media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 01, edition 000443, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- MESSAGE FROM KABUL
- ISLAMISM VS SECULARISM
- MUSLIMS NEED TO INTROSPECT - BALBIR K PUNJ
- PAKISTAN CAN NEVER BE INDIA'S FRIEND - RAVINDER RAJ
- SECURING NATIONAL SECURITY - BRAJESH MISHRA
- FALLING APART OVER BUDGET - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- THE IRANIAN THREAT - BARRY RUBIN
- OPPOSITION BEHAVED BADLY ON BUDGET DAY
- HUMANE APPROACH
- BUDGET CAN ALSO BE A SONG SUNG BLUE - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- GET MOVING
- SECURING THE FUTURE
- 'INDIA CAN BE A SECURE DESTINATION FOR ARAB INVESTMENTS'
- NO GREAT EXPECTATIONS - KINGSHUK NAG
- A NEW BEGINNING
- TRAGEDY OF THE ABSURD
- LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT...
- WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE CONGRESS - PANKAJ VOHRA
- THE AGE OF EXTREMES - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- PORTRAITS OF THE ARTIST AS A QATARI CITIZEN - VIR SANGHVI
- JUDGING JUDGES
- SLIPPING IN OIL
- THE KABUL TEST
- SMALL-BANG REFORM - BIBEK DEBROY
- A CONSTITUENCY OF HER OWN - RAHUL VERMA
- THE GIST OF GST R KAVITA RAO
- COLLATERAL DAMAGE
- TARGET NOT ACQUIRED
- SLICK POLITICS, CRUDE ECONOMICS - VIKRAM S MEHTA
- NO SLIPPERY ROLLBACK
- BARGAIN, BUT GET TAX REFORM DONE
- BUDGET WAS BORING, BUT NOT HARMFUL - MEGHNAD DESAI
- WHY WE WILL ALL PAY FOR POPULISM - VIKRAM S MEHTA
- ROADMAP FOR RETAIL FDI? - JAYA JUMRANI
- AND YET ANOTHER PRO-FARMER BUDGET - P. SAINATH
- FOR "A WORLD OF DECREASED NUCLEAR RISK" - P. S. SURYANARAYANA
- HOW INVESTORS GROW THEIR OWN START-UPS
- ASHLEE VANCE AND CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
- KENYA: 400-KM FENCE PROTECTING WATER SOURCES - JOHN VIDAL
- 'TIME FOR JUDGES TO REVISIT DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES'
- BOOSTING INFRASTRUCTURE
- THE KABUL KILLINGS
- QUOTA FOR WOMEN
- UP'S CHANGING POLITICAL SCENARIO - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
- HUMAN VANITY - BY HARISH DHILLON
- A BLUNDER BY PAK TALIBAN - BY RAJINDER PURI
- WASHINGTON: CIVILISED, COURTEOUS BUT LIFELESS - BY HOWARD JACOBSON
- CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN
- MANAGING THE MESSAGE
- FERTILISING CHANGE
- BUDGETING FOR THE FUTURE - SUNIL JAIN
- FINMIN: RETURN OF THE GLADSTONIANS - SANJAYA BARU
- LOOKING EAST VIA THE NORTH-EAST - JYOTI MALHOTRA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- HOUNDING OUT HUSAIN
- AS THE RUPEE RISES
- 'RLYS' FUTURE GROWTH FROM PPPS' - RAKHI MAZUMDAR
- THE WORK-LIFE BALANCE ISSUE - JANKI SANTOKE
- 'EVERY PENNY WE SPEND GOES TO COMMON MAN'
- DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR & VINAY PANDEY
- WE ARE BUILDING ORBIT FOR FUTURE - AMIT SHARMA
- WILL SACHIN INSPIRE US TO PLAY HARDER?
- NO MORE HUSAINS - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
- REPUBLICANS SMELL PROFITS, VOTES IN CLEAN AIR - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- TEA, YOGA AND ONION GARLANDS
- KINGMAKER TURNS TEA MAKER
- POWER OF BOLLYWOOD - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
- OF CHARITY AND HYPOCRISY - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
- FETTERED ART
- ANOTHER INFERNO
- FOLLY UNDERGROUND
- TO WEAR OR NOT TO WEAR THE BURQA - MADHAVI GORADIA DIVAN
- COERCIVE TACTICS THAT CRUSHED INDUSTRY
- DADU, DIDI & ALL THAT MONEY - ISHAN JOSHI
- BUDGET'S CHIMERA
- THWART TERROR
- NUMBERS THAT MATTER - MJ AKBAR
- AGRICULTURE SQUEEZED OUT IN BUDGET 2010 - BY DEVINDER SHARMA
- CLASS OF THEIR OWN - BY MEERA SESHADRI
THE JERUSALEM POST
- LEARNING FROM HISTORY
- WHAT APARTHEID STATE? - BY BRENDA KATTEN
- THE REGION: THE REAL ARAB STUFF - BY BARRY RUBIN
- REALITY CHECK: THE JOKE'S ON EDELSTEIN - BY JEFF BARAK
- TOYOTA AND THE PRICE OF MODERNITY - BY CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
- NO MODELS OF EXAMPLE - BY ELY KARMON
- RIGHT OF REPLY: TRULY A HOLY ALLIANCE - BY MALCOLM HEDDING
- DEFUSE TENSIONS IN THE NORTH
- NO COUNTRY WOULD ACCEPT NETANYAHU'S CONDITIONS FOR PEACE - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- A LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE MOSSAD - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- HADASSAH OR ESTHER? - BY MAYER BREZIS AND SARA SINGER
- WHEN IT ALL BECOMES SO CONVENIENT - BY MERAV MICHAELI
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- AS FORECLOSURES CONTINUE ...
- IF THE LAWYER FAILS
- RENDER UNTO C STREET
- HAITI'S FUTILE RACE AGAINST THE RAIN - BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
- GIVE THE OLYMPICS A HOME - BY CHARLES BANKS-ALTEKRUSE
- DOCTORS WITHOUT MORALS - BY LEONARD S. RUBENSTEIN AND STEPHEN N. XENAKIS
- CRUEL PROTOCOLS
- LUCKY ESCAPE
- ISRAEL AS A ROGUE STATE - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- WHY BANK INTEREST REMAINS HIGH - SHAHID KARDAR
- SECULARISM TRIUMPHS? - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- GREAT OAKS - CHRIS CORK
- ANOTHER FAILED COUP - ASIF EZDI
- DISSENTING NOTE EDUCATION FOR ALL - DR MASOODA BANO
- SALMAN REPRESENTS PAKISTAN WELL
- IS ANP COMING OUT IN ITS TRUE COLOURS?
- REGI'S LINKS WITH CIA
- PAK-INDIA TALKS MADE NO PROGRESS - M ASHRAF MIRZA
- DEVALUING THE ECONOMY - HUMAYUN GAUHAR
- US AID TO PAKISTAN - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- LOOMING THREAT OF WATER WARS - NAZIA NAZAR
- WHY HILLARY BABIES INDONESIA & BULLIES PAKISTAN? - JOHN HUGHES
- CHILEAN TRAGEDY
- SHIFTING OF TANNERIES
- LEARNING TO BUY VEGGIES..!
- GREENING OF THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- THE GREATEST CHAMPION OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS - SYED ASHRAF ALI
- KEVIN RUDD'S MEA CULPA SHOULD BE A TURNING POINT
- A DAY OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS
- STRETCHING THE FRIENDSHIP
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ECONOMY TAKES CENTRE STAGE
- A MURKY TALE, BUT NO TURKISH DELIGHT
- A DECADE ON, IT'S TIME TO PUT AIRPORT LINK BACK ON TRACK
- BANKERS' PAY: WINNING THE BATTLE, LOSING THE WAR
- DAVID CAMERON: BACK TO THE FUTURE
- IN PRAISE OF BRASS BANDS
THE KOREA HERALD
- AUTO SAFETY
- BASIC LAW REVISION
- GENETIC PROPERTY RIGHTS ON TRIAL IN U.S. - DONNA DICKENSON
- AN INDEPENDENT KOSOVO AFTER TWO YEARS
THE JAPAN TIMES
- STEPPING UP TO DEVOLUTION
- WOODS' APOLOGY WHIPS UP MEDIA INCAPABLE OF BEHAVING WITH CLASS - BY TOM PLATE
- DON'T SWEAT DECLINE OF THE TRADITIONAL PRESS - BY ZIGA TURK
- ISOLATED INDIA IS BAD NEWS - BY HARSH V. PANT
THE JAKARTA POST
- REBUILDING THE TRUST
- HOW TO DELIVER PEACE IN TROUBLED PAPUA PROVINCE - P.M. ERZA KILLIAN
- THE CAUSE OF THE NEXT GLOBAL RECESSION - STEFAN S. HANDOYO
- VIEWPOINT: DESTROYING A (WOULD-BE) WORLD HERITAGE SITE
- STRIVING FOR BETTER WORLD
- HELPING CHILEANS REBUILD
- EDUCATION ROADMAP
- THE PITFALLS OF BLIND PRIDE - BY LITAI XUE (CHINA DAILY)
- IS THERE A CHINESE MODEL? - BY DAVID SHAMBAUGH (CHINA DAILY)
- THE PARADIGM AND ITS FUTURE - BY ZHENG YONGNIAN (CHINA DAILY)
- CRACK THE WHIP
- BARGAINING IN A LABOUR REGIME
- MYTHRI JEGATHESAN
- IGNORING TWO DECADES - BY: SHREEN SAROOR
- STATEMANSHIP IS NEEDED - BY DINESH WEERAKKODY
- EXPLOITATION OF DISUNITY BY FORCES INIMICAL TO NATIONAL INTERESTS
MESSAGE FROM KABUL
ISI-TALIBAN DECLARE OPEN SEASON ON INDIANS
The targeted killing of nine Indians in Kabul, the third such attack in about 18 months, has the fingerprints of the Haqqani faction of the Taliban all over it. Sirajuddin Haqqani and his father Jalaluddin today head the most lethal of the Taliban groups fighting in Afghanistan and also the closest to the Inter-Services Intelligence. The end-February attack on Indians was the first of an anticipated burst aimed at weakening President Hamid Karzai and his principal backers India is among the most resolute of these and essentially driving New Delhi out of Kabul. In a sense, the Pakistani military establishment is running ahead of the story, working on the presumption of an American pullout from Afghanistan being inevitable and beginning the post-withdrawal civil war now itself. Being too clever by half is not always a good thing. The ISI plan could yet backfire and cement the impression that the Pakistani-backed elements of the Taliban Rawalpindi's version of the so-called 'Good Taliban' or 'Reconcilable Taliban' cannot be trusted and will convert Kabul into an international jihadi sanctuary if they are handed the keys to the Afghan capital. In the case of this past week's terrorist strikes, the Taliban killed, among others, an Indian Army doctor who was training local medical staff at an Indian-built hospital in Kabul, a military educator who was seeking to improve local knowledge of English, a PowerGrid engineer who had just executed a transmission project in treacherous terrain and done his duty to light up homes of ordinary Afghans, and a musician visiting Afghanistan as a cultural ambassador. These people were not spies or covert operatives. They were in Kabul as part of a peace effort, building capacities of Afghans to take charge of their country and rebuild it from the ashes of three decades of warfare. To pretend that the Taliban militia that killed these unusually brave professionals somehow represented Afghan nationalism would be ridiculous. What India has seen, and suffered, is sheer, unmitigated barbarism.
Which way does the future lie? The ISI and its Taliban proxies have tasted blood. They assess American resolve is weakening and that US President Barack Obama's instinct is to cut and run. In India, they have chosen to interpret Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's premature offer of peace talks as weakness. In sum, they may feel a series of attacks on high-profile targets in Afghanistan will scare away India, and leave Mr Karzai a political cripple. That is why it is essential India sends out a clear and unambiguous signal that it is not budging from Afghanistan. A deployment of a larger security and even military contingent must be strongly considered. There is no hard rule that the Indian Army commando units or Special Forces cannot be sent to Kabul, especially if its task is the legitimate defence of Indian interests and Indian-built infrastructure. This is India's war and it has to be fought, in some manner or the other.
The more important message is for the US. Mr Obama's "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach is only serving to embolden the terrorists and their sponsors. It is also confusing Washington's allies. In seeming to outsourcing thinking on Afghanistan to a defeated society such as Britain, Mr Obama is not helping anything, certainly not his credibility. Indeed, such dangerous equivocation is beginning to cost India precious lives.
ISLAMISM VS SECULARISM
TURKEY AT A CRITICAL JUNCTURE
Many would contend, and not without merit, that Turkey is the most secular, modern Muslim-majority country in the world. In fact, it is on the basis of Turkey's secular credentials, among other things, that the country has been trying to get into the European Union club. But recent developments bode ill for a country that wants to set itself apart from rest of the Muslim countries in West Asia. The recent arrests of several members of the Turkish military at least 33 officers have been charged over their alleged involvement in a coup plot to overthrow the elected Government back in 2003 have exposed the deep fissures that plague Turkish society. For, Turkey today is a deeply divided nation with battlelines drawn between the staunchly secular Army and a Government that represents the country's conservative Islamic constituency. The battle between the Army and the Government in Turkey is nothing new. Ever since Mustafa Kemal established a secular sovereign republic in 1923, the struggle between those who want Turkey to tread the path of modernity akin to the countries of Europe and those who represent 'traditional' values, especially in the country's rural areas, has been a constant feature of Turkish life. It is noteworthy that the Turkish Army has overthrown the Government of the country as many as four times, deeming the latter unfit to carry forward the legacy of Ataturk.
Nonetheless, there is always a risk of oversimplifying things when it comes to analysing events in Turkey. The ruling Justice and Development Party, accused by the Turkish Army of harbouring a secret agenda of putting the country on the path to Islamisation, does in fact enjoy significant popular support. It has been in power continuously since 2002 and looks set to return to power in the election to be held next year. At the same time, it cannot be denied that under the AK Party's rule Islamist forces in Turkey have experienced alarming revival. There is reason to believe that the Islamic Brotherhood has made significant inroads into that country. But as things stand, the Turkish Army's staunch position on secularism has not helped matters either. The Army's attitude that it is the sole guardian of the Turkish way of life has, over the years, only helped to consolidate the conservative forces. Indeed, the Army's views on secularism are a bit strident for many sections of Turkish society it wants absolutely no overt show of religion in any public institution in Turkey. That said, it is in the interest of all stakeholders in Turkey to quickly resolve the present imbroglio. It would be best if the Turkish Army and the Government can work together instead of against each other. This will not only ensure that Turkey progresses on a broad secular path but also keep Islamists at bay.
MUSLIMS NEED TO INTROSPECT
BALBIR K PUNJ
The beheading of two Sikh hostages by the Pakistani Taliban who, it is said, still hold three more Sikhs captive, represents a problem not just for India but for the entire civilised world. Meanwhile, Pakistan is in no mood to take responsibility for the crime and go after the perpetrators as it continues to maintain that the beheadings were carried out by those outside the Pakistani state apparatus. It is appalling that secular apologists and peaceniks in India as well as the Muslim leadership here are silent on this brutality.
According to reports, the brutal beheadings followed the refusal of the Sikh victims to accept the religion of their captors in lieu of failing to pay a religious tax or jizya. If this is true, then there is great urgency for the leaders of Islam to clarify their stand on non-Muslims.
The Constitution as well as the political practices in Pakistan and several other Muslim-majority countries treat non-Muslims as second-class citizens. The top political, civil and Army positions in these countries are reserved only for people belonging to the majority religion. Pakistan's military dictatorships have built into the state system a close relationship between religion and policy-making. The bulk of the growing teenagers are exposed to a system of education both in the madarsas and state run-institutions wherein children are brainwashed to treat all religions except Islam as false and are told that it is perfectly normal to use violence to squeeze the minority out of their religious belief.
It was during the military dictatorship of Gen Zia-ul-Haq that the education and legal systems of Pakistan were totally Islamised. Even a full decade of civilian rule after that could not change the circumstances. Can the apologists in our country deny the fact that the Taliban who carry out brutal beheadings of those belonging to faiths other than Islam are the end products of a regime that legally prescribes death for the lightest slip of the tongue against any doctrine of the majority religion? Can they also deny that the very existence of such a state across the border is deeply influencing the Muslim orthodoxy here? Are we wrong in assuming that those young Muslims from this country who are sucked into joining the Pakistani Taliban and their ilk are motivated by the very same concepts that are hammered into them from childhood through madarsaeducation?
Political parties and leaders who talk of enacting laws to enable Islamic banking and Islamic personal laws, even though they do nothing to ensure gender quality enshrined in our Constitution, should examine whether their vote-bank politics is fuelling these separatist, Talibanistic attitudes among the Muslim population in this country.
Repeated exaggeration of past communal riots force the Muslim minority community to believe that the Indian state is against them when the fact is that the Muslim population in India has grown to over 15 crores from the time of partition while the religious minorities in Pakistan have shrunk to a mere marginal existence.
It would be suicidal for us to refuse to see the armed orthodoxy in Pakistan as different from the Pakistani state. The establishment in Islamabad often cites the fact that Pakistan is also a victim of terror attacks in order to earn the leniency of the international community. Yet it fails to come to terms with the growth of multiple armed Islamist groups or its hydra-headed consequences. Nor is Islamabad eager to take up the issue of cross-border terrorism emanating from its soil in discussions with New Delhi as is now evident from the recently-concluded Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries.
And this is Pakistan's position not just with India; in talks with the Americans, Pakistan's Army chief refused to re-start operations against the Taliban, let alone crack down on the safe heavens that the jihadis have made for themselves on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. More dangerous for India is the other fact that the Army continues to be the real seat of power in Pakistan. Its use of the Islamic religious orthodoxy and jihadi terrorist groups against India is well documented. It would never agree to give up these strategic assets.
Pakistan's real masters also derive strength from the fact that they have the support of other Islamic nations for using state power to sabotage the secular growth in countries that are not yet Islamic or sufficiently Islamic. The act of beheading is still part of the state power that many of these Islamic nations use to punish those considered to be deviants, who have strayed from the laws laid down by the holy books of Islam even by a centimetre. We regularly get reports from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic nations of publicly-conducted beheadings and incidents of stoning unto death as well as punishments that involve the amputation of the offender's limbs acts that all civilised countries throughout the world have long abolished.
The treatment meted out to the Pandits of the Kashmir Valley and the corresponding silence of the Muslim leadership on this injustice have not enabled the Muslim community to convince their Hindu neighbours that true secularism is inherent in the Islamic political doctrine. It is not only the condemnation of the beheadings of Sikhs in Pakistan that the international community is looking forward to. It is the total disavowal of the culture of violence that the civilised world would like to see emerge from the Muslim world. For this there needs to be a renaissance within the global Islamic community. There needs to be introspection and re-evaluation of Islamic values. Unless and until this happens, peace will remain elusive as the virus of jihad will continue to spread far and wide.
PAKISTAN CAN NEVER BE INDIA'S FRIEND
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's disgust for Pakistan's hypocritical ways requires supplementation. As one of the surviving member of an ever-diminishing generation with pre-partition experience, I recall those days in 1947 when a few Muslim children below 16 years of age repeatedly raised two slogans during street processions in Lahore: Hans ke liya Pakistan, ab ladh ke lenge Hindustan. I am pretty sure that those boys must have grown up to be important people within the Pakistani establishment. I am sure that they were behind the Kargil infiltrations and had a hand in all the terror attacks in India till date, including the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.
The Indian security apparatus should become more efficient in tackling terrorism. This can be achieved through superior intelligence gathering and prompt remedial measures. Our leadership must follow Chanakya's doctrine of 'tit for tat' in dealing with Pakistan. The Government must become more proactive in cracking down on extremists and their supporters. Simultaneously, it must pursue policies to internationally isolate Pakistan. Also, the Government will do well to win over members of the Muslim community to act as agents of the state to check the spread of the jihadi activities. They could promptly report suspicious events and thereby act as eyes and ears of the Government.
There is no denying that constant vigilance should be our credo. For, our enemy is constantly thinking of ways to 'bleed us dry with a thousand cuts'. No matter how much it tries to deny it, the Pakistani state machinery continues to think of innovative ways to fund terrorism, and use its strategic assets in the form of jihadi terror groups to subvert India's interests at every turn. We must be watchful of developments in Afghanistan as that country has great strategic significance for us. Islamabad will try its utmost best to use the Taliban against India.
But most important, we must guard ourselves against Pakistan's dirty tricks to diplomatically corner us. We cannot let another Sharm el-Sheikh take place.
SECURING NATIONAL SECURITY
AS CHINA AND PAKISTAN HAVE BEGUN TO COORDINATE THEIR ACTIVITIES TO KEEP INDIA PREOCCUPIED IN SOUTH ASIA AND DENY IT ANY WORTHWHILE ROLE IN GLOBAL STRATEGIC AFFAIRS IT'S TIME WE INCREASE OUR DEFENCE CAPABILITY SO THAT WE CAN DEFEND OURSELVES AGAINST BOTH THE COUNTRIES
For the first time after the Chinese aggression of 1962, India is confronted with a very critical national security situation. Since 1962, India has had to contend with hostile forces on two fronts, north and west. (East Pakistan and later Bangladesh posed problems, but they were manageable.) Fortunately for us, the northern and western fronts were not active simultaneously until today. But now China and Pakistan have begun to coordinate their activities to keep India preoccupied in South Asia and deny it any worthwhile role in global strategic affairs.
China's aggressive posture on the Line of Actual Control and its vituperative pronouncements about a repeat of the 1962 aggression, threat to disintegrate India, scoffing at any suggestion that India could compete with China, the change in Beijing's position on Jammu & Kashmir demonstrated by the issue of Chinese visas on separate sheets of paper and not on Indian passports, the recent declaration that China will continue to extend military support to Pakistan (while the US has also extended immense financial and military aid to Pakistan since October 2001) coupled with Pakistan's violation of the 2003 cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control, increase of infiltration across the LoC, building of bunkers across the international border and, of course, the never-ending aiding and abetting of terrorism not only in Jammu & Kashmir but also in other parts of India, clearly indicate that the two fronts are active simultaneously. Unlike in 1971 when we were assured of support through the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, today we have no one to help us even against Pakistan, much less China.
The second critical factor is that terrorism emanating from external sources is linked to terrorism which is termed as home-grown. This is not only on account of support and incitement from Pakistan. For years terrorists in our North-East have received material support and training from China as also rebel groups in Myanmar. Further, the recent charge-sheet filed against Kobad Ghandy alleges that Maoists in India have been running a campaign of terror in collusion with like-minded groups in a host of countries, including Nepal. Thus, it would be unwise to ignore the link between the external threat to India and the fast growing internal terrorism and, indeed, insurgencies.
The Union Government needs to devote itself with determination and urgency to three tasks. First, it has to substantially increase our defence capability so that we can defend ourselves against both China and Pakistan at the same time. For this purpose, there is an immediate need to acquire modern defence equipment for all the three services Army, Air Force and Navy. The political leadership has to overcome the burden of the Bofors scandal in order to buy military equipment based on India's strategic requirements and considerations, and not on the basis of our antiquated tendering process which is more of a barrier than a facilitator.
At the same time, the three services have to modernise their acquisition procedures. The current procedures not only lead to inordinate delays but also to corruption at each stage of the testing or trial of military equipment under consideration. Let me be brutally frank. Today, the police force has lost the respect of the people, leading to criminals having an upper hand over the law and order machinery. If our defence services do not immediately reform themselves, their personnel will suffer the same fate and rapidly lose respect among the people of India. How can any self-respecting service issue sub-standard clothing and footwear to our jawans guarding India's frontier in Siachen?
The second task relates to the reorganisation of the intelligence system to conform to the needs of a country threatened not only by external forces but by determined and well-organised domestic terrorist and insurgent groups as well. This means very close coordination among the intelligence agencies as also with the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Home Affairs and Finance. Further, apart from acquisition of modern gadgetry including spy satellites, the gathering of human intelligence needs to be improved and intensified.
The third task is the reform of the police force in the States. To begin with, the recruitment, transfer and promotions in the police force must be completely free of political interference. The training of police officers and personnel has to be geared to contemporary needs. The most competent policemen should be posted at the street (mohalla) level. This is the most effective method of being aware of planning of crimes and hatching of terrorist conspiracies.
My final words relate to the conduct of our politicians. Our petty electoral politics is very often against India's national interest. Political parties resort to campaigns and slogans and give tickets to criminals regardless of the adverse impact of such activities on the unity of India. There is no need for me to give instances of such pettiness practiced for the sole purpose of getting votes in local as well as State and national elections. There are examples galore. Ultimately, it will lead to the end of democracy and to the disintegration of India. But are our politicians bothered about the impending catastrophe? Not at all!
-- The writer was National Security Adviser in the NDA Government, 1998-2004.
FALLING APART OVER BUDGET
MAMATA BANERJEE HAD PROMISED THAT SHE WOULDN'T ALLOW AN INCREASE IN FUEL PRICES. SHE IS NOW INCANDESCENT WITH RAGE
The Union Budget has sparked an insurrection of the little people, acting separately but in unison for reasons that are common, namely visibility on an issue branded as anti-people, that is the increase in the prices of petrol, diesel and other petroleum goods. The little people who staged the walk out during Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's speech did not react when he slapped the service tax on the railways, even though the effect of the petrol price hike and the railway service tax would be exactly the same. It would add to the cost of the consumer.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party all staged noisy and strong protests, threatening to take to the streets and destabilise the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, the person left high and dry, caught between the rocks and a hard place is Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee.
If Ms Banerjee decides to do her own bit of grandstanding on the service tax on railway freight slapped by Mr Mukherjee in his Budget, she may well end up holding hands with the Left. It would be piquant indeed if an angry Banerjee finds herself on the same side as the rest of the anti-Congress opposition. In West Bengal the effect of it could be politically ruinous.
If she hangs on to the partnership with the Congress in order to capitalise on the combined strength for the West Bengal elections due in 2011, then she has to find a politically skilful way of distancing herself from the decision. Given her past record of breaking ties with earlier coalition, not doing so over the inflationary impact of petrol/diesel price increases and the service tax on railway freight could further damage her self-sacrificing image. To cling on in a place where she is the outsider will not go down well with a public fed on her dramatic staging of self-sacrificing acts of dharna.
For Ms Banerjee to redeem her image will require stepping across the line that divides the little selves from the big folk. She cannot escape being charged with the responsibility of increasing the inflationary burden on the people without changing sides. How she does this will determine the future of the partnership with the Congress on the one hand and her prospects for the 2011 West Bengal State Assembly election.
It does seem that the Congress has jerked the lavish carpet it had spread under Ms Banerjee's feet. It is now up to her to regain her balance. It was fairly evident that Mr Mukherjee has already prepared his defences against an attack by smaller coalition partners of the Congress, for he has made it clear that on big ticket issues such as land acquisition, his side is prepared to make slow but certain progress. Clearly, there are negotiable issues and non-negotiable ones for the Congress and Mr Mukherjee vis-à-vis coalition partners and the dharma of partnerships.
Ms Banerjee may discover that service tax on railway freight, is on Mr Mukherjee's non-negotiable list. The fact of the matter is that she was outmanoeuvred and outsmarted by the Congress and the astute and experienced Mr Mukherjee. After her reported tears before the Railway Budget, she must have grown unwary and complacent, because it was obvious that Ms Banerjee had not anticipated Mr Mukherjee's moves. Her angry exit and cowardly refusal to speak her mind on the "anti-people" Budget, leaving it to the spokesmen of her party to vent their rage is poor politics.
Since in the Trinamool Congress there is only one leader and one voice, Ms Banerjee's avoidance is silly, if it is for reasons of protocol connected to her being a Minister. If that be the case, then she was a party to the decision to not only hike petrol/diesel prices, but she was a party to the levying of service tax on railway freight; she was present at the Cabinet meeting that adopted the Budget. Claiming that the service tax was tucked into the "finer print" is a serious distortion. Everyone who was present in the Lok Sabha or watching television heard Mr Mukherjee make the announcement.
Unlike Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, who has the political skills and the added advantage of not being a Minister, Ms Banerjee cannot line up with the little parties. Her greatest discomfort is that the anti-Congress parties on the Budget issue are strongly backed by the Left. Her enemies are both the Congress and the Left, led by the CPI(M); unfortunately she cannot make friends of the enemies of her enemies, because she belongs to the wrong coalition..
THE IRANIAN THREAT
IT'S NOT ONLY ISRAEL WHICH IS WORRIED, BUT ALSO A DOZEN ARAB COUNTRIES. YET OBAMA IS TOEING THE LINE OF LEAST RESISTANCE
Hussain Abdul Hussain gets it. He's one of the most interesting Arab journalists who also write in English. In his latest article, published in the Huffington Post and entitled "Lonely Obama vs Popular Iran" he points out what the most realistic people and more moderate rulers in the Arabic-speaking world are thinking.
Theme one: Popularity isn't so important in West Asia.
"A common perception is that under President Barack Obama, America's image has improved, and perhaps its friends have increased. But such claims are unfounded, as the opposite proves to be true. International relations, however, are about interests, not sweet talk. As Mr Bush went out recruiting allies, and making enemies, Mr Obama lost America's friends while failing to win over enemies."
Theme two: What is important is that allies believe you will support and protect them. Mr Obama isn't doing that:
Example A, Iraq: "After losing more than 4,300 troops in battle and spending (a huge amount of money) since 2003, America today cannot find a single politician or group that would express gratitude to Americans for ridding Iraq of its ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein, and allowing these politicians to speak out freely.
"On the contrary, shy of making their excellent backdoor ties with Washington known since they fear Mr Obama will depart Iraq and never look back, Iraqi politicians started expressing dissatisfaction with the US in public."
Example B, Lebanon, before Mr Obama took office, more than one-third of the entire population most of them Sunni Muslims demonstrated against Hizbullah and Syrian occupation. And the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on television, "He was proud to be part of America's plan to spread democracy in West Asia." But:
"By the time Mr Obama had made it to the White House, support of America's allies in Lebanon waned since Mr Obama was determined to appease their foes in Syria and Iran. (Said) Hariri (leader of the moderate forces) and Jumblatt (his former close ally] were forced to abandon their fight for Lebanon's democracy and freedom" and seek to make a deal with Syria and Hizbullah instead.
Example B, Iran: The people revolted against the autocratic regime and staged mass demonstrations, "But Mr Obama's Washington was busy sending one letter of appeasement after another to Iran's tyrants, and accordingly failed to take the side of the Green Revolution for democracy and freedom. When Mr Obama did show support for the Green Movement, it was too little and too late."
Among those worried about a similar lack of US support you can add in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states, the three North African states, most of Lebanon and those Turks who don't want to live under an Islamist regime. You might as well add in India, too.
Theme three: Iran helps its allies. Hence, Iran has more allies while the US has fewer. Iran is going up; the US is going down:
"Now compare America's friends around the Middle East to Iran's cronies, and you can immediately understand why Washington is in trouble, both diplomatically and on a popular level, while Iran is confident as it marches toward producing a nuclear weapon and expanding its influence across West Asia."
Iranian ally A, Hizbullah: "Since 1981, Iran has been funding its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, never defaulting on any of its pledged payments. Hizbullah went from an embryonic group into a state within a state, boasting a membership of several thousands and maintaining a private army, schools, hospitals, orphanages, satellite TV and a number of other facilities that have won it the hearts of Lebanon's Shiites, and have given Hizbullah an absolute command over them.
Iranian ally B, Syria: "Iran has maintained a flow of cash and political support toward Syria for a similar amount of time. Mr Obama has been begging Syria to switch sides and abandon Iran. Judging by the mishaps that always seem to befall America's friends with time, Syria does not seem likely to change, but is rather playing an Obama Administration desperate for whatever it can claim as success in its foreign policy."
As if to prove the point, immediately after a big American delegation visited Damascus to restore full relations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that US policy is seeking to detach Syria from its alliance with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and the two leaders made strong anti-American statements while pledging eternal partnership. Here's the headline in the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat: "Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity". And in the Syrian Government's newspaper Tishrin a column explained that if the US wanted a deal with Iran and Syria to achieve peace in the region that would have to include Israel's elimination.
Iranian ally C, Iraqi insurgents: "In Iraq, Iran does not only fund and train militias and violent groups, but they also fund electoral campaigns of Iraqi politicians, loyal media groups and political parties, thus expanding their influence over Iraq exponentially. Spending billions more than Iran in Iraq, America has seen its money spent to no or little effect."
And here's the bottom line:
"The comparison between Iran and Mr Obama's America is simple.
"While Tehran never let down an ally, offering them consistent financial and political support, Washington's support of its allies around the world has always been intermittent, due to changes with administrations and an ever swinging mood among American voters, pundits and analysts.
"So while Iran has created a mini-Islamic republic in Lebanon, and is on its way to doing the same in Iraq, America has failed in keeping friends or maintaining influence both in Lebanon and in Iraq.
"And while Tehran brutally suppressed a growing peaceful revolution for change inside Iran, Washington's pacifism did not win any favours with the Iranian regime, or with its opponents in the Green Revolution."
"While Iran knows how to make friends, Mr Obama's America has become an expert in losing them."
Yes! That's what it's all about. You know, it's an interesting point. Mr Obama and company says we should listen to Muslim and Arab voices.
OPPOSITION BEHAVED BADLY ON BUDGET DAY
BY boycotting finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's budget speech in the Lok Sabha on Friday, a first in India's parliamentary history, Opposition parties have only betrayed the contempt they nurture for conventions and legislative propriety.
This marks another low in parliamentary functioning, coming soon after the collapse of the sacrosanct question hour on account of the absence of questioners in the winter session of 2009.
This is not to say that the main grouse of the Opposition parties relating to the hike in customs and excise duties on petroleum products announced by the budget is without basis. In the backdrop of the Union government's failure to rein in the sky- rocketing prices, the move is no doubt likely to push inflation up further Mr Mukherjee's assessment puts this increase at .41 percentage point on the WPI. Be that as it may, it can hardly change the price situation in any fundamental way. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the subsidy regime, on fuel products or fertilisers, is costing the country dear, and the benefits don't really reach the intended beneficiaries. The subsidies mostly benefit the middle class, large sections of which are in a position to pay the market prices of the subsidised products.
In any case, if the Opposition parties had an issue with the budget proposals the proper forum to voice their protest was Parliament itself, at the time of discussions and during voting on the Finance Bill. To use the issue as a pretext to boycott the budget speech takes away from the sanctity of the exercise that lays out the roadmap for the country's functioning in the new financial year.
The Opposition's conduct is of a piece with all that parliamentary proceedings have become infamous for in recent times: disruptions, adjournments and walkouts.
It is no surprise that the time spent on discussing the budget has got reduced from 123 hours in the 1950s to an average of 34 hours in the past decade.
How seriously members take their job is also evident from the fact that the winter session of 2009 saw nearly half of all bills piloted go through without any discussion.
Somebody needs to tell the Opposition parties that in this electronic age, antics of the sort they employed on Friday go down badly with the electorate which is less naïve than is commonly supposed.
MOHAMMED Ateeq is indeed a lucky boy. The 11- year- old, stuck in a bureaucratic tangled web woven by government rules regarding unauthorised entry by Pakistani nationals into India, will soon be back with his family. Another boy Rashid has been in India for the past almost three years trying to get back to Pakistan after he entered India on a goods train.
The Juvenile Justice Board in Amritsar has now allowed him to go back to Lahore in Pakistan, but the Ateeq detention which extended for more than a month is a sad commentary on how the bureaucracy cannot often see beyond its official nose.
Ateeq spent more than a month in a juvenile home in Hoshiarpur in Punjab trying to explain to the authorities that upset with his father for not allowing him to fly kites, he ran away from home and spent the night sleeping in a train bogey that later got attached to the Samjhauta Express going to India. He was then detained by Indian border officials for travelling into the country without valid documents.
Both India and Pakistan must encourage a common sense approach to deal with either stowaways or those who mistakenly " violate" each other's territory. While border officials and the Border Security Force must remain alert for those trying to get into the country illegally, it is also important to take a humane and considerate approach towards those who stray across the border by mistake.
After all, a 11- year- old with nothing on him apart from the clothes he wore when he ran away from home, could hardly be a threat to India's internal security, could he? Taking the Ateeq case as an example, perhaps India and Pakistan may like to sit down together and create new protocols to resolve such issues quickly and humanely.
BUDGET CAN ALSO BE A SONG SUNG BLUE
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
If UPA- I budgets tilted to the rural areas and the poor the first full budget of UPA- II leans the other way
THE FIRST full budget of the second UPA government raised a cheer from the middle classes and leaders of industry. The stock market loves certainty and was boosted by the government's attention to the deficit and by the promise of increased divestment. The tax cuts brought cheer to those who pay direct taxes on salaries.
Beyond these ranks as well, it is clear that the budget sent a strong political signal. If the first five years of the Manmohan Singh government saw a tilt towards agriculture and the poor, the reverse now seems to be the case. The share of funds set aside for rural jobs and welfare are misleading, given the way inflation eats into an allocation. What matters a lot more is the way in which the rise in administered prices both before and via the budget will affect the self employed, the poor and cultivators.
The last matter more than is usually recognised in an India sometimes punch drunk on reforms. The sector still accounts for about 45 per cent of all labour and if one adds those indirectly reliant on it the numbers are far larger still. Already the increase in the prices of non- urea fertilisers, based on sulphur and potash, have added to the costs of production of farmers.
The fertiliser price hike will pinch the farmer more, for it was announced in the third week of February though it will only come into effect on 1st April. This will enable companies as well as traders to hoard stocks. It also does not seem to have occurred to policy advisers that this will hit farmers even harder than a price rise that came into immediate effect.
Higher fertiliser prices will have an impact well beyond the agricultural sector. Needless to add this will also add to costs of food and fibre. It is critical that non- urea prices have been de- controlled. Not only has government cut its subsidy for this vital factor in modern agricultural production, it has also let companies charge what they like.
This turn away from the countryside is not in keeping with Congress' leitmotif since it returned to power in the summer of 2004 at the head of a coalition government. In the run up to the budget, the lone voice against a fertiliser hike was of the fertiliser minister, who is from the DMK of Tamil Nadu. It is clear that the Congress within its own ranks now has no major spokesman for the agrarian interest.
Pranab Mukherjee who first rose to present a budget in 1984 would well recall a very different party in the 1970s and 1980s.
With leaders like Yashwant Rao Chavan and later Rao Birendra Singh in tow, the Congress was sensitive to rural producers and their interests.
In its previous term in office, the Manmohan Singh government set right a strong tilt against agriculture that had set in during the reform era. It not only raised the offtake price for farm products, it took active steps to reduce rural debt and increase access to credit. The latter steps have continued in the new budget, but there is a clear loss of steam, a weakening of nerve.
Part of the reason lies in the growing clout and strength of a powerful consumer lobby in urban India.
Earlier, attracted to the appeal of the BJP, it grew disillusioned in the late Vajpayee period and never quite took to the likes of LK Advani who stood for more not less turmoil.
There was also a realisation among more enlightened sections of industry and the intelligentsia that reforms could never proceed forward unless growth was more inclusive.
The Sonia led Congress' emphasis on the aam admi or common man struck a chord at the right time. To be fair, it was followed up not only via policy measures but with larger outlays for pro poor programmes than ever before in this country's history. When the global slowdown hit, there was little doubt that it was the Congress' experienced and unflappable hands that were up to the task.
They relied less on ideology and more on pragmatic state intervention.
In this sense the Finance Minister did and does have reason to be pleased. India has not only weathered the recession but will report growth figures this financial year of over 7 per cent, no mean feat in a world where the larger economies bar only China are mired in crisis.
But in moving ahead, he seems to have taken on conservative prescriptions that look at balancing the books as more crucial than any other task at hand.
This stamp of fiscal rectitude was fully in evidence on budget day. He not only raised excise on rail and road freight, but finally belled the cat and raised diesel prices. The cumulative impact of all these can only be assessed after the passage of time. But few will agree with assertions by government spokesmen that there will be no inflationary spiral arising out of this cluster of choices.
In fact, it is difficult to recall another budget in recent years, in the post reform era at least that has stoked greater anxiety about price rise.
Add to this a reversal of a second secular trend of the last two decades, the growth in the share of government revenues that come from direct taxes.
The reform era may have seen lower tax rates but it saw better collections, with the amount contributed by direct taxes going up from less than a fifth in 1990- 91 to as high as sixty per cent in 2009- 10.
This made eminent sense.
It taxed higher incomes, and not economic activity per se. The return last Friday to a reliance on indirect taxes is in this sense a regressive measure.
Taxing economic activity and fuelling a price rise are a ready recipe for a revivified opposition. No wonder the non Congress parties unitedly walked out. The socialists and communists joining hands with the BJP was clearly not a spur of the moment decision but the outcome of some meticulous floor coordination.
More than anything else, it means they smell an opportunity to give vent to the fears of inflation on the street.
Here, the Congress may be overplaying its hand.
It is true the BJP is down and lacks leaders with the experience of Advani and Vajpayee at the helm.
But its younger leadership has the advantage that it does not have the baggage of the Babri Masjid demolition.
It is also rarely noticed that neither Sushma Swaraj nor Arun Jaitley are from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This makes it that much easier for them to reach out to other parties of a different stripe and colour.
It is true the Congress has formidable advantages. But as it has discovered in the past, the underclass and rural producers do not only respond quickly to sound economic management.
They also test out options if the government is seen to be an uncaring one. Perhaps among the encomiums from those who watch the tax rate and Sensex, there will be more than a little anxiety for the ruling party in the weeks and months ahead.
The writer teaches history in Delhi University
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The news that M F Husain has been conferred honorary citizenship by the Qatar government should serve as a wake-up call to the Indian government. It's still unclear whether the 95-year-old artist is going to give up his Indian passport, but the very fact that he is considering it speaks volumes about how badly the government has handled the entire issue.
Husain has been living in exile since 2006 so as to avoid the inconvenience of having to appear in courts in different parts of the country to answer charges filed against him. Since 1996, several criminal cases have been filed against Husain alleging that he had hurt religious sentiments through his paintings. At the same time, there have been several occasions where Husain's paintings have been vandalised or prevented from being displayed. In 2008, Husain's paintings were excluded from an art summit, supported by the Union culture ministry, for fear of disruption. This goes to show how the government has bent backwards to appease fundamentalist elements.
After Husain left the country to escape harassment, the Supreme Court in 2008 clubbed nine cases against Husain and transferred them to a Delhi magistrate's court. But till date there has been no closure on the cases. This in spite of a Delhi high court ruling which quashed criminal proceedings against Husain for allegedly hurting public sentiments. The court not only labelled the charges as baseless but ticked off the complainants.
The government and the judiciary's inability to either dispose of the frivolous charges against Husain or to provide security for his art has led to this embarrassing situation. That one of India's greatest living artists has to not only live in exile but now consider giving up his citizenship is a blow to rule of law and freedom of expression. The Centre has belatedly said that Husain is welcome home and that he would be given security. But the artist himself might not want to live and travel in India under a cloud of security. What we need are not lukewarm assurances of security, but a categorical statement by the government as well as mainstream political parties that targeting of artists and their works won't be tolerated. The courts too must stop dragging their feet by dismissing charges against Husain. They must also stop the practice of entertaining frivolous petitions. Until that happens, there is no guarantee that Husain and other artists won't continue to be harassed.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SECURING THE FUTURE
The recent visit of Nepal president Ram Baran Yadav to India may not have attracted wide media attention or analysis, but remains nevertheless significant. In the political uncertainties which continue to loom over Nepal, the role of the president, even if constitutionally nominal, may acquire unexpected, even if unsought, significance. It was, of course, a historic visit as it was the first time that an elected head of state of Nepal, instead of a king, visited a foreign land.
The agreements inked during the visit were not of great importance, even if reflective of an Indian desire to assist Nepal tide over a difficult economic situation. There was the offer of a $250 million Exim credit, supply of substantial quantities of rice, wheat and lentils, enlargement of the scope of air services, increasing rail connectivity to five more points in Nepal and construction of a conference hall in Birgunj, across the border from Raxaul. All these may be considered useful, but not quite path-breaking.
The warmth of the reception to the president, not unusual in Indo-Nepal exchanges, can be over-interpreted. A Nepali commentator has suggested that this was in recognition of his hard line towards the Maoists, which is endorsed by India. President Yadav said on his return to Kathmandu that Indian leaders had showed concern over constitution-making and the peace process in Nepal. Indian president Pratibha Patil's comments in her banquet speech for Yadav were nuanced. After paying tributes to the courage of the Nepali people, she said, "Nepal has crossed several important milestones on its journey to a stable and inclusive multiparty democracy. We hope that the remaining tasks would be completed expeditiously, so that the new constitution of Nepal is adopted. It would be a glorious and historic moment for the people of Nepal. We eagerly look forward to rejoicing with Nepal, when the new era dawns on your beautiful country." However delicately put, the message appeared to be that the new Nepal that has been talked about for nearly the past four years is yet to become a reality and that the celebrations would have to wait until the work was completed.
Over the past few years, political parties, including the Maoists, have failed to uphold the spirit which had informed the move towards a multiparty democracy or to be seen to make serious efforts at addressing the root causes of the disaffection that sustained the Maoist insurgency. The traditional political parties, the Nepali Congress and the UML, had been disgraced by the electorate but have shown little signs of having drawn appropriate conclusions for future action. The Maoists, on their part - having taken the plunge to eschew violence and permanently enter a democratic polity - have given contradictory signals with regard to their intent. Statements from their leadership extolling violent means for the capture of state power have eroded their credibility, however much these can be sought to be explained as tactical moves.
What seems not to have been recognised adequately by the political parties in Nepal, or by neighbours, is that the stunningly large share of votes for the Maoists in the 2007 elections to the Constituent Assembly may not have been a vote for any Maoist philosophy per se, but a vote for change from the manipulative politics of the past and greater attention to the welfare of the people. The Maoists failed to capitalise on the opportunity to govern, however disruptive the opposition, while the mainstream parties seemed to disregard the expression of the voice of the people as a mere aberration or a bad dream that would disappear on its own. The Indian establishment would have been concerned, saddled as it is with its own extreme left-wing movements. But if the Maoists have not helped themselves with their extreme rhetoric, the failure of the Centre to consolidate could well result in an even larger share of votes for them in any future elections.
The resignation of the Maoist-led government in Nepal had followed President Yadav's refusal to accept the cabinet's recommendation to dismiss a controversial chief of army staff. The constitutional propriety of his action has been questioned and there are differing interpretations and views. A subsequent Maoist campaign has highlighted the question of civilian supremacy vis-a-vis the armed forces. When quieter counsels prevail, it would be important for Nepal's future to arrive at a closure on this question.
There is more than an even chance that the new constitution of Nepal would not be promulgated by the due date less than 14 weeks from now. An extension of six months is permitted by the interim constitution if there is a state of emergency. It is also suggested that the present Assembly may simply renew itself for a further period. In either case, the role of the president would acquire great significance and one would hope that he would guide Nepal in charting its way to a secure and stable democratic future.
The writer is a former ambassador to Nepal.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'INDIA CAN BE A SECURE DESTINATION FOR ARAB INVESTMENTS'
The Indo-Arab Economic Cooperation Forum (IAECF) recently organised a two-day international conference in New Delhi to explore investment opportunities in India. It also called upon the Indian government to create an Indo-Arab entrepreneurship fund and introduce Sharia banking system. Manzoor Alam, president of IAECF, speaks to Divya A on how India can attract $3.5 trillion investment from the Arab countries:
What are Arab investors looking for?
After the global meltdown, faith in the first world economies has weakened. The ripple effect of the meltdown is moving on to Dubai as well. Arab investors are now looking for an investment destination that can offer continuous return on investments (ROI) along with the assurance of safety of their investments. There can be no denying that India is the safest and most secure destination for the $3.5 trillion Arab investments.
What makes India a secure investment destination?
For the Arab world and the Gulf countries, India's democratic establishment, vast market and higher ROI is a combination that ensures safety of their investments in the short, medium and long terms. Few could have only imagined, even as late as the early 1990s, that India would be the cynosure of all investors' eyes in this hemisphere.
How can India attract this $3.5 trillion investment?
Necessary institutional and regulatory framework needs to be put in place to attract foreign direct investment from the Arab financial markets. For this, the Indian government, the RBI, SEBI and the banking industry would have to take the initiative to introduce such financial tools that can attract these investments. The IAECF summit underlined the need to attract these Arab investments through participatory banking.
What is the concept of Sharia banking? Is it viable in India?
Sharia banking refers to a system of banking that is consistent with the principles of Sharia, which prohibits payment or acceptance of interest fee for lending and borrowing respectively. Over 280 Islamic banks operate in over 50 countries under this system. India is home to the world's third largest population of Muslims, so it is expected that the results will be as fruitful and, perhaps, better than in other parts of the world.
The Indian government has already drafted a report on Islamic banking. The RBI and the finance ministry are jointly working on necessary legislative changes to implement the same. A committee headed by the cabinet secretary and comprising secretaries from other ministries, including finance, submitted a report on the prospects of Islamic banking in India and on drawing investments from abroad.
How will Arab investments help India socially?
India needs to build transport infrastructure - expressways, highways, airports, seaports, metros, monorails and roads. Every estimate for such infrastructure runs into hundreds of billions of dollars. This is where the Arab investments can be channelised.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NO GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Pranab Mukherjee must be happy man notwithstanding the walkout by the opposition from the Lok Sabha while he was presenting his Budget. Last year, Dalal Street crashed in the aftermath of Pranab Babu's Budget. This year the reverse happened, at least to start with. This has nothing to do with what the Budget contains and what it does not. It has much to do with expectations. Last year the expectations from Pranab Babu were very high.
With the memory of Mukherjee delivering his Budget last year still very strong, the market expected really nothing from the finance minister this time around. Another boring and tepid Budget, low on both form and substance, was expected. So it was a surprise of all surprises for the markets when Pranab Babu delivered some positives in the budgetary pronouncements.
With all the talk of stimulus measures initiated by the finance minister earlier likely to be wound up, the markets were pleasantly surprised when he only partially rolled it back (by raising excise duties by 2 per cent). The markets, which react spontaneously, were also taken in by Pranab Babu's projections about the fiscal deficit, which he aimed to rein in. The rise in petrol/diesel prices may have forced the opposition parties to react sharply but for the markets this was good news. Reasons: there has been widespread speculation in the run-up to the Budget that oil prices would go up significantly. Also the concessions offered by Mukherjee to direct tax (income tax) payers buoyed the sentiments in the markets. The announcement that new banks would be licensed and that service tax was not raised from its present level of 10 per cent also made the markets happy.
But are the contents of the Budget any cause to feel happy? Unfortunately, no. Talking to waiting mediapersons as he walked out of Parliament House after he delivered his speech, Mukherjee said that he had a threefold objective while presenting the Budget. One, to reinstate a regime that would bring back growth of gross domestic product to the range of 9 per cent per annum; second, to take the government back on the path of fiscal consolidation; third, to usher in a process of inclusive growth. But will all of these happen? Most unlikely, it seems.
The reasons for this are many. To begin with, general inflation is ruling at more than 8 per cent per annum and food inflation is higher than 17 per cent. In this scenario, a nominal growth rate of 9 per cent actually means a real growth rate of 1 per cent per annum. For the real growth rate to be 9 per cent, we would require a growth rate of 17 per cent per annum. Then, i suspect, that the finance minister has kept all the projections of fiscal deficit under control by understating expenditures. For major sectors like school education, health and energy the outlays have gone up but by not more than 20 per cent. It seems to me that the finance minister would overshoot his actual expenditures by the end of the year.
As far as his claim of meeting the targets of inclusive growth is concerned, much would depend on the delivery machinery. This is, as we well know, quite poor. In that sense it really does not mean anything that 37 per cent of expenditure has been allocated to social sectors and 46 per cent will be spent on the infrastructure sector. Mukherjee says that 25 per cent of the funds allocated to the infrastructure sector will be spent on building rural infrastructure. We have heard many such grand pronouncements before. If all the money that is supposed to be spent for rural infrastructure actually upgrades the life of farmers, why do farmers still commit suicide in parts of the country? Also why is the number of poor in the country growing? These are questions that Pranab Mukherjee must consider.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A NEW BEGINNING
Months of bickering between India and Pakistan after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai provided the backdrop to the foreign secretary level talks in New Delhi last Thursday. Both aides therefore bent over backwards to emphasize that to expect substantive movement forward would be to chase a chimera. The sequence of developments unfolded along wholly expected lines. What precisely transpired behind closed doors, one knew, would not be aired in public. But it was also clear that in their press conferences held separately, each country would give a different spin to them.
That is what came to pass. Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao claimed that much of the time was spent discussing terror. The exchanges on Kashmir were brief and Afghanistan wasn't mentioned at all. Her Pakistani counterpart rebutted these claims in a tone that sometimes jarred on Indian ears. All this, however, should have come as no surprise at all. The indignant reactions to Salman Bashir's statements in some sectors of the media were plainly beside the point. The two foreign secretaries, meeting at a time when there is such a palpable lack of trust between the two countries, could do no more than reiterate their priority concerns, interests and anxieties. Their primary task was to reassure their domestic constituencies that they yielded no ground, made no unacceptable compromises, struck no deals that could rub their respective shareholders the wrong way.
Thus far, each side played strictly according to script. What matters now, and for the future, is the agreement reached by the two foreign secretaries to 'remain in touch'. In other words, there is a firm commitment to remain engaged come hell or high water. This bodes well for the bilateral relationship. The foreign secretaries were to meet again within weeks, not months. Meanwhile, back-channel dialogue needs to accelerate. And should all go well, the ground must be laid for a dialogue at the highest political level. That is where the impetus to regain trust will come from.
Whatever might be said about the wisdom of engaging Islamabad at this juncture, it's unlikely that Islamabad will ever exert itself to dismantle the terror infrastructure on its territory if New Delhi has no dealings with it. But New Delhi also needs to engage, on a back-channel if necessary, the real wielders of power in Pakistan today - the military and security establishment. India policy has historically been the preserve of the Pakistani military, and its prestige has shot up in recent times given the Hobbesian state to which Pakistan has reduced itself to. It's a good idea, therefore, to go to the source and exchange messages directly with Islamabad's security establishment. Last Friday's attack in Kabul, which killed nine Indians among many others, should provide just such an occasion to begin consultations.
TRAGEDY OF THE ABSURD
For the country's politicians and bureaucrats, denial has always been the best form of defence and ad hocism the solution to all problems. Reacting to a report on starvation deaths in Balangir district, Orissa, that appeared last week in this paper, the state revenue minister did as expected of seasoned politicians: he flatly denied that there have been deaths in the district due to 'chronic' hunger. The executive arm of the government, the district collector, not only echoed his political boss's view but went farther by saying that one of the hunger victims was paid "Rs 10,000 before his death". Will someone please tell the collector that as the head of the district administration, ensuring two meals for the people is his core responsibility and handing out doles is just a shameful attempt to cover up his incompetence?
Now that the National Human Rights Commission has asked the Orissa Chief Secretary to file a report on the hunger deaths, there will hopefully be some heads that will roll. But then, going by how the Indian political system usually works, one fears that there will be no change at all, with no one held accountable. That the deaths have happened in Balangir is not surprising at all. The failure of governance, including the provision of basic food items reaching here, has been chronic in this district. Along with Kalahandi and Koraput (known as KBK together), Balangir has been one of the poorest and most backward districts in the country. Balangir's fate has been practically unchanged for decades despite its inclusion in all poverty eradication programmes since 1947. Yet, poverty has become a permanent feature here with people having very little access to proper healthcare and nutrition. Even the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme failed to make any difference. One study found out that in the KBK region in 2008-09, 74 per cent of the wage payments were siphoned off.
In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee upped the social sector outlay by 22 per cent to Rs 137,674 crore. The draft of the Food Security Bill is also ready. But such numbers and legislations will have no meaning if they are unable to deliver the basic minimum to people fighting off hunger and death. The Balangir deaths say a lot about our governance system, the value we as a nation put to the lives of our own people, the leaking delivery mechanism, and the giant, gaping holes that are allowed to exist in our so-called social security net. The declaration of 8 per cent growth in the next fiscal and other such wonderful economic figures and projections in the face of Indians still starving to death would have sounded terribly funny if it weren't for the fact that it's an incredible ongoing tragedy.
LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT...
Haven't you been missing good old Left versus Right politics? We certainly have, with the Left parties left out of the main political stage and the BJP, well, either breaking into a song or finding time outside Parliament even when the annual Budget of the country was being presented. There's now another reason to find the whole Left-Right tussle redundant: it's become downright confusing even for the old rivals if one goes by what happened in the town of Kollam in Kerala on Thursday.
The CPI(M) suspended one of its senior leaders and mayor of Kollam, N. Padmalochan, from the party's primary membership for inaugurating an RSS organising committee office. For old-timers in the anti-communalist party of the people, a comrade hanging out with a Rashtriya Swayamsevak is as bad as a nun spending time in the Playboy Mansion. The BJP has been quick to term the disciplinary action taken by the communists against the lapsed communist as 'Stalinist'. On his part, Mr Padmalochan apologised, but since he aired his apology on TV instead of to his senior comrade he's pretty much in the dog house.
So what's next? An RSS functionary found flipping through Das Kapital and enjoying it? A BJP member singing the Internationale set to the tune of Vande Mataram? Told you, the Left ain't the Left and the Right ain't the Right any more.
WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE CONGRESS
The Opposition unity demonstrated by the coming together of several political parties on Budget Day should serve as a cause for great concern for the government in general and the Congress in particular. Historically, Opposition unity has always been a matter of grave threat to the Congress.
In 1977, the Congress lost power to a united Opposition. Again in 1989, the Congress, which had won more than 400 seats in 1984, was humbled by the combined might of Opposition parties. The BJP, which formed the NDA, also thrived on the support it received from a large number of regional outfits, that is until in 2004, when Sonia Gandhi, leading an alliance of secular outfits, was able to install the UPA.
What was witnessed in Parliament on Friday was unprecedented as it was for the first time that the Opposition walked out during the Budget speech. Outside Parliament, even some UPA allies like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav made their resentment known. Though the BSP has not reacted so far, it is unlikely to back the government on the petrol and diesel hike issue. Among the allies, Mamata Banerjee seemed unhappy, her party demanding a roll-back on the oil price rise. The DMK also wants a roll-back.
As far as economics goes, many experts have hailed the 2010-11 Budget. They feel that it is a step in the right direction and an attempt by a seasoned politician to break away from the past and address present day problems. However, its political fallout can have consequences, which the Congress seems unprepared to face.
For a long time, the Congress has had no strategy to deal with crises. Political managers are content settling their own scores and are not farsighted. In July 2008, the government may have been toppled over the nuclear issue had the Opposition voted in strength.
Poor political management has been extremely pronounced during the past few years and seeks to undo all the good work of the party president. It is evident that the Congress' back-channel contacts with Opposition parties have virtually dried up. The party's popularity is on the decline and its managers are directly responsible for it. Unless there is political management, the attempts to make our economy vibrant will not happen.
In parliamentary democracy, floor coordination, both with allies and the Opposition, is essential and short-term measures do not hold good. After 1991, the Congress has been the only party that has managed to cross the 200-mark in 2009. But it still has a very limited understanding about political management.
If Pranab Mukherjee was to present the kind of Budget he presented, enough spadework should have been done both in terms of creating awareness and managing allies. What is likely to happen now is that even though the Rajya Sabha's role during the Budget exercise is minimal, the Centre is going to face some embarrassing moments there. In the Lok Sabha, the abilities of the parliamentary affairs minister and his colleagues, too, will be under severe stress.
The government may seek to divide the Opposition by introducing the Women's Reservation Bill and hope that the BJP will support it. It is unlikely that without extracting its pound of flesh, the BJP will follow the official line since this would weaken its own position as the head of the Opposition.
The Opposition is playing a tactical game. When Sushma Swaraj attacked Sharad Pawar during the price rise debate, it was perhaps to test whether the Congress will come to the rescue of its ally and also to send a message to Pawar that he would not be acceptable as the leader of a coalition, in case the government he is a part of comes under threat.
This may be the Budget session, but it is a season of politics for all concerned. It is a wake-up call for the Congress. Between us.
THE AGE OF EXTREMES
A few months ago, when Sarah Palin, the poster-girl of rightwing Republicans was contracted by Fox News to be a guest anchor, she remarked, "I am thrilled to be joining the great journalistic talent at Fox News. It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news."
Ah! 'Fair' and 'balanced', those wonderful words that Fox News has made its tagline, words that every aspiring journalist is reminded are critical to professional credibility. Unfortunately, since I didn't go to journalism school (or perhaps because I didn't), I am still not sure what those words mean. After all, if the channel that has often been accused of being "the propaganda arm of the Republican party" can proudly claim to be 'fair' and 'balanced', then I guess we need to redefine the meaning of the words. When Robert Ailes, the Fox News chairman was asked on the criticism of the political slant of the channel, his response was: "We're not programming to conservatives, we're just not eliminating their point of view!"
We still don't have a Fox News equivalent in India although a few channels have slipped dangerously in that direction. But the dilemma of what constitutes 'fair' and 'balanced' TV is universal. On Indian news TV, the escape route has been to ensure that any discussion programme represents strikingly contrary viewpoints. So, if you have a rightwing voice who believes that Hindutva is the core of Indian nationalism, you must have a left-liberal view that is convinced that Hindutva is a communal platform. If you have someone who condemns human rights violations in Kashmir, you must have someone who believes that human rights activists are apologists for militants. If you have someone who supports gay rights, you must have an opposing view that sees homosexuality to be a criminal act.
If there is one thing that contemporary news TV has done, it has accentuated the polarities in public debate. The limited discussion time on TV does place a premium on short, snappy sound bites. On TV, the moderate viewpoint that might qualify its responses with a considered 'on the other hand' is quickly discarded. By contrast, the more direct, extreme view is celebrated because it leads to, let's be honest, a 'big fight'. As someone who has 'moderated' many such 'fights', let me say that the experience has been mostly enjoyable. To have two articulate speakers slug it out let's say an Arun Jaitley from the BJP and a Kapil Sibal from the Congress does make for terrific television: it can be edgy, dramatic and exciting. But also, at times, dare I say, a little predictable.
The recent debate over Naxalism typifies the problems associated with converting a highly complex subject into a binary black and white conflict. Much like a boxing match, the participating pugilists are placed in their respective corners. On one side, you have the votaries of the strong state: for them, the Naxals are terrorists who must be eliminated. On the other, you have the so-called Naxal 'sympathisers' (or the 'overground face of the underground' as a politician once labelled them) who believe that the Indian state is brutal and repressive. Bring them into a TV studio, and the debate follows a familiar pattern: loud, accusatory and, in many instances, highly personalised.
Lost in the cacophony, there seems little space or time to discuss how a just and acceptable solution can be found to what is both a socio-economic and a security challenge. Why should every reference to alleged 'atrocities' committed by a local militia like the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh be seen as an exhibition of 'anti-national' behaviour? On the other hand, why should unbridled criticism of Naxal violence be seen as state propaganda? What if, one were to suggest, that both sides are in danger of being victims of their own propaganda machines, that maybe the Salwa Judum and the Naxals are two sides of the same violent coin?
Maybe, the polarities on TV mirror the divisions in society itself. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Uddhav Thackeray for a news programme on the My Name is Khan controversy, and questioned him on his claims to represent 'all of Mumbai'. An 'Internet Hindu' group sent me an angry tweet on how I was a "liberal scumbag" who should be exiled to Siberia. Two days later, I interviewed Congress leader Digvijay Singh on his visit to Azamgarh and questioned him on reports that he had given a clean chit to all those accused in the Batla House encounter.
The same group sent me an effusive tweet on how delighted they were to see that I had "changed for the better".
Perhaps, we have pigeonholed the world around us into neat little boxes. It comforts us to view life from a simplistic 'them' versus 'us', liberal versus conservative standpoint. The space for exploring the grey areas of an issue, to be more accepting of a counter-argument to our entrenched belief system is shrinking. Or at least we don't seem to wish to enter the hidden crevices of a vexed question that might force us to re-examine our convictions.
And yet, the question I ask is this: why can one not be equally critical of Uddhav Thackeray and Digvijay Singh's brand of politics without having to constantly 'prove' one's credentials to be a 'fair' and 'balanced' journalist? Or is that the price one must pay for being a journalist in the age of extremes?
Post-script: If Fox News has chosen Sarah Palin as its brand ambassador for 'fair' and 'balanced' reporting, maybe we should also look for similar home-grown figures? Maybe, our tough-talking home minister is an option? Better still, why can't we have both Mr Chidambaram and author-activist Arundhati Roy on the same programme on Naxalism? It would certainly make for fascinating television.
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network
The views expressed by the author are personal
PORTRAITS OF THE ARTIST AS A QATARI CITIZEN
So, it looks like it is goodbye to India for M.F. Husain. His son Owais has confirmed that Husain will surrender his Indian passport and accept citizenship of Qatar. The other stories have yet to be confirmed: that Husain has already begun travelling on a Qatari passport; that the Qatar royal family will spend millions on a museum for him, etc.
All of us who like and admire Husain, both as an artist and as a human being, will be saddened by the turn that events have taken. There is no doubt that self-proclaimed defenders of Hinduism have behaved like the Taliban in persecuting this great artist. In Ahmedabad, a gallery dedicated to his work was vandalised. In other cities, those who dare organise exhibitions of Husain's art have been subjected to threats of violence.
And then, there are the legal cases. According to some estimates, 900 cases were filed against Husain all over the country so that he would have to spend his time going from court to court, fighting off the nuisance litigators.
What is more worrying is that even after the Congress took office six years ago, the harassment continued. You would have expected a political party that says that it is committed to secularism and freedom of expression to have declared that it would bring Husain back from his self-imposed exile in Dubai and make sure that he gets the protection he deserves in his homeland. Instead, till a few months ago, the government turned a blind eye to the persecution of our greatest living artist.
But Husain's decision to become a citizen of Qatar also saddens me for many other reasons. Most of us in the media have looked at the Husain case through the prism of freedom of expression. As far as we are concerned, the issue is one of artistic liberty.
But there are also other ways of looking at the case. Forget, for a minute about the Hindu Taliban or the vandals who drove Husain out of India. Try looking at the Husain saga through the prism of secular double standards.
Our position as liberals is that an artist has the freedom to paint what he likes. If some Hindus are offended by Husain's nude Saraswatis, then they can simply look away. They have no right to restrict his creativity or to deny the rest of us the opportunity to view Husain's work.
But sceptics (all of whom are not necessarily Muslim-haters or communalists) frequently ask the obvious follow-up question: how would we have responded if Husain had painted Muslim religious figures in the nude?
The answer is an uncomfortable one. Even if he had painted the Prophet, fully clothed and portrayed with respect, we would not have risen to Husain's defence with the same vigour. We would have said "Islam prohibits visual representations of the Prophet so Husain should not have offended Muslims".
That answer weakens our claims about artistic freedom. Why should Husain's creative abilities be hampered by some Quranic injunction? Why should non-believers be bound by the dictates of believers? Why do we campaign so hard for Husain and yet condemn the Danish cartoonist who offended Islamists?
It is an awkward situation for secular liberals to find themselves in, and I must confess that each time I have spoken up for Husain, I have been troubled by the contradiction.
Which leads me to the third reason for my sadness at Husain's decision to surrender his Indian citizenship. Artists routinely flee oppressive regimes that censor their work or persecute them. Thousands of Iranian, Afghan and Arab writers, poets and painters have found refuge in the West. In our own country, we have frequently offered shelter to Taslima Nasreen.
But the general rule is: you flee an oppressive society for a liberal one.
Husain is the only artist I know who has abandoned a democratic society that still values (in our own bumbling way) freedom of expression and chosen to live in undemocratic societies where there is no true freedom of expression.
Does that sound like a great artistic statement to you?
Any one who has visited Dubai, where Husain has lived for several years now, will tell you that it is a wonderful place: vibrant, international, full of good shopping etc. But they will also tell you that the Emirates are not big on free speech. Try criticising the ruler in your local newspaper and the article will never get published. Find a way of publishing it yourself and you will be thrown into jail.
There is a third way in which the Husain case is viewed and that is through the prism of Hindu-Muslim relations. Those of us who know Husain know that he is entirely secular and almost above religion. He finds as much joy in a dancing Ganesh as he does in a portrait of Mother Teresa.
But not everyone knows him. And so, it has been possible for the Hindu Taliban to portray Husain as a Muslim who delights in offending Hindus. His admirers know that his naked Hindu goddesses emerge out of love and respect for an ancient tradition. But it is easy for critics to portray them as a vulgar representations of Hindu religious figures from the brush of a Muslim.
Now that he has chosen to live in Qatar, the Hindutva-wallahs will ask the obvious questions: how much freedom will he have there? Of course the Arabs will let him paint naked Hindu goddesses. But will they let him paint anything that even remotely offends Muslims? Anything that offends the royal family? Nude portraits of previous rulers of Qatar? Or even, nude portraits of Arab women?
These are crude questions. But sadly, the answers are as crude. Husain will have no artistic freedom in Qatar. He will be no more than a court painter to a medieval monarch. So has he chosen to live in a society that values the artistic freedom that he says he is denied in India? Or has he just taken the soft, very profitable, option and forgotten all about artistic freedom?
These are troubling questions and I think they will worry many of us who have spoken up so vociferously in Husain's defence for so many years. From what I can tell, the threat of nuisance litigation has now retreated after the Supreme Court has intervened. Nor is India a particularly unsafe place. The home secretary has now offered Husain as much security as he needs.
So here's my view: if he wants to stay abroad, fine. That's reasonable. But he should not turn his back on his own country. He should not surrender his Indian nationality and opt for a passport offered by an undemocratic regime all in the name of artistic freedom.
The battle for Indian secularism and free speech must be fought here, in India. And not at the feet of some Middle Eastern monarch.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
As the Justice P.D. Dinakaran issue has laid bare, there are things to be fixed, and fast, in the way matters concerning judges are handled. Therefore, the necessity and urgency of the Judges Standards and Accountability Bill which replaces the lapsed Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006 cannot be overemphasised.
Set to be introduced in the current session of Parliament, the new bill is intended to adequately address corruption in the judiciary. The Supreme Court of India self-appoints; and dismissing a sitting judge by means of parliamentary impeachment is so difficult that it hasn't happened yet. Now that an inquiry committee has been formed to investigate the complaints against Chief Justice Dinakaran of the Karnataka high court, it is pertinent to keep in focus what the higher judiciary lacks and what it needs.
The lessons of the case are that the absence of an accessible platform for citizens to complain against a sitting judge cannot endure, nor can the absence of a mechanism for such a judge to defend himself. Above all, the appointments procedure one of the main, recent criticisms against the apex court needs to be made transparent. Finally, the dismissals method should be sped up and spared the current layered complexity. In any case, quick decision-making that soon produces results, one way or another, is imperative. The new bill provides for both judges and non-judges to inquire into complaints while penalising frivolous and motivated complainers. But significantly, it does not deal with appointments. That ground must be cleared too. Merely urging the recommendation only of names of unquestionable merit and integrity, as the law minister has done, may not suffice for long. The next time a controversy surfaces, procedures cannot be so long drawn-out.
SLIPPING IN OIL
The hike in duties on petroleum products in the budget was seized upon by the opposition as a possible cause for an unprecedented and unjustifiable walkout during the budget speech, over the government's inability to control food inflation. But since then the pressure on Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to rethink his move, which would raise retail prices of petrol and diesel, has grown, with two major constituents of the ruling UPA, the Trinamool Congress and the DMK, demanding that the measure be withdrawn. (Both parties face assembly elections next year, the TMC in West Bengal and the DMK in Tamil Nadu.)
A point worth remembering is that the fuel price hike is not, in itself, a reformist step. It was taken merely to plug a giant gap in the government's finances. It does not solve the crucial economic problem, the lack of a direct connection between the world cost of oil and the amount that Indians pay; nor does it solve the crucial political problem, that the administered price mechanism is subject to constant external pressure. Indeed, it reinforces the latter. But, even so, this is a crucial test. Will the government be able to face down obviously populist demands? Even if not a full-throated reformist move, the hike was considered necessary to reduce the fiscal deficit something that responsible politics should recognise as a priority. (It is notable that comprehensive alternative measures to replace the revenue lost were the government to roll back the hike have not been proposed.) If cheap oil winds up trumping responsible politics, we are in trouble.
That is because there is no doubt that, sooner rather than later, this government will find it necessary to implement the Kirit Parikh commission report, which recommends the freeing of petroleum prices. Anything else is unsustainable; India simply cannot afford another spell of heavily subsidising oil companies if the international price of oil drifts back towards $100 a barrel. That moment is indeed, already overdue. If the government gives in to cheap-oil politics now, what hope for genuine reform later?
THE KABUL TEST
The terrorists who struck at guesthouses in Kabul on Friday were primarily targeting Indian citizens and foreigners. As Jayant Prasad, India's ambassador to Afghanistan, told this newspaper, "They went from room to room with Kalashnikovs and killed foreigners." This is the third major strike against Indians in Kabul, after attacks on the Indian embassy in July 2008 and then in October 2009. In both the earlier incidents, enough leads were picked up to suspect the involvement of Pakistan-based groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. This time too the LeT is a prime suspect. Investigators should soon get a clear idea of the perpetrators. However, profiles of the Indians killed on Friday provide an understanding of the provocation the terrorists intend in a year that could change Afghanistan.
Among those killed: Major Laishram Jyotin Singh (who courageously tried to overpower one of the suicide bombers), who was providing medical assistance; Major Deepak Yadav, who was teaching English at the Afghan Military Academy; Nawab Khan, a tabla player, who was part of a troupe sent to Kabul by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations; Bhola Ram, an engineer; Nitish Chibber, a staffer at the Kandahar consulate. Their deaths highlight the difficult circumstances in which Indians have been working to build long-term local capabilities in post-2001 Afghanistan: in education, health services, infrastructure (the construction of roads, power transmission lines, even the parliament building) and as SEWA's statement of resolve to persist with its activities in Afghanistan shows, in imparting livelihood training. Together, they provide a measure of India's commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan. And the diversity of non-military ways in which local infrastructure and human skills are being upgraded has been vital to India's strategic gains and goodwill in that country. However, the repeated attacks on Indian targets show the vulnerability of Indian personnel. After the embassy strikes, measures were taken to revamp security and create residential complexes. Yet the fact that military officers were housed in guesthouses indicates that these measures need to be expedited.
This is a pivotal year in Afghanistan. Determined diplomacy must be sustained by dogged preparedness. Efforts to guard our people must be reassessed, and provocations like Friday's countered with a redoubling of their good works. It is not just that Afghanistan is crucial to combating terrorism directed at this country. It is also that this unique form of diplomacy and non-military assistance to Afghanistan is being tested for India's stamina and heart to play the big power game and to play it on its own terms.
Despite hype over the Union Budget, it is only one of several instruments the Central government possesses and many items are state (or even local body) subjects. Consequently, there is merit in the budget sticking to its core area of expenditure and taxes, since there are options outside the budget for introducing big-bang reforms. During UPA-I, flamboyant announcements were made and subsequently not implemented. Given the present finance minister's style, one ought not to have expected big-bang, followed later by an even bigger whimper. Prior to the budget speech, expectations were centred on the withdrawal syndrome, interpreted as tax reduction stimulus and not public expenditure or monetary policy. The FM altered these expectations by mentioning three challenges: GDP growth of 9 per cent, raising it to 10 per cent; inclusive development; and public delivery. He then followed this up by saying that budget "cannot be a mere statement of government accounts" (which it constitutionally is), but must also impart vision. If that is the criterion and if the bar is thus raised, a budget is bound to be judged more harshly. What is the vision? This is also about packaging, not just content. What has happened to FDI in retail, pensions, insurance, labour market reforms?
What about reforms to stimulate the four identified prongs for agriculture: production; reduction in wastage; credit; and food processing? Most agricultural reforms are state subjects. How does the Centre hope to unleash a second green revolution in eastern India with Rs 400 crore? Will the grain distribution problem be resolved if the FCI can hire private godowns for seven instead of five years? One should have promised less and delivered budgetary staples expenditure and tax reform. There is a vision in this budget, but it isn't what the FM promises. The vision of the budget is fiscal consolidation and tax reform. That's what the speech should have focused on. This becomes easier if a short and crisp budget speech is delivered, not one meandering over 12,590 words and 189 paragraphs. This is not criticism about missing big-bang content. It is a criticism about not building on tax reform and fiscal consolidation. We will have GST and direct tax reform from April 1, 2011. Note however the careful choice of language. On the Direct Tax Code, the FM is "confident that the government will be in a position to implement", while on GST, "it will be my earnest endeavour". Since the latter involves the states, this is understandable.
Let's take indirect taxes first. On the domestic, the proposition is simple. We must unify and standardise GST at 12 per cent. Therefore, we must move central excise and service taxation towards that. We aren't ready to do move services to 12 per cent, let it remain at 10 per cent. But excise can move to 10 per cent. However, am I implementing this rule uniformly? No, on excise, I am tinkering around on replaceable kits for domestic water filters, corrugated boxes and cartons, toy balloons and latex rubber, not to forget large cars. Perhaps large cars, cigarettes and petroleum products should be treated differently. Why am I bucking the standardisation objective for the others? Of course, there is lobbying. A FM interested in tax reform should resist the lobbying. This discretionary tinkering is reminiscent of pre-1991, and not deserved by a country wishing to move towards GST. We have this discretionary treatment in services too, such as discrimination against freight movement by railways. There are several special dispensations in customs, too many to catalogue. This is not the hallmark of a reformist FM, reform interpreted as the "small bang" of tax harmonisation. There is not much to say on personal income taxation, except the obvious about lower direct taxes neutralising higher indirect taxes, with inflationary contribution from the latter. There is a moot point about MAT though. True, effective corporate tax rate is 22 per cent. This must increase and is an issue that will be addressed in DTC in 2011. For one year, might it not have been better to leave MAT at 15 per cent and surcharge at 10 per cent?
On tax reform, the FM hasn't delivered as much as he should have. But he has moved on fiscal consolidation, committed to a debt/GDP reduction road-map paper, accepted rolling fiscal deficit/GDP targets of 5.5 per cent in 2010-11, 4.8 per cent in 2011-12 and 4.1 per cent in 2012-13 and given deficit numbers with off-budget items included. There is greater transparency and no numerical legerdemain. In passing, this is the first time budget papers (not subsequent press conferences) mention nominal GDP growth expectation of 12.5 per cent, which is 1 percentage point lower than what most budgets have tended to assume. This is probably split into 8.5 per cent real growth and 4 per cent inflation. Even if inflation is measured by GDP deflator, 4 per cent may be on the low side. If inflation is higher, that makes it easier to reach the deficit ratio. Plus Rs 40,000 crore from disinvestment and Rs 35,000 crore from 3G auctions (this number is hidden in the FRBM statement). 5.5 per cent in 2010-11 shouldn't be difficult. Since CSO won't change GDP base every year, subsequent budget speech announcements, there is tight control on expenditure, particularly of non-plan variety. For example, if inflation is 4 per cent, real growth in expenditure is only 4.5 per cent.
Inevitably, people ask the question whether the budget does anything for growth and inflation. At one level, this isn't a question that should be asked. Both are determined and influenced by extra-budgetary factors. For instance, growth of 8.5 per cent will be a function of what happens to interest rates and what Indra does. All one knows is 7.2 per cent in 2009-10 (both Survey and budget seem to think this will be closer to 7.5 per cent) was driven by public consumption expenditure and that will be reined. Will private consumption expenditure driven by direct tax cuts neutralise Pay Commission arrears and farmers' debt relief, both missing this year? Will exports recover on a 2007-08, and not 2008-09, base? Will private investments recover? The budget doesn't directly help answer any of these questions, except the signaling of fiscal consolidation, tax reform and financial sector liberalisation (more bank licenses). And quite clearly, several provisions in budget will contribute to inflation. If at all, North Block seems to think inflation will become less of a worry than it is today.
Given constraints, it is a decent small-bang budget. Following Survey's trend of setting bands, it scores 6.50, give or take 0.25, out of 10, and would have scored more had the message been loud and clear.
The writer is a Delhi-based economist
A CONSTITUENCY OF HER OWN
The Union cabinet on Thursday cleared the Women's Reservation Bill, which seeks to provide 33 per cent reservations to women in Parliament and state assemblies. The bill, which has already been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice, and personnel. The committee had given its report in December last year and recommended passage of the bill in its present form. The committee also suggested that the issue should not be left to the discretion of political parties.
On Thursday, a delegation of women MPs called on President Pratibha Patil to suggest that the bill should be taken up for consideration in Parliament on March 8 to mark the 150th year of the International Women's Day. It has been pending for more than a decade due to lack of consensus on its present form as some "hostile" party chieftains, namely Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav and Sharad Yadav oppose the bill.
The bill raises two very serious issues.
First, there is "reason" enough for these leaders to oppose this bill. It is not necessarily because they are backward looking or conservative politicians, as they are often portrayed as being. The hullabaloo over 58 women being elected as MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha aside, a time-series caste breakup of women parliamentarians demonstrates why these backward class leaders are concerned. The group of women MPs has been dominated by women from upper castes whose share never has dropped below the 50 per cent mark. The women MPs from SC and ST communities seem to be at the 25 per cent mark, approximately, which is close to the quota of seats fixed for those communities. The under-representation is of women MPs from the Other Backward Classes. This group has never crossed the 20 per cent mark, and certainly the "silent revolution" shows no impact on women from the backward classes.
Second, the bill in its current form has the potential to produce a destabilising effect. It states that one-third of the seats would be reserved, and rotated in every general election. This rotation shall be determined by draw of lots, in such a manner that a seat shall be reserved only once in a block of three general elections. This "rotation" and "reservation" policy has severe constraints. For one, as women would be contesting against women alone in such reserved constituencies, it is unlikely that they will have the same acceptability among the political class. There are chances that they would be considered temporary small fry in politics. The rotation could lead to ineffective political participation.
Besides, this rotation would result in two-thirds of incumbents being compulsorily unseated in every general election. As legislators will not have the incentive to seek re-election from the same constituency, they would be unaccountable to their electorates. Also, the arrangement of drawing lots will inevitably create last-minute confusion.
The problem with this bill is its inadequacy in addressing the core issue: the scanty presence of women in political parties. Perhaps a lot could be achieved by enacting a law that pushes parties to nominate women candidates for election in one-third of the constituencies. There is enough evidence to argue that the success rate of women candidates in Lok Sabha elections since 1952 has been uniformly higher than that of their male counterparts. So political strategists need to stop worrying and start the process of nominating women, as one candidate in three, from whichever constituency they choose, in order to usher in a new era of political representation.
The writer is with Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
THE GIST OF GST
R KAVITA RAO
India is preparing for a big change in the regime of domestic indirect taxes through the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax. This regime shift is expected to replace a plethora of taxes for the Central government and all the state governments. Therefore it is only to be expected that every agent in the economy governments, planners and policy makers, average taxpayers as well as academics, would have their own take on the dream model for this tax. Clearly, all these visions do not always agree. Three important players in the scheme of things have voiced their thoughts on the subject the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers, through the discussion paper on GS;, the revenue department of the Government of India through its opinion on the discussion paper; and the Thirteenth Finance Commission through its final report. What emerges from these reports is:
* a broad consensus for the introduction of GST;
* an agreement that the rates would remain uniform across states, with some institutional mechanism for ensuring uniformity;
* an agreement to converge on uniformity in forms and procedures for ease of implementation and compliance.
There are however, a number of issues which are not yet completely resolved. To make further progress, some very major decisions need to be taken. Two which are of critical importance to the taxpayers: the treatment of interstate services and the form of administration of the new regime. While all the documents referred to above do mention the importance of following international best practices in the defining "place of supply" rules, i.e., rules that determine the treatment of inter-state sale of goods and services, no clear decision is yet proposed on how these transactions are to be taxed. For the firms involved in these services, these decisions are critical to even work towards a transition to the new regime.
On the second topic of importance, with increasing agreement that there would be uniformity in rates and in the forms and procedures, every taxpayer would be tempted to ask why there should be multiple tax administrations. Here the possible options can range from a radical solution like a single semi-autonomous revenue agency administering the tax for both the central government and the state governments, to a more acceptable, coordinated tax administration. In most of the documents mentioned above, there is some agreement on the need for coordination they propose for instance, a single dispute settlement system. There is also some mention of sharing of information. The Finance Commission report suggests that the tax administration for taxpayers with turnover less than Rs 1.5 crore could be delegated to state governments the revenue for the Central tax can be collected and transferred to the Centre. As long as decisions on the same are not announced, it is tempting to wish for more in terms of a unified public face for the tax departments. This would require single registration, returns filing and payment systems, backed by a single information system. Given the uniformity in base and in the tax rates, the above would ensure that the same task and identical information are not replicated at multiple places. It would save effort of tax administration and tax compliance as well. This combined with a unified dispute settlement system and an advance ruling system, would constitute substantial improvement in the tax environment of the country.
The above issues concern taxpayers and tax administrators very closely. Apart from the above, there is one critical issue from the perspective of the state governments. This concerns the change in the fiscal space following the introduction of the new regime depending on the number of taxes subsumed and the mechanism for ensuring the adherence to a uniform design by different states, there is a perceived change in the autonomy of state governments. The Finance Commission's model GST for instance proposes that a larger number of taxes be subsumed into the GST, when compared to the model specified by the discussion paper of the Empowered Committee. This, together with a proposal to bind the states to the agreement through some penal provisions, limits the scope of the states to undertake tax based measures to augment or alter the tax environment in the state. A critical issue for progress is to define a mechanism for binding the states to the agreement, that would be acceptable to all the states, or alternatively to live with some "band" for disagreement.
Given the number of important decisions to be taken, and the efforts that are tirelessly being directed towards these goals, it would be useful for the taxpayer and the final consumer to get a sense of the progress. Planning for a transition is as important as designing a good tax regime. For these purposes, it is critical that decision-makers provide a road-map or a timeline for the implementation. While there would be uncertainty on the timeline for critical decisions, it might be possible to indicate a minimum interval that would be provided between the announcement of the final decisions and the introduction of the new regime. This would make for a smooth transition, conducive to business as well as tax administration
The writer is at the National Institute of Public Financeand Policy, New Delhi
Since the two recent NATO-led military strikes that accidentally killed dozens of Afghan civilians, I have been thinking a great deal about the psychic toll that killing takes on soldiers. In 2007, I was an Army lieutenant leading a group on a house-clearing mission in Baquba, Iraq, when I called in an artillery strike on a house. The strike destroyed the house and killed everyone inside. I thought we had struck enemy fighters, but I was wrong. A father, mother and their children had been huddled inside.
The feelings of disbelief that initially filled me quickly transformed into feelings of rage and self-loathing. The following weeks, months and years would prove that my life was forever changed. In fact, it's been nearly three years, and I still cannot remove from my mind the image of that family gathered together in the final moments of their lives. I can't shake it. It simply lingers.
I know that many soldiers struggle long after they leave the battlefield to cope with civilian deaths. It does not matter whether they were responsible for those deaths, whether it was a mistake of the command, of the weaponry, or even the fault of the enemy, who in parts of both Iraq and Afghanistan have been known to intentionally place or involve civilians, even children, in their operations. Just seeing the lifeless body of a little boy or girl is all it takes.
For many soldiers, what follows a killing is a struggle of the mind. We become aware that what we've seen has changed us. We can't unlearn it, and we continue to think of those innocent children. It is not possible to forget.
Killing enemy combatants comes with its own emotional costs. On the surface, we feel as soldiers that killing the enemy should not affect us it is our job, after all. But it is still killing, and on a subconscious level, it changes you. You've killed. You've taken life. What I found, though, is that you feel the shock and weight of it only when you kill an enemy for the first time, when you move from zero to one. Once you've crossed that line, there is little difference in killing 10 or 20 or 30 more after that.
War erodes one's regard for human life. Soldiers cause or witness so many deaths and disappearances that it becomes routine. It becomes an accepted part of existence. After a while, you can begin to lose regard for your own life as well. So many around you have already died, why should it matter if you go next? This is why so many soldiers self-destruct when they return from a deployment.
I know something about this. The deaths that I caused also killed any regard I had for my own life. I felt that I did not deserve something that I had taken from them. I fell into a downward spiral, doubting if I even deserved to be alive. The value, or regard, I once had for my own life dissipated.
Five weeks ago, my first child, a son, was born. Not surprisingly, my thoughts often race back to the children I killed. With the birth of my son, I received the same gift I destroyed.
The fact that soldiers are trained and expected to kill as part of their job is something that few people wish to talk about. Many men and women coming back from war don't risk telling the stories that have so profoundly changed their lives.
In recent months I've been trying to honour the lives I took by writing and speaking in public about my experience, to show that those deaths are not tucked neatly away in a foreign land. They may seem distant, but they are not. Soldiers bring the ghosts home with them, and it's everyone else's job to hear about them, no matter how painful it may be.
TARGET NOT ACQUIRED
Back in 1976, a Chilean hit squad assassinated former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and an American colleague in Washington. Letelier was one of the most prominent opponents of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
A rough equivalent today would be China orchestrating the elimination in the US of a prominent Uighur opponent, or the Russians assassinating a leading Chechen on a Georgetown street. Needless to say, the US government would be outraged at such extrajudicial executions on its soil. We don't want to live in a world where nations blow up enemies, or smother them with pillows, in other countries with which they're not at war.
But nor, of course, can we do less than everything possible to avert another 9/11, and that's where things get murky.
So let's make a few things clear. Since 9/11, with greater intensity under the Obama administration, the United States has wordlessly lifted the ban in effect since the Ford administration on targeted killings by US intelligence officers. Such killings are now taking place almost daily under a CIA-directed covert programme. Drones firing Hellfire missiles have eliminated several al Qaeda leaders.
The drone strikes are concentrated on Pakistan, with which America is not at war. It's not clear how you get on a list to be eliminated; who makes that call; whether the decision is based on past acts (revenge, say, for the killing of CIA agents in Khost, Afghanistan) or only on corroborated intelligence that the target is planning a terrorist attack; what, if any, the battlefield limits are; and what, if any, is the basis in law.
The closest I can find to an official accounting of the drone programme was from Senator John Kerry last October: "I am convinced that it is highly circumscribed now, very carefully controlled within a hierarchy of decision-making, significantly limited in its collateral damage, and profoundly successful in the impact it has had in putting al Qaeda on the run. It is why we can now say that perhaps 14 of the top 20 al Qaeda leaders have been eliminated."
That success is significant, even if "on the run" is hyperbole. But the "collateral damage" is also substantial and has a cascade terrorist-recruitment effect. On balance, Obama, who campaigned against the "dark side" of the war on terror and has insisted that America must lead by example as a nation of laws, owes an accounting of his targeted killing programme.
Revenge killings don't pass the test for me. I want to know that any target is selected because there is verifiable intelligence that he's actively planning a terrorist attack on the US or its allies; that the danger is pressing; that arrest is impossible; and that civilian lives are not wantonly risked. The bar of pre-emptive self-defense is then passed. A pinpoint strike is better than the Afghan or Iraqi scenarios. But that bar must be high.
I know, terrorists have no rule book, no borders and no compunction. The global war on terror is untidy. Still, the current accountability void for U. targeted killing is unacceptable.
America is treading a familiar path. Israel pioneered the use of unmanned drones to kill Hamas operatives. Gerald Steinberg wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal that "US forces have copied Israel's technique with their own drone killings of jihadi terrorists." But, of course, the US is not Israel. It's not a small nation, surrounded by more numerous enemies, at war since its foundation against foes bent on its destruction.
Vicky Divoll, a former C.I.A. lawyer, told The Los Angeles Times: "At one time, the United States did not kill in the shadows until we became as afraid for our lives as the Israelis have been for decades." That's right and unacceptable. Fear cannot be a global license for the United States of America to kill.
My doubt level that Mossad was behind the murder in Dubai last month of the senior Hamas operative, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, is about that of the Dubai police chief who said he was "99 percent, if not 100 percent" certain. What a messy trail: all that video, European passports belonging to Israelis whose lives are now at risk, diplomatic fallout. So what, argues Steinberg, who teaches political science at Bar Ilan University, al-Mabhouh was "probably making arrangements for the next round of attacks."
Note the "probably:" That's insufficient grounds for extrajudicial execution. Israel, too, must at least have
specific intelligence that a target is planning an imminent terrorist attack. Revenge is a blind alley. And America must lead by its own, not a far more vulnerable ally's, example.
SLICK POLITICS, CRUDE ECONOMICS
VIKRAM S MEHTA
The opposition benches emptied soon after the FM announced a Rs 1/litre hike in the excise duty for petrol and diesel. Budget speeches have always been interrupted, but I believe this is the first time there has been a walkout. A few days earlier I heard Yashwant Sinha tell NDTV that even though the BJP/NDA had dismantled the administrative price mechanism (APM) for petroleum products and were, therefore, by implication, in favour of market determined pricing, they would not support the Kirit Parikh Committee report that calls for the deregulation of diesel and petrol prices. He said that the Congress had led a morcha to protest the abolition of the APM and it was time for the BJP/NDA to pay the Congress back in their own currency. Indian politics, he said, was driven by "tit for tat".
We all know that in a democracy "good" economics and "populist" politics make for uneasy bedfellows and that when push comes to shove "good" economics is almost always pushed off the mattress. But I have seldom heard active politicians provide such an explicit visual and verbal indictment of their profession. After all, tit-for-tat politics cannot under any guise be mistaken for public service.
What could be the longer-term consequences of populism? There may be no comparison between the economies of Greece and India; but the insolvency of Greece today does provide a salutary message. Greece is currently looking for bailout funds from the IMF and its relatively more robust EU partner countries. To get these funds it has no choice but to accept embarrassingly stringent constraints on its monetary and fiscal sovereignty. The reason why Greece is in this mess is because for years it has lived beyond its means a fact that it hid not only from the EU, which prescribes budgetary limits, but also the public. It was able to do this by fiddling the accounts and by utilising the creative skills of Wall Street bankers. As we all know, there is seldom a free lunch and eventually the tab for profligacy has to be picked up. In the case of Greece it is being picked up by the children of those that went on the binge.
The point of this message is that the consequences of careless populism have unintended and long-term adverse ramifications, the costs of which are paid for by those that have had no hand in its formulation.
Are there no circumstances under which Indian politicians might accept, if not the Kantian absolute fiat justitia ruat coelum (do good even if the heavens fall), the Weberian ethic of responsibility salus populi suprema lex (the public good is the supreme law)? I am going to assume that the answer is in the affirmative. The reason I am making this assumption is because politicians, like businessmen or bureaucrats, are driven by self-interest. They can be persuaded to change their attitude if they perceive that such a change will serve their personal interests.
I am an armchair commentator but I have continually been surprised by the disrespect with which politicians treat their electorate. I use the word "disrespect" because I find no other word to explain the assumption that voters prefer ephemeral goods like "free" LPG or "free" power over the more substantive and durable combination of good roads, reliable power, affordable water, efficient public distribution system and clean governance. I am surprised because election after election shows that the voters do, in fact, reject the opportunist and corrupt. The challenge, therefore, is to persuade these individuals that their constituency will indeed reward them if they uphold Weberian ethics. How can this challenge be met?
I believe the answer lies in information and public opinion. I wonder how many parliamentarians really understand the consequences of rejecting good economics. Do they know that non-implementation of, say, the Parikh report will not only bankrupt the national oil companies, but it will also undermine the national quest for energy security and environmental protection? And if they did know this would they be so cavalier in their opposition? My suggestion is that parliamentarians create an informal club, say a luncheon group, that meets regularly to discuss matters of national importance but which are politically sensitive.
Such informal meetings should be outside the glare of party politics and the media and the purpose should be to inform, educate and debate. I believe such meetings could retard knee-jerk populism. Separately, and perhaps in the long term a more effective measure, would be to galvanise public opinion. Politicians' self-interest is inextricably linked to voter support. Hence, for them public opinion is the essential domino.
The combined weight of print and visual media, NGOs and experts should inform the public of the impact of allowing the Parikh report to gather dust on the same shelves as the Chaturvedi and Rangarajan reports. Ultimately our democracy is chaotic. It will never be easy to unshackle "good" economics from the endless cycle of political gamesmanship, recrimination and tit for tat politics. But efforts must be made to turn Mark Twain's snide remark "I was startled today to see a politician with his hand in his own pockets" on its head.
The author is chairman of Shell Group in India. These are his personal views
NO SLIPPERY ROLLBACK
A day after the entire opposition staged an unprecedented, and in our view inappropriate, walkout over the finance minister's Budget decision to levy additional duties on key petroleum products, cracks began to appear within the ruling UPA on the same issue. Two key allies of the Congress Party, the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and the M Karunanidhi-led DMK have written to the Prime Minister and the finance minister asking for a rollback of the decision that had raised retail prices of petrol and diesel for the average consumer. Sections of the Congress itself may well be sympathetic to this view. However, the government must now stand by its decisionsurely the political fallout had been assessed before the decision was made. In any case, the move to raise customs and excise duty is simply a strategy to mop up additional revenuethe government, already reeling under a big deficit, probably needed to make up the revenue lost from granting concessions in direct taxes. It wasn't in any way linked to deregulation of oil prices that is at the heart of real fiscal reform and the rehabilitation of oil marketing companies. A hike in excise duties will not help oil marketing companies that will still incur losses when global oil prices go above $65 a barrelgiven that recovery is gathering steam, oil prices are likely to stay above that level in the foreseeable future.
However, a rollback of the government's decision on additional taxes on petroleum products will have serious repercussions on the prospects of oil sector reform. If the government accepts the argument that any hike in retail prices of petrol and diesel is not justified, then the recommendations of the Kirit Parikh Committee report will simply gather dust just like the earlier reports on the same subject. The fact is that deregulation of oil prices, at current global price levels, will lead to an increase in retail prices of petrol and diesel, and also LPG and kerosene. But this is a reform that has to be done to rein in the fiscal deficit over the medium term. It hardly makes sense for any period longer than the short run to levy additional duties on petroleum products only to then use them to finance oil marketing companies' losses in cash. In fact, if the government was truly willing to talk down the howls of populist protest on a hike in retail fuel prices, it may have made sense to propose complete deregulation in this Budget, instead of simply tinkering with taxes. Perhaps an opportunity lost, but a rollback would set the process of oil sector reform back even further.
BARGAIN, BUT GET TAX REFORM DONE
Perhaps the biggest reform announced by the finance minister in his Budget speech on Friday is the commitment to completely overhaul India's tax regime by implementing the direct taxes code (DTC) and the goods and services tax (GST) by April 2011. The minister gave further momentum to his commitment over the weekend by suggesting that the DTC Bill may be placed in Parliament as soon as the monsoon session. That would give it sufficient time to go to the standing committee and be ready to be voted upon in the Winter session. Unlike the GST, the passage of DTC is not hampered by consultations with, and agreement from, the states. Still, industry has expressed concerns about the Bill as it stands now. The minister assured industry, a major stakeholder in the DTC, that they would get a chance to comment on a revised draft before it went to Parliament. Interestingly though, the finance minister made a number of adjustments in the Budget which suggested that he would push ahead with the DTC and not let it be stalled by any vested interest. The move to modify the slabs for income tax payers brings them closer to what has been proposed in the DTCthe end goal of the DTC is to ensure that a big majority of income tax payers with an income of up to Rs 10 lakh per annum will pay tax at the lowest rate of 10%. That should be a huge incentive for compliance. Similarly, on corporate tax, the raising of MAT from 15% to 18% suggests that the finance minister is getting industry ready to pay a single rate of tax (probably higher than MAT, but lower than the current top rate) with no exemptions once the DTC is implemented.
On GST, the scenario is trickier, with many states continuing to resist a flawless rollout. Again, it would be a big mistake to introduce a GST that has exemptions or a GST with dual rates (that will encourage lobbying and rent seeking) or a GST where the overall rate is too high (that will encourage evasion). The finance minister must work to build a consensus around the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission on GSTthere should be a single rate of 12%, with 7% accruing to states and 5% to the Centre. The finance minister must step forward with a grand bargain to states which stand to losethe Finance Commission has recommended setting aside Rs 50,000 crore for such a bargain. Since the gains from GST are immense, the finance minister should now put his considerable political weight right behind it and get it done by next April.
BUDGET WAS BORING, BUT NOT HARMFUL
The Budget was boring, which is a good thing as far as Budgets go. It is easy for finance ministers to do the bold thing just to catch the headlines and then regret two years, if not two days, later as to the real effects of what they have done. Nigel Lawson, when he was the British chancellor of the exchequer, was very likely to fall into this trap. He is a brilliant man and was rated very successful, until two years after his resignation, his policies led to a recession and the resurgence of inflation. Gordon Brown had ten years as the chancellor of the exchequerthe first half brilliant and the second just so-so. He is blamed today for the weakness of the UK in the recession.
No such danger with Pranab Mukherjee. He is not only cautious but also politically astute. He did many things right but at no point did he overdo them. At the same time, he avoided the pitfalls of populist measures, but not so strictly that he would be unpopular. Thus, he kept to the road map of fiscal consolidation, but did not promise a faster cut in deficit as I certainly would have wanted. He decided to add no more to the stimulus since the economy is getting back to a high growth path on its own strength. Yet he put in enough extra money in rural areas, eased the income tax burden by moving the bands around and cheered up the people on pensions.
For me the big move was the one which was delivered in his best deadpan voice by Pranab Mukherjee. This was his commitment that in the future he would put the subsidies transparently in the cash budget and not just issue extra bonds. His reversal of the import duty cut on petrol and the almost sure promise that the government will implement the Parikh report were evidence that the UPA may actually mean business. It was here that the Opposition showed how little it knows how to use its limited strength. It could have stayed and criticised the Budget if it really cared about the consequent price rise. But it had already wasted two daysMonday and Wednesdayon procedural wrangles and then produced a mouse which could not even move Sharad Pawar from his vulnerable perch. Pranab Mukherjee had an easy ride. It may be that he probably counted on the Opposition making a lot of noise but no one could have expected walkout. The UPA is lucky in its opposition.
The very simple fact that Pranab Mukherjee did what was expected of him, performed his dharma as the finance minister and showed that India has now reached a stage where continuity and stability in the Budgets matters more than fancy footwork. Properly run economies attempt to lay down a medium framework and keep to it unless blown off the course by a big shock like the one which happened in 2008. The Budget is not the place for doing radical reform whatever hyper-excited media people may say. In any case, the Parikh report implementation was not to be in the Budget. Nor can the finance minister unilaterally announce labour reform or reform of land legislation. The UPA runs a Cabinet government and most of these decisions have to be taken at the Cabinet level. As they should be, of course, to ensure that they are consensual.
My own guess is that the economy will perform much better than the projected numbers on the deficit. I expect a growth rate nearer 9% to 9.5% than the 8.5% implicit in the Budget. Factor in the bonus due to Kirit Parikh report implementation and divestment proceeds plus spectrum sales and you can expect Pranab Mukherjee next year getting plaudits for doing better than the Budget estimate. It is a deliberate understatement of the expected performance so that he can safely do better than the other way around and have to apologise for having missed the targets.
There is another major policy innovation that has happened without attracting the full attention. This is the aggressive thrust of money into the rural economy. Starting with NREGA and then the farmers debt forgiveness before the election, the UPA has made the rural stimulus a constant part of the Budget. To begin with, many, including myself, saw this as a massive waste of money most likely to be siphoned off by corrupt intermediaries. But if development is going to be really inclusive the rural areas have to receive as much, if not more, attention than the urban areas with their noisy demands get.
The point of such a strategy is that it not only caters to the majority of the population but it hastens the 'trickle down'. In any case, even if it may not do much good, it certainly cannot do any harm. That is the Hippocratic oath which finance ministers should takeabove all, do no harm.
The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer
WHY WE WILL ALL PAY FOR POPULISM
VIKRAM S MEHTA
The opposition benches emptied soon after the FM announced a Re 1/litre hike in the excise duty for petrol and diesel. Budget speeches have always been interrupted but I believe this is the first time there has been a walkout. A few days earlier I heard Yashwant Sinha tell NDTV that even though the BJP/NDA had dismantled the administrative price mechanism (APM) for petroleum products and were, therefore, by implication in favour of market determined pricing, they would not support the Kirit Parikh Committee report that calls for the deregulation of diesel and petrol prices. He said that the Congress had led a morcha to protest the abolition of the APM and it was time for the BJP/NDA to pay the Congress back in their own currency. Indian politics, he said, was driven by 'tit for tat'.
We all know that in a democracy 'good' economics and 'populist' politics make for uneasy bedfellows and that when push comes to shove 'good' economics is almost always pushed off the mattress. But I have seldom heard active politicians provide such an explicit visual and verbal indictment of their profession. After all, 'tit for tat' politics cannot under any guise be mistaken for public service.
What could be the longer-term consequences of populism? There is no comparison between the economies of Greece and India. But the insolvency of Greece today does provide a salutary message. Greece is currently looking for bailout funds from the IMF and its relatively more robust EU partner countries. To get these funds it has no choice but to accept embarrassingly stringent constraints on its monetary and fiscal sovereignty. The reason why Greece is in this mess is because for years it has lived beyond its meansa fact that it hid not only from the EU, which prescribes budgetary limits, but also the public. It was able to do this by fiddling the accounts and by utilising the creative skills of Wall Street bankers. As we all know, there is seldom a free lunch and eventually the tab for profligacy has to be picked up. In the case of Greece it is being picked up by the children of those that went on the binge.
The point of this message is that the consequences of careless populism have unintended and long-term adverse ramificationsthe costs of which are paid for by those that have had no hand in its formulation.
Are there no circumstances under which Indian politicians might accept if not the Kantian absolute fiat justitia ruat coelum (do good even if the heavens fall), the Weberian ethic of responsibility salus populi suprema lex (the public good is the supreme law). I am going to assume that the answer is in the affirmative. The reason I am making this assumption is because politicians, like businessmen or bureaucrats, are driven by self-interest. They can be persuaded to change their attitude if they perceive that such a change will serve their personal interests.
I am an armchair commentator but I have continually been surprised by the 'disrespect' with which politicians treat their electorate. I use the word 'disrespect' because I find no other word to explain the assumption that voters prefer ephemeral goods like 'free' LPG or 'free' power over the more substantive and durable combination of good roads, reliable power, affordable water, efficient public distribution system and clean governance. I am surprised because election after election shows that the voters do, in fact, reject the opportunist and corrupt. The challenge, therefore, is to persuade these individuals that their constituency will indeed reward them if they uphold Weberian ethics. How can this challenge be met? I believe the answer lies in information and public opinion.
ROADMAP FOR RETAIL FDI?
Hovering at 17-19%, food inflation is in the danger zone for the government. This is why the leader of the Opposition was able to get as much cache out of her anti-price rise speech as she did on the day before the Budget. But the government bounced back by laying out a four-pronged strategy to spur growth in the farm sector on Friday, when the FM announced that he would be focusing on raising agriculture production, reducing wastage, providing credit support to farmers and offering support to the food processing sector.
The total allocation for the agriculture sector was increased by about 33% to Rs 15,042 crore. Target for farm credit and time period for repayment of farm loans were also increased. Interest subvention for timely repayment was increased by 1% to 2% for 2010-11. The facility of ECB has been extended to the cold chain sector to encourage private participation. Altogether, these moves do not amount to a big splurge. The key question remains, whether they would nonetheless encourage private investment in agriculture.
Sure, there was the mention of a green revolution. Sure, a 'look East' policy was announcedwith the likes of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, eastern UP, West Bengal and Orissa together getting Rs 400 crore. But for a sector that has seen a 0.2% negative growth rate when other sectors of the economy have powered ahead, is this enough? Rather, the need of the hour was the announcement of radical reforms that the Budget clearly did not deliver.
For example, the FM indicated friendliness towards initiating FDI in retail trade but no substantive moves. Yet, it's clear that this is key for creating market linkages that would drive competition, thus bringing in efficiencies in the existing food supply chains. Associated transformations would help bring down the considerable differences between farm gate, wholesale and retail prices. This is one area that ought to have been given much greater attention in the wake of rising food prices. The FM should have clearly elaborated a more detailed road map for meeting this challenge.
The bottomline is that without the liberalisation of regulations that limit the setting up of large-scale mechanised agriculture production and govern the distribution of farm produce todaywithout retail liberalisation in other wordsthe food price conundrum is here to stay.
TALK ABOUT AFGHANISTAN
Yet again, Indians have been killed in Afghanistan in a brazen attack in the heart of Kabul. The victims also included civilians of other nationalities, besides Afghans. The attack has come at a time when the Taliban are thought to have suffered some military setbacks. Much has been made of the recent success of the United States and Afghan forces in clearing the militants from Marjah, a town in Helmand province. A local government of sorts has been installed in the town. The recent arrests of key Afghan Taliban leaders by Pakistan, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, have also been projected as a positive development even though doubts exist about Pakistani motives for the arrests. The Kabul bombing has shown that contrary to the projected impact of these developments, the Taliban retain the capacity to strike at will targets of their choosing. Although the Taliban spokesman told the New York Times that Europeans, and not Indians, were the main target of the February 26 double suicide bombing-cum-car bombing, the fact is that at least six of the 16 people killed and many of the injured were Indian nationals. One of the two guesthouses targeted by the attackers was used mainly by Indians. Indeed, New Delhi has already condemned it as an attack aimed at India and Indian interests in Afghanistan, and media reports have placed it in the same category as the deadly bombings targeting the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009.
While the evidence from the ground is not conclusive about the target, the bombing more importantly underlines the vulnerability of Indians living and working in Afghanistan. Some elements in the region are dead set against any Indian involvement in that country. The statement by Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna that the attack was the "handiwork" of those who want to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan is bound to be interpreted as a veiled reference to Pakistan, which has made no secret of its opposition to a role for India in its western neighbour. If the bombing, which came a day after the Indian and Pakistan foreign secretaries held talks, was an attempt to scupper the tentative steps that the two countries are taking to revive a dialogue, it should not be allowed to succeed. Instead, engagement must be seen by both sides as an opportunity to talk frankly about Afghanistan. New Delhi must make the point that it has longstanding ties of trade and culture with Kabul and that these are not inimical to Pakistan. At the same time, Islamabad needs to stop viewing Afghanistan as a zero-sum game with India.
EFFECTIVE FINANCIAL REGULATION
A significant announcement in the budget pertaining to the financial sector is that about setting up a new apex body to strengthen and institutionalise the mechanism for maintaining financial stability. The Financial Stability and Development Council, as it will be called, will monitor macro prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large conglomerates, and address inter-regulatory concerns. Earlier attempts to create such a body did not fructify for various reasons. It was felt that a "super regulator" would not preserve the autonomy of individual regulators, such as the RBI, SEBI and the IRDA. However, there has been considerable vagueness about the functions of financial regulators, as evidenced by certain recent, well publicised cases. For instance, it is not clear whether SEBI or the RBI will supervise the recently introduced interest rate futures. There is ambiguity over the popular unit-linked insurance schemes, with both SEBI and the IRDA claiming jurisdiction. Instances such as these will only increase, as financial innovation will bring in relatively complex products that combine the features of capital market instruments and banking and insurance products. As in other countries, disintermediation in the financial sector and the emergence of financial conglomerates will pose major regulatory challenges that would require a great degree of co-ordination among several regulators. The proposal to license new private banks raises many practical questions. On no account should the RBI dilute its licensing criteria. The private banks that came into being in the early 1990s have had a mixed track record and only a handful of them, promoted by the erstwhile development financial institutions, have flourished.
The decision to provide additional capital to four public sector banks and some regional rural banks is welcome. However, the government will have to think of new ways to maintain capital adequacy in some of the banks owned by it without divesting its majority equity stake. The role of the India Infrastructure Finance Company will come under scrutiny. It has not so far been the catalyst it was expected to be in stepping up the financial resources needed for infrastructure. With an additional investment in infrastructure bonds up to Rs.20,000 qualifying for tax relief, this grossly underfunded area should attract long term savings. The decision to provide banking facilities by 2012 to centres with a population above 2,000 will promote financial inclusion significantly. Around 60,000 habitations are to be covered in the process, which will involve harnessing technology as well as conceptualising and implementing new, cost-effective banking models.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
AND YET ANOTHER PRO-FARMER BUDGET
THIS IS A BUDGET CRAFTED FOR, AND PERHAPS BY, THE CORPORATE FARMER AND AGRIBUSINESS.
The real heroes of India's success story were our farmers. Through their hard work, they ensured "food security" for the country. Pranab Mukherjee, interim budget speech Feb. 16, 2009
This Budget belongs to 'Aam Aadmi'. It belongs to the farmer, the agriculturist, the entrepreneur and the investor. Pranab Mukherjee, budget speech, Feb. 26, 2010
Gee! Another pro-farmer budget. Going by the media, every budget this past decade has been one. Editorials across ten years have always found "a new thrust" to agriculture that spelt "good news" for the farmer. Rarely mentioned are the massive subsidies, now larger than ever before, for the Corporate sector. This year alone, the budget gifts over Rs. 500,000 crore in write-offs, direct and indirect, to the Big Boys. That's Rs. 57 crore every single hour on average almost a crore a minute. Beating last year's Rs. 30 crore an hour by more than 70 per cent. (See Tables 5 and 12 of the "Statement of Revenue Foregone" section of the budget.)
Maybe the pro-farmer claim was merely a typo or proofing error. They just dropped the word "corporate" before "farmer." Reinstate that and all is true. This is a budget crafted for, and perhaps by, the corporate farmer and agribusiness.
Some television Channels set the tone for the debate before the budget in giant hoardings: Will Pranab Mukherjee function "like the CEO of India Inc., or will he behave like a politician?" The message was straight: the finance minister's job is to serve India Inc. not the people of India. A second ad in this series read: "Will FM's speech DESTROY or CREATE Market Wealth?" In the event, the Finance Minister more than lived up to their demands. The budget hands out new bonanzas for Corporate Kleptocrats. It goes further than earlier ones in pushing the private sector as prime driver of development and economy. Not the public sector.
Take Mr. Mukherjee's "four-pronged strategy" for agriculture. The first of these, "agricultural production," could mean anything. The other three are a goldmine for large corporations, not the countless millions of small and marginal farmers who produce India's food. Take "Reduction in wastage of produce." This means more big bucks for companies setting up storage facilities. Take this together with the related "Credit Support to farmers." Already, an Ambani or a Godrej can set up a cold storage in Mumbai and get agricultural rates of credit for it. That's thanks to our re-jigging of what "agricultural credit" and "priority sector lending" mean. This budget takes that process further.
More and more of "agricultural" credit will go not to farmers but corporations. Indeed, "even External Commercial Borrowings will henceforth be available for cold storage or cold room facility." The budget even says: "Changes in the definition of infrastructure under the ECB policy are being made" to foster this process. Some of those changes have already happened. Several of the loans disbursed as "agricultural credit" are in excess of Rs. 10 crore and even Rs. 25 crore. And even as loans of this size steadily grew in number between 2000 and 2006, agricultural loans of less than Rs. 25,000 fell by more than half in the same period. (See Revival of Agricultural Credit in the 2000s: An Explanation. R. Ramakumar and Pallavi Chavan, EPW December 29, 2007.)
Met any subsistence farmers taking out Rs. 25 crore loans lately? Nor will it be small or marginal farmers availing of the "full exemption from customs duty to refrigeration units required for the manufacture of refrigerated vans or trucks." Nor is the "infusion of technology" proclaimed going to help them.
The budget promises "appropriate banking facilities" in every village with a population of over 2000. Since 1993, the number of rural branches of scheduled commercial banks has steadily fallen, even as the rural population has grown. So taken together with the licenses to be given out to private operators, this means the new branches will be those of private banks. Not one of whom has an iota of interest in small and marginal farmers. Nor are they bound by the social banking obligations that once guided the nationalised sector. "A thrust to the food processing sector" is exactly the same. More cash for big companies. You know who the "state-of-the-art infrastructure" will be built for with public money.
Of the many claims the media have dished out for weeks now, none is more absurd than the fiction that farmers have gained massively from soaring food prices. And that rural India is doing so well, its saving the rest of us. (And doing that on a projected growth of minus 0.2 per cent).
Higher MSPs certainly helped ease pressure. So have higher global prices for some products in a few cases - briefly. But with higher food prices, with retail prices rising many times faster than wholesale, where does the farmer begin to benefit? Farm gate prices are way below those of even the wholesale markets. Further, over 70 per cent of Indian farmers are net purchasers of foodgrain. (Between 55 per cent and 60 per cent of the average Indian farm household's monthly per capita expenditure goes on food.) Huge rises in food prices crush them. Remember the excuse trotted out for letting Big Retail sell agricultural produce? It would do away with the "middleman," giving farmers and consumers a better deal. Yet prices of fresh produce are costlier at big retail's outlets. You still get a better deal from the petty vendor on the street. Often, that pathetic "middleman" they're crushing is a poor woman street vendor. The last and weakest link in the chain of intermediaries between farmer and public. The new middlemen wear suits.
The 'higher-prices-benefit-farmers' mob seems clueless about what has happened with cultivation costs. It took Rs. 2,500, for instance, to cultivate an acre of cotton in Vidarbha in 1991. Rs. 13,500 in 2006-07 and Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 20,000 today. (Counting family labour and like costs). The 'gains' from these higher costs are cornered by the corporate world in sectors like seed, fertiliser and pesticide. Soaring input costs have been crucial to farm bankruptcies, debt and suicides. The looming cuts in fertiliser subsidies won't spark rural euphoria either.
An incentive to repay loans on time which millions of farmers cannot do is being passed off as an additional subsidy to the aam kisan in this budget. And there is still an air of self-congratulation on the Rs. 70,000-crore farm loan waiver of 2008. A one-off waiver that comes once in so many decades. Yet revenue foregone in this budget in direct tax concessions to corporate tax payers is close to Rs. 80,000 crores. It was over Rs. 66,000 crore last year. And Rs. 62,000 crore the year before that. In all, Rs. 2,08,000 crores of direct freebies in 36 months.
Consider that this loot-and-grab sortie has been on for two decades now. It means that in direct tax freebies alone the corporate sector has had the equivalent of some 15 'farm loan waivers' since 1991. Then there's the indirect stuff. In this year's budget: Revenue foregone in excise duty Rs. 1,70,765 crores. Customs duty Rs.2,49,021 crores. Together with the Rs.80,000 crore in direct write-offs, the total nears Rs. 500,000 crores.
The media's shameless lobbying for Corporate "wishlists" began weeks before the budget. A class and vested interest analysis of the writers, panels, discussants, "experts" (and anchors) would be edifying. Budget time is when Big media are seen for what they are: stenographers to the powerful.
Ill-informed aam aadmi rants in the streets are quickly 'balanced' by 'the experts.' Sure, there is, in a few panels, the odd dissenter. This discussant the anchor always turns to with a wry smile of amused tolerance. The unstated message to viewers: "here's this whacko with his loony left delusions. Accept him as the comic relief in what are otherwise serious discussions."
Never mind that some of these deluded dissenters warned correctly of the type of crisis that shook the world in 2008. Not one of the "experts" ever came within miles of predicting that meltdown. They were in fact proclaiming the Golden Age to be upon us when their babble hit the fan. But no questions on their competence. Many of the "experts" have direct ties to large corporations and peddle their interests with zest. Sometimes, with a little more sophistication than panting media hucksters who show not a trace of the scepticism their profession demands of them. Straining at the leash to beat their rivals in serving the richest 1 per cent (or less) of Indians.
Mr. Mukherjee's budget speech spouts dated World Bank babble about the "the focus of economic activity" shifting "towards the non-governmental actors." And about "the role of Government as an enabler." (Private corporations and football clubs also qualify as non-governmental actors, but never mind). "An enabling Government does not try to deliver directly to the citizens everything that they need. Instead it creates an enabling ethos..." His budget does that. It enables a grasping corporate world to grab more public wealth. And the entrenchment of perhaps of the most parasitic elite in the planet.
FOR "A WORLD OF DECREASED NUCLEAR RISK"
JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA HAVE DELVED INTO "IDEAS" THAT CAN LEAD TO A HALF-WAY HOUSE TOWARDS A PEACEFUL GLOBAL ATOMIC ORDER.
P. S. SURYANARAYANA
Is a "world without nuclear weapons" a less-than-utopian goal which the global politicians of a misty future era could seek to attain? Taking a positive view, Japan and Australia have now begun to outline "ideas" about "practical steps" towards such a global order. Their move was timed for the end-February announcement that United States President Barack Obama would convene a Nuclear Security Summit in April.
It is not as if "practical steps" or even the dream of a nuclear-weapons-free world are strikingly original thoughts. It is simply a matter, though, of such public discourse finding some resonance now in the inner recesses of a power bloc. This marks a shift of such discourse from India, an original home of these thoughts, to the citadels of today's superpower in distress, namely the U.S. And, the evolving context is that Mr. Obama surprised many last year by affirming a U.S. desire to strive for a world without nuclear weapons.
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith issued a Statement after their talks in Perth on February 21. Their ideas flowed from the recent report of the non-governmental International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). It was co-chaired by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. The panel, which included India's Brajesh Mishra among others, was the result of a political initiative by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. And, Japan, for long a nuclear pacifist, joined forces with Rudd's Australia in this domain.
Japan and Australia have a strategic trilateral link with the U.S. To this extent, any new nuances in Washington's policies or visions produce a cascading effect on the world-views of both Tokyo and Canberra. Unlike Japan, Australia is a relative late-convert to the "cause" of total nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Yet, this makes no difference to their basking in Mr. Obama's vision which, in Mr. Okada's view, "dramatically changed" the mood for nuclear disarmament.
An important factor in such companionship is the Japan-Australia declaration of March 2007 on their bilateral security cooperation. So, they are unsurprisingly "eager [now] to take a lead ... to make a [positive] difference" to the efforts for creating a world without nuclear weapons. Indeed, Japan and Australia "are both very responsible and capable non-nuclear [-armed] states," said a top Japanese official Kazuo Kodama on February 25. Another relevant commonality between these two countries is that they also rely on the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" or "extended deterrence." Mr. Kodama told this journalist that "we do not have any concerns" that the U.S. might downgrade its nuclear umbrella for Japan in this new ambience. At the same time, Tokyo would "not call" for a U.S. policy that might "contradict the goal of a world without nuclear weapons."
Beyond such official nuances, it is clear that the limitations of Mr. Obama's initiative are reflected in the follow-up moves of his associates in ally-states. He is still unprepared for the political equivalent of a space odyssey for exploring the uncharted universe of a peaceful nuclear order for humanity. His dilemma is germane to the current status of the U.S. as the premier nuclear superpower.
In this complexity, Japan and Australia have pledged to help countries with atomic energy programmes to stay clear of the nuclear-weapons path. The idea is to accept the "global trend" of many states choosing the atomic-energy route to produce electricity in a planet-friendly way. Mr. Okada and Mr. Smith decided to assist such countries in the realm of what is known as "3S". As shorthand, "3S" stands, collectively, for safeguards, safety and security under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mr. Okada and Mr. Smith also delved into other "ideas" to "realise a world of decreased nuclear risk on the way to a world without nuclear weapons".
A possible "world of decreased nuclear risk" is, in this perspective, a half-way house towards a totally peaceful global atomic order. Just two "ideas," taken from the report of the ICNND, were emphasised by Japan and Australia for reducing the existing "nuclear risks" in the world.
One such "idea" is "enhancing the effectiveness of [the] security assurances" which one or more nuclear-armed states can give the world at large. Typically, such "assurances" would be designed to refrain from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against countries without such devices.
Another key "idea" is to reinforce the effectiveness of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a selective fashion. In focus is the assurance that a state might give to "retain [atomic] weapons solely for the purpose of deterring others from using such weapons".
Japan and Australia have now selectively conceded deterrence as some kind of a right that could be invoked by a nuclear-armed state. However, Tokyo and Canberra have not conceded the right of deterrence for the acquisition of atomic weapons by the states in a grey zone of "proliferation." Unsurprisingly, therefore, North Korea and Iran were singled out by Mr. Okada and Mr. Smith for various forms of condemnation and concern. Significantly, the latest Japan-Australia Statement is silent on Pakistan as a state that causes concern to the collective global fraternity of experts and leaders.
In a recent article, Graham Allison of Harvard University has cited Pakistan as a country that poses a "challenge" to the current "fragile ... global nuclear order." Pakistan figures alongside Iran and North Korea in this thesis. The relevant reasoning is related to Pakistan's "increasing instability." The crux of the argument is: "If Pakistan were to lose control of even one nuclear weapon that was ultimately used by terrorists, that [event] would change the world ... and alter conceptions of a viable nuclear order".
It is understood on good authority that Japan and Australia have at this stage chosen not to focus on Pakistan because it is a de-facto nuclear-armed state. This surely is fine procedural logic. Pakistan, unlike North Korea, has not acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for any period of time. However, "practical steps" towards a peaceful global nuclear order, via the half-way house of "decreased nuclear risk", cannot leave out Pakistan.
Mr. Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had, last November, issued a Statement with a larger sweep of a more universal kind. However, lofty principles rather than practical measures defined the tenor of that document. Of interest to India, the U.S. and Japan had spelt out their intent to "explore ways to enhance a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation". The bottom-line should be that the peaceful use of atomic energy cannot be denied to those not recognised as nuclear-armed states under the NPT.
HOW INVESTORS GROW THEIR OWN START-UPS
ASHLEE VANCE AND CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
The print hanging behind the receptionist's desk at Foundation Capital screams, "our greatest thrill is to loan you money'' in chunky, capitalised red letters. That's encouraging news for Michael Bauer, because he wants money and has put himself in a prime position to get it.
Bauer has set up shop on the second floor of Foundation Capital's offices at Menlo Park, California. to pursue his dream of creating an energy company from scratch. He pays no rent to operate out of the building, which is designed to evoke a Mediterranean villa. And he's free to enjoy all the trappings of this venture capital firm, including its ample parking, woodsy surroundings and outdoor patio.
Bauer has won these cozy environs through a new role as an "entrepreneur in residence." This coveted position, called an EIR in Silicon Valley shorthand, is emblematic of the valley's economy of ideas. Most EIR's receive a monthly stipend of up to $15,000 to sit and think for about six months. In return, the venture capital firm usually gets the first shot at financing the idea that emerges from this meditation.
Track record of success
"The EIR takes out some of the risk because they are known quantities," said Adam Grosser, a partner at Foundation Capital. "They have a track record of success and a proven ability to disrupt a market with their ideas."
Venture capital firms have been struggling to find a company that will make them not just rich, but fabulously rich. They dream about investing in the next Intel, Apple, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo or Google. But after Google appeared in 1998, the hunt to find the next superprofitable household name stalled. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have garnered plenty of attention but have yet to strike on a business model capable of sending an IPO into the stratosphere. Ten-year returns for the venture capital industry have sunk to 8.4 per cent, annualised, in the decade ended last Sept. 30, from 40.2 per cent in the 10 years ended Sept. 30, 2008, a number inflated by the spectacular success of Google and other dot-com companies at the beginning of that period.
The entrepreneur-in-residence model has gained prominence as a calculated way for a venture capital firm to nurture a successful company into being and to increase the odds of solid returns. The firms often tap someone who has successfully started and sold a start-up, hoping that lightning will strike twice.
Bauer, for instance, has experience in fields ranging from high-speed Internet video to clean technologies.
"One part of the venture capital business is to write humongous cheques to people for ideas," he says. "Before you write that cheque, you want to be comfortable with the people and be sure the money will be well spent."
The villa, the executive assistant and the clubby lunches are not exactly the stuff of Silicon Valley legend, which abounds with tales of wild success sprouting from a garage or a dorm room where a pair of geeky unknowns toiled away, unable to keep their unconventional ideas in check. Cases in point are William Hewlett and David Packard, Steven P. Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Silicon Valley has had a knack for finding at least one of these remarkable pairings just about every decade. They're the creators of new industries chips, PCs, servers, Web sites and ad-fuelled search systems on which others build. But lately, companies started by EIRs have done yeoman work for the venture capitalists.
The investment firm New Enterprise Associates, for example, hit it big last year when the storage giant EMC bought Data Domain for $2.3 billion, the largest acquisition in 2009 of a venture-backed technology company. (The average deal that year was just $144 million.)
The Data Domain story grew out of a chance encounter. Kai Li, who would be a co-founder of the company, was on sabbatical from his job as a computer science professor. He had been thinking about some ideas for a start-up when he ran into an old friend from New Enterprise. A couple of chats later, he was an EIR.
Similarly, the biggest public offering of a venture-backed technology company in 2007 was that of MetroPCS, which raised $1.2 billion. It was started by Roger Linquist when he was an EIR at the venture capital firm Accel.
A host of other flashy companies have recently emerged from the EIR ether. Zimbra, an e-mail software start-up, was sold for $350 million to Yahoo in 2007. (In a very different economic climate this year, it was sold again to VMware for a reported $100 million.) Then there's Cloudera, one of the most-watched start-ups in Silicon Valley. It seeks to bottle the analytical smarts on which Google and Yahoo rely to understand their users' behaviour and sell the product to large corporations dealing with torrents of data. Cloudera came into being at Accel, where a pair of EIR's worked after having left Yahoo and Facebook.
Venture capital firms are closely held, so there is no data on the number of companies that the EIR process has created or on how many of them have succeeded. But top firms say a new company is formed about 50 per cent of the time. The rest of the EIR's will either take on a job at an existing company in the venture capital firm's stable or go their own way.
It can be awkward if a venture capital firm, which knows the entrepreneur best, turns down an idea that arrives from the six months of meditation.
"Does it put a negative stigma on a company? I think the answer is definitely," says Jeff Fagnan, a partner at Atlas Venture.
The idea of the EIR was developed in the early 1980s to maintain ties to talented people who were between jobs and to add a level of refinement to the start-up process.
"This is sort of the formalisation of innovation and new firm building," says Andrew Feldman, the chief
executive of SeaMicro, a start-up that grew out of his time as an EIR at Crosslink Capital. "The venture capital
industry has matured and so, too, has venture creation."
Leading venture capital firms today may have two or three EIRs on the payroll at any one time. An EIR typically has an office, an assistant and what people in Silicon Valley almost always refer to as a "nominal fee" of $10,000 to $15,000 a month. It's enough to tide over the elite business people whom investors are looking for, so that they aren't worried about lacking a day job for six months.
"In the days of the 9-to-5 job, you had some personal time to be creative and think of new ideas," says Kevin
Epstein, a former EIR at Mohr Davidow Ventures who now works at CloudShare, an online software start-up.
"I don't see many of those jobs anymore."
In exchange for the office and the stipend, the EIR provides a few basic services.
He or she becomes part of the audience for start-up road shows, sitting in on the daily presentations that other companies pitch to the venture capital firm and advising the investors about the ideas' merits. In addition, the EIR agrees via contract or, more often, tacitly to give the venture capital firm the first shot to invest in an idea.
"It is as ruthless and profit-oriented at the end of the day as anything else a V.C. does," said Adam Gross, a former EIR at Redpoint Ventures.
This arrangement provides EIRs with a few major advantages over other entrepreneurs. The masses have to go to great lengths just to get in the door of a venture capitalist's office, while EIRs work there daily. They can sit in on Monday-morning partner meetings and pitches, and they can consult with the partners in the lunch line.
And, when EIRs are ready to test an idea, they can tap the vast network of contacts that the venture capital firm has built over time. This could include persuading a large company to provide feedback on a product or polling a host of companies about their technology problems.
"If you're doing surveys or trying to find out where the opportunities are, it provides you with some legitimacy to say you're an EIR at a well-known shop," Feldman says. "You piggyback on a very rich network and sort of become part of the family."
In addition, the process adds a touch of human companionship and vibrancy to an otherwise lonely, sedentary endeavour.
When Gross left his position as an executive at the software provider Salesforce.com, he wanted to work at a start-up but thought he needed "an intellectual palate cleanser to get a new perspective."At Redpoint, he saw a bunch of start-ups come in to pitch their ideas. He kept hearing about business software that incorporates elements of the consumer Web, and came up with his own idea for a software start-up.
"It's not just advice," he said. "It's exposure to ideas and models and approaches and struggles that you wouldn't get otherwise."Gross left Redpoint before finishing his version of the next big thing; he received an offer from a partner at a rival firm, Sequoia Capital, to run sales and marketing at Dropbox, an online storage start-up in Sequoia's portfolio.
"I think we both would have preferred to continue working together, but they were very supportive,'' he says of Redpoint's partners.
Gross' tale highlights the rather forgiving expectations that surround the EIR gig. Still, venture capital firms take their trade in EIRs very seriously. These firms, after all, have no intellectual property of their own. They deal in relationships, and knowing smart, creative people gives one firm an edge over another.
When, for example, a large acquisition like Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems is announced, the venture capitalists might hit their phones, calling 10 or so brainy people at Sun to offer them a cushy way out of dealing with an acquisitionMany people find their way into an EIR role through a fortuitous lunch or a meeting in the hallway of another company. The process requires a certain level of hand-holding, as the prospective investors guide the entrepreneur.But that hasn't stopped people from trying to copy and, one might say, commoditise the EIR idea.
©2010 New York Times News Service
KENYA: 400-KM FENCE PROTECTING WATER SOURCES
STRUCTURE ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO SAVE ENDANGERED BLACK RHINO SUCCEEDS IN PROTECTING FOREST AND RIVER SOURCES.
After just over two decades, 402 km and $9m later, the last post on one of the longest fences ever built in Africa has been hammered in.
The electrified barrier, which rings the Aberdare mountain range, in west central Kenya, was initially intended to keep people out in order to save the few endangered black rhino within, but has become a model for countries struggling to protect scarce water resources.
Colin Church, the chair of the Kenya-based Rhino Ark conservation group and a leading expert on African leading wildlife, said the fence, which took 21 years for local communities to complete, had failed to save the rhino in the uplands it surrounds.
However, it had succeeded in protecting a large forest area and the sources of four of seven of Kenya's largest rivers, all of which rise in the Aberdares and provide electricity and water to major cities including Nairobi.
"In the early days, the motivation was to protect the black rhino, but then we all woke up to the fact that the farmers [who lived near the fence] were celebrating, and the reality is that this forested mountain area was the lifeblood for millions of people. We realised the whole ecosystem was at stake," he said.
"Our thinking had to change.The Aberdares are now the most secure mountain ecosystem in the whole of Kenya and maybe Africa." Kenya's wildlife service is now studying whether to put electric fences around Mount Kenya, the Mau forest, Mount Elgon and the Cherangani Hills, most of which have been invaded by thousands of poor people who threaten the country's water supplies, Julius Kipng'etich, the director of the wildlife service, said.
The fence, which has 8,000 miles of wire, was built largely from recycled plastic stakes made from the waste of dozens of flower farms at nearby Lake Naivasha.
Local people are allowed through it to collect wood and water. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
'TIME FOR JUDGES TO REVISIT DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES'
" Our Constitution is primarily shaped and moulded for the common man ... It is a Constitution not meant for the ruler 'but the ranker, the tramp of the road'." N.A. Palkhivala.
The January 5 judgment of a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India (reported in The Hindu, January 30, 2010), which allowed an appeal by Harjinder Singh, a retrenched worker of the Punjab State Warehousing Corporation, and restored a labour court's award in his favour, is significant in two respects. This is perhaps one of the first pro-worker judgments in about two decades, during which period the policies of liberalisation and globalisation have been in operation. But the Bench comprising Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly went further by recording strong remarks against the tendency among judges at various levels to protect the reigning economic policies of liberalisation and globalisation even at the cost of the genuine interests and hard-won rights of workers.
The Supreme Court also held that the High Court had unjustifiably disapproved of a well-reasoned labour court award and thus deprived the appellant of what might be the only source of his and his family's sustenance.
Plight of workers
The judges, in their separate but concurring judgments, expressed their deep concern over the plight of workers being thrown out of jobs under the cover of liberalisation and globalisation. They said that there was a visible shift in the courts' approach to cases relating to interpretation of social welfare legislation. These observations are called obiter dicta, which are "a judge's expression of opinion uttered in court or in a written judgement, but not essential to the decision and therefore not legally binding as a precedent."
Justice Singhvi did not mince words: "The attractive mantras of globalisation and liberalisation are fast becoming the raison d'etreof the judicial process and an impression has been created that the Constitutional courts are no longer sympathetic to the plight of industrial and unorganised workers."
"In a large number of cases, like the present one," the judge went on to observe, "relief has been denied to the employees falling in the category of workmen, who are illegally retrenched by creating bylanes and side lanes in the jurisprudence developed by this court in three decades. The stock plea raised by the public employer in such cases is that the initial employment/engagement of the workman-employee was contrary to some or the other statute or that reinstatement will put an unbearable burden on the financial health of the establishment."
Another observation by Justice Singhvi was that the High Courts ought to keep in mind that the Industrial Disputes Act and other similar legislative instruments are social welfare legislation. They must be interpreted "keeping in view the Preamble to the Constitution and the provisions contained in the Directive Principles, which mandate that the state should secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people ... and also ensure that the workers get their dues."
Duty of the court
Justice Singhvi reminded the highest court in the land as well as the High Courts that if a person was deprived of his livelihood, he was deprived of all his fundamental and constitutional rights. This meant for him the goal of social and economic justice, equality of status and of opportunity, and the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution remained illusory.
Justice Ganguly emphasised with equal force: "If the judges fail to discharge their duty in making an effort to make the preambular promise a reality, they fail to uphold and abide by the Constitution, which is their oath of their office." He reminded the court of its duty to interpret statutes with social welfare benefits "in such a way as to further the statutory goal and not to frustrate it." The judge warned that any attempt to dilute the constitutional imperatives in order to promote the so-called trends of ' globalisation' might result in precarious consequences.
Justice Ganguly added that judges and especially the judges of the highest court have a vital role in ensuring that the promise is fulfilled. If the judges fail to discharge their duty in making an effort to make the Preambular promise a reality, they fail to uphold and abide by the Constitution, which is their oath of office.
Unsurprisingly, the binding part of this pro-labour judgment as well as the extraordinarily bold observations of the two judges have raised hopes in the trade union movement and among workers in the organised sector. But what about workers in the unorganised sectors who might not have access to the relevant information?
As in the case of the social issues discussed in my preceding columns, the news media, especially newspapers, have a special responsibility as well as an unusual opportunity here.
The responsibility is to better inform readers in an accurate, detailed, and factual way on such significant developments in the field of law and justice. It is to give these developments prominence by front-paging the news or, in the case of news television, highlighting them repeatedly in news bulletins. It is to bring to the subject a variety and diversity of views by interviewing lawyers, retired judges, trade union leaders, industrialists, management specialists, ordinary workers. It is to go beyond the informational role by providing competent analysis, background, interpretation, and comment on the significance of the Supreme Court's against-the-current judgment.
The opportunity is to engage readers more meaningfully on concrete issues close to their lives. It is to win their affection and trust by covering truthfully, intelligibly, readably, and sensitively subjects that rarely figure in the mainstream news media these days. In a word, it is an opportunity to strengthen the bond between the newspaper or the broadcast channel and the reader.
PROJECT DELAYS SHOULD BE AVOIDED
A redeeming feature of the general budget for 2010-11 is the special focus on infrastructure. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has earmarked a substantial 46 per cent of the total plan allocations for infrastructure development. This comes to Rs 1,73,552 crore. The thrust on infrastructure will not only push up the growth momentum but also provide for jobs in a difficult economic environment. The country's highways, airports and ports need to be upgraded to meet the growing demand for fast connectivity. Though the outlay for electricity has been doubled, foreign investors still hesitate to take up power projects because of the Enron fiasco at the turn of the century. Until policy glitches are removed and foreign investors' demands like full rupee convertibility are taken care of, India will not be able to match China in attracting foreign investment.
More than FDI, the UPA government is trying to mobilize and channel local savings into infrastructure projects. The latest Budget has introduced long-term infrastructure bonds. Taxpayers can claim a deduction of Rs 20,000 in addition to the existing limit of Rs 1 lakh by investing in these bonds. Such bonds are often popular and promote savings, which get invested in critical infrastructure projects. Apart from an additional funding of Rs 950 crore for the Railways, there is a 13 per cent hike in the allocation for road transport in this Budget. During the NDA regime national highways were built at a commendable speed. However, under the UPA, construction work has slowed down. The Finance Minister has now set the pace of construction at 20 km a day.
It is not enough to throw more money into projects. Until projects are executed efficiently within the given time frame and delays are penalised, infrastructure projects would drag on. Look at China's furious pace of infrastructure building before and even after Olympics. This has not only helped China modernise itself but also enabled it to emerge from the global financial meltdown faster than any other country.
THE KABUL KILLINGS
TALIBAN ATTACK ON INDIANS BY DESIGN
Friday's bomb blasts in hotels and guest houses in Kabul, leading to the killing of nine Indians, besides nine others, is yet another attack by the Taliban apparently targeted at discouraging India from continuing with its reconstruction activity in Afghanistan. The ISI-backed Haqqani faction of the Taliban, which has claimed responsibility for the series of explosions, including in the hotel where most Indians prefer to stay, has been behind most incidents of violence aimed at harming Indians. Haqqani men were also involved in the killing of 17 persons in a suicide attack near the Indian Embassy in October 2009 and of 41 people when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into the embassy's gate in July 2008. The Haqqani Taliban and their masters in Islamabad are upset at the growing popularity of India among the Afghan masses.
Their desperate tactics to terrorise India and the people of Afghanistan cannot succeed. India which has pledged over $13 billion for the construction of roads and bridges, power generation facilities, school buildings, hospitals, the parliament complex, etc is the largest regional donor to the violence-torn country. Ordinary Afghans now realise that the projects coming up with Indian assistance can drastically transform their lives in the days to come. This is, however, not to the liking of the forces engaged in mainly protecting their narrow interests. The Afghans have come to know that Pakistan, playing a double game in their country, is mainly interested in gaining strategic depth. The growing friendship between India and Afghanistan is considered a major threat to the Pakistani designs in Kabul.
However, India-Afghanistan relations are too deep to be harmed by the kind of tactics used by the anti-India forces, including the Taliban. India is determined to do whatever it can to help revive economic activity in Afghanistan. India-assisted development projects have been a major cause for the erosion of the Taliban's following, but there is need to do more. The Taliban's strongholds must be destroyed by every means available to those engaged in establishing peace in Afghanistan. It is good that the US-led NATO forces will now launch a Marjah-type operation in Kandahar to drive the Talban away from this second most important town of Afghanistan. They should have, in fact, done it earlier.
QUOTA FOR WOMEN
HOPE AT LAST ON LONG-PENDING BILL
The Union Cabinet's clearance to earmark 33 per cent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies is an important decision by the Manmohan Singh government because the issue has been hanging fire for the last 14 years. In the past, stiff resistance from political parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (United) had stymied efforts at a consensus. The supremos of the three parties Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Sharad Yadav have been relentlessly opposing quotas for women. Scuttling the government's earlier attempts, they were demanding that one-third of the proposed quota be earmarked for the OBCs and minorities among them. Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Left and the DMK have pledged support to the Women's Reservation Bill, there should be no problem for the government to ensure its smooth passage in Parliament.
The Women's Reservation Bill is expected to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha in the form in which it was introduced in the House in 2008. To meet the two-thirds mark in the Upper House, the government needs 158 votes. Though the Congress, the BJP and the Left account for 137 members in this House, with effective floor management, the government can successfully rope in more members to support the Bill. As for the Lok Sabha, there is no problem since the major parties put together easily add up to the required numbers. Nonetheless, the government needs to convince every MP to support the Bill overwhelmingly in view of its progressive and egalitarian thrust.
Women have been neglected for long and denied their legitimate due in governance. If the Bill is passed, as many as 170 seats will be set aside for them in the Lok Sabha. A similar pattern will be followed for state legislatures. This will not only empower women in the real sense but also give them a forum to participate in policy formulation and decision-making. Women have proved their worth in fields such as civil services, education, science and technology, and banking. As in the panchayats, they will also prove their mettle in Parliament and state legislatures if the Bill is enacted.
UP'S CHANGING POLITICAL SCENARIO
MULAYAM'S PARTY-BUILDING SKILL ON TEST
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
If "politics is the art of the possible", it also involves enormous risks. But when risks are taken ignoring voters' sensibilities, the result can be disastrous. Calculations can go wrong, causing unimaginable harm to the party and the individuals concerned. This is exactly what has happened in the case of the Samajwadi Party (SP) headed by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. The party has lost its second most important leader, Mr Amar Singh, who along with Mr Yadav worked tirelessly to make the SP a force to reckon with.
A few years ago the SP not only dominated the political scene in UP, but was also a significant player at the national level. It is, however, today faced with the worst crisis in its 18-year existence. There are many factors which appear to have contributed to the SP finding itself in difficult straits. But, undisputably, the maximum damage to the party has been caused by an ill-thought-out decision inducting former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh into the SP. Mr Amar Singh, who played the leading role in bringing Mr Kalyan Singh to the SP fold, too, has suffered in the process. The former number two leader of the SP would have never thought of leaving the party which he had built brick by brick along with Mr Yadav.
Mr Amar Singh has been known for his political gambling skill. But he made a major mistake by deciding to use the Kalyan Singh card to enlarge the SP's base among the OBCs. The party could not gain as much as it lost by antagonising its Muslim supporters. The minority community, which holds Mr Kalyan Singh primarily responsible for what happened at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, punished the SP by deserting it in almost every constituency in UP. The incontrovertible proof of serious erosion of the party's Muslim following was available in the Ferozabad parliamentary byelections. The constituency, considered as the SP stronghold, recently returned Congress nominee Raj Babbar to the Lok Sabha with a considerable majority. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law was defeated in the constituency which was earlier represented by her husband Akhilesh Yadav, being groomed to take up the reins of the SP.
Mr Amar Singh was now faced with the most difficult challenge in his political career. He added to the list of his detractors in the SP the man who was well placed to make Mr Amar Singh realise that his days in the party were numbered. If Mr Amar Singh was the cause of Mr Azam Khan, Mr Beni Prasad Verma and Mr Raj Babbar leaving the SP and many leaders getting marginalised, now was his turn to meet the same fate. First he was forced to resign all the party posts on January 6. Then he left the SP lock, stock and barrel. Before his final departure Mr Kalyan Singh, too, dissociated himself from the SP, accusing Mr Yadav of not being a dependable friend.
Mr Kalyan Singh was a close associate of Mr Yadav at one time, but the SP leader was careful to maintain a distance from him till the former BJP stalwart was made a part of the party patronised by the minority community. Those among the SP's Muslim supporters who were aware of this fact ignored it as something inconsequential. A majority of the Muslim voters who were disillusioned with the Congress in the nineties in UP shifted their loyalties to the SP, founded on the socialist ideals as expounded by Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. The party went from strength to strength with the emergence of the powerful MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor.
Within four years of its founding in 1992 it became a major force in the country's most populous state. In 1996, it captured 110 of the 424 seats in the UP Vidhan Sabha (Assembly). In 2002, the SP's assembly strength grew to 143 seats in a House of 403. During the 2004 parliamentary polls the SP emerged as the top scorer in UP winning 35 of the then 85 seats. The party, however, suffered a setback in the 2007 Assembly polls. The SP's archrival, the BSP, captured power though there was little difference in their vote percentage. The SP's performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections was very upsetting for the party leadership, yet it captured 23 seats against the BSP's 20.
The setback it had been suffering particularly since 2007 was enough to make the SP leadership realise that it
needed to mend its ways. But Mr Amar Singh refused to see the writing on the wall. He prevailed upon Mr Yadav to continue to indulge in one major gamble after another. The result is before everyone to see.
The Congress will apparently be the major gainer if the SP gets reduced to a marginal player in UP. While most of the disenchanted Muslim followers of the SP have begun supporting the Congress, now a section of the upper caste voters, particularly the Thakurs, are also unlikely to extend their patronage to Mr Mulayam Singh's party after Mr Amar Singh's departure from it. Chief Minister Mayawati's BSP and the BJP, too, may benefit from the decline of the SP.
The party that bailed out the previous UPA government when its existence was threatened following the controversy over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is unlikely to find a replacement for Mr Amar Singh. The posts he vacated have been filled, but the party has no leader who can be Mr Amar Singh's match for raising funds. The SP's Bollywood connection may also not remain as strong as it was earlier.
These are, indeed, difficult times for the SP. Mr Mulayam Singh's skill as a party builder is on test. He is, no doubt, a grassroots politician with considerable following even now. It was he who had perfected the MY combination to capture power in UP. What he does now to regain his lost supporters will be interesting to watch.
BY HARISH DHILLON
My experience has taught me that most people believe they are good looking and work constantly to enhance what they believe are their considerable good looks.
During my postgraduation days there was a girl in my class who would come to the university with her face caked with makeup and wearing, what in those staid times, were considered outrageous clothes. She was the butt of much ridicule and boys would follow her around laughing and jeering at her. If she noticed all this, she did not show it.
One girl in our class finally spoke to her about the situation. She shrugged her shoulders, flashed a demure smile and said: "When I am beautiful, boys will follow me!"
I have one-way reflecting glass fixed in the windows of my office. While I can look out at the people passing by, they think they are looking into a mirror. Most of those who pass stop to admire their reflections. They adjust their hair or dust a part of their faces and then break into a smile of happiness. I can identify with them for every morning when I look at my hazy reflection in the mirror, in a short-sighted way, I tell myself. "Not bad for 69 years" and smile at myself.
Many people adopt a style icon and work to look like him or her in clothes, in makeup and even in hairstyles.
One of my friends, who had grown up on Marlene Dietrich films, decided that she looked like Dietrich. Even when she wore Indian clothes she fashioned herself, in her hairstyle, her makeup and her accessories on that legendary actress.
She had once seen Dietrich in a long sable coat. The image of herself in a similar coat haunted her day and night and became the focus of all her desires. Finally her husband returned from a trip to Moscow with the coat of her dreams. Unfortunately, Delhi, even in the severest winter, was never cold enough for the sable and it was a few years before the opportunity to wear it came her way.
There was a December wedding in Shimla. For the afternoon reception my friend arrived wearing her gorgeous sable and, I must say, she looked stunningly like Dietrich. She was the focus of all attention. Later in the afternoon the sun came out and it became warm. One by one the ladies divested themselves of their shawls and coats. My friend stuck resolutely to her sable, in spite of her obvious discomfort. I asked her why she didn't take it off.
"I can't," she said in a dramatic whisper. Then looked hurriedly around to ensure that there was no one else within earshot. "I knew that it would turn warm so I am only wearing a salwar and a brassiere under the coat."
Like the heroine of Maupassant's " The Necklace", I knew that in spite of the discomfort she would cherish the memory of that triumphant afternoon all her life.
A BLUNDER BY PAK TALIBAN
BEHEADING OF SIKHS CAN HAVE WIDE RAMIFICATIONS
BY RAJINDER PURI
The Pakistan Taliban, operating in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan captured two Sikhs, compelled them to convert to Islam, and on their refusal, beheaded them. After that they added salt to the wounds by sending the severed heads to Joga Singh Gurudwara in Peshawar.
By doing this the Pakistan Taliban might just have made the costliest error in its blood-stained history. It might just have taken the one step that could pose greater danger to its existence than anything that might have been attempted thus far by the US or NATO.
The Pakistan Taliban consists of Pashtuns settled for generations in Punjab. They were formerly led by the Mehsuds. There are other Afghan outfits that subscribe to the al-Qaeda ideology such as the Haqqani outfits, also based in Pakistan 's FATA territory.
The long-term aims of the Afghanistan Taliban led by Mullah Omar and the Pakistan Taliban do not necessarily coincide. The Pakistan Taliban's atrocity against the Sikhs might just recoil fatally against it. Here is why.
Even a cursory acquaintance with Sikh history and character would reveal that the Sikhs have embedded deep within them a fanatical dogged streak that, if aroused, becomes almost impossible to extinguish.
Sending the severed heads of two martyrs committed to their faith to the gurudwara is precisely the kind of action that could ignite that streak. The rage that will inevitably spread across the Sikh community in rural Punjab could alter dramatically the power alignments within the terrorist fold. To appreciate that a few facts not commonly recognised need to be recalled.
For decades it was commonly stated that 50 or so families in Punjab ruled Pakistan. What was not stated was that about 40 per cent of these ruling families of the rural Punjab province of Pakistan were Jat Sikhs who voluntarily converted to Islam in order to retain their land holdings.
These converted Jat Sikhs had no trouble gaining acceptance from their Muslim Jat cousins, farmers all. The converts are Muslims in name. What their commitment to any religion might be only time will reveal. Their commitment to land, wealth and power has been confirmed beyond doubt. They could now constitute a potential fifth column in Pakistan. It would not be a fifth column that could serve the Indian government. It would be the fifth column serving the Sikh diaspora that contains several terrorist outfits with a presence in Europe, Canada and the US.
Now recall the aborted Khalistan demand. Before Khalistan was formally announced by Jagjit Singh Chauhan, he sought my opinion. I told him it was worthless because it made no sense. I further said that the demand for a united Punjab cutting across India and Pakistan made greater sense given the norms of nationhood. I said that would create the 'United States of Asia'.
A little after my interaction with him I recounted our dialogue and my views in the weekly column that I wrote then for the Sunday Observer published in Bombay. Predictably, the Khalistan demand floundered. But the Sikhs continue to remain dissatisfied, though not disruptive.
Sikh grievances were heightened after Haryana state was carved out of Punjab. The manner in which Indira Gandhi reneged on solemn assurances given to Punjab regarding the sharing of waters and the future status of Chandigarh not surprisingly was viewed by Sikhs as evidence of Hindu communalism. Added to the assurance given by Pandit Nehru at the time of Independence that the Sikhs would be made "to feel the glow of freedom", Sikh frustration inevitably grew.
The partition of Punjab during Independence left the Sikhs most orphaned among the state's three main communities. The loss of identity among the Muslims in Punjab was compensated partially by the creation of Pakistan, of the Hindus by the creation of Bharat. The Sikhs felt that they got little or nothing.
After the subsequent mishandling by the Union Government Sikh separatism was bound to erupt. The Khalistan movement further depleted the community. Today Punjab is the sufferer. Witness the very large number of youth in Punjab who seek migration to make a future abroad. Is it not symptomatic?
It is in this context that the unfolding drama across the border may revive the Khalistan demand in a new avatar. Current reports suggest that the ISI is reviving the Khalistan insurgency. This might become the agency's biggest-ever goof-up. Because now all the Sikh militants who are given sanctuary by the ISI in Pakistan could eventually switch loyalties.
Egged on by Sikhs in India and their NRI financial backers abroad, they could turn against the ISI and the Taliban. Defying New Delhi, India 's Sikh militants could infiltrate into Pakistan not to seek sanctuary but to create disruption. There could develop for Pakistan a Kashmir syndrome in reverse.
Might not Sikhs eventually seek a common ground with the Pashtuns, who share greater affinity with Afghanistan than with Pakistan? Might not the Afghan Taliban, which does not share as much the long-term goals of al-Qaeda as does the Pakistan Taliban, dump the ISI?
If such developments do occur the Khalistan demand might revive for a region encompassing as much of Pakistan-ruled Punjab as the Indian Punjab. Along with Pashtunistan and Baluchistan, Khalistan too could become Pakistan's headache.
Islamabad and New Delhi, caught in the pincer move of Sikhs and the Pashtuns, could be compelled to fundamentally alter the present subcontinental arrangement.
Does this sound like a wildly improbable scenario? Perhaps. But do wait for at least one year before arriving at a final judgment.
WASHINGTON: CIVILISED, COURTEOUS BUT LIFELESS
BY HOWARD JACOBSON
Slowly and deliberately because to do it well takes time and concentration I am eating my way into Washington. I don't know how else to find it.
Closed down in the snow, the city looked rather beautiful; distance teasingly foreclosed, every tree a work of sculpture, remote figures moving in a Bruegelesque landscape. In the immediate aftermath of the blizzard, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was a blurred ribbon of heartbreak grey against the pristine whiteness of the snow.
From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, across the park, the Capitol glimmered as misty as a mirage. But then the snow melted and rather than recover its distinctness, Washington seemed not to be there at all.
Where are the people? Cars pour into the city at rush hour, but wherever they disgorge their passengers, it isn't here. It's not as though Washington's a non-walking city like Los Angeles. Broad pavements line wide boulevards, but there are few shoppers even when the sun shines, and part of the reason for that is that there are no shops.
Don't be mercilessly literal with me: of course there are shops, but unless you drive out of the city to a mall, there's nothing that answers to Regent Street in London, or Market Street in Manchester, nowhere that feels like town.
And when you do gratefully stumble upon some lone shop you can't tell if it's open. The windows are tinted, nobody is moving inside, there's no bustle, no clatter, no sound. Cafés and restaurants the same. Most of the seats are empty, the staff are immobile, the lights are dim. It's a sort of principled civic bashfulness.
I'm told that inner-city Washington never really recovered from the race riots of 1968, and now the recession has hit it again. But to my eye the problem is more fundamental. Call it the Milton Keyes or Canberra curse: the lifelessness of a city that's planned before it's had chance to grow.
Washington has too much space to play with. People are not pressed up against the windows of coffee shops and restaurants the way they are in overcrowded Britain because there's room to build a small hotel between where they're sitting and the street.
The same spatial profligacy robs the boulevards of character; nothing is squeezed, nothing suddenly appears or disappears, nothing invites you with promises of change. The flat-fronted office buildings are uniform in size and colour.
This is a city that's given over in spirit to the tedium of archiving and administration. They make it as heroic as they can. They erect statues, stick Roman pillars and porticos to oblong buildings, and occasionally throw on a dome, but in the end, admin is just admin.
Don't get me wrong. I'm enjoying the space and the civility that goes with it. No litter, no rudeness, no graffiti, no hatred. Only think about crossing the road and the traffic stops for you whether, in the end, you want to cross or not. The students I teach are uncannily courteous. Just as cars are not at war with pedestrians, so are the young not at war with the old, or the old with the young.
Everything that drives me to the edge of madness in Britain the city filth, the relentless profanity, the psychopathic cyclists, the sneering tone of popular debate, the self-righteousness of those who comment on affairs, celebrity, drunkenness, the underlying menace everything, in short, that makes us a shame and a scandal among the civilised nations of the world, is absent here.
But no amount of absence will ever constitute a presence, and other than in a few suburbs such as Georgetown and Dupont Circle the equivalents of Hampstead and Notting Hill I can't find this town.
So I'm eating my way into the heart of it. Is this the real thing, I ask myself, when the waiter at the fill-your-face Cheese Cake Factory recommends a lentil and bacon soup, then adds "Please be aware of the flavour content".
Rather than ask him what this means I order the soup. And the flavour content? Reader, I'm not aware of it. I'm similarly bemused when the table attendant at Morton's Steakhouse refuses to show me a menu. "I'm gonna do my presentation," he tells me, when I persist, "after I've got the drinks."
Presentation? All I want is a steak. In fact he doesn't only present me with a tray containing every known cut of cow, he actually holds up an unpeeled potato to demonstrate what the French fries will be made of. I ask my wife if she's ever been shown an unpeeled potato before. Not in a restaurant, she assures me. I feel we're getting somewhere at last.
From the windows of the Hay-Adams hotel, where we brunch, you can see the White House. This propinquity, which part explains the hotel's cultivated old-fashionedness, is said to guarantee an authentic air of "Washington".
Other than a middle-aged lady being Gertrude Stein in an overlarge hat which makes eating, or at least seeing what she's eating, difficult for her, there is no one here you wouldn't expect to see taking tea in the Dorchester.
At the other end, socially, is Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, made famous to the outside world when Obama, in his glory days, popped in without warning for a Chili half-smoke. On the advice of an American couple in the queue, this is what I order a half-smoked hot dog smothered in chilli sauce, accompanied by chips smothered in cheese. Wonderful.
And the better for my having been shown where chips come from. But I wonder if the popularity which this all black-owned and black-staffed hot dog joint is enjoying among the admin men in limousines doesn't have some desperation about it. Everyone looking for an authenticity which won't stay still long enough for you to grab it.
They say the President sets the fashion for eating in this town. With Bush it was all barbecues. With Obama it's salads and chili sausages. You can understand the confusion.
When I tell Washingtonians that I've eaten at Café Milano they ask, excitedly, if I saw, perhaps, a Supreme Court judge. How civilised is this! Not did I see Lady Gaga but did I see a Supreme Court judge. What I can't decide is whether it's the height of sophistication or the depths of naivety. Something else they're asking about Obama's administration.
By arrangement with The Independent
A MINISTER'S MARRIAGE: SIMPLE AND ELEGANT
BY DEVI CHERIAN
In a rare event a Union minister just got married while in office in New Delhi. The inheritor of a quiet political lineage, Jitin Prasad's marriage to gorgeous Neha was naturally a high-voltage affair with both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi charming VIP guests.
The bride and the groom were relaxed through all the loops and hoops of a traditional Thakur wedding. At the main reception the bride and the groom refused to conform to any formal seating style and instead wandered through the crowd, which consisted of politicians, media barons and industrialists.
The guests may be tight-lipped about it, but those in the inner circle who attended the "sangeet" know that the evening had fun festivities. The "mehendi" lunch on its part was, however, traditional with India's young parliamentary brigade in full attendance with spouses teasing Jitin on the last days of his bachelorhood. UP delicacies were part of many meals.
As Jitin's mother is from a renowned family of Himachal, her side of the family performed the local 'Nati' dance. There were other folk dancers who kept the guests busy while the family gracefully performed the traditional pre-wedding festivities.
While festivities were the focus, the refined formality of a solemn wedding was not missed out. It started with the baraat getting ready with young Sachin Pilot having to pitch in and help the team of turban-tiers to cope with the high and mighty whose heads required the multi-hued turbans individually prepared. The groom left his home dressed in an "achkan" and old family "Emerald Kalgi" looking very much a "khandaani Thakur."
Loud bands and disco lights were mercifully missing even as the "baraat" arrived almost on time. The wedding ceremony was simple and swift but eating was long and delicious with cooks brought in from the Uttar Pradesh heartland where Jitin's political fortunes lie. The focus was on friends and family members in all events except a reception after wedding festivities where both the Ambani brothers turned up.
The reception set an example with its simplicity and elegance. No pomp and show here. In Jitin's constituency a lunch was hosted where the groom and the bride were present.
After Jitin's wedding one is reminded of his father's Jitendra Prasad's wedding. He was already a member of Parliament when he came to wed Kanta Thakur in Shimla. It was four-feet snow that the VIP "baraatis" had to struggle through. But that wedding the Himachalis present will never forget for its elegance and simplicity.
Deepender Hooda ties the knot
Another member of Parliament who tied the knot within the same week of Jitin Prasad's wedding was Deepender Hooda. In Delhi father Hooda, the Chief Minister of Haryana, and his graceful wife, Asha, hosted a rather exclusive but traditional "sangeet" evening for very close friends at their residence in Delhi. This function had the "choori-walas" and the "mehendi" ceremony. Friends danced to the tune of Haryanvi songs led by the groom's mother Asha dressed in a typical elegant Haryanvi style.
Bhupinder Hooda did not make this a show of strength or power but more or less a family affair. The food was vegetarian but delicious. The evening saw close friends like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Ahmed Patel's family. It was a relaxed evening, full of fun where everyone was at ease. The next day the "baraat" took off to Jaipur in Volvo buses to get the beautiful Mirdha girl home to Rohtak for a reception there.
MANAGING THE MESSAGE
INDIA-PAKISTAN DIALOGUE NEEDS BETTER HANDLING
It is strange how the ghost of "Agra 2001" continues to haunt the Indian policy-making establishment when it comes to India-Pakistan dialogues. Surely the diplomat responsible for media handling at that time, Ms Nirupama Rao, should know by now, as India's foreign secretary, that in hosting a dialogue with Pakistan, the internal official homework is only half the job. Having a media strategy in place and communicating the message both before and after a meeting is the other half. Critics in India of the government's policy of re-engaging Pakistan still refer to the infamous Agra Summit between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and wrongly suggest that no lessons have been learnt since. They forget that Mr Musharraf was in India once again in April 2005 and that summit went well as far as the management of the message was concerned. In fact, in 2005, several conservative and cautious diplomats warned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against inviting President Musharraf to Delhi to watch a cricket match on the grounds that Dr Singh was still on a politically fragile ground at home and, given the damage Agra had done to Prime Minister Vajpayee's authority at the time, a mismanaged summit with Mr Musharraf would irreparably damage Dr Singh's tenure.
In the event, the April 2005 New Delhi summit not only boosted Dr Singh's image in the sub-continent and globally, but also launched one of the most productive phases in the history of the bilateral relationship. The Singh-Musharraf dialogue has helped create the template on which the India-Pakistan relationship will one day be normalised. When that day will come depends more on domestic political developments in both countries rather than the success of bilateral diplomatic engagement. Against this background, it is a pity that the foreign secretary-level meeting last week was not handled better by both sides. India would have had good reasons for taking the initiative to invite the foreign secretary of Pakistan and the government must have a well-considered strategy in mind. There is no reason to doubt the competence and the sagacity of the political and diplomatic leadership. But for some mysterious reason, the government has once again shied away from communicating its thinking to the media and the army of footloose commentators, many of them retired diplomats! The media abhors a vacuum in public opinion on India-Pakistan relations. If the government does not fill the space, somebody else will. Typically these are the naysayers and the nothing-doers our own "nattering nabobs of negativism".
What Indian diplomats need to learn, therefore, are not the lessons of "Agra 2001" but the lessons of "New Delhi 2005". True, Pakistan today does not have a Pervez Musharraf type leader, but Dr Singh is still here and still focused on a plan he has worked hard to evolve along with President Musharraf. It offers the only way forward for both nations. Dr Singh's government and party owe it to him to manage the process of engaging Pakistan better
THE GOVERNMENT'S ABILITY TO USE THE UID SYSTEM IS THE KEY
If you're looking for instances of just how different this year's Budget is, a good place to look at is the section on subsidies for the first time in a decade, subsidies will be lower than in the previous years. At least that is the plan. Total subsidies in 2010-11 are to fall around 12 per cent to Rs 116,224 crore and, within this, the largest planned reduction is in the case of fertiliser subsidies, targeted to fall from Rs 52,980 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 49,981 crore in 2010-11. Just how wrong this could go, of course, is best exemplified by what happened just two years ago after budgeting for Rs 30,986 crore in 2008-09, the actual fertiliser subsidy in the year was around 2.5 times higher. Food subsidies in that year also went horribly wrong and the overall subsidy payout on all heads was around 80 per cent more than budgeted for. So, the possibility of higher global prices cannot be ruled out and it could play havoc with the budget. What makes Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee confident that he's on top of things is the move to nutrient-based subsidies and the hike in urea prices despite the objections of the fertiliser minister this is important, but keep in mind the price hike of 10 per cent came after a period of eight years. The real savings, of course, will accrue from the government moving, as the finance minister said in his Budget, towards direct transfer of subsidies to farmers given the government's reluctance to take tough decisions, such as on petroleum pricing, its ability to use the Unique ID (UID) system for cash transfers is an open question. The increase in allocation for the UID project, though, does suggest it hasn't lost its commitment to the idea.
The other worry relates to the Right to Food Bill, the draft of which, the finance minister has said, will be available for public discussion soon. The broad contours of it, of course, are known and if the government sticks to just giving subsidised food to the poor, the bill could actually decline. Of course, there are various definitions of the poor, ranging from the 6.52 crore family one by the National Sample Survey (the official one) to the 8.32 crore family one by Suresh Tendulkar and the infamous 77 per cent Indians are poor one by Arjun Sengupta (16.75 crore families) and there are Below Poverty Line cards (10.86 crore) issued by various state governments. Estimates of what the subsidy would cost range from Rs 28,890 crore to Rs 90,644 crore, and that's without taking into account the rampant leakages from the system. It is also an open question as to whether the proposal to lower the ration shop entitlement from the current 35 kg per family per month to 25 kg will be accepted. It's also difficult to see how in an entitlement-society, it will be possible to not give subsidised food to the non-poor this decision could result in a saving/spending of around Rs 15,000 crore. In other words, the government's ability to keep subsidies in check requires a lot of political will, the kind it hasn't demonstrated for a long time.
BUDGETING FOR THE FUTURE
With more than 90 million Indians already over the age of 60 and another 110 million likely to join this group by 2025, it is clear India has the beginning of an old-age crisis. Not in the sense the West has one, but in the sense that just a handful of these people can finance their retirement. Just the 24 million employed directly and indirectly (school teachers, for instance) by the government of the total work force of around 450 million will be able to finance their retirement as they get half their last salary as a lifelong pension. Even the 15 million members of the Employees Pension Fund (EPF) don't fall in this category since, given the average retirement payout of Rs 26,000 by the EPF, it is clear these members can't get a monthly pension of even Rs 200 (a Rs 1 lakh policy with LIC fetches an annuity of Rs 8,790 for 15 years).
This is why Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's decision to co-contribute, for 3 years, Rs 1,000 per annum to each individual who opens an account under the New Pension Scheme (NPS) is more than welcome enlightened state governments such as the one in Rajasthan began this some years ago, though the co-contribution there is for 30-40 years.
According to the Invest India Economic Foundation's all-India survey, there are around 30 million people who are interested in saving in the NPS as it stands (minimum contribution of Rs 6,000 per annum) and another 61 million are interested if they can save up to Rs 3,000 per annum. Assuming the NPS is altered to allow them in, at an average saving of Rs 3,000 per year, the NPS will have a corpus of around $285 billion in 30 years, at a 3 per cent real rate of return. For the individual, such a saving, over 30 years, implies a sum which can give her a pension of Rs 1,045 per month for 15 years. Assuming the individual is putting just 5 per cent of her salary in the NPS, this implies a pension that is 21 per cent of her current monthly income. It's still small, but it's better than nothing at the moment and the higher the co-contribution by either the Centre or the states, the higher this amount a Rs 1,000 contribution each year (not just for the three years promised by the finance minister) by the government will, for instance, raise the monthly pension to Rs 1,394.
In which case, why is it that the NPS has just 3,000-odd members and what is the reason behind the government not being able to pass the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority Bill for the past five years? Most reformers, including the people in the Interim PFRDA, will tell you this is a big lacuna. Since the PFRDA, it is argued, does not have statutory powers, it cannot take quick action against a pension fund manager who disappears with the funds a case will have to be filed in a civil court and that can take a lifetime or two to get resolved. This is probably correct, though some argue this isn't quite true since the money remains in a trust fund and there are enough checks on the investment decisions taken. But even if you assume this is true, there is a lot to be said for the PFRDA remaining a wing of the finance ministry.
The reason is simple: Though it is mandatory that everyone joining government after January 2004 has to be a member of a government NPS (that is, their pensions will depend on what they contribute and are not based on their last salary), this has happened for just 7 lakh persons across both the Central government and three to four states. That is, most state governments haven't even started deducting the pension contribution the rest, including the Centre, haven't created individual NPS accounts even today. Which means they can't decide which fund manager they want their money to be placed with or what kind of investments they want to make with their savings this was, by the way, the very essence of the NPS. A PFRDA, whose boss is of secretary or additional secretary rank, has a better chance of being able to get other government departments to start complying and to straighten out their accounts it can be done with a regulator as well, but the chances of bureaucrats listening to the finance ministry are higher. So, a PFRDA Act may be a nice thing eventually, but it's not a burning concern right now.
What is worrying, of course, is how the PFRDA is staffed and how it functions. It has seven-eight executive staffers, including the chairman, and this ensures it has no one sitting with the state/Central government every day to get them to start complying. While the PFRDA view is that the finance ministry is stifling it, the finance ministry says the PFRDA has enough powers and, if it doesn't, it just needs to ask for more!
A very serious issue for the NPS to take off, however, relates to the structure of incentives for those selling the product. Right now, the Central Recordkeeping Agency gets the lion's share of the commission (Rs 440 per account in Year 1 and Rs 390 for each year, assuming one transaction a quarter), while distributors where subscribers open accounts (the SBIs and Kotaks of the world) get Rs 120 in Year 1 and Rs 80 thereafter; the fund managers get 0.009 per cent (that's Rs 9 on Rs 10 lakh of funds under management). This is many times less than what they get on other products like life insurance and mutual funds. Since the Rs 1,000 for 3 years the finance minister has promised doesn't address the issue of greater incentives for the SBIs and the Kotaks, why will they sell these products? And since this Rs 3,000 is for future consumption, 30-40 years down the line, nobody is going to be beating a path through the jungle to get it. The government needs to work on this aspect as well if it wants the NPS to take off.
Postscript: This same problem of lack of attention to make-or-break details applies to the other plan of the Budget to increase banking to rural India through the use of banking correspondents. [See "SMS the money" (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/smsmoney/385691/) for details.]
FINMIN: RETURN OF THE GLADSTONIANS
The global financial crisis has empowered fiscal conservatives in India. Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a finance ministry that liked to keep its Budgets balanced. Balanced Budgets and low inflation were virtues that prudent civil servants held high. They were the children of, what economists Vijay Joshi and IMD Little famously dubbed, Gladstonian fiscal conservatism. *
Into that idyllic world, entered the serpent of Keynesian spending that then morphed into the ogre of populist spending. The currency got debased, deficits went up, and so did prices and people lived in fear of stagflation. Into that big bad world of fiscal populism stepped in the sons of Gladstonian liberalism and they valiantly fought the deficits till they went down.
From the high of 9.0 per cent of GDP in 1986-87 (remember those days?!), the fiscal deficit of the Central government went down to 5.4 per cent of GDP in 1995-96, and further down to 4.1 per cent in 1996-97. Everyone thought the ogre and his sons were finally defeated and they could live happily ever after, till they found that what can go down can also go up!
For most of the last decade, no brave heart in the Union finance ministry was a match for the fiscal profligates. The prime minister would keep reminding his spendthrift colleagues that "money does not grow on trees", but the apple on that fiscal tree had been bitten, and the sinners multiplied.
The deficit numbers looked manageable, though, but thanks only to five years of 9.0 per cent GDP growth. Then came the income downturn and the deficit ogre raised its head again. It took another hero, called Pranab Mukherjee, and his dedicated band of neo-Gladstonians full eight months to win the battle this time. Finally, on the Budget day, they won! At least everyone hoped so.
But the battle was, of course, only half won. The ogre called fiscal deficit has a big brother called revenue deficit and he lurks around still, as menacingly as ever. No wonder Mr Mukherjee's speech-writer carefully avoided any mention of that R word in the Budget speech! For the first time ever, the finance minister read his Budget speech in Parliament with no mention at all of what his revenue deficit number would be!
The reason for his coyness was, of course, that he cannot make the kind of claim on the revenue deficit front that he can on the fiscal deficit one. Last year, the finance minister budgeted for a fiscal deficit of 6.8 per cent and delivered 6.7 per cent (or 6.9 as he has himself owned up). But, in the same year, he had budgeted for a revenue deficit of 4.8 per cent of GDP and delivered one at 5.3 per cent of GDP. This year, he is able to promise only a 4.0 per cent ratio. This is far from the impressively low 1.1 per cent that Mr Mukherjee delivered in his first avatar as finance minister in the entire Sixth Plan period (1980-85). And, given his phenomenal memory, he would remember.
But there is no need to be churlish. One must give credit where it is due. Just as the Reserve Bank of India adhered to its dharma of fighting inflation with its monetary policy weaponry, the finance ministry too has kept its dharma on the fiscal policy side by strongly signalling its intention to rein in the twin deficits. The Thirteenth Finance Commission has also affirmed its loyalty to Gladstonian principles by not only demanding lower deficits but also seeking a lower internal public debt to GDP ratio, with a ceiling set at 68 per cent.
All this augurs well for the reputation of India's macroeconomic management. Till not so long ago, commentators around the world were disparaging and despairing of India's monetary and fiscal policy management. The monetary policy critics were forced to shut up after the trans-Atlantic financial and banking crisis showed the Indian central bank in new light. The fiscal policy critics will now have to shut up too. Unless, of course, Mr Mukherjee fails to deliver on all his promises on the expenditure side, and his assumptions on the revenue side fail him.
As analysts have already pointed out, Mr Mukherjee's fiscal strategy is based on heroic assumptions about revenue mobilisation and expenditure restraint. An early indication of the government's intent and capability will be provided by its response to the demands for a petrol and urea price hike rollback.
These decisions were taken after due deliberation within the government. There is no reason why they should be rolled back merely because a wayward Opposition has found a new platform for, what the communists used to call, "all-in-one unity".
It has been a long time since the communists were willing to fit into the same television frame as the Bharatiya Janata Party. There was nothing "spontaneous" about a diehard communist like Gurudas Dasgupta holding the hand of a Sushma Swaraj. The Left and the BJP have been in talks since the monsoon session of Parliament. They would have made Doha Round negotiations a platform for unity if that Round had reached a decisive stage. They then decided to make climate change negotiations the basis for "all-in-one" unity, and got upstaged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's smart move to hold Chinese Premier Wen Jia Bao's hand and work with the developing country bloc rather than appease the United States.
In price rise the divided Opposition has found a common cause. For this very reason, the Congress Party has no option but to stand its ground and establish its credibility as the party of government for the next four years. That is what Mr Mukherjee's Budget tries to do.
* Vijay Joshi and IMD Little, India: Macroeconomics and Political Economy, 1964-1991, Oxford University Press, 1994
LOOKING EAST VIA THE NORTH-EAST
OPENING UP BORDERS BETWEEN INDIA AND COUNTRIES LIKE BANGLADESH CAN MAKE THE NORTH-EAST REGION THE FULCRUM OF INDIA?S ?LOOK EAST? POLICY
During her meeting with a handful of Indian journalists just as she was wrapping up her visit to New Delhi last month, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was asked how the pro-Jamiat-i-Islami newspapers back home had reacted to her handing over of Ulfa terrorist Arabinda Rajkhowa to India. "Aaami kichhu jaani na (I have no idea what you're talking about)," the lady protested in Bengali, waving her hands and emphatically shaking her head. Everyone laughed with her.
So, here is the plain truth that will be confirmed neither by the Ministry of External Affairs in India nor by the Foreign Office in Bangladesh, because it might be too weighty to bear on both sides: Arabinda Rajkhowa was not trapped or captured by sundry Intelligence Bureau decoys playing Hercule Poirot, as he was getting on or off a bus somewhere in the shifting borderlands between Assam and Bangladesh.
The fact is, Sheikh Hasina made the enormously courageous political decision to hand over Rajkhowa to India not only because she wanted to repair relations with her large neighbour, but also because she wanted to cleanse her own country of sources of terrorism that had bred there for so long.
So, how can India repay for Hasina's neighbourly gesture? In one sentence, open up the borders between India and Bangladesh, much like what exists currently between India and Nepal, and put a free trade agreement in place between the two countries.
Analysts on both sides of the border argue that if the Manmohan Singh government is able to dismiss its protectionist lobbies at home in favour of the larger picture, India could dramatically change the sense of alienation and despair that remains a byword for the North-East region.
In many ways, with its 4,096-km-long border (262 km with Assam, 443 km with Meghalaya, 318 km with Mizoram and 856 km with Tripura) with India, Bangladesh is the most important country in the North-East region. Tragically, no land border exists with any of these states. Significantly, at the only land border point Benapole-Petrapole in West Bengal estimates of "bootleg" trade and smuggling amounted to $442 million in 2002, while recorded land imports amounted to $580 million.
So, when several members of Parliament from the North-East region agreed to come together in a forum in Gangtok in mid-February, they agreed that it was not only possible, but imperative to transform the region's poverty and backwardness, which, in turn, bred ethnic divisions and mindless violence, into a stable and thriving entrepot pursuing cross-border linkages with its immediate neighbourhood Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.
Everyone in Delhi worth his salt knows all of the above. None other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his first administration, pushed for the softening of the Line of Control between the two parts of Kashmir, an idea that he had inherited from BJP leader and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Unfortunately, in his second term, Manmohan Singh, although he has been elected from Assam, seems unable to visualise a North-East that returns to its pre-1947 spirit of enterprise, where profit and purpose go hand in hand.
The fact is, just as Arabinda Rajkhowa and other absconder-terrorists like Anup Chetia (roaming free in Bangladesh) and Paresh Barua (moving easily between China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh) jump(ed) frontiers with kindergarten ease, thousands of people pay little heed to the shadow lines on the ground that masquerade as borders. Few have passports. Many are plying their homespun trade to make both ends meet, some are pursuing a bride or bridegroom and more than a few are simply doing it for a lark.
Of course, if you asked Delhi, they would all be clapped into the nearest jail for being so dismissive of sovereignty. Except, on the ground, there's little time for so much emotion. It's easier to pay a small bribe (Rs 10 or 20 will do) if one happen upon a uniform who asks one too many questions.
Imagine, said PD Rai, the eloquent MP from the Sikkim Democratic Front, how the region would change if all the North-Eastern states could establish their own border crossings, trade marts, transport services with these neighbouring countries. The North-East region would return to being the political and economic heart of the region, connecting the world's fastest-growing economies, India and China, helping both Myanmar and Bhutan to open up to the rest of the world and building capacities in the economies of Nepal and Bangladesh.
The continuing tragedy of the North-East region, Rai added, is that the region has been pressing Delhi for several years to open up, enhance border trade and allow free flow of people across regulated border points.
But Delhi, always so preoccupied with security considerations, including cross-border terrorism, has either sent the file for yet another set of comments to yet another ministry Home, Commerce or External Affairs or simply refused to respond.
Clearly, a historical moment is at hand. Besides Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh, the military junta in Myanmar is favourably inclined towards India, and King Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk of Bhutan is a close Indian friend. Only in Nepal is the political polity divided over India.
Just as the prime minister is getting ready to engage with India's neighbourhood on its western frontier, Pakistan, the East beckons. In fact, enhancing both border trade Tamu (Myanmar)-Moreh (Manipur), Sikkim-Tibet (China) at Nathu La pass, Sabroom-Ramgarh in Mizoram and reopening the Stilwell road to the Yunnan province in southern China as well as pursuing big profit by making use of big ports like Chittagong and Ashuganj could make the North-East region the fulcrum of India's "Look East" policy.
The profit motive could, in fact, stiffen Hasina's spine and allow her to hand over Paresh Barua and Anup Chetia as well as well as take credit for it, both domestically and internationally.
For all this to happen, however, the region's MPs will have to take charge. It helps that Manmohan Singh is one of them.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HOUNDING OUT HUSAIN
With reports suggesting that M F Husain has accepted the offer of honorary citizenship from Qatar and, given India's rules on not allowing dual citizenship, we will have to face the patently absurd and shameful predicament of arguably our most celebrated artist literally being forced to renounce Indian citizenship. The way to make the best of a bad situation, if the government genuinely feels as embarrassed as vast sections of civil society, would be to persuade the 95-year-old artist to return home with adequate security, or even use this instance to re-examine the grounds for disallowing dual citizenship. But then, it's our very polity that's the root of the problem. Given that communal identity management is part and parcel of politics, the state has consistently prevaricated on obscurantist individuals and groups abrogating the right to be offended on sundry issues, whether Husain's art or Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Allowing or sustaining such forms of communalism while claiming, or aspiring to, high democratic ideals is sheer hypocrisy. Thus, the absurdity of a situation where a Taslima Nasreen, fleeing from persecution in her own country, is allowed a form of refuge in India, while MF Husain is hounded out.
The Congress-led government can hardly express regret with a straight face. There is an abysmal record of failing to provide security to artists like Husain, with, say, even a handful of hooligans being allowed to threaten or attack art exhibitions. Or willy-nilly contributing to a scenario where the supposedly leading light of Indian art is even elided out of exhibitions. This, even as the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court in 2008 quashed some of the obscenity cases filed against Husain. The point isn't even that, given the rich history of sensuality within Indian art and iconography, Husain has clearly been unfairly targeted. The politics of targeting the minorities perverts democracy itself. As does week-kneed surrender before the forces of coercion and exclusion. Rule of law, culture and artistic freedom too turn casualties.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AS THE RUPEE RISES
It is rather curious; the effects relative economic growth can have on things. Take the Chinese, for example. From being one of the forgotten, forbidden lands, only thought of as exemplifying Oriental inscrutability, the dragon is more and more seen as such. With once-imperious foreign governments backing away quietly on a host of issues when faced with Chinese economic muscle. As well as paying more attention to the language and culture. Indeed, a UK study had discovered that quite a few of the elite set wanted their kids to learn Mandarin as the foreign language of choice, instead of say, French. So, now that India has become one of the better-ranked economies in the world, watched by the whole world, just what can we foresee for ourselves? Already, with the finance minister's Budget speech mention of the hunt for a suitable sign for the hitherto humble rupee to match the pound, dollar, yen and euro (an I crossed in the middle, maybe?) we can evince signs of envisaging future prominence. But what about language? Will there possibly be a time when we can have western kids learning 'Indian' ?
Which is probably where things will come full circle. Now, most of us are bi- or multi-lingual by necessity anyway . And still a tad amused by the stereotype of the foreign tourist negotiating the hurly-burly with a twanged namaste or a theek hai at least up north. But since we aren't quite settled on the language issue, which possible one could the people wanting a share of the Indian economic pie possibly learn? Maybe you can get by in the chief economic zones in China with Mandarin, but how on earth can any foreign businessman negotiate the lingua franca across our multiple zones with yet more submultiplicity in each. Imagine then, the sound of public school kids, say, in the UK, sing-songing the soft and hard consonants in Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi et al. Or would they settle, instead, for official recognition of English as really being Indian now, a familiar sort of foreign language? The tongue follows the money, what?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'RLYS' FUTURE GROWTH FROM PPPS'
The railway budget presented in Parliament last Wednesday laid out what is perhaps the Railways' most aggressive attempt to attract private investment. In the next 3-4 years, the Railways are looking at a four-fold rise in funds generated through public-private partnerships (PPPs). On its agenda is creation of a special taskforce on PPPs and, perhaps, a move to attract private funds for construction of new railway lines and for electrification. We asked the railway board chairman S S Khurana whether it was all the more necessary to tap private funds as the Railways have refrained from raising passenger and freight rates over the last few years.
The Railways are confident of being able to fund their operations just by carrying more volumes. "For 2010-11 , we have targeted 940 million tonnes of freight. We hope to fund our operations by incremental loading every year, both in freight and passenger traffic," says Mr Khurana. Additional resources will thus be required for financing the growth plans.
While the government's largest department has been trying to raise resources through PPP for a few years now, the industry response has so far been lukewarm. The Railways hope to change all that in the near future. In particular, the ministry is taking specific measures to iron out the deficiencies and procedural delays that have, so far, come in the way of drawing in private partcipation. So, what level of investment is the department seeking?
On an average, we managed to get Rs 800-900 crore worth of private investment every year in railway infrastructure and services either through joint ventures or the PPP route. "This year, we hope to raise Rs 1,032 crore from such PPPs. It will be more or less similar to the amount of private funds that we have managed to attract in the last few years. However, in the coming years, this will go up significantly."
The Railways hope to raise Rs 4,500-5 ,000 crore of private investment in railway infrastructure projects and services within the next 3-4 years.
"This year, we hope to attract investment through joint ventures for coach factories at Madhepura and Marhoara in Bihar and in Kancharapara in West Bengal and Pallakad in Kerala. All these proposals have been cleared by the Union Cabinet." Work on the Sonepur-Dankuni section of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor is also slated to begin in 2010-11 . This too is expected to throw up opportunities for PPPs. How exactly would PPPs work?
A soon-to-be-created special taskforce will focus only on PPPs and try to develop project-specific business models. The Railways plan to formulate a template and structure deals in such a way that it would be a win-win situation for both the prospective private partner and the organisation at large. "The idea is to clear proposals for investment within 100 days."
Such a move may find favour with industry that is keen to partner with the Railways . Given the transporter's ambitious growth plans, the quantum of funds needed is staggering. It would require Rs 14 lakh crore by 2020 to meet its growth targets. About 64% of this amount is expected to come from internal accruals, and the rest from private sector.
Would the Railways involve private sector in laying news lines as mentioned in the budget? "We have opened up the space. These lines can be set up by private parties, while Railways will get a connectivity fee for running the service on these lines," explains Mr Khurana.
So far, a major chunk of the private funds in Railways have come in the form of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) like port to mine connectivity projects or in containers run by private operators. In the coming years, partnerships in manufacturing to boost railway infrastructure are slated to bring in quality private investment, both in terms of technology and money, be it in new-gen freight bogies or in coach and loco factories.
Going forward, Railways are also eyeing a higher share of private funds coming in through innovative schemes and commercial utilisation of railway land like auto hubs and multi-level parking lots.
"While we are looking at generating funds through innovative advertising and commercial use of land, the wagon investment scheme will also hopefully draw significant interest and encourage private investors to team up with the Railways."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE WORK-LIFE BALANCE ISSUE
There seems to be a perpetual dichotomy in our lives. It is known as the work-life balance problem. In the pursuit of happiness, man is rushing to make money so that he and his family can enjoy. But the more he rushes to earn the less time he has to enjoy. And the more he enjoys, the less time he has to earn. So it seems that the two are in eternal discordance. How is it possible to balance these two opposing forces?
The great Einstein has said that the a problem cannot be solved by the same type of thinking that created it. So let's try to look at the problem differently.
One way of doing so is: why separate work from enjoyment. Why consider work as a mere source of money which will then buy enjoyment. Why not enjoy work itself? That may well be true but then comes the question, how? How does one enjoy work which is not always enjoyable. Let us take recourse to literature The Elixirby George Herbert:
Teach me, my God and King, In all things thee to see, And what I do in any thing, To do it as for thee: ... A servant with this clause Makes drudgerie divine: Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and th' action fine.
Put less poetically, it talks of the having an higher ideal or higher vision in one's work If there is no ideal in the action, the work becomes mechanical, dull, routine, boring. But even is there is an ideal in the work, if one is able to work for something beyond the money, status, etc. There still remains the question of time. A person needs time to spend with his family and other interests. If all time is spent at work what about the rest of life?
Is there a way to spend less time at work and yet achieve more? Yes, there is such a way. It is known as clearer thinking. The more clear the thinking, the more the work accomplished in the given time. Fuzzy thinking makes a job take longer. It is the difference between working hard and working right. A handcart puller is working very hard but what he will achieve may not be much.
Sharpening the axe is better than chopping away with great effort with a blunt one. Some people make in one day what is a year's salary for others. Clearer thinking gives a quantum leap in output. Like inventing the wheel raised life onto another level.
The way to develop clearer thinking is through reflection. The more the thinking one does, specially on philosophical literature , the more clear a thinker does a person become.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'EVERY PENNY WE SPEND GOES TO COMMON MAN'
DEEPSHIKHA SIKARWAR & VINAY PANDEY
When finance minister Pranab Mukherjee walked into Parliament for his Budget 2010 speech, India Inc was on the edge, worried about the contours of a government plan to roll back the booster measures announced to combat last year's financial slowdown. That Mr Mukherjee managed to dispel all such fears was amply reflected by the stock markets that rallied in defiance to the trends of previous years, despite the lack of any major reform measures in the budget. Industry was pleased that the rollback was well-calibrated while taxpayers were happy with an unexpected bounty. Relaxing at his North Block office after months of hectic activity, Mr Mukherjee spoke to ET on the fine print of Budget 2010 and the road ahead for India. Excerpts:
There is this apprehension that the budget is inflationary. While taxpayers have got some relief, some others may be hit hard...
The development process is for the ordinary people. Every penny we spend goes to the peoplewe are going to spend Rs 3,73,000 crore as budgetary support towards the central Plan. It is meant for the people of this country, not for those of another planet. Everyone is a beneficiary here.
Yes, the budget has some inflationary ingredients, but not much. I have calculated that the tax proposals will have an impact of about 0.4% on the wholesale price inflation. But it will be absorbed in the course of time. Otherwise, the alternate would have been to leave a big gap. You have to bridge this deficit. If you don't do this and go on borrowing, then that is not good for the people, particularly for the economy. We will have to be careful from all sides. We cannot be unidimensional.
On fiscal consolidation, you seem to have bettered even the Finance Commission proposals. But you didn't show any such urgency in cutting revenue deficit...
I have mentioned the revenue deficit in the budget documents, although I have not mentioned it in the speech. The targets are there in the budget documents (revenue deficit is proposed to be cut to 2.7% by FY13 from a revised 5.3% for FY10). Revenue deficit will be a little more this year because of a revenue shortfall. Direct taxes have shown some improvement. But there is some shortfall in overall collections because indirect taxes are down around Rs 26,000 crore. So revenue deficit is high.
Has revenue deficit consciously been kept high?
I have not kept anything below the line. You know, if I would have kept measures like fertiliser subsidy and oil subsidy out of the budget, I could have easily kept Rs 25,000-30,000 crore out. The revenue deficit would have been down. But I wanted to be honest and bring out every expenditure in a transparent way.
I have also said I would be targetting an explicit reduction in the government's domestic public debt-GDP ratio and bring out a status paper detailing the road map for this within six months.
You have budgeted Rs 40,000 crore from disinvestment for the coming fiscal. How confident are you of meeting this target, given the market conditions?
We keep an eye on the market, and will take decisions accordingly. I am very consistent in my disinvestment policy. I have done it very quietly and the money raised will be used in creating capital assets. The idea is to bring public participation in these companies as it not only unlocks the value for all partiesthe government, the company and its shareholdersbut also improves corporate governance. I had pointed out in my budget speech how the listing of five PSUs increased their value by 3.8 times.
Will you consider strategic sale if market response remains subdued?
There is no question of strategic sale. I am very clear about this. The government will retain 51% equity. The methodology will remain the same as the idea to bring about people ownership in these companies and improve their functioning.
Will the railway minister agree to service tax on railway freight?
It was there earlier, but I lifted it for a few months last year. So this is not anything new that I have imposed. In a multi-party democracy, divergence of views are bound to be there. Moreover, all essential commodities are exempted, so it will not lead to increase in transport costs of essential commodities.
You have provided very little towards oil subsidy. Is that a way of forcing deregulation on the sector?
I have said in one paragraph of my speech that the Kirit Parikh committee report is available now and is under consideration. My colleague (petroleum minister Murli Deora) will take an appropriate decision on the recommendations. So I am not making any provision right now but one should not read too much into it. Since a decision will be taken, it will either be accepted or not accepted. But a decision will be taken. If the decision (to continue with subsidy) is taken, the necessary provisions will have to be made. It's as simple as that.
Does the decision not to raise the service tax rate and bring the cenvat rate to that level mean we could have a central GST rate of 10%?
No, no, it is not that. I have raised excise duty to 10% and service tax is at 10%. Some people might read this as a signal that perhaps we are approaching GST and that this may be the rate. But that will have to be decided in consultation with states. There must be a consensus, a convergence of views among states. What will be the rate, I cannot unilaterally say. The concept is that as we move towards GST, we should have the same rate of taxation for both services and goods. You can say we have taken one step towards GST by aligning tax rates of goods and services. The rate will be decided only after consultations with states.
You have indicated that the Direct Taxes Code could be introduced from next fiscal, but will the legislation be in place by then?
We will introduce the legislation sometime in the monsoon session of Parliament. Based on the discussions we had with all the stakeholders, I want to prepare a draft and place it for public comments once again before I introduce it. However, this time it would be done for a shorter period because once I introduce it in Parliament it will go to the Standing Committee that will also invite view of stakeholders. But since the process of consultation and preparation of the draft legislation will take some time, it will be difficult to bring the legislation in the budget session.
There is this impression that the new low-cost pension scheme is for every one?
It is for every one in the unorganised sector but the condition is that the subscriber will have to deposit Rs 1,000-12,000. Please note that the scheme is not available to people in the organised sector.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE ARE BUILDING ORBIT FOR FUTURE
Formed in 1891 and headquartered in Chicago, Wrigley is among the world's best known chewing gum and confectionery companies selling products in more than 180 countries. The company operates as a subsidiary of Mars, Incorporated, a private, $27-billion, family-owned company that produces some of the world's leading confectionery, food and petcare products and has growing beverage and health & nutrition businesses. Three of Wrigley's brandsJuicy Fruit, Wrigley's Spearmint and Altoidshave heritages stretching back more than a century. Its other well-loved brands include Orbit, Extra, Starburst, Doublemint, Skittles, Freedent, Airwaves, Life Savers, Eclipse, and Winterfresh. Wrigley India, formed in 2004, is the leader in the Rs 600-crore Indian chewing gum market. Its Orbit sugar free chewing gum is the first chewing gum in India that has the Indian Dental Association (IDA) certification. In January, Wrigley extended its contract with Blollywood actress Deepika Padukone who has been endorsing Orbit sugar free since the last two years. Himanshu Khanna, director, marketing, Wrigley India, shares with ET Bureau its India plans: Excerpts:
Have rising sugar prices affected the company? How important is it considering that there are also sugar-free products in your portfolio?
It does impact us. In any product, where the end-consumer price is fixed, any change in raw material price has an impact on the company's balance sheet. Apart from chocolates, close to 97% of the confectionery market is at a Re 1 or below price point. Sugar does impact the overall picture, although we are currently holding prices. We are a very consumer-focused company and so we have tightened our belts, trying to cut costs and generate greater efficiencies internally. Price increase is the last option because it becomes dramatic in this segment.
Which brand in your portfolio consumes a bulk of your marketing resources? What is the thought behind launching Doublemint?
Currently, the brand that we are really focussing on is Boomer, which has been India's number one bubble gum brand. Orbit is the world's and India's number one sugar-free gum. Introduced in 2004, it is a brand that we are building for the future. It is the first food brand to get the Indian Dental Association's seal of approval for being beneficial to tooth health. So, Orbit is chewing gum plus benefit. It is giving consumers an additional plus, not asking them to forego anything.
The sugarfree chewing gum market is growing faster than the entire chewing gum market.
We launched Double Mint in December last year and are focussing on establishing it. It's a very powerful brand for us, globally. We did a survey among the youth and the overarching message was that as marketers, we needed to keep things simple. The youth know that it is mint. We do not need to be unrealistic and dole out false promises. As a brand positioning, we are trying to say that Doublemint is a good gum. Chew it. It's a simple message without any fluff.
How do you see the opportunity in India for chewing gums?
The chewing gum market in India, at Rs 600 crore, is still in its infancy. The penetration is low but growing. We are already the leader in the sugarfree gum and bubble gum market. So, our mandate is really to grow the market. And the way to grow market is either to increase consumption or to increase penetration or both. The per capita consumption in India is a paltry six pellets per person per year. So, while increasing frequency of consumption is the solution in the metro markets, the answer for growth is increasing penetration in rural India.
Has takeover by Mars helped Wrigley? Have you identified some synergies in production and marketing?
The good part of this is that within the Mars family, Wrigley is the gum and confectionary vertical and we are working independently now. How things evolve in the future is yet to be seen. It is early to say if we will start co-advertising and branding. We will continue to work within our own vertical. Synergetic communication depends on every company's philosophy and what they want to do. Right now, we do not see many benefits in communicating that our brands are from the same manufacturer because there are different consumers for our different products.
As a chewing gum brand, you have followed an unconventional marketing plan by relying on cricket, which is a rather new property for the FMCG marketers. What has driven the choice?
The realisation driving our marketing endeavours is that we need to stand beside the consumer and not lose focus. So, we worked with cricket, partnering all the eight IPL franchisees during the second edition in South Africa. Then we have Deepika Padukopne as a brand ambassador for Orbit. We have also tied up with the Force India Formula 1 team as their official gum partner. It may sound unconventional but is all done with the consumers' eyeballs in mind. When the consumers move from these properties, we will also have to make a decisive shift.
WILL SACHIN INSPIRE US TO PLAY HARDER?
It has been five days since Sachin Tendulkar scored that epic 200 not out against South Africa at Gwalior the first male cricketer to do so in limited-overs international cricket (former Australian skipper Belinda Clarke having achieved the feat 11 years ago) and echoes of the knock are still echoing around the cricketing world. The adulation greeting the inning are still rolling in and no less a figure than the original Little Master, Sunil Gavaskar, has had words of high praise for his fellow-Mumbaikar. Tendulkar's magnum opus was scripted in the third decade of an extraordinarily long career and highlighted the qualities that make him so special an almost monastic devotion to his sport married to his immense natural talent. In a sense, the Master Blaster's double hundred also inadvertently highlighted another aspect of Indian sport that tends to stay get clouded by the sheer numbers that turn out to watch cricket matches, particularly of the shorter variety. And it is this. Quite simply, sport here in India is still more about spectatorship than participation, and it is almost exclusively confined to the willow sport. A good example is the Hockey World Cup that began in the national capital on Sunday to almost empty stands. Granted that the run-up to the tournament was not the best with security issues, rank mismanagement and buck-passing taking precedence over the game itself, yet an event of this scale and magnitude should have drawn far more people that it did. The India-Pakistan game had a near full house but that was for reasons beyond the sport itself. Yet with great names of field hockey in live action literally at the doorstep, the game was given typically short shrift in that passes had been distributed or picked up in plenty but not reflected in the number of people who actually turned up to catch the action live. With the Commonwealth Games not too far away, it does not augur well for the turnout for the quadrennial event that the nation is going to such lengths to make a success of. Yet all may not be doom and gloom. Yes, India is more a nation of people who would rather watch than participate in a sporting activity, which anyway does not appear to be high on the average person's agenda. Recent trends, however, suggest a slow but steady change in attitudes. Just like the 1982 Asian Games sparked off a fair amount of interest in other games and sports witness the stunning rise of a golfing phalanx in the wake of Jeev Milkha Singh's feats overseas, which was in turn born of India's success at the 1982 Asiad and there yet seems to be cause for hope. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's silver medal at Athens in turn led to a boom for competitive shooting and Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar's bronze medals in Beijing sparked off renewed interest in boxing and wrestling. In short, nothing succeeds like success, as the old chestnut goes, and that is one reason why cricket has been elevated in this country into something far more than just sport. It is a common cliché to label it a religion, and going by the way the country's cricket stars are deified it is sometimes hard to disagree.
NO MORE HUSAINS
BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
The news of India's greatest living artist having been conferred the citizenship of Qatar cannot possibly be viewed as a recognition given to one man by the Emirate of Qatar or as an event related solely to the life of M.F. Husain. This silent condemnation of the harassment and indignity heaped upon a great artist by those who should know better affects our democracy on several levels and has far-reaching implications. It is a telling example of the fragility of our brotherhood, social harmony and the right of the individual. And should make us reflect seriously on whether, in our proud democracy, the freedom of expression, especially artistic expression, is truly guaranteed. Important questions of freedom and liberty also arise in this context.
The Government of India has assured full protection to Husain if he comes back home. A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the withdrawal of all cases against Husain, and home secretary G.K. Pillai has assured the nation that there are no cases pending against the artist and that government would assure his protection. Nevertheless, it appears that the matter is a fait accompli Husain is now a Qatari citizen and has, thereby, renounced his Indian citizenship. I have read some commentators ask in a satirical way whether Husain will now enjoy total freedom of expression in Qatar since it is well known that the Gulf emirates are not known to be the champions of free speech or artistic liberty. However, that particular argument is totally extraneous to the question of what this development means to us Indians who pride ourselves on the guarantee of freedom enshrined in our Constitution. It would be unfair in the extreme for the Indian society, which has indubitably driven out by dint of harassment its greatest living contemporary artist, to question Husain's decision to accept Qatar's offer of citizenship. On the other hand, it would certainly behove us to search our own society and our souls to plumb the defects in our democratic polity that have brought matters to this pass.
The government has repeatedly offered protection to the painter, and those who blame the state or Central government for this sorry state of affairs are, I believe, missing the point. The government of the day would certainly be at fault if it did not take action against the culprits. The government did book the offenders, but they obtained relief from the courts and walked free. It is important to consider that there is a rule of law in this country but it sometimes works to the benefit of the offenders.
The Husain saga is too well known to bear repetition. The Bajrang Dal and its sister organisations found a perfect soft target in the artist and began to systematically vandalise his exhibitions and terrorise and harass the artist himself. All over the country criminal complaints were filed against Husain for offending Hindu sentiments, forcing him to defend himself. Of course, there are some who would question Husain's taste in having painted a nude of the Goddess Saraswati, and those who would reply that the frescoes and images of the Hindu pantheon are full of erotic images, the interpretation of which lies in the eye of the beholder. Still, it begs the basic question of freedom of expression, a fiercely debated topic in our sensitive democracy.
One thing, however, is amply clear. The last thing that Hinduism requires are warrior cowboys who race off for a battle against a 95-year-old artist in order to defend Goddess Saraswati. Hinduism can and has survived many centuries of evolution, but it is doubtful if it can survive being saved by the likes of the Bajrang Dal. Bereft as they are of any productive or worthwhile issues, the cowboys of the Hindu-right found their perfect target in Husain and the vulnerable art fraternity. Unfortunately, the media-feeding frenzy that followed their vicious vandalism fulfilled their first aspiration of making national headlines. Thus, both the media and the Bajrang Dal fed off each other's need, and democracy suffered greatly in the process. The Bajrang Dal got its 15 minutes of fame, the media got its story of the week, but India lost one of its greatest artists.
This successful formula became too tempting to resist and the Sangh Parivar began to replicate it all over the country, directing their synthetic ire, not against the Naxalites or terrorists or anyone who might fight back, but always at soft, vulnerable targets who could be bullied easily. Enter the Shri Rama Sene in Karnataka with head cowboy Pramod Muthalik who decided that their daring mission in life was to ambush unsuspecting young women in Mangalore pubs and give them the thrashing of their lives, thereby exhibiting the full extent of their prejudice, intolerance and cowardice.
Citizens were appalled and outraged when this incident happened and many women even sent pink chaddis to Mr Muthalik in protest. Our society had begun to fight back.
But Mr Muthalik got his just desserts this year when some youths blackened his face just before Valentine's Day, before he could begin his own rampage. Mr Muthalik was singing a different tune this year the whine of a bully who has been hoist on his own petard!
The latest and most heart-warming development in our secular fabric was the dramatic but determined revolution led by thousands of Mumbaikars who cocked a snook at the thugs of the Shiv Sena after they threatened violence against anyone who went to cinema halls to watch Shah Rukh Khan's My Name Is Khan.
Thus, we have come a long way from the hounding of Husain to My Name is Khan. It was a sad day for our secular and democratic values when Husain left our shores to go and live abroad in order to escape the harassment of the Sangh Parivar. It is even more unfortunate that he may no longer be an Indian citizen. But the good news is that ordinary citizens have begun to fight back. We are not going to lose any more Husains.
- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.
REPUBLICANS SMELL PROFITS, VOTES IN CLEAN AIR
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
It is early evening on Capitol Hill, and I am sitting with Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, who, along with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, is trying to craft a new energy bill one that could actually win 60 votes. What is interesting about Graham is that he has been willing courageously in my view to depart from the prevailing GOP consensus that the only energy policy we need is "drill, baby, drill".
What brought you around, I ask? Graham's short answer: politics, jobs and legacy. We start with politics. The Republican Party today has a major outreach problem with two important constituencies, "Hispanics and young people", Graham explains: "I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It's a value. These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment and the world will be better off for it. They are not brainwashed. ... From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them. You can have a genuine debate about the science of climate change, but when you say that those who believe it are buying a hoax and are wacky people you are putting at risk your party's future with younger people. You can have a legitimate dispute about how to solve immigration, but when you start focusing on the last names of people the demographics will pass you by".
So Graham's approach to bringing around his conservative state has been simple: avoid talking about "climate change", which many on the Right don't believe. Instead, frame our energy challenge as a need to "clean up carbon pollution", to "become energy independent" and to "create more good jobs and new industries for South Carolinians". He proposes "putting a price on carbon", starting with a very focused carbon tax, as opposed to an economywide cap-and-trade system, so as to spur both consumers and industries to invest in and buy new clean energy products. He includes nuclear energy, and insists on permitting more offshore drilling for oil and gas to give us more domestic sources, as we bridge to a new clean energy economy.
"Cap-and-trade as we know it is dead, but the issue of cleaning up the air and energy independence should not die and you will never have energy independence without pricing carbon", Graham argues. "The technology doesn't make sense until you price carbon. Nuclear power is a bet on cleaner air. Wind and solar is a bet on cleaner air. You make those bets assuming that cleaning the air will become more profitable than leaving the air dirty, and the only way it will be so is if the government puts some sticks on the table not just carrots. The future economy of America and the jobs of the future are going to be tied to cleaning up the air, and in the process of cleaning up the air this country becomes energy independent and our national security is greatly enhanced".
Remember, he adds: "We are more dependent on foreign oil today than after 9/11. That is political malpractice, and every member of Congress is responsible".
This isn't just for the next generation, says Graham: "As you talk about the future, if you forget the people who live in the present, you will have no future politically. You have to get the people in the present to buy into the future. I tell my voters: 'If we try to clean up the air and become energy independent, we will create more jobs than anything I can do as a senator'. General Electric makes all the turbines for the GE. windmills in Greenville, South Carolina". He also is pushing to make his state a manufacturing centre for nuclear reactor components and biomass from plants and timber.
What would most help him bring around his GOP colleagues? The business lobby. "The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers need to tell my colleagues it is OK to price carbon, if you do it smartly", he says.
Sure, Graham's strategy will give many greens heartburn. I don't agree with every point. But if there is going to be a clean energy bill, greens and Democrats will have to recruit some Republicans. Graham says he's ready to meet them in the middle. "We've got to get started", he says, "because once we do, every CEO will adopt a carbon strategy, no matter what the law actually requires".
And for those Republicans who think this is only a loser, Senator Graham says think again: "What is our view of carbon as a party? Are we the party of carbon pollution forever in unlimited amounts? Pricing carbon is the key to energy independence, and the byproduct is that young people look at you differently". Look at how he is received in colleges today. "Instead of being just one more short, white Republican over 50", says Graham, "I am now semicool. There is an awareness by young people that I am doing something different".
Five more GOP senators like him and we could have a real energy bill.
"We can't be a nation that always tries and fails", Graham concludes. "We have to eventually get some hard problem right".
TEA, YOGA AND ONION GARLANDS
KINGMAKER TURNS TEA MAKER
From a kingmaker to a tea maker, former Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kalyan Singh seems to have come a long way. After snapping ties with the Samajwadi Party, Mr Singh presents a rather pathetic picture these days. And the launch of his new political party has done little to boost his fortunes.
Recently, invitations were sent out for a press conference to be addressed by the veteran leader, but the attendance of scribes was less than 50 per cent of what it used to be. Those who did attend were aghast to find that his son Rajvir Singh, and not the senior Singh, was to address the journalists.
After the press meet Mr Kalyan Singh made a dramatic entry and announced that he himself had prepared the tea that was being served. "I put the water and milk to boil and even added sugar myself", he said proudly. "I hope you like it."
A journalist whispered, "If he opens a tea stall it will certainly fare better than his new party".
Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev surprised many when he announced that he would field candidates from his outfit for the next Lok Sabha elections.
Baba Ramdev does not sees himself only as a yoga instructor. He seem in the mirror a modern-day Chanakya and that's why he has vowed to bring back all the black money deposited by bigwigs in Swiss banks.
The yoga guru's political announcement has caused concern among the saffron leaders who have their own assortment of sanyasis. "It is easy to learn Patanjali Yoga sutra, but learning political equations is much more difficult", a Bharatiya Janata Party supporter said. "The guru has drawn many politicians to yoga and now it seems his disciples are drawing him towards politics", quipped a Congress worker. Watch this space for new and improved political asanas.
Who is afraid of Chidambaram?
Assam politicians, especially those belonging to the ruling party in the state, are very wary of Union home minister P. Chidambram. In his first visit to the state following a bomb blast, Mr Chidambaram advised chief minister Tarun Gogoi to concentrate on development and let the Unified Command of the security forces handle the law and order situation independently.
But Mr Gogoi, in the habit of chairing the Unified Command meetings, continues to do so but ensures that the minutes do not have his name.
The fear of Mr Chidambram was once again visible recently. Opposition parties demanded a CBI probe into the alleged multi-crore-rupee scam in North Cachar Hills Autonomous District Council. Since names of some of his ministers have been popping up in this context, Mr Gogoi outrightly rejected their demand. But the very next day he did an about-turn and order the CBI probe. A letter, it seems, had arrived from the home ministry. No prizes for guessing who it was from.
Onion, the new fashion accessory
Gold is passe. The latest fashion accessory, at least amongst Opposition politicians, is the
Recently, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, men and women, attended a rally in the western Orissa town of Sambalpur adorned with garlands, earrings and belts made of fresh onions. Explaining the inspiration for this creative outpouring, BJP state president Jual Oram said, "This vegetable has become a luxury... The day is not far off when onion will replace gold as an ornamental item". We are waiting for the day when people will offer sacks of onions as dowry instead of gold.
>> Musical chairs
Though Bihar's Assembly polls are still several months away, the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) recently witnessed an embarrassing tug-of-war for seats, that too in full public view.
At a dalit rally on February 21, Shyam Razak, a dalit leader and former minister, became visibly angry at not getting a seat close to the chief minister on the podium.
Mr Razak, who was minister in two Rashtriya Janata Dal governments and was known as Lalu Prasad Yadav's right-hand man, joined JD(U) seven months ago and now considers himself close to Nitish Kumar.
Not finding a suitable seat, an angry Mr Razak plonked himself in an empty chair on one end of the stage and started a verbal duel with the Assembly Speaker, Uday Narayan Chaudhary over a seat, of course. Since no one seemed ready to vacate their seat for him, Mr Razak left the podium in a huff. Sensing trouble, Mr Kumar went after him and managed to bring him back. A sign of things to come, perhaps?
POWER OF BOLLYWOOD
BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
My name is Khan is a flawed movie but this flawed movie will become a part of legend of Bollywood. It will do so not for the power of its historical analysis but for its understanding and extension of myth.
As history it is pathetic, and many a diasporic Indians might complain about its understanding of 9/11. But Shah Rukh Khan's movie is not about history. Bollywood leaves history to NCERT books. What Bollywood crafts best is the power of myth and Khan's movie is a weave of myths.
At the mythic level, one cannot look for facts. To defend the empirical at the level of myth is futile. Myth has its own narrative logic.
Bollywood as myth examines the power and logic of India. It reconciles contradictions between town and country, family loyalty and rule of law, the dacoit and the cop, between modernity and tradition, between patriarchy and the potent claims of the mother.
The resolutions might look silly, sentimental and illogical but they have a poignancy and poetry of their own. Responses to the contradictions of myth often emerge as rhetorical prose. In one famous movie, one successful brother who has made a lot of wealth asks the other, "Tumhare paas kya hai?" (What do you have?), to which the latter replies, "Mere paas Maa hai" (I have the love of my mother). Myth resolves contradictions, sometimes at the level of the unconscious.
The latest myth that Bollywood has been wrestling with is the adventures of the diaspora. The diaspora is a reflection, a mirror for the new middle class. Often a possibility that may make no sense in India is reworked as the diasporic level. The diasporic hero is twice born. As an Indian-American hybrid, he benefits from both societies. The diaspora creates the Indian success story in a new space allowing for new ideas of an India at home in the world. The diaspora, from the IT engineers in Silicon Valley to the immense network of Indian academics and executives, showed that Indians could also be part of the American dream, in fact, become one of the most successful segments of it. Then September 11 opened the floodgates of another kind of anxiety and racial typing became the order of the day. With the high emphasis on security, Indians were often confused as Muslims, which some also were.
India as a mythical regime had to create a double answer. It had to respond to America and the Islam within it by simultaneously responding to the US and Islam beyond it.
Within the movie we have a hero who has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. Autism is seen as a suppressed ethnicity in India. It is only when he goes to US that Khan's disease gets a name, a therapy and an identity. In India, all he got was love from his mother, but sometimes love is not enough.
The young man goes to America, falls in love with a Hindu girl called Mandira. There is a wonderful chemistry between them and also their American friends. America as a paradise of hardworking migrants unfolds till it comes crashing with 9/11.
Now the trust and social capital that the migrants had created comes crumbling down as Sikhs are beaten up for being Muslims and Indians also form a suspect category.
Mandira's son is estranged from his best friend whose father is killed in Afghanistan. The intimacy of friendship turns to suspicion. One day in a football field, while the two are arguing, the son is beaten to death by a bunch of boys who flee quietly. The mother is broken and she tells Khan that he is responsible for her plight. She tells him that he will not be forgiven till he goes and meets the US President and tells him that her son is not a terrorist.
Thus begins a journey, a pilgrim's progress of a new kind, which takes Khan across America. It is a travelogue told through Bollywood eyes, beautifully photographed. In search of the President, Khan goes as far as Wilhelmina, Georgia, and encounters a poor black family.
One can object to the ignorance of the route, complaining it is bad geography and bad management. It has a touch of the improbable which might make many an Indian in the US cringe. But there is a different logic to Bollywood.
A pilgrimage is a form of theatre, a renewal of faith in the American dream and its Indian possibilities. The message is clear: One adds to America by being one's Indian self.
The melting pot needs new metaphors and new ethnicities to sustain itself. One has to show that Islam is plural and it is the plurality of Islam that breaks the stereotype of the Muslim and the idiotic understanding of jihad in the popular American mind.
Shah Rukh Khan in his travels discovers that his friends in Georgia are in distress and he goes back to help them. Indians, in the American media, catch up with the story and organise a campaign of rescue. There is a moment where the ideas of hospitality and Islam contrast with the pinched ideas of charity in Christianity which often insists on conversion as a basis of help.
Stereotypes prevail, but the fluidity within stereotypes shows that both America and its new ethnics have new possibilities of generosity and citizenship which can be played out. Maybe the argument creates a new folklore of ethnic mutuality, where Indians thank their new country by helping other disadvantaged groups. The Dalai Lama once said that George Bush's behaviour brought out the Muslim in him. September 11 brings out the Islam in all of us, demanding that we show its greatness and generosity.
True, the film is articulated as bad sociology, a wish list which is impossible in the current scenarios of history. But that is the power of Bollywood. It seeks no crossover to Hollywood. It spreads its own legend of possible impossibilities globally. That is the simplicity, the faith, the power of "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist". It is a vision of a new global mutuality.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist
OF CHARITY AND HYPOCRISY
BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
"Being like the Joneses" is a practice in which people have been engaged since time immemorial. This often gives birth to the need to acquire things we do not really need. And after one obtains what the neighbour has, one begins to "show off" the newly acquired car, house, gadget or whatever else it may be, only to find out soon enough that the person we were trying to imitate has acquired even more material things. We then attempt to get those too. This not only makes people vain, it leads them from one desire to the next.
There is another kind of "showing off", again as old as humanity itself, which makes people conceited. Among the many things that Jesus warned his listeners against, one was making a show of works of charity. He said, "Be careful! When you do something good, don't do it in front of others so that they will see you. If you do that, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to those who are poor, don't announce that you are giving. Don't be like the hypocrites. When they are in the synagogues and on the streets, they blow trumpets before they give so that people will see them. They want everyone to praise them. The truth is, that's all the reward they will get. So when you give to the poor, don't let anyone know what you are doing. Your giving should be done in private (Mt. 6: 1-4)". In the same context, elsewhere Jesus says, "Your right hand should not know what your left hand is doing".
Regardless of the religion one may practice, this teaching of Jesus needs to be kept in mind by all those who are involved in charity work, as well as prayer and fasting. Christians observing Lenten practices these days especially need to internalise this.
Taking cue from the practices of the people of his time, Jesus warned them about making a show of "praying" and told them, "When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites... When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door. Then pray to your Father. He is there in that private place. He can see what is done in private, and he will reward you (Mt. 6: 5-6)".
Similarly, Jesus has an important piece of advice for those who may be fasting this Lenten season: "When you fast, don't make yourselves look sad like the hypocrites! They put a look of suffering on their faces so that people will see they are fasting. The truth is that's all the reward they will get. So when you fast, wash your face and make yourself look nice. Then no one will know you are fasting, except your Father, who is with you even in private. He can see what is done in private, and he will reward you (Mt. 6:16-18)".
The teachings of Jesus are quite revealing, especially in the context of how people normally behave when they are helping others or praying to God.
Apart from "being like the Joneses", we often fall into the temptation of blowing our own trumpet in several things we do, particularly when it comes to charity or our usual spiritual exercises. One sometimes finds this being done even by the so-called religious men and women.
Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.
HUSAIN AND THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE
AFTER remaining conspicuously silent for close to four years since MF Husain has been living in exile, it would be nothing short of hypocrisy if the government were to display an excess of concern for the painter now being described as the "pride of India'' when he has been offered nationality by the rulers of Qatar. Whether it is the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad that raids art galleries showing the painter's work or the CPI-M masterminding an operation to smuggle Taslima Nasreen out of Bengal to an undisclosed location in the capital till her visa expires, the government has reserved any decisive action against patently objectionable acts which have restricted the movement of individuals. The last instance of the Maharashtra chief minister being put on the mat for the Shiv Sena depredations that targeted Shah Rukh Khan found the actor taking a firm stand. It would perhaps be too much to expect the 95-year-old painter to do the same considering the manner in which he was hounded out of the country under a veil of threats and flooded with defamation cases around the country for paintings he had done on Hindu goddesses.
The government may seek shelter in the argument that it is up to Husain to accept or reject the offer depending on which his status as an Indian will be defined under the law. What it cannot escape is the responsibility of assuring him the security that any citizen can expect. Given the nature of the painter's commitments around the country and his ideas of creative freedom, it may not be practical to consider giving him the security offered to a leader in the highest categories. But a painter as prodigious in his output as Husain cannot but throw up his hands in despair at being deprived of a reasonable working environment that he may get if he accepts the offer from Qatar. Husain may have raised a fresh debate on the question of absolute freedom of the artist. But this sudden turn of events has at least revealed how parties across the board have joined the conspiracy of silence because without exception they are concerned about the politics of religion for which creative curbs are only a small price to pay.
CHARS URBAN INDIA'S IMAGE
TRAGIC was the loss of life in the fire in Carlton Towers, an upmarket commercial complex in Bangalore. But truly terrifying is the confirmation that across the nation the relevant agencies remain woefully unequal to the challenge created by the unstoppable skyward exploitation of limited land space. Be that for residential or commercial development. That in most cases it is the same unit of the civic administration which both sanctions building plans and runs the fire services reveals a callous mindset upon which even the articulate verbosity of the urban development minister at the Centre has had no remedial impact. There have been lethal blazes in high-rise buildings across the urban spectrum, and since there is much commonality to underlying factors for the non-preparedness, inadequate and incompetent response, there is valid reason to apprehend many more. It is the same story every time. The building plans being sanctioned despite limited safety provisions, whatever little they do specify being severely compromised by what follows the structure being occupied. The fire services lacking adequate snorkels, ladders, pressure hoses etc to tackle blazes and mount rescue operations. Traffic jams and unauthorised construction denying the fire-fighters access to the trouble spot. So that the buildings become death traps, where the fire doesn't reach the smoke collects, and asphyxiates. No wonder a few seek to jump to safety, often to their death.
A celebrated jurist heading a probe into one such catastrophe declared that there is no such thing as an "accident", they are all rooted in negligence. Criminal negligence in respect of the way builders/managers flout all norms to squeeze out every possible penny from their construction. Yet has exemplary, deterrent punishment been meted out to any one of them? Funding should not be a constraint in the rapidly expanding "new" centres of economic advancement. A fee could be levied on all high-rise complexes with a commitment not only to procure sophisticated equipment but to constantly monitor the working condition of the prescribed internal systems ~ reservoirs, smoke-sensors, sprinklers et al. The elegant, glass-and-steel skyscrapers are proud projections of an upwardly mobile economy, powered by a wealth of human resources. But that image is blackened by the fatal flames that so frequently flare up in office blocks. Does anybody care? Or are those who function from them condemned to burn in their own mini-hell?
SCOUTING ICONS FOR KOLKATA'S METRO
IT is no secret that along with a conscious effort to utilise the resources of the railways for social welfare in support of political objectives, Mamata Banerjee has resorted to a brand of populism that has become an integral part of her style. That this populism has acquired a new sense of urgency in the run-up to the municipal and assembly elections is natural. What she may not have anticipated is the adverse fallout of some of the hasty actions. The first sign of a Union railway minister in a desperate hurry to produce results was the decision to inaugurate Metro stations beyond Tollygunge as a puja gift to Kolkata before arrangements were in place to accommodate additional traffic. It resulted not only in a decline in services but also allowed Metro timings to become as flexible as local trains. Now comes the mad rush to change the names of Metro stations as a mark of respect to the memory of some Indians. While exploiting popular sentiments, it should have been clear that it is impossible to accommodate all those of whom Bengal is proud. So the Metro honours Girish Ghosh but not Sisir Bhaduri, Rabindranath but not Saratchandra, Uttam Kumar but not Ritwik Ghatak.
A more practical concern is the removal of place names that are generally criterion for identifying Metro stations around the world. If Miss Banerjee wants to consign Dum Dum, Esplanade and Maidan to oblivion after these names are firmly planted in people's minds, she has been compelled to retain Kalighat which she had also wanted to discard (she mentioned Rashbehari owing to what is now described as an "oversight") following a storm of protest against an attempt to meddle with the city's best known landmark. Even now it would stand out as a solitary example of a protected landmark amidst randomly assembled icons.
TO WEAR OR NOT TO WEAR THE BURQA
MADHAVI GORADIA DIVAN
THE freedom of expression, a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, is a multi-faceted, multi-nuanced notion which enables a citizen to express herself in a vast variety of ways. The freedom of expression under our Constitution means the right to speak, to criticize, to differ. It also entails the right not to speak or remain silent if one so chooses. It includes to sing, to dance and to entertain in whatever form one pleases, subject only, of course, to constitutional restrictions.
In a democratic society the freedom of expression must logically extend to the right to dress in the manner of one's choosing. Attire is an important facet of a person's identity and personality. It defines how a person wishes to present herself or be viewed by society. So long as the attire of choice does not upset reasonably acceptable limits and moral sensibilities, every citizen must be free to choose what she wears. This right can be subject only to restrictions to the freedom of expression otherwise permissible under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, "in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence".
The current controversy over the publication of photographs of purda-clad women in the electoral rolls, raises an interesting debate over whether there can be an indefeasible right to wear a face-covering burqa.
If indeed there exists a right to wear clothing which envelopes a woman from head to toe and conceals every bit of her identity from the world outside (which, arguably, may be an identity by itself ), would it find place under the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution or under the freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution?
Going by legal precedent, it is doubtful whether such a practice could be protected under the freedom of religion under Article 25. The courts have held on several occasions and in the context of diverse religious practices that the freedom of religion under Article 25 does not confer unfettered rights to religious practice but protects only practices which are absolutely essential or integral to religion. Going by what the experts on Islamic jurisprudence have to say, there is no religious compulsion for a woman to cover her face under Islam. If this is the case, the right to wear a face-concealing burqa cannot be regarded as an essential part of religious practice and does not qualify for protection under Article 25 of the Constitution.
It is equally doubtful if the practice can be protected under Article 19(1)(a). The grounds on which the right under Article 19(1)(a) to the freedom of expression can be curtailed include restrictions in the interest of the security of the State. Allowing citizens, no matter how small the number, to shroud their identity behind a face cover in public places can invite security concerns and perhaps be reasonably restricted on that ground.
Decency and morality, grounds on which the freedom of expression may be restricted under Article 19(2), are rather nebulous and elastic notions that vastly vary with time and between or even within communities. This is especially true for India which is home to a vast range of cultural and religious beliefs and where at a certain level, social mores and moral sensibilities have undergone an almost tectonic transformation post globalization and the satellite revolution.
It may be argued in defence of the right to wear a face-covering garment that women must have the choice to wear what they want ~ if some women can be permitted to wear as little as they sometimes do, especially in films or on television, why should others not be allowed to cover up all of themselves if they so choose? If the freedom of expression is as much the right to remain silent as it is to speak, that is, if the right takes within its sweep both the positive as well as the negative (Bijoe Emmanuel v State of Kerala 1986 3 SCC 615) then so must the right to dress in the manner of one's choosing include the right to wear as much or as little as one wants, so long as the attire passes the muster of decency and morality. However, the notion of what is decent and moral, observes the Supreme Court in several rulings, must be determined on the basis of contemporary and national standards which in the current milieu may not accept a sense of dress that snuffs out individuality and social contact.
Although the right to privacy has been upheld by the Supreme Court in successive judgments as being an inherent part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, it is not an absolute right and would have to cede in the larger interests, not only of security and safety but of other fundamental duties as a citizen. If a citizen has the right to vote, she also has a corresponding duty to be accessible to her electoral representatives. Surely an electoral candidate has the right to get to know his constituency so that he may effectively canvass for support. This may not be possible if the voter shuts herself out so completely from social contact and identification. The privacy argument is unlikely to be stretched in a modern, secular democracy to extend to the right to conceal one's face and identity.
Democracies the world over are grappling with similar challenges. In secular France, the face covering burqa has been banned in public places on the ground that clothing which imprison women behind a robe that inhibits contact and deprives her of all identity is an affront to the values of the French Republic. In the UK, the House of Lords upheld the decision of a school to disallow a girl of Bangladeshi origin to wear to school, a loose flowing jilbab, which she claimed was integral to her religious beliefs.
Walking the tightrope to balance competing freedoms is never easy. Europe seems to be taking a decision. The Election Commission of India has taken a stand on affidavit against the purdah. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court deals with this challenging issue.
The writer, an advocate in the Supreme Court, is the author of Facets of Media Law, 2006
COERCIVE TACTICS THAT CRUSHED INDUSTRY
Reforms in agriculture had helped productivity during the United Front regime but investment in industry declined rapidly because Jyoti Basu supported the coercive methods of union leaders and did not allow the law and order machinery to do its duty, says gk bhagatIn early 1967, I was standing at Esplanade watching the large board which had been put up to announce the results of the West Bengal assembly elections. As the results poured in, it was very clear that the United Front was leading by a large margin and the Congress had lost power. I could observe both a feeling of joy amongst the people watching the results, as also a kind of concern for the future.
At the swearing-in ceremony of the cabinet of the United Front, held at Raj Bhawan, I was invited as vice-president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce. The Governor, Dharma Vira, was swearing in the ministers of the United Front. We could hear loud noises outside the Throne Room, since a huge crowd had broken into the Raj Bhawan premises and had started climbing the steps to the Throne Room. They started banging on the doors of the room and since this became a matter of security, the Governor asked Jyoti Basu to go out and address the crowd. Jyoti Basu went out, addressed the crowd for around 30 minutes and peace was restored for the ceremony to continue.
I felt a sense of great admiration for Mr Basu as he had been able to control a very large crowd who had become unruly in their enthusiasm. There was no doubt that Mr Basu's charisma and the manner in which he spoke carried the day.
A few days later, while I was sitting in my room at our factory, I found that a large number of workers had gathered in the yard outside and this was around 11 am in the morning. Some of the workers came to me and said that I should talk to their union leader who evidently was a member of the CPI-M. They further stated that they would not allow me to leave and I would remain surrounded till I accepted their demand, although there was no outstanding dispute. I explained to them that since 1951-52 for a period of almost 15 years, we had a successfully operating works' committee consisting of representatives of the management and representatives of workers elected by them.
We had solved all differences and disputes sometimes arguing till the early hours of the morning, but there had never been any stoppage of work. The company had grown rapidly during that period and had become the largest producer of its products in India, having captured 80 per cent of the market. All this had been achieved with a payment of four months' bonus, increases in wages and the operations of the works' committee had been praised by the state government. Industrial peace had helped to make the company the largest in India.
I saw no reason now for meeting a union leader particularly under pressure. This kind of action of surrounding me and even not allowing me to visit the toilet was something unbelievable.
Meanwhile, the manager of our second factory, who had come to know of the gherao, went to see the chief minister Ajoy Mukherjee and explained the seriousness of the situation. Mr Mukherjee was shocked, but said he could do nothing to remove the gherao because Jyoti Basu had given strict instructions that the police must not interfere. The manager then went to the Commissioner of Police, PK Sen, who was known to me. He phoned me to say, "Gopal, I am sorry I cannot help, as I have specific instructions from Mr Basu not to send the police''. I was very saddened because this kind of pressure to extract something was in my opinion counter productive.
However, the workers left peacefully at around 1 am the next morning and apologised for any inconvenience caused, and said they had done this gherao under pressure from the CPI-M union leadership.
The next day I met Mr Basu and mentioned, "Sir, such kind of coercive tactics will eventually lead to managers leaving the city and investment without good managers will not come in''. He said that since I was a capitalist, he differed and he wanted a big change in the picture of labour-management relations in a way meaning that gheraos would continue to put pressure on managements.
Subsequently, many industries were seriously affected by such coercive tactics. This picture caused tremendous concern to industrialists and all the chambers of commerce combined to make a representation to the chief minister. The chief minister called a meting of the representatives of all the chambers of commerce at the Rotunda of Writers' Building. The full cabinet was present. Sir Michael Parsons, president of the Bengal Chamber with the consent of the other chambers asked me to be the chief spokesman for all the chambers. I gave a list of the harassment, assaults, gheraos, and such coercive tactics that had occurred and explained the matter in detail to the cabinet. The chief minister did not speak. Jyoti Basu replied for the cabinet that what had happened was unfortunate but would not happen again.
In 1969, a demand was made by the workers for increasing their wages. There were a lot of negotiations and the maxmum we could offer considering there were 4,500 workers employed, was rejected by the CPI-M union leadership. Being a labour-intensive industry the amount offered was the maximum possible to keep the company viable. The union then went on strike which continued for some time. Subsequently 600 workers surrounded my house and would not allow anyone to enter or leave and stopped all supplies of food, milk, groceries etc. I was out of town at that time. In the house were my family and my wife's family from Delhi with their grand-daughters who were very young. Since it was not possible to get any supply of food, it became a matter of great concern. With God's grace, our neighbour was most helpful and supplied milk, bread and food across the boundary wall which could not be accessed by the workers. The 600 workers had blocked the road completely and a van used to come regularly to give them food packets for lunch and dinner. The gherao of my house started on a Saturday morning and when I came back on Sunday, I asked the Press to meet me at the Calcutta Club. I mentioned to them that whereas gheraos of management had become widespread, what was the purpose for surrounding industrialists' homes? Their families had no connection with labour-management relations. The Press the next day published what I had started. Mr Basu on reading the news, instructed the Deputy Commissioner of Police to remove the gherao of my home. The house was gheraod from Saturday morning till Monday afternoon.
I met Jyoti Basu and expressed my feelings. He mentioned that he was also surprised, because he could not go down Rawdon Street as the workers had blocked the road. He, however, did not make any effort to remove the blockade until the Press released my statement. I also mentioned to him that the strike had gone on for a long time. He asked me to see him after a few days. When I later met him, he mentioned that the Labour Minister would not give him the file. I was very surprised. Subsequently, he was able to get the file from the Labour Minister Krishnapada Ghosh, who was president of the union and brother-in-law of Pramod Dasgupta. Mr Basu took up the matter in the late hours one evening in his house at Hindusthan Park and eventually a settlement was reached, where we had to agree to a larger amount of money, which affected the viability of the company as it was labour intensive with 4500 workers. As a policy we had maximised production and kept prices competitive, working on low margins, which had helped the company to become the largest in its products in India.
Mr Basu then told me that I should remain close to his union! However, since gheraos and coercive methods had resulted in large amounts of money being extracted, other unions sprang up and they adopted the same coercive tactics resulting in work stoppages.
The incidents to which I have referred occurred in many factories and large labour-intensive industries such as Bengal Enamel, Bengal Chemical, Bengal Lamp and Hindusthan Pilkington were seriously affected and had to shut down.
As a result, labour-intensive industries started growing in the south, west and in the north whereas no one dared to open similar industries in Bengal, owing to the policy following by the govenment under the leadership of Jyoti Basu. Ceramic industries grew all over the country, such as the sanitaryware industry, the wall tile industry, glass industry and the crockery industry, giving employment to many as these were labour intensive. This was very unfortunate as no one came to West Bengal.
We often talk of poor work culture. From my experience the work culture was very good for decades up to 1967. Something must have gone wrong, which created a poor work culture. It was not the fault of the workers. The same workers had a good work culture for decades.
With his strong personality and charisma, it is very unfortunate that Jyoti Basu supported the coercive methods of the Union leaders and did not allow the law and order machinery to do its duty. As a result, investment in labour-intensive industry declined rapidly. This has tarnished the image of West Bengal, particularly in the matter of investment in labour-intensive industries.
It must be said to the credit of the CPI-M-led government that the reforms in agriculture considerably helped productivity in agriculture. A great deal of the credit for this achievement must go to Harekrishna Konar followed by Benoy Chowdhury, both of whom worked selflessly to make West Bengal a frontline state in agriculture. Unfortunately, however, there was a rapid decline in investment in industry during the same period under the leadership of Jyoti Basu.
The writer is a Kolkata-based industrialist
DADU, DIDI & ALL THAT MONEY
This, truly, was the revenge of the Bengali, long caricatured crudely ~ as is their wont at times ~ by some residents of a prosperous north Indian state as "bhukke nange" (hungry and naked) and worse especially when it came to women though always in the main behind ~ their own ~ closed doors and within the peer group. Those of us brought up in the genteel, self-indulgent and mildly pretentious milieu of professional, even intellectual, India were taught, rightly, to have utter contempt for all such. A significant section of middle class India, however, reveled in the vulgarity of the caricature ~ terrible, I know, but true, though nobody has the gumption to say it out aloud anymore ~ and its texture in the said class can perhaps only be understood by those of us who have had exposure to that world and many others besides, at various levels. As for Lalu and his post-Budget reaction, somebody needs to tell him, that it isn't dada (elder brother) for Pranab Mukherjee for most of us but dadu (grandfather); even Mamata Bannerjee is more mashi (aunt) than didi (elder sister) now, but chivalry forbids any debate on the latter point.
So, dadu and didi between them over this past week spent billions of our combined wealth on what we hope will be our long-term, if we are not dead by then, benefit. There is something to be said for regional pride as long as it is decoupled from its satanic twin, parochialism. I have to admit feeling a bit chuffed; though I am only 25 percent ethnic Bengali, I am 100 percent Bengali by domicile. Not bhadralok, you understand, and certainly not an intellectual or worse, a poet; just an irregular sort of bloke who fetched up in Kolkata nine years ago to earn a living though with some memory of the place thanks to occasional visits with Thakurma (that's grandmother, paternal) and Baba (father, in this case biological) in the late 1970s, 80s and through till the early 90s to meet the other side of the family.
It was all very episodic but the stand out memory for me was the sheer excitement of a collegiate uncle (though he was more of an elder cousin brother, the age difference between us being only about a dozen or so years) as he salivated at the prospect of hearing Hicks (an economist, apparently) speaking at, I think, the Indian Statistical Institute in, if memory serves me right, the winter of 1980. I was just a primary school kid, then, but his enthusiasm was infectious. I was regaled with stories about his aim ~ what else but to become the first Indian winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Yes, I know, but hey he was only 16 or 18 or something ridiculous like that and am pretty sure even Amartya Sen didn't know at the time that he was in with a chance. Naturally, having had explained to me the difference between econometrics and garden variety economics ~ the former being the only option in 1980, apparently, for any self-respecting teenager interested in cutting-edge stuff~ ad nauseam, I read history in college, literature all my life and honed my fear of numbers into a fine art as my daughter will tell you having borne the brunt of my filial concern that prompts me to check her (Class VI) math homework.
The ministers for finance and railways, on the other hand, deal primarily in numbers ~ big ones at that, with loads of zeroes at the end. And their focus on the monies disbursed was directly proportional to the number of seats their respective parties hope to bag in the election to the West Bengal Assembly in 2011. But that's only one aspect of their respective annual exercises in fiscal maneuvering.
For Dadu, who trod the middle path with circumspection on his big day out, it was perhaps an opportunity missed: After all, this is not an election year (only Bihar votes later this year and the Congress despite Rahul Gandhi's efforts is not very likely to get even a sniff of power), his party has a solid majority in Parliament and India has emerged not too badly scarred from the recession in Europe and America. Yet, for him, divestment (to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore in the coming financial year) remained only a means of enhancing revenue not a philosophical re-examining of the role of the state, where it should get more deeply involved and where it has no business meddling. The Companies Act, one of the most archaic pieces of legislation on the statute, was left untouched. And the articulation of an economic regime that loosened controls and tightened regulation across sectors was conspicuous by its absence.
Didi, on the other hand, perhaps consumed by her desire to end what she perceives ~ and for which the empirical evidence is overwhelming ~ as the suborning of the state to the Party in Bengal, went about distributing largesse to the state. Instead if focusing on uncompromising safety, coming up with a voucher system that would discount, or even allow free, travel by those economically disadvantaged and taking the Railways, certainly a national asset in a country as poor as India, down the path of becoming a strict monitor of private rail and allied services operators, put it on the inglorious path to becoming yet another pseudo welfare state behemoth of the cradle-to-grave kind. She promised hospitals, sports facilities, housing for all employees, freebies to journalists and much else besides, most of which the next generation will end up paying for.
Perhaps both these Bengali achievers, while shattering one type of caricature, have reinforced another.
'THE ABSOLUTE FIGURES OF ALLOTMENT ARE IMPRESSIVE'
While Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has done a balancing act with the Union budget for 2010-11, the fine print of the proposals takes some credit away from the effort. The UPA government's basic agenda has been inclusive growth based on social sector spending and rural and agricultural development, supported by development of infrastructural facilities to catalyse and sustain growth. All the budgets presented by the government have focussed on this agenda. Big budgetary allocations and many government schemes have supported this. The latest budget also swears by the government's declared concerns and makes large provisions for spending in these vital areas but the size of incremental allocations gives the impression that the momentum is waning.
The allocation for rural development is Rs 66,137 crore. While the quantum of allocation is high, the increase from last year's allocation is not very high. The same trend is seen in the provisioning for agriculture and infrastructure and the proposed spending on important social schemes like the NREGS and Bharat Nirman. The absolute figures of allocation are impressive, but the quantum of increases is not. The increases proposed this year do not keep pace with the substantial increases made last year. The real value of the allocations may even be less when inflation is taken into account. More numbers of people are expected to be covered also. That will also bring down the per capita value of the money spent. Therefore, the over 60 per cent proposed spending on social sector and rural infrastructure is, in relative terms, not a major advance on last year's allocation. While it can be said that the size of the cake to be divided is not too big or has not grown much and that there are pressing claims from elsewhere, the fact remains that social sector spending may be plateauing off.
More worrisome is the inability of the government to spend the allocated funds. Over 30 per cent of the funds allocated for important social sector schemes for the current year are still unutilised. It is anybody's guess whether they will be fully spent. Spending in a hurry in the last few weeks is always fraught with problems. Even otherwise delivery remains poor and the money does not always reach the intended beneficiaries. Further expansion of banking to rural areas, implementation of the UID plan and new proposals about reaching subsidies to the targetted groups might help but they are still ideas taking concrete shape.
'PAKISTAN'S APPROACH TO AFGHANISTAN IS NEGATIVE'
It is evident that the Taliban and its patrons in Pakistan are deeply uneasy with the regard India's work in Afghanistan is looked upon by the Afghan people. On Friday, several Indians who were engaged in bringing back normalcy to Afghanistan through an array of development and other activities were killed in a suicide attack on a guest house in Kabul that the Indian Embassy had rented out for its staffers and others linked to India's development work in the country.
The motive behind the attack is not difficult to guess. India's development work in Afghanistan has earned it public goodwill. It is engaged in improving nutrition among children, providing medical help and training in a variety of fields. It has built roads and provided electricity to Kabul. This is bothering the Taliban and its backers as unlike them India enjoys public support. They want India to leave Afghanistan and are seeking to intimidate Delhi through repeated attacks on Indians there. Several Indian nationals working on road and other development projects have been abducted and killed by the Taliban in the past. India's embassy in Kabul was the target of a deadly suicide attack in July 2008 and then again in October last year.
India has repeatedly made it clear that it will not be intimidated by Taliban attacks and that it intends to stay the course and remain engaged in reconstruction work in Afghanistan, come what may. It is time that the Taliban and its patrons woke up to this reality.
It is a pity that Pakistan's approach to Afghanistan remains negative. If it is keen to match India's growing influence in Afghanistan then it should work like India to build its credentials there. Pakistan and the Taliban are associated with violence and mayhem in the minds of Afghans. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that they enjoy no goodwill among the people of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the Taliban need to take a hard look at their strategy and approach. Taking a leaf out of India's book will not be a bad idea. If they are keen to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, they need to work through building human security and associating themselves in poverty alleviation and other projects. Suicide attacks cause huge destruction and terrorise people into obeying the Taliban's diktats. But beyond that, it achieves little.
NUMBERS THAT MATTER
'NOT A SINGLE OPPOSITION PARTY, APART FROM MAYAWATI'S BSP OR JAYALALITHAA'S AIADMK, WOULD GAIN FROM AN ELECTION'
Those who began counting the number of MPs left inside Lok Sabha when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee finished his Budget speech before empty Opposition benches have a weak memory. They forgot where Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh, the two men who run this government, learnt their ABC. Pranab Mukherjee had a headmistress called Indira Gandhi. Manmohan Singh went to the more complicated seminary presided over by PV Narasimha Rao.
To clear any residual confusion, the Prime Minister is a politician of the more subtle kind. He was less of a politician when he was Rao's finance minister, which is why he would get exasperated and at least once sent in his resignation (which Rao ignored). He has now learnt to make the pace of power an ally rather than an adversary.
For the record, during the last phase of the Budget speech, the government had only 274 MPs on its side, which is as bare a majority as is possible to have. Mukherjee finished his speech without a tremor, and Singh sat unperturbed on his front bench seat. They had learnt at primary school that governments do not fall because of numbers, they fall when they become uncertain or indecisive or provocative.
Survival in office
Mukherjee was a Cabinet minister when Indira Gandhi ran her government for over two years without a majority in the House. Singh was finance minister of a minority government for at least three Budgets; in fact, Rao began to wobble only after he purchased a majority in the House. Perhaps this was the moment when Singh transited from bureaucrat to politician; survival in office became more important than the means by which he and his prime minister survived.
The prime minister and finance minister know that their government is safe because while the Opposition may threaten it with a sequence of actions, it is not yet ready for the consequence, a general election. Not a single Opposition party, apart perhaps from Mayawati's BSP or possibly Jayalalithaa's AIADMK, would gain from an election, and some will certainly be whittled further. It is not just the government that knows this; Opposition parties do as well. And yet the walkout by all Opposition parties last Friday was neither insignificant nor meaningless.
For starters, it was not spontaneous. It could not have been premeditated since no one knew that the finance minister would send out a cordial invitation to a few bulls while sitting in a china shop packed with price-rise cutlery. But the joint action was indicative of an unspoken understanding that has been building among Opposition parties.
This has developed out of a pragmatic assessment of predicament. The last election results were a clear signal that if the Congress is not checked, it will swallow up most of their space, and do so without even an ungainly burp. Ideology, therefore, has to make way for strategy.
The Marxists cannot block the Congress in Madhya Pradesh; and the BJP cannot challenge the Congress in Bengal or Kerala. But it is in their common interest to keep the Congress down to what might be called manageable numbers in Parliament. This thought cannot have escaped some of the allies of the Congress in the government. Much as Mamata Banerjee may want to destroy the Marxists, she will not play second fiddle to Congress in the process. Some Congressmen are whispering about a privately commissioned opinion poll that suggests the Congress would win if it fought alone in Bengal. If such whispers reach Banerjee, expect a circuitous response.
In politics, the surest way to break your leg is to try and win the Olympic gold in either the long jump or high jump. The only way to move forward is step-by-gingerly-step. Paradoxically, the absence of a clear horizon might actually help such a gradualist approach; you take the journey one milestone at a time and then wait to see if anything cogent is visible on the horizon.
The first bit is always floor management in Parliament. If the Opposition parties can find some issue that enables them to rise above their differences, then the very act of unity raises that concern into a national issue. Moreover, if there is no unity on prices then Opposition as a concept has collapsed beyond repair.
The second stage will be much harder, of course, because there are more contradictions in the Opposition than there are in the UPA. But the next round of Assembly elections will be helpful in clearing Opposition space. We will know, for instance, whether Lalu Yadav can dent Nitish Kumar, or whether the latter's eminence will move up to pre-eminence. Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh either Mayawati or Mulayam Singh Yadav will prevail. Beyond that, events and circumstances will determine who does what.
Long before the end-game, there comes a midpoint. The numbers that matter are those that count at the end, not at the start or the middle.
(The columnist is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, and India on Sunday, published from London)
AGRICULTURE SQUEEZED OUT IN BUDGET 2010
BY DEVINDER SHARMA
Pranab Mukherjee has done the right thing by not enhancing NREGA allocation.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has left the onerous task of increasing agricultural production to the monsoons.
Like all his predecessors, beginning with Manmohan Singh as finance minister in 1991, Mukherjee has also eulogised the farmer and stressed on the need to strengthen farming, but has failed to provide a definite roadmap to boost food production. Nor has he given any fiscal incentive significant enough to the beleaguered farming community to bail them out of the prevailing economic hardship.
I wasn't expecting much from Budget 2010 as far as agriculture is concerned, but considering the phenomenal food inflation and economic distress farmers faced from the extensive drought conditions in kharif 2009, the finance minister could have been a little more generous to announce a slew of stimulus incentives/measures to prop up the sagging farm morale.
I am aware that he has little scope for financial manoeuvrability given the tight fiscal package at his disposal, but there could have been a more drastic cut in the stimulus package that was given to the industry, and these benefits could have been easily passed onto farmers through a bonus on wheat, rice and coarse cereals.
Coming back to the big ticket that the country was waiting for, Mukherjee has very cleverly announced a four-point strategy to revitalise agriculture which is good on intent, but weak in content. I had expected the UPA government to really focus on rejuvenating agriculture and thereby giving strong signals for taking the farm sector to achieve a growth rate of 4 per cent. At present, agricultural growth rate is minus 0.2 per cent, certainly a drag on the economy.
Except for enhancing the credit package to farmers by an additional Rs 50,000 crore (taking the total credit to Rs 3.75 lakh crore), and providing an interest subsidy of 2 per cent on timely repayment of crop loans, the four-point strategy that he announced is more a token than anything meaningful. Proving Rs 300 crore for reviving oilseeds and pulses production in 60,000 villages in the dryland regions is also a misplaced strategy.
The shortfall in oilseeds production is not due to the inability of the farmers to increase productivity, but because of the government's deliberate efforts to reduce import tariffs on edible oils as a result of which cheaper imports have flooded the domestic market. In 1993-94, India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils, but the continuous reduction in import tariffs over the years has turned the country into world's second biggest mporter.
India can bind import tariff for oilseeds at 300 per cent under the WTO, but has brought it down to zero. Similarly for pulses, the import duty is zero. Unless the tariffs are restored, there is no way Indian farmer can compete with cheaper subsidised imports.
Taking the green revolution to the north-eastern states, for which he has provided an allocation of Rs 400 crore, is also a flawed strategy. Why I am saying this is because it is the green revolution technology that has destroyed soil fertility in Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. It is because of the devastation that green revolution has caused to the natural resource base that farmers have taken to suicides. To take the green revolution model to the northeast therefore means that the country hasn't learnt any lessons from the debacle.
Budget 2010 does have some inkling of pragmatic approach. Mukherjee has done the right thing by not enhancing the allocation under NREGA. In 2009, he made a budgetary provision of Rs 39,100 crore, and this year kept it at Rs 40,100 crore. This is a wise decision considering that NREGA is a new scheme, and has a lot of problems with implementation. Making more allocation gives room for more leakage and corruption.
At the same time, I am delighted to find that the finance minister has extended the health insurance cover (that was initiated last year to BPL families) to also NREGA workers who have put in a minimum of 15 days of labour. In the years to come, there is a desperate need to extend health insurance cover to the entire farming class also, which has still not been given crop insurance. The food policy initiatives that are spelled out in the Economic Survey indicate more thrust on food retail and industrialisation of agriculture, which means more will be the burden on the farmers from external inputs.
This is a misplaced emphasis, and comes from a class of economists who are not in tune with the ground realities. Already, the wish-list spelled out in the Economic surveys of past 3 to 4 years has pushed agriculture to an unmanageable crisis. It is high time that a sincere effort is made to reverse the disturbing trend, and bring back the smile on the face of the farmer. This can be done, provided the political leadership demonstrates willingness.
CLASS OF THEIR OWN
NUMBER OF HOURS SPENT OUTSIDE CLASS OUTNUMBERED THOSE SPENT INSIDE.
BY MEERA SESHADRI
On meeting Anu, my friend's daughter, who has opted for pure science subjects in college, I gently ribbed, "Busy swotting? Do take some breather to breathe at least!" She was visibly nettled by my PJ, riposting back "Why do people have this fallacy that science students are 'nerds' and have less fun than arts and commerce students?". 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', 'padhaakus' (Hindi equivalent for 'nerds'), since people thought we seldom chilled out to have fun. But in reality, we, a group of few girls, had a whale of a time. Whether we prepared well for the terminal exams or not, we, true-blue fashion fiends, planned well in advance the design of our outfits for every big festival. We'd scout for reasons to skive off the classes and watch every flick at the nearby theatre.
The number of hours spent outside class outnumbered those spent inside. Even while in class, we indulged in a whit of those escapades. I still remember in the chemistry lab how we tampered with a few chemicals, tried tinkering with a few apparatus, made some test-tubes warp out of shape, had pipettes/burettes splintered into smithereens and caused some small little explosions!
In maths class, we'd draw endless hearts, with love arrows darting in and out of them. Or if not, we'd draw squiggles or just doodle, letting our minds meander in myriad directions. Indeed, it was bliss when I was elected as the class rep in my BSc final year. For, I had all the reasons to play truant on the pretext of partaking in a plethora of college events. Right from essays to quizzes, cookery 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 exuberance. Three times she slipped down with a thud.
Once, when she fell in an unusually funny fashion, a girl, seated in the last bench, giggled uncontrollably. In the process, she lost her balance and fell back awkwardly.
This even more hilarious scene made me laugh loudly, with tears streaming down my eyes, which infuriated the teacher no end.
The miffed ma'm who couldn't be mollified. She made me march out of the class. Well, hope the theory 'science students never have that rip-roaring fun' is debunked now!
THE JERUSALEM POST
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
ISRAEL IS TAKING A BEATING ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE.
Damage control has been top priority for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the wake of fallout from the government's passage last week of a new National Heritage Sites plan that includes Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
He has been forced to make plain his contention that the move does nothing to change the status quo at the sites, when a smidgen more diplomatic acumen on Netanyahu's part could have avoided the present crisis. But that does not expiate Palestinians' violence.
The situation on the ground continues to look troubling. Although Hebron was quiet, clashes between police and Muslim youths spread yesterday from Al-Aksa Mosque Plaza on the Temple Mount to the Ras al-Amud neighborhood.
With Hamas calling for a third intifada, Israel has been taking a beating on the international stage as well: At the weekend, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the cabinet decision provocative and unhelpful to the goal of getting the two sides back to the negotiating table.
THE PRESENT imbroglio is somewhat similar, though by no means identical, to another incident in Netanyahu's political past.
In September 1996, early in his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu announced to the world while in London that he had ordered the opening of a northern exit from the Western Wall Tunnel that emptied out to the Old City's Arab Quarter.
There was no political significance to the move, it was made clear. The second exit was simply intended to ease access.
Nonetheless, the announcement was exploited to fuel a wave of violence, in which 14 Israelis and 56 Palestinians were killed. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning Israel for opening the tunnel.
In last week's version, at a special cabinet meeting at Tel Hai, the prime minister presented a six-year, NIS 400 million program to revamp national heritage sites and archives. "The list of sites that is brought here is not final," he announced. "I intend to include Rachel's Tomb, which enjoys a donation of the Jewish Agency for NIS 20 million earmarked for refurbishing, and the Cave of the Patriarchs."
In this neck of the woods, where pieces of land, and especially religious landmarks, are often drenched with meaning for two or more faiths, and where men of violence are eager to exploit any opportunity to foster hatred, even the semblance of a change in the religious status quo can trigger a cycle of conflict and confrontation.
Given his experiences as prime minister, Netanyahu is doubtless well aware of this powder keg potential. He knew that various groups, with ministerial support, wanted to include Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs on the list. On the Wednesday before the Sunday vote, Danny Dayan, Chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, sent him a letter to this effect. Shas ministers, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkovitz (Habayit Hayehudi) and Likud coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin also contacted him.
Their demands could have been finessed. The Jewish people's historic connection to the sites in question does not require cabinet approval in 2010 in order to be deemed legitimate. The list could have been left ambiguous. This would have allowed the government to invest in the upkeep of Rachel's Tomb, the Cave of the Patriarchs and other cultural and historical assets of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria, without being placed under unhelpful new scrutiny.
A short-sighted capitulation, bringing no tangible benefit to Israel, instead now spells a counter-productive greater focus on the sites themselves, and has already brought a degree of violence.
STILL, IF Netanyahu made a tactical mistake, the immediate Palestinian resort to violence was deliberate and inexcusable.
Yesterday's Jerusalem riots were presented as a purported response to a visiting group's
ostensibly provocative tour of the Mount, when in truth the clashes had been pre-planned.
The unsurprising return to such cynical tactics, in Hebron last week and in Jerusalem yesterday, also indicates an absolute total lack of appreciation for Israel's attempts to ensure that Jews and Arabs both Muslim and Christian enjoy rightful access to their respective places of sanctity.
And, of course, it begs the question of whether a future Palestinian state would even remotely replicate Israeli fastidiousness in protecting the religious rights of all faiths to their holy sites.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHAT APARTHEID STATE?
BY BRENDA KATTEN
Students will be marking occasion with call for boycott, divestment, sanctions.
Today marks the beginning of the Sixth Annual Israel Apartheid Week taking place in more than 40 cities worldwide. Students will be marking this occasion with a strong call for the boycott, divestment and sanctions against the one Jewish state. The week is said to be from March 1 to 14. One can only imagine that the organizers' definition of the "week" is as incorrect as their definition of "apartheid "when applied to the State of Israel.
My first visit to South Africa was in 1987, when I was invited by WIZO South Africa to address various groups throughout the country. I will never forget the horror I felt when in Durban seeing large notices saying "black only beach," "white only beach." This was just the beginning of coming face-to-face with a regime that separated every aspect of life for its citizens. Separate transport, separate health clinics, separate schooling it went on and on.
Today, I live in Herzliya Pituah, close to the marina. We often wander down to there to enjoy the wonderful view of boats as well as to enjoy all the facilities of a seaside resort. There is never an occasion when we do not see a cross section of what makes up Israel's multifaceted population. Whether the haredi section of the community or the Muslim and Christian Arab sector all are enjoying what this seashore city has to offer and doing so together. This is something of which we can be exceedingly proud.
Last year my husband was admitted to Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. The doctor who admitted him was an Arab, the nurse who attended him was a Muslim and the guy who was cleaning the floors sported a kippa. My husband's hospitalization took place in August. The gardens of the hospital were full of both Jewish and Arab patients and their families sitting together on the lawns. Is this "apartheid"?
Israel has given refuge to thousands of Africans many of whom have made their way across the Egyptian border to find a home here. A number have escaped the horrors of Darfur to find both homes and jobs here these were the lucky ones to have escaped being shot by the Egyptian border guards as they strove to find shelter in our little country.
SADLY, OUR Jewish students on campus throughout the world will be facing a two-pronged attack in these coming weeks, for it is not only the Palestinian students who will be leading the campaign but also some of Israel's own academics and politicians. In London, for example, as this newspaper has already reported, Adi Ophir, an associate professor at Tel Aviv University, will be opening "Israel Apartheid Week" at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the London School of Economics and University College London. At Oxford University, Israeli-born academics Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim together with Knesset member Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the Balad party, will be addressing students on "Israel's apartheid regime."
If ever there was a contradiction in terms this has to be it the freedom accorded current salaried members of an Israeli university together with a member of Israel's parliament having the freedom to travel abroad in order to ask that the world boycott, divest and take out sanctions against the country that has both educated them and continues to provide many of them with a livelihood.
Having come from the UK and as a former chair of the Hillel Foundation working closely with the Union of Jewish Students, I am particularly familiar with the challenges confronting our Jewish students on campus.
What is especially disturbing is the increasing number of Jewish students who are taking on board the overwhelming anti-Israel rhetoric with which they are being confronted. They simply do not have the tools or the knowledge to cope with this situation. When the chair of the Israel Society at Cambridge University sees fit to cancel a visit of Israeli historian Benny Morris for fear of upsetting the Islamic Society, the time has come to recognize the seriousness of the challenge.
It is the students at universities today that will provide the leadership of tomorrow in their respective countries. Surely it is beholden upon Jewish communities worldwide together with the State of Israel to accord priority to ensuring the younger generation is given the facts rather than the fiction to which they are being subjected on a daily basis. Better still, let us bring many more here so that they can see for themselves the reality that is Israel.
The writer is co-chair of Europeans for Israel Public Relations and chairs World WIZO.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE REGION: THE REAL ARAB STUFF
BY BARRY RUBIN
What are the most realistic and moderate Arabic-speaking rulers thinking?
Hussain Abdul Hussain gets it. He's one of the most interesting Arab journalists who also write in English. In his latest article "Lonely Obama vs. popular Iran", published in the Huffington Post, he points out what the most realistic people and more moderate rulers in the Arabic-speaking world are thinking.
Theme one: Popularity isn't so important in the Middle East. "A common perception is that under President Barack Obama, America's image has improved, and perhaps its friends have increased. But such claims are unfounded, as the opposite proves to be true. International relations, however, are about interests, not sweet talk. As [George W.] Bush went out recruiting allies, and making enemies, Obama lost America's friends while failing to win over enemies."
Theme two: What is important is that allies believe you will support and protect them. Obama isn't doing that. Example A, Iraq. "After losing more than 4,300 troops in battle and spending [a huge amount of money] since 2003, America today cannot find a single politician or group that would express gratitude to Americans for ridding Iraq of its ruthless tyrant Saddam Hussein, and allowing these politicians to speak out freely. On the contrary, shy of making their excellent backdoor ties with Washington known since they fear Obama will depart Iraq and never look back, Iraqi politicians started expressing dissatisfaction with the United States in public."
Example B, Lebanon. Before Obama took office, more than one-third of the entire population most of them Sunni Muslims demonstrated against Hizbullah and Syrian occupation. And the Druse leader Walid Jumblatt said on televisionthat he was proud to be part of America's plan to spread democracy in the Middle East. But "by the time Obama had made it to the White House, support of America's allies in Lebanon waned since Obama was determined to appease their foes in Syria and Iran. [Said] Hariri [leader of the moderate forces] and Jumblatt [his former close ally] were forced to abandon their fight for Lebanon's democracy and freedom" and seek to make a deal with Syria and Hizbullah instead.
Example C, Iran. The people revolted against the autocratic regime and staged mass demonstrations, "but Obama's Washington was busy sending one letter of appeasement after another to Iran's tyrants, and accordingly failed to side with the Green Revolution for democracy and freedom. When Obama did show support for the Green movement, it was too little and too late."
AMONG THOSE worried about a similar lack of US support are Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states, the three North African states, most of Lebanon and those Turks who don't want to live under an Islamist regime.
Theme three: Iran helps its allies. Hence, Iran has more allies, while the US has fewer. Iran is going up; the US is going down. "Now compare America's friends around the Middle East to Iran's cronies, and you can immediately understand why Washington is in trouble, both diplomatically and on a popular level, while Iran is confident as it marches toward producing a nuclear weapon and expanding its influence across the Middle East."
Iranian ally A, Hizbullah: "Since 1981, Iran has been funding its Lebanese ally Hizbullah, never defaulting on any of its pledged payments. Hizbullah went from an embryonic group into a state within a state, boasting a membership of several thousands and maintaining a private army, schools, hospitals, orphanages, satellite TV and a number of other facilities that have won it the hearts of Lebanon's Shi'ites, and have given Hizbullah an absolute command over them."
Iranian ally B, Syria: "Iran has maintained a flow of cash and political support toward Syria for a similar amount of time. Obama has been begging Syria to switch sides and abandon Iran. Judging by the mishaps that always seem to befall America's friends with time, Syria does not seem likely to change, but is rather playing an Obama administration desperate for whatever it can claim as success in its foreign policy."
As if to prove the point, immediately after a big American delegation visited Damascus to restore full relations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that US policy is seeking to detach Syria from its alliance with Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria and the two leaders made strong anti-American statements while pledging eternal partnership.
Here's the headline in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat: "Syria and Iran defy Clinton in show of unity."
And in the Syrian government's newspaper Tishrin a column explained that if the US wanted a deal with Iran and Syria to achieve peace in the region that would have to include Israel's elimination.
Iranian ally C, Iraqi insurgents: "In Iraq, Iran does not only fund and train militias and violent groups, but it also funds electoral campaigns of Iraqi politicians, loyal media groups and political parties, thus expanding its influence over Iraq exponentially. Spending billions more than Iran in Iraq, America has seen its money spent to no or little effect."
And here's the bottom line: "The comparison between Iran and Obama's America is simple. While Teheran never let down an ally, offering them consistent financial and political support, Washington's support of its allies around the world has always been intermittent, due to changes with administrations and an ever swinging mood among American voters, pundits and analysts.
"So while Iran has created a mini-Islamic republic in Lebanon, and is on its way to doing the same in Iraq, America has failed in keeping friends or maintaining influence both in Lebanon and in Iraq.
"And while Teheran brutally suppressed a growing peaceful revolution for change inside Iran, Washington's pacifism did not win any favors with the Iranian regime, or with its opponents in the Green Revolution.
"While Iran knows how to make friends, Obama's America has become an expert in losing them."
Yes! That's what it's all about. You know, it's an interesting point. Obama and company says we should listen to Muslim and Arab voices.
Okay, but which ones? Not, as they are doing, to the apologists for radicalism and the purveyors of conventional nonsense (all that matters is the Arab-Israeli conflict, America should just make concessions, you need to understand how Islamism isn't a threat, etc.). If you want to know what a dozen Arab governments think and fear and Israelis, too this is the real stuff.
The writer is Director at the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) (http://www.gloria-center.org) and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). He blogs at The Rubin Report (http://rubinreports.blogspot.com)
THE JERUSALEM POST
REALITY CHECK: THE JOKE'S ON EDELSTEIN
BY JEFF BARAK
New gov't Web site is propaganda tool more fitting of world's darker regimes.
When was the last time a foreigner came up to you and said: "Oh, you Israelis. You all ride camels." According to the Ministry of Public Diplomacy, this is one of the common myths foreigners hold about Israel. And the correct response to such a comment, a special ministry Web site helpfully instructs, is: "This is not correct. Israel has 17,900 kilometers of paved roads, on which there are no less than 2.3 million cars, of which 78 percent are private vehicles. Moreover, Israel Railways has lines running the length and breadth of the country and a light railway for Tel Aviv is in the planning and development stages."
The Soviet newspaper Pravda couldn't have phrased it better.
Nobody, it seems, has told Yuli Edelstein that his ministry is a joke office, one of the many dreamed up by Binyamin Netanyahu when he formed the most bloated government in the country's history, comprising a ridiculous 32 ministers. Most of the ministers appointed to non-ministries have had the good sense not to further waste the public purse on unnecessary initiatives, but not so Edelstein. He's launched a campaign to turn every Israeli into a potential diplomat.
Given that the thuggish Avigdor Lieberman is foreign minister, one has to accept that anything is possible in Israeli diplomacy, but even still, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy special Web site (www.masbirim.gov.il) is a new low in the very undistinguished history of hasbara (which can be translated as "public information" but "propaganda" is nearer the mark).
THE HEBREW-ONLY Web site (so much for one-fifth of the country's population also serving as potential ambassadors) is embarrassing in its over-eagerness to state Israel's case. For example, according to the ministry, another common myth is that all Israeli women cover their hair. This claim should be answered with: "Not only do most Israeli women not cover their hair, but Israel is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world, on the same level as New York, Paris and London."
Leaving aside the fact that Israel has suddenly turned from a country into a capital
not even the Ministry of Public Diplomacy has the hutzpa to claim that Jerusalem is at the center of world fashion, except of course for sheitels and streimels I'm hard pushed to remember the last time Naomi Campell or Kate Moss graced the catwalks of Tel Aviv.
The web site's misperceptions don't stop at fashion, but this is when it stops being amusing. In its review of modern Israeli history, the capture of missing airman Ron Arad gets 10 lines. The Oslo Accords get three. The kidnapping of Gilad Schalit merits eight lines; the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 is only worthy of one-and-a-bit.
It's hard to blame non-Israelis for lacking an understanding of the country when a Web site published by a government ministry puts out such a warped view of the country's history.
And when one looks deeper at the information filling this Web site it becomes clear that its aim is not so much to turn every Israeli into a potential ambassador but simply to propagate Yuli Edelstein's right-wing political views at the taxpayer's expense.
The settlements in the West Bank, according to the Web site, are not an obstacle to peace; rather it's the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the State of Israel. Now this is may be a view that many people hold, but it's only one viewpoint of the conflict, not an incontrovertible fact. By using a publicly funded Web site to make this and other right-wing arguments, such as "the Golan Heights are a strategic asset for Israel, ensuring the country's security," a position that runs contrary to the position of most of the IDF General Staff who want to see a peace agreement with Damascus, even if this means withdrawing from the Golan, Edelstein is abusing his position.
Not only is the Web site an abuse of trust, the whole concept behind it is deeply troubling. There's something essentially Stalinist in attempting to persuade every citizen to see himself as an ambassador for their country. Couple that with the attempt to then overload the would-be interested "ambassador" with ridiculous, incorrect facts and a heavily biased right-wing view of the conflict and of how the world sees Israel, and one ends up with a propaganda tool that is more fitting for some of the world's darker, totalitarian regimes, and not the modern, free Israel it ironically wants to promote.
There are no shortage of useful Web sites putting overout Israel's case, among them the Foreign Ministry's site (www.mfa.gov.il) which is an excellent repository of useful information, both on current issues and the country's history. Ignoring for one moment the Ministry of Public Diplomacy's scandalous use of a government Web site to push a biased view of the conflict, there is also the question of why Edelstein thought it necessary to create a Web site explaining Israel to the world when the government already has an excellent one doing the job.
If Edelstein is that desperate to make his mark as a minister, perhaps he should do the job he's been tasked to perform and tackle the crisis at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. As the minister in charge of the IBA, Edelstein has been strangely silent while Israel Television pulls the plug every night at 11 p.m. and Israel Radio is unable to hold interviews over the telephone with would-be guests.
Or is that too much like hard work for someone whose only interest seems to be his own narrow political agenda?
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
TOYOTA AND THE PRICE OF MODERNITY
BY CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
It's no disrespect to those killed to admit technology can be fallible.
Amazingly, the congressional hearings on Toyota were relatively civilized. Apart from some inevitable theatrical hectoring, the questioning was generally respectful, the emotions controlled. This was all the more remarkable given the drama of some of the testimony, such as that offered by a tearful Rhonda Smith, who recounted how, in her runaway Lexus, she had called her husband because "I wanted to hear his voice one more time." Such wrenching and compelling stories might impel you to want to string up the first Toyota executive you find. But the issue here is larger and highly complex.
Industrial society produces an astonishing array of mass-produced products cars, drugs, medical devices that are at once wondrous and potentially lethal.
The wondrousness sometimes eludes us. Even the lowliest wage earner has an automobile that conveys him with more luxury, more freedom, more comfort than any traveling king ever experienced in all the centuries before the 20th. And modern medicines why, vaccines alone have prevented more suffering, more debility and more death than anything ever conceived by man.
But these wonders can be lethal. And sorting out the endless complaints about these products is maddeningly difficult though sort you must, otherwise every complaint would require shutting down the factories, and we'd have no industrial society at all.
THE QUESTION is: How do you distinguish the idiosyncratic failure from the systemic for example, the single lemon that came off the auto assembly line versus an intrinsic problem inherent in that model's engineering? How do you separate one patient's physiology producing a drug side effect versus an intrinsic problem with a drug that makes it unacceptably dangerous?
Consider the oddity of those drug commercials on television. Fifteen seconds of the purported therapeutic effort, followed by about 45 seconds of a rapidly muttered list of horrific possible side effects. When the ad is over, I can't remember a thing about what the pill is supposed to do, except perhaps cause nausea, liver damage, projectile vomiting, a nasty rash, a four-hour erection and sudden death. Sudden death is my favorite because there is something comical about it being a side effect. What exactly is the main effect in that case? Relief from abdominal bloating?
And how many sudden deaths does it take until we say: "Enough," and pull the drug off the market?
It's not an easy calculation.
Six years ago, Vioxx, a powerful anti-inflammatory, was withdrawn by the manufacturer because it was found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke from 0.75 percent per year to 1.5 percent. The company was pilloried for not having owned up to this earlier, but some rheumatologists were furious that the drug was forced off the market at all. They had patients with crippling arthritis who had achieved a functioning life with Vioxx, for which they were quite willing to risk a long-shot cardiac complication. The public furor denied them the choice.
And don't imagine that we do not coldly calculate the price of a human life. In 1974, the speed limit was lowered to 55 mph to conserve oil. That also led to a dramatic drop in traffic fatalities approximately 3,000 lives every year. This didn't stop us, after the oil crisis, from raising the speed limit back to 65 and beyond knowing that thousands of Americans would die as a result.
The calculation was never explicit, but it was nevertheless real. We were quite prepared to trade away a finite number of human lives for speed, and for the efficiency and convenience that come with it.
This is not to let Toyota off the hook simply because all products carry risk. Toyota executives have already admitted that they had underplayed the reports of sticking accelerators. They seem finally to have made a very serious, almost frantic, effort to correct what can be corrected the floor mat and sticky accelerator problem while continuing to investigate the more elusive possibility (never proved, perhaps never provable) of some additional electronic glitch.
But it is no disrespect to the memory of those killed, and the sorrow of those left behind, to simply admit that even the highest technology produced by the world's finest companies can be fallible and fatal, and that the intelligent response is not rage and retribution but sober remediation and recognition of the very high price we pay willingly pay for modernity with all its wondrous, dangerous bounty.
The author is a syndicated Washington Post columnist.
THE JERUSALEM POST
NO MODELS OF EXAMPLE
BY ELY KARMON
The Western pattern for dealing with terrorists led to the 9/11 attacks.
In September 1970, Leila Khaled tried to hijack an El Al flight en route to New York, was disarmed by Israeli security marshals and arrested by British police when the plane landed in London. Israeli authorities asked for her extradition but days later, after a BOAC jet was hijacked on its way to Jordan, British prime minister Edward Heath decided to release her as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
On September 5, 1972, members of Black September broke into the Israeli quarters at the Olympic Games in Munich, killing two Israeli athletes and taking nine others hostage. After a shootout with police, the hostages, five of the terrorists and a West German policeman were killed. The three surviving terrorists were released several weeks later, after the hijacking of a Lufthansa jet. They were received as heroes in Beirut, Damascus, Tripoli and Algiers.
From 1981 to 1991, the Iranian regime led a secret war against France: assassinations of Iranian opposition leaders on French territory, 13 bombings in Paris between 1985-87, kidnappings of French journalists and diplomats in Lebanon. All the arrested Iranian terrorists and intelligence agents involved in the plots were eventually released in a secret deal with Teheran.
In the deadliest suicide attack until 9/11 against American and French peacekeeping forces in Beirut, on October 23, 1983, 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers were killed when two trucks laden with explosives slammed into the respective buildings of their barracks. The Syrian minister of defense, Gen. Mustafa Tlass, later said in an interview, "After the deployment of the Multinational Force, I gathered the Lebanese resistance leaders together and told them: Do whatever you want with the US, British and other forces, but I do not want a single Italian soldier to be hurt... because I do not want a single tear falling from the eyes of [Italian actress] Gina Lollobrigida, whom [I] loved ever since my youth."
Did Syria, or Iran or Tlass pay any price for the attacks?
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard. Eleven people in Lockerbie, southern Scotland, were killed as large sections of the plane fell in the town. In January 2001, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted of involvement in the bombing and sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland.
In August 2009, the Scottish government released him "on compassionate grounds" to return to Libya as he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had "a life expectancy of less than three months." Col. Muammar Gaddafi thanked Prime Minister Gordon Brown, "my friend," for interceding with the Scottish government to let the man go. Six months later, where is Megrahi?
THESE ARE only a few examples of the pattern developed by Western powers in dealing with terrorists since the Palestinians began in the late 1960s the wave of what is today called "global terrorism," which directly led to the al-Qaida 9/11 attacks on American soil, the Madrid 2004 and London 2005 bombings.
All the Arab countries have hosted, nourished and some of them, like Syria, Iraq and Libya, have sponsored Palestinian and Arab terrorist organizations for decades, even when they killed fellow Palestinians, Jordanians, or Saudis, like the Abu Nidal organization did.
How many of these terrorists have been put on trial in Arab countries or are in prison? None! Iran and Syria have hosted, supported and sponsored, since 1982, Hizbullah, Turkish Islamists, the Kurdish PKK, Iraqi terrorists, acting throughout the region and beyond.
Imad Mughniyeh, the mastermind of the attacks on the Marine and French barracks in Beirut and of the bombing of the Jewish community building in Buenos Aires in 1994, for which Interpol issued an international warrant arrest, was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. He was celebrated as a "martyr" by Hizbullah and the highest religious and political authorities of Iran.
Five years ago, Syria was the principal suspect in the UN investigation into the assassination in 2005 of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Saad Hariri, Lebanon's current prime minister and Rafik's son, recently met with Syria's president, Bashar Assad, in a reconciliation move between the two countries. The investigation, upgraded to a UN special tribunal lost key members and had to release suspects for lack of formal indictments. Some observers believe "international political pressure" has played a role in "slowing down and even rolling back" the search for Hariri's killers. Can anyone guess which direction the pressure came from? France? The US?
Mahmoud Mabhouh, the assassinated Hamas operative in Dubai, allegedly by the Mossad, was one of the founders of Hamas's Izzadin Kassam Brigades, responsible since 1994 for dozens of suicide bombings which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians. He was personally behind the kidnapping and assassination of two IDF soldiers in 1989, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sa'adon. He most recently was in charge of the acquisition and smuggling of heavy weapons and explosives to Gaza, in cooperation with Iran.
What bothered Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim during the investigation of Mabhouh's assassination was not his past terrorist activity, but rather that he had travelled under a different name. "If we had been told of his presence, we would have provided him with the necessary protection," he told Al Arabiya TV. He added that he believed the Hamas leader was in Dubai for business and not for any kind of arms transactions, but no information about the cameras monitoring Mabhouh's activities has yet been released by Dubai police.
So for all the noise about who falsified the British, Irish, French, Australian passports
allegedly used by the hit team, there is absolute silence from Dubai about who falsified Mabhouh's passports.
Western states, who at least understand that they have to pursue and punish al-Qaida thugs in Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan, are silent in the face of the relentless activities against Israel by Hamas terrorists travelling freely in the Gulf states. There is also not a peep from these powers when Hamas and Hizbullah leaders are hosted by their patrons in Damascus and Teheran, where they join the noisy chorus of those who profess "the divine promise" to "uproot the Zionist entity."
The writer is senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counterterrorism and senior fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
THE JERUSALEM POST
RIGHT OF REPLY: TRULY A HOLY ALLIANCE
BY MALCOLM HEDDING
We stand with Israel because we see God's promises at work in its journey.
Last week, David Newman's opinion column assailed the growing ties between Evangelical Christians and Israel in"An unholy alliance", February 23. In concurring with Rabbi Shlomo Aviner that Israelis should reject Christian support outright, he merely demonstrated that people on both the Left and Right can be equally intolerant.
After centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, a new day has dawned in Jewish-Christian relations and organizations like the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem have been in the forefront of this historic change. Our credentials and track record of engagement and support for Israel are impeccable and thus stand up well to his feeble challenge! For decades now, Jews have asked disturbing questions concerning the Christian anti-Semitic underpinnings of the Nazi Holocaust and why so few Christians were willing to speak out during the darkest days of the Shoah. Sadly, their point is valid. However, now that Christians have sought to rectify this wretched history and have extended a genuine hand of friendship to Israel, we are branded an "unholy" ally. In such a vise, we are left with no way to win.
Yes! We are Christians and thus we have a Christian view of how history ends. But we cannot dictate that to others nor would we ever try. Likewise, most Jews foresee a "Jewish" end to history, as should be expected. But this does not mean that the friendship being forged between us is insincere. This begs the question: Is friendship only possible when two groups hold identical views? I think not! Both groups view our respective Scriptures as fully inspired by God. Jews cannot ask me to be their friend on condition that I debunk my Scriptures and deny my faith. This is precisely what Christians did to Jews for centuries and it is called anti-Semitism or at best manipulation. Certainly, I will not ask Jews to deny their beliefs in order to be my friend. I know that no Jew would do this.
ACTUALLY, THE fact that we each are faithful to our belief systems does not make our friendship unholy and fraudulent. Rather, that is what makes it so unique and special. And even more so in view of our tragic history together! Neither does my adherence to my beliefs make me a closet missionary who fantasizes about the Apocalypse, as Newman suggests. The truth is, we are Israel's friends not because of some radical right-wing view, hidden missionary agenda or some future eschatological scenario. It is because of the past. That is, God gave the land of Canaan to the Jewish people 4000 years ago as an everlasting possession. We believe that the Jewish return to the land in our day is testimony to the faithfulness of God to His covenant with Israel pure and simple.
Newman is also wrong in his blunt portrayal of the Evangelical community in America as lacking the "values" of a "liberal, open, democratic society." The pro-Israel Christian demographic in the US is a very broad constituency made up of decent, kind-hearted folks and has even included such Democratic presidents as Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. Yes, there are a minority who mirror Newman's bigotry but from the Right. And this includes even some big name leaders who pedal sensational "end-time" speculations regarding Israel. But one should not paint with so broad a brush in making such sweeping condemnations.
As head of the broadest based pro-Israel Christian ministry in the world, I can attest that our global constituency stands alongside Israel not because of some radical right-wing political goal or dark apocalyptic vision, but because we see the promises of God to Abraham at work in Israel's journey back to the land of your forefathers.
We do not seek to make Jews disappear; rather we desire to see you live in peace and security in the land bequeathed to you by God Himself. He will, in good time and in His mysterious ways, fulfill all the good He has planned for Israel. We will leave this to Him! For now, we have far more in common that unites us than divides us like the struggle against jihadist radical Islam.
It also vital to recall that this so-called "unholy alliance" has served Israel well in its modern history. The path for the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948 was paved, in large part, because of the support and activities of Evangelicals in Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then known as Restorationists, they were most definitely the driving force behind the Balfour Declaration. Rev. William Hechler, a devout Christian, greatly assisted Theodor Herzl in the Zionist cause, opening doors for him to the nobility of Europe. It was Herzl himself who first coined the term "Christian Zionist" because he so appreciated their work! Their views on Christian mission and biblical prophecy were not so different than mine today.
Yet Herzl considered a secular man befriended them, and their contribution to Israel's modern rebirth proved foundational and crucial. This is all on record and requires no defense. But apparently, David Newman has forgotten the honorable origins of this truly holy alliance!
The writer is the Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org.
DEFUSE TENSIONS IN THE NORTH
Tensions are once again rising along the northern border, and talk of war is again being heard. Israel has warned Syria against transferring "upgraded" weaponry to Hezbollah and threatened to topple the Syrian regime if war breaks out. Syria has threatened to attack Israeli cities, and Iran has charged that Israel is planning to attack Syria and Lebanon.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Damascus recently with the leaders of Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas and prophesied a "Middle East without Zionists."
The American administration has been trying to calm the situation. It has sent repeated messages to Israel warning of the possibility of problems caused by a "miscalculation." The Americans also summoned the Syrian ambassador and demanded that Syria stop sending arms to Hezbollah.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with senior American officials in Washington about the growing danger in the north, and shortly thereafter, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi headed for Washington as well. Next week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Israel, and he, too, is expected to urge Israel to show restraint and refrain from military action.
Israel rightly fears being surrounded by long-range rockets with sophisticated warheads that can hit major cities in the center of the country as well as air force bases. Such rockets are currently deployed in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. But before it embarks on a military operation in the north, or even escalates the conflict, it must first exhaust any diplomatic alternatives.
Instead of threatening war, Israel must strive to resume diplomatic negotiations with Syria, with the aim of signing a peace agreement with it. Nothing would do as much as a diplomatic agreement to effect a strategic change in Israel's north and dismantle the hostile coalition led by Iran.
An Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, in exchange for appropriate security arrangements and normalization with Syria, would create a new reality in the Middle East, extend Israel's peaceful borders, increase stability in Lebanon and give Syria an alternative to its alliance with Ahmadinejad.
Barak is right to support renewed negotiations with Syria, but he must not make do with adopting the stance of a pundit or analyst. Instead, he must push to restart the negotiations. And if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu persists in refusing to talk with Syria because he objects to "preconditions," or if he clings to his view that Israel must not leave the Golan Heights - then don't be surprised if the warnings of war from Damascus come true.
NO COUNTRY WOULD ACCEPT NETANYAHU'S CONDITIONS FOR PEACE
BY AKIVA ELDAR
The decision to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb to the list of historical heritage sites up for renovation was not made with the intention of inflaming tempers and sabotaging efforts to revive final-status talks with the Palestinians. It was merely a routine move by a rightist government, further proof that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "two states" speech at Bar-Ilan University was a milestone on the road to nowhere. The only difference between "the rock of our existence" that launched the Western Wall tunnel violence in 1996 and the 2010 model is that this time Netanyahu is wearing a mask, trying to pass himself off as peace activist Uri Avnery, with the generous help of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The prime minister, as we all know, simply can't wait for renewed final-status talks to get underway, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to back down and is setting "conditions that predetermine the outcome of the negotiations," as Netanyahu told Haaretz a week ago. Indeed, the Palestinians have made their participation in indirect talks conditional on, in part, a construction freeze during the talks in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. They have the audacity to claim that it is Netanyahu's demand to expand settlements during negotiations along with the assertion of Jewish ownership over sensitive sites which are the conditions that predetermine the outcome of the talks.
The Palestinian demand for a total freeze on settlement construction, including that required for natural population growth, is not, in Netanyahu's words "a condition that no country would accept." Israel accepted that condition in the road map seven years ago. In an article in the journal of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in December 2009, Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize for Legal Studies, and Dr. Ofra Friesel write that the Netanyahu government is obligated by the road map, which was ratified by the Sharon government. A former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, Lapidoth stresses that the 14 remarks (not reservations, as they are usually termed) that Israel appended have no legal validity. And since the U.S. government promised no more than to relate "fully and seriously" to these remarks, they don't have any diplomatic validity, either.
Netanyahu argues that Sharon reached an oral agreement with George W. Bush that the construction freeze would not apply to the "settlement blocs" and that the United States would take into account natural-growth requirements. The prime minister therefore expects the Palestinians to honor not only formal agreements to which they were a party, but also informal understandings reached behind their backs between Israel and America. Yet when the Palestinians demand an acknowledgment of understandings they reached with the Olmert government on a number of final-status principles, Netanyahu says this is a "precondition that predetermines the outcome of negotiations."
The prime minister also contemptuously rejects the Palestinian demand that the talks be resumed where they were halted in December 2008. He is not prepared to even listen to the parameters for a final-status agreement proposed by Bill Clinton in December 2000. Netanyahu insists he has the right to start negotiations from square one, ignoring every agreement already reached with the Palestinians. He has even forgotten the Wye River Memorandum of 1998, under which he undertook, in Clinton's presence, to transfer 13 percent of Area C to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu sticks only to those clauses in the interim agreement (Oslo 2) that removed responsibility for the Palestinians' welfare from Israel's hands and left Israel in control of Area C (60 percent of the West Bank). And of course, Netanyahu is totally committed to those clauses that require the Palestinians to combat terrorist infrastructure and incitement and refrain from asking the United Nations to condemn the injustices of the occupation.
Netanyahu is setting conditions for negotiations that no country would accept. His opposition to a settlement freeze and his refusal to resume talks where they left off expose his Bar-Ilan declarations as a cunning diversionary tactic. As his chief spokesman, President Shimon Peres, is wont to declare, "You have to tell the people the truth." The dismal truth is that, behind the mask, Netanyahu is still the same old Bibi.
A LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE MOSSAD
BY ZE'EV SEGAL
As more time passes, tough questions are surfacing regarding the necessity and long-term benefit of the assassination of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. If Israel was responsible for the operation - which gave rise to problems on an international level over the forging of passports from various countries and exposed operational methods - it is unreasonable that the matter be spared competent investigation, which would allow the proper lessons to be drawn for the future. This is true even if the mission's goal was achieved and its operatives got away unscathed.
Despite the absence of clear information, it appears the prime minister alone approves the special operations of the Mossad, Israel's espionage agency - the only government agency whose operations are subject to the decisions of only one individual.
The appointment process, a little less than eight years ago, of the current head of the Mossad also highlights the fact that the staffing of one of the most sensitive positions in the country is not subject to regulations, and is carried out by the prime minister without the consent of the cabinet or any other body. The same is true for extending the Mossad chief's term in office as well as removing him from office. The approval of his appointment by a special committee for approving appointments is simply a formality. Appointing an Israel Defense Forces chief of staff or the head of the Shin Bet security service, by contrast, requires the approval of the entire cabinet.
The Mossad intelligence agency operates by virtue of the government's general authority, through the Basic Law on the Government, to act on behalf of the state in the absence of a law limiting the Mossad's authority over a particular matter. The formal title of the Mossad translates from Hebrew as "the institute for intelligence and special operations," however the special operations are not defined, and the prime minister is authorized to instruct the agency as he sees fit, without any other approval required.
The Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which receives reports primarily after the fact, can express an opinion or deliver a recommendation, but nothing beyond that.
The concept of assembling an explicit legal framework for the Mossad was raised as far back as 1998, and was proposed by this writer, among others, in the face of bitter criticism of the way senior Hamas official Khaled Meshal had been attacked in Amman. A law on the Shin Bet approved by the Knesset that same year can serve as a model for a Mossad law, which would contain provisions primarily related to the appointment of the agency's head and the oversight of its operations.
Conditions spelling out the manner in which the Shin Bet head is appointed require the entire cabinet's approval of the prime minister's recommendation; it is no longer his exclusive decision. The law also limits the appointment of the head of the Shin Bet to five years and vests authority in the cabinet, not only the prime minister, to remove him from office.
The Shin Bet law also provides a ministerial committee and the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services with oversight of the agency, giving them the right to receive information and study relevant material. The law also requires an internal auditor - who must report to those overseeing agency operations, including those outside the Shin Bet - who is given the right to receive relevant information as well. Similar provisions are necessary for the Mossad in light of the special sensitivity related to the use of its powers and its capabilities in foreign countries.
An examination of similar legislation in other countries will reveal that detailed laws regulating similar agencies have been passed in Britain, Canada and Australia. Its existence would provide a response to the argument raised in various circles in Israel that it is not possible to set legal standards by which the Mossad operates, as the vast majority of its operations abroad do not meet standards of the rule of law.
This argument, which for years prevented the development of a Mossad law, even though it found support among former Mossad heads, is totally baseless.Mossad activities abroad should be treated separately from those based in Israel. Emissaries of the state, who act in its name in good faith and in a reasonable manner within the scope of their position - which this law must define in principle - should be explicitly exempt from liability for their acts or omissions. The Mossad law should protect them the way the Shin Bet law protects its operatives.
The approach of the opponents to a Mossad law could lead to damaging entanglements, which are not justified in the absence of an overriding public interest.
HADASSAH OR ESTHER?
BY MAYER BREZIS AND SARA SINGER
Hadassah's board of directors will not renew the contract of hospital CEO Shlomo Mor-Yosef. No one knows why. As owner, Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America can do what it sees as right, and confidentiality in sensitive discussions can be necessary. Meanwhile, however, a sense of unfairness and bewilderment has raised mistrust among hospital staff.
Hadassah is not a private company with trade secrets like Coca-Cola. As a public hospital serving over a half-million patients every year, largely through taxpayer funds, it bears greater accountability for transparency. Transparent governance is especially important in health care organizations from which the public demands accountability for quality and safety. People expect openness from nurses and physicians about performance and mistakes.
Creating a culture of transparency requires leading by example. By keeping silent, what message does the hospital's governing body send to staff? Leading a shift in strategy requires transparency, so that workers understand (even if they don't agree with) their leaders' decisions. In Hadassah's case, this might be particularly important because of the geographic and cultural gulf between the hospital and U.S.-based HWZOA.
Leaders who have successfully managed difficult change, such as Paul Levy at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have made sure to keep communication open about their rationale for decisions. Transparency has characterized Hadassah under Mor-Yosef's leadership.
One of his first moves as CEO was to assign two professors to a new field of clinical quality and safety: Yoel Donchin, an anesthesiologist expert on human errors, and one of us (Brezis). "It is time we put a mirror in front of ourselves," Mor-Yosef said. "If we are good, let's show it. If not, let's improve."
This courageous motto enabled various initiatives that have contributed to patient welfare, such as using checklists before surgery, to reduce mistakes, and before insertion of a central line, to reduce infections. The challenge of balancing high-quality care with financial pressure demands more transparency and accountability about decision-making.
A substantial limitation to improving safety and results is, as in other industries, production pressure. Managers perceive that they are being measured by their ability to balance budgets. Messages to increase bed occupancy rates or reduce workforce are heard more frequently than discussions on how to prevent medication error or misdiagnosis.
The current remunerative system pays for quantity, not quality. In the face of competing incentives and difficult decisions, transparency helps to maintain shared understanding and trust.
HWZOA has a prestigious tradition of promoting public health, education and social action with remarkable generosity toward Israel. Disagreement about funding priorities, for instance if benefactors value social over medical targets, presents an opportunity for discussing social determinants of health - increasingly recognized the best predictors of disease.
If benefactors prefer American over Israeli goals, that is also a legitimate dispute that will benefit from public discourse. Israel always benefits from financial help and it can benefit no less from exchange of culture, values and knowledge.
HWZOA was founded 98 years ago on Purim. It was named for Hadassah, the original name of Esther, the central heroine of Purim. Esther's name refers to secrecy, since hiding her nationality was pivotal in her winning stratagem to save her people.
The Talmud says, "Blessing is found only in what is hidden from the eye." Yet, at the right time, Esther revealed her secret.
In public policy too, secrecy can be key to transient success, but it will eventually undermine stakeholders' own interests. In health care, making difficult decisions with limited resources requires transparent governance. Hadassah is Esther but it should stay Hadassah.
Dr. Mayer Brezis is professor of medicine and director of the Center for Clinical Quality and Safety at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Dr. Sara Singer is assistant professor of Health Care Management and Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School/Mongan Institute for Health Policy in Boston.
WHEN IT ALL BECOMES SO CONVENIENT
BY MERAV MICHAELI
Gasoline retailer Sonol will put convenience stores in city centers next year, TheMarker reported today. Many gas stations across the country have convenience stores nowadays - combinations of corner stores and cafes that seek to solve all our problems. But in effect they replace the privately-owned restaurants and kiosks that once were the norm.
The first convenience stores were built a decade ago, but in the last three years their numbers have reached 600 nationwide, virtually all under the ownership of four big gasoline companies. Business writers use terms like "investment," "growth" and "expansion" to describe them. These labels are surely fitting for gas companies, which make considerable money from these stores, at which profit margins are often 30 to 70 percent. I fear, however, that for those Israelis who do not own gas companies, these stores are hardly convenient at all.
First of all, the advent of convenience stores clearly does not pay off for the business owner who has lost his business. It's also less than advantageous for the workers, who previously toiled for an owner responsible for them and have now lost their jobs. Most convenience-store employees are very young, earn minimum wage and are easily coerced or manipulated. The stores don't even help the consumers paying the stores' particularly high prices.
Now convenience stores are infiltrating cities, as did the chain stores that "sprouted up" in every neighborhood at the expense of privately owned kiosks, many of which saw their profits plummet and were forced to close.
Why should a gas company, whose business is selling fuel, even bother with selling food and drinks rather than leave it to others? Alas, profits in the gas business are limited, business newspapers assure us empathetically. "Limited" in this case refers gas firm Paz's NIS 602 million in profits last year. Yes, turnover was NIS 17 billion, but NIS 300 million was distributed as dividends - that is, the CEO received a bit more than NIS 150 million. Limited profits indeed. Let's not forget that the industry's revenues are assured - the four major gas companies operate almost all Israel's filling stations, and it's almost impossible to put up a station that is not affiliated with them.
Of course there are some for whom convenience stores are indeed more convenient, a place where it's pleasant to spend money and the bathrooms are clean. But the price of this comfort is high - independent small business owners are replaced by weaker, dependent employees, and unique restaurants are replaced by identical food services. And then there is the greatest loss of all, solidarity. In place of the kiosk owner you got to know is a faceless procession of workers with whom you have no connection. Nor do you care about their fates.
It wouldn't even help if convenience stores could be prohibited by law - the greed that drives a corporation to continue increasing profits at any price would find another way of achieving the same result. Gas tycoons apparently feel no moral obligation to allow their employees to work honorably, or to allow others to earn their livelihoods while not under their control.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
AS FORECLOSURES CONTINUE ...
President Obama went to Henderson, Nev., the other day to show Americans that he was responding to the cries for help from struggling homeowners (and maybe give a boost to Senator Harry Reid's re-election). He announced a $1.5 billion effort to prevent foreclosures in five states hard-hit by the housing bust Nevada, Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan by feeding money into programs that would be developed and carried out by the housing agencies in the targeted states.
The audience in Henderson applauded the announcement, and understandably so. In Nevada, unemployment is 13 percent and 70 percent of homeowners with mortgages owe more on their homes than they are worth; in industry parlance, they are "underwater." Since a combination of joblessness and underwater loans is the main driver of foreclosure, Nevadans are clearly at high risk of losing their homes, as are homeowners in the other four states.
So it was good to see Mr. Obama focusing aid where it is needed most. But two big concerns remain. First, the new plan must be implemented quickly and efficiently for it to be more than a public relations ploy, and as yet there is no timetable. More broadly, it is still not clear whether the administration realizes that the importance of the plan lies not just in what it might do for a handful of states but in the direction it should set nationally.
The administration's $75 billion antiforeclosure program, which subsidizes lenders to rework bad loans, has been a big disappointment. One reason is that its usual method of modifying loans lowering the monthly payment by reducing the interest rate does not work well for jobless and underwater borrowers. Unemployed homeowners often cannot make even reduced payments and underwater borrowers need principal reductions to succeed over the long run, not lower rates.
And yet, the administration has resisted calls to revamp its program, citing cost and complexity. Another obstacle is that banks are generally loath to modify loans by reducing principal, which would require them to take big upfront losses that they would prefer to postpone.
In at least a tacit acknowledgment of those issues, Mr. Obama specifically said that the five-state effort is intended to aid homeowners who are out of work and underwater. To help jobless owners, states could use the money for loans to cover mortgage payments, an approach used successfully in Pennsylvania. With unemployment expected to remain high for a long time, Mr. Obama should consider a national program of that kind.It is less clear how the new fund would help underwater borrowers. Why would states be successful in negotiating principal reductions when the administration has not been able to persuade or compel the banks to do them? Still, now that Mr. Obama has set the aim of helping underwater borrowers, it is up to the administration by working with states or by revamping its own efforts to make it happen. The banks won't like it. But the alternative is more foreclosures, further price declines and as the housing market continues to wobble an endangered economic recovery. By itself, Mr. Obama's new plan for Nevada and the other states is too small to make a meaningful dent in foreclosures. But by aiming to help unemployed and underwater borrowers, it is headed in the right direction, if the administration is willing to set a new course.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IF THE LAWYER FAILS
Our legal system is complex and a lot more powerful than any individual. That is why the Constitution guarantees people accused of serious crimes the right to counsel. If a lawyer turns out to be negligent, the system must do all it can to protect the individual's rights.
The Supreme Court has a chance to reinforce that fundamental protection in the case of Albert Holland. A Florida prisoner, he did everything he could to ensure that his lawyer filed his habeas corpus petition, which would allow the federal courts to review his state-court conviction for first-degree murder and other crimes.
He continually asked about it, and emphasized the importance of meeting the deadlines. The lawyer repeatedly assured Mr. Holland that he would take care of it, and then missed the habeas deadline. Mr. Holland was given a new lawyer, who argued that due to the first lawyer's extreme negligence, the failure should be excused under "equitable tolling," which allows for deadlines to be excused in the broader interests of justice.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected the argument, ruling that even gross negligence by a lawyer does not provide a basis for equitable tolling. Unless there was "bad faith, dishonesty, divided loyalty, mental impairment," or something of that magnitude, the court said, the deadline would stand.
It is a shameful ruling. Mr. Holland's lawyer's conduct was not merely negligent. It was, as legal ethics professors and practitioners say in a brief, "intolerable, thoroughly unacceptable behavior." The legal system cannot take away Mr. Holland's right to challenge his conviction on the basis of inexcusably awful lawyering.
Underlying all of the law is the principle of "equity," meaning rules must be interpreted in ways that advance fundamental fairness. The 11th Circuit's decision is part of a disturbing trend. Increasingly, courts are ignoring fundamental fairness and overemphasizing rigid rules and technical legal points in many cases, deadlines of one kind or another in ways that undermine justice.
The Supreme Court, which hears Mr. Holland's case on Monday, should not allow this to continue. It should reverse the 11th Circuit's deeply unfair ruling and allow Mr. Holland's habeas petition to be heard.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RENDER UNTO C STREET
It is not unusual for members of Congress to arrange group rentals in Washington to share housing costs and, for some, underline their continuing "outsider" status. What is highly unusual, and unjustifiable, is the tax-exempt status as a religious institution enjoyed by a boarding house called the C Street Center that caters to conservative Christian lawmakers.
The $1.8 million townhouse came to public notice last year when three recent tenants Senator John Ensign; Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor and former congressman; and former Representative Charles Pickering Jr. were embroiled in marital infidelity scandals. Mr. Pickering was accused by his estranged wife of entertaining a mistress at the house.
The center soon lost most of its city tax exemption, after District of Columbia officials decided it was a residence, not a church. And now a coalition of mainline Christian ministers is demanding that the Internal Revenue Service end the center's federal tax exemption and its shield of nontransparency. The coalition is rightly concerned that the center is exploiting, and thereby cheapening, the constitutional protections guaranteed legitimate religious institutions.
The ministers say the center should be investigated as "an exclusive club for powerful officials" who reportedly enjoy low rents and other tax-subsidized benefits in a rooming house "masquerading as a church."
Taxpayers should find the complaint convincing. The C Street Center does not offer the public services, religious teachings and ecclesiastical structure of a church. It also does not have to reveal its source of income to the I.R.S., including what individuals, corporations or political groups might subsidize the place.
Family values, human frailty and forgiveness are the stuff of spiritual counseling that evangelical tenants claim goes on privately inside the C Street Center. All well and good, but that does not make a church of a boarding house nor require a tithing of taxpayers.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HAITI'S FUTILE RACE AGAINST THE RAIN
BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
There were floods on Saturday in Les Cayes, in southwestern Haiti. It rained in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, and again on Saturday and Sunday night, long enough to slick the streets and make a slurry of the dirt and concrete dust. Long enough, too, to give a sense of what will happen across the country in a few weeks, when the real storms start.
Mud will wash down the mountains, and rain will overflow gutters choked with rubble and waste, turning streets into filthy rivers. Life will get even more difficult for more than a million people.
New misery and sickness will drench the displaced survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake like the 16,000 or so whose tents and flimsy shacks fill every available inch of the Champ de Mars, the plaza in Port-au-Prince by the cracked and crumbled National Palace, or the 70,000 who have made a city of the Petionville Club, a nine-hole golf course on a mountainside above the capital.
The rainy season is the hard deadline against which Haiti's government and relief agencies in Port-au-Prince are racing as they try to solve a paralyzing riddle: how to shelter more than a million displaced people in a densely crowded country that has no good place to put them.
The plan after the quake was to move people to camps outside the city. But in a sudden shift last week, officials unveiled a new idea. They would try to send as many people as possible, tens of thousands, back to the shattered streets of Port-au-Prince before the rains come. The prime minister approved it on Friday.
It if it sounds insane, insanity is relative in Haiti now. Consider the choices:
¶Let people stay in filthy, fragile settlements where no one wants to live, and pray when the hurricanes hit.
¶Build sturdy transitional housing in places like Jérémie, in the southwest, that can absorb the capital's overflow.
¶Encourage people to return to neighborhoods that are clogged with rubble and will be for years, where the smell of death persists. In areas like Bel Air and Fort National, near Champ de Mars, people whose homes still stand are sleeping outside, in fear of aftershocks. They were still pulling bodies out of Fort National over the weekend, burning them on the spot.
The first plan is intolerable. The second may come true only several years and hurricanes from now. The third is merely absurd.
Officials believe that if they clear just enough rubble from certain areas of the city and improve drainage in flood-prone areas, they can ease the pressure on the camps and save lives. It makes some sense to keep people near their neighborhoods, holding on to what remains of their lives and livelihoods.
But when what remains is nothing, it's hard to make sense of that idea. Harder still when you realize that the Haitian government and aid agencies are still overwhelmed by the crisis. The government hasn't even figured out where to put the rubble, and doesn't seem to know who is living where.
Official word was that 80 percent of refugees in Champ de Mars were from Turgeau, where debris-clearing is to begin. I talked with about 40 people throughout the Champ de Mars. They were from Bel Air, Fort National, St. Martin. Nobody was from Turgeau. Several knew of the plan and a few had registered for it. But nobody had been told where, when and how they would leave.
Pascal Benjamin, a 29-year-old huddled with family on the edge of the Champ de Mars, is from Bel Air. "I heard they were going to find a place, but they never came to talk to us."
I spoke with Selondieu Marcelus, his brother, Sony, and nephew, Ricardo. They were standing beside a yellow tent marked with sardonic graffiti. "Donnons le pays aux Français," it said. "Let's give the country to the French."
Mr. Marcelus once lived on Rue Macajoux in Bel Air. He lost his wife there. He didn't know where he would end up. As long as the place has work, jobs, electricity, I don't mind, he said. He was unusual. Most of those I met, in Champ de Mars and in the vast blue-and-orange tarpscape blanketing the Petionville Club, said they dearly wanted to go home.
It seems certain that this plan for Haiti's displaced is going to be ineffective, and that people will suffer and die for lack of anything better. The only rational plan for Haiti is to disperse the population of a city that filled to bursting years ago. Making it easier for people to shoehorn back into Port-au-Prince, looking for jobs and space that don't exist, is ludicrous.
It's a sign of the scale and perplexing nature of this disaster and the fix faced by the government that is too slowly confronting it that the ludicrous option is the only one available.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GIVE THE OLYMPICS A HOME
BY CHARLES BANKS-ALTEKRUSE
THE Winter Olympics are over, and while the Vancouver Games had moments of glory, I couldn't help but conclude as the snow refused to fall on the gleaming new walkways of the Olympic Village that rotating Olympic sites does more harm than good. The tradition ought to be replaced by the creation of a permanent site for both the Summer and Winter Games.
The father of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, thought that rotating Olympic sites would promote peace and understanding and open portals into exciting foreign cultures. But the idea of those portals seems quaint in the Internet age. At the same time, the financial problems plaguing the Games corruption, recurring cost overruns, decaying former venues and excessively costly bid campaigns have tarnished the luster of hosting the Olympics. Nonetheless, like lemmings, cities queue up to compete to lose money, only to regret it later.
The poster child of financial calamity remains the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where costs exceeded estimates by some 400 percent, nearly bankrupted the city and took 30 years to pay off. The $14.4 billion cost of the 2004 Athens Games likely contributed to Greece's financial problems today. And of course there were the extravagant 2008 Beijing Games, with a reported price tag of $40 billion or more. A lack of transparency obscures the full cost of China's outlays, but already many Olympic structures have been shuttered. And the 2012 London Olympics are already over budget, while plans for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia call for building most venues from scratch.
Few Olympic cities have fared better. The Olympic committee in Sydney reported that the 2000 Games, widely considered a success, had broken even, but the Australian state auditor estimated a long-term cost of over $2 billion. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics made a profit but only because organizers relied on existing arenas and volunteer labor.
And then there are the political costs of rotating Olympic sites. Boycotts prevented thousands of athletes from competing in the Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles Games, and it's impossible to forget the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Most recently, protesters opposed to the awarding of the 2008 Summer Games to China disrupted the Olympic torch relay around the world.
And while many believe that hosting the Olympics pressures countries into improving their human rights records, a number of Games have shown this isn't true. The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, maintained right up to the Beijing Games that they would "have a good effect for the evolution of China" and be "a great catalyst for change." But in the lead-up to the Games, the government clamped down increasingly on dissidents and restricted travel to Tibet.
The Olympic Games are better than this. And there is one way to restore them to their original glory: create a permanent home for them.
This is not a new proposal. At the end of the 19th century, Greece petitioned to permanently host the Games. The Greeks resurrected the idea in 1980 following the Moscow boycott, and the International Olympic Committee set up a panel to discuss it. In 1984, after the Los Angeles boycott, the United States Senate passed a nonbinding amendment sponsored by Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey and a former Olympic basketball player, calling for future Olympic Games to be held at a permanent site "suitable for insulating the Games" from "unwarranted and disruptive international politics."
That same year, the president and executive director of the United States Olympic Committee suggested a different solution: five permanent sites (one for each ring in the Olympic logo).
There are advantages to this approach, but I think the best solution to end Olympic waste, promote stability and return the focus to the athletes would be to base all Olympic activities in the traditionally neutral Switzerland, which has the geography, weather, expertise and transportation necessary to host the Winter and Summer Games. The Swiss could reduce and then recoup the costs of building and maintaining venues through recurring use and tourism receipts.
In 1980, I was supposed to compete with the United States rowing team in Moscow, but instead, like 466 other American athletes, I stayed home. Eventually we were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in appreciation for our role in the boycott. Thirty years later, I would still rather have earned the Olympic medal that our team was favored to win.
Charles Banks-Altekruse is a former Olympic rower and runs a consulting company.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DOCTORS WITHOUT MORALS
BY LEONARD S. RUBENSTEIN AND STEPHEN N. XENAKIS
AFTER five years of investigation, the Justice Department has released its findings regarding the government lawyers who authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture during the interrogation of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. The report's conclusion, that the lawyers exercised poor judgment but were not guilty of professional misconduct, is questionable at best. Still, the review reflects a commitment to a transparent investigation of professional behavior.
In contrast, the government doctors and psychologists who participated in and authorized the torture of detainees have escaped discipline, accountability or even internal investigation.
It is hardly news that medical staff at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon played a critical role in developing and carrying out torture procedures. Psychologists and at least one doctor designed or recommended coercive interrogation methods including sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation and waterboarding. The military's Behavioral Science Consultation Teams evaluated detainees, consulted their medical records to ascertain vulnerabilities and advised interrogators when to push harder for intelligence information.
Psychologists designed a program for new arrivals at Guantánamo that kept them in isolation to "enhance and exploit" their "disorientation and disorganization." Medical officials monitored interrogations and ordered medical interventions so they could continue even when the detainee was in obvious distress. In one case, an interrogation log obtained by Time magazine shows, a medical corpsman ordered intravenous fluids to be administered to a dehydrated detainee even as loud music was played to deprive him of sleep.
When the C.I.A.'s inspector general challenged these "enhanced interrogation" methods, the agency's Office of Medical Services was brought in to determine, in consultation with the Justice Department, whether the techniques inflicted severe mental pain or suffering, the legal definition of torture. Once again, doctors played a critical role, providing professional opinions that no severe pain or suffering was being inflicted.
According to Justice Department memos released last year, the medical service opined that sleep deprivation up to 180 hours didn't qualify as torture. It determined that confinement in a dark, small space for 18 hours a day was acceptable. It said detainees could be exposed to cold air or hosed down with cold water for up to two-thirds of the time it takes for hypothermia to set in. And it advised that placing a detainee in handcuffs attached by a chain to a ceiling, then forcing him to stand with his feet shackled to a bolt in the floor, "does not result in significant pain for the subject."
The service did allow that waterboarding could be dangerous, and that the experience of feeling unable to breathe is extremely frightening. But it noted that the C.I.A. had limited its use to 12 applications over two sessions within 24 hours, and to five days in any 30-day period. As a result, the lawyers noted the office's "professional judgment that the use of the waterboard on a healthy individual subject to these limitations would be 'medically acceptable.'"
The medical basis for these opinions was nonexistent. The Office of Medical Services cited no studies of individuals who had been subjected to these techniques. Its sources included a wilderness medical manual, the National Institute of Mental Health Web site and guidelines from the World Health Organization.
The only medical source cited by the service was a book by Dr. James Horne, a sleep expert at Loughborough University in Britain; when Dr. Horne learned that his book had been used as a reference, he said the C.I.A. had distorted his findings and misrepresented his research, and that its conclusions on sleep deprivation were nonsense.
Dr. Horne had used healthy volunteers who were subject to no other stresses and could withdraw at any time, while C.I.A. and Pentagon interrogators used a broad array of stresses in combination on the detainees. Sleep deprivation, he said, mixed with pain-inducing positioning, intimidation and a host of other stresses, would probably exhaust the body's defense mechanisms, cause physical collapse and worsen existing illness. And that doesn't begin to acknowledge the dire psychological consequences.
The shabbiness of the medical judgments, though, pales in comparison to the ethical breaches by the doctors and psychologists involved. Health professionals have a responsibility extending well beyond nonparticipation in torture; the historic maxim is, after all, "First do no harm." These health professionals did the polar opposite.
Nevertheless, no agency not the Pentagon, the C.I.A., state licensing boards or professional medical societies has initiated any action to investigate, much less discipline, these individuals. They have ignored the gross and appalling violations by medical personnel. This is an unconscionable disservice to the thousands of ethical doctors and psychologists in the country's service. It is not too late to begin investigations. They should start now.
Leonard S. Rubenstein is a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Stephen N. Xenakis is a psychiatrist and a retired Army brigadier general.
I. THE NEWS
To our utter shame, Eid Milad-un-Nabi, the most auspicious of days on the Muslim calendar, saw the start of violence, death and destruction that wracked Faisalabad and DI Khan. Apart from the question of terrorism that thrives on the ability of man to inflict pain on man, sectarian differences and tensions have many a time shattered our dream of unity in diversity. These ancient wounds have never completely healed and politicians, both religious and otherwise, have a lot to answer for on this count. We note and regard as significant that the Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah, and the Punjab home secretary, Nadeem Hassan Asif, were present in Faisalabad during the worst of the violence and that neither of them attended the meeting convened by the agencies of law and order to discuss how best to deal with it. What are a law minister and a home secretary supposed to do if they are not to support the civil power at times of greatest need? And does this add to the list of questions that need to be answered about the alleged affiliation of some of our politicians to banned or terrorist outfits? With our politicians behaving in this manner, what hope can we have of healing not just historical rifts but the recent wounds that we have suffered at the hands of terrorists?
Terrorists and those inspired by their twisted logic have drunk deep at the fountain of sectarian divide in our country and they are hell-bent on killing any semblance of normalcy that we may be able to sprinkle our lives with. As if we were not horrified and aggrieved enough at what was happening in DI Khan and Faisalabad, in Karak a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a police station, killing five. Elsewhere there are continued attacks on schools. People are desperately attempting to resume normal life in Swat, Dir and other conflict-hit zones. Hotel owners make efforts to persuade tourists to return and music shop owners tentatively restock stores. The aftermath of violence though swirls all around, with the relatives of militants targeted for revenge according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and with the Taliban acting to punish those they accuse of theft or other crime. How is this Hydra-headed monster of violence to be killed? Challenging the hold of obscurantism, tackling development issues and granting people access to opportunity are measures that must be taken. People, on their own, are attempting to find the calm rhythm needed in life and the militants are keeping up their efforts to prevent them from succeeding. The state can play a part in determining the outcome. It must not look on as a spectator. Unity must be promoted at all levels and solutions sought to the troubles that afflict us rather than rubbing salt into wounds old and new. We expect our lawmakers to be unifiers; this is an expectation that Messrs Sanaullah and Asif should pay heed to.
I. THE NEWS
IIt is difficult to imagine anything more embarrassing for a woman in our conservative culture than having to give birth in a rickshaw in the middle of a traffic jam because the police had blocked the roads to allow the passage of a VVIP the president. The incident happened in Quetta during the presidential visit when roads were blocked 'for protocol reasons' for three hours. Our president was 'upset' and ordered (and here we pause to yawn with collective boredom) an inquiry. Our prime minister made light of the incident saying that 'a birth happens when it has to happen' and that the intervention of 'protocol' was immaterial. Reports say that mother and child are both doing well, and that the mother has been awarded Rs500, 000 for her inconvenience, but that is not the point. She was being transported to hospital in the rickshaw because having a baby in a maternity unit is infinitely preferable to having one in the back of a rickshaw which also has no room for the midwife or doctor to work.
The delivery of a child in this manner may be exceptional, but the circumstances that surround it are not. Roads are blocked across the country every day as anybody imagining themselves to be sufficiently important from the president down demand that they be shown 'protocol' and the way cleared before them. Ordinary people are inconvenienced and delayed, and business suffers. Emergency services such as the fire brigade or ambulances are regularly impeded in their progress, with loss of life and property inevitable. Traffic jams caused by 'protocol' may take an hour or more to unstick themselves and the so-called VIPs or VVIPs care little for the chaos they leave in their wake. Perhaps the enquiry that the president has ordered may consider a root-and-branch revision of the whole issue of who is accorded 'protocol' and at what level, as well as doing something practical in terms of managing traffic flows when VVIPs move around.
I. THE NEWS
The three boys were in deadly danger. They had got themselves stuck in the quicksand of one of the many treacherous lagoons there are in Karachi, were sinking and the end seemed in sight. Their cries for help were heard and the local community and the emergency services were quickly on the scene. They improvised a causeway made of branches and leaves laid across the treacherous surface, the boys were rescued unharmed apart from a nasty fright and all was well that ended well. For many children who play in dangerous places across the country the outcome is not so lucky. Many die each year, swallowed up or drowned and there are neither rescuers nor emergency services to save them. Across the country our rescue services are good in parts, patchy at best elsewhere and virtually non-existent in much of the country.
Water rescue is an area where we are particularly deficient, and apart from Punjab there does not seem to be any trained and properly equipped rescue service anywhere. Even the lifeguards on the beaches of Karachi have little by way of equipment to back up their dedication. Our education curriculum has nothing to say about safety when out and about, artificial respiration/resuscitation is not taught to our children and precious few adults have any knowledge of it either. This needs to change. Such teaching encourages a sense of social responsibility in the young. Its importance in these irresponsible times is immense.
I. THE NEWS
ISRAEL AS A ROGUE STATE
Overwhelming evidence has now emerged that Israel's notorious secret service Mossad assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhough of the Palestinian-Islamist group Hamas in Dubai on January 20. Closed-circuit television footage of the operation, available at www.youtube.com, leaves little room for doubt of Mossad's involvement.
According to the London Sunday Times, the plot was approved by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, no less. Mossad is believed to have 48-50 members in assassination teams called Kidon, in addition to 100 field agents termed Katsa. The criminality of al-Mabhough's killing stands compounded by the use of forged passports of British, Irish, French and German citizens of dual nationality living in Israel. These included one diplomatic passport.
Mossad's cold-blooded murder of an unarmed man is patently illegal and indefensible. Israel has recklessly used such illegal means to the point of jeopardising its intelligence-sharing and diplomatic relations with friendly countries. In the 1980s, the UK government shut down Mossad's British operations after it forged British passports. But Mossad habitually practises such means in many countries, barring the US.
The west's reaction to the assassination has been mild and timid, although it flagrantly breaches international law, besides elementary norms of civilised conduct. The British foreign secretary's "outrage" was targeted more at the forgery of British passports than at al-Mabhough's murder, surely an incomparably greater offence.
If an Iranian agency had been implicated in murdering an Iranian resistance member, an emergency UN Security Council meeting would have been convened, and stiff sanctions imposed. Israel must be censured for al-Mabhough's assassination. It's legitimate for Mossad to gather intelligence, but lawful states don't assassinate their opponents.
Israel has long used assassination as state policy, and killed numerous opponents from Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah most famously, Hezbollah's Abbas al-Masawi in the early 1990s, and Hamas's wheelchair-bound, nearly blind, quadriplegic Sheikh Yassin in 2004.
The world must tell Israel that this won't be tolerated. Not only are non-judicial executions morally repugnant. They will eventually jeopardise the safety of western and Israeli citizens. Assassinations have often been used by colonial governments to decapitate liberation movements. But they at best cause a temporary setback. Soon, new leaders or more militant organisations emerge.
So far, Hamas has confined its anti-Israeli activities to Israeli-Palestinian soil. If Mossad continues to target its leaders on foreign soil, then Hamas could also reciprocate, leading to more violence and mayhem.
Mossad is generally lionised in the media as a super-efficient, flawlessly-run agency. But Mossad has often bungled. In 1973, it killed a Moroccan waiter in Norway, mistaking him for a Palestinian guerilla. In 1997, it tried to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Jordan by spraying nerve toxin into his ear, but failed; its agents took shelter in Israel's embassy and the US forced Israel to produce the antidote for the poison.
In 2004, New Zealand imposed sanctions on Israel after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for six months for trying to obtain false passports one in the name of a quadriplegic man who had been unable to speak for years.
Mossad has had some big successes, as in kidnapping nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu from Rome (1986), and in killing a Canadian ballistics expert, Gerald Bull, in Brussels (1990). Israel considered killing Vanunu too, but eventually jailed him for 18 years after a secret trial. Its successes are often achieved repulsively and at a high cost. Al-Mabhough was attacked with a stun-gun, tortured and smothered, besides being shot.
His assassination follows Israel's ruthless policy of consolidating its occupation, expanding illegal settlements, and tightening its economic hold over Palestinians in defiance of Security Council resolutions and global opinion.
Israel's daily infliction of pain and humiliation on the Palestinians, its policy of pauperising them, and controlling their physical movement, makes classical colonialism look like a picnic. No Palestinian may go to his field, cross a village, or earn a living without the Israeli state's permission.
Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into a wretched, open-air prison. People's movement in the West Bank is severely regulated through 700-900 checkpoints, barriers and closures (state-imposed bandhs) as many as 100 a year.
The 20-kilometre drive between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the capital of non-sovereign Palestine, takes Israelis 20 minutes. A Palestinian could take between two hours and forever. Scores of Palestinian women, stuck at barriers and denied ambulances, are forced to give birth without medical attention.
Israel imposed the unjust 1992 Oslo accords on the compromised Yasser Arafat leadership, but reneged on them. Arafat and his protégé Mahmoud Abbas now Palestine Authority president were systematically isolated and weakened. Abbas's writ doesn't extend to Gaza, leave alone East Jerusalem, Palestine's historic capital. The PLO recognised Israel and agreed to keep only 22 per cent of Palestine's original area. But that wasn't generous enough for Israel, which thieved yet more land and water from the Palestinians.
Successive US governments have coddled Israel, protected it from sanctions despite violations of UN resolutions, and pumped huge economic and military aid equivalent to $1,000 for each citizen. President Bush was particularly indulgent and all but legitimised illegal settlements. He even denied the Palestinian refugees uprooted by the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) their right of return a fundamental international right.
President Barack Obama raised hope by reiterating his support for talks for an independent Palestine in his Cairo University address last June. But Obama hasn't reined in Israel's rogue-like regime. Instead he has dropped US insistence on freezing settlements. Other western powers like France periodically make the right noises, but don't act effectively.
Israel is trying hard to gain diplomatic space by courting small and weak states in Africa and Asia. It has also built a strong military-supply and intelligence-sharing relationship with India. India, which long advocated an independent Palestine, now cravenly sides with Israel and didn't even unequivocally condemn the 2008 invasion of Gaza, for which Israel stands indicted by the UN's Goldstone Report.
Israel cynically exploits India's fear of terrorism by offering anti-terrorism expertise and equipment. India is now Israel's biggest weapons customer and is buying equipment including sophisticated anti-missile systems. Israel often jumps the military bidding process by setting up joint ventures with India's public sector arms procedures.
This unhealthy relationship is unbecoming of an emerging power with a history of non-alignment. Israel's roguish conduct is one of the greatest barriers to peace in West Asia. The fear of Israeli power is used by countries like Iran to escalate uranium enrichment and crack down upon domestic dissidents.
Hundreds of Iranian dissidents have been rounded up for protests against the recent allegedly rigged presidential elections and for their sympathies for domestic reformists. Some are falsely charged with spying, which attracts the death sentence.
One such Iranian is social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh, who was married to an Indian and has visited South Asia many times. (For more information, visit www.freekian09.com.)
The more Israel acts like a rogue, the more it will encourage the persecution of people like Tajbakhsh, and inflame anti-west sentiment in the Arab world, fuelling turmoil, unrest and violence.
A settlement of the Palestinian question remains a precondition for a real breakthrough in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Muslim world. This can only happen if Israel is tamed, effectively delegitimised as a law-abiding state, and punished instead of being indulged.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
WHY BANK INTEREST REMAINS HIGH
Today there is an issue of both the availability of adequate credit on a timely basis from the banking system and at a price that makes industrial operations viable. While the State Bank of Pakistan has been following what is essentially a tight monetary policy to tackle inflation, it has been gingerly lowering the discount rate in anticipation of a further narrowing of the current account deficit and a slowing down of inflation. It's been doing so notwithstanding worries about inflation from the firming up of oil and commodity prices, inflationary expectations of economic actors in the domestic market and the sharp revisions in electricity and gas tariffs.
However, one common criticism of banks in Pakistan is that they charge high interest rates on their lending not simply because of the State Bank's tight monetary policy, but because of their enormous spreads - the difference between the interest rate banks pay to depositors and the interest they charge on their loans from these depositor funds. The current spread is as wide as 7.5 per cent, a size not seen in more competitive economies. It is argued that such a spread not only reduces the effectiveness of monetary policy it also makes a mockery of it while setting back prospects of reviving industrial growth. This article attempts to explain why banking spreads are high and why changes in the SBP discount rate do not get fully passed onto borrowers.
Following the operational death of PICIC, IDBP and NDFC, and in the absence of robust bond and equity markets, the task of providing long-term credit for financing greenfield projects or major expansions of existing industrial capacities became, by default, that of the commercial banks. These institutions were neither equipped nor re-tooled for such a role. One of the expectations of the financial sector reforms was that under the new financial architecture credit would not only be allocated efficiently but also extended at interest rates priced on the basis of market competition. None of this really happened in the form and at the pace envisaged, although banks continued to play a dominant role in the financial system.
The experience to date is that commercial banks tend to prefer greater flexibility in managing their assets and liabilities. There has been an increase in liquidity from the growth in deposits in recent years (although deposit growth has lowered in the last two years or so). However, there has been a growing portfolio of non-performing loans, as a result of the slowing down of the economy, and the rapid widening of the fiscal deficit with the seemingly never ending appetite of government for debt (an increase in excess of Rs1 trillion in just 18 months) and for financing its huge commodity operations- in excess of Rs350 billion for the purchase, storage and trading of wheat, rice and now sugar. Such an environment has made banks risk averse. They favour lending to the sovereign and holding government securities instead of extending credit to the private sector. These developments are understandable since the economic situation is uncertain and due to the prediction that the economy will barely grow by 3 Per cent. Moreover, pressure was also brought to bear on banks by the government to lend to the power sector and to all the key players in the energy sector to help reduce the size of the circular debt problem. With government agencies accessing funds at lower rates of interest and crowding out the private sector from the credit market, industry has to brace itself to pay a higher cost for credit facilities.
For the interest rate market to react efficiently and quickly to changes in the SBP discount rate depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of the regulatory system, the extent of competition between the financial institutions and the range of financial instruments and products on offer. A recent Chicago University paper has argued that even in a developed financial market like the UK the interest rate response of the financial systems to changes in the central bank's policy rate tends to be weaker than hope for. It is found that the reduction in the policy rate has not been fully passed onto the borrower despite the markets having financial depth.
In our case, the SBP's Prudential Regulations, designed with the laudable objective of ensuring the strength, stability and smooth functioning of the financial system also tend to keep interest rates on lending high. Banks are required to preserve a cash reserve of 7 per cent of their liabilities/deposits and make investments in approved securities, largely government instruments, under the Statutory Liquidity Reserve Requirement (SLRR) that presently stands at 9 per cent of a bank's liabilities. Then there is the State Bank's requirement pertaining to the capital adequacy ratio that the banks are required to maintain, which gives a zero weightage to credit extended to even blue chip companies - in other words disincentivising lending to the private sector. Next are the Prudential Regulations covering recognition of income, quality of assets allowable as collateral, provisioning against poorly performing loans, overall and single borrower exposure, a bank's willingness to take on risk and the risk premium that it would be looking for based on its assessment of the credit worthiness of the borrower influence lending decisions in terms of who to lend to and the State Bank regulation that savings account holders be given a minimum interest of 5 per cent per annum. All these factors tend to push up the cost of banking operations.
Finally, the legal and procedural constraints to the collection of debts in our economic and political environment and the difficulties of foreclosure in the case of defaults and the government's borrowings over and above the Statutory Liquidity Reserve Requirement also keeps the interest rates high for the private sector.
In this writer's view, however, despite fears of lack of adequate volumes of credit and the continuingly high cost of credit (in nominal, and not so in real, terms), the issues related to the availability and price of energy are more important for maintaining the competitiveness of the domestic manufacturing sector industry and for keeping the wheels of industry running.
The writer is a former finance minister of Punjab. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh, on January 3, not only bucked an apparently prevalent trend in the Muslim world, but also dismissed a stereotype: Islam's incompatibility with secular democracy. By ordering a ban on the abuse of religion for political purposes, the court paved the way for a secular Bangladesh as envisaged in the constitution framed by the country's founding fathers back in 1972.
Bangladesh was once East Pakistan, a province that commanded numerical majority in Pakistan. From the point of view of the feudalist ruling elite from Punjab, East Pakistan was swayed by dangerous ideas such as socialism, anti-imperialism and secularism. Therefore, the feudal elite, with the Bengali majority in mind, feared democracy, as it would not merely put an end to their rule, but would have caused great damage to feudalism itself. Also, the two parts could have been held together through democracy, but that would have endangered the rule of the feudal lords. Instead, to justify their continued role, they employed religion to cement the provinces together. However, they were unable to stem democratic aspirations.
In 1968 a mass movement unified both wings of the country and humbled the first military dictator. The 1970 general election resulted in a simple majority for the Awami League from East Pakistan. However, the election results were invalidated and a military operation was launched. East Pakistan decided to resist. While Washington lavishly backed the military operation launched from West Pakistan, India and the USSR, for their own reasons, egged on liberation forces in East Pakistan. The struggle resulted in the formation of Bangladesh.
Within a year's time, Bangladesh framed its constitution on four cardinal principles: secularism, nationalism, socialism and democracy. Feudalism was abolished. Bangladesh, after Turkey and Tunis, emerged as the third major Muslim country to officially embrace secularism. The nascent country oriented its foreign policy toward the USSR.
The fact that the Soviets commanded great influence in the newly formed country annoyed Washington and a military coup was engineered. Sheikh Mujib, along with his family, was assassinated on August 15, 1975. His daughters Rehana and Hasina were the only members of Mujib's family to have survived because they were abroad at that time.
Sheikh Mujib's assassination triggered a series of coups and counter-coups, from August 15 to November 7, 1975. Sheikh Mujib's successor, Moshtaque Khondkar, in the proclamation of martial law issued on August 20, 1975, announced Islamisation in Bangladesh.
Later, Mushtaque handed over the presidency to Chief Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem, who was also the chief martial law administrator. Consolidating his position through martial law proclamations, Sayem deleted secularism from the country's constitution. Religion became one of the principles of state policy. Similarly, Bangali nationalism was replaced with Bangladeshi nationalism. The constitutional ban on religion-based politics was also lifted, allowing Jamaat-e-Islami and other theocratic parties to resume their political activities.
Although it is hardly mentioned in official history of that period, the sepoy rebellion on November 7, 1975 deserves a special mention. Led by Jatyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), through its military wing Biplobi Gono Bahini (Revolutionary People's Army), the sepoys mutinied and captured state power. Inspired by a Stalinist two-stage theory of revolution, JSD leadership offered power to the then military chief, General Zia who emerged as the de facto ruler of the country. According to their Stalinist theory, Ziaur Rehman represented the progressive national bourgeoisie, the force that was needed to develop the country before the working class could take power and build socialism.
Zia's first act was to pay a visit to the US embassy in Dacca and to come to an understanding with Washington. Colonel Abu Tahir, one of the leaders of the sepoy rebellion, was hanged on July 21, 1976 and a process was initiated to reverse the Mujib era policies. Among the first casualties was the country's secular identity. The US-backed scoundrels invoked the mantle of religion to justify their illegal regime.
Sayem handed over his office, in the national interest, to Zia on November 26, 1976. Ziaur Rehman indemnified his illegal takeover of power as well as all other events that took place between August 15, 1975 and April 9, 1979, by passing the fifth amendment to the constitution through a parliament resembling Pakistan's National Assembly elected in 1985. This amendment ratified hundreds of martial law proclamations including de-secularisation of the constitution.
After Ziaur Rehman's assassination at the hands of junior army officers, General Ershad took over, declaring martial law on March 24, 1982. Having suspended the constitution, Ershad followed in Zia's footsteps. He also passed the seventh amendment to the constitution in 1986 to indemnify his takeover and subsequent actions. Through the eighth amendment (sounds familiar to Pakistani ears!), Ershad pushed the state further onto the path of Islamisation by making Islam the state religion.
However, a militant democratic movement caught hold of the country in the late 80s. The military rule came to an end and democracy was restored in 1991. Five years later the Awami League came to power again and scrapped the Indemnity Ordinance, paving the way for the trial of Mujib's killers. Five of them were hanged on January 7.
In a landmark verdict in 2005, the high court declared the fifth amendment to the constitution illegal. The court observed: Secularism means both religious tolerance as well as religious freedom. The state must not be seen to favour any particular religion, rather, it should ensure protection to the followers of all faiths without any discrimination, including even to an atheist.
It condemned the military's efforts to use the constitution in a bid to transform the secular Bangladesh into a theocracy. The Bangladesh National Party (BNP), led by Ziaur Rehman's widow Khalida Zia, challenged the ruling and a stay was granted. On January 3, the stay was vacated.
The court's lifting of the stay brings Article 38 back into force. This article bans the use of religion or the pursuit of communal activities. As a result, dozens of Islamic political parties can no longer campaign under the banner of religion and most likely they will be forced to drop religious references from their names.
During the Cold War any state that attempted to embrace democracy and secularism in the Muslim world was subjected to imperialist subversion. Almost anywhere secular nationalist or left forces were decimated, fundamentalists came to the helm. Ironically, the two Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, when democratised by an invading empire, were provided with constitutions replete with religious references. Yet before the US-imposed democracy, Iraq was a secular country.
In an age when fundamentalism is brewing, the Bangladeshi Supreme Court's decision is very important and this example, if allowed to flower, may provide secularism with a chance to root itself in the Muslim world.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Sweden. Email: mfsulehria@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
One of the drawbacks to having myself identified as a 'social worker' in my byline is that it tempts my readership into a number of assumptions. Scarcely a day goes by without me getting an email from a man or woman attaching their CV and offering me their services. Never a week goes by without at least one request for help with funding and hardly a month passes without a request that I visit this-that-or-the-other struggling NGO and scatter them with Lucky Dust. The vast majority of these very polite beggars at my inbox are replied to equally politely in the negative but very occasionally I am tempted by a particularly moving missive and follow them up.
One such follow-up happened in August 2007 when I met a young man who wanted advice on the setting up of a small education-oriented NGO. He was not looking for anything other than a chance to pick my brains, and I was happy to let him do so. I wished him luck and promised him that if he ever did get the project off the ground I would pay it a visit. That promise is now redeemed (albeit two-and-a-half years late but then I am a very busy man) and last Sunday I was given a masterclass in achievement in the face of adversity.
The Tauseef Memorial School was set up by a group of young friends in memory of one of their number who died young. There is nothing apart from a small signboard to indicate its location in Madina Colony of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, where I was met by the principal who let me into the tiny room that serves, astonishingly, as a school. Sabieh told me that he and his friends had gone from door to door in this poor neighbourhood asking families if they would send their children to school the majority of the children work and are an essential part of the family's income and regular school hours do not fit their working day if one was set up in the evenings. Yes, said some, and they started two years ago on the terrace of the house where they now rent a single room. Today they have 30 students, almost equally split between boys and girls, and a waiting list for admissions. There are three unpaid teachers who deliver a basic primary education. Funding comes from the pockets of those who set up the school, small individual donations and a fifty-rupee admission fee shoestring education.
As we sat on the floor a trickle of children started to arrive. Sunday was their results day and they all looked very smart in the freshly pressed uniforms. Curious, I asked what their families worked at there were two barbers, several domestic cleaners, a father who taught in a madrassah, a tailor and a food vendor. The girls in the group all confirmed that they had no previous education. They were Seraiki speakers, and representative of the diversity of the area they live in which appears to be a model of peaceful coexistence in a city wracked by violence. Shias and Sunnis in the area manage to get along; there are both Deoband and Barelvi mosques and a Christian church close by, and no reports of communal or sectarian tension.
Gradually the room filled until there were nearly thirty of us, students as well as other members of the group that had set up the school. They were all in their early to mid-twenties, none of them from a wealthy background but all either pursuing or having completed higher education. They spoke of their commitment and their hopes for the future of their tiny non-formal school. Such is the demand that they are now looking for a second room to hold classes, but they are clearly short of money and room-rental, even from a sympathetic landlord, is not cheap. Some of their students may go into formal education, but for most this will be all the education they ever get but they will leave able to read and write to class 2 level, have some basic English and a passing knowledge of computers and information technology. It is not all work and no play the students get occasional outings to parks and the zoo and they recently went to the PAF museum; all things that they would have been unlikely to do had they been left to their own devices or the empty pockets of their parents.
The young men and women who set up this tiny school did so for no other reason than they saw a niche need that they could fill. They had no major donors and still don't. Their aspirations are realistic, they have limited their goals to ones they can achieve and go about their work with little thought of profit or recognition beyond the occasional visiting gora. The children were obviously happy, they were confident and outgoing and excited at the prospect of going off to the safari park in the afternoon for an alfresco prize-giving. I wished them luck as I said my goodbyes and went off for a lunch in Zamzama that cost as much as it would have cost to sew thirty school uniforms.
It is all too easy to lose sight of small successes like the Tauseef Memorial School, and the Pakistan Youth Organisation which is the group of friends who set it up. It is all too easy to overlook the good that is getting done all around us by often quietly remarkable men and women who seek no fame or wealth for themselves. We sometimes despair at the so-called moral decay of the younger generation and are all of us beholden to a media that mostly has bad news to tell us. But there is good news out there as well, and for the children of Madina Colony in Gulshan-e-Iqbal it is that a small group of men and women banded together and decided to offer them an education. The lesson for me is to occasionally, just occasionally, say 'yes' to the beggars haunting my inbox.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
ANOTHER FAILED COUP
The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service
Under normal conditions, the appointment of Khwaja Sharif to the Supreme Court and of Saqib Nisar as chief justice of the Lahore High Court would hardly have produced a stir. Both judges possess the requisite qualifications and enjoy a well-deserved reputation for honesty and independence. But the circumstances under which the presidential announcement was made were anything but ordinary. Therefore, not surprisingly, the move was immediately seen as the first step in a wider plot to pack the superior judiciary with handpicked judges.
Zardari's purpose in notifying the appointment was to assert absolute power to make appointments to the higher judiciary, if necessary contrary to the recommendations of the Supreme Court chief justice. If Zardari's decision had been implemented, his second move would have been to fill the vacancies in the Lahore and Sindh High Courts, a total of about 70, mostly with PPP loyalists who could be counted upon to give judgments favourable to the party.
After these appointments, the next step as Gilani blurted out in the National Assembly on Feb 15 and as Zardari said at a meeting with PPP parliamentarians that evening would likely have been to ask parliament to approve the government's decision last March on the restoration of the judges dismissed by Musharraf. With the support of the PPP's coalition partners, this endorsement would have been denied, giving Zardari the political justification to defy the NRO verdict or so he seems to have calculated.
This ill-conceived and half-baked scheme failed because of prompt action by the Supreme Court to suspend the presidential notification, the refusal of Saqib Nisar to take oath under it and massive rejection by the lawyers, the media and the civil society. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has likened the situation created by Zardari's machinations to Musharraf's coup of November 2007 in which the higher courts were purged of "undesirable" judges.
It is a matter of relief that a full-blown confrontation was averted by last-minute backtracking by the government in the face of overwhelming legal and public opinion. But that is hardly a reason for rejoicing. Once again, as in the crisis created last March by Zardari's dismissal of the Punjab chief minister, it has become evident that the highest consideration that guides this government's actions and policies is to protect Zardari from legal process. All else the Constitution, the norms of good governance, even the preservation of the democratic order is subordinated to this supreme objective. The destiny of 180 million Pakistanis has been put at stake to save one person who is not just tainted, but tarred from head to foot, with corruption charges.
Of all the arguments which were given by the government for refusing to accept the recommendations of the chief justice, the most preposterous was the contention that the definition of "consultation" under Article 260 which expressly excludes judicial appointments from the general rule that the president is not bound by advice given to him was inserted by a military dictator. This reasoning ignores the basic principle that the courts do not have the power to selectively discard some constitutional provisions simply because their author was a discredited military dictator.
The government's attempt to make appointments to the judiciary in disregard of the constitutional provisions shows how much it is out of touch with the new political realities and public opinion. Vital national decisions continue to be taken not by the duly constituted government but by Zardari and a small coterie of his advisers. Our "sovereign" parliament has little say. Its main function is to serve as a rubberstamp for the presidency, much as it did under Musharraf.
This is not, of course, the first time that a tiny cabal in the Presidency took the country to the edge of the precipice only to save their jobs and that of their boss. They did it in March last year on the question of the restoration of the judges. They did it again in October when they pushed the NRO under the most dubious circumstances through the National Assembly's Law Committee, only to back down later under pressure from an outraged public opinion.
Once again, Gilani, who is the head of government, was reduced to the position of Zardari's stooge. This is even worse than under Musharraf. Shaukat Aziz was a sidekick of his boss. Gilani acts as a minion of his. As Gilani himself told reporters on Feb 14, it was his job to "ultimately" give advice on the appointment of judges. But he left the matter to others (Babar Awan and company), saying it was "basically" the work of experts from the ministry of law and justice. Against his better judgment, Gilani advised Zardari to overrule the recommendations of the chief justice. Therefore, he bears full responsibility for the resulting mess.
A prime minister is supposed to exercise his own judgment in taking decisions, and then take responsibility for them. He cannot pass the buck to those who are subordinate to him. It was not, of course, the first time that Gilani "disagreed with himself." He did it last March in the self-created crisis over the dismissal of the Punjab government. In that imbroglio, Gilani formally advised Zardari to declare emergency in the province and then let it be known through the press that he had actually been against taking this step.
Again, on the question of obtaining parliamentary approval for the NRO, Gilani was bypassed. He later tried to explain lamely and falsely that the government had sent the ordinance to parliament for approval only because of the Supreme Court's orders. Actually, as everyone knows, the orders had come from Zardari.
Gilani's inability or unwillingness to perform the role of prime minister means that what should be the most vital organ of state in a parliamentary democracy is not functioning according to the Constitution. It is no wonder that foreign governments do not take him seriously. The most glaring example is the insistence of the European Union that our side at the Pakistan-EU Summit next April must be led by Zardari, not Gilani, as our government has decided.
The country was barely able to weather three major confrontations in one year: over the restoration of the judiciary, the annulment of the NRO and appointments to the Supreme Court and High Courts. But the mother of all crises over the enforcement of the NRO judgment will be coming soon. The government, under Zardari's instructions, has been stalling in implementing the Supreme Court's decision on reopening the case before Swiss courts. Gilani's reported offer to withdraw accountability cases against Nawaz Sharif if he does not press the government on the Swiss case confirms what the people have known all along that our political class treats taxpayers' money as spoils to be divided between themselves.
Zardari's unsuccessful attempt last March to eliminate his political rivals by toppling the Punjab government and disqualifying the Sharif brothers was his first failed coup. This month's aborted move to cripple the country's newly independent judiciary and pack it with politically connected and subservient judges was his second. Between the first and second coups, there was also a failed mini-coup when the government rammed the NRO through a parliamentary committee in October, but failed to have it passed by parliament.
Now another crisis looms as Zardari defies the Supreme Court's judgment on the NRO. We need a strong and steady pair of hands to steer it through the coming storm. Gilani has to decide whether he wants to serve the country or Zardari. It is to be hoped that he will choose the country. But if Gilani does not rise to the occasion, others will step in. This happened in March last year. It was not Gilani but Kayani who defused the crisis then. If Gilani fails again, the judgment of history will be very harsh to him.
I. THE NEWS
DISSENTING NOTE EDUCATION FOR ALL
DR MASOODA BANO
The recently launched Global Monitoring Report (GMR) - the annual report produced by UNESCO to evaluate the status of education for all across the world - has again pushed the governments in developing countries and the western donor countries to make higher financial allocations to ensure quality education for all.
The report states concerns over many issues such as the reduction in aid flow to many African countries that has affected their education budgets, the quality of education provided in private schools in developing countries and the utilisation of resources to name a few. The report notes that currently 72 million children receive no education at all. This shows that despite the progress in the last decade due to which 33 million children are said to have been brought into the education system, the challenge ahead is a daunting one. With the current trends, the report fears that 56 million children will be still out of schools by 2015. The report also presents financial estimates for meeting Education for All goals by 2015, placing the total amount required for this purpose at $16 billion. Though the figure seems high, in the view of the report's lead author, they are still manageable if we keep in mind that this is only 2 per cent of the amount the UK and the US governments invested to rescue four major banks hit by the financial crisis.
The dilemma, however, is that problems won't be solved even if more resources are made available, as equally important issue is the need to ensure better utilisation of resources that are already available. The report notes concerns with regard to inefficient utilisation of aid resources disbursed for education. Apart from the fact that donor countries often create an image of giving more aid than the actuality, the report notes serious concerns with the way donors disburse and manage aid flows to education.
Also, it rightly mentions concerns about the quality of education provided in state schools in many developing countries, noting that meeting the Education for All targets requires not just enrolling more children into schools, but also ensuring that those who do go to school gain some meaningful education. This, right now, is not the case in many state schools in the developing countries.
The Fast Track Initiative (FTI), a multilateral donor fund set up to address global education challenges also received serious critique in the report. The report puts pressures on the donors to follow the Paris Declaration and better align and harmonise their funding to education. Thus, in a nutshell, while presenting a vision as to how higher commitment by governments around the world can ensure education for all by 2015, the report reminds about the severity of the challenge if the right kind of political commitment is not provided for it.
This severity of the challenge has led some reviewers, for instance, The Economist, to argue that the most suitable option might be to push for private schools to cater to the poor. This argument draws on increasing number of studies, which show that even the poor in many developing countries are willing to pay for education of their children if private schools are available. However, such conclusions are also quite hasty as other studies show that while private schools might be able to cater to the poor, the quality of education provided in such schools is very low. Such a system in the long term will only perpetuate existing class structures, as people will be able to attend only those private schools that will match their income level. Also, the absolute poor will never be able to pay for schooling of their children.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: email@example.com
SALMAN REPRESENTS PAKISTAN WELL
THE outcome of talks between the Foreign Secretaries of Pakistan and India was extremely disappointing as there was no progress on core disputes and just a vague promise to keep in contact. It was expected from the very beginning as New Delhi only wanted to score points in the international community by showing that it was willing to enter into talks with Pakistan for peace and security yet clearly lacking sincerity of purpose to address the core issues which have bedevilled relations between the two neighbouring countries.This was a futile exercise on the part of India as it failed in point scoring.
However one must pay compliments to the soft-spoken Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir for his superb performance and the way he represented Pakistan at the talks. Salman Bashir having a rich and varied international diplomatic experience was quite polite but firm, very articulate, argumentative and forcefully presented Pakistan's point of view. He made it clear to the Indian side that unstructured talks for the sake of talks would not produce any long lasting results and it was crucial that India agreed to resumption of Composite Dialgue to move forward. Without mincing words Salman Bashir made it clear to India that Kashmir is an international issue since the passage of the UN Security Council Resolutions on it in 1948. He was also justified to his express disappointment at New Delhi's narrow focus to combat militancy and telling the hosts that Islamabad does not believe India should lecture Pakistan to do this or that. The message from the top Pakistani diplomat was clear and categorical that Islamabad would not get any dictation and if New Delhi was sincere in
improvement in relations it need to enter into result oriented and meaningful dialogue. It was clear from the talks that the Indian attitude was untenable and it sticked to its one point agenda of terrorism while Pakistan followed the right stand that the issue of terrorism should not be allowed to hold talks hostage. At the press conference on the Indian soil, Salman Bashir faced hostile questions from the Indian media and one must appreciate him for boldly and patiently dealing with them without getting offended, which the Indians wanted. This is how a diplomat holding the reign of the Foreign Office should act.
In our view young diplomats can learn a lot from the way the Foreign Secretary represented Pakistan and conducted parleys in a hostile and difficult environment and in our view he crossed back the Wagah border with Pakistani flag and his own head high.
IS ANP COMING OUT IN ITS TRUE COLOURS?
RULING Awami National Party (ANP) in the NWFP once again has come out with a controvercial statement that Urdu was not a national language. Senior Minister Bashir Bilour in remarks in the Provincial Assembly made the surprising remarks that infuriated opposition members who walked out of the House to register their strong resentment over this uncalled-for statement.
Article 251 of the Constitution states that "The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day". The 1973 Constitution was signed among others by late Khan Abdul Wali Khan and the senior NWFP Minister should have therefore thought twice before uttering words against the national language. The remarks were a clear violation of the Constitution of Pakistan and led to pandemonium with treasury and opposition members exchanging harsh words. Here one may recall that in December, 2009 another senior leader of the Party Haji Adeel had spoken out against the Islamic character of the Pakistani State. Coming out of an official Christmas celebration, Haji Adeel said that Pakistan was meant to be a secular State and therefore the world "Islamic" be deleted. These remarks angered all and sundry and there were country-wide condemnations. It appears that the ANP is coming out in its true colours of the past and has again started making provocative demands. One had expected that the party might have learnt lessons from its mistakes of the past when it was repeatedly rejected by the masses in the NWFP. Of late the party had adopted a balanced policy and it was appreciated by the people and was voted to power. Though it failed to emerge as a single largest party in the Provincial Assembly yet it formed the Government in coalition with the PPP. It would be advisable for the Party leadership to recognize the ground realities and should not make such demands, which had been rejected by the people in the past. If it continued with such controvercial statements it would have to face the music from various quarters. Pakistan came into being as an Islamic State and Urdu is a national language spoken and understood in all parts of the country. We hope that the ANP leadership is not going to revive its old past, avoid raising issues already settled and play a constructive role in national politics for the greater good of the country.
REGI'S LINKS WITH CIA
JUNDULLAH leader Abolmalik Regi who was captured a few days back at the Iranian Port city of Bandar Abbas has confessed his group's extensive links with CIA.
Earlier accusing fingers were being raised indirectly by some elements in Iran that the group leader was based in Pakistan and carrying out activities from our soil.
After his confession over an Iranian news channel, the doubts by some Iranians about Pakistan have been removed. Pakistan from the outset had been denying that Regi was ever based in Pakistan. Pakistan cannot think of endangering the security and sovereignty of the brotherly neighbouring country of Iran and in no way can allow its soil to be used against it. Jundullah had also carried out acts of terrorism in Pakistan and in this background how can Pakistan help it to carry out activities in Iran. Jundullah leaders are now saying that Pakistani intelligence helped in Regi's arrest and this should serve to remove misunderstanding, if any, in Iran. Regi in his statement also admitted that he met CIA agents who assured him of US assistance to carryout terrorist activities inside Iran. One may say it is not only Regi but other elements in the region also who have some sorts of links with CIA and carry out acts of terrorism in the region. We hope the Iranian authorities would succeed in getting full details from the detained Jundullah leader and that would remove their misperceptions about Pakistan.
PAK-INDIA TALKS MADE NO PROGRESS
M ASHRAF MIRZA
The much hyped talks between foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India have ended without any headway. The only positive outcome of the talks is that the two officials have agreed to continue their contact. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told mediamen at Wagah (Lahore) on his return from India after the talks that the Indian perception about Pakistan is that Islamabad is responsible for all its problems. He was quite categorical about uselessness of the unstructured 'talks for the sake of talks'. He, however, noted that it's crucial that India should agree to the resumption of composite dialogue to move forward and to improve the environment between the two countries.
Non-realisation of any result in the Pak-India talks has virtually become a tradition of the interaction between the two south asian nuclear states. History bears a witness to the fact that their talks have seldom produced result. The only positive outcome of the Pak-India dialogue was, however, the conclusion of the Indus Basin Water Treaty signed by Ayub Khan and Pandit Nehru under the patronage of the World Bank. Series of other talks held between the two countries over the past decades have remained inconclusive with practically no result despite being structured. The issue, therefore, is not whether the talks are structured or unstructured. The real issue is that of the Indian mindset that has hitherto remained the major impediment in the way of talks to produce result. It's a matter of record that India has never entered the dialogue with Pakistan with seriousness and sincerity. It always look for excuses, howsoever, lame ones to derail the dialogue process right from the beginning. Pandit Nehru had raised flimsy pretexts to avoid talks. And his followers have religiously followed him not to resolve any of the outstanding issues between the two countries. He was rather the main player to sour the relations between the two countries. Even today in the volatile situation in the south asian region, it easily finds the excuse to suspend the talks. Mumbai attack is the latest incident that has become the villain now. It's precisely for this reason that series of talks between the two countries have ended midway on one count or the other in the past.
Indian perception that Pakistan is responsible for its problems is not only new but is also untenable. It's a simple ruse. On the contrary, history bears testimony that it's India that has always created problems for Pakistan. India is not interested in talks with Pakistan nor does it want to establish good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, India doesn't have good relations with any of its neighbours. A cursory look at the regional
history reveals that it's India that not only persisted with an atmosphere of tension, confrontation and conflict with Pakistan, but also imposed wars on her and dismembered its eastern limb through military aggression, besides occupying Srinagar illegally and immorally. Now it's pumping funds and weapons into Balochistan to destabilize Pakistan. India is also supporting Pakistani Taliban with money and arms to undermine Pakistan's security and stability. It's really strange that New Delhi still has the audacity to blame Pakistan for its problems.
The truth is that India herself is responsible for its woes. Its mindset of dominating the region is the real problem. Once it learns to live in peace with its neighbours, all its problems will automatically vanish. Ironically, the Foreign Secretary has again emphasized the need for resumption of the Pak-India composite dialogue process. It's disgusting to note that all our leaders are virtually begging India and the United States for resumption of the composite dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi. True that it may be
part of diplomacy to continue to hammer on the issue, but the tone and tenor of our leaders on this count has often been sickening. If India doesn't want to continue the composite dialogue, there ought to be no anxiety on our part. By the way what has the composite dialogue process produced over the past five
years? It has failed to resolve any of the eight issues identified by the two countries for discussion and resolution. India is rather creating new issues.
The core issue of Kashmir is also lurking with all its significance to peace as well as nuclear threat. It's rather creating new issues. The Baghlihar and Kishenganga dams have been constructed during the dialogue process in violation of the Indus Water Treaty. It's initiating another dam over river Chenab to the detriment of Pakistan's interests. India is, therefore, squeezing Pakistan's water resources on the one hand and supporting anti-Pakistan elements in Balochistan and Tribal areas on the other. Yet it has the audacity to say that Pakistan is responsible for its problems. Let us have no ambiguity to the effect that India can never be a friend to Pakistan. We must, therefore, recognize this bitter truth and act accordingly to defend our interests. It's, however, a matter of satisfaction that Mr Salman Bashir has talked plain to his Indian counterpart on the issue of composite dialogue.
'Until now we have talked of dialogue and engagement, but now I have told the Indians that we are not in a hurry. If they are ready for dialogue we will also be willing for it because it is the only way forward', he said at his Wagah interaction with the media.
Understandably, the February 25 talks were held in New Delhi due to US influence (or pressure). Washington brought India to the negotiating table, but there was no result. Mere talks for the sake of talks will obviously lead the two countries nowhere. It's, therefore, time to change India's perception about Pakistan. Indian media and politicians ought to play their part on that count. Pakistan is a peaceful country and has no aggressive designs against any country. It's rather caught up in its own problems. It has long endured the menace of terrorism and is deeply engaged in countering it. India is rather increasing Pakistan's woes with its interference in its internal affairs. It ought to stop its supply of funds and weapons to Baloch elements and Pakistani
Taliban. And that ought to be the basis for resumption of the dialogue between the two countries.
DEVALUING THE ECONOMY
I was appalled to read in a national English daily that in an interview to a private TV channel Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin " hints at rupee devaluation." TV interviewers know even less about running a national economy than commercial bankers do. You only have to look at the track records of the plethora of bankers and geniuses from financial houses that ran the US Federal Reserve and the Treasury into the ground to believe what I am saying. Even chartered accountants would do better. Because bankers and financial gurus are still at the helm at the FED and the Treasury is exactly why the fundamental structural flaws in the US financial system and the economy are not being addressed and they only keep throwing worse money after bad, desperately trying to keep an edifice standing with spit and paste knowing (or perhaps not) that sooner rather than later it is going to collapse through a process called liquefaction, when the ground underneath a building becomes soft and collapses into itself like a star that becomes a black hole, taking everything on it into oblivion.
A country considers devaluation when its balance of payments go awry i.e. its imports exceed exports and its trade balance goes into deficit. If they have no surplus they usually bridge the gap through short-term borrowing at relatively high interest rates, usually from the IMF, or when desperation sets in, from commercial banks at usurious interest rates. (When Shahid Javed Burki took charge of finance in the government of the late caretaker Prime Minister Meraj Khalid, he inherited desperation. So he was forced to borrow from commercial banks at rates between 5 and 7 percent. It nearly killed us). But such borrowing is done only when governments are convinced that the deficit is only a temporary glitch and will go into surplus soon and they will be able to return the money in the short term. They don't let it become a disastrous long-term loan.
The other option is to devalue. But this is a double-edged sword, not understood by those who are victims of the tyranny of theory's word in impressively bound textbooks. In real life, 2 plus 2 is equal to many things apart from four, for real mathematics is not zero based zero was brilliantly invented for ease of calculation but infinity based and in infinity there can be any number of outcomes. It is like raising interest rates to control inflation: it won't work if a country's inflation is driven not by consumption but by a factor outside its control, like world petroleum prices, as ours is. Then high interest rates only contribute to discouraging investment and raising prices further as the cost of money goes up.
So too with devaluation: it works only if a country's imports and exports are both price inelastic. If they are not, as ours are not, it will only make matters worse, for the trade gap will go up as the quantum of exports stay about the same while the money earned from them actually reduces while the import quantum also remains the about same but the rupee bill for it shoots up by more than the factor of devaluation. Thus the balance of payments gap gets bigger.
Our main exports are cotton and rice, both primary raw materials with a given global demand every year, and that too against acute competition, not only in prices but also in quality. Which means that lowering their prices in dollar terms won't necessarily increase their demand by an amount in money terms that justifies devaluation. Similarly, our main imports are petroleum, tea and edible oil. Again, no matter how expensive they get, the demand for them is not oing to decrease appreciably, not even in the very short term. After all, the army isn't going to stop its tanks, the air force its planes and the navy its ships. Ministers won't start traveling in donkey carts, though by rights they deserve to (they can keep their flags). Public transport can't stop and neither
can private. Worst of all, a huge amount of our electricity is generated by furnace oil guzzling power plants. All that will happen is that the prices of petrol and diesel will go up at the pump as will the price of kerosene and the price of electricity will go up too. This will fuel already out of control inflation further. People are finding it difficult to survive given the current prices. Suicides are being committed, minor children are being sold and young girls from decent families are being forced into prostitution out of desperation. Then what?
Then what? As a revolutionary who rejects this obscene system totally, this is great, if you see the big picture. At least this decrepit edifice we have built on a constitution whose legitimacy is questionable and which is a document dedicated to protecting the iniquitous anti-people status quo will be burnt to a cinder and hopefully, just hopefully, another edifice will arise in its place. It can't be worse, not for the vast-hungry multitudes, the wretched of the earth.
Chaos, already upon us, will soon turn to anarchy. There will be blood on the streets. The tinderbox is ready, dry and full. All it needs is a spark. The spark could come from anywhere, any incident. Then sit back and watch the gory spectacle. Remember the French Revolution? Actually, it was anarchy. Remember there was somebody called Robespierre? I suggest if you had read about it in a comic or even in a history book years ago, go back and revisit it. If you cannot stand boring academic writing, read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens again. I'm sure you've heard of that one even if most of our rulers, especially our parliamentarians, have not. But such people won't even know who Dulla Bhatti was. The novel will help create some of the atmosphere of France in 1789, the bloodletting, the guillotining, the rapine and massacres, the burning and looting. They had it coming. They got it. Anarchy is a necessary precursor to revolution, though there is no guarantee that anarchy always leads to revolution. It can just become permanent anarchy or lead to direct military colonization if the State remains in tact. Or the State can fragment to become several, more viable states. Though anarchy is a necessary pre-condition to revolution, an organized force that can attract the people is a necessary pre-condition for converting anarchy to revolution. In Iran there was anarchy for a time as the communists and west-oriented liberals fought to wrest power from the Shah as well as to knock the other out. Neither the communists nor the liberals were successful for they were ideologically weak, fuzzy and unclear, steeped in western ideologies as they were. So they couldn't fire the imagination of the people. The Ayatollahs were ideologically crystal clear, their ideology wasn't imported but cast in Iran itself and it was one the people could readily relate to. They were organized, not least through their network of mosques and madrassahs.
Politics abhors a vacuum and the mentally clear and well organized Ayatollahs simply walked into the vacuum or got sucked into it.
Well, I have news for you well-heeled western oriented ladies and gentlemen. The only relatively organized force we have that can use violence (though certainly not as well organized as the Shia clerics of Iran) are the Pakistani Taliban. The three main religious parties, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami, are also organized, but since they entered western electoral politics they too got mired in the politics of status quo perpetuation and lost their revolutionary ability. Islamic politics is the politics of revolution.
Will the WOGs let this happen? Just watch them welcoming the army again. But as we have seen, the army has no solution to any of our problems. All it can do is create a feel good atmosphere, but temporarily. That might give us time to organize a modern revolutionary organization though, geared to taking advantage of anarchy and converting it into revolution. Of course this is a tall order. But winning independence and creating a new country was much taller, and we did it. Sure we can do it again, and don't lament the absence of a Jinnah to lead us. There is a Jinnah present in each one of us. It is for us to make him emerge.
US AID TO PAKISTAN
AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
The United States has been funding Pakistan since long. Billions have been poured into Pakistan's coffers, with little impact on poverty alleviation, educating the mases, improving education standards, job creation or reducing alleviation. Pakistan is as much to blame as the US for not ensuring that US assistance was spent honestly and productively. US is at fault because the funding has been in fits and starts, and without audit.
During the Ayub era of ten years US aid and technical assistance helped industrial and agricultural development. Almost all the dams, barrages and many large canals were built with American funds and technical assistance. Massive aid and equipment helped Pakistani armed forces to develop credible military power to face and defeat Indian aggression in 1965. But after Ayub Khan, US aid suddenly dried up. During Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's regimes there was no US monetary or military
assistance. Washington treated ZAB with suspicion, and with held to pressure the Pakistani government to stop nuclear development.
President Reagan had approved 3.2 billion for Pakistan, soon after General Zia-ul-Haq turned down President Carter's offer of US dollars four hundred, calling it "pea-nuts". ISI was responsible for the disbursement of funds, US weapons and munitios to the Afghan Mujahidin groups. Some generals responsible for disbursing funds became so rich that their sons became industrialists overnight. Zia-ul-Haq's eleven years was a wasted period, in which Pakistan saw no development. There was no accountability and no one dared ask the general, where the huge amount of $ 3.2 went! According to the US, dollars ten billion was give to the Musharraf regime. Washington has wanted to know, how that money was spent? US officials felt that most of it was pilfered and was not spent for the purpose of fighting the terrorists.
US is keen to provide Pakistan with sufficient funds for development and for defeating militancy and terrorism. Under the Kerry Lugar Bill passed by the US Congress last year US Dollars 7.5 billion will be given to Pakistan over a period of five years; at the rate of 1.5 billion dollars each year. But with the proviso that the funds will be given to NGO's and not to government agencies. Washington does not trust the credibility of the government, and strongly suspects that US funds meant for development and public welfare will be pilfered by government officials, politicians and influentials.
The US government re-opened the USAID mission in Islamabad in 2002. Since then, USAID has provided more than $3.4 billion (including Emergency Economic Assistance) to support economic growth, education, health, good governance, earthquake reconstruction assistance, as well as humanitarian assistance. USAID's rograms support efforts to educate teachers, foster education policy reforms, improve school enrollment and outcomes, provide facilities in schools, and expand basic literacy skills. Increased access to quality education enhances opportunities for Pakistanis. USAID also provides scholarships to thousands of needy and talented students to complete degrees in Pakistan and the United States in areas that are critical for Pakistan's political and economic stability.
Pakistan's health indicators are among the worst in the world. USAID programs supplement governmental and non-governmental efforts to provide basic health care. They help decrease the incidence of tuberculosis, eradicate polio, and reach communities vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Additional programs focus on improving
maternal and child health. USAID's efforts help businesses development, and improve agricultural productivity and energy sector rehabilitation. Continued, broad-based economic progress is essential to maintain and enhance Pakistan's political and economic stability. Through programs fostering job growth and solid economic development, USAID engages the segments of the country's poorest population. For example, in Baluchistan, USAID taught farmers agricultural techniques that enabled over 119,000 people to increase their incomes by an average of 23 percent. USAID strengthens Pakistan's national and provincial assemblies with technical assistance, training, and resource centers, and supports local governments by enhancing their ability to deliver better public services. These programs focus on supporting a democratic society through accountable governance involving citizens' input, laying a foundation for continued political stability. In the 2008 general elections, USAID trained and deployed nearly 20,000 domestic election monitors, reaching approximately 30 percent of all polling stations.
Washington has been keen to fund the NWFP government since the MMA government took office in 2003. Funds were provided directly to the provincial government through the US Consulate in Peshawar, specifically for the development of the tribal Agencies -FATA. US media has revealed that $46 million American aid program aimed at development and helping the government to develop tribal regions and blunting the appeal of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But the aid program has achieved little since it began two years ago. US government audit found that US aid provided earlier was pilfered and wasted and cannot be accounted for, because it was embezzled. Former Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani must clarify why the American aid money was not spent for the uplift of the poor people of the much neglected Tribal Agencies.
The US audit shows the difficulties facing the Obama administration as it seeks to boost aid to the violence-stricken region. The strategy is to convince mpoverished residents that their interests are best served by the government, not by extremists. The program, run by Development Alternatives Inc., a US-based private contractor, was set up to improve the performance of local aid groups and the government agency that oversees the tribal areas. .The audit, dated January 28, 2010 posted on the website of the inspector general, said "little progress had been made and aid program had been delayed by confusion over the US government directive to direct money through Pakistani institutions, not US contractors. As a result the DAI did not know whether its contract would be terminated. It has put many key programs on hold. The contractor had requested $15 million in June 2009 from the US government to continue with the work, but was only given $4.7 million. The audit did mention some successes, such as the creation of a public outreach campaign promoting peace and 74 project and financial management training events held for more than 1,000 local government workers. The Audit criticized the program's planning and implementation. It said a plan to install computers and train staff to use them at the agency's headquarters in Peshawar had barely got off the ground and had set unrealistic
goals. It noted 340 of the 400 computers delivered remained boxed up and unused.
Only $15.5 million has been spent, in what was supposed to be a three-year initiative. The employees are frustrated, because most employees and contractors for the aid arm of the US government are not allowed to speak to the media, to vent their grievances. Washington is disappointed with the organizational and administrative arrangements of the federal and the provincial governments for the disbursement of US aid and financial assistance. While dishonesty and corruption remains the foremost concern, Islamabad has taken no steps to assure Obama Administration that there are state institutions to ensure that funds will not be stolen, and will be spent on mutually agreed plans for the benefit of the people. In the past US consultants have been paid millions for purposes not divulged to the media or to the government. Islamabad while ensuring fullest transparency, must insist, that no US consultants are needed for disbursing US monetary assistance. The government may consider joint federal and provincial committees, for overseeing and auditing US aid
LOOMING THREAT OF WATER WARS
Last year, Pakistan suffered a loss exceeding five billion rupees in paddy crop production only in the wake of water shortage after India stopped Chenab
water to fill its Baglihar dam during the month of September 2008. But this was not the first instance, as India violated Indus Water Treaty many a time, and the objective seemed to be India's attempt to dry up Pakistan because India feels that Pakistan is a major obstacle in its hegemonic designs against the countries in the region. India's think-tanks have been working on river diversion plans with a view to creating acute water shortage in Pakistan. The objective is to adversely impact production of wheat and other crops, and also to stoke inter-provincial conflicts over distribution of water. In the past, the world has witnessed wars between different countries of the world over religions, usurpation of territories and control of resources including oil. But in view of acute shortages of water in Africa, Middle East, Asia and elsewhere, the future wars could be fought over ater.
The Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan for about four decades. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. However, the distribution of the river basin water has created friction among India and Pakistan, and also among their states and provinces. Accusations of overdrawing of share of water made by each province in Pakistan have resulted in the lack of water supplies to coastal regions of Pakistan. India and Bangladesh have also dispute over Ganges River water and the former is resorting to water theft there as well. It is too well known that water is life; it is indispensable to agriculture and in fact it is critical input into a country's agriculture especially when it is situated in an arid or semi-arid zone. When India stopped water to fill Baglihar dam at Chenab river, Pakistan had taken up the matter with the World Bank, as Pakistan was getting 7000 to 8000 cusecs less water daily during Rabi season. By violating "Indus Water Treaty" India has reduced Pakistan's share of water through construction of dams on the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab rivers.
According to the treaty, India could not use Chenab water if it affects the quantity or flow of the river. And it goes without saying that by making the reservoir, the flow of water will definitely be affected, as happened when India stopped water to fill the Baglihar dam. There is a perception that India is consciously working on a plan to create rift between the federation and federating units of Pakistan. In chapter Sindh of "Pakistan's Provinces" published in 2004 by Strategic Foresight Group Publications of India, authors had made forecasts: "If Sindh continues to suffer economic deterioration and water shortages, internal turmoil is inevitable The influx of Sindh refugees can bring India into direct confrontation with Pakistan Independent Sindh might be born but not before the 1971 war is replayed". Of course the objective of Indian leadership to destabilize Pakistan, as it is considered as an obstacle to India's grand designs to be a regional and a world power. India should, however, understand that if it resorts to foul play and tries to strangulate Pakistan by diverting water resources, or tries to fan parochialism in Pakistan's provinces, or as hinted in the past, it tries to move into Sindh to separate it from the rest of the country, Pakistan has the capacity to adequately respond to the threats, and will not sit quiet on any of its 'initiatives'. The problem is that India is emboldened due to the internecine conflicts between the political parties, and the country looks like a divided house. It is because of the contradictions between the federation and federating units that no larger reservoir could be constructed during the last three decades. Unfortunately some acrimonious internal developments have taken place between the provinces especially the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan taking similar stand against
Punjab on water issue. In this regard provincial governments have not only made harsh assertions but have also issued stern warnings to Punjab. The aim is to get more water for their provinces. The leaders of political parties and nationalists of the provinces should unite to deter India from its pernicious designs to make Pakistan a wasteland, as they all would stand to lose. India should, however, understand that Pakistan is neither Nepal nor like other countries of South Asia but an atomic power. And if war is imposed on Pakistan, there would be no concept of the victor or the vanquished. Reportedly, Kalabagh dam had been politicized due to India's hand in fueling passions in the smaller provinces.
Anyhow, construction of Bhasha dam should be expedited otherwise Pakistan will not be able to produce enough food-grains to meet the needs of the growing population, as loss of storage capacity due to sedimentation is causing serious drops with the result that water is not available even for existing level of agricultural production. Secondly, for implementation of water apportionment accord 1991, a new storage project is essential otherwise the shortage of water would give rise to bitter inter-provincial disputes particularly in dry weather years. And Pakistan not only would face food shortages but also suffer from energy shortfall with the result. Furthermore, industrialization will stop and it will be difficult to address the problem of unemployment. It would be in the interest of both India and Pakistan to resolve the water issue amicably otherwise the onus will lie on India and it will be responsible for the consequences, as Pakistan will use all its resources to get its share of water at any cost.
WHY HILLARY BABIES INDONESIA & BULLIES PAKISTAN?
When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Indonesia earlier this year, she said: "If you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity, and women's rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." When she visited Pakistan recently, she was polite but much more critical in her words, basically accusing some government officials of sheltering Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists.
Indonesia and Pakistan, two non-Arab states, account for a quarter of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims. If democracy flourishes there, it could influence democracy's progress in other Muslim and Arab lands. American diplomacy toward Indonesia is quite different from its approach to Pakistan.
In the case of Indonesia, the tenor is dictated more by Indonesia than by the United States. In the era of Sukarno, the nation's first president after independence from the Dutch, Indonesia moved far to the left and cozied up to Communist China. An abortive coup, and a horrifying purge that took at least
200,000 lives, left the Indonesian Communist Party decimated and a searing memory upon the nation's psyche.
Indonesia moved back to the political centre, and amity with the West, but was determined not to be anyone's pawn.US administrations have been astute in understanding this and maintaining discreet relationships with successive Indonesian regimes. One noteworthy humanitarian move took place in 2005 when the US mounted a major relief effort after the Asian tsunami. About 15,000 US service personnel, operating from the carrier Abraham Lincoln, supported helicopter flights carrying food, water, and other aid to the victims.
After Sukarno, Indonesia had a disappointing three-decade rule by General Suharto, during which the Army remained vigilant and influential. But free elections have helped Indonesian politics blossom in recent years. This year, popular President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was re-elected. Indonesia has effected this transformation by itself and has similarly pursued Islamist extremists who killed more than 200 people in the Bali bombing in 2002, and bombed Jakarta this year. Despite these events, Indonesia has been able to maintain its commitment to a more moderate version of Islam. By contrast, US diplomacy toward Pakistan has been more robust and intrusive. Different administrations have played politics with a series of Pakistani leaders as that country has drifted in and out of military rule with periods of unsettled democracy. The US will soon have a permanent icon of its involvement with a fortified new embassy said to contain more than 1,500 personnel on 18 acres of land in Islamabad.
Understandably the US has more at stake, and a more complex relationship, with Pakistan than it does with Indonesia. Pakistan has nuclear weapons; lives in a terrorist-laden region; is suspicious of India on one border and of a mélange of government-defying tribes straddled across another, ill-defined border. The
Pakistani government bridles at US drones hunting across its border for Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists. It must bristle sometimes at its lack of control over its own military intelligence service cutting deals with unknown groups. It wants billions of aid from America but feels humiliated by US demands that there be oversight of how it is spent.
Secretary Clinton says trust must be two-way, but US diplomacy and presence have been hot and cold with Pakistan over the years. All this may be challenging for Pakistanis, now themselves engaged in a war against extremism. US diplomacy must sometimes be delicate and deft, as it is with Indonesia. It must
sometimes nudge, as it is doing in Pakistan. The immediate effect of nudging must be progress in the campaign against terrorism. The bigger picture must be the process to strengthen Pakistan's democratic structure and self-sufficiency, making it an example to the rest of the Muslim world.
The Christian Science Monitor
In one of the biggest earthquakes in history, more than 300 people were killed and half-a-million rendered homeless, in the South American country of Chile. The country is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and similar quakes have hit the region a number of times in the last century. The largest earthquake ever recorded in the world, struck the same area of Chile on May 22, 1960. The 9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and made 2 million homeless. Saturday's quake of 8.8 magnitudes matched a 1906 tremor off the Ecuadorian coast as the seventh-strongest ever recorded in the world.
Although the Chilean earthquake was hundreds of time stronger than the recent point 7 Haitian quake, the casualty and physical loss were much less, as the quake was deeper, an US geophysicist explained. It is also believed that because of improved physical structures, Chile weathered the catastrophe better than Haiti, where an estimated 200,000 people died.
There is nothing that can be done about earthquakes but places where it may occur can be predicted. Therefore, human habitation can be modified accordingly to minimize the losses. If that is not done, one is likely to face a situation like Haiti. This is all the more important for us in Bangladesh as we, too, live in an earthquake zone. Earthquakes have hit neighboring Assam, Bihar and north Bengal in the last century and there is every reason to believe that the epicenter could shift to any other point in the common geological faults that run through this country, as well. And the only thing we can do about it is to improve our overall preparedness. We have to remember that nothing much can be done later.
Earthquakes are caused by sudden collision of geological plates bumping into each other along geological faults. But there is nothing certain about the geological behaviour of their movement. This makes quakes the least predictable of natural phenomenon. We certainly hope that even as we sympathize with the people of Chile, we too must prepare ourselves adequately for such catastrophes, since we live in a quake-prone zone.
SHIFTING OF TANNERIES
The shifting of the tanneries from Hazaribagh has been hanging about for many years. First mooted in 2003, the tanneries were to be shifted by 2006 but later this deadline was revised to February 29, 2010. However, the reluctance of tannery owners to shift their businesses until the government provides them with compensation and other facilities has caused the High Court to extend its order by a further six months upon an application filed by the government and Tannery Owners' Association seeking two years time to relocate the tanneries. The court also directed the government and the association to submit their reports to the court every three months on the steps taken to shift the tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar. In its order the court observed that keeping tanneries in Hazaribagh is suicidal for the city dwellers.
The reason for saying this is because of the severe environmental pollution that contaminates the water of the Buriganga River that poses such serious health hazards to the people who live in the area. The proposed "leather estate" at Savar is also facing complications as the government and the industry owners are yet to settle several issues even three years after the inauguration of the relocation project. But five years after the launch of the project, the Buriganga has experienced further pollution as the waste from the tanneries is still being dumped in the river. According to the Department of Environment (DoE), nearly 22,000 cubic metres of untreated and highly toxic liquid waste from more than 200 tanneries flows down the canals into the Buriganga. Moreover, 100 tonnes of solid waste including trimmings of finished leather, shaving dust, hair, fleshing, trimming of raw hides and skins are also being dumped in the Buriganga. This is no small matter and needs to be addressed with the fullest attention of the authorities.
LEARNING TO BUY VEGGIES..!
With more and more people becoming vegetarian, my American neighbour Susan yelled across the fence that she would like to go veggy shopping with me, "Sure," I said thrilled she had chosen me and not others in the neighborhood who would have been more than happy to have escorted her. We entered the vegetarian store and I saw Susan looking a little out of sorts. "What's wrong?" I asked anxiously.
"They know I don't belong here," she whispered, "it shows all over me!"
"Nonsense," I said, "You look quite a veg to me, as genuine as a cauliflower!"
"Never more right," I said cheerfully, "Doesn't she look as cool as a cucumber?" I asked the storekeeper.
"You don't belong here," said a pimply looking fellow who was carrying a pumpkin in his cart.
"Don't belong here?" I laughed, "Who me or she? Do I need to have a club membership to shop veg?"
"He's a non- vegetarian!" shouted the pimply-faced fellow.
"Non-vegetarian!" shouted a crowd running towards us.
"Why you come here?" asked a woman with a foreign accent.
"The same reason as you came here," I said politely.
"I want to eat veg!"
"Good for you," I said and looked at Susan, "she wants to eat veg!"
"What you eat?" asked the same lady.
"Anything," I said, "I'm not too particular you know."
"You are non- vegetarian," said the pimply fellow.
"Lets get out of here," whispered Susan holding my arm.
"Look," I said looking at the crowd, "Maybe we can shop, and you can leave us alone?"
"Lets get out of here," said Susan and I felt her fingernails dig into me.
"No," roared the crowd.
"So what do you want to do?" I asked.
"Shop with you!" roared the pimply fellow and the foreign lady and the rest of the crowd.
"Why?" I whispered.
"Because, we are all non-vegetarians and if you can show her what to buy you can show us to, we also don't know what to buy!"
"Aha!" I said as I felt Susan's hand relax, "Let me instruct all of you; that there is a tomato!"
"That is an orange sir," said the storekeeper.
"And those are carrots!"
"Ladies finger sir!" said the storekeeper, and I watched aghast as Susan slipped away with the rest of the crowd. I buried my face in a basket of garlic.
"Not garlic, onions sir..!" said the storekeeper and watched me cry.
GREENING OF THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE
An interesting item published in the Independent referred to the setting up of a solar power and biogas plant at the Prime Minister's Office to generate around 20 to 21 kilowatt of power. The government had already made it mandatory to install solar panels on the rooftops of new hi-rise buildings. Obviously the widespread disappointment over the Copenhagen climate summit presents us with a new opportunity to rethink energy policy as the risk of electricity blackouts and gas shortages from the middle of the next decade are a possibility too tangible to ignore. To prevent this catastrophe, initiatives like the Prime Minister's are more important than expensive programmes we cannot afford. As solar energy is one of the cleanest and simplest forms of energy you can hope to find, this is a most laudable effort at encouraging green energy expansion.
This renewable, easy to access and readily available source of energy is able to provide you with all of the fuel you need. There is no limit to what this type of energy can do for you. In the generations to come, more families and businesses will turn to solar power than ever before. When most people think about solar energy they think about the type of energy that people can harness. This can be done in many ways. Solar systems can convert your entire home's energy use to solar power. Using solar panels strategically placed to gain as much solar ray as possible, these sheets will store solar power. When you need the energy, such as when you need to heat your water or when you need to turn on your computer, the electricity comes from