he is given a free hand to run the government on a path of the envisioned parliamentary system in which the president recedes and takes a backseat if he wants to continue to function as head of the state. The hodgepodge of democracy is not going to go on for an unlimited time. It is known loud and clear by now and President Zardari will have to realise it. The sooner he does it the better it would be for his own survival.

Even for Gilani it will not be a smooth flight to run the show. He will have to show tons of trust in persuading the PML-N to rejoin the government at the centre. But beyond trust, he will have to assure the PML-N that he is actually at the helm of affairs. A democratic dispensation is said to be the art of the possible, carried forward through a process of sincere and intensive negotiations and consultation and letting rational thinking prevail for the stakeholders to come along. That's what Gilani will have to do and this is the only channel left open. It's the only gateway open to democracy. The aspirations of 150 million people also lay in hope of good governance and evolution of a system of checks and balances for transparent carriage of the affairs of the state. This is possible only if the big two parties genuinely achieve a compromise and put in their best for the system to flourish.

The PPP should be aware of the fact that its present coalition partners will remain troublesome and taking pounds of its flesh little by little. They have already been a constant pain in the neck for the PPP. The government has consumed nearly two years and wasted its energies in damage-control measures and trying to set its ship on an even keel.

But so far failures were reaped at the doorsteps of the Presidency. If the PPP government has to run the business of government in the coming days, Mr Zardari will have to accept his dormant role from now on, so that Mr Gilani could squeeze some quantum of sympathy for him by sharing power with the PML-N, and lend the presidency a face saving.

This is the last option available. If Mr Zardari remains adamant he will miss this bus, too. Till now the president, somehow, connotes the existence of democracy with his missteps and serves a feigned notion that if he is not at the helm of affairs adventurers will take over; it is the gravest fallacy of thought prompted by his mediocre advisers.

The president may note that a parliamentary democracy has an in-built system to evolve. The day is not far off for the PPP to lose majority in the National Assembly if it continues to remain in the doldrums and delivers precious little. A system of democracy hijacked by a single person is in itself a negation of democracy. It will not last for too long.

As it is said, time and tide wait for no man. Mr Zardari will have to hurriedly shed all of his extra weight.

The writer is editor investigation, The News, Lahore. Email:








In his column last week, my friend Harris Khalique quotes a small part of Article 38 of the Constitution, which is titled, "Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people". Harris's reminder is simple, timely and important. In the age of a palpable Pakistani rule of law narrative, the Constitution is too easily and too often reduced to a political hot potato, used primarily in the national conversation as an instrument of political advantage.

The Constitution, of course, is bigger. It is bigger than the petty politics that has defined the PPP's repeated attempts to pretend like it's 1973 for sure. But it is also bigger than the heroic lawyers' movement, the still-nascent Pakistani media and the inexplicably weak parliamentary opposition to the PPP. No matter what side one takes in these seemingly existential debates in Pakistan, the Constitution is bigger than the sum of these parts. It is not just about the chief justice, or the NRO, or judicial appointments. Despite the advantage that the PPP has repeatedly handed to its opponents unerringly since it took power in 2008, the Constitution is bigger than both those that seek to let it grow and breathe in the space that was originally sought for it, and those that seek to tie it in knots and manipulate it for whatever specific purpose they seek to derive from it.

The Constitution is the overarching framework around which Pakistan is supposed to be organised. Its articulation of the way Pakistan is supposed to be is surprisingly clear and accessible (if you happen to be comfortable with the English language). At its very heart, the Constitution is about defining Pakistan. That the definition of Pakistan is spoken of in the present rather than the past participle is not necessarily tragic. What is tragic is that in the grand Pakistani drama, the national conversation is so pre-occupied with the petty politics of the thaana and the kutchehri that it has almost no time at all to focus on issues about which there is little or no disagreement at all. Article 38 is a subset of a more important section that is almost entirely absent from the national conversation. That section of the Constitution is a compendium of values that are supposed to define Pakistan's personality, and is called the "Principles of policy".

The "Principles of policy" section has a total of twelve articles, Article 29 through Article 40. Of these twelve articles, two are devoted to the definition of the section, and ten articulate the actual principles. Pakistanis are often bludgeoned with stark reminders of how far short their country falls on international indices of performance. Whether it is the ambient level of human development, or the openness of Pakistan's markets, or the perception of corruption, everywhere Pakistanis turn, they find their country being ranked among the world's bottom-feeders.

One way to test the degree of discrimination or bias that may be actively being practised by the international community is to judge Pakistan by its own standards, rather than those of others. And there is no less controversial and more comprehensive set of standards of behaviour, or features of personality, for Pakistan than the Constitution's "Principles of policy".

Let's see how Pakistan measures up against each of the ten principles of policy defined in the Constitution.

The first principle is Article 31 titled "Islamic way of life". Pakistanis that want more religion in their country are unhappy to the point of having taken up arms against the state. Pakistanis that want less religion in their country are unhappy to the point of actively promoting and supporting the carpet-bombing of villages in their own country. Suffice it to say, the Pakistani state's performance in enabling Pakistani Muslims to be the best they can be is so dismal, that the bruises from these failures cannot be hidden. Pakistan's key existential dilemmas, more than sixty years after coming into being, continue to constitute issues related to the appropriate role of faith in determining public policy.

Article 32 is titled "The promotion of local government institutions". The exact text reads, "The state shall encourage local government institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions special representation will be given to peasants, workers and women". Each version of Pakistan's local government system has been motivated by a military dictator's zealous lust for the centralisation of power -- by draining the provinces of their rightful autonomous status as power-brokers in the Pakistani federation. Rather than fixing what is wrong with military-endorsed local government systems, politicians are all too happy to scrap them, because democratised local governments would eat away at the family-dominated, centralised political party system. The Pakistani state has utterly failed to promote local government institutions.

The third principle is titled "Parochial and other similar prejudices to be discouraged". Article 33 states that "The state shall discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens". This would be funny only if it was fictional. Having sustained and nurtured tribal codes of conduct and justice for the entire duration of its existence in FATA, and having cultivated and nourished the feudal systems of Balochistan, Sindh and Southern Punjab, the Pakistani state has not just tolerated parochial and tribal prejudices. It has actively endorsed and sustained them. The fact that even in the 21st century, little girls can be traded by tribes as penalties is a reflection of how deep the failure of the state has been in living up to the standards of behaviour defined by the principles of policy.

Article 34 is titled "Full participation of women in national life", and it has the second shortest description of all the principles, saying simply that "Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life". Article 35 is titled "Protection of the family, etc." and is the shortest of all the principles, saying simply that "The state shall protect the marriage, the family, the mother and the child". The ratio of women in Pakistan's civil services is shameful. Less than 9 per cent of all federal civil servants (BPS 17 and above) are women. The ratios are likely to be lower in the provincial services, and opportunities for women to make career progressions that lead to leadership positions in government are few and far between. The judiciary, the military and the private sector are not dramatically different. The Pakistani state hardly has much of a defence. It is keen to hand out women's representation where it can make little impact, such as quotas for unelected representation -- but extremely stingy where it can -- such as in the public services. The Pakistani state has done a number of small things over the years to integrate women into public life, but those efforts have been miniscule compared to the challenge. The fifth principle about protecting the family is kind of moot when the state's performance on protecting and promoting women has been as poor as it has.

The sixth principle is Article 36: "Protection of minorities", and it says that "The state shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial services". What possible thing can be said in support of whatever symbolic efforts may exist in this regard while the memory of Gojra hangs in the air like the pungent smell of death?

Of the six principles, thus far, not a single one represents an area of success. Pakistanis can legitimately be disappointed at how little the Pakistani state has done to live up to the words and ideals articulated by the framers of the 1973 Constitution. But insofar as principles go, the meat and potatoes of the "Principles of policy" lie in Articles 37, 38, 39 and in part Article 40.

(To be continued)

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website







The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) - an apex body formed by the G-7 countries to combat money laundering and terrorist financing around the world - held its deliberation in Abu Dhabi during February 15-19, 2010. After the deliberation, the United States Treasury Department released its statement from Washington DC, expressing its happiness over the outcomes of the deliberation. It has stated that a key global anti-corruption body, referring to FATF, has blacklisted eight countries for alleged money laundering and terrorism financing, including Pakistan. Many print and electronic media have reported the statement released by the US Treasury Department.

The statement of the US Treasury, as reported in the press, is factually incorrect and utterly misleading as far as Pakistan is concerned. As it will be made abundantly clear momentarily, bracketing Pakistan with other seven countries was nothing but an effort to malign Pakistan and put pressure on it to achieve certain political designs. I consider this as my national duty to appraise the world in general and people of Pakistan in particular regarding the progress it has made over the last one decade in combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

Pakistan began to participate effectively in anti-money laundering (AML) efforts in Asia-Pacific region since early 2001.During my stay in the Ministry of Finance I also participated in some of the meetings on this issue in the US Treasury Department in Washington DC. While several laws are already in force in Pakistan to address the issues, a standalone law on money laundering was first introduced in the country in September 2007 through the promulgation of AML Ordinance 2007. This Ordinance was highly technical in nature and as such suffered from various deficiencies in comparison with the international standards. The Asia-Pacific group as well as the FATF had noted Pakistan's efforts and provided useful comments with a view to bringing the law to come into close compliance with international standards.

Pakistan continued to work towards improving the AML laws with a view to addressing the concerns of the FATF. Accordingly, a new Ordinance along with major amendments was issued on November 26, 2009 by the president of Pakistan. In the meantime, the government has recently introduced a Bill in Parliament in line with the above Ordinance, which has now been passed by the National Assembly and is awaiting approval of the Senate. The Senate Standing Committee on Finance is going to deliberate on the Bill on Tuesday (February 23, 2010). Once the Bill is transformed into the law, it will take care of almost all the concerns the FATF raised earlier.

Let me turn to explain for the general readers as to why bracketing Pakistan with seven other countries was wrong and appears to be politically motivated. The FATF has grouped the member countries in four categories. The first category includes the countries which are not at all cooperating with the FATF and creating extensive financial risks for the world. From the viewpoint of the FATF, Iran is the only country belonging to Category I. Countries with no commitment to adopt AML regime fall into Category II and include Angola, Ecuador, Ethiopia and North Korea. Countries which have not yet addressed certain deficiencies in their AML regime, as pointed out in the past by the FATF, fall in Category III and include Pakistan, Sao Tome and Principe, and Turkmenistan. Category IV includes countries which have not yet been evaluated by the FATF and consist of some 70-75 countries. Many of the countries in Category IV may be in a far worse situation than Pakistan in terms of AML regime, yet they are safe because they have not yet been evaluated.

It is interesting to note that until October 2009, Pakistan was bracketed in Category I, graduated to Category II in January 2010 and now further graduated to Category III on February 19, 2010. This clearly suggests that Pakistan has made considerable progress in AML regime and moved from Category I to Category III in such a short period of time. Pakistan has already taken care of the remaining deficiencies as previously pointed out by the FATF through the amended legislation and once passed by the Senate, it will definitely become a law. Pakistan will then further graduate to the category of the countries having closer compliance with international standards as set out by the UN Conventions and the FATF.

While Pakistan's political leadership is bitterly involved in political wrangling with economy remaining totally off from their radar screen, the dedicated staff of the Ministry of Finance in general and its Budget Wing in particular are fully alive to the developments taking place on international scene as far as the AML regime is concerned. They are continuously making efforts to defend Pakistan's position on international forum. The Ministry of Finance has established AML Cell in the Budget Wing, which is closely monitoring the developments in the AML/Terror Financing regime within and outside the country.

Clubbing Pakistan with seven other countries was a sorry state of affairs. A country which is making progress in AML regime should not have been clubbed with other countries, if the statement of the US Treasury Department is to be believed. If the FATF – an internationally prestigious body, is involved in giving such an impression about Pakistan, it is certainly highly deplorable with no useful purpose served. The implications of blacklisting Pakistan are horrendous; no country would honour Pakistan's letter of credit if an advisory is issued by the member countries of the FATF. This will not only hurt Pakistan's international trade but will also have serious consequences for economic growth, unemployment, poverty and banking and finance. I hope that the print and electronic media within and outside the country may have misread the statement of the US Treasury Department.

The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email:







The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

Have the military operations in South Waziristan, other tribal areas and Swat helped to create a strategic moment in the country's struggle against militants? Will 2010 be decisive in reversing the tide of militancy after a deadly year that saw a record number of terrorist attacks and killings? Has military action scattered the local Taliban or irrevocably weakened the movement?

There are no easy answers to these questions in a fluid and fraught situation gravely affected by border volatility that is being heightened by the escalating war in Afghanistan. The consolidation of gains made by military offensives will depend on overcoming a sobering number of hurdles and resolving critical governance issues. This means a greater role for political rather than military actors in the transition to the post-conflict phase.

Militancy has been dealt a lethal blow, but one that is not fatal yet. The necessary, though not sufficient, conditions have been created to turn the tide. The loss within six months of two leaders – Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud – has left the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in confusion and disarray. The assault on the TTP's stronghold in South Waziristan has degraded the organisation's capability. But its continued ability to strike in the mainland suggests it has more than just a residual capacity and is using its connection with other groups to orchestrate the attacks.

Among the daunting tasks ahead are to dismantle the militants' "syndicate" that remains intact, disrupt its supply line and flow of financial resources – which are also intact – and destroy its intelligence "assets." Also critical is to halt the flow of recruits into the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban, even though this has been affected by its loss of physical space. That the threat may be becoming more dispersed is indicated by the nexus the TTP has established over time with proscribed organisations or their splinters beyond FATA.

While the top leaders have been eliminated as part of a decapitation strategy the rest of the TTP leadership are still at large. Many melted away into the adjoining areas in pursuit of new hideouts, which necessitated cordon and search operations in Orakzai, Khyber and beyond. The leader of the Swat Taliban, Maulvi Fazlullah, is said to have fled to Afghanistan.

None of this minimises the significance of what has happened so far. The army today has a presence in all seven tribal agencies, including North Waziristan, where a division is deployed. It is engaged in counter-militancy missions of varying intensity in a phased way to avoid multiple engagements and minimise the danger of "overstretch." The strategy of dealing with one area at a time seems to be paying off.

The offensive launched last October in South Waziristan – the largest-ever counterinsurgency operation – is now in the "hold" mode, having almost completed the "clear" phase. Five brigades are in the Mehsud area while the region east and west of this is being cleared, where air power is also being used.

The operation has been effective in neutralising the TTP's centre of gravity. The Taliban have been dislodged from their sanctuaries, control of the area wrested from them and their training camps – from where an estimated 80 per cent of suicide bombings were launched – destroyed.

Two of "Operation Rah-e-Nijat's" three objectives have been achieved: establishing the state's writ, and dismantling the insurgents' infrastructure. The third goal, to create space for civilian authorities to engage tribal elders in establishing a sustainable political order, is a work in progress.

This is the imposing challenge of the present phase, in which tribal maliks have to be encouraged to return and their authority revived to reestablish a functional arrangement that can take over from the military. Progress in this task will enable the estimated 200,000 locals who fled the Mehsud area to return for rehabilitation.

None of this will be quick or easy. It will need to be buttressed by significant development activity so that an environment can be created that is inhospitable to the return of the militants and alleviates the socio-economic conditions that feed the insurgency.

The projects being launched by the army in partnership with the local administration after consultation with tribal elders are a step in the right direction. As also are efforts to secure the support of the Mehsud and Waziri tribal maliks for development.

The litmus test of a military operation is when it ends a credible governance authority is fostered. Inability to deliver on this can unravel the military gains and lose critical local support.

Swat's experience is instructive in this respect. Although the phase of "build" and "transfer" (of responsibilities from the military to civilian authorities) has proceeded slower than expected, due to capacity limitations, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts are in full swing even as military action to "sanitise" and secure surrounding areas continues. There is no better testimony to the revival of public confidence and return of normalcy than the repatriation of the displaced population and last month's peaceful by-election to a provincial assembly seat.

But terrorist attacks continue to shake the country. 2009 was the most violent year mainly because of the fierce backlash against the military operations. Daily bomb explosions strained the public's patience and tested the national resolve to fight militancy. Last year surpassed the previous year's grim record: an estimated 2,586 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian-related incidents – including 87 suicide attacks – compared to 2,577 in 2008. 3,021 people were killed in terrorist violence in 2009.

Some of the violence continuing into this year may be reprisals for the intensified US drone strikes in the tribal areas. Increasing attacks on "soft" targets may represent a shift in tactics by militants aimed at shaking the national consensus. This is backfiring as the brutal assaults have only steeled the public will to fight back.

The tribal areas remain volatile. The intensification of military action in Bajaur, and to some extent Mohmand, is a response to resurgent militant activity increasingly launched from across the border. This reflects a "reverse safe haven" phenomenon, which is a potent reminder of how instability in Afghanistan continues to jeopardise Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts – and also of the fact that militancy cannot be defeated in isolation to the security situation next door.

The US/Nato offensive in southern Afghanistan can also adversely affect Pakistan. Both "push" and "pull" factors – "push" (militants being driven to Pakistan from Afghanistan) and "pull" (expecting the Pakistani army to act as an "anvil") -- can strain the military's capacity and detract from its anti-militant efforts.

Especially as the campaign is at a delicate juncture. While TTP militants are on the run, having been deprived of a base to train, regroup and operate from, this has not led to a halt in their activities. The loose network has shown a capacity to regenerate even after the loss of its leaders and recover from fierce internal struggles. It may now be adapting to mounting pressure by dispersing and coordinating actions with sympathetic groups outside FATA.

A more diffuse threat with the means to cause disruption in the country's mainland will need a different response from military assaults to secure territory. They will require effective law enforcement, improved policing, better intelligence and, of course, sustained public support.

This means replacing a fire-fighting approach with a comprehensive and multilayered strategy that employs a diverse toolkit for what most certainly will be a long haul. When army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani recently described the present phase as transitional, he seemed to call for an approach in which the state's civilian organs take a lead role.

The key question is whether a capacity can be generated for such a "civilian surge" even as the various law enforcement agencies take sustained steps to dismantle the syndicate of terror that still operates in the country. In the longer run the neutralisation of this network will also rest on bringing to an end the conflicts and disputes in the region that have motivated and nourished the forces of militancy.







Thanks to Prime Minister Gilani democracy has returned from the brink unharmed and a little stronger. My lord's supper on Feb 17, which the prime minister also partook, changed the political atmosphere from gloomy to pleasant. The next day Mr Gilani invited my lord to prime minister house for lunch. These last minute efforts by Mr Gilani yielded unexpected but welcoming results. It was touch and go. A clash between judiciary and executive appeared imminent, but he averted it skilfully and saved democracy from becoming a horrible mess.

The dispute was over the interpretation of some Articles concerning the appointment of superior judges. The Constitution of 1973 has its good points for it was a document made and agreed upon by elected representatives, but it lacks brevity. It consists of 280 Articles, 7 Schedules and 8 Appendices. Despite its untoward length it often fails to provide an irrefutable answer to various constitutional questions. Many articles are interrelated which makes it difficult to fathom the real intentions of the authors of the constitution. The only remedy left is to consult the constitution-writers to find out the most reasonable solution. And that reasonable solution could only be provided by the judiciary.

The US constitution is 223 years old. It is succinct, containing about 4,000 words, which could be printed on 12 pages. Despite its conciseness, the US constitution has withstood hard times. It has survived a long (1861-65) and deadliest (620,000 dead soldiers) civil war triggered by the southern states on the issue of slavery. The Civil War sped the abolition of slavery and strengthened the constitution.

Our 1973 Constitution contains 97,300 words, including 6,300 words of table of contents. It is amazing that the contents table of our constitution is larger than the entire US constitution. Moreover, we have inserted more amendments in our constitution in 37 years than the US has done in 223 years. Our constitution also contains a large number of footnotes explaining which military dictator, Zia or Musharraf, added the constitutional amendments and for what purpose. These two extremely evil and cruel gentlemen have destroyed the parliamentary essence of the 73 Constitution. President Zardari thinks and acts as if it is a presidential system which he is heading and Prime Minister Gilani thinks and acts as if it is a parliamentary system which he is heading. This dichotomy of power is hurting the constitution and obliterating the principles of good governance.

Mr Gilani's thinking to bring parliamentary control over the appointment of judges seems like a good idea and will bring transparency and accountability in the process of appointments, but why single out judges? In my opinion all the senior appointments should be subjected to parliamentary endorsement.

The US president appoints the federal judges, cabinet ministers, military officers and ambassadors. But there is one catch. Each appointment is subject to Senate's approval. Mr Obama may be the most powerful man on earth, but he cannot bypass the Senate. The poor man cannot even give away a piece of land or LPG quotas to his cronies. His nominee has to appear before the Senate and answer its question. The hearing is opened to public. The Senate has the exclusive power to reject the president's nominee if he was found lacking in integrity or had a murky past. However, in one instance, the US president rarely gets the chance to appoint a Supreme Court judge for his appointment is for lifetime while the president leaves the White House after serving four or eightyears.
I don't think our government would ever make a law subjecting its appointments to parliament's approval. After all, if it happened, what would become of the party's cronies who have sacrificed for democracy?
Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com







THOUGH there are some solitary voices demanding holding of fresh elections yet at present there is, on the whole, no major move for snap polls. However, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani thought it appropriate and chose Lahore, the hub of political activities, to come out with forceful arguments against such an exercise. He was of the view that mid-term polls would not provide any solution as there will be coalition set-up again.

That the Prime Minister dwelt at length on the issue makes one to believe that something ominous was cooking up and some political parties might be thinking of making forceful demands for new elections. But we fully agree with the Prime Minister that it will be too early to go for such a move. We have been emphasizing all along that continuity of policies is the prerequisite for achieving developmental goals and for this there should be political stability. It will be unfortunate if some people or forces start talking about mid-term elections when the incumbent Government has hardly completed its two years. People give mandate to their representatives for five years and it would not be fair to deny them the opportunity to complete their tenure and deliver as per commitments made to the people from time to time. No doubt, the performance of the Government is wanting in many respects and there is a room for immense improvement yet this should not provide justification for creating political instability. There is also logic in the assessment of the Prime Minister that the elections in the present circumstances would not bring about any meaningful change. Some faces might replace their roles but the overall situation is unlikely to undergo a change. No single political party can claim to get comfortable majority to form governments both at the Centre and in the provinces and the move would end up in another coalition arrangement, exposing the major component of the coalition to blackmail and pressure tactics, as is the case now with the PPP. We, therefore, believe that any demand for mid-term polls would be a step in retrogression and the political parties should desist from any temptation to go for that option. Instead, we would urge them to join hands to pool their collective wisdom for resolution of the problems of the country in overcoming the challenges confronting the nation.








IN the wake of successful operations Rah-e-Nijat and Rah-e-Raast, the menace of terrorism, which was assuming dangerous proportions, is now under effective check and the situation in the affected area is fast returning to normalcy. The entire world community is now appreciative of the comprehensive and decisive operations launched by Pakistan Army to eliminate the threat, as is evident from the latest statement of General David Petraeus, who has acknowledged progress made against Al-Qaeda in FATA.

Though there are still instances of terrorism and militants continue to strike targets in various parts of the country, their frequency has dropped and it seems that their strength is dying down. The success was achieved because of the united stand of the nation to ward off the danger at all costs and this resolve could not be shaken despite the fact that people of Pakistan have offered unparalleled sacrifices. Top leadership of the militants is constantly under pressure and loss of successive leaders have demoralized them and there are reports that their leaders are on the run for safety. Many of them have reportedly fled to Afghanistan while others are hiding. The surrender of a key militant commander along with twenty of his associates in Mamoond tehsil of Bajaur Agency is reflective of the fact that militants are finding it difficult to find any refuge. This is because local population has turned against them and raised Lashkars to fight them out. Arrest of several important Taliban figures also bears testimony to the fact that the law enforcing agencies were tightening the noose around their neck. A few days back Mullah Baradar was arrested from Karachi while there are also reports of the nabbing of one of the ten most wanted Taliban commanders Maulvi Kabir. We hope that with effective coordination and continued pressure, the law enforcing agencies would soon be able to restore normalcy in all the troubled areas.







WHILE Pakistan is facing acute water shortage, another disturbing development has come to light that India has started preparations to build another big Dam — Bursar — over River Chenab. Bursar Dam will be the biggest project among a number of others being built by India on two major Rivers, Jhelum and Chenab to further choke Pakistani waters.

Under the Indus Basin Treaty, signed in 1960 at Karachi, Pakistan received waters of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, whereas Ravi and Beas (Sutlej in Pakistan) were to be used by India. Since its signing India has been violating it in one way or the other. The Baglihar Dam was the first major incursion on the water being made available to Pakistan from the Chenab River. India is not allowed to build storage or diversion of the river water, yet under the garb of only utilizing hydro-electricity generation capability, New Delhi planned construction in such a way that the site can store the river water and can thus be controlled to her advantage. Then came the Kishanganga Hydropower Project and India is not ready to accede to Pakistan's point of view. Pakistan's Indus Water Commissioner is reported to have completed all the required documents and there is a need that the Government should move to International Court of Arbitration at the earliest. If no prompt action is taken, the latest violation of the Treaty would be the Bursar Dam over Chenab near Kishtwar which would have 829 feet height and storage capacity of more than two million acre feet of water. Already Pakistani riverbeds including Chenab and Jhelum have turned into mere sand deserts. The Indian strategy has a hidden political agenda to create scarcity of irrigation water that would hurt Pakistan's economy and agriculture sector in 10-15 years. Therefore we would impress upon the Government to take a serious notice of Indian water aggression and raise it forcefully with New Delhi at the forthcoming Secretary level talks. At the same time the members of the Parliament, including leader of the Opposition Ch Nisar Ali Khan should raise this issue forcefully in the National Assembly because if India continues with its current strategy of building dams on Chenab and Jhelum Rivers, then there would be serious implications for Pakistan's agriculture and national security.  










Unusual initiatives by Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry have saved the country from drifting into another abysmal situation as serious government-judiciary crisis confrontation in the nation's face. President Asif Zardari, however, had to eat the humble pie once again due to the government's retreat on the issue of judges' appointment. Mr Gilani's dramatic dash to the Supreme Court to participate 'uninvited' in the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's dinner for Justice Khalilurrehman Ramday helped defuse the crisis created by the Presidency's notification elevating Lahore High Court CJ Khawja Sharif to the Supreme Court and inducting Justice Saqib Nisar as LHC's acting Chief Justice in utter disregard to the CJ's recommendations.

Subsequently, the Chief Justice also called on the Prime Minister in response to his invitation for 'consultations' on the contentious issues with regard to the judges' appointment, which led to supersession of the presidential notifications by a fresh notification that announced induction of all the judges as per Chief Justice's recommendations. These inductions were being withheld by the presidency over the past several months in an apparent bid to grab a chunk of posts for the PPP jiyalas. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's steadfastness and scrupulousness has, however, compelled the presidency to eschew its belligerent posture towards the judiciary. This is, however, not the first time that the presidency has faced humiliation for choosing the war path with the judiciary. Mr Zardari's deliberate delay in the restoration of the judges of the superior judiciary sacked by former President Gen Perverz Musharraf following imposition of emergency had also resulted in disgrace for him as the Nawaz Sharif led Long March had forced him to revoke the military dictator's blunder act. COAS's mindnight telephonic call, in fact, did the wonder.

It's true that the nation has been saved from the torment of yet another predicament resulting from the confrontation between government and the higher judiciary, but it's also not untrue that it has been achieved as a consequence of compromises. Mr Gilani's 'unusual' initiative to act as an 'imposed guest' at the CJ's dinner was understandable since the government was caught up on the wrong side but Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's visit to the Prime Minister's House for the meeting with Mr Gilani was certainly 'more unusual' as it constituted deviation from not only the established norms of judges' conduct, but also the Judicial Policy that was formulated recently at a meeting presided over by the CJ himself. It's hoped that these 'unusual' acts will lead to the positive outcome, but the fact cannot be ignored that compromises on principles seldom yield durable results. It's being argued that Mr Gilani was under 'command' to do the 'unusual', but there was hardly any reason or logic for the CJ to visit the Prime Minister's House at a time when important cases of the executive were pending before the apex court. The constitutional and legal wizards have also not endorsed the meeting as a desirable act. They are of the opinion that the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice was an improper act and that the CJ's recommendations on induction of judges at the supreme and high courts level should have been implemented without their interaction. The pretext of 'consultation' attributed to the meeting by the government is simply a ruse to cover up its own embarrassment.

It's generally noticed that the pigmies around leaders in the form of 'advisors' usually contribute towards political demolition of their bosses through wrong advice. Our irony, however, is that our leaders themselves don't rise above their 'advisors' usually for one reason or the other. The repeated steps of retreat by the presidency on multifarious issues including judges' restoration, NRO, delay in judges' induction, non-implementation of Charter of Democracy etc., as well as unabated increase in the public hardships on account of shortage of electricity and gas, mounting charges of utilities and high cost of living are the glaring proof on that count. While the nation is groaning under the impact of price hike, insecurity, inflation, unemployment and bomb blasts, the pigmies are having their hay day as the leadership is misled on issues of vital national importance. In the judges' induction case, the President and Prime Minister were unfortunately made to believe in the false notions by the pigmies around them. While the President was allured to issue the notifications about the elevation of Justice Khawja Sharif to the Supreme Court and appointment of Justice Saqib Nisar as acting CJ, the Prime Minister was pampered to make an unwarranted speech in the National Assembly laden with threats left and right. It was perhaps for the first time that the Prime Minister was seen loosing his usual cool. It was, however, not too late before he realized the folly and gave clarifications and explanations about the expressed views within 24 hours. The paradox is that either the top political functionaries are too naïve to handle the affairs of the state or are unable to comprehend the real connotations of the 'advice'. Never before in the nation's political history, a sitting government made so many retreats on its decisions as the present one has done. And it's because of the tendency in the presidency to perform the Chief Executive's functions as well.

On many occasions, decisions are made by the presidency about the executive without the knowledge of the Prime Minister. And often, the Prime Minister was forced to do the damage control without having done what he had to own as Chief Executive. This is certainly not an ideal situation of governance nor does it conform to the principles of good governance. It's time for the ruling elite to wake up to the realities staring in its face and mend its ways of governance to bring them in conformity with the established norms of parliamentary democracy. As a matter of fact the presidency has to choose between parliamentary democracy and the vast executive powers being enjoyed by the President. Ironically, the presidency is retaining these powers despite persistent and unanimous demand to surrender them. And the sooner it's done, the better would it be for all pillars of the state as well as the civil society.








Balochistan — the mineral-rich and strategically-located province - is very much in the rivalling international eyes, with world powers and regional countries eyeing it avariciously to push it into their own orbits of influence and domination. According to political and defence analysts, the US, Russia, India and even Iran are either directly or indirectly widening the ethnic and sectarian schisms in Balochistan and FATA. Iran, a brotherly state, must realize that it has a large Baloch population on its side of border with Pakistan and the Indian desire of weakening Pakistan by creating independent Balochistan will cost heavily to Iran itself, as the map of Greater Balochistan also includes Sistan province as well. According to a news report carried by national English daily, more than 100 Pakistani Baloch dissidents have been sent to India by the Indian consulate located in Kandahar (Afghanistan) for six-month training. "We have credible reports that the Indian consulate in Kandahar dispatched more than 100 Pakistani Baloch dissidents during the second week of December 2009 for six-month training in India," an intelligence source told the English daily on condition of anonymity.

Reportedly, upon completion of training under the Indian trainers, half of the strength of the anti-Pakistan elements would report to Commander Abdul Raziq, in charge of Sarhadi Leva (border police) in Spin Boldak close to Chaman while the remaining strength would be placed under Sarhadi Leva post commander in Shorawak district of Kandahar. Balochistan has been in the throes of tribal, ethnic and sectarian strife for quite some time but insurgency escalated on completion of Phase-I of Gwadar project when Chinese engineers were made subject of attacks by Baloch insurgents. In fact, the US, Russia, Iran and India do not wish to see Balochistan to become a trading hub; however India is playing a pivotal role to destabilize Pakistan. There is strong evidence of Indian support in planning, commissioning and preparing acts of terrorism through setting '26 centres' of terrorism along the western border in Afghanistan. Reports indicated that explosives were brought in by Indian Border Roads Organizations under the garb of reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Afghanistan through Iran to be used for sabotage acts in Balochistan.

Balochistan is located on the northern tip of Strait of Hormuz through which much of the world's oil supply passes. It is endowed with rich natural resources with an estimated 19 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and 6 trillion barrels of oil reserves. Therefore, some countries are trying to weaken Pakistan from within and focusing on FATA, NWFP and Balochistan. Even international media have reported that insurgency in Balochistan is being supported by the RAW from Indian consulates along the Pak-Afghan border, and Indian consulates are being used by Indian intelligence agencies for dispatching trained militants in Balochistan. The Khan of Kalat while forming the 'Council for Independent Balochistan' in London had said: "He is enjoying the support of like-minded' and friendly countries who had promised him all help and cooperation". It is in this backdrop that the US Under-secretary of State for political affairs William Burns in a statement asked India to trim its consulate in Jalalabad in Afghanistan, which is acknowledgement of eidetic reality about India's designs. The Khans of Kalat always maliciously propagated that Balochistan was all along an independent state, while the historical evidence suggested otherwise. In fact, Balochistan came under British jurisdiction ever since 1840, and at the time of partition Kalat was only one of the four divisions, and he announced independence of that part of Balochistan against the will of its people. To identify the causes or genesis of Balochistan's problem, it is important to understand the situation during British Raj. In 1877, at the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress, about 700 princely states enjoyed treaty relations with the British Crown. British India had appointed regents (Britons) in the princely states to oversee the nawabs and also that no rebellion-like situation emerges. By the Indian Independence Act 1947, the British gave up the suzerainty of the states and left to the free will of each to merge with India or Pakistan. And there was no concept of independent princely states or regions in the plan for partition of the subcontinent.

It goes without saying that people of Balochistan have the first right over minerals and natural resources of Balochistan, and major part of the income from these assets should be spent on the welfare of the people of Balochistan. Baloch sardars should be given their share out of the income that accrues from gas, oil or copper from the resources found in their respective areas. And they are getting it. It is unfortunate that some sardars are not willing to accept less than independence, and they openly talk about secession. Akhtar Mengal, Shahzain Bugti and Mir Byar Marri do not hide their ambitions of having an independent Balochistan. But no state worth its name would turn a blind eye to the efforts aimed at disintegrating the country and hold talks with such elements.

Those who insist that the government should have talks with them, should first ask these leaders to wean away from secessionist tendencies. In many countries of the world such contradictions exist and that are resolved through talks. But three Baloch Sardars insist that Balochistan was never part of Pakistan, which is travesty of the truth. In November 2009, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had announced Balochistan Package and placed a ban on the construction of new military cantonments in Balochistan, general amnesty for the armed activists of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), and talks offer to three rebel leaders – Mir Herbiyar Murree, Barahamdagh Bugti and Attaullah Khan Mengal, in his speech in the parliament. The Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani had reportedly endorsed the new package after the Prime Minister Gilani sat down with him and ISI Chief General Shuja Pasha to discuss all the important points of this package concerning the role of military in Balochistan. It was decided by the government that the military would not construct new cantonments in the province, however, the two old cantonments would stay functional. Likewise, it was decided that the heads of the Balochistan and Gawadar Authority would be from Balochistan and no outsider would be appointed there.

Anyhow, in an effort to heal the wounds of the past, a 39-point 'Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan' package was approved at a joint sitting of the Parliament. Some nationalists and a few members of opposition parties have not appreciated the spirit in which the package has been approved. And some Baloch sardars rejected the package even before its details were made public. Anyhow, recommendations in the package were divided over five categories: constitutional, political, administrative, economic and monitoring mechanism. It proposed the facilitation of the return of political exiles, immediate release of political workers and political dialogue with all stake-holders.

The package included setting up of a fact-finding commission to investigate into the circumstances that led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti and stopping the construction of cantonments in Sui and Kohlu, withdrawing the armed forces from these areas. It is a gesture of goodwill and commitment to undo the injustices of the past; therefore Baloch sardars should wean away from secessionist tendencies and reciprocate, which will be in their interest as well as in the interest of the people of Balochistan.