media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month february 26, edition 000440, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- CHARADE COMES APART
- CRICKET'S BIGGEST HERO
- COLLUDING WITH MAOISTS - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- EQUITABLE GROWTH ELUDES INDIA - RANJIT KUMAR PAUL
- DEALING WITH MAOISTS - KALYANI SHANKAR
- DALAI LAMA, TIBET, CIA - DMITRY KOSYREV
- EGYPT'S NEW CRUSADER FOR REFORMS
- CLOUD SERVICES CAN SHAKE UP THINGS - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM
- SACHIN PROVES AGAIN THERE IS NONE LIKE HIM
- OPTIMISTIC SURVEY
- THE SPIRIT IS WILLING BUT THE FLESH IS WEAK - BY R. SRINIVASAN
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- MARRIED TO THE MOB
- RUN SACHIN RUN
- CHOCOLATE CAKE AND TERROR - CHETAN BHAGAT
- 'A COMPLETE MILITARY VICTORY IMPOSSIBLE IN AFGHANISTAN'
- HIS NAME IS KHAN
- TAX BRAKE - JUG SURAIYA
- WE ARE ALL PHILISTINES
- HAPPILY DIVORCED
- COMFORTABLY NUMB - SAMRAT
- FIRST AMONG EQUALS - AYAZ MEMON
- THE TALLEST SHORT MAN - SUMIT MITRA
- THE ENUMERATED
- OUR FORGOTTEN BORDER
- AN ENABLING STATE
- GROSS DOMESTIC OPTIMISM - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
- INTELLECTUAL DEAD ENDSN - SUDEEP PAUL
- CHEAP AT THE PRICE? - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAM
- EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE - PIERS BRENDON
- MISSING THE ENGINE FOR THE GEARS - KENICHI OHMAE
- GADKARI'S APPEAL TO MUSLIMS
- SURVEYING REFORM OF GOVERNMENT
- DOES THE SURVEY REALLY MATTER AT ALL? - BIBEK DEBROY
- KELKAR & CO SHOW WAY TO FISCAL REFORM - P RAGHAVAN
- OFFTAKE, STILL SLUGGISH - SAIKAT NEOGI
- A BALANCED REVIEW
- SACHIN'S SUMMIT
- FROM ROARING LION TO TIMID MOUSE - VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM
- SHEIKH MABARAK: AN APPRECIATION - PRANAY GUPTE
- DREAMING OF A CHANCE FOR PEACE - V.R. KRISHNA IYER
- GOOGLE STANDS FIRM AMID COMPLAINTS IN EUROPE - JAMES KANTER
- CHARTING AN ACHIEVABLE ROAD MAP - ASHOK DASGUPTA
- UNBEATABLE SACHIN TENDULKAR
- MINIMALIST AGENDA
- STAIN ON THE UNIFORM - JULIO RIBEIRO
- IN MNIK, JOHAR WAS AFFLICTED WITH IGNORANCE - MADHU JAIN
- DECONTROL PRICES
- RECALL OF CARS
- SACHIN, SACHIN!
- POPULISM AND SAFEGUARDED PROGRESS - BY B.G. VERGHESE
- WORDS THAT RULE - BY P.C. SHARMA
- FINANCIAL INCLUSION - BY PREMILA NAZARETH
- RECOVERY WAS NEVER GOING TO BE EASY - BY HAMISH MCRAE
- WORLD'S TEMPERATURE RECORD TO BE RE-ANALYSED - BY MICHAEL MCCARTHY
- FROM BANYAN TREE TO BSE
- DEVOLVING FISCAL REFORM
- ENABLING THE UNABLE
- IN POVERTY AND IN WEALTH - SUNITA NARAIN
- WHEN INNOVATION ACQUIRES NEW MEANING - BHUPESH BHANDARI
- PAUL VOLCKER'S TROJAN HORSE - SATYAJIT DAS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- FINANCE PANEL GETS IT RIGHT
- SEPARATE SURVEY FROM THE BUDGET
- TRADERS EXPECT NO BUDGET-DAY JITTERS - APURV GUPTA
- FUND HOUSES BEND RULES TO HELP RICH INVESTORS SAVE TAXES - SHAILESH MENON
- NIFTY MAY SEE RESISTANCE AT 4950 LEVELS
- FROM MAGICAL TO MIRACULOUS - MUKUL SHARMA
- MEDIATION IN MAOISTS VS STATE?
- REAL ISSUE IS CRIMINAL NEGLECT OF TRIBALS
- PROSPECTS OF TALKS-BASED CEASEFIRE ARE DIM
- 'INDIA, CHINA TO RULE GROWTH PATH' - ATMADIP RAY
- 'INCENTIVES FOR FUND TRANSFERS NEW THIS TIME' - SURABH
- 1.5% hike in state share of tax disappointing: Dasgupta - Rakhi Mazumdar & Atmadip Ray
- 'AIRCRAFT UTILISATION & REVENUES WILL GO UP ON ONEWORLD ALLIANCE' - NIRBHAY KUMAR
- 'ONE USUALLY HAS TO USE A LIFELINE, ALWAYS' - ASHOKE NAG
- WE HAVE 10% OF THE WORLD'S YACHT MARKET: PAOLO VITELLI - NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA
- LITTLE CLARITY AFTER TALKS WITH PAK
- IN DEFENCE OF EXPENSE - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
- GORDON BROWN AND HIS THUGGISH HENCHMEN - BY MARTIN BRIGHT
- BUDGET '10: NANI YAAD AA GAYI - BY SHOBHAA DE
- THE NEW ALMIGHTY - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- THE BELOVED OF GOD - BY SADIA DEHLVI
- WELL-BEATEN TRACK
- WORDS AND DEEDS - ADITI ROY GHATAK
- TALES FROM THE FOREST
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- WHERE HAVE COURTESIES GONE?
- TOO OPTIMISTIC
- HAND OF REFORM
- RECONCILING THE MAOISTS
- POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- MOVE WITH CAUTION - MALVIKA SINGH
- CRYING NEED
- AFGHAN CURSE
- SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- NEED TO MODERNISE ARMY COMMUNICATIONS - BY GURMEET KANWAL
- GEEKS TOO HAVE FUN - BY MEERA SESHADRI
- WILL THE DUBAI HIT INCREASE ISRAEL'S GLOBAL ISOLATION?
- THE MASTER OF PYROMANIA - BY YOEL MARCUS
- THE FAT MAN WILL GET FATTER AND THE THIN MAN WILL COLLAPSE - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- EVERY DAY IS PURIM - BY DORON ROSENBLUM
- IT'S A LONG ROAD TO A MODEL SOCIETY
- WITH AHMADINEJAD'S FINGER ON THE TRIGGER - BY ELY KARMON
- SOMETHING ELSE TO BE PROUD OF - BY ELI VALLEY
- SECRET, AND SHAMEFUL, TIES - BY DANIELLA PELED
- A BELATED VICTORY - BY CLIVE BALDWIN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- GOODBYE, HUMMER
- THE VOTERS WILL PAY
- AFTER THE SUMMIT
- QUESTIONS FOR GOV. PATERSON
- AFFLICTING THE AFFLICTED - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- TALKING-CURE DIPLOMACY - BY CARLO STRENGER
- NOT AS DULL AS EXPECTED! - BY DAVID BROOKS
- VOTES AND VICTORY
- PRESSURE POINTS
- THE MISERY ON OUR FACES - AYAZ AMIR
- MONTH OF THE PROPHET'S BIRTH - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- 'NOT PART OF PAKISTAN' - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- COMING HOME TO KASHMIR - JYOTI MALHOTRA
- THE ALCHEMY OF POLITICS - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- PML (N) REHABILITATES ITS POSITION
- INDIA SCUTTLES TALKS ON EVE OF TALKS
- FORMER PRESIDENT OWES AN EXPLANATION
- FM QURESHI SEEN AS ARMY FAVOURITE - M D NALAPAT
- INDIA'S ACHILLES' HEEL, HOMEGROWN INSURGENCIES - SULTAN M HALI
- LOVING THE HOLY PROPHET (SAWS) - ATIF NOOR KHAN
- PATRIOTISM IN BALOCHISTAN - ALI SUKHANVER
- THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MOSSAD - IAN BLACK
- NORTHEASTERN TRADE
- FREAK STORM
- MY HARMONICA AND HYMNS..!
- LET HISTORY BE WITH HISTORIANS - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
- SOLUTION FOR BANGLADESH AND MALDIVES - DR SYEDA SHARMIN ABSAR
- THE EU VS DEMOCRACY - ARNOLD CASSOLA
- TECHNOLOGY OUTSTRIPS THE LAW
- PEACE CULTURE WEAKENS NATO
- TOO RIGHT, PRIME MINISTER, YOU DO HAVE A PROBLEM
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ISRAEL MUST EXPLAIN
- A QUESTION OF IDENTITY
- NO PLAN, NO LAND. WHAT NOW?
- PROTECT CHILDREN AND THE MEDIATION PROCESS
- SEXUALISATION OF CHILDREN: PARENTAL GUIDANCE
- GOOGLE: PRIVACY.COM
- IN PRAISE OF THE NEW LEFT REVIEW
THE KOREA HERALD
- POLICY OPTIONS
- AGAIN, CORRUPTION
- ALLIANCE BETWEEN JAPAN AND INDIA - YURIKO KOIKE
- RADICAL IDEA LIVES ON FOR FREEDOM
THE JAPAN TIMES
- MANAGING LOCAL BUDGETS
- CENTRAL CONTROL OVER BUREAUCRATS
- A NECESSARY TRY FOR IMF
- LET US IN ON THE SECRETS
- ADAGE OF UNITY AND DIVISION FITS ASIA - BY M.D. NALAPAT (CHINA DAILY)
- ODE ON A GRECIAN URN ON FIRE THAT EXPOSES A SLEW OF LIES - BY HANS-WERNER SINN (CHINA DAILY)
- INNOVATION LEADS TO PROSPERITY - BY ZHOU MUZI (CHINA DAILY)
- EYES ON OFFICIALS DURING SPRING FESTIVAL - BY WANG AIHUA AND LI HUIZI (CHINA DAILY)
- ELECTIONS, HERE AND THERE
- DUTCH COURAGE DEALS DOUBLE BLOW TO US MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN
CHARADE COMES APART
FORK-TONGUED PAKISTAN SNUBS INDIA
Pakistani belligerence was on full display when that country's Foreign Secretary, Mr Salman Bashir, used astonishingly crude language while giving his version of what had transpired during Thursday's talks between him and Ms Nirupama Rao, India's Foreign Secretary. Expectedly, Ms Rao was calm, dignified and measured while briefing newspersons on the agenda of the meeting, listing India's concerns which she had placed on the table. Diplomacy, after all, is not about being needlessly aggressive, a point wasted on Mr Bashir who, it would seem, had been instructed to be pugnacious rather than prepare the ground for the resumption of the composite dialogue which was suspended after Pakistani terrorists, aided and abetted by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, attacked multiple targets in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, killing at least 176 people. It could be argued, and legitimately so, that India, under intense US pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who increasingly appears to be putty in American hands, and not Pakistan, is eager to resume the stalled bilateral dialogue. It would be equally correct to suggest that while the Government of Pakistan has neither acted against those who masterminded the murderous assault on Mumbai nor shown any signs of contrition for facilitating the bloodletting indulged in by its terrorists on Indian soil, the UPA Government really the Congress has chosen to be seen as an appeaser keen to mollycoddle recalcitrant foes of the nation. Islamabad, under the joint tutelage of Washington, DC and Rawalpindi, has refused to bend; New Delhi has been forced by a pusillanimous Prime Minister to crawl, and most abjectly so.
In such circumstances, it matters little whether or not Ms Rao made a spirited effort to discuss terrorism-related issues with Mr Bashir when they met on Thursday, or whether the Pakistani delegation had the better of the Indians by forcing manufactured grievances on Balochistan and river waters, apart from the by-now-familiar whine over Jammu & Kashmir, on the agenda, thereby scuttling any purposeful discussion on jihad emanating from territory under Pakistani control. The day the talks were announced it was clear to all that the Pakistanis would come, sit across the table and then spit venom at us before getting back to doing what they do best: Waging a war of a thousand cuts on India. There is no percentage in blaming the Americans for not restraining the Pakistanis and forcing them to abandon their evil ways; if anybody is to blame for India's continued humiliation it is our timid Government. It is not surprising that Mr Bashir should have been fulsome in his praise for Mr Manmohan Singh.
So, where do we go from here? A simple, straightforward answer to this question would be, Nowhere. Instead of dealing with the Pakistanis from a position of strength, we have elected to portray ourselves as weak and indecisive. A Government that misleads Parliament repeatedly on important foreign policy-related issues as the Prime Minister did after his shameful surrender at Sharm el-Sheikh cannot be trusted to deal with Pakistani aggression and worse which, in large measure, is fuelled by American support. It is tempting to dismiss Thursday's 'non-talks' as inconsequential or to claim the moral high ground by pretending to be sub-continental peace-makers. That would be self-defeating, if not outright dangerous. What we have done is to further embolden the criminal enterprise that presides over Pakistan.
CRICKET'S BIGGEST HERO
THE LEGEND THAT IS SACHIN TENDULKAR
It is impossible for anyone growing up in the nineties in India to be unfamiliar with the legend of Sachin Tendulkar. He has been the constant hero in our lives for the last two decades. Yet there have been times that the Indian cricket fan has been guilty of doubting the little master and his extraordinary abilities. The reason for this is the fact that for a very long time Tendulkar solely carried the weight of expectations of one billion Indian cricket fans. He was synonymous with Team India, something that was a privilege and a curse. After the team's exit in the 1996 World Cup in that dramatic semi-final against Sri Lanka in the Eden Gardens, dejected cricket fans burnt his effigies and smeared his posters with black ink. Also, there were times when people doubted his continuance in international cricket, citing his injuries as a sign of impending retirement. But it is not in Tendulkar's nature to 'quite', the word simply does not exist in his dictionary. His role in the team might have changed from time to time, but for 20 years Tendulkar has made a habit out of proving his detractors wrong and emerged as an awesome cricketing force. That he now holds practically all the batting records only Brian Lara's 401 Test score remains is something that has come to be viewed as natural. Thus, when Tendulkar became the first man in cricketing history to score 200 runs in a One-Day International, the collective cricketing fraternity was unanimous in its opinion that it could not have happened to a more deserving cricketer. Indeed, his latest record adds a nice touch to his 93 centuries in both formats of the game. And at the youthful age of 37, Tendulkar shows no signs of slowing down.
So much is often said about the genius of the little master that people tend to forget the human side of the man. Behind those towering records lie years of immense hard work and sweat. Sunil Gavaskar once famously advised budding cricketing talents that the key ingredients needed to become a successful cricketer are the three Ds Discipline, Dedication and Determination. There could not be a better living example of this than Tendulkar. His childhood cricket coach Ramakant Achrekar, while interacting with school children, remarked that no one could train as hard as his famous pupil. That he would be the first person on the cricket field and the last one off. And anyone who has been around Team India's dressing room would know that rigorous preparation is still Tendulkar's hallmark. But more than anything else what makes Sachin Tendulkar arguably the greatest cricketer in history is the fact that even after so many years of playing the game he is as passionate about cricket as the day he first picked up a cricket bat and is proud to represent his country doing what he loves the most. Sachin Tendulkar, India salutes you.
COLLUDING WITH MAOISTS
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
The accusations that are flying in West Bengal over the Sildah massacre recall a passage in the memoirs of Mohit Sen, the son of a Calcutta High Court judge who joined the Communist Party of India. He says that Mr Ranjit Gupta, one of the last of British India's IP officers, was "a strong sympathiser" of the CPI and kept it informed in the late-1940s of official plans for "a crackdown".
Mr Gupta, now an ageing and ailing man, retired long ago as West Bengal's Director-General of Police. As Kolkata's Police Commissioner in the late-1960s and early-1970s, he acquired fame some say notoriety because of the methods that were used for liquidating the Naxalites. Sen received Mr Gupta's secret information and passed it on to the radical historian Susobhan Sarkar "resulting in almost all the top leaders of the CPI escaping by going underground" when the "crackdown" came in 1948.
Incidentally, Indrajit Gupta's "underground" was my grandmother's flat in south Kolkata. He lived there comfortably my grandmother was his aunt while the police supposedly searched high and low with a warrant for his arrest. His brother, another Ranjit Gupta, but of the ICS, was then West Bengal's Home Secretary.
My reason for dredging up this minutiae is to illustrate the interconnectivity that can bind those charged with upholding the law and those beyond its pale. The Gupta-Sen-Sarkar nexus highlighted the power of class ties. They came from similar upper middle-class backgrounds, had gone to English-medium schools and the same college. Mixing in the same social set, they were what Lady Thatcher called "people like us". There are people like us at all levels, bound by similarly strong ties of kinship and friendship.
At the height of the Naxalite troubles a much younger and fitter I accompanied a Rajput regiment on a combing operation in West Bengal's Birbhum district, tramping precariously along the sodden narrow ridge between waterlogged paddyfields night after night. It was a lark for the jawans and their officer. Even the local magistrate strode gamely along with a walking stick. But the bedraggled policemen accompanying us unceasingly whined about the hardship like petulant children being unfairly punished, and talked bitterly among themselves at the top of their voices, despite warnings to be less noisy, of the military deliberately victimising them because they were Bengali.
I thought it was Bengali lyricism when they burst into Rabindrasangeet before dawn broke. But, no, as a light flashed in the distant dark, to be repeated in a clump of trees a hundred yards away, I realised the singing (like the loud talking) was to warn Naxalites lurking in the outlying huts. I was told of the police confiscating a gun from a jotedar's house and the sequel that very night of a band of Naxalites turning up to demand the ammunition.
Collusion was common in those days. It might still be. Birbhum's policemen were locally recruited; the Naxalites were also local youth. Commonalty may also have been a factor in West Midnapore. It wouldn't have been easy otherwise for 50 Maoists in an SUV, a pick-up truck and a fleet of six motorcycles to raid the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp in the heart of a crowded township. The surrounding shopkeepers obviously knew what was afoot for they made themselves scarce. Someone had tipped them off. Who?
Despite their murders, no one treats the Maoists as untouchable. Mr Susanta Ghosh, a CPI(M) Minister from West Midnapore, is believed to have taken their help to defeat the Trinamool Congress-BJP alliance in Keshpur in 2000. Ms Mamata Banerjee made common cause with them in Nandigram and Jangalmahal (covering West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts), and even sported Maoist supporters in her rumbustious entourage at Singur when she foiled the Tata people's car project.
Many villagers even regard the "Bon (Jungle) Party", as they call Maoists, as their saviour. Maoist cadre have dug wells, built roads and dams, and set up health centres in remote areas, earning the gratitude of neglected villagers who have reason to complain of police atrocities.
As with the Naxalites, some Maoists started in the Marxist ranks and then moved further into extremism, drawn by the lure of prairie fires, liberated zones (muktanchal), the countryside encircling cities and other fancy theories borrowed from abroad. Many are plain bandits. Others, Dalits and Adivasis, are fighting for class and community rights. Bihar's policemen and landlords have long dubbed any landless peasant who demands the minimum wage a Naxalite.
Sildah confirmed that West Bengal's police are corrupt, cowardly and physically unfit. The political and administrative system they serve is equally uninspiring. While politicians and policemen blame each other for the carnage, senior police officers also accuse one another of the negligence and bad planning that played into the Maoists' hands. The Sildah camp had no watchtowers or sandbag barricades. Townspeople strolled in freely to use its toilet. As Maoist attacks continue, other badly planned police camps are hastily being dismantled.
Security could not be more casual. Intelligence reports are ignored. The Rs 400-crore development package announced last year for Jangalmahal has been forgotten. Talk of Andhra-style Greyhound commandos, STRACO (State Special Combat Force) and COBRA (Combat Battalion for Resolute Action) is as ineffective as Operation Green Hunt.
The firing episode outside Kolkata's American Center was revealing. Far from shooting back, policemen locked themselves and their weapons inside their black van, leaving a hapless comrade outside to be shot dead. Sildah's EFR jawans, mostly past their prime, were reportedly lounging about in mufti, smoking ganja, far from their weapons. Their commander was one of the first to scramble over the wall and escape. As the Brigadier heading the Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare school in Kanker, Chhattisgarh, puts it, "Pot-bellied policemen who can barely walk 400 metres with a gun cannot be expected to match the guerrillas who can walk 40 kilometres through the jungle at night."
Though West Bengal turned down a Central policing offer in 1990, its security is not safe in Kolkata's hands. Whatever the Constitution stipulates and however great the hurt to Left Front sensibilities, this is a responsibility that New Delhi cannot shirk. That would mean surrender to what the Maoist leader, Koteswar Rao, also known as Kishenji, calls with a wicked sense of humour Operation Peace Hunt.
EQUITABLE GROWTH ELUDES INDIA
RANJIT KUMAR PAUL
It is extremely unfortunate that majority of the population of India are still struggling to make ends meet. Contrary to this, most of today's leaders lead lives of luxury. Some of them amass wealth highly disproportionate to their known sources of income. Ironically, a large number of them even claim to follow the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who lived his life with the bare necessities.
Though India ranks fourth in the list of countries with the most billionaires, a report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN shows that India added more hungry people to its population than the rest of the world put together between 1997 and 2001. Further, deaths due to lack of healthcare, malnutrition, starvation and hunger suicides take place everyday in our country despite our GDP growing at a commendable rate.
In spite the fact that the Government has launched several poverty-alleviative schemes and programmes over the years like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Mid-day Meal, Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, National Rural Health Mission, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, etc, India ranks 128th in the Human Development Index. Why is human development in India in such a pitiable state? Why does India contribute more than half the hungry people in the world? Why does illiteracy still loom large, especially in rural India?
Are the Government welfare programmes, schemes and missions not prepared keeping in view the ground-realities? Or is insufficient funds and infrastructure combine with high levels of corruption the root of the problem? It appears that there is an urgent need to look into the whole gamut of issues thoroughly to find out the reasons why the fruits of our welfare schemes are not reaching those for whom they are intended. Also, necessary measures are required to eradicate the causes which are hindering the proper implementation of these schemes.
Unless and until there is equitable distribution of growth in society, the country will not progress as a whole.
DEALING WITH MAOISTS
THE SO-CALLED CEASEFIRE OFFER MADE BY THE MAOISTS SHOULD BE TREATED WITH UTMOST CAUTION BY THE GOVERNMENT AS THE LEFT-WING EXTREMISTS ARE KNOWN TO USE THE COVER OF DIALOGUE TO RECOVER, REGROUP AND REASSERT THEIR VIOLENT POLITICS. TO RUSH IN BLINDLY WOULD BE DISASTROUS
Could there be a truce between the dreaded Maoists and the Government? Will the Maoists come to the negotiating table?
The whole country would welcome such a move as it may put an end to the Maoist menace to some extent, if not completely. Some feel that a truce with the Maoists may come at a huge cost while others think that it is well worth an effort.
The Congress-led UPA Government, on its part, has come up with an offer for talks without any pre-conditions while the Maoists want halt of operations for 72 days and mediation through intellectuals and human rights activists. The catch for the Government is the 72- day period by which the Maoists would have ample opportunity to regroup.
Why did the Government come up with such an offer? UPA 1.0 did not resort to this step but now given the growing incidents of Maoist violence, dialogue seems to be the answer. The Maoists have spread across the country in 220 districts in 20 States covering 40 per cent of the geographical area. They are virtually running a parallel Government in what is called the Red Corridor covering 92,000 square kilometres.
According to official estimates, about 20,000 armed cadre Maoists are operating besides 50,000 regular cadres working in various mass organisations. There are also millions of sympathisers. They recruit disgruntled youth who are in search of jobs and also from the tribal areas where they are exploited. Therefore, the timing of this truce talks is very significant and crucial. There have been several cases of the Maoist killing policemen and politicians. They have been attacking trains and police stations for the past few years. In recent times they had killed Sunil JMM MP Mahato and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi's son .
They attacked police outpost in Chhattisgarh, attacked Dantewallah jail and freed 303 prisoners. Jehanabad jailbreak was yet another daring incident and the list is long. They have become more organised and said to have 80 training camps, each training at least 300 cadres at any given time.
Why should the Maoists agree for a truce? The Government has launched anti-Naxal operations in several States. The Government is on the offensive and in some places it claims success. This might have scared the Maoists leaders. Three key Maoist leaders, including a politburo member, had been apprehended during the anti-Maoist operations in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa recently. It is feared that Maoists' call for truce is a way to buy time to regroup and replenish their stocks.
Second, the cooperation between the Centre and the States, especially Orissa and Chhattisgarh, is improving fast. Even West Bengal and Jharkhand have fallen in line. The Chief Ministers belonging to different political parties have also realised that they have to contain the Maoists for improved law and order situation. The periodical conferences with the States have also yielded some results but much more needs to be done.
The Government's offer has come at a time when the anti-Naxal operations could become slow during the monsoons in the dense forests where the Maoists are hiding. Therefore, negotiations at this point of time could be a good strategy.
Why is the Government keen on a 'no pre-condition' formula? It is because no Government can start negotiations with riders and conditions, as it does not have an advantage. Second, there is also hesitation because of the earlier experience of the Andhra Pradesh Government. In 2004, the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy carried out his promise made before the elections that he would have a dialogue with the Maoists and soon after he came to power he started the dialogue. According to MP Keshav Rao, who was one of the main negotiators, the talks were good and would have been successful but for a minor mishap which made the Maoists go back on their promise to come for a second round. The Centre should learn a lesson or two from the Andhra Pradesh experience.
Interestingly, after that, the State Government, taking the cue from the first round of talks, was successful in containing the Maoists. For instance it distributed five lakhs acres of land on a single day to the landless. It also simultaneously launched welfare schemes for the tribals.
Therefore, the Centre should adopt a multi-pronged strategy in dealing with the Maoists apart from dialogue. First of all, the Maoist menace should be treated a socio-economic problem. Although thousands of crores have been allocated for the uplift of tribals, the benefits do not reach them and the Maoists take advantage of this. They give the poor food, jobs and security which are crucial for them. The people in villages support them either out of fear or out of need.
The States should learn to work with the Centre in dealing with the Maoists despite belonging to different political parties. Coordination of the intelligence agencies is very vital.
Second, the Government should make sure that the benefits intended for the poor and tribals reach them so that they could be weaned away from the Maoist influence.
Third, the police force should not only be strengthened but also be modernised as the Maoists have acquired state-of-the-art weapons.
Fourth, the Centre and the States should improve their intelligence network to gain information about the Maoists.
Fifth, and more importantly, inclusive growth and development should be the aim. The Government should take note the genuine grievances of the people in rural and tribal areas. Last but most important, politicians, cutting across party lines, should stop using the Maoists as pawns to come to power.
DALAI LAMA, TIBET, CIA
THE AGENCY HELPED HIM TO ESCAPE FROM CHINA
The Dalai Lama's meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is probably the most interesting part of his visit to Washington, DC, because the Department of State is involved in concrete politics, even if the spiritual Tibetan leader is largely a symbolic figure and does not concern himself too much with Tibetan emigration.
On the eve of this meeting US President Barack Obama had to do the least interesting part of the work. He had to receive the Dalai Lama as a bow to etiquette and exchange routine phrases with him for about an hour. Both admitted for the umpteenth time that Tibet is part of China (has anyone doubted that?), both expressed themselves for the preservation of Tibet's unique identity (who would object to this?) and so on and so forth. Everything went as usual the Dalai Lama has been to the White House more than once.
It was clear that the United States and China will not seriously quarrel over Tibet although masses of people, especially in the US, waited with bated breath whether the American Nimitz aircraft-carrier will be allowed to enter the Fragrant Harbour, that is, Hong Kong on the day of Mr Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama. Previously, the Chinese authorities would not allow American warships to enter their ports in such cases. This time it was an aircraft-carrier, a symbol of American might. Will the Chinese ban it from entering the port? Not yet, it passed another mile and another, and finally made its way into the port. Sino-American relations will also follow their road, being complicated but important at the same time.
Tibet is an issue in bilateral relations albeit its role is far from what the unenlightened public may think. In January the Chinese authorities held one more round of talks with the representatives of the Tibetan emigration. The talks were not very productive although this is an iffy statement. At least, it was interesting for the Tibetans living outside Tibet that the autonomous region is entering a new stage in its development although even now Tibet looks much better than 10 years ago. The new stage will cost about $ 60 billion (some states in the US would be certainly happy to get the sum that Beijing has allocated to Tibet). It's not that Beijing is emphatically against the Diaspora's participation in this work. This is all about the terms.
If the US orients the Tibetan emigration to work against China, this is not a trifle. This is why Beijing is so nervous about the Dalai Lama's ceremonial visits to the White House. This is why it is so closely following specific moves made by the Department of State in this direction. Beijing is trying to understand what influence is exerted on Tibetans there. After all, the Dalai Lama's views on the inseparability of the destinies of Tibet and China are well known. But he is 75 years old. What if the Tibetan emigration splits into moderate and extremist groups? In fact, the split has already occurred but for the time being all Tibetan emigres are trying not to demonstrate it.
Is Beijing overreacting to Washington's attempts to take part in this process? It depends. A context can be interpreted very extensively: Any bureaucrat from the State Department who speaks its jargon should appreciate this phrase. It is used when the situation is being assessed in the context of half a century.
Tibet and China were united during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. They have represented one state for more than 700 years. This state is more than three times older than the US. True, Tibet's geographic location has made it inaccessible, quite autonomous and colorful and this will never change. However, as the same meeting in the White House bears out, nobody disputes the existence of China's national borders. This is a requirement of international law, the UN Charter, etc. But the situation was different half a century ago.
The CIA's role in the events of 1959, when the Dalai Lama left Tibet, followed by tens of thousands of his compatriots, is not very well known. In 1959 (during the Great Leap, Mao Zedong's first destructive experiment) the Chinese authorities seemed to think that the unrest of Dalai Lamas was a strictly domestic affair. They were scared that Tibetans, who had received modern education for the first time in Tibet's history, started returning to the autonomy and eventually led it to rebellion. They had to introduce Chinese troops into the region.
However, Beijing is sometimes wrong. There is a book The CIA's Secret War in Tibet, which was published in 2002 (I learned about it in the Expert magazine). This is a respectable illustrated publication written by direct participants in the events. It transpires that there were training camps for Tibetan guerrillas in Colorado, and the CIA made inroads into Tibet with aviation support. CIA operatives also arranged for the Dalai Lama's escape through the Chinese border. The authors of the book conclude that the CIA was preparing a rebellion in Tibet, having established complete control over the "resistance movement."
Later on, the CIA worked with the emigration. There was a report to the effect that the Dalai Lama administration admitted receiving annual $ 1.7 million subsidies from the CIA in the 1960s. Part of this money was designed for funding guerrilla operations against Chinese authorities. No doubt, there is more information about this.
-- The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.
EGYPT'S NEW CRUSADER FOR REFORMS
NOBEL LAUREATE AND FORMER IAEA CHIEF MOHAMMED ELBARADEI HAS ANNOUNCED THE FORMATION OF A 'NATIONAL SOCIETY' THAT WILL PUSH FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE, WRITES SARAH EL DEEB
Respected worldwide, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and for 12 years the leader of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mr Mohammed ElBaradei is positioning himself as a force for change in his homeland.
He has already said he might run for President of Egypt, and now he's forming a coalition to press for free and fair elections in a land ruled for nearly 30 years by President Hosni Mubarak. Mr ElBaradei, 67, returned to Cairo only days ago to a hero's welcome by supporters who see him as the most credible Opposition leader to emerge as this US-allied country prepares for the 2011 presidential vote.
Existing restrictions make it practically impossible for independents to run, meaning that Mr ElBaradei's chances are dim without long-sought constitutional amendments.
The former Egyptian diplomat has been mum about potential plans to join the campaign, saying that he would only do so if guaranteed that elections would be free, fully supervised by the judiciary and monitored by the international community. But he has used the publicity surrounding his visit to push for democratic reform and escalate pressure on a system he has criticised as stale. Calls for changes to the constitutional amendments instituted by Mr Mubarak himself in 2005 and 2007 are not new. The support from Mr ElBaradei, a civilian with international stature and untouched by corruption tainting the Egyptian system, has given the demands a new momentum.
He met with a group of about 30 opposition figures at his home on the outskirts of Cairo late Tuesday.
Several participants said Mr ElBaradei announced the formation of a national "society" for change to push for constitutional reforms that allow for contested elections.
Mr ElBaradei, who has lived in the West for nearly three decades, has called for restrictions on candidates to be lifted. He also wants the elections to be monitored by international observers, the Egyptian judiciary and an independent civil body, instead of being overseen by the Interior Ministry, which controls Egypt's internal security forces.
Mr George Ishaq, a reform activist who attended the meeting, said the attendees represent the founding committee, but details of the society's goals are being finalised. "We call on all Egyptians to join," he said.
The group was a who's who of the Opposition, including leading dissident Ayman Nour who founded the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and was himself was jailed after running against Mr Mubarak in the 2005 elections.
Mr Osama el-Ghazali Harb, who formed his own party after breaking with Mr Mubarak, said the group differed in ideologies and political inclinations but agreed on its leader.
"The problem for the regime now is that ElBaradei is an international figure with stature and can't be easily stopped," he said.
Mr ElBaradei's vocal criticism of Egypt's ruling system have stirred an unusual political debate about the future of Egypt. Established Opposition groups have been weakened by restrictive laws, an aging leadership, and lack of a popular base.
On top of that, the regime backed by long-standing emergency laws frequently jails journalists, pro-reform activists and political opponents.
CLOUD SERVICES CAN SHAKE UP THINGS
WE NOW HAVE AN EFFECTIVE IT SOLUTION TO SIMPLIFY FINANCIAL PROCESSES
One of the lesser appreciated facts on the shifting patterns of global transportation from sea to the air is that for travel from the West to the East and East to the West, it is no longer necessary to touch upon the Indian sub-continent. Taking off from Dubai, one can easily land at Singapore without a sense of urgency about services, re-fuelling or loss. The same holds to on the reverse. By the same token, travel between Japan and West Coast of the US can be over the pacific as from the US to Australia and vice-versa. The upshot of it all is that the Indian Sub-continent has progressively been relegated to an optional destination. This has some meaning for the relative isolation or otherwise of the Sub-Continent. Public discourse, hence is bound to be affected, and the kind of issues we talk of becomes important.
The larger burden of this text, is to analyse what all should our national span of attention include. It was for the first time after 1992 that the enterprise and the corporate world, in the last year or so, are again at a watershed.
In 1992 it happened when the emergence of Mr Bill Gates and his enterprise established that the assets of an enterprise are not just materials and matter but that 'knowledge management' and 'virtual strength' also contributed to the worth of enterprise. The truth was that the world of work was never the same thereafter.
Something similar has been happening in the last year or so. The world of information technology has undergone a redefinition. Earlier on in the information technology sector there was at least three classes of companies: They dealt with hardware, software and IT services. To undergo computerisation, at least three sources of supply and services were needed.
Gradually this tended to change. With the emergence of cloud computing, a whole domain that can be termed as cloud services has emerged and this is bringing together hardware, software and services of information technology in a synergised manner.
In a season of Budget presentation and discussion on the financial health of the country, it may be useful to indicate how relevant and critical this emerging technology is going to be to the shaping of the managing of finance and capital.
The speed of migration to cloud computing would determine stock market evolution and the sheer performance of a given sector. Just a few days ago, the London Stock Exchange experienced a full day of outage because the traders were not able to connect to one of the LSE's main trading application. The paradigm was simple. If you want to trade, connect!
It seems cloud computing could seriously impact the character of stock exchange work. In December 2009, Linda Leung Amazon announced spot pricing for cloud computing services which prompted some cloud experts to begin discussing the potential of a public cloud exchange. Clearly, what is required is the right model and the right market maker. The day is not far where commodity style trading of compute capacity could be a potential application for Cloud Technology. What Claude Courbois did by creating a new product named Market Replay was to enable brokerage fund to show customers and regulators how the best execution requirement could be met for a given trade.
It is time that we, as a nation, stop if only for a moment to look at where our energy is going and what are the issues, we are focussing as a group.
While so much energy and resources are being spent focussing on issues which are essentially 'medieval' in character, much of the world has moved on to a new incarnation of trade business manufacturing and technology. It has affected supply chain management system and it has altered the nature of manufacturing. It threatens to do so even more radically in the years to come.
We need to focus on these aspects of our national life, also. It is important to realise that one cannot have a greater prosperity than the prosperity of the environment in which one is embedded and hence it is important for all of us to move together and have a sense of prioritisation in choosing where we invest our energy. The search for more stable and better futures has to include looking much more closely and comprehensively at technological aspects of growth; modern methods of work and not to overlook cutting edge paradigms of decision-making.
SACHIN PROVES AGAIN THERE IS NONE LIKE HIM
NOT very long ago, it had become fashionable to talk of Sachin Tendulkar as having reached the end of his glorious cricketing career. It was said that like all mortals, this cricketing genius too had to come to terms with age and the toll that two decades of continuous cricket had taken on his body.
In the last one year, however, Sachin Tendulkar has scripted his own history.
The blistering double century in the Gwalior one- dayer against the visiting South Africans which helped India clinch the series is only the latest piece of evidence that when it comes to geniuses, you have to simply tear up the rule book. For Wednesday's was no ordinary feat.
No cricketer had scored a double century in the nearly 3,000 international one- dayers including the 60- over games that were played in the initial years that have been played over the last four decades. And this in a cricketing universe that has seen batsmen like Vivian Richards and Sanath Jayasuriya.
Coming from a 37- year old who showed the concentration, power and resolve to bat aggressively through the full 50 overs, this reiterates why history will remember Tendulkar as a player without a peer when it comes to combining ability with perseverance.
In the last 12 months, he has scored 10 international hundreds, which includes three of the four highest one- day scores in his long career. This late burst of form will carry him far beyond any cricketer when it comes to records and statistics. When he finally retires two or three years from now, even his critics will be forced to concede that while there may have been other batsmen as gifted as him, if not more, the sheer weight of his cricketing performance makes him the greatest batsman after the incomparable Don Bradman.
Cricket should not be reduced to statistics but there is one record that the Master Blaster must try and reach before he calls it a day. With 47 centuries in Tests and 46 tons in one- dayers he is just seven short of the ' golden hundred'. Scoring 100 international hundreds in the two conventional formats of the game would be the best way to round off the dream run.
People will also remember Sachin for his child- like enthusiasm for the game, his absence of vanity and his spotless conduct on and off the field which made us believe that cricket is still a gentleman's game.
THE Economic Survey 2009- 10 penned by the new Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu has painted a bright picture for the economy. He thus follows the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council in positing an early return to the 9 per cent growth trajectory by 2011- 12. The more interesting feature of this year's Economic Survey is in the second chapter on the micro- foundations of inclusive growth. The most striking is the strong recommendation that it makes for the use of " coupons" in lieu of the current method of food, fertiliser and fuel subsidy.
The combined burden of subsidies nearly Rs 200,000 crore a year are a huge drag on the system. Purely as a method of sensitising our politicians who think that subsidies are equal to votes, so the more the better, the Union Budget should have a table which measures the subsidy not in Rs crore, but as a metric of public services that could otherwise be paid for. Public services like schools, teachers, scholarships, health care, drinking water, sanitation, roads and the like.
The Survey's contention that there are enormous leakages, waste and corruption in the process is unexceptionable. But, the argument that everything can be solved by issuing coupons to intended beneficiaries, coupons that are also transferable, is a confession of great innocence. How much does it take to grab coupons, that, too, transferable, and make a cool pile of money? How much does it take to print fake coupons that thousands of stores will have no way of verifying? Faculty seminar meets reality and the outcome is as ever a forgone conclusion. Then again, many of the truly poor the old and infirm, single mothers and those with husbands who are too fond of a tipple would be vulnerable if the benefit comes to them in a form that is cash or near- to- cash.
THE SPIRIT IS WILLING BUT THE FLESH IS WEAK
BY R. SRINIVASAN
IT IS ridiculously easy to come up with a dream Budget. Any finance minister willing to dole out some tax breaks can confidently look forward to being hailed as a visionary messiah.
It is not difficult to see why, either.
The logic for doing so is pretty compelling.
Just imagine, for instance, what would happen if every single taxpayer in the country were to get a 5 per cent increment come April, free, without prejudice, conditions or strings attached. That is what a five per cent cut in the effective income tax rate translates into.
And, since businesses of all shapes and sizes are also current or potential tax payers, it would also mean that virtually every profitable business in the organised sector would get a corresponding increment in its net income.
The result would be an explosion in spending. And, since we are by nature a thrifty people, a rise in savings as well. A rise in personal spending will lead to growth in demand for goods and services, which would in turn lead to higher incomes for the providers of such goods and services, which in turn would result in higher tax collections for the government hopefully, more than offsetting the initial revenues foregone. A rise in savings will also result in higher investment, which in turn would lead to higher productivity and so on.
In other words, a " virtuous cycle of growth" would kick in. In fact, this was the very hope which former finance minister P. Chidambaram articulated in his Budget speech not so long ago.
Clearly, life is not that simple, which is why we have not seen every finance minister gunning for glory.
Budget making in India has evolved into a far more complex issue than one merely involving the government's laundry list of expenses and the taxes it proposes to utilise to finance them.
From shaping economic policy to being the principal instrument of delivery of the government's social and developmental engineering objectives, the Indian Budget has to carry a much heavier burden than its counterpart in other countries.
Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is better placed than many of his predecessors when he rises to present the Budget on Friday. The biggest advantage that he has, really, is that there is no burden of expectation on him. The worst, in any case, is over for the economy.
Not only was the economic crisis survived, but India managed to surmount it in style. Almost all the critical numbers in his part- year Budget presented last July have been bettered. Growth will be at least one full percentage point higher than the Budget estimate. Fiscal deficit will be high, but then the stimulus measures put in place last year have provided a handy excuse for the higher deficit.
For industry, the key issue they will be watching for is whether the finance minister rolls back the excise duty cuts announced as part of the stimulus package last year. Here, Mr. Mukherjee is in the happy position of coming out smelling of roses regardless of what he does.
If he rolls back the tax cuts, he is a fiscally prudent man who is rightly focusing on the deficit. If he doesn't, he is a bold reformist who is willing to gamble on growth.
The reality is that it probably will not matter much either way. In the current deficit of over Rs four lakh crore, the actual cost of the tax cuts is probably around Rs 30,000 crore. In other words, even a rollback is unlikely to dent the deficit.
On the other hand, if he decides to continue with the tax breaks, he will be naturally hailed by industry.
But purists who pan him for not tackling the deficit may look at some recent research in India, which appears to suggest that there is no statistically significant linkage between deficit and growth, at least in the case of India. Economists Srivayal Vuyyuri and S. Venkata Seshiah, who researched the linkages between growth, fiscal deficit and prices, found that there was no significant relationship between budget deficit and GDP, money supply and the consumer price index.
The last item, though, is likely to dominate proceedings in Parliament this Budget session. Food inflation is at an eleven year high and there is a real threat of inflation spilling over into general prices.
The logical response would be a tighter monetary policy, but whether the government would wish to risk the recovery by tightening money supply and pushing up interest rates remains to be seen.
Which brings us to the social engineering part of the Budget. Here, at least, there are unlikely to be any surprises. The government and the finance minister have already indicated pretty clearly that spending on the government's various social welfare schemes is not only not going to be cut, but will be accelerated. Some of the thornier aspects of subsidies are likely to be handled outside of the Budget.
This was clear when the government changed the mechanics of one of the holy cows in the subsidy system fertiliser subsidies last week, even though there was the opportunity to have presented this as one of the big bang reform measures in the Budget.
The informed opinion at the moment holds that fuel subsidies will be treated the same way. The Parekh
committee's report is in and the public has a pretty good idea of what to expect. But so far, the government has displayed extra cautiousness on the reform front, and with inflation continuing high, it appears unlikely that the finance minister will rock the boat on that front.
In fact, he is unlikely to rock the boat on any front.
Conservatism and caution have been the hallmark of Mr. Mukherjee's style so far and it is unlikely that he will dramatically change his style now.
That is the real reason why we seldom get ' dream' Budgets. It requires a degree of self- confidence and faith in the ability of other players in order to venture off the beaten path.
At the moment, the second UPA government has the opportunity to do just that. It has a comfortable majority in Parliament, there is considerable popular support for the government's actions, especially after the way it managed to steer the economy out of trouble after the financial crisis, and no major elections are due in any state barring Bihar this coming year.
Nevertheless, one suspects that nothing will happen, because the other key requirement is missing a bold and cohesive vision.
THE LAHORE LOG
APEX COURT AND GOVT SLUG IT OUT
BY NAJAM SETHI
THE Chairman of National Accountability Bureau ( NAB), Naved Ahsan, has finally submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He was caught in the crossfire between the Supreme Court ( SC) and the Government of Pakistan ( GoP).
The SC wanted the NAB Chairman, Prosecutor General and Deputy Prosecutor General sacked for not implementing its orders to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Zardari, in particular a money laundering case before a magistrate in Switzerland, after the ouster of the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO) by the court some months ago. Under the rules, the latter two officials could be sacked by the Chairman with the approval of the PM which Mr Ahsan duly did after some initial foot dragging.
But the process for the Chairman's ouster is cumbersome, controversial and difficult, like that of a senior judge or the chief election commissioner whose terms are fixed by law, unless he chooses to resign of his own volition. This is what Mr Ahsan did after the Chief Justice of Pakistan ( CJP), Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, threatened " coercive" measures, including a freeze on his salary, if he didn't comply with the SC's orders. Does this mean that the path has been cleared of all obstacles to proceed against President Zardari? No. Mr Ahsan will remain in charge of NAB, as per the SC's initial " suggestion", until the government appoints a new Chairman. But that is easier said than done. Under the law, the NAB chairman is to be appointed by the PM with the approval of the CJP and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. But such a unanimous choice is not likely to be forthcoming quickly. Indeed, the CJP and the Leader of the Opposition are expected to singly or jointly veto any handpicked nominee of the PM and the latter is likely to do the same to any candidate of their choice. At any rate, in view of the serious intended and unintended consequences that can prove injurious to the proposed new Chairman's health, as evidenced by the discomfort of Mr Ahsan in the last three months, there are not likely to be too many candidates tripping over themselves for the job. So we may expect the stand- off between the SC and the GoP not just to continue but to get arbitrary and nasty.
In fact, there is a new twist in the drama. The Chairman has submitted before the SC a file of correspondence between NAB and the federal law ministry regarding the legal position and standing of NAB in the matter of the Swiss case against President Zardari.
This case was closed ( on the basis of the NRO) on the orders of the GoP via the office of the then Attorney General of Pakistan shortly after the Zardari government was sworn into office in early 2008. The law ministry claims immunity to the President from any criminal proceedings as clearly enunciated under article 248 of the constitution.
Mr Ahsan's plea is that he cannot directly write to the Swiss government or courts to reopen the case for two reasons: the President's immunity as pointed out by the law ministry; and the rules of business between states which preclude any actionable correspondence between any organs of two states without the explicit approval and cover of the governments of the two states. In other words, he wants the SC to first adjudge on the matter of the President's immunity; and then, in the event of finding the President not immune from prosecution, order the GoP to take action against its own President.
This is a tall order. The SC will have to make some incredible legal somersaults in order to strike down the President's immunity. Indeed, given its eroding credibility already because of its perceived targeting of the government and kidglove handling of the opposition, the SC could split on this issue and harm itself. But even if it defied the logic of events and public perceptions, there is no way the SC can get its decision implemented effectively by the current GoP.
HUNDREDS of delaying and obfuscating tactics can be employed by the GoP on the basis of national and international rules and norms to thwart the court's bid to knock out Mr Zardari.
Certainly, NAB's attempt to revive corruption cases against the leaders of the opposition in particular the Sharif brothers from Punjab are being stonewalled by the courts in Punjab province on one pretext or another following the wholesale appointments of judges in the Lahore High Court with the approval of the Chief Minister ( CM) of Punjab, Mr Shahbaz Sharif.
This is unprecedented. The constitution lays down the procedure for the appointment of provincial high court judges after due " consultation" between the Chief Justice and the Governor ( appointed by the President) of the province, the CJP and PM. As in India, the CM was denied this role by the constitution in order to avoid any resultant pressure of political " jobbery" which would erode the independence of the judiciary. But the SC under CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry opened the gate to the CM's intervention in this matter in the penultimate paragraph of its judgment against the NRO, a clear enough case of " Per Incuriam", meaning " lack of care", say independent jurists the issue was not petitioned or discussed in the NRO case, nor was it elaborated upon in the judgment before taking a position contrary to the one laid down in the constitution! The skirmishes between the SC and the GoP have thus far been won by the SC. But the war is far from being lost by the GoP. That will only happen if and when the SC is able to drag the powerful Pakistan Army into the fray and order it to complete the court's mission at the expense of the GoP. The problem with that scenario is that the opposition led by Nawaz Sharif might oppose the move because it could also spell its own political death- knell.
The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)
A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF IMRAN KHAN
IF YOU think I've finished my social work, you're wrong. Next I'm going to build a hospital for terminally ill politicians. And then I'm going to build a madrassah for liberals. And finally I'll call the world's first international jirga, on what should be done about women. Once and for all. The Final Solution, as old Adolf used to say. The good news is that it'll be spring and summer soon. In London, that is. Many of my friends will be holding their balls in London. And I'll be holding various fun raisers. Jerry Hall, my very old and dear friend, and Paris Hilton, my very new and dear friend, have both advised me that it's going to be £ 200 per plate. I said don't worry, I'll send the plates from here. They said don't be silly, that's what people are going to pay to come. Imagine. Some people still have to pay to come.
I've decided my fun raiser is going to be all about the Mughals and other common people. I'm thinking of selling the rights to Yellow! magazine for £ 100,000.
Jemima says the Rothschilds want to buy a table. I said I'll have to think about that. Why, for God's sake, she asked. Because they're Jews, I said. Oh fer Chrrrrisssake, she said and hung up. I called her back and said sorry. Then I asked her very sweetly, who all are likely to be at the Rothschilds' table. She said Benjamin Netanyahu, for one. I see, I said. Imagine, me rubbing shoulders with an Israeli politician. So, I called him up to try and dissuade him from coming. " Hello, Mr Yahoo", I said. He grunted in reply. I said, " Er, do you really think you should come to my fun raiser in London?" He said, " I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean". I said, " Look Mr Yahoo, I'm a right wing, orthodox Muslim politician who's desperately wooing all the fundos, Taliban, jihadis and generals in Pakistan. I can't afford to have you at my fun raiser". " That's no problem" he said, " you're anathema to me too". I said, " what do you mean?" He said, " you don't get it, do you?" " I beg your pardon", I said, " I've been getting it for years. Thank you very much". " Please mind your language" he said, " you're talking to a former prime minister of Israel". " But wasn't the former premier some old hag called Metro Goldwyn Meyer?" I asked.
Then I called up Jemima to discuss the menu. She said we should have canapés to start with, then lobster thermidor, then fillet mignon with vegetables au gratin, then crème brulee " Just a minute" I said, " I'm not very keen on all this haram stuff". She said, " I should hope so! It's a really decrepit Eastern custom of enslaving women." Im the Dim
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MARRIED TO THE MOB
Political activity in Jammu and Kashmir has entered a new phase. Mobs of stone-pelting youth have changed the character of political protests in the Valley. Mainstream parties as well as separatist groups are unnerved by the emergence of this loose network of anarchist youth who lack any cogent political agenda. Even if elements in the political mainstream sympathise with their grievances, they should not endorse this mode of protest. Mob action only leads to chaos and suffering. J&K has suffered enough of both.
The demographic profile of the Valley is tilted towards youth. Years of insurgency have robbed them of educational opportunities and employment. Militants and security forces militarised the region and restricted their creative energies. Political parties like the PDP, instead of constructively engaging with these youth, have sought to exploit their anger and frustration for political ends.
Some of the recent protests may have a legitimate basis. But the government has initiated action against security personnel responsible for the shooting of Zahid Farooq Sheikh, a 16-year-old youth. Moreover, protesters themselves were responsible for the death of an 11-day-old infant, when they roughed up a family - trying to take the baby to hospital - for not participating in their protests. Thereafter, Mehbooba Mufti chose to muddy the waters with bizarre allegations about the government breeding a counter stone-pelting force. The job of opposition parties like PDP is to make sure the government follows up on its promises and punishes those who take the law into their own hands, whether among security forces or among protesters. Unfortunately, leaders like Mehbooba Mufti seem inclined to stoke the fire, not douse the flames.
PDP politics is at the crossroads. Since its formation in the 1999, the PDP has been a political platform for those who sympathised with the separatist cause to enter parliamentary politics. But the reluctance to jettison its anti-state politics and embrace a governance agenda prevented the party from making best use of its innings in office. Its strategy worked for a while but is now coming apart. The political discourse in the Valley has changed. It is in the best interests of the PDP, and the people of Kashmir, if the party reinvents itself as a responsible opposition. For that it must adopt a constructive agenda. It should speak up against human rights violations and for development concerns, but also steer clear of supporting baseless conspiracy theories and mob violence. That, surely, is not an impossible task.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
RUN SACHIN RUN
A lot may have been written about Sachin Tendulkar and his cricketing feats, yet he keeps doing things that force us to sit up and take notice. His double century on Wednesday was one such occasion. When he took a single to reach 200 in the final over of the Indian innings at Gwalior, Sachin became the first batsman - nearly 40 years after the first ODI was played - to score a double hundred in a one-day game. Along the way he broke the record for the highest individual score in an ODI, which stood at 194 runs.
Just shy of his 37th birthday, Sachin has blasted all sorts of myths about age and longevity in sports. Having completed 20 years of international cricket, Sachin is probably playing the best cricket of his life. During the past year he has scored 1,158 runs in ODIs at an astonishing average of 72.37. In his last 10 Tests he has hit 1,018 runs, including six centuries, at an average of 78.3. Those who not too long ago wrote Sachin off - when he had an unusual loss of form - have nowhere to hide. The single-minded accumulation of runs and records is reminiscent of the great Don Bradman. The Australian legend had remarked that he was reminded of himself when he watched Sachin play. This not only had something to do with the way Sachin bats, but also the way he relentlessly piles up runs and records.
What makes Sachin's body and mind tick after having played a mind-boggling 166 Tests and 442 ODIs? And how does he shoulder the burden of an entire nation's hopes and expectations? There are no easy answers. He himself has said that it's his passion for the game and the pride in the Indian jersey that keeps him going. It's another matter that records tumble along the way. Sunil Gavaskar has pointed out that there's a "little boy" somewhere in Sachin that keeps alive his spirit. Besides, with nothing left to prove, he has that much less pressure to contend with.
Whatever be the secret behind Sachin's success, we can rest assured that he is far from done. He already holds the record for most runs and centuries in both Tests and ODIs, and all his contemporaries have fallen way behind. With 47 Test centuries and another 46 in ODIs there are more personal milestones beckoning for Sachin. A century of centuries in international cricket - something that would have been unimaginable until now - is on top of the list. And going by Sachin's form that is a distinct possibility.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CHOCOLATE CAKE AND TERROR
The last time I went to German Bakery, my twin sons insisted on having a slice of chocolate cake. I told them we could have it next time, since we came to Pune so often on weekends anyway. I broke my promise. For the next image I saw was the bakery blown to bits. A newspaper sketch diagram showed the bomb placement exactly where my family used to sit, in the outdoor area. My first thought after the Saturday night attack was: it could have been us.
German Bakery was not a particularly upscale place - dishes cost far less than national coffee-shop chains. It had a relaxed vibe, due to the monk-robed Osho ashram customers. Ironically, it would be one of the last places you would associate with violence. Almost every college student or young professional in Pune would have visited this popular youth hangout. Not surprisingly, many of the dead were young students.
The first reaction to such a horrific incident is emotional. The more relatedness you feel with the event, the more difficult it becomes to think straight. Feelings of rage, despair and grief intermingle. Media reports, whether intentionally or not, repeatedly show the horror, tap into this emotion and exacerbate it.
"Is anyone safe?", "Was the police sleeping?", "It's the politician's fault", "Screw all talk of peace, kill Pakistan" are phrases you see tossed around on TV, the internet and in conversations. I understand the mental state where such comments come from. However, such outcry does not help solve the problem. In fact, stew such emotions too long, and it becomes ripe for a politician to sway people into hating a particular country and a particular religion. And yet, the problem is not addressed.
The problem, at a factual level, is about a few deranged people who can relatively easily toss a bomb or fire guns at innocent people at a popular venue, and attract almost immediate attention worldwide. This attention is the biggest incentive for such an act. These people, or terrorists, also have a twisted moral justification. They do not perceive their victims to be innocent, even if the victim's 'crime' in their head is belonging to a particular religion or country. Also, the terrorists do not place a very high value on their own life, for in many cases they get caught or killed.
How do you deal with such a problem? It is certainly not easy. Venue-specific security measures help for sure. However, the solution lies in addressing four areas - managing the randomness, curtailing the availability of explosives, limiting the attention incentive and improving opportunities to limit dissonance.
The first step is reducing randomness. There isn't much one can do if a lunatic decides to launch a shooting spree at a random venue. However, it should be noted that there is a finite number of such people. Also, it doesn't represent the character trait of a particular country or community. Even if there are 10,000 terrorists, that's still only 0.001 per cent of our population.
Also, while spread out, given the logistics required and their ideology, terrorists will be connected. Akin to social networking sites, there has to be a loose structure that puts them at least in various clusters, if not one organisation. It makes any terrorists caught alive, or other leads such as phone records (drilled down to the next level) extremely valuable. This mapping could make finding them less random. This effort has to be led by an independent, empowered and capable organisation. The same people who solve domestic robbery cases may not have the bandwidth, though on the ground police can sniff out leads.
Second, curtailing the easy availability of explosives. Try finding RDX in China, you'll be in jail faster than you figure out the acronym. However, in India, a newspaper sting team obtained it in a couple of hours. Why can't we successfully ban RDX and all such dangerous compounds? Maybe RDX has some legitimate uses, but given how a bagful of it can shatter the nation's spirit - is it worth it? Surely, explosives are manufactured somewhere, or imported across the border at some venue. Can the people involved be hunted down?
The third step is to reduce the attention, particularly the emotional aspects, given by the media to such attacks. While news has to be reported, guidelines can be drawn up between TV channels on how much gore and suffering have to be shown vs the actual facts of the event. The fourth and final step is the long drawn one, where a country must develop to create opportunities for young people , so there is less likelihood of people choosing to become terrorists. Anyone with a good education, a job and an optimistic view on life is less likely to blow up a peaceful place.
We cannot take away the pain felt by all affected. However, rational steps can reduce such horrific acts. They will make way for a more peaceful and better life for Indians, who'd much rather have chocolate cake with their kids than live a life hating another community or country.
The writer is a best-selling novelist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'A COMPLETE MILITARY VICTORY IMPOSSIBLE IN AFGHANISTAN'
How do you see the troop surge in Afghanistan affecting the situation, coupled as it is with a change in policy regarding engaging in dialogue with the Taliban?
Since the increase in troop numbers started - which was really in 2006 - the Taliban and other paramilitaries have actually gained more influence and taken more territory. I think a complete military victory is impossible. Obama's administration is more political and it is willing to concede that from their perspective the war is unwinnable and therefore there will have to be some negotiation and compromise. So that's possible.
But i have to say, given the past 3-4 years, it is more likely that the military presence will just increase the opposition. At some stage, the American government will have to be prepared to have a much more basic rethink about their policies in Afghanistan.
You have written in various papers that the American response to 9/11 should have been to treat the issue as a transnational law and order problem. The al-Qaeda might be a non-state actor but it had state support. How do you untangle that?
Yes, i argued that in print at the time and got nowhere. It had some state support but always at the sub-state level. It had support from elements in Saudi Arabia, Yemen certainly. But responding as the Bush administration did elevated this transnational rump religious movement into the status of a global enemy. And i would put it even further. I would say that 9/11 was designed to provoke exactly the kind of response it did, because that could be portrayed as a Crusader-Zionist plot.
We are now in the ninth year of the war, we've had 100,000 Iraqis killed, 200,000 seriously injured, four million refugees; the way that was chosen has not worked.
There have been recent attempts for a broader regional approach to Afghanistan. Do you think this is feasible?
The problem always comes back to the extent of the military occupation. I think there is some possibility, if in fact the military elements were scaled down, and there was much more focus on encouraging civil society, and civil redevelopment, there might be some way out in 10 or 15 years. But that also means coming to terms with very serious problems in Pakistan. And also, and this is very uncomfortable for the British and the Americans, it means dealing much more closely with Iran. One forgets the very close Iranian involvement in Afghanistan and the Iranian distrust of the Taliban.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HIS NAME IS KHAN
Shah Rukh is more than just the hero of My Name Is Khan. He is a hero. Full stop. Oddly enough, there aren't too many of them in our filmdom. In the fictional land we call Bollywood, when it comes to the screen, there are no actors, only heroes. They are so much larger than life, they routinely vanquish whole armies with their bare fists; they need only two and a half hours to decimate the ungodly and clean up the streets of crime. Yet they dare not take their shoes off in public. Because if they did, you could see their feet are made of clay. Over the years, how often have Mumbaikars cringed to see the sickening spectacle of these 'heroes' being brought to their knees by some local bully who has issued a 'decree' against them? It's not just actors we are talking about: producers and directors too belong to the category of men who loom like Gulliver before us Lilliputians, but when it comes to people who threaten and browbeat, they shrink to the proportion of Gulliver before the Brobdingnagians.
To some extent you can understand why they so readily leave behind their swagger and go cap in hand to ask for forgiveness from extra-constitutional authorities: films are a collective enterprise and expensive to produce. To take a tough stand may then seem like a needless heroic gesture, likely to bring financial ruin to many of those involved in the project. This becomes even more so when the government in power is unable to control the goons who want to stop the screening of a film. But the capitulation of our 'heroes' perpetuates the power of the various Senas that now patrol the land. In the event, it would have been so easy for Shah Rukh Khan to have succumbed to the temptation and given the apology the Shiv Sena wanted. He was particularly vulnerable on two counts. First, My Name Is Khan is a big film so a lot of money is involved. Second, and even more important, Shah Rukh's name is Khan, and the Sena hostility for the Muslim community is well known and has a long and violent history behind it. People say Shah Rukh Khan acts too much; others say he often talks too much. But when it mattered, he did the brave thing and firmly kept his mouth shut. For that this Khan is a real-life hero.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Praveen has sent his annual bill as he always does around this time of year and, again as always, i'm cribbing and bitching about it. Apart from a professional association with us, Praveen is also a good friend, so i don't begrudge him his fee. What i do begrudge - and never has a grudge been more be-ed - is what the fee is for: the filing of our income tax returns. This is the way i see it. Suppose you're walking down the road, minding your own business, not loitering on street corners with intent or being a nuisance to anyone, and along comes this highway robber and sticks a gun in your face and tells you to hand over 33 per cent of all the money you have on you. Oh, yes, and don't forget the one per cent educational cess, will you? Now, being a law abiding citizen and allergic to guns, particularly when they are shoved in your face, you disgorge the largesse as required. And that's the end of the matter, right? Wrong. The highway robber now insists that handing over your money to him is not enough. He wants you to fill in a form which says that you have handed over such-and-such sum of your hard-earned lolly to him. It's a sort of receipt, which the highway robber calls a return. Hold on, you tell the highway robber. You're taking my money, so what the blazing dickens do you want me to give you a receipt for it; shouldn't it be the other way round?
The highway robber doesn't bother to answer, just taps the barrel of the gun sticking in your face. OK, OK, you say, caving in. Give me your bloody form and let's get this over with, you say. So the highway robber hands you something which by size and weight makes the Greater National Capital Region Telephone Directory look like a size zero product of Vandana Luthra's Curls and Curves.
What's this? You say. Shashi Tharoor's Twitter diary. But it turns out that it is not Shashi Tharoor's collected Tweets. It is something even more intriguing. It is the form you have to fill in for the highway robber as a receipt for the money he is taking from you.
You try to read the form. But it seems to be written in ancient Aramaic. Or the language James Cameron invented for Avatar. And no dictionary has been supplied with it. How am i supposed to understand this damn thing, which seems to be written in Medieval Serbo-Croatian, or it might be Proto Harappan?
The highway robber shrugs. That's your problem; go employ an expert to do it for you; says the highway robber. So you go employ an expert to fill in the form which is not at all that much more torturous than three-dimensional Sudoku in Vedic mathematics. The expert naturally takes a fee for his services. Oh, right, says the highway robber. Here, he says. And out of the money he's taken from you, he gives you back the fee you've paid the expert. As a sort of tip. Gun or no gun, by this time you're ready to kick the highway robber in the ass for having made you go through this whole time- and energy-wasting - and don't forget paper-wasting - charade.
And that's the way i'm feeling right now. When it's coming up to the time for Praveen to file my income tax returns to the highway robber known as the sarkar and who practises a highway robbery called income tax. If, despite the sarkar's best efforts - by not providing you schooling when you were a kid, by not giving you basic health care, or even bijli-paani - you somehow manage to earn yourself a legitimate income, you - and not that Chatwal guy - should be given a Padma Bhushan. Instead of which you are punished by being forced at metaphorical gunpoint to pay income tax. And not just pay tax but also file a return to that effect which makes a Mensa IQ test look like a 'knock-knock' joke.Sod it. I'd better make out a cheque for Praveen. He'll need it to pay the tax guy who files his returns. God, where does it end? And a Voice seems to answer: Don't ask Me, pal; I'm trying to figure out this goddam form...
WE ARE ALL PHILISTINES
India usually claims 'one of its own' like a spider catches flies. A whiff of 'Indian origin' and every talented desi, Nobel laureate, feted artist or writer is 'Ours, ours, ours!' So where was our legendary pride in 'our people' when Maqbool Fida Husain was pummelled left, right and mainstream by a hate campaign against a body of his artworks that artistically depicted Hindu deities? Why was India's most 'visible' artist whose works catch the swirling world of Bombay and that of modern India with such kinetic force forced to leave the country in 2006? Now that Husain has graciously accepted Qatari citizenship after years of trying to return home despite reportedly some 900 cases pending against him in various Indian courts and open threats from mobs we must ask ourselves what kind of nation we are to passively or actively drive out one of our finest talents away from our shores. Philistines without a spine is one description that immediately comes to mind.
Husain's plight is symptomatic of the way both the State and the citizenry treat our artists and writers. Art is feted in this country if it's safe, if it bandies about cliches, if it firms up notions of patriotism and other such crypto-campaign devices where society, not individual vision, is the protagonist. The irony is that Husain's 'objectionable' paintings were not even created to push the barriers of popular taste but to celebrate the mainstream Indian imagination, whether in the form of a Saraswati or a Madhuri. But in India, the perception of a few is enough to set the authorities all a-tremble. The liberal moaning about Husain's fate has also been hypocritical. While 'secular progressives' rail against Hindu fundamentalists (but clearly not effectively enough), they turn into veritable mice when fundamentalists from 'the other side' start foaming in the mouth about a cartoon or a book the latter get winded up about. Suddenly mumbles about 'freedom of artistic expression' turn into 'the need to be sensitive towards a communities feelings'. This hardly comes handy when taking on ignorant bigots who see only naked Hindu women in paintings and an anti-Hindu propagandist in one of the finest practitioners of art in the contemporary world.
As for the governments that have seen Husain being driven to the edge, and finally out, of his own country down the years, not a word has come in support of the man who has done and continues to do India and contemporary Indian art proud. If such a deafening silence doesn't sound like a show of support for fundamentalist goons who have been awarded the power of kicking one of India's finest talents out of the country, we don't know what is. All that some of us can do now is thank the kingdom of Qatar for giving one of us a sanctuary from where to practise his craft and sullen art.
We have all heard, and wept, over the lines 'what God has put together, let no man put asunder'. Well such asunders happen many a time to the best of us. But should we sit around asking for the tissue box to be passed around, not to mention several bottles of the good stuff? Should we sit and mope and let ourselves go over a situation in a manly manner a la Casablanca, in which our lovers leave us, perhaps to come back again ?
Well, here is good news for all those who think they have been left on the shelf. The divorce planner is here to tell us how to make the best of a break-up. Now many of us may live our life with a spouse whose habits are enough to drive us off the 17th floor. Many of you will empathise when we tell you that the most annoying thing is to find wet towels on the floor. But the question is, can you tell the other party that you do not like their presence, odour and all, anymore? You may find this difficult and painful. No parting, to massacre the Bard, is such sweet sorrow.
So, let us make the best of a bad thing. You break up and yet you get up the next day to party. The divorce planner will ensure that you hit the high spots and not sit around wondering whether a better deal is around the corner. This would give you an excuse not just to enjoy yourself but to take a dekko at all the possibilities that you may have missed while tied to holy matrimony. So let the divorce planner celebrate what could also be the most liberating time of your life. Let us raise a toast to fitness and in wealth.
I realised one thing after the Pune bomb blast: that terrorism has failed in India.
When it started, terrorism was spectacular. It worked, because it actually achieved what it aims to do, which is to terrify. Now for most people it's little more than a bother.
How did the Pune blast affect my life? Well, I had a party to go to that night, and couldn't, because I am a journalist and this event meant I had extra work to do. The party itself was by all accounts a success. Of course I felt bad that innocents had died, and relieved no one I knew had been in the area, but I was not terrified or devastated. If the blast had been in Delhi, would people here still have partied that night? Well, if it was far enough away, probably yes.
That's because terror has been normalised in our minds and lives. It's another of the things that can happen when we go out into the streets now, a bit like road accidents. It holds no terror. Of course, the media go on and on about it like it's still a huge deal. But do readers and viewers really care anymore? I doubt it. No one can stop living because of random bomb blasts, so why waste time worrying?
The people who benefit most from the attacks, of course, are the Hindu and Muslim loonies. The jihadi terrorism we're seeing now in India, and have seen since 1993, is mainly on account of three events: the Babri Masjid demolition, the Bombay riots, and the Gujarat riots. Those events gave rise to anger and insecurity among Muslims, which the terrorist recruiters and their Pakistani handlers have used to their advantage and continue to do so. L.K. Advani, Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi have therefore contributed indirectly to the growth of terrorism in India. The Hindu extremists, in turn, benefit from the terrorist attacks. It gives them a chance to raise their bogey of evil Muslims out to destroy India.
However, on the whole, it hasn't worked to political advantage for the right-wingers on both sides. Karnataka and Gujarat are the only two noticeable success stories for the BJP. But in those too, factors other than religion and security contributed to the victories. In Karnataka, it was caste and internal differences in the Congress, and the loss of credibility due to repeated flip-flops in the JD(S). In Gujarat, it was Modi's good governance, and internal differences in the Congress.
So in the end terrorism is insignificant. It has no real political or economic impact of any kind. It's just a number of senseless murders, and the terrorists are merely murderers of innocents. That's all.
FIRST AMONG EQUALS
Cricket lovers are obsessed by records and stats, Indian fans notoriously so. Which perhaps explains why the entire country went into paroxysms of delight when Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman to score 200 runs in a 50-over match. The penny seemed to have suddenly dropped. What had been discussed for almost half a decade in muted tones for fear of blasphemy, had acquired a brazen overtone: Move over Sir Donald Bradman, Tendulkar is now the greatest batsman of all time.
Tendulkar's spectacular run over the past two years has obviously given a fillip to this argument. I suspect that the despair arising out of the 2007 World Cup disaster has something to do with him getting a 'second wind' and batting with the energy, ambition, competitive edge and run hunger that had defined his cricket in the first decade of his career. At 36, in his 21st year in the game, he was playing with the enthusiasm of a 16-year-old again. I reckon he wanted to prove something to himself, and his performances of the last two years show he has done this mind-bogglingly.
I am chary of statistics leading to outrageous conclusions. But unlike Mark Twain, I don't damn them. I find them fascinating and infuriating, but at all times stimulating and have found profuse use for them in writing on cricket. Stats play a big and useful role because they provide significant tangible value to a player's worth. But they can also be quirky and deceptive, often giving misleading clues about a player's true qualitative worth.
And yet, paradoxically, Bradman's perceived greatness stems almost entirely from statistics, in particular his dazzling Test average of 99.94, which has remained unassailable for more than 60 years. Looked at every which way, it is a numbing, humbling statistic. No batsman, either before Bradman or since, has come remotely close to it. Every effort to rationalise it for contemporary evaluation has come a cropper.
So, while it would be fair to say that superior fielding and better opposition would reduce Bradman's prolific run-getting to say 70-odd per innings, if you consider that batsmen today play on covered wickets with all kinds of protective gear, it would climb back into the 90s again and bring the debate back to square one. The assessment, ergo, must use other parameters.
Let's revisit the Gwalior match again. Suppose Tendulkar had somehow not got the strike in the last over and remained unbeaten on 199, would he have remained a lesser player than Bradman? Suppose Viru Sehwag had got his third triple century at Mumbai against Sri Lanka, would he have hurdled over Brian Lara and become a greater batsman than Bradman? These are impossible issues to settle purely in statistical terms.
A large body of work accomplished is of course imperative to eliminate those who flicker very brightly but very briefly. But the more compelling argument according to me is to assess the impact a sportsperson's had on the consciousness of his era, how he has shaped the milieu of his times, what he has meant not just to his sport, but also his country and the world.
That's where the twain Bradman and Tendulkar meet, despite the vast statistical difference that will perhaps remain when the latter retires. For, like Bradman, Tendulkar has not merely been a cricketer, but a symbol of sustained excellence; not just a role model, but a metaphor for his country's aspirations; not just a sporting genius, but a sociological phenomenon. The pressure, the burden of expectations they have had to endure throughout their careers find no parallel in their sport, or their country's ethos.
It is almost impossible to compare greats from different eras. In my opinion, purely from a sporting point of view Tendulkar today stands on a par with Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher.
If that still doesn't resolve the issue of who's been the greatest batsman of all time, let me approach it differently. If Tendulkar were to retire tomorrow, a long queue of the game's greatest batsmen would await him near the dressing room: Hammond, Hobbs, Hutton, the three Ws, Richards, Gavaskar, Dravid, Sehwag, Ponting, Lara, Chappell, Miandad, et al. And at the head of this queue would be Bradman, first to shake his hand and say, "You little bonzer, even I couldn't have played a better innings!''
Ayaz Memon is a Mumbai-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal
THE TALLEST SHORT MAN
This morning, as Pranab Mukherjee surveys his face in the bathroom mirror of his North Block office before leaving for Parliament with the Budget papers, an image from the distant past may be waiting there to surprise him. It is of a little boy standing on the bank of the Kooey, a hilly stream in Birbhum district of Bengal, with a stack of textbooks balanced on his head and a coarse towel tied to his waist. He'd wade and swim across the stream everyday to Kirnahar High School, where he was a student, many miles away from home. How much has the lad travelled, the 75-year-old statesman of today will wonder!
It is the longest way, in fact, that anyone high on today's political ladder has covered, Mukherjee being the last representative of an era when the common man could aspire to make his mark without being exceptionally lucky in birth, or downright amoral (such as Lalu Yadav). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is surely an exception the only exception perhaps. But he and Mukherjee have traversed different paths, Singh's being the scholarly and bureaucratic. For Mukherjee, however, it has been a steady climb through the committee rooms of the Congress party and Parliament's halls and lobbies. Singh has, of course, been fortunate to climb that extra inch to the top. But Mukherjee knows how to face the odds with a smile, or to wait.
In 2004, when Sonia Gandhi's unassailable 'inner voice' named Singh and not him as prime minister, he reportedly quipped: "I am comfortable at the height where destiny has put me." Besides, the perceived difference in 'height' doesn't really matter much. At one point in the life of UPA 1, Mukherjee headed as many as 42 Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGoMs). He still has an impressive 17 EGoMs under him. It is a known fact that with Indian democracy becoming increasingly consensual, real power resides not so much in the Houses but in their committees, and not so much with a single minister but with the ministerial groups. Mukherjee's political heft is unquestionable.
But, more importantly, PKM, as he is called by his colleagues in affection and awe, is a consummate politician. It is a badge that unfortunately very few contemporary politicians can wear. (A.B. Vajpayee is an exception, but he is no longer a contemporary.) It is Mukherjee's razor-sharp political judgement that overshadows the minor question marks such as his being a closet dirigiste, not to speak of his mercurial temper or his home-grown English, which the smart set of his party has named 'Pranabese'. But it is a pleasure to hear the argument that rings out of his misplaced sibilants, subtly structured, brilliantly argued, and delivered with a rich cadence.
It was left to another master politician, Indira Gandhi, to discover this little master when, in 1969, Mukherjee, as a member of the Bangla Congress, a breakaway Congress group, delivered in the Rajya Sabha a speech that foreshadowed the vivisection of Pakistan still two years ahead. Maybe Indira thought how could this five foot wonder, son of a freedom fighter from faraway Birbhum, peep into her innermost thoughts. Within a year Mukherjee and his faction was in the Congress. As a junior minister with independent charge of revenue and banking departments, he was quickly making headlines with a crackdown on the then Bombay smuggling underworld don who had become a law unto himself. Haji Mastan, whom he got arrested, was the inspiration behind emerging superstar Amitabh Bachchan's cult movie of the time, Deewar.
Indira hit it off so well with her favourite find that, after her return to power in 1980 from the post-Emergency oblivion,
she promptly dispatched the grave and stodgy R. Venkataraman from the Ministry of Finance to Defence and, in January 1982, led Mukherjee to the room in North Block that he'd love most through the rest of his career.
As Finance Minister under Indira Gandhi, Mukherjee had a fiery innings. He surprised the world by sending back a $ 1.1 billion installment of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, its political message being that debtor nations might henceforth return the high-interest loans, leaving the Bretton Woods Shylocks red-faced. A cautious reformer (an experienced economic bureaucrat puts him halfway between Indira and Manmohan) he was nevertheless the first to stoke up expenditure without letting inflation get out of hand. He also opened the NRI investment window, which pioneered sweeping changes in India's image as a destination of foreign funds. When he gave a 1 hour 35 minutes-long budget speech, Indira, the acknowledged queen of sarcasm, commented, "The shortest finance minister has delivered the longest budget speech." But she was undoubtedly proud.
The boy who swam across the river to school almost coasted in Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2007. There he could hang up his boots only if he hadn't so many more things to do. Like making the India-US civil nuclear agreement sail through despite threat of the government being toppled. And today, in a few hours, he must stroke forward to unveil a budget with deficit at a record high and little hope that the economy will keep growing if he advocates thrift. Can he maintain his winning streak?
Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal
Should India start incorporating information about caste into its 10-yearly census? While colonial administrators meticulously (if misguidedly) recorded caste identities, the postcolonial Indian establishment has followed Sardar Patel's lead in severely opposing the idea. But after the Mandal Commission's implications for caste-based mobilisation and policies, the question has acquired a sharp and urgent edge. Currently, West Bengal, long the dominion of comrades who view everything through a class prism, is the only state to have requested that the census include caste parameters. Various political parties and other identity groupings have petitioned in the past last April, the PMK was told by the Supreme Court that "immense strife" would follow such a decision, which is why it has never been attempted in the last 60 years.
Those in favour of including caste information argue that recognising groups is necessary even to subvert these distinctions. Given how much, in terms of rights and recognition, rides on this marker, it seems absurd not to officially enumerate who is what, and to know the dimensions of every claim. Questions of employment, education and political office hinge on this classification. The size of various caste populations has direct political utility.
On the other hand, officially assigning categories can reinforce distinctions they are meant to undermine. What's more, caste is not a discrete, easily definable thing. It is not comparable across geographical contexts, even a single caste is wildly variegated, it shifts according to marriage, economic mobility and migration. People respond differently depending on the frame whether it is about social placing or about claiming government benefits. In such a situation of flux, should the state simplify and pin citizens to their castes? Either way, given the conceptual and practical knottiness of a caste-based census, the government has its work cut out for Census 2011.
OUR FORGOTTEN BORDER
India's border with Myanmar is, if remembered at all, thought of as a dead end to trade, porous only to militants and drug traffickers. The reasons for this are many: the long-running insurgencies along India's north-eastern border; the confused political situation in Myanmar; short-sightedness in New Delhi. But, as this newspaper has reported, things might be beginning to change. In the small town of Moreh in Manipur, where National Highway 39 hits the border, work has begun on truly ambitious border infrastructure. This will, it is planned, link up with a refurbished NH-39 and become, eventually, part of a long dreamed-of trans-Asian road system.
Of course, ambitious attempts to integrate the Northeast have been begun before. It was thought at one point that Myanmar was willing to upgrade the old Stilwell Road that linked it to India, and in the process helping to connect the Northeast to a usable port. That, along with similar hopes from an improvement in Indo-Bangladesh relations, has not exactly come to fruition yet. But India cannot afford to sit back and let its neighbours dictate the pace of this process. If the infrastructure gets built, the incentives for them to do their part will become ever clearer. Nor is it in any way obvious that insurgents in the Northeast will choose to attack such infrastructure in the manner that has become horrifically familiar, thanks to Maoist attacks elsewhere in India. Which is why the move to create an integrated border checkpost,
an "airport-like" area which will facilitate the movement of goods and people back and forth, is a sensible first step.
There are, therefore, two crucial takeaways. The first is that upgrading border infrastructure in the expectation of greater trade is something that can and must be done unilaterally. The other is that individual projects are not, and will never be enough. The new integrated checkpost a "land port", as new legislation intends to classify it will be useless unless NH-39 is similarly upgraded. But the rewards are huge: the creation of incentives for peace in the Northeast; greater commonality of interests with Myanmar; and, not least, the possibility that India and Southeast Asia will draw closer together.
AN ENABLING STATE
The finance minister has tabled a refreshingly written and brilliantly argued Economic Survey 2009-10 in Parliament. On the one hand, the Economic Survey, the chief economic advisor's view of the performance of the economy over the previous year, highlights the good aspects of government policy and attributes last year's growth to the fiscal stimulus. While private investment, the engine of growth in the previous decade, fell by two percentage points, the government's final consumption expenditure grew rapidly, making up for the fall and providing a growth stimulus to the economy. On the other hand, the Survey is critical of the government's management of food prices and suggests that government policy is part of the problem and needs change.
While optimistic on the growth prospects of the Indian economy, the Survey appears unduly concerned about a rise in capital inflows. While India may witness higher capital flows than last year, it seems a bit too early to worry that these may be excessive. Recommending a slow and calibrated withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus, the Survey suggests that growth has been broad based and provides the grounds for a rollback. Considering that full recovery is likely to take place over the next two years, the need for a slow withdrawal of the stimulus is underlined.
This year the Survey carries the distinct imprint of Professor Kaushik Basu, the new chief economic advisor. A new chapter on micro-foundations of inclusive growth has been carefully written, bringing on the table the logic for reform based on first principles of economics. The Survey discusses several policy ideas and suggests policies that are incentive compatible. It suggests a design of an enabling state versus an intrusive state that bans this or that activity in an attempt to control it. It lays down a move towards a "coupons system" that is, food/ fertiliser and fuel stamps to target subsidies to the poor, replacing the price control system. The UID is expected to lay down the infrastructural foundations of these changes. This newspaper has supported these positions for some time now but this is the first time that they have been so clearly and carefully argued in a Government of India document. The progress towards the proposed way of providing subsidies will, no doubt, be slow but the contribution of a well laid out and clear design is extremely useful in laying the foundations for change.
GROSS DOMESTIC OPTIMISM
India's economic performance over the last decade or so has produced a new, widely shared optimism that has survived the political complexity and policy muddle of an order that, if replicated in a Western liberal capitalist democracy, would have provoked profound national pessimism. This impressive growth in gross domestic optimism (GDO) clear to anyone but very intelligent radical left critiques of the "neoliberal sellout" is ready for a trend upgrade.
We don't need a "great" budget for this. Indeed, most likely, we will not get a structural reforms-laden budget. Note that even the Kaushik Basu-authored Economic Survey, while bearing the stamp of a clear-thinking, fine economist (especially Chapter 2, which deserves wide reading), is light on what the media calls a reforms wish list. The conflation of budget and reforms is in any case misleading. The reasons for an upgrade in GDO growth are to do with four areas in which there have been or will be significant government activity. All of them point to India getting a little
closer to addressing some of its toughest problems. They boost our GDO because they will boost our GDP. Here are the four optimism-enhancers.
First: there's policy movement in the Naxalite problem. It's obviously impossible to guess how the government-Naxalite offer-counter offer will play out. But three things are clear. First, the Centre is determined; if playing soft doesn't work, playing hard will resume. Second, the ridiculous state-level dithering, seen in Bengal for example, is on the wane. Third, those who murder in the name of Mao are beginning to feel the heat of the security forces' attention. It's going to be a long haul, for sure. But for the first time, it is possible to feel optimistic that some time in the future journalists will stop calling Kishenji's mobile number because he will be far less news-worthy.
The possibility that the Naxalite problem is solvable is a huge optimism enhancer because apart from the obvious benefits, the fading of these groups will improve national economic discourse. The wholly untenable thesis about big capital exploiting poor tribals as it loots natural resources has gained intellectual and political traction as the body count from Naxalite attacks has gone up. In fact, thanks to a dreadfully complicated mining policy, private, including foreign, capital in mining has been in short supply. If the Naxalite-rich and mineral-rich states become only mineral-rich states, we can have a proper discussion about optimal resource extraction. The second GDO boost comes from the fact that official homework for such a discussion is on.
So, second: a new mining policy. It's taken a long time, an absurdly long time given that the first pro-reforms mining policy was formulated in 1993, but the Centre is close to finalising a set of rules that decentralises decisions on awarding licences and creates a regulatory/appellate structure on mining issues. Will the new regulators be perfect? TRAI in telecom, IRDA in insurance and SEBI in stock markets are not. But they have all presided over big sectoral upgrades. If there's a big sectoral upgrade in mining and if the Maoists are less of a factor in mineral rich-states, that's a huge GDO-
enhancer because sub-par mining activity represents significant "lost" output right now. However, in poor, mineral-rich states the question of well-targeted welfare spending will remain acutely relevant even after a significant
mining-led increase in state-level economic activity.
So, third: a clutch of new ideas on getting welfare money to those who deserve it. The ideas essentially aim to create an effective and cheap technology platform that will cut out intermediaries and put welfare money in some version of a bank account. More bank branches are too costly. But a combination of travelling bank personnel, a cheap connectivity platform and a reasonably robust national identity card system can completely change how money goes from governing centres to welfare beneficiaries. The RBI, economic ministries and the national ID card project authority are all thinking about various aspects of this. It's easy to be cynical about the prospects of a nationally effective welfare cash channel. But there's real political/ administrative traction behind these ideas. In the Economic Survey, Basu's skills as a theoretical micro-economist are put to excellent use in a public policy document via the issue of targeting welfare beneficiaries. The socio-economic payoff is so huge that serious official thinking on this is automatically a GDO booster
Fourth: tax reforms. The 13th Finance Commission's report, also tabled in Parliament, gives a realistic timetable on implementing the goods and services tax (GST). Start with a few compromises, and get to the fully reformed system in three years. The political class should find this palatable. The GST will be a big game changer. The complex analysis of why this is so can be forbidding. It will suffice for our purpose to note three things: properly implemented it will boost national economic activity, it will comprehensively reduce state-level bizarre taxation, and it will make the Centre's indirect tax code a thing of joy to behold. Plus, there's the ongoing debate on the proposed and radically simplified direct tax code. True, both the GST and the direct tax code reform are behind their original schedules. But most changes in India are behind schedule. The important thing is these tax reforms firmly belong in the doable-in-near-future category. Think about it this way: we are not too far from a big positive change in how we pay taxes. You have to feel more optimistic when you know that.
INTELLECTUAL DEAD ENDS
It is tempting to say that a community of public intellectuals cannot thrive without its Parisian Left Bank moment. It has to be created and perpetuated by circumstances conducive to the "gatekeeping" role it will play. That set of circumstances needn't be adverse. But without it, the group would shrink, not in numbers perhaps but in scope, usefulness and effectiveness. For instance, the reason why the formidable confluence of refugee European (and some American) intellectuals in Los Angeles during World War II did not bequeath LA a prolonged moment in intellectual history was just that lack of proximity to where the ideas and action lay.
Sections of the intelligentsia and the marching band of intellectuals in West Bengal might have believed Singur and Nandigram provided their new Left Bank moment. And Lalgarh (the Maoist realm in Bengal) might yet be the culmination of the long march. But is there anything about themselves the intellectuals are overlooking?
The Union home minister need not worry if there aren't ready responses to his appeal to "intellectuals" to see the Maoist gameplan for what it is. The truth is, Bengal's intellectual community is encountering a crisis of identity. This might sound paradoxical, given how the turbulence over industrialisation reaffirmed for the most gifted sections of the intelligentsia their place and power. It might sound doubly counterfactual, given the loud noises from a sitting Trinamool Congress MP who had descended on the Bengali popular cultural scene in 1992 with an album of socio-politically conscious songs, given the protests led by redoubtable public icons, whether of a sit-in or effigy-burning kind.
But there is a crisis of identity and purpose. And that is engulfing not just the "intellectuals" but the entire Bengali middle class. So the idea of intellectuals offering a third alternative distinct from both the CPM and the Trinamool for a non-electoral mode of "civil society" action does not impress. At worst, Bengal will continue in chaos. But the intellectuals' great anti-capitalist, anti-statist utopia will not rise from it. Violence and lawlessness will self-perpetuate. At best, Green Hunt will successfully finish its Bengal chapter sometime in the near future, there will be an election and a government, of whichever persuasion. But it is advisable to ask ourselves one question right now: why is there the impression that, despite the Kabir Sumans, voices pretty shrill till the other day are quietly, inconspicuously becoming fainter?
That's because there is the suspicion among some that the Left Bank moment might well be over. It wouldn't be pleasant to be labelled Maoist sympathisers or endure bigger embarrassments. Every intellectual is a "capitalist opportunist", after a certain point of personal maturity. Bengal's deliverance from a future of pandemonium lies in that self-preserving instinct of its intellectuals.
Adversity certainly helps the intellectual, unless to the extent of being packed off to Siberia. Witness East Europe through its communist days. But what doesn't help is patronage. Patronage is the nemesis that first destroyed intellectual life in Bengal, and now may deflect the intellectuals from their dangerous track. The Left Front's long reign in Bengal hasn't been just about the substitution of the party for the apolitical administration, about strictly politicised appointments, promotions and transfers, about Operation Barga in what would become its rural bastion. It was about the pact that the party concluded with Bengal's intellectuals and middle class after assuming power. What was individual sycophancy so far became institutionalised sycophancy. Icons of cultural life moved from "telling truth to power" to a place under the caring eye of power land grants, apartments, academic and state jobs.
Thus there was silence over Marichjhampi (1979), over the Ananda Margis (1982). This continued, till Nandigram, Episode I (March 2007), Rizwanur Rahman (September 2007) and then Nandigram, Episode II (November 2007). Thirty years later, there was a "reawakening" and genuine public anger, guided by intellectuals into the giant rally on November 14, 2007. All of this was sincere. But one still suspected a less altruistic element the fear that history would soon catch up with their hitherto benefactor, the CPM, and it was time to abandon ship. Those abjectly beholden to the party couldn't switch even then and took part in the smaller, pro-government rally.
One giant, Mrinal Sen, appeared in both. This apparent even-handedness was construed in unflattering terms by many even then. Today, that act by Sen seems a premonition of what is already in evidence that patronage will continue no matter who's in power. Intellectuals will be bought. Those protesting now that they went along with the Trinamool only so far as Singur and Nandigram, should note the rewards the Union railway minister is showering on them. There may be two distinctly divided intellectual camps in Bengal, but imagined together, they blur the lines between them. Each reflects the other.
So there's hope that Bengal's intellectuals will "see" the light on Maoist activities; that even if the Trinamool gathers the courage to take a political call and unequivocally distance itself from the insurgents, they will stop protesting.
Intellectuals CPM, Trinamool, neither will fall in line. Bengal is in its twilight. Far from being gatekeepers, its maverick public intellectuals need to be kept inside a gate, to allow the state a last chance to enjoy the sinful delights of capitalism, consumerism and industry. Then we can wait for the next Bengal Renaissance.
CHEAP AT THE PRICE?
Is the Indian stock market "expensive"? Typically, how expensive or cheap a market is, is measured by a ratio called the price-earnings multiple, or P/E. One can't really take the absolute value of the benchmark index, as an indication of its value: indeed the market could be cheap when the Sensex is at 18,000, and expensive when it's at 16,000. That's because it's not just the P/E alone that gives us an idea of whether a market is overvalued or undervalued, the multiple is read in context with expected corporate profits, typically for the 12-month period ahead.
At 16,300 today, the Sensex, which is an index comprising 30 stocks, and is a kind of a proxy for the Indian market, is trading at a P/E multiple of around 15.5, which is slightly higher than the long-term average of 15. The P/E multiple is derived by dividing the value of the Sensex (16,300 right now) by the expected earnings per share (eps) for its constituents which, for the coming 12 months has been estimated by analysts at Rs 1,050. That's called a "forward P/E" because it takes into account future profits of companies that are yet to come in.
One could also look at what is called a "trailing P/E", which would take into account profits that have already been reported; but by and large, the market prefers to look ahead. Given this, a multiple of 15.5 times doesn't seem overly expensive, given that Indian companies are expected to grow their profits by about 20 per cent in 2010-11. About six months down the line, corporate earnings for 2011-12 will come into play; as of now, estimates floating around suggest that the eps for the Sensex could be close to Rs 1,300, a smart jump of 24 per cent over 2011-12. So, if one agrees that the Indian market deserves to trade at a multiple of 15 times, that should push up the market to levels close to 20,000 (15x1300). Looking at it another way, at 16,300, the Sensex trades at just 12.5 times estimated 2011-12 earnings (16300/1300) making the market seem attractively priced.
Of course, the quality of earnings also matters. While earnings may be growing by 20 per cent, for 2010-11, they are skewed by profits of energy and metals firms; and, should anything go wrong in either of these spaces, it would upset the applecart. A strong macro-economic environment and a stable government are always preconditions for good growth in corporate earnings. Very rarely has the Indian market traded over a multiple of 16 times for a sustained period; somehow there seems to be a strong resistance at that level. Last year, the market was re-rated after the results of the general elections were announced on May 16, 2009. Foreign investors were convinced that a stable government at the Centre led by the Congress Party and without any representation from the Left would deliver. They believed that even if reforms took their time coming, they would eventually happen and India would be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Money poured in over $15 billion flowed in between mid-May and December 2009, with the added promise of a quick recovery in the home market. So at levels of 17,000, the market was trading at over 16 times forward and at a fair premium to the long-term average.
Compared to its regional peers, India today is more expensive. Taiwan, for instance, trades just under 13 times, Korea at 9 times and Malaysia at 13.5 times forward 12-month earnings. There's good reason for that; India should be the second-fastest growing economy in the world after China. We have political stability, a fairly good legal system, a big home market and we are a young, earning nation with almost half the population less than 25.
But, while the India story looks good over the longer term, a large government borrowing programme in 2010-11 could result in an excess supply of government paper which could mean fewer borrowing options for the corporate sector.
Also, large borrowings could push up interest rates quite significantly and higher interest rates mean that both corporates and individuals will be less inclined to borrow. For the economy to grow, companies need to invest in new manufacturing capacity while individuals need to buy homes, cars and two-wheelers. Unless that happens companies will not be able to grow their profits and earnings forecasts will remain just that. That could lead to de-rating of the market P/E multiple; because, typically, there is an inverse relationship between interest rates and P/Es.
P/Es are a function of risk appetite: the higher the risk appetite the higher the P/E. When money is tight and interest rates are high, people tend to be risk averse, so P/Es drop. So, if Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee isn't able to contain borrowings adequately in the Union Budget, the market could see a bit of a correction.
The writer is resident editor, 'The Financial Express', Mumbai
US Vice President Joe Biden complains that he is being driven crazy because so many people are betting on America's demise. Reports of it are not just exaggerated; they are, he insists, ridiculous. Like President Obama, he will not accept "second place" for the US. Despite the present crippling budget deficit and the crushing burden of projected debt, he denies that the country is destined to fulfill a "prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended."
Mr. Biden was referring in particular to The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy, a British historian. Published in 1988, the book argues that the ascendancy of states or empires results from the superiority of their material resources, and that the wealth on which that dominance rests is eroded by the huge military expenditures needed to sustain national or imperial power, leading inexorably to its decline and fall. The thesis seems a tad schematic, but Professor Kennedy maintains it with dazzling cogency. In any debate about the development of the US, one would certainly tend to side with the detached historian rather than the partisan politician.
All too often, however, students of the past succumb to the temptation to foretell the future. For reasons best known to himself, for example, the eminent British historian A.J.P. Taylor predicted that the World War II would climax at the Spanish port of Vigo. Equally preposterous was Francis Fukuyama's claim that the conclusion of the cold war marked the end of ideological evolution, "the end of history."
When indulging his own penchant for prophecy, Paul Kennedy too proved sadly fallible. In his book, he wrote that Japan would not stagnate and that Russia, clinging to Communism, would not boom economically by the early 21st century. Of course, Professor Kennedy did not base his forecasts on runes or entrails or stars. He weighed the available evidence and extrapolated from existing trends. He studied form, entered suitable caveats and hedged his bets. In short, he relied on sophisticated guesswork. However, the past is a map, not a compass. It charts human experience, stops at the present and gives no clear sense of direction. History does not repeat itself nor, as Arnold Toynbee would have it, does it proceed in rhythms or cycles. Events buck trends. Everything, as Gibbon said, is subject to "the vicissitudes of fortune."
Still, history is our only guide. So doom-mongers conjure with Roman and British analogies in order to trace the decay of American hegemony. In so doing they ignore Gibbon's warning about the danger of comparing epochs remote from one another. It is obviously possible to find striking similarities between the predicament of Rome and that of Washington. Overstretch is common to both, for example: Rome defended frontiers on the Tigris, the Danube and the Rhine; America's informal empire, controlled diplomatically, commercially and militarily, girdles the globe.
But the differences are palpable. The Roman economy depended on agriculture whereas the US has an enormous industrial base and dominates the service economy. Rome was prone to internecine strife whereas America is constitutionally stable. Rome was overwhelmed by barbarians whereas America's armed forces are so powerful as to prompt dreams of what is known in military doctrine as "full spectrum dominance." Even in an age of terrorism and nuclear proliferation, it is hard to visualise an attack on America as devastating as that inflicted by Vandals, Goths and Huns on Rome.
Similarly, the British Empire was a weak empire. It was acquired thanks to certain temporary advantages, and run on a shoestring. It governed the multitudes of India with 1,250 civil servants, and garrisoned its African colonies with a thousand policemen and soldiers, not one above the rank of colonel.
Then Britain lost a whole generation of empire-builders during the First World War, and was virtually bankrupted by the Second. It was bailed out by the US, which briefly sustained the British Empire as an auxiliary in the cold war. But its status as no more than a client was amply demonstrated in 1956, when President Eisenhower stopped the invasion of Suez. The empire was quickly dismembered, its ghost surviving as the Commonwealth.
Stemming from a tiny island, the British Empire was once described as an oak tree in a plant pot. American dominion, by contrast, is rooted in a bountiful continent. But does not the organic metaphor imply that states, like other living things, will inevitably deteriorate and die? This suggestion was convincingly denied by Lord Palmerston, the champion of the Victorian "gunboat diplomacy" that brought China to its knees. To compare that country to a sick man or an old tree was an "utterly unphilosophical mistake," he said, since a nation could adopt mechanical means of self-renovation. This, needless to say, China has done.
Despite its grave problems, there are some relatively simple steps America could take to recover its position. It could bring its military commitments into line with its resources, rely more on the "soft power" of diplomacy and economic engagement and, as George Washington said, take advantage of its geographically detached situation to "defy material injury from external annoyance." Such a policy would permit more investment in productive enterprise and pay for butter as well as guns, thus vindicating Biden's faith in the recuperative capacities of the Great Republic.
On the other hand, Paul Kennedy may well be right to predict that the US will shrink relatively in wealth, and therefore power, as its rivals grow. Such contractions can be traumatic, as suggested by the experience of Britain, which, as Adlai Stevenson said, lost an empire without finding a role. However, the British now tend to echo Lord Macaulay, who said that the end of their physical empire would be the proudest day in their history if they left behind "the imperishable empire" of their arts and their morals, their literature and their laws.
In other words, national self-esteem should not stem from global might but from cultural values and achievements. Faced by the prospect of decline, Americans could hardly do better than to cling to the noblest traditions of their own civilisation.
The writer, a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, is the author of 'The Decline and Fall of the British Empire'
MISSING THE ENGINE FOR THE GEARS
Toyota has stumbled badly largely because its greatest strength the Toyota Way of "accumulation of small improvements," or "kaizen" philosophy has turned out to be a weakness in the age of complex electronic engines.
There is every reason to believe Toyota will fix its technical and management problems. The question is whether it will dig a deeper hole by losing the air of trust and reputation for competence among customers it has spent so long building up. Most auto companies in the past, including Ford and G.M., have had recall problems like Toyota. They all seem to try to hide the early evidence of flaws, even if they affect safety. This goes back to the American consumer advocate Ralph Nader's "unsafe at any speed" campaign in the US in 1965 that involved the Chevrolet Corvair produced by G.M.
Today, however, with electronic programming of cars, many of the problems emerging such as the braking system of the Prius are of a new nature. They are judgmental engineering calls. If they can be corrected by readjusting the setting on recalled cars, then Toyota can handle that quickly. But what we are seeing may be a more fundamental problem. In an average Toyota, there are about 24,000 inputs and outputs, with as many as 70 computer chips processing information and sending it on to other chips to operate the engine control units. It is a very complex system.
Such complex systems are a problem these days for all auto manufacturers Germans and Americans as well as Japanese because about 60 per cent of a modern automobile is electronics. Toyota is the canary in the cave, so to speak, since it is the world's largest manufacturer of cars, with more than 50 plants across the globe outside of Japan.
What we see with Toyota in particular is that this new electronic complexity has overwhelmed its famous concept of kaizen "the accumulation of small improvements" that has made Toyota such a quality brand worldwide. The company has so perfected the practice of kaizen from the bottom up at the assembly line that it has lost the big picture of how the whole electronic engine and thus overall safety works.
This is a limitation of the kaizen philosophy, which has helped Japan become the headquarters of quality manufacturing. If Toyota does not recognise this and tries to chalk all its problems up to floor mats touching the accelerator, or resetting a computer, it will miss the real issue. Where Toyota has failed is that rather than review the overall safety of the engine operating unit, it has focused instead on diagnosing the function of many thousands of pieces of an electronic engine.
What the company is missing is the human factor a single person who has a comprehensive understanding of the details of the engine and how the parts interact and work as a whole.
In the old days, one chief engineer used to design everything. This was true with ships and airplanes as well as nuclear reactors. Now, design and production is broken down into so many details that there is no one in the current generation of Toyota engineers who seems to have the whole picture. A 45-year-old engineer at Toyota today would have spent the last 25 years working on "the accumulation of small improvements."
What this suggests is that Toyota has to come up with a new organisational ethos beyond kaizen that can oversee the crucial safety features that may have been compromised by so much incremental improvement over the years. This is a philosophical problem of management, not a technical issue. A new system of "man and machine interface" needs to supplement the kaizen philosophy in other words, one that perfects the big picture of engine control safety instead of just the small picture of components.
I believe Toyota can meet this challenge. The challenge I fear it will fail to meet is the psychological one, enveloped as the company's leaders seem to be in a sense of panic at being attacked politically and in the press in their most lucrative market, the United States. There is such a clash between aggressive American political and media culture and reserved Japanese ways. Toyota has so far always done what the American market and politicians demanded without losing quality or productivity.
Toyota is in the hot seat. But everyone should understand that the issue at hand is the tradeoff between complexity and safety in an age in which electronics and computers dominate the vehicles we all use on a daily basis.
GADKARI'S APPEAL TO MUSLIMS
BJP President Nitin Gadkari's appeal to Muslims to facilitate the construction of a Ram temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid at Ayodhya has attracted critical comments from most papers. Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on February 20 asks: "Why Gadkari finds it difficult to reach a satisfactory solution to this problem through a court decision and what he means by a satisfactory solution is better known to himself. But as far as Indian Muslims are concerned, they have full confidence in the country's judiciary and their stand on the Babri Masjid controversy from the beginning has been that they are bound by every decision of the court. It is not a question of only Muslims. Everyone having faith in the Indian judicial system, irrespective of the religion they subscribe to, are of the view that the decision of the court on this should be accepted."
Delhi-based Hindustan Express, in its editorial terms the BJP's plea "laughable." It writes on February 19: "The mosque was demolished with a demonstration of force. Now, if, by using force an effort is made to actualise the dream of building a grand Ram temple on the site of a make-shift Ram temple, there is nothing we can do about it. But so far as giving up the claim is concerned the Indian Muslim can in no case give up the claim for Babri Masjid." The paper exhorts the BJP President, who is now "giving lessons in mutual friendliness (ukhuwat) and camaraderie (bhai chara)," to introspect about the role of his party in performing the most serious act of terrorism."
Jamaat-e-Islami's Daawat, writes: "It is surprising that those who created feelings of hatred and hostility between Hindus and Muslims through the Ayodhya campaign... are now talking of friendliness and camaraderie. They have neither repentance nor any regret."
In the run-up to the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, most papers supported the scheduling of the talks at India's initiative, ignoring provocations from some Pakistani leaders. Delhi, Kolkata and Ranchi-based daily Akhbar-e-Mashriq, in its editorial on February 16 wrote: "Wisdom demands that we show open-mindedness and, ignoring LeT and its past terrorist attacks, talk to Pakistan in a south-Asian perspective... During the talks, the Indian Foreign Secretary, Mrs Nirupama Rao, can clearly tell her Pakistani counterpart that India is prepared to listen to all its grievances and find appropriate solutions under the condition that it gives up its path of terrorism and dismantles the terrorist camps, etc., now operating on its soil. The issue of water is not a serious one and can be sorted out amicably through negotiations."
On the issue of Kashmir being brought up by Pakistani leaders on every occasion, a commentator in Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj, on February 14 writes: "...If we have to talk (about Kashmir), Pakistan should be asked what pleasure it is getting by shedding bloods of a large number of common Kashmiri people and when will its thirst be quenched?... The entire world knows that the people of Indian J&K are more prosperous than those in the Pak-occupied Kashmir."
The daily Jadeed Khabar, published from the capital, in its editorial on February 9, writes: "It is possible that use of terrorism against India is a part of Pakistan's policy. But if Pakistan is kept engaged in talks, it can't evade the truth that its land is being used for activities against India."
Lucknow-based daily, Aag, in an editorial (February 9), wrote: "The situation today is not such that one can pin much hope on the Indo-Pak talks. But following a worsening situation and publication of bitter statements, the talks have been scheduled. So the beginning would be said to be good."
Quota for Muslims
The setting aside of the Andhra Pradesh government's provision of 4 per cent reservation for backward Muslims by the high court and announcement by the West Bengal government of 10 per cent reservation for Muslims have been subjects of much discussion.
Dawaat, in a front page commentary (February 13) writes: "Left parties were very loudly making the demand for implementation of the Sachar Committee report whereas the largest number of backward Muslims are in the state of West Bengal ruled by them. Ultimately they had to take the initiative of implementing the recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra Commission for putting an end to the backwardness of Muslims."
Hyderabad-based daily Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in an editorial on February 10 wonders how the recommendation of a commission headed by "a senior judge" of the Supreme Court was negated by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. It writes: "It is astonishing how this recommendation and some obvious and clear decisions and a firm opinion were ignored by some judges of the high court while other judges gave their verdict in favour of reservations. The logical and natural response to this lack of consensus is that this issue should be considered by the Supreme Court. It is encouraging to note that the state government has taken a spontaneous decision to take this matter to the Supreme Court."
Compiled by Seema Chishti
SURVEYING REFORM OF GOVERNMENT
The Economic Survey has two broad objectives. First, it has to assess the state of the Indian economy, current and near future, in terms of vital statistics. Second, and perhaps more significant, it is supposed to reveal the government's thinking on the near-term direction of economic policy. Chapter 1 of the Survey, which deals with vital stats, doesn't say anything unexpected. Growth for 2009-10 is pegged at 7.2%, which is forecast to go up to 8.75% in 2010-11 and then to 9% in 2011-12. That clearly suggests that the government believes that the economy has turned the downturn corner decisively. In particular, the Survey is optimistic about the upturn in gross fixed capital formation that had taken a dip during 2008-09. Still, there are reasons to be cautious about pronouncing a growth rate of near 9% in the next fiscal, not least the continuing global uncertainty, primarily the debt crisis in Europe and America's very weak recovery. Unsurprisingly, given its confidence in the recovery, the Survey suggests that the government will begin a gradual rollback of the stimulus programmes unveiled over the past 18 months. But any sudden and complete rollback of even the fiscal stimulus component looks unlikely in this Budget.
Needless to say, the Survey has expressed concern about inflation spreading from just food items to elsewhere in the economy. But it does generally conclude that the inflation we have witnessed lately has been a supply-side phenomenon. Interestingly, and this is also where we get into Chapter 2 and the big ideas, the Survey says that there is a need to develop a new system of nomenclature for inflations. The recent experience of over 10% food inflation, negative non-food inflation and less than 10% inflation in fuel, power, light and lubricant has never occurred before. To get policy right, the Survey argues that it is crucially important to understand the type of inflation precisely. We have consistently argued in these columns that monetary policy/demand management is not the appropriate policy to deal with food inflation (which is what was driving the overall inflation indicators like CPI and WPI upwards). The Survey appears to concur with this line of argument while suggesting a statistical overhaul.
Overall, Chapter 2, which bears the intellectual signature of the recently appointed chief economic advisor, Kaushik Basu, may disappoint those looking forward to big-ticket reformist ideasunlike in the last Survey there is no mention of financial sector reform, for example. But that is perhaps Basu's recognition of the political realities that surround any reform process. Chapter 2 forcefully argues that "there is a need to be realistic about the system within which we work". But this isn't used as an excuse to shy away from reforms, but actually to focus on reforms that can be done. The CEA had made a strong and sensible pitch for rethinking the role of the state as an 'enabler'. In particular, Chapter 2 says at the outset that the default option of an enabling government should be not to interfere in market-based economic activity unless there is a strong evidence that it needs to do so. Taking the example of futures trading, the CEA suggests that since the government has been unable to establish a causal link between the existence of futures trading and a rise in inflation, it should refrain from banning such trading. Many sections of the UPA alliance that are prone to sticking the Visible Hand of the state in too many places would do well to heed this basic lesson in being hands off in the functioning of the market unless absolutely necessary.
That said, the Survey doesn't dismiss the role of the government in helping the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. Considerable space in Chapter 2 is devoted to the subject of agriculture and subsidies, two crucial policy challenges currently faced by the UPA. The prescriptions for policy in both spheres are eminently simple and the kind we have supported in these columns on many occasions. On subsidies, whether food, fertiliser or oil, the Survey strongly recommends that the government pull out from direct intervention in price-setting in these sectors. Instead, the most effective and least distortionary way to protect the vulnerable is to give them a direct subsidy, preferably in the form of a coupon. So, the Survey suggests that rather than channel food through an unproductive, leaking and corrupt PDS, it would be better to let all stores sell food at market prices, which the poor can then buy from coupons given by the government. Overall, this would save money and increase efficiency, not just in food, but also in fertilisers and oil products. What the CEA is essentially recommending in Chapter 2, aptly titled Micro-foundations of Inclusive Growth, is a complete reform of public delivery systemsessentially turn them into privately delivered but publicly funded 'programmes'. There is prominent mention of the UID programme that would help in identifying the beneficiaries of the government's direct subsidy programmes, but as our columnist today says, it isn't the UID's remit to identify who should be a beneficiary. So, the details still need fine-tuning. Overall, the strength of this Survey isn't in thinking aloud on conventional reform ideas, but rather in thinking big on how to reform the most difficult entity to reformthe government.
DOES THE SURVEY REALLY MATTER AT ALL?
Economics 101 is identified with basic courses on economic theory. Economics 201 is also usually about basic economic theory, though that identification is rare. Until last year, readers of Economic Survey primarily read Chapter 1. Chapter 1 reviewed the status of the economy and set out reform ideas, or non-reform ideas, if one goes back to pre-1991. Last year, the then chief economic advisor (CEA), the primary author of the Survey, changed the template. Chapter 1 became a boring, and known, review of the economy. Chapter 2 articulated reform ideas.
The new CEA has continued with this new template for 2009-10. Consequently, one had better read both chapters. However, there is no correlation between reform ideas stated in the Survey and their implementation through the Budget that immediately follows. Indeed, since 1991, there have been apparently 'spectacular' Budgets, preceded by boring Surveys. The hypothesis is that a boring Survey lowers expectations. Therefore, a Budget, assuming it attempts something, is likely to be graded 9/10 rather than 7/10. With a large volume of data and analysis now available through extra-Survey sources, there is little in Chapter 1's review of 2009-10 that wasn't known. GDP is expected to grow 7.2% in 2009-10. In 2010-11, growth is expected to be one percentage point more. More specifically, GDP is expected to grow by 8.5 (+/-0.25%) in 2010-11 and cross 9% in 2011-12.
If one reads between the lines, one forms the impression that the government expects growth closer to 7.5% in 2009-10, once revised estimates replace the advance estimates of 7.2%. India was insulated from the global crisis and recovered faster. No disputes there. And there is reference to the government's post-crisis policies and gradual rollback of stimulus. That word 'stimulus' is used to mean monetary policy measures, public expenditure before September 2008 and tax reductions after September 2008. If government is to be credited with counter-cyclical fiscal policy to neutralise slowdown, since public expenditure occurred before crisis, and the bulk of the stimulus was also then, one would have to presume that India was the only country in the world to have anticipated the crisis and taken pre-emptive action well in advance. However, in stating this, the Survey does no more than articulating the party line. The adjective 'party' should be deliberately used.
The NCP, more specifically agriculture minister, has said that he isn't an astrologer. No such denials have come from anyone in the Congress. Chapter 1 then rightly argues there are concerns over inflation, and this is no longer of the food variety. Concerns are also expressed about fiscal consolidation and recommendations of 13th Finance Commission factored in.
There is a factoid relevant for tomorrow. BE of 2008-09 targeted fiscal deficit/GDP of 6.8%. But because of a revision of base in the GDP series, this has become 6.5%. While the Survey doesn't say this, a ratio of 5.5% in 2010-11 is eminently doable. Valid reasons are then cited (savings, investment, demographic dividend, competitiveness of companies, infrastructure improvements) for India to break into the 'duronto' (there's a reference to the railway minister's trains) or fast-growing league. But the proposition of India 'donning the mantle' of the fastest-growing economy in the world in the next four years has to be taken with two pinches of salt, since the adjective 'large' is not used. There are 12 countries growing faster than India today.
Other than China and India, they are of course small. Second, though the CEA has been known to say this earlier, notwithstanding the ageing population in China, four years is considerably optimistic. This takes one to the reform-minded Chapter 2, titled Micro-foundations of Inclusive Growth. A former chief economic consultant recently described the present CEA as 'an ideal Congress economist'. That unkind cut has a grain of truth, reflected in the title of Chapter 2.
But there is a good discussion of the development/distribution issues and options of targeting subsidies better (food coupons, fertiliser coupons), spliced with the unique identity project. (Education and health are fundamentally state subjects.) Before we applaud this ushering in of choice through direct and conditional non-cash transfers, let us remember food coupons were first promised in the UPA government's first Budget of 2004-05, and nothing substantial occurred. Incidentally, the Survey doesn't quite address the issue of identifying BPL. Everyone assumes Nandan Nilekani will somehow solve the problem, but that's not UID's mandate at all. Chapter 2 next flags other reform areas like bureaucratic procedures, labour markets and contract enforcement. A quote is warranted. "If one were to look at this from a brighter angle, India's unpardonably large bureaucratic costs are like a valuable resource buried under the ground, waiting to be excavated and used. Cutting down these costs is like unearthing a free, valuable resource that was lying idle." That's a novel way of stating it. If we can lick these problems, we should be able to break into double-digit growth. This chapter reflects the CEA's own research priorities and the stamp of his own writing style, somewhat difficult within a government template. At best, because of the CEA's preferences and biases, one can criticise this reform list as being incomplete.
Collation from earlier Surveys would have made the list comprehensive. But the Survey is actually monarch of nothing.
The author is a noted economist
KELKAR & CO SHOW WAY TO FISCAL REFORM
The report of the 13th Finance Commission (TFC) tabled in Parliament alongside the Economic Survey has laid out important recommendations on sharing of financial resources between the Centre and states, path to fiscal consolidation at the Centre and in states and a road map for GST. But while the recommendations on the latter two aspects are likely to be well received, the new criteria for allocation of taxes among the states is likely to cause some heartburn.
The most outstanding recommendation is the revised road map for fiscal consolidation, which calls for a calibrated exit from the current expansionary fiscal stance and complete elimination of the central revenue deficit over the next five years. However, in the case of states, the targeted dates for achieving a revenue balance vary between 2011-12 and 2014-15 while the dates targeted for achieving a 3% fiscal deficit were spread between 2011-12 and 2013-14.
The TFC has also made recommendations to ensure quick implementation of targets. It has recommended release of state-specific grants only after the states amend their FRBM Acts to ensure compliance with the new targets. The broad aim is to reduce the consolidated debt-to-GDP ratio of the Centre and the states from the current level of 82% to 68% by 2014-15.
The TFC has also suggested incentives of Rs 50,000 crore over a five-year period to facilitate a grand bargain between the Centre and the states to ensure an early rollout of GST. The amount is to be used for compensating states for revenue losses, if any, and will sensibly be provided only if the states adopt the model GST proposed by the TFC.
This model envisages subsuming almost all state taxes, including stamp duties, entertainment tax and entry tax in the GST, uniform threshold and composition limits for both Centre and states, shifting responsibility of entire GST collection to the states, ending of area-based exemptions and targeting a revenue-neutral GST rate of 12% recommended by the task force report with 5% going to the Centre and 7% to the states. A single rate across all goods and services recommended by the TFC also eliminates most disputes and ensures that tax collections become more predictable.
In the case of tax sharing, the TFC has followed the general norm of a progressive increase in the states' share and recommended pushing up the states' share from 30.5% to 32% and justified it on the grounds of the higher buoyancy of central taxes. However, it refused the states' demand for inclusion of cesses and surcharges in the divisible pool in the belief that it would be subsumed in the central GST. The raising of the ceiling of the revenue account transfers to the states from 38% to 39.5% is also unlikely to affect the Centre as the current share is close to the new norms.
The real debate is likely to be on the horizontal distribution of the apportioned central taxes between the states. While the TFC has given population and area the same weights as in the 12th Finance Commission recommendations, which stood at 25% and 10%, respectively, it has increased the weightage for fiscal discipline from 7.5% to 17.5%. An important change has been the replacement of the income distance criteria and the tax effort criteria in the 12th Finance Commission recommendations to a single fiscal capacity distance criteria and the reduction of its weightage from 57.5% to 47.5%. The end result is that TFC has effectively provided greater emphasis on fiscal discipline.
The change in weightages has caused a substantial reallocation of the central tax apportioned among the states. While 18 of the 28 states have gained a larger tax share, the remaining 10 lost out. The highest gainers were Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur, J&K, Uttarakhand and Himachal. The increase in tax share of these six states ranged from 20% to 50%. Gains by another four states in the NortheastMeghalaya, Assam, Mizoram and Arunachalranged between 10% and 15%. However, the gains were more marginal in the remaining eight states that included UP, Goa, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Sikkim, MP and Punjab, where their respective shares went up by less than 10%.
But the more interesting group is the 10 losing states, which include poor states like Bihar and Orissa, medium-income states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala (all in the South), rich states like Haryana and Gujarat, and newly formed states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
While the decline in the tax shares of Bihar is a marginal 1%, that of Orissa is a more substantial 7%. Among southern states the smallest loser is Karnataka, where the losses are less than 3% and the largest loser is Kerala, whose share slipped by around 12%. The losses also varied sharply between the rich states. While it went down by a marginal 2% for Haryana, it is a high 15% in the case of Gujarat. Hence the likelihood of selective heartburn.
OFFTAKE, STILL SLUGGISH
With bank credit disbursement barely touching 10%, concerns are now being raised whether banks will be able to meet RBI's target of 16% by the end of the current financial year. To achieve the target, all scheduled banks, including regional rural banks, will now have to lend around Rs 30,000 crore every week. But RBI data for the fortnight ended February 12 show that banks disbursed only Rs 22,597 crore, a marginal improvement from Rs 20,170 crore disbursed in the fortnight ended January 29, 2010.
The Economic Survey, in a gentle frown on the banking sector for its failure to bring down interest rates, has underlined the fact that the increase in flow of funds from non-banking sources from both domestic and foreign sources to companies indicates structural rigidities that affected monetary transmission mechanism. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that non-banking sources like commercial papers and initial public offerings account for about 60% of India Inc's fund requirements. Ideally, it should not be more than 40% for companies to remain competitive in the long run.
Even retail credit remains muted with the personal loans category showing negative variation for sub-categories like advances against fixed deposits, credit card outstanding and consumer durables. Any rollback of stimulus packages will have to take into account the negative variations.
Low credit offtake will have a far-reaching consequence on consumer demand and expansion plans of companies at a time when we are seeing recovery in certain sectors. Though buoyancy in credit demand will not take place until some large projects take off and the global markets fully recover, low interest credit in sectors like infrastructure, housing and consumer durables should continue for a sustained recovery. While bankers may expect a strong pick-up in loans for reviving stalled projects and planning new capacity expansion plans after the Budget, any interest rate hike will be a real dampener for creating a demand for bank funds. Real demand needs to pick up in non-metro and rural markets which is crucial to sustain the overall growth for the manufacturing sector.
A BALANCED REVIEW
In line with the recent optimistic forecasts by both official and non-official agencies, the pre-Budget Economic Survey estimates that the economy could grow by as high as 8.75 per cent during 2010-11 and move to 9 per cent the next year. It is a tribute to India's economic management that the economy seems certain to grow, so soon after the global crisis, by a highly respectable 7 per cent-plus this year. A double-digit growth does not seem out of reach within the next four years. Economic growth is well supported by strong fundamentals. Gross domestic savings stood at 32.5 per cent of GDP in 2008-09, while the gross domestic capital formation was 34.9 per cent. This record places India on a par with the world's fastest growing economies. The outlook for foreign trade is improving with both world output and trade volumes picking up, though how fragile the recovery is remains unclear. The broad-based recovery creates room for a gradual roll-back of the stimulus offered over the last 18 months. Those measures are necessary to push the economy back into the higher growth trajectory.
Pegging the gross fiscal deficit at 6.5 per cent of the GDP for this year, the Survey has recommended replacing the current defective subsidy schemes that control the issue prices of food, fertilizer, diesel, and kerosene by a system that places money directly in the hands of the beneficiaries to be used for purchases in the open market. At present, while the high level of subsidies meant a major fiscal burden for the government and consequently curtailed the scope for public spending in critical areas such as poverty alleviation, the benefits do not get substantially passed on to the targeted sections of the population. According to the Survey, it is a mistake to assume that a subsidy scheme has to be coupled with price control. The best way to intervene is to help the poor directly instead of controlling the price. However, the government is unlikely to dismantle marketing subsidies soon, ignoring political opposition. The high consumer price inflation is a major worry and a political embarrassment as well. Ominously since December, the high food prices and the gradual hardening of non-administered fuel prices are getting transmitted to other non-food items, and they are very likely to push the inflation further over the next few months. Many of the Survey's policy prescriptions are not new but their emphasis at this point is certainly significant. It remains to be seen how exactly its hard-headed economic analysis is tempered by political realities in the Budget.
At a time when immediacy masquerades as relevance in sport, a nuanced understanding of true greatness evades us. It takes something as monumental as what Sachin Tendulkar achieved in Gwalior against a South African side of no little quality to prompt us to filter out the shrill absurdities and begin to examine the contours of real greatness. Tendulkar turns 37 in April he has long passed the age when every failure a batsman suffers is investigated for evidence of fading eyesight and slowing reflexes. Yet he continues to confound us, constantly forcing us to review and revise the limiting parameters against which great batsmen and indeed great athletes are measured. No other Indian sportsperson has been quite as adept at pressing our awe-buttons as Tendulkar. The maestro's double-century, the first such instance in the 2962 One Day Internationals held so far, is significant at many levels. Every time a barrier is breached, every time something seems possible only in theory is realised, some of the patterns of collective mental conditioning are broken. Tendulkar, in achieving this feat of will and endurance in his 21st year of international cricket, has not merely exploded the myths common to ageing sportspersons; he has also shown again that longevity is the most functional of metrics in assessing greatness.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit," said Aristotle. It is a habit that few athletes have exemplified as well as Tendulkar for more than two decades. Sporting immortality is achieved by quickly erasing dark memories of the odd intimations of mortality. Even so great a batsman as Tendulkar has had his lows, and his lowest perhaps occurred when he was booed off his home ground, the Wankhede Stadium, in March 2006. But he has sparked a renaissance, batting on occasion without ego, playing a shrewder, safer game, but every so often reprising the rousing, intuitive style of his younger days. The last 12 months, in particular, have seen more of the latter: he has during this period made 10 international centuries, six in Tests and four in ODIs (including three scores of over 150); most of them have evoked a sense of glorious lightness. He has 93 international centuries, and if he progresses at the same rate, the staggering achievement of 100 centuries could be his by the end of the year. But numbers, however impressive, do not offer the measure of a man. These days Tendulkar is often asked what motivates him now that he has achieved nearly every batting record. His answer has always been the same: he loves the game. It is this simple, unaffected love that has allowed him to adorn cricket without appearing bigger than the game.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
FROM ROARING LION TO TIMID MOUSE
INDIAN PARLIAMENT IS TOO TOLERANT OF INDISCIPLINE AND TOO INTOLERANT OF GENUINE DISSENT.
It is a brave Congressperson who will stand up and speak for freedom of expression. When that rare person happens to be a Lok Sabha MP as well as the party's spokesperson, his action deserves taking notice.
Manish Tewari recently moved a Private Member's Bill in the Lok Sabha seeking amendment in the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution. Reason: The law, while intending to stop the evil of defection, worked in practice against individual freedom and creative thinking. As he argued in an article, party whips compelled MPs to toe the line, resulting in a member "invariably voting for a bill if you are on the treasury benches and against a bill if you are in the opposition.."
Mr. Tewari's version of the law will free legislators from the whip-imposed fear of losing their membership in all cases except where the life of the government is seen to be threatened by a no-confidence motion, a money Bill or some crucial financial matters. It is a daring proposal. Yet fortunately for Mr. Tewari, it has some powerful backers, including the erudite Hamid Ansari. In a November 2009 public address, the Vice-President made a strong case for restricting the use of the whip in order to allow greater "room for political and policy expression in Parliament." The cue was picked up a month later at a workshop organised by PRS Legislative Research where participants argued that the anti-defection law prevented MPs from critically examining government proposals.
There is an underlying irony in this. Indian Parliament in many ways mirrors Indian public life: Infuriatingly chaotic at one level and rigidly rule-bound at another. Parliament, as it exists today, is too tolerant of indiscipline and too intolerant of genuine dissent. A typical MP will be a roaring lion during zero and question hours and a timid mouse when bound by a whip.
Disruption has become so much a habit with our MPs that the only point of interest today is the form they will adopt on the floor of the House. The 2009 winter session witnessed an innovation that left Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar metaphorically and literally speechless. The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party abandoned walkouts and such for a low chant that apparently did not quite qualify as "disruption", yet fairly drowned out Home Minister P. Chidambaram's reply to the debate on the Liberhan Commission report.
In itself a noisy, lively Parliament is not a bad thing; it could possibly be justified as the inevitable outcome of a democracy that is today more inclusive and more representative than any time previously. However, when indiscipline extends to all aspects of Parliament, it is time to worry. The 2009 winter session saw the sacrosanct question hour collapse because of the absence of as many as 28 questioners. Nearly half of all Bills piloted went through without even a semblance of discussion.
After every session, there is the unavoidable stock-taking: of hours lost to mayhem, of Bills passed in haste, of business left unfinished; of business interrupted because of a lack of quorum and so forth. At Speaker Kumar's initiative, the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha has now made it mandatory for Ministers to give oral replies to questions even should the questioners be physically absent. The reform was perhaps necessary, and yet look at the leeway it allows truant legislators: MPs who have questions to ask can now legitimately bunk question hour. Question hour is held sacred not for mechanistically supplying answers to questions but because it affords an opportunity to members to cross examine the government and hold it to account.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Prime Minister takes questions every Wednesday. This practice was introduced in 1961 and has since become a responsibility no head of government can escape. The MPs relish grilling the Prime Minister, though with characteristic English restraint, and for the media and the general public it is an event they eagerly look forward to.
Just where Indian parliamentary priorities stand can be seen from the following. The first budget session of the 13th Lok Sabha spent 30 hours and 45 minutes on the general budget, 23 hours on questions and 63 hours on disruptions. The first budget session of the 14th Lok Sabha spent 19 hours 21 minutes on the general budget, 5 hours 49 minutes on questions and 47 hours on disruptions. By comparison the first budget session of the 15th Lok Sabha would seem impressive: 50 hours on the budget, 20 hours on questions and 23 hours and 45 minutes on interruptions. Yet by winter, the House had returned so vigorously to form that a distressed Ms Kumar had to call a closure earlier than scheduled.
A recent analysis by PRS Legislative Research encapsulates the decline of Parliament. As against 151 sittings in 1956, the Lok Sabha met 46 days and 64 days respectively in 2008 and 2009. Time spent on discussing the budget has reduced from 123 hours in the 1950s to an average of 34 hours in the past decade. (Standing Committees constituted to lower the budget burden are plagued by poor attendance). Last year witnessed a total of 1,100 starred questions (questions orally answered by Ministers). Of these only 266 (24 per cent) were called, and of the 266 questions called, the inquiring MP was not present for 57. Of a total of 30 non-financial Bills passed in 2009, eight were passed in less than five minutes.
Indian disrespect to Parliament cuts across parties and extends all the way up from greenhorn legislators to parliamentary veterans to House leaders who, while making a show of being alarmed at the deteriorating quality of Parliamentary participation, will do little to enforce discipline. Parliamentarian par excellence Atal Bihari Vajpayee has time and again bemoaned Parliament's fall from grace. He commemorated India's 50th year of Independence by calling Parliament a "fish market." He wished he could withdraw his membership from it. Yet the party he led to two consecutive victories behaved abominably in defeat. Today the only thing the 2004 July-August Budget session is remembered for is the BJP's unceasing bad manners.
During the budget session of the 15th Lok Sabha, Chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi pulled up partypersons for taking Parliament lightly, and reminded them that the institution symbolised the will of the people. Her own record is hardly exemplary. In the 14th Lok Sabha: 36 per cent overall attendance, participation in only three debates and zero utilisation of question hour. In the 15th Lok Sabha so far: 61 per cent overall attendance, zero participation in debates, and zero utilisation of question hour.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an attentive and conscientious parliamentarian but only when he is in India which is increasingly not the case. The Prime Minister made three foreign trips over 13 days during the 21-day 2009 winter session. Prime Ministerial travels are a necessary part of diplomacy; and indeed India's current international profile owes much to Dr. Singh's energetic overseas engagements. However, the Prime Minister unwittingly sets an example when he takes leave of absence from Parliament. In 2007, Speaker Somanth Chatterjee issued a diktat against MPs travelling abroad during session. He also wrote to Prime Minister Singh asking that no Minister travel abroad without the chair's express permission. The United Progressive Alliance government ignored the entreaties only to be confronted by the spectre of ministerial absence during a vital moment in the first Budget session of its second term: A Bill emanating from the Commerce Ministry had to go back because Ministers Anand Sharma and Jyotiraditya Scindia were both travelling.
It does not require much to change all this. A signal from the top is often enough. During the recent Lok Sabha debate on the Right to Education Bill, a sudden buzz had it that Ms Gandhi would take the floor in a gesture of support to the historic legislation. Congress MPs dutifully scurried to the House only to learn that they had overeagerly responded to a rumour. Within minutes the House emptied out! No show by the leader and no show by the herd.
Successive Speakers have sought to take control only to give up in the end. The lasting image of Speaker Chatterjee is of a man in deep distress, his throat raspy from shouting, his drooped shoulders a testimony to a disorder beyond repair. A "no work, no pay" solution proposed by Mr. Chatterjee predictably found no takers, except for those on the Left. Presiding Officers have pushed for reform at numerous redressal conferences and meetings again to no avail.
Should Manish Tewari succeed, Indian Parliamentarians will be spared the repeated torture of changing from roaring lion, when not in a voting capacity, to timid mouse, when called upon to vote. Ideally, they ought to be neither. They need to be less shrill and more disciplined outside of their voting duties, and they need to be more vocal when taking a position on policy. This is the way it is in other democracies. This is the way it should be here.
SHEIKH MABARAK: AN APPRECIATION
SHEIKH MABARAK, WHO DIED ON WEDNESDAY, WAS FOR EMIRATIS THE EMBODIMENT OF THE VALUES OF ADVENTURE AND EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT ON WHICH THE NATION WAS BUILT.
He was the last of the giants, those tough men of the Bedouin desert who formed a new nation out of a harsh environment, those visionaries who created a country that would occupy a special place in the global firmament.
Sheikh Mabarak bin Mohammed Al Nahayan, who died on Wednesday, occupied a special place himself in the hearts of fellow Emiratis. He was the first Minister of the Interior of the United Arab Emirates and he helped start and sustain what is arguably one of the foremost security infrastructures in the world. Even before his federal role, which began when the UAE was established in December 1971, Emiratis knew him as the head of the Abu Dhabi Police, which he established in 1961. Most of all, they knew him for his dazzling smile and his endearing warmth, and they knew him for being accessible at all times.
They knew him, too, for befriending Indians who had started to come to the UAE to participate in what seemed to be an implausible task of nation building at the time. He nurtured those friendships, even when he was felled by a stroke in1979; his grateful Indian friends such as the Sindhi businessman Mohan Jashanmal would visit him virtually every day at his majlis.
I, too, was among those privileged to be welcomed to his majlis in Abu Dhabi. Tea and coffee would be served and on a high-definition TV screen, photographs of the evolution of the UAE from a desert territory to a modern nation would roll. Some of them depicted Sheikh Mabarak as a young man tall, almost statuesque, fiercely handsome, possessing a chiselled face that, of course, always seemed to be smiling.
His long illness may have sapped his strength but not his spirit. He held out his hand for all visitors, gripping theirs firmly, and imbued them with his special energy. I always touched his feet when I met him: how could I not? He was, after all, a living legend. Sheikh Mabarak was the embodiment of the enduring values of adventure and equitable development on which this remarkable nation has been built.
He was also the UAE's unsung hero; his close friends, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid, are widely recognised as the UAE's founders. But, in his own unobtrusive way, Sheikh Mabarak was right there with them, constantly consulted by both men, their respect for one another deepening with every incremental stride that the Emirates took toward social and economic progress.
Those photographs in Sheikh Mabarak's majlis capture some of the regard those extraordinary men had for one another their body language tells a special story of joy in seeing an ancient society make the transition to a technologically driven state. They speak of the founders' own proud wonder at seeing their children and grandchildren grow up in a far more hospitable environment than that of their youth, one that opened endless possibilities for competing in the global commons with the skills bestowed by education and enterprise.
Sheikh Mabarak encouraged the promotion of those skills, just as his son does so vigorously now. The son I am referring to is Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, the UAE's Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. He, too, is a living legend.
He is that not only for his stellar record in education and science. Sheikh Nahayan's devotion to his father in itself constitutes a legend. Ever since an accident in London incapacitated his father and that was more than 30 years ago Sheikh Nahayan tended to his father in a way that was preternatural, in a way that went way beyond anything demanded by filial duty. He would rise with his father for prayers at dawn, he would have breakfast with his father, he would join his father for his majlis. And then, before the sun had set, Sheikh Nahayan would himself drive his father around Abu Dhabi.
Watching father and son together in such tenderness, it was impossible not to be moved, it was impossible not to reflect on the meaning of that most atavistic of relationships.
The nexus between father and son had a common narrative besides their dedication to their beloved country. That other narrative encompassed their generous view of Indians and other subcontinentals as being integral to the prosperity and progress of the United Arab Emirates. It would be fair to say that in a nation whose leaders have always welcomed men and women from South Asia, Sheikh Mabarak and Sheikh Nahayan offered a unique hospitality.
That is why Sheikh Mabarak is being mourned not only in this nation on the Arabian littoral. The prayers are also resonating elsewhere in the region, and in lands just three hours away, places familiar to both father and son from their many visits.
Those prayers are of grief, of course, and they ask for salvation for Sheikh Mabarak's soul. But they are also prayers celebrating a man who led a long and full life, a man who left many smiles over many miles, a giant who dreamed of an entire new society and lived to see it happen during his lifetime. They are prayers celebrating a man of tolerance who showed that whatever one's faith, a warm welcome to strangers almost always results in enduring friendships. I will miss his majlis, and I will miss that smile.
(Pranay Gupte's forthcoming book is on India and the Middle East.)
DREAMING OF A CHANCE FOR PEACE
THE LATEST ROUND OF INDIA-PAKISTAN TALKS REPRESENTS A MAJOR OPPORTUNITY TO BOTH COUNTRIES TO PUT IN PLACE A NEW BILATERAL ARCHITECTURE.
V.R. KRISHNA IYER
The India-Pakistan discord and the repeated armed conflicts between the two countries have stemmed chiefly from the accession to India of the state of Kashmir. The strife has caused a heavy drain of human and financial resources over the years, including in Jammu and Kashmir itself. We must halt the disaster and end the recurring loss of life and property that has been occurring. False prestige should not stop an exploration of all possible solutions to find a dignified resolution. Every available proposal should be discussed in a spirit of honour. And, meanwhile, there should be no begging for arms by either country. Both are nuclear-capable and may be tempted to use the weapons in a crisis. There is possibly enough nuclear weapon capability to destroy all of Asia that the two countries have.
Statesmen from both sides have repeatedly spoken out on the potential havoc involved and projected a vision for peace. Superficial solutions or talks will not work. Both countries will have to go to the root of the problem and seek an understanding.
Religion is the cause of the dispute. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic and India is secular. Both were one before the two-nation theory gained acceptance. The British Parliament recognised India and Pakistan as separate sovereign nations. Kashmir was at that time a separate entity. There is no sign of peace now; in fact, every available sign points to aggravating discord over a land of enchanting beauty.
If Asia is to enjoy real peace, this dispute has to be resolved. If Asia has no comity, world peace itself is at stake. Neither the U.N. Security Council nor any statesman with vision has taken positive measures to end this bleeding battle. Curiously, the leaders of both countries do not want other states to intervene and negotiate a settlement on fair terms.
Luckily, a historic moment has arrived. The Prime Ministers of both countries agreed to hold bilateral talks without reservations, with the objective of restoring cordial relations. Exploring the possibilities of a peaceful settlement is a task that could spell a supreme patriotic service.
It is imperative that the war of words over J&K should stop and a happy and just resolution achieved. An ad hoc and tentative package for discussion among the peoples of both sides and nations is overdue: without it, peace will remain a dream and a solution an illusion.
Kashmir was under a Hindu maharaja who ruled a large number of Muslim subjects and a micro-minority of Pandits. Jurisprudentially, therefore, J&K belongs to the Indian Republic. The maharaja decided to join India. Sheikh Abdullah, the head of the National Conference, endorsed the accession. But Pakistan, a cultural victim of communal bigotry and obdurate obscurantism (India is not far behind, either) invaded a part of J&K claiming it to be a Muslim-dominated state and saying that it should go to Pakistan.
Is world jurisprudence communal? If the present "line of actual control" gets international recognition and there are socialist secular democratic governments on either side of it, there can be peace and a permanent end to war between the two countries. The violent territories bleeding daily, leading to armed conflict and carnage, cannot be sustained. Humanity the world over will treat peace in J&K as a secular wonder. From a brave new Bharat and a peaceful Pakistan, a new socio-political secular philosophy will emerge to mark a modern and dynamic era of majestic concord. A civilised and humane world order will then be the epic accomplishment of the 21st century.
Can we have race or colour dividing the world, making the globe white or yellow or dark-brown? And now religion is taking on the role of ensuring the collapse of humanism in the name of god fighting another god, making mankind a casualty. J&K is symbolic of all these divisive forces.
To be a member of a secular confederation should not cause any infraction of sovereignty. It will merely be an expression of willingness to be humane in the process of forming a collective consent to act together, not against one another. A confederation will represent a public political accord, a liberal organisation to bury discord or hostility but agreeing to be allied in foreign relations, never to have a mutual armed conflict. It will mark the beginning of a friendly formation of two or more sovereign states to shed hostilities and be willing to act as comrades.
From a historical perspective, India and Pakistan have so much in common. In geographical terms both were one. In material matters the two have religious bonds. India has more Muslims than Pakistan, and shrines for them to worship. There are common economic interests. The respective economies can go forward as a single integral whole, complementing each other.
My solemn proposal is to begin with a resolution that all Indians and Pakistanis believe in the worship of all versions of god in deep devotion. Let all noble negotiations be founded on a spiritual basis, not on mundane arms-dealing on a communal bedrock, but Advaita-Islamic divine inspiration. This is a unique opportunity. Our peoples are allies.
Let the conscience of the Buddha's renunciation and compassion be the basis of a settlement. Emperor Asoka put an end to war and pleaded for religious fellowship as a greater asset than victory. Renounce, unite not split. Two sovereign nations, but a dynamic togetherness.
The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan should become the leaders of an Indo-Pakistan Friendship Society. It will make for a glorious start. All political parties should be invited to become its members. The two, like all great statesmen, should practise Asoka's creed.
The two countries should realise the extent of human loss that will come about if the confrontation continued. The Taliban, that wicked terrorist force of fanaticism, although altogether un-Islamic, has become a source of terrorism in both countries. Islam and Advaita win by faith, not guns. Islam is peace, humanism, not terrorism or bigotry.
Our resources are common. Rivers and the territorial nexus make us one. Our languages have much in common. Our culture and economy will prosper, given unity. Varanasi has its mosques. There are temples, churches and mosques standing in friendly proximity in Kerala. In Hyder Ali's part of Mysore State there is a great mosque and a great temple in a sanctified neighbourhood.
Why, then, should we not live united? Islam stands for world brotherhood, and Advaita with the same semantic profundity stands for one creation. It follows that we fight in the name of Allah and Siva and blaspheme both. Gods are one but their priests with basic obscurantism battle for more power and followers. This is sacrilege and betrayal. Sri Narayana Guru, the great revolutionary of Kerala, was a global humanist. One of his credos was to ignore religious and caste distinctions. And he had as disciples Muslims and Hindus of all castes. He installed a few temples. The festivals were open equally to Muslims, Christians and others.
Whenever a Muslim in Pakistan dies of a bullet injury I breathe in pain. We are brothers, and every Hindu is his brother's keeper, be he Muslim or Christian. There is no reason we should not have a large and powerful movement for human rights and peace among Pakistanis and Indians.
Indo-Pakistan cultural friendship and political amity has to become a people's movement. Jinnah, the first President of Pakistan, was secular, every cell of his: he was western in outlook and allergic to the religious life. He was driven to the Muslim League by the Congress' tactless politics. Later, of course, he had political reasons for the way he went. His first message to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan was indeed beautiful and secular.
Let Indo-Pakistan comradeship be a popular passion to fight the cult of hate. Either you continue to be poor colonies of the White House or be together as powerful Asian allies.
If need be, set up a common Indo-Pakistan Supreme Court. It will be a great idea to have once in two or three years a three-month-long sitting of an India-Pakistan Parliament. Let there be also a Common Defence Force.
We will enjoy a grand Indo-Pakistan Federation. It will be a superlative political experiment: never to kill, only to salvage. It will represent a new sublime world order. Humanity will bless this century if such a federation is created.
The bilateral dream sequence is endless. A new oath, a new capital, a new Indo-Pakistan wonder with universal impact abjuring the nuclear menace. A new oath for judges and officers should state that they would uphold Indo-Pakistan friendship. In cricket, football and hockey there will be only be an Indo-Pakistan team, not separate teams. No visas, only fraternity between the two countries. In the field of education, common examinations are possible. Common hospitals, why not? J&K could then be a part of Indo-Pakistan territory. All from both countries will be free to enter and exit sans visa. Let there be one Federation.
GOOGLE STANDS FIRM AMID COMPLAINTS IN EUROPE
Facing a new wave of antitrust complaints in Europe, Google stood firm on Wednesday, saying it would not offer concessions to companies that have accused it of abusing its market power in online searches and advertising.
Google said it was preparing a response to questions sent by European antitrust regulators after the antitrust accusations from three companies, including a unit of its archrival, Microsoft. "We haven't done anything wrong," said Julia Holtz, the senior competition counsel for Google. As a result, she said, the company did not consider it necessary to offer "any sort of commitment" in response to the complaints.
The complaints to the European Commission indicate rising frustration among competitors with Google's strength in the online advertising business and with its business practices.
In some European countries, Google has more than 80 per cent of the market for Internet searches and advertising linked to them.
European Commission officials have said in the past, however, that market dominance was not, in and of itself, sufficient cause for antitrust sanctions.
Antitrust experts said that Google's decision to publicise the complaints itself showed the company's determination to try to stop the case before it advanced any further. New York Times News Service
CHARTING AN ACHIEVABLE ROAD MAP
THE FINANCE MINISTER FACES THE CONFLICTING OBJECTIVES OF SUSTAINING STIMULUS-AIDED GROWTH AND USHERING IN FISCAL CONSOLIDATION.
- Mr. Mukherjee may hike the excise duty and widen the service tax base to peg both levies at 10 p.c.
- He may not find it difficult to peg the fiscal deficit at about 5.5 p.c. of the GDP in 2011-12
If the key macro policy objectives of the last Union budget were to combat the slowdown in the wake of the global financial crisis and stimulate economic growth at whatever cost even at the expense of an "unsustainably high fiscal" deficit the prime task before Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for the new fiscal appears more challenging.
In his budget presentation today, the Congress-led UPA government's "man for all seasons" has to chart an achievable road map to sustain the stimulus-aided recovery momentum for taking the economy to a higher growth trajectory and, at the same time, usher in fiscal consolidation while ensuring that the inflationary spiral, especially of essential food items, is contained at tolerable levels.
On the face of it, the objectives are at conflict with each other.
For, if public spending is controlled along with a rollback of consumer-oriented stimulus measures, economic growth may get stymied.
On the contrary, if the stimulus measures continue, they may further stoke inflation, led by a further rise in food prices, and seep into manufacturing inflation and thereby invite monetary measures by way of higher interest rates. What renders the budgetary task harder for Mr. Mukherjee is the fact that the fast turnaround in the economy in the current fiscal has raised official hopes as per the Economic Survey of well over eight per cent growth in 2010-11. And this, when the rising growth trend has primarily been owing to the four fiscal packages accounting for an overall stimulus of nearly Rs.2,18,000 crore. The major stimuli which boosted consumer demand and led to a surprisingly better-than-expected industrial growth and consequent GDP (gross domestic product) expansion were the hugely increased public spending on infrastructure and other social sectors that led to a net market borrowing by the Centre of Rs.3,97,957 crore coupled with sharp cuts in excise duty from 14 to eight per cent and in service tax from 12 to 10 per cent.
Now that the economy is on a much firmer footing, will the Finance Minister roll back the fiscal stimulus measures? Economic analysts, including the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC), have suggested at least a partial rollback, starting the new fiscal itself, which has been ratified by the Survey. Though now reconciled to a nominal hike, India Inc. is of the view that the high growth is restricted to select sectors and, therefore, the incentives should stay for some more time to pre-empt another slowdown.
Considering that Mr. Mukherjee himself has reiterated time and again that the stimulus would stay until the global economies recover and domestic growth becomes deep-rooted, the middle path he may adopt is to hike the excise duty by two percentage points in certain sectors and widen the service tax base to peg both levies at 10 per cent. The calibrated approach would be more as part of the transition to the combined Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is now likely to be implemented from 2011-12 instead of the original deadline of April 1, 2010.
With the reform in direct taxes by way of implementation of the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) also proposed from 2011-12, the Minister is not expected to tinker much with personal and corporate taxation. However, a customary increase of Rs.10,000-15,000 in the basic exemption limit for individual taxpayers is on the cards to make up for the burden of food inflation, while corporates may look forward to some changes in the surcharge. As at least nine aspects of the DTC draft provisions are currently under scrutiny, the budget is unlikely to upset the simplification that is sought to be ushered in until the hitches are sorted out.
Also, having increased spending allocations much beyond fiscal prudence during the current year, Mr. Mukherjee is expected to ensure that public expenditure is targeted better at the intended beneficiaries as the delivery mechanism has a lot of room for improvement. This would include better targeting of various subsidies so as to contain expenditure, especially when the PMEAC has pointed out that the spending has been more on consumption than asset building. While a beginning has already been made with a cut in fertilizer subsidy by way of the nutrient-based scheme, such a move does not seem possible on the Kirit Parikh panel recommendations on petroleum fuel pricing and deregulation in view of the vehement opposition and the chances of inflation being fuelled further.
A decision on this is expected to be taken outside the budget and at a time when international oil prices soften as the Survey also makes no mention in this regard. As for the reduction in fiscal deficit, there are, as Mr. Mukherjee himself pointed out last year, quite a few positive factors. Pay Commission arrears are out of the way and neither will there be the burden of farm loan waiver during the coming fiscal. These, coupled with the higher than expected growth, will lead to a significant reduction from 6.8 per cent of the GDP this fiscal. Apart from these factors, the 3G auctions are expected to fetch Rs.30,000-35,000 crore, while the listing of profitable enterprises during the year may fetch about Rs.25,000-30,000 crore. All these taken together, it may not be difficult for Mr. Mukherjee to peg the fiscal deficit at about 5.5 per cent of the GDP in 2011-12.
However, the ifs and buts remain. Even as the government adheres to a disinvestment road map, much would depend on the sentiment on the bourses which, in turn, is dependent on the pace of global recovery.
Mr. Mukherjee's objective of people's partnership in public undertakings may not happen if retail investors' response remains as lukewarm as it has been in recent times. Also, on the domestic front, the stock market, according to analysts, would watch out for the extent of market borrowings by the government during the year.
In case the borrowings are larger than market expectations, the sentiment would be negative which, in turn, would affect the disinvestment programme.
UNBEATABLE SACHIN TENDULKAR
The greatness of Sachin Tendulkar has not really ever been in doubt. From the time he appeared on the scene as a curly-haired chubby-faced 16-year-old 20 years ago, experts knew that he was something special.
And ever since, he has been proving over and again that he belongs in the pantheon of the greatest Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Michael Schumaker with its exclusive membership and unlimited adulation.
On Wednesday in Gwalior Tendulkar catapulted himself to a new level by scoring the first 200 in One-day internationals. The height of achievement merited the world's collective salute and acknowledgement.
For the country, that the Indian team won the match against South Africa was of course the cherry on the icing.
Like all achievers, Tendulkar has had to face his share of critics, naysayers and doubters. And like so many achievers, he has faced the worst of it and come out stronger.
Given the human tendency to worship youth, Tendulkar is considered an old man in Indian cricketing terms. Whenever he slips a little from his sterling record, there are cries that he should be replaced by some deserving younger player. Yet, the way he played on Wednesday, it is clear that arguments about youth and age are sometimes just so much tosh. There is no young player in the Indian cricket team yet at least who can match Tendulkar's achievements.
The arguments will now begin about whether Tendulkar is the greatest batsman ever. Such discussions add to the spice of life and whether you vote yes or no or even maybe, the fact remains that his achievements are not just formidable but for the most part tower over everyone else's. It could be argued that he has made himself, after Don Bradman, the new benchmark.
The world of sport goes through its ups and downs and cricket has had its share of controversies. But it is for performances like this that fans continue their support and will brave time, money, the elements which includes angry bosses and spouses to feed their passion. Tendulkar has dedicated his double century to the country. The country, meanwhile, has rededicated itself to him.
If the burden of expectations on Tendulkar and the team has increased World Cup 2011 so it seems has Tendulkar's ambition to get there. The world better watch out the Little Master is still getting better and bigger!
There were no great expectations from the India-Pakistan foreign secretary talks held in New Delhi on
Both sides reiterated their stated positions once again. India told Pakistan about its concerns on terrorism and related issues. Pakistan, on its part, raised the issues of Balochistan and Jammu & Kashmir.
The two foreign secretaries agreed to keep in touch with each other. The very fact that both sides sat across the table and talked is good enough. Pakistan, of course, would blame India for breaking the talks but then after the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008, it had become difficult for India to maintain that all was well.
Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Basheer has conveyed to Nirupama Rao that Pakistan is expediting the prosecution of those accused in the Mumbai terror attack case. With reference to Balochistan, Rao stated the official position that India is not interested in doing anything that will affect the territorial integrity of Pakistan. When the Pakistan side raised the water issue, India cited the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty and this marks its 50th anniversary as an example of how the issue can be handled. In Rao's words, the exchange was candid and friendly.
Optimists apparently the prime ministers' office (PMO) and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) are likely to argue that this is a good beginning and the less optimistic ones like Union home minister P Chidambaram, would say that this kind of exchange does not move us forward in any meaningful sense. The truth obviously falls somewhere in the unexciting middle region. India needs to talk to Pakistan and yet not expect any dramatic changes in the relations between the two countries.
What government would need to resist is popular pressure from certain quarters including that of a certain section of the media keen on improving India-Pakistan ties that New Delhi must do something dramatic and substantial. It is also necessary not to make much of Manmohan Singh's possible meeting with his Pakistan counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) at Thimpu in Bhutan in April. Saarc cannot be turned into an Indo-Pak bilateral, as it has been the practice at earlier Saarc summits.
Basic cordiality and a channel of communication need to be maintained between the two sides. India should stick to this minimalist agenda. Pakistan is not going to change its position any time soon. That should remain the strategy for the moment.
STAIN ON THE UNIFORM
I was distressed to read in the newspapers recently that the Maharashtra government intends to appoint two retired DGPs, SS Virk and PS Pasricha as members of the proposed state security commission. The news item also mentioned that the government intended to appoint MN Singh to head the police complaints authority.I immediately shot off a letter to the chief minister, to the state's home minister with copies to the prime minister and the Union home minister protesting against the mockery that the Maharashtra government intendeds to make of the whole issue of police reforms.
Soon after 26/11, the government constituted a security council with 66 members to appease public sentiment. True, there are some knowledgeable people on this council who could have been consulted on security matters but the council itself was not something that was envisaged by the national police commission.
On being pressed by the Centre, the courts and social activists, the government has now announced that it will set up a security commission but the intention to continue with the prevailing insidious system of pelf and patronage comes through clearly with its decision to appoint retired officials with political connections to the commission!
Incidentally, the newspapers also mentioned that these gentlemen, along with other appointees, would be entitled to perks like chauffer driven cars, police security, official accommodation etc.Having served as chairman of a committee on police reforms I can state that neither the national police commission of 1979 nor the Supreme Court directives on the PIL filed by Prakash Singh, former DG, BSF in this matter, nor any of the committees that went into the issues involved had envisaged the appointment of politically suitable individuals nor perks for such appointees!
The entire thrust of the recommended reforms was to depoliticise the police, distance it from the whims and diktats of politicians, ensure the emergence of an honest, dedicated and competent leadership and then empower these good and honest leaders with operational independence to enforce the rule of law. The police security commissions were to be setup in every state with the home minister as the chairman, the leader of the Opposition as a member, a retired high court judge and two or four apolitical citizens of integrity and credibility in society, as members.
The main task of the commission was to select the head of the police force and other senior police leaders for which they would meet as and when required, which would not be too often. The members would not require any office or cars or flats or residential accommodation or house orderlies or security personnel.They would attend meetings in Mantralaya for which transport could be made available if required.There was no intention to create a new centre of influence or power and there was to be no extra burden on the exchequer.
If well known and well respected public figures like Deepak Parekh, Suma Chitnis, VL Mungekar, Iqbal Chagla and Justice Chandra Shekhar Dharmadhakari were appointed on this commission the public would be confident that there would be no bias or favouritism in the appointment of senior police leaders and that a man or woman of integrity, competence and dedication would be chosen to head the force.
Instead, the government has decided to favour and rehabilitate retired IPS officers, an option that is best avoided.Only officers with political connections will benefit.The public will lose though these reforms were meant to help the people to get better service from the security forces, some thing to which they are entitled.
To counter the charge of excessive police independence the national police commission had recommended the creation of a police complaints authority to be headed by a retired judge of the high court in the state capital and retired district judges in the districts.
All serious allegations were to be examined by this committee.The proposed appointment of a retired police commissioner to head this cell would amount to a mockery of the entire exercise.If the government feels that the police force would be happier with a retired policeman to protect police morale (to my mind a doubtful proposition) then it could appoint MN Singh as one of the members of the cell but surely not to head the committee.In my view the recently retired justice Ajit Shah should be approached for this role.
Many cases have come to public notice lately where the political leadership blatantly misused its powers to propel wrong people up the hierarchical ladder.The worst example was that of RC Rathore in Haryana.This could not have happened if there was a security commission in place where the politicians have only a minority voice in the choice of police leaders.
IN MNIK, JOHAR WAS AFFLICTED WITH IGNORANCE
Tears roll down uncontrollably. My little pack of paper tissues turn into a wet ball of mush. My friends on either side of me are amused and embarrassed, in equal measure. And, I am not even halfway through watching My Name Is Khan. You see, I am one of those unfortunate always-on-tap weepies who even cry in a schmaltzy television soap opera.
Yet out in the clear light of day, the tears and compassion all spent, it suddenly strikes me that we have been had. Have we just seen a lie unfold before us for three long hours? WhileShah Rukh Khan's limited range of histrionics goes from hamming to a little less hamming, with moments of exemplary acting, the hugely popular star is not to blame.
It is the script and the director. My problem is the screen interpretation of Asperger's syndrome by the title character. Asperger's is the mildest form of autism. Yet, Khan seems to be afflicted with a bouquet of maladies: there are shades of obsessive compulsive disorder (remember Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets avoiding stepping on the line between pavement slabs).
The screen Khan has a strange walk, symptomatic of a neurological disorder. His head is perpetually bent to one side. His eyes are expressionless, almost unseeing and he never looks anybody in the eye: it is only in the more severe instances of autism that this happens.
No wonder some families of autistic children have objected to the depiction of autism in this film.
Suddenly, disability (of diverse kinds) seems to have become a hot topic for popular cinema. There has been a spate of mainstream films focused on differently enabled protagonists in recent years: Paa, Taare Zameen Par, Black, Khamoshi, Koi Mil Gaya, amongst others.
Coming up are Guzaarish, a film in which Hrithik Roshan plays a paraplegic in a wheel chair. In Anurag Basu's new film Ranbir Kapoor plays a mute character. Apparently, Nishikant Kamath who made Mumbai Meri Jaan is making one on bipolar disorder. And I am convinced that there are many other projects with disabled heroes and heroines in the pipeline.
Obviously, Hollywood has been and is the inspiration: from Rainman with a remarkable, award-winning performance by Dustin Hoffman enacting the role of an autistic man to more recently, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film that could have but didn't get an Oscar for Brad Pitt for the portrayal of man who is born old but progressively gets younger.
American and European actors have long been attracted by such roles because they are challenging and allow them to stretch their acting abilities to the utmost. Think Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Vittorio Gassman in the original Italian version was even better. These are Oscar-baiting roles.
No wonder actors like Hrithik Roshan, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan and younger A-list stars are interested in playing these roles. Certainly, such films were made in the past Sparsh and Khamosh to name a couple. However, such films were few and far between. My only worry with a rash of such films is the misleading depiction of the disabilities.
In Black, for instance, the little blind girl is shown as uncontrollable and wild (almost like the possessed child in Exorcist) and not just visually impaired. In fact, Amitabh Bachchan's character is supposed to suffer from Alzheimer's, yet he seems to be afflicted with Parkinson's as well.
Moreover, Rani Mukherjee (the child grown-up) is made to walk with her stick like Charlie Chapin, with shades of Raj Kapoor's Chaplinesque turn in the beginning of his film Shri 420. To boot, she also keeps walking past a cinema hall showing a Chaplin movie. This visual pun is not funny.
My advice, for whatever it is worth, to cineastes and actors is to have medical experts on the sets.
SURVEY TAKES ON SUBSIDIES
The Economic Survey has boldly suggested the decontrol of prices of food, fertilisers, diesel and kerosene. The subsidies on these items, it says, make a questionable impact and money thus saved can be better used in promoting productivity and eradicating poverty. Experts have long recommended these steps, but the government has kept dragging its feet. At best, it has tinkered with the fertiliser subsidy. The Kirit Parekh report, which has suggested a decontrol of the prices of petroleum products, faced an uncertain future. But with support from the survey, there is a renewed hope about its implementation. Food price decontrol is a tougher option. The government already faces flak for high food prices. There may be setbacks in the near term, but later the poor will benefit from a direct subsidy. The middle men who usually eat up large chunks of subsidies will get eliminated.
The survey also proposes liberalisation of foreign direct investment norms for health insurance, rural banking, animation and higher education. This will definitely boost the services sector. At the same time, the survey has cautioned the government about risks of letting in excessive capital flows from advanced economies, where interest rates are low. This, the survey warns, could lead to overheating of the economy. Though some countries have imposed curbs on capital inflows, the UPA government should try to channel foreign funds into infrastructure development. Infrastructure bottlenecks to growth are well known. The economic growth can accelerate if the road, railway, air and port connectivity is upgraded.
Since the Economic Survey is a government document on the country's economic health, self-praise and hype are inevitable. It says that India is on the way to becoming the world's fastest-growing economy in four years. At the moment, however, China appears unbeatable. The purpose behind this rosy picture appears to be to prepare ground for a gradual withdrawal of the stimulus. The survey has suggested a "calibrated exit strategy from the expansionary fiscal stance of 2008-09 and 2009-10". Friday's Budget will reveal to what extent observations in the survey are immediately acceptable.
RECALL OF CARS
MORE EFFECTIVE QUALITY CONTROL NEEDED
The recall of as many as 100,000 A-Star model cars by Maruti Suzuki India, including a large number of those exported, is a sure setback for the country's largest car maker at a time when competition in the market is getting more and more intense. The cars have been recalled to replace the fuel pump gasket in cars manufactured between October 2008 and August 22, 2009. The manufacturers have acknowledged that in case fuel is filled to the brim, beyond cut-off position, a possible fuel leakage from the fuel pump mounting area may take place. This is a serious matter and it is just as well that Maruti Suzuki India has not waited for mishaps to occur and specific complaints to come to them from the consumer.
Significantly, this is not the first instance of recall affecting Maruti Suzuki. In 2000 the company had issued advertisements for the recall of 76,000 Omni vans due to a defect in the wiring harness which was a safety-related issue. However, only 75 per cent of car owners came forward to get the car part replaced. Also, about 50,000 Zens made in 1997 were recalled due to a defect in the steering column. In 2009, there were as many as 30 cases of spontaneous fires occurring inside the Tata Nano out of the 7,500 cars delivered. These fires were traced to a short circuit in the combination switch that controls the headlights, windscreen wipers and indicators located in the steering column.
It would be wrong to draw comfort from the fact that recalls occur in the United States, Japan and Europe too which boast of high quality standards. In January last, Toyota had recalled eight million cars in Europe and the US and suspended production of models such as the Corolla due to a problem with the braking system. The Honda also recalled cars worldwide to fix a fault with airbags of which over 8,000 were affected in India. But the cold reality is that the monitoring standards and quality control are far more stringent in the developed world than in India. Public consciousness is also far greater. In these areas, doubtlessly, we need to pull up our socks.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, IT SEEMS
Sachin Tendulkar is on a song, and how! One round of applause does not die down when he comes up with yet another sterling performance, making every Indian delirious with joy. There is so much to root for but the first double century in one-day internationals is something which is mind-boggling. Lasting the entire 50 overs at the age of 37 is no mean feat in itself and extracting 200 not out runs from a team like South Africa is the stuff legends are made of. His 147-ball blitzkrieg was studded with three massive sixes and a record 25 boundaries. It only underscores his phenomenal mental and physical prowess.
What is all the more amazing is that even at this age, his appetite for runs is as strong as ever. He has scored four centuries in the last four Tests. Three of his four highest ODI scores have come in the last 12 months. His stupendous 175 against Australia in November and a whirlwind 163 in New Zealand in March were all huge milestones on the way to his 200-run historic knock at Gwalior.
Another cricket legend, Sunil Gavaskar, has already described Sachin as the greatest batsman the game has ever seen. Former England captain Nasser Hussain concurs, and rather places him higher than even the iconic Don Bradman. "Better than Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the other two great players of my era. Better than Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. And I would even say better than Sir Don Bradman himself," he has written. Suffice it to say that Sachin is today beyond comparison. Gavaskar has identified two more peaks for him to conquer: a Test innings of 450 and an ODI knock of 250. Impossible? What is that? Come on Sachin, we are waiting!
POPULISM AND SAFEGUARDED PROGRESS
END THE BT BRINJAL IMPASSE
BY B.G. VERGHESE
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's moratorium on the introduction of Bt brinjal cleared last October by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee 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 Mr Sharad Pawar, Agriculture; Mr Kapil Sibal, Human Resource Development; and Mr Prithviraj Chauhan, Science and Technology 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 Prime Minister'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, there is no way large and mega infrastructure and industrial projects can be avoided to exploit the economies of scale in a highly competitive, globalised world. This 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.
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&R, compensation and alternative livelihood packages, including participation in the future benefits for those affected.
The understandable nostalgia for the fading ways of life and the multiple social transitions this entails often mutate into another brand of populism by neo-Luddite forces so locked in the past that they cannot discern the future.
Vedanta's Niyamgiri-Orissa Mining Corporation joint venture bauxite mine in Kalahandi-Rayagada in Orissa awaits final clearance while the adjacent Lanjigarh aluminium refinery, three 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 1300 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 percent 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?
WORDS THAT RULE
BY P.C. SHARMA
BOOKS rule the world, said Voltaire. So is true of words. Famous words of the French Revolution "Liberty, fraternity and equality" created a ferment that changed the destiny of French nation and shaped it for many others.
Winston Churchill was once asked: "What were the most powerful weapons you used to win the war". His answer was "words, words and words". His speeches have made the history of World War unforgettable: "we shall fight on the seas and on oceans, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the streets and fields, we shall never surrender". These words lifted the mood of the nation and stirred Englishmen to face the bombardments that Hitler was hurling on England.
Gandhi's "do or die" call breathed a new life into the freedom movement. People woke up from their slumber and gave a fight which became historic for not having to use violence or weapons. Lokmanya's slogan "Freedom is our birth right" altered the course of freedom struggle.
And when the freedom dawned, nothing could describe it better than Pandit Nehru's 'Tryst with Destiny' speech: "When the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom". So moving. And so true. History of India's struggle for freedom can never be complete without this speech.
Two cataclysmic words 'perestroika' and 'glasnost' rocked the Soviet Union. Used by Mikhail Gorbachev to restructure the Soviet Union, these words unleashed such transformative forces that brought down the Soviet monolith.
And the latest in word-power are Obama's magic words 'Yes we can' that inspired his election campaign. These words put his oratory on everyone's lips and him in the White House.
Current phase of history will not be remembered by the vogue words that dominate its idiom and phraseologies. Advent of globalisation spawned a new lexicon which has pushed out the language of simplicity and elegant usages. Commercialese and management coinages are the language of power and influence. 'Data-based architecture', 'strategic thinking', 'coordination mechanism', 'paradigm shift', 'macro and micro levels, 'multi-dimensional approach' are some words which are the new elite of the vocabulary. They dominate all debate and intrude into all discourses on serious issues.
For these word-conductors, history holds no lessons, thesaurus is of no use. They trek the linguistic path unmindful of the danger of falling next into pits like "honorificabilitudinitatibus" the longest word used by Shakespeare in "Loves Labour Lost" and 'hippopotomonstro-sesquippedaliophobia' (fear of long words). Pronounce as you wish!
FM SHOULD NOT FORGET THE URBAN POOR
BY PREMILA NAZARETH
While the nation lauds the government's single-minded drive to take banking to villages, the Finance Ministry and the RBI are sadly neglecting a key constituency: the impoverished millions on the doorstep of urban banks, denied access for lack of 'papers'. Despite the government's clarion call for financial inclusion, my friends and I continue to find it difficult if not impossible to open accounts for our cooks, maids, drivers and gardeners.
Partly responsible are the Reserve Bank of India's 2002 'Know Your Customer' rules. These require banks to check the background of prospective applicants to guard against money-laundering and terrorism financing. Applicants must prove both identity and residence through one of six documents. Passport, PAN card, voter's card, driving licence, identity card, or a letter from a recognised public authority/ public servant in the first case; and telephone or electricity bill, ration card, bank account statement, or letter from the employer/recognised public authority in the second.
Predominantly rural migrants, most of our urban poor do not have the correct combination of identity and address documents necessary to open accounts. The key sticking point is 'local address'. This I learnt when I tried to open an account for Mahesh, the young Uttaranchali who lives and works in my house. He has a high-school I.D., a ration card, and a voter's card (three KYC-approved identity documents), but these were insufficient to prove his bona fide. For, they display an Uttaranchal, not a Delhi address. Sona, our Maharashtrian ayah has no documentation at all, so hers was a 'shut-before-opening' case.
Recognising this Gordian knot, the RBI relaxed the documentary requirements for small deposit (or 'no frills') accounts with a total balance of Rs 50,000. In its 'Know Your Customer' circular of July 2009, it ruled that a written introduction/certification from an account holder was sufficient to open such accounts, provided the account was "over six months old and showed satisfactory transactions."
Yet, eight months later, in direct contravention of this ruling, banks across the country continue to refuse to honour letters of introduction from account-holders/employers as sufficient evidence of identity and address. I thus face the ridiculous situation of living two doors away from the bank (in which my family has had six accounts for a decade), but which insists it cannot open Mahesh's account since it does not have the wherewithal to verify the Uttaranchal address on his identity documents. Completely illogical, since he has now lived for five years with me in Delhi, visiting Uttaranchal only four times since then.
Bank branches have either not been properly briefed about the July 2009 relaxations, or they are using the 2002 KYC obligations as a convenient smoke-screen to duck opening unremunerative accounts for the poor. No surprise then that just 2 per cent of our over 33 million 'no frills' accounts are urban, as the Skoch Institute estimates.
In real terms, this is just 60,000 accounts. Minuscule in the context of India's urban poor population of between 80 million and 190 million. We could immediately bring much of this population into the formal banking system merely by pressuring the banks to adhere to the RBI's July 2009 relaxations. The national drive to financially empower the poor must thus strategically invest in tracking and pushing inclusion in the urban areas.
It is essential we start immediately. The UNDP's 'Indian Urban Poverty Report 2009' shows India's urban population doubling from 286 million to 575 million by 2030. More worryingly, it projects continued growth in our urban poor population due to expanding rural in-migration and lack of public services. Continuing exclusion from formal banking services will only aggravate this unfortunate trend.
Bringing the poor into the banks is also essential to establishing their identity within other formal skills and livelihood systems. For, when I tried to sign Mahesh up for Delhi driving classes to upgrade his skills and salary, he was turned away for lack of a 'local' bank account. I dread to think how many millions of bright, hard-working, young urban migrants are similarly held down by this 'Catch 22' of identification and 'local address'.
The banks' need for caution is understandable. But our system's dogged insistence on 'local address' is misplaced, given an expanding ATM network and growing geographic mobility. In any case, most small depositors use their accounts primarily to store and save money. Thus, should they vanish with all their money, it is theirs and nobody else's. Moreover, small deposits do not easily lend themselves to the kinds of scam seen on stock markets.
India's 95-100 million domestic workers present the lowest-hanging fruit in the urban financial inclusion campaign. For, they all have close, organic links to households already within the banking system, significantly reducing the risk for banks. Since 90 per cent of these workers are women, the implications for social empowerment are significant.
This category of worker is also likely to make larger and more regular deposits than most urban and rural poor counterparts. In bigger cities, average domestic worker salaries range from Rs 3,500 to Rs 5,000, and average monthly savings from Rs 500-Rs 1,000. Employers would be happy to pay salaries via recurring monthly deposits. Account holders are likely to make one or two withdrawals a month. Urban 'no frills' accounts are thus likely to be continually active, cutting to the heart of the banks' complaint that only 11 per cent of the nearly 33 millon rural accounts are.
The government must thus do some quick and clever thinking on how to incentivise our banks to, first, admit and, then, effectively serve our urban poor. To quote S.S.Tarapore, "No individual should be denied the right to open an account." Some 'carrot' and some 'stick' might be required. But, judging from India's telecom experience, energetic attention to enforcing banks' urban 'universal service obligation' is more likely to trigger a low-cost system of 'mass banking', than crores of Budget spending on technology platforms and rural banking infrastructure.
The writer is an independent policy analyst.
RECOVERY WAS NEVER GOING TO BE EASY
BY HAMISH MCRAE
Stand by for the double dip and a double dip led by America. The world economy has staggered out of recession, or at least most of the developed world has, for most of the emerging economies never went into recession at all. But during the past couple of weeks the "Phew!" factor has faded. Yes, there has been some growth and that is a relief but now, post the initial bounce, the slog has begun. That is the time when bad news accumulates, when it becomes clear that we are not through this yet by any means.
That has become particularly evident in the United States. The various fiscal measures to boost the economy are coming to an end. The "cash for clunkers" programme to boost car sales has already ended, and though US car-markers will have gained some modest advantage from Toyota's woes, many of the Toyota models are made in the US, so communities there have been damaged by the recalls.
The housing market, which has been steady for several months, faces a big challenge when the support from a mortgage tax credit comes to an end. Deals have to be signed by the end of April and sales concluded by the end of June to qualify for the homebuyer tax credit, a scheme which in effect gives new buyers $8,000 and people trading up, if they have lived in their present home more than five years, $6,500.
The problem will be a familiar one to Britons. Though prices have stabilised and in some areas actually risen a little, there is a huge overhang of people who would like to sell but have been holding off until the market was stronger and there will also be a stream of foreclosed properties hitting the market in the coming months.
As the realisation has mounted that the US economy is still in a lot of trouble, a sharp weakening of consumer confidence has occurred. Just yesterday the Conference Board, a firm of economic forecasters and analysts, reported that consumer confidence had plunged to a 10-month low, with homeowners in particular being worried about their future earnings and employment prospects. This is serious: consumption accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the US economy so any weakness there pulls the entire show down.
There is a further twist here. There are signs around the world that the period of ultra-low interest rates and other methods of monetary expansion are drawing to an end. China is tightening policy and India is expected to do so. Some smaller developed nations have increased interest rates. We here have halted, at least for the time being, our "quantitative expansion" programme. The European Central Bank has halted its unlimited lending programme and may stop other special measures next month. But what the rest of us do is overshadowed by what the US Federal Reserve does; we all matter a bit but the Fed matters hugely. Everyone is waiting to see when it will start to push rates back to normality.
And so the Fed's move last week to increase one of its interest rates from 0.5 per cent to 0.75 per cent takes on enormous significance, the first tiny sign that the interest rate tide has started to turn. The experts may say that if the US economy is weak through the summer and autumn monetary policy will remain loose and they are right. But ordinary people can see that once things turn they will continue to do so. The only question is the speed at which the tide flows.
So in the coming months there will be a string of troubling news that the recovery is faltering. There were some bad business confidence numbers yesterday from Germany, with the Ifo business climate index falling for the first time for a year. That suggests German growth is faltering and Germany of course remains Europe's largest economy. Several countries, including ourselves, will probably get a negative quarter of growth for the first three months of this year though expect the numbers for the final quarter of last year to be revised upwards a little.
So what should be make of all this? I think the first thing to be aware of is that this is normal. Recessions have causes and until those causes have been tackled it is hard for economies to recover. In this instance the principal cause has been a huge credit bubble that inflated property prices and has left many people which debts they are struggling to get under control.
This is not the place to play the blame game there has been plenty of that already. So let's just observe that until people and companies are comfortable with their debts and banks know the extent of the write-offs they will have to sustain, it is hard to have much of a recovery. This all takes time. But then it always takes time to recover from recession, whatever the causes thereof.
That leads to the second point. If this downturn follows the pattern of previous ones, there will be many months to go before global growth is properly rekindled. If you plot this US downturn against that of earlier ones you would not expect the graph to rise steadily until the end of this year. It would be nice to pretend otherwise but it ain't true. I know it seems ridiculous that if governments can rescue banks and central banks can pump in so much money that they turn around house prices, that they cannot also ensure that the recovery is solid and sustained. But they can't.
We are this spring seeing the limits of government power, and we are seeing it in the US, here in Britain, in Europe, everywhere. You can pile in additional demand for an economy for a while. That has happened right around the world and it has been successful. But you cannot follow those policies indefinitely, and if you try you reach a tipping point where your actions start to have perverse effects. I suppose that is where Greece is now.
By arrangement with The Independent
WORLD'S TEMPERATURE RECORD TO BE RE-ANALYSED
BY MICHAEL MCCARTHY
The whole of the world's instrumental temperature record millions of observations dating back more than 150 years is to be re-analysed in an attempt to remove doubts about the reality of global warming.
The new analysis, an enormous task which will be carried out by several groups of scientists working independently in different countries, has been proposed by the UK Met Office in the wake of recent controversies over climate science, such as the "climategate" email affair at the University of East Anglia and revelations that the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained inaccuracies and exaggerations.
The proposal was put to the World Meteorological Organisation by the Met Office at a meeting in Antalya, Turkey, earlier this week, and accepted by 150 delegates from around the world. Its detailed terms will be agreed at a conference to be held in Britain later this year.
The plan is for the entire global record of land-based air temperatures from 5,000 weather stations, which began before 1860, to be made freely available to anyone. It will then be reanalysed by at least three and possibly five groups of experts, whose different methods will be made transparent and open to scrutiny, and whose conclusions will be peer-reviewed.
The task is expected to take three years, and it is likely that its findings will form a core part of the next IPCC report, provisionally due in 2013 or 2014.
The Met Office stresses that it does not foresee that the new analyses will reveal any "substantial changes" from the basic conclusion in the last IPCC report, published in 2007, that the recent warming of the earth's climate is "unequivocal." Rather, it explains in its proposal document: "This effort will ensure that the datasets are completely robust and that all methods are transparent."
This makes it clear that although the Met Office feels a more detailed temperature record is needed, in particular so that new extremes can be detected by daily records (which might be smoothed out in current monthly averages), a principal impetus behind the whole exercise is confidence-building.
Trust in the current global temperature record and its potential demonstration of a changing climate was shaken by the release in November of the emails from University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which is the guardian of one of the temperature record's main data sets. The emails appeared to show the director of the unit, Professor Phil Jones, obstructing efforts by climate sceptics to obtain information on the way the record was put together; some sceptics have challenged the suggestion that the earth is warmer now than at any time in the last 1,000 years.
Professor Jones has stood down as head of the CRU while an independent inquiry is carried out into the emails controversy by Sir Muir Russell, which is due to report in the spring.
By arrangement with The Independent
FROM BANYAN TREE TO BSE
IN 1874 TRADING USED TO TAKE PLACE UNDER A BANYAN TREE IN FRONT OF THE TOWN HALL. BSE WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1875 AND THE CURRENT LOCATION AT DALAL STREET WAS ACQUIRED IN 1920
Let's briefly run through the formation of stock exchanges around the world before coming down to our own backyard (read as the Bombay Stock Exchange) and how things have evolved over the last 800 years right down to the modern computerised trading systems of today. The word "stock" has its origins in the French word "souche" (read as stump of a tree), which actually implies to the tally of debits and credits.
A walk into the annals of history of Egypt would seem to indicate that Jewish and Muslim traders in Cairo around the 11th century had taken great pains for the formation of a trade association while they had an in-depth knowledge of the different ways and means of credit and payment, which had earlier been erroneously credited to the Italians. This had, in all probability, sowed the seeds of the stock exchanges, as we know them now while 12th century France had people looking after the debts of farmers on behalf of banks who could loosely be labelled as brokers, the first of their kind. In the 13th century, the Van der Beurze family owned a building in Antwerp where traders gathered for trading. It was from this place that the concept of stock/bond trading took off with Venetian bankers trading in government securities.
The first official stock exchange in the world was created in 1602 in Amsterdam where the Dutch East India Company issued shares and commenced trading in them. The aforesaid stock exchange was also the first to introduce continuous trade in the early 17th century.
Coming to the moot point, the formation of the BSE the first stock exchange of Asia (the Tokyo Stock Exchange was formed in 1878) was established in the year 1875 as the "Native Share & Stock Brokers Association". Premchand Roychand (founder of the Bank of Bombay and was also known as the "Cotton King") was a legend in his lifetime and was one of the few Englishspeaking cotton brokers around Bombay (read as Mumbai) in the 1850s. He hailed from a family of diamond merchants in Surat and was instrumental in setting rules and regulations for stock trading (this information has been sourced as word of mouth from old-timers) and rose to prominence during the American Civil War (1860-1865) which led to a big demand for cotton from India (cotton mills in England who earlier imported only 20 per cent of their cotton needs from India ramped up these imports drastically).
This in turn led to a big boom in the unorganised stock market in those days of 1965 and Bombay even then was the financial nerve centre and had 31 banks, 62 joint stock companies, 20 insurance companies and 16 cotton pressing companies. Stock prices skyrocketed due to frenetic trading activity as banks diverted money to the stock market for huge returns while the party unexpectedly ended in 1865 as the war in America ended leading to a huge collapse of stock prices which was followed by a long period of financial mayhem.
By 1874, trading used to take place under a banyan tree in front of the town hall (this tree is still present at the Horniman Circle even today), which was followed by the establishment of the BSE in 1875 with 318 members and a princely membership fee of one rupee.
Premises for the exchange were acquired in 1895 while the Native Brokers Hall (read as the BSE trading hall) was inaugurated in 1899 by James Mclean. The current location where the BSE stands (at Dalal Street) was acquired in 1928 while the building was constructed in 1930. The present PJ Towers (read as the BSE building) was constructed (at the same location of 1928) in the 1970s and is named after the late Phiroze Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy who was the chairman of the BSE from 1966 to 1980.
(Next Week The first part of a guided tour of eateries near the BSE.)
DEVOLVING FISCAL REFORM
SOME SENSIBLE IDEAS FROM THE FINANCE COMMISSION
The Finance Commission, appointed every five years, performs a constitutional function of recommending the distribution of the "divisible pool" of Union taxes between the Central and state governments. The challenge is to divide fairly and efficiently. The former requires an impartial assessment of the needs of a state, while the latter ensures that the commission does not end up perversely rewarding backwardness. Efficiency also requires rewarding fiscal prudence. Thus the share is not purely on the basis of tax collection, nor on state GDP, nor on population. It is a judicious mix of all these factors and more. But, as the report of the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) observes, there are three additional challenges: Central revenue now increasingly includes a non-shareable portion (e.g. sale of 3G spectrum, various cesses and surcharges), putting states at a disadvantage; secondly, there is increasing mismatch between fiscal capacity and fiscal needs of various states; and thirdly, with increased urbanisation, the obligations of the third tier of government has been rapidly increasing without any meaningful or automatic devolution to the third tier. Thus, urban and rural local bodies routinely lament the lack of funds, or non-transfers by their respective state finance commissions. One mechanism in past commissions has been to include explicit grants meant for local bodies. A forthright devolution to the third tier is not possible without a Constitutional amendment. But the TFC has, for the first time, augmented grants with an incentive-based devolution that rewards intra-state decentralisation. Thus, those states with an effective devolution to their local bodies will get some extra support. The increased salience of the state of local governments in the life of a citizen is obvious, given that the states' share constitutes 60 per cent of the combined expenditure of states and the Centre. As such, there are already multiple and sometimes ad hoc avenues for fund flow from the Centre to the states, such as Centrally-sponsored schemes, and even the Pay Commission! The rationality and fairness of the Finance Commission framework is greatly distorted by such other flows.
The report of the TFC provides a clear articulation of the issues and approach followed, and the consideration that it has used in recommending the fiscal transfers. For example, in determining vertical devolution, it explicitly recognises greater fiscal needs of the states and the need to insure them against regional shocks. So, the TFC has increased the states' share from 30.5 per cent previously to 32 per cent now. Similarly, in determining horizontal devolution, states have been rewarded for efficiency in public management and fiscal discipline. The current shares of most states are within 1 per cent of their means. But there are notable exceptions, wherein the deviation from the mean is more than 3 per cent, which will partly be mitigated by GST. This report will be implemented in the context of a GST rollout, which will contribute significantly to both buoyancy of tax revenues as well as consolidation of a common economic market. In fact, the chairman of the TFC has said elsewhere that he expects GST to add 50 per cent to GDP in present value terms. The task of future commissions will then be much less contentious. Finally, the TFC's recommendation to impose a ceiling on total government debt is timely.
ENABLING THE UNABLE
ECONOMIC SURVEY'S AGENDA FOR UPA-II
The precise role and import of the finance ministry's annual Economic Survey released before the Budget remains somewhat fuzzy. As a review of the government's performance for the past year and as a compendium of key events, policies and data, it is certainly a useful document for the researcher community. However, that alone can hardly justify the quantum of manpower and other resources that go into producing the hefty document. The policy prescriptions that the survey provides are usually eminently sensible but often do not consider the compulsions of real-politik. Thus, the recommendations provide a measure of how much the pressure of lobbies and vote-banks lead the government to stray from this ideal. This year, the Survey introduces a new chapter on the "microfoundations of inclusive growth" that spells out a new agenda of governance reform. One can only hope the UPA government will pay heed to this chapter and implement some of the key ideas it contains in such areas as fiscal management, subsidy reduction, food security, labour market reform and the creation of an enabling government.
The Survey for 2009-10 seems upbeat about the prospects for growth in 2010-11, pegging it in the range of 8.25-8.75 per cent and predicting a return to a 9 per cent plus trajectory by 2011-12. It seems satisfied with the fact that the economic recovery is becoming more broad-based. However, it identifies the relatively slack private investment activity and the fragility of the global recovery as key risks and thus suggests a gradual roll-back of stimulus. Predictably, given the precarious state of public finances, the issue of long-term fiscal sustainability gets its fair share of attention. Interestingly, instead of merely pontificating on the virtues of fiscal rectitude, the Survey draws on the recommendations of the Thirteenth Finance Commission and endorses the idea of targeting "caps" for government debt. The target for consolidated debt of the Centre and state governments put together is set at 68 per cent of GDP by 2014-15. This is a tall order given the fact that the current level is 82 per cent and needs a combination of considerable revenue buoyancy and strict expenditure discipline, something that politicians are seldom comfortable with. On the other burning issue of the moment, inflation, the Survey shares RBI's anxiety that high food prices over a prolonged period could push up the general inflation rate. It also analyses earlier episodes of high food inflation and finds that large income transfers (such as the pay hikes for government employees in 1998-99) have led to food inflation. An interpretation could be that it is not supply shocks alone, a spurt in incomes and demand could be equally responsible for high food inflation. However, while analysing the past and listing the (obviously unsuccessful) steps at taming inflation and speaking in broad generalities, such as the need to boost agricultural growth to address food shortage, the Survey offers a new concept of "skewflation", blaming the price rise largely on governmental mismanagement in a few commodities.
IN POVERTY AND IN WEALTH
IF THE BUS RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM IS WORKING WELL IN AHMEDABAD, WHY CAN'T IT WORK IN DELHI?
There I was, zipping down a bustling Ahmedabad in a bus. The bus stopped at a station, designed so that the doors of the bus and the station open simultaneously to let passengers out and in. People were walking to the station, buying tickets and waiting. A notice flashed when the next bus would arrive. Each bus has a GPS device that transmits its movements to a spiffy control room inside the city corporation. You know when the next bus will come. It will be on time.
This is Ahmedabad's brand new bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The bus corridor is in the middle and is barricaded so that buses can move freely without other vehicles coming their way. Already, the system moves roughly 40,000 people each day over an 18-km stretch. More such stretches are being built. It's working.
So, why was there so much criticism when Delhi started its own BRT corridor? As many rich and famous people in Delhi never stop reminding me, the BRT corridor, in the middle, reserved for buses for some 5.6 km, is an unmitigated disaster. It has added to congestion of cars and all-round frustration.
So, what is the difference? Good vs bad planning and poor execution? I believe there is more.
Ahmedabad is building the corridor at the right time. Its roads are not choked with bumper-to-bumper emission-spitting traffic. (The city adds roughly 400-500 vehicles every day to its roads, half or less of what Delhi adds.) They can be filled up but differently. With buses, not cars. Today the city is building new roads and flyovers only for the bus system. It can think differently about mobility.
But this is a small window of opportunity. Soon, the difference between Delhi and Ahmedabad will vanish. The city will blossom with progress and the consequent lack of choice. The few buses will not be replaced but will get driven off the mobility pathway. Congestion will slow them down and make them simply unreliable.
Cars will take over. Not to commute more people, but to fill up all road space, even what is newly built. In Delhi, cars overrun all space, including pedestrian walkways, moving roughly 10 per cent of all people. Removing them, re-making space, is tough. In Delhi, the BRT corridor literally came over the backs of cars. It meant taking from a few and giving to the many. That is why it is so contested, and remains hated. The BRT is about equity on the road. It is a street-fight, literally.
The logic is clear. Buses move more than 50 per cent of the city but do not get proportionate space. In the first stretch of the Delhi BRT corridor, over this last year, buses have doubled to 3,000 they now commute roughly 200,000 people each day. Most importantly, speed has increased; 17 kmph in the middle lane in peak hours, as against 7 km in the rest of the corridor where the buses fight against the cars. But what creates the problem is that in this same period, cars have doubled up to 60,000 a day on the corridor. But even such numbers, while clogging the road, commute less than half the people the buses do. Remember, most cars have one person and the driver doesn't count.
Be clear: Delhi has no other option. The city can continue to believe more roads, more flyovers even double-decker ones will make the horrendous snarls go away. Fantasy. Consider only the maths: Just 10 per cent of Delhi moves by car, and roads are jammed up. Now add the 90 per cent that also needs the road space. They must all first get a vehicle to zoom about. That's the mantra. That means the city has to add 90 per cent more capacity to move people. Where and how? Do not think for a moment the metro will make the madness go away. Underground and overground, the metro is an important commuting spine, but it costs too much to extend across the vast city. It is necessary. But not sufficient. The bus has to be the answer.
In contrast, Ahmedabad has planned and built better its system is integrated, high-tech, convenient and has a conceived form and function for the future. There is work to do: It must now rebuild spaces for cycles and pedestrians and connect the bus service to each home provide the last mile connectivity.
But the city must not be swayed by its homegrown critics (and there are many) who say this system is expensive or is just a beautification drive. It must keep thinking big and bigger. It must remember the ultimate challenge is that while we use the bus or the cycle today because we are poor, we must build our cities so we can continue to bus or cycle when we are rich. Very rich.
All cities must rethink where they want to go: the Delhi way, where space must first be snatched away from the private car owner and then given to the bus user, or the Ahmedabad way, where they plan today for a very different tomorrow. Rethink. And go the other way.
WHEN INNOVATION ACQUIRES NEW MEANING
FAILURE IS AN INALIENABLE PART OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP. IT IS THE BEDROCK ON WHICH SUCCESS GROWS.
We often associate innovation with a product or a process. Some tinkering with a product or service, or some modification in a process here and there is what we like to call innovation. This is the most commonly understood form of innovation. In the fast-moving times that we live in, this isn't enough. In the broader sense, innovation has come to mean a change in the business model itself.
Innovation happened, purists will tell you, when Tata Consultancy Services began to offshore information technology, and when Dhirubhai Ambani told his son, Mukesh, that only if he can price a call less than a postcard will his mobile services business have a future. Or when Jack Welch set up call centres at Gurgaon near Delhi to answer queries raised by General Electric customers in the US. Running such call centres in the US was expensive. He saved millions of dollars by moving these to low-cost India. Lalit Modi innovated when he brought cricket and the club format together in the Indian Premier League.
Any change in business model has to result in success for it to be called innovation. Anything new will not qualify as an innovation. Two examples come to mind. More than 10 years ago, Kabir Mulchandani had set the consumer electronics market on fire. He sold at rock-bottom prices and offered his customers unbelievable combos. For a while, he seemed unstoppable. Rivals began to study his model. But the business ran out of steam in a few short years. His business was built on scale and quick rotation of money. This meant that a small hitch somewhere in the chain could derail the whole business. And that's precisely what happened. It's also true that the brands he sold first Akai and Aiwa did not want to be seen as discount brands.
Capt GR Gopinath started India's first low-cost airline, Air Deccan. He, it seemed, had all costs under control and had maximised all revenue streams. Amenities to staff and customers were cut, e-tickets were made the norm, and space was sold on the aircraft to advertisers. But the complexities of the business were way beyond what he had imagined and, therefore, Gopinath could not keep a lid on the losses. He eventually had to sell Air Deccan to Vijay Mallya. It is only now that some companies have learnt to tame the animal called budget carriers, and have started to report profits. So, who was the innovator here, Gopinath who came up with the idea of an Indian low-cost airline, or Indigo and SpiceJet which were the first to run low-cost airlines profitably?
The graveyard of ideas that went bust is long. But that is not such a bad thing to happen. Not every idea will succeed, but it will certainly provide insights into how not to do things. Failure is an inalienable part of entrepreneurship. It is the bedrock on which success grows.
On the other hand, there are companies that have successfully written new business scripts. They got it right the first time. Mankind Pharma, for instance, went against the grain and focused on rural markets. While urban markets were cluttered (Every molecule has at least 50 brands; there are over 20,000 registered pharmaceutical companies in the country! What else do you expect?), the rural markets were under-serviced. The process was tedious and the returns were suspect. Still, Mankind Pharma took the plunge. It had a free run in this virgin territory for several years. Bruised and battered in the overseas markets, every large Indian company now wants to follow it. Multinationals too are not far behind. Various contact and delivery models are being worked out.
Indian businessmen, to be sure, are in desperate need of such out-of-the-box thinking. Many of them did overseas acquisitions when money was easy to come by and markets were booming. But the markets began to collapse towards the middle of 2008. The fundamental logic of the business in most cases, as a result, needs to be changed. Production needs to be migrated to low-cost countries like China and India; markets need to be expanded in emerging geographies like BRIC.
In some cases, one can see that happening. Jaguar-Land Rover, under Tata Motors, has successfully hunted for orders in China the world's biggest emerging market for luxury cars. The company, in that way, has invested in the future of the marquee brands. Hindalco has moved a Novellis information technology unit from the US to India.
Dr Reddy's Labs acquired Betapharm of Germany in 2006 for 480 million euros. It remains to date the largest overseas acquisition by an Indian pharmaceutical company, and there have been dozens in the last few years. Production by third-party vendors was expensive. So, Dr Reddy's has moved almost 30 per cent production to India. More important, to keep health-care costs low, Germany has moved to a tender-based system whoever quotes the lowest, gets the order. This has brought prices there crashing down. It remains to be seen how Dr Reddy's can live with this complexity. It's not an easy task.
PAUL VOLCKER'S TROJAN HORSE
CONTROLLING PROPRIETARY TRADING MAY BE A TROJAN HORSE FOR REDEFINING THE BANKING REFORM AGENDA
Some financial regulation proposals are not quite what they seem. Named after Paul Volcker, the six-foot-seven-inch former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the eponymous rule restricts banks from proprietary trading and investing in hedge or private equity funds. The primary aim is to prevent depositor funds from being risked in speculative investments and activities.
Popular narrative on the proposal has focused on the practical problems of the proposal. But as Albert Einstein knew: "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
Distinguishing between proprietary trading and agency business (matching clients) is not easy. A trader may buy a security with the intention of selling it to another client. The trader risks his or her own capital in holding the position until an offsetting counterparty is available. It is not clear whether this constitutes "proprietary trading". Policing trading activities may literally require a regulator on the shoulder of every trader.
Paul Volcker's testimony to Congress highlighted the problem, when he indicated elliptically that every banker knew whether he or she was trading on proprietary account. It was reminiscent of US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous statement that while he found it hard to define, he knew pornography when he saw it.
The Volcker Rule does not also cover other arguably more significant risks such as credit risk of loss on loans or liquidity risks which have been a major problem in the current crisis.
The narrative misses the point that controlling proprietary trading may be a "Trojan Horse" for subtly redefining the existing banking reform agenda.
A key agenda item is the reduction in the role of financial services in the broader economy. The US financial services industry's share of total corporate profits increased to around 40 per cent in 2007 from 10 per cent in the early 1980s. Similarly, the value of the US financial services industry increased to 23 per cent of the total stock market value in 2007 from 6 per cent in the early 1980s.
Interestingly, banks suggest that trading profits are low (less than 10 per cent). This relies on the same semantic games defining "proprietary trading". If trading earnings are so insignificant, then why are banks resisting the proposal?
Reduction in trading would reduce the size of banks, their profits and their impact on the wider economy.
The Volcker Rule covertly introduces the concept of "narrow banking". If banks are not allowed to trade directly or indirectly via investment vehicles, then what remains is the core "utility function" taking deposits and making loans or providing advice. This would de facto achieve the same separation of traditional and "casino banking" as the now-repealed Glass-Steagall Act did.
The Volcker Rule and the focus on banker remuneration may encourage investment banks that converted to commercial banks to reverse their status. It may encourage them to go private, forcing a return to quasi partnerships. This would force partners to risk their own money in trading and also constrain the capital available to support trading. The conversion of investment banks from private partnerships to public companies and the resultant increased access to capital other people's money coincided with increases in risk-taking.
Volcker has been openly sceptical about the contribution of financial innovation to economic activity. The proposal marks a notable reversal in the emphasis on trading in financial instruments to facilitate capital formation and lower costs of capital. It also marks a shift away from market and trading-oriented economic solutions.
Analysts have focused on the impact of financial regulation on bank earnings and prospects. If the broad principles underlying the Volcker Rule reducing risky activities within banks is accepted, then the resultant changes in the broader economy and markets will be significant. It may be back to the future for banking and the economy.
With legislators and regulators considering changes to the financial markets, the debate regarding the Volcker Rule is particularly relevant to India. While there is a need to deregulate, it is essential that care is taken to ensure that the type of "financialisation" of the economy that took place in the US and Great Britain is avoided.
Finance always should be a handmaiden to the broader economy, not the entire economy itself. It should facilitate capital formation and risk management. Finance cannot replace (the) real industry, nor is speculation a substitute for (a) sound industry. As John Maynard Keynes warned: "Speculators may do no harm as the bubble on a steady stream of enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill done."
James Baker once stated: "Never let the other fellow set the agenda." Whatever the merits of the narrow Volcker Rule, the former Fed chairman is taking advantage of the crisis to cunningly reshape the financial reform agenda.
Satyajit Das is the author of recently releasedTraders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives; Revised Edition (2010, FT-Prentice Hall)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FINANCE PANEL GETS IT RIGHT
The much-awaited report of the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) placed in Parliament on Thursday has a number of pluses and one major minus. The most significant plus, of course, is the hike in the states' share of taxes in the net proceeds of central taxes to 32%, from the 30.5% recommended by the predecessor commission.
The recommendation that there should be no inconsistency between the amounts released to states and the percentage share in net central taxes recommended by the commission is a long-overdue move that will ensure states are not short-changed . As will the recommendation that recourse to cesses and surcharges be kept to a minimum as these are not shared with states.
The system of incentives woven into the transfer structure is another plus. The seven objectives listed by the TFC fiscal discipline, fairness in transfer to states, growth incentives, better outcomes , parity to local governments, environmental sustainability and reducing friction in the system might seem ambitious. And the commission deserves kudos for giving a higher weightage to fiscal discipline in its transfer formula and tweaking it to reduce the number of states dependent on pernicious non-plan revenue grants (a euphemism for encouraging irresponsible fiscal behaviour).
On fiscal consolidation, it is hard to find fault with the commission's call for greater fiscal discipline: zero revenue deficit and emergence of a revenue surplus by 2014 along with a debt-GDP ratio of 68% for the Centre and states combined. However, its suggestion to set up an independent review mechanism to evaluate the progress here appears a trifle unrealistic, given our experience with 'independent' oversight bodies.
Transfer of funds to local bodies has been put on a sounder footing with the grant amount split into a general basic grant and a performancelinked grant. States have also been told to incentivise revenue collection by local bodies through matching grants or by deducting their deemed revenue collection from transfer entitlements; in short, by incorporating the same carrot-and-stick approach favoured by past commissions.
However, the TFC's recommendations on the goods and services tax are in a different league that of controversy . As part of what it calls a Grand Bargain, it has recommended a grant of Rs 50,000 crore to compensate any revenue loss when states implement the model GST formulated by the commission. The grant just disappears if the states do not agree to this grand bargain. This ignores the political reality. We already have an empowered committee of state finance ministers working on a GST, to which body the credit goes for the states' transition to VAT.
The TFC's move to pre-empt the empowered group by suggesting a 'model' GST is not likely to go down well with the states. In case the GST model adopted differs from that recommended by the commission, how are the states to be compensated for revenue loss? No wonder the government's action-taken report tabled along with the TFC report has opted to play this down.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SEPARATE SURVEY FROM THE BUDGET
Economic Survey 2009-10 marks completion of the evolution of the official pre-Budget survey of the economy from a summary of the concerns that inform the Budget to an official statistical compendium prefaced by a commentary meant to stimulate public debate rather than serve to policy. Even last year, the Survey offered technocratic solutions across the spectrum, whether the political leadership chose to follow the advice or not, while the latest edition offers a few sharp insights and a lot of routine bureaucratese.
The Survey's opening chapters bear the imprint of the chief economic advisor, a distinguished academic this time around, with little administrative experience or intuitive grasp of the political economy in which policy is made. The resultant insouciance shows, whether in the Survey's virtual admission that the government had, indeed, messed up in utilising its large stocks of foodgrains to douse inflationary expectations, or in the location of bureaucratic inefficiency/delay in "our conception of the state" , as provider, rather than enabler of delivery, of goods and services.
The admission of failure, of course, serves the public good and leads to policy correction . But that is not the case with shifting the responsibility for India's low ranking in Doing Business surveys to political philosophy from where it belongs, the rapacity of the neta-babu nexus, stemming essentially from failure to institutionalise political funding.
With the dramatic improvement, of late, in data dissemination , the Survey does not contain much empirical information that has not already come out. With the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council doing an excellent job of reviewing the economic outlook and identifying key policy challenges, the burden on the Survey eases further .
Still, it is satisfying to see the Survey endorse the responsible view that it is time to begin fiscal consolidation, and reinforce the optimism that not only is recovery robust but that India is poised to march on to double-digit growth in the near future. Last year, the Survey omitted a key table that is normally tucked away in the section on infrastructure but has a key bearing on macro growth: the financial health of state electricity boards.
This year's Survey maintains that ominous silence. While everyone from the Finance Commission downwards is busy urging reform of the power sector, these key numbers on how power reform works on the ground go missing. If anything can be more ridiculous, it is the absence of the term irrigation in the 'challenges' section of the chapter on agriculture and food management. With the alarming depletion of ground water, and surface water management falling victim to policy abdication on humane resettlement of those ousted when large dams are built, India is fast heading towards a major water crisis. Does anyone care?
The new chapter on micro-foundations of inclusive growth is a useful addition. Inducting insights from industrial organisation theory to efficiently manage food releases from stocks is wholesome stuff and makes up for a lot of fluff on direct transfer of subsidy (the poor should be free to redeem their food coupons at any outlet of the public distribution system, says the Survey there is a PDS outlet next to every paanwallah in each village, if you didn't know). If this is going to be the nature of the Survey, let us separate it from the Budget, and involve a larger section of informed opinion in its making.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TRADERS EXPECT NO BUDGET-DAY JITTERS
MUMBAI: Stock market traders are accustomed to wild swings in share prices on the day of the Union Budget. That is mainly due to the huge build-up of speculative positions usually purchases in the run-up to the event. But this time, investors and traders may be spared some of the gut-wrenching fluctuations as traders have kept their outstanding commitments to the minimum, after having been repeatedly caught on the wrong foot over the past few months.
"There is no heavy built-up in the market this time ahead of the big event," says Ravi Sharma, derivatives analyst, Prabhudas Lilladher. "Unlike earlier years, volatility has been going down for the past few weeks. We are not expecting any major movement in the major indices apart from the initial volatility," he said. Mr Sharma sees 4800 as a strong support for the Nifty index and 4950 as the immediate resistance level. In the past 21 budgets since 1991, the market has shown a mixed trend on Budget day. However, they have seen a steep fall in the past three years on the Budget day.
"There could be some initial volatility this time too, but investors need not take their decisions based on market movement on a given day. The best strategy is to hold on to your investments if you think the company is fundamentally strong," Mr Sharma adds. Brokers also say that the significance of the Budget has been waning as far as its impact on the market is concerned. That is because many important decisions are now being announced outside the Budget.
"The concern is more to do with the increasing volatility in the global markets and lack of clear direction. Investors should not panic with the initial swings," says head of research of a Mumbai-based brokerage. However, the numbers may vary if one were to take a sector or stock-specific approach as segments like fertilisers and auto are impacted significantly by Budget proposals. "Long-term investors should not churn their portfolio merely on the basis of any reaction of the markets based on the Budget," he adds.
Experts say that there are no major pressures on the government to appease any section of the voters as there is some time to go for the elections. They also say that the expectations of market participants from the Budget are low, and they are more keen to see how the government will manage its fiscal deficit.
According to analysts, the government is expected to push through financial reforms, including a roadmap for goods and services tax, apart from bridging the fiscal deficit. Analysts believe that the widening deficit may force the government to withdraw sectoral sops and stimulus packages.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FUND HOUSES BEND RULES TO HELP RICH INVESTORS SAVE TAXES
MUMBAI: Saving on taxes is not a big problem if one has the means to do it within the limits of law. Investors who have made short-term profits in 'high-gain' asset classes like equities, real estate and bullion are going all out to save on taxes. Affluent investors are resorting to 'dividend stripping' to set off their gains against "managed" losses arising in mutual fund portfolios.
According to distributors, almost all fund houses are allowing their high net worth clients to set off short-term losses. Not legally forbidden, dividend-stripping allows affluent investors to earn dividends on their short-term investments and also a 'notional loss', which they can adjust against other short-term gains.
The strategy is bad for long-term investors (in dividend-stripped funds), as they will have to share their portion of dividends with new entrants who invest only for tax arbitrage.
The over 115% rise in equities this year along with 40% gain in bullion and a 25% appreciation in real estate prices has resulted in huge short-term capital gains for investors, say wealth managers. Several investors have recorded short-term capital gains, as they sold equities within one year of buying them.
In the case of real estate (and other assets like bullion and precious), short-term capital gain (or loss) stays for the first three years of buying the asset. Dividend-stripping is a method of avoiding tax by buying securities or units of mutual fund before the record date and selling them after the record date.
By buying the securities, the investor will get dividend and by selling it, the short-term capital loss incurred can be set off against a short-term capital gain, thereby reducing his tax liability.
The modus operandi is simple. Fund houses set the record date seven days prior to the date of declaration of dividend. The rule states that investors who enter that particular scheme three months before the record date, can avail a tax-free dividend pay-out. The fund house, for the benefit of its 'privileged' investors (mainly HNIs), discreetly lets out its intention to pay dividend four months before the date of dividend declaration. Affluent investors are encouraged to invest more money into schemes that will declare dividends about 90 days later. On the date of dividend declaration, the net asset value (NAV) of the fund will witness a fall.
The investor exits the scheme (sells the portfolio) at a lower NAV, immediately after pocketing the dividend.
The portfolio sell-off will result in short-term capital loss (to the extent of the difference between the NAV when he entered the scheme and at the time of exit). On paper, the investor suffers a loss in capital. But if one looks closer, the investor has collected tax-free dividend and also gets a chance to set off capital gains (on other investments) against this 'notional loss' incurred on his mutual fund portfolio.
"Regular traders (in any asset classes) have short-term gains that need to be protected. These people use strategies like dividend stripping to save on tax," said Pranay Bhatia, partner, Economic Laws Practice.
"Now with mutual funds having no entry load, most of these investors who have exited the fund to cut a loss are reinvesting after a couple of days. This again helps them to enter the fund at lower NAVs and in the process get more units," Mr Bhatia added.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NIFTY MAY SEE RESISTANCE AT 4950 LEVELS
In the past three trading sessions, Nifty has been moving in a narrow band of 4830 and 4885. The trading volumes have been low and the historical volatility of the index has fallen gradually.
Today the Union Budget will be presented and it is likely to increase the intra-day volatility significantly. A move above 4885 is likely to take Nifty to 4950 level while on the downside a breach of 4830 may take it lower to 4780. A move above 4955 will open the gates for higher levels of 5030 and then 5150 in the medium term.
There was some short-covering towards the end in yesterday's session and Nifty futures closed at a premium of 4 points after maintaining a discount of 5-8 points in the past couple of days.
Steel Authority of India (SAIL), Tata Power and Maruti Suzuki were some of the stocks where short-covering took place. On the other hand, short build-ups were seen in Reliance Industries and JP Associates Nifty put-call ratio (open interest) for March series stands at a high 1.26 and put options of 4800 have a build-up of 81198 lots.
Strike 5100 has the maximum open interest for call options at 75015 lots, indicating that strong supply is likely to emerge in the 5100-5150 zone. On the downside, a breach below the recent low of 4675 (break-even level for put option writers of strike 4800 which is currently trading at Rs 125) may lead to a sharp fall in the market.
Sectoral moves are likely after the Budget is announced and we expect steel stocks like SAIL, Jindal Steel & Power and Tata Steel to outperform the market in the short term. We recommend initiating a long position in SAIL March Futures at Rs 210-212 level with a target of Rs 230 and a stop-loss of Rs 197.
Vinit Pagaria, AVP-Investment Strategies, Microsec Capital Research
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FROM MAGICAL TO MIRACULOUS
Science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke famously said that "any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic." What he had in mind as analogy was what would happen if we could travel back in time some 2,500 years and show a television or calculator to some of the greatest minds of ancient Greece. We could tell them, "this is the way we entertain and inform ourselves by sending moving pictures through the air over vast distances . And this is how we do our most intricate and complex calculations in a matter of seconds which would otherwise require the mental labour of hours or perhaps days."
How would Plato react? What would Aristotle make of it? Despite their awesome sagacity, intelligence and rhetoric there would be no way they could coherently deconstruct these devices into their existing worldview comprising concepts of either science or philosophy . Even if a highly trained team of technologists from our time were to try and explain how such things worked, it would still be futile. Like where does one begin? Can one seriously back up more than two millennia of scientific developments to convey a comprehensive picture? No, it would be only understandable in terms of magic.
And note that we're just talking about the difference in development over a few paltry thousand years. What if our descendants were to travel back in time from a million years or more in the future and show us what they had accomplished? Supposing they demonstrated methodologies that were so incredibly advanced by our current scale of thinking that our minds were not able to understand , extrapolate or accept.
Suppose they said something like, "this is the way we make a universe out of nothing and then grow life on it to seed the stars into intelligent civilisations who try to make sense of what they observe around them."
Applying Clarke's celebrated sound bite would fall so greatly short of its magicality as to sound absurd. Mere sorcery would not suffice. We would have to rephrase him to "any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from divinity." Seeing their all knowing and unlimited universal power what else would there be left to do then but venerate and revere such authority? And why not? We would only be worshipping ourselves. Communing with what we too can be. What we will be.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MEDIATION IN MAOISTS VS STATE?
Prospects of talks-based ceasefire are dim
Civil rights activists oppose war against our own people because political aspirations ought not to be suppressed militarily . Therefore, it is of utmost importance to us that the war against CPI (Maoist) be replaced by dialogue. But mediation must surmount many imponderables in order to succeed. The war on Maoists is not because they want to overthrow the presently-constituted Indian state they have been trying that for nearly half a century.
And, according to senior Maoist leaders themselves, it will take another 50-60 years to succeed. Besides, at present, in the PM's words, the Maoists possess 'modest capabilities' . Nor is it because of their wanton acts of violence. The record of parliamentary parties, in varying degree of culpability, is not better, if not worse. The fact that after 62 years of 'transfer of power' , 80% of our people live on Rs 20 per day whereas 100 families own 25% of GDP raises concerns over the Indian elite's commitment to the welfare of our people.
The reason for Operation Green Hunt is, I believe, that the Maoists offer formidable resistance against implementation of hundreds of MoUs for mining and mineral-based industries in predominately tribal India where they enjoy considerable support. Without weakening this resistance, the government's mineral as well as FDI policy will remain unrealised. Having staked so much in this policy and invested in prosecuting this war, how willing is the government to reverse or radically modify its current policies?
On the other hand, Maoists will not resile from their goal of social transformation, which has been their aim for half a century. So, how does one convince them that they ought to work to transform the state and society peacefully, that this is not a ruse to decimate them as it happened in Andhra Pradesh in 2004-05 ? But will the political elite permit Maoists to work openly if they are perceived as threatening the status quo?
Therefore, can there be unconditional talks between two unequal parties? Does one not require substantive talks to ensure the sustainability of a ceasefire? Without clarity on this, in the short run, one would have to remain sceptical about the prospects of mediation.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REAL ISSUE IS CRIMINAL NEGLECT OF TRIBALS
The issue of mediation has become secondary now. The main issue is whether the government is ready to engage the Maoists in adialogue, and whether the Maoists are really ready to come to the table. This raises other basic issues, beyond what civil society can mediate on. Just what exactly can the latter do?
Are we talking about two states, two armies where mediation is needed? The Maoists have a political agenda. They are fighting for political power. They don't believe in democracy. So, what is there to negotiate on this? Is the government going to hand over power in those areas ?
Certainly, if we are talking about a dialogue, there should be no ifs and buts, no conditions from both sides. The basic issue is that of the tribal people and the government's understanding of this root cause.
The tribals are not necessarily represented by the CPI (Maoist). There may be tribal organisations, many people who are tribal activists are not Maoists. So, once the government decides to go for talks, it should spell out its strategy. The home minister speaks about internal security, but is he or the government clear about what this means? Or is the issue the tribal people, their safety and security?
The tribals are a criminally neglected lot, suffering from extreme deprivation. But what is the government's larger purpose? To evict them and take over their land for mining and other operations? It is a wellknown fact that privatisation and liberalisation have devastated lives of poorer dalits and tribals, made them poorer than before. Here too, the aim is to release the mineral wealth of the tribals to others. Sure, the Maoists don't allow development.
They blow up schools. But that also happens because the security forces set up camps in these places, and Maoists blow them up. And then, is there a comparison between the number of people killed by the Maoists and the security forces? The government should understand why tribals are alienated and opposed to the state today. It should examine the conditions that have helped the Maoists to get a toehold in these areas. Of course, there is no problem with civil society, intellectuals, going in. But the real issue must not be overlooked.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PROSPECTS OF TALKS-BASED CEASEFIRE ARE DIM
Civil rights activists oppose war against our own people because political aspirations ought not to be suppressed militarily . Therefore, it is of utmost importance to us that the war against CPI (Maoist) be replaced by dialogue. But mediation must surmount many imponderables in order to succeed. The war on Maoists is not because they want to overthrow the presently-constituted Indian state they have been trying that for nearly half a century.
And, according to senior Maoist leaders themselves, it will take another 50-60 years to succeed. Besides, at present, in the PM's words, the Maoists possess 'modest capabilities' . Nor is it because of their wanton acts of violence. The record of parliamentary parties, in varying degree of culpability, is not better, if not worse. The fact that after 62 years of 'transfer of power' , 80% of our people live on Rs 20 per day whereas 100 families own 25% of GDP raises concerns over the Indian elite's commitment to the welfare of our people.
The reason for Operation Green Hunt is, I believe, that the Maoists offer formidable resistance against implementation of hundreds of MoUs for mining and mineral-based industries in predominately tribal India where they enjoy considerable support. Without weakening this resistance, the government's mineral as well as FDI policy will remain unrealised. Having staked so much in this policy and invested in prosecuting this war, how willing is the government to reverse or radically modify its current policies?
On the other hand, Maoists will not resile from their goal of social transformation, which has been their aim for half a century. So, how does one convince them that they ought to work to transform the state and society peacefully, that this is not a ruse to decimate them as it happened in Andhra Pradesh in 2004-05 ? But will the political elite permit Maoists to work openly if they are perceived as threatening the status quo?
Therefore, can there be unconditional talks between two unequal parties? Does one not require substantive talks to ensure the sustainability of a ceasefire? Without clarity on this, in the short run, one would have to remain sceptical about the prospects of mediation.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INDIA, CHINA TO RULE GROWTH PATH'
Singapore-based DBS Group is now beefing up operations in Greater China region and South Asia. Accordingly, India too is slated to become a major growth pocket for the bank. DBS Bank, necessarily a large institutional banking player in the country, is now venturing into the SME space, besides getting its act in place in the retail liability business. ET caught up with DBS Bank India general manager & CEO Sanjiv Bhasin to get a fix on the bank's growth plans here. In an exclusive interview with Atmadip Ray, Mr Bhasin dwelt on a host of issues from banking consolidation to market opportunities that exists in India.
Just recently, DBS Group's new CEO Piyush Gupta said Southeast Asia's biggest bank would focus more on Greater China region and India. As the DBS Bank India CEO what are your plans like?
We are a pure Asian bank, well-established in Singapore. China, India, Indonesia and Taiwan will be growth pockets for DBS. And being two of the largest economies, India and China will obviously govern the growth path of the bank. We have been enjoying the full commitment of our senior management team. The institution has retained all its earnings within the country so far and I expect this trend to continue. We have 10 branches in India and wish to open as many as possible. All our 10 branches are profitable within a year's time and that gives us confidence to expand the India footprint.
Under the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), 2005, Singapore-based banks can open a total of 16 branches here. Which is why, we've approached the regulator for licences for another six. Then, I suppose we can apply for more licences under the foreign bank quota.
BS Bank started beefing up its India operations as late as calendar 2005. Following the thrust, what's the experience like in terms of growth?
We've seen 300% growth in profitability and our topline grew by nearly 100% in 2008-09 over the preceding fiscal. Our India balance-sheet size was Rs 126,000 crore and profit after tax was $2.6 billion in 2008-09. Last year's growth was obviously on a smaller base and it will be difficult to sustain this rate for long. However, we are expecting a 30-40% growth in the next 4-5 years.
DBS in India largely serves institutional clients. What is your retail plan?
We've already established the retail liability business. The size is small for the time being but our projection is that by the next five years, 25% of our liability will come from the retail base. But we have no plans yet to foray into the retail asset business. We are also preparing to enter the SME space.
The SME business is something which perhaps requires wider branch penetration. With your skeletal presence, how would you approach this segment?
We have branches in smaller towns too and we plan to target SME customers in those geographies. We will try to establish relations, build on our learnings and upscale operation in the future. It will not happen in a day.
We will go by building blocks. That will be our approach. If there is only one SME customer, so be it. We will build on that experience. In fact, DBS has a wealth of experience in the SME space in markets such as Singapore and Indonesia. This experience may have some relevance in India too. At this juncture, I don't want to define growth by marketshare or size. It's the quality of relationship which matters the most now.
Did the economic downturn put stress on your assets?
We have not faced any stress on assets as there was no legacy. All our assets are new. On the contrary, the economic downturn helped us in building new relations as some foreign banks stopped growing business after the crisis.
Do you expect big-bang banking consolidation in the near term? If RBI permits, would you look to take the acquisition route to grow business here?
There is already some prevailing sense of banking consolidation. It's already happening. The merger between State Bank of India (SBI) and its associate banks is a case in point. The question of a foreign bank acquiring a local bank is a hypothetical one. I don't see any reason for opening up if people aren't prepared for it. And don't forget, the Indian banking system is robust. And the local market is growing in line with the GDP growth. This means, more opportunities for existing banks to achieve economies of scale.
But, yes, if opportunity comes, of course we will look at it. Till that time, our focus in India will be organic growth. That's what we are preparing ourselves for.
How would you see the economy growing? Any expectations from Pranab Mukherjee ?
The Indian economy is on a steady growth path. The GDP, manufacturing numbers are growing. Therefore, it may be reasonable to expect that some stimulus will be pulled back.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INCENTIVES FOR FUND TRANSFERS NEW THIS TIME'
THE fiscal equations between New Delhi and the states are set to be redefined with the tabling in Parliament of the report of the 13th Finance Commission. Indira Rajaraman, member of the commission, decodes the report and details what it has it on store for the nation. Excerpts from an interview with ET:
Just how different is the 13th Finance Commission report from the previous one?
Well, the core task isn't all that different, which is the devolution of taxes and grants. The 12th commission prescribed transfer of 30.5% of the net share of taxes to the states, and we have raised that to 32%. When grants are added, then the total divisible pool of revenue comes to 39% as against 37.6% earlier. This time, grants are a slightly lower share of the total transfer.
But as some of our terms of reference are different, we have structured a lot of formal incentives into the pattern of the transfers and into the recommendations for the roadmap to pursue them.
How has the new formula for devolution of taxes helped?
This is one of the formal ways by which the fairness of transfers to states was introduced. Conventionally, there is a component of the transfer called the equity component. The 12th commission gave it 50% weightage in the transfer formula. We have slightly reduced this to 47.5% but have configured it differently.
We used the distance in fiscal capacity as follows: We took the second highest state as the benchmarkthe highest is Goa, the second highest is Haryana, which is a more reasonable benchmark. We took the distance of every state from that, not in terms of its income distance alone, but in terms of the per capita tax that it could collect at the average tax to GSDP ratio.
We also took two different averages depending on whether the state was general category or special category. If it was a general category state, it had a higher tax to GSDP ratio, while a special category had a lower ratio. If they have a lower average, then their distance from the benchmark state will be higher. So we built into the formula a mechanism whereby a special category state would get a higher share in the tax devolution. It also helped reduce the non-plan revenue deficit grant given to states.
The 13th finance commission has made some interesting recommendations about a model for GST. But what about the Empowered Committee of state finance ministers' model of GST?
The big change between our GST model and other models are that real estate transactions will be included in the taxable base. So the tax base as recommended 5% for the Centre and 7% for the state is much lower than other rates that are being talked about. We have also recommended a flat rate structure. It will also be a single rate with uniform exemptions nationally. If these are not accepted, then the GST grant of Rs 50,000 crore, for compensation of revenue losses, will not be payable. The total transfers will come down to 38%.
In actual practice on the ground, GST can only take shape with the consent of the EC. The Centre can still make a separate grant for compensation then. Dr Vijay Kelkar, chairman of the Finance Commission, was convinced that this kind of national uniformity is required so that India becomes a massive, unified market.
What about the roadmap for fiscal consolidation? The Centre's debt to GDP ratio has to be cut down significantly...
We have been quite gentle in our fiscal roadmap. The year 2010-11 will be an adjustment year. The revenue deficit and the fiscal deficit that we have allowed for are actually higher than the Centre's own MTFP of 3% revenue deficit and 5.5% fiscal deficit for 2010-11. We have actually allowed 3.2% and 5.7%.
We have acknowledged that fiscal exit may not be immediately possible and if it is too drastic it could actually have a negative impact on economic growth. But the emphasis throughout has been on feasibility.
What are the shocks that could derail the fiscal responsibility target? Is it possible to anticipate any?
No, it is not. But after the big shock of 2008-09, we had to pay attention to shocks. To the extent possible, the parameters like oil price and interest rates, underlying the medium term fiscal plan of both Centre and states should be specified. If there are any variations, then the government can naturally adjust them in an open and transparent manner. This allows for a calibrated response for predictable shocks.
For unpredictable shocks, whatever they may be, the Centre should assume the burden of bearing the shocks in terms of additional fiscal deficit, which should be distributed to states using the same formula for devolution as for transfers. This is because in conventional economic theory, it is always the national government, which assumes the burden of stabilisation.
Why should the National Investment Fund be wound up?
In our terms of reference, we were asked to bring off budget financing like oil and fertilizer bonds in the mainstream. This would obviously raise the Centre's expenditure, obligations and liabilities. As a counter to this, and also because we believe this was correct, we felt that disinvestment proceed should be included in the Budget as a non-debt capital receipt.
It would also relieve the fiscal pressure in a perfectly legitimate way and is an international practice. We have also been very conservative in our estimate on disinvestment proceeds, starting at 0.5% of the GDP in 2010-11 and it just moves up by 0.1% up to 1% of the GDP in the final year.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
1.5% hike in state share of tax disappointing: Dasgupta
Rakhi Mazumdar & Atmadip Ray
The 13th Finance Commission recommendations, tabled and accepted in Parliament on Thursday, have disappointed Asim Dasgupta. As the chairman of the Empowered Committee of the State Finance Ministers, Dr Dasgupta pointed out that against the states' collective demand for a 50% share of tax proceeds, there has been a mere increase of 1.5 percentage points from 30.5% now to 32%. More than anything else, he is disheartened that demand for a more decentralised centre-state revenue sharing equation, has not been met. Dr Dasgupta spoke to ET at the Writers' Buildings.
What's your reaction to the 13th Finance Commission recommendations?
My initial recation is that states have been deprived. Their demand for a higher share of the proceeds has been completely ignored. The attitude has disappointed us. I have decided to convene a special meeting of state finance minsiters in April to discuss this and decide our future course of action. If necessary, we have to take the issue to the people.
What were the states' demand?
The Empowered Commitee had submitted its proposals in September 2008. Cutting across all political lines, all states had come together and jointly urged the Commission to look into their needs. We had unanimously urged the Commission to enhance the states' collective share in central tax proceeds to 50% from 30.5% as per the 12th Finance Commission.
We had justified our demand for a higher share so that we are able to meet the higher outgo on account of the revised pay structure for government employees based on 6th central pay commsion recommendation. However, the Commission has recommended only an insignificant increase of 1.5 percentage points to 32%.
Another important demand was to allow state governments a greater responsibility in implementing centrally sponsored schemes in areas like irrigation, roads, health and education, which fall under the state list. The lack of this has reduced fiscal sovereign space of the states and their own elbow room in state budget making exercise. However, the demand has not been met.
Why is decentralised decision making so important?
The Centre collects two-thirds of the tax revenue, leaving merely one-third for the states. So, there is always a mismatch. Also, in case of centrally sponsored schemes, the states in many cases, bear more than 80% of the development cost. Even, our own experience shows that the Centre initiated a scheme with a promise to bear around 80% of the cost but gradually withdrew its commitment.
How do you react to the Commission's recommendation for compensating states to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore while migrating to GST regime?
The Commission's suggestion to peg the compensation at Rs 50,000 crore is insufficient. We had earlier made a demand of Rs 80,000 crore. More significantly, we had also requested disbursement of a significant chunk of the compensation in the first couple of years, when the impact is felt the most. We have decided to call for a fresh discussion on this topic with the Union finance minister.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'AIRCRAFT UTILISATION & REVENUES WILL GO UP ON ONEWORLD ALLIANCE'
Liquor baron Vijay Mallya's ambitious airlines foray seems to have failed to repeat his all-conquering run. The Bangalore-based businessman, who runs the world's third-largest spirits empire, is facing mounting losses due to a no-holds-barred tariff war in the airline industry and a seemingly expensive deal to take over low-cost carrier Air Deccan. Mr Mallya explains his strategy to revive the fortunes of Kingfisher Airlines in an exclusive interaction with ET . Excerpts:
Some airlines are still looking to induct aircraft even after the industry paid a heavy price for excess capacity...
I think capacity rationalisation was long overdue. The economic downturn forced airlines to reduce capacity or stop deploying additional capacity. Kingfisher Airlines reduced capacity by 22%. We did it proactively. It has benefited us. There are some airlines which are just after fleet size and market share without any respect for the industry or profitability. Now, the ministry of civil aviation has to take a view on what to permit and what not. At the end of the day, it is the entire industry, including Air India, that will get affected.
Air India has ordered 111 aircraft. A large number of them have already joined the fleet...
Air India is importing aircraft. Many of them will be replacing old aircrafts which will be retired. So, the net addition in capacity will not be equal to the number of aircraft.
You recently appointed Seabury for financial restructuring. What is the mandate given to it?
Seabury is probably one of the most respected aviation consultancy firms in the world. It has been used by investors to do due diligence on airlines. When I get into fund raising, my job will be much easier as a Seabury certificate will help in gaining investors' confidence.
When is the consultancy firm expected to give its report?
It will take another eight weeks. They are not suggesting anything. They are doing some sort of due diligence.
Will the report affect your fund-raising plan?
I am going ahead with fund-raising. It's absolutely on track. Everything is now proceeding on a fast pace. I am personally meeting prospective investors to assess demand. On that basis, I will decide the size of the issue as well as the pricing.
You had earlier said the airline will go in for a rights issue of $400 million...
The fund raising will be done through global depository receipts (GDR). We have not yet decided the size of the GDR. We will assess what is the demand and the investment appetite and will then decide. But, of course, it won't be $400 million in one go.
Recently you announced a partnership with global alliance Oneworld. In 2008, you had said you would enter into an alliance with Jet Airways, which is rumoured to be talking to other global airline grouping.
Oneworld and Jet Airways have absolutely no relevance to each other. We are joining Oneworld at the invitation of British Airways (BA). It's a major step forward because we will hugely benefit from code-share with Oneworld alliance members BA, Qantas, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific. The member airlines will also give us feed for our domestic network.
And more importantly, we have five A330s aircraft of which we are actually utilising only three. I am incurring the additional cost on account of two additional aircraft which are almost lying idle. I operate the three on Mumbai-London, Mumbai-Hong Kong and Mumbai-Singapore. Now, the two aircraft will operate on Delhi-London and Delhi-Hong Kong. Our aircraft utilisation and revenues will now go up.
What kind of financial gain do you expect out of partnership with Oneworld?
There is obviously a huge benefit. Becoming part of a network will give you additional traffic. It's something which will bring immediate benefit. We will start our cooperation with the alliance soon. We are filing our application with DGCA and the aviation ministry.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'ONE USUALLY HAS TO USE A LIFELINE, ALWAYS'
He's an internationally renowned adventurer and explorer. His famous TV series, Oceans (and, some others of course) for BBC, was watched round the world. The Royal Geographical Society (of which he was vice chairman for 3 years and has been a member for 20 years) presented him the Ness Award. Meet Paul Rose in an ET exclusive by Ashoke Nag. Excerpts:
You are the boy from Elm Park, Essex, who hated school.......
Yes, I was born in Essex and attended a secondary school called Sutton's. I hated it. The teachers were all dressed in grey. I found the books miserable. I was very fond of the Beatles and remember I was thrown out of morning assembly one day because I was wearing a Beatles jacket to school. You remember those ones which were collarless. It felt good staying away from school. Finally, I left school at fifteen. You know, I had just two interests at that time. To own a Royal Enfield motorcycle and becoming a scuba diver. I was watching Jacques Cousteau on TV and was inspired.
Do you have a Royal Enfield now?
Of course, I have an Indian Royal Enfield, which my friend bought in a marketplace in New Delhi and rode all the way to England. I also have a 900 cc Kawasaki. And, a car, of course. This time, on my way back, I'll buy a used bicycle from Mumbai and ride it near home. A second-hand one tells stories......
What brings you to India and Kolkata? Is this your first visit to India?
I'm here in India for a British Council lecture series on climate change. It's a worldwide project, but on this trip, I'm travelling through Sri Lanka and India. It's funny that this my first visit to this huge country called India. Earlier, I've been all around the country, to Pakistan, Nepal, to climb the Mt Everest, and Saudi Arabia for an oil industry project.
What are your thoughts on climate change and what is the major threat?
The hugely swelling population. Our population has tripled to 6 billion in the past 75 years. We are dumping waste into the oceans and pumping gases into the atmosphere. Only 1 billion have access to the internet. As education rises, we'll become more aware of the damage we're causing. I'm very optimistic about the future generation. And, I think the next global leadership will come from countries like India. This is where it's happening. Not the United Nations which is a non-happening place....
Will you like to work in India on climate change?
I'm super-keen to do that.
When did you start your diver's life?
I started as early as 18. It's been forty years and I continue. I also began sailing, yatching and walking in the hills. I was really enjoying nature. One must admit, it also happened because of my geography teacher before I left Suttons. He took us to the hills in Wales. That is where, I think, it all kicked in. I also learnt swimming in British Sub Aqua Club and diving in Illford in Essex. My first diving experience was off the South Coast of England.
In which locales have you dived?
Oh, virtually all over the world. Below the ice caps in the Antartica and Arctic, Indian Ocean, Seychelles, Mauritius, African Coast, Australia, Tasmania, Pacific, Norway Coast, Mexico, Mediterranean, Bahamas and Thailand, to mention a few. I have also dived into caves (which is called 'inner space' in oceans), flooded mines and have done industrial diving.
I remember the famous physicist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who said that the closest he can get to space is Underwater....That's when he took deep sea diving at a late age off the Sri Lanka coast (the country where he had settled down).
Oh, yes Arthur Clarke..... I saw him getting interviewed once on TV, standing against a palm tree. I wish I could meet him. Yes, the prime experience underwater is weightlessness. It's exhilarating. And, the vast, immeasurable space. 99% of the living space on the planet is in the oceans. And, we have discovered only about 10% of it. I just love it.
And, you can hear whales singing even if they are miles away and seals clicking their fingers. There's a blocked, flooded quarry where I live in the Lake District of Windmeyer. I even dive into that when I have nothing to do. I also love to go to the English pubs and drink beer.....
But, there are huge dangers in deep-sea diving, too, isn't it?
Sure. There are objective and subjective dangers. The objective dangers include fast currents, sharks, stinging jelly fish, ice....You can even hit a boat when you are surfacing. Subjective risks can be triggered by various factors. One can be in huge trouble if he or she dives without time checks because you can be hit by decompression and if you come up fast, your lungs can be damaged. And, one usually has to use a lifeline, always. One has to manage risks effectively.
You must have had many shark encounters?
Yes, but my most memorable one is when I dived in the Straits of Messina between Sicily and mainland Italy. We were shooting for the Oceans series for BBC. I was down looking for the famous six-gill shark which is one of the biggest in the world, growing up to 6-7 metres. It lives 2,000 metres undersea during daytime and surfaces even 50 metres below the waters at night. I dived the first night with the BBC cameraman, but couldn't spot it.
The second night went fruitless, too. On the third night, I dived at 1 am with a load of fresh tuna strapped around my waist. A little later, I saw a pair of huge green eyes coming toward me. The shark came right up to my face and I stroked its body. It swam all around me, but didn't do anything to me or my cameraman.
I'm stunned to hear this chilling experience.... Have you overcome fear and conquered the fear of death?
We all need fear as it helps us to assess risks. Some people think they are fearless. But, they are just quickly evaluating the risks and then making fast judgements to control the risks. It's no good panicking. That's when people get into trouble. I like to see what I call healthy, appropriate fear. I'm not sure if I have conquered the fear of death. I certainly do not want to die before my time. But, when my time comes, I hope I don't scream too much.
Tell us a little about 10 years as base commander of the Rothera Research Station in Antartica for the British Antartic Survey for which you were awarded Her Majesty's The Queen's Polar Medal.
I was picked as a polar and mountain guide for a team of scientists to the Antartica. We travelled in a helicopter, an ice-breaker ship and traversed glaciers in skidoos which is a motorised vehicle.
For how many years have been journeying to Antartica and Arctic?
For 12 years to Antartica. And, the Arctic for the past decade. Together with scientists, I also take non-scientists. Almost every year, tourists, who are sometimes very experienced, travel to the Arctic. We ski across Greenland to the Arctic, tugging big sledges. It's a 540 km journey and takes a month. This year, in June, we'll climb the highest mountain in the Arctic. I'll be back in the Antartica in November 2010 for 3 months for a climate change research project which is being carried out by a team of scientists from the Scripps Institute at the University of California.
I'm with the project for five years now and helping with all logistical aspects. It is led by Jeff Severinghaus who, I feel, is a great man. They are studying the methane trapped in the ice for the past 11,000 years to get to the bottom of global warming, because the same phenomenon happened at that time, the last glacial period.
You also won the US Polar Medal for your work with NASA for the Mars Lander Project on Mt Erebus in Antartica.
We climbed to the summit of Mt Erebus. I was looking after the needs of rocket scientists and was in charge of a prototype of the robot that was finally sent to Mars. It was a simulated exercise.
You have been with the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), of which you were vice-chairman. The RGS also presented you the Ness Award. You are also an Earthwatch ambassador.
I was vice-chairman of the RGS for three years and have been a member for 20 years. I sit on senior review groups of the Society. Earthwatch is one of my most favourite organisations which spreads worldwide. I work with scientists and am a fan of Citizen Science. We should all question science....
You are into creating several TV series, including the famous Oceans for BBC, radio broadcasting, writing books and reviews and have done the voice over for Captain Scott's diaries for British Library, to mention just a few of your varied preoccupations.....
I have just finished a new book called Great Explorers and done a review of watercolour paintings by artist Edward Wilson for a magazine produced by Time Magazine. Wilson accompanied and documented Captain Scott's expedition to Antartica 100 years back. I'll now work on the second series of Oceans for BBC from April to October, and it is slated to start airing from November 2010.
Are you married?
I lost my lovely wife, Sheila, to cancer in 1999. I have a wonderful son, Scott, who is 31 years old and gets married this June. These are exciting times.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE HAVE 10% OF THE WORLD'S YACHT MARKET: PAOLO VITELLI
India's growing number of millionaires and swathes of affluent people have developed a voracious taste for luxury boats in the last five years or so, swiftly turning the country into a yachting hub of sorts. At least 200 yachts of 120-280 ft are estimated to have been sold in India during this period Indians also shop in Europe for $20-$110 million. Still, India has long lacked marinas, basins offering dockage and repair for pleasure boats, though it will get its first one in Kochi in April.
Paolo Vitelli, chairman of the Rs 6,000-crore Azimut-Benetti Group, is part of the rising number of global yacht makers eyeing India with interest. Mr Vitelli, in Mumbai recently to attend the International Boat Show, is a sailing boat veteran with 38 years behind him who began by renting sailing boats before shifting into production.
The acquisitions of the Benetti boatyard in 1985 and Gobbi boatyard in 2001 made his company the largest European motorboat producer. Azimut is also the world's largest maker of 24-metre plus yachts. Vitelli tells Nandini Raghavendra that the Indian market offers enough potential to tap into and invest in good infrastructure projects.Excerpts:
What is the potential Aizmut sees in India?
The Indian market has got dual potential. One is the potential of Indians buying boats and yachts over 40 metres, which they park in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. The second is of Indians buying yachts primarily to use here, in Indian waters. We are here primarily for the second purpose. The speed with which this potential will materialise will depend on how soon the Indian government will build marinas and other necessary infrastructure.
What stage in the boating industry is India at?
It is behind every market at the moment but it has a huge opportunity to catch up. It is behind China because China was quicker in building infrastructure. It is behind Brazil because they too have been building infrastructure and they love their seas; Brazilians also love the seas.
It is also behind Thailand, where we have a lot of marinas and tourists on the waters. So India has to catch up not just in infrastructure but fill in the psychological gap and nurture a love for their waters, which I see happening slowly but surely.
What is Aizmut's share of the world market?
We have 10% of the world's yacht market but we have also increased our share by 2% because we have been doing better than our competitors, many of who are suffering and disappearing. We are doing better, primarily because we are a company that is very strong financially, capable of going long without being hit.
Many companies that were owned by financial institutions or were borrowing too much money have been heavily hit. So we are taking the opportunity of the tide to gain market share and become stronger.
How do you trigger sales in a recessionary market?
First, we renew our products faster. We make new models faster than before and faster than anybody else. In the Geneva boat show, we launched eight new models. In October, we (will) again launch 10 new models. We are very fast in thisto be very modern and up-to-date with technology, this makes for an easier sale as well commands a higher price.
Secondly, we created in our business a special division for service for our clients, which caters from financing to managing to charter the boat as well. We are also investing in marina networks, of which we already have four to make sure that our clients get comfortable access to them. We are designing them not as a garage for boats but more as clubs. Innovations in new models and service are the two main recipes for our success.
Has the financial crises triggered a bigger second-hand market for boats?
There are many big second-hand markets for boats across the world. We have made an agreement with a major French international bank to finance the sale of the second hand boats, which is very competitive; we even pay the first year of interest cost in order to move this market faster. In addition, we also offer renovation of the second hand models in terms of interiors, in an attempt to increase their appeal to this market.
How much did the recession affect your growth?
Before the recession, the company has been growing at 20% for the last decade. Then suddenly in one year, we lost 30% but our plan is to catch up 10% per year now. In three years, we should be back to the original situation. But we will have a much larger market share.
For now, Europe constitutes 47%, US (north and South) 26%, 15% comes from South East Asia and the rest from emerging markets. For our industry though, it was the US that was hit first in September 2007 and Europe was hit only in October 2008. But now, in February 2010, it appears that the US is moving forward but Europe not as yet.
The general trend of a recession is that people just buy less boats. I would divide the effect into three categories. Up to 100 ft is rich, but normal. They want to pay a lower price, they want to negotiate more but they still exist.
These are typically rich accountants, lawyers, top managers, owners of companies. Second is the 100-120 ft market, which is not very good because this comprised people who had just floated their own companies, the so-called new rich who had suddenly come into money and were putting it into boats.
This category has disappeared. The third, the 120 ft and above is pretty good even now. This is the old world established well, the old rich who want new models and service but we are there to provide it.
What boats do you see Indians buying?
The India market will be mostly 45-100 ft boats. I see 30% people buying boats for entertainment, 20% for cruising and 50% for staying with family and friends and short hauls. We would like to see an increase in people who go cruising, people have to learn this joy but you need marinas for the same. We have an idea for that to help private people make infrastructure in Goa and helping by organising small marinas or stations along the way. As marinas are the key elements for a project like this, we would certainly support. It does not even need a big investment. Mumbai is the largest city in the world with such a beautiful coastline and no marinas. You must correct this.
LITTLE CLARITY AFTER TALKS WITH PAK
At the end of the three-hour conversation between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in New Delhi on Thursday, the direction and pace of any dialogue between the two countries remains uncertain. As the government promised earlier, India's foreign secretary Ms Nirupama Rao sought to retain the focus on particulars in the context of terrorism and issues relating to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. From the official Indian briefing, it appears that more details were supplied to Pakistan in the form of three more dossiers which the Pakistan foreign secretary, Mr Salman Bashir, in his lengthy interaction with the media would later describe as "literature, rather than evidence in the legal sense". This is as clear an answer as India might expect to get from the Pakistani authorities on issues that concern it the most. It is far from clear if India brought up the fundamental question of the ideology of terrorism directed from Pakistan at India and the nature of terrorism that has come to afflict Pakistan in recent times. In sum, New Delhi needs to clarify whether it sees itself and Islamabad as equal co-victims of terrorism, which could then be tackled through a joint effort, as Mr Bashir repeatedly sought to suggest. People in this country have considerable sympathy for the people of Pakistan who are being burnt in the raging fires of terrorism. But they harbour a nagging worry. While the Pakistan government does what it can to fight those terrorists whose aim is to challenge the Pakistani state, it gives every impression of turning a blind eye to the activities of anti-India terrorists that elements of that very state have nurtured over the years. Pakistan's logic is simplicity itself: that the subcontinent is a nuclearised neighbourhood; that India is exacerbating tensions by disturbing strategic equations through spending massively to upgrade its weapons systems under the doctrine of preparing to fight a two-front war (neither of which is factually valid); that India is nitpicking when it concentrates its energies on discussing single incidents such as 26/11 and by focusing attention on individuals such as Hafiz Sayeed of the Jamat-ud-Dawa (the ideological nursery of the Lashka-e-Tayyaba); and that it is only an Indian decision to engage Pakistan across the board politically that can help both countries overcome the menace of terrorism. Mr.Bashir also made the point that it has effective cooperative mechanisms against terrorism with the United States, many European countries and others, but alas not with India because India is pussyfooting. The untenability of Pakistan's case on terrorism that hits India from jihadist camps in Pakistan and Occupied Kashmir cannot be made out without effectively referring to the history and ideological basis of this particular brand of jihadi hyperactivity. In the age of round-the-clock cable television, the exercise must be publicly convincing. The Indian system has not so far summoned the alacrity to do so. Although Islamabad is yet to meet Indian concerns, Pakistan's foreign secretary on Thursday sought to make a strong case for long-term engagement with India and an early return to the disrupted "composite dialogue" framework, in the process showering praise on the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's "vision" that could bring peace and prosperity if that vision were acted on.
IN DEFENCE OF EXPENSE
BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
The new Defence Budget of India will be announced in Parliament on Friday and it would be useful if readers are made aware of a few facts:
* From 2001 to 2009, about Rs 32,000 crore have been allowed to "lapse" as unspent from the capital (i.e. acquisitions) head of the defence budget. This money would have been adequate to buy the 126 Air Force Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) jets or the 1,500 Army 155 mm guns or the badly needed submarines, frigates and maritime patrol aircraft for the Navy.
* Unlike other major nations, India does not have a "strategic defence review" (SDR) every five years, after a new government comes to power. The SDR is important as a group of experts from various fields take a holistic view of the perceived national threats and the synergistic national capabilities required to counter them, in a specified time frame, along with funds needed or available. Instead, in India, each service plans its requirements individually, based on the defence minister's "directive", and funnels its cases through the Integrated Defence Services (IDS) headquarters, which still does not have a Chief of Defence Staff.
* The defence budget, which has generally been about 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the last two decades, tends to double every 10 years, mainly to cater for inflation, better pay and rising GDP. This rise may give a false sense of security though the actual value addition to defence is marginal, given that international weapon systems' prices double every five to 10 years.
A look at Indian history also makes depressing reading, especially because the past continues to be reflected in our present defence posture. In the last 2,300 years, the inhabitants of this land have won only two major wars viz. in 322-324 BC, the victory of Chandragupta Maurya over the Greek governors left behind by Alexander the Great, and the 1971 victory under the leadership of Indira Gandhi.
Lack of strategic foresight and lack of defence preparedness were not the only causes of defeats. Lack of technology and failure to adapt to fast changing threats along with poor intelligence gathering was others. Fifth columnists and traitors too aided the invaders for money or revenge or promise of kingdoms. While India "assimilated" all the invaders who came by land, it was well and truly colonised by invaders who came by sea and never "assimilated".
Large-scale corruption continues to hinder defence preparedness, as the cancellation of numerous defence deals shows. A perusal of terror attacks since the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, the Kargil war of 1999, and the ongoing Maoist insurgency prove that our leaders have not fully grasped the fact that India is already at war, and that the Chinese and Pakistani conventional-cum-nuclear threats loom large they are just waiting for an opportune moment to deliver the coup de grace.
Last year's (2009-2010) Indian defence budget announced in Parliament was about Rs 1.41 lakh crores, but due to various reasons it was further reduced in November-December 2009, to about Rs 1.34 lakh crores, during "revised estimates", thus giving the wrong impression of good utilisation. The Army, whose share is about 52 per cent of the defence budget, bore the brunt of this reduction. On paper the Army managed to "utilise" its reduced allocation, which was about 25 per cent capital (i.e. new acquisitions) and 75 per cent revenue (i.e. maintenance of existing systems, infrastructure, rations and pay). The Indian Navy's allocation was only 13.8 per cent of the defence budget (as against 17 per cent of the previous year). This reduction in the Navy's share took place despite the fact that the since 2008 it has been saddled with the additional task of anti-piracy patrols off Africa and also coastal defence. In the past the Navy has always utilised its full allocation (60 per cent capital and 40 per cent revenue). The Indian Air Force had an allocation of about 24 per cent (its capital to revenue ratio is 40 to 60), while "others", like the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Coast Guard etc, got eight per cent and IDS headquarters about two per cent.
The major well-known shortages continue to exist viz. Army's carbines, night vision equipment, 155 mm guns, tanks, air defence systems, tanks, new mountain divisions, Navy's conventional and nuclear submarines, frigates, destroyers, naval aviation; Air Forces' MMRCA fighters, helicopters, transport and and trainer aircraft. It is a fact that our defences have not really improved on the ground, though a few contracts have been signed in the last two years. Even the Coast Guard will need at least five more years to actually "fill up" the new but long-overdue sanctions of manpower and equipment provided after 26/11.
Further, since the Indian defence budget, unlike the American one, gets passed in Parliament without an informed debate, and national security preparedness continues to remain sub-optimal. Despite India's poverty and the relevant "guns versus butter" debate, maintaining our sovereignty and secular way of life is important, and hence, there is an urgent need to increase India's defence allocation to at least three per cent of our GDP.
In 2009-2010, the announced Indian defence budget was about $30 billion (about two per cent of India's GDP), the Chinese defence budget was $70 billion (estimated to be $200 billion, since a lot of items like foreign acquisitions, research and development, pay, rations, infrastructure etc are not reflected), while the American defence budget was about $600 billion. China, whose GDP is more than three times that of India, spends seven per cent of its GDP on defence. Even bankrupt Pakistan, which has received $10 billion American aid (and military gifts) and continues to receive Chinese military equipment at friendship prices, has a defence budget which is five per cent of its GDP.
The defence budget to be announced in Parliament today will meet India's defence requirements only if it exceeds Rs 1.8 lakh crores, and thereafter grows at about 15 to 20 per cent annually till 2020. We will have to also see how much is actually utilised and how much is reduced in the "revised estimates" by December 2010.
* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam
GORDON BROWN AND HIS THUGGISH HENCHMEN
BY MARTIN BRIGHT
It is now established in that nether world somewhere between the media myth-making machine and the public imagination that the Britain's Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, is a brooding paranoid who cannot control his temper. John Major tucked his shirt into his underpants; Gordon Brown pushes secretaries out of chairs. Some stories stick to politicians not because people know they are true but because people want them to be true.
It no longer matters what the Downing Street spinners say in response to the claims of rough-housing in the Prime Minister's bunker.
Enough people from the inside have talked to journalists about Brown's fits of anger for the Westminster village to know that Andrew Rawnsley's book, The End of the Party, paints a picture of life around the Prime Minister that's not a million miles from reality.
Is he a bully? Not exactly. As one former minister told me this week, "Yes, he is susceptible to rages. He is petulant and childish. But a bully, no. To be a bully you need to recognise that someone else is in the room". Gordon Brown, he said, lacked the human empathy to be a bully.
A close political ally who worked in No. 10 Downing Street for several months said he had never once seen the Prime Minister humiliate a junior member of staff and that he only flew off the handle when he was angry at himself or his most trusted aides. This seems to be the agreed line, promoted most vigorously by former deputy prime minister John Prescott and business secretary Peter Mandelson.
Ever since Brown entered No. 10 Downing Street, we have been told that we needed to get to know the real Gordon Brown. Now we are asked to accept his tantrums as evidence of passion rather than abuse.
How has it come to this? Part of the answer is that the job of Prime Minister is a unique one. Gordon Brown is not the first to be prone to paranoia and he will not be the last to suffer the indignity of those he works with telling tales to journalists behind his back. But there is more to it than that.
There is something about this that is peculiar to Gordon because of the culture of threat he has allowed to develop around him. The reality is that we will never know the real Gordon Brown, because he is constitutionally incapable of projecting his own personality without the help of a fiercely loyal cabal of human ciphers. His greatest weakness has always been allowing those who speak on his behalf too long a leash. One eminent Labour peer once told me that Gordon Brown's biggest problem was that he chose to surround himself with people who were "not good citizens".
When Brown was in an intense period of internal opposition just after the 2005 election, I was always amazed by the latitude he gave others to brief on his behalf against Cabinet colleagues and political enemies. This tendency carried on long after he entered No. 10.
As chancellor Alistair Darling so eloquently put it in his Sky News interview on Tuesday, Gordon Brown is quite capable of allowing the "forces of hell" to be unleashed, even against his friends. Rawnsley's picture of the fury of Darling and his wife at their betrayal over the summer of 2008 is entirely accurate. There was a concerted attempt by the Prime Minister's anointed "bad citizens", Damian McBride and Charlie Whelan, both spin doctors and close aides, to destroy the Chancellor for telling the truth about the gravity of the recession to the Guardian.
Thinking about the events of the past week, I recalled an encounter with one of Gordon Brown's closest allies at the Labour Party conference in 2008. I had written a blog which ended by saying that I had experienced at first-hand the "inept mafioso tactics of Brown's political gangsters". One morning I was approached by Ian Austin, the dapper MP for Dudley, who placed his face about an inch from mine and whispered, "What's this about gangsters?" I asked him to step off my toes and suggested that someone watching us might think he had made my point for me.
Given the fact that the Prime Minister probably does throw more than newspapers across his office, it is remarkable that he manages to inspire such loyalty in those close to him. Some, like Ed Miliband and Tom Watson, are even quite nice people. Brown's tragic and potentially fatal weakness is that he allows those he trusts to second-guess his will and to act on his behalf. Unfortunately, his "bad citizens" do not always have the interests of the Prime Minister at heart. The reason many in Westminster (Labour MPs as well as hostile political journalists) are prepared to think the worst of Gordon Brown is that he permits this to happen.
The Prime Minister has issued a statement saying that he never instructed his aides to brief against Alistair Darling. This makes things even worse. If the "forces of hell" were acting as rogue agents, why did the Prime Minister lack the authority to stop them?
* Martin Bright is political editor of the Jewish Chronicle
BUDGET '10: NANI YAAD AA GAYI
BY SHOBHAA DE
The most tiresome and seriously annoying aspect of the annual water torture, also known as the Budget, is the pre- and post-analysis of the damn thing! Experts all but crawl out of the woodwork around this time of the year, and give gyaan to the nation via soundbytes and quotes that nobody can decode. It's just so much hot air and gas, that were Brothers Ambani to tap and pipe it, most of their problems would get automatically solved. After the death of Nani Palkhivala, the one man who could effectively deconstruct the bloody Budget for the aam janata, nobody, but nobody, has been able to tell us what we already know pay more! One just had to read Palkhivala's lips as he held centrestage on the expansive lawns of the Cricket Club of India, to appreciate his genius. Take me. I am embarrassingly numbers challenged (okay, now that I've revealed one secret, I may as well go the whole hog and reveal another I can't read balance sheets!). But even dumbo me would turn up faithfully to hang on to Nani's every word. Needless to say nothing registered!
It was as much for the performance as for the gyan Nani was the SRK of the finance world. Big difference being he worked without someone else's script and pretty much relied on memory, preferring to speak extempore no teleprompters, cue sheets, not even a scrap of paper (take that, Mr Barack Obama!). His recall for reams of data was so faultless, he'd leave even the most erudite analysts in the audience totally speechless as he reeled off numbers effortlessly, and put the Budget into a comprehensible format for informed citizens. Mind you, Nani commanded the sort of audience that today's Bollywood stars with all their clout, muscle and PR power cannot! People would start queuing up bright and early to grab the best seats on the grounds, and remain rooted to their uncomfortable chairs till Nani concluded his speech (a daunting, marathon effort extending well over two hours). It was one annual event that attracted the most eclectic crowd. I cannot imagine any personality other than Sachin Tendulkar being in a position to pull off a similar feat. But given the present generation's shrinking attention span, I also wonder whether Nani would have been able to attract the same numbers today.
I tried very hard to comprehend Mamata's Railway Budget (no steam in this engine, alas), but promptly abandoned the exercise when I acknowledged a basic lack of interest within myself when was the last time I jumped on a train? See? That's really how it works, whether we face it or not. Selfishness rules. We breathlessly await the latest Budget only to pounce on those aspects which impact our lives directly be honest. Do you really get into a blue fog worrying about tax implications affecting kerosene prices? Do you have tur dal on your mind on the Budget day? Or even two-wheeler prices? All you want to know in the broadest of terms is what's in it for me, if anything? Higher prices are a given. So are even higher taxes. You have already reconciled yourself to that. You want to know just one thing where will the extra lolly come from? And how badly are you going to be hit this time? That you are going to be hit, has been factored in. Remember darlings there is no such thing as a "good" Budget. Every new Budget is a killer, one way or the other. Which is why it is important to ignore all those grim-faced farts on TV telling us about less pain in the future. Take a walk, you guys. When will you stop bullshitting? Spare us your "expert" comments, and the cheesy "no pain, no gain" rubbish. We prefer listening to our wallets. And the story they tell is vastly different.
Each year, we generate hype just before the Judgment Day. It is a particularly masochistic exercise, and no other developed country in the world makes quite such a ludicrous song and dance over what is after all nothing more dramatic than a routine annual statement about the government's finances. We are the ones who create all the dramabaazi around the Budget and treat the entire exercise as a reality show, with the finance minister playing the key role. ''Kaun Banega Crorepati?" You know the answer to that one nobody! At least, not on paper, and not if Pranab Mukherjee can help it! Our government's main aim, it would appear, is to make sure we stay true to some outdated socialist dream and such obscenities do not happen. But nobody actually spells it out. Instead we talk around the subject, and complicate it further. Pranab's performance will be taken apart on several levels, since his oratorial skills leave most Indians (okay, make that non-Bengalis) entirely befuddled. Unlike his predecessors, Pranab does not do sher-o-shairi, does not quote Shakespeare or Ghalib. Tagore? But again, unlike his predecessors, Pranab believes in telling it like it is, minus sugar coating or frivolous frills. And essentially, he says just one thing pay up! That's the message. "Or else", follows! The aam janata gets the message pronto. Pranab does not prescribe to painless surgery.
Whoever invented the term "stimulus package" was a smart cookie. It sounded sexy. Was sexy. And the strategy worked. Unfortunately, the stimulus on offer was not exactly financial Viagra and most companies could not get it up on demand. Miracles were expected (as unrealistic as immaculate conception). Withdrawal of stimulus is like coitus interruptus but clearly, it is the United Progressive Alliance government's call, and gives another angle to the India growth story. The dream is technicoloured and big. Like Anil Ambani's latest venture. Analysts are claiming anything from eight per cent to 11 per cent kuch, kuch hota hai! But all that comes later, once the dust settles down and we stop cribbing. India without perennial cribbers would be so damn boring! We like cribbing! It is our birthright. So, even as we moan and groan, sulk and sigh, the Budget ki kahani will not last beyond this weekend. It is a little like MNIK so much publicity before the release of the film. And then what? Money in the bank for the canny producers. But the aam janata was left trying to figure out how to pronounce "Asperger's" and whether or not to admit in public that nobody had heard of the syndrome till Rizwan came on the scene. Pranab is as big as SRK at least at this time of the year. And like SRK, he too is used to the flak that goes with his portfolio.
I am not complaining. I am sensibly holding my tongue. You know why? I don't get it the Budget, I mean. And it's stupid to try and deconstruct anything I can't figure out. As it goes every year, I'll simply shrug philosophically and pay up, humming Kabhie Khushi, Kabhie Gham.
Nani Palkhivala where are you when we need you the most?
Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com 
THE NEW ALMIGHTY
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"How many roads must a man walk downBefore he wears out his shoes?How many seas must a white dove sail
Fuelled by a single bottle of booze?"From Bachchoo ke SawaalI was, recently, interviewed on Indian TV. I was, am, in London and the programme required me to go to the Westminster Towers, a modern red-brick building on the Thames' Albert Embankment below Lambeth Bridge, on the opposite side of the river from the forbidding, solid, old stone MI5 (police intelligence unit) building and overlooking the Houses of Parliament.
Once through security, the very polite young man shows the victim into a small cellular room on the ninth or eleventh floor and one is invited into the single chair in the room, wired up for sound and made to stare into the opaque screen of a camera. The young man disappears and glances cursorily at you through a glass screen beyond which is the mysterious or sinister-seeming machinery of the control room. One sits in perfect silence waiting for the voice of the host of the programme to come through from India.
One is aware that at the other end, in Delhi or Mumbai, or wherever, there is gaiety and consternation in a studio atmosphere with 72 beautiful researchers gliding in and out and throngs of the self-admiring opinionated on ranges of benches waiting to bite into the topic in hand. There is "entertainment" for the speakers and taxis and held doors.
Sitting in the isolation of the Westminster cell, one doesn't see or hear any of this. What one imagines is that any moment a Parsi priest will come through the padded door of the soundproof cell, exhort you to commend your soul to Ahura Mazda and ask if you have any last wish before they throw the switch.
The point of this rigmarole (apart from adding local colour and confessing that the films I used to see in my boyhood featuring public executions by electric chair, gas chamber, hanging and guillotine, still haunt my dreams) is that each time I have been called upon to appear on Indian TV, one or the other of the distinguished participants in the debate has referred to the Almighty as a source of truth and information. No, I don't mean Ahura Mazda, Jehovah, Bhraman, Allah or Tom Cruise I mean our modern Almighty, the Universal Internet.
It would be no exaggeration to say that once upon a time the tribes of the world and the far-flung civilisations on the planet worshipped trees, stones, ancestors, thunder, nature, the seasons and most things that passed their way. Then came Zarathustra (Zardosht) who proclaimed there was only one God and only one source of truth in the Universe. It caused a lot of upheaval. His assertion and invention (discovery or revelation, if you are a believer) arguably gave rise to or encouraged the growth of monotheism through Judaism, Christianity and later Islam.
And now a new revolution has invaded the earth with a thousand anonymous prophets (some of them even born in Bangalore) and it threatens to usurp the authority of the other sources of knowledge, such as books, newspapers, the radio and TV, which have long been accepted as near infallible by various civilisations through the ages.
This new Single Authority's power arises from the fact that it requires no intervening saints. The communicant has a direct connection to dissemination, which is power, and the additional illusion that this direct access gives them the status of demi-Gods.
Newspapers, TV channels, the radio and books used to be subject to the filter of editorial control. Another mind, or several other minds, working within the conventions of traditions, orthodoxies and systems of value, mediated the thoughts, ideas, fictional creations, factual representations, as in news, and all other outpourings before they reached a readership or the viewers.
I approach the subject in this way because, having earned my living as a writer, journalist and screenplay supplier for most of my life, I take it as a fact of life that some sixteen-and-a-half-year-old jerk, or some antiquated frustrate who had the ambition to write him or herself but didn't have the talent, or some producer, director or actor with an overblown ego would inevitably attempt to change the words I put on the page for reasons best known to themselves. It's known as the process of "editing". In the worst case, one's words or one's entire piece are subject to ridicule and rejection.
Not so with the Internet. Any twit can twitter any bogbrush can blog. The Internet is the narcissistic fool's paradise. Any collection of words counts as an "opinion", any boring concatenation of personal rubbish counts as a column (ahem! Ed.), any assertion becomes a "fact".
Most of the googles of garbage that the self-important, unmediated or undeservedly vain plant on the Internet can be gracefully ignored and is. There are people I know who delude themselves with the uncanny comfort of "having 4,000 friends" on Facebook. There are other idiots who think that the idle curiosity, sycophancy or deranged time-wasting of people who sit by the day clicking on to blogs and commenting on them constitutes a real audience for their unsaleable ramblings.
All human error, or human vanity of expression is there.
In two recent episodes of unedited opinionation in Britain, this tweeting and bleating has had political consequences. A Labour candidate for office in London commented on a Tory MP's blog that the Queen was a parasite. It led to complaints to headquarters and the de-selection of the poor anti-Royalist.
Then a Labour MP called members of the Opposition Tory Party "scum-sucking pigs". Now some of us do believe that the Queen is a parasite and that some Tories at least are indeed scum-sucking pigs, and would say so at dinner gatherings to our friends. The comment, even from the mouth of a member of Parliament, would pass without consequence.
The devil is in the disseminating medium. The world has mistaken the Internet for authority. It is a false God. Like Moses of old, I now deign to descend from the mountain and denounce it, warning all fools to use this golden calf, at best, as a decoration on their mantelpieces or to deposit it in their Icelandic bank vaults, but to worship it at the peril of their souls.
My nine commandments follow.
THE BELOVED OF GOD
BY SADIA DEHLVI
Let us rejoice for tomorrow is the 12th of Rabi-ul-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar, the day that Prophet Mohammad was born in Mecca in the year 570 CE. In the Quran, God assures that he sent him as a rahmat tul alameen, a Mercy for all of creation, and is all praise for the Messenger of whom He is the Rab, the Nurturer. "And thou standst on an exalted standard of character" (68:4). He commands us to follow the Messenger. "If you do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" (3:31). During my Sufi initiation, my Master taught never to forget that loving and following the Prophet was to follow God.
Love and devotion to Prophet Mohammad forms the axis of the Sufi doctrine. Sufism requires not just an understanding of Islamic essentials, but a look into the life and role of Prophet Mohammad. For mystics, Prophet Mohammad mirrors Allah's attributes and remains the perfect vehicle to inner enlightenment, for even in slumber he remained connected to Allah.
As Rumi glorifies:
"The Prophet said, 'My eyes sleep',
But my heart is not asleep to the Lord of CreationWhile your eyes are closed and your heart slumbers,
My eyes are closed and my heart open in the contemplation of the DivineDo not judge me with your own inadequacy;
What is night for you is bright day for me,What for you is a prison is for me an open garden.
In the very midst of worldly engagement I am detached.
It is not myself that sits beside you; it is my shadow;
My reality is beyond the realm of thoughts,For I have passed beyond all thought,
Racing ahead, far past that realm".
The Prophet's unique position stems from many of his sayings such as, "The first thing that Allah created was my Light, which originated from His Light and derived from the Majesty of His greatness" and "Truly, Allah made me the seal of prophets when Adam was between water and clay".
The essence of Sufism stems from the belief that the universe was created from Nur e Mohammadi, Light of Prophet Mohammad, and from this pre-existent Light Allah took a handful to build His Universe.
Mevlana Rumi asks, ''How could we commit error? For we are in the light of Ahmad!"
The 12th century Turkish mystic Khaqani writes:
"God (Haqq) loved this light and said:
My Beloved friend (habibi)!
And became enamoured (ashiq) of this light".
Yunus Emre, another Turkish poet of the 14th century, explains the Sufi creed, that God created the two worlds for His Beloved:
"I created him from My own lightAnd I love him yesterday and today!
What would I do with the worlds without himMy Mohammad, My Ahmad , My Light".
The spiritual path established by the Messenger fuels the Sufi quest for deeper meanings of why humanity was created. He inspires with the words, "I have come to perfect noble character". Ayesha, the Prophet's wife, once commented, "His character was the Quran". Muslim piety accepts the Prophet as Habib Allah, the beloved of God who revealed hidden mysteries of the universe laying emphasis on the heart. In established traditions, Mohammad said, "When in doubt ask your heart for a decision for virtue is when the heart and soul are at peace".
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam
BUT DEVIATIONS WILL BEAR SCRUTINY
IF Miss Mamata Banerjee's career plans are on track, it is unlikely that the consequences of some of the grand schemes she has announced in the Rail Budget will visit her. If those plans fructify, she will be in Writers' Buildings long before the proposed public-private partnership to build high-speed passenger corridors, or run freight trains, becomes a reality. Indeed, we will be very surprised if 1,000 km of new tracks are laid within the next year or if the modalities to clear projects within 100 days will be finalized in the next 100 days. She has announced plans to make 10 "more" stations world-class, and that makes us wonder which ones already are world-class unless it is a very narrow view of the world we take. And to reduce service charges on e-tickets is a joke; in any reasonable understanding of e-commerce, these tickets should cost less than those sold across the counter if only because they involve no work by Pay Commission-fed staff, nor setting up of booking centres at expensive locations. These are only some of the woolly-headed aspects of the Budget, and about the only thing we can say in Miss Banerjee's favour is that she has done no worse than many of her predecessors by at least pretending to have an overview of the railway system.
Some concern, though, must be voiced at the manner in which the Railways plan to yield ground to the private sector, not because such a move is intrinsically bad but because of the rapacious nature of the Indian private sector. Thus, while Miss Banerjee will claim points for not having hiked fares, or for having extended some concessions, the privatization of passenger corridors ~ whether from private or public funds ~ will involve huge investment, and a desire to recover this as quickly as possible. It is clear that some big players are planning to move into the railways, and it is equally clear that Miss Banerjee was reading from someone else's script when she talked of privatization.
We would have liked Miss Banerjee to concentrate on strengthening existing tracks before she considered additions; we would have liked her to focus on improving amenities and safety on trains before she launched more trains and we would have liked her to break the stranglehold of touts and ticketless travellers on facilities that ought only to be claimed by bona fide passengers. The decision to augment facilities on the Mumbai and Kolkata suburban systems is laudable, though, and the creation of a Master Plan for the North-east while overdue is a step in the right direction. The focus on Bengal is predictable and, if precedent is to be cited, even acceptable in a perverse sort of way. Overall, perhaps the best way to sum up this budget would be to accept that while the politics in it are Miss Banerjee's own, the economics are not. While we can live with the former, it might be prudent to study the implications of the latter before we make up our minds.
SACHIN RISES ABOVE RECORDS
SINCE neither dictionary nor thesaurus would provide adequate superlatives ~ and the man has long rendered comparisons irrelevant ~ it would perhaps be best if the cricketing community celebrated the first double-century in ODIs by observing a few moments in silent salutation to Sachin Tendulkar. To appreciate in joyful gratitude the riches with which he has endowed the game in general, passionate Indian fans in particular. Had Bradman been around today he would be the first to hail the brand of success that statistics and records only partially portray. For when he first saw Tendulkar on TV he summoned his wife to come watch the lad who reminded him of himself. And who can deny that in his 21st year of top-flight cricket Sachin has surpassed all that the Don's imagination could have conjured up for what was then just prodigious talent, yet to fully bloom. Although that historic, unbeaten 200 came off just 147 balls with 25 hits to the boundary rope and three that cleared it, the description of "master blaster" rankles. Simply because despite him packing a punch more powerful than his physique might indicate, Tendulkar has ever destroyed the bowling with surgical skill rather than brute force. He has played every shot in the book with classical perfection, invented a few of his own when the circumstances so dictated, plundered rather accumulated the runs, but above all he never threw away his wicket ~ which is not to be confused with sacrificing it for the larger interest of the team. Sachin began re-writing the record book from his schooldays and now it would require volumes to list his achievements. Yes, a triple-ton in Tests and Lara's top score of 400 in that most elevated version of the game still elude him: who knows, with his 21st season proving his most prolific ever, the 36-year-old might get there yet. It matters little if he does not, it will prove that he is human after all.
That is another of his hallmarks. He remains a modest, humble person who has never given offence, never been so arrogant as to take practice and training lightly. He painstakingly prepared himself ahead of the Proteas' tour. There has been no need for him, like another sporting megastar, to prance around pronouncing himself "The Greatest". Others have said so, sincerely. As the sportscaster on a US-based international TV channel put it on Wednesday, "we may know little about cricket, we do know Sachin Tendulkar." A universal sporting icon, an inspirational Indian.
PERHAPS EVEN A CHANGE OF HEART
THE Naga peace talks are to resume in April with the collective NSCN(IM) leadership having accepted the Centre's invitation. The main objective of their presence in India is to speed up the peace process but despite chairman Isak Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah having spent several months in Nagaland in 1999, 2003 and 2006-07, they were unable to achieve anything of substance. On the contrary, the NSCN(IM) split in 2007 with one group led by Semas, to which community Swu belongs, forming NSCN(Unification). The April talks assume significance because the Naga leaders will be facing off with the Centre's new interlocutor, RS Pandey ~ he served in Nagaland as chief secretary ~ and that the invitation this time was sent by Union home secretary GK Pillai and not the Prime Minister. The PMO was in direct charge of affairs till last year. Some months ago, Pillai announced that the Centre was ready with its own set of new proposals to different Naga groups and that it was working out a solution that would be "honourable and acceptable" to both sides. If this is the main agenda, then the NSCN (IM) has already described it as "an antithesis to the 1997 bilateral agreement" signed by it and the Centre. So what is there to discuss anyway?
The biggest hindrance to finding a solution to the Naga problem is the NSCN(IM)'s intolerance of the two other rival factions. Admittedly, the Forum for Reconciliation, a group set up three years ago and representing various organisations, has done a commendable job by persuading the warring groups to observe a ceasefire among themselves, but the right recipe for peace and a final solution ~ reconciliation born of a forget-and-forgive attitude ~ is yet to materialise. Again, unless the NSCN(IM) drops its demand for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas, it would be naïve to think of the peace process assuming definite shape.
WORDS AND DEEDS
GOOD INTENTIONS NEED SUSTAINING ARCHITECTURE
ADITI ROY GHATAK
IT would be churlish to say that there is no good intention in a government that has at least tried to implement out-of-the-box thinking around managing the economy. Yet, the more 'inclusive' the government promises to be, the most excluded the already dispossessed become. Thanks to the unbearable burden of prices, even 'dal' has moved out of the ordinary man's daily menu. Nothing can be a more telling indicator of the grim reality of being an excluded Indian.
The justification for the price rise offered by the President of India in her speech to the joint session of Parliament does not matter a whit to those who are worst afflicted by it. Nor is the President's assurance that reigning in food prices is the government's priority "No. 1" likely to offer them any comfort. Such jargon laden promises as "sustained efforts at increasing agricultural productivity, accompanied by a comprehensive reform of the PDS and open market intervention" have been made before only to end up in a further setback for the agricultural sector and, howsoever strong the growth signals, without a genuine turnaround in agriculture and the farm sector, there can be no hope for sustained well-being of the economy.
What could be comforting about the speech is what the President offers for the already included sector: the corporate and the higher income brackets for which a growth rate in excess of eight per cent for the coming year and of nine per cent for 2011-12 is a happy thought. So would be the assurances around ensuring that there would be no dramatic easing of the fiscal stimulus to aid the industrial sector. It is reasonably safe to assume that the corporate sector is feeling comfortable with the state of affairs; public pronouncements by industrial leaders are optimistic enough.
IT would be more relevant to examine how effectively the many stimulus packages released by the government to ensure 'inclusivity" are doing their jobs and whether there is need for corrective measures around them because the government has committed humungous amounts to them and is like to increase the allocations in the 2010-2011 budget.
If one were to consider just three of the government's flagship "inclusivity" programmes: the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan and the National Rural Health Mission, one would get an indication of what is going right and what is not. Even a cursory look would indicate that it is time to question the quality of architecture that the government has in place to channel these funds to the targeted beneficiaries.
Much has been said about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme, which has no global parallel with around Rs 75,000 crore allocated for the system to reach out to at least one member of every rural household. Reports for the year 2008-09 suggest that 2.16 billion mandays of work was generated but the good news ends there. A recent review by the Centre for Policy Research not only reveals wide variation in the usage of funds by different states but the fact that overall utilisation of funds is actually dropping. Thanks to the grassroots often being bereft of knowledge on how to tap these funds and the fact that there is little institutional support at the Panchayat levels to guide them on how to access them, funds are going abegging. A great deal of homework is called for if these allocations are ever to work efficiently for the beneficiaries.
Equally exciting should have been the Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan that is a follow up on the constitutional amendment to make education free and compulsory for ages between six and 14. At the last count, the government had committed in excess of Rs 13,000 crore. Expectedly again, not only does much of the funds not get spent ~ many headmasters have no clue that there is such a scheme doing the rounds ~ what is spent is often done poorly. The government's own Annual Status of Education Report is self explanatory.
Consider next the National Rural Health Mission that has had a five-year run and should have smoothened out the implementation roadblocks. It has secured around 63 per cent of the government's health budget allocation; the money being released by the Centre to fund schemes run by the state on an 85-25 basis. The last budget allocated in excess of Rs 14,000 crore under a reasonably imaginative scheme that would empower the grassroots to deliver effective health advice, care and funds. The worry again is the want of effective mechanisms to deliver this package in much of rural India; a Planning Commission evaluation has exposed the loopholes. Only eight per cent of the beneficiaries under the Janine Suresh Yolanda in Bihar, for instance, received the funds even though some other states did better.
Even while commending these initiatives it is difficult not to question the government that, with all the technology now at its disposal, should not have failed to fine tune the delivery mechanism. Admittedly, much of the lethargy and opacity around the administration of these potentially game-changing schemes lie in the states that they are being implemented in but it is not enough for the Centre to say that the states are not doing their jobs.
AN intention is as good as its outcome and for all the allocations of the government, the fact remains that there is a great dearth of institutional credit mechanisms to reach the poor across the country. That much was established by the Rathdrum Committee Report (2008), which pointed out that save for four categories of earners: businessmen, self-employed, government servants and private sector employees, less than 50 per cent of people had bank accounts. The worst off was the agricultural wage earning segment where no more than 14 per cent of the people had bank accounts. For the poorest, the moneylender continues to be the best bet.
The question then is what is to happen with some Rs 1.2 million crore that the government will probably propose for the next budget? Between 15 and 18 per cent (or more) would be consumed by interest payments, subsidies and defence even though the government will expectedly persist with a far-from-transparent method of dealing with the oil subsidy, for instance, as it tries to convince the people that it is trying to live up to the demands of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. The much promised outcome budget remains a pie in the sky, which leaves one with little means to knowing how the money is actually serving the people. The actual numbers on the deficit to GDP ratio will be far more alarming that will be admitted.
As far as checking the fiscal deficit is concerned, admittedly the government does not have to worry about the pay commission arrears and, hopefully, will not need to go in for an enormous farm loan waiver this time around. Hopefully also the revenues will perk up upon improved corporate performance and other collections. For the rest Mr Pranab Mukherjee will have to sell the family silver but even that will be not enough. The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council has categorically said that fiscal consolidation must start forthwith and farm productivity must improve immediately. These are more easily ordered than achieved.
The writer is a freelance contributor
TALES FROM THE FOREST
Only a statistician can say whether there is any significant co-relation between the increase in the police budget and spread of Naxalism but it raises an inconvenient issue regarding the efficacy of the use of the police force to contain Naxalism, says D Bandyopadhyay
On 9 February 2010, a solemn and portentous conclave was held by the Sheriff of Hindoosthan and had two Vice-Sheriffs of Banga and Kalinga provinces inattandence. Two other Vice-Sheriffs slipped away to keep their options open. The reason for this grave conference was to chalk out a plan of action to contain, if not to exterminate, the menace of Naxalism (Maoism) in the Central Indian wooded uplands which start from the edge of Junglemahal in West Bengal. The immediate objective was "to reclaim some of the Naxal-dominated areas in the next six months", perhaps sobriety dawned upon the Sheriff and his deputies after the abject failure to achieve anything in the last six months of joint operations by the armed constabulary and paramilitary forces in Junglemahal. Hence, with papal dignity, the Sheriff of Hindoosthan declared in a solemn manner: "We all agree that force cannot solve the problem (Maoism), but in order to end violence and re-establish civil administration, we need force." Then comes the Delphic Oracle: "It is a careful, calibrated and controlled measure." (All quotations are from The Statesman, Kolkata, dated 10 February, 2010)
His language was impeccable. His diction was flawless. His delivery was enthralling. His pronouncement was followed by the clipped-vowel English of the Vice-Sheriff of Kalinga in full support of the proposal for the use of force. His counterpart from Banga also supported him fully, even if not as eloquently.
It escaped his notice, perhaps, that in presenting his beautifully articulated case for the use of force, the Sheriff of Hindoosthan conceded two vital points to the Maoists. In the first place, he admitted that civil administration in the areas under Maoist control had collapsed. In fact, it did not exist. Thus Maoists had a parallel civil administration where the writ of the Indian state did not run. And, secondly, in declaring his intention to reclaim the lost territory, he openly acknowledged that territories held by the Maoists were outside the control of the Indian state. Unknowingly, he admitted two significant attributes of statehood to the Maoists; (i) their own territory and (ii) their own civil administration. He had given the Maoists credit which even they did not claim. He was, perhaps, too fascinated by his own eloquence which carried him a little too far for his own comfort and certainly to the discomfort of others. So he would use force to reconquer his lost land and having done so he would re-establish his own civil administration. Development, if any, would follow in due course.
It may sound strange but there was a near parallel event long ago recorded in English folklore. The Sheriff of Nottingham was growing angry with the pranks of Robin Hood and his fellow outlaws in the forest of Sherwood. So the Sheriff laid a trap to catch Robin and his gang." "I have tried law and I have tried being sneaky," he said to himself. "Now I will use force."
Three hundred armed men of the Sheriff marched into Sherwood forest. A prize was declared for catching Robin Hood. For seven days they searched but found none of Robin's men. Robin Hood had come to know about the Sheriff's plan through his spies. They hid themselves in the deepest recesses of the forest where no ordinary person could go. On the eighth day, being thoroughly bored, he sent one of his followers in disguise to find out how long the Sheriff's men would remain in the forest. Unfortunately that person was caught by the Sheriff's men.
The Sheriff was delighted and decided to hang him publicly the next day. Robin Hood and his followers in disguise mixed with the crowd the next day at the hanging ground. Through trickery and feat of arms they rescued their comrade and retreated into the forest. The Sheriff got terribly frightened. He said to himself: "These men fear nothing. I would sooner lose my office than my life. I will leave them alone." (The Adventures of Robin Hood by John Burrows, Sterling Publications Co. Inc. New York, 1972, p 17).
The collapse of the civil administration in some Maoist-affected areas is a recent phenomenon. In fact, there is a touch of exaggeration in the statement of the Sheriff of Hindoosthan. But accepting that statement as valid, one could ask a simple question: How did the civil administration acquit itself before the system broke down? There is hardly anything to write home about. One of the basic features of any civil administration anywhere is providing justice. There is a Central Act entitled "The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989." The preamble of the Act reads as follows: "An Act to prevent commission of offences against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, to provide for special courts for the trial of such offences and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences." A novel feature of this Act is the punishment for neglect of duty. One would have thought that wherever the Sheriff's civil administration existed, the members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes would get speedy and fair justice.
With less than one per cent conviction rate, a little over 10 per cent acquittal rate and pendency of cases between 80-90 per cent, the Sheriff's civil administration denied justice to the victims of atrocities by sheer delay and the insensitivity of those involved in the administration of justice. There is mounting dissent among the victims because they feel the Indian state is not serious about giving them justice. The state could have provided a system of speedy participatory justice by enacting the Nyaya Panchayat law. But on the plea of the purity of justice, legal professionals opposed this move. Hence Nyaya Panchayats remain a non-starter. As against this, notwithstanding, all its horrendous features, the people's court system of Maoists did provide an informal rough and ready fora for dispute resolution and in a way responded to the felt needs of the common man.
Then there is the whole question of forcible displacement due to acquisition of land for development purposes. Central Indian uplands are rich in mineral and other natural resources. So there is a development invasion in these areas. There are no official figures. But an intelligent estimate made by a noted scholar, Dr Walter Fernandes, indicated that between 1947 and 2004 nearly six crore persons were forcibly displaced of whom 40 per cent constituted Scheduled Tribes. Out of a total population of generic tribals of eight crore, 2.4 crore were involuntarily thrown out of their land, home and occupation. This figure constitutes 30 per cent of the total tribal population. The entire tribal population of this vast area is in turmoil.
Who has come to their succour? Certainly not the Indian state. According to official figures, 28 per cent of the displaced tribal population has been rehabilited. Even accepting this figure to be correct, what happened to the remaining 72 per cent of the displaced tribals numbering 1.44 crore. They were the victims of development "terrorism". Disillusioned and disgruntled, resentful and angry, they constituted the water in Mao Zedong's terminology in which militant Maoist fish roamed about freely without any fear of being betrayed and caught. Has the Sheriff any plan to properly rehabilitate this angry populace to wean them away from the Maoists and bring them into the mainstream? In all probability, he has none. Instead of focussing on the cause of the disease, he is, like a quack, attempting to treat some outward symptoms; the chances of success are remote. The more his forces repress common men and women, the greater would be the mass base of the militants.
The Sheriff used excellent language regarding the need for use of force. He observed: "It is a careful, calibrated and controled measure". One has to appreciate his high degree of self-confidence. Force would not be exercised by the Sheriff himself, but by his men and horses. So unless he puts silicon chips inside the crania of all his havildars, subedars, subedar majors, assistant commandants and commandants, with broadband internet access to his super computer on Raisina Hill, his forces would go berserk, as they always do, when faced with real danger. And more they oppress the common man greater would be their alienation.
In this connection it would be interesting to go through a wide-ranging interview of Mr Azad, spokesperson of the CPI(Maoist) Central Committee, which was reproduced in full in the Republic Day issue of Mainstream, 30 January 2010. His observation is entitled "Let us not make truth a casualty in this war" (pp 33-48 ibid). Among other comments, he said: "They should ask where is the law and order problem from the Maoists who had actually stopped illegal felling of forest trees, stopped the exploitation by forest officials, forest contractors, timber smugglers, bureaucrats, police officers, money lenders, non-Adivasi landlords who had taken over land against the provisions of the Indian Constitution? I wish to point out that people have increased their real income quite significantly after we took up struggle against exploitation... There is also a considerable people's movement for the preservation of forests and an improvement in agricultural productivity. Health conditions have significantly improved when compared to those existing a decade or two ago. We have set up basic medical facilities in the villages". A few independent visitors who had some access to these areas largely vouch for the veracity of these observations. The Naxal movement started in April 1967 in one state (West Bengal), in one district (Darjeeling) and in one police station area (Naxalbari). In November 2009, i.e., 42 years after it started, the Union home minister stated that Naxalism (Maoism) had spread to 23 states, 250 districts and over 2,000 police station areas. Though there are no firm official figures, guess-estimates indicate that the combined police budgets of the Centre and the states have increased by more than 600 times during this period. Only a statistician can say whether there is any significant co-relation between the increase in the police budget and spread of Naxalism. It raises an inconvenient issue regarding the efficacy of the use of the police force to contain Naxalism.
Let us now go back to the folk tale. The Sheriff of Nottingham failed to contain Robin Hood and his fellow outlaws. King Richard III ascended the throne of England. He thought he would try his hand at solving the issue. He went to Sherwood forest incognito with a few of his followers and sought the hospitality of Robin Hood. He had 100 pounds in a pouch. Robin and his men surrounded the King and his retinue and relieved him of his pouch. Then he counted the coins in the presence of the King and his followers. Thereafter he returned 50 pounds to the stranger telling him that as he seemed to be on a long journey he would require the money. With the other 50 pounds he organised a grand feast for the stranger and his own followers. That night the King slept under an oak tree on a bed of tender grass. Next morning the stranger disclosed who he was. Then he declared a general amnesty. He inducted Robin Hood and his four close followers into his Imperial Guard and appointed other "outlaws" as Rangers of the King's forests and protectors of his wild deer. That was the end of depredations by Robin Hood and his followers in the forests of Sherwood. Even a folk tale has a message. Would anyone be wise enough to comprehend it?
The writer is a former secretary to the Government of India
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
The Financial Statement submitted by Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson in the Imperial Legislative Council on Friday justifies the scepticism of those who thought that his estimates of last year were unduly sanguine. It will be seen that but for the wholly unexpected windfall from opium his anticipated surplus of 230,900 pound would have been converted into a deficit of over three quarters of a million sterling. As was pointed out at the time, it was an adventurous speculation on his part to reckon that the State Railways would in the year now ended yield 2,500,000 pound more than in the preceding year, disastrous though that had been. This criticism has been borne out by the actual results. Instead of the Railways giving a surplus of 1,529,000 as was hoped, they have provided the Finance Member with only 861,000 pound and there can be no doubt that even this sum has beenb obtained largely by dint of enforcing economies which have not been conducive to the efficient working of the railways. Customs have fallen short of the Budget estimate by 157,000 pound, and Excise will yield nearly a quarter of a million sterling less than was anticipated, partly, it is claimed, because an increase of duties has checked consumption and partly because this restraining influence has been supplemented "by very welcome movements in favour of temperance." In all these directions Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson displayed a confiding optimism last year, and has been disappointed. Land revenue is almost the only head of receipts which has given a more favourable yield than he ventured to calculate. The final issue of the revenue operations of the year has, however, been so pleasing that no one will be disposed to cavil at the combination of excessive estimates, under estimates, and, in the case of opium, pure luck, to which we owe the fact that the year has closed with a surplus larger than Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson had counted upon. It seems, however, to be hardly fair to credit the Finance Department with any special merit in respect of a happy deliverance which is almost entirely due to an unforeseen boom in opium.
WHERE HAVE COURTESIES GONE?
BEING COURTEOUS IS NOT DIFFICULT PROVIDED ONE SHUNS ARROGANCE, ASSUMES HUMILITY, AND LEARNS TO RESPECT THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS, INSISTS JAGMOHAN CHOPRA
Remember that scene from the film Mughal-e-Azam? A guard announces: "Ba Adab Ba Mulaiza Hoshiaaaar. Jille Elahi, Shan-e-Hind, Shahenshah Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar Padhar Rahe Heiiiin" and everyone in the court bows to pay respect to the most powerful Mughal emperor of all time. Would you call it courtesy on the part of those present in the court? Many may think so, but not me. Paying respect to someone responsible for your welfare is entirely different from doing so to someone in everyday life.
Courtesy means different things to different people. On one end of the spectrum are the two famous Lucknowi nawabs who miss their train saying "pehle aap", "pehle aap" to each other. On the other are scores of present-day youth, restless to the core, yelling into their mobiles, driving like hell, pushing, shoving, trampling people on the way, paying scant respect to the convenience of those around them. While travelling in the Tube in London not long ago, I was shocked to see seated men avoiding eye-contact with standing ladies, the elderly and the infirm to ensure themselves a comfortable ride back home. This behaviour on the part of men is common in most Indian cities, but seeing it in the capital of England took me by surprise and made me say to myself: "Where have courtesies gone?"
What are the most common kinds of courtesies? Where are they taught and by whom? Is courtesy limited to offering a seat or right of way to ladies or the elderly only? Why have common courtesies become uncommon?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines courtesy as polite behaviour or action. The four most common, but often forgotten, words that reflect polite behaviour are "please", "thank you", "sorry" and "excuse me". It is said the world would be so much a better place to live in if people added these words to their daily vocabulary. Similarly, the two most common actions that uphold courtesy are "smile" and "handshake." A smile has often been described as a curved line that can straighten many a problem, but how many of us use it? A handshake, on the other hand, conveys a lot about the feelings you have for the person you are shaking hands with. Holding someone's hand firmly conveys you are happy meeting the person you are with. But have you tried shaking hands with a know-all-be-all bureaucrat? You'll be lucky if he lets you hold three fingers ~ for, more often than not, all you will get to touch are one or two. Nobody taught them to act like that. Yet, it is their way of conveying a self-assumed superiority, the anti-thesis of courtesy.
Everyone has the right to talk. But shouldn't we give others a chance to talk too by listening to what they have to say? Everyone has the right to pray or party, but does the sound or music have to be at a volume fit for 1,000 people when only 100 are present, causing inconvenience to everyone around? How many times have you heard your elders say you must knock on the door before entering a room that is not yours. But do we do that? I am reminded of a colleague and friend, a blue-eyed boy of our boss, who once entered the boss' room without knocking, only to find him in an amorous situation with another colleague! Although he pretended he hadn't seen anything and bolted out of the room, that one knock he missed delivering on the boss' door, cost him his career.
Why don't people smile and exchange pleasantries like they used to, or when they do, why is it always in the middle of an aisle or road, often at others' inconvenience? A study of human behaviour blames TV, movies and the media which portray foul and rough behaviour as being "in" or "cool". Another study blames the aggressive attitude of our target-chasing, stressed-out youngsters, but I feel it has more to do with a person's upbringing or environment. Parents are more keen to bestow "knowledge" on their children rather than "virtue", or the art of "speaking well" rather than "doing well", although their offsprings' manners should be of greatest concern to them. A child whose parents are courteous towards others is most likely to show courtesy towards others. Likewise, a person who moves around in an environment where courtesy is the call of the day, is most likely to follow suit.
Being courteous is not difficult provided one shuns arrogance, assumes humility, and learns to respect the feelings of others at home, office, in the neighbourhood or on the road, irrespective of their age, sex or economic status. The key to being courteous is to put others before self. So, why wait till tomorrow? Why not start practising courtesy from today and make the world a better place to live in?
The writer is a freelance contributor
Reading the Economic Survey 2009-10 is akin to recalling Noam Chomsky's idea that optimism is a strategy for creating a better future. The survey said that double-digit economic growth is achievable in the next four years; the economic recovery in India from the slowdown following the global financial crisis has been broad-based, and is therefore on a sound footing. The finance ministry seems to have taken heart from recent data like the Central Statistical Organisation's advance estimates that put gross domestic product growth for 2009-10 at 7.2 per cent, signalling the return to pre-crisis levels of economic growth. So confident is the survey that it recommends the government begin a calibrated exit from the fiscal stimulus packages introduced as a response to the effects of the global crisis. The survey seems to have taken the possibility of achieving 9 per cent GDP growth as almost inevitable; given the circumstances, that attitude may be a little worrying. The road to serious fiscal consolidation is a hard and rocky one, and may prove to be a medium-term challenge meaning three or four years rather than a short-term one. While the seeming independence of the Indian economy from global conditions is cause for cheer, India is not an island but a peninsula that can still be buffeted by global shocks. The markets are still dependent on foreign capital inflows whose continuity in changing circumstances is not a sure bet.
GDP growth in the last few years has been driven strongly by the services sector, and that may well continue. But taxes from this sector are minuscule when compared to taxes from manufacturing. While manufacturing may have grown faster than services in 2009-10, that may not persist. And as the survey noted, investment growth is lower than GDP growth just now, so a larger quantum of indirect taxes may not materialize. The alternative is to reduce expenditure which will mean reduction of subsidies, an issue with political minefields. Thus, tax revenue growth, a necessity for improving fiscal health, is not likely to ramp up very soon. The survey also notes that export growth is fragile, and in all likelihood, net exports will be a negative number which will lower the GDP growth numbers too. Thus, the growth estimates need to be reviewed. Lots of people become pessimists from financing optimists.
HAND OF REFORM
The prime minister of India should not allow the holder of one of his most important ministries to become the object of ridicule. Yet, this is precisely what has happened to Mamata Banerjee, the minister of railways, after she presented her budget. There is ample evidence that she was allowed to give a free rein to her whims and fancies in the budget. Any form of prime ministerial intervention was conspicuous by its absence. It is not that the present prime minister does not intervene in the workings of other important ministries. He has left his indelible mark on Indian foreign policy by any reckoning the sacred preserve of the minister of external affairs by being the architect of the Indo-US nuclear deal. But he allowed the railways minister, responsible for an important portfolio in terms of the work the railways does, the employment it provides and the revenue it earns, to completely run amok. Manmohan Singh could not have been unaware of Ms Banerjee's propensities since her reputation preceded her. She need not have been given as critical a portfolio as the railways. The railways, in essence nothing more than a vast business enterprise, should not be left in the hands of a politician. It was open to Mr Singh to bring in a professional through the Rajya Sabha route to head the railways. This has been tried before with resounding success in the finance ministry.
Mr Singh should cast his reforming eye on not just the ministry of railways but also on all the various ministries that cover the various modes of transport road, shipping and civil aviation. There is no logic behind having so many ministries covering the various forms of transport. So many portfolios, in fact, only serve to create disparate vested interests. There exists a strong case for bringing them all under the general rubric of transport, for placing them under a professional reporting directly to the Prime Minister's Office. This will not only make for a more holistic transport policy but also guarantee that ministers do not play their own whimsical and populist cards. Mr Singh should also ensure that the person chosen to formulate transport is selected from a wide pool of talent, and not only from politicians. Mr Singh has radically altered the approach to economic and foreign policies. It is time he took steps to refashion other areas that still run to obsolete tunes and raise outmoded flags.
RECONCILING THE MAOISTS
MAOISM IS ONE OF THE FIVE MAJOR CHALLENGES FACING THE COUNTRY
POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
Soon after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was banned. This was in part because Gandhi's murderer, Nathuram Godse, had once been a member of the RSS; and in part because RSS leaders played a crucial role in the polarization of Hindu-Muslim relations that led to that tragic event. For over a year, the head of the RSS, M.S. Golwalkar, languished in jail. Finally, in July 1949, the organization was unbanned and the leader freed after it agreed to adhere to the Indian Constitution and eschew the use of violence.
This history is not entirely irrelevant to the policies the government of India may consider in its dealings with the Communist Party of India (Maoist). That party is at present banned; because it promotes armed struggle and refuses to recognize the Indian Constitution. As a consequence, the forests of central and eastern India have witnessed intense conflict between the Indian State and Maoist rebels. Shocking crimes have been committed by both sides, with the main victims being the tribals and poor peasants caught in the middle.
Now, the Maoist proposal of a 72-day ceasefire offers the (admittedly slender) hope of a temporary respite. The Maoists have demanded that their party be unbanned and their leaders under arrest released. It is hard to see how these conditions can be met unless the party lays down arms and accepts the Constitution. Since this is unlikely, the government may consider another precedent, which comes from its dealings with Naga insurgents. This keeps the question of the Constitution in abeyance, while promising safe passage to the leaders who are at large (in this case, in exile), allowing them to travel for talks with the Indian State.
In the short-term, the government of India might invoke the Naga model and follow the offer of a ceasefire by speaking to the Maoists. In the medium-term, it must look to the RSS model, whereby a group that once refused to recognize the Indian Constitution comes round to working within it. While in private some RSS leaders may still dream of a Hindu rashtra, in public they have accepted the legitimacy of the Indian State. In the same fashion, the Maoists must be persuaded, over a period of time, to give up their fantasy of a communist dictatorship, and work within the plural, multi-party, democratic process mandated by the Constitution of India.
In dealing with the Maoist problem, the government needs to focus on the here and now; on tomorrow; and on the years to come. For the rise of Maoism in recent decades is based on the deep discontent of our tribal communities. They were ignored in the colonial period, and have been oppressed in the decades since Independence. The national movement, under Gandhi's direction, worked hard to make Dalits, Muslims and women part of the mainstream. These efforts were not wholly successful. But the tribals were left out of the purview of the freedom struggle altogether. Since 1947, meanwhile, they have fared even worse than Dalits and Muslims in terms of access to education, healthcare and dignified employment. They have also suffered disproportionately from displacement, having to abandon their homes and lands for development projects that ultimately benefit Indians who are not themselves tribals.
The Maoists have taken advantage of this long historical experience of marginalization and exploitation. But they have been equally helped by the recent policies of state governments. Until about 10 years ago, there were virtually no Maoists in Orissa; but then that state chose to hand over tribal lands wholesale to mining companies. When the tribals protested, they were branded as 'Naxalites'; a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the fact of their displacement opened up a space for the Maoists to move into. The insurgents now have a considerable presence across several districts of highland Orissa.
In West Bengal, the growth of Naxalism has been helped by the politicization of the district administration. Superintendents of police and district magistrates are expected to consolidate the control of the ruling party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), rather than concern themselves with rural development or law and order. To make matters worse, the bhadralok culture of Bengali communism condescends to the tribals who have never been represented in the party's leadership, and, unlike Hindu or Muslim peasants, have never been the focus of targeted welfare schemes. In Jharkhand, meanwhile, local members of the legislative assembly and ministers have got themselves into the habit of regularly bribing the Maoists, thus emboldening them further.
The errors and crimes of other state governments pale into insignificance when compared to the misdemeanours of the Chhattisgarh government. In 2005, the state decided to arm a vigilante group called Salwa Judum to take on the Maoists. In a bizarre and deeply destructive example of bipartisanship, the Salwa Judum was jointly promoted by the Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister, Raman Singh, and the Congress leader of the Opposition, Mahendra Karma. Given open licence by the administration, the vigilantes embarked on looting, killing, burning, and raping villages and villagers they deemed to be sympathetic to the Naxalites.
As a consequence of this intensification of the conflict, almost 100,000 people were rendered homeless in Dantewada district alone. Between them, Raman Singh of the BJP and Mahendra Karma of the Congress have thus been responsible for displacing more people than the dams on the Narmada river. Far from controlling Naxalism, their policies have actually played into the hands of the adversary. In a recent interview, the Maoist spokesman, Azad, claimed that "thanks to Salwa Judum, our war has achieved in four years what it would have otherwise achieved in two decades".
In all these states, the tribal people have suffered in good part because they are a vulnerable minority. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were formed to protect the adivasi interest; yet the tribals in both states constitute only around 30 per cent of the population. In Orissa, the proportion is just over 20 per cent; in Gujarat and Rajasthan, under 15 per cent; in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal, less than 10 per cent. Everywhere, the tribals are outnumbered and outvoted by the non-tribal majority. The political disadvantage is compounded by a social and economic one everywhere, the non-tribals have more land, wealth, status, and influence. The levers of political power, of economic power, of the courts, and of the media, all lie outside the grasp of the tribal population. In all the states of the Union, and regardless of which party is in power, the policies of the government are overwhelmingly biased against the tribals.
The rise of Maoism is one of perhaps five major challenges facing the country (the others, in my view, are the continuing violence in Kashmir, Manipur and other border states, the corruption of our political class and of the State more generally, the growing inequality between the rich and the poor; and the rapid pace of environmental degradation). To tame and contain this challenge requires clear thinking and hard work. To begin with, one must put a stop to the cycle of violence and counter-violence, and facilitate talks between the State and the rebels. Next, one must work patiently to wean the Maoists away from the cult of the gun, thus to reconcile them with the rule of law and multi-party democracy. Finally, one must seriously attempt to renew public institutions and to frame better policies, so that tribals can come, at last, to enjoy the fruits of equal citizenship.
Like those other challenges, Maoism can only be overcome if our political parties work together rather than in rivalrous opposition. It is crucial that parties and leaders not be contained by the logic of the electoral cycle; rather, they should take a view that is at once short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Such visionary and selfless thinking may perhaps be too much to ask of the present generation of Indian politicians.
MOVE WITH CAUTION
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
Today, on February 26, we will be watching the budget being read out from the treasury benches of the Lok Sabha, and there will be the usual, frivolous interruptions followed by endless pontificating about the rights and wrongs of the many announcements. The Opposition is in disarray, and seems to have had its wings clipped for various reasons. Voices from those benches, meant to argue with the ruling dispensation, are usually more disruptive than serious. Faith in the processes of governance and in the political checks and balances that make for a robust and healthy democracy is at an all-time low with the national leaders bickering in public. They are clearly being pulled in different directions by a myriad motivations that have little to do with good, inclusive governance. The unpleasant odour of the rot around us has begun to infuse the public domain with an intensity that is suffocating.
Speculation is rife about why the minister of agriculture has set his guns on the minister of state for environment and forests. For a whole decade and more, our laws have been circumvented, abused and misused by powerful lobbies and business interests in many areas like road- building, power plants, mining and more. Irregularities have been tolerated, often blatantly condoned, using 'development' as an 'excuse'. This is a reality that has successfully managed to corrode and corrupt civil society. Our administrators and political class have set the standards for corruption and breakdown of law and order. When I reprimanded a scooterwallah for over-charging me for a short ride from the railway station to my home, he shamed me by saying, "why don't you start by telling them at the top to stop stealing and being dishonest, they need the extras less than me, and therefore, when they stop, so shall I." And, he is right. It is as simple as that. Lead from the front.
Today, we have a minister who has begun to follow the law while clearing applications for projects that are detrimental to all civilized environmental norms. We need to salute him for taking on the weighty lobbies and multinationals that have walked roughshod over every norm by means that are not kosher. Faulty judgements, substandard short-term solutions to large and critical problems, superficial assessments have all come together and destroyed our natural resources. We have permitted ourselves to be 'used' by powerful and wealthy nations as a market that could sustain and grow their multinationals at our cost. We have not learnt the lesson that we should have from the United States of America that 'we' shall do everything that is in the interest of our citizens. Here, what I mean by 'we' is India's ruling class, which looks after its personal gain only. This is the tragic story of modern India, a nation that is on a high-growth trajectory, led by an entrepreneurial people who are being consigned to a workspace that is anarchic and corrupt.
There is no problem with exercising caution while taking decisions and making policy that will affect millions of unsuspecting Indians. If stringent, independent tests are carried out before introducing pharmaceuticals into a market, why this desperate haste to "fast track" GM foods that will be consumed daily, unlike medicines that are taken occasionally? Sensible moratoriums are essential to think through issues before plunging into final decisions.
Jairam Ramesh needs the support of his party and his colleagues to enable him to cleanse a process that has been corroded over time. Surely we believe in restoring integrity in governance and in decision-making. Let us hand over a legacy that is on the path of renewal to the next generation of leaders.
'FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE DISABLED.'
The Central government's proposal to bring forward amendments to the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act) has failed to pass muster with organisations that represent the disabled and those that work for them. The main point of criticism is that the amendments do not make a departure from the present attitude and policy of treating disability as a disorder and a physical or mental shortcoming. The Disabilities Act of 1995 is an important legal document, where none existed, which sought to ensure that those with disabilities are not discriminated against and got their due in society. But it was only a first step and there is merit in the argument that some assumptions behind the Act need to be changed. The focus should be on the rights of the disabled and not what the society or the government does for them. It is not special consideration based on sympathy that the disabled need, but equality based on the idea that disability is a form of diversity.
India recently signed and ratified the UN Convention for Rights of Persons with Disability. The aim of the amendments is to make the Act compliant with the UN convention. In fact a number of other laws in other areas also need to be amended appropriately to bring them in conformity with the provisions of the convention. The 1995 Act had provided for reservation in jobs for the disabled and prescribed creation of facilities to make their life easier. The amendments are aimed to take the provisions forward, but mostly in procedural terms. Expeditious issue of a disability certificate, which is not easy to procure now, is good, but the amendments should go beyond them to more substantial issues.
Our society is not known for its sensitivity to the needs of the disabled. They constitute more than two per cent of the population. Treatment of the disabled is a measure of a society's civilised status. The government should consider the views of the organisations of the disabled before introducing the amendments. There is criticism that the government has gone back on its assurances to the organisations, and there is demand for a new bill as such, instead of amendments to the existing legislation. But legislation is the easier part. Effective implementation is much more difficult, and for that the society's mindset and attitudes also need to undergo a drastic change.
'DEMOCRACY IS IN JEOPARDY IN KARZAI'S AFGHANISTAN'
A decree giving Afghan President Hamid Karzai the power to appoint all five members of Afghanistan's electoral complaints commission (ECC) deals a big blow to the country's fledgling democracy. It enables Karzai to fill the election watchdog body with loyalists. It was this body that drew international attention to the widespread fraud in last year's presidential election, forcing Karzai into a runoff vote. Whether or not Karzai misuses power, democracy in Afghanistan is in jeopardy. The credibility of an election watchdog lies in it being a non-partisan, free from political control and manipulation. That principle has now been severely compromised. It does seem that Karzai is anxious to consolidate his control over the electoral process well ahead of parliamentary elections in September this year. A huge question mark stands against the legitimacy of his presidency thanks to widespread rigging of the presidential election. Will that be the fate of the parliamentary election as well? There is the likelihood of several parliamentarians owing their election to Karzai rather than the people. This could throw up a Parliament that is loyal to Karzai. But the decree is not just about Karzai's growing authoritarianism. It could stand in the way of free and fair elections from ever being held in Afghanistan.
As controversial as the contents of the decree is the way the President has put it in place. Parliament is in recess. While the constitution provides Parliament with 30 days to reject the decree, it does seem that the decree is a fait accompli. According to Article 109, proposals for amending election law cannot figure in the Parliament's agenda during the last year of its term. But constitutional experts are looking for loopholes to defeat the decree.
Hitherto, the ECC included three foreign experts appointed by the United Nations. That will now change. All five members will be Afghans and presidential appointees. Several western countries have protested the decree. While their concern over Karzai's 'power grab' is understandable, their suggestion that elimination of the foreign component in the ECC will compromise its fairness is ridiculous. The credibility of the ECC is determined by the integrity and impartiality of its members. Their nationality is irrelevant. Afghanistan is anxious to Afghanize its institutions and in that context making the ECC an all-Afghan body is not a bad idea.
SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL
THE BJP HAS DUPED THE COMMUNISTS TO BELIEVE THAT ITS AGENDA ON INDIA'S DEVELOPMENT IS SIMILAR TO THAT OF LEFT PARTIES.
BY KULDIP NAYAR
The Bhartiya Janata Party has triumphed in its tactics. It has emerged as the real opposition. After losing in the last parliamentary election it was keen to win over the Left which could give the BJP, an image of being a liberal in economic matters.
It has finally duped the communists to believe that its agenda on India's development was more or less what the Left is following. In fact, efforts to woo the communists began in the last session, but bore fruit only during the budget. Both found an understanding in their hurt.
This was visible in parliament when the BJP and the Left rose together in the two houses against the government on price rise, shouted in the same vein and walked out hand-in-hand on the first day of the budget session. It was more or less the same story on the subsequent days. Apparently, the two had met beforehand and consulted each other to finalise their strategy.
No doubt, the topic was the inept handling by the inept government of price rise and abnormal inflation. The BJP also brought in the India-Pakistan secretary-level talks into the discussion. Yet the Left did not realise that making a common cause with the party which has communal credentials may rub off on the secular ideology of the communists. It is not known what advantage the communists saw in diluting their identity with the known rightists. But the BJP leaders have already gone to town to propagate that the Left has come to their side.
When the vision gets blurred and when political parties think of their immediate gain, pluralist Indian nation has every right to be worried. It has seen the communists hugging the BJP members who swore at their Indore sitting a few days ago to the party's core agenda. The communists forgot to underscore any of these points during the debate and did not realise that their bonhomie cannot disguise the BJP's parochialism. There is no change in the party's agenda.
The BJP's appeal to the Muslims to allow the building of the temple at the site of the Babri masjid may have been worded differently but the content remains the same. The party should recall that it came to power only when it put aside its three-point agenda. In doing so, the BJP got the much-needed credibility to attract secular parties under a relatively moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee.
It looks as if the communists have let the BJP off the hook on communalism. Battering the government for its non-performance is justified but not sharing the platform with the party which has been taken over by the RSS openly. Surely, the communists, after the rout in the Lok Sabha election, have not strayed from their ideological moorings so much that they want support even from known communalists.
Unfortunately, a Muslim gathering, the National meet of Reservation Activists at Delhi, has given a handle to the BJP and the Shiv Sena by passing a resolution for reserving 10 per cent seats to Muslims. Even the banner put up at the back wall of the meet said: National Movement for Muslim Reservation. Understandably, the backwardness can be the criterion, not religion. Some high courts have already rejected religion to be the basis for reservation.
The constitution makes it obligatory for the government to address the problem of poverty and educational backwardness. The reservation activists should have concentrated on getting reservations without translating the demand in terms of Muslims. The RSS, the BJP's mentor, has begun propagating that reservation will lead to another partition and induce Hindus into embracing Islam and Christianity.
The Sachar committee
The Sachar committee on the plight of Muslims was correct in diagnosing the malady. It pointed out how the community had been denied its share in education, economic benefits and services on the basis of its population. However, the subsequent Ranganatha Mishra commission has recommended reservations for all minorities on the basis of religion.
India is a pluralistic society and it cherishes diversities in the name of religion, language and customs. The community consciousness which the reservation activists are trying to arouse may deliver a serious blow to pluralism. The same old question of separate identity will come to the fore when there should be only one identityIndian. The reservation for Muslims may open the Pandora's Box of communal and divisive politics.
Yet the 12 to 13 per cent of Muslims in the country should reflect their number in employment in government and private sectors. The community's share should also be tangible in the economic fields. There is no alternative to the affirmative action. The government has done little since the submission of the Sachar committee report two years ago.
However, mixing genuine aspirations of the Muslims with religion will be misdirecting the effort to find a remedy to the long-time neglect. The louder the reservation activists raise their voice, the more favourable will be the fallout for the BJP to exploit. The pluralistic India cannot afford it. Nor can the Muslims.
NEED TO MODERNISE ARMY COMMUNICATIONS
COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS WILL NEED TO PROVIDE REAL TIME TRANSMISSION OF IMAGES.
BY GURMEET KANWAL
It emerged during the recent Defexpo at New Delhi that India will spend US$ 50 billion (Rs 250,000 crore) over the next five years on defence acquisitions. However, most of this expenditure will be on weapons platforms like T-90S main battle tanks, 155mm artillery, fighter aircraft, ships and submarines and very little on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. In fact, the modernisation of tactical communication systems has lagged far behind that of weapons platforms, particularly in the Indian army.
While some modern frequency hopping radio sets with integral encryption devices have been introduced into service in recent years, networked communications, which form the backbone of an effective command and control system, need substantial upgradation. The existing Plan AREN system that is designed to roll forward and keep pace with offensive operations in the plains has been in service for almost three decades and is based on outdated and bulky technologies like second generation radio relay hubs.
Requests for Information (RFI) were floated for a Tactical Communication System (TCS) for offensive operations and a Battlefield Management System (BMS) for communication at the tactical level in defensive operations a few years ago, but since then the acquisition process has meandered continuously and this has resulted in prolonged delays in introducing both these systems into service.
Optical fibre network
The new optical fibre network being laid as an alternative to the 3G spectrum surrendered by the armed forces will go a long way in providing modern land-line communications. However, future communication systems will need to provide wide-band data capabilities to facilitate the real time transmission of images and battlefield video while on the move.
The BMS will be integrated with the Army Static Communications (ASCON) system, which is the backbone communication network of the army. ASCON provides voice and data links between static headquarters and those in peace-time locations. It is of modular design and can be upgraded.
TCS is a system that is meant for offensive operations - a mobile system that can 'leapfrog' forward as the operation progresses into enemy territory. The offensive operations echelons of the 'pivot' or 'holding' Corps deployed on the international boundary and the three Strike Corps will be equipped with TCS.
The Battlefield Management System (BMS) is meant for communications from the battalion headquarters forward to the companies and platoons. It will enable the Commanding Officer to enhance his situational awareness and command his battalion through a secure communications network with built-in redundancy.
Both TCS and BMS have been categorised as 'make' programmes by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister. This implies that the two systems must be designed and developed in India. The leading contenders are Bharat Electronics Limited, Tata Advanced Systems and Wipro, among others. Indian companies need to invest in developing the required technology and the ability to design and implement robust tactical communications systems.
MNCs with suitable technologies and the right experience to help as system integrators include General Dynamics, Thales and EADS. Indian companies planning to bid for these contracts must carefully evaluate the technological capabilities of these MNCs and how their systems have fared during recent combat operations, the type of experience they have in integrating tactical communications systems and whether they are likely to bring a long term commitment to the Indian projects.
TCS and BMS will need to be compatible systems and the MNC that can supply state-of-the-art technology for both the systems at competitive prices will have a clear edge. In fact, it will be prudent for the MoD to award both the contracts to the same Indian company so that communications compatibility can be ensured.
India must skilfully leverage its buyer's clout to ensure that each defence acquisition contract results in the transfer of cutting edge defence technology to Indian companies. This is necessary not only for communication systems but also for all other weapons and equipment so that the country's technological threshold is raised by an order of magnitude.
Future defence acquisitions must be firmly rooted in joint research and development with leading MNCs, joint trials and testing and joint manufacture and marketing. The patron-client, buyer-seller relationship in arms procurement in which India had been embroiled in the past must be consigned to history as a sorry chapter that is best forgotten.
(The writer is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)
GEEKS TOO HAVE FUN
MY MIND ZOOMED BACK TO THE TIMES, REDOLENT WITH MEMORIES OF COLLEGE DAYS.
BY MEERA SESHADRI
On meeting Anu, my friend's daughter, I gently ribbed, "Busy swotting? Do take some breather to breathe at least!" She was visibly nettled by my PJ, and riposted, "Why do people have this fallacy that we science students have less fun than students of arts and commerce?" Hearing this, my mind zoomed back to the times, redolent with memories of college days.
Yes, I too was once a pure science student and we too were blitzed by those banters. We had earned sobriquets such as 'geeks', 'nerds', 'padaakus', etc, since people thought we seldom chilled out. But in reality, we, a group of few gals, freaked out more than anyone. Whether we prepared well for the terminal exams or not, we planned well in advance the design of our outfits during every big festival. Always we'd scout for reasons to skive off classes, and would watch every flick that played on in nearby theatres.
If one juxtaposed the number of hours spent in class, with that spent outside during college hours, well, the latter outnumbered the former. Even while in the class, we'd indulge in whit of those escapades. I still remember in the chemistry lab, how we tampered with few chemicals, tinkered few apparatus, made few test-tubes warp out of shape, had few pipettes/burettes splintered into smithereens, with its shards strewn around, and caused small little explosions!
And in maths class, we'd draw endless hearts, with love arrows darting in and out of them. Indeed it was bliss when I was elected as class rep in my BSc, final year. For, I had more reasons to play truant on the pretext of partaking in plethora of college events. Right from cookery, essays to western dancing, we took part in all competitions and bagged umpteen prizes.
I recollect an amusing incident. Our rather podgy physics teacher had this proclivity to fall off from the podium, in her teaching exuberance. Some three times, she had slipped down with a thud. Once, when she had fallen in an unusually funny fashion, a girl, seated in last bench, had uncontrollably giggled. In the process, the girl had lost her balance and awkwardly fallen off backwards. This even more hilarious scene made me laugh loudly, with tears streaming down my eyes, which further infuriated the teacher. The miffed madam who couldn't be mollified, made me march out of the class.
Yes, science students too have rip-roaring fun. But on second note, wish I had studied harder. I could've done much better today. After all, there's nothing more valuable than the knowledge assimilated, and that teachers take ineffable pain to disseminate it. If only the lost moments are retrievable
WILL THE DUBAI HIT INCREASE ISRAEL'S GLOBAL ISOLATION?
These are the known facts: The Dubai police claim that 26 visitors entered and exited the emirate over the past year on false British, Irish, Australian, German and French passports. Some or all were involved in the assassination of senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who also entered Dubai under a false identity. The Dubai police chief has accused the Mossad of the January 19 hit. He has presented no proof, but more than half of the fake passports in Dubai bore the names of Israelis.
The European Union and the countries whose passports were counterfeited have criticized the misuse of their identity documents without mentioning the names of those responsible. French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed the assassination utterly unjustified - "nothing more than a murder." Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in Mabhouh's killing or in falsifying the documents, but former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz said that such actions attributed to Israel "deter terror organizations."
It is unclear whether terrorist groups are more deterred than in the past. What is clear is that the plot is thickening as more suspects are uncovered. If the claims of Israel's responsibility are correct, what appears to be cumulative damage is getting worse.
The main question pertains to the planning of the operation, or operations, in which the 26 holders of false passports were involved. It seems that the planners did not take into consideration Dubai's ability to cross-reference information from surveillance cameras in the airport, hotels and malls with computerized information from its passport control. Even if none of the suspected agents were caught in the act, clearly they will have difficulty taking part in similar actions in the future. It's also possible that the investigation will lead to the exposure of other suspects or other operations. A week before the hit on Mabhouh, a nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran, and Iranian leaders accused Israel.
The group that took out Mabhouh was exposed due to one weak point: the use of false passports from Western countries bearing the identities of real Israelis with dual citizenship. From now on, it will be much more difficult to use such passports, and all Israelis with dual passports will be suspected of being intelligence agents. There is no doubt that this revelation endangers, or at least complicates, other operations.
Did Mabhouh's assassination justify taking such a risk? Was there negligence or contempt for the adversary on the part of the planners, the commanders and those who approved the operation (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to foreign reports)? Were other operations compromised, that were even more essential than the killing of a Hamas weapons smuggler? Is criticism by countries whose passports were falsified just for the record, or will it limit operatives' freedom of action in other hits? Will the affair increase Israel's international isolation and present it once again as a lawless state?
If foreign reports are true about Israel's responsibility for the Mabhouh hit and the forged passports, then a thorough clarification is warranted, which can lead to conclusions about both organizations and individuals.
THE MASTER OF PYROMANIA
BY YOEL MARCUS
It's not clear what it is about Benjamin Netanyahu, who in both his terms as prime minister has gotten into trouble - or to be more precise, has gotten the country embroiled in incendiary issues. During his first term he triggered bloody riots all over the country as a result of opening the Western Wall tunnel ("the rock of our existence"). Now he has decided, under pressure from the right-wing forces in his government, to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb to the list of Jewish heritage preservation sites, thus enabling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Europe at the time, to warn that Israel is threatening to ignite a religious war.
Netanyahu's spokesman, Nir Hefetz, declared that "Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs are 3,500-year-old burial sites of the ancestors of the Jewish people. These sites are definitely worthy of renovation and preservation." Well said. But the question is, why did they remember this now? Now of all times - when Bibi has committed himself to two states for two peoples and the world is looking for ways to begin negotiations - he opens such a Pandora's box?
No wonder the settlers are demanding that the graves of Othniel Ben Kenaz and of Ruth the Moabite be added to the list of heritage sites. We can depend on our fanatics: Not much time will pass before they find other holy graves. There's method to the madness, and no shortage of real or imagined graves.
One of my friends said that since he first immigrated to Israel he has never felt as he does now that the country is being taken away from him. "It's a different country," he says. "Increasingly you hear the expression 'Jew' and less and less the expression 'Israeli'. Israel is going back to the pre-state period - days of fear, paranoia and psychosis, as though we're being threatened by another Holocaust."
Israel creates conflagrations over things that do not bring any real benefit - and not only when Bibi is in charge. The Jerusalem Law and the Golan Heights Law created tension in our relations with the United States. Since there will be no solutions without concessions, what is the point of tying our hands in advance? The world accepted with understanding the bombing of the nuclear plant in Iraq during the tenure of prime minister Menachem Begin. Without preliminary threats and warnings, the justice in the operation was understood.
But nobody understands an Israel that ties its own hands. After all, it's clear that if we reach a genuine peace agreement with Syria, we will have to come down from the Golan. Whether or not there is a law.
Some moves are destined to cause a calamity - for example, the permission granted by then-prime minister Ehud Barak to Ariel Sharon to ascend the Temple Mount, which brought the second intifada down on us. That is an instance of igniting fires over issues that do not bring any benefit.
Although Bibi has a stable government, and can fly all over the world with his wife Sara, and he hopes that next month, when he is the guest of honor at the AIPAC Policy Conference of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, he will be received for a conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama. But the problem is that the government's tone is set by Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. These two sectors, the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox, are working to destroy everything left of the statesmanship bequeathed to the country by its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Not a week goes by without proposals in the Knesset or the cabinet to change long-standing practices. Shas is working to strengthen the country's ultra-Orthodox connection. The Russian sector is working to strengthen our control over the territories. The Labor Party joined the coalition in order to moderate it, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak claiming that "if we aren't in the government, there is no country." Today that sounds like a joke. Labor in the coalition is unable to prevent even a draft bill or a declaration that contradicts Netanyahu's opinion.
In an article published by Labor MK Daniel Ben Simon on the Walla Web site, he describes how "in one day, not to say one hour, the Labor Party lost its soul. It entered this coalition in order to moderate it, and instead it is being swept up in the extremism that is spreading within and has become a part of it."
He was referring to three preliminary draft bills that were approved this week within the same hour: to compensate the settlers with billions of dollars for the construction freeze; to establish an institute honoring the legacy of the late right-wing MK Rehavam Ze'evi as befits a head of state, like Yad Ben Zvi (in memory of Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Israel's second president) et al; and a bill designed to reveal which parties fund the organizations that work to promote peace.
MK Einat Wilf, who replaced Ophir Pines-Paz after he resigned, declared that the merry days of the left are over, and the time has come for Labor to raise the flag of Zionist and Jewish pride. "We are not part of the lunatic left," she announced. Labor is being dragged into an ultra-Orthodox religious right-wing whirlpool, the likes of which we haven't seen since the establishment of the state. The partnership between Barak and Bibi is causing an upheaval in the Israeli way of life. We have returned to the days of "the whole world is against us."
Instead of being preoccupied with the important matters, we are preoccupied with things that lead nowhere. We are scattering lit matches that are starting fires that damage Israel's international standing, both on the Iranian issue and on peace issues. Bibi has remained the same Bibi, the master of pyromania.
THE FAT MAN WILL GET FATTER AND THE THIN MAN WILL COLLAPSE
BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
The finance minister has seen the light. After a year on the job, he has reached the conclusion that everything done before him in the area of economics is no longer appropriate for our times. That's why we have to change direction and stop these petty discussions about cutting the budget, streamlining the ministries, reducing expenses and reforming the government. From now on, the motto is: Government expenditures must be increased, because "fat" is beautiful.
The finance minister thinks this is bad enough, but Budget Director Udi Nissan is of exactly the same opinion. He has completely forgotten that his real job is to be the bad-guy treasurer, the one who doesn't give a cent and doesn't distribute a single drop. Suddenly, even Nissan has become the good guy who wants to increase spending in order to solve problems. He even knows exactly where to increase the budget and by how much - which is the diametric opposite of his job.
Nissan and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are calling this entire dangerous change a "revolution." But the truth is that it isn't a "revolution" at all. It's simply a populist increase in spending. It's not even new. Years ago, there were also politicians and economists in the public sector who pushed to increase budget expenditures.
The Bank of Israel's research department is a good example. There are economists in that department who know how to say only one thing: give, give and give again. Because anyone who receives an exorbitant and infuriating salary cannot demand cuts of anyone else.
Ministers and MKs also want more. They want to have something to distribute.
But always, ever since 1985, the treasury's budget division stood firm as a rock in the face of all these pressures and managed to subdue those who wanted to harm the economy. Until now. Because now, even Nissan has jumped on the bandwagon. He, too, wants to increase government spending.
For the past 25 years, we had a courageous budget division that waged a tough battle to reduce the government's share of the economy. That is how we managed to get the "fat man" (the public sector) to go on a strict diet that improved its health. But let there be no mistake: It is still seriously overweight.
That is also how the "thin man" (the private sector) was able to grow and develop. That is how the Israeli economy grew stronger and succeeded in surviving serious crises while at the same time raising Israelis' standard of living. That is how we survived the most recent global crisis with a minimum amount of pain.
But now, the skies are darkening. Everything learned in the past 25 years has been thrown into the trash bin. Now Steinitz and Nissan are trying to rewrite the economics textbooks, with nobody to stand up to them and shout: The emperor has no clothes!
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself was the one who set the rule (in the 2004 budget) that the budget should grow by no more than 1 percent. After him came prime minister Ehud Olmert, who raised the rate to 1.7 percent annually. But that was still reasonable, because it matched the rate of population growth.
But this does not satisfy Steinitz and Nissan. They want another NIS 2.5 billion to waste, and for that purpose they have invented a truly absurd "professional" formula, whose only aim is to increase the growth in spending from 1.7 percent to 2.6 percent, in order to achieve the goal: another NIS 2.5 billion.
It's quite sad to hear Nissan say that we have arrived at our destination, because public expenditure is now down to 42 percent of total spending, and is supposed to drop to 40 percent (which is the "Western average") within three years. But since when do we want to be "average"? Does Nissan want our pilots to be "average"? Does he want our high-tech to be "average"? Why doesn't he aspire to have the economy be excellent rather than "average"?
Nissan and Steinitz claim that without increasing spending, the quality of public service will suffer. They apparently think we are total idiots. After all, they themselves talk about the egregious waste in the defense budget, the superfluous administrative levels in the Education Ministry, the money being wasted on the new railway plan, the corrupt salaries in the Bank of Israel, the surplus of manpower in government ministries, and so on and so forth. If they know that the government is wasteful, that means the problem is not a shortage of money but poor use of it. So why throw out more billions?
Nissan does not deny that there are large islands of inefficiency in the government. He even says that he spends 90 percent of his time dealing with these islands. So why isn't he shouting all day long about this one issue, instead of talking about additions to the budget?
It's also sad to see the political naivete of Steinitz and Nissan. They think that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and all the other good guys will now applaud and say: That is how things should be done. But in reality, it's clear that the NIS 2.5 billion will now become the new minimum, and the battle for another increase will begin from there.
The serious crises now plaguing Iceland, Greece, Spain and Portugal stem from governments that wanted to be good guys. All they wanted was to increase spending a little, to be good to the people, to be "average." Until the crisis came.
Doesn't Greece's fate frighten Nissan, Steinitz and Netanyahu?
EVERY DAY IS PURIM
BY DORON ROSENBLUM
The Israeli viewers of the excellent American television series, "The Sopranos," were met with a bleak surprise near its end - in trying to escape from a deep depression, the son of the head of the crime family feels even worse after learning for the first time, in college, about the Middle East and the two nations (the Palestinians and the Israelis) apparently fighting there forever. Each side talks about the holiness of the land and the edict of God, with neither side prepared to yield; therefore there is neither an end to, nor hope for, this conflict. It is evident that even the Mafioso world, with its murderous vendettas, pales in comparison to our region - so devoid of hope and redemption.
If someone viewing our situation from afar, especially from New Jersey, gets so depressed, just imagine the depths of melancholy the two wretched nations should sink to; the abyss of desperation we should have been thrown into by the winning political concept - the almost official one (at least as expressed this week by our foreign minister) that this is a never-ending, religious and built-in conflict - and all that is left to do is "conduct it." And conduct it with enjoyment.
Despair? Depression? Sorrow? There is nothing further from the Israel of today. On the contrary. The final farewell to any hopes for peace also includes large and small celebrations, as witnessed in the strange euphoria that has swept across the Israeli street and media following Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's assassination in Dubai. It seems "Shoshanat Yaakov" (the "Rose of Jacob," referring to the events of Purim in Shushan) has not been sung with such enthusiasm since Haman and his sons were hanged - or at least since the Entebbe rescue mission. Even the "families" in New Jersey do not express as much glee when someone is liquidated, nor do they wallow in such enjoyment, day after day, as they describe every minute detail of the event.
It is indeed doubtful that anyone on the street or in the media had ever heard of this same al-Mabhouh when he was alive; and it is even more doubtful whether his assassination furthered our interests in the region or in the world by even a millimeter. However, as the poet said, "the joy of the poor knocked on the door," a kind of joy that instead reveals wretchedness and a lack of expectations - a country that has already despaired of existential or realistic tidings and finds consolation, even entertainment, only in "operational" episodes and legends, as if it were living out an eternal national childhood.
The celebrations around the liquidation should not surprise us; they are part of a general reactionary, and somewhat infantile, wave which the current Israeli government, inspired by its leader, has been conducting. In the attempt to avoid making real decisions, and to divert attention, official Israel behaves as if our lives were a presentation in a kindergarten belonging to the religious Zionist stream - including games in which we are "not on speaking terms" with the entire world; attempts to inculcate a heritage that is nothing more than yearning for some Land of Israel Judaism (as opposed to Israeli identity), in which Tel Hai and Rachel's Tomb get confused; and the emergency revival of some kind of archaic "information" campaign, which acts as if Israel's greatest problem is that it has the image of being a backward desert country where people ride camels.
Is this really our image problem right now? Camels? Not our being an anomaly devoid of borders and identity, even after 60 years of independence? Not our being a nation losing the very legitimacy for its existence in world public opinion by ruling over another nation? By foregoing a definition of itself as secular? By putting the keys to its fate in the hands of theocratic settlers?
Here and there, some rare visitor will still arrive, in an ever more limp attempt to push something forward in the region - to save Israel from itself - and then he leaves insulted and disparaged. How can he help when the leaders in the region seem to have washed their hands of dealing with their own problem? From their point of view, let it go on bleeding. As long as the blood is not spilled too publicly, it can be ignored and other matters can be dealt with - beginning with the reforms to close balconies and renovate tombstones, and ending with the issue of housekeepers. And if the blood is spilled far away, we can even rejoice and be merry. How does the old Purim song go? "Lend a shoulder, close your eyes / It is Purim and we can forget everything." And no longer just once a year but, as the hope is expressed in another Purim song, twice a week
IT'S A LONG ROAD TO A MODEL SOCIETY
For many years, the religious public denied that there were problems of sexual harassment or assault in its midst. When such problems were revealed, the rabbis - generally with the public's consent - turned a blind eye toward colleagues who had behaved improperly. Then the Takana forum came into being, took the bull by the horns and, "in view of the many cases of sexual harassment and assault in every segment of the population," began introducing rules aimed at "heads of institutions, principals, educators, rabbis with educational positions and community rabbis in their personal relations with students, pupils, girls doing national service and men and women who belong to the community of the person with authority."
The men and, particularly, the women behind the initiative, who pushed to set up the forum, deserve esteem. Appreciation should also go to those rabbis on the forum who were among the deniers in the past: They understood that they made a mistake, and now their work with Takana grants the organization a significant part of its authority, without which it would not be obeyed.
Now that Takana has shaken up the national religious public and led to a profound self-examination among its members, the time is ripe to expand the rules and set appropriate norms of conduct for rabbis in additional spheres. The regulations must stipulate, for example, that a rabbi who has not been authorized to provide family counseling must not do so, even if he is asked to do so. Nor should he give advice on prenuptial affairs, except with regard to issues of Jewish law (halakha). Among many heads of yeshivas and girls' schools, this boundary is blurred.
Rabbis should be even more stringently forbidden to give advice in the very sensitive area of sexual identity, unless this is actually their profession. The members of Takana must make it clear to the rabbinical community that only people with professional training can deal with this - not spiritual or religious leaders who lack the necessary training. That has to be the rule even when a rabbi who lacks the required professional training is trying to help with the best of intentions - as is usually the case.
There are many reasons why religious Zionist rabbis intervene in areas that are not their affair. One is that a specific public, which does not have other leadership, is constantly knocking at their doors and asking them for guidance about both private and public affairs, just like the ultra-Orthodox do. Most rabbis restrict their guidance to the sphere of halakha alone. But the feeling of power that a self-abnegating public has given these rabbis causes some to cross the line into spheres that are none of their business - especially with regard to public affairs.
Therefore, even if these deviations do not approach criminal acts, clear and binding regulations must be issued about what is permitted and what is forbidden (and in particular, what is desirable and what is not) for rabbis to do. There is a reason why Takana's regulations do not say anything against nepotism, for example, which quite a few rabbis view as the norm rather than a fault. It is not unusual for heads of yeshivas and religious academies to employ family members in their institutions, and in some cases, they even "bequeath" these institutions to their offspring. Indeed, some members of Takana ought to do some personal soul-searching on this issue.
Disregard for the norms of a civilized society is leading to a process of stagnation in quite a few of religious Zionism's religious, communal and educational institutions. Many yeshiva heads and community rabbis have held their positions for decades. The result is that magnificent institutions, including some of the incubators of the religious Zionist revolution, are atrophying and are even on the brink of closure. It is easy to imagine what the situation would be like today in the Israel Defense Forces, the security services, the universities, the hospitals, commercial enterprises - the entire state of Israel - were those who head them ("who are irreplaceable") glued to their posts like the rabbis are. It is also possible to point to other areas in which it is essential for religious Zionist rabbis to extricate themselves from the inappropriate norms they have adopted.
Codes regarding sexual harassment and assault are therefore just the start of the process. If they are followed by additional corrections in other areas, they may prevent atrophy and stagnation among religious Zionism's spiritual leadership (it barely has any political leadership).
Slowing down the rush toward an ultra-Orthodox way of life and bringing the wagon back to the main road that religious Zionists have historically traveled are essential to cure this public of the defects that have taken hold of it, and to which it clings. Only if it is able to shake off their grasp and free itself will it regain the fortitude that characterized it until recently. Then, when its identity and balance have been restored, it will be able to march with its head held high along the path that leads to the objective it so badly wants - and deserves - to reach: a model society that fulfills Jewish, Zionist and universal ideals.
WITH AHMADINEJAD'S FINGER ON THE TRIGGER
BY ELY KARMON
In recent weeks, top officials in Syria and Lebanon, and the head of Hezbollah, have warned that Israel is preparing to attack them. The declarations have been greeted by denials from Jerusalem, but the atmosphere remains tense, and the Arab leaders have guaranteed Israel a "total" war in response, as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem put it.
In fact, I would suggest that we are witnessing the results of a deliberate decision by the Iranian leadership to provoke Israel into attacking Hezbollah. Such an attack would mean launching a war on Lebanon, and if Iran has its way, it would involve Syria, and destabilize the entire Middle East.
Iran's strategic goal is to trigger a war before it becomes the object of any serious sanctions at the UN Security Council, and before Israel or the United States decides to launch a military operation against its nuclear facilities.
This is a move that Iran and its allies have been preparing for some time. Hezbollah is stronger today than it was before the Second Lebanon War, in 2006: It now possesses some 40,000 rockets and missiles capable of hitting Israel's northern industrial area, Tel Aviv and the northern Negev. In addition, in recent weeks, Hezbollah has deployed advanced Syrian-made missiles on Lebanese territory.
The new Lebanese government is again dominated by Syria. It has accepted the strategy of the "resistance" and feels empowered by Hezbollah's military might.
Syria has changed its traditional strategy of acting against Israel by proxy, and it too is ready to take the risk of a direct military confrontation, possibly with Iranian support. Foreign Minister Moallem, in comments early this month, called on Israel to "stop launching threats" against Gaza, southern Lebanon, Iran and Syria, and threatened that "war will be all-out, whether it hits south Lebanon or Syria." According to a report in the Qatari daily Al-Watan, "a strategic decision has been taken not to allow Israel to defeat the resistance movements."
One of Syria's goals could be to exact revenge for Israel's September 2007 air attack on its nuclear reactor. Damascus has had substantial success in reducing its diplomatic isolation, without making concessions in terms of its regional alignments or behavior. This may have emboldened the regime.
As for Hamas, Israeli defense sources report that Iran has supplied the Islamic resistance movement in Gaza with missiles capable of striking Tel Aviv, and that Hamas has recently tested them. This development could also embolden the organization's leadership to strike at Israeli targets in case of a regional war.
According to an op-ed in the Gulf News by Sami Moubayed, editor-in-chief of Damascus' regime-sanctioned Forward Magazine, Iran would not mind another war in Lebanon. There are certain radicals within Iran who are not pleased about the so-called "Lebanonization" of Hezbollah, which now plays an active role in national politics. They are "convinced that Hezbollah can strike back at Israel, surviving a war just as it did in 2006, inflicting maximal damage on Israeli cities and infrastructure." These people believe Hezbollah would do well enough in a confrontation that the international community would think twice before pushing for another one with the organization - or, at a later stage, with Iran itself.
By this thinking, the United States, after the financial crisis and under the Obama administration, is weak and hesitant. According to Nasrallah, in a recent speech, "the failures of the [United States] ... have led to a corrosion in the reverence with which the United States is viewed in the world, and to a strategic decline in the ability of the United States to take action, or to embark on new adventures."
Finally, there is a growing effort to delegitimize Israel internationally, following the army operation in Gaza last year.
The trigger to war would likely be Hezbollah provocations: The Islamic organization blames Israel for the assassination of its military/terrorist commander, Imad Mughniyeh, in February 2008, and still promises revenge.
Its deputy secretary-general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said of late that avenging Mughniyeh's death was "the least Hezbollah could do."
A deployment of sophisticated anti-aircraft systems by Hezbollah would also constitute a casus belli for Israel.
In either case, Israel would be compelled to respond, not just against Hezbollah but against Lebanon generally, with the consequences being the promised Syrian intervention and regional expansion of the conflict.
In a replay on a much larger scale of the Gaza events of June 2006 and the Second Lebanon War that followed, Iran would probably not intervene directly, but it could be expected to back terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets, to provide weapons support and financial and economic aid to its allies, as well as the promise of massive participation in subsequent reconstruction.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to visit Damascus on February 25 for talks with Bashar Assad, supposedly to receive Damascus' help to engage in a "constructive" dialogue with the West over Tehran's contested nuclear program. In fact, Arab media were anticipating a meeting between Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, senior leaders of the Lebanese opposition forces and Hamas' Khaled Meshal. Such a meeting, said one press report, would serve as a clear message of "Iran's support to them in the event of any Israeli aggression."
It is reasonable to assume that Ahmadinejad's trip was actually intended to coordinate with Iran's regional allies the planned attack on Israel.
Dr. Ely Karmon is senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and senior fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
SOMETHING ELSE TO BE PROUD OF
BY ELI VALLEY
Birthright Diaspora, a global initiative to provide Jews with immersion experiences in far-flung Jewish communities, will make Jews proud again.
It sounds strange, doesn't it? For one thing, despite the proclamations of Jewish fund-raisers and Israeli political and cultural leaders, most Jews in the Diaspora are not living on the brink of physical, spiritual or cultural devastation. Secondly, to associate Diaspora experiences with "pride" is to break one of the major taboos of modern Jewish education. Israel is the pinnacle of pride; Diaspora is the domain of destruction. That's why education about the Diaspora designed for 15-year-olds has encouraged, in the words of one role-playing game created by the Jewish Agency, enactments of "discrimination, persecution, forced conversion, outmarriage, assimilation, [and] (im)migration" so that "the message of a diminishing Jewish world and Israel as the only country with a growing Jewish population should be apparent."
Even Birthright Israel, for all its enormous accomplishments as an immersion-based educational vehicle, suggests in its literature a binary notion of Jewish history and identity: "Israel made Jews proud . . . [it] represents the ideological revolution in which Jews became the 'subjects' of history rather than the 'objects.'"
And yet, as it turns out, more than a few Jews have been proud actors on the historical stage in the last 2,000 years. It's time to expand our notions of positive Jewish identity and at long last move beyond an ideology that fretfully masquerades self-hatred as Jewish empowerment. By digging through centuries of Jewish life, Birthright Diaspora will help transform Jewish self-awareness and break the dichotomy of "hero" and "victim" that has handicapped internal Jewish intellectual inquiry for decades. The goal is not merely widespread experiences in Jewish communities around the world, but a renewed understanding of Diaspora as a birthright that underlies roots of Jewish consciousness. If implemented effectively, Birthright Diaspora can lead to an existential transformation in the way Jews and Israelis view themselves and the world.
The program is not meant to replace Birthright Israel, but rather to exist in tandem as a supplementary option for Jewish education and identity enrichment for young adults. Although there are currently a number of Jewish educational programs in the Diaspora, many of these perpetuate long-standing ideologies, either by focusing on death and destruction or by positioning Israeli or American visitors as spiritual or economic "rescuers" of the locals.
Birthright Diaspora will have a different focus: immersion experiences in which the visitors both learn from, and share with, the local Jewish populations. Participants as well as destinations will be selected by lottery. To ensure geographic diversity, destinations will be at least 1,000 miles away from the respective participant's place of birth or current residence. Just as Birthright Israel does not allow trips to be run by Jews for Jesus or Jews for Hezbollah, Birthright Diaspora will not permit the trips to become necrophiliac surveys of Diaspora doom.
Finally, Birthright Diaspora's success will hinge on the participation of young Israeli adults in Jewish communities around the world. This participation will serve to emphasize Jewish solidarity and the equality of all Jewish communities, including Israel; to reorient an education system skewed by assumptions of geographic supremacy; and to educate young Israelis about worldwide Jewish life, as participants and observers rather than as emissaries, shepherds or eulogists. A massive advertising campaign will be employed to educate Israelis that the Diaspora is their birthright; hopefully the trips will become a part of Israel's education system.
Imagine the possibilities of Israelis learning about Jewish life in countries that have rights enshrined in constitutions; in societies that protect the freedom of religion and the integrity of the state by scrupulously separating the two; or in nations that guard the democratic and human rights of citizens and non-citizens.
The benefits do not end there. Birthright Diaspora will also help inculcate a sense of global citizenship among Israelis by teaching them about the history of Diaspora Jewish involvement in the larger world. After all, one paradox of modern Zionism is that we are told that Israel has freed us from the shackles of the ghetto, both physically and, crucially, mentally. And yet, some of Israel's most vociferous advocates today claim that Israel has become "the 'Jew' among the states of the world." Clearly, the ghetto mentality has not disappeared; it has merely transposed itself into a national identity. Hopefully, Birthright Diaspora will alter this construct by helping Israel break out of its walls.
It may seem like the absolute height of arrogance for an American to suggest that Israel implement a system of education with an eye toward social engineering. For the past six decades, it's been a one-way street of Zionist education with an eye toward social engineering in the Diaspora. This has never been called "arrogant" but, rather, "the status quo." But it's time, for the sake of all of us, to change the paradigm. If Birthright Diaspora helps institute new ways of thinking in Israel, maybe it can help lead to an end to Israel's isolation and, who knows, perhaps even a road toward peace between Israel and its neighbors. If this happens, Birthright Diaspora has the potential to be the most Zionist innovation since the first Israeli borrowed felafel from the Egyptians.
Eli Valley's comics appear monthly in The Forward. He is also the author of "The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe." "Birthright Diaspora" appeared as part of the "28 Days, 21 Ideas" project.
SECRET, AND SHAMEFUL, TIES
BY DANIELLA PELED
LONDON - The last time it was revealed that Israeli agents were using British passports, in 1987, Margaret Thatcher put her iron foot down. There was no intelligence exchange between the countries for a decade, and no Mossad station in London until its reestablishment here only a couple of years ago.
This time, with no one really doubting that Israel was behind the Dubai assassination of Hamas arms dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, or that Mossad agents used fake passports from the United Kingdom and other states - Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been compelled, reluctantly, to express diplomatic indignation. Even initially sympathetic media outlets became outraged in their tone over last week's passport scandal, and since it is election season, the Conservative party leader, David Cameron, seized on the episode as a handy stick with which to beat Brown and his government.
Thus the Israeli ambassador was called in to provide explanations at the Foreign Office. Obviously, Ron Prosor had none to give, and the meeting was brief, though still, it should be said, convivial. No threats were leveled, apparently. There is still a long way to go down the carefully graded list of diplomatic demarche before anything serious will happen to bilateral relations.
Similarly, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's 45-minute meeting with his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman in Brussels this week was just for show. The British don't take Lieberman seriously and have never asked to speak to him on any matter of genuine importance.
Of course, if further evidence of Israel's involvement in Dubai is uncovered, Jerusalem might have to own up discreetly, perhaps provide a few operational details. Some cooperation with the investigations of the Serious Organized Crime Agency and the Metropolitan Police might help placate Whitehall. A reprimand by the British government might follow, or a member of Israel's London embassy staff could agree to be made a scapegoat. But these are all diplomatic niceties, distractions from the real business afoot.
Mabhouh's absence may slow down arms shipments from Iran to Gaza, but the fallout from his assassination could make it harder for Israel to confront the much more serious Iranian threat. The worst-case scenario now is for bilateral intelligence-sharing to be suspended.
While the UK relies on Israel for much of its intelligence on Iran, not to mention other areas of interest in the Middle East, Israel also needs Britain on its side with respect to Iran, particularly because of its role in the European Union. With Russia and China blocking any serious action from the UN, Israel needs an EU initiative if sanctions are really to hurt Tehran. And Britain is both a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the EU 3+3 on the Iran issue, sharing that distinction only with France.
Yet Israel-Britain relations have not been at their warmest for the last year or two. For all Brown's repetitions of how he learned to love Zionism at his preacher-father's knee, bilateral links are not as close as under Tony Blair. Partly to blame for this were last year's Gaza incursion and the Goldstone report, which the UK declined to oppose in the United Nations; the requirement to label settlement-produced goods as such in the UK; and, of course, the attempted arrests of senior Israeli figures on war crimes charges.
As murky as this whole spy story has been, one thing is clear: The passports scandal has finished off any amendment to the law on universal jurisdiction, which is what allowed arrest warrants to be issued in the UK for alleged war crimes committed elsewhere. Theoretically, the necessary change in the law has the support of a majority in the House of Commons, including the shadow cabinet and most Labor MPs. But Brown is not going to risk a rebellion so close to the polls after such a public scandal.
"Israel has put the death of one Hamas guy over its relations with the UK," complained one pro-Israel lobbyist. "Why should the government stick its neck out for Israel when it's just done this?"
Even Israel's staunchest allies in Parliament are livid. "If it was Israel, it was outrageous," fumed MP Mike Gapes, a long-time member of Labor Friends of Israel and, perhaps more significantly, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The illicit use of foreign passports, he said, "is one of the most appalling things another government can do. Our citizens around the world face the risk of being associated with an organization
of criminal activity and murder."
For certain parts of the British establishment, open ties with Israel have always been awkward. One senior intelligence adviser tells of how he could not meet his Israeli counterparts at his office as it was frowned upon by his superiors, and was thus expected to receive intelligence from the Israelis in the backrooms of pubs and restaurants.
For now, Israeli diplomats in London can afford to be sanguine. But while the secret ties will remain strong, they will remain just that - secret, even shameful.
Israelis tire of being compared with apartheid South Africa, but they should remember that Britain once had clandestine intelligence-sharing links with Pretoria as well. That didn't make South African leaders welcome in London, even without the threat of arrest hanging over them. Jerusalem should be wary of becoming another dirty secret.
Daniella Peled is editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
A BELATED VICTORY
BY CLIVE BALDWIN
Late last year the European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark ruling that will make a huge difference in the lives of Jews and other minorities in Bosnia. The Strasbourg-based court issues hundreds of binding judgments each year. On December 22, its Grand (highest) Chamber ruled that the Bosnian political system, which excludes Jews, Roma and other minority groups from competing for the presidency or the upper house of parliament, is discriminatory.
I represented Jakob Finci, one of the two people who brought the case in 2006. He is a leading member of the small Jewish community of Bosnia, whose ancestors came to that part of Europe centuries ago after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. The Jews of Sarajevo subsequently survived various regimes, suffering systematic discrimination, or worse. Finci was born in 1943 in a transit camp for Jews on an island in the Adriatic Sea; his parents, from Sarajevo, had been deported there during the German and Italian occupation. Shortly after Jakob's birth, the family managed to escape to Allied-occupied southern Italy, and thus were spared the gas chamber.
Finci returned with his family to Bosnia after the war and trained as a lawyer. He has had a distinguished career in public life and is today the Bosnian ambassador to Switzerland. But until now, his ethnicity and religion have prevented him from seeking election to the highest offices of state.
Like Finci's family, many members of Bosnia's Jewish community returned after the war, as did the Roma, who also suffered during the Holocaust. Initially, under communist rule in what was then Yugoslavia, Jews and Roma were guaranteed equal rights. During the 1990s, when the country's civil war pitted Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosnians against each other, smaller communities like the Jews tried to maintain neutrality. Finci, in particular, took on the very dangerous work of crossing the front lines to bring relief to civilians. In 1995, with the help of the foreign powers, the war was brought to an end in the Dayton Process. International diplomats with expertise in dealing with ethnic conflicts designed a constitution that would ensure that such a war would never again take place.
The result? By dividing up political power among the three main groups that fought the war, the new constitution ended up relegating other communities, including the Jews and Roma, to second-class status, and explicitly prevented them from standing for the presidency or the upper house of parliament.
You might have thought such blatant discrimination would be quickly nipped in the bud, especially as the internationals were overseeing the governing of Bosnia, which has recently begun the process of being accepted for EU membership. But you would be wrong: After 14 years, the Jews and Roma are still classified as "others," and thus still excluded from those posts. Reform depends on Bosnian politicians who were elected under the existing system, and not surprisingly, seem to be in no hurry for change.
While the constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination, it excludes from full political participation not just the Jews and Roma, but those of mixed background, those who do not want to declare themselves members of any group, and even members of the majority communities who live in the "wrong" part of Bosnia. For example, a Muslim from Srebrenica who survived the genocide that took place there in 1995 cannot run for the presidency, as Srebrenica is now in the "Serb" part of Bosnia, where only members of that ethnic group are allowed to stand for that office.
Such rigid "power-sharing" was tried, with disastrous results, in Lebanon and Cyprus in the last century. But this time it was supposed to be different, with an international overseer, the High Representative, appointed to manage Bosnia's transition to democracy and the rule of law. The "international community" - the key Western European states, the United States, Canada, Japan and Turkey - have played a major role in Bosnia, and were supposed to guarantee human rights.
Nonetheless, serious attempts to change the constitution only began in 2005 and have so far not produced any change. The key international powers have discussed streamlining the political system and unifying the state, but they have not even tried to end the formal exclusion of Jews and other minorities.
Instead, it was the European Court that pointed out what should have been obvious in 1995: that formal exclusion of people from politics due to their religion or ethnicity has no place in today's Europe. The power of this court lies in the fact that states comply with its ruling. Bosnia defended its discriminatory electoral system before the court, but now accepts that it has to change its constitution and electoral rules before the next elections, in October 2010. But one hopes that those entrusted with making peace in other ethnic conflicts will learn the lessons, too: That when recreating societies after war, none of their parts should be excluded. Human rights should not be put on hold.
Meanwhile, 14 years after the end of the Bosnian war, Mr. Finci will finally be able to stand for the highest offices of his country.
Clive Baldwin represented Jakob Finci for Minority Rights Group International and is now a lawyer for Human Rights Watch.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
The world might be saved: It looks as if the Hummer is destined for the junkyard. The plan by General Motors to sell the muscular brand to a Chinese company went up in a puff of exhaust smoke on Wednesday after government officials in China said that they had never received the necessary application for approval and thus couldn't grant it.
We suspect the deal collapsed because the Chinese Communist Party which rarely shows much shame is worried about China's image as the most polluting nation on the planet. If true, that is good news.
There may be other good news. While some policy analysts have called sensibly, in our opinion for steeper gasoline taxes to encourage American drivers to embrace fuel efficiency, some economists have been skeptical. They acknowledge that drivers might decide to drive less and take public transportation more. But they warn that most could not afford to quickly dump their gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars.
Yet given time, it seems, people change their ways. Americans drove 3.4 percent fewer miles in 2008 when gas prices shot up to a peak of $4 a gallon nationally than in 2007. And many who had bought the Hummer when a gallon of gas cost $2 decided that they couldn't afford to tool around town in a small tank that would run, on average, around 10 miles on a gallon.
By last year, even as gas prices drifted downward, only about 9,000 Hummers were sold in the United States. That was a steep drop from 71,000 in 2006. In the spring of 2008, G.M. announced that it could not keep the sinking brand. The company is weighing two long-shot bids, but it is more than likely to wind down the brand.
Gasoline is back around $2.50 a gallon, and Americans are falling back on some of their old bad habits. Still, the Hummer's tale is a vivid example of the power of gas prices to change Americans' ways. It also suggests that, given the proper incentives and disincentives, all the world's nations can embrace a greener future.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE VOTERS WILL PAY
It was bad news for the voting public when Election Systems and Software, the nation's largest voting machine company, announced last fall that it was acquiring the elections division of Diebold, the nation's second-largest voting machine company.
The combination could mean that nearly 70 percent of the nation's precincts would use machines made by a single company. If the deal is allowed to go through, it would make it harder for jurisdictions to bargain effectively on price and quality. The Justice Department should reject it as a violation of antitrust rules that is clearly not in the public's interest.
The 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, with its hanging chads and uncounted votes, highlighted the deep flaws in voting machine technology and in the industry. That was in no small part because of a lack of robust competition. If the Diebold acquisition goes forward, competition would all but disappear.
Numerous studies have shown that electronic voting machines are particularly vulnerable to software glitches, intentional vote theft or sabotage. Having such a large percentage of the nation's votes counted on machines made and serviced by a single company increases the vulnerability of the system.
A group of election administrators, fair-voting advocates and computer experts wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. recently to warn of the dangers if the deal closes. They warned that Election Systems and Software already has a bad record on open competition, including contract clauses that prevent jurisdictions that buy their machines from hiring other vendors to service them.
If the deal nevertheless goes forward, the department should insist on strong protections to minimize the potential for damage. The combined company should be prohibited from using contracts that interfere with competition and required to use hardware and software that are interoperable with products from other companies.
The Justice Department also should require the company to continue efforts Diebold was reportedly taking to make its systems more transparent by, among other things, making some or all of its software code public.
The Justice Department has considerable antitrust authority. It needs to use it to ensure that an industry the public rightly mistrusts does not get any worse.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AFTER THE SUMMIT
The main lesson to draw from Thursday's health care forum is that differences between Democrats and Republicans are too profound to be bridged. That means that it is up to the Democrats to fix the country's dysfunctional and hugely costly health care system.
At the meeting, President Obama laid out his case for sweeping reform that would provide coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans and begin to wrestle down the rising cost of medical care and future deficits. The Republicans insisted that the country cannot afford that and doesn't need it. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, trotted out the old chestnut that the United States has the "best health care system in the world."
This isn't a question of boosterism or patriotism. If there's any doubt about whether to stick with the status quo, Americans just need to look at their relentlessly rising premiums or think about where or even whether they can get coverage if they lose their jobs.
Thursday's meeting more than seven hours broadcast for the hardy was billed as a last-ditch effort to try to find common ground. There was plenty of wonkish discussion. Each party put its best face forward in a mostly civil exchange of ideas, and both professed to see some areas of potential agreement.
Mr. Obama seemed ready to take stronger steps toward malpractice reform, a top issue for Republicans. And he agreed with Senator John McCain that a special deal to protect Florida residents enrolled in private Medicare plans was hard to defend.
Republicans stuck to their script and argued for small solutions, such as letting people buy insurance in other states that might allow skimpier and thus cheaper coverage. That is a formula for helping healthy people cut costs while driving up premiums for sick people unable to get similar coverage.
Republicans balked at any big expansion of Medicaid or any big subsidies to help middle-class Americans buy insurance on new exchanges. As a result, their plans would cover only three million uninsured over the next decade, a tenth of what the Democrats are proposing. That is not enough.
Mr. Obama should jettison any illusions that he can win Republican support by making a few more changes in bills that already include many Republican ideas. Republican speakers made clear that the only thing they would accept is starting over from scratch. That would be the end of sweeping reform.
The Republicans tried to wring a pledge from Mr. Obama that he would not resort to "budget reconciliation," a parliamentary maneuver to sidestep a filibuster in the Senate and pass legislation by a simple majority. Reconciliation is a last resort. But Republicans and Democrats have both used it for major bills in the past. The president wisely refused to tie his hands.
Here is a basic fact: If the House Democrats voted tomorrow to approve the Senate bill, health care reform would become the law of the land.
The president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi should push the House to accept the fundamentally sound Senate bill. If they still cannot garner enough votes from their own caucus, they should alter the Senate bill slightly with parallel legislation that could be passed with budget reconciliation.
Mr. Obama needs to keep explaining to Americans that this health care reform is critical to give them
security, to hold down costs and ease the strain on federal budgets. His main challenge, and his best chance, for passing it is to get his own party in line.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
QUESTIONS FOR GOV. PATERSON
Gov. David Paterson of New York has spoken out for years against domestic violence. Now he must speak out just as clearly about his role in the aftermath of a disturbing domestic altercation involving his closest aide, David Johnson. On Wednesday, Mr. Paterson suspended the aide without pay and asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to determine whether the State Police had improperly intervened in the case.
Mr. Paterson's office has tried to portray the governor as a victim of political rivals and an unfriendly press. But Mr. Cuomo has to look beyond the State Police to Mr. Paterson's own actions, starting with a phone call between the governor and Mr. Johnson's former girlfriend.
At stake are Mr. Paterson's integrity and honesty. It is too soon to reach conclusions, but his case was not helped by the resignation on Thursday of Denise O'Donnell, a cabinet official who oversees the State Police. She said the superintendent of the State Police had falsely led her to believe that his department was not involved in the case. She also said direct contact between the State Police or Mr. Paterson and a woman seeking a protection order against one of the governor's closest aides was "unacceptable regardless of their intent."
The case, outlined in The Times on Thursday, raises disturbing questions about whether state authorities worked to keep Mr. Johnson's former girlfriend from pursuing legal action against him. The case's referral to Mr. Cuomo does not excuse the governor's silence.
Mr. Johnson's former girlfriend told police that he had assaulted her last Halloween and that she was in the process of seeking a protection order. But, before a hearing on the case last month, Mr. Paterson and the woman talked on the phone. Her lawyer says the governor made the call. The governor's spokesman says she called him. It doesn't matter much who initiated the contact. The question is why the woman failed to appear in court the next day, leading to the dismissal of the case.
State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt was informed of the Halloween altercation within 24 hours. Mr. Cuomo should find out who told Mr. Corbitt and who directed the State Police to become involved. During a court appearance, the woman said "the state troopers kept calling me and harassing me to drop the charges, and I wouldn't." That would be witness tampering, as well as the kind of intimidation of a woman in a domestic violence case that Mr. Paterson says he abhors.
It is now the duty of Mr. Cuomo, who is planning to run against Mr. Paterson in November, to conduct a fair and swift investigation. Weary New Yorkers, who must be wondering if anyone in Albany can be trusted, will be watching closely.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AFFLICTING THE AFFLICTED
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
If we're lucky, Thursday's summit will turn out to have been the last act in the great health reform debate, the prologue to passage of an imperfect but nonetheless history-making bill. If so, the debate will have ended as it began: with Democrats offering moderate plans that draw heavily on past Republican ideas, and Republicans responding with slander and misdirection.
Nobody really expected anything different. But what was nonetheless revealing about the meeting was the fact that Republicans who had weeks to prepare for this particular event, and have been campaigning against reform for a year didn't bother making a case that could withstand even minimal fact-checking.
It was obvious how things would go as soon as the first Republican speaker, Senator Lamar Alexander, delivered his remarks. He was presumably chosen because he's folksy and likable and could make his party's position sound reasonable. But right off the bat he delivered a whopper, asserting that under the Democratic plan, "for millions of Americans, premiums will go up."
Wow. I guess you could say that he wasn't technically lying, since the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Democrats' plan does say that average payments for insurance would go up. But it also makes it clear that this would happen only because people would buy more and better coverage. The "price of a given amount of insurance coverage" would fall, not rise and the actual cost to many Americans would fall sharply thanks to federal aid.
His fib on premiums was quickly followed by a fib on process. Democrats, having already passed a health bill with 60 votes in the Senate, now plan to use a simple majority vote to modify some of the numbers, a process known as reconciliation. Mr. Alexander declared that reconciliation has "never been used for something like this." Well, I don't know what "like this" means, but reconciliation has, in fact, been used for previous health reforms and was used to push through both of the Bush tax cuts at a budget cost of $1.8 trillion, twice the bill for health reform.
What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.
One of the great virtues of the Democratic plan is that it would finally put an end to this unacceptable case of American exceptionalism. But what's the Republican answer? Mr. Alexander was strangely inarticulate on the matter, saying only that "House Republicans have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer." He offered no clue about what those ideas might be.
In reality, House Republicans don't have anything to offer to Americans with troubled medical histories. On the contrary, their big idea allowing unrestricted competition across state lines would lead to a race to the bottom. The states with the weakest regulations for example, those that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence would set the standards for the nation as a whole. The result would be to afflict the afflicted, to make the lives of Americans with pre-existing conditions even harder.
Don't take my word for it. Look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House G.O.P. plan. That analysis is discreetly worded, with the budget office declaring somewhat obscurely that while the number of uninsured Americans wouldn't change much, "the pool of people without health insurance would end up being less healthy, on average, than under current law." But here's the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now.
So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.
But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do and they have the power to do it is finish the job, and enact health reform.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY CARLO STRENGER
LAST month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused a stir with remarks that at first glance seemed a restatement of the obvious namely, that the 1967 borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with some land swaps, should be the focus of peace negotiations. In fact, since 1993, when the Oslo agreements were signed, the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear: a return to the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and, most likely, some form of international involvement in Jerusalem's Old City.
Why the stir? Because to Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration, this all seems like a matter of a few simple steps. The American envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has said as much, asserting that a final agreement must and can be reached within two years. Bill Clinton made the same assumption with the Camp David and Taba summit meetings of 2000 and 2001, which he seemed to think could end the conflict quickly. Needless to say, he failed.
The basic problem is that, like Bill Clinton, the Obama administration believes that the two sides are essentially rational, acting in their own best interests, and that to get the process unstuck the mediator must simply bridge their differences. Rather, it is clear to me as a psychologist that the two sides are steeped in collective trauma, for which the only prescription is diplomatic therapy.
The trauma is mutual and multilayered. The Palestinians have never been able to mourn what they call the Nakba, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Their ethos of national liberation was based on the idea that all refugees would be able to return to their homes in Jaffa, Ramle and Lod. Letting go of this dream, a condition for the two-state solution, requires a process of mourning that has been made almost impossible by the humiliation of the occupation and the force of Israeli retaliation, culminating in the Gaza war last year.
Trauma is not the Palestinians' alone: Israeli Jews live under a fear of annihilation that overshadows any consideration of compromise. Many critics of Israel believe that such a statement is a cheap ploy to justify colonial ambitions, but right or wrong this is the reality of the country's collective psyche. Israelis still look back at the attacks by Arab armies in 1948, 1967 and 1973 as moments when they could have been wiped out, and this fear is revived today by the possibility of Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons.
Hope for peace was dealt further blows by the suicide bombings of the 1990s, during the heyday of the Oslo process; the second intifada; and the rocket attacks from Gaza after Israel's withdrawal from the territory in 2005. Behind all this lies the memory of the Holocaust.
Worse, the Middle East's cultural unconscious is structured by the history of monotheistic religions, with Jerusalem at the center. The city has been conquered countless times, always in the name of the eternal rightness of one religion or another. These same forces are present today in Israel's ideological right and in Islamic extremist groups like Hamas.
The region's collective traumas may easily lead one to conclude that the situation is hopeless. But the peace process stands a chance if it is seen not as a rational intervention but as a course of therapy that will allow both sides to work through emotional aspects of their traumas, dreams and shattered hopes.
First, instead of a timetable, negotiators need to leave the process open-ended. As in Northern Ireland, the sponsoring parties, presumably the members of the so-called quartet the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States should maintain a permanent peace conference that will convene until an agreement is reached. And the quartet needs to find ways to engage all parties in the region, most of all the Arab League, but also Hamas and possibly, at some point, Iran.
Second, the process must give room to emotions, which are likely to run high. Too often these are repressed by diplomatic protocol, assumed to be irrelevant or even counterproductive. On the contrary, such repression undercuts the possibility of forward movement.
It won't be easy. Accusations will run from the latest cease-fire breach to the massacres of Palestinians in Deir Yassin in 1948 and the Coastal Road Massacre of Israelis in 1978. At times, theological claims over Jerusalem's Old City will return on both sides.
Still, it is essential that emotions finally be given vent. An open-ended process would allow Palestinians to voice their rage and pain about what they have gone through and to express their need for Israel to recognize its part in the Nakba. In the same way patients progress by talking about their traumas, a therapeutic process may lead the Palestinians to realize that they have not just been passive victims, that they have made decisions, ranging from rejection of the American partition plan in 1947 to the use of suicide bombers since the 1990s, that have driven back the possibility of peace.
Likewise, Israel's Jews need to be able to voice their fear that Arabs will never accept the existence of Israel, and that the two-state solution is just a step toward its destruction. Therapeutic diplomacy will help them gradually accept their share of the responsibility for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. In this way both parties can come to realize that accepting the other's narrative and point of view does not mean annihilation.
Mr. Mitchell knows this type of process well from his time in Northern Ireland. The question is whether the administration is willing to take on this challenge for the long haul. If it isn't, we are in for another series of failed negotiations and the inevitable bloodshed that follows.
Carlo Strenger, the chairman of the clinical graduate psychology program at Tel Aviv University, is the author of "The Designed Self."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NOT AS DULL AS EXPECTED!
BY DAVID BROOKS
Going in, I was as cynical as everybody else about the Blair House health care forum. I was planning to watch for a half-hour and then write about something else.
But the event was more meaningful than that. Most of the credit goes to President Obama. The man really knows how to lead a discussion. He stuck to specifics and tried to rein in people who were flying off into generalities. He picked out the core point in any comment. He tried to keep things going in a coherent direction.
Moreover, he seemed to be trying to get a result. Republicans had their substantive criticism of the Democratic bills, but Obama kept pressing them for areas of agreement.
The second useful thing about the meeting was that it bypassed the Congressional power structure. As usual, the quality of the comments got worse the closer you got to the party leadership. The Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, gave remarks that veered between the misleading and the incoherent. Statements from Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, were partisan spin. The Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, were smart enough to stand back and let Senator Lamar Alexander lead the way, which he did genially and intelligently. While Alexander was speaking, Reid and Pelosi wouldn't even deign to look at him.
Once you got to the other members, about two-thirds of the statements were smart and well-informed. This was not a repeat of the Baltimore summit, in which Obama dominated the room. This time, Obama was very good, but so were many others, like Mike Enzi, Jim Cooper, George Miller and Tom Coburn. If you thought Republicans were a bunch of naysayers who don't know or care about health care, then this was not the event for you. They more than held their own.
The third useful thing about Thursday's forum was you got to see the Obama presidency encapsulated in one event. At the very end, the president summarized some possible points of agreement between the two parties, offered some concessions and asked Republicans to see if they could make some on their own.
As always with the Obama compromise offers, this offer seemed to be both sincere and insincere. Embodying the core contradiction of the Obama presidency, the president seemed both to want to craft a new package and also to defend the strictly Democratic approach. I think he's a bipartisan man stuck in a partisan town, but maybe he's an iron partisan fist in a velvet postpartisan glove.
Fourth, you got to see how confident Republicans are. Obama's compromise offer is one the Republicans can happily refuse. In their eyes, h