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Thursday, March 4, 2010

EDITORIAL 04.03.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 04, edition 000446, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

















































  3. MOON WATER..!

























The arrest of Maoist leader Venkateshwar Reddy alias Telugu Dipak, who is purportedly the chairman of the CPI(Maoists) State Military Commission, West Bengal chapter, and a close aide of Maoist kingpin Kishanji, is being touted by the Government as a major breakthrough in the war against the Left-wing extremists. Indeed, it is believed that Telugu Dipak had a significant hand in orchestrating the Sildah attack last month in which 24 personnel of the Eastern Frontier Rifles and one civilian were killed. Nonetheless, there is a danger of overestimating the importance of the development. For, the war against Maoists cannot be won by arresting a few Maoist leaders. Even if the security forces were to nab Kishanji from his jungle hideout, the Left-wing extremists have enough number of second-rung leaders to fill up the vacuum in leadership that would ensue. Thus, the strategy of going after the heads of the movement can only yield limited results. It might temporarily incapacitate the Maoist cadre from carrying out their nefarious activities, but it will certainly not put a full-stop to their malicious agenda.

The war against Maoists essentially has three dimensions — ideology, security and development. The importance of ideologically defeating the Maoist movement cannot be stressed enough. This is simply because ideology is the core of the Maoist rank and file. The Left-wing extremists can count among their comrades civil society intellectuals who play a vital role in reinforcing Maoist propaganda and drumming up sympathy for the guerrillas from within the establish. It is a fact that this intellectual support is the very life source of the Maoist movement. Hence, unless and until the Maoist ideology is thoroughly exposed to be nothing more than a licence for opportunistic criminals to ride roughshod over poor villagers and tribals, the Maoist movement will never be fully annihilated. Second, the security dimension of the problem has so far seen an ad-hoc approach on the part of the Government. There has not been adequate emphasis on revitalising and properly training the local State police forces who are at the forefront of the war against Maoists. The unpreparedness of the police coupled with lack of coordination in intelligence gathering and sharing is the main reason why Maoists have been able to emerge as a formidable national security challenge. The Left-wing extremists are far better equipped and trained for our men in khaki. The problem cannot be mitigated by deploying central paramilitary forces in Maoist-affected areas. These forces can only work in tandem with the local police who actually know the local terrain. Therefore, unless our police forces are properly equipped to meet the Maoist threat, the balance of power in the overall asymmetric warfare will continue to remain with the Left-wing extremists.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has laid a lot of emphasis on development as a tool to defeating the Maoist menace and he cannot be faulted for this. At the end of the day, implementation of good governance and ensuring the economic and social development of the most backward sections of the society are the only ways to completely foil the Maoist strategy of preying on the grievances of the poor and deprived. A lot has been promised on this front. But as always, the strength of the Government's conviction lies in effective execution. Telugu Dipak's arrest is no doubt a meaningful security achievement. But it should not take the focus away from the multi-pronged approach that the Government needs to undertake to comprehensively extinguish the Maoist menace.






The sudden and severe summer heat that has engulfed Kerala is no doubt cause for concern as far as the State's agricultural sector is concerned. With water sources drying up and the ground water level falling rapidly, farmers cannot but be alarmed by the prospect of a drought for the second consecutive year. Indeed, if the failure of the paddy crop in 2008 is taken into account, then it will amount to three successive years of low production which portends ill for Kerala whose economy is already reeling under the impact of declining remittances from the Gulf countries which have begun to cut back on jobs for expatriate workers as a result of the global financial turmoil. Given the magnitude of a looming crisis of sorts, it is unlikely that the State Government would bother too much about the impact of the heat wave on wild animals in sanctuaries. As this newspaper has reported, elephants and other animals in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary are facing a severe shortage of water and food in their natural habitat. Ponds and lakes have turned dry or have insufficient water to tide over what promises to be a scorching summer. The dry spell has also had an adverse impact on foliage and tree cover. Animals have been spotted running helter-skelter, driven by thirst and hunger. Migration to neighbouring sanctuaries in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has become virtually impossible as the situation there is no better: Forest fires caused by long dry spells have been reported, adding to the woes of the animals in all three States.

The authorities have acted wisely in closing the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to tourists: The last thing stressed out animals would want is to be gawked at by city slickers with digital cameras looking for adventure. But closure of the sanctuary by itself is no solution. The Government must launch a mammoth effort to ensure there are no casualties in Wayanad on account of shortage of either water or fodder for the wildlife in the sanctuary. In fact, since there was sufficient notice about summer setting in early this year, the Government should have prepared for this crisis. Of course, this is by no means an easy task for it involves arranging for water and fodder to be transported to the sanctuary. It also poses a dilemma of sorts: Should the people come first or should priority be accorded to animals. But this is not about choosing between the plight of the people and that of the animals in Wayanad. It's about managing available resources in the best possible manner. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that human beings can fend for themselves; mute animals are left to the not-so-tender mercies of nature.



            THE PIONEER




Even as Pakistan steps up a concerted anti-India offensive on issues ranging from terrorism and Afghanistan to nuclear programme and river waters, the New Delhi establishment appears confused, divided and uncertain. Barely two days after Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir described the evidence provided by India on the 26/11 outrage as mere "literature and not evidence", the ISI's Taliban allies struck at Indian nationals living in the heart of Kabul. Mr Bashir was reflecting the triumphalism in Pakistan over what was perceived as their diplomatic success in getting the Americans to force India to return to the dialogue table. A spokesman of the 'Haqqani Network', operating from across the Durand Line in North Waziristan, claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack. The 'Haqqani Network' had masterminded the attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009.

American journalist David Sanger, who was briefed in detail of Pakistan's links with the Taliban by the staff of the Bush Administration's Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, writes, "Musharraf's record of duplicity was well known (in Washington). While Kayani was a favourite of the White House, he had also been overheard — presumably on telephone intercepts — referring to the most brutal of Taliban leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani as a 'strategic asset'." Mr McConnell's successor, Admiral Dennis Blair, testified on February 2 that under Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Rawalpindi continues its support of a number of Afghan Taliban groups.

All this is happening when, following the Istanbul and London conferences, Pakistan is proclaiming that it will play the predominant role in "reintegrating" the Taliban in Afghanistan's national life and that India has no role to play in that country. One hears some influential American friends now tell Indian interlocutors that India should reduce the "salience" of its role in Afghanistan. While this may not be what the Obama Administration officially states, it is interesting that unlike Al Qaeda's members, the Taliban's cadre are no longer described by the Americans as "terrorists" but as "insurgents". Mere platitudes are not enough to deal with this situation. Has the time not come to tell the Obama Administration that we are tired of listening to calls for "dialogue" and that we could review our policies on Afghanistan by reviving old links we had with Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and by charting a more independent path on relations with the Karzai Government? Should we not devise a comprehensive strategy for responding effectively to Pakistan's efforts to 'bleed' us?

Pakistan has now opened a new front in its propaganda war against India. Though Pakistan's Indus Waters Commissioner has stated that there is no evidence that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty, national hysteria is being whipped up, led by Gen Kayani, alleging that India is deliberately denying Pakistan its legitimate share of river waters from the western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. The reality is that though the IWT permits India to build storage facilities of 3.6 million acreage feet, no such facility has been built so far, enabling unimpeded flow to Pakistan. Moreover while the treaty permits India to irrigate 1.34 million acres from the western rivers, India is currently irrigating only 0.792 million acres. India would also be well-advised to undertake measures for fuller utilisation of the waters of the eastern rivers which continue to flow into Pakistan.

The Pakistani Government's own papers make it clear that that Pakistan does not face a shortage of water (it receives 139 MAF against the total flow of 169 MAF of water from six rivers of the Indus basin), but is faced with a crisis caused by poor and inequitable utilisation, with the lower riparian Sindh and Balochistan provinces being deprived of their legitimate water requirements by the Army-dominated Punjab Province. An inter-provincial accord on water-sharing of 1991 lies in tatters because of the refusal of Punjab Province to abide by its provisions. People in Sindh Province are finding that the Indus waters barely reach Kotri Barrage and that their southern districts are experiencing salinity because of the inflow of sea water. It is time New Delhi undertook an imaginative propaganda offensive on this issue especially directed at the people of Sindh and Balochistan. Finally, Pakistan seeks to deliberately delay construction of hydro-electric projects in Jammu & Kashmir, even as it claims to be a champion of the Kashmiri people. India should go ahead with these projects undeterred by Pakistani propaganda, which will inevitably stand exposed when the issue is referred to a neutral expert under the IWT.

Precisely a week before Mr Bashir arrived in New Delhi, Mr Zamir Akram, Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the Commission on Disarmament in Geneva, launched a propaganda barrage against India, claiming that it was responsible for proliferation in South Asia, that it had compelled Pakistan to go nuclear and thereafter test nuclear weapons in May 1998 by its nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998. He denounced the India-US nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions against India by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, and demanded that Pakistan be granted a similar waiver. Mr Akram conveniently ignored the fact that Pakistan had decided to go nuclear well before India's 1974 nuclear test, that Pakistan is known to have tested a nuclear weapon on Chinese soil in 1990, and that the size, composition and nature of India's nuclear deterrent are determined not merely by what Pakistan does, but primarily by developments in China.

South Block fails to realise that led by Gen Kayani, Pakistan's ruling military establishment has persuaded itself that it wields huge leverage with the Obama Administration, which has set a date for commencement of troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan and desperately needs Pakistan's cooperation for a face-saving exit. New Delhi is perceived by the GHQ in Rawalpindi to lack any clear or consistent policy and appears ever-ready to meekly bend to American diktats. The Government of India has only itself to blame for allowing this impression to gain ground internationally and domestically. The decision to suddenly change direction and agree to talks between Foreign Secretaries even before the Home Minister paid a scheduled visit to Islamabad has only strengthened this impression. Unless the Union Cabinet devises a clear policy of imposing high costs for Pakistani support to terrorism against India and Indian assets abroad, we will be perceived as a nation incapable of defending our vital interests.






Over the last several months, debates and discussions regarding the multi-crore mining scam in Odisha have been taking prime news space in newspapers in the State. In the same period, former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda's multi-crore scam and the Reddy brothers' attempts to dethrone Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa have also made headlines. But two questions that come to mind are: Who are the actual owners of these mines? And, who are the ones benefiting from their unholy nexus with the ruling class?

In general, at least five to 10 per cent is given to the agents or contractors in these mining deals. But now they are getting as much as 90 per cent whereas the State is getting only 10 per cent of the total mining areas.

Over the years, the prices of mineral resources, including those of iron ore, manganese and few other minerals, have been hiked by 10 per cent. But the State's royalty share has not been hiked. Royalty is usually Rs 7 to Rs 27 per tonne of iron ore. But now it has been hiked and fixed at Rs 100 to Rs 150 per tonne.

Odisha produced 143 lakh tonne of iron ore in 2000-01, whereas production touched 772 lakh tonne in 2008-09. Coal production has also increased from 448 lakh tonne to 978 lakh tonne. In the financial year 2007-08, Odisha earned only Rs 1,100 crore of revenue from mining whereas mine owners have claimed profits worth Rs 42,000 crore! It is being speculated that mineral resources worth Rs 50,000 crore have been looted during Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's rule in the State. Since the last five years, mining firms have earned at least Rs 56,000 crore.

Odisha houses 80 lakh families and each family is losing Rs 70,000 per year due to the unholy nexus. Odisha has deposits of over 300 crore tonne of iron ore and each year the various mining firms, including few public sector units are siphoning off 7.5 lakh tonne.

The Government has signed MoUs with 49 companies with the aim of producing 7.5 crore tonne of steel. Only 1.6 to 1.8 tonne of iron ore is needed to produce one tonne steel. If this happens, Odisha's iron ore deposits will finish in 15 years.








The setting was Bali. The event an international conference on fostering democracy and the rule of law. The participants, lawyers, MPs and civil servants from six countries, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Nepal, Afghanistan and Myanmar. I was there as an invited speaker on the subject of participatory democracy and grievance redressal systems, in the context of New Delhi. Most intriguing by far was the description of a relatively new Indonesian institution — a Corruption Eradication Commission — born out of public reaction to the brazen corruption that had characterised 30 years of President Suharto's rule when his family and cronies amassed enormous wealth at public expense. So irrepressible was the public outcry then (1998) that the incoming Government was forced to create a powerful anti-corruption agency — Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi — as an Act of Parliament. This article dwells on KPK's resounding success in containing corruption and some lessons for India.

The KPK has already prosecuted and jailed over 100 high-ranking officials in five years. It has won every case before the corruption court and had all verdicts upheld by the Supreme Court. Indonesia says her ranking in the International Corruption perception index has improved thereby, giving the country a more ethical reputation worldwide. Among others, the KPK has jailed a Minister, Members of Parliament, heads and key officials of the Central Bank, the Election Commission, the Competition Commission, Governors and Mayors, as well as senior officers from the police and the Attorney General's office. It has also jailed businessmen, heads of private companies and notably the father-in-law of the President's son.

KPK Commissioners are identified by a special selection team appointed by the President from among known leaders in society and representatives from the prosecution and the police. Ten candidates are recommended by the selection committee to the President, who then sends the names to Parliament which makes the ultimate choice of five Commissioners. Certainly a better way than our system where persons that occupy high office (C&AG, CVC, CBI, NHRC, Election Commissioners) are recommended (on file) only after receiving a direction from the Cabinet Secretary and the PMO after a decision has already been taken. Even when the concurrence of the leader of the Opposition is obtained, it is but a formality. Public involvement is zero and any kind of parliamentary scrutiny unheard of.

Another unique feature of the KPK is the way investigators and prosecutors work in partnership and only when they both agree that there is a strong case for prosecution, is it subjected to a further review by the KPK Commissioners who ensure that the case becomes 'winnable'. Only after that does the case get filed for prosecution which is the primary reason for KPK's 100 per cent conviction rate. Since the KPK is headed by a five-member commission which operates as a collegium, the manipulation of the entire body becomes very hard.

By law and practice, all corruption trials handled by the KPK are completed within eight months, which includes the time taken before the Special Court and the appeal before the Supreme Court. Insiders give credit to three factors for the success of KPK. First, institutional independence; second, fiscal autonomy and; third, unparalleled public support. We lack all three.

But clearly the first flush of KPK's victory is on the wane. As could be expected, two KPK Commissioners were themselves accused of corruption, something which could have finished the institution once and for all. This situation was averted only because of resounding public support when thousands voiced their protests in the streets, airwaves and the Internet. A constitutional court later found the evidence against the Commissioners to have been concocted by officials from the police and the Attorney General's office and the suspended Commissioners are back at work. But the road ahead is now uncharted territory, with growing resistance from within the Indonesian Government's own agencies. A watered-down version of a new corruption law is reported to be coming soon. The KPK's continued success now depends entirely on public persistence.

The KPK example carries some lessons for India. Ever since access to television channels and newspapers multiplied, scam upon scam gets reported almost daily. We have enough substantiation of corruption to warrant the installation of the grandmother of all KPKs. But the creation of a KPK and its subsequent sustenance, as the Indonesian story has shown, essentially requires sustained public demand and support, which unfortunately is sorely lacking anywhere in India. Cynicism has reached its nadir.

The middle class which is the biggest votary of anti-corruption, considers it as an inevitable evil that must be endured. Most people believe that corruption will continue, no matter who is at the helm of affairs. This acceptance of wrong-doing has typified the story of the Phillipino Ombudsman which was established after corruption had inundated the Marcos regime. In the absence of public support the Ombudsman in the Phillipines has been reduced to a cipher. A clear pointer to the fact that unless people literally bring the roof down over corruption, nothing and no one within the system is going to do anything about it.

Awake, Arise or be forever fallen. John Milton: Paradise Lost.









In a despatch headlined 'Frustrated Strivers in Pakistan Turn to Jihad', published in The New York Times of February 27, Sabrina Tavernise and Waqar Gillani dwell not only on the circumstances that spawn terrorists but the kind of youngsters who may become terrorists. They quote a Pakistani military psychiatrist, Brig Mowdat Hussain Rana, who has studied 24 young men who were involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as saying, "He's (the archetypal terrorist) that boy who is not in a rigorous system of rule setting. He becomes someone who drifts, who spends afternoons hitting stray dogs, and no one notices."

This once again underlines the fact that mindless cruelty to animals is an early indication of future criminality. In their paper 'From Animal Cruelty to Serial Murder: Applying the Graduation Hypothesis', in The International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (47.1), Jeremy Wright and Christopher Hensley write, "Since the late-1970s, the FBI has considered animal cruelty to be a possible indicator of future serial murder. The FBI documented the connection between cruelty to animals and serial murder following a study of 35 imprisoned serial murderers. The convicted murderers were asked questions regarding their childhood cruelty to animals. More than half of the serial murderers admitted to hurting or torturing animals as children or adolescents."

In a paper titled 'Childhood Cruelty to Animals and Subsequent Violence Against Humans' in another issue of the same international journal, Linda Merz-Perez, Kathleen M Heide and Ira V Silverman, who interviewed 45 violent and 45 non-violent offenders in a maximum security facility at Sumter Country, Florida, write, "The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of cruelty to animals and later violence against humans. Cruelty to animals has long served as a red flag in law enforcement circles with respect to extremely violent offenders. For example, the expansive literature with respect to serial killers has often cited cruelty to animals as a precursor to the violence later targeted against human victims."

They conclude, "The overall results of the study support previous research efforts indicating a relationship between cruelty to animals committed during childhood and later violence perpetrated against humans. The findings indicate that offenders who committed violent crimes as adults were significantly more likely than adult non-violent offenders as children to have committed acts of cruelty against animals in general and pet and stray animals in particular."

Cruelty to animals is an integral part of the innate human instinct for aggression. In Civilisation and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud writes, "the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man" and that it "constitutes the greatest impediment to civilisation". Freud further writes, "Man's natural aggressive instinct, the hostility of each against all and of all against each…is the derivative and main repository of the death instinct which we have found alongside of Eros and which shares world domination with it.." According to Freud, the evolution of civilisation is "the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction."

Human aggression is very different from animal aggression. In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness Erich Fromm distinguishes between "biologically adaptive, self-serving aggression" and "biologically non-adaptive malignant aggression." The former is "a response to threats to vital interests; it is phylogenetically programmed" and common to animals and men. "It is not spontaneous or self-increasing but reactive and defensive; it aims at the removal of the threat either by destroying or removing its source."

Biologically non-adaptive, malignant aggression is not phylogenetically programmed. Nor is it a defensive response to a threat: It is "characteristic only of man; it is biologically harmful because it is socially destructive; its main manifestations — killing and cruelty — are pleasureful without needing any other purpose…Malignant aggression, though an instinct, is a human potential rooted in the very conditions of human existence".

Civilisational progress has not eradicated these conditions. One can, however, reduce the damage these cause through early detection and adoption of corrective measures. Educational and law enforcing authorities must, therefore, react quickly in cases of cruelty to animals. Police in India being singularly indifferent to the matter, Union Home Ministry would well to advise Directors-General and Commissioners of Police to be proactive in such cases.









As the trial of Mr Geert Wilders for insulting Islam moves forward in the Netherlands, the one witness that could clear him of these charges will not be called.

Mr Muhammad Taqi Usmani is a highly respected and well-known expert on Islamic law who served for 20 years as a Sharia'h judge on Pakistan's Supreme Court. He is quite possibly the world's most influential Islamist thinker and writer outside of West Asia. Mr Usmani is a frequent visitor to Britain, where his monograph Islam and Modernism caused a great deal of controversy.

Why is Mr Usmani so important for the purposes of Mr Wilders' trial? Simply put, Mr Usmani's interpretation of Islamic doctrine as it concerns non-believers is the same as Mr Wilders'. Indeed, the critical lesson to be gleaned from Mr Usmani's work bolsters the very argument that Mr Wilders is on trial for making — namely, that the doctrine of jihad, as expounded in Islamic texts, inherently poses a threat to Western civilisation. In fact, Osama bin Laden made the exact same point in a lengthy essay entitled "Moderate Islam is a Prostration to the West" (reproduced in Raymond Ibrahinm's The al Qaeda Reader).

I don't know if Wilders is familiar with Islam and Modernism. However, the reader of this work will be struck by the similarities between it and Fitna, the short film that has played a significant role in landing Mr Wilders in court. The critical difference between the two is that no one — especially no Muslim thinker, writer or the Organisation of Islamic Countries — has ever accused Mr Usmani of hate speech or of insulting Islam. And yet, consistency of treatment would mandate that if Mr Wilders must go to trial, so should Mr Usmani. At the very least, Mr Usmani should be publicly condemned and ridiculed by prominent Muslim thinkers in Muslim countries.

Consider the nature of his work. Islam and Modernism is broadside attack against modernist Muslim thinking and Western civilisation. Mr Usmani is critical of modern practices such as charging interest, women and men working together, birth control, and science that it is not used to further religious thinking. Even America's moon landing in 1969 is described as an "international crime."

However, it is his chapter on offensive jihad, which he calls aggressive jihad, that is most significant for purposes of Mr Wilders' trial. Offensive jihad is the Islamic doctrine that requires Muslims to subjugate unbelievers to Islamic rule by imposing a number of restrictions, including paying a special tax known as the jizya. Mr Usmani categorically rejects the idea, stated by some modern Muslim thinkers, that offensive jihad can be abandoned if Muslims are freely allowed to proselytise among non-Muslims (though non-Muslims can never freely proselytise in Muslim countries). He states that "in my humble knowledge there has not been a single incident in the entire history of Islam where Muslims had shown their willingness to stop jihad just for one condition that they be allowed to preach Islam freely." He cites the Quran to the effect that "killing is to continue until the unbelievers pay jizya after they are humbled and overpowered."

The jizya is important in Mr Usmani's eyes because it is the necessary precondition for non- Muslims to convert to Islam. He asks: "How can the efforts of Muslim missionaries be effective in an atmosphere where anti-Islamic doctrines (are) being spread on the strength of political power with full vigour, and their propagation carried out with means not possessed by Muslims?"

Essentially, Mr Usmani is arguing that Islam cannot compete on an equal footing with non-Islamic doctrines and that it is the subjugation of the non-believers to Islamic rule that is needed before they will convert. Hence, Islamic rule must precede conversion efforts. He approvingly cites the view that "(b)y commanding jihad allah does not mean that the unbelievers be killed outright, but the aim is that the religion of allah should dominate the world…"

Mr Usmani is a 'moderate' in that he does not favour waging offensive jihad until Muslims are strong enough. Thus, peace agreements "along with all efforts to accumulate the sources of power (by the Muslims) are indeed lawful…If Muslims do not possess the capability of 'jihad with power' agreement may be made till the power is attained." However, once that strength is attained, offensive jihad must be launched. Though he does not mention it, Mr Usmani appears to be basing this tactic on Muhammad's temporary treaty with the Quraysh tribe known as 'The Treaty of Hudabiyyah'. He made this treaty at a time when Muslims were too weak to fight the Quraysh.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Mr Wilders' and Mr Usmani's interpretation of Islam is beside the point. The real question is: How can Mr Wilders be prosecuted for agreeing with the interpretation of a world-renowned Islamic thinker and scholar — a scholar who has never been accused of hate speech or insulting Islam? At the very least, Islam and Modernism should be submitted as a defence exhibit at Mr Wilders' trial.

-- The writer is author of Holocaust Denial: Demographics, Testimonies and Ideologies, and has also published on jihad and Islamism.

-- Courtesy: FrontPage






India, for several reasons, is highly prone to terrorist attacks, disasters and all kinds of natural calamities. In addition to this, we face hundreds of other medical emergencies on a daily basis. Even though India is among the leading countries in the world in fields like information technology, electronics, communication, etc. But due to poor emergency medical services, our country is recording a large number of avoidable deaths each year. Unfortunately, we don't have precise records available regarding deaths due to medical emergencies. But the follow data on trauma related census is extremely revealing:

Death rate per 10,000 vehicles a) Two persons in the US b) 32.5 persons in Pakistan c) 140 persons in India.


Most of the deaths due to accidents can be avoided if we have better Emergency Medical Services or EMS and well-equipped emergency rooms with adequate emergency physicians.

Emergency medicine first came up in the West in 1969. But it has not made a mark in India yet. In fact, India is at least four decades behind in this regard. Even though we possess excellent tertiary medical services, which are comparable to the best in the world and attract many international patients, our emergency medical services are nothing to boast about.

Tertiary care hospitals are unable to do much in emergency cases because by the time the patient reaches the hospital with the help of private transport he or she would have suffered irreversible damage to important organs. EMS does not mean doing anything heroic in the field but doing the basics right.

The Emergency Room of hospitals are not always busy and the flow of emergency patients is unpredictable as good pre-hospital care is a rarity and prior intimation is not always available before shifting the sick patients. Unlike Western countries we also don't have appointment systems for outpatient management wherein stable and non-emergency cases are spontaneously triaged to the consultant clinics and only the pure emergencies are taken into ER.

It is not uncommon to see patients waiting outside in long queues for an appointment with a specialist and in turn losing their precious lives for want of treatment. Instead, they should be directed to ER for proper and early care. Also, in most cases, the emergencies are managed by under-trained doctors with unequipped ER. There is no concept of 'golden hour' (early) management, spine immobilisation and advanced life support programme. The chain of survival is broken at all levels, thereby, failing to activate EMS.

In the West, EMS is run by paramedics. But in our country, as there is not much awareness regarding the concept of EMS, such services are run by doctors who don't have the expertise to fill such a role.

At the same time there are some pockets of excellence like Vinayaka Mission University and its three associated medical colleges, Sri Rama Chandra Medical College Chennai, Amrita Mayee Medical College Cochin, and Annamalai Medical College Chidambaram, where the MD teaching programme for doctors is conducted in an organised manner and courses such as BSc (Emergency Trauma Care Technology) and MSc (Emergency and Critical Care) are also being offered. Doctors and paramedics at these centres tend to on-field emergency cases wherein resuscitation starts at the emergency site itself. This model needs to be replicated throughout the country.

The Government, on its part, has initiated emergency booths on highways with the help of the private sector. But things like a common access number for emergency help and well-equipped ambulances with trained staff are yet to become a reality.

Various national and international bodies like Society of Emergency Medicine India, Association of Emergency Physicians in India and American Association of Emergency Medicine in India are campaigning for the promotion of EMS. The key issues right now in India are the development of emergency medicine as a specialty and the development of good pre-hospital care.

Considering the present situation, the following recommendations should be taken into account by the Medical Council of India:


Post-Graduation in Emergency Medicine should be made mandatory in all the colleges of India.


Since this specialty works 24X7, 365 days a year, three shifts a day, increased number of seats per year for Post-Graduation (at least for next 10 years) is needed in order to cater to all the day-to-day emergencies.


More emphasis should be laid on full-time courses rather than short-term certificate courses.


Early recognition of existing 150 trained emergency physicians with Post-Graduation degree from MCI recognised colleges.


Adequate utilisation of these available emergency physicians for training faculty in various colleges of India.

-- The writer is with Association of Emergency Physician India









BELLARY'S powerful mine lords have proved yet again how easily money can buy power. To have the run of a forest zone for illegal mining activities is bad enough, but to then transport thousands of tonnes of iron ore to the Bellikeri port for export without being detected shows the complicity of government officials.


What is also shocking is the surrender of the state's authority. The mine lords freely printed fake road permits and noobjection certificates of the Karnataka forest department.


But, if the Bellary mine lords have become a law unto themselves and run a parallel government of sorts, it is not enough to blame the officials in the Karnataka government's road transport and forest departments. The fabulously rich mine lords are known to bankroll politicians.


Their influence spreads across Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. To help them rake in crores of rupees in illegal exports when iron ore prices in the international market are high is actually payback time. The raids conducted by the Lok Ayukta on some shipping companies finally brought out their illegal activities.


In the face of the revelations following the raids conducted by the Lok Ayukta, one would have expected the state government to promise action and stop the illegal mining activities. In the past, officials who detected the illegal activities of the Bellary mine lords were transferred from their positions. This had dented the public image of the government.


Yet, the state transport minister chose to be equivocal on the issue when he should have indicated his government's determination to deal with the scam.


Once again, the Karnataka government has shown it is helpless against the powerful men from Bellary.







THE crash of a Kiran Mark II trainer aircraft, which was part of the Indian Navy aerobatic Sagar Pawan team performing over the Begumpet airport in Secunderabad, has highlighted two sets of risk.


First, the hazard associated with aerobatics as such, and second, the danger posed to inhabitants who live in the area where the exercise takes place. Begumpet airport is particularly vulnerable to the second sort of risk because it is almost completely surrounded by human habitation. Any crash near the perimeter of the airfield cannot but be a danger to those living in that area.


As for aerobatics, risk is built into the daring maneuvers that pilots perform. Even so, it is particularly poignant that the pilots involved in the crash in Secunderabad have lost their lives. Sadly, this is the third mishap involving aerobatic displays of the Indian armed forces in recent months. Last Saturday, a Dhruv helicopter belonging to the Indian Air Force's Sarang team crashlanded in Jaisalmer. On January 21, a pilot of the IAF's Suryakiran aerobatic team, which also flies the Kiran aircraft, was killed when his aircraft met with an accident.


The armed forces have in recent years developed the aerobatic teams as a means of showing their flying skills to the public at large. However, there is need for the authorities to conduct safety audits before such exercises are undertaken. It goes without saying, of course, that the Navy and the IAF check the mechanical reliability of the Kiran as well.







THOUGH the Indian mission to the moon, Chandrayaan- 1, did not complete its twoyear planned stay in the lunar orbit, it has collected enough data to keep the scientific community excited and busy for the next few years.


First, data from one of its payloads — Moon Mineralogy Mapper — gave molecular clues about possible existence of water on the moon. Now data sent by another payload — Mini Synthetic Aperture Radar — has provided evidence about presence of large deposits of water ice in permanently shaded areas in its North Pole.


Both the payloads were provided by NASA, but the analysis of data has been done jointly by Indian and American scientists.


Besides paving the way for future colonies on the moon, these discoveries also are a reply to critics who asked " why should India send a probe to the moon, we already know everything about the moon".








THE resumed talks with Pakistan have made one thing clear: Peace will remain a long haul.


It was important that the dialogue be resumed, but it is clear that we are far from even reaching the pre- 26/11 stage, leave alone the one in 2007 when we had managed to narrow our differences in a range of areas, most specially Kashmir. So, even while the step-by-step process towards that goal has begun, there is need to go back to the bigger challenge — secure the country against the threat of Pakistan- based, or inspired, Islamist terrorists. Everyone is agreed that P.


Chidambaram has worked wonders with the Union Home Ministry. But in one year he has only dealt with the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A Ministry which has been indifferently managed for decades is unlikely to be tuned to perfection in such a short space of time. Larger challenges remain, as is evident from the Minister's efforts to reform the structure of the internal security mechanism of the country.


But an even bigger issue is to have a work-force which can best the terrorists at their own game. As things stand, things are not too good. Some recent examples show just what the problem is — a dull and unimaginative bureaucracy which is more interested in covering its butt, rather than anticipating real threats and neutralising them. Some recent steps would have been classed as comic, were it not for the needless inconvenience on foreign nationals visiting India, or worse, being arrested for infringement of rules that are either not clearly notified, or simply gratuitous.




Take the case of David Coleman Headley. Despite a yearlong investigation into the Mumbai case, the Indian security system failed to find any trace of the man who carried out the reconnaissance for the Mumbai attack. Till alerted by the US, they continued to insist that the terrorists acted alone.


In reaction, as it were, officialdom has altered the visa rules to decree that no multiple entry visa holder can enter the country more than once in two months. Just why that two month figure is sacrosanct is not clear. But officials say it is to prevent the likes of Headley from repeating their act. All that the next man to do the reconnaissance has to do is to stay on, finish his work and go back.


Given the threat that the country faces, India does need tough regulations and fool- proof screening systems. But so does it need to show its people and the world that it will not allow itself to be rattled by the terrorist threat. And the first item on its agenda ought to be to ensure that rules and regulations are not kneejerk reactions, but wellconsidered and logical steps that will yield an efficacious outcome.


If the Headley visa rule gets the first prize for stupidity, the second prize goes to the prosecution of Green activist Andy Pag, who was arrested for possessing a satellite phone in Rajasthan. Pag, entering through the border in Punjab, did not hide his phone. But because such phones are banned, he has been charged with violating the Telegraph Act.


Why are sat phones still banned in the era of Skype? No one knows, perhaps only those in what has been christened as the Department of Bad Ideas in the Ministry of Home Affairs do. The sat phone was indeed a headache once because we did not have the ability to intercept conversations through them. But that is no longer so, as evidenced by the fact that another foreigner's phone call was intercepted in Rajasthan and he was arrested, but happily, unlike Pag, he was let off.


Of course, because if sat phones are banned for you and me, there is no problem for terrorists, including those who were involved in the Mumbai attack and in Kashmir, to use it freely. Neither, of course, are terrorists likely to be discommoded by restrictions on visas; most of those affected will be innocent travellers.




An even more farcical case has two British plane spotters, Stephen Hampston and Steve Martin in detention and charged with violating an Act that was passed in 1885 when aircraft had not even been developed. Plane spotting is a well known hobby in the developed world and it is not uncommon during week- ends to see people lazing near the airports with scanners and listening on to Air Traffic Control communications with pilots of aircraft. Websites like flightradio. com or liveatc. net can give you, over the internet, the live feeds from scores of airports around the world, even of the so- called sensitive ones like the JFK in New York or the Ronald Reagan airport in Washington DC. Plane- spotting- hotels. com will give you a list of hotels, including those in India which are ideal for plane spotting and specify the rooms that you may like to occupy.


Section 20 of the Indian Telegraph Act, under which the two plane spotters are being charged, basically says that only the government can run a telegraph or wireless in the country. This antiquated act prevented wireless technology taking root in India in a significant way and it was only leap- frogged by cellular technology after over a century. But there have been incidental benefits as well as the following story will reveal.


When, in the wake of the first Gulf War in 1991, cable TV came to India, the government was petrified.


It meant that people could receive TV signals from other countries without the ability of the government to interfere.


Many well- off people and some five- star hotels put up C- band antennas and people saw the CNN's coverage of the war first hand.


And this was just the beginning. Soon, building blocks and residential colonies got cabled up.


A meeting was convened by the Union Home Ministry to do something about it. Two questions were posed. First, can we jam the signals? The response from the technical specialists present was that it would take a forest of transmitters to do so across India, as well as a good bit of the electric power generated in the country.


Second, can we block the cable- wallahs ? The answer was that the Telegraph Act is silent since the cables do not cross main highways and government land. So, there was no legal device to block the cables. Given the fact that India was also in the midst of an economic crisis, the government just looked the other way and, voila !, the age of cable TV began.


The government came up with the Cable Network TV ( Regulation) Act in 1995 and has since then been trying to win back the ground it lost.




Given the stringent competition, only the best and the brightest become babus in this country.


Many of them now are IIT and IIM alumni. Something happens thereafter to make the bureaucracy inward looking and ignorant.


Living in their sarkari ghettoes, the officials become pompous and detached from the people and are impervious to learning through the socalled mid- career courses they are put through. Chidambaram's guidance of the Home Ministry has shown why it is important for specialists to be guided by the good politicians.


He has already outlined the need for the Ministry to shed a great deal of its historical baggage and focus on internal security in all its dimensions.


But now he needs to ensure that he is able to get a set of officers and specialists who have an educated and sophisticated understanding of security, and are able to meet its increasingly complex demands.










ENVIRONMENTAL activists and filmmakers here have locked horns in a heated debate over how best to protect wildlife, specifically tigers. They form two distinct groups — those who believe that tribal people kill tigers so they should be allowed nowhere near the animal and those who hail adivasis as the natural protectors of wildlife.


The latest debate has been sparked off by the news that Tamil Nadu government is planning to make Sathyamangalam forest a tiger reserve. The forest on the Nilgiri foothills that lies contiguous with the Biligirirangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary in Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka which is an elephant corridor, besides being a tiger habitat. It has provided a rich field of research for many wildlife scientists. It was also part of the territory of poacher and sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.


Across the border in Karnataka, at the tiger reserves of Bandipur, Nagarhole and elsewhere too, the debate has been hot. The ' pro- tiger' activists argue that the only way to make the jungles safe for tigers — and other animals — is to drive away forest- dwellers and resettle them in faraway hamlets. The ' pro- people' lobby views this argument as a lot of cattle excreta, saying that adivasis know best — how to protect the forests, live safely and to keep tigers from poachers.


There is little empirical evidence available in India to prove either case. Many tribals have been caught killing tigers that devour their cattle. And there are cases of adivasis being driven out of land earmarked for tigers and paper tigers — only to find poachers, smugglers and tourists having a field day. Usually the displaced tribal people slip into poverty without access to forest resources. Common sense and logic would place human rights over the rights of the animals, however rare they may be. Current national laws actually place people over animals in forests.


Forest dwellers have a legal right over the resources of the jungle.


Diehard conservationists are not very happy with such a law.


Foresters often find it a bit hard not being able to book a tribal for felling a tree to build a hut.


According to social workers, in Karnataka forests now they are being booked under the Indian Penal Code on charges of threat, assault, theft and so on.


International experience also suggests that driving people away from forests often serves only the interests of conservationists, not necessarily the people being driven out, or animals in whose name this circus goes on. Scientists give two compelling arguments in this regard.


Firstly, since virtually all eco systems include an element of human use and intervention, artificially excluding this aspect runs the risk of reducing biodiversity rather than preserving it.


Second, the technical and logistical costs of excluding human activity from protected areas are very high and such efforts almost certainly fail. Such moves will alienate the local people from conservation objectives and in turn would require an ever increasing and, eventually unsustainable levels of spending — on surveillance and policing.

Still, a lot of people are displaced from their forests. Conservation is a major cause for development- induced displacement in India that involves millions of people.



BANGALORE is witnessing a silent green revolution.

A small group of green enthusiasts are planting trees in vacant plots in and around the city. The idea behind the ' Million Tree Campaign' is to make Bangalore green and to offset the impacts of climate change. Trees are excellent carbon sinks that absorb carbon dioxide that warms up the globe. Starting from 2008, volunteers from schools, colleges, infotech firms and other institutions have planted about 60,000 trees.


Suresh Heblikar of the environmental group Ecowatch, a leader of the tree- planting move and a filmmaker, thinks the effort could help Bangalore retain its Garden City tag at a time when there is rampant tree felling all around.


Ecowatch and collaborators are finding enthusiastic response from corporates and government agencies.


All India Radio has given 600 acres for the initiative at Doddaballapur in Bangalore Rural district and another 40 acres at Hoskote outside the city.


The Army has given 200 acres for the greening initiative on the peripheries of the city.


As the city gets warmer, the volunteers are now beginning to take a break, waiting for the showers.



SPARROWS that are beginning to disappear from this city are finding an unlikely place to nest — the international airport.


After security clearance, while awaiting the flight, one can see and hear these chirping tiny birds flying around.


How did an all- glass, nofrill building like the airport become a favourite haunt for the sparrows? Zoologists

point out that eaves and projected parts below the roofs are the preferred nesting points for the birds. The airport

has a lot of such narrow, projecting parts on a higher plane, away from human intervention.


There are nests inside and outside the airport.


Another place frequented by the sparrows is the city market area — a place with open shops that store vegetables and grains.


Bangalore University research shows that closed modern malls deprive the birds of their food and the modern constructions leave no space for them to nest — so they flock to the old market.


Researchers, however, have yet to study the airport environment.



ON THURSDAY, Bangalore's city bus corporation will have its monthly campaign to promote public transport. Since last month, the fourth of every month has been designated as the ' Bus Dina' ( Bus Day). Corporate workers and their bosses are encouraged to leave their cars back home and take the bus to work that day.


Bangalore has some of the most beautiful city buses in this country — airconditioned, superfast and punctual.


One can land at the Bangalore airport and take such a bus to almost any part of the city any time.


Still, the ordinary buses are crowded and their routes and timings often irrational. You can of course take such a

bus to work too — but it involves considerable loss of time and energy.


A few beautiful buses are not enough to compel people to take public transport. People need safe and sound infrastructure too. As it happens here, bus shelters are being removed from pavements — leaving people to brave the sun. ( We are not used to too much of sunlight, by the way.) As it happens even pavements are being downsized as roads are widened and made into expressways. There are only a few safe pedestrian crossings. You have to be agile to cross a road through the city's incessant traffic.


To promote public transport, the government has to tighten the nuts and bolts of traffic management. Making a few CEOs take the bus once a month can only gain some good press and goodwill.







Virus of intolerance shows up again in Karnataka riots

Democratic values enshrined in the Constitution are under renewed attack, this time in Karnataka. Following the publication of a translated version of controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's article which is critical of the burqa tradition in a respected Kannada daily, mobs have protested violently. Two people have lost their lives and the Mangalore office of the daily has been vandalised. The issue is complicated by the fact that Nasreen says the newspaper has distorted the original article written by her.

It is important that newspapers stick to a professional code of ethics in the interest of upholding the credibility of the fourth estate. If the accusations being made against the paper in question are true, condemnations are in order. But taking to the streets and inciting violence to register one's protest is absolutely unacceptable. The Constitution protects an individual's right to freedom of expression. Increasingly, this freedom is under attack in our country.

There are ample platforms available to counter opinions and protest against them in this country. But instead of using them and debating issues within a peaceful framework, lumpen elements find it both convenient and politically profitable to resort to violence. We have seen this play out repeatedly in Mumbai, where the Shiv Sena and MNS target non-Mumbaikars. It is reflected in the harassment of M F Husain by right-wing extremists and in the violent protests in Kolkata against granting Nasreen a visa extension a while ago. The Sri Ram Sene also opted for this route when it attacked pub-going women in Bangalore, in the name of protecting 'Indian culture'.

Self-appointed moral and religious police of various hues seem to be getting away with breaking the law even as the state stands by and watches. Political parties across the spectrum have displayed little will in taking on those who make a mockery of the fundamental principles that define our polity. Troublemakers must be told, firmly, where to get off. 'Hurt sentiments' are no justification to resort to violence. They do not feature among the provisions listed in the Constitution under which freedom of expression can be curtailed. Neither does the argument hold that it's better to avoid publication of certain views, on pragmatic grounds, since they might lead to violence. Once the message goes out that violence can prevent the expression of a point of view one doesn't approve of, it becomes an invitation to more violence. And that's unacceptable in a democratic society.







In his budget speech, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the weaknesses in government systems, structures and institutions posed a challenge to policy planners. He said our public delivery mechanisms prevented the country from realising its true potential. The analysis is spot on. So, how do we fix governance? Transparency and accountability hold the key to good governance. Institutional reforms are necessary to achieve this. The government plans to set up a financial sector legislative reforms commission and an independent evaluation office to assess public programmes. These are timely. Many enabling legislations have been passed in recent years to make administrators responsible to citizens. But laws alone aren't enough. Mindsets also must change if the legal safeguards are to become effective.

The experience of the right to information (RTI) Act is instructive. The RTI Act has been a radical step towards making administration transparent and accountable. Civil society groups have used the RTI Act to expose corruption in public administration and services. But not all sections of the society have reacted favourably to the Act. Often, bureaucrats refuse to part with information demanded under the RTI. A worse trend is to attack RTI activists physically. The latest case is from Maharashtra where a Thane-based RTI activist was shot at. The government needs to curb such crimes. The message must go out that attacks on RTI activists will not be tolerated. Public delivery mechanisms can improve only if the state and civil society work together to plug loopholes in these systems.








The Pune bombings once again raise the spectre of terrorism in India. While it's as yet unclear who or which group perpetrated the attacks, one thing is for sure: it is time for India to review its policy priorities in Af-Pak. This is all the more necessary, since it is now being targeted in Afghanistan as well as shown by the recent terror attacks in Kabul that killed several Indians.

The Indian government has for far too long left the management of its neighbours to the United States. A case in point was India's decision not to take any serious action against Pakistan in the aftermath of 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Instead, New Delhi continued to rely on American leverage to put pressure on Islamabad to bring the masterminds of those terror strikes to justice. In fact, ever since the US targeted Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, India has failed to evolve its own narrative on Af-Pak, allowing the West and more troublingly Pakistan to dictate the terms of Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

But the Indian diplomatic debacle at the recent London conference on Afghanistan that advocated talks with the Taliban is reportedly forcing a major rethink of New Delhi's Af-Pak policy. The first step has been to restart talks with Pakistan. While these talks may fail to produce anything concrete in the near future, the hope is that it will stave off pressure from the US to engage Islamabad. India hopes that by talking it will be seen as a more productive player in the West's efforts at stabilising Afghanistan. It is unlikely though that this is going to happen as the West's sole concern right now is to find a face-saving exit formula in Afghanistan, and Pakistan remains central to achieving that goal.

It is, therefore, important that India should start reconsidering the terms of its involvement in Afghanistan. Until now, India has relied on its "soft power" in wooing Kabul. It is one of the largest aid donors to Afghanistan and is delivering humanitarian assistance as well as helping in nation-building projects in myriad ways. India is building roads, providing medical facilities, helping with educational programmes in an effort to develop and enhance long-term local Afghan capabilities. Pakistan's paranoia about Indian presence in Afghanistan has led the West to underplay India's largely beneficial role in the country even as Pakistan's every claim about Indian intentions is taken at face value. The Taliban militants who blew up the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 and tried again in 2009 have sent a strong signal that India is part of the evolving security dynamic in Afghanistan despite its reluctance to take on a more active role in the military operations.

Anxious for some kind of victory, the West decided in London that time had come to woo the "moderate" section of the Taliban back to share power in Kabul. Pakistan seems to have convinced the West that it can play the role of mediator in negotiations with the Taliban, thereby underlining its centrality in the unfolding strategic dynamic in the region. By pursuing a strategy that will give Pakistan the leading role in the state structures in Afghanistan, the West, however, is only sowing the seeds for future regional turmoil.

While the US may have no vital interest in determining who actually governs in Afghanistan so long as Afghan territory is not being used to launch attacks on US soil, India does. The Taliban - good or bad - are opposed to India in fundamental ways. The consequence of abandoning the goal to establish a functioning Afghan state and a moderate Pakistan will be greater pressure on Indian security. To preserve its interests in such a strategic milieu, India should, therefore, step up the training of Afghan forces, coordinate with states like Russia and Iran, and reach out to all sections of the Afghan society. Though problematic for the West, India should not hesitate in taking a more militarily active role in Afghanistan, if only to support its developmental activities.

The US has actively discouraged India from assuming a higher profile in Afghanistan for fear of offending Pakistan. At the same time, it has failed in getting Pakistan to take Indian concerns more seriously. More damagingly, the Obama administration has systematically ignored India in crafting its Af-Pak policy. This has led to a rapid deterioration in the Indian security environment with New Delhi having little or no strategic space to manoeuvre.

The time has come for India to take a more aggressive and leading role in its neighbourhood. India's strategic capacity to deal with instability in its own backyard will, in the ultimate analysis, determine this nation's rise as a major power of global import. Instead of ignoring New Delhi, the West would also be better served if it takes Indian concerns into account. That's the only way to ensure long-term sustainable peace in South Asia.

( The writer teaches at King's College, London.)






Thanks to a peculiar political ritual in America, the whole world is periodically informed that the US president is fit literally to rule. In the Bush administration, doctors often went about broadcasting that Bush was the fittest of them all, even internationally. We've now just had a run-through of Obama's physical condition: his heart's fine, blood pressure's excellent and body mass index is kosher. His cholesterol is iffy though, thanks to all those cheeseburgers! But should every nitty-gritty of a leader's medical report card be made the subject of town-crying? Surely public scrutiny and discussion of netas' health records aren't key to their holding office.

Indisputably, leaders and their teams let's say, India's prime minister and council of ministers should be physically robust enough to exercise their public duties well. But details of a bill of health are a matter between an individual and his family and/or superiors at work. To turn them into public fodder serves little purpose. And where does one draw the line? Is a ruling politician to go on air each time he has vertigo or gets tummy ache? More important, keeping fit through exercise, eating and sleeping right, avoidance of harmful substances should apply to everybody, not just netas. Take America's case. Obama is in the pink of health. Yet countless Americans face a major health hazard in obesity.

For power-wielders, health has more than a physical dimension. What counts most is their moral health: in other words, professional ethics. While personal morality is a leader's private affair just like his doctor's report, in public life he has to amply demonstrate his professional integrity and competence. In India, the aam aadmi is less concerned about the PM's or an MP's lipid profile than the honest work he puts in. Public service is no less a treadmill than the one in the gym. It's only when netas run on it that we know how fit they are.







US president Barack Obama's annual health check revealed his marginally high cholesterol level, though he received an A-OK stamp from his doctor overall. The entire American nation, it appears, was awaiting the results of his health exam with bated breath. It transpired that Obama is in good shape, though his love for cigarettes and pudding seems to be a cause for concern. The well-being of a president is of particular concern to Americans, if their anticipation over Obama's medical check-up is any indication. And when one considers that John McCain's presidential campaign hit a roadblock when his previous health problems became an issue, it is all too clear that for the Americans, the health of their elected leader is no laughing matter.

Compare this to the attitude of our nation when, last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underwent heart surgery. There was some hand-wringing, and non-stop coverage at the time, but what's happened in the ensuing months? Nothing. No assurances have been sought or received over the health of the PM. All the more reason this practice of annual health checks be institutionalized in India too, at least for the PM and his council of ministers. These are the men and women in charge of running the country, after all. Shouldn't they have at least a certificate of good health before they take on such a mammoth task?

The country's political leadership holds our future in their hands. They should be fit enough to govern not just figuratively, but in a literal sense. The former doesn't matter if ministers are physically too weak to hold office and execute the plans they have made. As public officials their health records should be in the public domain, available for anyone to see. If the health of these politicos is made public, they might be motivated to actually adopt healthier lifestyles. And promote them in the rest of the population as well.







What's in a name? Quite a lot actually. Especially when it comes to roads and places in India. The Indian state had long ago discovered that the best way of perpetuating the memory of dead leaders is to name a road - preferably the biggest one in a city - or airport after a prominent leader. So every city has a Mahatma Gandhi or a Jawaharlal Nehru Road besides several stadiums, parks and other assorted public places named after these two giants. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi too make it with great frequency. There are of course regional variations where a Shivaji in Maharashtra, Netaji Subhas Bose in Bengal and Annadurai in Tamil Nadu is preferred.

But why do politicians dominate Indian streets and public places? One reason is because the central or the state government usually decides names. Not surprisingly, parties in power prefer to fix the names of their leaders to places. And given Congress's hegemony for so many years since 1947, it's the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has benefited the most.

Post-independence there has been a spurt of renaming, something that stems from the urge to shake off the colonial yoke or to give vent to regional chauvinism. So Connaught Place becomes Rajiv Chowk and Victoria Terminus becomes Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal. But more often than not, the older names continue to linger on in people's minds. So the Duke of Connaught - a little remembered son of Queen Victoria - has a far greater connect with Delhi's iconic market for most people than the much more famous Rajiv Gandhi, and VT has a ring to it that CST can never replace.

Few artistes or cultural icons get a place in the roll of honour. There are rare exceptions such as Shakespeare Sarani in Kolkata or Amrita Shergill Marg in Delhi. It's a shame that relatively minor politicians like Rajesh Pilot have been honoured with a road, while greats such as Alauddin Khan or Munshi Premchand have been ignored.

Names of roads also reflect the politics of the time. Delhi would never have had a street named after Archbishop Makarios if it hadn't been for India's support of the non-aligned movement. Or Harrington Street in Calcutta wouldn't have been changed to Ho Chi Minh Sarani during the height of the Vietnam War. Of course the latter also had something to do with the American consulate being located on that street.

In the US and Europe, a much greater catholicity is shown when naming streets and places. This has something to do with the role of city councils and the local population in naming or renaming. Early on, many streets were named after a landmark such as a church or market. This was no different from colonial India when streets like Chitpur - one of the oldest roads in Calcutta which has since been renamed Rabindra Sarani - was named after a huge temple dedicated to goddess Chiteswari. Later, streets in the West came to be named after anything from a tree to a great music composer as well as the odd local notable. It seems in the 1850s the most popular name for streets in America was Oak.

But sadly in India we are stuck with names that we don't relate to and have little or no power to change.








For the CPI(M), it's a bit like a cardinal making what a pastor told him inside the confessional booth public knowledge. It turns out that CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat had apparently told Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm that his party will lose in the 2011 Assembly polls in West Bengal. Now, it doesn't matter whether the god of communism exists or not, but when a communist leader tells one of his intellectual mentors that he doesn't 'believe' any more, a belief system could be in trouble. But more compelling than that is the possibility that Comrade Karat has lost faith — not something that the politicians among communists would like to air outside their own dialectical heads.


If Kant needed a Hegel to overturn a system, Mr Karat seems to be playing both roles — privately — pretty well. But should this surprise us in the laity? During the last poll, Mr Karat's belief that the Left could bargain with the winner, by dint of their perceived link to the divine masses, turned out to be superstition.


We feel deeply for Mr Karat. On the one hand, he has seen the truth and his faith in the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' doesn't look too promising. On the other hand, he still has to maintain the public appearance of a believer for those who need to hear that the 'revolution' is just round the corner. And the CPI(M) has provided the nation's politics of late with too many useful issues, if not things.


But as Mr Hobsbawm should remind dear Mr Karat: "Utopianism is probably a necessary social device for generating the superhuman efforts without which no major revolution is achieved." Yes, praying will certainly help our Doubting Prakash.









Beyond the elation that springs from banned substances, organised religion and alcoholic stimulants, everyone has moments of euphoria. It takes only a trigger to jog these enduring memories of glory and passion.


My moment of euphoria emerged late one night in 1985, live from Perth, Australia, during the Champion's Trophy. With less than 15 minutes to go, I was in despair, a condition familiar to fans of Indian hockey teams of the era. Germany led 5-1, and all seemed lost. Some players exhibited that old Indian tendency to drop shoulders, lose stamina and listlessly accept defeat before it came.


That night, something in the body language of one Pargat Singh — the furrowed brow, the hard running, the nagging tone (which he still uses today, with hockey's administrators) — persuaded me to keep watching when the rest of the house had turned in.


First, Pargat scored off a penalty corner. It sparked a rare Indian fight-back to 5-3. Then came the most brilliant solo effort I've ever seen. Pargat started off from India's 25-yard line and sliced through the entire German team before slotting the ball home. More than Gavaskar or Tendulkar, Pargat is my sporting hero because those 15 minutes produced a euphoria I've never experienced since.


Last week, that old euphoria re-emerged, when India opened its run in the current World Cup in Delhi with a 4-1 spanking of Pakistan. I found myself with a bunch of college friends from 1985 — part of a 13-15 million nationwide audience that night — beseeching the team to get to 7-1. I feel little animosity towards Pakistan per se, so I was surprised when I found myself demanding revenge for the ignominy for the 1982 Asian Games.


Twenty seconds after Pargat's second goal in 1985, the match ended. Germany 5; India 5.


The tournament itself was not memorable. India suffered its first-ever defeat to Britain and wound up sixth of six teams.


There was more reason to remember the Indian cricket team that year. It was in 1985 that India won the World Championship of Cricket in Melbourne. The defining image of that tournament: the team careening around the stadium in Ravi Shastri's prize Audi.


If cricket is the idea of the brash, new, individualistic India, hockey is the idea of a striving, self-effacing India that survives through its communal spirit. Apart from speed and physicality, there is something immutable in the hardscrabble, India-together appeal about hockey that enthrall me more than cricket, an appeal that stretches beyond the India of television, mass market, dominant communities and hero worship.


Hockey's players, a motley collection of minorities and remote societies, have rarely been from mainstream India: the Sikhs, the Coorgis (Arjun Halappa with his south-Indian English skills is the go-to guy for television channels), the Muslims from Uttar Pradesh (none in this team), the Catholic Bandra boys (Adrian D'Souza, India's first-choice goalkeeper), the tribals of Jharkhand and Orissa, the Manipuris, and, previously, Anglo-Indians (now transferred to Canada and New Zealand).


Hockey disappeared from our lives, in part, because it disappeared from our television screens. Just when television began defining the 1990s generation, Indian hockey was in the doldrums. By 2008 in Beijing, there was no Indian hockey team, the first absence from the Olympics in more than 90 years since India's first hockey gold.


Hockey retreated to the peripheries of newspapers and our memories — until last week.


To many who play the game, hockey is less about glory than it is livelihood. When cricketing stars retire, they often wind up in ties, suits and microphones. When hockey stars retire, they, well, fade away.


So it is that the greatest hockey artiste of our times, Mohammed Shahid — he who ran rings around the best Pakistanis, including the great Hasan Sardar —  has retreated to a cubbyhole in his home town, Varanasi, forgotten and imbued with a fear of flying, though he has no invitation to anywhere.


Even if India's win against Pakistan proves a flash in the pan, their free-flowing moves, quick passes and relentless running reveal that India's coach, the gruff Spaniard Jose Brasa, may be reviving an old passion in modern form.


Brasa is paid a monthly salary of Rs 4.27 lakh. There is hope in this. India's cricket coach Gary Kirsten gets Rs 13.8 lakh a month.


There is hope, too, at the once-ramshackle-now-sparkling stadium hosting the World Cup, the Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi. To remind you, it's named after a small, wiry man who in the course of a 22-year-old career (1926-48) scored more than a thousand goals, his wizardry best embodied in a statue in Vienna where Dhyan Chand sports four hands and four hockey sticks.


I was there when India crashed to a 5-2 defeat on Tuesday. The rout did nothing to dim the fervour. Despite the defeat, the security, the difficulty in getting tickets, everyone around me applauded the Aussies, and then declared they would be back.


The World Cup at the National Stadium is Indian hockey's great opportunity to claw its way back into India's consciousness and, perhaps, become a nationwide vehicle for aspiration and excitement.


Could we do a hockey version of cricket's Indian Premier League (IPL)? A day after India's victory, IPL tsar Lalit Modi tweeted this to my fellow columnist, Rajdeep Sardesai: "I agree we could do with a hockey IPL. Please build consensus (sic) around the country. Will be happy to provide the blueprint."








One of the problems with the US-Pakistan relationship over the decades has been that the two sides tend to fall in and out of love like a tempestuous couple, rather than maintain a steady bond. So it's wise to approach recent talk about a new strategic breakthrough with some caution and skepticism.


In the upbeat US version, the first big success for its new Afghanistan policy has come not in the battle of Marja but in Islamabad. Officials cite Pakistan's cooperation with the CIA in capturing and interrogating top leaders of the Afghan Taliban, and Pakistan's new dialogue with India. Pakistani officials agree that the US has taken quiet steps to reassure Islamabad that it doesn't want to grab Pakistan's nuclear weapons, and that it isn't trying to smuggle in covert operators disguised as US contractors.


But officials on both sides appear wary of overpromising what this new partnership can deliver. There's greater confidence, they say, because officials know each other better. Even so, "there is a fair amount of residual mistrust," warns Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council, a think tank.


One key US official characterises the relationship this way: "We have narrowed the gap in terms of strategic outlooks and that has allowed a greater cooperation on the tactical level." But he cautions that it would overstate this rapprochement to call it a "strategic recalibration," as some White House officials have.


The up-and-down history of the relationship was examined by CIA analysts in a recent report. They noted that this ebb-and-flow was driven in part by the personalities on both sides, but that the Pakistanis always retained a focus on their strategic interests — starting with their rivalry with India.


Given the centrality of India in Pakistan's security calculus, US officials are encouraged by the resumption of high-level dialogue between India and Pakistan. The US administration has been working behind the scenes to reassure both sides. The X-factor in the Indo-Pak contacts is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been a strong advocate of better relations with his neighbour. US officials have advised Pakistan that Singh is an unusually farsighted leader who may be able to open doors in New Delhi that have otherwise been closed. The Indians, for their part, insist that no real progress in the relationship will be possible unless the ISI curbs Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, that it helped create.


To address Pakistani security concerns, the US has taken several steps. One is to implicitly accept Pakistan's status as a declared nuclear weapons State and thereby counter conspiracy theories that the US is plotting to seize Pakistani nukes.


Obama made an early move when he told Dawn last June, "I have confidence that the Pakistani government has safeguarded its nuclear arsenal. It's Pakistan's nuclear arsenal." There have been similar private assurances, officials say. The US is also trying to combat Pakistani fears about covert US military or intelligence activities.


The trickiest issue remains Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided important help last month by capturing Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Because Baradar was the Taliban's chief of logistics and had notebooks and computer records, the operation proved to be a "gold mine", says one official.


But there's always something new to worry about in this relationship. The Pakistanis are concerned of late that the US may negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban that cuts them out as an intermediary. "In reconciliation talks, Pakistan must have a seat at the table," says one Pakistani. We should all be so lucky, if this proves the biggest problem.







The government's partial acceptance of recommendations from the 13th Finance Commission signifies an intent to fix its finances rather than a determination. The higher devolution to states from central taxes and bigger grants should tide over a part of the salary hikes they will announce in the wake of the Sixth Pay Commission award. The lion's share of state budgets is devoted to payroll and they tend to bankrupt themselves in an effort to maintain parity with central government employees. Likewise, the Centre is okay with continuing cheap loans and debt write-offs to states announced by the previous Finance Commission. But it needs time to think about borrowing limits on states to bring down their fiscal deficit to 3 per cent of the combined state domestic product by 2014-15. And it needs more time to think deeper before it decides to stop lending to fiscally errant states.


The commission sets tougher targets for the Centre: it wants the revenue deficit eliminated and the fiscal deficit reduced to 3 per cent of GDP by 2013-14. This is accompanied with a roadmap to reduce the national debt from 75 per cent of the GDP now to 68 per cent in five years. The finance ministry feels the latter target can be met; its prognosis for the revenue deficit is distressing. By 2012-13, the Centre reckons it can cut the revenue deficit to 2.7 per cent of GDP, against the deeper 1.2 per cent suggested by the Finance Commission. Pranab Mukherjee has managed to tame revenue expenditure this year because the pay commission's award and a debt waiver to farmers have been paid out. Further tightening will mean taking the axe to subsidies, principally the energy dole, which comes up against trenchant opposition.


But the big deal, the goods and service tax, needs to be handled with even softer gloves. The levy that will make India a common market will also take away the discretion of states accustomed to half a century of tax arbitrage. Expectedly, the uniform tax has overshot its 2010 deadline despite the Rs 50,000 crore sweetener thrown in by the Finance Commission. States are yet to decide for themselves a revenue-neutral rate that the commission wisely refrained from recommending. This for a self-policing tax that could knock 1.22-2.53 per cent off retail prices and bump up economic growth by 1.5 percentage points a year. However, take heart. In Mr Mukherjee the Centre has its wisest interlocutor to get the uniform tax off the ground.








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.








On the pavement of my trampled soul the steps of madmen weave the prints of rude crude words." That was Vladimir Mayakovsky, supreme poet of the Bolshevik Revolution, driven to suicide by the "terrible beauty" he had gloriously celebrated. Jafar Panahi is no victim of self-delusion, and he didn't begin by celebrating the Iranian regime. He is the victim of an authoritarianism that fears the subtle free spaces created by an aesthetic engagement — spaces which, intended or not, are laden with political implications — and feels compelled to close them. Arrested on Monday night along with his wife, daughter and a number of guests, Panahi is not an overtly political filmmaker, although visibly on the side of Iran's opposition since last June's presidential election. The Tehran prosecutor says that Panahi's arrest was not political either, but related to "some crimes".

For the record, Panahi could not attend last month's Berlin film festival because of a travel ban imposed on him after he had worn green (the opposition's colour) at the Montreal film festival. He had been detained last year after attending a memorial for Neda Soltan, the young woman shot dead during the first wave of protests. And his arrest came on a day two publications owned by Mehdi Karroubi's (another presidential challenger) family were closed down. Above all, Panahi's films, like those of many in Iran's pantheon of iconic filmmakers, are almost wholly banned in Iran.


Disturbingly, Panahi's arrest falls into a pattern. Iran's artists and intellectuals are being increasingly intimidated, in a message that whoever is not with the government is against it, and by implication against the state. Panahi's arrest will not gain the Iranian regime any friends at home or abroad.








The new Lok Sabha, barely a year into its term, has already been marred by the worst kind of partisanship and lack of imaginative engagement. The opposition banded together to disrupt proceedings in both Houses of Parliament, forcing two adjournments by afternoon. They demanded a rollback of the recently announced hike in petrol and diesel rates. Instead of being a force for positive change, the opposition has wielded its power merely to obstruct. This is part of a worrying pattern, the gradual diminishing of Parliament as the primary arena for political argument.


While the fuel hike is a contentious public issue, there is, in fact, some measure of cross-party political consensus on the subject — it was, after all, the NDA which first dismantled the administered pricing mechanism in the oil sector. Both sides of the aisle are fundamentally agreed on the need to deregulate oil. However, if they now want to corner the government over a politically flammable matter, that is their prerogative. But what coherent objections have they put forward? If they had substantive reservations about the government's decision to hike Central excise duty on petrol and diesel, then the obvious thing to do would be to debate the issue, demand a cut motion. Instead of using the legislative toolset available to them, the opposition parties simply turned their backs on parliamentary engagement.


The tension between government and opposition is productive, it strikes sparks, and it can clarify tangled policy

matters. Deliberative democracy is built on deep and important disagreements. But those need to be argued and resolved, not simply expressed through hissyfits and walkouts. Also, given that they just walked out two days ago (during the presentation of the Union Budget, an unprecedented low in the history of Parliament, virtually the entire spectrum of opposition parties stormed out over the same issue), it is unclear what this new uproar was symbolically expected to achieve. Except, of course, easy public pandering via television cameras. This trend reveals the abdication of real and responsible leadership in favour of shallow point- scoring for the public eye.







India's greatest internal security threat, to quote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has only grown graver. This newspaper has long advocated combating what is in essence an undemocratic, criminal force by summoning enough


political will. Mumblings about "root causes", which need to be independently tackled, need to be disentangled from this internal security challenge — and the current chatter in civil society about accepting the Maoists' so-called truce offer should be seen in this context. Better coordination between state and Central agencies, increasing boots on the ground, and improving resources are crucial, along with delivering the development that these impoverished areas so desperately need. But a beefed-up security apparatus, while necessary, must of necessity come with checks. While tough circumstances need tough actions, there is a greater need to prevent tough laws from being misused. Arguing for this is not to be pro-Naxal, it is to be pro-democracy.


Some human rights activists claim that security personnel are labelling legitimate critics as Naxalites to force their silence. In at least one instance, the Supreme Court agreed with them. On February 22, when a Chhattisgarh-based activist asked the court to protect 12 tribal witnesses to a massacre, the government lawyer was quick to brand him a Maoist "sympathiser". The labelling drew the apex court's ire, which criticised the use of "innuendo" without any proof. While the civilian networks that aid jungle-hiding Naxals surely need sharpened legal weapons to be tackled, the state is then under an even greater obligation to prevent the misuse of these weapons to target those who simply disagree with its views.


The actions of Naxalites speak of their unwillingness to engage with democracy. Many of their "sympathisers" on the other hand engage in debate and argument — precisely those qualities that make a democracy robust and diverse. As long as they shun violence and provide no material support, they need to be engaged with, not silenced. And it is vital that this engagement be invested with seriousness, because winning this argument about causes versus means is vital to our democracy. However, many emergency laws — such as the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act — considerably expand traditional notions of "conspiracy" and "abetment" to


ill-defined, vaguer notions of criminal complicity. These provisions of the law provide considerable discretion to law enforcement agencies and risk tarring a vast spectrum with the same brush. The law must be more clearly worded. The Naxal threat is fierce enough as it is, without having to bring imaginary enemies to the fight.








The new Lok Sabha, barely a year into its term, has already been marred by the worst kind of partisanship and lack of imaginative engagement. The opposition banded together to disrupt proceedings in both Houses of Parliament, forcing two adjournments by afternoon. They demanded a rollback of the recently announced hike in petrol and diesel rates. Instead of being a force for positive change, the opposition has wielded its power merely to obstruct. This is part of a worrying pattern, the gradual diminishing of Parliament as the primary arena for political argument.


While the fuel hike is a contentious public issue, there is, in fact, some measure of cross-party political consensus on the subject — it was, after all, the NDA which first dismantled the administered pricing mechanism in the oil sector. Both sides of the aisle are fundamentally agreed on the need to deregulate oil. However, if they now want to corner the government over a politically flammable matter, that is their prerogative. But what coherent objections have they put forward? If they had substantive reservations about the government's decision to hike Central excise duty on petrol and diesel, then the obvious thing to do would be to debate the issue, demand a cut motion. Instead of using the legislative toolset available to them, the opposition parties simply turned their backs on parliamentary engagement.


The tension between government and opposition is productive, it strikes sparks, and it can clarify tangled policy matters. Deliberative democracy is built on deep and important disagreements. But those need to be argued and resolved, not simply expressed through hissyfits and walkouts. Also, given that they just walked out two days ago (during the presentation of the Union Budget, an unprecedented low in the history of Parliament, virtually the entire spectrum of opposition parties stormed out over the same issue), it is unclear what this new uproar was symbolically expected to achieve. Except, of course, easy public pandering via television cameras. This trend reveals the abdication of real and responsible leadership in favour of shallow point- scoring for the public eye.








Nanaji Deshmukh died at the age of 94. Till his death he was an RSS pracharak, a full timer. Very few have possessed the kind of extroverted attitude and dynamism that Nanaji had. He had toured the length and breadth of the country. He was among those who established the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Most people with his background remained confined to a limited group but Nanaji always endeavoured to step out. He was on first name terms with leaders of other political parties, industry, media, and civil society activists. He never hesitated to speak his mind even if they were critical of the political organisation of which he was a member. He had the ability to raise his voice, unrestrained by partisan thinking and motivated by the national interest.


I first met Nanaji when I was a college student. He used to live in a penthouse in the Deendayal Research Institute. He was the key organisational functionary of the Jana Sangh. He maintained a skeletal staff and used his resourcefulness to establish the institute. His own needs were limited. His home was flooded with visitors. As a student I used to visit him regularly during the 1973-75 period, before the Emergency. He had accompanied JP during the massive demonstration in Patna. He obstructed a lathi assault on JP, injuring his own arm. He was the key person in the organisation of the JP movement. He enjoyed JP's confidence, worked in close contact with JP's associates in the Sarvodaya movement and Gandhi Peace Foundation. JP's close friends like Ramnath Goenka, Ganga Saran Singh and Nanaji guided the movement. Together they mobilised the entire non-Communist Opposition in support of JP.


During the Emergency, he was the natural choice for secretary of the Sangharsh Samiti against the Emergency. He changed his appearance beyond recognition. He discarded his customary kurta-dhoti for a bush shirt and trousers. He had acquired a moustache, a thick crop of dyed black hair on his head and a different pair of eye-glasses. He toured the entire country organising underground activities. His stay in several houses was organised by his political colleagues. Well into the Emergency, he was staying at a safe house in Delhi's Safdarjung Development Area. Even his host did not know as to who he was. Krishan Lal Sharma, then a Punjab BJP leader along with another colleague came to meet him. They were being trailed by officers from Punjab state intelligence. Delhi Police searched the house where Nanaji stayed, in order to arrest Krishan Lal Sharma and his colleague. There they found another gentleman whom they could not recognise. He was taken to the police station where he confessed to his identity as Nanaji Deshmukh. Photographs of Nanaji would show a different man but the voice revealed a similarity. Once arrested he was brought to Tihar jail where in Ward No. 17, I, along with a few detenus, was lodged at the time. When he entered the ward, he decided to play a prank on us. For the first few minutes he did not disclose his identity. It took us a reasonable time after hearing his voice to realise that he was Nanaji Deshmukh.


In jail I found a wonderful human being in him. He was relaxed, read extensively, analysed the political situation. He became friendly with even some Left-oriented detenus. He was even sending words to his colleagues outside to lend financial support to the families of some Left activists who were lodged with us in jail. It was in jail that I discovered his passion for good food.


Nanaji entered the Lok Sabha in 1977 but declined Prime Minister Morarji Desai's offer to be a cabinet minister. He wanted to work for the organisation. He continued to be a key organiser of the Janata Party. The failure of the Janata Party experiment and break up of the Janata Party substantially disheartened him. He was disillusioned. He then took the world by surprise when he announced that was giving up politics at the age of sixty. Most others thought he would be persuaded to reconsider his decision. He stuck to his decision and never looked back at politics from the day he turned sixty. In addition to Deendayal Research Institute, he spent the next 34 years of his life creating institutions for rural reform, ideal villages, educational centres in Gonda, Balrampur and Chitrakoot. He inspired many to contribute in this endeavour. He impacted the life of thousands in the area he worked. In 1999, I watched him again for six years as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. All his interventions were non-partisan and statesman-like.


Nanaji had an unusual dynamism. This was tempered with a sense of idealism. He practiced what he proclaimed. He cultivated and nurtured many a relationship throughout his life. Even today there are thousands of civil society activists, political workers, businesspersons, professionals, and industrialists who valued his relationship. His ability to endear himself to people who looked up to him for advice and guidance was immeasurable. Nanaji is no more. The institutions he created, the friends and admirers he left behind will continue to be inspired by him.


The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha








The affidavit filed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the Supreme Court, for the withdrawal of deemed-to-be university status to 44 universities, has created uncertainties that need to be addressed. Apart from immediate uncertainties on students' future and institutional affiliation with the state university, there is a deeper issue relating to the smooth expansion of private higher education. If the uncertainty on regulating private universities established by a state legislation, and the liberal manner in which private colleges are approved and affiliated to the university continues, quality might continue to be compromised. Private investment in education will be restricted or it will continue in a form no less severe than practices adopted by some deemed-to-be universities.


The deemed universities provision was recommended by the Radhakrishnan Commission in 1949 for a provisional period, to an established institution, through a charter granted by the President, upon the recommendation of University Grants Commission. It was also recommended that UGC be constituted as the agency for determining the merit of requests for recognition as universities. The UGC Act, 1956 subsequently incorporated the provision of deemed universities. The provision was used with caution until 1990. The falling per capita public spending in higher education and the rising demand for higher education encouraged privatisation in Indian higher education. Private institutions in the last six to seven years responded to it in many ways. They wanted to move from a mere affiliating college status to the status of a university. The rise of private universities approved under by state legislation, and the growth of deemed universities mainly under private management, was the result of hurried expansion through privatisation.


The irregularities pointed out by the task force of the HRD Ministry are serious and call for action. Withdrawal of deemed-to-be university status may be harsh, considering the fact that approval was accorded by the same ministry few years ago. The granting of a specified time for correction might have been another alternative which, however, did not find favour with the government. In this case government's own procedure is under scrutiny.


Withdrawal of deemed-to-be university status of 44 universities sends a signal that an expansion of private higher education should not compromise on quality at the cost of commercialisation. However, at present there does not exist an institutional mechanism to regulate private universities on issues relating to admission, fees, governance and quality. There is a proliferation of engineering, teacher education and management colleges under private management and universities have failed to check unnecessary expansion and ensure academic standards. The disease continues to infect the system with or without deemed-to-be universities. This begs the question — why should the axe fall on these universities alone?


It needs to be clarified if the deemed-to-be university route of expansion will be used only as an interim arrangement in the transition of an institution/college to a full fledged university as envisaged originally by the Radhakrishnan Commission. On this criteria, existing deemed universities need to present their plans to make a transition to the "ideal university" conceptualised by the Yashpal Committee report. On the other hand, if the deemed-to-be university is allowed to exist side by side with the affiliating, multi-disciplinary university then it would be desirable to have all deemed universities — including the 44 universities — acquire accreditation status by the NAAC. This would be a fairer arrangement, as the accreditation report and grading obtained by the deemed university will place all the facts in the public domain. The government should begin by establishing a code of conduct of Indian universities. It should provide guidelines and include all the functions expected from a university. Unfair practices should be clearly defined, rather than be subject to interpretations. All public or private universities — deemed or not — should be expected to follow the code of conduct. The government should also decide the agency responsible for regulation and refrain from directly acting upon higher education system. This would send a correct signal to all universities. No university whether central, state or private should be spared from action.


The writer is head of the Higher Education Unit, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration







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 centre" 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 unrecognised 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. 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. 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 loa— - 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.









The RSS mouthpiece Organiser has a cover story titled "Centre has failed to tackle terrorism, protect citizens' lives says Mohan Bhagwat", which talks about RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's recent trip to Kerala. The news report says: "The 40-acre Ashramam Maidan in Kollam city on February 24 evening became a picture of Kerala's Hindu might and patriotic spirit with over 1,00,000 disciplined RSS volunteers lining up in full uniform to salute sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat at the Prant Sanghik. The event proved to be the declaration of resoluteness of Kerala's Hindu mind to fight all cultural and political degradations and to work selflessly for the welfare of humanity and uphold forever the spirit of Hindutva".


The piece adds: "Addressing the meet, the RSS chief, who was on his first visit to Kerala after becoming the

sarsanghachalak, reminded the swayamsevaks and Sangh supporters that the problems of the country could be solved only through the selfless power of Hindutva. 'Only Bharat, with its basic philosophy of Hindutva, can show the right path to the entire world,' he said."


The RSS organ further quotes Bhagwat as saying: "There is an accusation that Sanatan Dharma is Sanatan but not modern. But studies in several universities around the globe have revealed that the essence of Sanatan Dharma and Hindutva is post-modern. The major problems facing the world are extreme intolerance, selfishness and greed". He is also quoted as saying: "Our borders are unsafe. China is intruding into India and firing, while the government of India is suppressing facts and playing hide and seek. Pakistan is pushing jihadis into India for blasts and jihadi strikes. Sikhs are beheaded. But the government of India has no stable or strong policy vis-a-vis China and Pakistan."



In its editorial titled "Make a distinction between news and propaganda," the RSS mouthpiece says: "The media can both be the poodle and the watchdog. But of late, it is becoming more of the poodle than the watchdog. The government of India in a recent advisory to TV channels directed them to avoid giving undue coverage to terrorists and terror groups and cover such events with great responsibility and sensitivity. The advisory, in fact, was long overdue".


It adds: "Every terror attack has, of late, unfortunately become a kind of veritable celebration and overkill for most channels. The media, especially the electronic, has been indiscriminately featuring terrorists, with their family history, interviews and the so-called Karachi plot to destroy India with unbelievable fanfare and a persistent obstinacy. Of equal concern is the obsessed regularity with which soft stories on the D-Company are telecast on certain channels. All that the terrorists want is publicity and speculation about their motives, missions and methods. That is the way these underground outlaws operate and try to advance their agenda, if they have one."


The editorial goes on to say: "This brings us to the subject of the business of selling news space. After liberalisation, the corporate interest has come to dominate politics, policy format and media coverage. As a consequence, matters that once used to come to us as press notes, now get splashed on the front pages as exclusive. It is propaganda that often comes as breaking news. The adage that news is something somebody wants to hide, is no more a dictum for the post-globalisation media. In this context, the advice of the Editors Guild of India to the Election Commission of India to take strong action against both politicians and media persons who violate the disclosure norms of election expenditure and publicity, failed to generate the desired public interest. Such issues are often buried somewhere inside between advertisements in a single column and go unnoticed".







The Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) is the most important element of the financial sector reform package announced by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. He has made it clear in the Budget speech itself that this is going to be the body that will "address inter-regulatory coordination issues". In announcing the formation of such a 'super regulator' the finance minister is following a global post-crisis trend—the US and the UK have also announced new super regulators in coordinating roles. It is widely believed that one of the reasons for the precipitation of the financial crisis was the lack of sufficient coordination between regulators—what might have been crucial signals of trouble simply fell between regulatory stools. So, a correction is certainly necessary. The devil is, of course, in the detail. And it is the details that are missing from the finance minister's announcement.


The first thing that needs clarity is who will head the new apex regulator. Will the super regulator be headed by the finance minister, as is being suggested in some quarters? That will not necessarily be the best way to proceed since sound, independent regulation requires complete separation from the political executive. At the moment, RBI heads the high level coordination committee on financial and capital markets (HLCC) but because it is also a sectoral regulator (of banks), it is usually unable to sort out conflicts between different sectoral regulators. In such a scenario, it may be sensible to appoint a person who is neither FM nor RBI governor to head the new apex regulator. But the problems extend beyond who will head the new body to what powers the body will have. Will the super regulator have a mere advisory role or will it issue binding orders? If it's simply the former, the body may end up becoming a talking shop with insufficient teeth to prevent a crisis. On the other hand, if it is to issue binding orders on other regulators, what happens to the independence of the sectoral regulators? Again, the finance minister needs to tread a fine line between retaining the independence of sectoral regulators and the coordinating role of the super regulator. Interestingly, the finance ministry doesn't seem sure if the new FSDC will actually replace the HLCC. At the moment, news reports suggest that both bodies may exist side by side. That seems a sure recipe for exactly the kind of turf wars that a super regulator seeks to eliminate in the first place.






As per CSO data, in contrast to a 6% real GDP growth in the overall economy during Q3 of the current fiscal, mining & quarrying rose by an impressive 9.6% as against 2.8% a year ago. There is broad agreement that this sector has the potential for tremendous growth going forward, but there is also no gainsaying the fact that it's in disarray at present. Take any of the recent scandals and you will find a royal mess underneath. The former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda reportedly cleared as many as 41 files for iron ore mining licences in an hour, and it also appears that every private mine opened in the state since 2005 paid up bribes for the privilege. A muddled policy framework deserves much of the blame. Since the profits at stake are gargantuan, strong regulations are needed to prevent state agents, mining firms and other players from colluding to illegally hive them off. An amended Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act promises some reforms—reducing delays and increasing transparency in granting leases, the two infirmities that have disheartened investment in the decade over which 100% FDI has been permitted in the mining sector. One hopes that it will be introduced in this Parliament session.


In his Budget speech, the FM also proposed i) a competitive bidding process for allocating coal blocks for captive mining and ii) a Coal Regulatory Authority. Implementation of these measures should not be delayed either. The latter measure will help create a more level playing field, fast-tracking resolution of issues like pricing and benchmarking standards of performance. The former will help correct the ad-hocism propagated by the policy of nominating blocks. The Centre has also been talking up the use of technology. Satellite and digital mapping can indeed help control illegal mining—again, this idea needs to make it from the drawing table to the ground (and, in this case, the sky as well). But, as ArcelorMittal and Posco well know, a big issue impacting the mining sector is land acquisition. Perhaps this is the trickiest issue to resolve, and the government is yet to develop clear mechanisms for reconciling industrial and welfare goals on this front. But, as our columnists have pointed out, countries as diverse as Australia, Chile and Peru have found ways of channelling the fruits of mining to support long-term economic and human development. The steel minister has suggested displaced families be granted ultimate rights to their land. So, India has ideas and it has mineral riches. Every delay in bringing these two together costs us plenty.








After a long slumber, the government seems to have woken up to the urgent need for ambitious financial sector reform. The proposed Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC), announced in the Budget, has no less a mandate than to rewrite all the different (and often ancient) legislations on the financial sector (significantly including the RBI Act 1934) to align them with a much changed global reality.


The post-financial crisis scenario is an opportune time (in terms of political economy) to carry out financial sector reform, an opportunity that may not return in a hurry once the global economy is back to normal. It is crucial, therefore, not to get things wrong.


Unfortunately, the government seems to have stumbled at the start by using the Budget speech to announce the setting up of a Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC), a statutory body (or super regulator) that will coordinate and effectively preside over sectoral regulators (like RBI, Sebi, Irda and PFRDA). The announcement seems hasty not because coordination is not important—it is—but because the details haven't been thought through.


For one, there is already a body that performs a coordination role—the high level coordination committee on financial and capital markets (HLCC), chaired by the RBI governor and comprising the heads of all the financial sector regulators and finance ministry officials. Of course, unlike the proposed FSDC, the HLCC is an informal group with no statutory powers. And it is chaired by RBI, which is also a sectoral regulator (banking) and, therefore, hardly in a position to resolve conflicts between regulators.


But any new body that will have statutory powers needs a lot of careful thought and planning. Already there is

confusion about whether the FSDC's powers will be advisory or binding orders. There are reports that the finance minister will chair the FSDC—a bad idea given that strong independent regulation must be separate from the political executive. The government also seems unclear whether the HLCC will be wound up—for now the suggestion is that both bodies will exist together, precisely the kind of scenario that will lead to turf wars of the exact type that are meant to be overcome by super regulatory coordination.


Ideally, therefore, the announcement of setting up such a body should have followed rather than preceded the work of the FSLRC, because the FSLRC will potentially have the power to rewrite the remit (and role) of existing regulators.


And if the FSLRC has to make a real impact, it must spend considerable time and effort rewriting the RBI Act. The biggest policy conflicts in the financial system, as has often been argued on these pages by a number of columnists, arise from RBI's over-extended role. Ideally, the central bank should just have the one remit of setting monetary policy. There can, of course, be debate about what the target of monetary policy should be—inflation, output, exchange rate or some combination of the three. But there should be no debate, for example, on the need to separate the government's debt management functions from the central bank—there remains a fundamental conflict between setting interest rates for the whole economy and managing the government's debt.


Similarly, there should be only limited debate on separating the function of regulating banks from RBI. This role can either be handed over to a restructured Sebi or to another independent regulator. Banking needs to be freed from RBI's draconian, and often conflicted (in terms of interest), control.


Needless to say, RBI and its powerful bureaucracy will resist any proposal that cuts down their sphere of influence. RBI has already stonewalled the DMO on a number of occasions. So what could make RBI change its mind?


Here is where the FSLRC and the government can dangle the carrot of the super regulator to RBI. If the RBI abdicates its specific regulatory remit over banks, it can be asked to head the proposed FSDC, just like the Bank of England now plays the role of the super regulator in the UK. There is much merit in a trimmed-down RBI playing the role of super regulator. For one, it is independent of the political executive and will lend the FSDC a professional, not political, touch. Second, it can mediate and coordinate between different regulators without any conflict of interest once it's shorn of its banking regulator role (unlike its role in HLCC at present). Third, as the lender of last resort that will actually have to hand out money in a potential crisis scenario, it will be in RBI's interest to see that a crisis doesn't happen. And last but not least, as the most clued-in observer of the macroeconomy (within the government system), RBI will be best placed to identify and warn of signs of trouble.


A grand bargain with RBI can, therefore, potentially solve the biggest existing conflicts of interest in the

financial system while giving an appropriate structure to a new super regulator.








The Budget for the year 2010-11 is a good budget. The macro strategy behind it is well thought out. The second chapter of the Survey—which apart from economists nobody wants to discuss and so we are discussing it tongue in cheek—is great. The idea of reducing tax rates and blunting the paparazzi, raising indirect taxes, making money to finance equity programmes and sensible energy policies will all work. The slight tilt against consumer durables, apart from the message of prudence, may also lead to a more broad-based manufacturing revival, considering that consumer durables have grown by more than 10% in the IIP. But capital goods, consumer goods and other durables—euphemism for the poor man's bicycle—have grown by less than 3%. If all goes well, we should blunt the inflationary edge, bring down the interest rates, and then it will be time to think of capital account convertibility from strength. A 9% growth no longer seems a mirage.


But I am asked to write on agriculture, which is a more complicated story. The Budget has all the right metaphors. It very correctly underlines the programmes in the 11th Plan with annual financial numbers along with the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the Food Security Mission. Allocations to the Eastern region and pulses and oilseeds villages are very well taken. But as the 11th Plan makes it clear all such allocations will be made only if they are a part of a local or district plan; and the focus on villages, for example, in the FM's speech underlines that. Such plans are generally not there as shown by the recent surveys on district plans. Take the case of an oilseeds or pulses village. To switch over from a low-yielding pulses or oilseeds multi-crop in rain-fed regions to something that gives, say, 10 quintals plus per hectare would need limited irrigation and a market that gives returns to the farmer for the cost of the new seeds or pesticides. Limited irrigation cannot be there for just one crop. Giving the farmer a profitable price in rain-fed or dry regions again takes us into larger issues. In fact, the FM recently said that he would implement the Finance Commission's recommendations for devolution to local bodies later this year. These recommendations were incidentally developed at an earlier FC sponsored seminar at IRMA. At this level, I have also argued that the private corporate sector can be involved as an agent in implementing the MSP, which is simply not operative for pulses and oilseeds—in the way the arhatias are in the North. They can also process for their own distribution channels. In cases where the corporate sector works through farmers' producer companies or cooperatives, like Hariyali or Khet Se, they can be asked to channel available ICAR technologies to the farmer in areas where public extension services are poor.


The larger question of markets, communication and processing infrastructure is not just a Budget question, but it will be nice to highlight it here. To expect the prices to fall with organised retail trade in agriculture is optimistic. In fact, IIMA studies have shown, for example, that in the agricultural mandis in Ahmedabad, entry of organised retail channels led to a more than 10% increase in prices of cabbage and okra. The FM is right in saying that such entry will lead to competition. However, in the short run the farmer will get a higher price, which is good and desirable, but the flip side is that competitive reduction in prices will take longer time.


The reduction in the interest rate on rural loans will not be of much help, even though it is supposed to have beneficial political fallout. In fact, in the cooperative heartland of Maharashtra, where organised financial institutions are important, the Congress-NCP alliance did not do too well as shown by me in the constituency-level analysis after the elections. Availability of credit is important and the less we tamper with the balance sheets of rural financial institutions, the more inclusive our growth process will be.


Raising fertiliser prices of urea is all to the good. But the sector would have welcomed more market-friendly policies, which would have incentivised product specialisation and capacity expansion. Controlling urea prices and allowing potash and phosphatic prices to be market- determined is not equivalent to nutrient-based pricing, even if the government takes a measured view of the market in the prices monitoring mechanism being set up. Subsidies will be capped, which is good, but not much more can be claimed and we will have to rise from the ashes some other day to achieve larger goals. In a recent survey,


I gave the FM 8 out of 10 for the Budget but I shouldn't be pushed too much on its bottom line in agriculture.

The author is a former Union minister







Food inflation is a difficult issue for the government. At pre- and post-Budget meetings, charismatic Kaushik Basu has been explaining it in his enigmatic style. His trump card is up there, right at the top, jacketing the economic survey he so deservedly owns. It's a graphical caricature of a Coupons Equilibrium—something that has impressed Pranab Mukherjee so much so that he mentioned it thrice at a post-Budget meeting with over 600 industry captains. The concept roughly means giving coupons to a target audience is much better than tweaking the market price of a product so as to benefit the poor.


This is a first step towards direct transfer of food subsidies to the poor, and Basu would have us believe it can be extended to fertiliser and other subsidies, too (see Chapter 2). The coupon gives the poor the freedom to choose the product that they want to buy and from whom they want to buy. It eliminates the hassle-factor in buying from a specific PDS outlet. Coupons, Basu believes, will cut corruption and aid food security.


But this is just one side of his magic card. The other is its unlimited utility when correctly combined with the UID being developed by another pied piper, Nandan Nilekani. Basu believes a switch to the coupon system is possible by 2012. The idea isn't brand new. What is refreshing, though, is how convincingly Basu conveys it to the decision makers, most notably Pranab Mukherjee.


The FM no longer believes in the concept of leviathan but in a government that is an enabler. "The actors are ready, we need to provide the screen," he stresses. That the FM is in tune with Basu's plan is captured in the Budget fine print. For the first time in a decade, subsidies next year are projected to be lower (by 12%) than in the current year (the projections can go wrong, but I am an optimist). A beginning has already been made in the case of fertilisers, by moving to a nutrient-based subsidy from a product-based one. I hope this will get us balanced, nutritious food—something not smelling of urea.


Coupon system will be effective, bring savings, involve negligible cost, and provide succour to the poor when prices jump.


It shall be a game changer.








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, though long overdue, ended on a high note. Dr. Singh and King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz covered substantial ground and managed to pin down specific areas for further collaboration. Determined to go beyond their traditional buyer-seller energy relationship, the two leaders opened up a much wider common agenda, including such exciting areas as outer space, renewable energy, and advanced computing. Four years after King Abdullah made a pioneering visit to India, the vision of a comprehensive political, security, and economic relationship, anchored in the Riyadh Declaration signed during Dr. Singh's visit, now stands firmly established. The Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia, which is not only the world's largest oil producer but also a regional heavyweight, is also likely to leave its stabilising imprint on other areas in West Asia. These include the neighbouring oil rich countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which are encountering serious security challenges.


Significantly, the visit has added a prominent security dimension to bilateral ties. Saudi Arabia and India fully appreciate that they are common victims of terrorism. They are both targeted by the forces of global jihad, entrenched in the rugged mountain ranges on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. If Mumbai was India's terror nightmare, Riyadh too faced a string of devastating bombings in 2003, when al Qaeda operatives blew up prominent residential compounds. Saudi Arabia continues to remain in the cross-hairs of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates out of neighbouring Yemen. The signing of an extradition treaty during Dr. Singh's visit therefore needs to be welcomed as a major breakthrough. From an Indian perspective, there is now hope that outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose operatives reportedly visit Saudi Arabia for various purposes, will be captured by Saudi authorities and sent to face the law in India. Further, the shared focus on safeguarding the "sovereignty and independence" of Afghanistan must be welcomed. In a visit that otherwise went so well, New Delhi's hardly concealed interest in seeking Riyadh's "good offices" to moderate Pakistan's behaviour has struck a jarring note. The suggestion appeared quite unnecessary as serious discussions on the Pakistan situation are expected to be integral to the fast-developing India-Saudi security relationship. By overtly drawing Saudi Arabia into the India-Pakistan equation, the United Progressive Alliance government has needlessly opened itself to the charge of diluting the principle of bilateralism that has, by virtue of a national consensus, governed New Delhi's engagement with Islamabad.







The 13th Finance Commission (TFC), whose report was tabled in Parliament recently, has broken new ground by building incentives into the transfer mechanism. Most of its key recommendations have been accepted by the government. The States stand to get a larger share of central taxes than before. Apart from increasing their share of the divisible pool of tax revenues from 30.5 per cent to 32 per cent, the Commission has proposed an additional 2-2.5 per cent for local bodies. Grants-in-aid to States are projected at Rs.315,581 crore over the next five years. The shared taxes and central grants together will take the overall devolution to States from 37.6 per cent to 39 per cent of the central divisible tax revenues. The TFC does not want any inconsistency between the amounts released to the States and the percentage share in the net tax revenues recommended by it. The States have been impressed upon to comply with the norms set by the Commission if they are to avail themselves of the full benefit of certain transfers. It has called upon the Centre not to lean heavily on surcharges and cesses since collections under these heads are not shared with the States. The transfer formula, which emphasises fiscal discipline on the part of the States, has been so worked out that non-Plan revenue grants will be made available to fewer States.


The system of incentive-based transfer seeks to reward States that comply with the norms prescribed by the TFC. However, given the political sensitivity of some of these proposals, the accent is on achieving incremental gains for fiscal federalism. The Commission has earmarked Rs.50,000 crore of central grants to compensate States for any revenue shortfall on account of switching to the Goods and Services Tax. The compensation will be available even if there is no shortfall, provided the State concerned adopts the GST model the TFC has prepared. This however is going to prove contentious. The empowered committee of State Finance Ministers has worked out its own model wherein tax rates are higher than in the TFC's version. The States want a much higher share of the divisible tax receipts to be transferred to them. Nor will they be happy that the Commission has remained silent on their long standing demands, namely decision-making powers in respect of centrally-sponsored schemes. The government has accepted its suggestion to put a cap on the combined debt of the Centre and the States at 48 per cent of the GDP that is to be achieved by 2014-15.










National leaders have often urged institutions of learning to be involved in programmes that would have an impact on the lives of India's villagers. The efforts of a medical university in Tamil Nadu have a particular resonance in this context.


The Tamilnadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University is a relatively young affiliating university. It is committed to prioritising health care delivery to the masses and providing medical education to achieve this objective. Though the university is the second of its kind in India (the first being the Dr. NTR University of Health Sciences in Andhra Pradesh), it is considered the mother university among health sciences universities.


The Department of Experimental Medicine (DEM) was the first department to be started at the university, in 1993. It was the brainchild of Dr. Lalitha Kameswaran, its first Vice-Chancellor. After several brain-storming sessions, it was decided to focus on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition as the thrust areas for research and education.


At that point in time, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS was on the rise in Tamil Nadu, and the need for educational programmes and diagnostic and clinical services in the field was felt. After each teaching session, participants would ask how to treat patients with HIV/AIDS. There were no simple answers to this question. Antiretroviral drugs were prohibitively expensive and had to be imported, and they were beyond the reach of a majority of the patients, particularly those from the rural areas. Zidovudine is an anti-retroviral drug, which, when administered by itself for AIDS therapy, developed resistance. However, in 1995 a group of U.S. researchers showed that the use of the drug prevented the transmission of the virus from mother to infant. This was an exciting discovery and the beginning of 'prevention science.' Pregnant women in Chennai were offered this drug and the initial results were encouraging. Physicians in the urban and rural districts were encountering in their clinical practice a growing number of HIV infections. They wished to learn about the new disease, its diagnosis and management.


The story of the initiation of an anti-HIV/AIDS programme in Tamil Nadu's Namakkal district to provide counselling to pregnant women, diagnostic services and the consequent research and training may hold many lessons for the committed health professional and policy-planner.


After receiving calls from many physicians in Namakkal, a team from the university, including this writer, visited Namakkal to assess the seroprevalence of HIV-1 among pregnant women coming to the District Hospital. Six per cent of pregnant women was found to be seropositive. Results of the pilot study were reviewed with Dr. K. Anandakannan, Vice-Chancellor. He directed the department to conduct further studies in Namakkal. This was the beginning of the first rural-based Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) centre in a public sector hospital in India.


The team travelled from Chennai to Namakkal along with students to set up counselling and testing facilities. It was the sheer commitment of the group-members that made them travel regularly to Namakkal. The hospital authorities were supportive and provided two rooms in the tuberculosis treatment building to set up the laboratory and for confidential counselling sessions. Pregnant women attending the antenatal clinic were group counselled, and after obtaining informed consent were tested for HIV. Individual counselling was provided to seropositive women.

The women perceived themselves at risk as most of their partners were long-distance truck drivers. Some 85 per cent of them returned to collect their test results after four days. This was an encouraging sign.


Initially there was some resistance from both the staff members and other patients, but its decline over time was palpable. It was the leadership of the hospital that made the difference for the decline of feelings of stigma and discrimination among health care providers. From June 2000 to September 2009, the total number of pregnant women counselled stood at 45,700. And the number who consented to be tested was 45,443 (99.4 per cent). Exactly 827 women were detected to be HIV-positive.


The efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission attracted international attention. A team from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S., led by Dr. Jennifer Read, visited the PMTCT centre in Namakkal and satellite centres in Rasipuram, Tiruchengode and Paramathi Velur.


It was decided to conduct a joint study to administer an efficacious prophylactic regimen to pregnant women to prevent mother-to-infant transmission. The Namakkal and Rasipuram government hospitals were selected by the NIH, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) to undertake research and provide clinical facilities. PMTCT centres with facilities for confidential patient-counselling were set up in the hospitals by the NIH. Nutrition, replacement and exclusive breast-feeding facilities were provided. Laboratories were set up to provide diagnostic tools and facilities to store blood samples.


Staff members were appointed for each centre: a medical officer was the team leader. Training was provided by

international experts on counselling, electronic records maintenance, administration of drugs and infection control. Couriers were trained to transport blood within 24 hours to laboratories in Chennai for additional tests. The NIH trained members of the community advisory board and the Data and Safety and Monitoring Board (DSMB). The collaboration with the NIH led to the publication of 10 publications.


This writer was introduced to Lisa Frenkel in Chicago at the CROI conference, the annual conference sponsored by the Foundation for Retrovirology and Human Health in collaboration with the Centres for Disease Control. She was from the University Children's Hospital of the University of Washington (WU), Seattle. Dr. Frenkel accepted an invitation to visit the university in Chennai and seek collaborative programmes in research and education. It soon resulted in an exchange programme of students and residents from WU to Namakkal. In return, staff members from the Department of Experimental Medicine went to attend research methodology courses and skill-building at the WU. The visiting students spent six weeks in Namakkal, undertook research and learnt about infectious diseases. They went to the villages, interacted with patients and participated in conducting deliveries. They attended ward rounds with medical officers and assisted duty medical officers in the clinical evaluation of patients. The collaboration resulted in three publications.


This was a unique experience. The students and residents made friends with local individuals. The six-week stay exposed them to the diverse Indian culture and hospitality, as also to clinical medicine. It was an eye-opener for them.


The setting up of PMTCT services and the establishment of a CD4/CD8 laboratory by the Department of

Experimental Medicine in Namakkal, made NACO sanction the first anti retroviral therapy (ART) centre in a rural district hospital in India. Training programmes for medical doctors in PMTCT, paediatric AIDS and ART were conducted. APAC (the AIDS Prevention and Control project) used the facilities to conduct a certificate course for private practitioners. The structured courses on PMTCT were attended by doctors from all parts. The faculty was drawn from Christian Medical College, Vellore; the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; St. John's Hospital, Bangalore; the University of Washington; the University of London, the University of Regensburg, to name a few. The training programmes for doctors, nurses and counsellors, including village health nurses, were remarkable.


Due to the availability of training courses in a rural environment, physicians and other health care providers from urban settings who otherwise would not get to visit rural districts for training did not hesitate to spend up to two weeks for the purpose.


The focus is on women and children. It was the felt need of the team that children with HIV needed to be studied further and that the evolution of the HIV condition required more attention in the Indian setting.


With the already existing infrastructure in Rasipuram hospital, a rural paediatric AIDS centre was set up in 2006.


The team provided extensive awareness and counselling programmes to the rural communities in their own settings. The training offered to 'opinion and community leaders' had an impact on the stigma and discrimination that had prevailed. However, there is lot more to be done in this area. HIV/AIDS is still considered a new disease and it will take a long time to remove the stigma and discrimination. There are brave individuals who have put aside societal pressures and are making progress in coping with the stigma and discrimination.


The spin-offs of the programme include its impact on the control of tuberculosis and the adherence to DOTS, or Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course; on exclusive breast feeding and avoidance of culturally accepted forms of first infant feeds; on family planning and spacing of children. The prevalence of mother-to-child transmission is down to 1.8 per cent.


Continued research and the implementation of prevention programmes against mother-to-child transmission are required. The eagerness to pursue scientific research and training in urban settings needs to change. Institutes of learning have a responsibility to the villages, and this should go beyond tokenism.


( Professor Dr. N.M. Samuel was Head of the Department of Experimental Medicine, Tamilnadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University, from 1993 to 2007 .)








So here's a ready-made answer for the overly curious. Last weekend, I had The Conversation for the 3,897th time — and this time, it took place in central London just two roads away from the hospital where I was born. As usual, it went like this:


Stranger: Where are you from? (Translation: You look a bit brown. Why are you brown?)


Me: London.


Stranger: No, where are you really from? (Translation: You are clearly telling me untruths. Brown people do not come from London.)


Me: London.


Stranger (exasperated): No, where are your parents from? (Translation: Now you're just being obtuse.)


Me: Africa and America.


Stranger (confused): Erm ... so where are your family from, like, back in the day? (Translation: People who come from Africa and America do not look like you.)


Me: Iran, India, Africa, America and England.


Stranger (relieved): India and Iran! Do you ever go back? At this point, I have to explain that it's hard to go back to somewhere you have never been. I've lived in London since I was a zygote, have a London accent and don't speak any languages except English — yet just because I'm cashew-coloured, I'm often questioned about my heritage.


Over the last five years, I've been asked: "What's your caste?" (I haven't broken any bones); "Do you go to temple?" (only on my way to Temple tube station by the Thames); and "Do you need special food?" (as though the answer's going to be: "Yes, St Peter isn't going to let me in if I've munched on a bit of dead pig/cow/giraffe").


It's not that I'm embarrassed about my ethnic background. I don't think about it much, though it's good for jokes ("I'm half Iranian, half American — so basically, I hate myself"). But some people seem to want me to think about it. "Why don't you visit Bombay?" they enthuse. "You'd love it." They may be right, but have yet to explain to me why I'd love it more than Tokyo, or Guatemala, or any of the other places I haven't yet been. It's an odd misconception that you should somehow feel connected to a far-flung country because your ancestors lived there centuries ago, even if your entire life has been spent morris dancing in Loughborough. It's not that I think the questioners are all differently faced versions of the far right, either. I don't — they're probably just curious (except perhaps for the bloke who made a constipated noise when I told him my dad was white). People with a different appearance often seem more interesting than those who look everyday, and questioners are clearly hoping for a more satisfying response than the mundane "Right here." When they don't receive one, they probe. So my reluctance to enter The Conversation isn't due to shame or to fear of any dubious ulterior motives. It's partly down to exasperation at people thinking I'm less British than them because I'm brown, but it's mainly down to extreme boredom. The rundown of my convoluted four-continent-spanning genealogy takes ages unless I lie, and I've started to deliver it in a funereal voice more monotonous than Tiger Woods's public apology.


Luckily, I've come up with a solution (one that could work for anyone in this situation, though you'll have to write your own version). I'm going to print out large business cards, and the next time anyone tries to initiate The Conversation and doesn't accept "London" as the answer, I shall furnish them with the following: "Hello! You may be surprised to learn that I have been asked this question before. Never fear: you shall have your explanation shortly. (Would you like to buy a TV by the way? I have one for sale; Samsung, five years old. Bit flickery, to be honest.) Right, are you sitting comfortably? Armchair? Cup of tea? Eccles cake? Then here goes: My maternal ancestors are Parsi Zoroastrians (I'm not making this up) and hail from sunny Iran, currently home to uranium obsessives. Between AD700 and AD1000 the Parsis left Persia, as it was then called (I don't know the precise date, they didn't leave a note), and travelled to India. They stayed there for around a thousand years before getting a bit bored again (are you bored yet? I am, but then I'm quite familiar with this story) and upping sticks for east Africa in the early 1900s. My grandad was a builder, though later he imported unfashionable jumpers from Nairobi featuring large pictures of sheep. They were the bane of my life in the playground, I can tell you.


In 1966, lured by the fine climate and that lovely Enoch Powell, my mother's family moved to Britain and have been here ever since. They speak English and everything. Sadly I can't say the same for my father's family, who are all white Americans and live in the States. He moved here in 1970 and met my mother in London in 1978, though declined to apply for British citizenship. Do you know, this means I'm allowed to vote in U.S. elections though I've never been there? It sounds glamorous, but in 2008 I ended up voting for Barack Obama by fax from south London, which wasn't very exciting. So, that's the answer you were after. But me? I'm from London."


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







For months, climate scientists have taken a vicious beating in the media and on the Internet, accused of hiding data, covering up errors and suppressing alternate views. Their response until now has been largely to assert the legitimacy of the vast body of climate science and to mock their critics as cranks and know-nothings.


But the volume of criticism and the depth of doubt have only grown, and many scientists now realize they are facing a crisis of public confidence and have to fight back. Tentatively and grudgingly, they are beginning to engage their critics, admit mistakes, open up their data and reshape the way they conduct their work.


The unauthorised release last fall of hundreds of e-mail messages from a major climate research centre in England, and more recent revelations of a handful of errors in a supposedly authoritative U.N. report on climate change, have created what a number of top scientists say is a major breach of faith in their research. They say the uproar threatens to undermine decades of work and has badly damaged public trust in the scientific enterprise.


The e-mail episode, dubbed "climategate" by critics, revealed arrogance and what one top climate researcher called "tribalism" among some scientists. The correspondence appears to show efforts to limit publication of contrary opinion and to evade Freedom of Information Act requests. The content of the messages opened some well-known scientists to charges of concealing temperature data from rival researchers and manipulating results to conform to precooked conclusions.


"I have obviously written some very awful e-mails," Phil Jones, the British climate scientist at the centre of the controversy, confessed to a special committee of Parliament. But he sharply disputed charges that he had hidden data or faked results. Some of the most serious allegations against Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, and other researchers have been debunked, while several investigations are still under way to determine whether others hold up.


Serious damage


But serious damage has already been done. A survey conducted in late December by Yale University and George Mason University found that the number of Americans who believed that climate change was a hoax or scientific conspiracy had more than doubled since 2008, to 16 per cent of the population from 7 per cent. An additional 13 per cent of Americans said they thought that even if the planet was warming, it was a result solely of natural factors and was not a significant concern. Climate scientists have been shaken by the criticism and are beginning to look for ways to recover their reputation. They are learning a little humility and trying to make sure they avoid crossing a line into policy advocacy.


"It's clear that the climate science community was just not prepared for the scale and ferocity of the attacks and they simply have not responded swiftly and appropriately," said Peter C. Frumhoff, an ecologist and chief scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We need to acknowledge the errors and help turn attention from what's happening in the blogosphere to what's happening in the atmosphere."


A number of institutions are beginning efforts to improve the quality of their science and to make their work more transparent. The official British climate agency is undertaking a complete review of its temperature data and will make its records and analysis fully public for the first time, allowing outside scrutiny of methods and conclusions. The U.N. panel on climate change will accept external oversight of its research practices, also for the first time. Two universities are investigating the work of top climate scientists to determine whether they have violated academic standards and undermined faith in science. The National Academy of Sciences is preparing to publish a nontechnical paper outlining what is known — and not known — about changes to the global climate. And a vigorous debate is under way among climate scientists on how to make their work more transparent and regain public confidence. Some critics think these are merely cosmetic efforts that do not address the real problem, however.


"I'll let you in on a very dark, ugly secret — I don't want trust in climate science to be restored," Willis Eschenbach, an engineer and climate contrarian who posts frequently on climate sceptic blogs, wrote in response to one climate scientist's proposal to share more research. "I don't want you learning better ways to propagandise for shoddy science. I don't want you to figure out how to inspire trust by camouflaging your unethical practices in new and innovative ways."


"The solution," he concluded, "is for you to stop trying to pass off garbage as science."


Broader mistrust


Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious scientific body in the United States, said that there was a danger that the distrust of climate science could mushroom into doubts about scientific inquiry more broadly. He said that scientists must do a better job of policing themselves and trying to be heard over the loudest voices on cable news, talk radio and the Internet.


"This is a pursuit that scientists have not had much experience in," said Cicerone, a specialist in atmospheric chemistry.


The battle is asymmetric, in the sense that scientists feel compelled to support their findings with careful observation and replicable analysis, while their critics are free to make sweeping statements condemning their work as fraudulent.


"We have to do a better job of explaining that there is always more to learn, always uncertainties to be addressed," said John P. Holdren, an environmental scientist and the White House science adviser. "But we also need to remind people that the occasions where a large consensus is overturned by a scientific heretic are very, very rare."


Under hostile scrutiny


No scientific body is under more hostile scrutiny than the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which compiles the climate research of hundreds of scientists around the globe into periodic reports intended to be the definitive statement of the science and a guide for policy makers. Critics, citing several relatively minor errors in its most recent report and charges of conflict of interest against its leader, Rajendra K. Pachauri, are calling for the IPCC to be disbanded or radically reformed.


On Saturday, after weeks of refusing to engage critics, the IPCC announced that it was asking for the creation of an independent panel to review its research procedures to try to eliminate bias and errors from future reports. But even while allowing for some external oversight, Pachauri insisted that panel stood behind its previous work.


"Scientists must continually earn the public's trust or we risk descending into a new Dark Age where ideology trumps reason," Pachauri said in an e-mail message.


But some scientists said that responding to climate change sceptics was a fool's errand. "Climate scientists are paid to do climate science," said Gavin A. Schmidt, a senior climatologist with NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies. "Their job is not persuading the public."


He said that the recent flurry of hostility to climate science had been driven as much by the cold winter as by any real or perceived scientific sins.


—©2010 New York Times News Service








Professor Krishna Kumar took over as director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in September 2004 at a time when a lot of concern was being voiced about certain curricular trends. He not only brought in a fresh, child-centred perspective to the Council, but also initiated a series of reforms that sought to make learning more meaningful to children. After over five years, Prof. Krishna Kumar, who completes his term on March 5, reflects on his tenure at the Council and shares his views with The Hindu .


When you look back now, what is it that seems most fulfilling?


It has been a momentous experience, witnessing strong collective aspiration and cooperative energy to achieve institutional health, growth and autonomy. Freedom from political interference enabled us to commit ourselves to the task of providing academic leadership for the challenge of radical reforms in school education.


The agenda was set by the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) which acquired a historic approval from the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) in September 2005. That was undoubtedly a moment of great fulfilment. The circumstances under which the CABE's approval came were riddled with political controversy.


NCF-2005 succeeded in building national consensus because of the process through which the document was developed. For the first time, as many as 21 National Focus Groups were set up, apart from a National Steering Committee chaired by Professor Yash Pal.


These groups and the steering committee held open and thorough debates on all social, systemic and philosophical matters relating to curriculum. The reports of these groups and the NCF-2005 document offered a rich and positive discourse for syllabus and textbook development.


NCERT completed this exercise over three years, following the approval of NCF-2005. For NCERT, it was a remarkable experience of protecting its academic integrity from political attacks from every side.


You mentioned institutional health and growth. Can you explain?


It was a matter of creating a culture of consultation and participation. We utilised all the statutory structures we had for decision making. The Programme Advisory Committee started meeting twice instead of just once in a year. Quarterly monitoring of financial expenditure was put in place. The process of submitting annual reports to Parliament was streamlined. New structures were created according to need.


For example, during the CABE meeting in 2005, the late Sudeep Bannerjee, who was Education Secretary in the Ministry of Human Resource Development at that time, noticed the scale of acrimony we were coping with and decided to set up a National Monitoring Committee to oversee the execution of NCF in the shape of textbooks. Never before in the history of textbook publishing in India—which is more than 150 years old— were draft texts reviewed with meticulous scholarly attention of the kind this new committee has provided over the last four years.


Are there any specific tasks initiated in your term that would have to be completed over time?


Yes, of course, there are many such tasks which have evolved out of NCF-2005. The five-part sourcebook for assessment in primary classes is a breakthrough and now its daily use in schools needs to be promoted.


In curricular reforms initiated by NCF-2005, the States now expect close cooperation between their SCERTs and NCERT. In teacher training, collaboration between NCERT and NCTE has begun and needs to be taken forward.


Training of teachers is now the greatest priority in the execution of the Right To Education (RTE) Act, but

training itself has to undergo radical reform, given the new perspective of our syllabi and textbooks. They provide reflective spaces and demand critical pedagogy which only a thoughtful teacher can handle. NCERT used EDUSAT to reach out to thousands of teachers for orienting them toward the new textbooks. This process needs to be sustained and broadened.


We are now working on B.Ed. textbooks for the first time, and this too needs to be expanded. Our peace education initiative needs expansion. We have also brought out a series of project books for environment education.


What about examination reforms?


As you are aware, NCERT is not the key player in this area. We have done our best to promote the recommendations of NCF-2005 on examination reforms, but the progress of actual reforms has been limited, and the direction is not clear.


The Kerala and Goa Boards have taken some good measures, and so has CBSE, but some of the basic reforms are yet to occur. There are some systemic tendencies on which greater dialogue and clarity are overdue.


For instance, there is no reason why CBSE should assign specific marks to each topic and sub-topic given in our syllabus. This is among the many entrenched practices which discourage the pedagogic reforms advocated in NCF-2005. Both children and teachers feel so stressed and scared because the examination system is so mark-oriented and rigid. Many private schools now feel so frustrated with the examination system that they are shifting to the International Baccalaureate.


NCERT is worried about some of the steps CBSE is now taking, such as awarding grades for moral values and the so-called co-scholastic areas. NCF recommends a holistic approach in which aesthetic development is not 'co-curricular' or 'co-scholastic' but just as curricular as mathematics or science.


There are systemic issues as well. The relationship between SCERTs and examination boards in many States is neither direct nor smooth. The same is true at the national level. We have tried very hard to develop a cooperative relationship with CBSE over the last few years, but the progress has been very limited. And this is one reason why there has been so little change in the typology of question papers. NCF proposes a system which denies rote learning the legitimacy it presently has and it demands a flexible mechanism to assess the potential of every child. That is the spirit of RTE.


NCERT's involvement with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has been very significant. How do you envisage NCERT's role in the implementation of the RTE?


NCERT has greatly expanded its contribution to SSA. We were mainly a quality monitoring institution, but over the years we have initiated several programmes which involved direct participation in SSA. Let us first look at our national achievement surveys. Speed and efficiency have been injected in them, and an innovative step is being taken by using item response theory to bring this exercise up to global academic standards.


Learning how to read is a foundational skill. Our 40-part graded reading series called Barkha has become extremely popular with the States and it is being translated into their languages. It also marks a departure in the prevailing concept of children's literature, especially in how it handles cultural diversity and gender stereotypes. We have started another project under SSA on early mathematics which aims to improve teachers' understanding of how children learn mathematics.


NCERT is also trying to enrich the curriculum of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) set up under SSA. The rural girls who study in these schools come from the most deprived sections of society. Our teacher training course and textual material aim at giving them a headstart.


Now that SSA is moving towards RTE, NCERT's role will be very central. It must work with every State to revamp its syllabus and teacher training.


How have the different States responded to the NCF?


The response has been phenomenal. From NCF-2005 perspective we can classify the States into three categories. In the first we have Kerala and Bihar which have developed their own frameworks through the same kind of social deliberation that NCERT had mobilised. These two states offer the best examples of progress along the lines of NCF. Some others like Mizoram, Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Orissa have made sincere efforts to revamp their syllabus in the light of NCF. Most recently, Tamil Nadu has started this process.


In the second category we can place nearly 15 States like Himachal, Jharkhand, Goa, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, etc. which have sought copyright permission to reprint NCERT textbooks for different levels. In the third category we can place Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh where the curriculum reform process has yet to begin.


One of the main objectives of the NCF was to reduce the stress that children are made to undergo.


This agenda had three parts. The first part was to change the syllabus and make it more child-centred and teachable. We tried to revamp the syllabus of all subjects from the perspective of the child and we ensured that only age-appropriate concepts are included. We also made a major effort to ensure that the treatment of these concepts will encourage children to relate classroom teaching to their own experience outside the school.


The second part of the agenda had to do with changing the examination system. Not much has happened in this direction in a systemic sense. At the school level too, there are very few cases of stopping pre-boards. I cannot say how long CBSE will take to involve NCERT more deeply in its attempt to reform the examination system.


The third part of NCF's vision for a stress-free system was about changes in teacher training. In this respect, there is the good news that NCTE has finalised its NCF for teacher education. NCERT has revamped its own B.Ed. syllabus, and MHRD is about to unroll its plans for strengthening SCERTs and DIETs. Undoubtedly, teacher training reforms are going to take a while to show impact.


What are your immediate responses to the recent announcements regarding a core curriculum for maths and science at higher secondary level?


This issue has been raised by the Council of Boards of School Education (COBSE). COBSE seems to have forgotten that NCF-2005 fulfils the mandate NCERT was given under the National Policy on Education in 1986 to develop a core curriculum which would enable India to move towards a national system of education with comparable standards and quality. Such a system cannot be uniform in as diverse a country as ours. India is not just diverse but stratified too. The education system must develop the potential of every child, irrespective of background or circumstances.


In a federal set-up, State governments have the primary responsibility in education, and they must have autonomy to fulfil this responsibility. NCERT syllabus in mathematics and science already represents the core curriculum. The priority now should be to train teachers to contextualise it in the child's setting. This will inspire children to apply their knowledge to solve real problems and thereby develop logical thinking and reasoning.










India's demographic dividend is throwing up some interesting challenges. We are indeed a young society, as we are all aware, but most of our youth are to be found in the poorer parts of India.

That is, Uttar Pradesh to be precise. The International Institute of Populations Sciences study about trends in the different states shows that the socially and economically progressive southern states may have a not-so-young population compared to Uttar Pradesh, which with its higher rates of poverty and illiteracy will have a younger population for the next three decades. It is generally assumed that a younger population is better because it would mean that the work force will be youthful.


This is good news for a booming economy. The young will not only be economically productive and earn more for a long time but they will also spend more for a longer time. The affluent young will marry late, have less number of children and live longer and the advantages of a younger population will increasingly decline.


There is also the other aspect. A younger population could be an advantage only when social indices like health, education and skills are capitalised. UP will not benefit from its younger population unless the state's political leaders, social planners and think-tankers find ways of educating, enhancing the skills and improving the health of its younger population. This would mean huge expenditures — which are really investments for the future — in the social sector. UP's politics — whether it is chief minister Mayawati or Mulayam Singh Yadav or the Congress — is consumed with parties guarding the flock and improving electoral prospects, not with finding ways to make the state prosperous and healthy.


Partisan politics are not the only reason for India's most populous state lagging behind the country, especially the southern parts. It is the outmoded feudal structures and attitudes that seem to hold back the people of the state more than anything else. Emigration to mega-cities like Mumbai is not much of a solution because the people from the state continue to struggle at the bottom of the urban heap. UP then needs a leg up to take advantage of its young population. It needs a social revolution cutting across communal, caste and regional lines. How is this to be engineered and where will it come from? UP needs to seize opportunity by its forelocks.







The discovery of polar ice in about 40 small craters on the moon is a life-changing one for those of us who currently live on earth. There maybe additional pride for India that this information has come via the NASA payload which Chandrayaan I carried with it on its moon mission last year. This means that if humans find living space beyond terra firma, India has had a role to play in it. There is also a vindication of sorts here for India because there had been some ego play between some scientists at the American National Aeronautics and Space Laboratory and the Indian Science Research Organisation over the feasibility or even the need for India's moon mission and whether it served any purpose at all. Several sceptics raised eyebrows when the mission was terminated early after some malfunctions.


However, scientific one-upmanship apart, the Chandrayaan mission has emphatically confirmed what earlier explorations and calculations had found — that the moon can now be considered for habitation. Lost as we usually are in the immediate compulsions of geo-politics, scientific discoveries often get ignored or underestimated. And space exploration can just sound like so much mumbo-jumbo science fiction that only geeks and boffins take it seriously.


Now it seems that moving out of earth is not just an exciting possibility; it comes with some serious responsibility. Money also needs to be spent on vitals like creating an artificial atmosphere to support life and on migration. Right now of course these are long shots. More important is whether we look at colonisation as a viable option. It can be argued, in both a romantic and practical vein, that having destroyed so much of the earth's natural resources we are now looking to spread our havoc around the universe.


Conversely, as a species humans have moved very far ahead compared to our animal cousins and while there was been a price to pay, progress has brought amazing results and benefits. If the next step is the moon, we cannot use some pastoral concerns to rein us in.


Instead, we need to harness all our intelligence and make sure we learn from our mistakes. A popular poster from the 1960s used to read 'The meek shall inherit the earth. The rest of us will have gone to Mars'. In some small way, Chandrayaan I has, it appears, helped that prophecy come close to the truth.







One of the big myths of the women's lib movement is that women have everything to gain from greater gender equality and men everything to lose. Both sexes have bought this argument lock, stock and barrel without stopping to think. Given widespread acceptance that women have been discriminated against, this is not surprising.


But it's not the whole story. While there is no doubt formal power will have to be more equally shared, the real truth lies somewhere in-between: men have much to gain from a more equal society and women have something to lose from it.


The stereotyping of gender roles has taken a huge toll of men — and they don't even know it. Men invest so much of their energies trying to achieve career and public success that they have completely failed to savour their softer sides, their relationships, their children — everything. Little wonder they are more prone to heart-attacks and more likely to die violent deaths than the other sex.


Greater equality will, of course, bring women more public recognition, money and power, but they are also more than likely to lose out on their traditional nurturing role and the psychological satisfaction that it brings. When men start sharing their home-making roles — not enough of them are doing so, one must admit — women are likely to find that parenting is not any more natural to them as to men. Women will also find that as they begin to compete for higher-paying jobs and careers, their personalities will change. Not all of it will be to their benefit.


This is not an argument for less equality. But equality is being wrongly sold both to men and women as a win-lose situation. What men lose, women gain. Men don't know the benefits and women the penalties of equality. The reason is simple, yet subtle: most gender equality schemes are devised by men in a patriarchal society who are driven by guilt on how women have been treated in the past.


A small example will illustrate this point: we know that domestic violence is a reality. We also know dowry is a social evil, and loaded against families with girl children. So what do we do? We have draconian laws which more or less hold the man guilty as long as a woman has made a complaint. The other day, the Supreme Court went to the extent of saying that women are unlikely to lie about rape since there is huge social ignominy involved. The highest court has surely erred in holding this. Just because the probability of women lying about rape is lower, can we have laws that favour women? Where has equality gone?


Another instance is the law on maternity leave. The Central government gives women up to two years of paid child care leave over and above maternity leave. Once again, this is patriarchal overcompensation on gender justice. If the argument is that men and women must share the burdens of parenthood more equally, it makes little sense to privilege women over men in this area. If women have the right to two years of paid parenting, why not men?


Even better, why not give the couple the right to decide who will spend more time as homemaker and who as breadwinner? Most probably, the decision will be driven by economics. Whoever earns more will work more and the other partner will spend more time bringing up the child.


The other fallacy is the presumption that maternity leave is a benefit to women. Women who want careers will find that employers will bypass them for promotions and their male colleagues will march ahead. Some Scandinavian countries have laws to ensure that long maternal leave does not lead to any loss of seniority or position. Others are legislating flexi-hours for women who have children. This penalises companies (who will want to hire less women), women (who will be subtly discriminated against) and men (who lose parenting opportunities). If parenting is so important to society, why not give the same benefits to men? It makes no sense to pillory men for not helping with children and then not enabling them to do so.


While there is little doubt that men have taken advantage of their superior power roles to put women down in the past, women have also lost out due to the deterioration in the economic value of home-making and child-rearing. As one study pointed out, gender roles didn't start out as discrimination, but as division of labour. A woman managing the home was a sound economic proposition. Today, with household gadgets and day care centres offering support and with job opportunities opening up for women, the economic value of staying at home is gone.


Four days from now, another Women's Day will be upon us. We need to rethink the way we look at equality, and market it better to both the sexes. It's not win-lose, it's win-win.







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. "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," he said, 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 on Valentine's Day. 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 stopped teenage girls without headscarves from fleeing a fire at a school in Mecca; 15 girls died.

The attempts at 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 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." I asked if technology — Bluetooth flirting is rampant in malls — would pry open the obsessively private kingdom. "Privacy in the modern world is a relative term," he replied. People, he mused, sounding like a Saudi Garbo, just "have to worry about how to be alone." —NYT










India has the centuries-old reputation of providing sanctuary to persons hounded in their own countries because of their beliefs. They have not only been welcomed with open arms but also assimilated in the Indian milieu. But in the case of M F Husain, there has been a shameful role reversal. Circumstances have made him leave the country and accept Qatari citizenship. Right-wing zealots who took objection to his nude images of Hindu deities made life so hot for him that there was no choice before him. He had to go into exile following death threats and legal action. The 95-year-old front ranking painter is deeply pained that he was given such a treatment by his motherland.


Actually, the fault lies with the government too which did not provide him adequate protection. Of late, it has been noted that governments easily succumbs to every mob that is out to destroy public order. Since such lumpen elements get away with creating terror, they are further encouraged. What had happened in the case of Husain some years back is now happening with north Indians living in Mumbai. If the State shows its resolve to deal firmly with the mischief mongers, they can be disciplined in no time. But due to electoral politics, even the ruling parties play a dubious role.


It was perhaps ill-advised of Husain to have played with the sentiments of a particular community by making objectionable paintings. But even if he was in the wrong, it did not give anybody the right to take the law into his own hands. Yet, Sangh Parivar outfits targeted him systematically while those who should have come to his aid looked the other way. There are over 1,200 cases pending against him. Husain has posed a vital question: "How can I trust a political leadership that refused to protect me?" Apparently, nobody is willing to give an honest reply. 








India's exports have started growing, thanks to government support and recovery in the US and Europe. The exports rose for the third consecutive month in January as recession has started receding. However, experts still talk of double-dip recession. Greece's debt troubles are sending jitters across Europe and beyond. The growth of 11.5 per cent in Indian exports in January in such a difficult global economic environment is indeed commendable. The pick-up should be seen in the context of the low base effect in 2008, which saw a swift erosion of robust export growth. India's exports fell for 13 months from October 2008 before turning positive in November 2009.


The government can claim part of the credit for the turnaround. It had slashed the excise duty from 14 to 8 per cent and the service tax from 12 to 10 per cent to help industry cope with the global downturn. The partial rollback of the fiscal stimulus announced in the Union Budget for 2010-11 has led to a small increase in the excise duty but left the service tax unchanged. The government's reading of the situation is still mixed. The recovery, it feels, is not on a firm ground. The Economic Survey too has sounded a note of caution. The Indian concessions to textiles and clothing exporters have led the US to lodge a complaint with the WTO. The complaint may fall through as the recent Budget has not extended the benefit of cheaper credit to the textiles sector beyond March 2010.


Exporters, like other sections of the industry, have a habit of exaggerating their problems to milk the government. They should instead focus on cost-cutting and improving quality to survive in a highly competitive global market. There is also need to look beyond the US and European markets so that trouble there can be countered by pushing sales elsewhere. That is a valuable lesson many have learnt from recession.








The idea of a loaf-sized unit generating enough electricity to fulfil the entire power needs of an American home or four or more homes in the developing countries, existed till now in the realms of science fiction alone. But thanks to the public presentation in California last week by the clean tech start-up, Bloom Energy, it now appears far closer to reality.


 It was not surprising, therefore, when the announcement of the public unveiling of the so-called 'Bloom boxes' created a buzz in the Silicon valley which is normally associated with a new product launched by Apple and its founder Steve Jobs. That the incredible breakthrough in the energy sector was being spearheaded by an Indian-American, K.R. Sridhar, who had founded the start-up almost a decade ago, possibly caused more than a little excitement in India. Sridhar's Bloom Boxes promised to generate electricity in one's own backyard and free the consumer from dependence on companies supplying electricity through transformers and cables. A captive in-home power plant which is affordable, generates no sound or smoke and does not require heavy-duty maintenance appeared too good to be true.


To be fair to Sridhar, he has been quick to describe the Bloom Box as a product 'of the future'. He has not claimed to have discovered a new principle or theory in Physics. The only secret he has kept up his sleeve is the coating of chemicals on ceramic plates which, when they come in contact with oxygen and some kind of fossil fuel, helps generate electric currents. What, however, lends credibility to his work is that the boxes have actually been used for the past ten months or so by companies like Google and e-Bay in their headquarters. And both the companies have reported that the boxes have enabled them to cut down on the cost of energy.


With the developing world yet to catch up with the high levels of energy consumption in developed countries, the hunger for energy is bound to grow. With the growth in demand, the cost of energy will become dearer and the race for newer and more affordable sources sources of energy is getting hotter. It is time India's technological muscle too is directed towards meaningful research for energy security.
















EVEN as Pakistan steps up a concerted anti-Indian offensive on issues ranging from terrorism and Afghanistan to nuclear issues and river waters, the Indian establishment appears confused, divided and uncertain. Barely two days after Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir described the evidence provided by India on the 26/11 outrage as mere "literature" and not "evidence," the ISI's Taliban allies struck at Indian nationals living in the heart of Kabul. Mr Bashir was reflecting the triumphalism in Pakistan over what was perceived as their diplomatic success in getting the Americans to force India to return to the dialogue table.


A spokesman of the Haqqani network, operating from across the Durand Line in North Waziristan, claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack. The Haqqani network had masterminded the attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009. American journalist David Sanger was briefed in detail about Pakistan's links with the Taliban by the staff of the Bush Administration's Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. Mr Sanger writes: "Musharraf's record of duplicity was well known (in Washington). While Kayani was a favourite of the White House, he had also been overheard — presumably on telephone intercepts — referring to the most brutal of Taliban leaders, Jalaluddin Haqqani, as a "strategic asset".


McConnell's successor Admiral Dennis Blair also testified on February 2 that under General Kayani, Rawalpindi continues its support of a number of Afghan Taliban groups. All this is happening at a time when following the Istanbul and London conferences Pakistan is openly proclaiming that it will play the predominant role in "reintegrating" the Taliban in Afghanistan's national life and that India has no role to play in Afghanistan. One hears some influential American friends now tell Indian interlocutors that India should reduce the "salience" of its role in Afghanistan.


While this may not be what the Obama Administration officially states, it is interesting that unlike Al-Qaeda, Taliban cadres are no longer described by the Americans as "terrorists," but as "insurgents". Mere platitudes are not enough to deal with this situation. India has thus far unquestioningly followed the American lead in Afghanistan. Has the time not come to tell the Obama Administration that we are tired of listening to calls for "dialogue" and that we could choose to review our policies on Afghanistan, by reviving old links we had with Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and by charting out a more independent path on relations with the Karzai government? Should we not devise a comprehensive strategy for responding effectively to Pakistan's efforts to "bleed" us through a thousand cuts.


Pakistan has now opened a new front in its propaganda war against India. Though Pakistan's Indus Waters Commissioner has stated that there is no evidence that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), national hysteria is being whipped up, led by General Kayani, alleging that India is deliberately denying Pakistan its legitimate share of river waters from the western rivers — the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab. The reality is that though the IWT permits India to build storage facilities of 3.6 million acreage feet (MAF), no such facility has been built so far, enabling an unimpeded flow to Pakistan. Moreover, while the Treaty permits India to irrigate 1.34 million acres from the western rivers, India is currently irrigating only 0.792 million acres from the western rivers. India would also be well advised to undertake measures for fuller utilisation of the waters of the eastern rivers whose waters continue to flow into Pakistan.


The Pakistan government's own papers make it clear that Pakistan does not face a shortage of water (it receives a total of 139 MAF against the total flow of 169 MAF of water flows from six rivers of the Indus basin), but is faced with a crisis caused by poor and inequitable utilisation, with the lower riparian Sind and Balochistan provinces being deprived of their legitimate water requirements, by Army-dominated Punjab province. An inter-provincial accord on water sharing of 1991 lies in tatters because of the refusal of Punjab to abide by its provisions.


People in Sind province are finding that the Indus waters barely reach the Kotri Barrage and that their Southern districts are experiencing salinity because of the inflow of sea water. It is time New Delhi undertook an imaginative propaganda offensive on this issue, especially directed at the people of Sind and Balochistan. Finally, Pakistan seeks to deliberately delay the construction of hydro-electric projects in Jammu and Kashmir, even as it claims to be a champion of the Kashmiri people. New Delhi should go ahead with these projects undeterred by Pakistani propaganda, which inevitably stands exposed when the issue is posed to a neutral expert under the IWT.


Precisely a week before Pakistan's Foreign Secretary arrived in India, Mr Zamir Akram, its Permanent Representative to the Commission on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, launched a propaganda barrage against India claiming that India was responsible for nuclear proliferation in South Asia, that it had compelled Pakistan to go nuclear and thereafter test nuclear weapons in May 1998, by its nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998. He denounced the India-US nuclear deal and the subsequent end to international sanctions against India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and demanded that Pakistan be granted similar waiver.


Mr Akram conveniently ignored the fact that Pakistan decided to go nuclear well before India's 1974 nuclear test, that Pakistan is known to have tested a nuclear weapons on Chinese soil in 1990 and that the size, composition and nature of India's nuclear deterrent are determined not merely by what Pakistan does, but primarily by developments in China.


While India need not descend to the level of Pakistan in blatant propaganda, South Block fails to realise that, led by General Kayani, Pakistan's ruling military establishment has persuaded itself that it wields huge leverage with an Obama Administration, which has set a date for the commencement of withdrawal from Afghanistan and desperately needs Pakistan's cooperation for a face-saving withdrawal. As viewed from Pakistan's GHQ in Rawalpindi, New Delhi is perceived to lack any clear or consistent policy and appears ever ready to meekly bend to American diktats. The Indian government has only itself to blame for allowing this impression to gain ground internationally and domestically. The decision to suddenly change direction and agree to talks between Foreign Secretaries even before the Home Minister paid a scheduled visit to Islamabad has only strengthened this impression.


Unless the Union Cabinet sets its house in order and devises a clear policy of imposing high costs for Pakistani support to terrorism against India and Indian assets abroad, we will be perceived internationally as a nation incapable of defending its vital interests.








Mind your own business" is not generally followed by a pleasing "please," in tow, but a kind of disgusting gust, bordering on the side of rudeness and riddance-seeking, like swatting a bug with a "Go away or get off !" The true connotations tantamount to almost the expletives of the expression, which eluded me many times I was told to, 'mind my own business'!


I had never known how seriously did the South Indian matinee idol Rajni Kant flaunt his verbalised challenging aggression, when he let loose that "maaeend it," on his detractors, thereby flooring them more with the "valour of his tongue," than the sword of his sinewy gesture, of slashing of the still air made musical by a thichang-phichang variety of the obtaining symphony in sync(-apologies Mr Shakespeare!).


Enlightenment came my way when I had to tell a musician to mind his business (of playing his guitar), on the pavement at Piccadilly Circus, in London. Obviously I had refused to, when he wanted me to, cough up money (that too in Sterling — my mind's calculation again being at play!) after having shot his video in my handycam. He almost held me by the collar when my host told to him to "mind his bloody business" — one time again.


At home, our own variety of beggar-musicians don't indulge in that kind of behaviour. Rather, they either ignore you or at the most hurl an innocuous curse invoking the Gods, for they know we understand Almighty, expecting us to "mind our business of charity."


On a serious note, the business of mind is always productive to a great extent. But unfortunately that is not the intention of the one exhorting a hurl like that, rather, it is to just implore the offender in carrying on whatever business is at his hand, be it counting waves on a seashore or finding forms in clouds in the sky. Generally we refer to the mind's business as the obtaining occupation.


But yes, if you tell someone to mind his business he may quip, "I have no business to mind!." And also maybe he has a Freudian slip to blurt out, to make matters worse, like when once President Bush reportedly said in a speech he was giving to a group of teachers, "I'd like to spank all teachers." Probably he wanted to say "thank" all the teachers; then they could have retorted, "Mr Prez, mind your own business of tackling the Iraq war!"


Mind blowing, mind boggling, mind washing, mind tracking; all these are understandable, but what is 'mindless?' — particularly when it qualifies, violence. How can violence be mindless, since a sharp machination and well-orchestrated endeavour go into its execution. It definitely becomes the mind's business then. Which again means that mind's business may always not be productive!


Sometimes it happens that you dial a wrong number, but surely the one at that time in your mind, which turns out to be a wrong one, because you were absent minded, and still captured in your own mind's cobweb — of not letting you go "astray". Isn't it your mind's business that you are minding at that time?


Remember the "absent minded professor" Brainard, missing his wedding to Betsy Carlisle, as a result of discovery of the Flubber? Was he really out of his mind? Or did he take his mind's business a tad too seriously, in deciding not to marry at all. As I said, the mind's business could be productive. And counterproductive too.


By the way, my course-mate while pursuing our Masters in English Literature, who whenever empathised with an assuaging '"Don't mind" always quipped with a 'I don't have a mind to mind", is a Reader in the English Department of a university. Shouldn't I mind my own business!









The Army Chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor's statement during the Army Training Command doctrine seminar in end-December 2009 that the Indian Army must prepare for a "two-front war" stirred a hornet's nest. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi termed the statement "irresponsible".


Pakistan's official spokesman said such statements betrayed a hostile intent as well as a hegemonic and jingoistic mindset that is out of step with the realities of the time. "No one should ever underestimate our capability and determination to foil any nefarious designs against the security of Pakistan."


The Pakistani media also went ballistic. In fact, if any jingoism was displayed, it was by the Pakistani media. Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in Dawn on January 8, 2010, "Taking on two neighbours militarily and ensuring a ceasefire on its condition is New Delhi's dream."


Another commentator wrote, "Boasting of acquiring a capability for simultaneously taking on China and Pakistan, General Kapoor is bestowing a status upon India which, though highly desirable from an Indian perspective, simply belongs to the realm of impossibility."


Though the Chinese government did not react formally, Chinese analysts have been expressing their concerns

for some time about a shift in India's military posture from defensive to "active and aggressive".


Hao Ding, an analyst at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, wrote on November 27, 2009, in the party-affiliated Chinese language paper China Youth Daily, "From the point of view of strategic guidelines, India has shifted to a line of 'active and aggressive defence', as a departure from the past position of 'passive defence'… In matters of strategic deployment, India has shifted to a strategy of stabilising the western front and strengthening the northern front as well as giving equal emphasis to land and sea warfare, in contrast to the earlier stress only on land warfare."


Pakistan and China's reactions notwithstanding, every single officer in India's armed forces is convinced that if there is another conflict, China and Pakistan would collude with each other and so India must prepare for a two-front war.


Even though no one actually wants a war, it is clear as daylight that if there is one, both of these military adversaries will act in concert. The reasons for this conviction are self-evident as the collusive nuclear-missile-military hardware nexus between China and Pakistan poses a major strategic challenge to India.


China is known to have provided direct assistance to Pakistan for its nuclear weapons programme, including nuclear warhead designs and enough HEU (highly enriched uranium) for at least two nuclear bombs.


China is known to have provided assistance and transferred dual-use technology and materials for the development of nuclear weapons.


China has also helped Pakistan to build a secret reactor to produce weapons-grade plutonium at the Chashma nuclear facility. China has transferred M-9 and M-11 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and has facilitated the transfer of Taepo Dong and No Dong ballistic missiles from North Korea to Pakistan.


China and Pakistan have jointly developed a fighter aircraft - JF-17 Thunder/ FC-1 Fierce - and a main battle tank - Al Khalid, besides other military hardware like anti-tank missiles.


China has "guaranteed Pakistan's territorial integrity" and in the words of the leaders of the two countries, their friendship is "higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans."


As part of its "string of pearls" strategy in the Indian Ocean, China has built a port for Pakistan at Gwadar on the Makran Coast. This port could be upgraded to a naval base for Chinese naval vessels with minimum effort.


China is clearly engaged in the strategic encirclement of India. During the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, China had made some threatening military manoeuvres in Tibet in support of Pakistan.


It is also noteworthy that during the Kargil conflict in 1999, Chinese military advisers were reported to have been present at Skardu in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.


China and India have failed to satisfactorily resolve their territorial and boundary dispute since the two nations fought a war over it in 1962 despite 14 rounds of talks between political interlocutors and many meetings of the Joint Working Group.


Even the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has not been clearly demarcated on military maps and on the ground due to China's intransigence. Patrol face-offs are common and an armed clash could take place any time. If it is not contained quickly, such a clash could lead to another border conflict.


Of late, while stability prevails at the strategic level, China has exhibited marked political, diplomatic and military aggressiveness at the tactical level. This has led to anxiety about Chinese intentions.


Hence, Indian analysts have concluded that during a future Indian military conflict with China, Pakistan is likely to come to China's military aid and vice versa. While the ability to fight on two fronts may be aspirational rather than real at present, recognition of the need to prepare for such an eventuality will drive future doctrine, strategy and force structures.


If the defence budget cannot sustain the capital expenditure that will be necessary to prepare for a two-front scenario, Indian diplomacy must ensure that the armed forces will never be required to face two military adversaries simultaneously.


And, if the Ministry of External Affairs cannot provide such a guarantee, India should be looking for a military alliance, despite the fact that Indian policy-makers dislike that term and not joining military alliances is a key element of India's foreign policy. A nation's foreign policy and national security policy must reflect the prevailing strategic environment.


The writer is the Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.








THE skilled or unskilled labour from other states, mostly from Bihar and UP, keeps farms and factories of Ludhiana moving all the year round. Its contribution to agriculture and industry is so vital that one sometimes begins to wonder if these two sectors can really run without it. After having entered into these major areas in a big way, it has penetrated now into almost every field and economic activity.


How they are attracted to this city can easily be noticed at Ludhiana railway station where they get down every year in large numbers. Though they keep coming throughout the year, they arrive in large groups during the sowing and harvesting seasons.


Farmers from all over the state come to Ludhiana railway station in order to take them along to their farms. A good number of them have been coming to Punjab for the last many years and after getting down at Ludhiana go direct to farmers with whom they have already worked or with whom they are well acquainted.


They are usually well-versed with their work and prove to be of great help to farmers. There is generally a good equation between the two and they both seem to be an integral and inseparable part of the farming process.


Realising their importance in the day-to-day work, many farmers employ them as full-time workers. Most of them are hard working and devoted to the task entrusted to them. They work from early morning till late at night without the least regard to their personal comfort.


Scientists of Punjab Agricultural University have rightly underlined their contribution to the development of agriculture in Punjab. If the district of Ludhiana has won the rare distinction of achieving the highest yield per acre in wheat in the world, the role of these solid, sturdy and steely hands can hardly be underestimated.


Some experts have gone to the extent of counting this determined and dependable labour force as one of the factors responsible for ushering in an era of economic prosperity in the agricultural sector of Punjab.


On account of their diligence and sense of duty, they have found a place in almost all factories of the town. It has been observed that many factory owners prefer them to local labour in the matter of employment. The reason is that they are simple, submissive, mind their own business and create no problems for the employers.


Most of them have acquired the skills required in the units where they work. They are, therefore, engaged on the daily wages as well as on a contractual basis.


It is perhaps due to this skilled and cheap labour that the exporters of Ludhiana can successfully compete in the highly competitive international markets and sell their products like hosiery goods, bicycles, bicycle parts, sewing machines, etc, at better prices.


With the liberalisation of the Indian economy, the exports from this city are steadily going up. With an increase in exports, labour from the other states is now more and more in demand.


Earlier, skilled labour from Hoshiarpur and other backward areas of Punjab used to come to Ludhiana and work on construction sites. With its mass exodus to the Gulf countries a vacuum-like situation was created which has been set right by equally efficient masons, carpenters, painters, etc, from Bihar and UP. Local contractors engage them without any hesitation and rely on them for all kinds of work. In several parts of Ludhiana, fruit and vegetable rehris and shops are manned by them.


Some of them have migrated to this part of the country along with their families and intend to stay here for comparatively longer periods. Their women and children assist them in their jobs or work in homes as part-time servants in order to supplement the family income.


A sudden serious trouble involving migrants erupted in Ludhiana recently when incidents of mob violence took place in certain areas of the town and there was considerable loss of life and property.


Fortunately, good sense prevailed soon and normalcy returned in a short time. Many organisations of industrial labour, farm workers and farmers along with trade union activists held protest demonstration, demanding justice for the affected migrant families.


Thus there was a strong realisation among almost all sections of society that migrants play an important role in the state of Punjab, specially in agriculture and industry.


With the return of peace to the trouble-torn town, many migrant families which had left have started coming back to Ludhiana, a city which offers to them many opportunities for remunerative work.


One can reasonably hope that in the years to come there will be a substantial growth in the trade and commerce

of this city and it will hold out a market big enough to absorb the ever-increasing number of labourers from other states.n








The Chilean city just 50 kilometres from the epicentre of the weekend's devastating earthquake was finally becalmed by the introduction of martial law on Tuesday. But as frightened locals in Concepcion, Chile's second largest city, barricaded themselves inside their homes, the country was still struggling to get aid to the areas that needed it most.


About 3,000 troops patrolled the city yesterday as the nationwide death toll across the country rose to 796. President Michelle Bachelet had deployed the soldiers to quell looting and civil unrest. The declaration of martial law brought the city under curfew overnight until midday yesterday; the conditions were reimposed at 6 o'clock last night.


Local residents had begun to pour into the streets soon after the earthquake hit. And with the government unable to respond quickly enough to meet their needs, hundreds of poor residents eventually broke into supermarkets in search of food. Soon mobs were ransacking whatever they could get hold of throughout the city.


Angelea Villalobos, 41, saw looters driven back from a supermarket by police using tear gas and water cannons on Sunday. Now she and her family are barricaded in the rubble of their 1932 home and storefront. She and her neighbours have set up makeshift fences to keep outsiders at bay. Last night, she heard guns fired. "Until yesterday, this was a lawless no man's land," she said.


Others, like Caroline Poblete, 34, a housewife with two children, have complained that the government's response has been slow and inadequate. "I did not support General Augusto Pinochet, but right now we could use a Pinochet," she said in disgust. On Tuesday, the central authorities were still calculating how to get food, water and medical supplies to the worst-hit areas.


In Concepcion, basic services are still lacking in most of the city. Many residents ride the streets on bicycles as they have no access to petrol. Water service has been restored to only a few homes in the city centre. Buses are arriving carrying worried family members. And today newspapers arrived for the first time since the earthquake hit early on Saturday morning.


The reports from other parts of the country were not good. Aid workers in some of the smaller rural towns and port cities along the south-central coastline reported finding scenes of destruction worse than some had ever encountered before.


"I have never seen anything like this," said Paula Saez, a relief worker with World Vision who had only just returned from Haiti. She was reporting from Dichato, a small fishing town that like many others along the coast was hit first by the rattling of the ground that loosened buildings and moments later by an enormous rolling tsunami that smashed homes or simply lifted them from the ground. "Boats are in the middle of the city. The earthquake damaged some things but the sea took everything away."


Elsewhere, horrified locals heard of a busload of 40 holidaying retirees swept out to the ocean in the town of Pelluhue. And in the port city of Talcahuano, as many as 180,000 people are homeless, with 10,000 homes uninhabitable and many more in ruins, Mayor Gaston Saavedra reported last night.


The earthquake in Chile has probably shortened the length of the day by about 1.26 millionths of a second, according to a Nasa study. The magnitude 8.8 quake may have moved on its axis by about 7cm, Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says.


Dr Richard Gross, a scientist at the laboratory in Pasadena, California, has calculated that the strength of the quake and its location resulted in a slight movement of the Earth's figure axis, around which the mass of the planet is balanced. One implication of the shift is that the speed of rotation around this axis has probably increased so that the day length has been shortened – a reversal of the historic process of the Earth's rotation slowing down and the days getting gradually longer over the millennia as a consequence.


— By arrangement with The Independent








Sometimes our lack of professionalism in various areas (inventing interviews, ignoring grammar and usage, not being on time, and other sins too numerous to name) has its amusing side. Years ago, the then director of the British Council invited a small group of people to meet a British artist and to look at his slides. As soon as the artist moved to the next slide, a bewhiskered gent, head of some organisation, and more than a little tanked up, shouted "Next" in the voice of a sergeant major. The artist began to look a little haunted. Members of the group began to give him angry glances. Letting the side down and all that. Eventually the director, a very mild-mannered man decided to intervene. As softly as he could he said, "Shhh." But this was too subtle for Whiskers.

Not all our unprofessional doings are quite so amusing. Do you remember that old song, If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time? I think underpaid and unpaid hockey players and underpaid and unpaid free-lance journalists should adopt that as their anthem. So should writers who are frequently asked to evaluate the work of hopeful poets and novelists they've never set eyes on. After all, we pay doctors to diagnose our ills, and lawyers to sort out our problems. I doubt writers who are consulted would accept anything, so it would have to be the thought that counted! One writer does run a professional consultancy, but I know he rarely gets around to asking for his payments, despite the fact that he sometimes has to re-write the whole thing. When looking up some information on the poet Vijay Nambisan some time ago, I came across an intriguing entry about correspondence covering 86 mails and five years. The correspondence is with a weekly news magazine about non-payment for articles, and extracts from the writer's work. "I didn't think," Vijay writes towards the end, "that an organisation which preaches propriety and ethics to the nation could behave so unethically… and could treat a fellow-professional so shabbily." The magazine pleaded lack of funds.

I've heard stories of this kind for years, and still do. Sometimes the excuse is lack of funds. You mean to say they didn't factor in payments to contributors when deciding to launch a paper? Sometimes it is just that the paper doesn't give a damn. Of course no one ever pays academics for articles in university or academic journals, but universities sometimes display their own forms of unprofessionalism.


At some stage last year, I received an invitation from one of the universities in Delhi to give a memorial lecture. It was an email invitation, and came three weeks before the lecture was to be given. I wrote back to say it was impossible as I hadn't even read the work of the person to be honoured by the memorial lecture. I wish I had preserved the reply. It was roughly along the lines of 'you have been a professor for so many years, just say whatever you feel like'.

 Then there was the one which offered me train fare. I said I would rather fly, and I would pay the difference. They insisted on sending me an air ticket but got their own back. Over coffee, the Dean said pointedly, "Nissim Ezekiel was an old man when we invited him, and he was perfectly content to come by train." Well, Nissim probably never had the experience of waking up in the middle of the night to find his foot clutched with passionate frenzy. If he did, he didn't tell me. The next time I see that smug old Dean, I shall step hard on his foot.









The recent one-day strike by the fishermen community in some coastal states and the demonstration staged near the Parliament House in Delhi are a measure of how incensed the community is over the proposed new Central legislation to regulate marine fisheries in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2009, the draft of which has been circulated to states prior to its introduction in Parliament, is essentially a broad spectrum Bill to ensure sustainability of fishing resources, and with a focus on coastline security, in the light of the Mumbai terror attack. On enactment, the new statute will annul several clauses of existing marine fisheries laws — the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Marine Zones Act, 1976, and the Maritime Zone of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981. While some of this is good, there is the problem that the proposed legislation impinges upon state laws that presently govern the regulation and management of fisheries in the coastal and territorial waters (up to 12 nautical miles from the sea shore). The management of the coastal waters has, under the Constitution, been entrusted to the states while that of the rest of the Indian maritime zone to the Union government.

The controversy over the marine fisheries Bill has arisen because it seeks to completely alter a key provision under the old law that allows fishing by Indian citizens in the Indian EEZ. The new legal regime will require all Indian fishing vessels, irrespective of their size, to get a special permit from the Central administration for undertaking any fishing activity outside the territorial waters. What irks fishermen the most is the clause relating to imprisonment and fine of up to Rs 9 lakh for any violation of this rule. Since several smaller fishing vessels, equipped with modern gear, have now begun to routinely venture into relatively deeper waters in search of fish catches, they feel that by restricting them to the over-exploited coastal zone, the new law will hurt their livelihood.

The draft Bill has also fallen foul of the legal profession, security analysts and environmentalists. Some feel it does not adequately address security concerns, while others feel it neglects environmental concerns. Most countries have separate legal instruments for coastal area protection (with a focus on security) and for fisheries regulation (with a focus on environment). The coast guards are not best equipped to deal with fisheries resource management issues. Given the range of criticism, the government may be well advised to revisit the draft Bill and clarify the issues raised by these various groups. The new law must distinguish between coastal communities engaged in small-vessel fishing and deep-sea fishing by ships owned by Indian and foreign companies. The penalty recommended for infringement of the law by small fishermen may be too harsh and needs to be reduced. Finally, issues pertaining to jurisdictional matters between the Centre and the coastal states should be amicably settled.







The Union Budget deserves two or maybe two-and-a-half cheers for what it has on offer for the Indian information technology (IT). More than the numbers, it is the change in attitude towards the industry, implicit in the announcements, that is significant. From being a star export performer, important as that is, the industry is being repositioned and mainstreamed as a key enabler of better governance. Thus, the old allegation that ICT (information and communications technologies) represents one more divide rather than an enabler of development, is being put to rest. A substantial Rs 1,900 crore has been earmarked for the unique identification (UID) project, indicating it will pick up steam during the year. This one innovation will go a long way in delivering benefits to the poor with greater efficiency and less scope for corruption. Further, Nandan Nilekani, who already heads the UID project, will also head a technology advisory group for automation of major tax administrations at both the Centre and the states (excise and commercial tax) as also that of the future (GST). This should take the taxation effort to a new plane in terms of cost and efficiency.

In developed economies, the government is a major buyer of IT and, in fact, the robustness of a country's domestic IT sector, as also its general adoption are proxies for its level of development and competitiveness. Unsurprisingly, China's software industry, powered mainly by domestic demand, is far larger than that of India. With the government emerging as a major driver of IT demand, the slack in global demand, which is still present, will be partly taken up by domestic demand. Numbers tell a fascinating tale of the changing dynamics between export and domestic demand for IT. During 1998-09, export of software and IT-enabled services grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33 per cent, whereas domestic sales grew by 26 per cent. But an inflection point may have been reached in the current year when exports are, according to Nasscom, slated to grow by 5.5 per cent, as against domestic sales growth of 12.2 per cent. In the coming year, domestic sales are projected to grow by 15-17 per cent, ahead of exports growth of 13-15 per cent. What is more, as these numbers were worked out before the Budget, a stronger push through greater government adoption can lead to higher domestic growth. The government's IT spending is projected to grow by a CAGR of 29 per cent during 2009-11.

The one reason why the government does not get an unqualified third cheer is its unwillingness to establish parity between software technology parks (STPIs) and special economic zones (SEZs). It can be nobody's case that the software industry, which has now matured, should enjoy special tax benefits. But the STPI was a unique regulatory product that eliminated the proverbial Indian regulatory overload and enabled the Indian software revolution. Startups can find it difficult to migrate to an SEZ or even find one in a tier two and three city where skills cost less. The STPI package, remarkable in its simplicity, created a bonded warehouse out of every little software exporting shop. This window must be kept open for some more time.









Bihar is apparently the flavour of the season. Many famous columnists have applauded the state's stupendous economic performance of 11 per cent annual growth rate between 2004 and 2009 — the highest among Indian states. There have been equally quick rebuttals based on the state's well-known failings on social deprivation; some have even questioned the veracity of the official figures given the poor governance in Bihar. Here is an attempt to demystify the story by looking closely at the official documents. Using the Central Statistical Organisation's (CSO's) compilation, the average of annual growth rates of Bihar's gross state domestic product (GSDP) between 2004-05 and 2008-09 stands at 11 per cent. However, the same, based on Bihar's Economic Survey 2008-09 (presented before the last Budget), is just 7.3 per cent — lower than the national average of 8.5 per cent. The discrepancy between the two, both based on official data, should moderate the new-found enthusiasm for the state's growth story, paving the way for a sober and careful scrutiny of the official statistics.

Annual growth rates presented by the two series are broadly comparable during the first three years, but diverge significantly in the following two years, causing all the confusion (and the celebration?). Why do they diverge? They should not, in principle, since the same official agency (state statistical bureau) is responsible for preparing the estimates — the CSO merely compiles them for all the states in a comparable format. As any careful user of official statistics would know, the GDP/GSDP estimates usually undergo at least three revisions — advanced estimates to quick estimates to provisional estimates to the final estimates. This is true in most countries (barring perhaps China!). The magnitude and sign of the variation between the CSO and the Economic Survey estimates is so pronounced that it would be imprudent to tell a credible story based on such divergent numbers.


Growth in % per annum


Bihar Economic
















Average growth



To put the record straight, Bihar did not remain stagnant over the medium term during the last decade. Between 1999-00 and 2008-09 (i.e., during the last term of Lalu Prasad/Rabri Devi and now under Nitish Kumar), GSDP grew at an average annual growth rate of 8.5 per cent (CSO series), or at 6.1 per cent (Economic Survey series), with two years of negative growth rate and wide yearly fluctuation. Yet, its per capita income remained at the bottom of the ranking of Indian states in 2005-06 (the latest year for which complete data are available), with 30 per cent of the national average.

However, even if you assume, for the sake of argument, that there has indeed been a turnaround in the state's economic performance (based on anecdotal evidence or casual empiricism), what could possibly account for it? On disaggregating the GSDP into its principal sectors, it was found that the bulk of the growth has occurred in the secondary sector at 12.9 per cent per year, while the primary sector has barely grown (at less than 1 per cent per year) and the tertiary sector has grown much more slowly than the national average (at 6.9 per cent). On further disaggregation, most of the secondary sector growth was found to be in construction — with manufacturing and the utilities stagnating. (For details, refer to our paper in Economic and Political Weekly, February 20, 2010, or visit The value added in construction boomed 2.5 times in three years, from 2004-05 to 2006-07.

What, then, is the source of construction growth when the commodity producing sectors were doing so poorly. Apparently, public works programme did the job, as there is evidence of a substantial reconstruction of roads and bridges (though perhaps not of new roads) funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and national programmes that seem to have boosted overall output growth. To be specific, value added in construction grew annually at 45 per cent for three years between 2005-06 and 2007-08. The Bihar Road Construction Department website shows that during these years, 2,088 km of national highways and 2,795 km of district roads were reconstructed (with little information on the state and village roads). These accomplishments are much lower than the targets, and even lower than the claims made in the media.

Could the tail (construction sector) accounting for 8.5 per cent of the GSDP wag the dog of domestic output, to make Bihar the fastest-growing state in India? Doubtful. Compare Bihar's recent record with the one between 1999-00 and 2003-04 when there was massive road construction (that is, during the NDA government) — nationally 4,500 km of golden quadrilateral and 10,000 km of four-laning of national highways were completed (all of which meant laying new roads), with an imperceptible rise in the growth rate of GDP in construction. So, there is reason to contend that the growth in value added in construction in Bihar in recent years seems over-estimated.

To sum up, Bihar's story of 11 per cent growth during the last five years, as per the CSO's compilation, needs to be compared with Bihar Economic Survey's data that shows a more modest growth rate of 7.3 per cent; the variation between them is entirely on account of the differing growth rates in the two most recent years. The estimates for the most recent years are by their nature tentative and subject to serious revisions. Assuming the optimistic estimate to be correct, how could construction with a less than 10 per cent share in the GSDP push up growth by over 4 percentage points in three years? Seems unrealistic. Spinning curious stories may attract a lot of attention, but would remain professionally unacceptable and unworthy of serious attention. Telling credible ones, based on sound facts and theory, is far harder.

The author is a Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai








For several years now, one of America's top law schools has been spearheading a campaign here to bring about "awareness on intellectual property (IP) and create judicial interactions". The campaign — actually, crusade is a more apt term — was launched by The George Washington University Law School (GWU) in 2004 a year before India was scheduled to enact a product patents law in compliance with its World Trade Organisation commitments.

Grandly titled, "The India Project", GWU has brought several delegations of American IP heavyweights from leading law firms, judges of the Federal Circuit (the central US court of appeal) and a clutch of academics primarily to teach Indians "the importance of IP". That's what Raj Dave, manager of the India Project, an alumnus of IIT-Khargapur who is now partner in a Washington law firm, has been saying repeatedly.

Dave has been quoted as saying that awareness created by the "India Project has helped Indians and the India media to understand the importance of IP". Ignore the patronising attitude inherent in such statements. It could be that GWU and the India Project are not familiar with India's long history of IP protection. The country has had a pharmaceutical product patent regime going back a long way — to 1911— till it decided, in 1970, to opt for an IP regime that was more appropriate to its development goals. But even if IP awareness had to be taken to the people once again after the 2005 amendment, why did GWU mount such a major campaign here?

The stated objective of the India Project is to "create interactions between leading US, European, Asian and Indian academics, industry leaders, lawyers, judges and policy-makers in the field of IP". But the key goal, to quote its director Martin J Adelman, is "to work closely and cooperatively with Indian judges to ensure not just enaction but enforcement of patent laws". Adelman is an IP expert and professor of law at GWU.

So the India Project has been hosting frequent symposiums in various cities, events which are not just about creating IP awareness. Among the prominent invitees are sitting judges of the Supreme Court of India and major high courts, which is not as harmless as it seems. These symposiums are all sponsored by big business, many of whom have a vested interest in how the judiciary is tackling the numerous patent cases now being fought in the high courts and the Supreme Court. The 2009 symposium, for instance, was sponsored by Novartis, The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which is the association of the big boys of the US pharma industry; Intellectual Ventures, a firm specialising in buying up IP rights of other companies; software giant Microsoft and chip designer Qualcomm. The grand sponsor has been the US-India Business Council (USIBC), a lobby that which has been leading a powerful campaign against certain provisions in the Indian Patent Law. This year's event (February 14-18) had USIBC and Gilead Sciences as the sponsors and among those attending the February conclave was the Controller General of Patents PH Kurian along with senior lawyer Amarjit Singh Chandiok who has appeared for the government in a case where Bayer has challenged a key section of India's patent law.

Sponsors, who pay hefty sums to send delegates to the events, are also allowed to make presentations, an opening that some companies have used to push their own case. In what has come as a shock to participants at the 7th IP Summit held last month in Delhi and Mumbai is that Gilead was allowed to make a presentation on its AIDS drug Tenofovir, the patent for which has been rejected by the Indian Patent Office. Gilead's appeal against the rejection is pending with the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).

The presentation made by the company had this closing warning: "The licensing model — Gilead licenses its patents to generic firms — is at risk and the decision by the IPAB will send a powerful signal about prospects for tech transfer partnerships with Indian companies." There are other disquieting aspects to the India Project, such as the moot courts or mock courts. Moot courts are used in law school to sharpen the legal skills of students who are given a specific issue to argue, but in this instance, the moot court problems are a simulation of patent enforcement issues pending in Indian courts!

But the more troubling question here is why the Ministry of Commerce and the CII are backing the India Project. The pharma industry, for instance, has been seeking some answers from the CII but has not got a response so far, possibly because the industry itself is divided. However, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma needs to explain why his Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion is a regular co-sponsor of the IP summits. Does the ministry subscribe to the patent laws of the country or not?For several years now, one of America's top law schools has been spearheading a campaign here to bring about "awareness on intellectual property (IP) and create judicial interactions". The campaign — actually, crusade is a more apt term — was launched by The George Washington University Law School (GWU) in 2004 a year before India was scheduled to enact a product patents law in compliance with its World Trade Organisation commitments.

Grandly titled, "The India Project", GWU has brought several delegations of American IP heavyweights from leading law firms, judges of the Federal Circuit (the central US court of appeal) and a clutch of academics primarily to teach Indians "the importance of IP". That's what Raj Dave, manager of the India Project, an alumnus of IIT-Khargapur who is now partner in a Washington law firm, has been saying repeatedly.

Dave has been quoted as saying that awareness created by the "India Project has helped Indians and the India media to understand the importance of IP". Ignore the patronising attitude inherent in such statements. It could be that GWU and the India Project are not familiar with India's long history of IP protection. The country has had a pharmaceutical product patent regime going back a long way — to 1911— till it decided, in 1970, to opt for an IP regime that was more appropriate to its development goals. But even if IP awareness had to be taken to the people once again after the 2005 amendment, why did GWU mount such a major campaign here?

The stated objective of the India Project is to "create interactions between leading US, European, Asian and Indian academics, industry leaders, lawyers, judges and policy-makers in the field of IP". But the key goal, to quote its director Martin J Adelman, is "to work closely and cooperatively with Indian judges to ensure not just enaction but enforcement of patent laws". Adelman is an IP expert and professor of law at GWU.

So the India Project has been hosting frequent symposiums in various cities, events which are not just about creating IP awareness. Among the prominent invitees are sitting judges of the Supreme Court of India and major high courts, which is not as harmless as it seems. These symposiums are all sponsored by big business, many of whom have a vested interest in how the judiciary is tackling the numerous patent cases now being fought in the high courts and the Supreme Court. The 2009 symposium, for instance, was sponsored by Novartis, The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which is the association of the big boys of the US pharma industry; Intellectual Ventures, a firm specialising in buying up IP rights of other companies; software giant Microsoft and chip designer Qualcomm. The grand sponsor has been the US-India Business Council (USIBC), a lobby that which has been leading a powerful campaign against certain provisions in the Indian Patent Law. This year's event (February 14-18) had USIBC and Gilead Sciences as the sponsors and among those attending the February conclave was the Controller General of Patents PH Kurian along with senior lawyer Amarjit Singh Chandiok who has appeared for the government in a case where Bayer has challenged a key section of India's patent law.

Sponsors, who pay hefty sums to send delegates to the events, are also allowed to make presentations, an opening that some companies have used to push their own case. In what has come as a shock to participants at the 7th IP Summit held last month in Delhi and Mumbai is that Gilead was allowed to make a presentation on its AIDS drug Tenofovir, the patent for which has been rejected by the Indian Patent Office. Gilead's appeal against the rejection is pending with the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).

The presentation made by the company had this closing warning: "The licensing model — Gilead licenses its patents to generic firms — is at risk and the decision by the IPAB will send a powerful signal about prospects for tech transfer partnerships with Indian companies." There are other disquieting aspects to the India Project, such as the moot courts or mock courts. Moot courts are used in law school to sharpen the legal skills of students who are given a specific issue to argue, but in this instance, the moot court problems are a simulation of patent enforcement issues pending in Indian courts!

But the more troubling question here is why the Ministry of Commerce and the CII are backing the India Project. The pharma industry, for instance, has been seeking some answers from the CII but has not got a response so far, possibly because the industry itself is divided. However, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma needs to explain why his Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion is a regular co-sponsor of the IP summits. Does the ministry subscribe to the patent laws of the country or not?






Goldman Sachs' chief economist Jim O'Neill is an unlikely name to figure in discussions among football's TV pundits and bloggers. But that's just where you can spot his name these days. That's because he's at the centre of a hostile takeover attempt on Manchester United, one of the world's richest and most successful football clubs.

 Part of a team of 50 high net worth individuals (i.e., rich fans) who call themselves the Red Knights (Man U's team is called the Red Devils), he's trying to rescue the club from the deeply unpopular Glazer family, the Americans who bought it in 2005. The idea is to make Man U a supporter-owned club like Spain's Barcelona.

The situation is almost comical because (a) the Glazers have categorically said they don't want to sell and (b) until they do, neither the Red Knights nor anyone else can buy since the club delisted from the stock exchange some years ago.

Also, the Red Knights have to raise about £1 billion to buy out the Glazers, an unlikely situation given the new-found risk aversion of bankers and the parlous state of European football in general and English football in particular.

Till the 2009-10 season, European football could have been considered the ultimate demonstration of the marvels of the unregulated free market, seemingly impervious to global crises. Over the past two decades, a surging worldwide fan following has seen the sport dribble its way past two major global downturns — the Asian currency crisis in the late 90s and the dotcom bust in the early 2000s.

In industry after industry, companies folded and people lost jobs, but football stars continued to command dizzying salaries, stratospheric transfer prices, not to speak of the endorsement deal et al that inevitably followed.

In the 2008-2009 season, just as the global economy was melting under the sub-prime crisis, Man U sold its hot Portuguese striker Christiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £81 million. Now, however, there are signs of hubris, as the Man U buyout imbroglio shows. The Glazers' appearances at Red Devils' matches are routinely greeted by boos because their £810 million deal to buy the club included raising £716 million of debt raised on Man U's holding company, some of it to hedge funds at extortionate interest rates of 14.5 per cent.

Earlier this year, this debt mountain prompted the club to ask its first team to take a salary cut (they refused). A £500 million bond issue followed to cut borrowing costs, but at least half of that will go straight to the Glazers' pockets. Incredibly, the Red Knights are now trying to buy bonds from the market as a means of creating some sort of hold over the Glazers.

The interesting point about the Man U imbroglio plus what's going on elsewhere in European football is that moral hazard has suddenly become an issue in the huckstering, roller-coaster world of football finance, just as it has on Wall Street.

And that's because of the financial state of European football clubs. A report released by UEFA, the governing body for European football, late last month showed that more than a third of the clubs have debt greater than their assets. Almost half reported net losses and almost 60 per cent spent more than 100 per cent of their income on wages.

Wages, the bulk of it being players' salaries, have been at the centre of the moral hazard debate for some years now. In the 2008-09 season, stars like Lionel Messi and John Terry were able to command weekly wages of £156,000 and £140,000, respectively — and those numbers have risen since. Some pundits tut-tutted over such largesse at the cost of the clubs' financial well-being. Most, however, were all for laissez faire on the assumption that the dizzying growth in TV viewership and merchandise sales plus lenders with no inclination for due diligence would tide over the problem.

This year, however, UEFA has introduced the Financial Fair Play rule, in which it will delicense clubs from its competitions if they did not meet certain financial criteria. One bankrupt English Premier League club, Portsmouth, has already lost its licence on this new rule.

As Michael Platini observed in his Foreword, "There are many clubs that continue to operate on a sustainable basis (and)… are finding it difficult to coexist and compete with clubs that incur costs… beyond their means."

Meaning, is it okay for, say, Real Madrid to buy high-priced stars, consistently stay in the red and win competitions year in and out when other rivals with stronger profit and loss accounts don't do so? But in the end, the restriction is likely to be a mild one. Just as the US government is hard put to put restraints on the bonuses of Wall Street banks that it has bailed out, UEFA will not be able to restrict players' wages and transfer fees, the biggest causes of financial stress.

If football clubs do reform, it will be at the demand of the fans. In this context, it is worth noting that English football's administrators are examining a proposal for a franchise-based competition that will combine meritocracy with financial staying power. Shades of our own IPL here?









Twenty years ago, "spectrum" implied the colours of the rainbow. Now, we understand that spectrum also relates to mobile phones. We encounter spectrum daily, in TV remote controls, microwave ovens, even sunlight. So, what exactly is spectrum, and how do government and commercial decisions on this scientific phenomenon affect public facilities and costs?

"Spectrum" is short for "electromagnetic spectrum", the range of radiated energies that envelop the Earth. This electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is primarily from the sun, and secondarily from the stars/cosmos, radioactive elements in soil, rock and gases... .

One section of EMR is visible light; another is radio frequency (RF) spectrum. There are many other "wavelengths" in EMR with different characteristics and effects, such as infrared and ultraviolet rays. All countries have the same RF spectrum in equivalent areas.

How is spectrum used?

The length of a wave, its associated frequency ("wavelengths" or "cycles" per second) and energy determine its usage (see Figure 1).

Radio waves are relatively long, with wavelengths from 1,000 metres (1 km) to 10 cms, and frequencies from 3 kilohertz (3,000 cycles per second) to 3 gigahertz (GHz) or 3 billion cycles per second for the shortest, sometimes also called microwaves. (There are longer waves, e.g., electric power, of several km.)

Microwaves in the centimetre and millimetre range can have frequencies up to 300 GHz. There is an overlap in terminology depending on use; microwaves for cooking use several hundred watts of electricity at RF wavelengths of about 32 cms (915 MHz) and 12 cms (2.45 GHz). Microwaves from low-powered devices of a few watts at these frequencies are used for communications, and emit insignificant heat.

Infrared waves are smaller, and are felt as heat, e.g., from lamps and infrared grills used for cooking. Higher infrared bands used for communications in remote control devices and for imaging/night vision have no heating effect.

Wavelengths between 700 and 400 nanometres (about 430 to 750 terahertz or THz) form the visible spectrum from red to violet, combining to form white light. For example, we perceive wavelengths of about 635-700 nm (430-480 THz) as the colour red.

Shorter wavelengths form ultraviolet rays, of which those around 380-280 nm cause sunburn. Sunlight at sea level comprises about 53 per cent infrared, 44 per cent visible light, and 3 per cent ultraviolet rays.

Yet smaller waves are classified as X-rays, and the smallest as gamma rays, both used in medical and industrial imaging.

The sweet spot in the RF spectrum for telephony and the Internet

For telephony and broadband, lower frequencies (700-900 MHz) are most cost-effective, as they traverse long distances without attenuation, penetrating walls and foliage. Radio waves in the atmosphere are affected by water vapour and ionisation, as well as events such as solar flares with bursts of X-rays. Depending on temperature, moisture, etc., radio waves may be absorbed, refracted, or reflected in the atmosphere, and by hills or other obstacles. Low frequency waves penetrate buildings and trees, and curve over slopes. Higher frequencies are more absorbed or reflected by the atmosphere; they are also more attenuated by distance and rain. Networks at lower frequencies require fewer towers than at higher frequencies.

What are 2G and 3G?

These signify different stages of technological development, starting with 1st Generation (1G) analog wireless in the 1980s, e.g., in car phones. 2G (2nd Generation) began in the 1990s with the digital wireless GSM standard for mobiles, extending to other standards, e.g., CDMA. 3G (3rd Generation) has faster data speed and greater network capacity.

What is 2G/3G spectrum?

There is no difference in the spectrum; only the convention of government regulations and harmonisation between countries by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) earmark wavelengths for different applications. Both 2G and 3G can and do work at 800-900 and 1800-1900 MHz.

Combined with the advantages of prices dropping as volumes rise, one estimate puts 3G coverage with 900 MHz at 50-70 per cent lower cost than at the designated 2.1 GHz. 3G networks using 900 MHz ("2G spectrum") exist in Finland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Venezuela, Denmark and Sweden, and countries like France encourage 2G networks to upgrade to 3G services.

Spectrum allocated for 2G and 3G by various countries is at Figure 2; the current and proposed allocation in India is shown below.

This shows India's dearth of spectrum for public use because of government and defence allocations. We need innovative methods to maximise capacity given our needs, limited landline networks, and the relative costs. (For details on the chart, please see:

For example, China has allocated 250 MHz in the 800/1800 MHz bands. By not charging auction fees and spectrum charges, ubiquitous networks were built at lower cost with high capacity. These result in lower costs for users and higher productivity. With its focused approach, China also developed its own standard (TD-SCDMA).

India's spectrum allocation is burdened with short-term revenue collection for the government, and a shortage mentality. There is apparently insufficient clarity on spectrum usage for ubiquitous broadband/telephony as in other countries, let alone more ambitious targets, such as developing an Indian standard.

Our policies could address the requirement for enhanced coverage/capacity at low cost to make services available everywhere at reasonable prices. Innovative approaches to spectrum management could help get these, through:

  1. Technology-neutrality: the UK and Norway have not restricted the use of recently auctioned spectrum to any technology.
  2. A focused strategy for service delivery at low cost, as in China.

This needs a combination of methods, e.g., along with technology-neutrality, (a) data-base driven, shared spectrum usage, under trial in the US, (b) "Cognitive Radio", whereby smart devices sense available channels for dynamic, non-conflicting use in unlicensed spectrum bands, (c) incentives for rural broadband delivery, e.g., by subvention of fees and government charges, with (d) subsidies.







While finance minister Pranab Mukherjee may make light of his daughter's plea — via a recent open letter to him in a newspaper — to give tax concessions to those who adopt stray dogs, he would do well to take note of a suggestion by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO): taxing flatulence. This is no conspiracy to restrict the consumption of rajma and other legumes.

What has really got the FAO's wind up is the fact that cattle expel more polluting gases that trigger climate change than carbon-dioxide-spewing cars, as methane traps heat 20 times more than CO2. It has been pointed out that a cow produces more noxious gases than an SUV, so the implications for India are, well, moo-t . We have only 75 million-odd motor vehicles but we have the world's largest population of livestock — around 485 million, including some 283 million cattle, and the rest, goats and sheep — which collectively emit 11.75 million tonnes of methane.

The FAO's suggestion therefore, that livestock farmers should "internalise the costs of environmental damages" , has caused consternation, not the least because of the sheer impossibility of that task, however apposite. Even as the slimming industry has made a milch cow out of urban obesity, Indian scientists have been ruminating on better diets for bovines — that would lead to less odious emanations — rather than expect producers to absorb their ill-effects.

Is it a coincidence or plain cowbelch politics that the FAO's call for a flatulence tax also finds BRIC nations on the wrong side of the cattle battle, given their larger bovine populations? Since the FAO's observations have come at a time when meat consumption has surged worldwide, perhaps the implicit green solution is to do what the cows do — go vegetarian!







There are good reasons to remain hopeful that GDP growth for 2009-10 would be around the 7.2% forecast by the Central Statistical Organisation in its advance estimate, despite the disappointing 6% growth in the third quarter. After the 6.1% growth in Q1, the spectacular 7.9% growth in Q2 had raised expectations, which now stand dampened for many observers after the Q3 figures were released last week. Improved business confidence, rising orders for companies and increased flow of bank credit, however, reinforce the turnaround story. The recovery in trade in January 2010, particularly the 28.8% rise in non-oil imports, also augurs well for growth.

Passenger vehicle sales soared 35% in January, and the figure might well be exceeded in February. These trends have emboldened Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council chairman C Rangarajan to maintain that the economy is likely to grow 9% in the last quarter. Growth in Q4 needs to be 8.6% for the CSO's advance estimate of 7.2% for the year as a whole to be realised. Expectedly, poor performance of the drought-hit agriculture sector (-2 .8%) and the fading effect of the Sixth Pay Commission payout have contributed to slower growth in Q3.

The third quarter of 2008-09 had been one of the most difficult quarters, with risk aversion peaking, and business as well as consumer confidence plummeting and provided a low base that should have made growth in Q3 of 2009-10 look good. The smart 14.3% growth in manufacturing, although on a low base and led mostly by the stimulus packages, does help GDP growth look better.

The impact of the pick up in economic activity and higher consumer spending was all too visible in other sectors — construction grew 8.7% during the quarter, up from just 3% in the corresponding quarter a year ago; and services comprising trade, hospitality, transportation and communication rose 10%, up from 4.4%. The turnaround in these sectors underscores that recovery is now becoming firm.

The lower-than-expected growth figure for Q3 does not call for any modification of the policy imperatives as outlined in the Budget and the monetary policy.







The government and the RBI are completely off the track, if they indeed plan, as reported, to restrict new banking licensees to rural areas and no-frills accounts for the first couple of years. This is no way to go about achieving financial inclusion. Making new banks waste capital doing things that established banks have not found it worth their while to do, is not the way to make banking inclusive.

Rather, the way ahead is to make extensive use of technology and innovative process. The New Pension System and the depository system for dematerialised shares offer the lesson that a common infrastructure provider can create and maintain all the millions of accounts that banks need to service their customers . Depending on the mutual agreement of a bank and a customer, a particular account of his can be assigned to a particular bank.

With crores of accounts on a common platform, the overhead costs would be spread thin over individual accounts, bringing charges sharply down. Then there is the actual process of banking via small transactions. The people who have excelled in the art of making big money from millions of small transactions are the mobile telecom players, whose technology and business model can easily be modified to serve additionally as a banking platform as well, at least for a rudimentary set of transactions.

The government and the RBI need to show some courage and allow innovative forms of banking. With total bank lending less than half the size of the GDP, Indian banking is stunted and a boon to money lenders, who straddle the space vacated by the banks. We need more banks and innovative banking. More banks in towns will mean competition driving players, whether old or new, out to rural areas as well.

The regulator's real problem seems to be in deciding whom to keep out while granting new licences. The way out is to lay down objective corporate governance norms for the applicant promoter group of companies. Those who fail the test should politely but firmly be told to cool their heels, while those who qualify should be given regular banking licences on par with the existing ones. There is no case for waffling on the subject.








There is a reason why most interventions in rural India — by the government and companies — struggle. They underestimate how rural communities will


respond. To elaborate, the recently concluded panchayat elections in Chhattisgarh saw a new trend. Wannabe sarpanches spent far more than before on campaigning. Stories about candidates calling villagers over on the night before the polling, treating them to chicken, mutton and liquor were endemic. As were stories about poorer candidates selling their land to raise money for campaigning. One reason for this change is the rise in the number of schemes (like the NREGA) where government money flows directly to the panchayat . Much of which is spent at the discretion of the sarpanch.

Or, take the NREGA itself. Unlike the cashfor-work programmes of yore, where contractors paid labourers and were not above cooking up muster rolls or retaining a part of the workers' money, NREGA tried to circumvent that problem by depositing cash in the bank accounts of the workers. Consequently, we now see a new kind of a scam — use an earthmover to scoop up a pond; cut a deal with villagers where they get a part of NREGA money in return for putting their names on the muster roll (to show, say, that the pond resulted from 20 people digging away for 50 days). Later, when the money reaches the accounts, the same is divided — usually through post-dated cheques the contractor had collected from the workers.

Or take good old microfinance. In her book, Multiple Meanings of Money, Smita Premchander describes how women in Koppal, Tamil Nadu, were customising microfinance. They began by recognising that loans from an MFI, a bank and the SHG's own savings have different characteristics. And they were borrowing accordingly. Further, they followed different repayment modes from what MFN practitioners advocate for their 'own savings' loans. They were dissolving their groups and recombining as a new group as a way of conflict resolution. There are other instances on how rural India is responding to microfinance. At one level, women are navigating a complex array of loan providers. Some are revolving loans to avoid a debt trap. At another level, large farmers are borrowing cheap from banks and lending slightly cheaper than MFIs. Elsewhere , there are reports of moneylenders repositioning themselves as MFIs.

All this reminds one of the paper The Cathedral and The Bazaar. Written by software philosopher Eric Raymond , it contrasts two approaches towards software development — as epitomised by Microsoft and Linux. One hierarchical and regimented, the other almost unregulated. The point he makes concerns software bugs. "In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena . It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you've winkled them all out... In the bazaarview , you assume that bugs... turn shallow pretty quickly when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release."

That is a point with wider applicability. Interventions in rural India — by companies and government — are surrounded by tens of thousands (if not lakhs and millions) of people looking for ways to improve their lot in life. As they try to use these interventions in a manner that will maximise personal gain, subversion is one of the outcomes — village elites trying to get family members into position of power , the local grain trader accessing the PDS system by retaining the BPL card of someone he has lent to, a farmer pushing a poor harvest into the government's procurement machinery by bribing the buyer who, as it were, is similarly seeking to maximise his own private gain.

It doesn't help that the interventions themselves , conceptualised with scale in mind, are rigid hierarchical structures with slow response times. Bureaucracies' response to subversion is predictable. They respond with greater controls. We see this in the Unique ID programme —which is an attempt to crack down on leakages. We see this in the Indian MFIs' proposed Credit Information System — which plans to stop women from taking multiple loans by creating an industry-wide database to track individual borrowers' outstanding loans. It will be interesting to see how long the two last before they are subverted as well.

What is needed is an inversion. One where the "hackers" move from spotting existing bugs to spotting those who subvert. Putting up village accounts of work on NREGA would be more effective than anything else. Maybe that is what we need. Greater efforts to inform and empower the polity and less tinkering around with the panopticon.








In my first official visit to India as European trade commissioner, I intend to talk to commerce minister Anand Sharma about two of India's main concerns: cricket and trade.

As a Fleming, I was struck to learn that recent research has linked the development of cricket to Flemish weavers who settled in England from the 14th century . Today, the Antwerp Indian Cricket Club may be the only visible remnant of Flanders' cricketing past, but the game has gone global and has taken deep roots particularly here, in India.

Like cricket, trade and open markets have expanded rapidly, especially since improvements in transportation and technology have "flattened the world" . And if today's world is not entirely flat for everyone — millions of people remain mired in poverty and underdevelopment — the economic reform process started by Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991 has turned India into an economic growth champion. People say the noughties were China's decade. But they were also the decade when India emerged as a global economic power.

India averaged almost 9% GDP growth in the five years 2004-09 and in the 2009-10 period its economy is expected to grow by a crisis-busting 7.2%.

Much of India's impressive growth has been driven by domestic demand. However, in pure trade terms, India is yet to achieve its full potential.

It boasts one-sixth of humanity but only around one-fiftieth of global trade. To give an example, although the EU is India's largest trading partner with a fifth of India's trade, India ranks as Europe's eleventh trading partner with 2% of the EU's trade. Our trade has grown by 16% annually, currently standing at € 78 billion , a remarkable increase, but still stands at less than one-fifth of the EU's trade with China. This performance clearly falls far short of its potential. India therefore stands to benefit particularly from shifting foreign trade up a gear.

The EU sees India as a key partner, not only bilaterally but also in global economic governance. India is a major force within the G20, which is developing into a privileged forum for world economic affairs. We work together in the WTO to secure a balanced and comprehensive Doha deal which would not only favour a quick and smooth recovery by injecting a significant boost to the global economy but would address long-standing concerns of developing countries, notably on agriculture.

Our partnership also translates into a joint commitment to bring our economies closer together through bilateral trade. The negotiations for a bilateral trade and investment agreement were launched in 2007, and the agreement is designed to make it easier for Indians and Europeans to do business with each other. I will be discussing these negotiations today with minister Sharma and expect to make good progress in the coming months.

Countries engage in trade because it is mutually beneficial. With India, we will conclude a deal that benefits us both, or there will be no deal. I reject the idea that trade is a zero-sum game. My vision of trade negotiations is a cooperative one, where only win-win solutions are on the table. Markets are increasingly integrated and this needs to be reflected in creating closer trade ties. For example, three quarters of India's goods imports are inputs for further processing, so reduced tariffs will help India's manufacturing sector. Indian consumers would also benefit from cheaper European imports, which are often in different market segments than products Made in India.

As Former commissioner for development , I am keen to see how trade can raise and spread prosperity. Trade has to raise living standards in a way that delivers social progress. I am acutely aware that a large part of the Indian population still relies on subsistence agriculture. I fully intend to respect these sensitivities during the negotiations.

Some, however, suggest that India needs to shelter its manufacturing or services sectors from competition. But corporate India's track record speaks otherwise: Indian companies are world beaters and are increasingly active in overseas markets. There is no reason why they cannot compete in the same way on their own turf.

I want to help take this trade and investment relationship a step further. As the world's largest single market, the EU is very attractive for Indian exporters and investors. The EU stayed open for business throughout the crisis and India has greatly benefited from this openness.

Many Indian firms are now big investors and employers in Europe in sectors like logistics, IT services, automotive parts, rechargeable batteries and wind power. To take an example, India is now the second largest foreign employer in the UK.

EU investors are also keen to develop their presence further in the Indian market . Our companies are good corporate citizens: they provide jobs, bring technology and build alliances with local companies. India could only stand to benefit from more EU investment. Today , however, European companies invest in India only a fraction of what they invest in China. A successful trade deal could make India a much more attractive destination for European investment.

It could also create $9 billion worth of new export opportunities for India in goods alone, up a third on current trade with the EU, let alone the benefits from further opening on services and investment or tackling non-tariff barriers. Improved access to both sides' procurement markets could also help India to attract foreign bidders for key infrastructure projects, as well as helping Indian exporters to compete in the largest procurement market in the world.

Ido not underestimate the difficulties remaining before these negotiations come to fruition. But like I said, I came to Delhi to speak to minister Sharma not only about trade, but also about cricket. Our negotiations are not a Twenty20 cricket match. They are a full Test series: we have to play a few more innings before completing the game. But ultimately I know this trade deal is a prize worth striving for. The economic gains for both the Indian and EU economies could be substantial and it would send a strong signal to the rest of the world that India and Europe are open for business.

(The author is EU commissioner for trade)








We are all waves in the ocean of existence. Existence itself is pure, intelligent energy. This loving Existence desires that each of us succeeds and experiences fulfilment in life. The effect of the peace radiated by a person, fully satisfied and blissful within himself is similar to the waves that happen in a lake when you throw a stone into it. Everything in the lake is touched by the effect of the stone. The waves of bliss radiating from a peaceful person naturally and automatically touch the people , animals, trees, and rocks, affecting everything nearby.

To make the whole world blissful and happy, you don't have to do anything. Just change your centre. When you are seeing a horror movie, your world will be filled with fear. But if you just change the channel to say a comedy movie, you can see how your whole world changes!

With the inner awakening happens the higher emotions. It all finally boils down to your own experience of what is happening. If you want to save the world, all you need to do is save yourself! Everything is happening in this world — great spiritual sessions where enlightenment is being shared and at the same time terrorist training camps where violence is being shared. The world that you attract and see will appear to be so according to what you tune yourself with. You will attract the same type of people and situations in your life.

Even one person struggling for enlightenment, seeking, raises the consciousness of at least a million people. Not only are we all connected to each other socially, the great Truth is that we are all part of the whole, the collective consciousness. We are not individual islands. Our thoughts , emotions, and feelings not only affect us but also the whole world.

When we realise our role in the existential scheme of things, we can no longer feel separate from all those around us. We can only feel separated when we feel unconscious of our role, when we are unaware. All calamities around the world are created only by unconscious human beings . Only by creating more and more people who are awakened, who are enlightened, can the collective influence of individual negativity be destroyed.

Existence desires that each of us succeeds and experiences fulfilment in life. When we realise this, we can simply let go of our fears, desires, jealousies, pains, and depressions and relax into the loving arms of existence.

Be Blissful!







YES: Certainly, marketing directors are slaves to financial information. But what's wrong with that? The quest for marketing ROI (return on investment) is one of the most important quests in marketing. If marketing directors cannot stand their ground when corporate accountants come calling, then they only have themselves to blame.

There are two imperatives in this what sometimes seems an unequal fight over corporate investment dollars. The first is: marketing directors must get better at reading corporate accounts. And the second is: marketing directors really ought to know more about how to defend long-term marketing spending. It's especially the second imperative that interests me. The research is available to defend long-term marketing investments. The problem is: probably most of the marketing heads I've come across don't know where to find it.

A second source of quantitative information comes from all the marketing research that marketers do these days. Here again I take issue with the idea that marketing heads have become slaves to the information. Firstly, in my experience there's a tremendous amount of marketing research that is more or less ignored. It sits on shelves in lengthy reports, gathering dust. And secondly, there is a tremendous amount of marketing research that is of questionable quality – old fashioned measures that have little bearing on reality or are unhelpful when it comes to marketing planning. There is no reason for marketing heads to be slaves to these.

But the final point I want to make is that marketers should welcome good, accurate, quantitative information. Market information is one of the most important tools in a marketer's armoury. Having better information gives one a competitive advantage. It's like having a better spy network in warfare; or better scouts who're able to layout what the competitors are doing.







NO: "All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding," said Donald Campbell. If we accept this concept as propounded by marketing gurus, it is easy to state that role of 'quant' is one of many in the overall marketing function. Core of this function lies in the premise that marketers bring value to the consumers by identifying their needs. At times these needs may not be obvious from a quantitative analysis and would require a marketer's knowledge and expertise to be highlighted.

The role of quant is to gather data from both the past and the present, whereas interpreting this data more effectively is the domain of the marketer. Therefore, all marketers when using quantitative information must balance it with their conceptual inputs, subjective opinions and sharp marketing insights to achieve marketing goals. Having said that, even the quality of data collected is influenced by the questions asked which is dependent on the marketers understanding of the issue at hand.

Now let's take a consumer-centric view. Consumers provide the marketer with data regarding their current needs. Marketers on their part analyse this data, overlay it with their understanding of current consumer insights, category dynamics and market trends to develop winning solutions that maximize value for the consumer. The iPod is an excellent example of this. Quantitative analysis may have helped in indentifying the need that increasing number of people want to have access to a large selection of music in a stylish and a convenient, on the go format. This information tactfully interpreted by a marketer resulted in the invention of the iPod which has revolutionized the way people experience music.

It is true that availability of timely data and quant services have improved decision making to a large extent.








Many commentators complained that the Budget for 2010-11 lacked a big headline. There is one but it was missed. The much-awaited withdrawal of the fiscal stimulus happened in 2009-10 itself. Moreover, the withdrawal in 2009-10 was larger than the one planned for 2010-11 .

In 2008-09 , the fiscal deficit increased from 2.7% to 6.2% of GDP. In the Budget for 2009-10 , the fiscal deficit was set at 6.8%, higher than the revised estimate of 6% for 2008-09 . Time to withdraw, economists said in the run-up to the Budget, but do so gradually. When the Budget for 2010-11 showed a sharp decline in the fiscal deficit, economists were gratified.

Look more closely at the budgetary numbers and you find a different story. The fiscal deficit, correctly estimated after taking into account off-budget items, was 7.8% in 2008-09 and it declined to 6.9% in 2009-10 . If the size of the fiscal deficit is a measure of stimulus, India had commenced the withdrawal of stimulus last year, long before the thought had even crossed the minds of economists!

This is really the headline story to this year's budget. The story does not end there. There is reason to believe that the withdrawal of stimulus was greater in 2009-10 than in 2010-11 . Here is why.

The fiscal deficit to GDP ratio or a change in this ratio is an inaccurate measure of stimulus. What underlies the change in the fiscal deficit also matters. Only changes in government expenditure or in tax revenues can be said to contribute to a fiscal stimulus, not changes in non-tax receipts.

In 2010-11 , the fiscal deficit declines by 1.4% of GDP but a big chunk of this decline (0.8%) is expected on account of disinvestment and sale of spectrum, both non-tax receipts. So, the decline in the fiscal deficit exaggerates the extent of the withdrawal of stimulus.

One way of measuring the stimulus would be look at the change in government expenditure net of change in tax revenues as proportion of GDP. This is shown in the table. The figure turns out to be 4.6% in 2008-09 , 0.5% in 2009-10 and 0.1% in 2010-11 . It is evident that the big withdrawal in stimulus occurs in 2009-10 and not in 2010-11 .

Thus, not only did the withdrawal of stimulus start in 2009-10 but the withdrawal was greater than is projected for 2010-11 . The exhortations of economists to commence a gradual withdrawal of stimulus in this year's budget have thus been irrelevant to the proceedings. We have had withdrawal by stealth.

Analysts missed this story and focused on another, namely, the finance minister showing resolve on fiscal consolidation. For 2010-11 , the FM has set the fiscal deficit target lower than recommended by the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC). For the next two years, his targets accord with those prescribed by the TFC.

The applause on this account is somewhat misplaced. Any improvement in the fisc brought about by one-off measures such as sale of spectrum is deceptive. So is an improvement through disinvestment. Sale of government equity in PSUs amounts to forgoing the future stream of dividends. Thus, disinvestment trades off current improvement in the fisc against a future worsening.

A structural improvement in the fisc happens when the tax/GDP ratio goes up. On this parameter, there has been a serious slippage in recent years. The tax/GDP ratio improved from 9.4% of GDP in 2004-05 to 12% in 2007-08 . Lower growth in the subsequent two years and the tax cuts of 2008-09 caused the ratio to decline to 10.1% in 2009-10 . On current projections, we have to wait until 2012-13 before the ratio gets back to the level of 12%. So, jubilation over the improvement in the fisc is premature.

However, on a long view, we have reason to be optimistic about the fiscal outlook. Fiscal consolidation in 2004-08 happened because of an increase in revenues. It did not happen because of the expenditure compression advocated by economists. As India heads back towards growth of 9%, we can expect the story to be repeated. The introduction of the goods and services tax and the direct taxes code and a widening of the service tax net will all be bonuses.

The concern must be that we will cut back on badly needed expenditure on the social sector and public investment because of short-term concerns about fiscal consolidation . Here, the targets set under the FRBM Act present a problem. The TFC has added another target, namely, a reduction in total debt to GDP ratio to 68% by 2014-15 .

The debt to GDP target should be one that the economy tends towards over a very long period. A medium-term target is uncalled for and may become a needless constraint on essential expenditure. Fiscal consolidation is desirable but fiscal fundamentalism must be eschewed. Pranab Mukherjee must rethink his commitment to target an explicit reduction in the debt to GDP ratio in the medium term.

If the size of the fiscal deficit is a measure of stimulus, India had commenced the withdrawal of stimulus last year, long before economists had thought of it Long-term , we have reason to be optimistic about the fiscal outlook FM must rethink his target for explicit cut in debt to GDP ratio in the medium term








Budget 2010 is fiscally-prudent and seems policy-designed to shore up the economic growth momentum. The way ahead is to boost efficiency improvements and productivity gains right across the board, by incentivising speedier redeployment of productive resources and assets.

The Budget estimates peg the fiscal deficit at 5.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), as announced in Budget 2009. It's a significant reduction from the fiscal deficit for the current year, the revised estimates of which put it at 6.7% of GDP. This implies fiscal consolidation.

Now, the fiscal deficit denotes the Centre's total expenditure less tax and non-tax revenue receipts and non-debt capital receipts (like disinvestment proceeds), and a reduced figure year-on-year suggests reduced governmental borrowing requirements. What's budgeted is market loans of Rs 3.45 lakh crore, down from just under Rs 4 lakh crore for the current year.

The move ought to keep off the pressure on interest rates, keep bond yields range-bound and, generally speaking, keep the cost of funds easier.

The point is that reduced market borrowings by the Centre should mean less 'crowding out' of corporate investment, which ought to aid capital formation, adding to growth. Note that gross capital formation in the private sector, which indicates investment trends in business and industry, has been subdued in the last couple of years of slowdown, against the backdrop of the global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, the revenue deficit — the difference between revenue expenditure and revenue receipts — has gone off-target. But too much ought not to be made of the slippage as the profile of revenue expenditure of the Centre has considerably changed for the better in recent years.

The revised estimates for the current fiscal year show the revenue deficit at 5.3% of GDP, up from 4.8% in the Budget estimates. Also, the budgeted revenue deficit for the next fiscal is pegged at 4% of GDP, higher that the 3% figure in the medium-term fiscal policy statement announced last year.

It is true that revenue expenditure of the central government, which accounts for bulk of the Budget, includes interest payments, subsidies, etc, and so, needs to be kept in check.

However, many centrally-sponsored schemes are meant to create durable infrastructure such as rural roads, irrigation works and power supply, and are not labelled as 'capital expenditure' simply because the assets are not owned by the Centre. One would need to be a trifle economical with the truth to classify such revenue expenditure as being 'unproductive' in nature.

That said, what's required in sound policy implementation on the ground, to see to it that outlays do, in fact, result in objective outcomes. What's needed is close monitoring and follow-through. And, on this count, it is welcome that there's a central monitoring, evaluation and accounting system in place, with a unique ID for all sanctions to enable tracking and follow up.

The way forward is routine public scrutiny, vetting by NGOs and the like, and the plan for setting up an Independent Evaluation Office, as announced in the Budget, should add to transparency as well.

Also notable is the governmental move to target an explicit reduction in its domestic public debt-GDP ratio. The finance minister did announce that he intends to bring out, within six months, a status paper giving a 'detailed analysis of the situation' and a road map for reducing the overall level of public debt. It would be followed up by an annual report on the subject, the finance minister added.

The idea of greater transparency on the public debt front, together with the intention to fiscally account for all and sundry subsidies in the Budget — and do away with the practice of issuing off-Budget bonds in an attempt to show the fiscal deficit lower than what it actually is, an announced by the finance minister, would be pathbreaking indeed.

It is an accepted economic fact that there's a pronounced deficit bias in budgeting due to the notion of fiscal illusion, the belief that voters do not figure out Budget constraints and attendant implications because the information costs are much too high. It is perverse incentive for the executive to raise spending now and again. It can well mean limited or no surpluses during economic booms.

And the new moves on the public debt front ought to change deficit bias. In a perceptible slowdown though, with both private consumption and investment behaviour uncertain, as during 2007-09, it makes perfect sense to budget a higher fiscal deficit to considerably boost growth, as indeed has been the case.

Without the loose fiscal stance of the last two years, we would have had unacceptably-large deceleration in the growth momentum, which is eminently avoidable. But the need now is to fiscally consolidate, and to keep the overall costs of fiscal over-extension within prudent limits. The reduction of direct tax rates, both of personal and corporate

income taxes, should boost consumption, and willy-nilly prop up investment. But redeploying capital assets takes several years. This is wholly incongruous in a reforming economy. We need to clean up and rewrite financial sector laws without further ado, for the sake of much-needed flexibility and enterprise. About time, surely.








For the country's largest advertiser, mass media is far from dying. Rahul Welde, Unilever Asia's VP —media for Asia, Africa, Middle East & Turkey—says that with television's significant reach and track record in delivering exciting content, it will still be lapped up by viewers. In an interview with ET Bureau, he adds that the company is also driving focus on the digital platform as the internet is itself growing into a mass medium. In fact, marketeers are now betting big on social media or networking sites that allow dialogues between consumers. Excerpts:

What role does digital media play in Unilever's marketing strategy? Does India also mirror these trends?

Internet has become a form of mass media internationally. In India, there are over 50 million users, and the numbers are growing. The truth is that we are growing our presence in digital very fast, much faster than any other form of media. We have begun accelerating our spends and capabilities, experimenting much more and piloting new initiatives. India is not any different from the other Asian markets. For a company like Unilever, digital media is an opportunity for all brands. But it is proportionally more relevant for youth brands such as Axe or food products like Lipton.

Unilever's recent global media agency review retained Mindshare as HUL's media buying agency. Why did HUL opt for a separate agency (Omnicom Media Group) to handle digital media?

Our recent announcement on agencies is based on a holistic assessment of all their capabilities in the areas of buying, planning, new thinking, execution and talent. We've identified a separate agency for digital because we want to experiment and invest more in this realm and a new agency would provide additional focus. The two agencies should be able to work seamlessly.

Are you witnessing an evolution from paid to owned and earned media through social networking sites?

Yes, with the explosion in social media consumers have begun engaging more and more on the internet. It then becomes inevitable for marketeers to also participate in this medium. While on one hand, we can listen to consumers through social networks, it also allows us to actively manage the space by coming up with great ideas that travel and which people would love to share.

Is social media then also a shot in the arm for market research?

Social media is certainly making market research easier because marketeers do not have to necessarily invite consumers to talk about brands but just have to log in and read what they're talking about. And consumers are talking all the time. Earlier, we didn't have access to these conversations. So, it's a great opportunity to get thousands of responses over much fewer earlier. Besides that, social media offers marketeers speed, width, targeting and is potentially a low-cost mechanism. Although, it is not getting captured in a precise way, where information is digestible enough to give marketeers clear snapshots of what consumer's want, yet. For us, market research still depends on the traditional methods but we are now increasingly using technology.

Do you see any specific challenges in engaging with the Indian consumer?

The challenges are common everywhere. It is centred around hitting on an interesting idea and presenting it in a compelling way to draw the multi-tasking consumer into talking to the brand. But its the youth, who are relatively difficult to connect with, because they are more flippant and dynamic than other segments. Good cultural insights then become critical in giving campaigns an edge.

Unilever launched made-for-India social media campaigns Sunsilk Gang of Girls some years back and Be Beautiful to converge brand speak from Ponds, Dove to Lakme, Sunsilk and Vaseline recently. How do these campaigns differ?

Sunsilk Gang of Girls was social media that was much ahead of its time. It's an Indian-born idea of an online girl's community and has even been replicated across South East Asia in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Be Beautiful, on the other hand, builds on the Sunsilk Gang of Girls experience but is fundamentally backed by multi-brand thinking where the tonality of the conversation is different and has more call-to-action attributes. Both these initiatives complement one another. There isn't a specific website which has a monopoly over consumers, equally even for brands. As long as the messages are consistent for a given brand, they can be mounted through different channels even in the digital space.

With social networking sites such occupying centrestage with users, will there be a shift from campaign-specific websites to the more mainstream ones?

It's always a 'this and that' strategy and not a 'this or that' one when it comes to mediums. Consumers do several things in a day and brands also have to adapt to register. Brands also need to be present with syndicated content on the internet wherever the consumer is already active.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The hike in Central excise duty on petrol and diesel and the two per cent ad valorem increase on non-petro products in the Budget has taken a swipe at the feelgood feeling sought to be projected by the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, last Friday. While the government has its compulsions in trying to shore up revenue and bridge the burgeoning fiscal deficit gap, it could have tapped other avenues, particularly the rich, who have got away scot-free. They are the ones who pay up to Rs l.5 lakh for a bottle of fine wine and over Rs 1 lakh for a handbag, not to mention lakhs of rupees on a watch, a suit, or a sari. The luxury industry in India is estimated at $3.5 billion, and foreign luxury and super-luxury brands are entering this country in droves because they have realised that there is money here. If they know enough to be able to cash in on this, how is it that the government cannot think innovatively on how to tap such huge sums in surplus money to fund its welfare programmes? The widespread protests seen across the country over the rise in petrol and diesel prices is understandable because it is certain to have a vicious effect on the salaried class, and even worse on the poor. The cascading effect means that every manufacturer, middleman or retailer who is impacted by the rise in fuel costs will take his pound of flesh from the consumer. The tax on petrol came as an unpleasant surprise. The Kirit Parikh Committee had recommended an increase in petrol prices in order to bridge under-recoveries, an euphemism for losses that the oil marketing companies suffer because they cannot pass on the rise in crude prices internationally to the Indian consumer. Today the oil companies suffer a loss of Rs 3.90 per litre of petrol, Re 1.65 per litre of diesel, Rs 17.20 on kerosene and Rs 271 per LPG cylinder. The government has been putting off implementing the recommendations of the Parikh Committee because inflation is already running high. The double-digit food inflation is particularly burdensome on the people, particularly the aam aadmi, senior citizens and pensioners. One cannot forget the overburdened farmer who uses diesel pumps and who does not have the benefit of a dearness allowance enjoyed by an employee in the organised sector. For this reason, the government put the Parikh Committee's recommendations on the backburner. It therefore defies logic as to why it hiked petrol prices, which translates into an increase of Rs 2.50-3 per litre in cities like Mumbai. The revenue from this goes directly into the government's kitty, and not to the petroleum companies. The partial rollback in reduction of excise duties that the government had given as part of the stimulus package is also misleading. When the government announced the stimulus a year ago there was hardly any inflation, but now, with double-digit inflation, this rollback will take a heavier toll. It is disconcerting to hear rich Indians parroting the government's logic that since the finance minister has put Rs 50,000 back into the pockets of the taxpayers, he/she will not feel the petrol hike pinch. This betrays a gap the size of a black hole in understanding the DNA of our billion-plus population. How many people pay income-tax? And how many of them are in the Rs 8 lakh income bracket? In most advanced countries, governments have a safety net for the poor and unemployed, but there is no such thing in India.






It is an open secret that India has initiated the current phase of talks with Pakistan under American pressure. In this context it is both interesting and instructive to recall how Jawaharlal Nehru handled Anglo-American pressures in the past.

Unfortunately, an impression persists that at the international level the Kashmir issue was inadequately dealt with by Nehru. This impression is not based on facts. While Nehru's handling of the Kashmir issue at the domestic level was marred by various errors of judgment and other infirmities, the story of the stand he took at the international level is quite different — he refused to be browbeaten by the strongest power block at the United Nations Security Council.

India made a mistake in taking the Kashmir issue to the Security Council under Chapter VI (and not Chapter VII) of the United Nations Charter in 1948. While Chapter VII of the Charter deals with acts of aggression, Chapter VI (Article 34 & 35) merely enables the Security Council to recommend "appropriate procedures and methods of adjustment for the pacific settlement of dispute". The gravity of this mistake looked all the more ominous when, at the very inception of the proceedings, India encountered a hostile environment, engineered largely by the backdoor machination of the UK delegate. India's simple plea that Pakistan, which had organised the invasion in 1947, be asked to vacate its aggression, was sidetracked and it was resolved that "the problem had to be considered as a whole and the cessation of hostilities could not be treated apart from the prospect of the final settlement of the dispute".

Nehru was outraged and he did not hesitate to express his indignation bluntly over India and Pakistan being treated on equal footing. When Josef Korbel, an influential member of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, asked Nehru whether he would consider an unconditional ceasefire order, he shot back: "It is your duty, as a Commission, to condemn Pakistan for having an Army on our soil. Otherwise, it would be as though a thief had broken into my house and you would treat the thief and the owner of the house as equals. First, the thief must get out". And when Loy Henderson, ambassador of United States, commented that India seemed to be deviating from its pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir, Nehru, casting aside diplomatic veneer, replied: "I am tired of receiving moralistic advice from the United States. India does not need advice from any other country as to its foreign and internal policies. Our record is one of honesty and integrity, which does not warrant admonitions. So far as Kashmir is concerned, I would not give an inch. I would hold my ground even if Kashmir, India, and the whole world go to pieces".

Nehru also repelled various suggestions emanating from President Harry S. Truman, President Dwight Eisenhower and Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee. President Truman supported the proposal of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan regarding arbitration by Admiral Nimitz. Nehru rejected it. Later on, neither the McNaugton plan for demilitarisation, nor the Sir Owin Dixon formula for a limited plebiscite, nor Dr Graham's proposals of mediation could make Nehru change his stand. Likewise, President Eisenhower suggestions, based largely on the Dixon formula, were not agreed to.

Nehru made no secret of his disappointment over what he considered was an "equivocal attitude" of the US and the UK. And when, in 1954, Pakistan joined Western Treaty Alliances and obtained American military aid, Nehru responded by declaring that: "The military pacts had destroyed the roots and foundations of the plebiscite proposal in Kashmir". He also demanded withdrawal of 18 American military observers as "they could no longer be treated as neutrals in the dispute".

Nehru handled the seemingly adverse development regarding treaty alliances in such a subtle manner that the tide turned in India's favour. The USSR abandoned its earlier stance of neutrality and started supporting India at the Security Council. It did not hesitate to use its veto power whenever any resolution hostile to the interests of India was introduced in the Security Council.

Russian politicians Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, after their visit to India in 1955, declared: "The future of Kashmir should be decided by the people themselves, and they have already decided to join India". All this considerably strengthened India's hand in dealing with the Kashmir issue at international forums.

Soon after the 1962 Chinese aggression against India, both the US and the UK offered military assistance. Both calculated that India's discomfiture had left Nehru with little manoeuvrability on Kashmir, and that this was a good time to obtain some concessions from him, settle the "dispute" and prepare both India and Pakistan to counter the rising power of Communist China.

President Kennedy sent a high-level political and military mission, headed by W. Averell Harriman, assistant secretary of state for

Far Eastern Affairs, to New Delhi. He hoped that "with nursing from us" a settlement could be reached between India and Pakistan.

A similar mission with similar objectives was sent by the UK. Duncan Sanday, secretary of state for Commonwealth relations, headed it.

Even though India faced critical conditions, both Harriman and Sanday failed to secure any basic change in Nehru's stand. He made it clear that he was not prepared to go beyond a few minor adjustment in the "ceasefire line". After six rounds of talks had been held between the representatives of India and

Pakistan, with US and British diplomats staying in the "ante chamber", Nehru declared in August 1963: "There is no question of considering any proposal for internationalisation or division of the Valley or joint control of Kashmir and the like".

From the above facts it should be quite clear that Nehru's handling of the external aspects of the Kashmir problem was marked by deftness and firmness. Neither the mighty Western block nor the mighty Presidents of the US could cut much ice with him. President Kennedy, later on, told senior officers of the state department that it was difficult to obtain any concession from Nehru on Kashmir as it was a "bone-deep issue" with him.

Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and aformer Union minister







I was travelling 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 healthcare and bailouts, my public service for the week is to share Mr Otellini's views on start-ups.


While America still has the quality workforce, political stability and natural resources a company like Intel needs, said Mr Otellini, the US 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 programmes, 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 labour 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 labour 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, Mr 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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I'll get them out of Tsing Hua" — Beijing's MIT. It gets worse. Mr Otellini noted that a 2009 study done by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and cited recently in Democracy Journal "ranked the US sixth among the top 40 industrialised 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 — IT infrastructure, economic performance and so on. On this scale, the US 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 five per cent and lowered corporate taxes, argued Mr 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 Mr Otellini. Intel can compete against that with superior technology, but many other US firms can't.


Does the Obama team get it? Mr 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 healthcare 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 Mr 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".






Buoyant economy can handle hike

Revati Kasture

The current fiscal and economic situation favours the proposal of the finance minister to hike excise duty on petrol and diesel. During 2002-08, the international crude prices increased sharply. In order to protect domestic consumers, the government decided to modulate the prices of four sensitive products — petrol, diesel, PDS kerosene and domestic LPG, and compensated oil marketing companies (OMCs) for their under-recoveries partially through subsidies. This not only led to a burgeoning subsidy bill, but also losses for OMCs. Under-recoveries of OMCs were as high as Rs 103,292 crores in 2008-09 (Rs 77,123 crores in 2007-08), i.e. a whole two per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The government allocated oil bonds worth Rs 75,942 crores in 2008-09 to partly compensate the OMCs. Though these bonds are not included in reporting fiscal deficit, it is not feasible to sustain the existing mechanism for long.

Union Budget 2010-11 has proposed an increased excise duty of Re 1 per litre on petrol and diesel. Accordingly, the retail petrol and diesel prices have increased by Rs 2.7 and Rs 2.4 per litre respectively. Budget also proposed restoration of customs duty on crude oil to five per cent. This would lead to increased receipts of approximately Rs 26,000 crores to the Centre. In the current scenario, where fiscal deficit has reached 6.8 per cent of GDP, this move is appropriate. The government needs to strike a balance between managing inflation, sustaining growth, and curbing fiscal deficit.

As regarding the burden of higher fuel prices on the common man, the Budget has provided relief in direct taxes that translates to a maximum tax savings of Rs 51,500. In addition, through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the government provides employment and thus income to the poorest in rural areas. The Budget has allocated Rs 40,100 crores for NREGS for 2010-11. NREGS is estimated to cover more than four crore households.

The inflationary impact of higher fuel prices needs to be seen in the light of economic growth. Increase in fuel prices would add 40 basis points to the inflation. Given the economy resuming its buoyancy, this can well be absorbed. GDP growth for 2009-10 is estimated at 7.2 per cent and the Union Budget has projected GDP to grow by 8.5 per cent in 2010-11. In such a healthy growth scenario, the economy can afford to take some burden of higher fuel prices that reduces the fiscal deficit, the benefit of which would flow back to the economy.

— Revati Kasture, Head, CARE Research, Credit Analysis & Research Limited, Mumbai

Wrong time to impose hardship

Sujay Shetty

From the consumer perspective, the fuel price hike is a disaster. The hike in petrol prices will hurt the middle class which mainly comprises the salaried people and pensioners, i.e. those who live off fixed incomes. This category is already badly hit by food inflation, and now more of their disposable income will go owing to the fuel hike. With inflation already at double-digit levels, the hike in fuel prices will make it difficult for the middle class to make ends meet.

As India is a consumption-led economy, we need income to be freed up for spending on non-essential items like consumer durables, e.g. cars, televisions, refrigerators. With the fuel hike, the middle class will cut back spending on these items which will anyway become more expensive on account of the fuel hike. Unlike the Western countries, where people are covered by national health programmes and health insurance schemes, we pay out of own pocket for education and health. These items account for a big chunk of our income.

Producers of goods will pass on the oil hike to the consumer. It is not just the fuel in your car or your scooter. It is on every item where fuel is used. Plastics, toys, clothes, utensils, food and other everyday essentials — in every bill you will see the hike in petroleum prices. Transporters will pass on the cost which will continue to spiral the price of food and other essential commodities. The rich minority are largely insulated from this dynamics. But for the 300 million-plus who live below the poverty line, the petroleum effect will be a crippling blow. The salaried middle class will bear the brunt of this hike. They will certainly cut back on other consumption. If consumption of consumer durables takes a hit, there will certainly be an adverse impact on the economy.

I agree with the need to address the spiralling fiscal deficit situation, and the need to control subsidies, as they lead to an inefficient allocation of resources. I would also like to see dependency on fossil fuels reduced. But this hike hurts the already overburdened middle class and consequently the economy. Given the global situation where stabilisation is taking place largely due to government stimuli, why does our government have to choose this time to impose hardship on the Indian consumer who has kept the economy growing despite the global slowdown? We must find some solution to the inflationary impact of fuel hike which will not significantly burden the middle class and not slow down the economy.

Sujay Shetty, Investment Banker, Mumbai







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 neighbouring 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' pre-modern 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 licence 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".








When there is a disaster of any kind, people want to escape from it as far away as possible. But they don't know that they cannot go much further because the impact of tragic incidents follow them, leaving scars on their minds. No amount of lighting candles can erase them because the light of candles does not reach the darkest recesses of emotional wounds encurred during the tragedy.


What helps in these situations is meditation. Meditation is not prayer, it is witnessing your emotions, making a distance from the mind that accumulates good or bad experiences. Meditation penetrates inside like a laser ray and digs deeper and deeper into the layers of fear. If you meditate regularly you will have more energy, more light inside that can see that death is superficial. Things don't die, they change form.Osho tells a story of a Zen master whose unique behaviour in face of death is a great learning for all.


This Zen master was invited as a guest. A few friends had gathered and they were eating and talking when suddenly there was an earthquake. The building that they were sitting in was seven-storeyed and they were on the seventh floor, so life was in danger. Everybody tried to escape. Even the host started running but he remembered his guest and stopped to see what had happened to him. The Zen monk was sitting there with not even a ripple of anxiety on his face. He was sitting with closed eyes on his chair as he had been sitting before.


The host felt guilty — it did not look good that a guest was sitting there and the host was running away. The others, the other 20 guests, had already gone down the stairs but he stopped himself although he was trembling with fear, and sat down by the side of the Zen master.


The earthquake came and went, the master opened his eyes and started his talk. He continued again at exactly the same sentence — as if the earthquake had not happened at all.


The host was now in no mood to listen, he was in no mood to understand because his whole being was so troubled and he was so afraid. Even though the earthquake had gone, the fear was still there. He said: "I am completely shaken. The earthquake has disturbed me too much. But there is one question which is even more disturbing. All other guests had escaped, I was also on the stairs, almost running, when suddenly I remembered you. Seeing you sitting here with closed eyes, so unperturbed, was another shock. I would like to ask one question. How could you sit like this when the building was rocking?


The master said: "I also escaped, but I escaped inwardly. You escaped outwardly, your escape is useless because wherever you are going there too is an earthquake, so it is meaningless. I escaped to a point within me where no earthquake ever reaches, I entered my centre".


A similar incident took place during the recent blast at Pune's German Bakery. The Osho meditators who were just a few metres away from the sight were seen to be qualm and undisturbed. They were shocked and sad about this tragedy but they were not worried about themselves. Regular meditation has taught them that death is a part of life, and that consciousness is deathless.


Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.









BEIJING'S Great Hall of the People will this week be witness to a particularly critical session of the National People's Congress. Beyond the recent "ethics code" for the party leaders is the appointment last Sunday of the 20-year-old Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, as a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the leading legislative advisory body. In effect, China has inducted a person who it hopes will take over the reins of Dalai Lama in the fullness of time. A calculated move certainly to counter the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, and one whom China considers "a dangerous separatist". At another remove, Panchen Lama's status ~ bestowed by China ~ as the "second highest figure" in Tibetan Buddhism itself has been a subject of controversy. It may be early days to speculate upon the contours in future; but there is little doubt that the young man has been given a major political role in a powerful legislative entity. Not that his appointment as a delegate to the CPPCC was wholly unexpected; it is now fairly clear that it was held up on account of his age. His appointment last month as the vice-president of the country's Buddhist Association appears, in retrospect, to be a step towards Sunday's appointment. 

The Panchen Lama has on occasion shared the dais with Communist Party leaders, even complimenting China's rule in Tibet. Profoundly significant, therefore, is his recent pledge to contribute to "the blueprint of the compatible development of Tibetan Buddhism and socialism, uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China and adhere to socialism, safeguard national unification, strengthen ethnic unity and expand Buddhist exchanges". In a word, a pledge that is perfectly concordant with the CPC's agenda. Indeed, it is such utterances that have made the Panchen Lama a controversial figure, generally unacceptable to Tibetans. The NPC is being held two years after protests against China's rule in the Tibetan autonomous region. And on the eve of the session, China has studiously reinforced the Panchen Lama's position as the counter-weight to the Dalai Lama.  







MUCH as Pranab Mukherjee wants to remain on the centrestage of national politics, circumstances have thrown him into the vortex of state politics. As PCC chief, he had appointed two working presidents to hold the fort while he shouldered responsibilities of Union finance minister. But the two have been working at cross-purposes, which finds Mr Mukherjee returning again and again to iron out tensions within the alliance. It explains his initiative to stifle voices of dissent on the manner of seat adjustments with Trinamul for the coming municipal elections, to avoid the kind of embarrassment which allows the Left to gain the upper hand by default. The reports he has sought from district units are designed essentially to accommodate local strongmen like Sankar Singh in Nadia and Adhir Chowdhury in Murshidabad but will help buy time to emphasise that, their confidence notwithstanding, the dissenters will have to subscribe to the overall objective of projecting Mamata Banerjee as leader of the alliance for both the municipal and assembly elections. Mr Mukherjee, however, confronts the contradiction between his party's declared policy of cooperation with Trinamul and Miss Banerjee's unpredictable turns that make things difficult for the government of which, ironically, she is a part. 

The latest test is the proposed Trinamul campaign against the rise in petroleum prices and the service tax imposed on the Railways in Mr Mukherjee's budget while Miss Banerjee claims her party has no intention of "quarrelling'' with the Congress. Many may see this as one way of taking the wind out of the CPI-M's sails. But she may have also learnt that pressure tactics do work. That she gives it a personal twist by suggesting that she is ready to work as a clerk under chief minister Mukherjee may not go down well with the veteran leader who can fathom the dig but cannot respond for tactical reasons. He continues to hold the balance while the state Congress is obliged to follow a different line on the budget revealing differences with Trinamul that the Left may well exploit. But when both Congress and Trinamul cannot deny they need each other, the perpetual pinpricks would raise serious doubts about a viable alternative.








EVEN as northern India celebrated the advent of spring from the National Stadium in the Capital came a reminder of the veracity of the adage that "one swallow does not a summer make". It must be emphasised that the target of this critique is not the Indian hockey side being overrun by Australia, but those who went ballistic at the Indian victory over Pakistan. Genuine sports lovers will appreciate the ups and downs on the field, would be well aware of the lowly international rankings of the once-dominating units of the subcontinent, their euphoria thus tempered with reality. It was those who masquerade as sports lovers who got carried away and, most sickeningly, allowed other elements of the fractious bilateral relations to invade the World Cup ambience. Some went on as though a war had been won, others as if that single victory equated with the lifting of the trophy that India last claimed 35 years ago. The moneybags stepped in, one lakh rupees to each member of the Indian squad was the offer of a politician-cum-sports administrator, while another politician announced every goal-scorer would be rewarded with a like amount ~ broadcasting his ignorance that a goal is the fruit of teamwork. What took the ignoble prize was the man who has made a mess of the coming CWG asserting that Spanish coach Jose Brasa had delivered what Aussie legend Ric Charlesworth could not: who had the proverbial last laugh on Tuesday night? Of course the idiot-box lived up to that reputation, subsequently even alleging base motivation to the Tournament Director coming down harshly on the spearhead of the Indian attack. Sport must be spared such vulgarity.

Though the meet is still in its initial phase, and there is deep desire that India progress much further, what has been on display is already more than reassuring. The game continues to offer excitement aplenty, and despite severe pre-tournament rumblings Rajbir, Prabhjot & Co, have confirmed that traditional Indian skills and artistry have been preserved, nurtured. Both the Indian showing ~ never mind if that is not translated into victories in the next few days ~ and the large appreciative gallery have combined to raise the bar for the administrators. It would be nothing short of betrayal if the "board room" is not immediately purged so that the legacy of Dhyan Chand, Claudius and Ajitpal can be further endowed.









IT'S been an edgy business, getting India and Pakistan to start talking again. In a slow, ambiguous step onward, the Foreign Secretaries have met and had their say, and it's not yet clear in which direction they are moving: no joint statement nor joint meeting with the media, to shed more light. There was no great bonhomie on display, yet, from their own accounts


 the meeting was not a cold affair used mainly to score points and try to influence the waiting domestic or third country audience. There was no lack of civility or good intentions, and each of the Foreign Secretaries seemed ready to give ear to the other. Indeed, a large portion of their three-hour meeting was in a one-on-one format, designed for talking, not haranguing. Thus on the evidence presently available, the event yielded a rather mixed bag of results.

There was obvious awareness on both sides of the dangers of a wrong step. This is always the case in India-Pakistan meetings, where a word or a smile out of place can be pounced upon by the swarming, sharp-eyed observers. What happened at Sharm el Sheikh would only have put them on higher alert. On that occasion, the media outburst after the Prime Ministers agreed to re-start dialogue had the effect of suspending what had been decided. So the two officials had to tread cautiously. They would also have been mindful of the largely sceptical public discussion leading up to the meeting, where many analysts questioned the timing of the event, or even the need for any sort of discussion. However, despite such criticism, India had gone ahead and extended an invitation, and Pakistan had accepted it.

Testing task

Obviously the two governments are not discouraged and remain ready to explore the possibilities of dialogue. But meeting in these circumstances meant that the two officials had a testing task before them, and this was especially true for the Indian Foreign Secretary, for the clamour has been much stronger in her country. The sense of outrage and grievance after the Mumbai attacks has not dissipated.

One of the matters that came in for considerable scrutiny as the meeting was being planned related to the structure of the agenda ~ what would they talk about. India wished to focus on terrorism as the principal, if not the sole, subject, while Pakistan sought to return to the multi-track 'composite dialogue' suspended after the Mumbai attacks. In the event, the two sides seemed to have had fairly wide ranging talks, with India having its say on terror and Pakistan raising Kashmir and also bringing Afghanistan into the compass of the discussions. Water also seems to have been added to the list of bilateral concerns. The emphasis and significance attached by each of the parties to the different items was different but apparently they were able to listen to each other. What this implies for the structure of any future discussions is not clear: there is nothing to suggest they are ready to return to the composite dialogue nor is there any indication that they might meet next time with a radically revised agenda. As this was not a meeting convened with the purpose of negotiating anything specific, it is not very surprising that they were content to identify issues of concern without going into how their differences should be resolved.

Prime among the issues taken up at the meeting was the matter of terrorism. India made a strong presentation to give further substance to its frequently expressed concerns on this matter, and handed over three dossiers on the criminals of Mumbai on which Pakistan was pressed to act. But there was not much satisfaction to be had, no ready response. Pakistan had not come prepared with any significant offering, no token of good intentions. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary was constrained to repeat the familiar arguments on this subject and make the usual protestations, though he would have known that India was looking for something more. He also made an unguarded remark describing the earlier dossier on Hafez Saeed as 'literature' not evidence, and though he later withdrew these words, knowing they could be misunderstood, what he said suggested that on this important issue Pakistan remained more inclined to cavil than to cooperate.

The other major issue discussed was Kashmir, and here, too, no new ground was broken. That should come as no surprise, for the real forum for discussions on this subject is the presently inactive back channel, and not the well publicised meetings between foreign office officials. In a ritual that is by now not very meaningful, the visitor met separatist leaders from Kashmir, to show that his country still supported their cause. Reports suggest that this was a rather testy meeting, with many complaints being exchanged between the two sides, indicative of the gap between them. The visitor indulged in some familiar rhetoric on the subject of Kashmir, levelling the usual accusations against India. Yet the real issue now is for the two countries to judge whether they can re-engage and take up their back channel discussions from the point where they had perforce to be suspended.

Open door

Seen in a longer perspective, the talks in New Delhi show once again how in the last decade-and-a-half the two sides have slowly inched their way forward. There have been setbacks in abundance since Mr IK Gujral and Mr Nawaz Sharif agreed in 1997 to initiate a structured dialogue on all major differences between the two countries. But no setback, no provocation, howsoever grave, has been permitted to bring the process to a complete halt. The recent talks are part of what is necessarily a long process, for there are no easy solutions to be had. The record over the years also shows that even the seemingly most insuperable difficulties can be tackled with some expectation of moving forward. Where progress has been thwarted, it is not so much due to intrinsic difficulties than to deteriorating circumstances in one or other country.

So what do we expect now? Clearly, the two Foreign Secretaries were asked to be cautious, and they were careful to avoid anything in the least adventurous. So much so, that at the end of the talks it is not known whether they will meet again, or whether the composite dialogue will be resumed, or indeed if any other form of dialogue is on the cards. But the door has been opened. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary invited his Indian counterpart to return his visit, and the invitation was noted, not accepted or rejected. Judging from past performance, the two sides can be expected, in due course, cautiously, once more to cross the threshold, and start something afresh. The New Delhi meeting is not likely to be a one-off event.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







The Indian Constitution was ready within a couple of years of India's independence. It came into effect on 26 January 1950, converting her into a Republic. Accordingly, an election commission was immediately set up. Conducting the polls thereafter, her first democratically elected government was installed in 1952. She had proved her mettle in her maiden attempt, bringing universal adult franchise into practice while many developed nations were still hesitant. From the very beginning, her people have enjoyed the right to vote, irrespective of caste, religion, learning, wealth or sex. Sixty years on, she is the largest democracy of the world ~ with a Parliament typically diverse, complex and clamourous.

But she had to wade through many an obstacle. She fought hunger and wars almost regularly. It was a perpetual challenge, which she was able to face. It was possible only because she possessed an extraordinary power of resilience ~ a quality she can ill-afford to lose. The legacy of struggle has made her strong. The experiences of success and failure have made her mature and pragmatic. She now knows how to be in step with the changing world.

As long as India maintains the spirit of facing the truth, she is a force to reckon with. Swami Vivekananda says, "That society is the greatest, where the highest truths, become practical". And, consciously or unconsciously, that exactly has been India's endeavour. The values modern democracy preaches are not new. They have come down to her from a distant past. Unity in diversity is the very essence of her civilisation ~ it has naturally given birth to an ebullient pluralistic society. Therefore, modern India could never be described as a sole contribution of a single community. Any effort that tries to disturb this originality is obviously a serious threat to India's identity and integrity.

Nationalism to India is a holy concept replete with universal ideas relevant beyond time and place. Lord Rama says to his brother Lakshmana ~ janani janmabhumischa swargadapi gariyasi (one's mother and motherland are greater than the heaven). No one yet definitely knows when the Ramayana was being composed, except that it is earlier than the Mahabharata. The soil on which one is born and which provides one with food and shelter, giving unconditional support to one's survival, deserves to be treated by one as one's dear mother. The unbreakable bond for the mother country isn't unjustied. It is like an umbilical chord that nourishes one from one's embryonic stage till one comes out and sets foot on the world. The notion is applicable in all lands and times.

India's struggle against colonialism was, in fact, a battle against denigration and deprivation. Any nation motivated by selfish interest is repugnant to her. She doesn't accept any negative concept of nationalism with which a nation economically persecutes another nation and enjoys prosperity dishonestly. But then, the kind of universalism she worships also doesn't conform to the idea of so-called "globalism". The latter is a geo-politico-economic concept that has been artificially generated to support the cause of a barrier-less global market for free trade only. It has no truck with the sublimity of human oneness that India upholds.

Swamiji calls India Punyabhumi because he believes if India disappears from the face of the earth, the world will be deprived of all elevating ideas which make man really noble. He was apprehensive lest she would be misled by an attractive fragile spirit. He would hate to see India's "most precious jewels, earned through ages of hard labour" being dishonoured. In trying to "imitate the impossible and impracticable foreign ways", Indians cannot sacrifice all that they hold dear. He couldn't bear to imagine that she would be yoked to an alien way of life.

In order to avoid national calamities, he advised Indians to always keep the wealth of their own home before their eyes. Side by side, they should open their doors to receive all available light from outside.
The ideas which had been her foundation and given her a durable identity could never be done away with. A destructive method for development often recoils with a vengeance. So the policy ought to be: "Feed the national life with the fuel it wants, but the growth is its own; none can dictate its growth to it". There never was a dearth of reformers in India.

India holds a positive attitude towards her meaningful traditions. She knows that although a coin of the Mughal period has no monetary value in the British period it nevertheless retains its perennial value if it is made of a precious metal such as gold. This has paid her dividends. For example, the global financial meltdown had no conspicuous adverse effect on her. Intrinsically, she was adequately powerful, pursuing her own policy. She neither faltered nor looked towards the external world. Someone observes: "India relies on external trade for about 20 per cent of its GDP versus 75 per cent of China; India's large and robust internal market accounts for the rest. Indians continued producing goods and services for other Indians, and that kept the economy humming. So did domestic investors, who also kept most of the money at home".

The fact that the country was capable of maintaining a balance between liquidity and solvency in the midst of economic downturn is a distinctive feature. However, widespread corruption is a debilitating factor. It is a stumbling block in the way of uniform distribution of wealth. The earlier it is eradicated, the brighter would be her future.

India has been able to take significant strides in spite of numerous internal as well as external problems. None can now remain indifferent to her bold steps and comprehensive progress. But she is yet to be completely cured of her chronic disease, which is poverty. A large section of her masses is discontent. The neglect and coercion they have been bearing for decades must end. Now that they have taken to violence for fulfilling their long standing claims, a heavy-handed method of dealing with them will be counter-productive. In order to assuage their wounds, swift, coordinated and sympathetic treatment is required. Given the latest economic situation of the country, it could be accomplished without much hassle. The misunderstanding must be removed. Their education, health, employment, roads communication and other basic infrastructural needs should be addressed with urgency. The gap between urban and rural societies should be reduced. The country cannot be said to be developed till their spending ability increases considerably.

India is beautiful because of her forests, hills, rivers, deserts and agricultural fields. She has been made attractive by her people dwelling in these areas. Their simple lifestyles and rich culture are her epitome. The only way to pacify them is by correcting the wrongs done to them as well as by measures to restore their confidence in the nation. The exorbitant hikes in prices of food articles have made them lose faith in her government. India's growth will not be spectacular unless it touches her remotest parts and brings smiles on the lips of peasants, labourers and other grassroots sections. If she can scientifically evolve the "kinetics of change" for their lot there is ample reason to be optimistic about the development ahead.

The writer is associated with Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Deoghar  







Multan, the venue of Indo-Pak cricket matches, has a past more hallowed than that of Lahore or Peshawar. History, geography, folklore and legend have made Multan a memorable nest of singing sufis and dancing dervishes. "Multani Mitti" is not just clay, it is therapy. Alberuni who accompanied the invading forces of Mahmud of Ghazni in the early 11th century refers to Multan as a centre of Hindu learning with hundreds of Deva temples with bathing places, thousands of pilgrims reciting "slokas" in Sanskrit, feeding both men and animals. But where Hindus failed, the Muslims succeeded a century later. In no time Multan became famous for Islamic lore and learning with hundreds of mosques and Maktabs. According to a Persian proverb, Multan was famous for beggars in front of its mosques and scholars engrossed in studies in the Maktabs. At every step you met a mystic.

When Guru Nanak reached the outskirts of Multan on way to Mecca, some well-known sufis of the town sent him a bowl of milk implying that Multan was already full of mystics and that there was no room for yet another. Nanak placed some fresh jasmine petals on the milk and asked the messenger to take back the bowl of milk implying that his stay in Multan would be like jasmine corolla floating on the milk, that he would give no trouble to anyone, seek no accommodation or food except the remains of the "langar". In one single meeting the Multan sufis begged him to stay on and enlighten them. The farewell of Guru Nanak is still the theme of dancing dervishes.

Known for its flora and fauna, the land of Multan is connected with a network of irrigation canals. It is also known for its "Andhi" and the "Loo", the Red Wind and the yellow dust. Located on the trade route to Sind, Afghanistan and Central Asia, its markets wre always full of wheat and cotton.

Such a fabulous town could not have remained hidden from the rising sun of the Sikhs. Long before Ranjit Singh captured Lahore, the Bhangis wrested Multan from Afghan claws. But soon it slipped out of Sikh hands to become part of the Kabul kingdom. Ranjit Singh invaded Multan five times, the fifth was a conquest which was mainly due to the Sikh cannon called "Zamzama" which was brought from Lahore to the battlefield of Multan to pound the town. The victory at Multan heralded the Sikh victory over the Afghans who had trampled Punjab's wheat fields and its women for nearly eight centuries. Ranjit Singh was kind to the fallen foes and treated Multan's culture and commerce with respect, gave liberal grants to the Ulemas, established new Maktabs and Madrasas. No wonder the people of Multan hailed him as a liberator rather than a conquror. Dewan Sawan Mal was appointed Governor whose rule was marked with efficiency and benevolence for 27 years. Sawan Mal learnt Saraiki, the local language, and made it a vehicle of official communication while in the rest of Punjab it was Persian. His son Dewan Mul Raj made Multan an abode of peace.

If Sadhu Singh Akalia Nihang was the hero of the Battle of Multan, Dewan Mul Raj emerged as hero of the rebellion against the British government to restore the sovereignty of Maharaja Dalip Singh. He wrote letters to the Cis-Sutlej Rajas to fight the Firangee, to the Amirs of Sind and Kabul to join hands with him but all vain. Dewan Mul Raj became a martyr at 36 far away from Multan at Buxar. The people of Multan still remember him as their very own, the last to resist the Firangee.

The people of Multan are more hospitable than those of Lahore or Rawalpindi. They used to greet visitors with Multani mangoes in pre-partition Punjab. As a child, I attended a marriage at Multan where every "Barati" was given a "Rumal" (handkerchief) and a blue vaze. Those were the days of wick lamps and green lanterns, of slow passenger trains carrying timber, tobaco and "hing" to and from this place. It is said that Multan was included in the Test series on the insistence of some old-timers from whose minds the memories of this hallowed town could not be erased. The latest to conquer Multan is Virendra Sehwag.








In a shanty in north Harare, a 12-year-old girl with thin, malnourished arms uses a hoe far too heavy for her to scrabble in the dried sewage, refuse and rock. Her name is Grace and, beneath the surface of this filthy townscape, she is looking for broken bones. She and her father will collect all they can find, and sell them for pennies to the local sugar refinery. Grace is not dodging school; she is trying to get there. Like 80 per cent of Zimbabwe's 4.5 million children, Grace and her 10-year-old sister have left school, turned away because they can't afford the fee. In a country that once boasted the best education in Africa, it has come to this.

Grace's father, Joseph, tells her: "With the money from the bones, we'll pay the school fees for the whole year". After days of back-breaking work, the family has collected several sackfuls, only to find that the lorry which collects them has broken down, so they are unable to sell them. For want of the price of a pint of beer in Britain, Grace will have to continue scouring the dirt for a chance to go to school. By way of contrast, on the other side of Zimbabwe's capital, in a setting so palatial it might as well be another planet, President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 86th birthday with an all-night party expected to cost well in excess of $100,000.
Grace is just one of "Zimbabwe's forgotten children" who are the subject of a revealing documentary produced by the Bafta-award winning South African film-maker Xoliswa Sithole. The film examines the lives of some of the country's poorest children, growing up without an education, grappling with poverty and starvation, and either orphaned by Aids or caring for parents who are sick with the disease.

"When economies fall apart, women and children suffer", said Ms Sithole, who grew up in Zimbabwe and was given permission by the government to make a documentary about her childhood there. "With Zimbabwe, the focus has been on Mugabe. I don't think there has ever been a contextualisation of where Zimbabwe is at".
Today's children and teenagers are likely to prove instrumental in shaping the country's future: a massive 46 per cent of its 13 million population is under 18. It is more than a year since Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and Mr Mugabe formed a power-sharing deal. Since then the country has shown signs of improvement. The last harvest of maize, the country's staple food, doubled from the record low of 2008. And the introduction of the rand and dollar has helped to stabilise an economy whose hyperinflation went beyond an astronomical one billion per cent at its peak in late 2008. However, the Red Cross estimates that 22,000 people have no access at all to foreign currency and are thus unable to pay the compulsory school fees introduced in 1991.

In a country that once had a literacy rate of around 80 per cent, its children now face a very different prospect. The number of children attending school in Zimbabwe dropped from 85 per cent in 2007 to below 20 per cent in 2009, a decline mostly attributed to unaffordable school fees and a shortage of teachers.

It is the first day of term, and 1,115 children line up in front of the half-finished brick building that passes for a school in rural Zimbabwe. Only 100 of the children have paid their school fees, which have already been reduced from $10 to $2 a term in order to help struggling parents. Even this is too much for most people; the average wage in Zimbabwe is estimated to be $1 a day, while more than 80 per cent of Zimbabweans are unemployed. Those who haven't paid are granted five days to find the money, but to no avail. A week later, the school accountant sends 889 children home for non-payment of fees.

Obert is one of those children. A 13-year-old Aids orphan who has been looked after by his elderly grandmother since his parents died in 2005, he has spent the past few weeks illegally panning for gold in an attempt to find money for the fees. Just one gold "point" the smallest amount he can sell would earn him the $2 he needs.
Obert's grandmother goes to the school to plead with his young teacher, Chenzira, to let him attend school. "If my child doesn't finish high school because of school fees, my heart will break. I will die trying to find the money", she begs. Chenzira offers to reduce the fees to as little as 50 cents, but that is still too much for her and she breaks down crying. Obert is equally despondent. "My future is dark if I don't go to school: you grow up not knowing anything".


The Independent







It is difficult to predict when the Naga peace talks will result in an agreement, but few can doubt that both sides share a keenness to carry the process forward. The delay in reaching an accord is thus less important than the spirit in which the talks are conducted. That Thuingaleng Muivah, the top leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, found his interactions with the prime minister and the Union home minister "very positive" is indicative of the right ambience of the current round of talks. By now, Mr Muivah should have no doubts whatsoever about Manmohan Singh's anxiety to see the talks succeed. The Naga leader is reported to have some reservations about the Centre's new interlocutor. But the success or failure of any peace talk is ultimately a matter of political will at the highest level. With the prime minister himself unquestionably committed to the success of the peace process, small problems should not matter in a big way. Mr Muivah and his comrades have proved their commitment to the ceasefire agreement as well. The result is a long spell of peace in Nagaland that makes the people desperately want the peace talks to conclude successfully.


However, both sides know that there are still unresolved issues, especially the two seemingly intractable ones of

'Naga sovereignty' and 'integration of all Naga-inhabited areas'. Mr Muivah himself knows of the government's difficulty in conceding these two demands. No state in India, no matter what kind of autonomy it is given, can aspire to be a 'sovereign' political entity. And the 'integration of all Naga-inhabited areas' would lead to the disintegration of the political boundaries of at least three other states — Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Both these demands reflect a search for a 'national' identity for the Nagas. After half a century of rebellion, Naga leaders would know that a distinctive political identity is not necessarily acquired through so-called sovereignty or territorial integration of a people. The Indian State has shown its remarkable ability to allow the people to preserve their unique ethnic and other diversities. The NSCN, led by Mr Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu, can use greater autonomy for Nagaland to not only preserve but also reinforce the Nagas' unique political and social identity. But peace, rather than war, creates better conditions for this to happen.








Indians can always be trusted to go overboard at the slightest scent of success, especially if the field of achievement is the game of cricket. Already, proposals have been mooted to award the Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar. The Bharat Ratna is the country's highest civilian award. Keeping this in mind, it needs to be asked if any game is a serious enough sphere of achievement to be included in the hallowed list of Bharat Ratna. The highest civilian award of the nation should by definition have some gravitas attached to it. Sports does not have that aura attached to it. More specifically, cricket may be a mass phenomenon in India but it should be borne in mind that only a handful of countries play cricket. Cricket, in that sense, is not open to international competition. The other point often overlooked by lovers of cricket is that the game does not demand great feats of fitness from those who play it even at the highest level. In fact, top athletes hardly ever take to cricket; they pursue other, more strenuous, games. Thus, before being carried away by popular sentiment, those who have it in their power to bestow the Bharat Ratna should bear in mind these issues: whether sports deserves to be in the Bharat Ratna list, and if it does should cricket have top priority?


If in their wisdom the authorities answer in the affirmative to the questions above, they should ask if Mr Tendulkar should be the first cricketer to become a Bharat Ratna. This is not to deny Mr Tendulkar's fine qualities of batsmanship and the many records he has made. But these too should be placed in their proper context. Contemporary cricket has made the task of batsmen very easy: there are restrictions on bowlers and on field placings; batsmen go out to bat dressed as if in armour; pitches are prepared to make run-getting easier. All these go against the claims made by Mr Tendulkar's fan club that he is the 'greatest ever' Indian batsman. (The claim that he is greater than even Donald Bradman is too ludicrous to be taken seriously.) What needs careful study is how many times Mr Tendulkar has scored when the chips have been really down and the wicket has been really difficult. All these factors would probably prompt most keen students of the game to place Sunil Gavaskar a peg above Mr Tendulkar, the current icon. The authorities should be warned not to commit a double fault: Bharat Ratna to a cricketer and that too to Mr Tendulkar.









There was never any doubt that sooner rather than later, terrorists would strike again. It is also known that there are terrorist organizations allergic to any improvement in Indo-Pak relations. These would have been factored into the government's decision to reverse its earlier stand and invite Pakistan for secretary- level talks. Yet, when the inevitable terror strike does take place, the government finds itself in a classical dilemma: damned if you talk to Pakistan and damned if you don't.


To a nation that does not think and plan strategically, the latest dilemma is an inevitable consequence and certainly not the last. In the 1990s, George K. Tanham of Rand Corporation, in a published study called Indian Strategic Thought: An Interpretive Essay, had concluded that Indian elites "show little evidence of having thought coherently and systematically about national strategy".


Historically, on issues relating to foreign policy and national security, statecraft has been missing in our

governance. During the first war in Kashmir, our forces saved the Kashmir Valley from the invaders, but were ordered to halt their advance when the invaders were on the run. We ignored the larger security implications when the Chinese annexed Tibet. We termed our commanders alarmist when they raised warnings about the Chinese threat prior to China's aggression in 1962. We chose to repatriate 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war without having Pakistan sign a clause — that was drafted — to convert the Line of Control into the international border. We have closed our eyes to massive infiltration from Bangladesh. We patronized the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which then turned on our soldiers, killing over 1,200 of them. Even our response to the audacious Kargil misadventure was cautious and apologetic.


In more recent times, the January 2004 joint statement by A.B. Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf was carefully negotiated in spite of Pakistan's reservations, and Pakistan committed itself to stop cross-border violence and to ensure that no part of the territory under its control, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, shall be used for terrorism. This was in return for a sustained dialogue between the two countries. Inexplicably, in 2005, the joint statement by Manmohan Singh and Musharraf accepted that terrorism will not be allowed to thwart the 'peace process', thus giving Pakistan the licence to continue with its policy of terror even while supporting dialogue. In Havana, we even co-opted Pakistan as a fellow- sufferer from terrorism and in Sharm el-Sheikh, we accepted the inclusion of Baluchistan as a joint issue. If all this is part of a strategic plan, the people of India deserve to be told so: otherwise, to them, these are flip-flops.


Not surprisingly, India was duly rewarded for its supine policy with a military-style commando attack on Mumbai, an attack that could only have been planned and executed with the Pakistan army's backing. We paid with over 170 lives, including many foreign ones, and with egg on our Gandhian face. The best that a miffed India, with the fourth largest military in the world, could do was to stop any further dialogue with Pakistan until the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack were brought to book.


Unlike India, Pakistan plays to a script and it has used the past 15 months to let India drift back to its soft ways. Under pressure from the United States of America to play a more active role in the AfPak region, it has pleaded its inability because of threats on the Indian border. It knows only too well that the US and its allies in Afghanistan need its support, and it is extracting every ounce from them at India's cost.


When India suddenly has a change of heart and invites Pakistan for talks, not only are the people of India taken by surprise, but there are whispers that India is acting under pressure from the US. Faced with a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and repeated terrorist attacks across India, the people are being led to believe that appeasement and dialogue are the only options left with us. 'War is not an option' has become the soft mantra.


Certainly our use of soft power to help development in Afghanistan is a wise move that will pay dividends in the long term. But India's reluctance to contribute to elements of hard power to prevent the Talibanization of Afghanistan has resulted in India being completely sidelined in the evolving international dialogue on Afghanistan. For the present Pakistan is laughing, although it remains to be seen for how long.


None of this casts a particularly bright light on the abilities of India's national security and foreign policy institutions to further our own national security and strategic interests. Pakistan, on the other hand, persists with its policy of 'bleeding India through a thousand cuts' while being in denial. Its international friends and allies have accepted this duplicity, partly because of their own interests and partly because it did not directly hurt them. Until 9/11 happened.


Today, engaged as they are militarily in Afghanistan, the US and its allies are facing the same duplicity that India has for decades. The US continues to pump aid into Pakistan, knowing full well that Pakistan is going soft on the Taliban. Pakistan continues to be selective in engaging terrorist organizations and persists in its use of terror as an instrument of State policy towards India. Both sides know the duplicitous game being played on the AfPak and regional geo-political chessboard, and both are planning future moves. India remains a hapless bystander, uninvited to the chess table and merely bearing the consequences.


The Pakistan army has held sway over the country for six decades or more. Every important functionary of the US, from the secretary of state down, while making pro forma calls on the president and prime minister, ultimately knocks on General Kayani's door. Today, the army is deeply involved in both politics and commerce in that country. Its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, is a State within a State, and the various terrorist groups and the Taliban are all its creations and are dubbed as strategic assets. The stakes for it as an institution are too great to let go of its unfettered power and pelf. It is in the Pakistan army's interests, therefore, to keep the bogey of threat from India alive. India should be in no doubt that if Kashmir and other issues were to be settled, new ones will erupt.


Under General Zia's patronage, elements of religion and hate were introduced in the Pakistan army and the government school curriculum. Today, there is a whole generation of children from government schools in Pakistan that has been brought up on a diet of 'Hindu India' planning for the downfall of Islam and the destruction of Pakistan. Add to these, products of the madrasas who are bred on even deeper fundamentalist and hate ideologies. The army itself is far more radicalized. So don't be surprised to see crowds of thousands cheering speeches of venom against India, delivered from a stage adorned by terrorist leaders. These are by no means the innocuous rent-a-crowd types that our political parties are used to; they are genuinely baying for Indian blood.


From the Lahore peace process to Kargil, and from Havana to Mumbai, Pakistan continues to deceive the mighty Indian foreign and security establishments — not to mention its allies in the war on terror. Rather than work to a strategic plan, we are back to knee-jerk reactions shunning institution-driven foreign and security policies. A non- institutionalized approach is more in keeping with dictatorships and not befitting the largest democracy in the world. Worse, it is a recipe for disaster in a highly unstable region where major international interests are directly in contact with regional ones. This leaves the hapless people of India confused. Terrorists strike at will, the government continues with its flip-flops without taking them into confidence, the Parliament is disinterested and political parties use any opportunity to score brownie points.


This writer is by no means a hawk. Yet, for a nation with the fourth largest military in the world to be bullied by a failing state like Pakistan makes one wonder what has happened to the Chanakyas of today. It is time for India to get real and face the incontrovertible fact that unless the Pakistan army changes its anti-India mindset, things will only get worse for Pakistan and India. This is the bottom line. Talk we must. But there must be a strategy and script. Since the US and Pakistan both profess to be engaged in the war on terror, and India is a victim, let there be tripartite talks between the US, India and Pakistan. The sole agenda will be the elimination of terror from the region and internationally, and let each put their money where their mouth is. For once, we will be walking the talk rather than endlessly talking about talks.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force








Unlike in India, policemen aren't a protected species in China. At the beginning of the Chinese New Year, one senior cop was sentenced to life, three others lost their jobs. The life sentence was given to the deputy police chief of Chongqing, the provincial capital that has been making news because of the crackdown against crime there, which began last year. Of the almost 1,200 arrested, already, about 800 have been prosecuted, including 52 officials, 10 of them top-ranking.


The officer who was sentenced to life is the first senior policeman to be convicted. Four others, including his boss, await trial. The officer was found guilty of taking millions of yuan as bribes to protect gangs which ran nightclubs, and of having millions in unexplained assets, collected in the 11 long years that he had been deputy police chief. These nightclubs, popular among the city police top brass, had casinos and prostitutes on their premises, and were run with the help of musclemen.


The 47-year-old officer sobbed as the sentence was read out. Though he agreed with the charge of taking bribes, he insisted that the prosecutors had wrongly calculated the amount. Part of the money was in the form of gifts, he said, because no favours had been asked for it.


However, the officer did not agree that he had protected gangs, putting forth an ingenious defence. He had not raided the clubs because he didn't want to "abuse his power" as his predecessors had done during such investigations. So, he had decided no action should be taken until a complaint was lodged against the clubs.


Citizens of Chongqing, who have been following these trials avidly, weren't moved by his grief. "As a police chief, he knew the law and violated it, so he should face a harsher penalty," said a student. Till now, two gangsters have been sentenced to death in the current drive.


Swift action


In another province, three senior officers had to go after the custodial death of a village youth picked up on suspicion of theft. As always, the police tried to pass off the death, which occurred after three days in detention,

as an accident. Their explanation was truly bizarre — they said the 28-year-old died after drinking a glass of hot

water into which some cold medicine had been added. But his family was shocked by the bruise marks on his body, which could only have been caused by prolonged torture. They filmed the body, and the footage was shown on TV, in a programme where the family was also interviewed.


The police could not explain the bruises. Eight days after the death, the local police chief was told to resign, while his deputy and another officer in charge of criminal investigations were sacked pending further punishment. Four others involved in the detainee's interrogation were put under investigation.


This is the first custodial death this year. Ironically, the day the detainee died, the government issued guidelines on the management of detention centres, aimed at safeguarding detainees' rights, especially against "corporal punishment and maltreatment". The guidelines must be implemented by next year. Significantly, a draft amendment tabled last year in the State Compensation Law, is yet to become law. The amendment sought to expand the scope of compensation by the State to include custodial deaths and failure to prevent them. It was tabled after a custodial death was initially passed off by the police as having occurred during a game of "hide and seek".

"There is a barbarism and darkness about these cases," wrote one Chinese newspaper. "The problem is that citizens faced with police and other legal authority, usually find themselves in a position of [having] inferior rights." Yet, in totalitarian China, citizens do see their powerful tormentors swiftly and severely punished, a rarity in democratic India.








The broken clockface at the entrance of Hetampur's Ranjan Palace serves as a constant reminder of the fact that time is out of joint in this place. Hetampur, in the Suri Sadar subdivision of Birbhum, is famous for its rajbari, which was built in 1905. In its heyday, the Hetampur estate was one of the largest in Bengal, extending up to Dumka and Deoghar in the north, Krishnagar and Khanakul in the south, and including almost the whole of Burdwan and Birbhum districts. Although the zamindars were not royalty as such, their affluence and power made it easy for them to command the obedience of the people, who addressed them as rajas. In the early years of its existence, Ranjan Palace must have presented a picture of the quintessential rajbari — bustling with the life of its numerous attendants, of the subjects who came to pay revenues, of the purebreds in its stables, and of the elephants in their shelters. It was also the only building in the vicinity to boast of a generator 100 years ago.


The grounds of the palace are bare today except for the buildings that make up the rajbari itself. A B.Ed college is run on a section of the building while the other part houses the D.A.V school. One enters the western wing through a massive gate, on which hangs the D.A.V. school motto, "Come to learn and go to earn". As you step into the courtyard, you indeed learn quite a few things about the tastes of the original owners of the rajbari simply by staring at the rows of grand arches and columns. The rooms are huge, and the ceilings so high that they can make one used to the cubby-hole that is the modern flat quite dizzy. D.R. Mahanty, the principal of the school, voices the feelings of visitors to Ranjan Palace when he says that sitting in the enormous rooms makes him feel like a king.


He is obviously in love with the building with which his school is associated today. But he concedes that for all its beauty, the rajbari is a liability, since lakhs have to be spent each year on its maintenance. The condition of the building has deteriorated all the more because it had been lying abandoned for 10 to 15 years before the school took over in 2002. All the original doors and windows, made of Burma teak, had been stolen. The thieves must have made good profit since the rajbari had 999 doors — one short of 1,000, in deference to Murshidabad's Hazarduari. The blanks in the wall that were once doors and windows give a good indication of the declining fortunes of the erstwhile zamindar family. On arriving at the rajbari, Mahanty had chanced upon about 200 trunks filled with costumes. They harked back to the days of one of the most celebrated members of the family — Ramranjan Chakravarti, who commanded a jatra company, Ranjan Opera, which organized shows starring famous actors from Calcutta during the three-day- long fair held to celebrate Saraswati Puja. The annual fair, started in the early 20th century, still takes place, sans, of course, the glamour and pomp.


If history has not been kind to the zamindars of Hetampur, it has been as cruel to the present generation of owners of the Surul and Raipur rajbaris, also in Birbhum. The Surul rajbari is famous for its Durga Puja, and for its 18th century temples, which have terracotta carvings depicting scenes from the Ramayan, puranas, besides sundry ladies and gentlemen dressed in Western clothes. Srinivas Sarkar, who built the Surul rajbari in its present form in the mid 18th century, made his fortune selling sails for ships woven in Birbhum's Ilambazar, which is still known for its weaving centres. Startling as this may sound now, about 200 years ago there used to be a bustling port, Saheb Ghat, in Ilambazar, from which ships of the British and French East India Companies used to set sail. Srinivas's family surname, Sarkar, is probably a shortened form of sarbarahakari — suppliers of sails to the East India Company.


The Durga Puja started by Srinivas continues to this day, albeit in a truncated form. The Santhals, who used to perform in the dalan in their traditional outfit on Nabami, no longer visit. The section of the verandah overlooking the dalan that once used to be cordoned off for the ladies of the house during the Pujas became a gender-neutral space ever since women got used to standing side by side with men.


Like the Sarkars of Surul, the Sinhas of Raipur, too, made money selling ships' sails. The Sinhas were zamindars under the raja of Burdwan, and the most illustrious member of the family is Lord Sinha, who was born in Raipur. The parturition chamber where Satyendra Prasanna Sinha was delivered has been preserved, largely due to the efforts of Badal Sinha, one of the descendants of the family. Badal Sinha recounted how Debendranath Tagore used to come to Raipur in a palki from Katwa to propagate the Brahmo religion. A room high up in the zamindar bari, now in ruins, served as his meditation room. When Rabindranath Tagore decided to set up the ashram at Santiniketan, Lord Sinha helped him get the lands through the assistance of "Andrew saheb", C.F. Andrews.


Lord Sinha's decision to convert to Brahmo dharma in 1886 might have had a lot to do not only with his friendship with the Tagores but also with such incidents as the one narrated by Badal Sinha that must have led to his estrangement from Hinduism. When Satyendra Prasanna came back to his native village after studying law in England's Lincoln's Inn for five years, he was forbidden to enter the household. Having crossed the kalapani, he had become a mleccha (outcaste), and could never see his parents again. So the man, who would soon become the first Indian to be included in the British peerage, would sit on a mancha atop a cowshed to watch with binoculars his mother in the turret of their ancestral home.


Nothing remains of the Raipur zamindar bari except the skeletal walls overgrown with weeds. The turret still stands amidst the desolation. To visit the place is to feel the silence of time. Badal Sinha rues that Visva-Bharati has not remembered the contribution of the Sinhas. But perhaps that forgetting is only symptomatic of a country which is eager to let go of its past as it marches stridently into a globalized future.









The Mama-Bhagne Pahar inspires a strange sense of the gap between myth and reality


A n unruffled air surrounds the hundreds of carelessly strewn boulders, stones and pebbles that constitute the Mama-Bhagne Pahar on the outskirts of Dubrajpur. If some influential people of Dubrajpur have got together, collected funds, and constructed a children's park in the area, it is perhaps because these rocks in their natural state are no longer attractive enough for youngsters, or fit for 'family' outings. Cordoning off a portion of the Mama-Bhagne Pahar and imposing an entry fee on those who wish to picnic or play have helped genteel citizens stay away from the declarations of undying love painted or etched on the rock faces.


The factors behind the creation of this landscape are many. It could have been the result of the efforts of the redoubtable Ram, who, having decided to wage war against Ravana, found that he could not get his troops to the other side of the waters. He took up his chariot and swiftly reached the Himalayas to pick up some stones with which a bridge could be built for his men. As he was gliding over Birbhum, his horses, quite understandably, started with fright. The chariot overturned, splattering the landscape with some of the rocks Ram was carrying.


Or Mama-Bhagne could have been the handiwork of the temperamental Shiva, who, on discovering that his consort, Sati, had immolated herself, did what he does best. Notorious for performing the tandava at the drop of a hat, Shiva went on a rampage with Sati on his shoulders. His movements not only fragmented and scattered Sati's charred body, but also the land, breaking it up into the rocks that now constitute the Mama-Bhagne Pahar. A hot spring appeared on the spot where Sati's yoni fell. A constant trickle marks the place to this day, signifying her fertility.Or it could have been a plain boring volcanic eruption millions of years ago that led to the formation of these oddly-balanced blocks of lava, which got solidified into granite. The lovestruck Romeos and Juliets who immortalized their names on the rock face have something to be proud of since not even time and wind erosion have managed to deface these rocks, as these couples have done.


The arrangement of the boulders is surprising. The pair of rocks, which lend their name to this entire region, are famously called Mama-Bhagne or Uncle- and-Nephew. From a distance, it seems that the towering bhagne is leaning on his short and fat mama. But it is another small rock — minuscule compared to the two boulders overshadowing it — that is perhaps responsible for the startling manner in which Mama and Bhagne are balanced. This small rock, being less high and mighty than its neighbours, has been relegated to oblivion.But if it were left to Satyajit Ray to interpret the huge rock of Bhagne atop the smaller Mama, he would talk of how one's sins come home to roost. Years of neglect, as far as infrastructural facilities are concerned, have made Dubrajpur one of the most poorly connected towns in Birbhum. Only a few trains stop at the railway station. Since Suri Sadar, only 18 kilometres away, is an important stop, Dubrajpur is deprived of regular rail services. Gaps of five to six hours between trains make travelling difficult, even for those who commute within the district.


Medical emergencies pose the biggest problem since the nearest functional hospital is at Suri. Even those who can afford to travel to Calcutta for treatment find themselves at a disadvantage, thanks to the infrequent trains. To Ray, the Mama-Bhagne stood for the burden of sins that one carries on one's shoulder. But it seems that the region around these hillocks has suffered down the years for no fault of its own.



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It is a triumph of sports over terror. Myriad terrorist groups, which have made Pakistan their home for years, are trying their best to disrupt major sporting events in this country after their success in the neighbouring country. Just a fortnight ago, it had appeared that their threats might work. In the wake of the dreaded Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami field commander Ilyas Kashmiri's threat to target the World Cup hockey competition in Delhi, national teams from countries like New Zealand, Australia and England were not sure if they should participate in the event risking the lives of their players. They raised serious questions about security for their players as the Pune terror bombing was still fresh on their minds. Besides being a huge challenge, this was obviously an embarrassment to the Indian government. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram stepped in to reassure the wary quarters that the government would do everything necessary to provide fail-proof security to ensure successful staging of the hockey competition. At stake is not just the success of this tournament or the ensuing third edition of the Indian Premier League but the big one later this year - the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

The hockey event is now into its fourth day. It would not be out of place for Chidambaram to thank the participating countries, their players and officials. They have trusted India and showed to the rest of the world that the country is safe, notwithstanding the terrorists' threats. But this is no time for celebration. Nor should there be any room for complacency. Those who are trained to carry out suicide attacks and are willing to die have a huge advantage over the security forces - they can choose their place, time and target for their acts of terror.

For India, it is therefore important to consolidate the gains made in terms of winning the trust and confidence of the international community. This is more important since many world capitals have a tendency to equate India with Pakistan. It is more than a year now that Pakistan has been unable to host any bilateral and international sporting event as home-grown terrorists have turned their gun against almost everyone. The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore last March was conclusive evidence of the grave risks involved in visiting that country. It is, thus, time for extra vigil.








The government's decision to do away with price controls on some fertilisers, allow a 10 per cent hike in urea prices and move over to a regime of nutrient-based subsidies is an important step in reforming the fertiliser industry. The health of the industry is vital to agriculture but it has been a victim of political taboo. The controls which were put in place to protect the interests of farmers have over the years become counter-productive and created a huge subsidy burden, last estimated at about Rs 1 lakh crore, which has distorted government finances. They have also prevented rational, effective and optimum use of fertilisers which only can ensure sustained agricultural productivity. Retail prices of fertilisers have not changed since 2002 and the initiatives which were planned had to be dropped in the face of mostly uninformed opposition.

The nutrient-based subsidy system envisages fixing subsidy on the basis of fertiliser contents, like nitrogen or phosphorus. Since the existing subsidy regime was skewed in favour of urea, its over-application has often damaged soil fertility. The new system will allow manufacturers to introduce fertilisers suited for different soil and climatic conditions. Farmers will have better choices. Along with the plan to deliver the subsidy directly to the farmers rather than through the industry, it can benefit all stakeholders like the farmers, the industry and the government. Competitive prices at the farm gate can ensure that the farmers are not adversely affected. An efficient and transparent subsidy transfer system, which is being readied with the help of technology, will benefit farmers more than the present one. Tools like the minimum support prices will still be available to the government. Fertiliser prices may need monitoring and some supervision till the implications of the new regime are fully realised. Industry has assured it will hold the prices stable this year and so there is enough time to prepare for the new regime.

No new investment has been made in the fertiliser industry for the last many years as there was no incentive to increase production, introduce new technologies or diversify the product range. Unpaid subsidy arrears have also affected the financial viability of the industry. The reform measures which have started can put life in the industry, reduce the dependence on imports and increase agricultural productivity. Inefficient use of subsidy without corresponding benefits can also be avoided.








The burgeoning global media, the very beacon of the free world, has not been very forthcoming on a Bill before the US Congress threatening action against the media critical of US policies in the West Asia.

As in all such measures, the language is couched in caution.


For instance, Section 1 of the Anti-American Incitement to Violence in the Middle East Bill reads: "Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression are the foundations of free and prosperous societies worldwide, and with the freedom of expression comes the responsibility to repudiate purveyors of incitement to violence." (Freedoms are only for prosperous societies?)

Further: "Television channels that broadcast incitement to violence against Americans, the United States, and others, have demonstrated the ability to shift their operations to different countries and their transmissions to different satellite providers in order to continue broadcasting and to evade accountability." Goodbye to off-shore telecasting?

The bill names some channels which gives the game away.

Incite violence

"Television channels such as Al-Manar, Al-Aqsa, Al-Zawra and others that broadcast incitement to violence against the United Sates and Americans, aid Foreign Terrorist Organisations in the key functions of recruitment, fundraising and propaganda", are all liable to be punished. Therefore, "it shall be a policy of the United States" to "designate as Specially Designated Global Terrorists those satellite providers that knowingly and willingly contract with entities designated as specially Designated Global Terrorists."

The Bill threatens other unspecified "punitive measures" against satellite providers that transmit Al-Aqsa, Al-Manar and Al-Zawra channels…"  This bill "requires the President to transmit a report to the Congress that must include a country-by-country list and description of media outlets that engage in anti-American incitement."

Also, American level of assistance to a country will be determined by the extent to which the country in question shuns anti-American propaganda. By this criteria, Pakistan should be stone broke because there is hardly a country in the world which has a more hysterical, anti-American media! 

Ah! There's the catch. The Bill names countries only of the Middle East. These are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The Bill specifies these as the most worrisome area as far as anti Americanism (and hatred for its allies) is concerned. This lengthy Arab list is actually a camouflage for the real culprits, the ones who are a thorn on Israel's side.

Let us consider the list of TV stations the Bill names. Al-Manar, for instance. The entire Middle East knows that it is the official channel of Hezbollah. According to Wikipedia "The Israeli Air Force bombed Al-Manar building on July 13", during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. "Despite the attack, the station remained on air, broadcasting from other undisclosed stations"

The other TV station named in the Bill is Al-Aqsa TV. Wikipedia says it is a Hamas-run television. Among other programmes, the station airs TV shows for children, some of which have been accused of promoting "anti-Semitic views".  The station began broadcasting in the Gaza strip in January 2006 after Hamas won a sweeping victory in Palestinian Parliamentary elections. 

Celebrations in Gaza were galling for the Palestinian authority in Ramallah as well as for Jerusalem. In this instance Ramallah acted as the cat's paw. On January 22, 2006, The Palestinian Public Prosecutor, Ahmad Maghni, decided to close down the TV station because "it did not have the necessary broadcast license." Hamas refused to enforce the decision.

On December 29, 2008, during the 2008-09 Israel-Gaza conflict, Israeli aircraft bombed the offices of Al-Aqsa TV. The building has been completely destroyed. But, says Wikipedia, the station continued to broadcast from a

mobile TV unit. Wikipedia, better watch out for recording subversive truths! 

Likewise, Al-Zawra TV is an Iraqi satellite channel which was known for airing insurgent attacks on US-led coalition forces. There is no point arguing against the wise US Congressmen who have drafted this piece of legislation. One is speechless. Showing images of attacks on US soldiers in Iraq is a crime? In what category do we then place, the complete destruction of what was once Mesopotamia, one of the world's earliest civilisations; organised looting of its museum; killing of a million innocent Iraqis; the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Are the wise Congressmen sunk, in the deepest levels of thought on legislation that will banish such inhumanity in some distant future? 

"Mister Obama, on the morning of November 4, 2008, some of our friends assembled at the crack of dawn (for that is when US presidential election results were to be announced in India) to celebrate not so much your victory as the capacity of the American people to renew themselves and their nation, the nation we all salute. How do you think does this kind of illiberal legislation register with those who celebrated that morning?








We heard late last Thursday evening that Myanmar's high court would sit the following morning to deliver its decision on Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal. Given the global interest in Myanmar and in Aung San Suu Kyi in particular, you could have expected the atmosphere in Yangon to be highly charged on Friday morning. If her appeal had been upheld, the implications would have been truly significant. As for Nelson Mandela's release, everyone here would have remembered where they were the day Aung San Suu Kyi was freed.
The reality, however, was different. It was business as usual on the streets. There was no extra buzz around the tea shops; no excited speculation among the local staff in the embassy. Everyone I spoke to before the hearing knew exactly what the result would be. So there was no tension, just resignation.

The court building is an impressive, but faded, relic of Myanmar's colonial past. Rhubarb and custard painted on the outside, the courtrooms and offices inside are decorated in a bizarre pistachio green and chocolate colour scheme. These rooms, with their high ceilings and lazy ceiling fans, look on to a central courtyard garden. Inside the room allotted to this case today, the lawyers in their black robes and traditional headgear were engaged in animated conversation. Anyone who had arrived here with no prior knowledge of the country would have thought this was a regular legal process where learned and considered interpretation of the law was at stake. As in previous sessions, the prosecution and defence lawyers were present, their desks stacked with law books and papers.

International interest

Diplomats representing western countries were also well represented; a reflection of the intense international interest in the hearing. My mobile phone vibrated throughout as international news networks placed their requests for a read out and a quote once proceedings were over. But everyone knew that we were witnessing a sham process and that the outcome of this hearing, like those that had gone before it, was known from the moment the trumped-up charges against Suu Kyi were made last May. And no one knew this better than Suu Kyi herself. She wasn't in the court today – she wasn't allowed to attend. She remains confined under house arrest at least until November, the assumption being that this will prevent her from taking part in the regime's elections.

Proceedings began at around 10.15am. They were over five minutes later. The appeal was dismissed on the grounds that the central arguments presented by the defence team concerning the 1974 constitution were irrelevant. And that was it. After discussions with Suu Kyi's defence team outside the courtroom, I made my way back to the office, photographed by a battery of special police photographers (goodness only knows what they do with all the photographs they have taken of me since I arrived in July). I passed the small group of local stringers outside the court and launched myself back into the bustle of daily street life in Yangon. And, as before, it was as if nothing significant had happened - everyone was pretty sure what the decision would be and they had been proved right. But in the wider scheme of things, this was a significant event. It represents another dark day; another backward step.

Inclusive dialogue

So where do we and the Myanmarese democracy movement go from here? Seen from here, the answer is that we keep up the pressure unrelentingly. Elections will be held here later this year. Their credibility will be judged by some pretty simple benchmarks. For example, will the 2,100 political prisoners, imprisoned for what they think and what they have written and said, be allowed to express their views to the electorate? Will their views be given column inches and airtime in the media alongside the regime's political representatives? Will Myanmar's many ethnic groups be brought into an inclusive dialogue on the future of their country? And on election day itself, will people be allowed to cast their votes freely and will the count be conducted properly?

And in the meantime, the legal case rumbles on. Suu Kyi's lawyers can now make a case, to the so-called "special court", that there are significant issues of law or fact which have not been properly considered thus far. They told us this morning they expect to submit their arguments within a month. If this court agrees that there is a case to answer, a special panel of three judges will consider their arguments. If so, the next stage is likely to be in Naypyitaw, the purpose-built capital located about four hours' drive away from any major population centre in Myanmar. And that will probably be the only change. The venue may be different, but the outcome will almost certainly be the same.


The Guardian







Frankfurt airport, the German hub, was abuzz with International babble. As I moved gingerly skirting the young French couple squatting back-to-back on the crowded floor over crumpled colourful tabloids, I spotted him. He is known in our circles as Powderman, the obliging gent willing to carry a smorgasbord of edible cargo to the Tamil tummies in US of A.

Though past sixty, his nutcracker grip nearly crushed my palm. "Nice meeting you," he said beaming. "This is my third trip this year. My niece Anita is moving to Seattle. Aunt's grandson Anand is getting married. And grand daughter Shreya's arangetram is this weekend." He reeled off the objects of his visit. "I hope you are carrying your usual cargo," I taunted him. "Of course." he said. cut up with the banality of my question. "Quite a mass this time," he said. "Will it then be unaccompanied baggage?" I asked. "Perhaps cargo planes will  follow you in v-formation!" He laughed uproariously.

Because of his Indo-American dry-food link, sambar and rasam in Seattle or 'Frisco' acquire authentic Tanjore flavour. Idlis taste yummy at Idaho or Iowa when smothered with brick-red chilli powder brought by him. At Purdue or Pittsburgh freshly brewed piping hot filter coffee packs the genuine filter coffee punch. The veggie F1 visa students in the variegated ethnic food jungle of Obamaland have only  to pressure cook rice and reach for the protein rich paruppu podi - the dal powder lifeline, to blunt their hunger - all courtesy Powderman's on-board courier service.

He shook my hand to take leave. "Must  hurry. I ran into a young mother from Trichy. Poor thing! Misplaced the milk powder tin, god knows where and now her baby is bawling" "A nursery powder keg?" I asked. He smiled smugly. "Good thing, I have a tin in my hand bag for Nandu in Dallas."

Later, as I walked through the boarding gate, I saw him burping a gurgling moppet who had switched over to smiles from wails, its little belly full with the powder milk of his kindness. The young lady's eyes spoke volumes. As the jumbo  took off, I wondered if only Powderman had the magical skills of Spiderman, he could move faster zooming hither and thither in the friendly American neighbourhood delivering hermetically sealed powder packs


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We recurrently hear the refrain that the IDF must not judge itself. Whether implied or explicitly stated, the bottom line is that military justice is deemed suspect.

Indeed the Goldstone Report's most unrelenting theme was that IDF inquiries into its own troops' conduct in Operation Cast Lead aren't to be trusted and must be re-evaluated via exhaustive judicial probes.

There is actually a lot to be said for an independent body probing alleged misdeeds by the IDF, if only to offset the international repercussions of distorted assaults such as Goldstone's.

But earlier this week, when Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ousted the Gaza Division's ex-commander, Brig.-Gen. Moshe "Chico" Tamir, from active service, he effectively put the lie to copious innuendo that threatens to undermine the IDF's credibility.

Ironically, at almost the same moment, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Rachel Greenberg cast some doubt on our civilian judicial processes when she lightly rapped senior oncologist Dr. Arie Figer on the knuckles for ruthlessly extorting bribes from terminal cancer patients and their desperate families.

DISSIMILAR AS the cases are, some comparisons are valid. Both cases involved extremely talented individuals who contributed greatly in their own fields and are capable of contributing more. Both defendants enjoyed strong backing from colleagues who spoke up for their professional attributes. Both famous protagonists were convicted.

Tamir agreed to a plea-bargain for letting his 14-year-old son drive a military all-terrain vehicle, with which the boy sideswiped and damaged a civilian vehicle. Tamir initially took the blame for the accident, falsely claiming he had been driving the ATV.

Tamir, considered one of the most promising IDF combat officers, committed a minor transgression compared with the heartless exploitation by Figer, a physician whose specialty requires a most compassionate and benevolent approach. Dozens of complaints were filed against the Ichilov Hospital department head.

Tamir, a man who demonstrated selflessness time and again, was cast out of the service to which he altruistically devoted his energies, often putting his life and limb on the line. Figer, who demonstrated himself to be Tamir's diametrical antithesis, was sentenced to six months of community service, a paltry (by his standards) NIS 75,000 fine, another NIS 100,000 in compensation to aggrieved patients and a  14-month suspended sentence.

The judge claimed that the issue of moral turpitude "slipped" her mind, despite the severity of the breach of trust, exploitation and extortion from the most vulnerable of victims.

The message the civilian judge thus sent Figer's counterparts in other sensitive positions is that the law can be lenient, no matter how outrageous and hardhearted their offenses. Justice was certainly not served by Greenberg's decision and was even more acutely sabotaged by her mind-boggling omission.

An unrepentant Figer, indeed, stated after the proceedings that his conduct was "common practice in the medical community."

ASHKENAZI WASN'T bound to rule as he did. He may have caused the IDF to lose a valuable field commander but he upheld the army's integrity. His judgment may appear excessively harsh. Tamir's offense seems insignificant and anyone familiar with the military knows that it's commonplace.

Yet the fact is that Tamir perjured himself. It may have been on a trifling matter, but Ashkenazi emphasized that he will not abide an untruthful officer, regardless of extenuating circumstances.

Once Tamir was caught in a lie, the only alternative to what Ashkenazi did was to turn a blind eye to perversion of justice. Had Ashkenazi opted to do so, as plenty of his predecessors had in analogous ostensibly trivial cases, he would have added his stamp of approval to a culture of deviating from the truth, while knowingly winking to fellow officers who will fix everything and help cover up minor failings.

The trouble is that minor failings mushroom into bigger ones and in time can cause crucial malfunctions in the military superstructure and the IDF's ability to defend the nation. With a painful decision against a dedicated officer, Ashkenazi struck a blow against mendacity, arrogance and even, to a degree, stupidity, within the echelons under his jurisdiction.

Ashkenazi sent a message to all IDF commanders about what will not be tolerated. That message was the very reverse of the harmful signal issued by the Tel Aviv court in the Figer case. 


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Last week, the Foreign Press Association in Israel circulated an e-mail to its members containing a Reuters article entitled "Foreign reporting depicted as stupid and condescending." The article related to the Ministry for Public Diplomacy's campaign calling on Israelis to counter anti-Israel prejudice, and complained that the foreign press was personally offended by the videos on the Web site

Surely not, I hear you say. Those foreign journalists – who daily dish out an unhealthy helping of material critical of Israel, denouncing its democratically elected government's policies, and some accusing its defense forces of war crimes – should certainly be able to take a bit of criticism directed at them.

In all honesty, the videos were in no way meant to offend the press, who I am quite certain are able to recognize satire when they see it. Yet, when they paint a picture so different from the reality in the eyes of Israelis, and with such little regard for their point of view, what do they expect?

Being depicted as "stupid and condescending" as the Reuters article suggests, is not the nicest of punches, but it certainly beats being portrayed as baby eaters, Nazis and ethnic cleansers, as some in the international media has often inferred. Similarly, what of the "gullible European audiences" the article insists are inherent to the sketch? Is the press really decrying the suggestion that they influence those back home to whom they speak?

It is no coincidence that in countries where the media are most hostile to Israel, there is greater anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in public discourse. Moreover, this becomes even more incongruous when placed in that all-important missing factor – context. The foreign media complain of being offended by Israeli government satire, yet there is a deafening silence on the coercion, threats and violence they face from the Palestinians, especially in Gaza.

It is this lack of context, this blatant disregard for the realities of living in the Middle East, that earns the foreign press the perception of being simplistic and monochromatic.

Why are headlines of war crimes and editorials on UN resolutions run-of the-mill during Israel's military operations to defend its citizens, yet when other countries' forces unintentionally kill civilians it is a case of "apology accepted"? The reality of war is brutal anywhere – so why does the media adopt such vastly different approaches?

SADLY, THE issue runs much deeper. Israel today faces an onslaught of propaganda aimed at delegitimizing it. This week is bring "celebrated" as Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses worldwide, spreading lies and slander, promoting incitement and hatred. The media is a key tool – if not a willing accomplice – to this strategy. The manipulation of the rhetoric by human rights groups is all too often typeset in the media, and thus chiseled into history. Massacres are proclaimed where there have been none; terrorists hidden behind civilians remain hidden from the public eye.

These myths become widespread on the blogosphere, with groups on Facebook, threads on Twitter and countless videos on YouTube forming the basis of a digital pogrom against the Jewish narrative, whereby social media and on-line networking are employed to make the demonization of Israel part and parcel of  mainstream discourse.

Hence the very purpose of the Masbirim campaign – to open up channels of communication. To overcome the mainstream media's often one-dimensional approach. To answer those who seek to silence Israel's narrative with boycotts and arrest warrants. To counter the allegations of those who falsely accuse Israel of breaching international law.

THE JERUSALEM Post's Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz, when addressing a meeting in Jerusalem last week, noted that two areas where the issue of boycotting has been most prevalent have been journalism and academia – the two most essential channels of communication and understanding.

Even the most senior journalists are now attacked for being part of Israel's daily existence or even for simply being Jewish; the harassment of New York Times bureau chief in Israel Ethan Bronner being the most notable, yet not the only, such incident.

This isolation and demonization of Israel as a pariah state or an international outlaw reflects a concerted effort to cast it as being beyond the pale. As the echoes of the past color the dark shadows of the future, we see an attempt to cast the Jewish people into a "virtual" ghetto, ethnically cleansing the Jewish narrative from the legitimate international debate on the Middle East.

This process of delegitimization is an affront to freedom of speech and freedom of the press – fundamental rights in a democracy.

Zionism itself was conceived by a journalist who looked at the world around him and saw that without a new reality, Jews would no longer be able to speak out.

Today Israel has a free press; the government provides services and accreditation for the foreign media – even those who choose to report in the most biased and slanted manner. There are, of course, journalists who carry out their duties in a fully professional way. They give due consideration to both the Israeli and the Palestinian argument, and inform their public accordingly.

However if there are those in the media who feel they are perceived as simplistic or inaccurate, then I would urge them to consider that there is another side to the story; perhaps Israel, as well as their own readers, viewers and listeners, deserves a more accurate contextualized picture of reality.

Otherwise, the historically most enlightened of professions risks being party to the reemergence of humankind's darkest hatred.

The writer is director of the Government Press Office.








Myself, I prefer the term 'colonialism' to 'apartheid' when comparing Israel's rule in the West Bank to other regimes in world history.


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. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, it will be an apartheid state."

Those are the words of Ehud Barak, defense minister and former prime minister, at last month's Herzliya Conference, the country's highest-profile gathering of VIPs. Barak's statement begs the question: Seeing that Palestinians in the West Bank haven't been able to vote in Israeli elections since the occupation started in 1967, isn't he saying Israel has been an apartheid state since then?

So, putting Barak's statement in the context of this week's news, should people really be so outraged that a few dozen colleges overseas are staging "Israel Apartheid Week"?

Myself, I prefer the term "colonialism" to "apartheid" when comparing Israel's rule in the West Bank to other regimes in world history. There are important differences between the occupation and apartheid – for one, apartheid was based on race, the occupation is based on nationality. Yet there are important, obvious similarities, too, the main one being that in both apartheid South Africa and the West Bank, one group of people harshly, systematically and "legally" keeps another group of people down.

Anyway, however different from apartheid the occupation may be, it's definitely more like apartheid than it is like democracy.

AT THE same time, though, neither Barak nor I are saying that "Israel proper" – Israel in its pre-Six Day War borders – is an apartheid state, a colonial regime or anything but a democracy (albeit one with a great deal of discrimination). What each of us is saying is that the occupation is killing this democracy, but that if we set the Palestinians free, this democracy will thrive.

That's the difference between Barak, myself and other Zionists, on the one hand, who want to save the Jewish state from apartheid, and the participants in Israel Apartheid Week, who think the Jewish state, even in Israel proper, is by definition apartheid.

They're wrong. While it's possible to compare the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank to that of blacks in apartheid-era South Africa, there's no comparison between the way blacks were treated under apartheid and the way Israeli Arabs are treated in this country.

The most obvious difference is that the demand of the anti-apartheid movement was always "one person, one vote." Arab citizens of Israel, by the starkest possible contrast, have had this right since the day the Jewish state was founded.

Another brightly-lit sign that Israeli Arabs aren't living under anything like apartheid is their wall-to-wall opposition to becoming citizens of a Palestinian state – even, as Israel Beiteinu proposes, after a change of borders that would allow them to remain on their land. Israeli Arabs aren't Zionists, and they have altogether legitimate complaints about discrimination, but the overwhelming majority are not out to dismantle the Jewish state, only to make it more fair and equitable. (As much as I wish foreign anti-Zionists knew this, I wish even more that Israeli Jews did.)

Still, I imagine a black South African, or a white South African who fought apartheid, challenging me: Why can't Israel just do what we did – forget about Jews and Arabs like we forgot about whites and blacks, and just remake the system into a Western-style, nonsectarian democracy? Wouldn't "one-person, one vote" be the fairest solution for Israel/Palestine, too?

And I imagine myself answering: In theory, yes; in practice, it would be a disaster. The difference between the situation for blacks in South Africa and for Jews in Israel is that you're surrounded by hundreds of millions of blacks living in other African countries, none of whom think whites should rule South Africa – while we're surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs living in Arab countries, all of whom think Arabs should be ruling Israel/Palestine.

Imagine if you were in our situation. Imagine if instead of South Africa being bordered by blacks, it was bordered by whites – whites who believed that their kind were the rightful rulers of your country, and who, if given the chance – say, through your color-blind immigration policy – would see to it that they ruled your country again.

If South Africa's blacks were a tiny minority in a sea of white people who held such beliefs – in a sea of old-style Afrikaners, let's say – how secure would you feel, as a black South African, living in a nonsectarian democracy based on 'one person, one vote'?

Now maybe you see why the Jewish state, with all its inequities, is a better, fairer, safer solution for this sliver of the world than the one you South Africans chose – rightly and wisely – in your homeland.


AND SO much for my imaginary dialogue. In all, what I'm saying is that there's only one way to go for Jews and Arabs here, and that's with a Jewish, democratic state alongside a Palestinian one. The Jews who want to maintain the status quo will turn Israel into a pariah state, while the people pushing for one person, one vote will wreck it altogether.

What this means is that everyone who believes in Zionism, justice and peace has to oppose both the Jewish Right and the international Left. If either of these two forces prevails, sooner or later this land won't be fit to live in for Arab or Jew.







In recent weeks, our media has indulged its penchant for masochism, depicting every incident in the most self-deprecating manner. This is exemplified in a column by Bradley Burston on the current homepage of the English edition of Haaretz. Titled "I envy the people who hate Israel," he relates to real and imaginary blunders committed by our political leaders, and concludes with the breathtaking comment that "my father did not flee the Soviet Union just so that his son could one day have the chance to live in a place just like it."


I would submit that the publication of such wacky remarks in a purportedly serious Israeli paper highlights the need for soul searching by our bleeding-heart editors.

Burston's principal example of malfeasance was "our apparent violation of the basic conventions of all civilized states in the Dubai murder." It is unlikely that the true facts concerning the assassination of the vicious Hamas killer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh will ever be revealed. The information disclosed by the Dubai police smacks of disinformation. It sounds somewhat bizarre for the Mossad to risk 27 agents and then send some of them on to Iran.

Initially, Israeli media reports of the assassination were exuberant. However, when it transpired that foreign passports belonging to Israeli dual nationals had been used, the euphoria evaporated and commentators who had portrayed Mossad chief Meir Dagan as "superman" began calling for his head.

Ideally, intelligence agencies should be invisible. The use of forged passports from friendly countries is unacceptable, but has been common practice by all Western intelligence agencies. Indeed, one is entitled to ask why the Dubai authorities failed to notice false passports employed by Mabhouh. We might also ask whether there would have been such a brouhaha over passports had it been one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants who was killed.

Our media critics discounted the fact that our intelligence agencies may have succeeded in eliminating a murderer whose sole occupation was to bring death and destruction upon us. Furthermore, the goal was achieved with no civilian casualties and all participants returned safely. So let's stop beating ourselves up and be thankful that we are rid of a cruel and evil fiend.

ANOTHER ISSUE covered in a distorted manner was the alleged mishandling of J Street and visiting US congressmen. After the incident with the Turkish ambassador, many of us viewed Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as somewhat of a fallen star. But in this matter, he behaved impeccably, and it was those in the media who permitted themselves to be manipulated by J Street who should be condemned.

Five democratic congressmen visited Israel as part of a delegation organized by Churches for Middle East Peace – a group notorious for its anti-Israel agenda. J Street coordinated the visit, and the Foreign Ministry undertook to arrange meetings. However, it declined to invite representatives of J Street, an organization renowned for lobbying the Obama administration against the government. There was no boycott of the US congressmen, merely a decision by the Foreign Ministry to exclude J Street and Churches for Middle East Peace from those meetings.

I recollect numerous occasions when I accompanied high-level Australian and international legislators to Israel. Even though, unlike J Street, I felt obliged as a Diaspora leader to support the policies of the government, I was never offended when I was not invited to partake in direct meetings between the government and visiting lawmakers.

Yet, true to form, J Street saw this as an opportunity to bash the government, and held a press conference attended by the congressmen, falsely condemning the Foreign Ministry "for refusing to allow meetings with congressmen." It is noteworthy that of the five congressmen depicted by J Street as "staunch friends of Israel," Mary Joy Gilroy was the only one who voted in favor of a House resolution (overwhelmingly passed) condemning the Goldstone Report and reaffirming Israel's right to self-defense. That says something about J Street's definition of "pro-Israel."

Despite media accusations that Ayalon indulged in McCarthyism and damaged the reputation of Israel, the Foreign Ministry behaved entirely appropriately, and was justified in condemning J Street for "putting self-aggrandizement ahead of the interests of the State of Israel."

YET ANOTHER example of media self deprecation was its attack on the decision by the government to include the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rachel's Tomb and the walls of Jerusalem's Old City in a list of national heritage sites marked for restoration and preservation. The first condemnation, not surprisingly from the UN, was on the grounds that the sites are over the Green Line and have "historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam and to Christianity." This is absurd. It is only since these sites have been under Israeli jurisdiction that they have been accessible to all faiths. The interests of Christians and Muslims are surely not served if these locations are permitted to deteriorate.


Of course, the UN was merely preempting the predictable response of the Palestinians who, true to form, expressed outrage that Israel could even view the walls of Jerusalem as a national heritage site. Hamas called for a third intifada. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened a religious war.

Unfortunately, the US administration, which should appreciate the symbolic connection of the Jewish people to these sites and was aware that the decision does not affect the political status quo of the areas in which the sites are located, chose to issue statements echoing the sentiments expressed by the UN.

This US response must be viewed against the backdrop of the negative Israeli media coverage of this issue, which has had a major influence in molding the perception of the international community.

However, rather than condemning the Palestinian threats and focusing on the irrevocable connection of the Jewish people to these sites, much of the media criticized the government. Such self-defeating attitudes, deliberately downplaying our moral and legal rights to avoid offending the Palestinians, merely embolden extremists. It is surely time to cease apologizing for our national heritage. If we are to be precluded from identifying Jerusalem, the Cave of the Patriarchs or Rachel's Tomb (three of the most important symbols of Judaism) as sites of national heritage, we undermine the entire concept of Jewish nationhood.

While we condemn Europe for caving in to Islamic fundamentalists, we cannot afford to make the same mistake in Israel, where the stakes are so much higher.

It is regrettable that during these troubled times many of our journalists emphasize the negative, using every possible opportunity to demean and deride the positive aspects of our nation. It is surely time to urge them to at least begin displaying a modicum of respect for our achievements.







On Purim, the president of Syria played host to the modern-day Persian who would be the new Haman and several of his henchmen. They marked the holiday with curses for America, threats for Israel and mockery for the Obama administration.

They were also celebrating a political coup for Syria's Bashar Assad. He had just won some highly visible concessions from the US, and all he gave in return was ridicule. By playing host to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Assad made clear who he considers his allies.

And if there was any doubt, he publicly ridiculed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for suggesting that he "begin to move away from the relationship with Iran," sarcastically thanking her for her "advice" and telling her "don't give us lessons about our region."

He punctuated his message by cancelling visa requirements for travel between Iran and Syria and joining Ahmadinejad in pledging to create a Middle East "without Zionists," telling the Americans to "pack their things and leave" the region.

THAT PURIM spiel came in the same week the Obama administration lifted the ban on travel to Syria and named a new ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence. The last envoy was withdrawn in protest of Syria's role in the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's pro-Western former premier Rafik Hariri.

Assad and his pals understood something the Obama administration apparently did not: In the Middle East, giving something for nothing is considered a sign of weakness.

President Barack Obama was right to try to repair relations with Syria, but he seems to act as though Assad is doing us a great favor just by meeting with American diplomats and possibly whispering a tidbit of information in their ears – something the Syrian autocrat learned from his father. But the reality is that he needs us much more than we need him.

He wants to trade his pariah status for international acceptance; he wants an end to sanctions, removal from the terrorist list, access to Western technology, trade and investment, unblocking his application for World Trade Organization membership, and for the investigation of the Hariri assassination (which may implicate him personally) to be dropped. He also needs American backing if he hopes to get back the Golan Heights.

"In the Middle East, favors are not accepted; you always trade something for something," said a veteran Israeli diplomat who supports US dialogue with Syria. "If Obama got anything for all he just gave to Assad, it's a very well-kept secret. He's still problematic in Iraq, tightening his alliance with Iran, smuggling arms to Hizbullah, moving back into Lebanon and refusing any dialogue with Israel.

When [Yitzhak] Rabin was offering Assad Sr. an opportunity to get back the Golan Heights, we asked for the return of the bones of [Israeli spy] Eli Cohen as a goodwill gesture. We were turned down flat," he added.

Topping the US wish list are separating Syria and Iran, stopping support for the Iraqi insurgents, halting the arms smuggling to Hizbullah and ending support for Hamas. Assad delivered his rebuff with Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Mashaal just days after the White House announced the return of the ambassador. Hopefully, when veteran diplomat Robert Ford goes before the Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing, senators will have some tough questions, starting with "What has Syria done to deserve elevating the relationship?"

So far, all we know is that William Burns, number three at the State Department, met with Assad to inform him of plans to return the ambassador, and the Syrian leader assured him he is not helping the Iraqi insurgents, meddling in Lebanese politics, smuggling arms to Hizbullah or assisting Palestinian terror groups. Burns came away saying he was "hopeful we can make progress together."

The White House said returning an ambassador "represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance US interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people," but the White House hasn't answered the big question – where's the beef?

Assad made it repeatedly clear that his relationships with Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and the other terror groups are not negotiable.

When Secretary Clinton called on him to end support for terrorist groups, Assad declared that backing "resistance" movements "is a moral and national... and also a religious and legal duty."


Nonetheless, Assad seems well on his way to getting what he wants: rapprochement with the US, acceptance of his role in Lebanon, and no requirement that he change his relationship with countries and groups working directly against US interests – and which seek Israel's destruction.

Dialogue with Syria is important and necessary, and there is a time for gestures, but in the Middle East it is important to remember that giving something for nothing is not considered generosity, but weakness.







The cheers for New Orleans' Super Bowl win were everywhere. Regardless of their own allegiances, people were genuinely happy for the Big Easy's team. The city was destroyed only a few years earlier when the levees broke. But last month the Saints claimed America's Vince Lombardi trophy – and the hearts of many.

People were happy there. And people everywhere – with the possible exception of Indianapolis – were happy for them. I can understand the smiles and cheers. Being happy for those who underwent something horrible but now have reason to smile is a good thing.

But I kept hearing people say that New Orleans, after suffering the devastation of Katrina, deserved the championship. I don't get it.

Maybe it's the capitalist in me, but I thought people deserve that for which they work. The amount of effort put into achieving a goal, as well as the results of that effort – those are the means by which we assign deservedness, are they not? If suffering is the measure by which we decide how much one is deserving of something, we Jews have quite the championship coming.

I hear it often in this country of ours. University students deserve to study for free because they are the future. Apparently bus drivers, police officers and postal workers without college degrees aren't part of the future. Poorer citizens deserve financial handouts. No one deserves to own an estate that is "too large," no matter how hard that person or that family worked to acquire the home.

But ask a student who believes academia should be paid for by the rest – and who often times doesn't realize that the state (i.e. you and I) already pays for a good portion of his tuition – if each citizen should receive funds equal to the cost of tuition, to do with as he pleases, and the answer is often "no." It appears not everyone is equally deserving of everything.

OUR PROBLEM – and it is our problem – is that we have accepted the idea that we deserve something because we suffer. The state is seen as the provider who must ensure that our suffering is minimal. The provider, when it comes down to it, is simply the sum of all its parts – we the people.

Good-bye hard work. Good-bye self-reliance. Good-bye happiness for others.


We can't be happy for someone when haves and have-nots are being compared. Be happy with one's lot? No. We are a nation that struggles. Always. We built a state to save ourselves, and now we are giving our souls over to the idea that we each deserve everything.

Maybe some people deserve a little more. Maybe the guy who heads off to reserve duty deserves a bit more than the kid who shrugged off military service. Maybe the person working a shift job deserves a raise a bit more than some family deserves a monthly child stipend.

Maybe our self-respect deserves to have its hard drive wiped so we can reassess what it means to truly warrant something.

The energy wasted on resenting others or simmering in anger for not having what we insist we deserve – that energy will kill us in the end.

Oh, it's been a long, hard road for the Jews, especially Israel's Jews. Yes, we deserve peace and quiet – that's what every person alive deserves – because life is hard, not because we've endured with assistance from above, showing everyone that this stubborn nation is alive and strong.

Most of us work hard. Perhaps we'll get to the point where all our efforts are recognized and rewarded. That reward should be given. But if some of us aren't given what is deserved, it doesn't mean we, the unappreciated, are entitled to the same had by those who succeeded in achieving the wealth we desire. Our nation deserves a citizenry not expecting anything we haven't worked for.

As a lone immigrant, the writer, in full disclosure, received scholarships for university after his army service. He is an Internet editor on








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.







Every day that passes in which Avigdor Lieberman serves as foreign minister only intensifies the national disgrace of his failed and inappropriate appointment. When Israel's diplomatic front is quiet, Lieberman stokes the flames and stirs controversy with countries near and far. When his ministry staff try to do their jobs, Lieberman accuses them of leaking information and cancels management meetings. And when law enforcement officials investigate whether he was involved in money laundering, accepting bribes, receiving an item by fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering, the foreign minister attempts to stave off those investigating him and interfere with their work. He also complains that the investigation is dragging on, making him a perennial suspect.

On Tuesday, suspicions that Lieberman got others to commit improprieties came to light. Lieberman's close associate and the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, admitted under police interrogation that about 18 months ago he copied investigative material the Justice Ministry had sent to authorities in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, and showed the copies to Lieberman, who was then a member of the Knesset. Lieberman told his interrogators he had not seen the material nor had he made use of it.

When he was appointed foreign minister, Lieberman promoted Ben Aryeh first to a position whereby he served as his adviser, and then to ambassador-designate to Latvia, despite his awareness of the serious offense that Ben Aryeh is alleged to have committed while serving in Belarus.

Lieberman has responded by accusing Israel Police Commissioner David Cohen of "obstruction of the investigation," as a result of the disclosure of the new case involving Ben Aryeh. Lieberman also petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding the reopening of an investigation into alleged leaks on the part of police who had investigated him in prior cases.

The electoral success of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party made him immune from political criticism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs him as a coalition partner and is afraid of getting entangled with him. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni hopes to join forces with Lieberman in the future and is therefore refraining from attacking him. Both Netanyahu and Livni prefer to stay in Lieberman's good graces rather than stating the truth: that Lieberman should immediately leave the Foreign Ministry and direct his attention toward his legal defense and proving his innocence.

The prime minister is obligated to remove Lieberman from office. The state prosecutor must finish dealing with the Lieberman case as soon as possible and decide if he should be put on trial. The High Court has set a standard in such cases, by which under "exceptional and extraordinary" circumstances a minister can be removed from office even before an indictment is filed. Such a standard may apply in Lieberman's case and require that Netanyahu remove him.







Was there ever a left wing in Israel? Yes, between 1967 and 2000 there was a dovish and courageous Zionist left. It took shape on the seventh day of the Six-Day War, when a small but farsighted group quickly grasped the moral significance of what had been conquered. At a time when the public was swept away by triumphal euphoria, that small avant-garde saw clearly that there was calamity bound up with the victory.

Although it was castigated, the Zionist left was not deterred. It foresaw the Yom Kippur War, warned against the repercussions of the settlements and tried to block the center-right's march of folly. Gradually, reality proved that it was right, and the narrow circle expanded. In 1992 the party of the Zionist left, Meretz, won 12 seats and in 1993, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin adopted its stance in Oslo. From an inspiring but inconsequential group of bohemians, the Zionist left fostered a mainstream movement that shaped the national agenda.

In the 1990s, problems arose. Just when the left's program was broadly accepted it turned out there was a wide gap between its beliefs and reality. Against expectations, Yasser Arafat wasn't Nelson Mandela. Against hopes, the Palestinian national movement's conduct was not patterned on the deeds of Mahatma Gandhi.

However, the Zionist left stood firm and did not allow the facts to get in its way. With admirable resolve, it refused to distinguish between its justified view of the occupation and its mistaken view of the prospects for peace. It continued to presume - and to promise - that because occupation was doomed, peace was inevitable.

The truth struck home in the summer of 2000. Ehud Barak proposed the establishment of a Palestinian state and the partition of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians rejected the offer out of hand. It struck again in December 2000, when Bill Clinton made the Palestinians a peace offer they couldn't refuse but they did, and again in January 2001 at Taba, when Yossi Beilin made Israel's ultimate offer, and the Palestinians said no once more.

The fourth time that the truth struck home was in September 2008, when Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians everything, and they simply disappeared. Over eight years, four attempts to end the occupation peacefully failed. Four decisive attempts that tested the left's concept of reality simply proved them wrong.

A panel of inquiry that examined Meretz's failure in the 2009 elections has blamed a number of factors. The ultra-Orthodox, the traditional Mizrahi Jews of Oriental descent and the Russian immigrants were all to blame.

In advertising terms, the campaign, the branding and the positioning were all to blame. So was the uncharismatic leader.

No, no and no. In fact, Meretz's failure can actually be attributed to its lack of intellectual honesty.

The right can bluff, and so can the center, but a left without solid internal honesty is a left without hope. Because the left has for the past decade failed to confront what reality has dealt it, it now has no solid, reliable, internal truth to stand on.

The left has not done any soul-searching, has not confessed its historical errors, has not drawn bold conclusions. In contrast to its courage in the 1970s, it has been faint-hearted in the 2000s. Its inability to acknowledge that it led Israel into a dead end has caused it to end up in a dead end itself.

The proposals put forward by Meretz's inquiry panel could have been formulated by the TV satirists of "A Wonderful Country": maybe remain a "boutique" party, maybe join up with Labor or Kadima, or perhaps with Hadash. A party that can't make up its mind between Kadima and Hadash is a party that's lost its way and its raison d'etre.

But the left does have a reason to exist. It is the left that must lead the way to the end of the occupation while ensuring Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic and enlightened state. To do so, the left must go back to being Zionist and realistic. It has to suggest a practical way of getting out of the territories without endangering our national existence.

It has to represent the essence of Israel and not condemn it. It has to come up with a positive, constructive ethos and not a negative, hate-ridden one. If it dares to do this, it will be possible to say that not only was there a left in the past, but there will also be a left in the future. With or without Meretz, the Israeli left has to create itself anew.








Israel does not want peace with Syria. Let's take off all the masks we've been hiding behind and tell the truth for a change. Let's admit that there's no formula that suits us, except the ludicrous "peace for peace." Let's admit it to ourselves, at least, that we do not want to leave the Golan Heights, no matter what. Forget about all the palaver, all the mediations, all the efforts.

Let's face it, we don't want peace, we want to run wild, to paraphrase an Israeli pop song from the '70s. Don't bother us with new Syrian proposals, like the one published in Haaretz this week that calls for a phased withdrawal and peace in stages; don't pester us with talk about peace as a way to break up the dangerous link between Syria and Iran; don't tell us peace with Syria is the key to forging peace with Lebanon and weakening Hezbollah. Turkey isn't an "honest" broker, the Syrians are part of the axis of evil, all is quiet on the Golan - you know how much we love the place, its mineral waters, its wines - so who needs all the commotion of demonstrations and evacuating settlements, just for peace?

It's not only the current extreme right-wing government that doesn't want this whole headache, and it wasn't only all of its predecessors - some of which were on the very brink of withdrawing from the Golan and only at the last moment, the very last moment, changed their minds. It's all the Israelis - the minority that is really against it and the majority that doesn't give a damn. They'd rather pretend not to hear the encouraging sounds coming out of Damascus in recent months and not even try to put them to the test.


Everyone would rather wave the menacing picture of Bashar Assad alongside Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his partners in the axis of evil, with the hummus and the bulgur. That on its own should have made Israel try 10 times harder to make peace. But in Israeli eyes, the picture of the banquet, as one Israeli paper termed the "modest meal," is worth more than a thousand words. After that, do you really expect us to give up the Golan? Don't make us laugh. We'll make peace with Micronesia, not Syria.

When the Syrians talk peace, it is all "empty words," "deception" and a wily way of getting closer to the United States. But when Assad poses with the president of Iran, that's the truth, that's Syria's real face. Even when he merely says, on the same occasion, that Syria must prepare for an Israeli attack, he is immediately accused of "threatening" Israel.

Do you want proof that we really don't want peace with Syria? Well, there has not yet been one Israeli prime minister who has said that we do. Because, after all, the order would have to be the opposite of the usual Israeli haggling. A prime minister who really wanted to achieve peace would have to say one terribly simple thing: We undertake in advance - yes, in advance - to hand back the entire Golan in exchange for a full peace. But no, not one prime minister has declared readiness to leave the Golan - right up to the last grain of sand, as we did in Sinai - in exchange for a peace like that which we have with Egypt.

Why on earth do we always have to hold onto this card so it can be played last? And what kind of a card is it, anyway? What kind of end does it ensure? After all, if the Syrian reply is negative, nobody will make us leave the Golan Heights. And what if the reply is positive? Why not start off with a promising, invigorating declaration, one that will give the Syrians hope and thereby at least put their intentions to the test.

But we are not the only ones who don't want peace. The United States has turned out to be a true friend that extricates us from every briar patch. It doesn't want peace enough either, praise the Lord. It's a fact: Washington is applying no pressure. Here's another marvelous pretext for doing nothing - America isn't pressing us and the redeemer will come to Zion, in the words of the prophet Isaiah. Yet we are the ones who have to stay in the dangerous and menacing Middle East, not the Americans; we should be more interested than anyone in preventing another war in the north, in creating a new relationship with Syria and then with Lebanon, and in weakening Iranian influence; in trying to integrate, at last. An Israeli interest, no? And what do we do to advance it? Half of nothing.

So what is there left to do? At least admit the truth: We do not want peace with Syria. That's all there is to it.








Everyone expected Benjamin Netanyahu to surprise us once again by distancing himself from the Likud platform, just as he did when he adopted the two-state "vision" in his speech at Bar-Ilan University. But at last month's Herzliya Conference, the prime minister surprised us from a different direction. Israel's existence, he declared, "depends first and foremost ... on our ability to explain the justness of our path and demonstrate our affinity for our land. ... If our feeling of serving a higher purpose dissipates, if our sources of spiritual strength grow weak, then - as Yigal Allon said - our future will also be opaque."

Less than a month after that speech, the cabinet members went to Tel Hai, a foundational site in the pioneering Zionist ethos, and decided during a festive meeting to "rehabilitate and strengthen the infrastructure of our national heritage, which expresses the national heritage of the nation of Israel in its land." In accordance with this decision, two maps will be "branded and rooted" in the public consciousness: "the map of the historical Jewish story" and "the map of the Israeli-Zionist experience."

The map of the "historical story" will include foundational sites such as Al-Kanatir, Dir Aziz, Hamam Midya, El-Umdan, Qeiyafa, Anim and Madras. It will not include - doubtless because they truly are the "historical Jewish story" - the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel's Tomb, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, Tel Shilo (which was the capital of the ancient Israelite polity for 300 years before it moved to Hebron), Givon, Tel Jericho, the ancient Shema Yisrael mosaic in Jericho, or many other sites located in the heart of the land of the Bible.

Heletz, Beit Haya'aran and the Timna mines are three sites on the second map, that of the "Israeli-Zionist experience." And they, no less than the sites chosen for the map of the "historical Jewish story in the Land of Israel," faithfully reflect the best of the Zionist experience, as chosen by a task force comprising more than 100 people, led by Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser. According to the task force's concluding report, the choices were "based on criteria that reflect our vision."

The cabinet, which approved the choice of these sites and many others of similar importance in that hierarchy - without a single minister asking where the truly foundational sites were - thereby backed the "professional" task force's post-Zionist conclusion that the list of sites constituting the Israeli and Zionist experience was closed in 1948. Thus Sebastia, for example - a foundational site in the Zionist ethos that is still alive and vibrant for hundreds of thousands of Israelis (certainly no less than Heletz or Beit Haya'aran) - was excluded from the list of heritage sites, as were other similar sites.

So which sites do in fact reflect the Zionist experience with "sympathy, emotion, a feeling of belonging and affiliation, involvement, dedication and formative, strengthening cohesiveness," as the official description of the project objectives has it? Here they are (no, I'm not joking): the Lavon Archive, the Workshop for Preserving Still Photography Materials, the Institute for Preserving the Legacy of Noa Eshkol, and so on and so forth. In all, about 150 sites of that nature.

Forget the settlements. The map also omits Ammunition Hill, Tel Faher, the Black Arrow site (on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip, a memorial to the reprisal operations) and other sites connected with battles that took place after 1948. In other words, the map corresponds almost exactly to the 1949 lines.

Thus have those who scorned and mocked Netanyahu's speech at the Herzliya Conference been revealed in all their narrow-mindedness. For the map of Israel's heritage sites proclaims borders that are much clearer - and, of course, much narrower - than those implied by Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech about two states for two peoples. According to this government's values, it is not the last furrow (Zionist heritage in action!) that will determine our borders, but the choice of which sites to include - and of course, exclude - from our national heritage maps.








Is an International Women's Day necessary? The obvious (feminist) answer is wrong in principle. For us feminists (a tag whose last syllable is muttered with an angry hiss), every day is Women's Day. And if there's an issue that isn't on the agenda on International Women's Day, it is the status of women and inequality.

It's a well-known rule that only disadvantaged groups or traumatic events in the life of a nation or the world get a special day named after them - a kind of morale-raising consolation prize. Sometimes it's a commemoration of a dream set aside long ago, as with Jerusalem Day. Has anyone ever thought of celebrating Paris Day or Tel Aviv Day? They don't need a special day, because people live there like normal people all year long. Even Jerusalem Day was invented only after the Six-Day War to arbitrarily mark the unification that never happened between the two parts of the city, between Jews and Palestinians. One can only guess that this year, in light of Mayor Nir Barkat's plans to allow only Jews the right of return to places that for years have been owned by Arabs and to provoke riots and war throughout the city, the celebration of Jerusalem Day will be finer and more festive than ever.

Other examples: Earth Day (come on, now); Seniors Day (we have seen how nicely they are cared for the other days of the year); No Shopping Day (don't make us laugh); No Smoking Day; Family Day (all parties agree that if one year the minor child is under the care of Party A, then the following year the minor child will celebrate Family Day with Party B); Diabetes Day; and of course, national commemoration days.

International Women's Day was also devised in that spirit, ostensibly to recall the struggle for equality that courageous and denigrated women undertook over the years, as well as to raise public awareness of the long road still ahead. But something strange happened on the way to happiness: International Women's Day became a kind of Fun Day, a day to perpetuate any and all stereotypes no matter how rusty, or, as the genderologists would say, to perpetuate the objectification of women.

Not a word about the glass ceiling and the cement floor, about the ever-growing fashion of murder within the family, about violence against women and unemployment that strikes women particularly hard. Why spoil the celebration? Like Tu B'Av, Valentine's Day and New Year's Day, International Women's Day has become a profitable business. It is also the holiday of the bazaars that, like every year, will be the core of the organized celebrations at workplaces and offer everything that "international women" need. And let's not forget the sexologist with her advice and variety of vibrators (between us, she says, who needs a man when we know best how to do things for ourselves?).

There will also be a lecture, of course. We are not just pretty faces, you know. On one International Women's Day, when I was asked to give a lecture to senior female officials at a ministry, I decided (silly me) to speak about the status of women and feminism, of all things. At least 100 women listened closely. One was even convinced. "I would also like to be a feminist," she said as her friends giggled. "But I don't think my husband would let me."






******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Republicans' lock-step opposition to comprehensive health care reform seems to be as much a matter of politics as principle. But either way, they have made clear that there is no dialogue or any possible compromise that will persuade them to change their minds.


That means it's up to Congressional Democrats to move legislation forward — or throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix this country's broken health care system.


On Wednesday, President Obama called on Congress to quickly take an up-or-down vote. He and Democratic leaders in Congress are going to have to work overtime to corral skittish members of their caucus. And Mr. Obama is going to have to keep making the case to the American people that reform is essential for all Americans' security and for the nation's future fiscal health.


The most straightforward way to enact reform would be for the House — which only needs a majority — to approve the bill passed by the Senate and send it straight to the president for his signature. Unfortunately, House Democrats appear unwilling to do that.


Liberal members of the caucus think the Senate bill should spend more money to cover more people and provide more generous subsidies. Fiscal hawks are nervous about the projected costs of either bill. And legislators who strongly oppose abortion think the restrictions on coverage for abortion in the Senate's bill are too weak.


The multiple sniping has forced the Democrats to consider amending the Senate bill by "reconciliation," a procedure that can sidestep a Republican filibuster.


Don't be misled by Republican charges that the president is planning to "ram through" reform with a rarely used maneuver. The Senate already has approved its bill with a 60-vote majority. Both parties have used reconciliation in the past. The Republicans happily used it to approve the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.


Senate Democrats should be able to muster the 51 votes needed. So what will it take to win over the House?


Liberal Democrats are right that the Senate bill is too stingy. More money should be added to make subsidized insurance affordable and to help states pay for expanding their Medicaid rolls. That would drive up the cost somewhat and make fiscal conservatives even more nervous. Yet there is much in the Senate bill for them.


The two most important points they — and all Americans — need to remember is that the Senate and House bills are fully paid for by tax revenues and budget savings, and both would reduce future deficits.


The Senate bill also has two additional cost-control mechanisms: a tax on high-cost insurance plans designed to push people toward cheaper plans, and an independent board to push cost-cutting measures into the Medicare program. Both could probably be strengthened in reconciliation.


Neither the liberals nor the fiscal hawks will be able to get everything they want. Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders will have to persuade both camps that failure is the worst option of all.

Do House liberals really want to deny 30 million uninsured Americans the chance at coverage? Do House deficit hawks want the deficit to rise even more? Because without reform, there are no plans to rein in the relentless rise of medical costs and the Medicare obligation.


The issue of abortion coverage can't be addressed in a reconciliation bill that must deal only with budgetary matters. The Senate bill already has onerous provisions that would likely discourage insurers on new exchanges from offering policies that cover abortions. The House bill is even more restrictive. Both are outrageous intrusions on a woman's right to make health care decisions.


House Democrats who say they cannot accept the Senate's abortion provisions must ask themselves a fundamental question: Are they willing to scuttle their party's signature domestic issue and a reform that this country desperately needs, rather than accept the almost-as-tough language of the Senate bill?






The controversy swirling around Gov. David Paterson has fallen on a long-festering problem in New York's state government: the State Police. Whatever else comes out of this political mess, the Legislature must move decisively to remake the department, which sometimes has seemed as much an instrument of cover-up and vendetta as a functioning law-enforcement agency.


Just for starters, lawmakers should bar future governors from stocking the department with political appointees and using them to extend favors or exact retribution. It should rein in the governor's personal security detail, which operates like a police force unto itself and is at the heart of the ongoing scandal.


A woman who sought an order of protection against a top aide to Mr. Paterson asserts that the State Police tried to harass her into dropping her case. The security detail has no authority in the matter, which is in the purview of the New York Police Department.


Nevertheless, the State Police superintendent, Harry Corbitt, said an officer from the governor's detail visited the woman, allegedly to inform her of her options. Mr. Corbitt, who has since said he would resign, suggested that interfering in legal matters involving public figures is routine.


Last year, a report by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recounted a decade-long record of favoritism and inappropriate conduct under three governors. In one case, the agency's superintendent ordered subordinates to erase the report of a 2005 domestic violence complaint at the home of a congressman. Other abuses involved the security detail, which is supposed to protect the governor, lieutenant governor and other elected officials. In the 1990s, it was dispatched to protect a hospitalized professional baseball player, and it frequently has been sent on secret missions by highly placed political appointees.


The Legislature, late as usual, will consider the creation of a commission to investigate and recommend reforms. Some of what needs to be done is already clear.


Lawmakers need to bar governors from meddling in the inner workings of the department, which means no political appointees, other than superintendents. Lawmakers should end the practice of governors appointing "acting" superintendents who serve for lengthy periods without being confirmed by the Legislature.


Since at least the 1970s, governors and their staffs have exercised more control over their personal security details than is either necessary or politically healthy. New York should move to the Secret Service model, under which officers are rotated in and out of protection assignments according to a career schedule. Those being protected do not pick and choose.


These policies would go a long way toward breaking up the chummy, frat-house arrangement that has taken root in Albany, where governors and their minions are accustomed to having a kind of personal police force at their disposal.






Representative Charles Rangel had a bit of a surprise to offer as he grudgingly surrendered his gavel as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The powerful lawmaker, admonished for breaking House ethics rules, insisted that he first told Speaker Nancy Pelosi of his willingness to step aside months ago when the investigation began into various allegations of misbehavior.


"From the very, very beginning, I had offered this to Speaker Pelosi," Mr. Rangel stressed with a cryptic smile. If true, there should be even more puzzlement as to why Speaker Pelosi repeatedly defended Mr. Rangel's chairmanship over the last two years as fresh ethics complaints mounted. It took a public push this week by Democrats concerned that Mr. Rangel's problems were handing Republicans a cudgel for the fall elections.

Speaker Pelosi should have engineered Mr. Rangel's retreat when the scope of his problems became clear. There are limits to intramural loyalty. Ms. Pelosi won the speakership by promising ethics reforms that Mr. Rangel was soon found to have violated.


The ethics committee admonished him for leading four other lawmakers on Caribbean junkets paid by influence-seeking corporations. The committee is separately investigating the congressman's misuse of office to raise corporate donations for an academic center in his name, his acceptance of four rent-subsidized apartments from a real estate developer and the failure to pay rental taxes on his villa in the Dominican Republic.


In announcing an indefinite leave of absence from the chair, Mr. Rangel offered no apology for his behavior, which he blames on two aides. Instead, Mr. Rangel apologized to Democrats for causing them re-election angst — as if that, and not a more dedicated avoidance of scandal, is what should drive the Capitol's denizens.






The Environmental Protection Agency's decision to designate Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal as a Superfund site clears the way for a federally mandated cleanup of one of the nation's most polluted waterways. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration had proposed a voluntary cleanup in hopes of avoiding the Superfund label. The federal approach is better — slower perhaps, but more comprehensive and far more likely to get done.


For years, the Gowanus, a 1.8-mile canal, was little more than an industrial sewer, a dumping ground for the ships that plied its waters and the refineries, chemical plants and other factories along its banks. The canal is contaminated with pesticides, metals and carcinogens known as PCBs.


The E.P.A. estimates that the cleanup will cost $300 million to $500 million and take 10 to 12 years. The city claimed that it could do the job in nine years and at a lower cost, but its financing was never guaranteed. It planned to ask for voluntary contributions from polluters. If these were not forthcoming, it would be forced to rely on federal allocations that, in turn, would depend on annual (and uncertain) Congressional appropriations.


Under the Superfund designation, the E.P.A. can compel polluters to pay. The agency has so far identified nine parties — New York City, the Navy, Consolidated Edison and six other private companies — as responsible for past discharges. It also is investigating the role of 20 other companies that may have polluted the Gowanus or bought companies that dumped toxic wastes in the water years ago.


The city feared that the word Superfund would scare away developers. But as Judith Enck, the E.P.A.'s regional administrator, correctly suggested, developers are far more likely to be frightened away by a smelly, filthy and unhealthy waterway. The point here is the cleanup, not the label.