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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

EDITORIAL 03.03.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 03, edition 000445, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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











  2. NO, HE CAN'T (QUIT)





























































On Monday, as India celebrated Holi, Muslims ran riot in Shimoga and Hassan towns of Karnataka. What began as protest gatherings, turned into rallies. As is often the case in such situations, slogans calling for death and destruction gave way to stone-pelting and arson, with mobs setting private and public property ablaze. By the time the police got into action, much damage had been caused and rioting was in full swing. The police fired at the mobs to restore order; two persons were killed and many others were injured. Curfew was clamped on Shimoga and Hassan, and armed police were deployed to maintain a tenuous peace. We are told that the violence was 'provoked' by an article penned by dissident Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen denouncing the burqa and arguing why it is not mandatory for Muslim women to wear what has come to be known as the 'Islamic veil'. The article was first posted by Ms Nasreen on her website a couple of years ago; a Kannada daily published its translated version, raising the hackles of fanatics who used it as a cover to indulge in senseless violence and unleash mayhem. Obviously, the purpose was three-fold: First, demonstrate the muscle-power of hoodlums who masquerade as upholders of Islam; second, instigate violence in other parts of Karnataka and this create a serious law and order problem for the State Government; and, third, thereby raise the bogey of the BJP, which is in power in the State, failing to protect Muslims and their sentiments. This is a pattern that is well-established and the State Government has done well to nip the mischief in the bud. Anything less than a show of force to assert the authority of the state could have had serious consequences.

Some questions, however, need to be answered if only to expose those behind the manufactured rage and the cynical use of thuggery for political purposes. It has emerged that local Congress leaders used the article to fan discontent and anger, using the services of fanatics in the Muslim communities of Shimoga and Hassan. It is not entirely coincidental that these two towns should have been chosen to create what is popularly known as 'communal disturbance': Shimoga is Chief Minister BS Yeddiyurappa's hometown; JD(S) leader and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda hails from Hassan. The Congress may have conspired against both of them; Mr Deve Gowda's critics would suggest he conspired with the Congress against Mr Yeddiyurappa. Neither possibility can be ruled out. Nothing would fetch greater delight to the Congress than destabilising a BJP Government; Mr Deve Gowda has not reconciled himself to his defeat in the Assembly poll and last summer's general election.

Apart from the despicable tactics of using communal violence to score political points, two other issues merit comment. The newspaper really had no business to reproduce an article without the author's permission. Ms Nasreen has let it be known that she never sent the article for publication. Whatever may have been the purpose of those who engineered the violence, the fanatics may have seized upon the opportunity to make Ms Nasreen's presence in India unwelcome. The other issue is of forcing the paper to publish an apology. This has serious repercussions for freedom of media.






Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor's remark that Saudi Arabia, because of its close relationship with Pakistan, is valuable to New Delhi as an "interlocutor" in talks with Islamabad is ridiculous to say the least. Coming as it did during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Riyadh, the comment, if it reflects Government policy, betrays a lack of direction in dealing with Pakistan. The idea that getting Saudi Arabia to talk to Pakistan, in whatever capacity that might be, will bring about a positive change in the India-Pakistan equation is preposterous simply because of the reason that the Islamic kingdom is the epicentre of Wahaabism. It is from Saudi Arabia that jihadi Islam has been exported to the rest of the world. Thus, to seriously expect Riyadh to convince Islamabad to rein in the anti-India jihadi groups operating from territory under its control is laughable and shows how clueless the Government is on dealing with Pakistan. It is a fact that outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Taliban and their ilk look up to the fanatical Islam preached in Saudi Arabia for inspiration. Indeed, it is the Wahaabi model that they want to replicate throughout the world. Hence, the fact that the Government is now banking on Saudi Arabia to achieve some traction in India-Pakistan talks can only be described as scraping the bottom of the barrel.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia's own track record is anything but clean. The kingdom continues to be one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. Its clerics and 'charities' enjoy a great deal of influence over the same people who want to bleed India dry because of their 'moral' guidance to them over the years. Such assistance for jihadi groups goes well beyond ideological support. The only reason why the kingdom does not figure in the West's blacklist is because of its huge reservoir of oil. But billions of those petro-dollars are used to fund extremist Islamist organisations across continents. Many an Islamic seminary, especially in South Asia, found promoting jihad has been financed by Saudi charities. In this background, to view Saudi Arabia as part of the solution would be extremely naïve. The idea of using Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor also exemplifies the unseeming urgency on the UPA Government's part to engage Islamabad in dialogue at any cost. Needless to say this kind of an approach will not only yield little result but also weaken India's diplomatic position. The message that should ideally go out is that India has no compulsion to talk to Pakistan and that it can very well live without talking to the latter. But that would require political courage, which is lacking in the Manmohan Singh regime.



            THE PIONEER




Much heat and dust was generated by this year's Budget with the Opposition's unprecedented walkout over the hike in fuel prices. But we have not heard a word of protest either inside or outside the House over the decline in allocations in real terms for internal and external security when threats and challenges are growing exponentially. No one has ever raised in Parliament the shameful fact that for over one-and-a-half decades, successive Governments have failed to utilise Rs 55,000 crore on modernisation of the armed forces. The Bofors scandal is restraining the Government in arms acquisition. Fiscal consolidation and nine per cent growth can only be achieved in a climate of security and stability.

In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, "Secure borders and security of life and property fosters development. I propose to increase the allocation of defence to Rs 1, 47, 344 crore. This would include Rs 60,000 crore for capital expenditure." (And don't miss) "Needless to say, any additional requirement for the security of the nation will be provided for."

While just four lines explained defence, internal security was buried in three 'old stuff' paragraphs without indicating he had actually reduced capital allocation for central paramilitary forces this year, probably because they too have been infected by the virtue of probity in procurement. It is the usual story: Hike security spending after reverses (in 1962, Kargil 1999 and Mumbai 2008); then forget it. The post-Mumbai stimulus appears to be petering out, especially in empowering police forces in Maoist violence-affected States.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly said that Maoists pose the biggest security threat to India. Home Minister P Chidambaram admitted that successive Governments had under-estimated the Maoist challenge which is being addressed earnestly but not too effectively and only since the last one year. Because it has been turned into essentially a political problem, and law and order being in the domain of individual States, its terrorist dimension is being overlooked.

Maoists have extended their presence to 223 of the country's 626 districts with 78 under their influence and control, and 33 of the worst-affected among them have been chosen for treatment by the Prime Minister's security and development packages. In the absence of a political consensus, a coordinated counter-Maoist strategy under a unified command and an effective monitoring mechanism, Maoists will retain the initiative, including through the ruse of negotiations.

Outside the German Bakery in Pune recently, people appealed to politicians, including Mr Chidambaram, via placards which, among their other concerns, read: "If you knew that Pune is on terrorist target then also it happens in Pune"; "Why are we not taking hard measures against terrorism"; and, "Please do something for national security". That just about says it all, except that citizens do not punish Governments for not removing internal and external insecurities.

Cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan has been an existential threat for two decades now. As Pune showed, this will not go away in a hurry. It will get enmeshed through Lashkar-e- Tayyeba's proxies like the Indian Mujahideen in local sub-optimal attacks with maximum deniability for Pakistan. Just the threat of an improvised explosive device exploding in a busy shopping centre is enough for travel advisories and a deterrent to foreign investment. Three deadly attacks directly targeting Indian interests in Kabul over two years (the last just a few days ago) are warning signals that the new strategy will steer clear of mass casualty-high profile attacks but bleed India through a thousand cuts at home and abroad.

Pune is demanding hard measures against terrorism. Exercise Vayu Shakti last week demonstrated in the Pokhran wastes deadly air strikes against imaginary terrorist camps. The over-cautious, frugal, almost saintly Defence Minister AK Antony was emboldened to note after the air show that Pakistan still has 42 terrorist camps. Whether this will translate into an air raid in the event of the next Pakistan-sourced terrorist attack is extremely doubtful.

A dozen insurgencies simmering in the North-East, fanned by China, have the potential to flare up though the danger has receded due to the new pro-India regime in Bangladesh and a neutral to cooperative military Government in Myanmar. Despite self-gratifying claims by New Delhi last week that the Myanmarese Army will soon launch a coordinated operation to flush out North-Eastern militants, one can be sure the latter will do it in its own interest when it suits it, and not at India's behest. The triple-challenge internal security scenario has to be confronted squarely.

On the external front, both Pakistan and China, all-weather strategic allies, are beginning to coordinate their anti-India activities to keep it rooted in the region. India has fought several wars with Pakistan and one with China, but the last conventional conflict was in 1971. A conventional war with either is most unlikely. Yet maintaining a strong deterrent is essential even under a nuclear overhang.

The issues that the Indian political and military leadership have been dodging are: Minimum conventional deterrent; and, correcting the imbalance between internal and external security. More lives have been lost due to internal insecurity threats — at least 1,00,000 in just the last 24 years — than on account of fighting five wars.

That there is belated recognition of the primacy of internal security challenges is not matched by strategies and resources. Police units are armed with vintage weapons and poorly led and motivated. Maoists are able to demolish the Sildah camp in West Bengal, attack the district armoury at Koraput in Orissa and decamp with 500 rifles, raid Jehanabad jail in Bihar and release 300 prisoners, and so on. This is reminiscent of the 'Wild West' in old America and not a rising India.

More funds have to be found for internal security forces. Diverting money from external to internal security will be considered sacrilegious among the new breed of Net-centric warfare protagonists. The combat of the future is asymmetric warfare which the US is learning the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cutting edge of our Army, the Infantry, which has not ceased fighting since 1947 and has been long ignored for modernisation, has to be put on the fast track.

A strategic security review is essential to assess priorities for external and internal defence. Finding a political consensus on internal security is paramount as is ensuring full spending on modernisation of police and military. An internally strong India is essential for national security.






This refers to the editorial, "Charade comes apart" (February 26). There are certain situations and developments whose outcome is scripted and choreographed beforehand. Contrary to the much-touted stand of the Government that it would not engage Pakistan in bilateral dialogue until the perpetrators of 26/11 are brought to justice, for some inexplicable reason the country has been sucked into Secretary-level talks with the latter. But in the backdrop of Islamabad's consistent double-speak, all such efforts are nothing more than blind stabs in the dark.

The outrageous conduct of Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, as we gather from the Press conference after the two Foreign Secretaries met, betrayed the fact that he had not come as an ambassador of peace but was sent to further infuriate India. The way Mr Bashir addressed the media suggested was tantamount to posturing and indulging in shrill rhetoric. He vehemently denied the fact that Hafiz Saeed is the blue-eyed boy of Pakistan, terming the evidence against him as 'literature', even though the Lashkar chief has overtly declared in an open rally that Mumbai was just a trailer and that the real picture was to follow.

It is unbecoming of a senior diplomat, who has come to India to take part in Secretary-level talks, to duck the key issue of terrorism and defend the perpetrators of 26/11. When you are sitting across a negotiating table, you should join the talks with a spirit of give and take rather than indulge in one-upmanship. But Mr Bashir acted more as a court jester rather than a career diplomat when he dismissed the dossier given to him by our foreign office. In diplomacy, twisting and playing with the words does not pay in the long run.

Mr Bashir represents a Government which is dishonest in its deeds and intentions. There was never a chance for anything positive to come out of the Secretary-level talks. In fact, it was foolish on our part to indulge Pakistan in the first place. Hopefully the Government has realised its blunder. There is no point in talking peace with such a hostile neighbour.









A simple assessment of Nanaji Deshmukh's legacy would be that he conclusively demonstrated the viability of Mahatma Gandhi's ideal of self-reliant village communities, and that too only in the last two decades. At a time when the agricultural sector, supporting 65 per cent of the population, contributes only 20 per cent of the GDP, the result of Nanaji's efforts through the Deendayal Research Institute in Chitrakoot provide a proven model of development for rural India, both economic and moral, towards achieving the ideal of Ram Rajya. The most significant proof is demonstrating the economic viability of a marginal land-holding of 2.5 acre for a family of six, significant for a country where 80 per cent of its rural population comprises marginal farmers.

Chitrakoot (and 600 villages there) is a remarkable story on five different counts. First, it establishes and proves the ideal of a self-reliant village community; second, it fills a valuable gap in the delivery mechanism of the state ensuring effective implementation of Government schemes; third, the emphasis has been to make the villagers self-reliant, without making them dependents in perpetuity; fourth, the entire exercise has been carried out by defining, adopting, and following processes for activities and functionaries, regularly tested and audited towards ensuring the desired output. This enables a replicable model anywhere in the country. Fifth, and perhaps the most significant, is the high degree of morality permeating all activities — an essential attribute of Ram Rajya and a platform for moral elevation in our polity.

Consider the facts. When Nanaji stepped into Chitrakoot in 1991, it was a semi-arid area straddling the border between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh with water tables at the depth of 250 to 300 feet, marginal holdings with a single crop, populace prone to water-borne diseases, sustainable livelihood virtually impossible without being supplemented by remittances from migrants.

Today, not only has migration stopped, but people are returning and marginal land-holdings (1.5 acre irrigated and 2.5 acres non-irrigated) are providing sustainable livelihood to families of six. Nanaji chose Chitrakoot inspired by the example of Ram in exile, who without any state power showed the path of self-reliance and self-confidence to a distressed and oppressed people. He was motivated by the ideology of his close friend Deendayal Upadhyaya. This model has been duplicated, on a smaller scale, in Gonda and Beed in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The focal point of all activities is a graduate couple, called Samaj Shilpi Dampati. They live in a village and are responsible for a cluster of five villages. All programmes of the DRI are implemented through this graduate couple. They document every activity and the results thereof, acting as enablers for the villagers they are responsible towards in accessing education and Government programmes and schemes, careful documentation, generating valuable data for assessment and planning.

The manner in which self-reliance and empowerment have been propagated is evident from the schemes in various sectors. Common ailments afflicting the population are addressed through Ayurveda and naturopathy. Locally available Ayurvedic herbs and preparations are put together into a mobile medical kit for the Samaj Shilpi Dampati. This is realistic for treatment of common ailments, instead of allopathic medicines which are costly and impractical in a doctor:population ratio of 1:10,000. Research into Ayurveda is carried out in an institute funded by the Tatas, where new medicines are developed. Interestingly, the JRD Tata Aarogyadham Institute has also developed a simple water purification procedure using hot wooden coal, costing less than a rupee, an improvement on the Tatas' own low-cost filter currently being marketed. The objective is to scale up operations to market the medicinal products to make this activity a profit centre.

The transformation in agricultural output and productivity has been achieved through effective watershed management, availing of Government grants and the Krishi Vigyan Kendras of ICAR. The Krishi Vigyan Kendra's water-harvesting techniques have shown astounding results, at some places water tables having risen 150 feet, enabling irrigation and consequently multiple cropping. Apart from multiple cropping, the viability of marginal holdings is enhanced by inter-cropping fruits and vegetables along with animal husbandry. With regular interaction and intervention through the graduate couple, the DRI has been able to arrive at an ideal balance of different economic activities (crops, fruits and vegetables, animal husbandry) for marginal land holdings, both irrigated and non-irrigated. The significance of this achievement cannot be highlighted sufficiently.

The value chain of processing agricultural output is carried forward in Udyamita Vidyapeeth where agricultural products are processed and packaged for commercial sale. The Vidyapeeth also has other economic activities like making products for local use — for instance, tiles, bricks, handicrafts. The Vidyapeeth, in consonance with Nanaji's vision of every activity being self-sustaining, trains landless who are encouraged to form self-help groups. Moreover there is a scaling up of operations, the accent being on quality towards which FPO and ISI certification has been obtained for different products for sale in a larger market.

Even in the sphere of education the innovative gurukul model has been adopted. Each gurukul houses 80 children with retired couples looking after groups of 10 children. The children are inculcated with values to study in groups in an inspiring atmosphere.

While, the above are some of the activities of the institute, the most important aspect of its functioning is the strong accent on establishing management practises and resource improvement at every juncture, which is achieved by a collection of detailed information on all activities, processes and functionaries, and planning future steps on the basis of such information and analysis.

The institute in 2006 undertook the process of ISO-9001 Certification, which required it to identify the functionaries involved in every activity and processes involved. This resulted in the processes for every activity being identified, including the processes for every functionary involved in such activity, leading to systems being set into place. This also provides clarity to every functionary.

While such systems are commonplace in the corporate world, they are rare in the NGO sector where efforts are individual-centric and organisations become subject to the efforts or the lack of it of the individual involved. This is not to downplay the role of the individual in any manner. By ensuring systems are put in place, the role of the individual is defined.

Nanaji's foresight also included that of putting a team together which helped him immensely in charting out the path and is in place to carry forward his legacy. His successors are led by Mr Vasant Pandit, Mr Bharat Pathak, Ms Nandita Pathak and Mr Jeh Wadia.

The moral elevation which Nanaji provided by sheer force of example provides a direction to the country, a telling instance being that the number of litigations in Chitrakoot has been brought down drastically by virtue of his efforts in endeavouring to create a Ram Rajya and amity between all sections of people.

It is instructive to note that Nanji's stepped into Chitrakoot only in 1991 when he was 77 years old. In a brief period he demonstrated the viability of a self-reliant village community. It is six decades since we became a republic and already our policy-makers have given up on the rural population, considering them to be fit only for cash doles in the form of NREGA, condemning them to a life of dependency, rather than empowering them. Unfortunately, for today's political class, politics is a business where the accent is on garnering more money to outspend/ divide rivals and win elections, that being an end in itself. Nanaji's achievements have been consistently ignored.

The writer is a senior Supreme Court lawyer.








On February 24, Russia's Pacific Fleet dispatched the large anti-submarine warship Marshal Shaposhnikov, a rescue tugboat and the Pechenga tanker to fight pirates off the Somali coast.

In addition to their crew, there are marines on board the auxiliary vessels and the Marshal Shaposhnikov is carrying two helicopters. The vessels, led by Captain 1st Rank Ildar Akhmerov, constitute the fourth task force that Russia has sent to Africa to ensure navigation safety.

Russian warships joined the fight against Somali pirates in the fall of 2008, when the Neustrashimy frigate was sent to the Gulf of Aden from the Baltic Sea. The frigate, currently keeping those waters safe for navigation, will be replaced by the group led by the Marshal Shaposhnikov.

In total nearly 20 countries, including leading Nato member states, India, China and several Arab countries, have sent warships to Somali coast. Three groups of warships from Russia's Pacific Fleet have convoyed over 100 merchant vessels from 26 countries and repelled more than 20 pirate attacks.

During its second tour of duty in the Gulf of Aden, the Neustrashimy accompanied 15 convoys of over 50 tankers and other merchant vessels from different countries.

But these international efforts have not been entirely effective. Pirates staged 111 attacks, seizing 42 ships and 815 crewmembers off the Somali coast in 2008, and attempted 217 attacks, seizing 47 vessels and 867 crewmembers in 2009. This indicates that the pirates were less successful in 2009, when they seized one vessel per four or five attacks, than they were the previous year when they seized one vessel per two or three attacks.

However, this is not evidence of a piracy crisis as such, but only of tactical victories won by ship owners and warships. Strategically, the number of pirate attacks is growing and there are no signs of a decline in their activity.

The pirates are acquiring better equipment and boats, modern weapons and satellite communication and navigation systems. They are also improving their tactics. When merchant vessels stopped approaching the shore, the pirates started attacking them on the high seas.

Such attacks cannot succeed unless the pirates have information about the vessels' routes and timetables, which means that they have an extended network of informers. Sea piracy has become a lucrative business with multi-million dollar revenues and only minor expenditures given the dire poverty in Somalia and the low cost of weapons and equipment available on the global market.

Those countries with fleets off the Somali coast are still unable to agree a common strategy on fighting the pirates and on what to do with the detainees.

European legislation does not stipulate the harsh punishment of pirates, and they do not fear a prison term because it offers them an opportunity to settle in Europe after serving their sentence.

The law prohibits European seamen from turning the pirates over to Arab countries, where by law such offenses are punishable by the death penalty. Russian and Asian seamen have more leeway, and usually deliver the detained pirates to Yemen or neighboring Arab countries.

A considerably larger number of pirate boats were sunk in 2009 when Nato warships resorted to extreme measures more often. However, that response is unlikely to reduce the number of pirate attacks.

The only military solution to the problem is a large-scale operation against the pirates' main coastal bases, which requires the use of much larger groups of forces.

The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.









By May 1928 the basic principles of guerrilla warfare... had already been evolved; that is, the 16-character formula: The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue:" Mao Tse-tung, 1936

Not many of the Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan have read Mao on guerrilla warfare, but then, they knew how to do it anyway. The current crop of officers in the Western Armies that are fighting them don't seem to have read their Mao either, which is a more serious omission. The generation before them certainly did.

Mao Tse-tung didn't invent guerrilla warfare, but he did write the book on it. The '16-character formula' sums it up: Never stand and fight, just stay in business and wear the enemy down. "The ability to run away is the essence of the guerrilla," as Mao put it — and that is why the much-ballyhooed 'battle' for Marjah and Nad Ali, two small towns in Afghanistan's Helmand province, is irrelevant to the outcome of the war.

Breathless reports of the 'battle' by embedded journalists have filled the American and European media for the past two weeks, as if winning it might make a difference. The truth is that some of the local Taliban fighters have been left to sell their lives as dearly as possible, while most have been pulled back or sent home to await recall. "The enemy advances; we retreat."

Mao didn't invent guerrilla warfare; he was merely a very successful practitioner who tried to codify the rules. Afghans don't really need instruction in it, since that has been the hill-tribes' style of warfare since time immemorial. The only new element in the equation, since the 1940s, is that these wars have almost all ended in victory for the guerrillas.

The Jewish war against British occupation in Palestine in the 1940s; the war against the French in Algeria in the 1950s; the Vietnam war in the 1960s; the Rhodesian war in the 1970s; the victory of the Afghan 'mujahideen' against the Soviet Army in the 1980s: In these and several dozen other wars, Western Armies with all their massive firepower eventually lost to the lightly armed nationalists.

By contrast, the number of times when they won can be counted on the fingers of one badly mutilated hand. By the 1970s, Western Armies had figured out why they always lost, and began to avoid such struggles — but now, they seem to have forgotten again.

The guerrillas always won, in that era, because the Western Armies were fighting to retain direct control of Third-World countries or impose some puppet regime on them, at a time when the people of those countries had already awakened to nationalism. All the guerrillas had to do was observe the 16-character formula and stay in business.

They could accept a loss ratio of dozens or hundreds dead for each foreign soldier killed, because they had an endless supply of local 18-year-olds eager to join the fight. Whereas the Western Armies could not take many casualties or go on fighting for many years, because popular support at home was always fragile.

In the end, the Western Army could always quit and go home without suffering any especially terrible consequences. The locals did not have that option, since they were already home, so they always had more staying power. Eventually, pressure at home forced the foreigners to give up and leave — and the Taliban's leaders know that. They watched the Russians leave only 30 years ago.

The current generation of Western officers are in denial, as if the past half-century didn't happen. They parrot some of the slogans of the era of guerrilla wars, like the need to win the 'hearts and minds' of the population, but it's just empty words. The phrase dates from the Vietnam War, but the tactic didn't work there and it isn't working in Afghanistan.

The plan, in this 'offensive' in Helmand province, is to capture the towns ('clear and hold'), and then saturate the area with Afghan troops and police and win the locals' hearts and minds by providing better security and public services. It might work if all the people involved on both sides were bland, interchangeable characters from The Sims, but they are not.

The people of Helmand province are Pashtuns, and the Taliban are almost exclusively a Pashtun organisation. The people that the Western Armies are fighting are local men: Few Taliban fighters die more than a day's walk from home. Whereas almost none of the 'Afghan' troops and police who are supposed to win local minds and hearts are Pashtuns.

They are mostly Tajiks from the north who speak Dari, not Pashto. (Very few Pashtuns join the Kabul regime's Army and police.) Even if these particular Afghan police are better trained and less prone to steal money, do drugs, and rape young men at checkpoints than their colleagues elsewhere, they are unwelcome outsiders in Helmand.

This is just another post-imperial guerrilla war, and it will almost certainly end in the same way as all the others. Thirty years ago, any Western military officer could have told you that, but large organisations often forget their own history.

The writer is an independent journalist based in London.









THE distinguished nineteenth century British politician Lord Palmerston was the first to put out the foreign policy realist's credo into an aphorism: " Nations," he declared, " have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests." In line with this, perhaps, it would be quite appropriate to have Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor to improve our relations with Pakistan.


But this throws up two questions: First, should foreign policy decisions be made purely on the basis of " national interests", and shouldn't ethical issues be taken into account at this point in the twenty- first century? The Saudi regime is, after all, virtually a medieval monarchy with little or no civil rights for most of its citizens and all of its women. It has been a supporter of the Taliban and has permitted the flow of funds from its charities to fundamentalist organisations around the world. Even today, a great deal of funding for the Taliban and for the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba comes from Saudi Arabia.


The second issue is that even if one must sup with unsavoury regimes to promote the national interest, should it not be done discreetly? Union minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor's public acknowledgment that India sought the Saudis as interlocutors was maladroit and ill- advised. Discretion is also advised because such a policy can blow up publicly on your face. For example, the Saudis may once again this year, at the instance of Islamabad, press New Delhi on Kashmir in the United Nations or through the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can be commended for trying a variety of tactics to get the Pakistani monkey off India's back. But what his government seems to be desperately lacking is plain old- fashioned diplomatic finesse — that is why it tripped up in Sharm- el- Shaikh and that's the reason for Mr Tharoor's gaffe.







PERHAPS Nanaji Deshmukh's best work will be the one he did quietly, among the tribals in villages near Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh. For thirty years, this was where this elder member of the Sangh Parivar brought together his idealism and famed organisational skills to improve the condition of the tribals.


For someone with his background, this sort of work is commendable, even though some may disagree with his ideology.


Nanaji was among the heroes who fought the Emergency and suffered for it. He had forged a united front with Jayaprakash Narayan, and committed the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh to the latter's ' total revolution'. This was a move of great political acumen — and one from which the current Sangh Parivar leadership can take lessons — to keep the party relevant.


Once he decided not to join Morarji Desai's cabinet in 1977, Nanaji voluntarily dissociated himself from politics. Yet, his was not a total renunciation. He knew his stature enabled him to get the Sangh to look inwards. He talked about the need for young political leaders to replace older ones — the theme song of the Bharatiya Janata Party in recent months. He also expressed his anguish at the post- Godhra killings.


Political parties usually do not allow for someone like him, a person who holds up the mirror to them without fear. This was a position Nanaji fashioned for himself.







WORLD CUP tournament director Ken Read's decision to impose a two- match ban on Indian hockey star Shivendra Singh for hitting Pakistan's Fareed Ahmed comes as a huge surprise to many who watched the match live and on television.


In the euphoria of India's win, no one realised what Shivendra had done. But what beats keen observers is how none of the two umpires on the field caught the offender then and there.


Agreed, modern hockey is played at a fast and furious pace and India- Pakistan clashes are gripping. But at a time when the video referral system is being used to review decisions, there is a need to answer the question as to why Shivendra was not pulled up or shown a card then and there.


Rules are rules, and our players must respect them both at home and abroad and understand the virtues of fair play.








THERE are more ways than one to skin a cat, but we never ask its permission. Indian secularism cowers in fear of what religious bigots might say. This compels our leaders to prostrate before hairy, bare- chested people, visit religious sites, even clang bells in temples before the campaign trail begins.


Whether they believe in them or not, it is politically relevant that they be photographed on such occasions.


This would never happen in France. And this is why we, in India, cannot understand why the French banned the burqa in public places. But the burqa was not cannonballed because it symbolised an invading religion. For the French all gods are crazy, beginning with their own. Read on.


Unlike India, neither elected office holders nor government employees in France can publicly display their religious beliefs. This restriction applies not just to what they wear on their persons, like a cross, kirpan or cap, but also includes open demonstrations of their other- wordly affliliations.




They cannot be seen inaugurating a new wing of a cathedral, leading the march on Ascension Day, or bowing for benediction before a religious head. If a French official or elected politician prays, sings carols, or performs namaaz , it is always as private citizens and never for political grandstanding. No camera flashes, no wired microphones.


Did the French state ask the permission of religious heads before they decreed all this? Of course not! Pope Pius X complained from the balcony of St.


Peter's that the 1906 French law separating Church and State was actually " oppression" of the church by the state. By God, he was right! He asked the overwhelming Catholic population of France to " refute" what the state had just done. There he went dead wrong. The bulk of Catholics in France celebrated the Republic.


After the 1906 law of separation, no religious body could undermine the tenets of citizenship. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or whatever, had to be subservient to the state. They had to come to the table with a begging bowl and not a salad bowl. From then on, religious communities in France enjoyed no special rights, and like any other association had to pass the legality test. In other words, religious institutions could survive only in the negative, i. e., as long as they did not violate individual rights given to citizens by the French Republic.


This is what the French mean by laicite , and this is where they are different from our secularism. The French state does not say that it loves all religions equally, but that it stays away from all religions equally. A French person gets rights as a citizen, and as a citizen only, and not because of membership to a group or community.


Therefore, if a certain practice goes against the tenets of citizenship, religious virtuosos must back off.


Group rights? Never heard of it. Now that is one phrase untranslatable in French.


At times like this, one wishes that India were colonised by the French and not the British. Instead of our untidy secularism, we might have inherited the laicite instead. The British divided India on religious and community grounds in the name of protecting native culture.




This provided them with just the right cover for imperial aggrandisement.


Colonial rule gained momentum after the Mutiny through a judicious mix of guns and gurus.


Religious heads were consulted on what was Hindu custom and they merrily quoted from the shastras .


This was the first banana peel, and since then our streets are littered with it.


Also unlike Britain and many parts of Europe, in France there is no state religion.


There is no monarch who is the titular head of church and state and nobody pays tithe to an established church. As other countries are burdened by this original guilt, they encourage multi- culturalism when faced by minorities demanding parity.


France is not burdened in a similar fashion. What people forget, especially multiculturalists, is that the 1906 French law of separation was aimed at the Catholic Church, not Judaism, Protestantism, and least of all, Islam. The French correctly believe that the clerical hard core harasses the majority who are only nominally religious.


As this home truth determines the law, French secularism doesn't look heavenwards for direction.


The action against the burqa is therefore not an act of pique, but is derived from a foundational logic.


The 1906 law may have taken off as an anti- Catholic measure, but has now had a wrap- around effect and constrains other religions too. As logic came to the ball on the arm of the law, it kept the burqa out. This is why the French are not shamefaced when they pout, shrug and hiss c'est la vie to burqa propagandists.


Tough luck; if you are in France, do as the French do.


This also explains why no Frenchman can practise polygamy under any religious register, nor migrate to France with more than one wife. Men and women are equal all the way. They should be free to access secular education and the secular world without looking over their shoulder to see what the padre or the mullah might think. They can build temples and mosques of any design provided they do not encroach on public places.


But the burqa constrains freedom, so it must go.


Anyone who says that a burqa makes no difference is either a male chauvinist or a religious bigot, and the difference is often very slight. At any rate, we know that the burqa is not sanctioned in Islamic religion, and even though many Muslims practice it, there is a world of difference between the two.


The idea of the Republic is very powerful in France and the school is where it is first put in practice. This also made the school teacher the face of the Republic across villages, towns and cities of France.


This has been the case since 1870. In schools, children must look and dress alike for that is the cradle where French citizens are reared. Once they are adults, they may opt to wear a hijab or a cross, provided they do not seek state employment or elected office. They are now old enough to choose, but while in school they are the children of the Republic.


French schools are true melting pots in a way the rest of Europe and USA cannot manage.




Religious interference in matters of citizenship is interpreted differently in different liberal societies.


The French version, however, is most consistent.


This is why it packs a hefty punch and outclasses other secularisms in every weight division. All democracies, nevertheless, draw the line somewhere.


In India, inspite of our equivocation on practically everything, we have banned sati , dowry and child marriage.


Even if some argue that child marriage doesn't block women getting educated or employed, Indian lawmakers think it does, and that is it.


Likewise, French secularism too can colour its own understanding of individual freedom. For them, the burqa is a violation of a woman's rights forced on Islamic women by a minority of religious fanatics.


The job of the Republic is to create equal citizens where sex matters but gender does not. Anyone taking French lessons will read this in the first chapter.


The writer is a wellknown sociologist, currently Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.








ACCORDING TO Harish Salve, the Andhra Pradesh government's counsel in New Delhi, the historic Osmania University is infested with Maoists, who are trying to unleash violence in the garb of Telangana movement to destabilise the government.


This was the feedback he gave in New Delhi, to the Supreme Court last week, supposedly based on the inputs given by the Intelligence department. The counsel questioned the authority of high court in ordering the state government to evict the paramilitary forces and Greyhounds, the elite anti- Naxalite forces, from OU campus. The Congress MP from Anantapur A.


Venkatarami Reddy has gone a step ahead and equated the movement by OU students with that of Khalistanis and the campus with the Golden Temple, which he said, has given shelter to extremists. "While Khalistanis prevented the paramilitary forces from entering the Golden Temple premises, the OU students are resisting the forces in the campus," he declared.


A visit to the OU campus these days leaves you with an impression that you have entered into a war zone. One can find hundreds of olive-green clad and AK-47 toting paramilitary forces at every 100 yards; there are iron fencings and barricades everywhere and at times, one can also find sandbags shielding the armed forces. In fact, Justice L. Narasimha Reddy of the high court, wondered whether the OU campus was the Wagah border and the forces were getting ready to fight war with Pakistan.


THE SUPREME Court, while giving a stay on the High Court order, asked the state government counsel to show concrete evidence to prove that there were indeed Maoists in the OU campus.


So, what evidence does the state government have on the presence of Maoists in the campus? Even during the normal days, there is a heavy police force in the OU area to provide security to the campus. In fact, there is a full- fledged police station adjacent to the university hostels. It is extremely difficult for an outsider to enter the campus without the knowledge of the police. After the revival of the Telangana agitation, the OU area is completely fortified and the normal traffic through the campus is restricted. Even the media persons are not able to enter the campus without disclosing their identity to the police if they want to cover the happenings in the campus.


Thus, there is hardly any scope for Maoists entering the campus by hoodwinking the police. If they want to enter the OU campus, they must first enter Hyderabad. In the last decade and a half, the Maoists or the Radical Students Union have been wiped out completely from Hyderabad and neighbouring Ranga Reddy district and the police authorities themselves have claimed that there has not been a single instance of Maoist violence in the city.


The only evidence the government has, perhaps, is the presence of Maoist emissaries Gaddar and Vara Vara Rao at the students' meetings in the OU campus on and off to express their solidarity with the Telangana movement. The government argued that these emissaries instigated students to revolt against the government.


The other evidence was the participation of left- wing cultural troupes with bare- chested and drum- beating balladeers sporting red costumes and black shawls in the OU meetings to incite the students to participate in the Telangana movement.


These cultural troupes are conducting cultural programmes in the name of " Telangana Dhoom Dham" all over the region. This doesn't really mean that the entire Telangana is infested with Maoists.



VILLAGERS of Khila Shahpur of Raghunathpalle block in Warangal district recently took an interesting and innovative decision: that they would give up alcohol. The influence was not Mahatma Gandhi, but their support for the Telangana state.


This arose after they were told that the government was getting the maximum revenue from liquor and that the people of Telangana were contributing a lot of money to the state exchequer which was being used to develop the Andhra region. They decided that they could best pressure the government by denying them revenue.


The villagers adopted a resolution at the meeting and took a vow not to consume liquor till the Telangana state was formed. Not only that, they decided to spread this idea across the Telangana region.


It remains to be seen how long the villagers will stick to their vow; since the government knows very well how to lure them back into boozing!



WHAT'S in a name? One may raise this Shakespearian doubt. But sometimes, as we know names do matter a lot.


Chief minister K. Rosaiah inaugurated the much- delayed flyover at Langer Houz on the outskirts of Hyderabad city recently. The area is dominated by Muslim minority and is represented by the Majlis- e- Ittehadul Muslimeen ( MIM) in the assembly. The MIM demanded that the flyover be named after their patriarch and former Hyderabad MP Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, who passed away last year.


The demand was not taken to kindly by the BJP, which also has considerable presence in the area. So, it petitioned the government that the flyover be named after Mahatma Gandhi, since it passes over the Gandhi Memorial, where there is a Samadhi of Gandhiji's ashes on the banks of Musi river.


This was a Catch 22 situation for Rosaiah. And when he did inaugurate the flyover finally, he announced that the government would name the flyover after former home minister P. Indra Reddy, who died in an accident few years ago. Rosaiah had to eventually bow to the pressure of Reddy's widow who is also his Cabinet colleague Sabita Indra Reddy. The flyover connects the area to the road leading to Chevella, Reddy's native place.








It has been four years in the making, but Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's Saudi Arabia trip shows every sign of being a success. From the welcome he was afforded upon landing to his meeting with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the trip has been a validation of the rapprochement that started with the latter's India visit in 2006. The PM's trip can be seen as an advancement of several linked agendas that are vital for India: energy, investment and security.

One of the main hurdles India must overcome to maintain its growth rate is a deficiency of crude oil supplies. Given that crude oil is highly import dependent, the volatility of oil prices - the 2007-08 spike is one example - makes India particularly vulnerable. The 2006 Delhi Declaration forming a strategic energy partnership between the two countries was one attempt by New Delhi to address this. Now, with the Riyadh Declaration, it has the opportunity to move the partnership forward. If New Delhi can manoeuvre to strengthen its energy deal with Riyadh, it will serve as an effective hedge against future volatility.

The other aspect of ensuring energy security as well as boosting infrastructure is inviting Saudi investment. India's healthy growth has been juxtaposed against the frailty of western economies in the wake of the global financial crisis. Little wonder the investment opportunities India offers have been talking points on this trip. New Delhi could do worse than take a leaf from Beijing's book here. The latter has signed a long-term energy investment plan with Riyadh. With ambitious plans for the expansion of India's power sector, minimising regulatory hurdles to attract Saudi investment in Indian fuel exploration concerns and the like could pay off in the long run.

If the relationship is to be a healthy one, investment flows must not be one-sided. The gas sector in Saudi Arabia and the new economic cities that Riyadh intends to set up are both investment opportunities that New Delhi could look at. And there is scope for engagement on security issues as well. The extradition treaty signed this time, the security cooperation agreement and the large number of Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia are all tools that can be used in this regard. The Saudi repudiation of the Taliban and expression of concern over rising extremism in Pakistan should be music to Indian ears. In its pursuit of a pragmatic foreign policy, New Delhi needs to cultivate a more multifaceted relationship with Riyadh than it has before.







In his Budget speech, the finance minister said the Rajiv Awas Yojana, a housing scheme for slum-dwellers and urban poor, is ready to roll. A 700 per cent hike in budgetary allocation should incentivise states willing to give slum dwellers property rights. Making India slum-free is a major public policy challenge, requiring Centre-state coordination. But it fits with what economist Hernando de Soto recently advocated when visiting Mumbai's Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums. He said urban migration, a fact of modern Indian life, would be unmanageable unless enforceable property rights become a tool of poverty alleviation. Once informally held assets are given legal cover, the poor can access basic amenities and financial aid.

In India's case, title deeds for relocated squatters must go along with services delivery: power, water supply, sewage systems. Also, in the case of those rehoused in city outskirts, people with inner-city jobs can't have commuting costs erase the benefits of property ownership. Many would then sell out and return to squatting. They'll, therefore, need affordable, efficient public transport networks and, ideally, location in expanded hubs of suburban economic activity. Large "shadow economies" like Dharavi, however, need different solutions. For old slum colonies where entrepreneurship has taken root, regularisation and development, drawing on community participation, may be the answer.







The recent Kolkata Test match had it all. High intensity drama, thrills till the second last ball of the penultimate over, fantastic batsmanship and bowling, weather disruption and, finally, controversy over the playing surface. It also had what is now considered a disappearing breed from the Test match arena: an almost capacity crowd on all five days of play. It wouldn't be wrong to suggest that Harbhajan Singh's best was brought out by the high voltage screaming of the 35,000-strong Eden crowd. It was truly a contest that lived up to the billing of the unofficial Test championship.

This is especially so after Nagpur where the first Test match saw no more than 1,000 spectators per day. This despite the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) making free tickets available to lure a decent enough crowd to the stadium at Jamtha, some 16 km from Nagpur city. While some ascribe the empty stadium to distances, the very same venue was packed to capacity during an India-Australia one-day international in early November 2009.

At Nagpur, India's home advantage was nullified with the match being played out in an empty stadium. Cricket is not just a contest between the 22 players out in the middle. What makes playing cricket at the MCG in Melbourne all the more intimidating is the 60,000-plus Australian fans screaming down your throat. A similar experience awaits visiting teams at Eden Gardens, something Steve Waugh's legendary Australian team of 2001 and Graeme Smith's South Africans will testify to.

The lesson Eden Gardens holds is that there should be designated heritage Test centres in the country. These are cities and venues where cricket fans still flock to watch Test cricket, considered by a minuscule minority of fans across the world as the real test of a players' ability.

We had a sizeable crowd when India played Sri Lanka at the CCI in Mumbai in November 2009, a near full Chepauk when England returned to play Tests after the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 and a healthy 20,000 watched India play Australia at the Chinnaswamy in Bengalore in October 2008.

The common thread bet-ween all these centres: the venues have hosted Test cricket for over half a century. In contrast, relatively newer stadiums - VCA stadium in Jamtha and PCA stadium in Mohali are cases in point - bear a deserted look everytime the Test match caravan moves in. Even Sourav Ganguly's retirement Test match in November 2008, which could have brought Kolkata to a standstill, did not attract more than 2,000 spectators in Nagpur. Sachin Tendulkar was forced to score his 12,000th Test run in front of 500 school children at Mohali.

The BCCI must act. Kolkata and Eden Gardens have helped provide enough evidence. It is essential to have designated Test venues while other venues can continue to host shorter versions of the game. This is imperative given the vast difference in cricket-watching cultures across India, and more because India wants to be looked upon as world cricket's real nerve centre.

In England and Australia, Test matches are played only in certain venues. Down Under all leading international sides play Test cricket in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth. In England too, Test matches are played at Lord's, the Oval, Trentbridge, Edgbaston or Headingley.

While it is a bold attempt to spread Test cricket to relatively newer centres in India, evidence suggests the experiment is premature and needs to be abandoned immediately.

The point is simple. If we host a Test match between the world's number one and number two sides in an empty stadium, there's no way we can justify our tag as world cricket's centre of gravity. Just some six months earlier, an entire Ashes series was played to packed stadiums in England and a pedigreed Boxing Day Test at the MCG easily gets 50,000-plus spectators on most days. Unless Indian fans develop a composite appreciation of all forms of cricket, England, and to a lesser extent Australia, will continue to look upon us as the brash new rich kid on the block. And for once they will be justified. Appreciation of T-20 cricket cannot elevate India to being the game's real arbiters. In soccer parlance, we can at best be an Abramovich but never a Matt Busby.

India should fall back on its tried and tested venues, assured of decent crowds to cheer for the home team. This ensures shorter formats are always played to capacity. It will also help cement our place among the world's best destinations for Test cricket. Not without reason do players of all countries look upon Eden Gardens as cricket's mecca. By providence, Eden Gardens yet again played host to one of the most sensational Test matches ever, with the home side coming out on top at the very end. The capacity Eden crowd, a rarity these days, truly got its money's worth.

The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.







Gowher Rizvi, adviser and special representative to Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, was part of the team that negotiated the accord between New Delhi and Dhaka recently. Humra Quraishi spoke to Rizvi:

What will Bangladesh gain from this accord?

It would be better to rephrase the question: What do both India and Bangladesh gain from this accord in order to understand the spirit and philosophy that informs the agreements? It is the most complete win-win agreement that has ever been negotiated between any two countries in the region. I believe it has set a benchmark for other bilateral agreements. The accord has sought to remove all the irritants that have dogged the relationship between the two countries. It has made mutual trust and interests as the basis of relations between two equal democracies. The immediate agreements on security, border demarcation, trade, connectivity, environment, water, investments etc are historic and wide-ranging. In fact, this agreement has been correctly described as 'transformative' and a 'game changer'.

Two obvious issues of friction between India and Bangladesh have been sharing of rivers and border skirmishes. Will the accord provide relief?

We want to transform the border of confrontation and conflict into one of peace and prosperity. We have reached substantive agreements on border demarcation, on adverse possessions and for solving the problem of access to enclaves. We are actively working on the demarcation of the last few miles of the border. We hope to complete the border agreements in the next three months. We are working to make sure that our border security personnel engage in confidence-building measures and commanders hold 'flag meetings' periodically to resolve outstanding issues before they actually flare up into cross-border firings. We have agreed to set up a number of border markets.


Our starting point in the discussion was that shortage of water is hurting people on both sides. The rivers that run through our countries cannot be managed, trained or harnessed in piecemeal efforts by different countries but rather through a joint strategy for managing the entire basin. The rivers from head to mouth are one single entity and have to be managed as such. Water distribution has to be fair and equitable. So, we have agreed to jointly collect hydrological data and enter into ad hoc interim agreements.

How do you see the relations between the two countries growing?

India has offered one billion dollars in concessional loan to Bangladesh that would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago. India will help Bangladesh build and upgrade its transport infrastructure, which will benefit both countries. The move to give 250 megawatt of electricity as a priority will help to speed up industrialisation in Bangladesh. This is just the beginning. The agreement should be seen as an investment in our vision for the future of South Asia. India is rapidly emerging as an economic superpower and we in Bangladesh hope to become partners with India in our progress and development and can partake of India's affluence. Our hope is India will give us unrestricted access to its huge market and unilaterally allow us duty-free access. The prosperity and stability of Bangladesh is just as much in India's interest as it is in our own.







Would you like your child to be gay or lesbian? That was the rhetorical question raised by Aligarh Muslim University vice-chancellor Abdul Aziz while defending the institution's decision to suspend professor S R Siras for alleged homosexuality.


The question is particularly relevant in the context of the Supreme Court hearing on the Delhi high court's watershed judgement which decriminalised consensual homosexuality between adults. Some 16 petitioners have applied to the apex court to strike down the high court judgement. These include religious and political organisations, NGOs, astrologers and a follower of yoga guru Baba Ramdev. The reasons given for their opposition to the legitimisation of consensual same-sex relationships are as disparate as the plaintiffs themselves, and include the assertion that homosexuality would be a "disaster" for India's defence forces and the security of the country. (This, incidentally, is contradicted by a global survey conducted by the University of California, Santa Barbara, which showed that legitimising homosexuality improved, rather than undermined, military morale.)


But by and large the opposition to homosexuality is that it is 'unnatural', biologically, emotionally and culturally, hence the pejorative term 'queer'. According to homophobes, gays are 'queer' because what they do and feel is an affront to our nature and to so-called 'natural law'.


This argument raises more questions than it answers. The quest of civilisation surely has always been to expand the horizon of what previous generations have considered to be 'unnatural' or taboo. For instance, many life-saving medical practices such as vaccination against killer diseases like small pox were initially deemed to be 'unnatural'.

For upper caste Hindus travel to foreign lands kala pani was an 'unnatural' abomination which incurred social ostracism. If this 'unnatural' transgression had not been made natural, if this taboo had not been broken, the great Indian diaspora one of the more significant factors in the cultural and economic crosscurrents of globalisation would never have been made possible.


In sexual matters, the distinction between the 'natural' and the 'unnatural' is particularly problematic. In some major religions such as Roman Catholicism, for instance even heterosexual relationships are permissible only between man and wife, and for the sole purpose of procreation. On an already dangerously over-populated planet, such a proposition is not just morally but also environmentally dubious. Equally harmful in a world threatened by AIDS is the corollary injunction against the use of condoms.

From vaccination, to migration, to the use of prophylactics, it is often the so-called 'unnatural' that has expanded and enhanced the human situation. There is one malady however that has over the millennia proved to be beyond the scope of either prevention or cure. It is a bane so deeply rooted in our nature that it might be called the original and perhaps the only sin: it is the bane of bigotry. More than any other single disease or affliction it is bigotry that has consistently posed the biggest threat and the biggest challenge to the ongoing story of civilisation. Indeed, the cruel paradox is that bigotry which seems so inherently 'natural' in so many of us is actually the most unnatural of phenomena in terms of human evolution and survival. Bigotry kills. It kills individuals and ideas. And given half a chance it will kill what we call civilisation.


So, how would you answer the question: Would you like your children to be gays or lesbians? Perhaps the most 'natural' or should it be unnatural? answer to that would be: Never mind all that i just hope they don't turn out to be bigots.








Bombers in Kabul blow a hole in India's largest overseas aid programme. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the country that provides most of India's imported petroleum. Pakistan is the proverbial ghost at the banquet in both cases. It seems likely that Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani was behind the Kabul attack that led to nine Indian deaths. Haqqani carried out both the July 2008 and October 2009 attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul at the direct behest of the Pakistani military. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer, has large reserves of natural gas, is geographically next door, and manages its energy sector far more professionally than rivals like Iran. Yet it has taken an Indian prime minister nearly three decades to visit the Saudi kingdom. The Saudis are suspected to have a military — even a nuclear — and strategic relationship with Pakistan. Islamic charities in the Gulf country help fund militant causes in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). Mr Singh's visit came to be dominated by Indian hopes that Riyadh would act as a curb on Pakistan's continued support for terrorism.


This reflects how restrictive Pakistan's violent obsession with India has become to the foreign policy goals of Delhi. Among larger nations, Afghanistan's populace is probably alone in giving India the highest approval ratings of any country in the world. Yet India's relations with that country are dominated by the quasi-war Pakistan is waging against the present regime in Kabul. Islamabad tells the world it cannot give up on the Taliban and the LeT because of India. Between terrorism and political blackmail, Pakistan has ensured that Af-Pak remains tenuously hyphenated with Pak-Ind.


A slightly different state of affairs exists regarding Saudi Arabia. Saudi fears of Iranian domination led it to seek a military deterrent. Pakistan was ready to be a nuclear gun for hire, especially if the hiring included plenty of oil, money and backing for its militant groups. Saudi Arabia would be a natural energy partner for India. But its strategic need for a subterranean relationship with Islamabad has ensured a bilateral wariness. India needs to disentangle its regional policy from Pakistan's net. Providing support to the US deployment in Afghanistan would be an obvious way to counteract Pakistan there. As is the development of an economic relationship with Saudi Arabia to counterbalance its security ties with Pakistan. But more systematic thought and strategic imagination is needed, one that cross-leverages relations with other countries and eventually entangles Pakistan in a web of India's making.








Barack Obama, the most powerful leader of the free world, bends his knee occasionally to the mighty tobacco leaf. This is startling news to Americans who were told on Sunday that their country's great leader not only has a "less-than-ideal diet" — and, therefore, an elevated cholesterol level — but also falls off the wagon from time to time when it comes to kicking his cigarette habit. Officials were unclear about who the nicotine gum-chewing Barack bums his cigarettes from, but considering that Michelle Obama wheedled a promise out of him that he would stop puffing once he entered the Oval Office, anti-smoking America is concerned.


Coupled with Mr Obama's fondness for cheeseburgers and desserts, both at his beck and call from the White House kitchen, his continued smoking can be seen by some as a Tiger Woods-ish lapse. But the man who made the slogan, 'Yes, you can' as ubiquitous as apple pie, saying 'No, I can't' to an addictive habit has got more sympathies from the butt-kicking American public than one would expect.


Mr Obama insists that he's "95 per cent" cured of his smoking habit. Whether his holding on to the 5 per cent is part of a strategy planned against the cigarette-friendly Chinese or against a US Congress lukewarm to his healthcare bill is too early to say. But the trim Mr Obama does dangle cigarettes from his lips somewhere in the White House compound. He doesn't do it in public or in front of his children. Which leads us to assume that there is something that all smoking spouses hold on to: a private space where an inhalation amounts to experiencing contraband joy. All that the American public now needs to deal with is the actual existence of Bathroom One.








A nation led more by frenzy than reason had anointed Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest cricketer ever a long time ago. No matter that Donald Bradman's batting average, at 99.94 runs per innings, is almost double that of Tendulkar. So how do we decide who was the 'greatest'?


Tendulkar is the front-runner if volume of runs scored, the number of hundreds notched up, the sheer amount of matches played across all formats of the game, and the years spent on the field all go into the making of a yardstick. His double century against South Africa last month, the first ever in the one-day game, has once again triggered that old debate of 'Who's better, who's best?' This time round, even the conservative international media are willing to acknowledge that the Mumbaikar could well be on par — if not better than — the man who till now was considered 'untouchable' as a cricketing icon, Sir Don.


In a country almost bereft of truly great international achievements on the sporting field, Tendulkar's worth can always get exaggerated. We also tend to overrate the impact one player may have had on the psyche of a nation, and not just the game itself, in judging Tendulkar's greatness. In a purely statistical comparison with Bradman, Tendulkar only scores more when it comes to sheer numbers. If you look at the averages and centuries scored per innings, the comparison is futile.


Bradman and Tendulkar also belong to vastly different eras. So it's best not to evaluate the two by comparing their cricketing records. A fairer question to be raised is whether Tendulkar is the greatest cricketer of our times, of the, say, last 30 years. Is Tendulkar better than Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting? And then there is Virender Sehwag, whose disdainful annihilation of the bowlers and the impact it has on his team's fortunes has already invited comparisons with Viv Richards.


Till Tendulkar came along, Richards was Bradman's heir apparent. To many, the gum-chewing, statuesque Richards, who shunned the helmet even when it was available in the latter part of his career, was  the greatest destroyer of bowling the world has known. If sheer presence on the field and the awe and fear he invoked in bowlers is a yardstick, then there still isn't anyone quite like him.


In sheer contrast to the daunting Richards was Sunil Gavaskar. While Richards would dismiss the best bowlers with a contemptuous flash of his blade, get bored at some point and throw away his wicket if the stakes in a match were to purely enhance one's averages, Gavaskar was a technician par excellence, someone who would keep on accumulating runs no matter what the state of the game. This  is a ruthless streak that Tendulkar shares with him.


By taming the ferocious West Indian fast bowlers, by overtaking Bradman on the 'highest number of centuries' list, by becoming the first cricketer to scale the 10,000-run mountain, and, above all, by the impact he has had on Indian cricket, makes Sunil Gavaskar a top contender for India's 'greatest ever'. Many would argue with reason that despite the sheer weight of Tendulkar's achievements, Gavaskar remains India's finest batsman. What adds weight to this argument is that Sunny achieved all his milestones without the safety of a helmet for the most part of his career.


Then there is Lara. In the last 20 years, there has not been a more elegant, graceful player than Brian Lara. If innovation and pure timing are the essence of batting, then he should be streets ahead of the rest. Had his career not been riddled with controversies and if his focus on the game had been anywhere near Tendulkar's, Lara could well have been there right at the top.


Ponting, the one closest to Tendulkar at the moment is still not a finished product. But the hunger with which he is playing, he could well overtake Tendulkar some day.


What is most amazing about Tendulkar is that today, even at 37, age has not worn him down. He hasn't lost his appetite for runs and the desire to better himself. His cherubic face may have matured, but he still has an understated presence at the crease. His frame is small giving one the impression  he is holding a much heavier bat than he uses. But once in motion, he is no less perfect than the others, has better control over when to play which stroke and can even eliminate a short like drive from his entire innings, if he so desires. His powers of concentration are matchless in the history of the game. His greatest strength is the way he reads the wicket and adapts according to the challenges the bowlers throw at him.


It would be fair to say that Tendulkar is the most complete batsman of our times. Whether he is the greatest or not can be debated as long as cricket survives, and is even irrelevant.


Pradeep Magazine is the author of Not Quite Cricket








Come April 1, the right to free and compulsory education will finally be notified and become a justiciable right. At least on paper, the government is duty-bound to provide every child aged between six and 14 a proper school with qualified teachers. The government has a two-year window to make it available. Parents, community leaders and activists can go to court and demand answers. But going over the commentaries, it looks as if the only issue is one of funds — to hire more teachers, convert all transitional schools into proper ones, upgrade them to Class VIII and adhere to the definition of a school as spelt out in the 2009 Right To Education (RTE) Act.


Is that really the case? Are we really on the brink of realising the right to education?


The real issue is not only to do with money, but with the ability of the government to turn around the system. Providing funds to state governments is no doubt a necessary precondition, but it is not sufficient to realise the goals of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The recent mid-term review of the Eleventh Five Year Plan takes note of the poor use of funds by many states, lack of relevance, endemic corruption in teacher training, poor teacher and student attendance, and most importantly, very little progress in learning. Worse still, close to half the children who enroll in Class I do not reach Class VIII with a majority dropping out after Class V. More than half the children in Class V cannot read a Class II text, or solve simple Class II arithmetic problems.


We are also a long way from ensuring that every child can access schooling. One of the huge lacunae in the RTE Bill was that it did not include the right of children with disabilities. The failure has less to do with money, and more with a lack of conviction about the right of every single child.


Another area that needs attention is identifying and reaching out to the most disadvantaged. The plight of migrants is well known. Equally, the terrible state of education in remote and tribal areas is acknowledged. The persistence of child labour has also been documented. Despite the compelling evidence, there is little in the SSA that turns the spotlight on such children.


As a first step, the ministry — in collaboration with national and state task forces — must initiate a state-by-state and district-by-district stock taking of access and learning, especially of children who have either never enrolled in, or have dropped out of, school. Plans relevant to a community or an area need to be evolved. To make this possible, the SSA has to move out of its rigid template budgeting and create mechanisms to respond to diverse situations. This needs to be done with an understanding that it would require more per-unit cost and a greater flexibility in financial norms.


Equally, the government needs to invite the private foundations and philanthropies to participate in targeted schooling initiatives for the most deprived. For example, the tremendous response received by the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya scheme — where girls who have dropped out after primary school are given a chance to pursue schooling at a fully-funded residential school — is a model that can be replicated. Our schools can also be made disabled-friendly through partnerships.


From April 1, the government has to plan for specific groups with a determination to realise the spirit of the right to education. It should not hide behind a maze of data doctored to show the world that all is well. We owe this to our children.


Vimala Ramachandran is a former member of the Central Advisory Board of Education. She is now Director of ERU, an education consultancy


The views expressed by the author are personal







Opportunities in life to grow often come in unpredictable ways. It generally slips out, as we do not have a positive attitude for the 'touchstone'.


The touchstone is a story of ancient Egypt that underlines that habit of anything can bring failure to a person if he goes on with the habit for long. During the burning of the great library of Alexandria, one book was saved by a person. Though the book was not that interesting, it had a few pages over the secrets of the touchstone.


It, according to book, was a small warm pebble that could turn any metal into pure gold, but it was lying mixed with other ordinary pebbles. The difference between a touchstone and an ordinary pebble was that whereas the latter was cool, the touchstone was warm all the time.


That person, for acquiring the touchstone, brought a huge supply of pebbles and camped on the seashore. He knew that if he picked up the pebbles and threw them down again because they were cold, he might pick up the same pebbles hundreds of times. So, when he felt one that was cold, he threw it directly into the sea.


He spent a whole day doing this but no sign of the touchstone. The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. One day, however, he picked up a pebble and it was warm. He threw it into the sea before he realised what he had done. Throwing had become a habit with him, and he could not do without it. What he wanted was within his grasp, but he let it go.


A habit is something that we create by repeating a particular behaviour. "We first make our habits, and then our habits make us," was expressed by a famous English poet of the 17th century; John Dryden.


The moral: One must change one's habits and attitude, or else be a loser in life.








Sport survives on its heroes, and these past days have shown how eagerly a new hero is embraced. That Shivendra Singh's suspension, for a foul in India's opening match against Pakistan, is drawing regret does not indicate tolerance of rule-breaking. Instead, it is that Indian spectators are returning afresh to hockey, and the prospect of losing the man who opened India's account in the World Cup is akin to losing connection with a valuable new acquaintance. Shivendra will be missed because the return of India to hockey's big stage carries the romance of discovery — and he, along with Sunday's heroes like Sandeep Singh and Vikram Pillay, became instantly familiar as a pillar of this new-look squad.


Hockey's World Cup has brought to life Delhi's Dhyan Chand National Stadium, a patch on the extended India Gate roundabout that has been desolate for far too many years. And if this event, in which India qualified only by virtue of being the hosts, is to signal new beginnings, some takeaways are in order. Ever since India's glory days ended in 1956 with the extended Olympic gold medal run and especially after the last hurrahs of the 1975 World Cup and the 1980 Moscow Games, this country's hockey record has been the sum of its sporting mis-steps. Among them: an inability to acquire experience on astro-turf to stay in the international reckoning, a failure to craft a layered domestic competition, terrible administration (that culminated recently in the disbanding of the hockey federation and ad-hoc oversight by the IOC), poor player management. Indeed, when Indian hockey touched its lowest low by, for the first time, not qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, a former captain, Viren Rasquinha, said that India must put those Olympic golds


behind it: that hockey was another game. This is why the play in India's initial outings in Delhi holds hope: they did not over-dribble or hang on too long to the ball as they often tend to, the man-on-marking held, their game had greater velocity. International hockey is a tiny club, the best teams are mostly publicly funded, and this congregation in Delhi must serve as inspiration to get our domestic infrastructure in place.


Also note how cheerfully hockey finds its spectators. As the experience with the Premier Hockey League and with occasional multi-nation tournaments shows, greater application is needed to take the matches where the crowds are.







After the hurtful credibility siege of recent months, the United Nations Environment Programme is now planning to institute a check on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and form an independent review committee of senior scientists to examine its workings.


The IPCC, mandated to produce the final, authoritative reports on the impact of climate change, and to keep us updated on the science as it progresses by collating the work of thousands of scientists from across 100 countries, found itself highly embarrassed last month. It turned out that a widely thrown-around fact from its 2007 report, about the rate of Himalayan glacier melt, was in fact off by a few hundred years — and had found its way in via a speculative news report. Naturally, the earth shook: given how much governments, industry and citizens are staking on the certainty of climate change, any error in the IPCC documents is a serious matter. However, doubling back and attacking climate science would be disastrous, given the avalanche of data confirming that climate change is, if anything, only more dire than the IPCC's claims. While some may argue that the mistakes were indeed marginal (a mere bump on mountains of data all confirming the larger scientific consensus on "global weirding", which remains as robust as ever), the IPCC's errors have created an enormous setback, by providing fodder to the unconvinced. Climate deniers and delayers of every persuasion have seized on them with unconcealed glee, to undermine the very rationale for concerted global action and the sacrifices that will be required in coming years to deal with the spectre of climate change.


So this move to set up an independent body to oversee the IPCC's processes is a chance to refocus on the integrity of the science, to ensure that the peer-review process is faultless, and coordinate between the entire spectrum of scientific specialties that go into tracking climate change. The review committee will be demonstrably independent of the IPCC. It must serve as a commitment to greater rigour, and a promise that loopholes such as those that created last month's glacier fiasco will not be allowed to pass. It is also an important messaging exercise to turn the public's trust back to climate experts whose painstaking research the IPCC collates, and remind it that the science is not open to argument.








Tragedy brings attention. The bomb blast in Pune a fortnight ago has brought everyone's attention to a city that has often lived in the shadow of Mumbai. With Pune's loss of innocence, many questions are being asked about the city — and often wrong questions. But, what after all is Pune like?


Some 18 months ago, when serving and ex-army officers were being investigated by the ATS for alleged involvement in terrorist activities, Hindutva organisations in Pune had put up banners glorifying those officers as "deshbhakts". Recently, when the bomb blast took place in the sedate and exclusive part of Pune city, even while there is uncertainty about who did it, Muslims in the city congregated to announce that they stand by "aman" and "rashtra". A striking contrast! Pune city is made up of many such contrasts.


Ever since the current commissioner of police came to Pune, he has been concerned about the two-wheeler riders of the city — mainly women — who wear a scarf around their face. After the recent bomb blast, his force turned attention yet again to this issue sincerely believing that terrorists wear masks. Too much movie watching, you might say! This is not an isolated instance. On the whole, administration of the city is marked by such frivolity. Contrasting social realities and frivolity of approach mark the collective existence of today's Pune.


From a typical pensioners' city dominated mostly by Brahmins and Brahminical culture, Pune graduated into the industrial league in the '60s and then on grew up also as an education hub in western India. This transformation ensured that the middle class character of the city was not disturbed. Pune also assumed a more cosmopolitan character through the '80 and much more so later, with the expansion of the software industry. Historical legacy and contemporary social developments have produced at least three potential fault lines in the city.


As a carry-forward of the last century, there is a Brahmin-Maratha contestation. It is relevant to the cultural and political life of the city. This contestation overshadows claims by the OBCs and the Dalits. Unlike a hundred years ago, this contestation, however, is no more talked about and does not unfold in the public sphere in an open manner. One could even say that transformations of the last century have almost pushed this fault line into the by-lanes of memory.


Second, developments since the '60s have practically produced a new Pune. This new Pune managed to bring about an alliance of the lower middle and the middle classes in such a fashion that fault lines based on class cannot become sensitive in the political economy of the city. To appreciate this point one simply has to witness the coexistence of jostling crowds on Laxmi Road — the business district of the old city — with the din in the upmarket malls that have come up in the last 10 years. These are two worlds apart, but they do not confront each other, rather they tend to overlap. The competition seems to be within sections of the middle class rather than between the well-off and the poor.


Third, today's Pune has almost one-third of its population speaking languages other than Marathi.


The non-Marathi groups are found among petty self-employed,


artisans and also among the upwardly mobile techies. This could be an emerging fault line of the Pune of 2020! But as of now, happily, the city has a Sikh mayor though the Sikh community does not have any numerical clout.


Alongside these and numerous other contrasting images, frivolity characterises policy-making and administration of the city. As elsewhere, nobody seems to be worried about the effects of the construction industry nor are there efforts to regulate this sector. Interests of these same sectors dominate the issue of incorporation of adjoining villages into the Pune municipal corporation. This deeper issue of domination of the construction industry rarely gets discussed. It is kept almost entirely out of the purview of politics for obvious reasons. Consequently, the city is unable to attend seriously to issues of infrastructure. While writing this, a huge garbage depot on the outskirts of the city has caught fire and the city is at best clueless and at worst unconcerned about this issue.


Anyone who spends more than 24 hours in the city without an obliging local host will experience the poor transportation facilities. Privately run three-wheelers are not affordable for large sections; public transportation, if not altogether invisible, is costly and also poorly managed. So, the city is simultaneously considering a BRT scheme, a ring road scheme, metro rail, and what have you. In a rare flight of fancy, in 2002 the Congress party manifesto for civic elections in fact promised a sky bus! The lesson is that sky is (literally) the limit when it comes to city planning.


When overall city planning and administration are in such a frivolous mode, why should the policing and security discourse be any more serious? While the city remained calm and maintained its poise in the aftermath of the bomb blast, the city police were busy giving lectures in local educational institutions about security measures and how citizens should remain alert. Now, there is a proposal to ban all vehicular traffic on streets near the site of the blast taking into consideration the security threat. Only six months ago, when the swine flu epidemic broke, all and sundry made noises and forced educational institutions to close down. We believe that a permanent curfew might be a good idea to tackle terror and epidemics effectively.


Perhaps, one could only draw satisfaction from the thought that such contrasts and frivolities mark not only Pune, but life in most growing cities of India.


The writer teaches political science at Pune University








After the Pune attack, as with every terrorist strike, a debate emerged: how to process intelligence for better ground action. Every country experiments with new processing arrangements to extract focused intelligence from a mass of information. Mike McConnell, former US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said in 2007 that sixteen US intelligence agencies collected one billion pieces of information daily.


We have a similar situation in India. A recent press report indicated that Mumbai Police received 140 terror alerts in 2009, many vague but requiring massive deployment of manpower. Unfortunately, this cannot be avoided when terrorism continues to be our top threat. During the 26/11 enquiry we found that strands of intelligence received during the preceding three years by Maharashtra had, in fact, come true on 26/11. On hindsight, the mode of attack and targets were correctly conveyed without an exact date. This is often the dilemma.


Do we take ground action on intelligence even if it appears to be mere rumour? Intelligence wings and implementing agencies spar over this. In the late 1980s, RAW and SPG had a spat whether uncorroborated information on the prime minister's security should be passed on to SPG.


Viewed from the other end, such incomplete intelligence creates serious difficulties for ground personnel. That is where better intelligence processing comes in. In the US, this was previously done by inter-agency committees under the National Security Council (NSC). In the UK, it was done by the intelligence coordinator and joint intelligence committee under a 1994 law. In India too, it was handled by our joint intelligence committee. When terrorism became the biggest security threat, all these were found inadequate. New methods of processing started all over the world.


In 2004, the US created the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) to do "strategic operational planning for counter terrorism and assign roles to lead departments" with no power to "direct the execution of any resulting operations". This is done by the department of homeland security (DHS), charged with the legal responsibility of protecting the mainland from terrorism. The DHS, which issues colour-coded alerts, has its own collection methods for domestic terrorism which it then communicates to different agencies. NCTC intelligence is communicated by the DHS through 72 "fusion centres". Twenty-seven of them can directly receive secret intelligence through secure communication networks. All legally empowered agencies including the FBI's 106 counter-terrorism task forces carry on their own independent activities while DHS coordinates.


The same pattern is followed for Britain's counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST). The multi-agency Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) under MI5 integrates terrorism intelligence from different agencies including national and territorial police and issues colour-coded alerts without any oversight functions.


The home minister's proposals on NCTC go beyond these models, with an "overarching responsibility" to "perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations" for preventing, containing and responding to terror attacks. Departments like the NIA and NSG will be brought under its direct supervision and it will also expect control over intelligence agencies. Such a body chartered to carry out intelligence integration with operational responsibility throws up a great challenge in a vast country like ours. Following the Christmas airline plot, America is debating whether the 2004 internal security reform which created the NCTC and other organs resulted in the generation of a huge volume of data, beyond interpretation capacity. Inputs from 30 different systems have swelled the NCTC suspect index from four lakhs in 2007 to five and a half lakhs in 2009. It is argued that the CIA alert on Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not communicated to the US airline security system, much the same way they failed to detect 9/11 conspirator Khalid al-Mihdhar in August 2001 despite prior input. Our NCTC, which should have representatives from other services, including the state police, can be a great help in interpreting this mass of intelligence for precise action. However, it will be beyond its capacity if we overload it with investigation and operational supervision.


Do we still need the NSC and NSA? Yes. Apart from the Russian and American models often quoted, such security councils exist with varying charters in China, Iran, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, Romania and Sri Lanka, for coordinated policy making. Security policy has now become very complex as traditional threats are enmeshed with terrorism, non-state actors and non-traditional security issues like migration, climate change, epidemics and water. The onus of final decision-making rests with the head of the government. To discharge this responsibility he needs mature advice from those who understand the nuances.


The writer is a former special secretary, Cabinet secretariat and was part of the two-member panel inquiring into the police response to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.








Nanaji", which is how Nana Deshmukh was known in the political and social circles he dominated for almost six decades, is no more. Many, who were inspired by him in politics and outside, saw and knew him as a towering idealist; his admirers and friends experienced and rated him as a great political strategist. Joining the RSS at a young age and becoming its pracharak (full-time volunteer), he was undoubtedly a great organiser. He had intimate friends in high places everywhere. He was accepted from a very young age beyond his organisational fraternity. He was equally at ease with both the noble Bhoodan movement of Vinobha Bhave and the gutter politics of Delhi. He had friends even in the garrisons of his adversaries. When Jawaharlal Nehru had banned the RSS in 1948, Nanaji Deshmukh, like many RSS workers, began organising the underground movement. From where? Believe it or not, from the house of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a minister in Pandit Nehru's government. It was public knowledge that Nehru regarded RSS as his archenemy and had even declared that he would not give an inch in India for the Bhagwa (the flag of the RSS) to fly. Still Kidwai, a great friend of Nehru and a minister in his cabinet, had no issues keeping Nanaji in his house and more — allowing him to organise underground activities. This speaks of the magnetic personality of the young Nanaji, who must then have been in his twenties!


My association with Nanaji Deshmukh started with my friendship with Ramnath Goenka. Ramnathji and Nanaji were not only great friends, they both thought and felt similarly about the country. The mutual trust and admiration that they had had was rooted wholly in their love of the motherland, totally devoid of any kind of personal interest. The Nanaji-Ramnathji combine had no goal other than what they thought was the nation's good. Ramnath Goenka had shaped The Indian Express not just as a newspaper, but an active partner with all nationalist forces in the cause of the country, setting the agenda for political and social discourse. Ramnathji never knew what fear meant. Nor did Nanaji. And these two courageous persons could effortlessly inject many others of high relevance, journalists or others, with fearlessness. It was the Ramnathji-Nanaji duo that persuaded Jayaprakash Narayan to agree to lead the Bihar movement in 1974, which changed the political picture of the country. The Bihar movement was one of the greatest movements in the history of free India.


An incredible incident made Jayaprakash Narayan agree to the plea of Nanaji and Ramnathji to lead the movement against Indira Gandhi. I came to know of this in late 1980s, when at a dinner in the Express Towers in Bombay I asked Nanaji and Ramnathji how they brought JP into the movement. Nanaji described the thrilling and unbelievable episode. A historic meeting of Ramnathji, Nanaji, Achyut Patwardhan, the hero of the 1942 underground movement and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, a great Hindi poet, took place sometime in 1973 in The Indian Express Guest House in Bangalore. The four of them began insisting that JP should lead the movement as Indira Gandhi had become highly autocratic and had begun destroying the institutional framework of democracy, including the judiciary and bureaucracy. Incidentally, Dinkar was one of the greatest friends of the Nehru family and particularly of Indira Gandhi herself. But that did not detract him from doing what he thought was his duty to the nation. JP was hesitant mainly because of his health. He was a diabetic and had acute prostrate gland issues. He said that he would not be able to live for long and his health did not permit him to undertake such an arduous task. Ramnathji assured him that he would have his prostrate operation done in Vellore, which he eventually got done later. But JP could still not make up his mind. At that point, Ramnathji, a great and traditional Hindu believer, suggested that all of them should go to Tirupati, have darshan and prayers and from there, go to Madras as it was known then, and continue the discussions. And they all left for Tirupati.


During the darshan at Tirupati, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar openly prayed to Lord Balaji, to the hearing of JP and the others, that whatever remaining years of life Dinkar had the Lord should give them to JP to help him serve the cause of the motherland. And they all returned to Madras and to Ramnathji's house in the Express Estates in Mount Road where the office of The Indian Express was also situated. Within hours, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar fell on the lap of Ramnath Goenka and died — yes he died when JP, Nanaji and Achyut Patwardhan were around. It was clear that Lord Balaji had answered Dinkar's prayers. JP's decision to lead the movement came in no time. Despite my several requests Nanaji had refused to write about it in The Indian Express. When I asked him how will the people of India know about it, he said that he had written in it his diary and he would like it to be known after his death. Now that he is no more, I felt free to write about it.


The rest is known history. After his prostrate operation JP began to lead one of the biggest mass movements against corruption in free India and that led to the imposition of the infamous Emergency on India, arrest of all national opposition leaders and the ban on the RSS. That was the best period in the life of Nanaji. He was one of the initiators of the underground movement that finally exploded as the Janata Wave when in 1977 Indira Gandhi, with a view to securing a mandate for her autocracy declared elections to Parliament, not knowing that without her intelligence agencies having a whiff of it, the underground movement had had generated a political tornado against her. Nanaji was the architect of the Janata Party. He contested elections for the first time and won. He refused to join the ministry when Morarji Desai insisted he should be in the cabinet.


Later, when the Janata Party split and the Bharatiya Janata Party was formed in 1980, Nanaji announced that he would like to retire from active politics as he was attaining the age of 65. A new role — that of a social worker —to lift moral and spiritual values and to promote economic and social wellbeing of the distanced people awaited him. He started his work first in the most backward districts of Gonda in UP and next in the equally drought-prone and poverty-ridden Bead district in Maharashtra and finally settled to do a more comprehensive work of socio-economic progress with moral values covering some 500 villages in Chitrakoot district. The then-president, Dr Abdul Kalam visited Nanaji's Chitrakoot project and praised it as the most suitable to India, noting that almost 80 villages in the district had become litigation-free! That was his final karma bhoomi, even though the whole country was his karma bhoomi.


He once told me that when he was a child he had nothing to eat for many days. But that did not turn him into a Naxalite. But his introduction to the RSS at the right age, and association with the right persons, had turned him into a great nationalist who lived for his motherland's glory and nothing else.


The writer is co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch








The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, is on his third visit to India to brief New Delhi about the steps taken by Canberra in putting an end to attacks on Indian students. The visit aims to add further substance to the fact that India and Australia are working together to deal with the problem, which is affecting bilateral ties. It is also important in the light of the fact that India's External Affairs Minister S.M Krishna made a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha last week, meant to 'inform about the attacks on Indians in Australia and the steps taken by India as well as by Australia in dealing with the range of issues concerned'.


As is evident, the assaults have become a big issue in both countries — over 500 Indian students have been battered and looted Down Under in the past three years. Australia appears to be doing all it can to save the third biggest source of its income, concerned about the drop in student visa applications which, according to Andrew Smith of Australian Council for Private Education and Training, has gone down by 40-50 per cent this year.


More than eight Australian ministerial visits and numerous rounds of high level dialogues have been held so far. The Victoria police also handed over a dossier to India in January which says, "out of 18 cases investigated so far, two people were run over by a train and there was no foul play. While three cases remained unsolved, 33 people have been arrested over the remaining 13 cases." Both India and Australia have been putting in a lot of effort, but irresponsible reporting in both India and Australia have ensured that the debate has taken an unseemly turn.


There are many reasons to suppose that Krishna's statement will defuse the blame game and help start a constructive dialogue.


First, in the statement Krishna acknowledged that the number of attacks has gone down due to strenuous attempts made by the Australian federal and the state governments. This should soften India-Australia relations as Canberra feels encouraged to work in close cooperation with New Delhi, which otherwise has looked like it was trying to corner it on the issue.


Second, the government has partially accepted that, contrary to popular perception, the majority of attacks may not have a racist strand. It says, "The attackers are of mixed ethnicity, including sometimes, other Indians." The recent revelations in the Jaspreet Singh and Ranjodh Singh cases authenticate this point. Recognising the possibility that some cases may have a racial angle, the Victoria state government has lately revised the Victorian Sentencing Act 1991 and is conducting a review of the justice system to address racial offences. This leaves no scope for a misleading debate in India that White Australia days are back.


Third, the statement explains that the increase in the number of attacks corresponds with the increase in the number of Australia-bound Indian students. More than 100,000 students have joined Australian colleges and universities in the last five years, with a 141 per cent increase between 2006 and 2008. Many of them joined fake courses for permanent residency requirements. This has also been taken up seriously by Canberra. Australia is providing relief and relocation to suffering students because of the sudden closure of fake institutions; bilateral working groups have been set up. The Australian department of immigration and citizenship has also introduced measures to overhaul the skilled migration rules in order to avoid such problems.


As far as the safety of Indian students is concerned, several steps have been taken and many are in the pipeline. Operation Repped, Embona anti-robbery task force, rapid response units, the federal taskforce headed by the Australian national security advisor, taxi council, international student care service and community reference groups (which involve the local Indian community) are a few steps which are strengthening police patrolling and surveillance systems in Australian cities.


However, there are a few negative trends which should be carefully handled. First, the geographical expansion of attacks from Sydney to Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. Second, the severity of attacks: in 2007, the attacks seemed like acts of mugging. Subsequently, however, the enormity of incidents also increased. The first reported incident of physical assault happened when a student, Saurabh Sharma, was assaulted in a Melbourne train on May 23, 2009. Events took an even nastier turn when Nitin Garg was attacked on January 2, 2010 and later succumbed to his injuries. The Australian government must be extremely cautious about this qualitative transformation and adopt a zero tolerance policy.


The writer is at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and fellow, Australia- India Council







Here's an exercise: Think of almost any kind of cultural endeavour and then use the word "we" to describe its creation. The communal pronoun trips easily off the tongue when talking about the world of contemporary arts and entertainment, where things are often the product of teams, workshops, studios or institutions, where collaboration and idea-swapping are the norm. But now try applying it to creative writing, and it can sound absurd: "We worked for years on the character development and the voice, and when we finally nailed the subtle epiphany, we cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate."


Not that there isn't the occasional team-written novel. But the popular conception of the creative writer is still by and large one of the individual trying to wrestle language, maybe even the meaning of life, from his soul.


Maybe that's one reason for the flurry of attention recently about a teenage German novelist, Helene Hegemann, whose book about Berlin's club scene was named a finalist for a prestigious literary prize to be awarded next month in Leipzig. After a blogger and fellow novelist announced that Hegemann had blended sizeable chunks of his own writing into hers, Hegemann, instead of following the plagiarism-gotcha script of contrition and retraction so familiar in recent years, announced that appropriating the passages from that book and other sources was her plan all along.


A child of a media-saturated generation, she presented herself as a writer whose birthright is the remix, the use of anything at hand she feels suits her purposes, an idea of communal creativity that certainly wasn't shared by those from whom she borrowed. In a line that might have been stolen from Sartre (it wasn't) she added: "There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity."


The news made waves in the United States with an almost novelistic kind of timing, just before the publication of a highly anticipated book by David Shields, Reality Hunger, a feisty literary "manifesto" built almost entirely of quotations from other writers and thinkers. The borrowed words are marshalled to make a case against what Shields sees as boring fiction and in favour of genre-bending forms like the lyric essay. And though publishing-house lawyers required him to include an appendix listing his sources (at least those he could remember) Shields asks the reader to honor the spirit of the book by taking a pair of scissors and giving it an appendectomy.


His manifesto and Hegemann's novel prompted the quick drawing of battle lines, coming at a time when tensions have probably never been higher between a growing culture of borrowing and appropriation on one side and, on the other, copyright advocates and those who fear a steady erosion of creative protections.


Patrick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, a trade group involving movie studios, networks and artists, took to the alliance's blog immediately to condemn Hegemann. "Our would-be novelist says nothing is original, yet the passages she lifted from other books were original expressions in those books, even if the ideas were not new," he wrote, adding that a creative culture dominated by borrowing and repurposing is a "culture that will quickly grow stale."


But Shields argues that blatant borrowing has been a foundation of culture since man first took up pen and paintbrush, long before Terence complained in the second century BC that "there's nothing to say that hasn't been said before." (Shields's point about borrowing has certainly been made many times before, a fact he readily acknowledges.) Appropriation has breathed life into music, art and theatre, he argues, and he lines up a kind of murderers' row of writers, including Sterne, Emerson, Eliot and Joyce ("I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man") to make the case that it has been an important tradition in writing, too.


You could argue, of course, that Warhol's use of a soup can or Danger Mouse's use of the Beatles and Jay-Z on the Grey Album represent one thing, a re-contextualising of cultural artifacts so well known they are a kind of shorthand. But does lifting from an obscure blogger — or even importing a description of a sunset by Steinbeck or a suburban tableau from Updike — accomplish the same thing?


Shields's book relies on thinkers from Wittgenstein to DJ Spooky, melding them into a voice that can sound at times eerily consistent. He contends that in a world where the death of the novel has been announced with great regularity for almost half a century, such an open-source approach is the only way to keep literature alive. Even the most original-seeming writing borrows from the centuries of writing that came before, so why not simply be more honest and, he suggests, maybe do something more interesting in the process?


"So much of the energy of great work to me is feeling the echo effect on every line, of not knowing where it came from," he said, citing a quote — this one attributed — from Graham Greene that he uses as one of the book's epigraphs: "When we are not sure we are alive."









The Supreme Court ruling empowering constitutional courts to order a CBI inquiry into any case without the consent of the state government concerned needs to be revisited, the CPM feels. It argues that the ruling has thrown up several questions like "will it be proper for a High Court or the Supreme Court to directly order a central investigating agency to investigate a case without consulting the elected state government and will such a blanket power not be a serious encroachment on the rights of the states?"


State investigating agencies are equally capable, if not more, while the neutrality of CBI as an investigating agency is not beyond doubt, said an article in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy, referring to the Ottavio Quattrocchi episode.


"Another point to note is that the IPS cadre police officers are working in both the CBI and the state CIDs. All of them belong to the same all India service and are equally trained. Then what is the logic behind differentiating between the two agencies and giving CBI a place of superiority?"


"To maintain the balance of power between the Centre and the states, to safeguard the rights of the states, and to safeguard the independence and prestige of the state-level investigating agencies, the aforesaid verdict of the Supreme Court needs to be revisited," it says.



The government's proposed Food Security Act would be incomplete and meaningless if only families below the poverty line are provided with subsidised food, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan writes in the latest issue of party organ New Age.


He says the government may not include APL families under the ambit of the proposed act arguing that this will reduce the burden on the exchequer —"the government of course has no hesitation in giving tax exemptions or capping the rate of direct tax for corporates and individuals who are in the topmost income brackets which ultimately means foregoing a high figure of revenue income; or offering them a huge bailout or stimulus package in order to overcome a crisis of their own making." Funding subsidy to only 8.54 crore BPL families entails a cost of Rs 45,000 crore while if 13.26 crore additional APL families are also included the total expenditure would probably add up to Rs 1 lakh crore. This is a "reflection of the class outlook of the government," he says.


Besides, the Food Security Act also does not address the first and basic requirement of increasing food production. "There is lack of incentives to the farmer who is the key player in producing the food that the country needs, in terms of cheap and subsidised inputs and remunerative prices," he feels.



The CPM says that the government — which has failed to contain runaway prices — is blaming the people for consuming more, just like former US president George W. Bush had done when he pointed out that global food prices are on the rise because people in India and China are eating more.


The lead editorial of People's Democracy takes exception to President Pratibha Patil's observation in her address, linking price rise to the payment of higher procurement prices to farmers and the impact of higher public spending on programmes of rural development which have raised incomes in rural areas.


"The president's address does not provide any confidence that the main problem facing the Indian people will be solved by the government. On the contrary, there seems to be advance explanations for greater burdens that will be imposed on this front in the coming days," it says.







The Prime Minister is absolutely right when he says that the hike in fuel prices effected by the Budget will have only a limited impact on inflation. And there should certainly not be a rollback of the government's decision, not even on the ground of a limited inflationary effect. That shouldn't, however, detract from the fact that food inflation is a real problem. But it's a problem that needs creative solutions, and certainly not tinkering with prices of any commodity (including oil) at the margin. The Budget did try to address at least some of the supply-side problems that have led to the recent spiralling of food prices. The finance minister announced a four-pronged strategy for agriculture—to raise output, reduce waste, extend credit to farmers and give a thrust to the food processing sector. The specific policy proposals to raise farm output include a Rs 400 crore package to extend the green revolution to eastern states and Rs 300 crore to set up 60,000 pulses and oil seeds villages in rain-fed areas in 2010-11—the shortage of pulses is indeed an acute problem. To reduce wastage, the finance minister has allowed FCI to hire private godowns for a guaranteed period of seven years. On credit, there will be 2% subvention on timely repayment of crop loans and the total credit target for farmers has been ramped up. For food processing, rules on ECBs will be liberalised and additional mega food parks will be set up to facilitate the growth of this sector.


All these are reasonable steps that will address some of the problems of agriculture and food inflation. However, by themselves, these are unlikely to be enough to overcome the problem. We need even more ambitious ideas. The finance minister made the right noises about the need for big retail to cut out the intermediaries between the farmer and consumer. However, he did not go further by liberalising norms for FDI in retail. This is something the government must consider at the earliest—it will be in both farmers and consumers interest. The other big idea on agriculture that stands stalled because of the environment minister is about GM food crops. A second green revolution requires a technological breakthrough. Granting permission for the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal would have signalled the government's commitment to improve yields and reduce crop wastage. Again, the government must at some point reconsider its decision on Bt brinjal that threatens to stall an entire range of GM food crops. Also, while the Economic Survey made much of reforming delivery systems, particularly the PDS, the Budget was relatively quiet on the subject. We can only hope that such reform will be rolled out very soon.






Good news has come out of the United Nations Environment Programme's Bali session: an independent committee of distinguished experts will be set up to assess how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) vets scientific data, synthesises conclusions and conveys these to concerned people. Given the recent storm generated by allegations of error and all the adverse publicity that they have attracted to both IPCC and its cause, this was actually a necessary move for IPCC to reestablish its credibility. This is a body mandated to go through literature published on climate science across the world, which is not only a mammoth and complex undertaking by any measure but also involves thousands of scientists from more than 100 countries. What has emerged out of Bali is not an apologia for the four assessment reports already on the table or the basic science underlying IPCC's broad position on global warming. Instead, it represents a commitment to make procedures more rigorous and identify existing loopholes in the enforcement of procedures that are already on the IPCC books. The review committee will be demonstrably independent of both IPCC and its chairman.


Meanwhile, whatever the Copenhagen disappointments and the like may have been and whatsoever may have been the ways in which IPCC could have better handled allegations of error, it's clear that the UN body has played an important role in reshaping institutional thinking on climate change over the last few years. On both business and government fronts, it has impelled public opinion to move towards limiting emissions. Consider the Budget for this year. It conveys a strong intent to move the country towards a greener energy mix. First, there was the proposal to create a special fund to finance research and development in renewables and promote environment-friendly technologies. Second, as the cess announced on coal indicated, the government is not only incentivising cleaner sources of energy like natural gas but also moving towards a more efficient coal regime. The FM's commitment to secure legislative approval for auctioning captive coal blocks would gradually align domestic coal prices with international ones, as well as make cleaner energy sources more competitive. China has simultaneously announced that it's working on a programme to ensure that 15% of its total consumption mix will come from clean energy by 2020. IPCC must be given some credit for why Chindia have become more proactive on climate change, turning around from their "the developed countries must fix what they broke" focus to become constructively occupied with breeding domestic low-carbon policies. In continuing to advance in this direction, they could do with a stronger, more rigorous and credible IPCC.







The FM in his Budget speech announced the setting up of the Financial Stability and Development Council. This apex council is being set up to strengthen and institutionalise the mechanism for maintaining financial stability. Given the emergence of financial conglomerates, this column has argued about the benefits from having a super regulator. Nevertheless, thoughtful implementation is key to the eventual success of this measure. First, the objectives of the council vis-à-vis those of the sectoral regulators need to be clearly detailed to avoid turf wars and an eventual stalemate in the process of financial regulation. Second, an integrated supervisor may extend moral hazard problems across the entire financial sector. Clear communication is required to minimise this problem.


The range of regulatory activities of the new council could be narrow or wide depending upon how clearly the objectives of the council are laid out vis-à-vis those of sectoral regulators. The Budget speech mentions that the council would monitor macro-prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large financial conglomerates and address inter-regulatory coordination issues. However, these objectives can be interpreted very broadly by the members of the council, which may lead them to step in the toes of the existing regulators. This could lead to turf wars as well as jostling for regulating space among the sectoral regulators, on the one hand, and between the council and each of the sectoral regulators, on the other. Clear specification of the objective would help in minimising such inefficiencies.


Specifically, the creation of the council raises the important issue about the degree to which RBI should be involved in prudential macro-supervision. There are clearly some synergies between banking supervision and monetary policy. For instance, the central bank needs to be aware of the financial position of banks when formulating and implementing its monetary policy. There is a clear synergy between the information needed for banking supervision and the information about banks needed for monetary policy purposes. RBI also needs to have information about the creditworthiness of the participants in the payment system. This task involves an assessment of the solvency and risk management of individual banks. Furthermore, information about the liquidity and solvency of banks is required for RBI's lender-of-last-resort responsibilities.


There are also operational arguments for RBI being in charge of banking supervision. The economies of scale and commonalities between banking supervision and other functions of the central bank may be substantial and indeed stronger than those between banking and other parts of the financial sector.


However, there is a fundamental difference between the monetary policy decision and decisions taken with respect to macro-prudential regulation and supervision. The monetary policy decision is basically the same decision taken repeatedly, simply defined (not simple!), and taken relatively transparently based on information that is largely publicly available. The effects of the decision are widespread, and there is no opportunity of appeal by those affected. In contrast, supervisory decisions are not taken at a predefined time; they are based on private and often confidential information. There are many types of decisions that need to be made—for example, concerned parties may be significantly affected, and have the opportunity to appeal the decision in court. Furthermore, expertise spanning all the financial sectors is necessary, particularly when the supervision and regulation concerns financial conglomerates. Given these fundamental distinctions, I would favour macro-prudential regulation and supervision to be entrusted to the apex council with the monetary policy decisions remaining the sole preserve of RBI.


The second concern with respect to the creation of the apex council as a super regulator concerns moral hazard.

Financial market participants may believe that all creditors of all institutions supervised by an integrated supervisor will receive the same protection. For instance, the creditors of other financial institutions may expect—and demand through a political process in case of financial problem—that they be given the same protection as the depositors in banks. The creditors to a bank, that is, the depositors are provided the benefit of deposit insurance to avoid the possibility of runs on the assets of a bank. However, since other financial service providers such as insurance companies or pension funds do not face this problem of a run on their assets, it is inappropriate to extend such a feature to their creditors. Without clear communication to all such affected parties, it is possible that the safety net provided by deposit insurance implicitly gets extended to other parts of the financial sector. While clear communication by the apex council would alleviate such a problem partly, it is unlikely to be fully resolved unless and until the supervisor acts exactly in line with the pre-announced rules in specific cases of financial failures.


The author is assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at ISB, Hyderabad








The press was recently full of dramatic reports about the IMF changing its position on capital controls, recommending its use as an instrument of policy. For someone like me, who watched the news obsessively during the balance of payments crisis of the early 1990s, this ostensible change in the IMF's position came as a big surprise.


Why is this important? Those who held the view that cross-border portfolio flows were unsavoury might find support in this about-face for policies that cause these flows to dry up. The costs of this should not be underestimated; capital flows, in theory, should allow the financing of investment projects when domestic savings are insufficient, and as the IMF points out in its report, "foster the diversification of investment risk, promote inter-temporal trade, and contribute to the development of financial markets."


Of course, the fine print is different from the headlines. But before we get into the specifics of what the IMF actually did say, it's worth thinking about the debate about capital controls a bit more carefully. At least since the Asian crisis, international portfolio flows have been a controversial topic. At the time of that crisis, leaders of many affected countries held foreign investors responsible for the dramatic reductions in Asian equity prices and foreign exchange rates. Their statements were based on one observation followed by two assumptions.


The well-documented observation is that movements in countries' equity markets follow movements in portfolio flows to these countries. The first assumption is that portfolio flows generate these movements in returns, because foreign speculators have deep pockets and move markets when they trade. Second, that portfolio flows are primarily driven by factors unrelated to fundamentals, that is, foreign speculators are subject to swings in their sentiment about markets, and this sentiment is what drives their investment decisions. When combined, these ingredients lead to the view that portfolio flows are 'hot money', a pejorative term that is now commonly used to describe them.


There is at least one other interpretation of the observation that foreign portfolio flows predict declines in asset returns. This interpretation is that foreign investors are better informed than domestic investors about economic fundamentals. According to this view, foreign investors can predict movements in relevant fundamentals better than domestic investors and buy or sell assets accordingly. When these predicted events materialise, the prices of the assets adjust to their new levels. Note that according to this interpretation, portfolio flows aren't 'hot money', but rather the product of rational calculations by foreign investors. These investors are just better at reading the writing on the wall than their domestic counterparts.


Which view is correct? One can come up with plenty of reasons why domestic investors are better informed than foreign investors (local connections, a better understanding of domestic institutions, and so on). Just as easily, one can come up with reasons to believe that the opposite is true (foreign investors are experienced at investing in multiple countries, can spot patterns seen in different situations, possess more sophisticated investment technology, etc). What's important here is that there is a real debate and there is evidence to support both the views. If you come down on the side that foreign portfolio flows during the Asian crisis came from rational investors anticipating troubles in these economies, then characterising them as 'hot money' and banning them seems unfair—like a punishment for being prescient.


Now coming back to the IMF report. On closer reading, there is a small amount of analysis in the report in which the declines in GDP growth rates of multiple countries, post crisis, are explained using the composition of inflows into these countries. The authors find weak evidence that the declines in growth rates are lower for countries with a larger share of non-financial FDI, and even weaker evidence of capital controls being associated with avoiding large GDP growth rate declines. However, there isn't much evidence about what the levels of these growth rates were, to begin with. So, it is entirely possible that the countries imposing capital controls had low growth rates to begin with and low declines, post crisis. And the language in the report is very cautious: "The perspective... is thus that capital controls are a legitimate part of the toolkit to manage capital inflows in certain circumstances, but that a decision on their use should reflect a comparison of the distortions and implementation costs that they may impose...." That's a wise advice. It seems to me that much more work is required before we can think about the right circumstances in which capital controls might be appropriate.


The author is a financial economist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford







Riding on the confidence of stronger and sharper economic recovery, the Budget has provided important elements for facilitating a macroeconomic environment to build on our current strengths. Higher spending on infrastructure, rural development, food and agri chains bodes well for a broad-based inclusive growth environment. While giving top priority to fiscal consolidation by announcing a lower fiscal deficit and net market borrowing, the FM has not compromised on allocations to the sectors that will drive growth. Indeed, an excellent balancing act.


A judicious approach has been adopted in the withdrawal of stimulus. While stressed sectors like handicrafts, SMEs and farming have continued to receive fiscal incentives through interest subventions and extension of loan repayment period, sectors performing well, especially organised manufacturing, have seen a partial restoration of excise duties.


Recognising the pressing issue of sustained high food inflation spilling over to generalised inflationary expectations, the Budget has initiated significant steps in the farm sector to reduce wastages, facilitate higher credit support and encourage investment in the food processing sector, along with the introduction of a climate resilient agri-strategy.


The fiscal arithmetic looks reasonable on a relatively low growth base of FY10. With buoyant economic activity, especially in the manufacturing sector, revenue receipts are projected to grow by 18.2%, with tax revenues expected to grow by 14.8%. Growth in total expenditure has been pegged at 8.5%. The disinvestment agenda has been re-activated on a stronger note and the proceeds from disinvestment have been scaled up to Rs 40,000 crore. One hopes that this remains a medium- to long-term initiative and not just a tool to bridge the fiscal gap! The Budget has managed to address a gamut of growth impediments. From structural supply-chain gaps in agriculture, funding constraints, to infrastructure, continuing thrust on rural development, to recapitalising public sector banks—there is something for everyone.


The author is chief economist, Yes Bank








Islamist fundamentalist organisations rooted in religious obscurantism have long been prone to sudden bursts of irrational violence at the slightest provocation. The stone-throwing and arson in Karnataka by fanatics against the publication in a Kannada daily of an article, purportedly by Taslima Nasreen, on wearing of the burka were a nasty challenge to the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Indian Constitution. Two people died, one of them in police firing, after thousands of protesters came out on the streets in Shimoga and Hassan districts and indulged in indiscriminate destruction of private and public property. Muslim organisations have on several previous occasions voiced their opposition to the well-known views of Ms Nasreen against oppression of women and patriarchal prejudices in Muslim society. By violently protesting every instance of publication of her articles, the religious fundamentalists obviously want to enforce a ban, otherwise legally unsustainable, on her critical and creative works. The larger purpose was to criminally intimidate free-thinking writers who dare to question the authority of religion and religious scriptures. Freedom of expression is an inviolable, fundamental right in India; it cannot be held to ransom by intolerant, communal, fringe elements who invoke religious sentiments to get away with blatantly unconstitutional acts. In secular India, the right to freedom of religion is on a par with other fundamental rights. One fundamental right cannot infringe on another fundamental right.


It is a great pity that after being hounded out of Bangladesh for her views on society and religion, Ms Nasreen has had to face the wrath of religious extremists in secular India. She is now forced to live in hiding, avoiding all public appearances for fear of provoking radical Islamist outfits. In this particular case, Ms Nasreen sees a conspiracy to "misuse" her writings to create public disturbances and denies writing any article for the Kannada newspaper. The translation of the article too seems to be flawed. However, the issue is not the authenticity of the article or its authorship, but the right to freedom of expression it embodies. For Islamist fundamentalists, the target is much bigger than Ms Nasreen: it is the democratic Constitution of secular India. Fatwas and threats of violence in the name of religion are meant to coerce people, especially writers and artists and public figures, into an unquestioning submission to religious diktats. These undermine the secular structure of the Indian Constitution. Creativity and artistic expression, when stifled, will have the effect of killing off critical reasoning and undermining the very democratic fabric of the country.







Mobile phones revolutionised communications in the last decade, bringing basic voice and data access to countless people. The mobile industry body GSMA estimates that there are over 4.5 billion wireless connections worldwide today. As governments everywhere have been discovering, these devices have raised productivity and are driving economic growth. India should now be paying more attention to this sector as the phones become smarter and open up new possibilities. The experience in Haiti showed that these gadgets can save lives. In the wake of the January earthquake, an injured man used an iPhone application to diagnose his condition and apply first aid; a teenager updated her social networking site to tell the world that she was alive in the rubble. These are anecdotal instances, but they are part of a wider phenomenon of a fast-growing mobile web. The mobile internet is powered by high bandwidth networks and smartphones with better display screens and gigahertz processing power. It should surprise no one that the smartphone category is growing 30 per cent year-on-year, and half of all new Internet connections are made using a mobile device. At this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, developers and operators took a step toward consolidation and formed a common platform to write affordable application software for smartphones that can be used across operators and handset models.


The pace of change in mobile broadband should send out a clear message to the government in New Delhi and to the regulators: remove the policy bottlenecks that constrain domestic growth in this important sector. Indecisiveness on policy issues has inordinately delayed full migration from the second generation mobile networks to the higher bandwidth third generation, or 3G. Further delays in awarding licences for 3G networks can only act as a drag on economic and social progress. It is no doubt a positive sign that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has taken note of the apparent lag in decision-making, and circulated a pre-consultation paper on introduction of the next generation 4G network. This new technology is still being refined, but its recent commercial introduction in Stockholm and Oslo is clear proof that mobile services are headed in this direction. It is important to remember that affordable smartphones with the potential to give the end-user greater value and the economy a fillip will arrive soon. They represent the next wave of growth, and everything must be done to facilitate their use.










Pakistan wishes to bring water on to the agenda for future talks. Siddharth Varadarajan ("Water as the carrier of concord with Pakistan," The Hindu, February 25) takes a benign view of this development and sees in it a positive potential for cooperation. I should like to put forward a different perspective.


The Indus Waters Treaty 1960, which settled the sharing of the Indus waters, is internationally regarded as an example of successful conflict-resolution between two countries otherwise locked in a bad relationship. The Treaty contains provisions for dealing with any 'questions' or 'differences' or 'disputes' that might arise in the course of operation. (These can arise not over water-sharing but over technical features of Indian projects on the western rivers.) The arbitration clause was actually used to settle the differences that arose over the Baglihar Project. Questions or differences on other projects can be similarly dealt with. Why then is Pakistan raising 'water' as a subject for India-Pakistan talks, and why is it giving it considerable salience?


India is reported to have told Pakistan that there is no case for including water in the agenda for the 'composite dialogue' (as and when resumed) because there is another forum for talking about it; but Pakistan is likely to persist in its efforts. It is therefore necessary to understand why it is doing so. There are three possible explanations.


The first and most obvious one is that Pakistan wants to deflect attention from the Indian focus on terrorism, and unsettle India by accusing it of wrongdoing on water. The second explanation is that an attempt is being made to shift attention away from inter-provincial conflicts within Pakistan over water and other matters by portraying India as the cause of water-shortages in Pakistan, and bringing the disputing provinces together by rousing national anger against the national enemy, India. The third explanation is that Pakistan is indeed dissatisfied with the working of the Indus Treaty and feels that it must be on the agenda for any serious India-Pakistan talks. Possibly, a combination of all three factors lies behind Pakistan's move to raise the subject of water.


This seems to me a dubious and dangerous move. The inclusion of water in the India-Pakistan talks might give the world the impression that water is an unresolved issue between the two countries and, worse still, that India implicitly accepts that it has given Pakistan cause for complaints about water.


Even more important is the fact that water is a highly sensitive issue over which passions are easily roused. After the attack on Mumbai, when there was some uneasiness in Pakistan, the Pakistan army was able to rally the entire country behind it (the army) by raising the bogey of war and causing the spirit of nationalism to surge and drown all other feelings. Water is an issue that has similar potential. A feeling of insecurity over this life-sustaining substance, and the further feeling that it can be used as a weapon of war by an enemy country, can be used to mobilise the whole country against India. On this subject, as on the Kashmir issue, even members of 'civil society' (including intellectuals, academics and others who advocate good relations with India) are likely to echo the government/army view (or the view that these cynically put forward), and anger against India will blaze across Pakistan.


(It may be recalled that in October 2008, the Pakistani media and general public were led to believe that India had stopped the flow of the Chenab, when all that had happened was that India was doing the initial one-time filling of the reservoir of the newly constructed — and arbitrated — Baglihar Project, and it took a day or two for the water to reach the spillway gates, placed high as required by the Treaty, and flow to the other side. If the gates had been still higher as Pakistan wanted, it would have taken some more time for the water to reach them.)


If water does come on to the agenda of India-Pakistan talks, even international opinion may be tilted towards Pakistan because the sympathy of the world is generally with the lower riparian rather than the upper riparian.


Let us consider the possibility that Pakistan has genuine concerns over water. Two kinds of arguments are often heard. The first is that the Indus treaty was unfair to Pakistan and gave India too much water. This is a widespread belief in Pakistan. The other argument is that Pakistan as the lower riparian is vulnerable because India as the upper riparian will acquire a measure of control over the waters through the structures that it builds on the western rivers, and can use those structures either to stop the waters from flowing to Pakistan or to store the waters and then release them in a flood.


Insofar as the feeling of unfair division of the waters is concerned, it exists in India too, and is quite strong. If both India and Pakistan feel that the division of waters is unfair, then it is perhaps quite a fair division. In any case, when a Treaty is negotiated over a period of ten years or more and is then approved and signed at the highest level, we have to assume that it represented the best agreement that could be reached at that time. Thereafter either side is precluded from talking about unfairness. If a feeling of dissatisfaction develops in time, the Treaty can of course be re-negotiated. However, in any such re-negotiation, either side would want to change the Treaty to its own advantage; and it is clearly impossible for both sides to succeed in that effort. The best course, therefore, would be to leave the Treaty alone and try and operate it in a spirit of constructive cooperation.


As for apprehensions of harm, it is the Indian view that there is no ground for them. However, it is a fact that lower riparians do feel a visceral anxiety about upper riparian control. That is why the Indus Treaty 1960 contains elaborate provisions to safeguard the interests of Pakistan. These include various aspects of design, engineering and operation of the proposed projects. The provisions are very stringent and, further, India is required to communicate its plans and designs in advance to Pakistan to enable that country to satisfy itself that these conform to the Treaty stipulations.


Pakistan would of course be happy if there were no Indian projects at all on the western rivers; but that is not what the Treaty says. It allocates the western rivers to Pakistan but allows some limited Indian use of those rivers, subject to certain conditions. It follows that what Pakistan can ask for is strict adherence to the Treaty. If it has doubts on this score it can take recourse to the Treaty provisions for dealing with differences. As differences can be dealt with within the ambit of the Treaty, there is no case for raising them in a different forum.


Finally, is there a scope for 'cooperation' or for joint projects under the Treaty? There is hardly any ground for such a 'positive' view. The ideal course of joint integrated management of the Indus basin as a whole by the two countries was ruled out by the circumstances of Partition and the bitter hostility of the two countries. Instead, a division of the waters was agreed upon, with stringent restrictions on Indian use to safeguard the interests of Pakistan. The Treaty is thus a partitioning Treaty. The land was partitioned in 1947, and the waters were partitioned in 1960. There is indeed an article on cooperation (art. VII), but the kind of cooperation that it envisages is extremely limited. It is hardly possible to base any large visions of cooperation on that article.


The relationship between the two countries which was very bad for years seemed to improve recently, but it has deteriorated again. Besides, if the raising of water as a subject for discussion is in fact a disingenuous tactical move, how can that provide a basis for a constructive new relationship?








Civil aviation has experienced two very difficult years worldwide. The second "India Aviation" being held in Hyderabad in 2010 under the auspices of Praful Patel, Hon'ble Minister of State for Civil Aviation, is therefore a sign of hope for this sector so vital for our economies and our future. It is also the unmistakable sign that India is fast building its ambition in civil aviation and is bound to become one of the global "front fliers" of this century. Indeed, the development of aeronautics is both a condition and an integral part of economic growth. In India it is a key element to better connectivity, a more secure environment, better attractiveness, notably with the development of tourism. Remarkable progress has been made since the early 2000s in terms of airports, new routes, and more positive evolutions are underway. This is why France has faith in and supports India's aeronautical strategy.


France and the European Union have been key partners of India for decades; they wish to continue and deepen this partnership for the development of Indian civil aviation. After his visit to Le Bourget Air Show last year in June, Mr. Patel and Dominique Bussereau, French Minister of Transport, decided to give a fresh impetus to Indo-French relations in civil aviation. It was then agreed that France would be the partner country for India Aviation 2010: with the FICCI, the French authorities and companies were instrumental in making this show a vivid example of the thrust of this sector.


Moreover, the political framework for aeronautical cooperation between our two countries has been reinforced through the signing of three agreements last month in Paris, covering flight safety, airline management, airport infrastructure, aircraft maintenance, air traffic management and training.


This political framework is the foundation of a buoyant industrial presence of French and European companies in India. Last year, India became the third biggest destination of civil aviation exports from the European Union. All our top companies are present in India. Airbus is a star supplier for many airline companies of India with more than 150 aircraft flying under Indian colours. Convinced that India will remain one of its strong partners, Airbus will take the opportunity of the Hyderabad air show to deliver two more A 320s, one for Air India and one for Indigo. The future may even lead to a delivery of the A380, since Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi is already transforming its runways and equipment to accommodate this new jumbo jet.


Since the demand for air transport in India is not limited to big hubs, ATR, the regional aircraft company, is already a major flyer in the Indian sky with 50 aircraft in operation in 2010, with more to come. Dassault is also flying in the Indian corporate sky and delivered its first 7X to India last month, the most modern long-range corporate jet presented at the Hyderabad air show.


Eurocopter — world leader in helicopters — is convinced that this mode of transport can only thrive in India. India Aviation 2010 will be the right time to make public the signature of an agreement in view of the delivery of seven Dauphin helicopters, three options and a flight simulator.


CFM-International, the joint Franco-U.S. company that supplies jet engines will be one of the major actors in Hyderabad. Its training centre for the maintenance of CFM56 jet engines was inaugurated on the March 2, 2010 in the presence of its CEO. It thus demonstrates that our companies believe in India's becoming an industrial and services platform in the near future.


This training centre is paving the way for new developments. Many European aeronautical companies are thinking of opening Maintenance and Repair Outlets in India. It is one of the key elements for the development of Indian expertise in this sector, and the positioning of India as a world class maintenance hub.


But civil aviation does not stop at flying machines. Airports, air traffic management, safety issues are also major areas for our partnerships to explore. French authorities and companies are already here and willing to reinforce their presence with their Indian partner companies. They help build safer skies, quicker connections, and more fuel efficient procedures. EADS aircraft, the rationalisation of air traffic routes and controls are providing the means for more environment-friendly aircraft and helping reduce a country's carbon footprint. Thalès, leader in Europe for the new air traffic management programme, is also the illustration of Europe's willingness to support India in its efforts to secure its air space by improving its air guidance procedures and the overall management of air routes.


Further, thirteen French SMEs are present at India Aviation 2010. Aviation started in Europe with SMEs and they have always been a key element in the competitiveness of this sector in Europe and elsewhere.


France, and particularly its aeronautical sector, does not maintain a mere client and customer relation with India. Our relationship aims at a long-term and dedicated partnership. We believe in India's ability to become a major aeronautical player in the coming years, and we believe that aeronautics will be one of the flagships of Indian industrial development. Believing in a strong Indian air industry is believing in this country's technological future.


( Jérôme Bonnafont is French Ambassador to India.)








  1. Paris to open exclusive negotiations for the sale of four French Mistral warships to Russia
  2. Moscow to agree to be more cooperative on sanctions against Iran


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has clearly decided to forget his earlier strident and principled declarations about Russia, Chechnya and human rights and cosy up to Moscow.


During Russian President Dimitri Medvedev's visit to Paris on Monday, the two countries took their relationship to a new level of understanding, with Paris opening exclusive negotiations for the sale of four French Mistral warships to Russia and Moscow agreeing to be more cooperative on sanctions against Iran.


Paris underlined the importance of Mr. Medvedev's three-day visit by receiving him with unusual pomp. The Russian leader arrived in the French capital by helicopter, landing on the vast esplanade in front of the Invalides museum, where Napoleon is buried. Scores of golden-helmeted Republican Guards on horseback led his limousine across the Alexandre III bridge, named for the second-to-last Tzar.


The message to Washington was clear — Paris is a major player on the international scene and France is determined to carve out a foreign policy niche for itself with or without the active cooperation of Washington. Paris decided to go ahead with the sale of the warships despite opposition openly expressed by U.S. President and Congress as well as by the Baltic States.


A senior French official during a deep background briefing tried to play down U.S. fears by comparing the Mistrals, which are to delivered shorn of equipment to "ferryboats." They are in fact amphibious combat tank and helicopter carriers. Such an arms sale would be the biggest ever by a NATO country to Russia. The purchase, each ship can carry up to 16 attack helicopters, would allow Russia to land hundreds of troops quickly on foreign soil. The possibility has alarmed Georgia as well as the three Baltic countries in NATO — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.


The sale would amount to "a symbol of trust between our countries," President Medvedev said and Mr. Sarkozy too sought to defuse any controversy over the sale.


"Can we say to President Medvedev in the morning, "I trust you, vote with us at the Security Council, work with us on the same resolution, then in the afternoon, tell him, "sorry, excuse us, as we don't trust you and we don't work together — we won't sell you the Mistral'?" he asked.


In return a key business deal signed during the visit will give France's GDF Suez a 9-per cent stake in the Nord Stream gas pipeline project run by Russia's Gazprom. Once again, this runs counter to efforts by U.S. and other European countries to lessen Europe's dependence on Russian pipelines and gas. The pipeline also competes with Nabucco, a proposed pipeline backed by the U.S. and the European Union that would bring natural gas to Europe from the Caspian Sea region.


It will be more difficult for Washington and Paris to get the newly renewed U.N. Security Council to commit to a resolution calling for even tougher sanctions against Iran, a prime goal for the French. Besides China, a permanent member that opposes sanctions against Iran, the new U.N. Security Council includes recalcitrant non-permanent members like Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria or Lebanon where the pro-Iranian Hizbollah is a major force in politics. Although as rotating non-permanent UNSC members, none of these states has a veto, their votes against sanctions would greatly undermine the credibility of any resolution.


From Moscow's point of view it would be giving nothing away by agreeing to fresh sanctions against Iran. With western impatience growing over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, Mr. Medvedev said his country is ready to consider targeted new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. "Russia is ready, with other partners, to consider sanctions," he said.








Records from two nearly 100-year-old shipwrecks, the Titanic and the Lusitania, have given researchers new insight into human selfishness — and altruism. On one boat, it seems, the men thought only of themselves; on the other, they were more likely to help women and children. This occurred for one key reason, researchers said: time. The Lusitania sank in about 18 minutes, while the Titanic took nearly three hours. Women and children fared much better on the Titanic.


"When you have to react very, very fast, human instincts are much faster than internalized social norms," said Benno Torgler, an economics professor at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and one of the authors of the study, published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"It's very nice to get a nice and controlled experiment,'' he said. ``You're in the ship; you cannot go in and out. We were looking for shipwrecks that were very similar — similar structure, similar rates of survival, only a couple of years apart."


The two ships fit the bill. The makeup of the passengers and crew on both of them was similar, and the sinkings happened relatively close in time, the Titanic in 1912 and the Lusitania in 1915.


In their analysis, the researchers studied passenger and survivor lists from both ships, and considered gender, age, ticket class, nationality and familial relationships with other passengers. The differences emerged after a closer look at the survival rates. On the Titanic, the study found, children were 14.8 per cent more likely to survive adults, while on the Lusitania they were 5.3 per cent less likely to do so. And women on the Titanic were 53 per cent more likely to survive than men, while on the Lusitania they were 1.1 per cent less likely to do so.


The implication, Torgler said, is that on the Titanic, male passengers went out of their way to help women and children.


The research is innovative, but there are still some unanswered questions, said Benigno Aguirre, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware who also works in the university's Disaster Research Centre, and who was not involved in the study.


"The idea is an excellent idea — the sense of time in survival," Aguirre said. "My only concern is that as they do that they need to go back and look at group behaviours, counting the relationship within those groups."


In a study accepted for publication in Social Science Quarterly, Aguirre analysed the records from a deadly nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003. He found that those who were at the club with friends, relatives or people they knew were less likely to survive than those who were there alone.


Although the researchers did consider parent-child relationships, Aguirre said he would like to see deeper analysis, looking into relationships of all sorts on the two ships, including family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.


Meanwhile, Torgler and his colleagues are studying the reactions to more recent disasters — namely in the use of text messages, including those sent by people trapped during the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11. In texts sent in those situations, Torgler said, people seemed to convey their love to family members, tried to find closure with difficult issues and showed signs of faith in God.







For anyone who enjoys seeing bitterness and bile traded in public, who likes the glint and gleam of a metaphorical knife being wielded, the past week has been a toxic treat. The news in Britain has been packed with reported spats, played out in the sporting arena (Wayne Bridge versus John Terry), the domestic arena (Ashley Cole versus his mother-in-law), and the political arena (the Brown versus Blair debacle suddenly revived like a saggy, sweating Frankenstein's monster). Toys have been thrown from prams. Mud has been slung. And we have been given an object lesson in the delicate art of grudge-holding.


There are those who see a grudge as a poison, who believe you should never harbour resentment against anyone at all. These people are paragons of virtue who are kidding themselves — I disagree with them entirely. If someone has, say, screamed at you suddenly, shockingly, for no reason at all, and then failed to a) apologise or b) change their behaviour so thoroughly that this amounts to a tacit apology, you'd be misguided not to file the experience away for future reference. To forget it entirely is to attach a prominent "kick me" sign to your back.


But how should that grudge proceed? Let's look at the evidence we've accrued this past week. One lesson seems to be that, for anyone who intends to air a grudge, it would first be sensible to consider how others might respond. Are people going to sympathise with you or your opponent? When "friends" of footballer Ashley Cole alleged that he partly blamed his mother-in-law for the breakdown of his marriage, they presumably thought they were doing him a favour, putting his side forward. But if this grudge actually does exist — if Cole really believes that the intimacy between him and his wife Cheryl died down after her mother moved into their house — it would have been much cooler to keep it under wraps. When you have been accused of cheating on your wife repeatedly, blaming anyone else invites hysterical laughter from your enemies and more attacks.


Another approach that seems ill—advised is the ranting, raving, shouting, finger-waving showdown. See Gordon Brown. In Andrew Rawnsley's new book, The End of the Party, it is suggested that in one confrontation, Brown shouted more than once at Tony Blair, "You ruined my life." (Downing Street is denying many of the claims in the book.) Again, there's a question of coolness. Losing your temper with the object of your grudge means they immediately have the upper hand. Losing your temper to the extent depicted by Rawnsley means that while beads of sweat roil across your brow, your enemy is essentially sitting in a high—backed swivel chair, stroking a white Persian cat, and cracking a satisfied half—smile. If Brown — or indeed any of us — finds ourselves in this position, we need to ask one question that rarely seems apt, but is perfectly placed in this instance. What would Peter Mandelson do? Meanwhile, the person who seems to have emerged from their grudge match most admirably this week is the footballer Wayne Bridge. The audience's breath was bated when, this weekend, Bridge had to play against John Terry — once his best friend, before allegations of an affair with Bridge's ex—girlfriend, Vanessa Perroncel. Then, just before the match began, Bridge swept past Terry's outstretched palm, snubbing the customary handshake, and went on to help his team secure a 4-2 victory. The score card seemed clear. All points to Bridge.


But I'm not so sure. Two days before that match, Bridge announced he was removing himself from contention for the England side — implying that he couldn't bear to play with Terry. Fine, if that's how he feels, but it's hardly how you want a grudge to play out. After all, Bridge has now scuppered his own chances of England glory this summer (winning the World Cup is a long shot, I realise, but would obviously be the pinnacle of any footballer's career). And then there's the question of where he goes from here. How long does he snub Terry in public? At what stage will this start seeming petty and pointless rather than coolly combative? Closing down communication is a perfectly good way forward if you never have to see the object of your grudge again. But if you're going to bump into them regularly, it's a disaster. It takes a real effort to ignore someone completely, and after a while your glowering, pouting avoidance will only start to look like startle-eyed strangeness. At which stage, you have two choices. Continue with the silent treatment, and look ridiculous. Or back down — and look ridiculous.


Surely the best way to hold a grudge is in a silent, secret, superior fashion, giving nothing away, and allowing the slight not to fester but to glow warmly. You know that you're safe on the moral high ground, and can relax in the knowledge that the object of your grudge has no idea of your feelings. Meanwhile, in quiet moments, you can construct happy fantasies of how it might all come to fruition — some sunny, superlative occasion when you're able to confront them with panache and a perfectly witty put-down — a showdown that will be delicious if it does ever come to pass, but probably never will.


— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010










Prime minister Manmohan Singh committed a cardinal mistake in his address to Saudi Arabia's Majlis-Al-Shura on Monday by stating that India seeks peaceful relations with Pakistan. The intention was to apparently tell the most influential Muslim country in the world — although manyMuslims in the world will disagree with that assumption — that Pakistan is the troublemaker and India would be happy if Saudi Arabia would pressurise Pakistan.


Saudi Arabia will not be able to do much to influence Pakistan although Islamabad and Riyadh are close. The Saudis are worried about the havoc Islamist terrorism is playing in Pakistan and this was made clear in Saudi foreign minister Saud bin Faisal's interaction with Indian journalists on Sunday.


Secondly, Singh talked about the 160 million Muslims in India and how they were making their mark in different spheres. Even if there was not a single Muslim in India, the Saudis would still be interested to do business with India. A majority of the Indian expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are not Muslims and yet the Saudis appreciate their contribution. It is rather silly to play the Muslim card because international relations are not based on common identities but on common interests.


Civilisational bonds are valuable — Arab-Islamic, Turkish, Persian and Afghan strands have over a millennium enriched Indian heritage as during the Caliphates of classical Islamic history, the Indian influence on Arab intellectual flowering was fruitful. But relations in the present are defined by strategic interests comprising political and economic currents of the day.


Arab countries have discovered in the last couple of years a new, economically vibrant India and they are keen to be partners in the new enterprise. Singh has indeed talked of opportunities that a booming Indian economy offers investors from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are also looking to India as the big market for their oil and are watching with admiration India's successful experiment with democracy.


As with the United States, India must forge an independent relationship with Saudi Arabia and not seek to use the imagined good offices of either Washington or Riyadh to influence Islamabad. India in its turn must not allow itself to be pressurised by Washington or Riyadh in dealing with Pakistan.







It is rather irrelevant whether Bangladesh's writer-in-exile Taslima Nasreen is indeed the author of the article in the newspaper Kannada Prabha — she is reported to have said that she did not write the article — which has triggered rioting in Karnataka's Shimoga and Hassan districts, or whether what she has written is right or wrong.


If indeed she has written that Prophet Muhammad did not approve of 'burkha' there is enough room to argue the case that perhaps she has a point. Those who disagreed with her or thought she was misrepresenting the issue could always have argued their case in the same newspaper or elsewhere. There was no provocation for a riot in this.


It is easy to fall back on the stereotypical description that minority Muslims are both ultra-sensitive and intolerant. A closer examination will show that this was not the response of an enraged community. This was indeed the act of criminals egged on by some political group looking to create trouble. It cannot be ruled out that in the present instance, the political troublemakers could even from the major political parties themselves, whether BJP, Congress or any other. Bigots do not spill over into the streets if they do not have political patronage. Every riot in this country has tacit political support. What needs to be done is just to expose the political links of the rioters and arsonists.


The other important issue is that of ways and means to curb the violent outbursts of gangs — and most of the time they are no more than mere gangs — which any administration worth its name should be able to do. Without going into the larger issues of failure of governance, it is evident that government is not able to handle a simple law-and-order situation arising from a mob going berserk. The police can talk of political interference but it would lack credibility because there are times when it is plain ineptitude of the police themselves that contributes to the disruption of peace on the streets.


Most of the time, the riots are viewed through sociological lens and unnecessary intellectual interpretations and debates are spawned even as the real problem remains unaddressed.Shimoga and Hassan will limp back to normalcy but there will be other similar eruptions and for no good reason. What needs to be done is to put the politicians on notice for their complicity in violent protests any time, any where. Nail politicians for playing with lives of people and fanatics will not dare go on rampage.







What Pranab Mukherjee has doled out with one hand, he has taken away with the other. The middle classes would feel happy that income tax rates have come down. But a year down the line, these gains may get frittered away as real incomes shrink on account of no respite in inflationary pressures, especially higher food prices.


The salaried sections (whose taxes are deducted at source) could feel smug about the Bengali-babu's benevolence. But the proverbial aam aadmi has no reason to be exultant. Far from dampening inflationary expectations, Friday's budget would in fact further fuel inflationary fires. Higher excise duties on diesel (and petrol) have already got translated into higher retail prices that would increase transportation costs which, in turn, would lead to higher prices of all items of mass consumption.


Wait, that's not all. When excise duties were pared by 6 per cent in late-2008 and early-2009, prices of products on which such taxes are levied did not come down. But the reverse will not hold good. Manufacturers of items on which excise tariffs have been upped by 2% now are almost certainly going to pass on the higher tax burden on to consumers.


There is every possibility that the apprehensions expressed in the Economic Survey released on Thursday would come true — that "there have been signs of these high food prices, together with the gradual hardening of non-administered fuel product prices, getting transmitted to other non-food items, thus creating concerns about higher-than-anticipated generalised inflation over the next few months."


The 74-year-old finance minister has certainly not paid much heed to the advice given by his chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu. What does this mean? Simply put, just don't believe prime minister Manmohan Singh or agriculture minister Sharad Pawar when they claim food prices are going to come down soon.


Despite a lot of tall talk about "inclusive development" being an "article of faith" for the government and the budget's alleged emphasis on infrastructure and rural development, the truth tucked in the fine print tells a somewhat different story. The revised estimates of the Central Plan outlays for the ministry of human resource development, consumer affairs, food and public distribution, health and family welfare and labour and employment are all below revised estimates by varying proportions.


In other words, merely stating that budget outlays have been increased is meaningless since funds that were allotted last year have not been spent. Yet Mukherjee chose to highlight how the plan outlay for social justice and empowerment has been increased by a whopping 80%. Good rhetoric? Or is it really?


On page 59 of the first volume Expenditure Budget, the figures provided indicate that the direct transfer of Central Plan assistance for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has gone up from under Rs38,000 crore to just below Rs40,000 crore — not a particularly impressive increase on a scheme that the government proudly proclaims is the "world's largest social security programme".


One can be selective with statistics but there are important omissions from the budget speech. Consider the budget estimates as well as the revise estimate for expenditure incurred on the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. The budget estimates for 2009-10 was Rs8,609 crore, the revise estimate Rs8,535 crore and the new budget estimates for 2010-11 is Rs7,850 crore. Talk about rural development!


The document entitled "Statement of Revenue Foregone" indicates that revenue foregone (on account of exemptions and concessions) jumped from Rs4,58,516 crore in 2008-09 to Rs5,40,269 crore in 2009-10 — as a proportion of aggregate tax collection, this number went up from 68.6% to 79.6%. Not surprisingly, the corporate sector is not particularly disappointed with the budget despite the hike in the minimum alternate tax on company profits. The stock-markets too have reacted favourably to the budget.


The budget calculations assume that in the coming fiscal year, India's gross domestic product in nominal terms will rise by 12.5%. If one believes the government's claims and GDP growth during 2010-11 is in the region of 8.5%, this would imply a low average annual inflation rate of 4% next fiscal year. One would like to be proved wrong, but there are few indications at present that the inflation rate would come down to such an extent.


We know the next general elections are more than four years down the line. And assembly elections in Bihar don't really matter that much in New Delhi. For sake of the FM, one wishes the good news has not been spread too thinly. In trying to please everybody, we sometimes end up pleasing nobody. Best of luck.


Pranab-babu. You will certainly need it.







I don't normally consider letters I receive in response to my fortnightly editorial exertions here as a barometer of anything other than the respondent's momentary agitated state of mind. In most cases, these responses disagree vehemently with an argument I may have made and employ some uncommon term of endearment to articulate that disagreement. One recent writer, for instance, cheerily referred to me as "Macaulay's monkey": just for that compliment, I want to swing by and make chattering noises outside his window.


I rather suspect, however, that the tide of popular opinion may be turning. In recent weeks and months, there's been — as statisticians who want to play with numbers would say — a significant upsurge in the volume of adulatory e-mails I receive. Curiously, many of them don't relate in even the most fleeting manner to anything I might have written — theseare personalised, open solicitations to "discreet relationships", written ostensibly by college girls in small-town India, who make up for what they lack in English language proficiency withendearing earnestness and a wholesale lack of sexual inhibition. Even given the admittedly small sample size, and even through their tentative prose, the frisson of sexual energy from small-town Young India cruising for unconventional relationships is unmistakable.


And now, as if to validate those subjective observations, along come the findings of a study conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences and released by the Union health ministry, which establishes that youngsters from rural India are rather more sexually active before marriage than city-slickers. The actual proportion of young rural Indians who are giving in to their premarital sexual urges is still statistically small, but these numbers may be considerably understating the underlying reality owing to a "cultural lag" effect.


That theory holds that popular culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations like contraception. And societies' keenness to instil sexual mores in their young adults is rendered less strident by the gradual de-stigmatisation of premarital sex.


Economists at the University of Pennsylvania and at Barcelona have even framed an economic model to account for rising incidence of premarital sex and its de-stigmatisation, which triggered a sexual revolution of sorts in the US in the 20th century. Indicatively, in 1900, only 6% of women in the US had had premarital sex by age 19; now that number is close to 75%. And, in keeping with the 'cultural lag' theory, in 1968, only 15% of women had a permissive attitude towards premarital sex, whereas about 40% of women had experienced it. Likewise, by 1983, although the number with permissive attitude to premarital sex had increased to 45%, it still lagged the actual number (73%) of under-19 women who had had premarital sex.


Even given the vast cultural differences between the US in the 20th century and India-that-is-Bharat of today, it's easy to see that a similar storm of raging hormones is giving rise to a premarital sexual revolution in India. In Bollywood movies we've come to the point, for instance, where once we had interlocking flowers to depict the Grand Passion, we now have juicy liplocks — and even honest depictions of live-in relationships. And if it happens in Bollywood, can Bastar or Bilaspur be far behind?


Of course, all this premarital bonking would have appalled at least one other eminent economist, Thomas Malthus, not least because he was also a clergyman. Malthus, who propounded the population theory, emphasised sexual abstinence until marriage and even the postponement of marriage until people could support a family. But as is becoming evident even in rural India, raging hormones have drowned out the voice of moral authority.









India's relations with Saudi Arabia are set to scale new heights in the days to come with the successful three-day visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Riyadh. Dr Manmohan Singh and Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday inaugurated a "new era of strategic partnership" by signing 10 agreements covering different areas, including an extradition treaty, scientific and technical cooperation and transfer of sentenced prisoners. The customary declaration issued at the end of the visit had it that the two emerging economies were keenly interested in intensifying their economic, cultural, social and scientific cooperation. Interestingly, the cause of fighting terrorism figured prominently during the discussions between the two sides.


The Saudis have been looking for investment opportunities in India for some time, particularly after the emergence of an anti-Arab sentiment in the West. This was one of the reasons why the Saudi King visited New Delhi in 2006. Today there is ample scope for investment by Saudi Arabia in India. Saudi entrepreneurs can explore investment opportunities in India in construction, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, telecommunications, tourism, etc, as pointed out by Dr Manmohan Singh. They will be gainers by parking their funds in the fast growing Indian economy, which has shown much resilience during the global recession. Saudi Arabia fulfils a quarter of India's oil needs, but the time has come to change the character of their bilateral trade. Indian investment in the richest West Asian nation is currently of the order of $2 billion, but it may go up substantially once they move towards having a comprehensive energy partnership, as is expected now. India is capable of playing a major role in speeding up the overall development of the oil kingdom.


The response of the Saudi Arabian government and businessmen shows that they are enthusiastic about having better relations with India. They have their grievances like multiple-entry visas which can be taken care of easily. Close relations with Riyadh can help New Delhi in mounting pressure on Pakistan to go whole hog against terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attack and the recent Pune blasts. A change in Saudi attitude towards India can also prevent Pakistan from misusing the Organisation of Islamic Conference for its anti-India propaganda. 








Committed to the goal of inclusive development, it is only in the fitness of things that the social sector has received the second highest plan outlay in the budget presented by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Social sector spending has been increased, representing 37 per cent of the total outlay. This massive increase, especially the higher allocation for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, is likely to benefit backward classes. The substantial budgetary support — 50 per cent more than the previous year — to Ministries of Minority Affairs and Women and Child Development too is welcome. While both education and health stand to gain, the increase is not enough.


Time and again, the government has reiterated its commitment towards the development of health and education sectors. However, its resolve has not been matched with budgetary outlays this year. With the Right to Education, that requires about Rs 1.71 lakh crore in the next five years, to become effective by April 1, school education should have got a greater budgetary impetus. Higher education too has not received the necessary attention as it did last year. Realising the paucity of medical professionals, the allocation for human resources on health has increased from Rs 62 crore in the previous budget to Rs 323 crore. Yet spending on health has increased marginally by about 14 per cent and is a far cry from the promised 2 per cent of the GDP.


Though India has been increasing its allocation on the social sector, this spending as compared to developed nations is rather low. Money should not become a constraint in social sector spending for markets cannot protect the interests of the marginalised. At the same time, allocation of money is not enough. The government has to plug in leakages and wastages in the schemes as pointed out by the Economic Survey 2009-10. Every single rupee allocated should also mean every rupee utilised for the purpose for which it is meant. Besides, the government, which has made education a fundamental right, should ensure higher outlays for both education and health, keeping into account inflationary offset.








Manipur, one of the six HIV high-prevalence states in the country, continues to face many challenges in providing proper health care to its HIV infected patients. Besides dearth of professionals and lack of quality care available at Anti Retroviral Therapy centres, there are other problems affecting its healthcare system. In fact, Manipur is not the only north-eastern state where the situation has been found grim. In the small north-eastern state of Nagaland too intravenous drug abuse has led to the spread of the HIV.


Even though the incidence of people living with HIV/ AIDS has come down in India in recent years the prevalence is concentrated among high-risk groups. Intravenous drug users sharing needles is one of the reasons for the HIV transmission. By the end of 1980s, the rapid spread of HIV was observed among IDUs in three north eastern states that is Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram, bordering Myanmar which is part of the "Golden triangle" of drug route. Though in Nagaland, the HIV prevalence among injecting drug users came down from 39 per cent in 1994 to 1.5 per cent in 2007, the Nagaland State AIDS Control Society had admitted in 2008 that it has a long way to go to fight the epidemic. In Manipur, the drug use is rampant and figure for HIV positive stands at 33,403.


While there is an urgent need to control the HIV epidemic among the intravenous drug users, there has to be better access to health care. The correlation between HIV and Hepatitis C, too, needs to be looked into. According to a survey 92 per cent of the HIV positive people in Imphal were affected with Hepatitis C, the vaccination for which is exorbitantly expensive. Besides, what is true for the rest of India — stigmatisation of the HIV infected — is a dismal reality in north-eastern states as well, preventing many from revealing their HIV status. While the HIV Bill could ensure basic rights of the HIV infected, awareness drives emphasising on "life beyond HIV" need to gather momentum. The challenge of HIV care has to be fought on many fronts. Proper testing. anti-retroviral drug supply, prevention of mother to child transmission as well as de-stigmatisation of the HIV infected need equal attention.
















Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, for the first time in recent years, has laid out a road-map for agricultural recovery and progress based on integrated attention to the conservation of the ecological foundations essential for sustainable agriculture, cultivation based on the principles of conservation and climate-resilient farming, consumption with attention to food safety and quality, and farmer-centric commerce. For the first time also, he has addressed the issue of increasing feminisation of agriculture by proposing a Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana with an initial outlay of Rs 100 crore.


The four-pronged strategy outlined by him relates to agricultural production, reduction in wastage, credit support and a thrust in post-harvest technology and food processing. For defending the gains in the heartland of the Green Revolution — Punjab, Haryana and Western UP — a sum of Rs 200 crore has been provided. For extending the gains to Eastern India — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Eastern UP, West Bengal and Orissa — a sum of Rs 400 crore has been allocated. In order to increase the production of pulses and oilseeds, Mr Pranab Mukherjee has provided Rs 300 crore for organising 60,000 pulses and oilseed villages in rainfed areas during this year. If this programme is implemented properly by the ICAR and the agricultural universities in the states we can see the beginning of a pulses and oilseeds revolution of the kind originally envisaged by Rajiv Gandhi in the eighties.


A substantial step-up of credit availability in the rural areas has been proposed, the target being Rs 3,75,000 crore. Also the effective rate of interest for farmers who repay their short-term crop loans as per the schedule will be 5 per cent per annum. I am glad slowly we are progressing towards the target of 4 per cent interest rate proposed by the National Commission on Farmers. The food processing sector has been given support for developing an efficient infrastructure. The Finance Minister has mentioned that a draft food security Bill be placed in the public domain soon. There are also proposals for establishing a strong supply chain for perishable farm produce.


Also there will be a concerted attempt to convert primary produce into value added products. Incentives have been provided for relevant farm mechanisation and for establishing cold storages and other facilities for the preservation of perishable commodities. These steps should help improve productivity and profitability of horticulture, animal husbandry and aquaculture.


While a road-map has been indicated in the budget, the achievement of the goals will be possible within the very small amounts provided in the budget only if the state governments can introduce a "deliver as one" approach with reference to the implementation of different projects. For example, substantial outlays are available under several ongoing programmes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, the National Horticulture Mission, the National Food Security Mission, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the National Rural Livelihood Mission. If such an approach involving appropriate changes both in attitude and action is not adopted, the small amount of money allotted for the above mentioned purposes will not yield the anticipated results.


Another issue which needs careful consideration is the policy regarding the opening up of retail trade. Mini-retail and small holder farming are the largest self-employment enterprises in our country. Creating jobs is the greater challenge facing us now. Therefore, the opening up of retail trade to large companies, whether national or multinational, needs to be taken up only on the basis of an employment impact analysis. Another issue which needs to be considered in its totality is the impact of the rise in the price of diesel and petrol. This will have serious implications for all sectors of the economy and particularly for the farm sector.


During 2009, which was a severe drought year, Punjab and Haryana farmers increased rice production to a level higher than the previous year by resorting to ground water irrigation. This involved a large investment by farmers in the purchase of diesel for pumping water. It is because of this effort that we have now a comfortable reserve in rice. Unfortunately, irrigation, the most important input for agriculture, does not find special mention in the budget speech, although provision would have been made under Bharat Nirman.


Finally, it is high time the sentiments expressed by the Finance Minister in relation to post-harvest technology and particularly grain storage were converted into action without delay. In April-May 2010, the Food Corporation of India and other agencies may have to buy over 20 million tonnes of wheat in Northwest India. Even the existing stocks of wheat and rice are not stored properly. It will be sad if during a period of hardship as a result of food inflation we should allow wastage of precious grains.


The Finance Minister's recipe for agricultural renewal thus involves convergence and synergy among numerous ongoing programmes. It will be useful if the Prime Minister and the National Development Council initiate as soon as possible the steps needed for such a reform in governance.


The writer is a member of the Rajya Sabha.








I was bubbling with excitement. My other half admonished me — you are behaving like a schoolgirl. Journalists often live in reflected glory and our greatest moments of high are brush with celebrities. And here I was about to meet the most celebrated and gifted artist India has produced: none other than the legendary Maqbool Fida Husain.


Of course, I was not only thrilled but also a bundle of nerves. For who hadn't heard of the eccentricities of the artist? Who knows which query of mine might ruffle his feathers?


But there he was, living up to the legend that he is. Barefoot, of course, dressed in impeccable expensive international brand nevertheless.


Guess what, to my utmost surprise, he was only too eager to satiate our curiosity. Even the oft-repeated enquiries didn't seem to rankle him at all. On his muse of those days Madhuri Dixit too he had much to say and made no bones about his admiration for her beauty and talent.


A day after, at Punjab Kala Bhavan the man who believes that if Pandit Bhimsen Joshi can sing in public why can't a painter paint in full public glare, created magic. From one single stroke his painting began and soon grew into a powerful work, perhaps even a masterpiece. Of course, critics scoffed later — this wasn't quite a masterpiece.


In fact, as long as he lived in India he sure has had his share of detractors who thought it were his publicity-seeking antics that earned him a permanent name in the annals of art history. But that those detractors would one day find an echo and acquire an ominous hue and have him literally banished out of the country, the idea itself was ludicrous.


For years now Husain has been living in exile. Call it self-imposed or a forced one, he has not come back. In between, there have been heated debates on his return. In a nation where organisers are afraid to display his works for fear of vandalism by the same intolerant tribe who attacked his Gufa Art Gallery in Ahmedabad and took umbrage at his painting Hindu goddesses and later Bharat Mata embroiling him in a litany of cases, can the government guarantee his protection? Yet, all this while even a worst-case scenario visualiser like me has ever doubted that ultimately he will not return.


The latest news that Husain who has given the Indian art its unique identity and placed it firmly and squarely on the global map may no more be Indian citizen and has opted for Qatar nationality is benumbing. Today, both the girl in me and the sensitive being are dismayed. Can someone assure me that Husain will certainly return to his roots, to the soil where his art has not only blossomed but also inspired a whole generation of artists? Whether India reclaims its artist that has done it proud more than once, or not, I certainly want to regain my schoolgirl excitement again.


In the vast galaxy of Indian artists no other artist can excite imagination and a journalist's copy better than the 95-year old artist who himself retains child-like innocence and enthusiasm for life.








In Patna it is not uncommon to find people running coaching institutes to have armed, private bodyguards. While some of them obviously fear kidnapping for ransom, a few are apprehensive of attacks instigated or engineered by rival institutions. So fierce is the competition among them and yet such is the mad rush among students for admission in them that thousands of such institutes have come up defying the odds in virtually every urban or semi-urban area of the country.


Indeed, the last two decades have witnessed a steady proliferation of coaching institutes. So much so that Businessworld last year estimated coaching institutes in the country to make up a Rs. 30,000 crore industry. The Associated Chamber of Commerce (ASSOCHAM), while urging the government to bring coaching institutes under the income tax and the service tax net, estimated that just 100 coaching institutes in the country, preparing students for IITs and IIMs alone make Rs 10,000 crore annually.


That coaching institutes are today a lucrative business proposition is evident in the enviable infrastructure and the number of buses boasted by some of them, the salary they pay to the teachers, which is often five times or more of what teachers would receive in a government school, and the manner in which some of the institutes have grown into private universities. Indeed, an income tax 'raid' on the premises of just four such institutes in Patna in May last year had led to the seizure of one crore rupees in cash alone, although none of the promoters paid any income tax.


What has fuelled this surge is the insatiable hunger for tips to crack competitive entrance tests for professional courses. The gap between the demand and the seats has been growing every year, thus adding to the scramble for admission. The chronic shortage of quality institutions is yet another factor that has been driving students to enroll in coaching classes.


What is worrying, however, is that a large number of these institutes, often disdainfully described as teaching shops, are increasingly being sponsored by people with money and muscle power, businessmen with little or no pretension to either education, professional experience or expertise.


While there existed, therefore, a strong enough case for regulating coaching institutes, it gained strength this month after students in Patna clashed with the police and the hired musclemen of a few coaching institutes. While the students alleged that the institutes collected exorbitant fees but failed to deliver on their promise to cover the entire syllabi, the institutes denied the charge while alleging that rival institutes had instigated the students.


It was certainly unusual for students to hit the streets against coaching institutes, which thrive on their public record of students cracking entrance tests and on word-of-mouth publicity. But with the established and bigger coaching institutes going in for screening the students and holding their own entrance examinations, thus shutting the door to the vast majority of so-called 'average' students, the more dubious operators seem to have invaded the coaching space.


In Patna, it took several days for the police to bring the situation under control but not before one of the students had lost his life. The outrage following the student's death forced Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister, to announce that legislation would be introduced in the Assembly in February itself to regulate the coaching institutes.


It is, however, worth remembering that regulations have seldom worked in this country. One has only to look at the frequent violation of existing guidelines issued by the CBSE, the UGC or the AICTE to start doubting the efficacy of more regulations, which are designed to give more power to regulators, in this case bureaucrats in the government, to indulge in favouritism and extortion.


It is also worth keeping in mind that coaching institutes are no substitute to schools. While the schools generally provide the theoretical grounding and the conceptual understanding required for grasping scientific principles and for board examinations, the coaching institutes train students to solve problems faster and in the various methodology and techniques to handle questions at entrance examinations which are designed to not just test the knowledge base of the students but also to eliminate a majority of them.


The coaching institutes, therefore, are here to stay and some kind of regulation is undoubtedly required to rein them in, specially to weed out the dubious ones among them.


The proposed legislation may attempt to do so by empowering an expert committee to grade the institutes and authenticate the tall claims each of them makes during the admission season. Several institutes are known to have offered large sums of money to students securing impressive ranks in competitive tests to endorse the institutes' claim to have coached them. Such claims are then advertised with photographs of the successful in a bid to entice the gullible.


The legislation can also help rationalise the fee structure and course content, besides providing the students and the parents a forum for redressing their grievances.


But regulating the coaching institutes alone is unlikely to put an end to the traumatic process the teenagers are today forced to go through for admission in professional courses. Nor will the legislation help in curbing parental and peer pressure on teenagers to opt for engineering and medical schools. Even more importantly, while coaching institutes do help some bright enough students to get into these schools, often many of them do not have their heart in the courses they are forced to follow.


There is, therefore, an urgent need for a National Assessment Council, which will develop tests designed to assess the aptitude and understanding of the students. Such tests can then be conducted every month or offered online throughout the year so that students can pay small fee at any time of their liking and test their own aptitude, skill and preparedness. Scores in such tests can form the basis then to inform students and parents of the special talent the youngsters may or may not have.


While the non-government schools are increasingly offering professional aptitude tests and counseling to their students, a majority of the students studying in government schools and in rural areas have still no access to such facilities. They are also deprived of good 'coaching'. The council, once it is set up, therefore, will offer a more level-playing field, allow for a more informed choice of careers and hopefully reduce the dependence of students on coaching institutes.








The recent arrest of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban commander, in Karachi confirms what Islamabad has repeatedly denied: that Pakistan has been a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban.


Pakistan's motives in arresting the Afghan Taliban leader could be complex. American diplomatic, economic and military pressures could certainly be part of the explanation.


Perhaps there is another, more cheering explanation for the shift in Pakistan's stance: that Nato's new offensive – Operation Marjah, which takes on the Taliban in their stronghold in southern Afghanistan – might actually make headway. Sensible military men are quick to realise the limits of power – and Pakistan's generals may have felt that it would be politic to take action against the Taliban, at least for the moment.


Earlier, General Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, had said that a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan would give his country the strategic depth that it wants. (Against its old arch-enemy India, of course, but he did not need to spell out this well-known fact). He didn't want the Talibanisation of Afghanistan because "we cannot wish for Afghanistan what we don't wish for Pakistan."


That doesn't mean Pakistan has abandoned its quest for strategic depth against India. Pakistan continues to perceive India as the arch-foe and is greatly concerned about Indian influence in Afghanistan.


Kayani's offer that Pakistan could train Afghan soldiers may have been inspired by news that Britain and the US are considering Indian training for Afghan police forces. Were this Anglo-American suggestion be translated into policy, it would enhance India's growing soft power and its popularity in Afghanistan. A recent gallup poll showed that 71 per cent of Afghans favour India, a mere 2 per cent Pakistan and 3 per cent its Taliban friends.


Kayani's offer to train Afghan soldiers may not amount to much. For, as American officials know, Afghanistan needs more than boots on the ground.


At another level, Kayani's offer may look insincere to President Hamid Karzai, given Pakistan's close association with the brutal Taliban government in the 1990s. Karzai has on several occasions blamed Pakistan for trying to destabilise his country. So Pakistan is unpopular with officials as well as ordinary Afghans.


In any case, an Afghan army, trained by the US, would not exactly give Pakistan the strategic depth it seeks against India. And if relations between Afghanistan and Islamabad remain as prickly as they have been since 2001, an Afghan army could threaten Pakistan if its strength were to grow to some 250,000 soldiers.


The alternative scenario is not encouraging for Pakistan either. If Nato scuttles from Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban will not stabilise their country but establish another barbarous and war-mongering regime. Far from being grateful to Pakistan for giving them sanctuary and training after 2001, they could support the Pakistani Taliban, with whom they have links, and contribute to the destabilisation of Pakistan.


In other words the home-grown Pakistani Taliban, whom the Pakistani military are now trying to quash, could well be strengthened if the Afghan Taliban sweep back to power in Kabul.


So here comes the crunch. If Islamabad really wants a stable and friendly Afghanistan, why doesn't it stop forging alignments with extremists who could only destabilise Afghanistan? Instead, it could give its full support to Nato.


And if Pakistan wishes to counter India's economic influence and cultural popularity in Afghanistan, why doesn't it try to follow India's example and bestow economic largesse on Afghanistan? The Afghan government and people, as well as Nato, would certainly be grateful.


Until and unless Islamabad provides satisfying answers to those questions, Pakistan's talk of the need for strategic depth will look more unconvincing than ever. So isn't it time for Pakistan to review its method of choice – of weakening, or 'bleeding' Afghanistan through the thuggish Afghan Taliban – by copying India's method of building up clout by showering Afghanistan with desperately needed economic goodies?








In Punjab, where the Dalits constitute almost one-third of the population, Dalit resurgence has been much more than anywhere else in the country.


Uttar Pradesh may pride itself in having ushered in the predominantly Dalit government led by Mayawati, but when it comes to the grassroots uplift of the Dalits, Punjab is far ahead of others. Dalits worked hard and many settled abroad.


While in the rest of the country the Dalits have confined themselves to assuming economic welfare and political recognition and power, in Punjab a large section of the Ravidassia sect went a step ahead in declaring a separate religion, "Ravidassia", affirming Guru Ravidass as their sole Master. Besides, they have also adopted the writings and preachings of Bhagat Ravidass as their holy book called "Amrit Bani Guru Ravidass". Amrit Bani will replace Guru Granth Sahib in all Ravidassia temples.


The announcement of the formation of a separate religion was made by followers of Dera Sachkhand Ballan at Ravidass temple in Gowardhanpur Kashi, Banaras.


Amrit Bani was adopted on the same occasion under the leadership of Sant Niranjan Dass, head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, which is based near Jalandhar.


The separation of the Ravidassia community from Sikhism has come as a great setback for the SGPC. It has since adopted a cautious approach in handling the situation and roped in a section of the Ravidassia community represented by Bhagat Ravidass Sadhu Sampradaye Society, Punjab and Sant Samaj Bachao Morcha.


But the predominant view among the Ravidassia community remains supportive of the separate religion.


There has been simmering discontent among the Dalit Sikhs about the treatment meted out to them for generations despite having embraced Sikhism, a religion that preaches a casteless society.


Despite being educationally and economically well off, they still remained victims of an orthodox and conservative mindset.


The turning point came when Swami Ramanand of Dera Sachkhand Ballan was shot dead by radical Sikhs in a Ravidassia temple in Vienna in Austria. Although Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal tried fire-fighting measures, the damage had already been done.


An already alienated community did not need a more potent reason to separate. Statements by maverick and amateur politicians complicated the matter further.


This is the beginning of the assertion of an exclusive identity by Dalits. It marks the beginning of a new era when those at the bottom of the ladder have dared to ascend to the top.









Vijaya (Akka) Mulay's book, From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond, subtitled 'Images of India in International Films of the Twentieth Century' is, like its title, hefty. It is 554 pages long and one kilogram in weight. Readers with osteoporotic wrists, be warned. But let those weak joints not stand between you and this comprehensive, lucidly argued, personalised but mercifully not anecdotal, painstakingly researched and firmly located study of how western cinema has constructed India in the last hundred years.

This column is not, nor can it be in the given space, a review of the book. It can at most be a pointer to its historical riches.

Vijaya Mulay's passionate affair with cinema began 60 years ago. She started off as a film buff in Patna. Then she became a leader of the nascent film society movement there and in Delhi. Her engagement with cinema deepened when her employer, the Ministry of Education, deputed her to the Central Board of Film Censors in Mumbai. A few years later, she was transferred to the Censor Board's Calcutta office, a happy development. For here she could observe her friend Satyajit Ray at work. She met Louse Malle too in Calcutta. His letters to her make an engrossing appendix to the book. It was with his and Ray's encouragement that she made her first documentary film about a phenomenon that had intrigued her - the tidal waves that comes hurtling down the Hooghly "like a moving wall of water". She made many films thereafter, some for the central government's Satellite Instructional Television Experiment in the 70s.

There's much more to Vijaya Mulay than that; but now I must turn to the book.

 She began her research at an age when most people have hung up their shoes. It took her to four continents. The grants were meagre, but wherever she went, help was always forthcoming from friends and acquaintances, of which she has an abundance. After years of labour, the book, published by Seagull, was finally released on February 6, during the Mumbai International Film Festival. She was three months away from her 89th year.

Mulay had first planned to limit her study to the films on India made by Roberto Rosselini, Louis Malle and Jean Renoir. But, incorrigible explorer that she is, she could not resist the temptation of stepping into the expansive field that the little gate she had opened, revealed. The result is this tome, this incredible mine of information ready for future film scholars to dig into.

The book starts with Melies's The Brahman and the Butterfly (1901), then takes in the German films of the early 20th century, the colonial and postcolonial Raj films and the 80s documentaries of film-makers like Johann van der Keuken, whom she labels "Seekers". Mulay then turns her gaze backwards to trace a parallel track down which directors she calls "Insider-Outsiders" walked, inspired by the philosophies of Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. Next, doing a side turn, she analyses the diaspora films by Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and others, whose perception of India is bi-focal. She also looks at "Gender Roles and Relations".

It is a stupendous journey lit up by innumerable references that help us see and understand better. There's the fascinating myth of Prester John, for example. Mulay says it pinpointed for her "the forces that guide perception". The myth originated with a visit that one 'John, the Patriarch of the Indians', made to Rome in 1122 to meet the Pope. A letter claiming to be from him went around Europe in the 1160s. Similar letters followed, amplifying the myth of this potentate who ruled a vast Christian kingdom of the "three Indias", a land overflowing with milk, honey and barbarians. It is but one short step from here to the "Rajas and yogis" of Vijaya Mulay's book. What a pity Slumdog Millionnaire came after she switched off her searchlight.









After the bad mauling of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, India's major opposition political parties have been desperately seeking a revival of fortunes. The leader of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has put in place a new leadership that is eager to make its mark. So desperate is the Left Front, which faces the prospect of defeat in West Bengal and Kerala, that after nearly two decades of isolating the BJP, it has finally rediscovered its old "all-in-one unity" plank to join hands with all opposition political parties in the protests launched against the Union finance minister's Budget proposal to bring back the earlier higher duties levied on petrol and diesel. The opposition alliance has received a shot in the arm from expressions of solidarity on the part of some of the constituents of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Given all this political activity, the ruling Congress party should see that any rollback of budgetary announcements will be seen as a huge victory for the Opposition and would serve to weaken the ruling coalition. With no important election around the corner, the Congress party would gain little from succumbing to this obvious political gamesmanship of the opposition parties. Of course, the Congress party itself is guilty of demanding a rollback of similar budgetary announcements in the past. Indeed, BJP Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha earned the sobriquet of "Rollback Sinha", thanks to the insistence of the Congress party and the Left on the issue of fertiliser and oil prices.

It remains to be seen if the Congress party will stand by the finance minister and the prime minister, who has categorically ruled out any rollback, or will yield to populist pressure from within its own ranks. It is at moments like this that party general secretary Rahul Gandhi must speak up and offer a different kind of forward-looking leadership to his party rather than allow the views of the party's populist dinosaurs to prevail. What the Congress party and its allies must understand is that the finance minister has taken only the first step in the direction of correcting distortions in energy pricing. As a net importer of oil, India cannot afford the luxury of subsidies that are unrelated to costs and global prices. The rollback being demanded is of the duties levied by the finance minister. As Mr Pranab Mukherjee has clearly articulated, he has only brought back a duty that had been reduced when international oil prices were ruling at much higher levels. The next step in energy pricing is, in fact, to implement the recommendations of the Kirit Parikh committee, which has called for a return to market-based pricing of energy. This is exactly what the NDA government used to do till a few months before the general elections of 2004. It does not make any political sense for the UPA to ignore basic economics in energy pricing in a year when politics need not be the primary driver of policy. How the government responds will be a measure of the resilience of the UPA to pressures from within and without.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's long-planned and much-delayed visit to Saudi Arabia has certainly contributed to strengthening of bilateral relations as well as to India's long-term energy security. As India's economic growth rate picks up, and given the uncertainties in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia's assurances to keep oil supplies flowing and to invest in India's energy security must be welcomed. There has been some criticism in India about Indian diplomatic references to Saudi Arabia's potential role in improving India-Pakistan relations. Whatever our domestic sensitivities, and however discouraging the past record of Saudi Arabia in the region, the fact is that the Saudis have enormous influence in Pakistan and can exert helpful pressure on the Pakistan Army if they so wish. According to strategic policy analysts, Saudi Arabia funds up to 40 per cent of Pakistan's defence budget. Recall also the fact that when the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dubbed Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme as the "Islamic Bomb", his message was aimed at the one country he knew would fund it, namely Saudi Arabia. While Pakistan got its nuclear technology from China, it got the funding from Saudi Arabia. But, while China's strategists may view Pakistan as an "all-weather" friend in keeping India off balance, the Saudis have other uses for Pakistan. Placed as they are between the undeclared nuclear capability of a Jewish Israel and a Shia Iran, Saudi Arabia's Sunni rulers may well view the Pakistan bomb as their own. This fact must be borne in mind in understanding the big power rivalry in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Along with the US and Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia also have a strategic interest in the region. A "new great game" is being played out in which India has a huge stake.

 Thus, strong and stable relations with Saudi Arabia must constitute the foundation of India's "Look West Policy". In befriending Saudi Arabia, India seeks energy security, security of the sea lanes of communication, security of livelihood for 3.5 million Indians working in the region and, above all, regional security and stability. West Asia is, and has in all history been, an integral part of India's neighbourhood. Saudi Arabia can contribute to South Asia's development by playing a positive role, both geo-politically and economically. But to be a factor for good, it must not only play a decisive role in fighting jihadi terrorism in the region, but also in limiting the negative consequences of radical Wahabism across Asia. Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major Asian power, now also a member of the G-20, and so bears the responsibility of ensuring that Asia's economic rise is not harmed by the spread of religious extremism and jehadi terrorism. India and Saudi Arabia can forge a win-win strategic partnership given the complementary structures of their economies. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit would prove fruitful in the long run if it has helped get this message across to a younger and modern Saudi leadership.










Will Disney's Alice in Wonderland find a release in Europe on March 5? Theatre chains across the continent have refused to release the film because Disney plans to release it on home video three months after its theatrical release, instead of the usual four months.


It is a situation that Indian film companies could soon face. The gap between the theatrical release of a film and its release in other formats has been in a free fall for some years. Last year, it crashed.


On the fourth day of its release in theatres, UTV's Main aur Mrs Khanna was being screened on direct-to-home (DTH) TV. Kaminey, one of the big hits of 2009, was on DTH within four weeks of its theatrical release, ditto for Wake Up Sid. The bet is on about when 3 idiots and My Name Is Khan — two of the biggest hits this year — will make it on DTH.


It is not surprising then that the mumblings of discontent from theatre chains, which brought over 70 per cent of the Rs 12,600 crore the industry earned in 2008, have turned more vocal. "There has to be an industry-wide norm (on when films should release in other formats). Every channel (for distribution) has to be given a chance," says Deven Chachra, managing director, Satyam Cineplexes.


The Multiplex Association of India (MAI) is debating the issue. It is veering towards giving theatres at least six weeks before a film is released on DTH or in any other format.


Most producers are resisting this. DTH, satellite TV and home video are becoming increasingly profitable. More importantly, they help capture revenues that get lost because of low theatre penetration. So, production firms would prefer a two-to-four week window for DTH, six-eight weeks for satellite TV and three months for a home video release.


"We need the windows (of exploitation) cut short because of piracy," says Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO, UTV Motion Pictures. "It is very easy to decode a DTH box and get a better print. So, piracy could actually increase with DTH," counters Chachra.


Unlike in the US, where home video brings in three times the revenues that theatres do, in India, the latter rules the revenue pie. Why, then, are film companies heading for a showdown with theatre chains?



Till a few years ago, producers and distributors were two separate entities. So, "the contract the distributors signed with producers stipulated a six-month window for all formats," says Arvind Chafalkar, a theatre owner and an MAI member. This, too, was not a standard. In the south Indian market, the gap is a year or more, because the trade associations there are very strong.


This huge gap between theatrical and other format releases is made worse by the pathetic penetration of cinema in India.


Of the 11,000-odd screens only 9,000 are estimated to be active. Even if films were released with 9,000 prints, possible with growing digitisation of theatres, cinema would still reach only a fifth of the people that TV does. According to the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) of 2008, cinema reached only 83 million people against 427 million reached by TV.


Clearly, there is a revenue opportunity in closing this gap between the thirst for films and their reach. It is a gap that satellite broadcasters exploit, legally, by paying huge amounts of money for film rights. For instance, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani sold for a reported Rs 5-6 crore to Colors for 30 screenings over five years.


But the people who really profit from the gap are the pirates. They exploit this gap by releasing the film in formats (home video, TV, cable), places (tier two and three India) and among target groups (lower-income) that a simple theatrical release misses.



Earlier, the arrangement between the distributor and producer, and the fragmentation in the business meant that the producer just lived with it. Over the last few years, two things have changed.


One, corporatisation has meant that production companies have also become distributors of their own films. So, the old arrangement of six months doesn't hold. They are larger and make more than half a dozen films a year. Also, unlike individual producers who bore the risk along with the rest of the trade, now all the risk is borne by the production company.


Two, the pressure to make as much money as possible within the first few weeks of the film's release is now phenomenal. There is the pressure on costs — production budgets have risen two-three times over the last few years, and marketing and distribution costs are now 20-25 per cent of the total budget for big films. There is also the pressure from investors — a lot of the money coming into film production is from private equity firms or from the public.


This urgency on returns combined with increased risk makes production companies more open to releasing in other formats. The idea, rightly so, is why let the pirates get all the gravy from the film.


Add to this the arrival of DTH.


The ability to run shows through the day and get a revenue share for it has made DTH the equivalent of having another theatre-like outlet. The successful films on DTH do anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 subscribers per head for each of the five operators. For instance, if Tata-Sky charges Rs 75 for a day for four shows of Kaminey, then UTV would make roughly half of that, net of taxes. Going by estimates, Kaminey and Wake Up Sid together grossed Rs 80 lakh on DTH.


Though the DTH reaches only 18 million homes of which 10 million are pay (Doordarshan's dish TV is free, once the set-top box has been purchased), the upside is huge. In about three years, this is estimated to go to 50 million. Assuming even 10 per cent buy a new film, that is a gross of Rs 37-odd crore for just one film. That is more than what the entire market could fetch for a medium-budget film.


Would looking at Hollywood help deal with this issue?


Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV, reckons now. "Hollywood gets a bulk of its revenues from outside of the US. Whereas Indian films make a bulk of their money from the domestic market," says he. So, production firms have to exploit this market as much as they can and as soon as they canWatch out then for the signs of a longish stand-off between theatre owners and producers, like the one in 2009.









One recurring point of dispute in consumer law has been the standing of the person who makes the complaint. The Consumer Protection Act allows only persons who buy goods or services for their own purpose to approach a consumer forum. The law was amended in 2002 to further clarify that those who buy goods or services for commercial purposes cannot move a consumer forum. By that criterion, insurance companies that are in the thick of commercial operations should not be able to move a consumer forum. However, there are circumstances when they can stand in the shoes of a consumer. So far, the law was not clear on when it could be done. Last month, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court sorted out the right of insurance companies to move consumer forums in the Economic Transport Organisation vs Charan Spinning Mills case.

Even after the amendment of the definition of "consumer", the problem has not gone away entirely. Some rulings of the Supreme Court and the National Consumer Commission are likely to raise one's eyebrows. The Commission, relying on a Supreme Court judgment, held recently in the Gujarat Themis Biocin Ltd vs Subhodh Gokhale case that an employee is a consumer in respect of his rights against his employer if the provident fund contributions are not paid.

Similarly, the Commission ruled that a student is a consumer vis-a-vis university and, therefore, non-publication of results of an examination for unreasonable time (10 years in this case) is deficiency in service (the Ranchi University vs Nuzmat Sultana case). The reasoning was that the student had paid fees to the educational institution for its service and due to its negligence, she had lost academic years.

Even an industrial unit, which admittedly runs for commercial purposes, can stand in the place of a consumer if the insurer declines to pay the assured sum. In the Ritu Gram Udyog Samiti vs New India Assurance Co case, the factory collapsed in a hailstorm, leading to a claim on the insurance company. The latter rejected the claim in the consumer forum arguing that the unit was not a consumer as it was run for commercial purposes. The Commission rejected this contention and clarified that an insurance policy was taken for covering risks and not for commercial purpose. The policy was for indemnification and actual loss, not intended to generate profit. Therefore, the industrial unit was a consumer in this case.

The position was reverse in the a recent decision of the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court. The question was whether an insurance company could be a consumer in a dispute between a manufacturer and its transporter. This required resolution of conflicting views expressed by the court in its earlier judgments on the definition of consumer. The factual scenario is very common. Here, Charan Spinning Mills, a manufacturer of cotton yarn, bought a policy from National Insurance Company for transit risks. Its consignment was entrusted to Economic Transport Organisation. The goods were totally damaged in an accident. On the basis of the surveyor's report, the insurance company settled the claim of the Mills. Then the Mills gave a power of attorney and subrogation to the insurance company to sue the carrier. When the insurance company moved the consumer forum, it was opposed by the carrier which argued that the insurer could not claim the rights of a consumer. However, all the consumer forums up to the National Commission granted standing for the insurance company.

Though an insurance company cannot be a consumer, it can get authority from the assured party to be its surrogate and claim damages from the negligent party. The fact that the assured person had received compensation from the insurance company in pursuance of the contract of insurance does not erase or reduce the liability of the wrong-doer responsible for the loss. In such cases, the insurance company first pays the loss to the affected party according to the surveyor's report and then gets a letter of authority from it to sue the negligent party. This kind of arrangement is common, and is recognised as subrogation in insurance law.

However, disputes arise because of the prevalence of standard forms of contract, which none of the parties bother to read. The person preparing the document for a particular contract is required to delete or modify the terms or clauses. But this is usually not done, leading to questions whether there was assignment or subrogation. The Supreme Court was also misled by this inadvertence in the case of Oberai Forwarding Agency a decade ago. Confusion prevailed all these years. However, with the present judgment, the insurance companies' right to move consumer forums has been clarified. The only caveat is that the assured person also should be along the side of the insurance company while suing the service provider.







Microfinance is in the news, again for the wrong reasons. Five years ago, it was tension over multiple lending and coercive recovery in Andhra Pradesh. Now it is Muslim community leaders in a couple of districts in Karnataka issuing a fiat to their members to renege on microfinance institution (MFI) loan repayments as they do not approve of such borrowings. What's worse, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has issued a severe warning to MFIs against wrong practices. RBI's main concern, reports indicate, is benami lending, re-lending to cover up bad loans and poor governance.

But these are not the ultimate concerns. If this was all then the large number of unhealthy and unprofessional MFIs would wither away, ending the sector's exponential growth. The bigger problem, say insiders, lies not with failures but successes. The original founders of the industry are increasingly exiting in favour of private equity (PE) funds, enabling some founders to encash at $100 million or more and thereby establishing MFI valuations at even half a billion dollars! The PE funds are seeking at least 20 per cent return on equity. If anybody dreamed of microfinance becoming mainstream and getting global funding then this is it.

Some of the best MFIs are hiring top managers, who have seen their prospects dimmed by the global financial crisis, at annual compensations of Rs 8-9 crore. Some of the best professionally-run MFIs are getting ready to come out with public issues, which will allow a partial, highly-profitable exit for the PE funds.

The entry of PE funds into the best and the biggest MFIs brings in resources and professional management practices. This aids growth and a fall in costs, leading to the high rates of return. RBI is upset that the fruits of healthy growth are not being passed on to the borrowers via lower lending rates, which remain in the 26-30 per cent range. If this continues, the central bank threatens, it will stop categorising loans to MFIs as priority-sector lending, thus making it difficult for them to access bank loans at around 12 per cent and onlend.

Also in the space are the less controversial self-help groups (SHGs) linked to commercial banks, borrowing from banks and onlending at marginally lower rates. But they retain their earnings which go to meeting a slightly higher rate of default and whatever is left enhances capital stocks. Experts say the 98 per cent recovery rate that has given NBFC MFIs a stellar reputation is unsustainable. The very poor who take MFI loans are inevitably buffeted by business, climate and health risks, and when they can't meet a repayment schedule, they turn to local moneylenders who charge twice the MFI rates, or more. No wonder, say the critics, private money-lending is thriving even as the MFI footprint is growing exponentially — the number of borrowers going up annually by around 50 per cent and loan outstandings by around 70 per cent.

Controversies cannot be resolved in a day, particularly when they involve such a remarkable social-cum-financial innovation as microfinance, which is still evolving. But a couple of benchmarks are indisputable. First, Bangladesh (since the launch of the Grameen II model by Grameen Bank) and Latin America, two major practitioners of microfinance, have moved away from the group guarantee model. It is peer pressure that mostly leads the way to moneylenders in India. Latin America has the benefit of credit bureaus to check multiple borrowing which India does not, but that does not make group guarantee any better.

Second, Muhammad Yunus, founding father of Grameen Bank and someone who has not lost sight of the essential spirit of microfiance, offers a benchmark of lending rates not exceeding borrowing costs plus 10 per cent cost of disintermediation. If a high return on equity didn't go with this, then lower lending rates than current would prevail. At least one prominent MFI founder has claimed that costs have been brought down to 5-6 per cent. That should leave a substantial something for equity holders even at 20 per cent lending rates. And not all PE funds are the same; some like Sequoia are willing to wait for more than five years to exist, some like Bellwether settle for a lower rate for return.

Multiple borrowing (one borrower taking loans from several MFIs) is inevitable when there is near-insatiable hunger for affordable loans at the bottom of the pyramid and there are smart job-hopping loan officials around to facilitate it in a booming market. And when you have the two, window dressing of bad loans is inevitable.

What can RBI do other than issue dire warnings? One is to issue banking licences to the best, enabling them to garner cheap deposits. SEWA, for example, runs a cooperative bank. The other is to open a concessional credit window, again telling the best that it will refinance at 2-3 per cent less than what banks charge provided they put a cap on return on equity. The ball is in RBI's court too.








Pranab Mukherjee doesn't do folksy, he doesn't do big bangs or dream Budgets either. Mercifully, he seems to do prudence, a virtue that warrants a premium these days when governments around the world grapple with the aftermath of the fiscal excesses of stimulus. Thus, despite the obvious negatives in the Budget (higher excise duties and MAT rates), industry and the stock-market seem to have reacted positively to the Budget's plans for fiscal consolidation.

 However, one has to look at the bond market's reaction to figure what the Budget perhaps failed to address and what could well emerge as the biggest economic problem this year. In one of the briefest rallies in its history, government bond prices went up (yields went down) in response to the net borrowing figure in the Budget — that at about Rs 345,000 crore was a bit lower than the consensus expectation — but as the petrol price hike was announced in the afternoon, prices went down again on concerns of rising inflation.

I would argue that the bond market did not react merely to the isolated event of petrol price increase. There is a sense in the fixed-income markets that fiscal policy is a tad too soft on inflation in its quest to ensure growth momentum. Thus, the onus falls almost entirely on monetary policy to tame inflation and this could mean very sharp increases in interest rates in the medium term. That's bad for the bond markets in particular and for borrowers in general.

Whether the Budget can or should address the inflation issue remains an open question. There are some who believe that the finance ministry should stick to its knitting and focus solely on fiscal matters. But surely the country's key fiscal document cannot ignore an important variable like the price level. If its analytical apparatus appears to be completely unrealistic about its take on inflation prospects, then there's a problem. Take the basic macroeconomic assumption of the Budget, that of 12.5 per cent growth in nominal GDP. That works out to roughly 4 per cent inflation over 2010-11, a number that even the most dovish forecaster would claim is extremely optimistic. The finance ministry's optimism is perhaps underpinned by the fact that it still sees inflation as what the Economic Survey terms "skewflation", sharp increases in just about four commodities due to gross mismanagement of supply. The assumption seems to be that once these supply problems are sorted, inflation will abate.

That, in a trivial sense, might well be true. If supply conditions do improve, inflation might just climb down from the double-digit level it threatens to touch in March 2010. But supply-driven inflation is only part of the problem. A trickier, more stubborn form of inflation associated with a rising business cycle threatens to be the main problem this year. Rising growth rates have sowed the seeds of rising "core" inflation, driven by growing demand rather than supply bottlenecks. Core inflation perked up in December (RBI chose to comment on this in its monetary policy review) and hardened further in January.

Anecdotal evidence suggests companies in a number of sectors (FMCG for one) are on the verge of hiking prices sharply. Almost all industry surveys show a massive increase in capacity utilisation over the past few quarters. Add to this the increase in excise duties that companies will invariably pass on to their consumers and this could drive a spurt in core inflation in March. In an environment where better demand conditions, rather than supply bottlenecks, are likely to drive prices up, the wisdom of increasing disposable income by cutting income-tax rates for the lower tiers of the tax-paying segment seems a little suspect. There is no free lunch in economics — efforts to try and soften the blow of fiscal consolidation are likely to manifest as other costs.

The Economic Survey advises close vigil on private investment spending that still remains relatively weak. I would argue that macroeconomic conditions in 2010 would create a bias against private investment. The tax cuts might well prop consumption demand further but the heft of government borrowings, rising inflation expectations and tighter monetary policy are bound to mean higher borrowing costs for firms and that could impinge on investments. Global risk appetite is and could remain weak as long as risks like sovereign default continue to loom — thus the recourse to external borrowings might be limited.

Stock-markets tend to fret less about inflation. In fact, they like a little increase in inflation since it means better pricing power for companies and better bottom lines. Thus the Sensex and the Nifty might just break out of the doldrums that they've been stuck in. But it is unlikely to be long before someone begins fretting about the overhang of Rs 40,000 crore of fresh supply of government paper. A fiscal strategy that is so dependent on divestments is taking a massive bet on international fund flows. If they fail to materialise, the steady flow of stocks from government companies will hurt both the secondary market and public offers by private companies through a kind of "crowding out" in equity markets. Since PSU stocks are in general considered to be of better quality, the worst-hit could be small and medium companies (whose equity typically has a worse risk profile) looking to raise capital. As I said earlier, 2010 is unlikely to be a great year for private capex.

What happens if global risk appetite does improve? To cut a long story short, investors will sell dollars and buy riskier assets and that includes crude oil. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has budgeted just Rs 3,108 crore as petroleum subsidies for 2010-11 compared to Rs 14,954 crore last year. If oil prices breach the $75-80 range and keep moving up, petrol subsidies will have to increase even with a couple of hikes in product prices. So, either he will have to bite the bullet and follow Dr Parikh's prescription to a tee, or take on a larger subsidy bill and let his deficit targets slip. Catch 22, Mr Mukherjee?

The author is Chief Economist, HDFC Bank. The views expressed are personal








The finance minister's Budget proposal to enhance the weighted tax deduction on expenditure incurred for in-house research and development (R&D ) from 150% to 200% makes eminent sense. India's R&D spending has dropped below 1% of GDP, and we need fiscal incentives to boost innovation and growth. Major economies routinely set aside about 3% of GDP, often more, for the purpose. Research shows that the bulk of growth derives from productivity improvements and attendant efficiency gains, not from factor inputs.

Hence the need to shore up R&D. Last year's Budget extended the scope for weighted deduction of 150% on expenditure incurred on in-house R&D to all manufacturing businesses, save for a small negative list. The practice till recently had been to restrict the deductions to only a few sectors like pharma and auto. Such selectivity is surely akin to licensing and obsolete. The latest move would incentivise R&D expenditure right across the board in manufactures, beyond the toptier corporates. Various studies suggest that routine, incremental innovations done in-house have large spillovers and societal gains. On the flip side, the proactive policy is open to abuse — passing off questionable expenses as R&D — but better corporate governance standards should put paid to the practice. Besides, in an increasingly competitive buyers' market in most sectors, creatively accounting for R&D would hardly pay.

The Budget also proposes to enhance the weighted deduction on payments made to national laboratories, research associations, colleges, universities and other institutions for scientific research, from 125% to 175%. This is welcome. Additionally, what's proposed is that payments made to approved research associations engaged in social science or statistical research would be allowed a weighted deduction of 125%. We need to move to a system in which weighted tax deduction is also available for R&D in the high-growth services sector as well. End tax exemptions, but give them the tax breaks that other sectors get.








It takes some doing for an Indian minister to trip over a five-syllable, 12-letter word! Laurel and Hardy never did it even in their most comic reel-life moments. Neither did the three Stooges or Buster Keaton. Nor did the most erudite of the Marx brothers, Groucho. However, Shashi Tharoor has tripped again and that too on Saudi soil and over the word interlocutor which, the dictionary tells us, literally means someone who speaks in between. Interlocutor is not the same as intermediary that means someone who mediates in a dispute between two sides. If Tharoor still managed to trip over the 12-letter word, it was because the omniscient media pointed out that the minister of state (MoS) for external affairs should not have suggested the Saudis play an interlocutor's role in an Indo-Pak context, given India's policy that mediators had no role to play vis-a-vis bilateral issues. And so what if on the flight back from Riyadh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mentioned that he had suggested that the Saudi monarch use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from the path of aiding, abetting and inspiring terrorism in India. A royal word of advice is apparently not the same as mediating.

However, by then, the Indian electronic media had gone to town on Tharoor's use of the word interlocutor. One TV news channel even called the MoS a serial offender when it came to saying things that not only became the focal point of televised chat shows but also invited a stream of conscious criticism from Indian political parties opposing the Congress-led coalition government. However , there is a positive side to all this. Television-watching school kids can improve their vocabulary by learning the difference between five-syllable words like interlocutor and six-syllable ones like intermediary to an extent where even TV need no longer be referred to as the idiot box! As Groucho Marx once quipped, "I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into another room and read a good book."







It is surprising to see senior ministers of the government getting drawn into a bout of shadow-boxing over genetically-modified (GM) foods.


Environment minister Jairam Ramesh's decision to put a moratorium on Bt brinjal has got the goat of not just some GM businesses, but of some of his ministerial colleagues as well. Farm minister Sharad Pawar leads the charge. Science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan and former S&T minister and present minister for human resources development Kapil Sibal have joined the fray, in the name of science. This is rather strange. Neither science nor survival of Indian farming has been put at risk by the decision to put Bt brinjal on hold. All that has been called into question is the integrity of the approval process for GM foods.

True, the apex body for approval of GM crops, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, had given its nod for commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. But this was not a unanimous decision. One member, at least, with serious scientific credentials, had raised strong objections. The principal objection was the absence of independent verification of the claims advanced by the biotech companies that had developed Bt brinjal. This is, indeed, most strange. India must not entertain superstitious objections to genetic engineering in food crops. However, there can be no blind faith in the self-seeking claims of commercial organisations either. India must develop the capability to carry out rigorous and independent testing of all GM crops, for all foreseeable negative fallouts. And here, independent must mean independent, rather difficult in an area where people with the requisite expertise also tend to have research links with the GM industry. And the physical infrastructure for independent testing must be built up, in universities and dedicated labs. Till this capability is built up, Indian farmers can continue to grow the humble brinjal, aubergine or eggplant the way they always have.

In fact, to allow a grafted bacterial gene into the food chain in the face of stiff opposition by several state governments, forget activists, the Centre would need hard, supportive scientific evidence. Let's get that first.








In his Budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee noted three challenges. The first, widely noted and much applauded by corporate India, concerned finding means to cross the 'double-digit growth barrier' . The second , less glamorous and hence less discussed , is in harnessing economic growth to make development more inclusive. The third, which attracted little notice and comment, relates to 'weaknesses in government systems, structures and institutions' that he recognised as a 'bottleneck of our public delivery mechanisms' .

The Budget is not really the vehicle to address the last concern, unlike the first two, which are the meat of any budgetary exercise. However, it is noteworthy that with regard to governance too, the Budget had two significant initiatives. The first is the creation of a technology advisory group for unique projects, which will handle technological and systemic issues connected with various IT projects of the finance ministry. The second is an independent evaluation office, which will evaluate the impact of flagship programmes.

The minister also mentioned progress regarding implementation of the Administrative Reforms Commission's recommendations . Yet, he looked on these as measures to support transparency and accountability , rather than steps to radically change systems and structures of implementation . The fact is that without radical improvements in governance, delivery of public goods will be inadequate, inefficient and ineffective. So far, the government has sought to increase the impact by pumping in disproportionate amounts of money. Even this often does not work. Marginal improvement — at best — in outcomes can be brought about by pumping in more money into the rusted and leaky pipeline, but beyond a point, the leak will only haemorrhage further and there will be decreasing returns.

There are many examples of dysfunctional government structures and inefficient processes. A very recent one is the proposed road under the runway at Delhi airport to provide a vitally-needed alternative link to the upcoming new terminal . Despite urgency associated with the Commonwealth Games, this project has been held up because a comparatively paltry sum of money (apparently Rs 35 crore) to be paid by the Delhi government to the execution agency (Delhi Metro, another government body) has not been paid. The former says that the money is to come from the ministry of urban development , which has — according to reports —not responded for a few months. It is reported that the Delhi government has sent a reminder! Here are government agencies , taking months to provide a small amount of money for a critical and timebound project. Examples of this nature — involving interfaces or disputes amongst arms of the government — abound, and it seems that no one is able or willing to step in and take a final decision.

The launch of 3G telecom services is another case of systemic chaos. Where we had a chance to leapfrog into a global leadership position, the delay in allocation has put us behind by many years. Doubtless, some corporates benefit from the long delay ; however, mobile-telephony consumers (already near the 500-million mark) have lost out, and so has the country. All this because of wrangling within and between ministries, possibly instigated by vested commercial interests. This needed decisive high- level intervention or — better still — a systemic mechanism to prevent delays and solve such disputes.

THE government has often chosen to use the modality of an empowered group of ministers to resolve inter-ministerial issues. The previous government had dozens of them (practically all chaired by Pranab Mukherjee), their very existence pointing to the growing need for both coordination and single-point decision-making on complex/controversial issues . Rather than such an ad hoc mechanism , and the unfair burden it casts on a fully-occupied minister, it's time to institutionalise a permanent way to deal with these matters, as a part of a restructuring of governance. Should there be sectoral tsars for communication, education, power and other such areas that tend to involve different ministries? Though confined to a ministry, TAGUP may be a model.

This arrangement will speed up decision-making , but only if it is known to have the complete support of the leadership ; if not, bureaucrats will certainly stymie it. However, this is not enough. There is an urgent need for new systems, structures and professionalism especially in the social sector, now receiving very large funding . This Budget has provided massive allocations for rural employment, education and rural infrastructure. Managing these schemes efficiently is going to be key to whether development is truly inclusive or whether we become a schizophrenic society with unsustainable inequities. Yet, there is little attention on the appropriate people, systems or organisational forms.

Private-public partnership is often a good solution, but is not always the best solution — especially because it is increasingly interpreted as privatisation through the back door. A genuine partnership would use the domain expertise of the government organisations in areas like education and rural development, and combine it with the marketing, financial and managerial skills of the private sector. In addition, it is necessary to tap civil society organisations and social scientists to understand user needs and get feedback from local communities. This would mean creating new structures to allow and facilitate such inputs and evolving new systems that permit local variations and responsiveness to specific needs, in place of the present bureaucratic and rigid one-size-fits-all framework.

It may be time to experiment with a new apex body — akin to the Independent Evaluation Office — that oversees social sector schemes and has as its mandate the creation of implementation organisations that bring together expertise from government, private sector and NGOs. A pilot project in one state would prove the efficacy or otherwise of this approach. This could be a path-breaking initiative that could synergise rural employment guarantees with skills development and social entrepreneurship and provides a flying start to the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. This may be an appropriate follow-up to FM Mukherjee's concern for weaknesses in the government system.

(The author is an independent policy and strategy analyst)








Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen got 77 rejections for their idea Chicken soup for the soul. In retrospect each rejection could be seen as a turning point. They had the option of throwing the towel every time; to say enough is enough; or to keep on trying for the nth time. But the 78th publisher they met at a literary jamboree said "Yes" and they went on to sell over 100 million books. The moral of their story is to remember that you are only one choice away from changing your life. Don't let the past be your guide.

A similar sort of insight becomes applicable when one is trying to resist potentially crippling effects of our collective achievements. "Forget the past," advises the noted novelist Allegra Goodman. "Nothing stops the creative juices like thoughts of the literary tradition. You'll never be John Donne!' your inner critic shrieks. Or Middlemarch! Now that was a book!'"Such thoughts used to fill her with gloom. Then she went to graduate school at Stanford and steeped herself in Shakespeare , Wordsworth and Defoe and the experience set her free.

Goodman's Aha moment came when she was sitting in the Green Library, struggling to write a short story. As she looked around, at all those shelves lined with rows upon rows of books, "Suddenly the obvious occurred to me," she writes in her Calming the inner critic and getting to work.

"All the great Romantic poets and Elizabethan playwrights and Victorian novelists that tower over me — they're dead! Think about it. Past masters are done. Their achievements are finite, known, measurable. Present writers, on the other hand, live in possibility. Your masterpiece (like Canfield and Hansen's Chicken soup for the soul) could be just around the corner . Genius could befall you at any moment." But don't worry too much about the future either . Be in the present . As Horace says, "Seize the day trusting as little in the future (Carpe diem quam minime credula postero)."

The Bible also echoes this when it advises you to "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die". So make the most of current opportunities because life is short and time is fleeting. But Horace also tempers his Epicurean spiel with stoicism: "Whether Jupiter has allotted you many winters or this final one, be wise, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes to a short period. While we speak, envious Time will have {already} fled."







The financial crisis that engulfed most of the developed and developing economies has prompted governments to revisit the global financial regulations. The idea of a review comes on and off whenever financial crisis, engendered primarily by speculator frenzy, overtakes the sanity in financial services. We had seen this in the setting up of the Financial Stability Forum of the G-7 in 1999 post the Asian financial crisis but, apparently, this has not helped much in preventing the crisis. The issue still remains of harmonisation and coordination among regulatory agencies. While this is a desirable goal, to what extent such harmonisation is practicable remains to be seen.

Another issue that affects regulatory coordination is that financial conglomerates will increasingly offer products that overlap over various regulatory agencies. In India, we have a policy coordinating body for regulators, the HLCCFM, formed some time after Sebi was set up. The RBI governor was its chairman, and finance secretary and Sebi chairman members. Later, the membership was extended to other regulators. This body did have a salutary impact on achieving policy coordination. But we still have issues of risk-sharing and surveillance among regulators as witnessed recently.

Now, there is a proposal in the Budget to form a Financial Stability and Development Council. No doubt such a council is desirable. Its success would, however, depend on its implementation . The effectiveness of this council would depend on (i) how soon the proposal is implemented, (ii) what would be its regulatory powers, (iii) whether it is intended to be a club with 'usual suspects' as its members or it would have a fair representation with meaningful participation, (iv) whether the existing regulatory agencies , including RBI, would agree to the creation of such a super body, and (v) it is an open question if the council can succeed in doing the job that HLCCFM could not. The objective and purpose of this body must be clearly defined. The government must be able to publicly debate and clearly lay down the objective and purpose of the council before it gets down to implementation.







The global financial crisis, suggestions of expert panels to improve the current regulatory framework and the lack of coordination between some regulators have led the government to consider a Financial Stability and Development Council. The government's resolve to step in with this major policy initiative is both timely and much needed. The proposed remit of the council would, however, appear to be too wide, ranging from macro prudential supervision of the economy to inter-regulatory coordination (read dispute resolution ), financial literacy and financial inclusion.

While converting intent to reality, care needs to be taken to ensure the council does not become a unified, single regulator as the jury is still out on whether the US model with multiple regulators or the UK model of a super regulator is better suited to maintain financial stability. Both the models were unable to prevent the global financial crisis of 2008-09 . That there are deficiencies in the current regulatory framework has been known for some time. The existing structure with several regulatory agencies, including some ministries in the government , is prone to regulatory overlaps, gaps and arbitrage. The most glaring example is the issue relating to investment-linked insurance products that are similar to mutual funds.

The high-level coordination committee on financial markets (HLCCFM), despite serious efforts, has not been able to effectively deal with such regulatory arbitrage. Inter-agency coordination is not easy in the best of circumstances. It is even more difficult where regulators are protected by separate statutes. If the proposed council is to be more effective than the current non-formal arrangement, then it should have statutory powers and responsibilities. Moreover, it must be chaired by no other person than the finance minister and comprise some experts, in addition to all regulators. Notwithstanding the need for more effective coordination amongst the regulators and for closing the existing gaps, it will be interesting to watch how the government ensures autonomy to existing separate regulators which is important too. The government has a difficult task ahead.







A railway delegation comprising 10 companies from the UK is currently visiting the country, pitching for joint ventures and PPPs with the Indian Railways in manufacturing and services. The visit comes less than a week after Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee presented the rail budget for 2010-11, which outlines a plan to step up private investment in railway infrastructure and services.

During their week-long visit to the country the team will touch base at Kolkata, Delhi and Hyderabad. On the eve of their meeting with Railway Board officials in Delhi, ET's Rakhi Mazumdar caught up with Timothy James Gray, International Business Development Director of the 160-member Railway Industry Association on the sidelines of an interactive seminar organised by Ficci in Kolkata on Tuesday.

How much scope do you see for participating in Indian Railways' growth plans?

We see huge opportunities for doing business, be it in manufacturing of railway equipment, rolling stock, track management, signalling or ticketing or even in general project management. India clearly is our focus area. The companies in this delegation represent the entire gamut of railway operations, including IT and software consultancy. This range is diverse and includes may skills and resources which were previously part of the national railway undertaking in the UK but which now operate commercially in the private sector. Some of these companies are already doing business in India.

Are you meeting Railways officials? Do you have any specific projects in mind?

We are meeting Railway Board officials on March 3 in Delhi, where we would broadly discuss the kind of business opportunities in Indian Railways. At this stage, we do not have specific projects in mind. Individual companies can perhaps look into it in the second stage.

Which organisations are part of this delegation?

Members of this delegation include Rail Alliance - a B2B network of railway vendors and customers; DeltaRail, a software and technology provider for operations, tracks and on train products, Funwerk Information Technologies, a leading global supplier of scheduling systems for rail and Advantage Midlands. The latter represent the West Midlands region, which is the heart of the UK's rail industry with a turnover of £3 billion. The turnover of these companies range from a few million pound sterling to hundreds of pounds.

What kind of business tie-ups are you interested in?

We are looking at a whole range of services through different collaborative alliances. It can be either in manufacturing base here where we could pick up equity, or through joint ventures and PPPs with the Railways. We are also keen on partnerships with Indian companies who work in railway related areas. We are also be interested in the Metro Railway expansion projects that have recently been cleared by the government.


While you are eyeing opportunities, do you also have apprehensions about doing business with the Indian Railways, which is the largest government department?

India has a strong indigenous local manufacturing industry in railway- related businesses. In some ways, you are self sufficient. But still, there are quite a few areas where we can bring in technology.


The Railways attempt to invite PPPs have received a lukewarm response so far. The Railways now plan to set up a taskforce on this and create a template for PPPs.

Very frankly, even in the UK, we have not had very many successful instances of PPPs in railways. It has worked in other sectors though like, schools and hospitals. Railways is a more complex area and we still have a lot to learn.

Apart from India, which other countries does the UK rail industry do business with?

We already have a presence in China. We are also increasingly looking at the Middle East and in other countries across Asia. Some 70% of the companies in our association have multi national foot print and thus have experience of working in different countries and railways outside the UK.








Bharti Airtel has entered Bangladesh by buying Warid, the telecom operator with a 5% market share. But Grameenphone, the country's largest telco with about 45% market share, has warned that any attempt by the Indian operator to induce a price war there would have a disastrous impact on Bangladesh's telecom market. Grameenphone, in which Norway's Telenor has a majority stake, said that mobile tariffs in Bangladesh are the lowest in the world — even below that of India's — and further reductions cannot be sustained, especially by the smaller players in that market. Grameenphone's CEO Oddvar Hesjedal spoke to ET at the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Excerpts:

What do you think of Bharti Airtel's entry into Bangladesh's telecom market?

We welcome competition. My fear is Bharti will attack the market on the price-front and send tariffs plunging as the company is too focused on grabbing market share. It may resort to this move regardless of how much it costs. It (Bharti) did this in Sri Lanka. That is good for subscribers, but not for the sector. Tariffs in Bangladesh are already the lowest in the world. All other factors have remained the same so tariffs cannot come down anymore. Grameenphone is the only operator in Bangladesh that is profitable so far. If tariffs fall further, it will have a big impact on the profitability of other operators.

Will Grameenphone share infrastructure with Bharti in Bangladesh?

We are getting into infrastructure sharing with other operators. So far, Bharti has not approached us, but indications are that they are knocking on the door now. We are open to sharing our infrastructure with our competitors.

As Bangladesh's largest telco, how do you see the country's communication market, both short term and in the considerable future?

The telecom penetration in Bangladesh is about 33%. But this is SIM penetration and the real numbers will be between 24% and 27%. The total number of mobile users are expected to double in the next five years to 100 million. We are well placed to ride the growth as Grameenphone's networks cover 99% of the country's population and about 90% of the geographical area. Bangladesh is expected to come out with its 3G norms soon and its regulator is closely watching the scene in India. Telecom contributes about 8% of the country's GDP and of this, Grameenphone's contribution is more than 50%.

In Bangladesh, the 3G auction may not be the best option, but, if the upcoming auctions in India fetch huge revenues, there will be sections in Bangladesh, who would demand us to adopt a similar process. The internet penetration through fixed lines is extremely low and is less than 1 million. We have about 2 million customers who use data and internet on their mobiles and about 50% of these are active users. Our market cap is 22% of the total value of all the companies listed on the Bangladesh exchange.

Grameen's parent, Telenor, has launched operations in India under the Uninor brand. What are the learnings that you can take to India from Bangladesh?

A lot of our experience in Bangladesh can be taken to India. Our understanding of the market, the distribution model we employ can all be replicated in India. Just like India, pre-paid segment in Bangladesh accounts for over 98% of its mobile users.

Indian operators, such as Bharti, have an EbitDa of about 40%, while the average minutes of usage per month is around 446. What is it in the case of Grameenphone?
Our Ebitda margins have been over 50% for the past five quarters. This is despite having to share 5.5% of our annual revenues and 35% of our profits with the government as levies. The minutes of usage is about 310 per month, but this depends on tariffs. When tariffs fall, there is a sudden surge in usage, but it soon goes back to the earlier levels. At present, non-voice revenues are less than 5% of Grameenphone's revenues. We got a mobile banking licence recently and will launch financial services soon. We are looking to offer foreign and domestic money transfers and remittances through mobiles. Bill payments are now being done though mobile phones by our customers. We are also launching an IT company. Considering we run the IT requirement of Grameenphone, we can do the same for other clients too.

(This correspondent went to The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on the invitation of Telenor )








KONE, the e4.7-billion global elevator and escalator manufacturer, is betting big on the Asia-Pacific market, where its average business has been growing over 10% annually. Traditional hydraulic systems are passé, given the changing facade of buildings in India. Kone, which has a strong local presence here, is trying newer methods to increase its market share. The 100-year-old lift-maker is planning to install destination-controlled software systems to optimise traffic and waiting time. While this application has been prevalent in developed markets for over five years now, the dynamic real estate scenario, which has contributed to high-rise structures in the country, has made Kone look at this option seriously. The product will first be introduced in Mumbai with an initial cost of 20% higher than normal installations, said Kone Corporation president and CEO Matti Alahuhta, who served telecom giant Nokia for over a decade before joining Kone in 2005, in an interview with ET. Excerpts:

Can you share your business plans for the Asian market?

We have two key reasons to believe that the Asian market is important for our business growth — rapid urbanisation and demographic change. Service business has also been growing. While Kone's average business growth has been over 10% annually, Asia Pacific has shown more progress, where the share has risen from 11% to 17%. This is a market where our equipment business has been doing better than the service business. (Globally, service business constitutes over 50% of Kone's revenues). We are one of the two market leaders in India, where we have a strong local presence as well as competence. We have 2,500 employees at out Chennai plant, of them 1,000 are engineers. Indian operations' contribution to the global engineering, research and development activities are ever increasing.

Which geographical locations in India have contributed substantially to your growth?

The South and the West are leading markets, while the NCR, too, is a strong pocket. The growing residential segment, not to forget the hotels and offices, have been a big part of our growth. We have a nice breadth to our activity and vertical structures are the preferred architectural medium. This has given us an immense scope to grow. We were the trendsetters, with the introduction of machine room-less elevators in a market driven by customers' demand for energy-efficient and space-saving structures. Likewise, we have consciously decided to focus on offering energy-efficient systems. Buildings consume 40% of the world's energy and elevators account for up to 10% of a building's energy needs. Kone has pioneered eco-efficient solutions with tangible achievements and record-breaking results.

Can you elaborate on your R&D activities in India?

We have seven R&D centres globally, where 700 people are deployed. Around 300 of them are in India. We have been pioneering regenerative solutions that can recover up to 35% of the total energy consumed by elevators. Through our technological capabilities, we have been able to regenerate power back to the owner's supply network and re-use it to power other equipment in the building. This year, our agenda is to cut energy consumption of our volume products by 50%. Complex buildings are in vogue, where there is a conscious need to optimise use of elevators (maximise capacity and decrease energy). It is in this context that the destination-control software installation helps. This application works in certain type of buildings (typically 30-40 storeyed), where the user is familiar with the operations. The building architecture is designed for efficient elevator travel planning, based on a guess about the expected elevator population at any given point of time. This enables an accurate traffic haulage and wait period assessment.








Nissan Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn is keeping his three Indian joint venture partners guessing about his strategy here. In an exclusive interview with ET Now at the Geneva Motor Show, he talks about the relationship with Bajaj, Mahindra & Mahindra and the Hindujas of Ashok Leyland. Also, on his affordable car strategy for the second most populous nation on the planet. Excerpts:

Are you working on a new India strategy vis-a-vis your partners? Will you be pulling out of the joint venture with Mahindra & Mahindra?

We are always looking at our strategy in India to make sure we are doing the right things in a market unknown to us, learning little by little with our partners. When you are learning a market, you want to make sure you are doing the right things. So you have to revise your strategy all the time. Make sure that you double and triple check that the products you are launching are adequate. We are going to have to be ready to adapt all the time. That is valid not only with our alliance with Mahindra & Mahindra but also Bajaj and other partners. So that our contribution to the Indian market is most efficient. So don't be surprised if you see some revisions and adaptations from our part.


Does that mean you are now focusing and leaning more on the Hinduja group as a prime ally in India vis-a-vis M&M and Bajaj?

Strategies and tactics will only come once we make a decision on what to do. But we are not there yet. Once we have the products right for the Indian market, we will have the strategies and tactics in place as well. But we are still building capacities and products right now.

There is a strong buzz that Nissan-Renault will develop a new small car in the $4,000-5,000 range with the Hinduja group.

Usually when we are working on projects we never comment on them. The decisions we have taken already are that the V-platform car we just unveiled will be sold in India and assembled in Chennai. We have also decided we will develop with Bajaj an entry level price point car.


It is true that between the price point of the product we will develop with Bajaj and the V-platform car there is still some room for other products. That is why we are looking for projects with different partners. But as long as we don't make any decision, I can't speculate.

Did Nissan think of scaling down the light commercial vehicle venture with the Hinduja group?

I don't think we are going to be scaling down. I think Europe will be a tough market in 2010. But I don't think it will last for a much longer period. By 2011, we should see some recovery. So we may have slowed down some projects because markets were going through a decline but it has nothing to do with cancelling projects. We did not cancel. We postponed some projects because some markets were not that good but most of the projects we are working on will continue.

How crucial is India to the new V-platform small car that Nissan has unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. Where does India stand vis-a-vis other V-platform markets like China, Mexico and Thailand?

India is very important for two reasons —the V-platform will be part of our offering in India and India will also be a hub for exports. The main destination of these exports will be Europe.

Will there be any change in Nissan's sourcing arrangement with Maruti for the Pixo after the A-star recall in India and globally? Also with Nissan's Indian plant up and running, will you still need a contract manufacturing arrangement with Maruti?


Recalls are not something of an exception. All companies do it for various reasons. The purpose is to make sure that you do it quickly, transparently and stand behind your product. The Pixo (rebadged A-Star which Nissan sources from Maruti and sells in Europe) is no exception. Suzuki Maruti is recalling the cars. They are standing behind their product and there is nothing wrong with that.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's recent three-day visit to Saudi Arabia marks an important stage in the widening and deepening of this country's friendship with one of the most important states in the world. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not only the world's largest exporter of oil, it is home to Islam's two holiest sites (and therefore of primary importance to Muslims everywhere). It also has investible surpluses that few countries can match. For these reasons, Riyadh should for long have been a significant diplomatic stop for Indian policymaking. However, New Delhi's meaningful ties with it can be said to be of relatively recent origin, although India's relations with the Arab world go back in time. From the mid-1950s, the relationship between the two was just normal and correct. It could not breach the confines imposed by the Cold War during which Riyadh was a close ally of the United States. Much has opened up since the end of that era. The September 11, 2001 attacks on America raised questions in both Washington and Riyadh as influential voices in the United States sought a re-evaluation of relations with the Saudis based on the premise that elements in the desert kingdom had bankrolled the jihadi terrorists. A radical overhaul was, of course, unthinkable. In Riyadh too, a degree of rethinking about the world followed, and a search began for the broad-basing of Saudi Arabia's strategic relations and concerns. It was hardly a coincidence that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz visited both Beijing and New Delhi in January 2006 — Asian capitals that represented extremely dynamic economies with which foundations of mutually advantageous terms could be laid — to further its new "Look East" outlook. In India, the then Atal Behari Vajpayee government had been quick to see the value of close ties with Saudi Arabia after the Cold War. Its external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, made a high-profile trip to the kingdom. Since then, the Manmohan Singh government has firmed up that relationship and imbued it with a strategic dimension. When King Abdullah was the Republic Day chief guest in 2006, he endorsed India's case for observer status at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Oil flows rose dramatically-from only $500 million to $23 billion. Saudi Arabia today accounts for a fourth of this country's oil imports. India — like China — came to value the Saudi kingdom as a crucial source of energy, and one that had a premium voice in the setting of world oil prices. These are strong enough reasons to have a "strategic" relationship with Riyadh, and the UPA government has moved with alacrity to deepen ties. The Congress-led government also appears poised to tap high-magnitude Saudi investments in India and is likely to devise procedures for "Islamic banking" to aid that enterprise. Indian expertise in oil and gas exploration and information technology could give a new dimension to the Saudi economy, away from the present oil-only basis. The two countries can also make common cause by seeking to attack the roots of jihadist extremism, although Saudi Arabia is the original home of Wahabi and Salafist thought.








CAPTAINS OF trade and industry, economic experts and media analysts have broadly welcomed the Union finance minister, Mr Pranab Muk-herjee's Budget. But the overall message emanating from Parliament at the end of the first week of its current session is gloomy. Of various reasons for this, the most important is the government's dismal display of its helplessness about the spiralling food prices. By contrast the Opposition's attack on the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was vigorous and devastating. Remarkably, all Opposition parties and groups, from one end of the spectrum to the other, were united on this issue. This made the more sensitive occupants of the treasury benches, whose number is rather limited, squirm in their seats.


However, the very next day the Opposition, with its rare unity intact, not only squandered away the brownie points it had won during the day-long debate on food prices but also descended to a very low point in the chronic and seemingly incorrigible pastime of disrupting parliamentary proceedings. As far as I know never before has the finance minister's Budget speech been interrupted and barracked so raucously and persistently as this time around. The Opposition's anger against the increase in petrol and diesel prices that would inevitably push up further the already skyrocketing cost of food items is entirely understandable. But there is a time and a way to give vent to it.


Repeatedly did Mr Mukherjee plead that he was discharging a "constitutional duty" that must not be obstructed, but to no avail. Only after the entire Opposition had staged a noisy walkout could the speech be completed. This ought to be a matter of grave concern even to those who have become inured to the almost daily disruption of Parliament over the years. Watching the latest spectacle it occurred to me that even at a time when the United States Congress was impeaching the then President, Bill Clinton, it showed him the utmost respect when he came to deliver the State of the Union address.


Come to think of it, even the food debate was marred somewhat by the procedural dispute that preceded it and led to the adjournment of both Houses for a whole day. Since all the Opposition parties eventually agreed to have the debate without voting at the end of it, what was the point of insisting that the motion must be subject to a vote in both Houses?


By the same token the Congress, which is the core of the UPA, must explain whether the heavens would have fallen had the two Houses voted on food prices. In the Lok Sabha, the government would have won; the almost certain defeat in the Rajya Sabha would have brought it down. It is time, therefore, to cry halt to the ceaseless erosion of Parliament's prestige and authority, and there are only two ways of undoing the humongous damage that has already been done.


Either the two sides — principally the two mainstream parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — should bury the hatchet and agree to abide by the basic democratic and parliamentary norms without which the federal parliamentary system cannot work. The party leaders would then be responsible for controlling recalcitrant members in their respective flocks. Alternatively, the ruling party or combination, while being responsive to all its democratic obligations, must muster the necessary courage to take — under the chair's impartial guidance — strict disciplinary action against the wrongdoers. Other legislatures, including the Japanese Diet and the Italian Chamber of Deputies, have done so, to great advantage. There is, however, a gnawing problem: What discipline can the UPA enforce when it is stunningly undisciplined itself?


Leave aside the loudly defiant manner in which Cabinet ministers such as Mamata Banerjee and M.K. Azhagiri (who is the elder son of Tamil Nadu chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patriarch, M. Karunanidhi) have been functioning from the word go. Ms Banerjee and Mr Karunanidhi are now on the warpath over the very issue — enhanced fuel prices — that caused the irruption in the Lok Sabha on Friday. They are demanding a "roll back". On the other hand, Mr Mukherjee has dug in his heels in defence of his proposals. But who knows what the outcome of this thunderous strife will be?


In available space it is not possible to analyse the debate on food prices in any detail but a brief word on the subject is called for. The debate demolished the excuses that the government had given for its failure to cope with the huge inflation in food prices in the President's address to the joint sitting. Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha — whose maiden speech as the Leader of the Opposition was a virtuoso performance — and Brinda Karat, the equally eloquent Communist Party of India (Marxist) member in the Rajya Sabha, hammered home that manipulation of policies, especially on sugar, and not the shortage of supplies or the high level of international prices, was responsible for the current mess. Ms Swaraj quoted chapter and verse to make more than a prima facie case that there had been massive scams to push up the profits of unscrupulous traders. Both she and Ms Karat underscored that the profits of the 30 sugar mills listed on the stock exchange had shot up from Rs 30 crores in 2008 to over Rs 900 in 2009. Since no one has contradicted this, isn't there a clear case for an inquiry into how profiteering on such a mind-boggling scale could take place?


The tragic debate on the government's stark failure to stem the price rise was not without a touch of comic relief. It is no secret that the Congress Working Committee and a very large section of the Congress Parliamentary Party blames the agriculture and food supplies minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, for not just letting, but sometimes encouraging, food prices to soar. On the other hand, many activities of Mr Pawar, the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, an important UPA ally, have given the Congressmen, particularly in Maharashtra, sleepless nights. The Samajwadi Party leader, Mr Mula-yam Singh Yadav, whose own plate is piled with troubles, used the food debate to wean Mr Pawar away from the ruling alliance. Sphinx-like the Mara-tha strongman showed no reaction.








From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.


Upward of 90 per cent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York police department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerised database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.


Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defence for this policy. It's a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.


Police department statistics show that 2,798,461 stops were made in that six-year period. In 2,467,150 of those instances, the people stopped had done nothing wrong. That's 88.2 per cent of all stops over six years. Black people were stopped during that period a staggering 1,444,559 times. Hispanics accounted for 843,817 of the stops and whites 287,218.


While crime has been going down, the number of people getting stopped by the police is going up. Last year, more than 575,000 stops were made — a record. But 504,594 of those stops were of people who had done nothing wrong. They had committed no crime, were issued no summonses and were carrying no weapons or illegal substances.


Still, day after day, the cops continue harassing and degrading these innocent New Yorkers, often making them line up against walls, or lean spread-eagled on the hoods of cars, or sprawl face down in the street to be searched like criminals in front of curious, sometimes frightened, sometimes giggling, sometimes outraged onlookers.


If the police officers were treating white middle class or wealthy individuals this way, the movers and shakers in New York would be apoplectic. The mayor would be called to account in an atmosphere of thunderous outrage, and the police commissioner would be gone.


But the people getting stopped and frisked are mostly young, and most of them are black or brown and poor. So Police Commissioner Ray Kelly could feel completely comfortable with his department issuing the order in 2006 that reports of all stops and frisks be forwarded and compiled "for input into the department's database".


"They have been collecting the names and all sorts of other information about everybody who is stopped and frisked on the streets", said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the department's stop-and-frisk policy and its compiling of data on people who are innocent. "This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people", she said.


Police Commissioner Kelly has made it clear that this monstrous database, growing by a half-million or so stops each year, is to be a permanent feature of the department's operations. In a letter last summer to Peter Vallone Jr, the chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, the commissioner said: "Information contained in the stop, question and frisk database remains there indefinitely, for use in future investigations. Therefore, there are no existing police department guidelines that mandate the removal of information once it has been entered into the database".


He added, "Information contained within the stop, question and frisk database is used primarily by department investigators during the course of a criminal investigation".


So the department is collecting random information on innocent, primarily poor, black and brown New Yorkers for use in some anticipated future criminal investigation. But it is not collecting and storing massive amounts of information on innocent middle class or wealthy white people. Why is that, exactly?


Councilman Vallone is a supporter of the stop-and-frisk policy, but he is concerned about the innocent people in the database. As he told me on Monday, "I don't support the indefinite keeping of this information regarding people who were not arrested or charged with any crime". The police department has no intention of changing its policy. A spokesman for Commissioner Kelly told me that information collected when the police stop an innocent individual "may be useful" in future investigations. The stored data may become useful "in the same way" that licence plate information is useful, he said.


He cited the hypothetical example of someone in the course of a criminal investigation saying that he or she was at "a certain place at a certain time". The information permanently stored in the stop-and-frisk database, he said, could help the police determine if "they were or they weren't".


His example would suggest that the innocent people stopped are nevertheless permanently under suspicion, which is, of course, the case.








Agriculture is going places and that too in style. In a significant move, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has started giving recognition to important agricultural heritage sites and systems in the world. The FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. The FAO is also a source of knowledge and information. It helps developing countries as well as countries in transition modernise and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since its founding in 1945, it has focused on developing rural areas, home to 70 per cent of the world's poor and hungry people.


The FAO describes the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems and Sites (GIAHS) as an initiative to establish the basis for international recognition, dynamic conservation and adaptive management of agricultural biodiversity, knowledge systems, food and livelihood security, and cultures throughout the world. From India, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation is preparing proposals for including two important heritage sites in this list. The Koraput region in Orissa, which is a centre of genetic diversity of rice, and the Kuttanadu area of the southern state of Kerala. Each of these regions has scintillating stories and history of agriculture behind them. Both Koraput and Kuttanadu are resplendent with great scenic beauty and pristine environment. Agriculture and farming are a way of life in these places.


Kuttanadu is unique because it is the only place where below-sea-level farming has been practiced for centuries. This is important in the backdrop of rising sea level and global warming — two burning issues of this century. These globally important heritage sites deserve recognition as a tribute to the local farmers and nomads who have preserved these sites for future generations.


Koraput, the tribal land, has a rich assembly of unique floral and faunal diversity. The genetic repository of the region is of great significance in the global context. The region is a reservoir of rich floristic diversity consisting of about 2,500 species of flowering plants, angiosperms, well-known gymnosperms and 30 species of ferns. About 79 angiosperm species and one gymnosperm are endemic and spread over 58 genera and 25 families. The Jeypore tract (undivided old Koraput district) is conceived by rice researchers as a centre of genetic diversity and secondary centre of origin of rice. The topographic diversity of the Koraput region has resulted in a wide diversity in ecosystems under which rice is cultivated: upland (unbunded as well as bunded), medium land (irrigated and rain-fed) or low land condition. Within each ecosystem, innumerable rice varieties are grown depending on local preferences for morphological characters (such as plant height, pigmentation of plant parts, grain shape and size, presence of awns) or cultural practices such as broadcasting, transplanting, food preparations (such as cooked rice, popped rice, puffed rice) and palatability (aromatic or non-aromatic etc).


Interestingly, the tribals, who were not that lucky to get modern education for centuries, have their own way of preserving their plant's genetic resources. All over Koraput one can see "sacred groves", a biological heritage as well as social mechanism by which the forest patches are protected. The concept of "sacred grove" is deep-rooted in the minds of different communities irrespective of their geographical locations. Even today some forest patches are left to local deities as a traditional custom. With large-scale destruction and rapidly dwindling forest cover in the Koraput district, it is highly noteworthy that in a large number of villages the local communities have initiated the process of protection of degraded forest patches and allowed them to regenerate.


The story of Kuttanadu can only be heard with awe. The Greater Kuttanadu region, spread across three districts of Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam, has a history dating back to thousands of years. The modern generation knows Kuttanadu as the land of backwaters, lakes, houseboats and the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race. But above all these, Kuttanadu is the "Rice Bowl of Kerala". For the Kuttanadu farmers and farm workers, agriculture is a passion and religion. Before the advent of machines and electricity, farmers started cultivation in this vast stretch of land by pumping out the water manually.


I remember my childhood days in this beautiful landscape which used to reverberate with Thekku Paattu (songs sung by farmers while manually pumping out the water with a wooden wheel) throughout the night. For farmers in Kuttanadu, paddy cultivation was a kind of gambling since nothing could be predicted about the vagaries of the monsoon. There were times when seawater gushed into the paddy fields devouring the entire crop. Modern engineering helped the Kuttanadu farmers with bunds and small dams but the landscape has given a learning lesson to the world on sea-level rise and global warming in this International Year of Biodiversity. Foreign tourists make it a point to visit both Koraput and Kuttanadu to get a first-hand knowledge about the agricultural practices and the spirit of farmers and tribals in these regions.


We hope to use Koraput and Kuttanadu agricultural systems as examples and formulate a prototype scientific programme for GIAHS.


- M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India's green revolution.








Everything evolves according to the principle of interdependence, but there is free will and the possibility to transform. Free will is mindfulness. When mindfulness intervenes, we are aware of what is going on. If we like our action, we allow it to continue; if we don't like our action, there are methods to change it with concentration and insight. We don't want to take a path leading to ill-being; we want to take the path leading to the cessation of ill-being, to well-being. Free will is possible in Buddhism, because we know that we can handle our thinking, we can handle our speech and we can handle our action. We are responsible for our action. Freedom begins with mindfulness, concentration and insight. Everything is the fruit of action.


The one affects the all. The all affects the one. Inter-being means impermanence, non-self, emptiness and karma. In the teachings of Buddha, every teaching inter-is with every other teaching, so impermanence should be understood as no-self and no-self should be understood as interdependence.


No-self and interdependence are not two different things. If you understand interdependence, you understand no-self. If you understand impermanence, you understand interdependence. They are different words, but they are just the same thing.


Right view allows right action, leading to the reduction of suffering and the increase of happiness. This is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths and the active aspect of the teaching is the Noble Eight-fold Path. Happiness and suffering inter-are. You should not try to run away from suffering because you know understanding of suffering can bring about insight, compassion and understanding. And that is the foundation of happiness. The ultimate reality transcends notions of good and evil, right and wrong. That is the absolute criterion for Buddhist ethics.


— Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information in India about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness
Meditation email [1] orvisit [2]








In Santiago, Chile, we feel both lucky and guilty to have been stricken with an earthquake registering 8.0 instead of an 8.8. Still, most people now keep a glass of water close by as a makeshift seismometer, to see if the rumbles they keep feeling are real or imagined. We are as shattered as the windows and mirrors that tumbled when that 300-mile fault tore open in the middle of a late-summer night. People are shaking, living in a daze of anxiety, sadness and a tremendous need to connect with one another and feel that the quake is over.


It is not. Not all the country is down. Friends got together in cracked buildings with no power for Sunday lunch with not-so-cold chardonnay, to swap stories from the front. People lined up at the local hot dog franchise, reading sold-out editions of all the local papers. I was scheduled to fly to Nashville on Sunday night, but I'm still here. Near where I went to change my ticket, office workers with no offices shared espressos and anecdotes. The sight of our main airport "not open until further notice" has added a feeling of isolation to this tragedy.


For two decades, since we have been "modern" in this faraway country, we have felt like part of the world. Now, especially in places like tsumani-swiped Constitucion, all our supposed advances seem in jeopardy.


The quake hit Chile in the middle of a presidential transition and right smack at the start of our bicentennial celebration. It's a testament to our infrastructure and social institutions that the whole country didn't fall down. But we did stumble. And now we hear things that make us remember the dark days of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, words like "the missing", "curfew" and "state of emergency".


Rumours come and go: The phones are down; that's true at the moment. Running water will stop for a day; who knows? The worst part of the memory, many people say, is not the quake itself but the anxiety that came immediately afterward, when our cellphones were out and we couldn't reach our loved ones. For two or three hours Saturday morning, all Chileans were very alone. We felt as if we were at the end of the world. Which in a way is true.


- Alberto Fuguet is the author of the novels The Movies of My Life and Missing


You worry that no one is in charge or, if they are, the situation is too big to handle without force. We are in a state of suspension. A friend told me that, from his window, he watched a church steeple crumble. The worst part of the memory, many people say, is not the quake itself but the anxiety that came immediately afterward, when our cellphones were out and we couldn't reach our loved ones. For two or three hours Saturday morning, all Chileans were very alone. We felt as if we were at the end of the world. Which in a way is true.


n Alberto Fuguet is the author of the novels The Movies of My Life and Missing


By arrangement with the New York Times









Mohan Bhagwat's assertion before a captive audience of 50,000 swayamsevaks was not merely rabidly offensive, but deeply irresponsible and explosive as well. Truth to tell, one doesn't quite expect circumspect presentations from any head of the RSS. But to stridently claim that "he who is an Indian is a Hindu and he who is not a Hindu is not an Indian" is an almost criminal travesty of the concept of nationality. In attempting to project his brand of Hindutva, he has implicitly questioned the multi-religious, cosmopolitan mosaic that is India. The head of an entity now overseeing the functioning of a down-at-heel national party has made the waters murkier with the supplementary that Christianity and Islam are essentially alien faiths as they originated outside India. The country can be spared such laboured reconstruction of history, just as it can do without such definitions of Hinduism as "a way of life" and not a religion. 

It is as yet unclear whether Mr Bhagwat was able to convince the  gathering at Sunday's Hindu samagam in Bhopal. It is reasonably certain though that there may not be many takers for his brand of Hindutva even within the Bharatiya Janata Party, a party of governance after all. Factually, he may be right when he blames the national government for ignoring the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits and granting amnesty to those who had crossed over from PoK. But he has given a contrived spin to the Prime Minister's statement that the minorities have the "first right to resources". That statement was made in the context of the general minority backwardness. Mr Bhagwat's performance must have been at once embarrassing and damaging for the Madhya Pradesh chief minister who has won successive elections on the strength of effective governance.

Notably, Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been fairly successful in his attempt to woo the minorities. The BJP's 29 candidates from MP secured 30 per cent of the Muslim votes in the last Lok Sabha election, against the national average of 3.7 per cent. As many as 82 Muslim councillors contested and won the recent civic polls as BJP candidates. Even socially, Mr Chauhan's strategy has been remarkably inclusive, most importantly the state's Kanyadan project that has benefited Muslims no less. Mr Bhagwat must allow the BJP to fulfil its role as a party of governance in the states where it is in power. 








DE-LINKING assessment of the efficacy of the national security effort from the quantum of budgetary allocations for defence, paramilitary and associated services would appear a subtle sub-text to Pranab Mukherjee's financial formulation for 2010-11. While the defence increase is a modest 3.98 per cent over the previous fiscal, the capital provision for the central police organisations has been reduced by Rs 8.53 crore. Since neither the defence nor home ministers would admit a decline in threat perceptions, one conclusion is that the finance minister is advising them to ensure, to use the hackneyed phrase, a bigger bang per buck. As was only to be expected AK Antony's was a goody-goody reaction about how Mukherjee had to cater to several demands; P Chidambaram came up with a loaded response about the need to "spend wisely". While state police forces are not funded from the central budget, their modernisation ~ vital in the current insurgency/ naxal-dominated situation ~ could be impacted by the finance minister's tightening the purse strings. To what extent Chidambaram succeeds in persuading/pressuring the states into enhancing provisions for policing will prove critical. Unfortunately his track record in carrying state governments along with him is unimpressive, his limited political clout confines his writ to running only what North Block directly controls. 

To have expected a hike in the defence outlay of a level similar to 2009-10 was unrealistic, last time around huge "pay commission arrears" had to be cleared. There is little need to be detained over what is provided under the capital head (Rs 60,000 crore), since payments for big ticket purchases are spread over years, a single budget's provision is hardly an indicator. What must remain worrisome is that yet again revenue expenditure consumes the larger part of the overall outlay of Rs 1,47,344 crore. Maybe heavy deployment along the frontier and the insurgency-afflicted hinterland in J&K and Northeast defies reducing the tooth-to-tail ratio, but a reworking of manpower is increasingly becoming imperative: would that necessitate chipping away at "empires"? 

Even as the task is truly cut out for the defence and home ministers, Mukherjee could help clear a nagging doubt. Were the unspent funds (under the capital head) surrendered by the military and paramilitrary really the result of an inability to utilise the provisions, or did his ministry put an unofficial brake on spending to negate other failures to contain the budgetary deficit?









NEPAL has a history of missing deadlines, so if the constituent assembly fails to submit the draft constitution by 28 May it will come as no surprise. With just three months left, political parties are yet to reach a consensus to speed up the process and if this cannot be done, the interim constitution has to be amended yet again. The 2006 November landmark Comprehensive Peace Treaty that brought about the ceasefire between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists not only missed many a deadline but even its implementation took a long time. The elections to the constituent assembly were also delayed by at least 10 months. If the new constitution is not ready in time, the President will have to step in, something which every politician dreads. The formation of the High Level Political Mechanism two months ago, with Nepali Congress chief GP Koirala as coordinator, also seems to have got stuck. It was to decide on power-sharing and the sensitive topic of integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants now confined to different cantonments under UN supervision.    
Maoist leaders continued to be too easily spooked by anything to do with India. Their latest brouhaha over arms imports from India was unwarranted. The Comprehensive Peace Treaty does not prohibit such an exercise. Of late, former Maoist Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal "Prachanda" Dahal, has toned down his anti-India tirade but it will not take him a long time to kick the habit of flaring up at anything his country has to do with India. Nepal President, Ram Baran Yadav's visit to India last month was on a low key but he signed four important agreements that included resumption of air traffic and building railway infrastructure along five Indo-Nepalese border points. Besides, India offered a soft loan of $250 million, of course on the condition that the money would be released subsequent to Delhi's approval of the projects.









ON 14 February, just before the India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level meeting took place, this scribe wrote why the talks should be held. He laid down a basic condition for the talks to proceed in the future, and if that was not met he suggested that all efforts for future dialogue should end.

He wrote: "There are elements in the Pakistani government that are genuinely opposed to terrorism… At the same time there are more powerful elements in the Pakistani establishment that are opposed to any peace settlement… the elements seeking normalisation with India are incapable of delivering on any promises they might make … there is only one global power that has displayed a vested interest in keeping India and Pakistan apart … China is badly misguided in pursuing its policy of isolating India in South Asia… holding talks with Islamabad is desirable provided it is clearly understood it will be the final attempt… India should bluntly seek an open commitment… Would Islamabad be willing to commit to an eventual India-Pakistan relationship encompassing joint defence and trade...? Within Pakistan such an announcement would bring polarisation into the open… If Islamabad is unwilling and continues to serve wittingly or unwittingly foreign interests rather than its own, then it is time to bid Pakistan goodbye."



EVEN before the foreign secretaries met it became clear that Pakistan would not oblige. Indeed it went to the opposite extreme. It is quite likely that India's unexpected decision to resume talks with Pakistan was under American advice. The US wants Pakistan's troop expansion in Afghanistan. To make that possible Pakistan must divert troops from its eastern front against India. To make Pakistan redeployment possible India must reduce its troops on the Pakistan border. India most likely agreed. Pakistan perceived this as victory and its Foreign Minister Qureshi crowed and taunted India's climbdown in several public speeches inside Pakistan. Indian sources tried to rationalise this as posturing for domestic consumption. Worse was to follow.
Qureshi visited China and offered Beijing a "blank cheque" to mediate between India and Pakistan. He sarcastically added that India might be uncomfortable with such mediation. If this left any doubt about Pakistan's approach to the talks, Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, after meeting with his Indian counterpart removed it by a belligerent and undiplomatic press conference in New Delhi. Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman said that Indians were responsible for 26/11! From all this Pakistan has sent a clear message. It is rubbishing India's overtures and taunting America by giving pre-eminence to Islamabad's ties with Beijing. Pakistan has behaved exactly opposite to what this scribe had suggested as the minimum precondition for continued peace efforts by India. Pakistan has affirmed that it will remain firmly in Beijing's camp and continue to bleed India and frustrate America.

How should India respond? It should react precisely as this scribe had suggested before the talks. America due to its own flawed policies in the past and misconceived policies at present seems helpless. America's problem should not become India's headache. India should ignore US advice and chart an independent course to deal with both China and Pakistan. It may be argued that President Obama has the right intentions but is cautious because America is enmeshed in Beijing's coils. Regardless of that case India should remain firm. Tactical compromise with fundamental principles arises from weakness and invites defeat. Nothing can be more fundamental than fighting global terror. Recall Lord Krishna's advice to Arjuna that vacillation arose only from weakness. Arjuna consequently changed. But who will change President Obama?  

At present America cannot, Pakistan will not, and the UPA government dare not, act effectively against rising Chinese belligerence. But there are effective options available to India. It is futile to outline them as long as the Indian government does not display the will to act independently. Indian governments since 1947 have failed to act independently. Today India is in a position to play a global role. It cannot do that unless it changes its colonial mindset. Is it paranoid to think that Indian governments up till now have not been acting independently? Well, then, consider this passage from Kalyani Shankar's recent book Nixon, Indira and India. In addition to the author's crisp narrative the book is invaluable for the secret US archival material made public for the first time. Consider the following passage from the secret White House Memorandum of Conversation between Dr Henry Kissinger and India's Ambassador to US, LK Jha, dated 30 August 1971.


Not incorrect

DR KISSINGER expressed reservations about Indira Gandhi's attitude to the US after the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty. According to the Memorandum, Ambassador Jha explained that "…Madam Gandhi was not at all pro-Soviet. She had for a long time resisted the proposal ~ that it had first been thought up by Dinesh Singh, the former Foreign Minister ~ of this treaty of friendship. (In fact, Jha said on a personal basis, he wouldn't be a bit surprised if Dinesh Singh actually received pay from the Communists.) At the same time he also thought that Kaul and Haksar were very much under Soviet influence. In short, for both these reasons Madam Gandhi was under great pressure…The Ambassador repeated that Haksar and Kaul were the real obstacles in India and that in the Foreign Office there were many pro-Soviet elements."

LK Jha was a doyen among India's diplomats. It is most likely that other Indian diplomats in other foreign lands habitually adopt a similar approach. Should not trust and exchange of confidence between Indian diplomats, even those opposing each other, take precedence over trust and exchange of confidence they might share with foreign leaders? If LK Jha could behave thus, what might be the condition of the rest of our diplomatic community? Can one conceive of American, Russian or Chinese diplomats ever selling short their own colleagues to an Indian leader?  

Recently the PM told Saudi journalists that there was no alternative to dialogue with Pakistan. One begs to differ. One is not talking of war. But that alternative needs willingness to act independently. That seems missing. Pakistan wants China to mediate between India and Pakistan. According to Foreign MOS, Shashi Tharoor, India wants Saudi Arabia as the interlocutor. Is there any qualitative difference? Tharoor may have been indiscreet, but was he incorrect?  The first need, therefore, is to get a government in New Delhi that is capable of independent policies that safeguard national interest. Till such time one should preferably hold one's peace.


(The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist)









While travelling to remote villages in India I have been struck by the extent to which liquor shops have spread far and wide at a brisk pace. Several village women told me with anger that the government may not have provided us with clean drinking water but it has certainly arranged more than enough liquor for  men. However, there is also some good news. In several villages and small towns, anti-liquor movements are gathering strength and women are playing a leading role in these.

This provides another example of how serious social problems can be tackled effectively once women come forward to play an important role. One of the most successful anti-liquor movements took place in the Dalli Rajhara township in Durg district in Chattisgarh. Here, under the leadership of Shankar Guha Niyogi, nearly 9,000 iron-ore miners gave up drinking even though they were addicted to liquor. This happened because of the inspiring conditions that could be created here, an effort in which women played a leading role.

Other inspiring movements took place in numerous villages of Haryana, on the Delhi-Haryana border and in parts of Uttar Pradesh. In Pather village of Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, a protest to drive away the liquor vendor led by a voluntary organisation called Disha was not only successful but it also inspired neighbouring villagers to take similar action.

More recently, in eastern Uttar Pradesh in the course of interviews with several groups of women farmers, it was learnt that they had been involved in small and sporadic anti-liquor movements. Their experience was that when their movement was strong, liquor excesses (including illegal selling-points) could be checked to some extent. But because the women could not sustain their effort, the liquor mafia, after lying low for some time, returned often with the collusion of the police. Many of these women farmers are also fighting pollution caused by distilleries.

Thus, on the one hand, there is need for a sustained effort. On the other hand, there is need to widen the crusade, establishing links between various movements and improving the information base of activists. In recent years, a lot of important information has become available about the hazards associated with the increase in liquor consumption.

A report by the World Health Organisation titled "Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life"' has tried to summarise the alcohol-related damage caused to health, including loss of life on a gigantic scale. Alcohol causes 1.8 million deaths in a single year. Overall, there is a relationship between the average volume of alcohol consumption and more than 60 types of disease and injury. Besides the direct effects of intoxication and addiction resulting in alcohol use disorders, alcohol is estimated to cause about 20 to 30 per cent of each of the following worldwide — oesophageal cancer, liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, homicide, epilepsy and motor vehicle accidents. Alcohol dependence is a disorder in itself. Binge drinking is most hazardous.

The World Report on Violence and Health says that alcohol abuse may also be an important factor in causing depression. "Alcohol abuse," it says, "may lead directly to depression or indirectly through the sense of decline and failure that most people who are dependent on alcohol experience." More ominously, the report says that alcohol and drug abuse also play an important role in causing suicides. In the USA, at least one quarter of all suicides are reported to involve alcohol abuse.

Apart from its disastrous impact on health, alcohol also causes serious social disruption by aggravating violent and irresponsible behaviour. The Who says alcohol consumption is responsible for acute problems like domestic violence. According to the WRVH, which examined a lot of the available studies on domestic violence, "the evidence is that women who live with heavy drinkers run a far greater risk of physical partner violence, and that men who have been drinking inflict more serious violence at the time of an assault". More specifically, this report mentions a survey in Canada that revealed that women who lived with heavy drinkers were five times more likely to be assaulted by their partners than those who lived with non-drinkers.
The WRVH says that from the perspective of both the attacker and the victim, alcohol and drug consumption increases the risk of sexual violence, including rape. In the context of the victim, this report says that consuming alcohol or drugs makes it more difficult for women to protect themselves "by interpreting and effectively acting on warning signs". Moreover, drinking alcohol may also place women in settings where their chances of encountering potential offenders are greater. Some acts of group sexual violence are also associated with drinking. In such situations, consuming alcohol is an act of group bonding where inhibitions are collectively reduced.

The WRVH says specially in the context of youth violence that drunkenness is an important immediate situational factor that can precipitate violence. In a Swedish study on youth violence, about three-quarters of violent offenders and around half the victims of violence were intoxicated at the time of the incident. A Cambridge study of youth violence found that many boys were involved in violence after drinking.
The WRVH says that reducing the availability of liquor can be an important community strategy to reduce crime and violence as research has shown alcohol to be an important situational factor that can precipitate violence.

In a four-year study conducted in New Zealand, crime rates in situations of high and low availability of alcohol were compared. This study revealed that crime rates fell significantly for two years in areas of reduced alcohol availability.

The Who has stated, "Government action is required if the full potential to improve population health through the reduction of alcohol and tobacco consumption is to be achieved, partly because of the addictive nature of these substances. Such action could be through changes in the law or financial incentives and disincentives."
According to the Who, the global alcohol consumption has increased in recent decades — most or all of this increase occurring in developing countries. Hence there is the clear need for government policy in these countries to play a well thought-out role in reducing the consumption of liquor.


The writer is a freelance contributor








Professor Amlan Dutta, with whom I was quite close during my university years, often reminded me of George Orwell for his intellectual and moral integrity and deep and unshakable attachment to his own set of values. He joined the Post- Graduate Section of Economics Department of Kolkata University in 1948. I was a student in the first batch whose classes were taken by him. Though the youngest of the professors of Economics department, he took classes of three of the twelve compulsory half-papers which was more than what the other more senior professors taught us. His three half-papers were Public Finance, Economic Development of selected countries and Thoughts of three Eminent Economists, one of them being Marx.

Some of the students of that batch like me even now remember his deep and profound knowledge of the subjects which he taught us. His lectures on Marx were lucid and very illuminating on the various points of difference between such tall Marxists as Maurice Dobb and Paul M Sweezy. His lectures on Public Finance were so thorough and comprehensive that we were not required to go through a large number of reference books. He knew that the majority of the students did not know much of higher mathematics and so avoided using mathematical terms or explained separately their significance.

I remember to this day that when explaining Proportional and Progressive Taxations, he summed up with an observation that the former system achieved many of the social benefits of the latter when the Income Utility Curve was steeper than a Rectangular Hyperbola. Some of us who were not familiar with this term subsequently learnt from him that that was a curve where 'xy' was constant. To us he appeared as the nearest approach to Professor Paul Anthony Samuelson whose books had become a rage in those days.

Before I attended his classes I had heard that he was one of the finest debaters of Presidency College, my alma mater. After attending his lectures in the MA class, I was surprised that a person who had started his schooling at Iswar Pathsala at Comilla could speak in English with such fluency and ease not only on various problems in Economics which was his own subject but also on various abstruse topics.

After joining the Indian Police Service, I met him on only a few occasions like when he along with Professor Satyen Sen, the then Vice-Chancellor of Kolkata University had been gheraoed or when he was Vice- Chancellor of North Bengal University and I visited Siliguri for some official work. However, some months ago, Mrs Kasturi Menon contacted me and wanted to know that being a very old student of Professor Tarak Nath Sen, whether I could preside over a meeting that they were arranging in connection with his birthday centenary. I told her that a student of Professor Sen far worthier and much older than me was available for this purpose and named Professor Amlan Dutta and also furnished his address and telephone number to her. On being approached, he readily agreed.

The meeting was held in the Conference Room No 3 of ICCR on 9 July, 2009 with Professor Amlan Dutta in the chair. I met him after a long time and found a frail and tottering figure. I touched his feet but could not say more than a few words because of the busy schedule of the meeting. I regret that I could not meet him thereafter.

In the late seventies he had delivered the convocation address at Santiniketan and I was present as DIG IB looking after the security arrangements. The following morning, I offered to take him to Kolkata in my car and he accepted my offer. I brought him and Mrs Kitty Dutta to Kolkata and dropped them at their residence. I saw her for the first time. Like all his students, I had been delighted at the news of his marriage and so was equally grieved when I learnt that they had separated and she had gone back to UK along with both their children. Another of my respected teachers, Professor Dhiresh Bhattacharyya told me that when Prof Amlan Dutta had a massive heart attack, to which he ultimately succumbed, only the domestic hand was present in the house and he had called the doctor.

Professor Amlan Dutta had intellectual differences with the parties now wielding power in the state. But I have never understood why the central government also never took much notice of him.

The writer is former Police Commissioner, Kolkata, and former DGP, West Bengal







There were no surprises in the prime minister's statement that India was willing to "walk the extra mile" with Pakistan. The offer, however, came with a simple but serious caveat. India would take the extra step if Pakistan cooperated and took decisive action against terrorists. Both parts of the statement are of equal importance. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has made it abundantly clear ever since he took office for the second time that he is very keen to establish some degree of normalcy in India's relationship with Pakistan. To achieve this end, Mr Singh is not unwilling to make some concessions. But all this cannot be unconditional. There has to be a modicum of reciprocity and responsibility from the Pakistan side. Unfortunately, no such gesture has been forthcoming. As the talks with the foreign secretaries of both countries showed, in its public posturings and rhetoric, Pakistan has shown no signs of climbing down from its high horse. One reason behind this might be the lack of any central direction in Pakistan and therefore the failure to look beyond the immediate scoring of points.


If lack of response is the prime minister's problem so far as Pakistan is concerned, at home he might be forced to take action against the malady that has no better name than verbal diarrhoea. Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for external affairs, has demonstrated once again that he is incapable of holding his tongue. The most sensible and responsible action for Mr Tharoor was to let the prime minister do all the talking in Saudi Arabia. He had no obligation to hold forth on any subject. If he had kept quiet, he could have avoided the tortuous clarifications regarding the meaning of the word "interlocutor". Mr Tharoor seems to be under the illusion that he is the only man in India who understands the meaning and implications of polysyllabic words. The time has come perhaps for Mr Singh to tell his junior colleague to hold his counsel and to keep his fingers away from the keyboard of his Blackberry. Otherwise, Mr Tharoor may prove to be an embarrassment to the prime minister if he isn't one already. Mr Singh has problems galore across India's western borders, but he also has problems, albeit of a different order, across the corridors in South Block. He should not permit the latter to aggravate the former.








In their eagerness to pay homage to 'high culture', politicians in West Bengal tend to forget about other variants of that word — work culture, for instance, which has practically vanished from the state for good. Bengal already has a connoisseur of the former kind of culture in its chief minister; so it would do very well to have a leader who believes in the latter. But with the chief of the main opposition party of the state also set on the pursuit of exalted names, such a possibility looks increasingly remote. In her recent railway budget, the Union railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, renewed her pledge to rename several stations on the Calcutta Metro network to honour certain 'iconic' Indians. She would have done much better had she spared a thought for 'ordinary' Indians instead. Putting aside the warped, and in some cases non-existent, logic behind the new names, nothing but confusion will ensue from this project. As it is, people are still grappling with the fancy names given to the stations on the extended Metro route. It would be highly inconsiderate of the railways minister to now inflict a fresh set of fancy names on the public by removing the existing ones. Indeed, 'Park Street' may not have the same humane ring as 'Mother Teresa', but the older name served its purpose quite well.


It would be far more humanitarian of Ms Banerjee if she cared to improve the quality of service in the Calcutta Metro. Like much else in the city, the underground network has an aura of timelessness about it — a noble gloom pervades its crumbling infrastructure, as passengers fall at one another's throats while getting on or off the trains at rush hours. There are still no toilets on the station premises, no special access for the physically challenged, and the escalators seldom function. Since the introduction of the Smart Card to reduce queues at ticket counters and fetch more revenue for the organization, a perverse pleasure has been added to the list of woes: the Smart gates, belying their names, almost routinely fail to function, offering their users a free ride. When one of her Lok Sabha colleagues objected to the renaming of 'Kalighat' as 'Bhagat Singh', Ms Banerjee snapped back, "Be like Bhagat Singh. He died for the country." The people of West Bengal surely do not expect her to do as much — a few well-thought policies aimed at the greater common good would do just fine.









When Manmohan Singh became prime minister nearly six years ago, no one suspected that he was stubborn. Those who interacted with him as the soft-spoken finance minister under P.V. Narasimha Rao would hardly describe him as obstinate.


It was during the nuclear deal, which he skillfully engineered into an agreement with the United States of America against all odds and later pushed through within the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, that the talk began in New Delhi and Washington in grudging approval of Singh's stubborn pursuit of an idea he felt deeply committed to. Between last year's ice-breaking talks with Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, in Sharm el Sheikh and now, the impression of a prime minister who would obstinately stick to his guns has grown by leaps and bounds, reinforced by last week's Indo-Pakistan foreign-secretary-level talks that did not have the approval of key members of his own council of ministers.


But nothing that Singh has done in his entire career as a politician beats the dogged determination with which he has pursued another of his pet foreign policy ideas for almost 17 years: the idea of bringing India closer to Saudi Arabia. Very few members of Singh's cabinet have read a historic joint communiqué that was issued in April 1982 at the end of Indira Gandhi's visit to Saudi Arabia. In part, their reason for not reading this document is that the only copy of it, which was in the possession of Talmiz Ahmad when he was India's ambassador in Riyadh between January 2000 and July 2003, has been misplaced following Ahmad's departure as envoy to Oman. His successors obviously did not think the communiqué was worth preserving or archiving.


But Singh read this landmark document in 1994 when he visited Saudi Arabia as finance minister and was struck by what it outlined. The joint communiqué underlined the unconventional but hugely significant view that there is a vital link between the security of South Asia and that of West Asia, especially the Gulf region.


Since that trip to Riyadh 16 years ago, when he revived a dysfunctional joint commission that was set up with good intentions for bilateral cooperation in economic, trade, scientific, technical and cultural activities shortly before Indira Gandhi's visit, Singh has been determined to explore the idea of a joint security approach for South Asia and the Gulf.


Singh's visit to Riyadh, which concluded on Monday, represents his determination — like his pursuit of the nuclear deal and a rapprochement with Pakistan — to erect a new pillar of Indian diplomacy and leave his distinct mark on that initiative by picking up the threads of Indo-Saudi relations from where they were left off by Indira Gandhi 28 years ago.


In a country where its strategic community is obsessed with India's ties with Pakistan, China or the US, it is not widely known or appreciated that soon after becoming prime minister in May 2004, Singh went about exploring the possibility of creating the basis of a new relationship with the Saudi kingdom. But it took a year and a half to produce any tangible movement. That came in January 2006, when King Abdullah arrived in New Delhi on a four-day state visit when he was also the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations that year.


Last weekend, Singh significantly built on the royal visit of four years ago. His idea, based on his previous visit to the kingdom as finance minister, is to create a relationship with Saudi Arabia which has two dimensions, one economic and the other regional. He went to Riyadh as prime minister when New Delhi's principled position that the jihad of the 1990s was unhelpful for the long-term security of the region inhabited by Gulf Arabs and South Asians has been vindicated. Unlike Indians two decades ago, the Saudis, Pakistanis and Americans did not understand — or care to assimilate — the lesson that it was this jihad which prepared the ground for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US or for Pakistan's current situation as a failed State.


But Singh was not triumphalist during his interactions with King Abdullah and others last weekend over the belated realization in Riyadh and Washington that the very forces which gave succour for extremism in the 1990s are now under siege. His effort, on the other hand, was to prepare the ground for India and Saudi Arabia to be on the same page on this issue.


It is a fact that when India was under assault by terrorists in the late 1980s and thereafter, it got little sympathy from Saudi Arabia. What India had to say in those years was not heard with any seriousness in Riyadh. But there is a clear sense today that the implications of the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai are understood in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf, in states which have vulnerable coastlines and domestic jihadis who want to overthrow their governments. Singh's visit to Saudi Arabia is opportune because this is the right time to explore the space for a strategic alliance between Riyadh and New Delhi.


Indeed, it is vital for India to do so in the light of US efforts for reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan. These efforts have the blessings of Riyadh. The US president, Barack Obama, cannot win the election in 2012 unless the fighting involving American forces is halted well before his re-election campaign gets under way.


A return of the Taliban into Kabul's power structure in any form will be a victory for Pakistan, and it has serious implications for India's security. The government must, under the circumstances, be prepared for greater radicalization of disaffected Kashmiris. A Saudi role in regional security, working together with India, therefore, becomes all the more important. That is what Shashi Tharoor, the minister of state for external affairs, intended to convey when he talked about Riyadh's close relationship with Pakistan "that makes Saudi Arabia even a more valuable interlocutor for us", a valuable insight into regional diplomacy which unfortunately went over the heads of many of those in the media who accompanied Singh to Riyadh.


However, if India is to guard its flanks, it must balance its overtures to Saudi Arabia by equally putting some substance into its moribund relations with Iran. There is a long-pending invitation for the prime minister from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Iran. In November last year, the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, came to India to renew that invitation. India cannot hope to make the most of what Singh has started in Riyadh unless he completes the circle, so to speak, by going to Tehran as well and working out a viable strategy for dealing with the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan.


Such balanced Indian diplomacy in the volatile Gulf is necessary also because Iran recently displaced Saudi Arabia as the number one source for oil imports by India. The foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, was in Tehran a few weeks ago for foreign office consultations, but an opportunity offered by that visit to make the most of a rapidly changing regional scenario was wasted because of the lack of political will in New Delhi in dealing meaningfully with the Iranians for fear that it may upset Washington.


During his visit last weekend, the prime minister built on what he started with Saudi Arabia in 1994 by reviving the joint commission. Recognizing that there is no significant Saudi investment in India he attempted to draw the Saudis into joint energy projects in India and to invest in infrastructure. The growing involvement by Oman and the United Arab Emirates in economic activity in India ought to give greater confidence to the Saudis in developing a stake in India's emerging economy. Which can only complement the political stakes in Indo-Saudi relations.








2moro n 2moro n 2moro, 2 B or not 2 B? Do U think that is the ? about today's English spelling? Professor David Crystal does, and he is a renowned expert on the language. But I suspect he is mistaken.


His argument is plausible. Thanks to the Internet, he says, for the first time in centuries anyone's writings, and thus spelling, can reach the world unseen by proofreaders or editors. So new spellings could become widely accepted.


So back to the random spelling of 500 years ago? Possibly, I'd say: many blogs are misspelt, yet wholly intelligible. But all Mr Crystal foresees is the slang of the Net (or of text-messaging, I'd add) becoming the norm, and "one set of conventions will replace another". Maybe, but IMHO — yes, even I know what that means — the professor, however expert in the dynamics of language, is less so in those of society.


He is wholly right to see our spelling as chaotic. But not in talking of "a huge movement over hundreds of years" to simplify it. Movement yes, huge no. Not, at least, since spelling was standardized in 18th-century Britain, a bit later in America: challenges to the results have been feeble.


And yet.... Countless new words have come in since then, new meanings for existing ones, new grammar, old nouns made into new verbs. New catchphrases are ten a penny, or a dime a dozen, as two old ones put it. All thanks to usage. Pedants may preach in horror, but what users want, users tend to get. And in time even purists accept most novelties. So won't spelling develop likewise?


Society has so far ignored would-be reformers, such as Bernard Shaw. But the process Mr Crystal foresees would be far easier than the enlarged alphabet of Shaw's dreams, which implied new keyboards too; and less brutal than the wide changes sought by today's dreamers. Why shouldn't it happen?


Not now


Because society just won't bother. Sure, initials save space and time: why write megawatts when it could be MW? Breath too, if they're spoken as written: mph or GPS, eg — or indeed eg. And more still if spoken as words in themselves, like Nato or Aids. But how many phrases turned into initials on the Net or mobile phone are common elsewhere? Lots of love, maybe — one sense of LOL that is, in fact, long pre-Net — but hardly in my humble opinion.


As for shorter spellings, I can see the charm of writing U for you, and the briefness of 24/7. But why 2moro? To save just three key-strokes? Shortening is not new: I was using wd and cd in personal letters 50 years ago. And journalists my age can recall things like t for the and tt for that; indeed, in priced-by-the-word cables much odder ones, such as llgo for will go. Yet I'd never use wd or cd in any formal writing, and those old hacks' usages have mostly died.


And the forces against change are huge. Even awful spellers accept that there are right spellings and wrong. However daft, the right ones — with a few transatlantic variations — are standard worldwide. If they weren't, reading would be slower, hard-copy dictionaries almost unusable, whatever may be possible on the Net. Above all, though, we just like uniformity, useful or not. And plenty of writing still has to satisfy editors, proofreaders and other superiors.

Will society alter its habits just to suit bloggers and text-messagers? Not 2moro, I guess, nor even l8r. A recent email from a son of mine ended ROFL. I had to ask him what it meant. Text-savvy young readers may be ROFL at my ignorance. Yet how often do even they really need to write rolling on the floor laughing?






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





The flare-up of violence in Shimoga and Hassan towns on Monday is yet another warning that communal amity in Karnataka is growing fragile by the day. That an article in a newspaper could inflame sentiments to the extent that lives were lost indicates the State is sitting on a powder keg of subterranean primeval passions that can be easily stoked by forces bent upon breaching the harmony between the majority and minority communities. It could be argued that a mere article need not inflame passions and that hypersensitivity to the media is uncalled for. But caution is needed to be exercised by all quarters that no opportunity is afforded to hotheads waiting to grab any opportunity to widen the gulf between communities with motives that are most unholy. In this regard, the media bears an onerous responsibility.

Over the last few years, the dark forces that seek to benefit by driving a wedge between communities have been industrious in the State. The repeated attacks on people and places of worship belonging to minorities have been provocations designed to disturb the peace and generate hatred and mistrust between the communities. The Government's initial lethargy in dealing with such elements with an iron hand appears to have emboldened the merchants of hatred who have been continuing such abominable acts.

In Dakshina Kannada, one of the most cosmopolitan regions in the State, a particular community has been made to feel it is being targeted and profiled. Such perceptions need to be dispelled with credible action, lest the victimhood syndrome affect the youth and lead to consequences that will gladden the hearts of elements who yearn for nothing less than this nation's sundering.

The State Government deserves to be commended for the speed with which it reacted to Monday's incidents. The Chief Minister's warning of strong action seems to have been instrumental in bringing back calm to the affected areas. But words need to be followed by proactive steps designed to bridge the trust deficit among sections of the people. No quarter should be given to anyone attempting to breach the peace, if only to ensure that a serious communal crisis is not added to the long list of problems the Government faces. On its part, the Opposition must abjure any temptation to take political advantage of the situation. Communal peace is an issue on which the State's political establishment cannot afford a divide.








An Italian court verdict convicting three Google executives for violating privacy laws has been criticised for undermining freedom of expression on the Internet. The verdict has come in a case filed by an advocacy group for people with Down syndrome, drawing attention to a 2006 video uploaded on Google video which showed an autistic teenager being beaten and humiliated by bullies at a school in Turin. Google sought to defend itself with the argument that it removed the offending video within 24 hours of being alerted and helped authorities investigate and nab those who posted it online. This might be so. Still, it does not get Google off the hook. Google's claim that it is impossible to screen the content of videos uploaded on the site given the large number that are posted every day is a specious argument. The Internet search engine company cannot wash its hands off content on its websites and seek to absolve itself of responsibility for what is posted there.

Those critical of the verdict point out that if websites, online social network and community bulletin boards are responsible for vetting every single piece of text, photograph, video or file that is uploaded on to them, then the Internet as it exists today will cease to be. This would deny the world the many social, economic, political and other benefits that the Internet has brought. Critics have issued dire warnings of the implications of the court verdict. They have accused the Italian courts of censorship and pointed to the limits it imposes on the right to freedom of expression.

The Internet has allowed individuals immense freedom of expression. And indeed its role as a democratising force must be hailed. Yet, freedom of expression cannot be infinite. There is a limit to what can be said, written or shown. Being offensive, insulting and inflammatory cannot be justified in the name of freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression is important and must be fiercely guarded. But just as important is the individual's right to privacy. Will those who are now engaging in highfalutin rhetoric about the exciting emancipatory potential of the Internet and their right to unrestricted freedom of expression on this medium defend this right as vigorously if videos of their private lives or clips of their children being humiliated are posted on the Internet for all to see?







Maoist depredations in eastern India suggest a new social twist to Marx's prediction of an epic struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Class goes a long way in explaining the recent attack on an Eastern Frontier Rifles camp in a West Bengal town where 24 jawans were butchered, and Dalit and Adivasi support for the "Bon (Jungle) Party", as they call the CPI(Maoist).

Mohit Sen, the son of a Calcutta High Court judge who joined the undivided Communist Party of India, says in his memoirs that Ranjit Gupta, one of the last of British India's IP (not today's IPS) officers, was "a strong sympathiser" of the Communists and kept him informed in the late Forties of official security plans. Now old and ill, Gupta acquired fame — some say notoriety because of the methods used — for liquidating Naxalites when he was Calcutta's Police Commissioner in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Sen passed on Gupta's information to the radical Oxford-trained historian Susobhan Sarkar "resulting in almost all the top leaders of the CPI escaping by going underground" when the "crackdown" came in 1948.

Arrest warrant

Incidentally, the "underground" for Indrajit Gupta, a Cambridge graduate who became Union Home Minister under H D Deve Gowda, was my grandmother's flat in Calcutta. He lived there comfortably — my grandmother was his aunt — while the police supposedly searched high and low with an arrest warrant. His brother, also Ranjit Gupta but of the ICS, was then West Bengal's Home Secretary. Less well-connected Communists went to jail.

I am dredging this up to illustrate how law enforcers and lawbreakers can be linked. The Gupta-Sen-Sarkar nexus highlighted the power of class ties. They came from similar upper middle class backgrounds, had gone to English-medium schools and the same college where Susobhan Sarkar taught. They were what Lady Thatcher called "people like us". There are PLUs at all levels, bound by similar ties of kinship and friendship.
At the height of the Naxalite troubles a much younger and fitter I accompanied the Army on a combing operation in West Bengal's Birbhum district, tramping precariously along the slippery ridge between waterlogged paddy fields night after night. It was a lark for the soldiers. Even the local magistrate strode gamely along with a walking stick. But the bedraggled policemen accompanying us whined unceasingly and complained bitterly of the military victimising them because they were Bengali. The Army officer's warnings that they could be heard across the fields only made them talk louder.

I thought it was Bengali lyricism when they burst into Rabindrasangeet before dawn broke. But, no, as a light flashed in the distant dark and went out, to be repeated in another clump of trees, I realised the singing (like their loud chatter) was to warn Naxalites lurking in the outlying huts. Apparently, a band of Naxalites had turned up to demand the ammunition only hours after the police confiscated a jotedar's gun.

Collusion might still be common. Birbhum's policemen were locals like the Naxalites. Commonalty may also have been a factor in the attack on the EFR. It wouldn't have been easy otherwise for 50 Maoists in an SUV, a pick-up truck and a fleet of six motorcycles to raid the camp in the heart of a crowded township. The surrounding shopkeepers obviously knew what was afoot and had disappeared. They had been warned. But by who?

Few in West Bengal's villages regard the Maoists as untouchables. I am not talking of opportunistic politicians like Susanta Ghosh, a CPI(M) minister from West Midnapore, or Mamata Banerjee who have both been known to play footsy with them. I mean Dalit and adivasi villagers who regard them as saviours. While nothing is heard of the Rs 400-crore development package announced last year for the area, Maoist cadres have reportedly dug wells, built roads and dams and set up health centres in remote places.

Ideological rebels

Class manifests itself somewhat differently in Bihar. Going to Arrah district once because of reports of Naxalite activity, I found only illiterate landless Dalit peasants whose crime was to ask for the minimum legal wage. Their employers at once summoned the police and denounced them as ideological rebels. Moustachioed village elders stalked me as I talked to the Dalits, and ordered me to write they should be allowed firearms without licenses. Physically, these worthies looked like the village daroga.

A veteran former Communist, Jolly Mohan Kaul, writes that people looked up to Jyoti Basu because he was an England-returned barrister. The CPI co-opted many such men into its central committee without making them go through the ranks as local recruits had to. But these gallants or comrades like Prakash and Brinda Karat or Sitaram Yechury hardly qualify as "indigent wage-earners", "labouring classes" or the "lowest class of community" whom Marx held to be the only "really revolutionary class". Dalits and adivasis do, explaining their misguided support for the Bon Party.

The so-called "red corridor" is not a manifestation of the proletarian revolution. It speaks of adivasi and Dalit resentment of society's traditional upper caste leaders, and of Maoist exploitation of this festering grievance.









On January 1, 2010, the China-Asean Free Trade Area (CAFTA) went into effect. Touted as the world's biggest Free Trade Area, CAFTA is billed as having 1.7 million consumers, with a combined gross domestic product of $5,93 trillion and total trade of $1.3 trillion.

Under the agreement, trade between China and six Asean countries including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand has become duty-free for more than 7,000 products. By 2015, the newer Asean countries, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, will join the zero-tariff arrangement.

The propaganda mills, especially in Beijing, have been trumpeting the FTA as bringing "mutual benefits" to China and Asean. A positive spin on CAFTA has also come from Philippines president Gloria Arroyo, who hailed the emergence of a "formidable regional grouping" that would rival the United States and the European Union.

The reality, however, is that most of the advantages will probably flow to China.

Bilateral relationship

At first glance, it seems like the bilateral relationship has been positive. After all, demand from a Chinese economy growing at a breakneck pace was a key factor in Southeast Asian growth beginning around 2003, after a period of low growth following the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

During the current international recession, ASEAN governments are counting on China — whose GDP fourth quarter 2009 rose 10.7 percent over the same year-earlier quarter — to pull them out of the doldrums.


Yet the picture is more complex than that of a Chinese locomotive pulling the rest of East Asia along with it on a fast track to economic nirvana.

Low wages, many in Southeast Asia fear, have encouraged local and foreign manufacturers to phase out their operations in relatively high wage Southeast Asia and moving them to China.

There appears to be some support for this. China's devaluation of the Yuan in 1994 had the effect of diverting some foreign direct investment (FDI) away from Southeast Asia.

The trend of ASEAN losing ground to China accelerated after the 1997 crisis. In 2000, FDI in ASEAN shrank to 10 percent of all investment in developing Asia, down from 30 percent in the mid-Nineties. The decline continued in the rest of the decade, with the UN World Investment Report attributing the trend partly to "increased competition from China."

Trade has been another, perhaps greater, area of concern. Massive smuggling of goods from China has disrupted practically all ASEAN economies. For instance, with some 70-80 per cent of shops selling smuggled Chinese shoes the Vietnamese shoe industry has suffered badly.

Now there are fears that CAFTA will simply legalise smuggling and worsen the already negative effects of Chinese imports on ASEAN industry and agriculture.

A central part of the plan was to open up ASEAN markets to Chinese manufactured products. In light of growing popularity of protectionist sentiments in the US and European Union, Southeast Asia, which absorbs only around 8 per cent of China's exports, is seen with tremendous potential to absorb more Chinese goods. China's trade strategy is described by Hu as a "half open model," that is, "open or free trade on the export side and protectionism on the import side."

Despite brave words from Arroyo and other ASEAN leaders, it is much less clear how ASEAN will benefit from its relationship with China.

Will agriculture in ASEAN be a net beneficiary? China is clearly super-competitive in a vast array of agricultural products from temperate crops to semi-tropical produce, and in agricultural processing.

Moreover, even if under CAFTA, ASEAN were to gain or retain competitiveness in some areas of manufacturing, agriculture, and services, it is highly doubtful that China will depart from what Hu calls its "half open" model of international trade.

What about raw materials? Yes, of course, Indonesia and Malaysia have oil that is in scarce supply in China, and Malaysia does have rubber and tin and the Philippines has palm oil and metals.

But a second look makes one wonder if the relationship with China is not reproducing the old colonial division of labour, whereby low-value-added natural resources and agricultural products were shipped to the centre while the Southeast Asian economies absorbed high-value added manufactures from Europe and the US.

These trends are likely to accelerate under CAFTA, but with a difference: China will beat out the country's Asean neighbours in achieving control of the domestic market.

The trade agreement is likely to disadvantage Asean. Even with the temporary exemptions of certain areas from full trade liberalisation, Asean would be locked into a process where the only direction that barriers to super-competitive Chinese industrial and agricultural goods will be downwards.







Never again would I see the delicate clusters of purple flowers.


Two weeks ago, I lost something that I treasured immensely. New tenants moved into the ground floor flat just below my own. They, in their wisdom, decided to get rid of the garden that until then was part of it.

The canopy of soothing green that drew me to the balcony and kept me enthralled, lay ravaged in a matter of minutes. A few strokes of sharp knives were all that were needed to bring down the slow and secret growth of years. Never again would I see the delicate clusters of purple flowers or their yellow beads of fruit swaying in the gentle breeze. No longer could the hibiscus flaunt its flaming blooms or the white blossoms of the guava tree turn into rounded marbles of green.

My heart, filled with sadness, beat a lonely requiem for all the beautiful creatures that were killed or driven away. Gone were my feathered friends, the lovely birds with their mesmerising presence and sweet songs. Gone too the gay butterflies and the many busy insects on iridescent wings. New light poured in through the windows, but in my heart was darkness. I avoided the balcony; it had been robbed of its inviting looks.

One day I heard unusual sounds coming from below. Looking down, I saw a lawn being laid. Clumps of grass were being pummelled into the ground. A border of flowering plants, with bamboo shrubs at regular intervals, were put in. As I stood gazing down, gladness stirred within me and I felt lighter in heart. The green glory that was lost would return — not wholly, not even substantially, but in appreciable measure. Something else too caught my attention - the buzz on the road that until now was invisible to the eye.

Two stray dogs, ill-fed and scrawny, were tumbling together happily. Garrulous mynahs were chattering in the hedge opposite. Three people walked by, talking, laughing and gesticulating. What was it all about? I did not have to know; I could construct my own story! A whole new and interesting world had opened itself out before me.

It hit me now. Much indeed was lost, but there was much that remained. The old beauty had no doubt disappeared from sight, but would continue to live within me, for "what we have once enjoyed, we never lose. All that we have loved deeply becomes part of us."









Israeli Apartheid Week kicked off on Monday, promising Israel-bashing, mostly on college campuses.


The sixth international Israeli Apartheid Week kicked off on Monday, promising 14 days of Israel-bashing in about 40 cities around the world, mostly on college campuses. Organizers say the events will "educate" about Israel's so-called "apartheid system" and encourage BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against the Jewish state. Punishing Israel into submission will lead to the end of "colonization" of Arab land, the beginning of equal rights for Arab-Palestinians, the dismantling of the security barrier, and instituting the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Naomi Klein, the Jewish anti-globalization savant who has in recent years branched out to include demonizing Israel in her repertoire, pointed out in the opening speech of last year's extravaganza that "serious movements have serious enemies," arguing that the fierce opposition to Israeli Apartheid Week proved its importance. According to that reasoning, perhaps it would be better to simply ignore the festivities and allow the whole thing to blow over.

Problem is, if left unchallenged, proponents of the apartheid analogy are liable to stifle free speech and trample open debate on campuses by using intimidation and bullying tactics. They recently prevented Ambassador Michael Oren from finishing a speech at UC Irvine, and on the same day in Cambridge they interrupted Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, allegedly shouting in Arabic, "Slaughter the Jews." Meanwhile, Cambridge University's Israel Society bowed to pressure from Muslim students to cancel a speech by historian Benny Morris.

CONSIDERING ITS sordid historical roots, it is not surprising that Israel Apartheid Week's proponents are hostile to free expression.

In his new book, A Lethal Obsession, Robert S. Wistrich shows that the intellectual roots of the apartheid libel can be traced to Soviet totalitarianism. Building on deep-seated anti-Semitism dating from the czarist era, the Soviet Union launched a ferocious anti-Israel campaign in the wake of Israel's victory in the Six Day War in an attempt to squash Zionism and with it other national liberation movements that threatened to challenge blind loyalty to the Soviet Republic. Equating Jerusalem with Pretoria also served the Soviets in gaining influence in Africa and aligning the Third World against the US and other western states that supported Israel. Interestingly, Trotskyists – with Jews prominent in their ranks – became the most enthusiastic propagators of the Zionist racist mythology, perhaps in an attempt to negate their Jewishness and prove their fidelity to the communist cause.

In the '70s the PLO and Arab governments, recognizing the political efficacy of latching on to the Soviet-made analogy, joined forces with the USSR to spread lies about Israel. "The apartheid libel transformed Zionism (and by implication Jews and Judaism) into an inhuman ideology and the foundation of a state policy that supposedly divides the world into Jews (a chosen people) and goyim (inferior beings designated to be slaves)," writes Wistrich. Once this was accomplished, dismantling the Jewish state with the use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions could be justified. Even terrorist violence could be forgiven.

Sadly, Soviet propaganda has worked.

While rogue states such as Sudan commit horrendous crimes against humanity, and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other self-proclaimed Muslim states do not even attempt to hide their contempt for non-Muslims, only Israel is singled out for castigation. This is the Israel that translates hostile Palestinian authors into Hebrew; that maintains a Supreme Court that defends the human rights of Palestinians, including its recent ruling to open Route 443 to Palestinians despite real fears that this could lead to drive-by shootings; that keeps its universities open to Arab citizens and grants them the right to vote.

It's not only Desmond Tutu and former US president Jimmy Carter who make the apartheid case. Even Defense Minister Ehud Barak has stumbled.

"As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic," Barak said during a speech last month at the Herzliya Conference.

"If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state," he added, playing into the hands of Israel's most manipulative detractors and ignoring the facts that Israel is committed to seeking an accommodation with the Palestinians precisely to avoid any such state of affairs, and that it is those who would seek to deny the Jewish nation its only state who are guilty of apartheid attitudes.


Instead of adopting anti-Semitic newspeak, Israel's representatives need to perfect the craft of hitting back diplomatically – "to delegitimize the delegitimizers," in the memorable phrase of Canadian law professor and human rights activist Irwin Cotler. Part of that task is knowing the despicable history of the apartheid libel, understanding whose interests it serves and, most importantly, protecting free speech against those who would deny it.


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The arrest and indictment of top military figures in Turkey last week precipitated potentially the most severe crisis since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the republic in 1923. The weeks ahead will probably indicate whether the country continues its slide toward Islamism or reverts to its traditional secularism. The denouement has major implications for Muslims everywhere.

Turkey's military has long been both the state's most trusted institution and the guarantor of Atatürk's legacy, especially his laicism. Devotion to the founder is not some dry abstraction but a very real and central part of a Turkish officer's life; as journalist Mehmet Ali Birand has documented, cadet-officers hardly go an hour without hearing Atatürk's name invoked.

ON FOUR occasions between 1960 and 1997, the military intervened to repair a political process gone awry. On the last of these occasions, it forced the Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan out. Chastened by this experience, some of Erbakan's staff reorganized themselves as the more cautious Justice and Development Party (AKP). In Turkey's decisive election of 2002, they surged ahead of discredited and fragmented centrist parties with a plurality of 34 percent of the popular vote.

Parliamentary rules then transformed that plurality into a 66% supermajority of assembly seats and a rare case of single-party rule. Not only did the AKP skillfully take advantage of its opportunity to lay the foundations of an Islamic order, but no other party or leader emerged to challenge it. As a result, the AKP increased its portion of the vote in the 2007 elections to a resounding 47%, with control over 62% of parliamentary seats.

Repeated AKP electoral successes encouraged it to drop its earlier caution and to hasten moving the country toward its dream of an Islamic Republic of Turkey. The party placed partisans in the presidency and the judiciary, while seizing increased control of the educational, business, media and other leading institutions. It even challenged the secularists' hold over what Turks call the "deep state" – the nonelected institutions of the intelligence agencies, security services and the judiciary. Only the military, ultimate arbiter of the country's direction, remained beyond AKP control.

Several factors then prompted the AKP to confront the military: European Union accession demands for civilian control over the military; a 2008 court case that came close to shutting down the AKP; and the growing assertiveness of its Islamist ally, the Fethullah Gülen Movement. An erosion in AKP popularity (from 47% in 2007 to 29% now) added a sense of urgency to this confrontation, for it points to the end of one-party AKP rule in the next elections.

The AKP devised an elaborate conspiracy theory in 2007, dubbed Ergenekon, to arrest about 200 AKP critics, including military officers, under accusation of plotting to overthrow the elected government. The military responded passively, so the AKP raised the stakes on January 22 by concocting a second conspiracy theory, this one termed Balyoz ("sledgehammer") and exclusively directed against the military.

The military denied any illegal activities and the chief of General Staff, Gen. Ilker Basbug, warned that "our patience has a limit." Nonetheless, the government proceeded, starting on February 22, to arrest 67 active and retired military officers, including former heads of the air force and navy. So far, 35 officers have been indicted.

THUS HAS the AKP thrown down the gauntlet, leaving the military leadership basically with two unattractive options: (1) continue selectively to acquiesce to the AKP and hope that fair elections by 2011 will terminate and reverse this process; or (2) stage a coup d'état, risking voter backlash and increased Islamist electoral strength.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and Basbug met on February 25.

At stake is whether the Ergenekon/Balyoz offensives will succeed in transforming the military from an Atatürkist to a Gülenist institution; or whether the AKP's blatant deceit and overreaching will spur secularists to find their voice and their confidence. Ultimately the issue concerns whether Shari'a (Islamic law) rules Turkey or the country returns to secularism.


Turkey's Islamic importance suggests that the outcome of this crisis has consequences for Muslims everywhere. AKP domination of the military means Islamists control the country's most powerful secular institution, proving that, for the moment, they are unstoppable. But if the military retains its independence, Atatürk's vision will remain alive in Turkey and offer Muslims worldwide an alternative to the Islamist juggernaut.

The writer ( is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.








Could Salam Fayyad's new Twitter feed be another Mossad strategy to throw Palestinians into turmoil?

Whenever my wife Alison and I go out to eat, she always asks the waitress about her menu choices: "Does this one taste good?" I'm sitting there thinking, hmmm! I wonder if the waitress is going to lean over and say, "No. That really tastes terrible. You should go to another restaurant."

Alison gets very angry with me when I point out the obvious: "Do you really expect the waitress to tell you the food doesn't taste good?" The waitress responds with public relations, ignoring me and saying, "It's good, but this one is better."

Well, it's one thing to confront a waitress and be naïve in a restaurant. It's another in the Middle East, where it's easier to blow nargila smoke in someone's face. Arabs and Israelis are always willing to believe whatever they are told about the other, especially if it's something bad.

Who murdered Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19? Dubai police point the finger at the Mossad, Israel's secret spy agency, which has a record of assassinations, as depicted by filmmaker Steven Spielberg in Munich. Israel reacted predictably, asserting that Mabhouh was involved in smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, and insisting he was responsible for the killing 20 years ago of two Israeli soldiers.

The Israelis refuse to take "credit" for the killing: Mabhouh was reportedly injected with a muscle relaxant that made him immobile, and then suffocated with his hotel pillow.

Like the waitress put in a spot, Israel understands the power of public relations. Israelis spend millions on PR. They were the first in the Middle East to create a presence on the Internet, back in the early 1990s. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have no concept of PR or professional communications. They do little with strategy and most of it is by accident.

When Israel does something bad, Israeli officials never take credit. When Hamas commits a killing, they can't wait to blame themselves.

YOU CAN see the differences between Israelis and Palestinians on the Internet's leading new social networking tool, Twitter, which (for those who don't know allows you to post messages of under 140 characters, including spaces). Other people can "follow" you and read your posts. Some people have as many as 1 million followers. Imagine being able to send a fast message to one million people at a time? That's power PR.

A quick check shows there are many Palestinians and Israelis using Twitter.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has an account. Despite his bungling style, Ayalon has 1,745 followers and is following 805, nearly every one of them an Israeli person or a news site.

Ayalon is on top of the news, and is quick to send notices to his followers condemning the Palestinians for this or that and defending Israel's actions. After the Chilean earthquake last week, he offered his condolences to the people of Chile and the families who lost loved ones – something he never seems to do when Palestinians are the victims of some confrontation with Israel.

I also found Twitter accounts for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and one of my friends, Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf.

On the Palestinian side, there are accounts for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, and for the popular Palestinian moderate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

I connected with Fayyad after he started to "follow" me. But how do I know any of the Palestinians are who they claim to be?

"Twitter Fayyad" writes fascinating posts like this one: "I think Rafik al-Husseini should take a page from Tiger Woods and do a press conference admitting his actions and taking responsibility."

Or this exchange with "Twitter Dahlan" over who was responsible for the Mabhouh murder: "Ya man. Beards are only OK if you are mujahideen on holiday or Mossad tennis stars?"

And another from "Twitter Fayyad" to "Twitter Dahlan." "Bas ya zelameh. I heard you were in Dubai pulling in old favors to get your ex-mukhabarat construction workers' release, no?"

There is a real sense of humor in that last one.

The posts seem to suggest "Twitter Fayyad" is a regular guy with a good sense of humor, which is why he is so favored by many in the West, and scolded by Hamas and Jabha fanatics.

Or is it fake? Is this the waitress telling my wife what she wants to hear, or real honesty from a politician willing to jeopardize his job by telling the truth?

I like to think people who have a sense of humor are also likely to embrace peace. No sense of humor means no chance of ever making peace.

Of course, "Twitter Fayyad" may not be the real Salam Fayyad at all. That's what my friend Hussein Ibish at the American Task Force on Palestine insists, and I believe him.

"Twitter Fayyad" has only 160 followers, and is following 305 others. That's a clue.

Among people he is following are Shakira, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

In a region of the world where anger, hate and violence dominate the headlines, we could use more humor and a lot more of Shakira, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and especially Lady Gaga.


Of course, "Twitter Fayyad" could just be another Mossad strategy to throw Palestinians into internal turmoil. It's not hard to believe, and certainly more effective than killing some obscure Hamas operative in Dubai.

Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at








The world's most prosperous nation is also its most depressed. According to The Washington Post, America consumes three quarters of the planet's anti-depressants, with one out of three women popping Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil. What makes the phenomenon even more curious is the recent study, published as a Newsweek cover story, which suggested that anti-depressants are no more effective than a placebo.

How could a nation of such wealth foster such desperate unhappiness? The question is compounded by the fact that this republic was founded as articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, as a place where "the pursuit of happiness" was paramount. By that count, America, for all its other successes, has ultimately failed.

I believe the two are intertwined –  that the very mechanism that has made America so rich has also made Americans so miserable.

WHAT EVERYONE most wants is to be special. No one is born feeling ordinary. We all believe there is something about us that makes us different, that makes us irreplaceable, unique. Most of our lives are dedicated to proving that uniqueness. Whether it's by getting an A in algebra or winning a race or getting into Harvard or being hired by a top law firm, our pursuits are designed to give substance to our feeling of  uniqueness. We all want to be a success because success proves we are not (and never have been) ordinary. Our successes make us stand out.

But specialness-through-success must always be balanced by specialness-through-being-loved. In other words, your parents don't think you're special because you aced the SAT. They think you're special because you're their child; for them, you don't have to work at being extraordinary. In their eyes, you were born exceptional. No matter how unsightly your doodling with crayons, your parents still put them up on the refrigerator. And no matter how disruptive the math teacher says you are in class, your parents  still tuck you in at night, read you a story, and tell you how much they love you. The message is that there is no one in the world like you. You are given love as a free gift.

Later, this feeling of acceptance and specialness will continue as you are embraced by friends and community. It constitutes the principal reason why we Jews make a big deal of a bar or bat mitzva. We're telling our adolescents that there is a community of which they are a part that embraces them simply because they are coming of age. This corroboration of specialness-through-love will culminate when a complete stranger chooses to devote him or herself to you unconditionally as your spouse.

This past weekend I had to be rushed to hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery. My wife had to witness me in all my ugliness, from screaming in pain to losing any vestige of personal hygiene. Yet there she was, comforting me and doing her darndest to make the pain go away.

The message behind all these actions is that you are special. There's nothing you have to do to become that way. It's your birthright. No person is ordinary.

BUT IN America, prosperity came about through precisely the opposite message. You're not born special, but only become unique through achievement and acquisition. Hard work, financial rewards, a big house, elected office – these are what really make you count. Love is not something given freely. Rather, it is something earned.

Michael Jackson summed it up best when he told me: "I think all my success and fame, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more."

As an engine for material and national success, making people who feel unworthy work hard to prove themselves is unimaginably effective. Just look at how many Olympic athletes were quoted in Vancouver as saying that they won gold because they were told they were washed up, ordinary. But as an engine of human happiness, I can't think of anything more depressing than the feeling that you are a big zero until proven otherwise.

This is what led Tiger Woods to feel, as he confessed, that success and a feeling of specialness was always outside him. He had to devour, first championships, and later women, to prove himself worthy. It's also what led Vyacheslav Bykov, the Russian hockey coach, to respond to President Dmitry Medvedev's rebuke, when his team left Vancouver without a medal, by saying: "Let's put up a bunch of guillotines and gallows. We have 35 people on the hockey team. Let's go to Red Square and dispatch them all." Because in this Pax Americana world, where people are distinguished only when they win, if you lose, you're dead.

Parents these days withhold their approval in order to motivate their children to do better. The thinking has become that too much validation leaves a child with nothing to strive for. Friendships today are likewise highly selective. We have "contacts" rather than friends.

As for community, well, the more fame you acquire, the more love you'll get. Just look at how Canada highlighted, in the closing Olympic ceremony, a parade of Canadians who had abandoned their country to live in the United States. The message: They're famous, so we're proud of them even if they're not proud of us.

America, and now the rest of the Western world, has become successful by playing on people's insecurities. Contrary to the biblical message that every person is born with a spark of the divine, we've instilled within everyone the belief that they are ordinary until proven otherwise. The result is millions of people who are ambitious not because they believe they are born with a gift for singing that can bring others joy, but rather that they are faceless unless they win American Idol.

The writer has just published The Blessing of Enough, a book that seeks to remedy Western materialism and greed.








One of the newest code words for condemning Israel is describing the state as an "ethnocracy" or "ethnocratic settler state." According to a widespread definition, an ethnocracy is "a form of government where representatives of a particular ethnic group hold a number of government posts disproportionately large to the percentage of the total... and use them to advance the position of their particular ethnic group(s) to the detriment of others."

Israel, according to those who accuse the state of fitting this description, joins apartheid South Africa, Uganda under Idi Amin, Sudan, Rwanda, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia and Malaysia. It also joins former "settler regimes" such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and French Algeria. Unsurprisingly Israel is set alongside regimes that ceased to exist, apartheid South Africa being one example, but Australia during the period of the "white Australia policy" (when preferred immigrants were confined to Europeans) being another.

Those who speak of Israel as an ethnocracy therefore insinuate that the current manifestation of the Jewish state will soon be abolished or destroyed, like French Algeria, or repent for its racist sins like South Africa.

THE NEW ethnocratic slander appears to have its origins, sadly, in grants given by the Israel Academy of Sciences. In 2002 Alexander (Sandy) Kedar of the University of Haifa received a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation which was founded by the Israel Academy of Sciences. His proposal was for research into "The Rise of a New Land Regime: Changes in Israeli Legal Geography 1992-2002" and he received the grant for four years with Prof. Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University. In the same year he received a grant from the French Embassy's Center for Cultural Cooperation for research comparing Israel to the French regime in Algeria.

In 2003 Kedar published some of his initial research, titled "On the legal geography of ethnocratic settler states: notes towards a research agenda," in a journal called Current Legal Issues. Kedar focused his research initially on the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He writes of the Jews forming an "ethno-class" stratification and the Arabs being an "indigenous" group akin to Native Americans.

He perverts historical fact by claiming that Israel committed "Judaization" of the land whereby Jews came to control 93 percent of the land of Israel. This relies on the unreasonable claim that only 13.5% of the land of Israel was publicly owned in 1948; in fact the actual percentage was closer to 50%. Because Kedar sees the Jews and the state as one and the same, he falsely believes that all of the land of Israel in the hands of the state is open to all the Jews, while the Arabs supposedly only retain 7%, ignoring the fact that such public lands as national parks are open to all.

Yiftachel has developed the theory of Israeli ethnocracy in his own setting. He published a book in 2006 entitled Ethnocracy: Land and Identity in Israel/Palestine. A mundane description of the book notes that "the notion of ethnocracy suggests a political regime that facilitates expansion and control by a dominant ethnicity in contested lands. It is neither democratic nor authoritarian, with rights and capabilities depending primarily on ethnic origin and geographic location."

In Middle East Report Yiftachel wrote that the development of Israel was based on "the 'return' of Jews to their ancestors' mythical land" and notes that "I argue that the Israeli polity is governed not by a democratic regime, but rather by an 'ethnocracy.'"

The claim that Israel is an ethnocracy thus is part and parcel of the larger claim being bandied about that Israel is not a democratic state and that it is either supposedly sliding toward totalitarianism or has already reached that point.

As part of this narrative, the Palestinians inevitably receive formerly "Jewish" qualities such as Yiftachel's descriptions of them living in a form of "ghetto citizenship... Arab citizenship in Israel has been structurally constrained by the state's ethnocratic regime and the associated hegemonic Judaization project."



has also been employed by Tel Aviv University's Shlomo Sand in his infamous book The Invention of the Jewish People in which he claims the notion of a modern Jewish people is a farce, that the exile was a myth and that most Jews have no connection to the historic Jews of Roman times or before. Oddly Sand claims that the UK is an example of a multiethnic state (ignoring years of struggle by the Irish, Scottish and Welsh to free themselves of British Anglican domination) and that Israel is an ethnocracy (even though he argues that the Jews in Israel are not a single nation but rather descendants of Khazars, Arabs and all manner of flotsam and jetsam groups).

The vast majority of research into the notion of ethnocracy now views Israel as the key example of this label. Egypt, which allocates resources entirely to Muslims and ignores the Christian Copts, or the United Arab Emirates, whose population is a majority non-Arab foreign workers but whose government and citizenship is reserved only for Muslim Arabs, are never mentioned as examples.

Israel, one of the most diverse states in the world, which does not ban minarets or burkas as they attempt to do in Europe, is of course described negatively as an "ethnocracy" and the UK, which has more closed-circuit surveillance cameras per person than any country in the world, is a model multiethnic democracy. Tragically it is primarily a libel of Israel's own making, developed by the state's most dynamic young Jewish scholars and funded by the Jewish state.

And isn't that, in itself, evidence to the contrary?

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.







One of the most important documents about the delegitimization process against Israel was recently published by the Reut Institute. It reported that over the past year, Israel has been the subject of a campaign of unprecendented force – which reached its peak with the Goldstone Report – against it in North America and Europe, "where Israel is slowly becoming a 'state beyond the pale' as its right to exist is challenged."

It describes two types of networks – the "resistance network" comprised of nations, NGOs and individulals who reject Israel's right to exist on the basis of ideology, and the "delegitimization network" comprised of those who reject its right to exist based on a combination of political objections, including branding Israel as the ultimate "human rights violator."

The report states that these networks have devised seemingly effective strategies to advance their claims and that their success "stems from their ability to engage and mobilize others."

The report goes on to mention that Israel has presented an "inadequate systemic response" and offers counter-strategies and proposes policy changes for fighting back against the posed "existential threat."

THE REUT report has yet to be translated into English (an executive summary is available on the Reut Web site) but has already generated a significant buzz and a wide range of incredible responses.

One of these responses is that of Bouthaina Shaaban, a former minister in the Syrian government, who currently serves as a senior adviser to President Bashar Assad.

The text, titled "The Decade of the Victory for Freedom and Justice," published in CounterPunch magazine, is incredible because it confirms the report's claim: The struggle against Israel has shifted to the arena of "human rights," in whose name the campaign to delegitimize Israel is waged.

Shaaban's text is seemingly lifted straight from the hundreds of thousands of publications put forward by those in the human rights field. Israel is a terrorist, racist state which tramples on human rights and kills "peace activists" in cold blood, and even the "Jewish Justice Goldstone," Shaaban pointedly emphasizes, affirms the claims regarding the essence of the State of Israel.

It seems that Shaaban's article proves the central claim on the issue of Israel's delegitimization: The struggle is not that of the enlightened and the humanists against a dark state. Precisely the opposite: It's a struggle waged by the forces of darkness, who have taken control over the "human rights discourse," against the free world in general and Israel in particular.

And how does her article prove this? Because the Syrian regime is one of the darkest regimes in the world. Someone should remind Shaaban, the senior Syrian official, of Aref Dalila, Anwar al-Bouni, Michel Kilo, Mahmoud Issa and many other intellectuals, who were arrested by the Assad regime, first the father's, then the son's, simply because they demanded more freedom.

Shaaban, in her audacity, invokes the name of Nelson Mandela. In response, I'd like to remind her of Riad al-Turk, called the "Syrian Nelson Mandela," who spent two decades in jail and was released only as he was dying, when the regime feared he would perish in jail.

Or of the author Habib Saleh, who was jailed simply for expressing support for al-Turk. They committed no crime, they didn't blame Syria for "slaughter" or for "crimes against humanity," they didn't demand that boycotts be imposed on their country, and they didn't sign petitions opposing the right of the Syrian nation to a sovereign state.

This happens in Israel all the time and nobody gets arrested, and that's a good thing. But in Syria, a simple demand for a tiny drop of freedom of expression is obstructed by the strong hand of a ruthless regime. And we still haven't said a word about the prohibition on forming political parties, or the oppression of the Kurdish minority, which can only view the situation of Israel's Arab citizens with envy. Let's see one of them express one-thousandth of what every Arab politician in Israel says and manage to stay out of jail for even 24 hours. No chance.

This terrible reality doesn't disturb Shaaban when she dares to write such an article. What a hutzpa. She knows that no one will tell her, "Excuse me, madame, from where do you derive your audacity, to open your mouth, when you represent one of the darkest regimes in the world, which sends people to jail on the basis of their opinions?"

Because the real coalition today consists of the human rights industry and the dark forces that have usurped control over it. This is a coalition of the industry of lies. This is a coalition of the Human Rights Council, that founded the Goldstone commission. This is a coalition that activates the delegitimization campaign, and operates between Damascus and the Berkeley campus.

So we have to thank Shaaban. If it wasn't clear before how ridiculous the human rights industry is, the Syrian human rights devotee has made sure to remind us. The good news is that in the Arab world, there are real human rights activists. The bad news is that they're in jail, and the Western-based human rights industry, like the left-wing CounterPunch magazine, cooperates with Shaaban. Not with those the regime of Shaaban sends to jail.

The writer is a regular columnist at Maariv.







Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico) Tamir is among the most daring and creative of the younger generation of Israel Defense Forces field commanders. He also had this status as a combat officer in the Golani Brigade, where he had a range of reconnaissance duties, among them in the Egoz unit, and as Golani Brigade commander. He regularly distinguished himself in anti-terror operations in Lebanon and the West Bank. As commander of the Gaza Division, contrary to his reputation, he was outstanding in his meticulous preparation and broad perspective.

Many civilians, along with many of his soldiers, owe their lives to his military professionalism.

This background was well known to Tamir's commander, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, when Ashkenazi had to decide Tamir's future following his conviction by a military court. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, Tamir had allowed his teenage son to drive an IDF vehicle, endangering the boy's life along with the soldier accompanying him and other drivers. Tamir erred in "speaking an untruth," in the words of former prime minister David Ben-Gurion, while referring to another no less prominent field commander, Ariel Sharon.

The military court demoted Tamir by one rank to colonel. This was stiff punishment, eroding Tamir's prestige and threatening to hurt his family financially on his departure from the army after long years of service. On appeal, all of this was considered and Tamir's rank of brigadier general was restored, but without sparing Tamir a tongue lashing. The case also shed light momentarily on problematic conduct in the military-police investigation and by the military prosecution.

Until the investigation was opened, Tamir was considered a sure candidate for promotion to major general. When his battle to reverse his reduction in rank succeeded, Tamir had hopes of returning to the forefront of IDF officers. This posed a dilemma for Ashkenazi. Such an assignment for Tamir would have signaled to everyone that the IDF was disregarding its declared values (and would have required comparable treatment in the similar case of Brig. Gen. Imad Fares). Pushing Tamir out also carries a price, however - a feeling in certain army circles of disproportionate and unjust treatment of a commander who had taken risks and distinguished himself.

Ashkenazi could have avoided the dilemma by sending Tamir on educational leave, handing the final decision to the next chief of staff. He preferred to set an obligatory, binding standard on everyone.

The chief of staff cannot award a medal to himself, but Ashkenazi deserves commendation for being guided by his head and not his heart.









Do not strike" is what the Americans are telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Let's first try sanctions on Iran."

"Do not strike" is what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is saying to Netanyahu. "If you go crazy and go to war, it will be the end of the Zionist regime."

Netanyahu managed to convince the world that Israel is on the verge of a preemptive war to try to foil Iran's nuclear program. His speeches on a second Holocaust and Amalek, the acceleration of military preparations, the exercises on the Home Front, the distribution of gas masks and even the stockpiling of dollars by the Bank of Israel all suggest that Israel is preparing to strike Iran, as it did when it attacked the nuclear plants in Iraq and Syria.


The preparations for war give Israel unprecedented international significance. U.S. President Barack Obama, who kept his distance at the beginning of his tenure, is now airlifting senior officials to ask Netanyahu to hold back. When he wanted to deal with the Palestinian problem, Obama made do with a retiree without authority in the form of George Mitchell.

It turns out that the Israeli threat to spark a regional war is bothering the administration a lot more than the occupation and the West Bank settlements. Not only are the politicians troubled, representatives of global investment firms are curious to know "when they will attack," as a way of gambling on oil prices. It turns out that Israel's economic significance is buried in its ability to cause trouble - not in high tech, start-ups or the Bamba snacks the Israelis pride themselves in.

Netanyahu will certainly argue that his assertive stance is what convinced Obama to take a tougher line on Iran. But the prime minister's approach is risky: What will happen if diplomacy and sanctions fail, as they are expected to, and Ahmadinejad continues on his nuclear path? Will Netanyahu then be able to pull back from his heated statements and announce that the Iranian threat is not so bad? Or has he already burned the bridge for a withdrawal and will have to go to war?

Netanyahu is playing poker and hiding his most important card: the Israel Defense Forces' true capabilities to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. If he attacks, he is risking a war of attrition in which Tel Aviv will be hit by missiles and Ben-Gurion International Airport will be closed. And the longer the violence continues, the more international firms will leave the country; the talented and wealthy will abandon it, too.

Netanyahu sees the same danger, but from the other side. He believes that if Iran goes nuclear, the elites and high tech will leave and the economy will be destroyed, so an Iranian bomb must be prevented.

Ahmadinejad is also playing poker, and in recent weeks he upped the ante when he posed the destruction of the Zionist regime not merely as a religious-ideological ambition, but as a practical goal. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is functioning as a super-adviser to Netanyahu for national security affairs, said in response that "the clock for the Iranian regime's downfall is ticking."

Israel and Iran are gambling that only one of them will survive the confrontation. Is this threat serious? History suggests it is. In the Six-Day War and the War of Attrition, Israel defeated Nasserism, which, like Ahmadinejad today, preached the wiping of Israel off the map of the Middle East. The price was high and cost Israel the Yom Kippur War, but the Arabs became convinced that the Jewish state is not a passing phenomenon.

The third player, Obama, holds the weakest hand. This is so because of domestic political weakness and because he can't seriously threaten Ahmadinejad or Netanyahu. Obama doesn't want to attack Iran himself and will find it hard to restrain Israel at the moment of truth.

What will he do? Will he turn off the American early warning radar in the Negev and announce that there will be no airlift and no diplomatic support, and as far as he's concerned Tel Aviv can burn because Israel acted against his advice? It's hard to imagine that Obama will abandon Israel to its fate. He can only complain and signal to Netanyahu that American support is not guaranteed for any Israeli action.

Before war breaks out - if indeed it does - the real hands the leaders are holding will not be seen. But in the meantime the stakes are constantly rising with the expectations that one of the players will recognize his weakness, blink and leave the table.








Judging from articles written by both Israelis and Palestinians, the next intifada is already in the air. They are predicting it is on the way and the most punctilious know it will be "popular." Bil'in and Na'alin are perceived as its models.

Some Palestinians are guessing it will first erupt in Jerusalem. There, the constant clash between a dispossessing first world and a misery-stricken world is palpable, and the presence of the discriminatory regime is particularly violent because of the daily mingling of the two worlds. In Jerusalem, as opposed to the Ramallah enclave, it is impossible to fake normalcy.

Jerusalem or Bil'in, the supreme challenge facing the initiators of the next uprising - if it indeed erupts - is to prevent its descent into a so-called armed struggle, which inevitably will expropriate the street and the struggle from the public. The militarization of the second intifada led to grave disasters - personal, collective and geo-political. Off the record, many admit this but a number of factors are still preventing frank, public debate.


For years the theory of armed struggle, until liberation and independence are achieved, has been held sacred. Many people feel ill at ease to criticize the militarization publicly, as though they would thereby dishonor the dead, the wounded, the prisoners and their families.

The Hamas movement has not only claimed the word "resistance" - muqawama - it has also succeeded in imposing a narrative claiming its armed resistance has borne fruit. According to this narrative, this resistance prevented the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization from surrendering to Israeli dictates in the 1990s, forced the Israeli occupation out of the Gaza Strip (and soon Jerusalem's and Ashkelon's turn will come), and prevented the occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2009.

The truth is that the suicide attacks on civilians gave Israel a golden opportunity to implement plans, which had always existed, to confiscate more and more Palestinian lands, using the excuse of "security." The use of weapons did not stop the colonialist expansion of the Jewish settlements. On the contrary. And the use of weapons only accelerated a process Israel began in 1991: disconnecting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

At an academic conference on Hamas's political agenda, which took place in Ramallah two weeks ago, a senior member of the movement took pride at what he termed the resistance's success in upsetting the normal course of life in Israel. Along similar veins of propaganda, Hamas succeeded in the past in "selling" to its public the "efficacy" of suicide attacks and the firing of Qassam rockets.

But Israel has proved it knows very well how to exploit the Palestinians' primitive weapons in order to develop and upgrade its sophisticated security industry, an important export expertise and an asset in world politics. This connection is absent from the permitted public discourse on "the armed struggle."

Free discussion will open a Pandora's box in the Fatah movement, because it will be asked why its leaders encouraged the use of weapons ("Shooting at the sky," as one opponent with a military background in Fatah described it). One explanation - but not the only one - is that in the first popular demonstrations in September and October of 2000, Yasser Arafat and his people heard the clear criticism directed at the PA government and Fatah. To silence this criticism and divert it they let the young men play before them - like King David and his people in the Second Book of Samuel (2:14). And many of the young men played with weapons in order to obtain social and economic status in the movement and the PA. When Fatah people dare today to renounce the sanctity of the armed struggle, their collective reputation as corrupt automatically detracts from peoples' faith in their arguments, even if those arguments are logical.

Another challenge facing the initiators of the popular uprising, if it indeed erupts in the near future, is actually a challenge that Israeli society must face. Will it once again adopt the deceptive narrative of the IDF and the politicians ("the Palestinians attacked us," "terror") and allow them, as in the two previous intifadas, to suppress the uprising using disproportionate and deadly means? These are the deadly means that, in the Palestinians' eyes, make Israeli rule look like a series of bloody acts from 1948 to this day.

Will Israel once again invent oppressive logistical and bureaucratic means instead of listening to the political message: Normalcy will not be possible for Israel as long as it perpetuates the sequence of dispossessions that began in 1948.







Enclose your balcony and keep quiet - that's what Israelis need to do, according to the new planning and building bill the government recently finished working on. The bill aims to realize the prime minister's slogan that anyone should be allowed to enclose his balcony quickly. But in fact, while the new sophisticated system might expedite the enclosing of balconies, it will limit peoples' ability to have a say about decisions affecting their quality of life.

After the bill was pushed through quickly and almost clandestinely, it reached the phase for objections and comments, which is open to the public. That phase ends today. Although the law is huge (almost 600 clauses), with a heavy impact, only 21 days were allotted to the objections phase. This shows that the government really isn't interested in allowing deep criticism, but wants the Knesset to quickly vote the bill into law.

A study of the bill reveals that it's a new bureaucratic tangle, adding more than 20 new committees with broad powers to approve construction plans. It increases the role of government, while limiting the ability of the public and organizations representing the public to object to, or influence the planning process. It also decreases transparency.

A few weeks ago, concerns arose about the many powers being granted to local planning committees, which can be influenced by vested interests. But these have now been replaced by concerns about government centralism that will promote development and construction based only on the viewpoint that seems right to the government, without suitable checks and balances.

According to the new bill, the planning committees would be under the complete control of government representatives, whose numbers would increase on some committees. Members of planning institutions would not be allowed to provide information on committees' deliberations. The possibility to submit alternative plans, such as the one handed in recently to preserve Gazelle Valley in Jerusalem, has been curtailed.

Deliberations by local planning and building committees will still be open to the public, but those of the more senior district and national committees, on which government representatives are a majority, would no longer be documented at all.

The special subcommittee for national infrastructure, with an absolute majority of government representatives, would have the final say on planning any new infrastructure, and there would be no possibility to discuss it in a planning committee with a more balanced makeup. Representatives of one environmental group would not be able to take part in discussions of objections to a plan by another environmental group, which seems intentionally designed to weaken such groups.

The planning and building system in a democratic country should give the government the ability to plan and implement, but should also allow extensive cooperation by the public and protect the independence of experts. Where there is no transparency and the planning institution is unbalanced, the experts lose much of their ability to present their positions free from governmental pressure. The public is pushed aside. It is silenced and forced to seek other avenues to obtain information and stand up for its rights.

From the point of view of quality of life in Israel, the significance is clear. Real estate entrepreneurs would be able to quickly push plans through the system. The government would be able to approve roads or new communities at the expense of open spaces without taking into account Israeli society's various needs. It would always claim that it is streamlining, simplifying and shortening processes. Israelis will be able to doze happily on their enclosed balconies while the planning committees, which have carefully maintained secrecy and have not recorded the proceedings, will take care of the rest.








Here is a civics lesson about the Zionist heritage, which has recently basked in the limelight of another government decision.

It has often been observed that poetry and lies have much in common, and this also applies to the state of Israel's founding document - the Declaration of Independence. It will "foster," it told me, "the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants... it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants." The document also calls upon "the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel" - not the "members of minorities," so beloved by the Zionist media - "to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."

However, since its establishment the state has not kept its promise. It continues to conduct itself like a Zionist occupation regime on every inch of the land. True, the military government has been lifted and "the Arab inhabitants" are usually free to move around in their homeland and even send representatives to the Knesset - but this is the sum total of the equality that was formulated and promised.


The alienation between Arabs and Jews can be seen everywhere. It has not arisen solely in the context of the national conflict, but is rather a result of an establishment policy which has expropriated Arabs' lands to build communities "for Jews only" and has pushed the Arab inhabitants into localities under an "ethno-Zionist siege" on all sides.

The Israel Police, which is responsible for maintaining public law and order, provides the most blatant evidence that the Israeli regime behaves as if it is a foreign regime. It abandons the Arab localities to the rule of criminal gangs, intervening only when concern arises that the crime might spill over into Jewish locales. The Arab alienation from the police - a symbol of the regime - is apparent, among other things, in the absence of Arabic writing on police vehicles. How does an Arab citizen feel about a police force that appears in his community, but does not include any writing in his language? Does this not symbolize, more than anything else, that the police represent an occupation regime, a foreign regime? How would the inhabitant of some Jewish locale feel if there were no writing in Hebrew on police vehicles, but only a foreign language?

The alienation is also evident with regard to the central government. This is the only democratic country in the world where one-fifth of the citizens - who are declared to have equal rights, at least on paper - have no representation in the government or in "provisional and permanent institutions." And this is the case even before we start talking about budgetary allocations, master plans, the building of cities and communities, education, culture, industrialization and more.

This national alienation is evident in the apartheid reflected throughout the media. Anyone watching talk shows on television will immediately notice a balance in terms of the guests in the studio: There is a religious person and a secular person, a settler and someone from Peace Now. Only the Arab citizen is absent from every discourse.

Were the Arab Knesset members blessed with any imagination, they would pull the words "on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions" out of the Declaration of Independence and formulate them into a bill. After all, what makes a malicious Jewish populist any better than a malicious Arab populist? There is no dearth of Arab populists who would feel right at home with the Jewish populists in the studios or on ministerial committees. If the proposal is accepted, we will advance the principle of equality. If it is rejected, we will have exposed the lies and deceit of those who take the name of the Declaration of Independence in vain.

The author is a researcher of Arab culture, a poet and a translator.






******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Hemmed in by residential development and the nation's demand for energy, the number of sage grouse has dropped from 16 million to a few hundred thousand scattered across 11 Western states. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide soon whether to place the bird on the endangered species list.

The service is unlikely to do so, at least for now. The mandated protections could seriously inhibit coal mining, oil and gas exploration and other businesses vital to Western economies. It also could slow the development of wind power, a resource cherished by conservationists.


There is a compromise solution that could give the grouse a fighting chance. And that would be for the service to place the sage grouse high on its list of 270 or so "candidate species." That acknowledges that the species is in trouble, asks federal and state land management agencies to work harder to protect the bird's habitat, and holds out the promise — or threat — of more stringent protections if these agencies fail to do so.


For this to work, it will require good-faith efforts from the states and federal agencies. Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming — more than half the remaining grouse population is there — has designated "core areas" for the sage grouse, restricting development. These could be expanded. The Bureau of Land Management, which governs development, has altered its plan to allow only one well pad per square mile in Wyoming. It is studying the impact of drilling and wind power on the grouse.


These are useful first steps. But in a landscape already full of threats to the grouse, including grazing, a lot more will be needed to ensure the bird's survival at robust levels.






The federal law that mandates harsher prison terms for people arrested with crack cocaine than for those caught with cocaine powder is scientifically and morally indefensible. Bills to end the disparity are pending in both the House and Senate. Democrats who worry about being pegged as "soft on crime" will have to find their backbones and push the legislation through.


Congress passed the law during the crack hysteria of the 1980s when it was widely and wrongly believed that crack — cocaine cooked in baking soda — was more addictive and led to more drug violence than the chemically identical powdered form. These myths were soon disproved. But by then, Congress had locked the courts into a policy under which minority drug addicts arrested with small amounts of crack were being sent to prison for far longer terms than white drug users caught with a satchel full of powder.


The United States Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for the federal courts, found several years ago that more than 80 percent of those imprisoned for crack offenses were black.


The tough sentencing guidelines also drive drug policy in the wrong direction — imprisoning addicts for years when they could be more cheaply and effectively treated in community-based programs. An analysis by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, estimates that ending the sentencing disparity could save the country more than a half-a-billion dollars in prison costs over the next 15 years.


In the House, a bill that ends the disparity has been voted out of committee but has yet to go to the floor. The Senate bill is having trouble attracting support, including from Democrats. It is time to finally put aside crack myths and hysteria. This isn't a question of being soft on crime. It is an issue of fairness and sound public policy.






Gov. David Paterson gave New Yorkers his "personal oath" on Friday that he had never abused his office. It now seems clear that, at the very least, he tried to arrange a ham-handed cover-up to avert a scandal involving a top aide. There are also disturbing signs that he or other state officials may have unlawfully intervened to protect the aide from accusations of domestic violence.


Either would be a gross abuse of office. Mr. Paterson has failed to account for his actions. If he can show that he did no wrong, he must do so fully and immediately. If not, he should resign.


The tale is sordid. The governor's aide, David Johnson, is accused by his former girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker, of attacking her last Halloween. Ms. Booker obtained two orders of protection against him. In her first court appearance, she said that the State Police had tried to stop her from going to court. The judge noted bruises on her arms.


This is the slim accounting the governor and his staff members have offered after The Times first reported on this case: The governor talked to Ms. Booker on the telephone to express his support, after she called him, and had no other involvement.


But The Times reported further on Tuesday that on the evening the paper was preparing to publish an article on Mr. Johnson, Mr. Paterson's press secretary called Ms. Booker on the governor's instructions to ask her to publicly describe the episode on Halloween as nonviolent.


Making matters much worse, The Times reported in Wednesday's editions that Mr. Paterson had another state worker, Deneane Brown, contact the woman before she was due in court for a third time to finalize the order of protection. Her instructions, The Times said, were: "The governor wants her to make this go away." The Times reported that Ms. Brown said she telephoned and texted Ms. Booker repeatedly. Ms. Booker did not appear in court as scheduled, and the case was dropped.


The governor of New York should not have been talking to Ms. Booker. His aides should not have been talking to her. His press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, said Mr. Paterson did not believe the incident had been a violent one and that she had called Ms. Booker to verify that. That's hard to believe, but in any case, the dispute was a matter for the police and courts to judge, not Mr. Paterson.


As Mr. Paterson has said repeatedly, women are often intimidated in domestic violence cases. How could Ms. Booker not take any contact with the governor's office as intimidation, especially since Mr. Paterson kept Mr. Johnson on his staff until after the news of the complaint against Mr. Johnson broke?


Then there is the issue of the involvement of the State Police. The superintendent of the police, Harry Corbitt, has said that an officer from the governor's security detail met with Ms. Booker after she filed her complaint and that such calls are routine in cases involving a public figure. Mr. Corbitt did the right thing, belatedly, by announcing late Tuesday that he would step down.


A criminal inquiry by the district attorney in the Bronx, where Ms. Booker lived, seems in order. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo also must finish his investigation into this mess as quickly as possible, including the actions of the State Police.


It is no small thing to talk about a major public official like the governor resigning, especially when New York lost Mr. Paterson's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, to scandal. The lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, is highly capable. But he was appointed by Mr. Paterson, not chosen by the voters.


Still, the current situation is intolerable. New York State has serious problems, including a deep fiscal crisis and a dysfunctional and frequently corrupt Legislature. It needs a strong and untainted governor whom New York's citizens can trust.






Northern Ireland has another major hurdle to cross on the long road to lasting peace. On Tuesday, the Belfast Assembly, the province's governing body, is to vote on whether to approve the formal transfer of police and justice powers from London.


It would be irresponsible and tragic if political leaders allow rivalries — or efforts at intimidation — to derail their chances for peace and stability.


Twelve years ago, the largely Catholic republican movement and the mostly Protestant unionist political bloc committed themselves in the Good Friday agreement to end decades of violence. Ever since, political leaders have struggled to fill in the practical details.


The agreement they reached last month goes to the heart of the conflict: For the first time, Catholics would share control with the Protestants over the police and justice systems. It is about fairness and equality.


Under the agreement, a new justice minister would be approved by the assembly to oversee the police, courts, prisons, prosecution, and the probation board. It stipulates that his or her decisions are to be taken in a "fair, impartial, objective and consistent manner."


The negotiations have been led by the two main parties in the 108-member assembly: Sinn Fein, the republican party; and the Democratic Unionist Party. But the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party — with 18 seats in the assembly — has complained about being excluded from the talks and is threatening to vote against the deal if concerns about education and other issues aren't addressed.


Now Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party, who is the co-leader of the Northern Ireland government, is threatening to withdraw his party's support if the Ulster Unionist Party does not change its mind.


Mr. Robinson has been cleared in a political scandal involving his wife (her young lover and government funds), and we don't know what kind of game is going on. But it is not worthy of a man who leads the government (along with the co-leader, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein) and spent endless hours negotiating the agreement in the first place.


Meanwhile, a recent upsurge in violence — including a car bomb that exploded outside the courthouse in Newry last Monday — is a clear attempt by Catholic extremists to scuttle the hard-won peace deal.


Northern Ireland's politicians should not allow themselves to be bullied or intimidated by extremists on either side. Indeed, the violence should remind everyone of exactly why the assembly must approve this agreement — and why the larger peace deal must go forward.







Charlottesville, Va.

THIS year will be the third in a row that tens of thousands of new United States troops have arrived in Afghanistan with plans to "clear, hold and build" areas controlled by the Taliban. Those previous surges have achieved little success at holding or building, as the international coalition and Afghan government have inevitably failed to come up with realistic plans for what happens after the fighting is done. Is the campaign in Marja destined for the same fate?


The international coalition's strategic goal for Afghanistan is to build "an enduring stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state." Only by focusing on the messy medium-term stages of reconstruction — those months, and possibly years, after the fighting dies down — do we have any chance of achieving such a goal. In this regard, Marja presents us with four distinct hurdles. (Disclosure: I work as an analyst for a military contractor, but these views are my own.)


The most pressing problem is displaced civilians. During the weeks leading up to the offensive, Afghan and American authorities asked residents to leave their homes. Many obliged: according to the United Nations, several thousand families, representing upward of 25,000 people, have fled the area.


But accurate reporting is always an issue in Afghanistan, and the Western coalition put the number of families that fled in advance of the fighting at about 200. In either case, aid workers say that the families cannot find temporary housing or medical assistance either in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, or Kabul. Many hundreds of other residents have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed in the fighting.


Then there is the question of how Marja will be governed. Unfortunately, Western leadership is undecided about the nature of the place itself. Depending on which official is speaking, Marja is either a teeming "population center" of 85,000 residents or an isolated farming town of about 50,000 or a district with about 125,000 people. But if Marja is a district, it is unrecognized by the Afghan Interior Ministry. And if Marja is a town, then it needs to hold a constitutionally mandated election to choose a mayor, and not face a governor forced upon it by Kabul.


Regardless of Marja's status, the choice of new "district governor," Haji Abdul Zahir, does not make sense. Mr. Zahir has lived in Germany for the last 15 years and had never set foot in Marja until two weeks ago. He is also widely seen as an unassertive crony of Gulab Mangal, the provincial governor. Mr. Zahir's main power rival in the area is Abdul Rahman Jan, a fearsome former police chief whose forces had such a nasty reputation that people in Marja reached out to the Taliban for protection. The international force needs to either find more appropriate candidates or hold an election.


Good government will matter little, though, if the local economy is in a shambles. Marja's agricultural base relies primarily on opium, and any new counternarcotics policies will wreak havoc; arresting or killing the drug traffickers will ultimately be the same as attacking local farmers. The timing of the offensive could not be more damaging: opium is planted in the winter and harvested in the spring, which means those who planted last year cannot recoup their investment.


In Helmand, opium is the only way farmers can acquire credit: they take out small loans, called salaam, from narcotics smugglers or Taliban officials, often in units of poppy seed, and pay back that loan in opium paste after harvest. If they cannot harvest their opium, they are in danger of defaulting on their loan — a very dangerous proposition.


Western aid groups distributed wheat seeds last fall, but there was little follow-up and it seems few farmers used them. This year, the aid workers should be prepared to pay farmers compensation for any opium crops they are unable to harvest as a result of the fighting, and the Western coalition should help the groups develop a microcredit system.


Last, progress on these other fronts will do nothing if the Taliban return, which means a significant number of troops must stay for at least a year. Gen. David Petraeus, head of the Central Command, has said that Marja was merely an "initial salvo" in an 18-month campaign to also retake neighboring Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban. Kandahar is Afghanistan's second-largest city, so it is reasonable to assume that many troops will be pulled out of Marja for that campaign.


This looks like part of a familiar pattern: troops move into an area, kill anyone firing a machine gun, then move on to the next, bigger target hoping they have left behind a functioning government. It's why many communities in central Helmand have experienced three influxes of NATO forces in three years.


At a minimum, at least two battalions should stay in Marja permanently, to undergird the new government. They shouldn't build a new base outside the town for this, or "commute" to the area from strongholds in Helmand like Camp Leatherneck. They should live right inside the town, providing security and guidance from within. You can't have a "population-centric" counterinsurgency unless you take care of the people.


Joshua Foust writes the blog







RIYADH, Saudi Arabia


The Middle Eastern foreign minister was talking about enlightened "liberal" trends in his country, contrasting that with the benighted "extreme" conservative religious movement in a neighboring state.


But the wild thing was that the minister was Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia — an absolute Muslim monarchy ruling over one of the most religiously and socially intolerant places on earth — and the country he deemed too "religiously determined" and regressive was the democracy of Israel.


"We are breaking away from the shackles of the past," the prince said, sitting in his sprawling, glinting ranch house with its stable of Arabian horses and one oversized white bunny. "We are moving in the direction of a liberal society. What is happening in Israel is the opposite; you are moving into a more religiously oriented culture and into a more religiously determined politics and to a very extreme sense of nationhood," which was coming "to a boiling point."


"The religious institutions in Israel are stymieing every effort at peace," said the prince, wearing a black-and-gold robe and tinted glasses.


Israel is a secular society that some say is growing less secular with religious militants and the chief rabbinate that would like to impose a harsh and exclusive interpretation of Judaism upon the entire society. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are fighting off the Jewish women who want to conduct their own prayer services at the Western Wall. (In Orthodox synagogues, some men still say a morning prayer thanking God for not making them women.)


The word progressive, of course, is highly relative when it comes to Saudi Arabia. (Wahhabism, anyone?) But after spending 10 days here, I can confirm that, at their own galactically glacial pace, they are chipping away at gender apartheid and cultural repression.


There's still plenty of draconian pandemonium. Days before I arrived, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice cracked down with a Valentine's Day massacre, banning red roses and teddy bears and raiding shops at any flash of crimson. Islamic scholars declared the holiday a sin because it promoted "immoral relations" between unmarried men and women.


Yet by the Saudis' premodern standards, the 85-year-old King Abdullah, with a harem of wives, is a social revolutionary. The kingdom just announced a new law that will allow female lawyers to appear in court for the first time, if only for female clients on family cases. Last month, the king appointed the first woman to the council of ministers. Last year, he opened the first co-ed university. He has encouraged housing developments with architecture that allows families, and boys and girls within families, to communicate more freely.


Young Saudi women whom I interviewed said that the popular king has relaxed the grip of the bullying mutawa, the bearded religious police officers who patrol the streets ready to throw you in the clink at the first sign of fun or skin. Their low point came in 2002 when they notoriously stopped teenage girls without head scarves from fleeing a fire at a school in Mecca; 15 girls died. Two years ago, they arrested an American woman living here while she was sitting in a Starbucks with her male business partner, even though she was in a curtained booth in the "family" section designated for men and women.

"It is not allowed for any woman to travel alone and sit with a strange man and talk and laugh and drink coffee together like they are married," the religious police said.



The attempts at more tolerance are belated baby steps to the outside world but in this veiled, curtained and obscured fortress, they are '60s-style cataclysmic social changes. Last week, Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Barrak, a pugnacious cleric, shocked Saudis by issuing a fatwa against those who facilitate the mixing of men and women. Given that such a fatwa clearly would include the king, Prince Saud dismissed it.


"I think the trend for reform is set, and there is no looking back," he told me. "Clerics who every now and then come with statements in the opposite direction are releasing frustration rather than believing that they can stop the trend and turn back the clock."


I said that women I talked to were sanguine that they'd be allowed to drive in the next few years. "I hope so," he murmured, suggesting I bring an international driver's license on my next visit.


I asked if technology — Saudis love their cells, Berries and computers, and Bluetooth flirting is rampant in malls — would pry open the obsessively private kingdom.


"Privacy in the modern world is a relative term," he replied. "How can you have privacy when you have the computer, Twitter and all the others? It is just part of the complications and difficulties of modern life." (He and the king have never Twittered.) People now, he mused, sounding like a Saudi Garbo, just "have to worry about how to be alone."







I was traveling via Los Angeles International Airport — LAX — last week. Walking through its faded, cramped domestic terminal, I got the feeling of a place that once thought of itself as modern but has had one too many face-lifts and simply can't hide the wrinkles anymore. In some ways, LAX is us. We are the United States of Deferred Maintenance. China is the People's Republic of Deferred Gratification. They save, invest and build. We spend, borrow and patch.


And this contrast is playing out in the worst way — just slowly enough so the crisis never seems acute enough to take urgent action. But, eventually, infrastructure, education and innovation policies matter. Businesses prefer to invest with the Jetsons more than the Flintstones, which brings me to the subject of this column.


I had a chance last week to listen to Paul Otellini, the chief executive of Intel, the microchip maker and one of America's crown jewel companies. Otellini was in Washington to talk about competitiveness at Brookings and the Aspen Institute. At a time when so much of our public policy discussion is dominated by health care and bailouts, my public service for the week is to share Mr. Otellini's views on start-ups.


While America still has the quality work force, political stability and natural resources a company like Intel needs, said Otellini, the U.S. is badly lagging in developing the next generation of scientific talent and incentives to induce big multinationals to create lots more jobs here.


"The things that are not conducive to investments here are [corporate] taxes and capital equipment credits," he said. "A new semiconductor factory at world scale built from scratch is about $4.5 billion — in the United States. If I build that factory in almost any other country in the world, where they have significant incentive programs, I could save $1 billion," because of all the tax breaks these governments throw in. Not surprisingly, the last factory Intel built from scratch was in China. "That comes online in October," he said. "And it wasn't because the labor costs are lower. Yeah, the construction costs were a little bit lower, but the cost of operating when you look at it after tax was substantially lower and you have local market access."


These local incentives matter because smart, skilled labor is everywhere now. Intel can thrive today — not just survive, but thrive — and never hire another American. Asked if his company was being held back by weak science and math education in America's K-12 schools, Otellini explained:


"As a citizen, I hate it. As a global employer, I have the luxury of hiring the best engineers anywhere on earth. If I can't get them out of M.I.T., I'll get them out of Tsing Hua" — Beijing's M.I.T.


It gets worse. Otellini noted that a 2009 study done by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and cited recently in Democracy Journal "ranked the U.S. sixth among the top 40 industrialized nations in innovative competitiveness — not great, but not bad. Yet that same study also measured what they call 'the rate of change in innovation capacity' over the last decade — in effect, how much countries were doing to make themselves more innovative for the future. The study relied on 16 different metrics of human capital — I.T. infrastructure, economic performance and so on. On this scale, the U.S. ranked dead last out of the same 40 nations. ... When you take a hard look at the things that make any country competitive. ... we are slipping."


If the government just boosted the research and development tax credit by 5 percent and lowered corporate taxes, argued Otellini, and we "started one or two more projects in companies around the country that made them more productive and more competitive, the government's tax revenues are going to grow." With the generous research and development tax credits and lower corporate taxes they receive, Intel's chief competitors in South Korea basically have "zero cost of money," said Otellini. Intel can compete against that with superior technology, but many other U.S. firms can't.


Does the Obama team get it? Otellini compared the Obama administration to a "diode" — an electronic device that conducts electric current in only one direction. They are very good at listening to Silicon Valley, he said, but not so good at responding.


"I'd like to see competitiveness and education take a higher role than they are today," he said. "Right now, they're going to try to push this health care thing over the line, and, after that, deal with the next thing. God, I'd just like this [our competitiveness] to be the next thing. Something has to pay for" everything government is doing today.


We had to do the bailouts, the buy-ups and the jobs bills to stop the bleeding. But now we need to focus on the policies that spawn new firms and keep our best at the top. "Having run a company through a major transition, it's a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to," said Otellini. "The cost is less. You have more time. I am a little worried that by the time we wake up to the crisis we will be in the abyss."









Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone all the way to Saudi Arabia (the first time an Indian PM has visited Saudi Arabia for 28 years) to tell us what he could have just as easily told us if he had stayed at home. "If Pakistan cooperates with India, there is no problem that we cannot solve and we can walk the extra mile to open a new chapter in relations between our two countries", he said in Riyadh. He called on Saudi Arabia to use its good relationship with us to persuade us that harbouring terrorists and sending them across the border to commit all manner of skullduggery was no way to foster good international relations. Quite so, Mr Singh, but then neither is bolstering the corrupt and tottering Karzai regime in Afghanistan, is it? No matter – the Indian visit to Saudi Arabia is another marker along the road of an emerging regional superpower which needs to get the best from its relationships with other states in the region. The Saudis for their part see a harmonious relationship with India as both desirable and profitable, and for the time being are willing to live with the paradox of India restocking its arsenals by buying Israeli weaponry.

Saudi Arabia is already established as the key broker with a range of Muslim states; but the Indians were keen to play down the idea that Saudi Arabia would be acting as a mediator in the various areas of conflict that lie between us. However it is nuanced or phrased, a different path is now being trod. The ripples of the Mumbai attack are beginning to die away and there are the first moves towards restarting the Composite Dialogue. Nobody is expecting miracles, but there is a whiff of positivism in the air that might just fan into a spark of meaningful dialogue. That process would be greatly assisted if the Indians would refrain from opening every single exchange with ourselves with the diplomatic equivalent of a smack on the hand. We never seem to be able to do enough to satisfy the Indians (or the Americans for that matter) and both regularly remind us of this. So India wants to go the 'extra mile', does it? We are pleased to hear that and will go the extra mile as well, but let's lighten the load for both of us and leave unnecessary luggage at the roadside, in particular the unhelpful rhetoric that forms the overture whenever India makes diplomatic moves in our direction.







The government is expected, within days, to appoint a replacement to Mr Shaukat Tarin, who has departed from government office. There is hot speculation over the status about the four or five persons being named widely in the media as the most likely successors. There are several key factors at play. The president and the prime minister both seem to be vying to get in their respective men; the IMF will be closely watching the situation and it is reported that at least some on the list of nominees are simply not interested in taking on a job which could involve much pressure and possible demands from key figures. Loud whispers hold that Mr Tarin's displeasure over Rental Power Projects and other acts of the government was a key reason in his decision to quit. This is not comforting. What Pakistan urgently needs at the moment is good governance and some signs that the wheels of state are rolling. The running of the finance ministry is critical at a time when Pakistan is expecting large sums of money to come in from the US as aid. It will need to be in a position to account for the use of this money and set up a transparent mechanism to do so. Otherwise, the much-needed flow of dollars could simply dry up. So could the input of assistance from other quarters.

There is evidence that the presidency is pushing for a particular candidate. The basis seems to be purely nepotistic in nature. Merit or the ability to handle finance is not even remotely involved. The 'crony club' that surrounds the president has a hand in this choice. It would appear that even now the president fears nothing for his reputation and wishes to see at the Finance Ministry a person who is completely pliant and quite ready to follow orders. We can quite imagine what kind of orders these will be or whose pockets they will help line. The prime minister too seems to have put personal relations ahead of far more important factors in his backing for a party member whose background in finance can be described only as 'limited'. Is it too much to ask our leaders to put the interests of their country and its people first? The situation we face today is a desperate one. Only professionalism and commitment can help us escape it. We must hope that good sense will prevail and ability will determine who moves into one of the most important of ministries.













A 13-year-old Pakistani boy, who got himself into trouble, has been freed by an Amritsar Court after he landed up in jail across the border. The child had accidentally boarded the Samjhota Express while running away from his father, who had rebuked him for flying kites, and found himself facing a potentially far more serious punishment. The judge who ordered the boy's release noted that he could have been sentenced to a five-year term. The human rights activists who fought his case are now attempting to ensure that the boy returns home as soon as possible.

Atiq Ahmed's rather scary adventure thus seems set to end well. But others are far less fortunate. Every year, there are reports of people straying accidentally across a poorly marked border. Some of them are children grazing cattle in Cholistan where the sands stretch out endlessly making it impossible to identify where the territory of one country gives way to the other. And there are those who walk across unknowingly and land up in the hands of border authorities. There have been cases where their whereabouts were not known for months or even years to anxious family members. Attempts have been made in the past to improve the system of notifying the opposite side and handing back those who are guilty only of wandering across the line by mistake. But more needs to be done. There must be a mechanism to deal with such cases and ensure that children in particular are able to return home as soon as possible.






It so happened that I watched a part of the coverage of the India-Pakistan talks on a rickety television set sitting on the naked floor of a bare room of a labourer and his family. And nothing that was transpiring on the TV screen, before it went off due to a power cut, seemed of any relevance to their lives. Their thoughts were focussed entirely on the ruptured water pipes that had denied them water for over a week. That I should have preferred to watch something as seemingly inconsequential to them as what was transpiring in Delhi, rather than something, anything, that would amuse or distract them from the hell that their daily lives have become, must have crossed their minds, but they were too polite to say so.

At such moments the pathetic and interminable India-Pakistan saga seems nothing else but how millions suffer so that a few look great. To this lot success is not relevant. It is more important that the adversary fail. And, sadly, it is they who are in the ascendancy in Delhi. Their fingerprints were visible all over the planning of the foreign secretary's visit. Hence, confining the composition of the delegations to personnel of the two Foreign Offices, serving notice that there would be no joint press conference or a joint statement, setting aside only so much time for the talks that would be sufficient for opening statements and a lecture on what is expected of Pakistan, rather than to grapple with the substance of issues.

All this was planned, and so too the supercilious, and condescending tone of the Indian foreign secretary in her post-talks remarks to the press, replete with clichés and truisms. Imagine ending a much anticipated meeting between two neighbouring nuclear powers, at daggers drawn while the region is in turmoilm with a "Hey, let's keep in touch." For sheer featherbrained zaniness it was unprecedented.

India has reverted to type. This is Swaran Singh's India, not that of Manmohan Singh, or Sonia's that we had come to hope. This is the smug, arrogant and boorish India of old that has so blighted relations. It is the India that swaggered like the local bully and feted itself on its victory in Bengal against a foe that was countless times weaker. And an India that still prefers to kill to retain what is not its own to hold.

The question many ask of India is, why invite another to a dialogue that has been programmed to fail. And, of Pakistan, why knowing that failure was pre-planned did she accept the invitation. Yet such are the paradoxes that characterise India- Pakistan relations that on balance it was right for Pakistan to accept the offer, just as it was wrong for India to brazenly load the dice against a more meaningful outcome.

By extending the invitation India implicitly acknowledged that its earlier stance was misconceived and self-defeating. Stiff-arming Pakistan had earned India naught. For such candour, if nothing else, India deserved encouragement. Besides, there were the Americans who had successfully brought pressure on India to revisit a failed policy; we could hardly let them down.

Moreover, countries say nothing to each other only if they have nothing to say; which is never the case between two fractious neighbours like India and Pakistan. Talking for them is a primary impulse, so why suppress it? And although this too may change, if another sterile meeting is in the offing, when it comes to taking gambles for peace and understanding why indeed err on the side of caution? And if we were made to look foolish for falling for the Indian ploy it's a mite better to be viewed as a fool than a knave like India.

Perhaps the one solace that we can take from the Delhi meeting was the opportunity that it presented the foreign secretary to address the Indian population directly and, to his credit, he did an excellent job in conveying our views with precisely the right intonation in his speech and expression about the pointlessness of holding meetings that were programmed to fail; and our reluctance to repeat the experience. If he sounded undiplomatic, it was because he rightly preferred that the Indian public be told the truth, and, if that hurt, so be it. Indeed, if truth be told, given the diplomatic glad-handing to which his delegation was subjected in Delhi, in his shoes someone else would have not only found it to be his duty to speak his mind but actually taken pleasure in doing so.

As for the scourge of terrorism that has engulfed Pakistan, and seems to have arrived in India, the Indian notion that Pakistan is to blame is a facile delusion that India may find comforting. But Pakistan is not the reason, as the world has acknowledged. It is a cause of wonderment that India feels that we can somehow stop the terrorists if we wanted to. About 4,000 Pakistanis killed in three years bears stark testimony to the fact that we cannot. And, yes, our proficiency is poor, like that of India at Mumbai, while the determination of the fanatic is presently irresistible. Moreover, it beggars the imagination for India to think that our performance will improve by Delhi's spurning engagement or fashioning amity; and prolonging the settlement of outstanding disputes and, in the process, stymieing greater interaction and intelligence-sharing. Similarly, it is absurd to believe that India can get us to do the job better by threatening war by means of "Cold Start," which can only have a hot ending. To swap perseverance in a good cause with obstinacy in a bad one is insane.

That is not to say that Pakistan has always acted rationally when it comes to dealings with India. We too have our super-eagles that can be seen circling in the press and on some channels. But notwithstanding the fire and brimstone they threaten to visit on one and all who oppose them, thankfully, today, they count for little. Mostly because they are in the advanced stages of a debilitating ailment called infantile nationalism. Their hatred being confined to one country, namely, India. A variation of this ailment which others of their ilk suffer from is hatred of every other nation but their own. Happily, those with such a contagion no longer inhabit government or the military in Pakistan, moreover, the bile and hate they exude finds little resonance with the public. Despite their prattling about those who oppose them it is not that the rest of us love Pakistan less, except that we love peace more, having come to the conclusion that one cannot survive without the other.

Notwithstanding their present parlous state India-Pakistan relations are far too important to be written off by the casual "keep in touch" gesture that the Indian foreign secretary favours. Many a time the peoples of the two countries have been told to sit down, but today they mean to be heard. And there are signs that, notwithstanding the raucous braying of some Indian anchors, they are being heard.

At least Manmohan Singh appears to be listening. True, having wisely rejected once, at Sharm al-Shaikh, the notion that peace should be held hostage to terrorism, he then backtracked. But one senses that he now wants to retrace his steps. He may actually be doing so in his own fashion and at his own pace, or else the foreign secretaries would not have met. But Mr Singh's gait is slow, and his manner vacillating and hesitant. He will find greater reward in a more decisive and less inhibited approach when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. Perhaps Mr Singh should harken to these words of a noted poet:

Tender-handed stroke a nettle,

And it stings you for your pains;

Grasp it like a man of mettle,

And it soft as silk remains.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







Some days ago it was reported in this newspaper that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had granted leeway to the government of Pakistan in curbing its fiscal deficit and permitted an increase of Rs130 billion in the defence budget. Apparently, the ever-present 'security concerns' facing Pakistan – and therefore, the 'free world' at large – are serious enough for the IMF to waive its usually stringent requirements and allow an increase in military spending. Alas, the IMF is not as gracious when it comes to expenditures on the social sector.

Pakistan's external debt has soared over the past three years. It seems a very long time ago now that the then prime minister Shaukat 'Shortcut' Aziz pronounced that Pakistan had broken the begging bowl once and for all and that there was no longer any need to acquire loans from the international financial institutions (IFIs). In fact, the state's coffers are in worse shape than ever, and it is literally a daily struggle to make sure that the government departments continue to function.

In September 2009 and then again in December, Pakistan Railways' management did not release wages on time, and only after the intervention of the ministry of finance was the ensuing stand-off between workers and management prevented from becoming a major confrontation. Hundreds of contract workers in innumerable government departments ranging from the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to Allama Iqbal Open University protest on a daily basis because they are subject to completely arbitrary treatment by their employers, and often do not receive salaries at all.

Once upon a time such insecure employment was the preserve of the private sector only, but under the pressure of the IFIs, the third world governments such as ours are adopting contractual labour practices in a big way. The situation in the first-world, where welfare states once guaranteed jobs, health, housing and education, is only a little bit better, especially in the wake of the financial collapse.

And so, it is unfortunate that the reaction to the agreement of the IMF and government of Pakistan on the 'necessity' of increasing the defence budget should be so muted. Mainstream political parties, particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), should be at the forefront of all efforts to decrease non-productive expenditures, but in practice it appears as if those who we elect simply do not have the will or power to resist the dictates of the powers-that-be, including the IFIs, the US and other western governments, and our very own military establishment.

Indeed, more than half of the Rs130 billion will go towards increased salaries for the men in khaki. There is no indication of whether all ranks of military men will benefit, but either way, the average increase of Rs10,000 in wages is far in excess when compared to any increment that is granted to employees of civilian departments. Evidently, inducements must be offered to military personnel so as to keep the so-called 'war on terror' on track whereas it matters little whether the hundreds of thousands that staff civilian departments have any incentive to improve, or at the very least, maintain a minimum level of service to the public (daresay there is a link between the failure of the state to meet the basic needs and the rise of militant Islamism).

Surely it is time to ask why the white elephants such as defence and debt servicing are never put on the IMF's – and therefore the government's – chopping block when all and sundry are extolling the virtues of controlling the fiscal deficit. In the United States, intelligent voices have started to make noises about the relationship between the social and economic conditions of working people and the gargantuan defence budget; it does not take rocket science to recognise that there is a direct trade-off between spending money on bombs and spending money on meeting people's needs.

It is unfortunate that the Pakistani media apes its American counterpart by not allowing such voices to gain the kind of